2020 gave us many sad tragic events to remember. This year recorded many deaths, worldwide dilemma, outbreaks and natural phenomena. The Corona virus outbreak that started out as a mysterious disease from Wuhan, 176 passenger deaths in the Ukrainian flight crash, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, death of legends like actor Irfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor, basketball player Kobe Bryant. But with the Australian wildfires, Indonesian floods, locusts attack, Cyclone Amphan and now Cyclone Nisarga, nature has started taking it’s fury on us. Amidst the increasing tensions, our life has also undergone a change.
Watching news 24×7, counting the death rate every other second, hoarding supplies and behaving as if an apocalypse will occur, it was difficult to bring our lifetime to a standstill and that too in Mumbai.
Pre crisis, most of us lived busy, non stop lives. We yearned for free time. Many of us have more time available for reflection. After all, today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable shortly term future, we largely find ourselves in a time of stillness, away from the hubbub of normal life.
1. Recording audio books for our blind friends
‘Let’s record’ is a non profit initiative to make audiobooks available for blind students. Many a times the education of blind students comes to a halt due to unavailability of audiobooks. This was started by a bunch of college students under NGO Saathi of Ferguson College, Pune when the lockdown started- 24 March 2020. This re awakened my once lost reading habit. Sitting at home, I virtually travelled from snow capped alpine mountain ranges, waterfront gardens and Chinar trees of Kashmir to uphill roads, chestnut trees, pine trees, bustling hill town of Mussorie to the paddy fields, granaries, Muslim fakirs, Hindu desaiahs and Yelllamma Jogathis of Shiggaon village in Karnataka. I wish to review some of the books I read.
I hate politics, but by compelling myself I read the whole book! ‘1984’ is a political prophesy book written in 1948 by George Orwell. It is referred as one of the definitive texts of modern dystopian literature, a powerful warning against totalitarian regimes and extreme political ideolo8gies. This book remains one of the most hauntingly terrifying portrayals of future of mankind. A future where everything belongs to state and none is free. ‘BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU’ ‘THOUGHT POLICE’, ‘THOUGHT CRIME’, ‘TWO MINUTES OF HATE ‘, ‘COLD WAR’, ‘BROTHERHOOD’ phrases was gifted to English literature by Orwell in this book. An interesting 2050 prophesy is also written. Big Boss, the entertainment Tv show was inspired from the ideas of Big brother, mass surveillance of this book.
‘Calling Sehmat’ is a thrilling saga of a spy, who in the service of four nation, gave all of herself so that we can live in peace. Sehmat Khan, the daughter of Hidayat Khan and Tej Khan was a chirpy, innocent, creative, introvert get sharp minded women who studied in Delhi University. Her family lived in Kashmir. He father and grandfather were spy. She marries Pakistani Army Officer Iqbal Syyed so as to provide the Indian intelligence with valuable information during Indo-Pak War of 1971 where India was able to save INS Vikraant, India’s sole aircraft carrier from an attack by submarine PNS Ghaazi. It took 8 years of hardship and research for the author Harrinder Sikka to come up with such a heroic book, now made into a motion picture ‘Raazi’ starring Vicky Kaushal and Alias Bhatt.
‘To all the fine things we take for granted
To butterflies and buttercups
To chestnut and pine trees
To early morning and birds
To fine breakfasts and ice creams
To roads we never noticed..
‘ – Road to Mussorie by Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond came to my life through my English textbooks. We had a story about his grandpa and his love to keep unusual pets like Python, monkeys etc. At that time, online book reading was not rampant and I eagerly waited to read his stories. This quarantine came as a blessing ! It’s time to read his books and revisit our childhood ! His stories are filled with positivity, optimism, life affirmative themes, celebrations of ordinary life around, understated humour and his tremendous zest for continuing to look at life from his famous Mussorie hillside window and keep spinning tales.
Sudha Murty’s books can be read by anyone from a 10yr old to a 90yr old grandma. When once jokingly asked by Shri. Shashi Tharoor, as ‘Why do you hate the dictionary? ‘, she replied, ‘If normal working women, housewives had to read the book, they can’t carry the dictionary along with them to their kitchen stove!, so I write in simple language so that the common masses are able to appreciate.”
“Putting women first” by Dr. Rani Bang is about the lives and times of ordinary people of Gadchiroli village in Maharashtra and social medicine. Gadchiroli is known for being an underdeveloped and Naxalite area. Dr. Abhay Bang and Dr. Rani Bang setup a clinic for the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) and practiced medicine that caters to the Madia Gond, Raj Gond, Pardhan and Halibi – the dominant tribes who reside there. Here she encounters many humorous yet thought provoking grave issues, health problems and superstitions narrated by them. For example, the consumption of tendu patta gum helps in contraception. The alternative treatment provided by the quacks and village tantri is listed. To induce abortion, a stick is inserted into the vagina. The book builds an indigenous expression of development, one in which the ‘fundamentals of healthcare, interdependence and sustainable economies are permanent. ‘
2. Reading unfinished books
These books were bought by me at an age when I wasn’t capable of understanding what socialism, secularism, revolution meant. And i had read half and left. Gandhiji’s autobiography “The story of My Experiments with Truth” is a must read for every Indian. Every citizen must firm their own unbiased opinion of the Father of our Nation and reading his own works will help one do that. This is one of those rare books which the reader either loves or hates, there is no middle ground. Every school going kid is taught to unthinkingly sing this praises. School textbooks present him as faultless, almost divine. This book will revolutionize our thinking and present Gandhi as a man – imperfect and humble. His experiments range from elocution classes to gets rid of his shyness and fear of public speaking to dancing and singing lessons. He nevertheless took allopathic medicines but experimented on diet and hydropathy.
‘Cooking is about creating something delicious for someone else.’ This lockdown period gave me time to enter this less frequented kitchen. I tried to get the round shaped chapattis, curries, breakfast items, flavoured rice, cutlets, varieties of cakes -apple cinnamon cake, banana cake, coffee cake, mango cake etc. Exotic and less heard of local delicacies like besan ladoo, marzipan, momos, rosgulla Maggie bhel, sandhesh, puddings etc. As this is a lockdown time, I made recycled food items like kanjivellam soup( rice starch soup), watermelon rind thoran etc. But failures were encountered when I made Oreo cake ( cake felt like vattayapam, it wasn’t fluffy), Butter chicken ( poured a huge bowl of curd instead of spoon), Mysore pak ( brother told, ‘let’s make avalosunda and eat ), Rava cake and bread chilli. Due to the less availability and increasing price of a coconut, we substituted 8coconut with peanuts as the Maharashtrians do!
Each household has a personal story to tell about this delicacy. No matter which part of India you belong to, halwa brought by the Arabs is their go- to- desert to satiate one’s sweet cravings. Halwa can be made with anything- vegetables, fruits or flour. Bombay Halwa or Karachi Halwa is made using flour. Thinking about the ‘Aluva ‘ which we used to buy at Kozhikode railway station enroute to our hometown bought back sweet memories.
Pudding is a British invention bought to India by the Romans in 1st century bc. It is made by boiling mixture of eggs, milk, flour and fruits or syrup for flavour in idli making vessel.
Amongst other things like Tagore and Victoria Memorial, the Bengalis3take immense pride in their large selection of mishti or sweets. Mohan Bhog, Lobongo Latika, Roshogulla, Bhapa Dou, Malai chom chom, Kalu jaam or kala jamun, Payesh, Raj Bhog, Chanar jeelapi, Shor Bhaja, Lady Kenny, Mishti Doi, Sandesh etc. are to name a few. To bring back my Kolkata memories, I made Roshogulla- soft round mithai made of homemade cottage cheese called chenna and dipped in sugary syrup. Sandhesh is a dry milk made sweet.
Momos are delicacies native to Tibet and Himalayas. It is a plain flour based steamed dumpling filled with vegetables or meat and served with red coloured spicy and watery momos chutney. It resembles to our kozhikatta except that the sweet jaggery coated coconut filling is replaced.
Every dish has its own history and a story of survival. Legend has it that during the 15th century famine, when flour for making bread became scarce, the German Senate ordered bakers to create a replacement. Using eggs, sugar and almonds, the clever bakers came up with Marzipan. It is made by Goans during on wedding and religious feast days. Our neighbourhood aunty was a Goan who made many Goan delicacies using coconuts, cashews, rice, fish, meat and kokum like Goan fish curry or Xitti Kodi, shark Ambot Tik, Goan pork vindaloo, Sorpotel , chicken Cafreal, Feijoada- red beans with pork, Sorak, Patolea – that looks like our kumbillappam, Fish Recheado, Sannas- resembles idli, Perad or guava halwa. Goa was a Portuguese colony prior to 1961 and hence the Portuguese influenced most of there food and it’s names.
Likewise, Sushruta, the ancient Indian physician, first used spherical balls of sesame seeds as an antiseptic to treatment his patients. From there, the ladoo gradually began taking shape. I made besan ladoo, a favourite among Maharashtrians using chickpea flour, sugar and ghee.
4. Participating in contests
A cooking contest was organised by Malayali Samajams here to make people utilise their best time of lockdown. Dad had the golden rare opportunity to taste the peanut chikki made by brother, dry fruits kheer made by me and broken wheat kheer made by mom.
While dressing up brother as Jesus Christ for him to say eight beatitudes for a catechism assignment, helping mom to understand the zoom app so that she can attend the catechism teachers online conference, I didn’t realise that lockdown would help me get closer to my family.
5. More time
Gone were the days where even 24hrs couldn’t have satisfied our self and we would crave for more time. Bit it’s not likely that nowadays. It’s time to enjoy a good nights sleep of 8hrs without thinking of beeping alarms, hospital wards, history taking of patients, surgery classes, ward postings and college lectures.
No queuing in front of common bathroom with bucket and clothes in one hand while one brushes the teeth with foaming mouth and sleepy eyes.
No more bombarding my brains with missiles of medical topics, but I can sit leisurely and understand, imagine, absorb and study in my comforts.
More time to spend with our parents and help them get familiar with new apps and technologies.
More time to talk to our relatives and friends in Kerala who are constantly about the cyclone and corona cursed Mumbai city.
And finally more time to dream about our May month summer holidays we enjoyed in Kerala! The beautiful lakes and coconut trees that signalled that we reached Kerala seen from windows of Netravati train, the chants of chaiwallahs and coffee walas who sold drinks, banana fritters and dal vadas that we buyed from platform, the Vagamon tea plantations was a mini picnic to us filled with U-pin roads, lush greenery, fresh cold air, small waterfalls complete with KSRTC breakdown and the nauseating feel due to the roller coaster ride uphill ! Finally we reached Kattapana at midnight and saw our cousins eagerly waiting for us in the tharavaadu house. Then for 1 month, it’s time to go on field trips, play and swim in the ponds, catch fish with towel, savour the dishes grandma made for us, help grandpa in the field to pluck black pepper, coffee and elaichi.
6. Acquire new skills
By learning a new language, it gives us an edge over others and counts for a meaningful addition to four career. So, i started learning Latin through app and google. I choose Latin because Latin is one the oldest languages of this world and it’s a dying language ! The number of Latin speakers are diminishing. Also Latin is the mother of other languages, many words have taken roots from Latin like vaccine (from vacca meaning cow in Latin), quarantine ( meaning 40 days ) etc. Many medical terms too are of Latin origin. Also Latin was used by great scientists and inventors in early days, it was the elite’s medium to communicate.
Gardening helps relieve stress and keeps you busy. One also does a bit for the environment especially during these times. I decided to plant mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, mint and beans in pot’s filled with compost made from used tea powder, onion and banana peels, egg shells and other waste. Your eyes feel fresh when you see morning dew drops resting on tiny mustard leaves. It also makes you wait for the next day to see the sapling growth.
Art is a natural form of expression and can be calming and meditative. It soothes our mind and is a creative way to express yourself. Not everyone is a talented artist, but each once can utilise their 1% talent gifted by Him. So, I made many mandalas, zee tangles and warli drawings which is quite simple to draw.
Mandala is Sanskrit for ‘circle’. They are geometric designs that hold great symbolism in Hindu and Buddhist cultures representing different aspects of universe. Used as instruments of prayer and meditation, they are painted in temples, walls, textiles etc. The circular design says life is never ending and everything is connected.
Zeetangle is a non representational and unplanned art form created by Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts that increases focus, creativity, self confidence and well being. It’s benefit areas include phobias, addictions, pain management, conflict resolution and workplace burnout.
Warli painting is a style of tribal art created by tribals from North Sahyadri range in India (Maharashtra). Originally created inside the walls of their huts, this is now
world famous with patterns being created on textiles, walls and showpieces. The Varli tribe made walls using branches, earth and red brick that gave the painting painted using rice paste, water and gum a brown background.
I know it’s not everyone’s idea of fun but with our colleges conducting online classes, one can’t help. To make most of the beautiful weather right now, I study with full focus sitting near the balcony window looking outside in between reading those black and white pages.
8. Praying for the world
The least but not the last thing we can do while sitting safely in our homes with roofs on our head and food on our plate is praying to God to left His protection and love be amongst the frontline workers working tirelessly be it the white collared Doctor or the sanitation workers. This virus has indeed taught us that’s every job has it’s own dignity and might. We can’t live by omitting fully one section of four society.