Published: 02nd April 2020
How Ms Alwar's illustrations on Instagram can help you handle your mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown
Sangeetha Alwar believes that people should be allowed to cope with the outbreak and its after-effects in their own way without being pressurised to do too much
Sangeetha Alwar thinks it’s time to reconsider Chuck Palahniuk's historic words from his novel Fight Club: ‘We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war.’ The freelance artist says, “We are not the middle children any longer. In a post-Coronavirus world, we are engaged in a spiritual war if we let it be. It can be a spiritual crisis only if we let it be.”
Sangeetha works as a Professor at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media as a Professor of English. She has been illustrating for the past 5 years. Following the government announcing a 21-day lockdown in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, she has been teaching her students online. From her own experiences and those of her students, she has discovered that most people are unable to cope with the changes around them. So she decided to use art to address it.
One important theme in her work has been mental health. She says, “I see a shift in society. When I was a student, mental health was not something we had the confidence to speak about. These days, students have been emboldened to open up about their personal struggles and I think that is something we need to hold on to. At a time when young people are all fraught with ADHD problems from using Snapchat and Twitter, we’re losing our attention spans. Illustrations are a good way to reach this audience.”
ART UP: Sangeetha also works as an English professor
Sangeetha’s art has steered towards mental health issues previously when the country was distraught over the Delhi riots. At the time, countless thankful followers called her to thank her for helping them deal with tragedies. She says, “When the lockdown started, a lot of people I know had to go back to abusive homes. It is a big decision to go back to a place of trauma like that when you are out of options. I wanted to create art that would bring people together at a time like this, even though it is due to a tragedy.”
On her Instagram page titled Ms Alwar, she asks people to slow down and just breathe. Through a series of posts, she addressed a growing narrative on social media that was focused on people doing things. She says, “When we see people post about the number of books they have read, we should not have to feel inadequate. It is okay not to do anything and take your own time. This is a crisis, not a vacation!”
She rubbishes the claims of social media influencers that self-reflection is the only way to survive this new reality. Her work emphasises on the fast that people’s coping mechanisms vary. “You cannot deal with a crisis of such a large scale too fast. I don’t subscribe to this idea that people who are spending their time making TiKToK videos and participating in Instagram challenges are wasting their time. This urgency is an unfortunate part of our culture. Let us not reevaluate the effects of the crisis before it has even started.”
The illustrator herself has been spending the lockdown with her family. She makes do with her sister’s home-cooked meals and a dozen books that she has been meaning to read since she was in college. But she adds that she might not manage to do it. And that’s okay too as long as we all remember to breathe.