A record of musings about the lockdown, ‘Locktales’ is edited by Bhavani S and Meenakshi Shivram of the Department of English and Cultural Studies, Christ University.

Locktales, edited by Bhavani S and Meenakshi Shivram
Features Books Tuesday, August 24, 2021 - 17:04

“Isn’t art also a testimony, a record of what the human mind witnessed? The pandemic created an urge for an immediate response,” say Bhavani S and Meenakshi Shivram, the editors in their recently released book Locktales, a collective work brainstormed by members of the Department of English and Cultural Studies, CHRIST (Deemed to be University) and published by Prism Books in Bengaluru.

The lockdown saga during the pandemic and the subsequent forced classes that teachers had to conduct from home weren’t pleasant, although full of diverse experiences. Learning newer ways of teaching, and struggling to get familiar with a new interactive platform, one of them casually said, “We must record this locked-in experience.”

Each one’s account soon transformed into an inspiration for the Department, which wanted to ink the complex phase into memory. The collective contemplations by the Department members resulted in Locktales, expressed in the form of poems, memoirs, short stories, musings and celebratory pieces.

Celebratory, during the pandemic? Yes, exactly why this special book – mirroring a range of personal narratives – will linger in history, beckoning solidarity with the educational community in particular, in the backdrop of this universal widespread adversity.

Both Dr Meenakshi and Dr Bhavani teach at CHRIST University, experimenting with new teaching techniques. While Bhavani – rediscovering her artistic side during the lockdown – designed the cover of Locktales with a Madhubani inspired Kalpavriksha, she has also co-authored four English language and literature textbooks published by Cambridge University Press. Meenakshi has also taught at Mumbai University and Chennai University, and has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Translation.

The Central Campus of Christ University has an enviable English Department with 26 teachers who exclusively contributed to Locktales, which has an engaging introduction by novelist Usha KR. “Usha is one of our finest contemporary Indian writers, sensitive to the unsaid and the unspoken. She can articulate silences with finesse and panache,” says Meenakshi.

Some excerpts from Bhavani and Meenakshi’s exclusive interview with The News Minute.

What was the starting point for Locktales?

Bhavani: We visualised a coffee table book but realised the constraints of budget. The pandemic had led to a huge dip in the publishing industry, so publishers were not willing to accept new projects or invest in one. But finally, we’re glad it happened.

Meenakshi: During the lockdown, we as teachers had to pick up sophisticated technology-related skills. It was not about the difficulty of learning something new – it was the sheer anguish of expending energy in an area that was so irrelevant to us. It was the pain of knowing that some of our students had no data connectivity. The reality was that not all students had laptops or smartphones. It seemed like a topsy-turvy world. In class we would be telling students not to look into their phones. And now we were telling them to stay glued to it. While we were once talking to each other about the futility and insanity of this ‘newness,’ we thought of storing these memories. We realised that each of us had a story in us – we thought that memory had to be preserved.

On bottle painting (in the memoir), and book cover with a Madhubani-inspired Kalpavriksha

Bhavani: The bottle painting (along with the many others I did during the lockdown) was done much before the idea of the book was brought up. And this is also one reason that gave me the confidence to try out the cover design. The tree (with the bunch of keys, instead of the usual flowers) was designed exclusively for the book. I’m comfortable with Madhubani or Gond and wasn’t sure if it would look artistic... but I tried a mix of the two with the keys added. A tree is believed to be a positive symbol and so I wanted to do a Kalpavriksha as it is a wish-fulfilling tree. Meenakshi and I wanted a bright and positive tone and we chanced upon the ‘quarantine yellow’ to highlight the tree.

On bringing out all emotions into the book – sad, introspective and happy ways in which the pandemic is recorded

Bhavani: The overwhelming emotion was one of sadness and perplexity. Some looked at the outer world and the changes there, some looked at the world within and the turbulence. Some found their strength in religion. Some asked existential questions. Some had a message for future generations. And in the midst of all this apparent chaos, the undercurrent of life continued to flow. COVID-19 could not stop the coming together of people in love. This book is a tribute to the resilience of life itself.

On the entire English Department’s contribution which makes it a rare work

Meenakshi: We didn’t know what the contributions would look like, and we created the categories as and when we received them. As you can see, we are a very big department. Our idea really was a non-academic space in which all of us could appear together. Usually, members of a department appear together in academic spaces and even there not all of them together. We wanted this book to be like a photograph of the Teacher’s Batch of 2020.

On the memoir ‘That one backward glance’

Meenakshi: That extraordinary backward glance by the farmer, played by Balraj Sahni in Bimal Roy’s film Do Bigha Zameen, sends a chill down your spine. I was drawing a parallel to this poignant scene where the farmer casts one final glance at his field before he sets off to the city to “earn more money.” That scene haunted me with memories during the pandemic.

The Christ campus is unlike any other college campus that I have seen, bustling with 21,000 students. There are open spaces, sports grounds, noisy canteens and quiet corners. If you wish to explain the meaning of the word ‘vibrant’ to anyone, I’ll say bring them to our campus. The thought that the thriving heart of the campus had stopped beating is something that even today I find difficult to come to terms with. The back cover of our book has a picture of the board outside the college – ‘temporarily closed’. Who knew the temporary would be the permanent? What I have written came straight from my heart – you know the worth of a thing only when you lose it.

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