They’re worried; they miss the world. Yet, the growing hasn’t stopped. And the world is still full of wonder. Yet, just how much of 2020 they’ve really been able to bear. School, that half day of chatter, learning, unlearning and finding your place among your peers, has shrunk to a tinny-voiced screen. Playground friendships have unravelled. There are no scraped knees this year. No falling off bicycles, dusting yourself off and getting back on. No everyday adventures in the big bad world. No escape from the grown-ups.
It’s no wonder, then, that when we asked kids across India to tell us what they liked and what they missed most during this pandemic, the responses were as wide-ranging and they were heartbreaking.
Of course they’re missing normalcy: “I miss the rush and sound of horns of Hyderabad” says one child. Another in Delhi misses Tuesday spring rolls at the school canteen.
The child of a toddy tapper in Kerala is concerned about the family’s finances. And one child in rural West Bengal is glad for afternoons because it means quiet time to paint.
India’s children are missing school, teachers, a separated parent, a friend. But most of all, they’re missing the freedom to walk a few steps further, stay out half an hour longer, test newfound strengths and new autonomies upon the world beyond their home.
They’ve lost one summer already—no cousins, no eating raw mangoes straight from the tree. Now, a very different festive season is here. As one child put it: “My biggest worry is, when will the disease go away and when will I be able to go to school again?”
How will India’s children remember 2020? As a series of questions the grown-ups couldn’t answer? As a blip along the path of growing up? A collective trauma they won’t be able to articulate until later? Or a shared memory we adults may never understand? Here are some answers.
“I’M WORKING ON AN ALBUM”
Ria Chawda, 16; Mumbai
JB Petit High School for Girls
The lockdown has been rather hectic for me. Online schooling started a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve had to adjust to this new way of learning. It’s been tough, staring at the screen for eight hours a day. Having said that, it hasn’t been all bad. The fact that I can eat and sleep at any time during the day (including during school) has been great.
During the lockdown, I did not learn a new skill but instead tried to get better at the things I love. I love music and spent a lot of time on my guitar and at my keyboard. I worked on my song-writing and am trying to produce stuff on my laptop. I should have a full album soon.
I’ve also been working on my portfolio for university… liberal arts and music. And I’ve been reading a lot.
I do miss the outdoors; it’s been nine months since I played badminton and the courts haven’t reopened yet. I miss going to CCI [Cricket Club of India]; it used to be like a second home. And I miss human interaction. Of course I chat with my friends, but it’s not the same as being with them.
My parents wouldn’t let me meet people initially, so it’s been a relief being able to finally hang out with my best friends — Karthika and Zara — over the last few weeks. We still can’t have sleepovers or go out for dinner as we used to. It’s sad that we can’t do that anymore.
I’m nervous about returning to school after all this. I wonder what school life is going to be like. Apart from my best friends, I haven’t been able to keep in touch with any other people. I feel like I have drifted out of most of my social circle, and now if I called them, it would be weird and awkward.
“I’M FINALLY READING THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS”
Darsh Gupta, 9; New Delhi
St Thomas School
I have discovered that I like art. I draw images of birds and little boats. I am drawn to boats because they don’t pollute, and I don’t like pollution. I found the air to be a little cleaner to breathe during the lockdown. My two cousins and I have spent a lot of time racing each other to the terrace and playing with ice and water. My older brother Sparsh, 14, taught me some coding. Together we programmed a circuit to make a small circle. I also got my parents to play Ludo with me and my grandparents to play snakes and ladders with us. I’ve also upped my skating skills on the terrace.
It’s sad that I can’t hang out with my friends. I used to love cycling around the colony with them. A bunch of us would also play kho-kho and cricket together. Now we can’t
I’m at least glad I get to meet some of my friends over our online classes. We’re allowed a few minutes of chatter before the teaching starts.
I am worried about school not starting up again next year. Apart from meeting my friends and teachers, I really miss the Tuesday special spring rolls in the canteen. What I don’t miss is the rock hard ice cream that they serve every day in summer. (Just to clarify, I love ice-cream otherwise.)
What I did get to do was read Harry Potter (my brother finally agreed to let me have his set). I am now on book six. I am also reading the Geronimo Stilton series – it’s the adventures of a mouse who’s scared of everything.
Overall, I have found the lockdown has not been very good and I worry about when we will get to go to school again. But I am happy for all the people around me, with whom I’ve got to spend so much time.
“I NEVER LIKE TO CURSE A SITUATION”
Pranav Sanal, 14; Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Karaikkakam government school
I don’t usually like hustle and bustle. Though we have to sacrifice many things, the background is serene and silent these days. The routine of the earlier life is missing. My father and mother [a toddy tapper and a part-time nursery teacher] have not had much work due to the pandemic, so we have stopped buying my pencils and paper. But I have turned to charcoal.
I miss my school, friends and my favourite game, cricket. But it seems we have to live with the evil for some time and I never like to curse a situation. We have to readjust our life clock to each situation. The lockdown has affected the poor and daily-wage earners badly. When my father talks about ‘tomorrow’ I also become little nervous, but life has to go on.
“WE TALK A LOT MORE NOW”
Sidrat ul Muntaha, 14; Pulwama, Kashmir
Hamdard Grammar School
My life changed completely during the pandemic. Earlier everybody was busy. We were busy with school and our parents with their work. Now we converse a lot with each other. Our parents discuss all family matters with me and my brother. Now we are also part of the discussions. My father even talked to me about his new business partnership.
But the team work of school is gone. There is a barrier between teachers and students, which is the screen. There are no practicals, no experiments.
We used to visit new places every year. This year we couldn’t do that. I miss that feeling of summer in a different state. Last year we went to Rajasthan!
I used to come home and write about the places I had seen. This year I have stopped writing. I would write poems as well but this year I could only write a poem on Covid, nothing else.
I loved visiting relatives. Now I am scared of visiting them.
“I WANT MY DAD TO COME HOME”
Zayan Rahman, 9; Bhojpur, Bihar
Jean Paul Public School
I have learnt the importance of cleanliness and of washing hands. Though washing hands is an old practice, I realised that it should be done regularly. Also, as I was not allowed to eat food from outside. I learnt to avoid junk food and enjoy home-cooked food. But the best part has been spending time with my mother and other family members. With no school, we spent hours together. It made me learn the value of family and togetherness.
The saddest thing is that I have not been able to meet my father since March. He is working in Dubai and he has got stuck there. I miss my father a lot and hope the things get normal so that my father will be able to get back home.
I also miss my school, my class friends and the time spent with them at the school grounds. Though there is no lockdown in Bihar, my family follows the Covid-19 guidelines strictly and I am not allowed to go outside to play. Earlier we used to visit public parks or to the zoo or go to a mall on weekends.
“I WISH I COULD GO TO THE PARK”
Asra Irsan, 12; Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
City Convent School
The pandemic gave me time to develop a hobby. I started learning to cook. It was something I wanted to do for the longest time. Now I to try cook something (mostly snacks) every evening when my parents sit for a cup of tea. I learned to bake a cake, which I am proud of. I am trying to bake cookies. I am following a new routine where I get up early for my online classes. With no tutorial classes, I have also learned to manage my studies on my own. I have started to help my mother in chores. This was not possible earlier because I had too much homework.
The thing I miss the most is going out to parks in the city. My father used to take us once every week. I also miss playing with my friends every day. Now we meet and play some games online but they are not that fun.
I miss my uncles, who live in a village outside the city. We used to visit them every summer. I love playing in the fields with my cousins and plucking raw mangoes from the trees and eating them with salt while sitting beside the water pump. Visiting the village used to be a lot of fun but it was not possible this year. Now I speak with my uncles and cousins over video call.
“I MISS BIRTHDAY PARTIES AND SWIMMING”
Harfateh Singh, 8; Mohali, Punjab
Manav Mangal Smart School
As I am very good in arts and crafts, I can do it any time of the day. In the evenings, I love to play with my friends in the park. Earlier, online classes seemed a little boring, but now teachers have made them more lively and interesting. Also, I have started playing online games on my mother’s mobile phone, which is becoming one of the best things in the day for me. During this pandemic, I learnt to make sandwiches and Maggi and now have an interest in cooking also.
Before the pandemic, I used to attend so many birthday parties of my friends but for the past seven months, I have not attended any, which I am missing a lot. I also love to visit my dearest aunt, who lives in Solan [Himachal Pradesh]. Being a hill station, time spent there has always been memorable for me, but we have not visited the place since the lockdown. I also badly miss my friends and teachers, especially the fun we friends would have during recess time of school. I am really worried about the schools reopening when we are still not clear about the virus. How will it be to be in school, with friends, going and coming every day? I am also missing my swimming classes.
“I MISS SCHOOL, AND I DON’T”
Mrigav Thakuria, 15; Kamrup, Assam
Satpakhali High School
The Covid-19 pandemic and the countrywide lockdown was something none of us expected or hoped to experience. But despite the hardships, there were some positives. One good thing was that there was respite from school. Most students loved that, at least initially. The lockdown brought good news for the environment as well since factories were shut for weeks and it helped improve air quality. The other thing I noticed was that there was reduction in consumption of intoxicants among people due to inability to procure them or move around. Use of masks also reduced the spread of other diseases commonly seen during summer months. Visits by doctors were common during summer, but this year that was not the case as few people suffered from severe fever and other seasonal diseases.
The pandemic and the initial lockdown brought lot of suffering for many. Thousands of people from Assam, mainly villagers, who had gone to other states for work, were stranded for weeks and had a very tough time getting back. Our classes were shut for weeks and finally they resumed only online. But many students in villages had a tough time as they either didn’t have mobile phones or there was no proper internet network. I miss going to school, attending classes and interacting with my friends. Since I am appearing for my Class 10 board exams next year, attending physical classes where we can interact more closely with our teachers and get our doubts clarified… I miss that a lot.
“I MISS THE SOUNDS OF TRAFFIC”
Mahitha Allani, 14; Hyderabad, Telangana
Rama Devi Public School
All students, including me, always wanted holidays during school time. In this pandemic situation, we got that, but I never imagined so many months of holidays. The first two months of lockdown were a lot of joy and happiness in my home. Later on it became so boring. I was a bit irritated but I like to stay home with mom and my brother.
I like the time we spend together, playing games, watching movies, cooking and, of course, studying. I did not stop my hobbies due to this pandemic, I continued my Carnatic music classes. I love to sing.
When the online classes started, I had a lot of anxiety about them. But now I think this situation is not bad as it gives students a chance to self-study and prepare without other disturbances.
I miss my school . I miss my face-to-face classes in school and music classes too. I miss talking to people, meeting cousins and family and taking trips to different places with my family.
I miss watching films in the theatres, enjoying popcorn. [I miss] even the freedom of walking on the roads and in the parks. I miss ordering food in, and the rush and sound of horns on the road. Now everything has come down into silence.
“I LIKE HAVING TIME TO DRAW”
Uma Mondol, 12; Gosaba, Sunderbans, West Bengal
Rangabelia High School
I like having the time to draw and play. I also like doing tasks which my school teachers sometimes send on my father’s mobile . I play with my friends in the morning and again in the afternoon. I mainly prefer to draw landscapes and nature. As I live in a village I get many things to see such as a pond, green rice fields and a river. I have my own drawing book and colour pencils. Afternoon is the best time because everyone sleeps after lunch. I sit in the courtyard and draw. There is no disturbance at that time and I can draw on my own.
I miss going to school, my school friends and going out with my parents. This year I missed the Durga Puja very much. Even though the village Durga Puja was held, the gathering was not there and the festivity was missing. We had to wear masks. Before the pandemic we used to go to my grandfather’s house, which is a two or three hours journey by boats and rickshaw. I have not been there for many months. I miss them. My father said that we will go there very soon. My biggest worry is, when will the disease go away and when will I be able to go to school again?
“I MISS MY COUSIN, AND THE CRICKET GROUND”
Prashant Dhakad, 13; Bareli, Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh
Sarvodaya Higher Secondary School
My mother and I shifted to Bareli from Kelkacch village, another village in the district, so that I could study in a good school, five years ago. During the lockdown, I returned to the village and lived a village life which was earlier limited to summer vacation. Here, I enjoying listening to anecdotes shared at village chaupal by elders. Evenings are the best time for me as all the villagers come out of their houses to talk and share stories.
I have started running in the morning daily, with young people of the village who are preparing for jobs in the army or police.
I miss the snacks which I used to have daily after school. I also miss athletics and cricket. In the village, I play cricket with a rubber ball but it hardly gives satisfaction to me as I love to play cricket with my friends in a good playground following all the rules. The cricket ground is my favourite place which I am missing the most.
I miss the chaat, chana masala and samosas. I never took care of hygiene but now it’s my biggest worry that I can’t consume street food due to the spread of Covid-19.
I am missing my cousin Anshul, who lives in Bhopal and used to visit Bareli frequently. Due to the pandemic his father’s financial condition got affected and his visits to the village and to Bareli have almost stopped. Anshul is the person with whom I used to share secrets about my school, teachers and friends.
“I SERVED FOOD TO MIGRANTS”
Harpreet Kaur, 9; Bharatpur, Rajasthan
Narendra Senior Secondary Kendriya Vidyalaya
The pandemic is a challenge for everybody but it brought a few good things into my life. I had time to learn to play the harmonium and pick up gatka, which is an Indian martial art associated with the Sikhs. I helped serve food to the poor people and migrants who were walking miles to reach their home, and I understood why my teacher and parents say that serving people is serving God and humanity. I got a chance to spend more time with my family, which was another thing I liked about the lockdown and the government guidelines.
The worst thing was that I was not able to go school. Initially, for some days the feeling of a holiday was good, but after that I started missing my school studies, sports activities, teachers and the time I used to spend with my friends. Before the pandemic, we were allowed to move freely and roam without masks. There was no tension of virus. I could play and go wherever I wanted to with my parents.
(Contributed by Natasha Rego, Chandan Kumar, Ramesh Babu, Srinivasa Rao Apparasu, Hillary Victor, Joydeep Thakur, Reena Sopam, Ashiq Hussain, Shruti Tomar, Jaykishan Sharma and Utpal Parashar)