Published: 08:01 PM, 25 March 2022
London , 25 March: “A Corona Story” is a short animated film by Diwas Bisht that tells the UK Bengali story of the first two lockdowns through the eyes of a family living in East London. It is part of a unique project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by King’s College London and the local community group The Swadhinata Trust. The project looked at the community had been learning about the pandemic, how information was interpreted in Sylheti and how communication could be improved.
The film shows some of the challenges the community faced. The impact on families and business. The tension between wanting to protect family members and wanting to see and spend time with them. The challenges of social distancing in a multi-generational household. And the need to translate and share information about Corona when most of the information was written in English.
What makes the film unique is that it is based on the real stories of people in the community. We interviewed elders as well as younger members of their family who supported them about their experiences of the first two lockdowns. These interviews showed how sharing spoken advice about Corona was very important – some elders only got information from family. We also found that culturally much of the information in English did not make much sense in Sylheti – e.g. concepts like “social/support bubble” or “shielding”. Our elder participants also had very different ways of talking about Corona, e.g. comparing it to a wind (batash) or referring to it as a curse (gozob). Those who spoke little English had no way of checking if the advice from their family was correct, so misinformation could spread easily.
The untold story of the pandemic is the work of local Bengalis at a grassroots level in providing spoken advice about Corona – local doctors, community workers, counsellors, religious leaders. We have been calling these people “mediators” – they provided information for the community in a form that people could understand and relate to. The film shows the important role “mediators” played in the pandemic – the lead character is a pharmacist called Shaila who acts as a mediator for her family to keep them safe.
You won’t read the story of community mediators read in the papers, but their work has been crucial to the community. The pandemic is not over and there are other important issues that need to be communicated – mediators are the solution.
Dr Chris Tang, the project lead, is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics in the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London. Julie Begum (Chairperson) and Ansar Ahmed Ullah (Director) run the Swadhinata Trust, a London based secular Bengali community group that works to promote Bengali history and heritage. Dr Diwas Bisht has produced work for a Season of Bangla drama, including an animated film about the murder of Altab Ali. He has just completed a PhD in animation and cultural heritage at Loughborough University.
There are two versions of the film – one in Sylheti and English voiced by people from the community and one in Bengali, starring the actress Saima Ahmed.