Becoming more aware during the covid pandemic

THERE MUST HAVE been some mistake. The organisers of the 2022 Bangalore Literary Festival omitted to invite me to speak about my writing at the festival, which is held in early December.

However, one of the invited speakers was the renowned travel writer Pico Iyer. He said many things that chimed with my way(s) of thinking. One of these was how little we know about our immediate surroundings. During the pandemic lockdown, his movements were restricted to the places in his near neighbourhood (in California). Everyday, he used to walk to the end of his street and gradually realised that until the lockdown commenced he had been unaware if the great beauty of his immediate surroundings, which he had never noticed before.

Likewise, for a few months during the first London lockdown, we did not stray more than about 1 ½ miles from our home. Every day, we took a stroll along streets, which we thought we knew well, and also along nearby streets we had never entered or even knew existed. Everyday, we spotted things we had never noticed before, despite having passed them often over a period of several decades. It seemed that when our horizons became closer and our world contracted, the acuities of our vision and perception expanded. We discovered that our temporarily contracted world revealed details and facets that were hidden from us, or went unnoticed, when our movement was unrestricted. It was these details that inspired me to investigate them and then write about them in what has become my book about West London.

As I listened to Pico Iyer’s excellent lecture, I realised that what we had noticed during the lockdown in relation to heightened awareness of our immediate surroundings in London was what he had experienced several thousand miles away in California.

Modern transport and communication technology has in many ways caused the world to seem as if it has shrunk. Pico Iyer mentioned this, but said that despite this we appear to know less about the world than we think. The enforced confinement to what we believed to be a familiar environment has demonstrated that we really know far less about it than we had hitherto always assumed.

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