Let us go back to School!

One more week to go, and hopefully we will have our normal lives back. Isolation and social distancing is being called the “new normal” by most of us. Drastic changes happened in our lives in last few weeks, no household help, no eating out at restaurants, realization that there is nothing better than home cooked food, benefits of personal hygiene, an increased respect for natural resources and off-course digital socializing.

First few days of social distancing were extremely difficult for everyone, because we had to go back to school. Or shall I say that lock-down reminded us that, how our life was, just a few years back. Back when, there was no metropolitan culture. I believe that Indians have coped up well in this period and will continue to do so.

Ever thought that why we (Indians) adapted to isolated lifestyle without much jitters?

Because our culture, irrespective of religion, is very scientific and close to nature. It has always propagated “social distancing” as the normal way of living. However, in past few years, we have been influenced so much by others that we are slightly detached from “our way of living”.

Many of us have come far from home and our roots, but our up-bringing still made it easy for us to go back to basics without much fuss. I can relate this “new normal” so much to my childhood, which as a matter of fact was quite normal for me. So what exactly has been “Indian way of living”?

I grew up in a small town, and do not remember eating out at restaurants at all, because there were none. Home cooked was the norm. Home cooking was looked upon with pride and it was usual affair in all households. Current situation for most of us is no different, we still survive on home cooked food, just that some of us have employed cooks and on their off days, we eat out or order food. However, since home cooked food was regarded so much, it wasn’t so difficult to let go off casual dinner at restaurants during lock-down. It also gave many of us a chance to experiment in kitchen and find out our hidden talents. Some our so called “Indian habits” like packing our food to work, carrying water bottles with us during travel, are so scientific. It not only keeps us away from infections but also saves natural resources.

Since cooking has been in our “blood”, so is maintaining hygiene while preparing food. As a kid, I used to sometimes help my mom in the kitchen and first thing she used to tell me was to was my hands, even before touching anything in the kitchen. I believe this is the case in most Indian households. The habit of washing hands is now ingrained in my mind and getting passed to my son as well. Since Indian food tastes best only when eaten by hands, so washing hands before and after food has also been a practice. When lock-down happened, it wasn’t a new thing for Indians to wash hands. Neither was washing vegetables thoroughly a challenge, its what we have always been doing. Indians are not much into frozen food and cooking from raw materials always involved cleansing the veggies as first step.

Another habit that lock-down best practices highlighted was to remove our footwear outside, wash our hands, face, legs before touching anything at home. This has also been in practice in Indian households. Even in Indian villages, its mandatory to remove footwear outside, and do a basic sanitization of self before entering the house. So this wasn’t new either.

Now comes the toughest part, social distancing. Yes, this has been difficult, specially for generation X, Y Z and beyond. Because here we have come a long way from our roots. Gesture of “Namaste” or “Aadab” doesn’t exist any more, may be only when we are visiting some elders. Otherwise, its all about a firm handshake at work, and hugs with friends. If we introspect, how logical and respectful these gestures were, it not only kept us away from “man-to-man” infections, but also brought in a feeling of respect to the greeted one, since both gestures require us to slightly bow our head. Which means “respect”. And handshake, is about being bold, confident, and obviously passing on the infections. So shall we get back to basics? There is no harm in that, when entire world is accepting the Indian way of greeting, all Indians have to do is to take a few steps back.

Shopping mall and multiplex movies culture was never an Indian culture and is probably just 10 years old. And with Netflix, Amazon Prime, digital media and online shopping, it was easy to let go off. And believe me, most of the metropolitan population is already tired of window shopping and spending a bomb for eating popcorn during a movie. We are a homely race, and staying at home close to our family and loved once is not new for us. Most of us, felt that we lacked quality time with our family and this lock-down came as a much needed break.

And last but not the least, Indians are extremely adaptable. We adapt for our parents, friends, spouse, children and everyone around us, to have a peaceful life. And that quality in us, made us adapt to the restricted environment during Covid crisis. When lock-down was imposed on us, we didn’t worry about haircut, or lost freedom, we didn’t protest, because we knew it was important, for our survival. We did crib and cry about the increased workload at home, but managed eventually. We know that right to freedom can be exercised only if we live. Isn’t is true?

So do you think it really is a lock-down? Or we have just been sent back to school? Retrospect and introspect, find your own answer, find your own way of living, find your own classroom, color your board white, black or green, just keep India alive in it.

It is yet to be seen that how slow or fast life will return to “normal” from “new normal”, but I am convinced that if we Indians continue to respect and follow even 1% of our culture and traditions, irrespective of our religion, we will be successful in defeating Corona or any virus for that matter.


Piggy Bank

I was hesitantly looking at him. Our eyes met for a fleeting moment and he hurriedly turned to the other side. It was not easy for him. I could not muster the courage to open the door and go out. I felt frozen on my car seat.

It was not the first time that I was seeing him. Only a month back, I had bought tender coconuts from him, he was happily selling his stock to his dedicated customers. Today was different, a person, who used to earn his living with pride, was forced to sit on pedestrian path and eat from a packet, given to him by someone. And there I was, stealing his privacy, and making him feel small and awkward of his own desperate condition.

I gathered all my strength and opened the car door, after all, grocery had to be bought. So I stood in the queue and waited for my turn, to enter the store. My mind was still focused on the frail, old man, eating idli with chutney from that foil packet. I wanted to help him, I thought for a while if I could cook for him and bring him food everyday, it wasn’t far from home. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit, will I be able to do it everyday? Queue moved on and so did my thoughts. Once I entered the store, I put everything on my list in my cart. Once, mandatory items were safely placed in the cart, I moved on to scan the shelves in case I found something interesting. I had sometime to hone my culinary skills during the lock-down period, so I picked some baking items, butter, biscuits etc. Suddenly I saw a packet of Burger Buns and remembered that my little champ had recently wanted to eat burger. Happy to have found something to surprise my little one, I picked up a packet and moved towards the billing counter.

How surprising human nature is, we tend to forget the moments of sadness and awkwardness so soon, if it does not affect our life directly. Only a few minutes back, I was so worried about the old coconut vendor and at this moment, I had totally forgotten about him and made plans of making burger.

Holding filled bags of food items in both my hands, I moved towards my car, to find the old man, sitting exactly where I had left him. Just that, he was now holding his hands like a beggar asking for something to eat. That sight broke me.

He wasn’t a beggar. He was a hard working man, who earnestly did his job, everyday, in sun and in rain. Now forced to beg for food, for each meal of his day. I couldn’t handle the situation well and frantically searched in my shopping bag. Taking out the burger buns packet and butter, I handed them over to the old man. His eyes shone, he had managed to arrange for his dinner, for one more day.

I drove off.

Its been a week of this encounter of mine. I knew I would write about it, but I did not want to put it on paper as a story with lose ends. So I kept thinking, about the coconut vendor and “daily wagers” like him. How has this lock-down affected them?

And while explaining about the situation to my son, I realized what message I wanted to give with this blog.

So I was telling my son, who “daily wagers” are? I started with a funny story about how my dad used to call himself a daily wager. Yes, he is. He is a doctor who has to be in his clinic, day in and day out to earn his living every day. He has no fixed salary or corporate benefits. However, his skill and education taught him to save for unforeseen circumstances. So we can say that he is a well prepared, future secured daily wager. Then I moved on to tell my son about the old coconut vendor and how due to his meager income and lack of savings, he was forced to beg for food.

During this insight session to my son, I figured, three aspects of a “daily wager’s” life are most impacted due to this pandemic situation:

  1. No work, No earning – whether a daily wager is earning by selling, or by working for others, his/her source of income stopped COMPLETELY. Household helps are willing to risk their lives and come to work, to ensure they get their monthly salary. Because no income means sleeping with a empty stomach.
  2. Shattered self esteem – being able to earn and feed for oneself is the biggest satisfaction for a human being. Government and people have ensured to feed the needy, but what about their pride? Its shattered. They probably haven’t gone form riches to rags but Corona has managed to kill their self esteem!
  3. Dangling future – even if the lock-down ends soon, future of daily wagers will remain at risk. Why? Their income depends on the businesses like construction in real estate, spending power of people like us and resuming of other businesses. Even though Corona dies down, it will leave an impact on how businesses are run and directly impact the future of daily wagers. Will they still get the same jobs back or make the same amount of money? This is yet to be seen.

So how can we help?Kudos to those who are already providing meals to people like the old coconut vendor. But is that going to be enough?

My maid called me two days back, requesting me to allow her to come back to work. I was shocked and strictly told her to not come come until the lock-down period. Then she said, “Didi, kaam nahi karenge to khayenge kya?” (what will we eat if we do not work?) I told that she does not have to worry about that as I am going to pay her for the entire lock-down period. She was relieved for sure but question remains, will every household where she works, pay her? I think, the least we can do is to ensure that salary of household helps are paid. So apart from food, let us also give them the security of their income.

Being educated class, working in air-conditioned, calling luxuries of life as necessities, we will have a much bigger responsibility after this pandemic ends. And its not giving work, money or food to 90% population of our country as a CSR activity, but to save for them. Yes, we are ones, who have to save for a secure future of daily wagers. Importance of saving, how much ever, small it is, need to be taught and enforced to them. Such a humongous task cannot be accomplished by the governing authorities unless people like us support and volunteer. These could be simple ways, like depositing some money of your household help’s salary in a separate account, helping them open/maintain their bank accounts, giving them advice on how they could do more with their skills and finding opportunities for them, etc. In short, we need to give daily wagers a piggy bank and ensure that they fill it.

I remember, my mom, used to keep a part of her maid’s salary every month, saying that she will give it only at year end. This simple act of saving for her maid, contributed to a corpus amount for her maid’s daughter’s marriage. The other day, I met a lady at post-office, who had forced her driver to open a post-office saving’s account. When we got talking, she said, “Its our responsibility to educate lesser privileged section of our society. It might need some effort from our side, but its a great service for our nation.”

I am re-collecting all such incidents, that I have come across and I am 100% convinced that if we collectively pledge and work to make lives better, ours and others, then lives will become better. All it needs, is a little empathy, generosity, right use of our education and sense of responsibility!

A responsible, self aware and “I got your back” population is what a nation & civilization needs to stand strong in case of testing times like these future!

Has Corona Empowered you?

I opened the plates shelf in the kitchen to pull out a clean plate to serve breakfast. I was surprised and happy to see the plates so nicely stacked in the shelf. Only a day before I had told my son how to stack the plates in the shelf. Until then, he would take the plates out from dishwasher and keep them on the slab seeking excuse that he wasn’t tall enough to reach the shelf. So I made him realize that he could become taller with the help of a stool or a chair. His eyes shone up and the thought of some mischief that he could do climbing on the chair, and as a side-effect he stacked up the plates very nicely.

I was naturally happy to see that he had remembered the trick even next day and announced to my family members, “Look, how properly, our champ has arranged the plates”. Just then my mother in law claimed, “it wasn’t him but Papa. Papa couldn’t get the clothes from the terrace as it was very hot so he took the dishes out from dishwasher”.

I was basking in the glory of my son’s effort but was soon dragged out of it. However, I realized that how empowered my entire family had become in last few days. They didn’t need to be reminded that their contribution was important and they had authority and freedom to chose what they wanted to do, just keeping in mind that the entire ecosystem worked in harmony. I am not ashamed to say that my father in law also contributes to the house hold chores, in-fact I am proud of him. He doesn’t let the usual male ego or age old believes or “Log kya kahenge” stereotypes to stop him from doing tasks for his family.

Now, you must be wondering that how does empowerment come into picture here? And don’t we always talk about women empowerment  or employee empowerment, so how is contributing to household chores fall into the category of empowerment?

It surely does. Let me explain. if you search synonyms of “Empowerment”, this is what you will find: autonomous, paddle your own canoe, at will and so on. Basically all them lead to a simple philosophy ,”sustaining on your own”. How many of us are truly capable of that? We are always dependent on others for our sustenance and dependencies cannot be completely eliminated, for example, not all of us can do farming and grow our own food. But, given a well established ecosystem, like a house and family, still we are dependent on few in the family to do our tasks. We have created our own set of rules like cleaning, mopping, washing dishes, putting clothes on drying lines, cooking and everything that makes your house livable are duties of female members. Soon, these rules got associated to beliefs and “log kya kahenge” biases. As a result, female members outsourced some of these tasks to maids and cooks because there was no use of asking the males to help. And one find day, “Corona” happened!

Now what? Some cribbed about the increased work load, some sent jokes and memes on social media, some did nothing because it was a much needed break for them while females in their house slogged and few decided to take this opportunity to empower themselves. I do not mind if those few gave “Corona” as the reason for their empowerment because reason does not matter, only the intention does. Because empowerment happens only if one wants to gain the power, because with power comes responsibility. That’s another reason that most of the times, we do not show the willingness to learn a task, because we are afraid that if we learn, then it will be stuck with us forever.

We have been watching “Ramayan” lately and though until now, I couldn’t agree to some beliefs shown in the epic, this time, I am watching it with more maturity and acceptance. In early life of Ram, the Gurukul phase is shown where all students are bound to learn and do all the tasks, irrespective of their family background. Ram and his brothers, are seen doing all worldly tasks. Sadly we conveniently ignored this part of the great epic, but remembered how women are supposed to pray their husbands as GOD. Anyways, lets not get into this debate.

Coming back to the story of my household. Much before the lock-down started, my mother in law and I contemplated to give paid leave to our maid and cook as both looked genuinely scared to come for work. It was our duty to keep them safe as they used public transport and had a family of their own. I was in dilemma, with work from home keeping me on calls all the time, I was not sure how much I would be able to contribute towards other chores. So we agreed on distribution of work among-st five family members. Its been 3 weeks of work from home now and our boat has been sailing smoothly. Everyone is well aware of what they have to do, we have chosen our own timing of completion our tasks, all of us are playing our part diligently, if for some reason one person is not able to do his part, other one pitches in. Their is a smile on everyone’s face, a feeling of pride that we are self sufficient, generous, grateful for our blessings and most importantly, we feel Empowered.

I am well aware of the fact that we will relapse to our usual dependent living on maids and cooks, after Corona. Still we decided to utilize this time to break biases, forget about the jokes people will crack on us, find our own capabilities and stand by each other. I proudly send pics of “us” doing household chores to my family groups, some laugh, some praise, and some probably feel bad about it. It does not affect me, because even if one person gets inspired and gets up to help, seeing those pics, my job is done. And if nobody gets inspired, then also, MY job is done 😉

This week, my son taught me a very important lesson using his fidget spinner (check out the video on my LinkedIn page), that empowerment does not need forming a strategy or brainstorming, all you need is a touch and energy itself takes care of flowing to the touched person.

Ironically, Corona does the same, just that its power brings in negativity in life.

Now its on us to decide that how do we want Corona to empower us and our dear ones.


Image Courtesy: https://www.proactiveinvestors.com/companies/news/179261/fidget-spinner…