Stuck in Kerala at her cousin’s house through the lockdown, litigation lawyer Aashima Panikar, 26, started spending more time on Instagram. She came across the #betweenartandquarantine challenge started by the Metropolitan Musuem of Art in New York with people using household items to recreate famous works of art. She and her cousins decided to give it a desi twist and recreated Jamini Roy’s Three Pujarins with things they found around the house.
The views and likes cheered them up, and they’ve since recreated two more works of art. “We get to be creative in choosing props and setting the stage, play art directors while my mother becomes a photographer. This hasn't just been about learning more about the artists and their works... but has definitely brought us cousins closer. Earlier we would just meet once a year, but now we are doing these fun things together," says Panikar.
In lockdown, social media challenges, which were just a way to kill time and gain followers pre-coronavirus, have morphed into a means to showcase talent, set personal goals to be achieved, bond with others and regain a sense of control when everything seems to be spiraling.
“One out of five Indians is suffering from some sort of mental health issue. This is mainly because we don’t feel in control of the future. It causes anxiety,"explains clinical psychologist Prerna Kohli. “Successfully completing a challenge not only keeps you occupied while you are staying home, but also makes you feel like you’re in control. This, in turn, relieves anxiety," she says.
It’s also a great way to kill time when they can’t go out. “My cousins Anjana (23) and Anagha (15) and I spend time raiding my aunt’s closets for props and things we can use. Depending on what we find, we choose a painting. It takes us a couple of hours each Sunday to recreate each panting," says Panikar.
The Instagram page TheMuseumWallahs, run by four former friends, curates South Asian art recreations, like Panikar’s. They started doing recreations themselves and soon got submissions for the #homemadeIndianArt challenge.
“We encourage people not to worry about finding props that match the painting. It’s more fun when they interpret the works and swap props around to make the work their own. For example, we loved it when a couple recreated the Ravi Varma painting, Birth of Shakuntala, where Menaka presents baby Shakuntala to Vishvamitra, with their puppy in place of the baby. In one recreation a Mughal portrait, someone swapped a wine cup for a menstrual cup," says San Francisco-based Rohini Ramkrishnan.
For Delhi-based Rahul Verma, the lockdown meant he could no longer run with friends at Delhi Running Group outdoors. He designed indoor running plans, and made it interesting by adding challenges to motivate himself. Some days it would be to run a distance that reflects the runner’s birth date, sometimes the running route resemble an alphabet.
“At first it was just a personal challenge. After I shared it on the group, people started giving me company virtually. It became a way to connect with the 180-member group," says Verma, director of Isar Technical Support and Services, Manesar.
Sumedha Singh, 23, used the lockdown to return to reading fiction. She’s set herself a 24-hour reading challenge. The challenge has helped distract the university student from worrying. “I have borderline personality disorder and it has been immensely helpful to lose myself in books," says Singh.
Sharing small achievements with friends on social media can be a great help in times of isolation. “You feel like you are in this together. Plus there is the joy of developing a skill. Just make sure that the challenges you pick are bite-sized—one that is a little tough but not unachievable to feel a sense of accomplishment," says Dr Kohli.
Food designer Akash Muralidaran, 25, has done just this. Muralidharan, who studies science and behaviour around food at Center for Genomic Gastronomy, set himself a 100-day challenge to cook with a number of underused vegetables through the lockdown.
“I got the idea when I was going through Samaithu Par, a 70-year-old Tamil cook book. I did not know some of the vegetables mentioned in the book and I realized we were repeating a very narrow palate of vegetables in our kitchens," he says. Though the challenge has taught him a lot about foods, it’s also helped him build a community online who share his experiments as well as calmed him. “I am a very anxious person and this pandemic situation was stressful but working on a challenge everyday kept me going," he says.