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Life beyond Netflix — this is how urban India is keeping itself entertained at home

Shut in their homes to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many Indians are finding creative ways to battle boredom and loneliness.

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New Delhi: Coronavirus cases are on the rise in India, which is in its first week of a complete lockdown. Prime Minister Modi has announced a countrywide lockdown for 21 days, which means everything except essential services will be closed.

Restaurants, bars, malls, gyms, movie theatres and many other public places are shut, and most people who can are working from home. With many people practising self-isolation and social distancing for the past couple of weeks anyway, their social life has taken a hit.

But it’s not all bad. Some have found the quiet time a nice change, some others are relieved their dining out expenses are down. And many are using the extra time to do the things they always wanted to do — beyond Netflix.

A return to story time

One of the first things that people in self-isolation started Instagramming and tweeting about, even before lockdown, was that they would use the extra time to get back to the one thing that a hectic work life plus adulting in general leave little time for — reading.

Groups of friends are setting up online video book club meetings on Zoom or WhatsApp, and people are also forming reading recommendation chains, where they take to social media to ask for book suggestions and for each suggestion they get, they give one in return.

Shraman Ghosh, 24, who just returned from New York and will be in quarantine for the next two weeks, tells ThePrint, “I pretty much can’t meet or be around anybody for the next 14 days. So apart from working, I read. And got some really good suggestions from people on my Instagram.”

And companies around the world are stepping up to the plate as well. Publisher Juggernaut removed its paywall for the Janata Curfew Sunday, but later said it was not limited to that one day.

Meanwhile, for parents fretting about how to keep their children entertained, Amar Chitra Katha has come to the rescue, offering free access for 30 days to its Tinkle magazines and Amar Chitra Katha books.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted that his sister, a professional voiceover artist, will be conducting daily storytelling sessions for children.

The lockdown has also brought to the fore the fact that for the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, this is not new. At least the rest of India can rely on the internet during their quarantine. Even so, Gulshan Books, a chain with operations in Srinagar and Leh, has stepped up and been donating books to a number of Covid-19 quarantine facilities.

In an interview to Conde Nast Traveller, the owner’s son Sheikh Maied said, “Many people in these facilities are students. Since the Internet is slow and may also not work sometimes, we thought this would be a good way to keep them busy, at the same time inculcate the habit of reading among the young minds of Kashmir.”

Work out together, cook together

Staying alone at home for an extended period can take a toll on fitness levels and cause lethargy and depression. So, as gyms and health clubs across the country have been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, people have taken to exercising together with friends on WhatsApp video, sharing home workout routines and setting up ‘classes’ as well as ‘attending’ the home workout sessions on CULT and other fitness apps.

CULT has live sessions, which include yoga, a full-body cardio workout, core and oblique workouts as well as a 25-minute dance session. While CULT always had home workouts, the number of workout options has increased since all its gyms have been forced to shut shop for a while.

Sumira Dhawan, 23, who lives in New Delhi, has been following something called Blogilates, a popular home fitness page run by blogger Casey Ho. The page has workout routines and diet plans and, just to have a little fun, even has a 14-day Quarantine Workout Plan, which includes Quarantine Cardio, Anti Covid Abs, Sleek and Sanitized Arms, Social Distance Stretches and Plump Pandemic Booty, among others.

Dhawan tells ThePrint, “It is the best way to stay busy and also keep fit at the same time. The 14-day workout is quite fun and innovative with different names connected to Covid-19.”

Along with exercise, how to eat well is also on everyone’s mind — and people have found a way to turn this into a group event as well.

Archit Agarwal, part-time food blogger and full-time digital media manager at PR agency The Mavericks, has been posting recipes for dishes such as mushroom pasta with lemon yogurt sauce, roasted beetroot and hummus, sweet and sour chicken and coffee pudding. “I am putting up less complex recipes which are easy to follow and more friendly for vegetarians.”

He tells ThePrint that since the lockdown, his website has seen a 500 per cent increase in viewers. And on Instagram, where he used to typically get around 40 new followers in a day, he is now averaging about 120 a day. “Last week alone, my content reached over half a million people.”

And it’s not only his numbers, but also active community participation that has increased drastically. “People have been sharing their recipes and cooking every day rather than just the weekend. The number of queries has increased significantly and it’s all been organic.” The response has, in fact, been so encouraging that he hosted a live cooking session for people to follow along.

Shweta Gupta, a homemaker in Ahmedabad, has started watching YouTube tutorials on channels like bharatzkitchen and Foods and Flavors to learn new recipes. “I have decided to learn one new dish every day,” she tells ThePrint.

Learning for fun

You learn something new every day, they say, and with the Covid-19 pandemic spreading across India, many people have the time to really do that. Students, young professionals and older people are signing up on online learning platforms like Coursera and MasterClass to study everything from scriptwriting to ancient Chinese history to Islamic scriptures.

Srishti Shekhar, a 24-year old Delhi University student, has been relying on Coursera ever since her college shut down. But apart from her college curriculum, she is enjoying browsing through additional courses from Ivy League colleges that one earlier had to pay for.

Sridipta Venugopalan, a marketing executive, is studying Greek mythology on Coursera, and although it is a paid course, she looks forward to spending one hour online. “We all keep hearing bits and pieces of Greek mythology, but can’t link it all together. It’s fascinating to learn the sequence of all the stories of Zeus, Athena and Ares that we keep hearing around us.”

Online education can be fun not only for the student but also the teacher.

Popular Delhi-based singer-songwriter Dhruv Visvanath used Sunday’s Janata Curfew as an opportunity not just to sing, but to livestream his songwriting process on YouTube. The session lasted several hours, during which Visvanath showed his audience just how he chooses a particular key and why he goes with a particular riff.

He tells ThePrint, “Having lost out on the ability to perform and gather people to come to a show, I wanted to use this chance to really show people what goes behind making a song. So I installed a bunch of software on my computer, used Instagram to get people to vote for the song they wanted to see me make and took it from there. It was funny having an audience sit and watch me work. I didn’t eat or drink water! But on the whole, just having the company of some like-minded individuals really changed the way I saw how I spent my time in isolation. I’m definitely doing it again!”

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