• Amrita Ghosh

I cooked Jupiter during lockdown!

Updated: May 9, 2021

Few weeks ago when netizens were frothing for the latest South Korean craze Dalgona coffee, I took a hard look at my kitchen, the space in my house where I usually don’t like to frequent much except late-night escapades to quietly ‘steal’ milk powder from the rack.

How can I steal from my kitchen an item that I bought with my own money? Technically, I can’t. But till date I don’t like to think that I am casually opening the lid in full public view. The milk powder level has to magically reduce to taste as good. So it has to be a covert operation in my mind when I appear in kitchen for a brief surprise visit like coelacanths from near-extinction.

Be that as it may, I wouldn't have known about this coffee unless I was recently whipped with the question of what's brimming new in my kitchen. 'You know, I made Dalgona coffee the other day, why don't you give it a try? Did you learn to cook anything, finally? Don't tell me about your good-ol' noodles for God's sake! Hahaha...how are you managing? What else can you make?' -- on very reasonable grounds I was asked these questions one such day when I was in my zone and in a moment of waggishness, I retorted, 'Jupiter!'.

While the other voice of sense got slightly bewildered, I was grinning at my idiosyncrasies as the almost-ready dal in front of me looked uncannily similar to Jupiter’s surface with its characteristics stripes and swirls on a 2-D space, along with its iconic Great Red Spot.

Strangely similar. Eh? ©Darkroom, My Photostories

I let my imagination take flight to compensate for my acute lack of culinary skills as I ponder about it further. At about 4.5 billion years ago, during a cosmic lockdown, perhaps someone felt like me (Dalgona nehi, Dal hi sahi!) and got enough inspired or bored to make an icy planetary seedling when gravity started collapsing dust and gas in on itself as it began to spin. Perhaps someone wanted to generously garnish it with hydrogen and left also little pinches of helium with a dash of methane and ammonia. And then left it to cook under high flame for 5 whistles which took about 700,000 years before it was ready to be served as the biggest planet of the solar system, a massive gas giant. Or all these happened just on its own. Phew!


The non-Jovian

Coming back to our planet Earth, something curious was indeed happening back home other than the sinister, after the lockdown started sinking in.

Your colleague has learnt little bit of French through ‘cours rapide’! Your friend got 15-day-digital-certification in Data Science and Machine Learning course. Your neighbor got affiliated with some Knockdown Lockdown programme to fine-tune his communication and presentation skills. His wife, who disdainfully cooked half-boiled soggy green vegetables thus far when the maid wasn’t around and ‘Swiggy’ seemed like a guilt-trip, is now making Herbed buttermilk breads at home and posting their cupboard-sized cute photos all over the social media. Almost every next acquaintance of yours’ are attending different on-demand online fitness classes or yoga sessions. Your distant relative (who dismissed his child’s interest in guitar 15-years-ago and one day broke it in rage when the later fetched low marks in pre-board) is sending Telegraph’s daily Sudoku puzzles in family WhatsApp group and asking everyone to ‘use their brain a bit’.

Okay, it’s your close relative. I emphasized on distance to offer some comfort of unfamiliarity! But the crux of the matter is that everyone around you is suddenly very active. Very motivated to do ‘stuff’ in numbers. To pick up their slacks and learn new things.

As if most of the fellow humans are busy meeting all their past unmet New Year resolutions during this time in a precipitous productivity rush. You almost feel guilty if you spend your spare time doing nothing in such an environment. And then, all these happened within a course of a month or so as you stare agape. Or as it is in my dog’s case, as he yawns.

It turns out that suddenly most of the employed city-dwellers with more or less a stable economic inflow realized that they need to be much more systematic and productive than their usual ways in order to accrue the maximum benefit from their new-found 24/7 stay-at-home schedule and to manage their stress hormones. Typically this group doesn’t have any imminent real danger of getting furloughed or losing their footing due to abrupt halt in business. They are those who scavenged through all the popular series of Netflix and Prime to finally get struck by the epiphany: they still got loads of idle time in weekends which could be filled up to some extent by incessant chatter in web conferencing and video calls, but what’s next after making a concerned call to that distant relative after years and having a random conversation with awkward pauses to assuage a strange sense of guilt?


Hikikomori, Health hazard and Hype

A culture-bound social practice called hikikomori, characterized by acute social withdrawal and isolation wherein someone (typically male adolescents and adults) shuts themselves in without any contact and interaction for years, is prevalent in pockets in modern societies like Japan, Spain, US, UK, Canada, France, Italy among few others. First coined by psychiatrist Tamaki Saito in 1998, his treatise about hikikomori caught instant international attention and what was initially thought as a uniquely Japanese phenomenon soon got highlighted by mental health professionals of several countries. While the majority of such cases fall under different classes of psychiatric disorders, a considerable population doesn't conform to any of these classes and research suggests that it could be truly a culture-influenced syndrome with serious psychopathology.

Barring such extremes, ‘Isolationship’ is an anomalous state of affairs for most of us in the present social construct. But unlike hikikomori, the current situation is not so much layered. We all know that a contagious disease caused by a virus got us here. And in the face of an existential threat and need for physical distancing, desiring to connect and missing our old routine are very normal. The thrust of finding active pursuits for healthy engagement in the absence of Monday morning blues is rather desirable. It offers a sense of control and system amidst a ginormous crisis which is totally out of our sway so far. Also, prolonged seclusion can be unnerving and even mentally damaging for social creatures. Having said that, do we really need the constant buzz of fast-paced lifestyle and must we ‘endure’ an empty Saturday evening if we don’t get people around to chill with or don't develop a new skill? Isn't that venturing into another extreme?

Granted, the last one month has been no ordinary calendar month. It will go down in the history of humanity as one of its darkest hours post globalization. As authorities scrambled to contain Coronavirus by posing severe limitation on daily operations and movement, a newly-summoned collective coping mechanism to see and deal with disasters while remaining cooped up in the house all day long for months amidst the monotony of drudgery created this flurry of divertissements. And then, not having a constant mirror for energy exchange is appearing as nightmarish for many of us who always need 'some' preoccupation.

Of course, here I’m not talking about those who got genuine real-world issues to deal with, posed by seclusion due to illness, real job threat, halted business continuity, imminent economic challenges or/and other serious repercussions. I'm not even talking about healthy older adults. Even if they are newly practicing mindfulness meditation, cleaning a threadbare carpet, being pernickety about garden fertilizer or on other family members, taking on some neglected artistic pursuits, you will typically not hear them making noises often or publicizing it like the Dalgona-rage. I'm also not talking about any entitled and inconsiderate individuals who expect no impact on their routines and hassle others instead of trying to deal with own anxieties in a constructive way. And obviously I'm not talking about those who used to mostly stay at home during pre-corona time. Their daily routines and 'lifestyle' didn't see a drastic change with this apart from making them more hands-on at home in certain intensively labour-dependent societies like ours'.

When enforcement of cordon sanitaire and shutdown of regular operations became a new normal, it’s natural that everyone took that beating differently. Not stepping out to the outside world unless it’s an absolute necessity created a different set of problem though in outgoing urban populace apart from dealing with the air of uncertainty and real-life inconveniences: How to spend time ‘productively’ amidst near self-isolation?

However, it makes me wonder why we are so uncomfortable being within our own energy field doing nothing for some time? Why we need to be always productive? Why can't we be playfully imaginative and zoom out at times? Of course, we need to find a way to spend our time wisely but that also involves to just breathe and be, to allow the mind to wander like that popular Tagore's song 'Kothao amar hariye jawar nei maana, mone mone!', which can be loosely translated as it's not forbidden to get lost in my imagination,...I pluck my daydreams in wisps of clouded mists when the sun languishes in the horizon, diffusing in foams of seven oceans I reach faraway to knock the closed doors of fairies in the land of silence... So what if our feet are tied, wings of imagination are not clipped yet!


Taking stock of our motive

Imagination and boredom, two essential components without which we cannot create anything of quality anyway, and even if we do, that won't give us any true contentment as we will swiftly move on to the next, are increasingly underrated in today's world. 'I'm bored!' has become a commonplace complaint, which almost acts as an invitation for anyone who's paying attention to the 'plea' to devise a way for entertaining the grumbler. If kids say so, immediately most parents gets busy finding another distraction to keep them busy, stealing the opportunity to let them feel the boredom which will eventually trigger their ingenuity. Yes, some of them will be unpleasant surprises, but few will be very creative and help their character development. But otherwise these kids will grow up and bewail as adults, 'I'm bored!', expecting other adults to entertain or distract them who may be equally bored!

And what happens when these boredom-averse adult individuals are subjected to stay-at-respective-homes order? They will initially call each other to declare and rub off on each other's boredom, followed by trying to engage themselves in various activities which would supposedly dissipate their anxiety-ridden lassitude, at times even without questioning whether that's something really one wants to get involved with. And if the answer is so much of a burning yes, we probably need to ask ourselves that why it took some additional idle time gifted by a pandemic to get that desire on fire.

Alright, sometimes we need some unusual push of extraordinary times. We all tend to prevaricate at times without a catalyst and ironically, a calamitous virus is also helping a certain section to usher in something new in their lives and in their existing skill-sets. But why is this look-what-someone-else-doing sense of impending urgency when nature clearly has suggested us to hit a snooze button?

Why most of us are not comfortable in our skin with some downtime and need this constant dopamine-driven injection of social validation and adrenaline rush, and most importantly need everything to go back to how it all were, when how it all were precisely led us here? Social media also was recently abuzz with '2020 go back' memes along with Dalgona coffee craze. When over 1.25 billion animals died in Australian bush-fire and over 2.3 million died in Amazon rainforest fires along with widespread destruction of natural resources, nobody has asked 2019 to go back!

The highly-acclaimed novelist, Saul Bellow, once said, "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep". Are we doing what we are doing only because we are inspired?


Paradigm-shift is not gifted on a platter

It would be paltering with the reality if we don't admit that we are collectively operating under activated mortality consciousness and also trying to come up with different ways to positively cope due to transitory stress reactions. Whether you advocate the Protection motivation psychological model of fear or you relate more to Terror management theory which is more based on behavioral genetics, the fact of the matter is that fear is a very effective short-term motivator, but it loses its efficacy long-term when we become so all-consumed with the possibility of a negative outcome that it creates cognitive paralysis in us, thereby obscuring the possibility of conjuring up enough imagination and belief to overcome the real challenge.

Do we really fear the impending recession and the huge after-effect on economy and its implications? Yes, we do. Do we know that can be salvaged eventually? Yes, we do. Do we know it will be too late for many poor migrant workers, homeless people and small-scale businesses? Of course, we do. Do we really fear us and our dear ones getting afflicted by the virus? Even though according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 80%of people who develop the disease have mild to moderate symptoms and fully recover without needing treatment in a hospital, yes, we do. Do we feel disheartened looking at the increasing death counter in news scroll everyday? Sigh, we do. Do we get anxious thinking about our so-called foreseeable future in which vaccine will not come in market for us and we have to live under a constant invisible threat? Shit, we do. Most experts believe that a fully-functioning vaccine will not be viable till mid-2021 and then also there's no guarantee that it will work. And even if it works, can we actually inoculate 70% of 7.8 billion (4.9 billion) population on this planet within a considerable time-frame to create herd immunity? Is it even logistically feasible?

As the lockdown will slowly lift, what an opportune moment for big brands and giant corporations to make us think that this sinking feeling will ease up with latest iPhone or smartest Android at hand, as soon as we can resume having cold beer with friends on Friday nights, as soon as the multiplexes spring back to life and we can buy something expensive again to numb ourselves and feel temporarily good about our lives again. After all, retail therapy is now a positive impetus for making the economy roaring again even though those who have actually suffered are small-scale players. How 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' sounds to those migrant workers who got stripped out of their dignity due to hunger in front of their kids, I wonder.

And then, many private financial, educational and career-building institutions will continue to play on our insecurity in a volatile market when layoffs and pay-cuts are 'business as usual'. Shape up or ship out! Take that insurance, loan, credit card or private vehicle that you don't need. Get everything that's good-to-have but may not be so necessary for you. Live your dream today! Who knows, what awaits?! Er..after all, manipulation works wonders when people are at their vulnerable-best.

It's time for us to honour this great pause and summon our imagination and inner wisdom by connecting within ourselves. The language of silence is the most underrated one, that blissful comfort of freely suspending with the faith of the unseen. No 'high' is high enough if the flattening of the curve seems uncomfortable. Music remains just a noise when it absence doesn't stir too. It's time for us to take a deep breath and really think how sustainable and helpful our subconscious fear is as the background driver. And what we shall continue to carry forward from our past in our new reality. And then, conquest of fear doesn't lie in recklessness or in going with the flow. It lies in facing one's fear with knowledge, understanding and compassion.

As and when I'm writing this, people have already moved on from Dalgona and Pancake Cereal apparently is the hottest food trend now in social media. Just look at the shelf-life of things we are following like sheeple. I don't have any aversion towards any of these food items per se, but the likelihood of psycho-social damages cannot be masked under 'quarantine top-trends'. Until we change our pattern, we will always recycle our experiences in different shapes and forms and the chances of unpleasant surprises from microbial world will also exponentially grow.

It's time to birth a new planet, to dream, imagine and cook up fresh new ideas which would truly help us empower ourselves. We owe this to us and to our future generations. Now it's up to each one of us to decide shall we continue to make beeline for bandwagons or shall we pick up only those trends, practices, activities and hobbies in which we find 'real' joy and merit to build a world where we all are more accountable for our realities than bats and pangolins.


PhotoStory Date: 16.5.2020

Place: Bangalore

Words and Photograph: Amrita Ghosh

Tags: #Jupiter #Dalgona #coffee #kitchen #cooking #lockdown #quarantine #environment #psychology #hikikomori #isolation #socialwithdrawal #psychiatricdisorder #mentalhealth #coronavirus #socialdistancing #virus #productivity #selfisolation #imagination #boredom #idletime #anxiety #fear #pandemic #stress #psychological #cognitiveparalysis #herdimmunity #business #silence #pause #trend #hobbies #activities

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