The Backgrounds of Our Lives: Education during COVID-19

Sindhu Mathai on background sounds in online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The pandemic has driven us home
Driving home online classes
There is a distance I experience
Unspoken spaces and silences.

How do I know you through video streaming?
Or through the masks we put on?
In being watched and recorded?
Our lives not playing along.

Desperately I searched
To move into the background
To make each of you speak
To address you from beyond.

I turned to make you present
Hoping to notice more
About your selves and lives,
Our invisible trauma, therefore.

There were vivid sounds I heard:
A narrative being formed
A peek into your private living
And the public that surrounds.

It ought to be in the background
But the background’s now nearer!
Each from a different home
From a life like no other.

There’s someone having a bath
The rhythm of sloshing sounds!
Embarrassment? No, No!
This is just as profound.

Movement of heavy objects
With rough, loud words – unowned
No need for apology in living
On the edge of containment zones.

There’s a dog running and barking,
It refuses to be stopped!
There’s someone running over
To bring it to a halt.

Sweet birdsong in the morning
From the tree just above
Alerts to the angst of the missing signal’
And the missing natural’ longed for.

Here’s a child wailing now finally
Who’s usually considerate and playing
Here’s amma presenting, leaving him behind!
She’s often quieter – what’s wrong?

The sounds of strong winds blowing
The outdoors is where I should be
If I could escape chaotic routine
And work with certainty.

The backgrounds of our lives,
No more beyond and further
Each from a different home
From a life like no other.

Image Credit: Drawing made by Mahima and Komal, MA in Education (201921)

About the Poet

Sindhu Mathai is an MA in Education faculty member at Azim Premji University. She teaches courses in science education and curriculum studies. Her recent projects are in the areas of informal science learning, graphical literacy, and space-time relationships in the classroom.