Notes from my Lockdown diary – Part 4

Lockdown continues in India and so do my notes. The way it goes, it looks like I can publish a complete book compiling all these notes! Even as the thoughts of publishing a book crossed my mind and I sat to type this blog, the wife somehow got a wind of it. “Instead of torturing people with your blogs, you are now planning for a full book? Of all the negative effects of Covid-19 we have to suffer, this must be the worst!” she pronounced.  The wife is always right. So, the book plan had to commit suicide.  Notes writing gets a reprieve.

(If you have not read the earlier parts, please read here, here and here.)

It seems there is no reprieve though, from doing the household chores for a long time. The other day, our regular household help (God bless her), called up the wife to check if she can start coming, as there was some news of things being relaxed.  She apparently felt bad to just receive her salary without doing her work for the past two months.  I could hear the wife telling her nicely not to worry and though the ghar ka Bhai is not as good as the Bai in work, she could manage with him!  And added in some measure about being Atmanirbhar and all!

It then struck me later as to why the wife made this point to the Bai. Few days ago, after I finished the J and P of BJP (Jhadu and Pocha), I asked the wife, glaring at the somewhat shining floor, “Now your bench mark for a clean and spotless house must have changed, no? And also your expectations from the Bai, no?” I know, there are better ways to fish for compliments. “Benchmark and all I don’t know. What I know is, I have to keep the Bai happy at any cost. She doesn’t break mops within two days, doesn’t finish Vim liquid in one week and finally doesn’t keep showing off her quality of work once done!” the wife quipped.  I should have known this better. Of just doing the work and not indulge in pompous self-praise!  In the married life of men, the adage “Once bitten, twice shy” doesn’t exist. It is always the case of “Many times bitten, and still don’t learn”!

Like a few days ago, looking at the many “Exercise at home” videos flooding the social media timelines these days, I started doing a hundred “Jumping Jacks” in the morning. When I started it itself, the wife warned that the downstairs people may feel like some earth quake happening. Better said in Tamil – ‘Keezha irukaravaalukku Thalai la idi vizharaapola irukkum’! I took it as her another jibe at my bloating weight and went ahead with it. Sure enough, within two days the managing committee members called to warn me of dire consequences if I continued with my indoor exercises. The end result – Not just jumping jack, even a simple pranayam has been locked down!

Last weekend was another case of not learning. Being a Sunday, I declared loudly that I will cook the lunch. The daughter who is the proverbial cat on the wall in terms of taking sides exclaimed, “But Appa, not your usual Rasam and Potato curry!” “Of course not! Today I am going to make Sambhar and thoran” I should have stopped there. I didn’t. In my zeal to impress, I added, “That too not the “podi potta Sambhar, but arachuvitta Sambhar”! Now for the uninitiated, Sambhar though is a common South Indian dish is made differently in each of the states. This arachuvitta Sambhar is a speciality in Palakkad Tambrahm households, where you don’t use the ready-made Sambhar powder but actually add the freshly ground spices and masala. So, obviously the Sambhar made this way tastes much better. It also calls for more skill to get the mix right.

Now here’s the audacity thing. The wife usually makes this arachuvitta Sambhar very well. So at home, that is the “gold standard”!  And though I make the regular Sambhar of and on, so far I have not tried or made this arachuvitta Sambhar before in my life! But then as most of you part of WhatsApp groups would have realised, everybody else is into trying and learning one new recipe or the other and sharing in groups these days! So, I also thought why not try something new and add that as a lockdown learning badge!

I googled for a proper recipe of the arachuvitta Sambhar and got into preparation of the same.  Though the recipe was in simple English, the doubts that emanated were endless, as you got down to work. For every doubt I went to the wife, I was promptly reminded that commenting on cooking is very easy while cooking is not! Did I have choice other than agreeing?  I followed the recipe and the wife’s tips to the “T” and everything was going as per plan.  Or so I thought. Blame the bad light or my reading glass, instead of reading as ¼ TSP of Methi seeds (Vendayam), I read it as 4 TSP of Vendayam, fried the same along with the other ingredients and ground into the paste. And this paste is the most crucial input for the arachuvitta Sambhar! Those familiar with the drill would by now know what will happen if you add 4 TSPs of Vendayam!

While the Sambhar was boiling, I attempted to taste it. I could realise that my first attempt in arachuvitta Sambhar has flopped badly. The Sambhar was bitter in taste thanks to the overbearing taste of Vendayam (Methi seeds)! When it was judgement time, the wife was at her gracious best when she said, “The bitter after taste notwithstanding, it was not bad for a first attempt!” I was relieved on hearing the same before she continued, “Change your blog title from ‘Notes from my lockdown diary’ to ‘Lessons from the lockdown’ and learn from them!

Not a bad idea, isn’t it?

I am learning.

Packaging of the Package!

In India, in the past few days, most Indians or at least the urban folks have been hooked on to the television by 4.00 p.m. every day. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a grand announcement of ushering in an Atmanirbhar Bharat with an economic package of Rs. 20 Lac Crore, not just the devil, hope was also in the detail. So, it was left to the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to announce the details that would not belie the hopes of millions of Indians.

In India today and probably the world over, if one has to depend on the media commentary to make up one’s mind on an issue, it is virtually impossible. On any topic, the tone of the commentary and its conclusion can be guessed without even reading the piece or watching the full clip, by just looking at the author’s name or the medium carrying it. These days, very rarely you get to read a piece that gives a balanced opinion on a topic, the two or more sides of it, the pros and cons and possibly the positive and negative impact.  So, even to the slew of announcements the finance minister has been making, the reactions have been on predictable lines. The pro-government media/authors have been only praising the initiatives while those opposing have only picked up holes in the announcements. Balanced commentary is increasingly becoming as oxymoron.

It is under these circumstances that I feel, any government today needs to be super-efficient in its communication, so that it has the intended impact on people.  The usually communication savvy Modi Sarkar, has been found wanting particularly in these dire times, when it is utmost critical to bring in comfort and then confidence to the public at large. I will explain why and will try my best to provide a balanced view.

  • First up, the intention of the government not to get bogged down by Covid, but use it as an opportunity to re-define strategic priorities for the country is welcome. To that extent, Modi’s speech on the 12th May, was pretty much on point. There was a vision and though delayed, a financial economic package to the tune of Rs. 20 lac crore,  which are both commendable.
  • The details of the package were to be released in the next few days which is what happened in the last few days, beginning 13th Feb and ending today.
  • The announcements do reveal that the government has done a lot of homework and that probably explains the delay in the unveiling of the package. Having said that, there has been issues with the content and form.
  • First the content.
    • The government in its wisdom chose to use this opportunity not to just announce the economic stimulus package but also address long pending reforms and amendments in laws which is appreciable.
    • Globally, there is an Anti-China mood and having a strategic game plan to take advantage of the changing winds is important. So, some of the measures announced I believe, are in that direction which augurs well for the country.
    • While few may understand that some measures are meant for short term remedy and others are meant for long term transformation, most of us cannot make the distinction.
    • It would have been better if the Government had broken down the announcement into two parts.
      • The first one, to just focus on the immediate short term stimulus/support measures that will “comfort” the ailing strata of the society. This announcement was the one which was widely and eagerly expected. So, what is in it for the MSMEs whose businesses have suffered badly, the urban and poor workers who are left without work and wages, and the farmers who have lost their income?  In this regard, some of the initiatives like the expanded MSME credit facility even without collaterals, free ration to the poor including those without ration cards and the Additional MGNREGA allocation are greatly appreciable.
      • There has been all around pressing calls for cash transfer to the poor as the panacea for the migrant crisis that has unfolded. The government’s view is that, it believed in empowerment rather than entitlement as a route to support poor at this stage. Also, there is a view that money transfer may lead to longer lines in front of liquor shops. There are no doubt, merits in these arguments. But, considering the current acute distress situation, it would have been good if, the government opted for cash transfer to Jan Dhan accounts of women for the next six months.  That would have addressed the lack of money and the alcohol problem in one bullet.
      • The second part could have been reforms and parliamentary actions that are more strategic that will give “confidence” to investors – domestic and foreign.  Muddling all these and choosing to announce major and a lot of minor initiatives together, has resulted in a problem of comprehension.
      • On each of the days of announcement, Twitter and WhatsApp groups were buzzing with more questions than answers, as to what all these actually meant the Aam admi. If the urban elite couldn’t make out that, how do we expect the poor who are expecting some immediate succour desperately from the government to comprehend what is in it for them?
      • If restricting the announcement to the top four or five big “new” initiatives would have reduced the stimulus to Rs.15 lac crore or something, so be it. That is better than creating a Shock and Awe with a huge amount and eventually leaving the public to just count the zeroes in it for the rest of the year.
  • Second the form.
    • In India, most of us suffer from what I call as the “More Points in Power point” syndrome. We feel that if there are more points in the slide, it is always better. In the corporate world, this syndrome translates itself into “More strategies”, More Key Actions”, “More priorities”, More slides, More everything!
    • In this case, the government too being a victim of this syndrome, ended up re-hashing many old initiatives, repeating stuff which have already been announced in the last budget. For example, the “One Nation One Ration Card” initiative was first announced if I am right in 2016. Stuff like reforming the Essential Commodities Act etc. have been touched upon in the past budget speeches.

The result is that, the Finance Minister ended up making her third budget speech for this year, the only difference being, it was in tranches. From the government’s point of view, this would have helped in deflecting the headlines for a week from the migrant crisis and other related bad news. But, I am not sure if the budget speech type announcements have helped in either “Comforting” the needy or building “Confidence” among the business community!

When marketing Guru Philip Kotler first talked of the P’s of marketing, he just referred to 4 P’s – Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  As marketing evolved, more P’s like Positioning, People and Packaging got added over a period of time. In the modern retail world, packaging got a lot of prominence due its influencing role at the point of sale. In today’s era of political communication too, I believe, even an economic or a stimulus package needs to be “Packaged” properly to reach its desired outcome.

Lest we forget, Narendra Modi has been the maiden recipient of the Philip Kotler Presidential Award.

Cartoon credit: Satish Acharya

Locking down a tippler!

In India, in the last few days, two set of visuals are making the headlines. One, is the unending stream of pictures of migrants walking along highways trying to reach their homeland. The other is of the long and unending lines of people in cities and towns in different parts of the country in front of liquor outlets. Ever since many of the state governments who couldn’t control their addiction to revenue from liquor (to borrow this fine phrase from Pratap Bhanu Mehta) decided to open up liquor outlets, it has opened up a Pandora’s bottle! Point to remember here is that liquor along with petrol/diesel are out of the purview of GST still and are in the state’s ambit for tax collection. So, not surprisingly most of the states opted for revenue maximisation ahead of Corona minimisation!

In India, the narratives of the so called experts are drenched in Anti Modi’ism. So, in the initial days of Corona, the narrative was around why India is not locking itself down like China did with an iron hand. In a few days into Corona, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did announce a complete national lock down, unprecedented and unimaginable to pull off in a culturally lax country like India. When that happened, the narrative shifted to the lock down not being thought out properly. The pictures of migrants walking along main highways did support this narrative.

During this period, calls from the commentariat including in the opposition were to do a direct benefit transfer to the needy of anything between Rs. 5000 to Rs. 12000 per month so that, many of the poor who have now lost their jobs and income can sustain. Along with this, there was also the call for free distribution of staples. In fact, Nobel laureate Dr. Abhijit Banerjee went to the extent of saying that targeted money transfer be damned and pushed for transfer of cash to the entire bottom 60% of the economy. He felt that targeting at this stage would be costlier and cumbersome.

In a while when the states started getting their act together to reach food to the migrants, the story was about how livelihoods are being lost due to lock down.  In the past few days, many experts tired of the lock down now are veering towards “opening up” the economy, as a complete lock down is no longer sustainable.  And that’s when the decision to open things up, which is now in the hands of the states, was taken by most of the states, who were feeling the pinch of empty coffers. And the key item that got ticked off in opening was the opening up of liquor shops.

And when the liquor shops got opened what happened?

  • In most places, all the gains achieved with so many days of social distancing got neutralised by thronging tipplers who threw caution to the wind.
  • In Bengaluru, on a Monday morning, you could see youngsters’ queuing up to get their stocks of liquor. In their prime, their parents lined up often in front of ration shops to get their share of kerosene, rice, sugar milk and other essentials.
  • In parts of Telangana, in some pictures where you could identify the people as not very rich or even middle class, men were seen lining up in braving dry heat.
  • In Nainital, Uttarakhand, people were seen braving hailstorm to buy liquor at a shop on the day liquor shops were open.
  • In Delhi, a man was seen showering flower petals on people standing in lines outside liquor shops apparently to celebrate them for helping the country’s economy!
  • There was also an invoice from Bengaluru that went viral showing liquor purchases for Rs. 52841 one shot!

Whichever way you look at it, there is something fundamentally wrong in what we saw as an after effect to the opening up of liquor shops. And here’s why:

  • What are the young men and women (who we can assume are working in IT or ITES companies) doing in front of liquor shops in Bengaluru on a fine Monday morning (1st day of the week) when their companies expect them to “Work From Home”?
  • In the other case of poor people crowding the liquor shops, what about their source of money? Did we not hear that many of them have lost their jobs and not getting paid due to lock down?
  • Or is it that they are using the little amounts transferred by the governments to quench their thirst for liquor instead of using it to buy ration and other essentials for their households?
  • Domestic violence reached an All-time high during the lock down period. The sheer number of men in the lines made us think of the women they go back to.

I was disappointed to see once again the media narrative on the above scenario. In the “liberal” worldview, calling for a prohibition is of course untenable. But, at least during these extreme situations of Covid related lock downs, I would have expected a strong questioning of the timing to open liquor shops. Instead what we saw in most media stories were:

  • What happened to social distancing norms in liquor shops? Why did the government not think through this?
    • Really? Even in normal shops, maintaining social distancing is a herculean task. And how can one expect discipline in liquor shops that are opening after many weeks?
  • Instead of opening the liquor shops, why can’t the government arrange for home delivery of liquor thro apps like Zomato, Swiggy, etc.?
    • Yes, the authorities in the midst of fighting the health hazards due to Covid must also spend their time on discussing with Zomatos of the world to ensure efficient door delivery of liquor to nook and corners of India including remote villages. Is it? If such efficiency can be attained in India for booze delivery, why can’t that model be put to use first to deliver essentials to people would be my question!

The fall out of this untimely and stupid decision is there for us to see. Mumbai has rolled back the decision. In Tamil Nadu, Kamal Haasan headed outfit along with few others challenged the decision in the court and obtained a stay on selling liquor for now. The state has now knocked at the doors of the Supreme Court! Few states have slapped very high taxes, which I don’t know will make any difference.

It is not very clear as to which is more dangerous? People’s addiction to liquor or the Governments’ addiction to revenue from liquor? And who has to give up the addiction first? My personal view which could be an unpopular one too is, it is high time governments view this issue in perspective. That is, to look at the so called revenue from Liquor and tobacco versus the money spent on health care to take care of ailments related to smoking and drinking. And when that is done over a longer period of 20-30 years along with the cost of social ills, it will be as clear as daylight that, in a country like India, prohibition in “some form” is essential. Which answers my question as to who should give up the addiction first. It is the State.

Winston Churchill apparently said, “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me!” in reaction to those who critiqued him for depending too much on alcohol. It will be however wise to realise that in the case of governments, it is the otherwise.

COVID-19 aftermath – Time to revive two flagship programmes of GOI

If there is one quote which has been oft repeated by commentators of all hue in the past few weeks as the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, it is this. Winston Churchill’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste”! As India locked itself down in its fight against Corona Virus, the lessons for future are many. And indeed it must learn those and never let this crisis go to waste, once things settle down. In India, we have a tendency to move on quickly from natural disasters and other calamities without learning the lessons and putting them to practice for future.

In the context of COVID-19, once we are out of the crisis completely, two programmes of the central government which were launched with much fanfare in the 1st term of Modi Sarkar but which lost steam or didn’t take off the way they were envisaged come to mind. It’s time to revive them and re-launch them with added rigour. And in the aftermath of the Corona virus pandemic, I do believe that the chances of them now doing well have got better.

On the 15th of August, 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it caught the imagination of the public by and large. “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019,” declared the Prime Minister. This was the first time, cleanliness entered public discourse since Independence. Immediately after the launch, there was an air of excitement and flurry of activities. I remember voluntary groups and public carrying out weekend shramdaan to clean up the neighbourhood. Celebrities did their bit by participating in symbolic photo ops with brooms to spread the message of cleanliness.

What started off very well, soon started losing steam with the typical Indian attitude of laxity creeping in, after the initial enthusiasm.  From the government perspective, we also saw that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan from the original goal of a “Clean India” by 2019, moved to making India “Open defecation free” by 2019!  So, accordingly the focus turned towards building toilets across the country and giving the poor access to toilets even in the remotest of villages.  In his address to the parliament in Jan 2019, the President announced that over 9 crore toilets were constructed across the country under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan program and that the coverage of rural sanitation went up from less than 40% in 2014 to 98% in 2019.  While these are commendable data points, we were not close to becoming a clean and hygienic country by Oct 2019, as envisaged by the Prime Minister when he kicked off the programme.

While not taking any credit away from the government for pursuing this initiative, I have always maintained that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not about cleaning and more cleaning but, reducing the need for cleaning in the first place. That essentially means developing instinctive disciplinary traits and attitude toward cleanliness like for example, the Japanese.  This calls for a huge attitudinal change among us as we are by and large happy to keep our own four walls clean while not being concerned about littering in public.

It is undisputable that COVID-19, in the last few weeks has increased awareness of self-hygiene as well as community hygiene in a big way in India. Use of sanitisers hitherto seen as a “NRI tantrum” while in India, has now got into the collective conscience of India. I do believe that thanks to social media like WhatsApp, the ills of a pandemic like Corona Virus have reached the nook and corner of India and hence messages concerning the need to maintain cleanliness may be received with more seriousness than before.  By the end of 2019, looking at the way the programme sort of petered out, I concluded that a “Clean India” may be a few decades away when the current student generation with more awareness from childhood stages take to public cleanliness more seriously.  However, now I feel that COVID-19 has given us a great opportunity to reach our goal of a “Clean India” probably a few years earlier and it is important that we as a country seize this opportunity.

Weeks or months later when we get over the COVID-19 crisis, the governments – Centre, States, local municipalities and panchayats should step up the gas on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan once again.  The government must use all the communication machinery at its disposal to build up on the Corona Virus messaging of “washing hands” to start talking about keeping one’s surrounding absolutely clean and safe to prevent further epidemics like this. We should move from friendly nudges to slapping heavy fines for offences like littering in the open, urinating on the side of the roads, Open defecation when toilets are available in the vicinity and spitting on the roads and walls. We must remember that making India a “Clean India” is not just the look out or job of the government of the day but is in the hands of the public. So, as a society, we must not let this good crisis go waste on the hygiene front and make our march towards a “Clean India”!

“Make In India” is another flag ship programme launched by Modi Sarkar way back in September 2014 with a view to give boost to the manufacturing sector in India with an eye on creating lakhs of jobs. Initially conceived to cover 16 industries, the scope was expanded later to include 25 identified industries. Five years hence, when one looks at the outcome of the programme, it’s a mixed bag. “Make In India” has seemingly done well in mobile phone and allied manufacturing with around 268 units producing phones and related accessories in India as of November 2019. This was just 4 in 2014. We are now the 2nd largest manufacturer of mobile phones in the world.  But beyond mobile phone manufacturing, other electronic manufacturing has not taken off in India as yet.  We are nowhere close to the objective set of making manufacturing contribute to 25% of our GDP. With the economic slowdown in the last few quarters and the disruption due to COVID-19, the outlook for manufacturing looks even bleaker.

This is where, COVID-19 could provide a window of opportunity to India in next five to ten years. COVID-19 which erupted from China with the industrial province of Wuhan as the epicentre, has ended up disrupting the global economy in more ways than one. When the virus spread was around China in the month of February, the talk was about how the global supply chains particularly in the Automotive, Pharma and electronics sectors have been disrupted. With the contagion now spreading alarmingly all over the world, COVID-19 could emerge as the single largest cause and effect on the global economy in many years. It is estimated that the global GDP could shrink by 2% this year.

The COVID-19 crisis has hastened the shift of global supply chains out of China actively a move, which gathered momentum in the height of US-China trade war last year and increasing labour costs in China over the last few years.  As we saw in reports, the Japanese government has announced support to companies shifting production from China back to Japan. Korean companies are reportedly exploring options with India to expand their capacities. The US and EU will eventually follow suit.

For India, this is a great opportunity to tap into this shift out of China.

It is good to see the Indian government sensing the opportunity and looking to further the cause of Make in India. Just recently, we saw a package of incentives being announced for the Electronics manufacturing industry with a focus not just on finished goods production but also developing downstream production units. Similarly package was cleared by the cabinet on the 21st March for incentivising production of chemicals and raw materials that go into bulk drugs production.  Initially these moves may help in softening our own dependence on China for imports of electronics and pharma goods but over a period of time will give a boost for exports once the ecosystem in put in place. So far so good. But these are not enough. Making India a part of global supply chains requires a well-co-ordinated (between Centre and states) 360 degree action plan to launch Make in India 2.0 in the light of COVID-19 that covers diplomatic, economic, commercial, human resources and even marketing front. This also requires changes in some of our laws (for example land acquisition) that can make ease of doing business a reality on the ground.

COVID-19 crisis is panning out in front of us as we speak. While we fight the health and immediate economic after effects of the same, it’s time to work on re-launching “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan 2.0” and “Make in India 2.0” in a couple of months and not let this crisis go waste.

Dear India, make 2021 the next 1991!

Notes from my Lockdown diary – Part 3

We are in the last few days of this total lockdown in India. Shortly, we will know if the same will be extended by a few more days. Already, the weariness is beginning to manifest.  Fuses at home are in the verge of blowing up.  Patience is in short supply.  And more importantly, menus are getting repetitive.

“In this situation, be happy that you are getting at least something to eat. Aren’t you ashamed of demanding this and that to make?” This was the wife to the daughter who was asking her to make Pizza for dinner.  I quietly thanked my stars as I was just about to ask her to make ‘Verumarisi adai’ for dinner, when my daughter pipped me.  “Verumarisi adaiya? Verum Adi thaan kidaikum”, probably would have been the retort! I am not at all surprised, when I read that domestic violence during the lockdown has increased by leaps and bounds.  Like how they say that we will have to wear masks while going out, may be, men should be advised to put a plaster across their mouths, while staying at home during lockdowns, I think.

Among the BJP (Bartan, Jhadu and Pocha) activities, many asked me why I haven’t written about the bartan activity in my 1st two parts. (If you haven’t read those, please read them now, here and here).  Yesterday, while doing the vessels, the wife said, “I think, we should buy a Dishwasher now” to which I replied, “Why? We already have a Dishwasher at home. I am there no? “This joke is worse than the regular bad jokes you crack” she replied and then added, “By the way, we then have two Dishwashers at home. One good and the other which just wastes Vim liquid! In the last 15 days, 2 litres have literally gone down the drain!”  Go back to the last line of the last para!

“Can you just come here and check what has happened to the printer? It’s not printing!” shouted the daughter to the wife. “I am busy now. Call your dad. He is supposed to be the “printer expert”, the wife replied, wriggling out of the situation. “WFH means Work From Home and not Work For Home”, I yelled, while being engrossed in a spread sheet submission. For long, we never had a printer at home. Whenever that topic came, I used to give “insider” gyan that a printer is like a white elephant and that whenever we want, we will just get printouts done from a jobber. But finally, I relented when the needs of the school increased exponentially and we ended up purchasing a printer at home few years ago. Little did I realise then, that my background in printing industry will become like my Electrical Engineering background!

Whenever the printer shows some error and those of you who have used inkjet printers at home will agree that it happens very often, I am usually summoned to check the printer.  It is ink related issue at times, Wi-Fi related issues sometimes, and print quality issues some other times but, paper jam issue most of the times! And invariably after trying my hand a bit in vain, my counsel will be to call the technician, so that I don’t end screwing up the printer for good. This will be followed by “You can’t fix a simple problem in the printer? You are supposed to be a printer industry veteran!” jibe which I am now quite used to. And then you know what happens? The wife will saunter in, switch Off and On the printer and remove the paper if stuck slowly and then pronto, the printer starts working! This almost happens every single instance! Now you understand the connection between my Electrical Engineering and printing industry backgrounds!

With the shops and general market being shut, I am eagerly waiting for the Amazons of the world to start operations soon. The mop stick which broke in Week#1, needs urgent replacement. For few days, we were managing with the same but now it is completely broken. So, the leg has become the mop stick and you know how tedious it is to wipe the floor with your leg!

All of you must have realised by now that lockdown teaches you many life lessons. In my case, the technique of mopping the floor is one. The first day, when I started wiping the floor with my leg, I finished the job and as I was about to sit, the daughter quipped, “Mom, is it Krishna Jayanti today?” The wife replied, “No! How will Krishna Jayanthi come now?  To which, the daughter replied with a wry smile, “Look at the floor”! Sarcasm runs in our family blood, I thought. She was referring to few marks on the floor of my feet that remained after I did the mopping. “Krishna’s feet were small. This looks like that Kamsan’s”, the wife joined the fun fest.  Not just blood. Sarcasm is part of our family body fat as well, I learnt.  Also, the important lesson and fundamental principle of mopping. While mopping, you will have to go on the reverse, if you have to avoid the Krishna Jayanthi jibe every day!  By the way, for the uninitiated, on the Krishna Jayanthi day, South Indians celebrate the arrival of the birth of Krishna, among other things by drawing rangoli of pairs of mini feet on the floor from the door to inside.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the weariness of reading my lockdown notes must have also started to show up amongst you, I guess. So, here I am, signing off on this weekly despatch of my lockdown notes. Of course, will continue with my regular posts!

Disclaimer:  All characters and situations in these posts are fictitious. Resemblance to any real person and real events are purely coincidental.

We breathe sarcasm in the family!

Pic credit: Webdunia

Notes from my Lockdown Diary – Part 2

Continuing from where I left in Part 1, the mandatory lockdown continues to introduce us to many “New Normals” – some of which I touched upon in my last post. If you haven’t read that, please read here.

Before this COVID-19, Zoom was one of the widely used tool in companies for conference calls. Now, it has become a house hold name and the most popular App after WhatsApp!  Anyone and everyone these days are on Zoom calls.  On Day #6, the daughter who is now in 8th grade, slowly came up to me and asked to set up a Zoom account for her. After checking and confirming that she has indeed taken the approval from the wife for the same, I set it up for her. What started as sessions for doing work sheets jointly with friends which are being sent every day by the school, have now become Dumb Charades and other game playing sessions over video calls, I am told. I have now become the villain for setting up that Zoom account!

And by now, in almost all households, one round of Zoom meetings have happened with father side family, mother side family and of course one with the immediate family of brothers, sisters and so on.  And as per the hierarchy of WhatsApp groups, friend’s re-union meetings will soon start over Zoom! While on this, I have now ensured that the Video is permanently switched off on my company Zoom account settings so that while on the day long business calls, embarrassing scenes from the surroundings do not get captured.

Like on Day #8, when I was on a review call with my team locked in my room, there were a few SOS bangs on the door. As the bangs got louder, I excused myself to find out what happened. The daughter while pretending to clean up her room spotted a cockroach which had flew from outside. Now in our flat it has been years since we spotted a cockroach and now this was of the flying variety. You can imagine the scenes involving the daughter and the wife now when they found that the creature had taken refuge under the cot. So, I was summoned in the midst of my ongoing call to fix the cockroach problem.  Just because of killing the cockroaches, bees and other insects which keep creeping in the house now and then, my sin count has multiplied over the years and chances of an entry into heaven for me have been seriously damaged. All this while the family keeps cheering me from the side when I execute the killings!

I asked for a Jhadu to kill the cockroach and I was promptly handed over one. Without realising that I was handed over a “phool jhadu” and that too a new one, I went about the act of killing the cockroach systematically. Soon enough, the creature was killed much to the relief and happiness of the wife and the daughter. But then, wait. Those of you who have used a new “phool jhadu” will know that for a few days it keeps shedding dust and cleaning that is another big job. So, by using a new “phool jhadu” which was handed over to me for killing a cockroach, I ended up filling the entire room with a trail of dust from it! The next half an hour or so went in just clearing the room of the mess. In these times of the Corona virus which affects the throat and lungs, this was an episode that could have been totally avoided, I must say. But then you know the effect, cockroaches have in our lives!

Yesterday being a Saturday, I offered to do the cooking. “Today is weekend no? Why don’t you give me a break and do the cooking?” I knew that this will come and so I did a pre-emptive strike and made the offer myself which was immediately accepted. And as expected a slew of instructions flew!

“In the name of cooking, don’t end up messing up my kitchen!” 

“It is not enough if you just cook. Just clean up the place after the cooking!” 

“Whatever doubts you have, ask now. Don’t keep calling me and asking later!” 

“And try to do something different. Not your usual menu of Tomato Rasam and Potato curry!”

My immediate reaction (obviously in my mind) was “Why did I take up this now?”

Anyway, having committed in the first place, went about the job as meticulously as I can.  First up, as a Pillayaar suzhi, kept a vessel full of water for boiling as we have the practice of boiling the drinking water. Then, just when I was about to keep the rice on the pressure cooker, realised that the handle was loose. My engineering brain while cursing the design, was wondering how come the handle is always loose whenever I try to use the cooker, the answer for which I got very soon. In my quest to show off to the wife that apart from cooking, I am also providing some value addition, I got into the job of fixing the handle.  Within a few minutes, the plastic around the screw gave way and the handle came off completely.

The next half an hour went in erasing all evidence of this mishap lest you know what will happen. While I was engrossed in this, I completely forgot about the water kept for boiling due to which half the water had evaporated. Now, I had another set of evidences to be erased! All my male friends will totally agree that this business of erasing any evidence from the wives is an exercise in futility!   So when the wife dropped by to inspect what is going on, she could immediately notice that the cooker handle was skewed by one tenth of a millimeter in spite of my elaborate cover up attempts.

“Now what did you do to my cooker handle?” came the first arrow.

“I just tried to fix it as it was loose. But when I tried to tighten it, it broke”, I answered.

“Did I tell you to meddle with it now?

Do I not know that the handle is loose?

Am I not using it for so long?  

Because of the heat from the stove, the plastic loses its tensile strength and gives way easily. That’s why I don’t try to apply pressure and tighten that!  

I am a commerce student and I am aware of all this. And after being an Engineer you still can’t wrap your head around this?”

A barrage of arrows ensued.  My engineering degree continues to be the most attacked feature in my life!

Soon enough, the wife, realised that much time has been wasted by me without making much progress on the lunch preparation. So she decided to take charge and my cooking endeavour ended abruptly that day.  I remember reading somewhere that women are far ahead in multi-tasking than men. I decided to agree to that statement 100% from this day.

To be continued…

Postscript: Those of you who wondered about my well-being after the wife read Part 1, I am well and holding up. She indeed read it and laughed it off. Covid-19 has its plus points.

Pic courtesy: Webdunia

Notes from my Lockdown Diary – Part 1

As I write this, India is in a complete lockdown due to Covid-19 and today is Day #5. 16 more days to go.  May be more. Never in our lives have we experienced a lockdown like this.  Neither our parents have.  As Indians, we are normally used to different kinds of curbs that hit our daily lives very often. I am talking of the Rasta rokos, Chakka Jaams, Curfews, Hartals, Bandhs and so on. But this is at a different level.  Even Kashmiris who face the brunt of partial shutdowns would feel the same, I reckon. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, when we were hearing of the Corona virus news from China, we wouldn’t have imagined that it will hit home so close and like this which sort of forced the government to shutdown India completely.

This complete India lockdown has brought to the fore the many “New Normals” in our lives. To start with is of course WFH – “Work From Home”, hitherto a kind of privilege enjoyed by the IT folks. In the current scenario, almost everyone is forced to WFH.  Just that in the New Normal, it also implies “Work For Home”. With the entire family spending time within the confines of the four walls, there is no dearth of tragic scenes which are comical and comic scenes which end up turning tragic depending upon which side of the divide you are! In this diary notes, I try to capture some of these scenes for posterity!

In India,  milk for daily use is usually delivered at our doorsteps. Not now. Milk is delivered at the building lobby and you have to collect it. The wife who usually picks the milk from the door has now delegated that responsibility to me to go down and fetch the milk from the lobby. “Anyway you can’t walk and exercise and all. Just consider it as a morning walk and do it” is the wife’s take. “Does that apply only to me” was the immediate question which arose in my mind. For obvious reasons, it remained a mind voice.

As part of the lockdown routine, newspapers also have been stopped. For many men, newspapers play more than just one role. Apart from the obvious one of providing updates on happenings around the world, it also performs the most important function of aiding daily “bowel cleaning”. Without the paper in hand, for many, it is a torture. One had to dip into the old newspaper stock these days to get the day going! In the West, I hear newspapers are filling in for the toilet roll shortage in stores.

“Because of the shutdown, can’t even do my daily exercises! Can’t even do walking within the complex”, I lamented on Day #2. “As if before this you were regularly going to the gym and all!, the wife taunted. “After this New year resolution, I remember, you went to the gym at a stretch for 3 days which is better than the last few years record of two days!”, the taunt continued.

“In my friends group, a gym trainer is sharing day wise simple exercises one can do at home. Let us do it together at home”, the wife declared. “By sharing these videos openly, isn’t the gym trainer risking his future business?  Why is he doing this?” My rather nonchalant question was obviously misconstrued and dismissed with this rejoinder. “That is his problem. Why are you worried? Chalo, let us start”! So thanks to the daily dose of gym trainer’s home exercise videos, we have started doing stretching and exercises at home for the past 3 days. Today being a Sunday, of course I took a break!

In India, if you ask the women who they usually miss the most, it is not the kids or the parents or the husband. It is the maid servant! On returning from office, if you find the wife in a pissed off mood, you can safely conclude that the maid has applied for leave for few days and has not arranged for ‘Badli bai’ (replacement maid)! So these days, one of the most important terms during appointment of maids is she should arrange for ‘badli bai’ when she proceeds on leave for more than 2 days. For less than 2 days leave, the bai herself will tell to manage with the ‘Ghar ka bhai saab’!

Under the lockdown situation both wives and husbands alike miss the maid servant. In the absence of maid servant, the monthly calendar has been temporarily morphed into a scheduler for carrying out BJP activities at home in turns. BJP here is an acronym for Bartan, Jhadu and Pocha! (Vessels, Sweeping and Mopping)

At home, the wife allotted Jhadu on Day #1. The vacuum cleaner which had not been used for years now, had to be first dusted and cleaned before being deployed for action. As I got into my cleaning gear, connected the plug of the vacuum cleaner and switched it on, there was a “dup” sound and off went the power! The next scenes are easy to imagine. “You had to use that vacuum cleaner which you last used when you were a bachelor, today only? You can’t even get an electrician now to fix the power problem”, the wife now donning the “Chandramukhi/Manjulika” avatar, yelled. “Wait, let me speak to the society manager and find out if our building electrician is available here only” I quipped. “Why you have to call the electrician? You are an electrical engineer, no? You can’t check the problem yourself?”  If I have one regret in life about my choice of education, it is the stream of engineering I chose – Electrical and Electronics!

To all youngsters who come to me for advice on which stream of engineering they should go for, my standard answer is “Anything but electrical”. Only if you are an electrical engineer will you be asked to fix the fan, check the AC and so on at home. I have not seen a civil engineer husband being asked to repair a wall if there is a leakage and all. So all aspiring engineers, do keep this in mind.

Thankfully, it was just a tripping of the circuit breaker due to the overload on the motor of the vacuum cleaner. God that day was kind enough in not subjecting me into further embarrassment and power was back soon. That also meant that the idea of using the vacuum cleaner had to be buried and sweeping had to be done physically with the Jhadu. After that the wife, being her turn, did the Pocha smoothly in 15 minutes flat using the Easy Spin Mop! Why this build up about the mop, you may wonder. Read on.

On Day #2, it was my turn for Pocha. When I got up in the morning, I didn’t realise that my tongue’s Vaastu was not alright that day. As I readied myself for the Pocha or the mopping work, I quipped, “How come there are so many deep stains on the floor?”  This was a remark meant to highlight the quality of the work the maid does. But I forgot for a minute that the mopping was done by the wife the previous day! “So, If I am doing lousy work, why don’t you do it properly and remove those stubborn stains today?, the wife retorted angrily, of course. After getting a demo of how to use the engineering marvel called the Easy Spin Mop, I launched myself into the job. It certainly seemed simple when the wife gave the demo.

After draining the water, I took out the mop stick and started mopping. Soon enough I turned my attention to the 1st tough stain which I encountered. Being quite conscious of the fact that the stain needs to be removed of its existence, I started mopping like a man possessed.  Next, I heard was the sound of some plastic breaking which emerged even over the “Ponaal pogattum poda” song from the old Tamil classics playlist playing in the background. The mop stick unable to withstand my sincerity and urge, gave way and broke into two! The wife who doesn’t usually miss these kind of noises in the house, immediately got alerted.  You recall I talked of the Vaastu and all.

In the next few minutes, I was given an earful about how the maid was using the mop smoothly for two years and that the mop stick was just replaced two weeks ago and how a simple task cannot be accomplished etc., etc. “These days, the quality of goods is so bad in India. How can Make in India succeed?”, I mumbled in self-defence. “Pottu udakarathayum udachuttu, Quality mela pazhiya podu” (Why blame quality after breaking the stick yourself?)  Little did I realise then, that I will have to now do to the back breaking Pocha for the rest of the days!  The broken mop stick ended up breaking the peace at home which was holding up till Day #4!

To be continued…

Postscript: On day #5 today, as I sat down to pen this blog, the wife said, “During the lockdown at least why don’t you give a break to your blog?”  I put up a brave face and replied, “This week I am actually writing a light piece, not the usual serious stuff!” My BP is now racing upwards as I begin to wonder what will happen when the wife reads the blog.

Pic courtesy: Webdunia