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First there were whispers. And slowly the hushed sounds grew louder. All the furniture, the fixtures, the lights, the plants, the computers, even the usually aloof and quiet copier machine jumped into the conversation. They had never seen the department empty for this long. Bharti Institute of Public Policy was the chirpiest and the liveliest department in the entire building!

 

Where did everyone go missing? How could have everyone left without a goodbye? They did not witness a farewell or a cake cutting, the sofa at the entrance confirmed it, and so did the chairs in Maitreyi. No one knew anything, except that the last time anyone seen walking the corridors was March 19, and no one has come back since! It’s been eight weeks! All of them did enjoy their weekend breaks when the chairs weren’t being pulled around, the tables were spared water and coffee spills and the computer keyboards were thankful for not being tapped at, the copier not spewing out pages, but now was enough. They missed the bright mornings, echoing with good mornings, hello’s and hi’s, gleeful smiles, the lunch menu discussions, work conversations, the cribs and the gossips, catch-ups, the excitement of football and table-tennis matches, the hullabaloos and even the stress. Someone needs to bring our people back! 

 

The only one capable of doing this was the desktop computer on Dr. Aarushis’s desk that was somehow left plugged in and was functional. It was assigned the task of finding the missing people of BIPP. Thanks to technology, it was a child’s play. Gone were the days when people confided in the pages of a diary, every thought was now catalogued online. It began tracking BIPP people one by one and stumbled first upon Sangeetha. She is just a hundred meters away, the computer shrieked with excitement, but then why didn’t she come visit! Cooking, babysitting, working, all while stuck to the laptop, with no available help at hand, Sangeetha was more than occupied. The work-life balance was a unicorn she realised, and no one has ever seen it. Beyond the chaos, it did see content smiles, gratitude and a more patient her!

 

Newly married, Pranav was finally getting to spend some quality time with Soumya, living a settled married life, not out of boxes anymore. They were cooking, figuring the mechanics of marriage, and of course fighting. However, what was making Pranav the saddest was the complete absence of Golgappas from his life. Close by, in Mohali was Ripunjaya. She was sipping on Dalgona coffee; here was someone keeping up with the latest in the culinary world! Work was keeping her occupied, but her nimble fingers were busy crafting alongside.

 

The computer next landed in Aarushi’s home, well the digital one. She was caught neck-deep in work, again like Sangeetha figuring where are the scales that balance work and life! Keeping things going on the home front and keeping the team together whilst not being together was a challenge well accepted. The virtual meetings were godsent! 

 

After checking up on Aarushi, it tried tracking Himani. While entertaining her year-old daughter, she was busy writing emails, answering calls, shooting off messages and trying to get her head around moving the website to the new adobe platform. She definitely has more than two hands, thought the computer! Looking at her work exhausted it and it slowly moved on and found itself in Sridhar’s home. Sridhar was happily playing with his little boy, an opportunity he doesn’t get often. His family was visiting him, and thanks to the lockdown, the stay extended. Even though he was mired in research and writing, the smile never left his face. There is a silver lining to every dark cloud. 

 

In the process of tracking everyone, the computer found out about this horrible, terrible disease of Covid19 that had taken the world over and brought all life to a screeching halt, forcing people into the confines of their houses. And no one was feeling this pain more than Sachin. It was after years that he found himself at his parents, in a city, he had left long ago. Struggling with a slow and fluctuating internet, he was developing an appreciation for the more important things in life, a home, food and family. On the other hand, Deepti was still trying to cope with the concept of working from home. At times missing meals, and times missing meetings, she was missing her routine of going to office the most!

 

Slithering around to get hold of others, the computer found Amrita, busy spending time with her family, even though virtually over video calls; and thankful for the love and affection she was wrapped in helping her cope with the void her grandmother’s passing had left in her life. The effects of confinements seem to have slipped Isha. She was at ease working from home, spending time with family, catching up on her pending to-do list of reading, cooking and learning online. Nidhi, the computer, found was enjoying the flexibility work from home offered and the fact that careers could sustain and grow while working from home. But then what about the fun of being in office, chit-chatting, laughing over cups of tea and coffee, hanging out in the corridors? There was no substitute for that.

 

From Nidhi, the computer moved on to find Karishma who was having a blast singing karaoke and working out with her family. She was enjoying learning the art of cooking and baking but missed her friends and colleagues terribly. Virtual connecting was the only option, but something was better than nothing. The computer then chanced upon Avik and was surprised to find him in Delhi! He ought to have been in Mohali by now. He felt he was living ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. With no travel or conferences to attend or interviews to give, Avik’s time was now completely taken up by IDP and he was busy running that ship on full steam!

 

The easiest to find was Ashwini. It seemed he was all over the internet, full of action and excitement as always, and this time at the kick-off of his new initiative JumpStart@ISB to help the country get back on its feet and recover from the economic meltdown. Despite the computer’s best attempts, Abhijeet couldn’t be tracked. There was no digital footprint large enough to help it reach him! When it tried reaching Ankita, all links led to Ellen DeGeneres. It is still wondering why.

 

Next the computer reached Saryu. She was found writing, painting and baking somethings that had gone missing from her life. While the time spent her with son was most precious to her, the pause had given an opportunity to discover and enjoy the simple joys of a family. Working from home, however, was no fun. She missed driving to office, the rush to reach in time, her friends and colleagues. This new normal didn’t feel normal or better. The computer managed to sneak one of her poems that probably summed how most were feeling.

 

For truly the first time in my life,

I have the opportunity 

To step back, pause and analyse 

All within and without

And I have found

We complicate life without doubt

We need basics to live

Bare minimum to survive

Everything else is on the side

A roof, some food, few people

Life is really that simple 

 

The computer told the others of what it had found, and how everyone was fairing and why were they not coming to office. They were happy to know that everyone was happy, healthy and safe but more importantly were missing office as much as the office was missing all of them. Even though they were all connected over phone and video calls, messages, virtual meetings and game nights, nothing could ever match the charm and the joy of being in the lush green campus, being able to see each other for real, shake hands, hug, talk, laugh, share food, play table-tennis, pool or the hundred other things that they do. People can be virtually connected 24×7, but ultimately humans are social animals that need to connect with people for real to be happy, to grow, to evolve. 

 

The office of BIPP awaits patiently for its people to return and bring it back to life, minus the people it’s just a building with furniture. 

  

Saryu Bansal : Case/Content Writer, Bharti Institute of Public Policy

Email Id : bipp@isb.edu; saryu_bansal@isb.edu

Picture: ISB Mohali Campus by Robin R Devadoss