Why the lockdown has heightened our anxieties
“My weekend was quite bad”, says Nikhil Taneja, 33. “During the week, when I am clocking in office hours, I have something to focus on. But, during the weekend, when I don’t have much to do, I get very anxious,” says the Mumbai-based entrepreneur and producer. “And when you go online and see people doing pretty much everything that they have ever wanted to do – learn a new skill, go back to an old hobby or take an online course – you wonder about your own life. Just when you think everyone’s at home, so there isn’t going to be any FOMO (fear of missing out), there comes the quarantine FOMO,” he says.
What life lessons being stuck indoors ad nauseam can teach
A deadlier virus than COVID-19 has unleashed its own pandemic — the I Have Discovered the Meaning of Life Pandemic. Unlike COVID-19, symptoms appear universally, and, on current evidence, may persist forever. As an infectee, therefore, I feel compelled to share all the knowledge I have gained in lockdown for the past hundred weeks.
All the epiphanies that occurred to me as I leapt out of bed wild-eyed at 7.55 am for an 8 am Zoom call and the perspective I have got by being imprisoned without parole with those I love most in the world — here’s all that hard-won wit and wisdom — yours for free: speaking from experience, there has never been a better time to be simple-minded. A video that repurposes men’s underwear as a face mask with a voiceover in sophisticated Punjabi explaining “face mask ki recipe” has had me laughing harder than I ever laughed pre-lockdown. For those of us who have inner morons, hug them tight, they will get you through this terrible time. Or, they may not, but they will help you laugh a lot more than those Nobel Prize-winners among us (you know who you are, don’t be shy) who are analysing epidemiology patterns and predicting the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
A Recipe for Disaster
The infamous Rule #34, one of the older memes of the internet, boldly proclaims, “If it exists, there is Porn of it”. Over more than a decade, this tongue-in-cheek (no pornographic reference intended) adage has borne witness to the fact that the internet has been home to expressions which don’t find place in the mainstream. So creative has been this genre that porn doesn’t just refer to sex any more. Internet Porn (as opposed to Porn on the Internet – go figure) often becomes a way of describing user content that defies regulation and finds creative expressions. Thus, trying to find “porn of it”, while trying different options: Tetris Blocks, Gummi Bears, Hello Kitty, and N95 Masks have all found their often funny, often NSFW bizarre renderings as folks on the web have engaged in creating new fantasies.
How to talk your parents through a pandemic
A few days before lockdown, when I was about to leave for my evening walk with Baba, I looked at my parents as they were drinking their tea and said, “Perhaps we shouldn’t go for these walks for a few weeks. There is too much exposure, it just does not feel safe.” “But we don’t talk to anyone there,” said Baba. But he does, he meets his friends, shakes their hands and pats their backs. When I pointed it out, he refused point blank. “I don’t do that, I just mind my own business.” I didn’t see any point in arguing further.
Since COVID-19 was recognised as a global pandemic, my friends and I, in India and in countries around the world, are being forced to parent our parents. A friend in locked-down Spain says her only worry is for her parents in India. If things go out of hand, who will take care of them? Another friend, who lives in the US, was glad that his father was with him, but his visa is about to expire and he needs to look into that. Overnight, we have had to become the responsible ones — researching all the ways in which the virus spreads, regularly washing hands and enforcing social distancing. And then there are our parents, who just don’t seem to be taking this seriously enough, choosing ignorance over anxiety.
The mirror crack’d from side to side
In the Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel’s incandescent masterpiece, and the conclusion to the trilogy that includes Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), we meet Thomas Cromwell at the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. Cromwell, the son of a violent blacksmith, has, through sheer will, ruthlessness, intelligence, inventiveness, intrigue and ingenuity become the most powerful man in England. “Even in the Republic of Virtue you need a man who will shovel up the shit, and somewhere it is written that Cromwell is his name.” Henry VIII cannot function without him. He is Lord of the Privy Seal, but no title can describe his power. Nothing in England is untouched by it. He arranges brides for kings. He makes and breaks alliances. He levies taxes. He causes rebellions and suppresses them. He controls the circulation of goods. He controls information that allows him to preempt plots and hatch them. He directs the course of the Church and the fortune of churchmen. He redefines faith. He commands power over life itself, sending the mightiest to the Tower if not the gallows. He makes the state tick, in all its gore and glory. Or, so it seems.
The political and the personal come together inextricably in this debut novel
The week I read The Alchemy of Secrets, 85-year-old Akbari Begum died inside her burning home in northeast Delhi. It was later found that amongst those arrested for setting her home ablaze were two brothers in their twenties. These young men were her neighbours, who would greet her when they would see her in the locality.
As the debris of horrific violence was swept from the narrow lanes and blood scrubbed off the floors of houses in the weeks following the riots in the national capital, also found were the charred remains of a body barely identifiable as that of a human. Till this week, the family of 23-year-old Mohsin Ali were yet to receive a medical confirmation that those remains — found inside his gutted car — were indeed his. He was an office bearer of the BJP’s minority cell in Uttar Pradesh.
How publishing for children in India is coping with the crisis generated by COVID-19
I have an annual ritual of plonking myself among the cartons for a manual count of the stock of our Pickle Yolk titles every March 31. We are small enough yet to handle it without much ado. This year, the 31st has rolled into the 15th of the next month and the storeroom remains unopened. The world is beset with grave concerns and mine is a simple enough problem that can wait.
Business for one and all in the publishing industry has come to an eerie, aching standstill and no one is willing to hazard a guess on the when or how of the revival. I reach out to my colleagues in children’s publishing to see how they are faring. Independent publishers all, our email conversations end up being predictable enough. We are all struggling with the uncertainties to a common external problem, the extent varying with our size and scale of operation.
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