As the perilous pandemic padlocked educational campuses of the valley afresh, Kashmiri students depict their distressing indoor life shadowed by the second viral wave.
A fleeting campus outing lately ended for chirpy Anusha when she was sent back indoors as an inmate. Fending in glum walls now, she mostly watches ‘viral visuals’ on her mother’s cellphone, and perhaps making right noises.
“They suspended our schools and kept gardens open,” the Class 9 student says. “Their misadventure is now creating an existential crisis for us in the form of this vicious viral caseload.”
Anusha is angry with the mismanagement, plagued life and seasonal campus closure in her homeland. Pushed to the wall, her class is currently conveying a hostage sense.
“Our education has become a big joke,” Anusha continues with a straight face. “We hardly learn anything from those pestering online classes where we act as mute spectators for the sake of completing our syllabus.”
Before this anguish and anger, the long wait had ended for Kashmiri students on February 15, 2021—when colleges were reopened across the valley. The announcement came as a breath of fresh air for the indoor-weary students.
After passing through a stressful stage during back-to-back lockdowns, Arshie Zainab was one of those students feeling a sense of solace with academic spring.
Her lockdown life became a harrowing homework last year when her entire family was tested Covid-19 positive.
The situation turned deadly after her uncle and aunt became Covid casualties.
“Gloom and grief made the entire lockdown time a traumatic experience for me,” Arshie says.
“But I was happy after college was reopened recently. It helped me to keep my mind busy with studies away from the woeful walls of my home. But sadly, this Covid has come as a big spoiler once again.”
Fearing the second virulent wave, the administration lately closed the campuses and sent students back to indoors. Those who’ve not signed in for online classes are up to more challenging days in lockdown.
Back home, many of them are not able to manage time.
When lockdown became frequent in Kashmir, especially after New Delhi dramatically enforced communication embargo in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir ahead of rendering its semi-autonomous status null and void in August 2019, Khusboo couldn’t maintain her schedule amid escalating stress.
But with the recent campus revival, she had started planning her days in a better way.
“After coming out of a captive life, change was there to see in the campus,” Khushboo, a Humanities student, says.
“You could meet friends, interact with teachers face to face, and feel that educational ecosystem all over again. All that felt like a welcome change, before this Covid house-arrested us again.”
Although many of these students remain paranoid after mostly raised in lockdowns over the years, they were looking forward to a ‘hassle-free’ campus calendar this time around.
“When they imposed lockdown within lockdown in 2020, I didn’t step out of my home for straight 45 days,” says Arman-ul-Haq, a 19-year-old student. “I ended up missing my coaching sessions and messing my concepts.”
Those preparing for competitive exams were more stressed during the previous pandemic phase powered by 2G internet.
“I was mostly tense about my competitive exams last year,” Aiman, a NEET aspirant, says. “I felt like trapped in an island with no way out.”
Apart from the troubled study, the fear of loneliness and infection has increased anxiety of students during another curbed phase.
“We were still recovering from the 2019 and 2020 restrictions when this lockdown came as yet another shocker,” Arman says.
“Our life is sadly revolving around these lockdowns now.”
Though used to constant campus closures, the present paralysis is only proving to be a nerve-wracking time for these young minds. For example, college-goer Mehvish often distresses herself by thinking about her elusive dream to study in foreign university.
“As lockdown has become a global phenomenon, I’ve given up on that idea for now,” Mehvish, a political science student, says.
“For us Kashmiri students, this pandemic has blocked an outlet. Earlier some of us would move out of our caged homeland to pursue studies elsewhere. But now when everybody is sailing in the same boat, we are only bearing the major brunt of it.”
For some students, however, the silver-lining this time around is unrestricted connectivity.
Not able to talk with their family and friends made earlier lockdowns a chilling experience for them.
“I was unable to stay connected with my dear ones in Kashmir during 2019 political lockdown,” says Asma, who pursues B.tech in Delhi.
“While 2019 was miserable, Covid lockdown only seems an extended holiday for me.”
If not holiday for all, the current captivity has at least become an opportunity for some students to spend more time with their parents and learn about the art of homemaking.
“I started to observe and appreciate how my mother performs all the household chores during the lockdown,” says Soliha, a college-goer. “My hectic school life earlier didn’t give me a chance to learn these things.”
While some are learning home affairs, others are trying their hands on cooking.
“When restaurants are closed, only a good cook at home can save the craving, the restaurant-like food,” says Muntazir, a graduate student trying to be chef for his family.
“With my sibling, I’m making pizza, samosa, momos, pani puri, and much more nowadays.”
But those who can’t cook are resorting to reading, gardening, social media consumption, online movie watching and videos games.
However, not everyone is making peace with the lockdown life, not at least angry Anusha.
Her mother’s cellphone continues to be her window of the world these days.
Lately, when locals were put under strict lockdown, a rush of non-locals at Srinagar Airport made her lose her calm again.
“Kashmir might be hell for locals, but it has to be heaven for non-locals who could be potential carriers of Covid,” the 9th grader says.
“Is Covid a life threat only for Kashmiris who’re being barred from trade and education in these viral times? While others can come and roam freely, we’re supposed to stay home. Irony dies every day in my Kashmir!”