Eight-year-olds are not expected to engage in nostalgia. The lockdown has changed all that. All of eight, Rithvik displays a wistful longing for pre-lockdown days when he could hang out with his peers at the apartment complex, when a few questions are asked. The most he could hope for now is being taken to the terrace, where his mother would let him spend some time.

“Five hundreds metres away from our home in Perungudi, two people are being treated for COVID-19. How can you let children play freely?” — that is a poser from Sandhya, Rithvik’s mother.

In Virugambakkam, nine-year-old Isabel starts counting her fingers when quizzed about the number of times she got to play downstairs, since the lockdown began. “You should not go down, you will get Corona,” the girl issues an ominous warning.

Amidst relaxation of rules at apartments, there is one rule that stays as immutable as a mountain — it’s that children be kept indoors, tenaciously.

Vulnerable groups

At TVH Lumbini Square in Purasawalkam, a gated community with over 400 flats, children can’t be seen in the common area. “If you are insistent, okay can take a stroll, but leave the benches alone.” Needless to say, the play areas are off-limits.

He says the Association has also deployed additional security personnel during the lockdown to make sure residents follow rules laid down by the Association, and this includes ensuring senior citizens don’t put themselves in harm’s way by walking in the common areas.

Vaikund Sundaram, a 350-unit complex at Karapakkam, has been revisiting rules every two weeks, and the one involving its three parks which come with play areas and gyms stayed unchanged, not by a jot. They stay resolutely closed.

John Praveen, secretary of Vaikund Sundaram Apartment Association, points out that security guards have been instructed to politely request vulnerable groups coming out to return home, and these include children.

“We have been empowering our guards, and if people do not listen then they call one of the EC members to intervene,” says Praveen, agreeing that it’s a tough call associations are forced to take to keep residents safe.

***

Here is how a family organised an unusual birthday celebration for a 12-year-old, without compromising on social distancing norms

In these times, it may be necessary for parents to be creative in how they keep their children engaged, but without increasing their screen time. Sapna Dugar, a resident of Kilpauk, came up with a creative idea to make her daughter feel special and happy on the girl’s 12th birthday, celebrated recently.

“My daughter, Jiya did not want to have a grand birthday celebration because of the COVID-19 situation in Chennai. While acceding to her request, we decided we should make the birthday memorable for her. With no school, summer camps and outings, children were experiencing a sense of boredom, so we planned a different celebration, one that would also send across the message on social distancing,” says Sapna.

The mother asked friends and members of the family to drive down their road — Landons Road, Kilpauk — where they stay to wish Jiya. But the guests should not get down from their cars, and just drive past their homes with banners, posters and decorations on their cars. The children enjoyed making cards and posters for the birthday girl.

For an hour in the evening, around 30 families drove by with their cars decorated. They rolled down their windows near the house and waved and sang for the birthday girl.

“A memorable day for all the children and parents, and of course for Jiya,” adds Sapna.

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