‘Can you give a talk on the topic, Isolation?’ That was the question from a group of college students. Such a depressing topic. Instinctively, I wanted to say no.But after some thought, the possibility of taking a different perspective on the subject, made it less depressing. A majority of people have struggled with the dilemma of isolation, and many have taken an extreme view of the enforced isolation of social and physical distancing, and lockdown periods where shops, other than food stores, were closed down. Suicides following inability to cope with isolation have happened.
We had two choices and still do: choosing the Worst Case Scenario (WCS) or opting for the Best Case Scenario (BCS). The people who chose BCS have used their times in isolation very creatively. Besides going back to the soil to grow their own food, people came up with new online businesses and succeeded and survived. Not only that – they thrived! A great example of BCS in the past is the fact that many great books were written when their writers were in prison, in solitary confinement. So, isolation can be what you make of it. If you choose to use isolation, instead of letting it use you, the end results can always be positive.
Here are some of the great books written in isolation:
1. ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ by Martin Luther King Jr.
2. ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes. He wrote it in a period when he was imprisoned for debt. (I’m certain it got him out of debt!)
3. ‘Pisan Cantos’ was written by Ezra Pound when he was incarcerated in Italy for supporting Mussolini. (Wrong party, Ezra!)
4. ‘Conversations with Myself’ was written by Nelson Mandela in prison. (As an aside, I love the story of Trevor Noah phoning people in S. Africa pretending to be Nelson Mandela. He did not do mischief other than thanking them in a convincing Mandela voice).
5. ‘Morte D’arthur’ was written by Sir Thomas Malory. He was serving a sentence for rape and possibly theft, as well. (This book has the beautiful values of chivalry- heroic deeds, and protection of the honour of women - among its chief themes!)
6. ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ a classic of English Literature, was written by John Bunyan, in a Bedfordshire prison where he was incarcerated for preaching. Bunyan’s fascinating allegory of the Christian journey has been translated into more than 200 languages even though the official count is 200. They probably don’t know it was translated into some Naga languages. ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ continues to be named among the best 100 books.
There are other titles such as Alexander Solshenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’ written when the author was imprisoned under Soviet Russia. Remember the letters of Saint Paul? Without his prison stint, who knows if those enlightening letters on the spirit life would have been written.
It is so untrue that times of lockdown are periods where there is ‘nothing to do.’Only the foolish find isolation periods idle.
People began growing their own food last year. The return to the soil is so rejuvenating. Even if you just buy a few flower pots and sow seeds, the pleasure of watching a plant come to life is all yours. It is a slow process, but a fascinating lesson. As our lives are dictated by instant gratification, a plant growing can teach us patience and much needed lessons of delayed gratification.
Isolation gives us the luxury of time. Use it well. It is not a waiting period. It is a duration for ideas to germinate and be launched.
Learn to play piano, guitar, drums or the accordion, any musical instrument of your choice. Because music calms.
Learn a new language; learn it through songs because the words stick if you are singing them. A woman and her daughter are learning Hindi by watching Bollywood movies and talking to each other in broken Hindi.
Learn to knit, crochet, embroider. Learn carpentry, candle-making, soap making.
Learn, learn, learn. Learn to write and speak English properly since we are so dependent on it. Use sites on pronunciation.
In years to come, may you not look back and say, ‘I wish I had not wasted my time during the isolation period.’
Isolation is a gift that we don’t recognise. Why not use it instead of abusing it?
I bless the people among us who are using their time in isolation creatively and positively because they are yielding the best results. They are showing the way forward. Let us follow them.