UNGRATEFULLY GRATEFUL

Is 9 equal to -(-9)?

Yes, of course, you got that right. 

Is being not ungrateful, equal to being grateful? 

Let me help you by sharing what happened with my neighbour

My neighbours are an elderly couple with a son and daughter. Her son Sushrut and daughter Sunitha. Sushrut is married and lives along with his wife in a different city. Sunitha moved to the US on an assignment 5 years back and continued to live there ever since. 

My neighbour aunty passed away two years back. Sunitha was abroad when her mother passed away. She flew for the rituals and returned to the US a month after her mother passed away, leaving her father along with her brother. Sunitha thought her father would be well taken care of as long as he is with her brother. On the contrary, Sushrut and his wife tortured him for the property. When Sunitha got to know about this, she left her job in the US, returned to India so that she could take care of her father. Sunitha’s brother and sister-in-law threatened her that they won’t let her father live elsewhere. Sunitha’s father was determined to give his property equally shared between his daughter and son. Sunitha’s brother was not agreeing to this, so, Sunitha had to file a police complaint against her brother. After the police intervened, Sunitha’s brother let her father go along with Sunitha. 

Sunitha’s brother continued to have arguments with their father for the property. Every other week Sushrut would visit his father only to ask for more and more money. This continued for six more weeks and that is when the pandemic struck. Due to the lockdown restrictions in India, her brother could not drive down to where Sunitha lived anymore. One thing Sunitha said hit me harder, “After my mother passed away, it was already difficult for my father. On top of that, arguments with my brother aggravated his anger. I will always be grateful to Covid, Modi ji and the police who never let my brother cross the border. My father lived in peace for the last two months of his life“.  Uncle passed away before the lockdown ended in India.

Taking things for granted which are considered “normal” is a human tendency. When things go wrong in life, often people start to wonder, what are those things they have been ungrateful for. I have also realised how lucid my life is only after Covid.

If not for Corona and the lockdown, I would not have realised 

  • How important is human interaction even if that’s just a smile? 
  • How unthankful I have been for all those tea break conversations at work
  • How much I took me being healthy for granted. 
  • How important survival is and what is needed to survive. 
  • How much online banking, remote payments and internet at large have comforted us.
  • How apart from family, no one can really be “there” for you. (Only family members were allowed to travel due to restrictions)
  • Waking up every morning. 

I remember telling my parents several times, “If I live in Bangalore I can take a flight to be home in less than few hours. The same would be difficult if I move overseas“. I still feel this is true, but the lockdown meant, this was not possible anymore. I should never undermine the chances I get today to be with friends and family. I  am ungratefully grateful to Corona to have taught me the best lessons of life which otherwise would have taken decades to learn. It is unfortunate, the lessons came with a cost though.  

BEING A POCKET FRIENDLY CONSUMER

 

One question: Have you spent less after the pandemic lockdown till date? 

My answer to this question is a profound yes. 

It actually did surprise me. Let me tell you, I was never an over spender. My parents never gave any pocket money. I think they did me a big favour by not giving me any money. Obviously, I never threw any birthday parties or such sort of things. I have never been to a movie with friends either. All this might sound very insane to some. My parents are very protective. I am from a very conservative family too. I have never seen  my parents indulge in luxury. Anything more than need was very well thought about before we bought.  I learnt that money is very valuable and important as well.

From my early years in college, there was a wrist watch I really wanted to own. It would cost some 4000 INR to purchase that. My first salary was four times more that the cost of that watch. I didn’t buy the watch. Not for one month or one year. Four years into my career, in one of the conversations with my colleague I realised that this wanting of mine has not been fulfilled yet. The very next month, I bought that watch. I was very satisfied with that purchase. I realised, I still follow what I learnt from my parents.

One more thing I always spared myself from owning is a car. I have two favourite cars till date, the Chevrolet Spark and the Tata Nano. It was always in my power to own those. There were times I was so tempted to buy them. Once I stood outside of the Tata showroom glancing at the Nano fore more than an hour. That day it would have taken just a few steps and a swipe of my credit card to own the car. I resist that temptation by asking myself the need to have a car for myself. I am not at all a greedy person. There were days when I paid my credit card bills that were close to 1 Lakh INR. I can own an Audi, but, I won’t. If car really becomes a necessity, I would buy something reasonably good than spending a hefty amount on an Audi. 

I have a credit card. I owned one from the time I started working. I wanted to have the most convenient means to spend but still have that control on how much I actually spend. One might say it is tough to be so, but I would say that requires tiny bit of self discipline. I don’t drink. I don’t party. I don’t visit fancy restaurants. No fine dining. I don’t buy ornaments. I don’t go to parlour for any beauty treatments. Please don’t judge me by what I said, because none of them give me happiness. I find joy in travelling, trying different cuisines, dining at offbeat places, trying local food etc. All this is expenditure too. These are not necessarily needs all the time, sometimes that is just our “me” time. 

I think as humans, we have to balance between when we spend and when we shouldn’t rather than what we want or need. There is no particular thin line or thick like that differentiates need from a want. That depends on many other factors. Sometimes, it helps to just go handsfree and buy whatever we like. This definitely helps improve the mood and make us feel better but, this cannot become a habit. The other times it is just better to not spend.  At the end of the day, what makes us happy could be different on different days. 

Coming back to the question I started the article with, yes, I almost completely stopped buying clothes or shoes for more than 6 months. Just this month, I went ahead and bought some stuff. I bought clothes, some plants, some area rugs for home. It felt nice spending after a long time. If we can control our urge to not overspend, we won’t fall prey for consumerism at large. 

“A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.”
― John Kenneth Galbraith

THE PARADIGM SHIFT FROM “WORK FOR HOME” TO “WORK FROM HOME”

Being associated with the software industry and remote working experience for a long time, I would like to shell some light on how perspectives changed with the pandemic. 

Prior to the pandemic, I would choose to work from home only if I am sick or just wanted to concentrate on work a little more. During the day, at work there are usually some distractions that could be avoided in an isolated space like home. After a couple of days in a row, it starts to get uncomfortable to request for more days of work from home because there are people around in office who would think that I am working for home than working from home :). That has never been true, but there is no way we can prove the other wise. Apart from these, there are a few stereotypical managers who think folks who are working from home are not working. They would call every hour or deliberately schedule some meeting just to feel good by making sure we are working. I am sure some of you would totally echo the same thoughts as me. I have also seen managers who think people who are sitting for a long time in office are more dedicated. I won’t say all these are myths, but it depends on the person. Some managers totally don’t care about where we work from as long as the deliverables are meeting the timelines. 

One of my colleagues had a baby girl with some medical condition and the baby needed constant care. She requested for working from home for a period of six months and considering her situation that has been granted. It used to be difficult and needed lot of approvals even when a family member is suffering from terminal illness.  Later on she opted only for 50% work as she was unable to concentrate on work. So, this carried on for almost two years, and I heard so many people judging her. Many wondered if she ever works or just wants to keep the job.  As fellow humans we have to be more considerate, but hello! she is getting to work from home for months together and we don’t get to do that even for a couple of days. 

It is indeed convenient at times to work from home if one can,  for a few days when there is a need. If my family needs my presence at  hometown, I want to opt for such adjustments for a week or two.  What has always stopped my manager to agree would be, “what would other people in the team think?. “What if everyone start asking for such adjustments?“. Their main fear is that the productivity would be lost. 

Couple of weeks before the lockdown was announced in India, our company started making arrangements for us to be able to work from home for longer durations. I was dealing with those arrangements starting from remote login to ensuring we have all the required hardware to work from home. After many discussions and approvals, we were almost set before the pandemic lockdown came hard on us. All of a sudden, I saw many leaders/managers thinking differently. Now the thoughts are,” We have to somehow make this work for the business” ” We should not loose time because of logistic issues” “Hope people cope up well with this situation and be able to work normally“. Many employees of our company travelled to their hometowns before the lockdown. We experienced low impact with remote working at least in our team. There will always be some trouble working remotely, but this is where we have to be innovative in finding alternatives. I wonder why it was so difficult to accept these adjustments before the pandemic. Now there is more time for employees also to take care of their health by utilizing the commute time.

In no way, this means work from home is a bed of roses. Despite the challenges we are facing working from home, I think this pandemic has changed some misconceptions. I hope in the new normal, we would have better working relationships and our leaders would trust us if someone says “Working from home” :). Even when the pandemic ends, and we end up spending more time at work, we would have the choice to request for work from home option with head held high. 

Starting to trust and giving employees great autonomy and flexibility allows people to feel independent and empowered

CHEER UP SAID WHO?? BAT MAN

When one has to live life alone in an apartment surrounded by concrete walls, life can get very overwhelming at times. My normal routine in such situations would be to take a walk, binge watch some series or have an ice-cream.

Not always life can be this boring, so, to satisfy my wanderlust, I planned a trip to Australia. A solo trip all by myself in Australia. I was all happy and excited while planning, packing dreaming about my vacation. It was almost a 17 day long trip starting from Melbourne to various other places and my last halt was Sydney. 

When I started my trip at Melbourne, the first few days went fine. Even though one doesn’t want to notice, as Australia is a popular destination for tourists, there were umpteen number people in all the beaches I visited, food plazas and even national parks. With so many people around, I still felt alone. During the first week itself, I felt alone many times, even more than when I just stick to my mundane routine of work and home. 

In addition to that, after a few days my sim card stopped working. So, I lost connectivity during the day and only when I was back at the hotel I could talk or chat with anyone. On the first day the sim hadn’t worked, I was so eager to be back at the hotel so that I could check my WhatsApp for any messages. I don’t know if that is just me,  somehow my connection with people is mostly through messages. I was kind of addicted to checking Whatsapp quite a few times back then. To my surprise, there was not a single message. I lived without sim card for almost 5 days, and each passing day my interest for checking my phone has reduced. At first, there was no signal, eventually, I realized no one messages me unless I do. Wait, what? Is this really true? It was a moment of shock than realization. 

For the very first time, I felt like throwing my phone away. May be, I felt helpless and weak. I could not stop the tears rolling down my eyes. Who stands at the iconic Sydney Opera house to cry? I don’t know. At that point I didn’t even care who was watching me crying. There were thousands of people that day,  as many plays were planned through out the day. By evening, more and more people gathered. I think the night life of Sydney is spectacular near the Darling Harbor, so many people spend their evening roaming around in that area. There I was crying, wondering why I should be the only one alone? 

I can’t remember how much time it took to regather myself. I took my camera and headed to take some pictures. This was a distraction from the thoughts that were bothering me. While I was busy with my forced distraction strategy, a small head popped in front of my camera  lens He posed for a picture. then made a gesture to me to show his picture. It was a little boy, could be 5 year old dressed like a batman. He gave me so many poses, smiling and asking to take more and more pictures. He asked me to show those pictures and and every time he had a large smile on his face with enlarged eyes. 

I don’t know who that boy is or where he is now. At that time he was no less than angel. I have heard many times, it gets easier during tough times if there is some to lend a shoulder or talk with. Our friends and family mostly do the job of cheering us up when we are feeling low. In that instance, I realized how powerful a smile is and it can come even from a stranger. What’s more pure than a kid’s smile. Nothing. There is nothing that could have made that moment better. I won’t ask for anything more either. Even today, when I feel low, I browse through those pictures which brings an instant smile. I feel some connection with that boy which makes me feel less lonely. He left a lasting impact which cheers me up every time I think about him.

What are the five best up’s in life? Buckle up, Start up, Keep it up, Don’t give up, Cheer up.”
―  Vikrmn

The two main reasons I feel we are often misunderstood is because of bias and our past. We tend to forget the most important, the present, and the future that can be totally ruined due to misunderstandings. Past may not be relevant in the present or define our future, even then, we continue to give it more value.

Aastha

IT’S SQUARES AND CIRCLES EVERYWHERE

During childhood, we used to play a game. We would draw squares on the floor and number them. One has to hop through the squares with single-leg following the sequence of numbers. If the other leg touches the ground, that was considered foul. The longer one can religiously stay inside the border of the square while hopping the safer it is. If the leg touches the border, that’s foul too. The score would increase each round, basically, we add up the numbers in the squares, and at the end of all the rounds whoever has the highest score wins. The game was fun and everyone wanted to outperform others.

I got reminded of this game when I was standing in one such square marked on the floor at the medical store. Similar markings in squares and rounds were made at many places all through India so that people can maintain ‘social distance’. This word became a buzz word in no time after the pandemic hit. People were too worried about maintaining distance. I witnessed an argument between two gentlemen over maintaining distance at the grocery store. One of them just requested the other to maintain distance and this lead to a heated argument. Some were following the rules religiously and some were ignoring them.

Maintaining social distance is nothing new to us, Indians. For many generations, there was a disparity between people belonging to different religions and castes. The upper caste would have the final say in everything and the lower castes were looked down upon. There were people belonging to some castes who were considered untouchable. Women during menstruation are untouchable. Eventually, we modernized and developed distances based on social class. When we are so well versed with all these, why was it difficult to maintain such a distance when the government requested it?

Because physical distancing is not the same as social distancing. When following physical distancing measures,  we are supposed to stay 6 feet away from people who do not live in the same household as we live in, which includes our friends and colleagues. We have no clue who are carrying the virus. Asymptomatic cases made this worse. The virus sees no difference in gender, religion, caste, ethnicity, or age. No matter we are rich or poor,  famous or not, celebrity or a common man, we are alike before the virus. Only as long as we maintain the distance and wear a mask, we would be able to protect ourselves.

Some news that I read in the papers really made me realize there is so much as a community we have to change. There were instances where front line workers were not allowed to their respective houses. The same happened with Air India pilots. These are the people who are putting their lives to risk so that our community stays safe. We shouldn’t distance them, that’s immoral.  There were some encouraging examples too where, in some societies, doctors were welcomed with flower showers. Tributes were paid to all the front line workers and sanitary employees. Without them, we can’t even imagine what would be our situation. I myself made a new friend – my neighbor. Her work timings and mine are different, we hardly ever saw each other’s faces before this work from home came into existence. But, this pandemic, at least made us say hello to each other at times and I cherish that.

stay-connected

There may not be group hugs, graduation walks, chit-chatting in the corridors, lunch with colleagues, or attending huge conferences in person any time sooner. Maintaining physical distance during these tough times is very important… Let’s not make this time burdensome for ourselves. Let’s wave hands, smile at each other even if we cannot hug or shake hands. Continue to have virtual meetings with family, friends, and colleagues. No matter how far we are physically, we have the same bond as before, maybe even stronger bonds have emerged. We have crossed many hurdles in life, this too shall pass.

FROM BEING RESTRICTED TO RESTRICTING MYSELF…

As every other girl child who grew up in an Indian house hold, I had to adhere to quite a lot of restrictions. Starting from what to wear, to whom to talk, to what to talk, to when not to talk, how many friends I could have so on and so forth. When I was a teenager, all these restrictions definitely made me very uncomfortable. I wondered many times, if these many restrictions are really necessary. Why can’t people just be self disciplined? I understand, it is easier said than done.

After I moved to a new city for job, I had very less time apart from work. One thing, that I was new to software world, and second thing was that if I decide to take up something I tend to give my 100% to make that work. I had very long work hours including weekends. No one has asked me to do so much work or take up challenges. It is just who I am. I hardly used to get time to spend with family or friends and I justified this saying, “I have so much of work”. We actually weave a new story around it leaving aside what the real problem is.

An year or so ago, I asked myself why do I actually work this crazy? The returns are not going to increase financially. If the effort I put into work, I could channelize on to some other interest, it would not only serve as a stress reliever but also results in new learning and maybe new beginnings. I have self imposed a restriction that I won’t give more than 10 hours a day to work. There would definitely be days when I might have to spend more time at work, and that is acceptable as long as it does not interfere with life otherwise. Trust me, doing this was hard. I literally had alarms to getup from my seat to head home. Even mornings, I restricted myself from opening my laptop until a certain time. I slowly started realizing I have more time in fact.

I strictly don’t consume sugary foods, ice-creams or soda any more. There was a time when I used to drink close to 40 ounces of soda a day. Now I restrict myself to only consume water even when I go out for lunch. I have completely cut down on consuming white rice to one small portion a day. All of these small changes made life so much easier.

There are some self imposed restrictions that can work wonders like avoiding procrastination by sticking to a schedule, avoiding carbs and fatty foods if we weigh more than what we should be, taking stairs instead of lift, ensuring 8 -9 hours of sleep etc. It takes dedication and discipline. Somehow it is easier to follow the restrictions/limits we have set for ourselves, than imposed by others. The internal dilemma of why the restriction exists in the first place is no more there. The restriction came into existence for a reason we strongly believe in. Some of these restrictions shape us into better version of ourselves. It could be rewarding to cross the bridge knowing we aren’t on an easy path. So, one should try to impose meaningful and justified restrictions 

The counter side of it are those self imposed limits which restrict us from evolving, to not realize our full potential. We should be careful to not fall into such traps. Only one word of caution, don’t be too hard on yourself. 

“In a world of infinite choices, choosing one thing is the revolutionary act. Imposing that restriction is actually liberating.”
― Priya Parker