CHENNAI: These have been unprecedented times. Our vocabularies have expanded, much like many of our waistlines. New words that reek of technology have become a part of our lives. Webinars and Zoom meetings nudged their way into dictionaries, while the art fraternity pitched in, with online shows and virtual walkthroughs flooding our language too. The one phrase, however, that defines the past year and completely changed perceptions (for which we are eternally grateful), is the phenomenal WFH.
For the uninitiated, who, as I did, imagine it to be an abbreviated profanity, i t simply means Work From Home. Artists, writers and the whole creative clan have always been the grand matriarchs/patriarchs of the WFH culture. Our workspaces have most often been an extension of our homes. Our work attire comprises whatever we find comfortable, with pyjamas ruling the roost. Dress codes don’t bind us and we’ve been spared membership to the office group, created exclusively to gossip about the boss.
Our weekends could be on a Monday or not at all. The times we worked through the night to keep a deadline are countless. Yet, in a world that wakes up and heads to work at a designated time every day, we were dismissed as unemployed, pyjama-clad, binge-watchers of Netflix. Until the pandemic struck. As cities shut down offices, cluttered tables back home were cleared to make room for your laptop.
The shelf in the background was emptied of all paraphernalia that spelt domesticity and in its place came the trophies from school, even if it was an acknowledgement of your participation in that frog jump race in third grade. Books with fancy titles were dusted and placed strategically in anticipation of Zoom meetings and that seventeenth webinar of the month. That was truly the universe’s Bodhi Tree moment when enlightenment dawned slowly, that IT IS possible to work from home and sometimes, this can be more stressful than a desk job as it’s a fine balance between one’s professional and personal space. Modern-day enlightenment, sadly, fades away with time.
When the world heals from these uncertain times, and you go back to your swanky offices, the buttoned-up collared shirt paired with your pyjama days, earnestly discussing the projected growth of the Indian economy whilst rolling your eyes at your children, hoping curiosity does not bring them closer to your screen, will all be forgotten. WFH will disappear from your dictionaries.
Yet, one thing is certain. Despite the ravages of short-term memory, you will never again ask your pyjamaclad, working-from-home neighbour, “So, how do you spend your time at home?” In all probability, you will remember all the movies you watched, the recipes you tried, the books you read, the music you hummed to, the painting you finally made...everything that kept your sanity alive while the world around you crumbled. And you will finally understand that they were all created by the pyjama-clad WFH chieftains.
(Jitha Karthikeyan is an artist and curator, passionate about making art accessible to the larger public)