Life in the times of Corona

My office has been working remotely since the last week. It’s a novel situation. Going into it, I had wondered how we would all cope. Strangely, I have realized over the course of the week, that I have never been as productive and efficient at work. Work is something I cling to, in the hope that some things haven’t changed. It’s almost a desperate desire to make myself believe that life can go on as normal. That life is normal. That a minute virus cannot play such havoc in our lives. Despite every evidence to the contrary.

We live in interesting times. It’s I believe, a Chinese curse. There are so many things I had taken for granted. Hopping into a cab to go to work, a quick hug to a colleague who had just returned from a trip, sharing food at lunch, the easy banter, those quick meetings outside the office. Who would have thought that going into a cinema or eating out, which we did almost on auto-pilot, would become the very things that threaten us today? I view with suspicion the passer-by who just coughed. Was it a dry cough, I have caught myself thinking, fearfully.

The routine of the days, which I had sometimes chafed at, is today the very thing I crave for. I crave the daily human contact, those stimulating conversations, and the sheer ordinariness of the pre-corona days. I was guilty of skipping my exercise routine on some days, giving in to laziness and inertia. Today, while I circumnavigate my building endlessly, I miss the gym so much, it’s almost a physical ache. The school days, the office days, meeting my friends every day – these were the blessings that I never counted when I had them. The only silver lining is, my family is around me, and unlike so many Indian parents with kids studying abroad, my son is in my safe circle.

I catch myself thinking longingly about our travels and our last big trip which was three months ago. I wish I had stopped and lingered for a while more on that white snow, breathed in more of that crisp air. I wish I had cast one more glance at the vistas we were leaving behind, instead of eagerly thinking about home. When will we travel again, happily and without care? When will we get over the suspicions which have become such a daily part of our psyche in such a short time?

Now it seems ironic that we were watching that show on Netflix about a dystopian world. Our dystopian world is right here, not far into the future, not in 2050. We are living it every day. People with masks, and sanitisers at every entrance to everything, are our realities today. The way we have been forced to isolate or socially distance ourselves is our reality today. Someone said this is our planet’s way of repairing itself, of replenishing its resources. If that’s true, it makes me immensely sad. Did we have to lose so many of our freedoms to realize the privileges we had? If these are interesting times, give me boredom and routine any day. I crave it.

 

 

My 15 most favourite romantic lines from movies!

  1. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” – Jack Gyllenhall in Brokeback Mountain
  2. “Your eyes are amazing, do you know that? You should never shut them, not even at night.” – Oliver Martinez in Unfaithful
  3. “I love you. You complete me” – Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire
  4. “I have crossed oceans of time to find you.” – Gary Oldman in Dracula
  5. “I would rather have one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One.” – Nicholas Cage in City of Angels
  6. “I’m also just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.” – Julia Roberts in Notting Hill
  7. “Swoon. I’ll catch you.” – Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient
  8. “It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.” – Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County
  9. “I love how she makes me feel, like anything’s possible, or like life is worth it.” – 500 Days of Summer
  10. “You had me at hello.” – Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire
  11. “… If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love … I love … I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.” – Talulah Riley in Pride and Prejudice
  12. “I think I’d miss you even if we’d never met.” – The Wedding Date
  13. “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people…you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” – Before Sunset
  14. “I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day.” – Ryan Gosling in The Notebook
  15. “It’s like in that moment the whole universe existed just to bring us together.”  – John Cusack in Serendipity

My son, the vlogger

My son is the most social person in the family right now. He can strike up conversations with strangers, ask to borrow the phones of mere acquaintances, and volunteer to attend every social event in the family. I would love to say it’s the way he’s been brought up, take some credit for this new persona. But I have to concede that his recent social transformation owes everything to Youtube!

It began rather innocuously. About four months ago Ishaan announced that he was going to start his own channel on Youtube. We said okay, do you need any help?  Apparently, the only help he needed was in setting up his account. Before we could say “Shawn Mendes”, he had recorded his “introduction” and his lip sync to a Shawn Mendes song, as also a rendition of the Harry Potter song in 99 seconds. Swept away in the tide of his new interest we offered him many suggestions. But Ishaan marches to the tune of his own drummer and that drummer bears no resemblance to his parents!

Since then he has posted more than a dozen videos ranging in length from a minute to 5 minutes, from “reaction” videos to horror ones. We praised him extravagantly for his shorter videos, while gently conveying to him that only his fond parents will have the patience to sit through his five-minute ones. Initially he expected people to “like” his videos just because he had posted one. He was hurt that everyone didn’t organically like and “subscribe” to his channel. This was his first rude awakening in the world of social media. I served up a lecture on how content is king and how there is no alternative for good content. He looked at me in genuine surprise, what’s subscriptions got to do with content?

His obsession with acquiring subscribers brought out a competitive spirit I had never suspected. This was partly fueled by an unacknowledged but definite battle for subscribers he started with his closest friend in school who has his own channel too. Strangely, while they compete they also enjoy and take pride in each other’s vlogs. Ishaan reminded me several times a day to send links to family, all of which I dutifully did. The subscriber base stayed firmly under 50.

Lady luck smiled on him a couple of months ago. He attended a social event in the family and a bit diffidently asked his cousins whether they would subscribe to his channel. Seeing their instant and enthusiastic response he knew he had stumbled upon a catchment so rich it boggled his mind. Suffice to say, he came away from that event many subscribers richer!

Encouraged by this success, he developed a multi-pronged strategy to boost his subscriber base. From neighbours he meets in the building lift to my mom’s doctor who  paid a home visit, to our house help, he has caught many a hapless person by surprise. He  has also approached his school mates, though peers can be brutal in their feedback. He not only managed to assure them that he will cater to their particular interests in his videos, but also promised them a treat when he got his 100th subscriber! A promise he kept.

But when he raced past his 150th subscriber we were intrigued. How was he acquiring subscribers at such an astonishing speed? That’s when he made the comment which we are still trying to digest! “A few well-placed comments, some strategic business transactions”, he told us, guffawing away. We realised he had figured out reciprocal subscribing with Youtubers whose vlogs he regularly watches. And “well placed comments” on friends’ blogs gets them to subscribe to his! For me this was a new side indeed to a son I always thought was more a dreamer.

The content monster in me wants to help him come up with more professional vlogs, with structured content. I have my own ideas for what will work well, all of which I want him to try. I want to iron every crease and smoothen his path. The urge to interfere is overwhelming, yet, I curb it. I know the best way he will learn is by experimenting and learning on his own, by making that shaky video and that clumsy one, ultimately, giving rein to his imagination. And when I watch him bravely facing the camera, I thank God for his initiative and his courage. And his now nearly 180 subscribers! Many, many, many more than what his “content specialist” mom has for her blog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the good word?

“That’s sick, dude!” said my colleague! I stared at her for a moment, before I realized she meant “Wow”. Sick, to mean awesome? Another colleague wanted to know all the “goss” (gossip) from a meeting, while checking if the boss had “bounced”, meaning had the boss left office! “I think I am going to dip” said another, to mean that now he was going to “bounce”.

Welcome to the world of millennial lingo! I have still not sussed out most of their language, but what I have heard so far is utterly and comically fascinating! It’s a most desirable bonus of working with a bunch of lively millennials.

Every generation has had its slang which defined it. I remember being called an ‘enthu pea’ for my overzealous participation in English class. I cringed every time I heard it, though I didn’t mind being called a ‘cat’ (as in “she’s quite a cat”, said admiringly).

English is the most mauled languages of all times. Do you remember (and if you are a pre-millennial, you will), the horrible phase when short cuts were used in text messages, like “dat, dis & der”. Shudder! Thankfully it’s mostly died down. As P.G. Wodehouse would have said, God is in his heaven, and everything is right with the word, er, world!

One may accuse the millennials of many things, but certainly they don’t resort to “dis, dat & me2”. Instead, they have decided to be willful, resorting to completely contrary words to convey emotions, like “sick” when they mean superb, and “snatched” to mean something or someone is looking good. As in, she looked completely “snatched”!

To the millennials, their “squad” is their “fam”, even if sometimes their squad can make them “salty” and they may feel like “throwing shade” at someone in the squad. Translation? Their group of friends is like their family, even if sometimes they feel upset at a friend and they end up talking crap about that person. They particularly “throw shade” at anyone being “extra”, as in OTT.

Have you noticed, millennials are mostly gender neutral in their speech. They refer to each other as “bro” and “dude”. But tender emotions are always in the air, just expressed differently, I am told. So, if a boy or a girl sends a direct message on Instagram to the object of their interest, it’s called “sliding into someone’s gram”! But dare you use the phrase “Netflix and chill”, as apparently, it’s a highly sexual, pick-up line or invitation for a romp between the sheets. Who knew? But all is not lost. Once you do have a significant other, you can refer to them as “bae” (before anyone else)! If the relationship unfortunately hits a rocky patch, then of course you start giving or getting “can it” vibes!

Being very mindful of their need to maintain balance, millennials love to “vacay” (vacation) often, and failing that, at least go to parties which are “lit”, meaning, really happening. You could also be “turnt up” if you were at a lit party, though I have been warned, “turnt” could also mean “horny” or “turned on”! And would you wear expensive second-hand clothes to such a party? You will, just that such clothes are referred to as “pre-loved”. Seriously? Pre-loved? This reminds me of Marie Kondo way too much!

The millennials live with some glaring contradictions. They hate carbs, I mean seriously hate carbs. I feel like an absolute pachyderm eating my rice next to them. But they can’t do without their quota of chocolates. They can get really “hangry” (hungry angry) if they don’t get their daily chocolate fix. They are obsessed about health food and chocolates. Go, figure! Next to this they love their “sesh” (session) with the squad, which could be “goss sesh” or simply a “catching up sesh”! And anyone who isn’t in sync is of course a “wack” (whacko).

If you want to gain millennial approval, just go “savage”. It has nothing to do with savages and cave men, and everything to mean someone who is hardcore. It’s said in an appreciative manner. And if someone’s worthy of emulating, then they are “goals”. As in, “Look at her at 45, she’s serious goals, dude”.

Millennials, like many among us, have FOMO (fear of missing out), while the more evolved ones embrace JOMO (joy of missing out). But most millennials do fear going on a BT or “bad trip” (drug induced), much to the relief of their parents.

While they don’t necessarily suffer from hubris, millennials do think they are GOAT (greatest of all time), definitely they are the greatest of their own times! I must be really “cray” (crazy) to write this blog post, and I just hope I have “killed it” (done well), otherwise my young colleagues may accuse me of being a tired “boomer” (referring to those born pre-1965), while I will have to remind them that I am actually GenX…just one generation before them!

Working with millennials

I am reminded of the movie The Intern each day I walk into my new office. Barely two months have passed since I joined this firm, and the job is still spit-shiny and sparkling new. I am reminded of The Intern, because the vibe in the office is almost completely millennial. I am no Robert De Niro in my 70s looking for a place to hang out. But my ‘boss’ like De Niro’s boss, is 26, about half my age, if you round off my 46 to the nearest decade, which unfortunately is 50! It’s a testimony to his immense abilities and wisdom that he already has my respect, which I am normally very loath to give to people unless they have truly deserved it.

The millennial work place is a very different planet from the work places I am used to. The last place I worked full-time was at the magazine brought out by an environmental NGO. While the place had the buzz, there was overall, an attitude of world-weariness about the onerous duties of saving this planet. We were all battle worn, or at least pretended to be. People seldom bothered about trivialities like clothes and attire. It was as carelessly prosaic as you can imagine.

After that I joined a magazine which as a colleague put it laconically, had people “past their expiry date”. It was a less cliched way of saying that the office environment was tired, dispirited, and completely unenthused. I loved my work there, but was very soon infected by the lack of any kind of energy. It was a dead environment. By the time I stumbled out of there, I was more a zombie than an active, functioning individual.

So one can imagine the contrast my current environment is. My first week went in just getting acquainted with the various software and programmes that keeps the place buzzing and fine-tuned. The next few weeks have gone in finding my way through the maze of young, younger and youngest colleagues, whose work ethos, frankly, astonishes me. I have been told repeatedly that the millennials believe in work-life balance to the extent that ‘life’ outbalances ‘work’. But I find that is not wholly true. The millennials work hard, and are very focussed about their work. There is carefully cultivated bonhomie, but their focus is razor sharp. They are near ruthless in achieving their targets, seniority and experience (of others) be damned.

It seriously doesn’t matter to them where you are from, what you have done before, and your general ‘history’. It’s not rudeness or indifference, it stems more from utter professionalism which sees an individual as a whole instead of a part of an extraneous whole. In my earlier jobs all my colleagues knew within the fortnight my husband’s profession, and my entire antecedents. It was a given that one would be asked probing questions, and one just answered them. At my current work place, I think my young colleagues barely know that I have a kid, let alone anything else. I find it strange, but truth speaking, quite liberating! One starts with a clean slate, which is not a chance one always gets, is it? So only the work I do from now on, actually matters. And since everyone is giving their best, I have to do the same. And that alone is so very refreshing. To work alongside people who are the brightest and the best, in the hope that it will also bring out the best in me.

So, armed with my golden laptop and a will-do attitude, I have launched into my ‘second’ career! The learning curve is so steep that I sometimes wonder at my audacity in shaking myself out of my comfort zone. But then age is just a number, isn’t it, though my sluggish metabolism and aching limbs beg to differ!

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My cup of coffee

 

six white ceramic mugs
Photo credit: Pexels.com

I have been searching for that perfect cup of coffee since aeons. Now, I really shouldn’t be, as I grew up in a South Indian household, with the tantalising smell of filer kaapi (coffee) wafting through the house every morning. We had started out with the traditional, double compartment steel filter, graduating to the electric filter. The electric filter speeded up the process. If earlier we used to drink warm to hot coffee, now it was piping hot.

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South Indian filter coffee is brewed in this

Once I was deemed old enough to drink coffee, I drank it every day. Somehow, my world righted itself when I held that cup of coffee in my hands. It was not just a beverage, but it was the comforting embrace of roots, traditions and habit. That strong, milky, sugary, coffee was just so home!

After marriage I discovered to my utter dismay that my new hubby drank tea in the morning. But I who mocked him, was soon drinking tea myself. Somehow, tea was the easier beverage to make, and I just didn’t have the patience and time to make that cup of filter coffee, just for me. Like so many other small and familiar rituals, this too fell by the wayside. It seemed easier to let go of the old, in the eagerness to embrace the new. Once in a way I cheated by making Bru Instant, which kind of satisfied my coffee soul. (To Nescafe aficionados, I say this – try Bru Instant just once!)

When we moved to Mumbai fifteen years ago, though we lived in Colaba, I made Matunga my own haunt. And I soon acquired a steel filter from Soham store, and the filter coffee powder from Mysore Concerns, both in Matunga. Yet, I rarely brewed it. I was experimenting with varieties of tea by then. My buying the coffee filter was more a cursory salute to the past. Waiting for the decoction to trickle down and then have lukewarm coffee was not my cup of..er, coffee at all. Or so I thought.

This is when Sachin got hit with the Nespresso craze. He acquired the machine and the coffee capsules, which came in their own sleek box, with the different flavours marked out, almost like a jewellery catalogue. Every day, while he fiddled with the Nespresso machine, a half cup of very hot milk, a spoon, and a sachet of Stevia were set on a tray next to the machine. Sachin would pop the coffee capsule into the machine, after much deliberation over which flavour to have that particular morning. It was a grand performance, which Sachin insisted was just about worthy of Nespresso. He achieved coffee nirvana after each such ritual. I think it was more the ritual, and less the beverage, which put him there.

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The Nespresso machine 

I just couldn’t bring myself to like Nespresso. None of the flavours appealed to me. But what it did do was kickstart my coffee yearnings. I started having the filter coffee when I could, and Bru when I was rushed. Since I like my coffee with milk and loads of sugar, I had it infrequently…hitting the 40s does have its downside. I can’t abide the taste of sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda, and I would much rather have coffee with sugar on weekends, rather than with these artificial sweeteners daily.

The advent of Starbucks into Mumbai was a milestone as much for our household, as it was for that august Organisation! Sachin discovered that he could also order a cup of Starbucks coffee through Swiggy, which I found amazingly wasteful. I offered to make him as much coffee as he needed, especially for the late nights up working or watching football on the telly. But of course, he wouldn’t be satisfied with Bru or filter coffee. He soon raided Foodhall and got decaf coffee, which frankly flummoxed me. It wouldn’t load him with caffeine and yet would give him the caffeine kick, he explained to me seriously. A coffee, which really isn’t coffee…hmmm.

Meanwhile, I was having my own palate evolution. Last November, while holidaying in Perast, Montenegro, I discovered by accident, Nescafe’s 1+2 instant coffee, which just needed sugar to be added. I discovered that adding a spoon of milk made it even more delicious. In the wintry cold of those November mornings, it gave me the greatest joy to sit with a cup of that coffee, gazing out to the beautiful Kotor Bay enveloped in pleasing stillness. But I couldn’t source enough of it before we left Montenegro. A search in Mumbai stores didn’t yield that particular combination. It was left to a dear friend to get it for me from Hong Kong, and I enjoy that coffee occasionally.

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The pleasing colour of the filter coffee!

That said, I have realised that my love for filter kaapi will never fade. A trip to Matunga even today means snacking at Mysore Cafe or Madras Cafe, rounding off the meal with piping hot filter coffee served in the steel tumbler and davra. You cool the coffee by pouring it back and forth between the tumbler and the davra from a height, which also generates a pleasing froth. Just look at the rich colour of this wonderful filter kaapi!

Today, one can even find herbal coffee to beat all herbal teas! And as many varieties of coffee as there are probably coffee drinkers, I guess. So the next time I want to drink coffee or Sachin does, I have an array in my house – Bru Instant, Nescafe 1+2, filter coffee, Decaf, Nescafe Gold, Nespresso, even Turkish coffee. If all these fail, I will head to Matunga, while Sachin can fall back on Starbucks, of course.

The dog we sent away

We had a dog called Maui. He was a pure stray, the kind you find roaming the Indian streets. Maui was highly intelligent, highly energetic, also, very aggressive. Yet, or maybe because of these qualities, we had to send him away. A flat in Mumbai is barely enough to hold humans, and if one stretches it, maybe the more domesticated breeds like the Beagle, the Labrador, the Pomeranian, or the Daschhund. These breeds I believe, have over generations got entirely accustomed to living with humans in confined spaces,  acclimatised to being ‘taken’ for walks down. They are conversant with elevator etiquette and wait patiently for it. A free-spirited stray stood no chance against the reputation of such ‘finishing school’ dogs.

The decision to adopt Maui had been an emotional one. Our mixed breed Daschhund, Joey, also an abandoned dog, had died in the summer of 2016. We had adopted him six years earlier. He was found cowering under a bench in a park in Santa Cruz, and an NGO for strays had rescued him. A friend of ours connected to this NGO, convinced us to have a look at Joey. And we who had gone to ‘just look’, returned with Joey in the back seat!

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Joey, Sachin and Ishaan – the happy trio

Thus came Joey into our home. The vet estimated his age at about a year and a half. We took some time to adjust to this new member, though he took to us without any reservations. He formed the closest emotional attachment to Sachin, while I was the primary care giver – of food and walks. He came with some emotional baggage, a result of having been abandoned, perhaps. It manifested in utter hatred for other dogs, and a dislike of kids. Ishaan was the exception. Joey was fiercely loyal to us, and when he passed away, it was like we lost a guardian angel. Sachin and Ishaan took his death very badly, and the house was shrouded in a pall of gloom for many days. I suffered too, even though I had been always more detached.

I knew their campaign for a new pet would start soon, and sure enough, Sachin and Ishaan started to work on me. Much against my wishes, we adopted Maui, six months later. Maui was a stray pup found on the road. He was a very clever, intelligent pup, from the beginning. He was incredibly cute, and had an alertness about him which was astonishing.

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Maui was an incredibly alert pup

We hired a dog trainer, as this time we wanted to tick all the right boxes. He was the trainer’s brightest student, and received many accolades from her. But, we soon realised that his loud bark and charging at people he was suspicious of, didn’t augur well for domestic peace. The staff would tie him up every time the door bell rang, which just made Maui more angry and aggressive. We too couldn’t invest the kind of time needed to train him, as I believe, that persistent training could have overcome genetics. Maui had a special affinity for the garbage bin, and he guarded it jealously, even charging and biting, if necessary, to defend it. When we stepped out, he would shred books on the book shelf. I felt the staff was on the verge of a revolt, and I was not far behind. It was finally enough.

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Like Joey, Maui’s attachment to Sachin was very strong

We knew we would never put him back on the streets. He couldn’t, in all honesty, be given to another household. We had by now realised that he needed a lot of space to vent his excessive energy. That’s when a member of our staff came up with a brilliant solution – send Maui to his village in Ratnagiri, where there was enough space for Maui to frolic. We were initially skeptical, but were soon convinced seeing his enthusiasm. He said his family, which kept cows and buffaloes and hens, didn’t have a dog.

We got Maui neutered. Finally, one find day, a fully outfitted Maui in a new collar and leash, and with his food and water bowl, set out in a car from Mumbai for Malgund village in Ratnagiri. Sachin and Ishaan were very upset, till we started receiving tidings from Malgund. We came to know that the entire village turned up to see this dog brought in such style from the distant metropolis! The name ‘Maui’ (from the movie Moana)  was a bit too much of a tongue-twister for his new masters, and very rapidly he was re-christened ‘Maavi’. Maui took to the village and his new family like ‘to the manor born’. Soon we were sent videos and photos of him chasing cattle, thankfully the family’s cattle, and generally having a most carefree existence possible. He became that family’s watchdog in every sense. All this news pleased me especially, as I had headlined the ‘send Maui away’ effort. That was autumn of 2017.

Though I knew Maui had taken well to his new environs, the guilt stayed with me, and I promised Sachin and Ishaan that we would one day visit him. That opportunity finally presented itself this winter. We decided to go by road to Goa, and took the Chiplun route to Malgund village, where resided Maui. This was also a good opportunity to visit this kind family which had come to our aid.

It’s well-known that dogs never forget a smell. Yet, I was sure Maui wouldn’t remember me, and even if he did, it would be with some rancour. Such was my guilt. I was mentally ready for the ultimate rebuff – that he would turn away from me in disdain while he enthusiastically greeted Sachin and Ishaan. We reached the village in the afternoon, after travelling on the most crater-ridden road I have ever seen. The new highway being built has destroyed all vestige of the previous one. Travel worn and weary, we stepped out of the car to the sound of the most welcome, enthusiastic barking from Maui!

He was tied up in anticipation of our arrival. We went near him, and he went berserk. After leaping on Sachin, he turned to me and lavished me with all his affection. He was ecstatic at meeting us again. I was close to crying. Dear friend, I said to him, forgive me for sending you away. Maui looked at me with only love in his eyes.

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Maui and Sachin renew their bond

He ran about and looked at us to follow him, as if to show us his new family and home. When we did a tour of the homestead, he disappeared for a while, ‘on his usual jaunt’ said a family member, and returned at peace, and happy to see us again. He was so secure in his new home, that while he went crazy at meeting us, he didn’t cling to us or follow us everywhere. Maui, I realised, was truly home. I slept particularly well that night…