No doubt as the preface to Within Four Walls of the Mind mentions that coronavirus is the buzzword these days, but to write about a new microscopic being creating ruckus around the world becomes more challenging when little can be ascertained about it while it mutates rapidly into lethal strains. Acknowledging the change in lifestyle that this invasive virus has caused across the globe in terms of strict implementation of social distancing, wearing of masks in public spaces, going out only if necessary and the utilisation of the virtual world, Salunke looks into the utter chaos that this crisis has caused in terms of its effect on the mental health of people who are driven to isolate as they crave for human touch. Within Four Walls Of The Mind is Salunke’s take on trying to find some method behind this madness where reality mimics scenes out of a sci-fi novel.
Marked by uncertainty, Within Four Walls of the Mind opens with the utter confusion that the initial days of the pandemic proved to be. It is narrated in the first person and begins with a working mother trying to comprehend all the viewpoints that people around her had about the virus while thinking about her daughter Priaanshi’s safety at school and the fate of the then ongoing board examinations. Her son is a resident of Prague and the fewer cases in the Czech Republic is a sort of relief amidst all the uncertainty. She cancels her travel plans to Ooty as the hotel shuts down under civ authority guidelines. Her son declines the idea of travelling back to India in the pandemic. The book never forgoes the tragic difficulties of the entire nation in different sections of the society for personal sympathy of the author. The incidents of the book are all real-life retellings of how things panned from March 2020 when the nationwide lockdown was imposed in India to June 2020.
The book provides a kaleidoscopic view of the pandemic and the fear, uncertainty and hopelessness that it instilled. It follows through events along with the dates on which these took place. The dates are written at the left margin that helps to chronologically place the panning out of the pandemic through the narrator’s eyes and the effect it had on life in general. It almost reads like several diary entries. This makes the narrative subjective and a single individual’s understanding of the pandemic. The beauty of the narrative is that it provides a bird’s eye view to the pandemic while not skipping out important incidents. In this sense it can be said that along with a panorama of the events, there is frequent zooming in into significant happenings through recording the details. This makes for an enticing read about a topic that has been done and over done since it struck planet Earth.
The vocabulary is moderately difficult and can be easily followed by an average reader. There are certain uses of terms like ‘Janata Curfew’ but not too many that cannot be understood or will need further explication. The use of colloquial or hybrid English terms in minimal or absent. The language flows freely and stitches the narrative together to provide a holistic understanding of the inner workings of the mind of an educated, well informed and intelligent individual capable of thinking things through. The fact that Salunke has not gone into too many frivolous details about the characters makes these characters ordinary individuals like the average pandemic sufferer but puts all the emphasis on the extraordinariness of their journey. This makes the book a sensible take on a global calamity with sensitivity.
This makes the book highly relatable to any person as most urban, working individuals who have been keeping up with the news know how stressful the pandemic has been with the confusion and unpredictability that it has brought along with it. Salunke notes the plight of several people who have been hit hard by the pandemic particularly daily wage migrant workers. This sort of consciousness about the different sections of society provides a better view of how the pandemic affected lives in a country like India. For the privileged, staying home and isolating while being virtually social beings was another form of challenge as Salunke notes: “It was a paradoxical situation.” To a great extent the book reads like a history of the lockdown in India, its impact on the way society functions and the charitable activities that different individuals engaged in which made them come together though maintaining the norms of social distancing. Salunke also notes the impact of the pandemic on the environment with lowering of air pollution, water pollution and carbon emissions by automobiles. The main crux of the book however, is the psychological take on human mental health in living a life under lockdown. She notes how the new normal has been calling in depressive thoughts and increased levels of stress, numbness and insecurity due to anxiety. Salunke notes how the mind then comes up with virtual social media interactivities that give people something to do without really having to tackle with the reality at hand. Additionally there is speculation about the other natural and manmade disasters and accidents that take place during the lockdown which make it so hard for authorities to tackle them. The book is realistic and informative. It is not another flimsy take on the pandemic. It is a heartfelt and responsible retelling of the different phases of lockdown in India, its impact and effect on the such a large nation. The book cover is a brutally honest depiction of nervous breakdown that most people have experienced in the prolonged lockdown during this pandemic.
Book Title: Within Four Walls of the Mind
Author: Smita Naik Salunke
Publisher: Notion Press
Paperback: 126 pages
Reviewed by: Tasnima Yasmin, Criticspace Literary Journal