“Back in the day” stuff.

You know you’re getting older when you can’t stop thinking about “back in the day” stuff.

We’ve all aged prematurely during the pandemic, and constantly ponder over, how things were before shit hit the fan six months ago.

Lets talk “Underwear”, for instance. It seems like a whole generation has woken up from a long sleep, rummaged through their lockers, got confused by a strange, small piece of clothing with a “victorias secret” label and come to a conclusion that it was something we put around our nose and mouth. Yes, everyone and his pet dog seems to have caught on with the style statement, and we’ve come to define the “new normal” as the practice of wearing underwear on our face.

Talking of Underwear – have you noticed that they have somehow become “optional” these days, and the “new normal”, morning rush around the living room, seems to be around watching obese “back in the day” corporate types, chomping down on a “pav-bhaaji” breakfast meal just delivered by a shy, orange clad, overworked “swiggy” delivery boy- “Oh gawd, how many more morons do i need to see walking around in formal shirts, boxer shorts and barefeet?”

“arre shweety, i cant find my silky, red boxers you got me last week?… you know the one with the hulk picture in front? Also where is my wallet yaar, I need to pay this swiggy guy”

You walk into a mall and the “Jockey” stores seem strangely to be closing down or running short of XXL briefs. Everyone seems to be focussed on dressing from the waist up only for Video Conference calls, and consequently queues at the makeup counters are getting longer and more impatient.

“maybelline Blush hai? 10 deh doh madam. jhaldee”

Job losses are a sad reality of the pandemic, and one unlikely hit is the “iron-wallah”- poor chap, he used to strut along into the apartment building like he owned the penthouse- bribing the watchman and sometimes even didnt pick up your call down the weekend, and you almost hugged him when he agreed to do a set of formals for monday morning as a “special case”. Now? The guy is walking aimlessly outside the apartment gate watching teary-eyed at the “maamies” who seem to have deleted him from their “speed-dial” list and now just wriggle their noses at him and go “huh?” while continuing to dry endless lines of boxers, banian, “kerchief” and an occasional “no wrinkle” shirt.

“Back in the day” we queued up at the petrol pumps, to fill up our vehicles. Now? With everyone working from home, most folks seem to be going there to buy bubble gum and weasel in some free air, and if we decide to actually fill up gas, the attendants treat you like a mini celebrity and almost want to give you a shoulder massage as you both wait endlessly to hear the last drop of your 500 rupee worth of petrol, hit the bottom of your tank”

On the flip side, the pandemic is an opportunity for “fathers of the bride”. No more having extra long walks down the weekend to avoid your “little girl” broach the subject of marriage, and the prospect of watching your lifetime savings go bust, feeding 500 “near-strangers”, warm rasogollas and 12 varieties of “chaat”.

Now we have the “doting father no.1” sitting slyly on the sofa with newspaper in hand every morning, jumping up when his almost “ready-to-be-wed” girl walks in…. “betti. the astrologer says its a good time for weddings … and this good phase would only last for the next 90 days” he adds with a wicked smile. hmmm. yes its a “good time” especially when theres a restriction on the number of people that can gather together, and the “agile thinking parents” are falling over each other to get their daughters married off during the pandemic and saving lakhs on wedding expenses.

if you’re a dad, blessed with a fat, ugly daughter of marriageable age on the other hand- fret not, this is a double whammy, and you could save money, while also peddling off your ugly daughters while insisting she wears a mask and pointing fingers at the pandemic as a cause for her obesity.

Successful people are those who see opportunity in the face of adversity- your time is now.

Go for it I say!

Like Powder to the back of your head.

I remember growing up and going to the local “barber shop” for a haircut. When the guy is done with your head, he’ll dab some powder on your neck, like he’s trying to cover up some errors and blood stains, brings out a mirror and stands behind you like a magicians assistant, letting you have a look at his handiwork, and areas of your anatomy you haven’t seen in months, through a reflection on the mirror in front of you.

You give your head a good look like goldilocks would have (“my. What big ears you have grandmother”) and before you could Identify any flaws, the rascal quickly shifts to the other side, and you nod hesitatingly, letting him know it’s “a okay” – like we had any choice at that point.

Sadly “barber shops” like many small business owners, are taking a big hit in this lockdown, and the mirrors seem sadly to have turned, and it sight doesn’t look good.

I hope small business owners hang in there though and make a come back post the lockdown. I for one have pledged to use their services as far as possible once we’re back to normal mode- you should too.

Take precautions, and go back to that “chai walla”… go back to that 2 seater “hair saloons”… drop by at that family run restaurants …encourage the home bakers…. shop at your local “Kirana” store for basic essentials … encourage local artists…

If you’re afraid these small “barber shops” are going to screw up your hair style- trust me, I’ve seen all your selfies- that ship has passed. 😂 just do it!

Stay safe! 🙏

Dive Deep.

I just heard that you have a higher chance of being attacked by a shark when you are swimming at the surface. Hmm. Remember the poster to “JAWS”, ?

Yes, we live in strange time- short fuses, everyone in masks, trying to be politically right and staying away from one other to ensure we don’t connect with a virus. It’s probably therefore a good time to take a deep breath, say a prayer and dive deeper …. into speaking out and not caring about how other people would react. Dive deeper – when you are unsure if that chocolate cake has too many colories baked in. Dive deeper.

Yet, many of us just think it’s safest when you can see the shoreline and are embracing the familiar.

When we are left with no option but to go “skinny-dipping” in the dark, would you want to be lit up against the afterglow of the harbour lights or slip smoothly into the darkness? For the very beliefs that we sought refuge in under normal conditions are probably the ones that could compromise us during a crisis.

Let go…. leave sight of the shoreline…. and face your deepest fears.

STAY SAFE. DIVE DEEP.

#unsermon

“Distance Socializing” and the Art of War.

It’s been over 4 months since the virus changed forever the world we live in. It’s got us isolated, it’s killed economies and people with scant disregard, millions have lost their jobs, and the pharma industry is left scrambling to find a vaccine in a hurry – which seems a minimum 12 months away.

So while we wait for that proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”, we will need to continue to learn to settle into this “new normal” and survive one of the most powerful of psychological risk factors for poor health – “social isolation”.

Looks like this virus is sitting cross legged on an easy chair outside and reading an unabridged version of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of war”, while successfully dividing this captive population into 2 piles …. the “haves” and the “have nots”- and I’m not talking economics here. The ones who have patience, a high “happiness quotient“ and a purpose to wait it out – and the ones who don’t. And the media in its pursuit of TRPs is slowly smoking out the weakest from amongst us by feeding us minute-by-minute updates on the fatalities and bad decisions, like a reality TV show gone viral.

Science has proven two truths on stress (a) A majority of us lose our ability to make rational decisions when stressed and (b) Our immune system is compromised when we are stressed.

Studies have also proven beyond doubt that If someone is driven purely by hollow consumption, and all of their happiness depends on their current personal circumstances, they could become stressed when they are not in control of their circumstance- like in a lockdown situation. So then, if we care about things beyond ourselves — community, politics(okay, probably not… 🤨) and art — then everyday stresses will perhaps be of less concern.

Last evening I just went ahead and did the obvious – comparing the top 10 list of countries with the highest “Happiness Quotient” with the top 10 countries with the highest COVID fatalities – nope, not a single common country between the 2 lists- not one.

While this may not be a very real representation of fact given the multiple disparate moving parts between the two lists, it’s probably enough for us to consider that staying happy and with a strong purpose during this crisis could be critical.

While we continue to practice physically social distancing, It’s as important for us to pursue happiness through “distance socializing”- Staying socially connected with friends, colleagues, and family, and finding happiness during this public health crisis while continuing to focus inward and finding our source of purpose, generosity, compassion and the components of happiness and specifically trust in one another and within institutions especially in a time of need like we are in just now.

So, lets learn to Smile from behind those masks, let’s learn to stay connected, let’s try making a difference to the less fortunate- Let’s strive to become better versions of ourselves. Let’s not forget that the world is healing too and when this is done, we’ll agree it was all well worth it and who knows – we might just leave a better world for our kids. 🙏

Stay home. Stay Safe!

Do you make a good cell mate?

We’ve all watched reruns of old English movies or Netflix series where our hero is this well mannered guy with impeccable prison habits- reading, painting, shaving, bathing, etc… and his cellmate was literally a grimy goon who finally gets influenced, becomes a best friend and accomplice in planning and executing an escape plan to perfection

Do you…. ?

We’re all officially in a “lockdown”- a prison term, typically referring to a situation within a prison (say a riot) that requires control measures to be imposed with force, and here we are – holed up with a couple of family members 24X7 for over 3 weeks now, and the obvious question pops in my mind…. Is there some “prison etiquette” that exists for cell mates that we could learn from during the lockdown to ensure we don’t make the experience more painful than it already is for our near and dear? 🤷‍♂️🤨

Well here are a few that come to my mind.

Make “social distancing” a way of life: okay I’m not just talking staring 6 feet away physically, I’m wanting us all to do the same me mentally. It’s easy to get under the skin of a loved one in these challenging times when everyone is in a very vulnerable mental framework. Irrespective of the size of our living spaces, a good way to socially distance is to just understand your “cell mates” rhythm and respect personal spaces ….

Hygiene and decorum. Chances are there’s more than one member working from home and taking zoom or skype calls through the day at different times …. trust me watching you cell mate walk to the refrigerator in his undies and peer into the lower shelves doesn’t actually make for a good background when you’re on a client call. If you’re stuck with a cell mate like that – try some creative background wall papers available on most apps.

Fun fact: Cell mates use a technique called “courtesy flushing” when they have to do their business when sharing a small cell. It’s a simple technique where you just flush the toilet continuously during the entire performance to camouflage the smell and the noises.

Turn the other way. Over the years there’s a lot of irritable habits we gather like moss on a rolling stone, and I’ve realized the best way to deal with that and generally any awkward, unpleasant situation in life is to just turn the other way and face the wall. It’s a time-tested technique used by cell mates and believe me it works like a charm, both personally and professionally.

Be a good listener. Most people when stuck in a confined space find solace in venting out their frustrations. Part of being a good cell mate is to be a good listener, chances are you’re stuck with a whole bunch of “I’m not guilty” type rantings by your cell mate – you don’t actually need to agree with all their arguments – just nod understandingly and feign empathy.

Focus on non verbal Communication. In prisons where the dining area is mostly a “no talking” zone- prisoners just tap on the table as etiquette before leaving. Chances are you’re already at the receiving end of a cold shoulder by now and your very shadow brings out some base emotions in your cell mate, either way use non verbal communication- helpful when you our cell mate is on a call, listening to music on a ear pods, etc- don’t just go stand like a moron in front, expecting them to drop whatever they’re doing and listen to frivolous observations.

Respect. Being respectful will get you a long way in prison… okay not literally! Like I mentioned earlier we’re all in a vulnerable space mentally and walking around doing chores while operating with a very short fuse- the last thing you want in this situation is for someone to feel disrespected – take out your well preserved, rarely used collection of “thank you’s” and “please” and make sure you use it generously in your conversations. Lockdowns are probably not the time for your sarcasm and wise cracks- hold them back. Believe me, I try to …. 😂

That’s it, hopefully the few tips above will help you come out of this lockdown a better person …. and alive.

Stay home. Stay safe!

The ride.

Quarantine learning #14

I’m riding back from the supermarket, decide to take off my helmet, put it on my tank and ride past my home for no particular reason. It turns out to be a 10 kilometre detour straddling the lake close by.

I ride along ….. smiling. nervously. Would I get my knees hurt? Would I be forced to do exercises I haven’t done since school? Would I need to carry a placard showcasing a sentence that hasn’t been spell-checked and created in “Times New Roman”(Bold)- gawd how I hate that font.

The delivery guy rides past- a cloud of mask, orange and broken dreams …. stick figures with kind faces walk past too.

The wind is cool and warm at once…. stray dogs peep out of a dumpster – a pair of human eyes too. “Levelling the curve” means different things to different people.

The smell of fresh sambar from a quarantined home as I ride past makes me nostalgic for chennai – the borders are closed I remember.

Kids on tricycles – make little dust circles on their verandahs like it were vacation. Old folk peep nervously through half closed windows, only to bang it shut when the sound of a distant cough catches their ear through the din of the TV playing inside.

A distant drum beat…. the flickering hope of Diyaas lit on balconies… a chant dispelling the virus …. a bunch of migrant construction workers sitting cross-legged on the steps of their “company-provided” container shed they now call home- staring into the vacant abyss.

I reluctantly take a turn and head back.

The setting sun makes polite conversation with the moon and an evening star, like factory workers changing shifts.

The water in the lake seems blue- but isn’t…. the trees seem green- but are they ?

The eagle is out, doing an extra lap too …. two crows chase a “kuil”, a forked tail tickles their overgrown eye lashes. Damn, these beauty parlours better be classified as “essential services “ and open fast. A sparrow darts past too (hello friend. it’s been a while! ) while a 1000 fireflies pepper my face as I ride past ….

I realize the padding on the seat of my bike could be a tad more forgiving. My pants do a small “wiggle” and all’s fine. Life’s all about making those little adjustments.

If there’s one thing that I could take away for this period of quarantine – it’s to be more “aware” and conscious of the little, simple things around me that makes life what it is… things till now I’ve probably taken for granted… things we are too busy to notice ….

I hum an old tune – “ Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” …. the eagle sits majestically – pool side on the terrace of our apartment.

I am home!

Stranger things!

Having lived in cities my whole life, let’s just say – I’m comfortable walking up to and making small talk with total “strangers”.

It could be that we win this battle against the virus in a couple of months, however the schisms its going to bring between the “haves” and the “have nots” is only going to get accentuated in an already fractured society and the war could be lost if a well thought out, post disaster management plan incorporating people to people/ community-wide initiatives are not addressed.

Secondly at the personal level, I’m afraid that we’re all going to come out of this “social distancing” period with a lot more phobias, introversions and general mistrust of strangers…. that knowing nod we gave to a parent trying to pacify a wailing kid at the super market… that “bhai Saab” we used to break the ice with at the chai shop…. probably won’t work anymore.

In a world where society as we know it is already being reimagined by vested interests, my worry is having on one side these nervous, stressed out young parents transferring their fears and half baked knowledge into the next generation while at home for the next 21 days, while another section of the next generation join their parents on a 200 kms trek “home”, carrying their meagre belongings and no money- hungry, beaten and tired. In one quick stroke of the brush, we’ve divided the “essential” and the “non essential”- and I’m not talking commodities.

Sure we would all be back to BAU (“business as usual”) mode in a couple of months at most…. the economic meltdown? … probably a couple of years- but the impact of this virus on making general small talk with total strangers is going to be across a whole generation.

For the moment though I’d prefer you stay 6 feet away.

Quarantine lesson #10

It’s simple. The corona virus doesn’t actually kill us, it’s how our body reacts to it- that finally does. That’s the reason why the same virus has an effect no more than that of the common flu in some people, while turning fatal for the elderly with an under-active, weak immune system that suddenly goes to overdrive and damages healthy cells too. We all go through almost similar challenges in life (financial, relationships, etc), it’s finally how WE decide to “respond” to these situations (our immune system) that defines us finally. Don’t let your “over response” to situations do more damage to yourself, than the situation itself? Breathe. Stay balanced. Stay healthy. This too shall pass… #letitBE #covid19