Shukrat J. Belgore is the author of ‘The Pandemic Blues,’ a fiction written and published during the COVID-19 pandemic. The erudite lawyer and entrepreneur said that writing usually had a therapeutic effect on her. She recalled how it helped her to cope with the COVID-19 challenges. She disclosed that the book was inspired by some martial challenges that were rampant during the lockdown.Belgore added that the book x-rays how people coped during the pandemic.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic inspire you to write this book?
During the COVID-19 lockdown, social media was filled with stories about families breaking up as well as other forms of scandals. Several couples found it difficult to cope during the harrowing experiences that came with the lockdown. In most Nigerian families, parents go out in the mornings and return in the evenings. But during the lockdown, everybody was forced to stay at home. It was a situation we were not used to. The pandemic posed diverse challenges for families. Work on the book started before the lockdown and lasted throughout the period. It exposes a lot of things that happened during the period. Criminals kidnapped so many people to raise money to survive the crisis. We had a lot of people who survived on daily incomes, but could not go out during the lockdown to make money. We also had medical challenges as people found it difficult to access health care. The book exposes many things that happened during the lockdown.
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Tell us more about the book
The book is fictional, but I was inspired to write it by a lot of things happening in Nigeria and around the world. Many marriages broke down during the lockdown. A lot of divorces, theft, kidnappings and several other issues are some of the issues discussed in the book. In discussing them, I had two major characters – Aliero and Vince – who had two children. The setting is Lagos.
I was also able to unite the three major tribes in Nigeria, contrary to the threat of secession in Nigeria. I was able to point to people that it doesn’t matter their states of origin. Someone from another tribe or religion could be their helper. The book addresses inter-tribal marriage through Vince and Aliero who are from two different ethnic backgrounds. With Vince as an Igbo and Aliero as Yoruba, the book is able to bring them together to show that we are one as Nigerians and can marry from any part of the country. Also, the need for good neighbourliness is addressed in the book. Now people live in seclusion. You find a neighbour who doesn’t know who lives next door. Their neighbours were people they never met. All they knew was that they had a red car but they never met. When they had problems, those neighbours were the ones that stood by them. So, I tried to show the lifestyle with which we grew up with neighbors and friends.
Do you think the pandemic actually heightened or lessened societal vices identified in the book?
I think it lessened them. The setting of the book is Lagos. One of the excuses for not knowing your neighbours was the traffic, but with the pandemic, a lot of people were forced to take a walk in their neighbourhood. During the lockdown, they realized that certain things exist. They knew the occupations of their neighbours.
Being your first fiction, how would you describe the feedback?
It is amazing because readers have been calling me to discuss the book with me. A lot of them said that I was able to bring them into limelight. It is really a new experience. People called me to say some of the issues mentioned in the book happened to them. One of my bosses said that his sister and her husband were on the verge of break-up and he gave them a copy of the book to read. At the end of the day, they got to understand themselves better. COVID-19 was a new experience and it is something we have to live with. A lot of times, couples have problems without even knowing. Many men are exposed to several frustrating situations. Life throws a lot of challenges to them, and they don’t know how to handle them. Consequently, they go back home and become a changed person. Society expects a lot from them, regardless of their financial states. As a result, they are tensed up and stressed , These affect the home front.
Notwithstanding, men have to be involved in their family life. It is not acceptable to just leave the family challenges to their wives.
In the book, I mentioned a scenario where a wife was kidnapped and the husband did not know where to get a match box and other basic things in the house just because his wife was not at home. If they, as parents, had joined hands to bring up the children, this wouldn’t have happened. So, we parents must learn a lesson from this.
Some men do not know the class, blood group, or genotypes of their children. This is not acceptable. Despite this common belief that men go through a lot of stress, women, too, go through a lot of stress. I am a lawyer, entrepreneur and author. I am also a student and a mother. It is not enough to say that women are created to multitask. Men can also multitask if they want to and if you are not multitasking, then, you should always stand by your wife.
What lessons do you want readers to learn?
It is possible that God had put you in a difficult position so that you can learn something and come out stronger. You have to look at every challenge as an opportunity to excel and do better. As they say, if life throws you a lemon, you make lemonade.
When will your next work come out?
It is already in the print. I mean the fiction. It tells us about how Nigerian mother-in-laws can be very demanding. I also have three law books on Nigerian banks waiting to be launched.
How would you describe writing during the lockdown?
It helped me go through the lockdown easily. I had a lot of writings that went halfway. I had started writing the books on banks over a long time. But it was during the lockdown that I was able to develop them. I needed some senior colleagues to review the books, but they didn’t have time to do that. But during the lockdown, they had enough time and did it. So, the lockdown was a blessing in disguise. Writing then was like a therapy and when you have people calling you to discuss the characters, it is just amazing. It is quite interesting when you have people enjoying what you have written.