In Confinement

Are we in the phase of “reculer pour mieux sauter”? Maybe

By Dr Rajagopal Soondron

Overnight we Mauritians have discovered how a common word like “confinement” could suddenly assume such a devastating meaning and significance. Literate people are conversant with the term since their schooldays, but never was it thought that it would come to stir our psyche so much for so long.

Unfortunately our less educated compatriots may not have understood what the authorities really wanted to convey when the latter talked about confinement. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘confine’ as “to keep or restrict someone or something within certain limits of space, scope, and time”, which could imply an external agent curtailing one’s freedom. While “to be confined” is to be “unable to leave one’s bed or home”.

Mentioning bed might stir some of us of the old school who may inevitably think of pregnant women – who, at the term of pregnancy, could be confined to bed and room at home when child delivery was the high point of a woman’s life. In those days, it could have been a dangerous procedure – so our women ancestors were asked to rest, remain indoors long before delivery – and for some two weeks after that family event.

Stirring some foreboding feelings, confinement in our students’ days meant an unfortunate afternoon arrest, which induced an uneasy sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach as we were forced to stay behind in the eerie atmosphere of an empty school when all our friends had left for home, rendering us all miserable.

Classes or, worst, oral examination forced us to face some sadistic examiner’s difficult question; he showed signs of irritation, not appreciating our attempt at mental gymnastics to beat about the bush. So he would ask us to confine ourselves to his question. Only our shoes could tell how small we felt in those stressful moments of our student’s life, how our toes reflexly extended and flexed themselves into a musical tempo; our brain struggled feverishly to escape from the trap it found itself in with our face muscles trying as best as they could to initiate some sympathetic smile.

Now and then our legal professionals may talk about confinement as a euphemism to indicate that the miscreants of our society are due to be sent to some physical restrictive places – some prisons or police cells. While to many of us cinephiles, we could conjure some underground hot, humid cells in some desert where our favourite heroes of “Légion d’honneur” fame were confined for a few days or hours during their risky adventures into enemy territory.

And what to say of those heartbroken, tear loaded heroines of bygone days movies who realized that their love affair with an outsider was anathema to the family’s honour and social standing – and one good day they consequently found themselves locked up and confined to a room at home. And finally we realised, with sinking feelings, that confinement also meant ‘couvre-feu’ and lockdown.

Confinement for four billions

None of us expected that one day we would be witness to such a tragedy as is happening now. Billions of people are confined to their homes, while many thousands are dying — leaving their home for a last time as they go for treatment in health institutions, with the sadness that they may never see their close ones again, and even denied proper religious rituals at the end of their life.

How we live our confinement will depend on each of us — how young or old we are; how active have we been at home or away from home. Children are having a field day; being away from stressful school life is itself a God-sent manna. Some of us may love gardening – and so can plan our time accordingly; others love God – what better time to remind Him of our fear and worries than by singing His glory. Still some of us were too busy at work and had neglected some long-standing pastime at home. We had always dreamt of reading some cherished books, but were always too tired. Or why not revisit old movies of the 50s and 60s which had kept us turbulent adolescents dreaming in those days of restricted pastimes. Why not play some games with our children, teach them the fun of chess, draught and domino, or tell them stories as in olden days?

But to many people confinement means a very stressful period of their life because as the sole bread winner of the family, being self-employed be it as a hawker, vegetable seller, or dholl puri vendor, life is extremely hard. And what to say of the drug addicts? Surely they won’t like to be confined as withdrawal symptoms set in – and they ultimately become a social problem. During normal times they escaped ‘our reality’ to seek refuge in their own lazy, mystical virtual world. And today we the ‘normal’ people are becoming dazed and groggy with confinement at home: our routine everyday intercourse with different social strata – be they in our offices, the people we meet on the roads, our routine work, our ups and downs of life, our colleagues — are all missed, playing a funny psychological trick on us. Making us to realize that we finally need all these mundane social interactions to build our psyche, internal stability, mental life and our personality.


How to tackle this new challenge – and for how long? How long to wear a face mask? Who will have developed immunity? Who will fall prey in the months to come and contribute to a second peak of the pandemic? Will the senior citizens be the final sacrificial goats for the good of society? When will the long-awaited vaccine be available? Maybe in one year, we are told. And the state’s finances? How bad will they be? How many people will lose their jobs? Are we heading towards a social crisis, instability and profound inflation? Will we have learned some lessons or will we go back to our old habits?

The old, the weak, the immune deficient will pay the price in the months to come… for a better tomorrow and stronger civilization. As a species, are we in the phase of “reculer pour mieux sauter”? Maybe.

* Published in print edition on 21 April 2020

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