Thursday, April 30, 2020

Z for Zen - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. This is the 26th and it concludes this series, wherein I wrote on activities or ideas that keep me refreshed during these depressing days.)

For about a month now, I have been exploring Zen, a Japanese lifestyle that emphasises simplicity, straightforwardness, peace, calmness, enlightenment, equanimity, meditation, etc. The first time I looked up the Internet, I was drowned in the ocean of information on the subject.

There are multiple aspects to Zen which I am still getting myself acquainted with. I can't call myself as someone who is fully into it. But I am reading up about it and practising some elements of it.

An important aspect of Zen is meditation (common to many other practices similar to Zen) in which breathing is the key. But here is it not the strenuous form of breathing, instead, one "observes breathing" by counting inhaling and exhaling.

Another aspect of Zen is being in tune with reality. and coming to terms with what is present now, and understanding it with calmness. It helps to resolve any problems by addressing it directly.

Being in harmony with nature is another element. It's not always possible to be 100% in tune with nature. But I guess, the aim to do as best as we can.

For me, Zen is just another method to be in the present, to be calm, purposeful, at peace with the surroundings, both people and things. And this is a time, like never before when we have been forced to look inwards, reevaluate our priorities, our repurpose our journey of life.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Y for Yesteryear - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 25 today.)

As you would have noticed, in most of the 24 posts this month, I have gone back in time, reminiscing school or college days. In fact, I have noticed many fellow bloggers too recalling their past.

Memories of yesteryear are comforting, aren't they?

(By the way, though I keep seeing people using the word 'yesteryears', what I have learnt is that it's always 'yesteryear' whether it refers to the past year or many years previous to that.)

So, all these days, I have been watching clips of some great tennis and cricket matches from the past, old classic movies, some well-made documentaries, listening to radio programmes (like in my school days), including old songs.

A STRESS BUSTER

A research paper published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, says, "Nostalgia maintains psychological comfort".

An article in Huffington Post quotes Krystine Batcho, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, saying, “Any change good or bad is very stressful. So what nostalgia enables you to do both emotionally and cognitively is keep track of what has remained stable, giving you some sense of continuity that grounds you."

In another article in Huffington Post, Clay Routledge, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at North Dakota State University, says, "Nostalgia makes people feel loved and valued and increases perceptions of social support when people are lonely."

In the same article, Erica Hepper, Ph.D., a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in England, explains, "When we experience nostalgia, we tend to feel happier, have higher self-esteem, feel closer to loved ones and feel that life has more meaning."

THE ONLY HOUSE I HAVE SEEN IN DREAM

Even though I have lived in many cities, I have never seen in a dream any of the houses I have lived in except the one I stayed in when I was in school. Sometimes, I have woken up thinking I am in that same house. I have wondered why none of the other houses come in my dream!

Are these pandemic-triggered hard times taking us back to yesteryear, leading us to find solace in the remembrances of the past?

What about you? Do you feel like going back to those school and college days, do you relive those good old days?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

X for X - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 24 today.)

X indicates something that is unknown. Indeed, these are uncertain times befallen on us by the stealthy attacks of a pathogen about which there are still a lot of unknowns.

But that doesn't mean I am clueless as to what I have to do. In fact, x, the independent variable, could stand for any of the 23 activities about which I have written so far on this blog during this month; everyday pursuits that keep the spirits high and help me look ahead with hope.

In fact, I am pretty sure of what I have to do each day, just as I would mark with an x to identify something on a map that I want to highlight.

We are at an X-shaped junction, where we have paused in order to introspect and to plan the direction of the path ahead; a track that haven't trodden before.

A choice that we would make, just we do on a ballot paper with an x.

Monday, April 27, 2020

W for Wheat Dosa - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 23 today.)

Dosa is a popular breakfast item. Though this pancake is a south Indian dish, it's much sought-after across India as well. It's made out of batter usually of rice and black gram. Dosa is very similar to crêpe, which is of French origin.

However, what I like to make, and have for breakfast is the wheat version. A very basic recipe would be this. Make the batter by adding water to a few scoops of wheat flour, and stirring continuously until the mixture becomes viscous without any lumps.

Then add a little bit of salt. Spread a thin layer of cooking oil on a pan and let it get heated.  Spread a ladle full of the batter in a circular shape on the pan. Flip the dosa multiple times so that both sides get cooked well and evenly. It takes a few minutes. That's it.

What I have noticed is that wheat dosa is well known only in Kerala. Some of my non-Kerala friends haven't even heard about it. What about you?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

V for Violin - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 22 today.)

I would have been playing the violin now if I had set apart some time to pick up from where I had left during my violin classes in school. After school, somehow, circumstances were never conducive for me to pursue this passion.

My father used to play it; in fact, right till about two months before he passed away in November 2016 at the age of 87. It's never too late to learn anything. The violin is still there at home. Since it is a very old one, which my dad bought in the 1960s, it might need some fine-tuning. I have to check that.

Meanwhile, I keep listening to violin recitals on YouTube. Some of the best-known names I have grown up listening to are Lalgudi G Jayaraman, M S Gopalakrishnan, L Subramaniam, T N Krishnan, V G Jog etc.

But the most entertaining among them all was Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. His animated recitals of some popular film songs made him popular even with people who are not Carnatic music fans.

Here is a YouTube clip of him playing Maruthamalai Mamanniye, the famous Tamil song. (The video begins at 50 seconds.)

The modern-age equivalent of Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, if I can say so, was Balabhaskar, a child prodigy who got on to state at the age of 12, and became the youngest music director in the Malayalam film industry at the age of 17. He popularised fusion music in South India, and I don't think there has been an artiste as popular as him in recent years in Kerala.

Unfortunately, he is no longer with us. The car in which he, his wife and one-year-old daughter were travelling was involved in an accident in Thiruvananthapuram on September 25, 2018. The daughter died on the spot, while he passed away on October 2.

Here is a YouTube clip of Balabhaskar playing Malar Kodi Pole, the famous lullaby sung by S. Janaki in the film Vishukani.

Here is the song from that 1977 movie.

My eyes well up while listening to both.

Friday, April 24, 2020

U for Upma - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 21 today.)

Upma is a common breakfast dish in India, especially in the south. It's made from a form of semolina, called by various names like 'rava', 'Bombay rava', and 'sooji'.

While it's upma in Hindi and many other north Indian languages, it's 'uppumavu' in Malayalam, 'uppma' in Tamil, and 'uppittu' in Kannada. Though at home we say 'uppumavu', I will stick to 'upma' here.

It's one of the regular breakfast options for us. We buy 'rava', roast the whole of it, and keep it in a jar so that we don't have to roast it each time we make upma.

I am not a foodie, nor I have great culinary skills. I can cook to survive! And upma is one of the few dishes I make, and it's quite easy. Pour some cooking oil on the deep fry pan, put mustard, slices of onion and ginger; curry leaves; pour water; and after it boils, put rava and stir.

Water evaporates as upma gets cooked. And after a few minutes, a very basic version of the breakfast food is ready. To add more taste and flavour, some people add cashew, peanuts, urad dal, coconut powder etc.

Quantity of water determines how dry the upma will be. More water, like 1:4 proportion of rava and water, will make it a bit soggy. I like it a bit dry and non-sticky in a loose format. That's the way my mother used to prepare. So, I use lesser water.

Some people have it with banana, I prefer to have it with sugar.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

T for Tennis - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 20 today.)

Sports and games are exciting. Unrelenting perseverance to improve performance and the battle to get the better of the opponent kindle enthusiasm in both players as well as spectators.

They offer edge-of-the-seat excitement. Tennis is one of my favourite sports: a game that can be extremely taxing for the players. Think of a match going on for nearly five hours in the hot sun with not a moment when the players can let their concentration waver.

These days, I have been watching replays and highlights of Grand Slam matches. There are some amazing ones out there. Here are some of them with the YouTube link to the highlights:

2008 Wimbledon final - Rafel Nadal beat Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7. (My blog post)

2012 Australian Open final - Novak Djokovic beat Rafel Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5.

1984 French Open final - Ivan Lendl beat John McEnroe 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5

2018 US Open final - Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4. (My blog post)

2018 Australian Open final - Caroline Wozniacki beat Simona Halep 7-6, 3-6, 6-4. (My blog post)

There are some movies on tennis stars as well:

Borg vs McEnroe - Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play

Battle Of The Sexes - Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube Movies

Andy Murray: Resurfacing - Amazon Prime

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

S for Sound of Music - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 19 today.)

Both, literally the sound of music and the iconic movie, are great stress busters for me.

Do Re Mi takes me right back to my nursery school days. One of the memories is we, tiny tots, sitting around Muthanna teacher, who played songs, especially nursery rhymes, on the piano. The fact that Do Re Mi is etched so clearly in my mind still is, probably, an indication of the enduring beauty of the song.

The movie is 55 years old this year. First came the book, The Story of Trapp Family Singers, by Maria von Trapp, which came out in 1949, then came the stage musical in 1959, and then the Hollywood movie in 1965.

There is plenty of literature about the movie online, on how the movie is not exactly the life of the Von Trapp Family, how the film was shot, how 'unprepared' were those children, how 'Maria' had to actually do everything to infuse confidence in them while shooting, those memorable moments during the shooting, etc.

In 2008, to celebrate the 40th anniversary, ABC brought the family together on a TV show. Here is the YouTube clip of that.

COVID-19 ADAPTATION OF DO RE MI

Last month, Shirley Serban, the principal of Lake Brunner School, a primary and intermediate school of 50 children, in the town of Moana in New Zealand, created a parody of the famous Do Re Mi, and posted it on YouTube and Facebook. And she became an overnight sensation.

"The first Saturday after the country (New Zealand) went into lockdown, I decided to rewrite the song for a laugh and a creative outlet in the middle of all this weirdness," she told Newshub.

"I was looking at old footage as I wrote to ensure I got all the parts... [I decided to use] the footage as a backdrop to the song. I recorded all the voice parts separately over a music track. My poor husband ended up spending much of the day outside!"

Watch the adaptation on YouTube.

I liked the small note she has put up on YouTube regarding the video, that "the song is not intended to be taken seriously" ...  "No, wine is not a cure for the virus. ... No, they're not good at social distancing in the video - it was released in 1965."

A few days later, she did a rehash of My Favourite Things as well.

Here is Shirely Serban's website, which has a link to her YouTube and Facebook pages.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

R for Radio - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 18 today.)

I have always liked the radio and now there is more time to listen to it.

I listen mostly to BBC World Service, All India Radio (as many as 229 stations from all States), NPR, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio, Radio New Zealand, Radio France International, etc.

NPR has two options: NPR News and NPR One. The first one is a live radio station. NPR One is what I like, it's like a podcast. You can customize the stream by skipping what you don't like and marking 'interesting' what you like.

There are many more. Most radio stations in the world live stream on the internet. So it's very easy to search. I have bookmarked my favourites on the web browser, and I listen when I feel like.

Some of the stations have apps. There are also 'radio station aggregator' apps which have more than one radio station on one app. Two well-known ones are TuneIn and Radio Garden (you can listen to stations by turning the globe). There are also podcast apps, wherein you can subscribe to podcasts of different radio stations. The podcast app I use is PlayerFM.

Why I like the radio is I can listen to it even if I am engaged in some activity - walking, jogging, cooking, washing or relaxing on the bed. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity to visualise what I hear, which is some activity for our brain.

VALVE AND TRANSISTOR RADIOS

My earliest memory of a radio is a big box-like structure, nearly a foot in length, or even a bit more, and a little lesser than that in width and height. Inside were many 'valves', short tubular structures that glow when the radio is on.

There were three knobs, one to adjust the volume, another to tune into different stations, and the third one to switch between AM and SW1 and SW2. 

AM stands for amplitude modulation wherein the radio waves travel terrestrially. So, only signals from nearby radio stations are available.

SW stands for Short Wave, wherein the radio waves from the broadcasting stations are directed into the sky and they get reflected from the ionosphere down to earth. To listen to faraway stations one needs to switch to SW. More SWs bands higher the chances of better reception of the signals.

After we switch on the radio, we have to wait for a few minutes for the valves to get turned on.

Later came transistor radios, which are smaller and portable. Also, they start playing right when it is switched on. Gradually the size of these transistor radios became smaller and smaller, even small enough to fit into the pocket.

Now the radio has got really small: it's just one of the many features a "mobile phone" has!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Q for Quotes - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 17 today.)

In these times, words of inspiration can be very powerful in combating the negativity and the consequent uncertainty about our future.

I like reading them. At one level, they provide a new perspective to different complex situations and at another level, they reinforce our convictions. I have my favourites, but I don't want to put out a list.

There is no dearth of resources to find them -- from popular websites to social media timelines and forwards.

Therein lies a new problem. We are living in an age of misinformation and disinformation. There are many quotes that are wrongly attributed to famous persons. So much so that when I see a quotation I am a bit circumspect, regardless of how inspirational it is.

SHAKESPEARE

Some very popular quotations are actually paraphrased versions of the original. One of the most well-known is "A rose by any other name smells just as sweet", attributed to Shakespeare. However, the correct words are: "What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet;" from Romeo and Juliet.

MAHATMA GANDHI

Mahatma Gandhi is supposed to have said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Apparently, there is no documentary evidence to substantiate this, and it's widely believed that he never said it.

According to The New York Times, the closest verifiable remark they have from Gandhi is: "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him ...We need not wait to see what others do."

NEIL ARMSTRONG

But the quotation that became a major talking point and set off a sort of major research was the one by Neil Armstrong when he set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

According to Armstrong himself, if the quotation had to make any sense, there should have been an indefinite article before 'man'. It should have been "a man", and he insists that he did say with an 'a'.

To find out the missing 'a', a detailed analysis of the audiotape was launched, and according to Los Angeles Times, even a study into the way people in Ohio said "for" and "for a". Apparently, many speakers have a tendency to merge the two words!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

P for Positivity - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 16 today.)

Positivity is the practice of having a positive or optimistic attitude to everything that happens around us.

(This word is not to be confused with 'positivism', which is related to social philosophy, meaning societal behaviour is best understood through scientific principles.)

These are difficult times. News of people falling ill and passing on, fears of how long it would take for the economy to be up and running, the discomfort of being locked up in one's home for days on end, the frustration of not getting our favourite food items and having to subsist on whatever is available, the travails of blurring of the boundary between office and home which are under the same roof, the new routine of doing dishes, laundry, cleaning, cooking etc ... the list goes on.

Like happiness, positivity also doesn't come to us on a platter. We need to make a conscious effort to discover it. It's a choice that has to be intentionally made: like seeing the glass as half full rather than as half empty.

A positive spin to a difficult situation can make us feel better. Adversities are to be seen as opportunities. We will look at possibilities and solutions, which can then yield results. If, for example, we are forced to bend and stretch and use our limbs much more than normally we have to, a good way looking at it is, as an exercise and the benefit that can come out of it. That thought process will make difficult tasks easier.

Like it's often said, we are not made by the circumstances, but by how we react to the circumstances. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

O for Old Songs - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 15 today.)

Our favourite songs from yesteryear are nostalgic. They take us back to those good old days of yore. It's sort of comforting; and puts me into a peppy mood.

Most radio stations have programmes in which they play old songs. On Vividh Bharati, a few of them are 'Bhule Bisre Geet', 'Chhaya Geet', 'Jaimala', etc.

On All India Radio, Thiruvananthapuram, every Sunday morning at 9.30, there is a programme called 'Ormacheppu'. It's a very nice one, in which they play songs requested by listeners, who don't just ask for a song, but also narrate an anecdote that has made that song memorable for them.

Here are a few I can immediately remember. Not an exhaustive list. I am giving the YouTube link, instead of embedding the video here, which is a bit tedious.

(For non-Indian readers, the songs in non-English languages are from movies and the songs are sung by playback singers. India has a huge film industry.)

ENGLISH

La Cucaracha - Petre Geambasu Show Band

Boney M. - Ma Baker (Sopot Festival 1979) (VOD)

Jambalaya - Carpenters

Una Paloma Blanca - George Baker

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Sung by Julie Berthelsen)

The Beach Boys - Kokomo

TAMIL

Paartha Mudhal Naale

HINDI

Naa Mangoo Sona Chandi

Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum

Zara Hole Hole Chalo-Sawan Ki Ghata

Chookar Mere Mann Ko Kiya Tune Kya Ishara

Hawa Hawai

Gore Gore O Banke Chhore

MALAYALAM

Alliyambal Kadavil

Nee madhu pakroo

Ellarum Chollanu - Neelakuyil

Innale mayangumbol

Thaliritta Kinakkal

Thumbi Thumbi Vava

Thursday, April 16, 2020

N for Nature - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 14 today.)

India went into a three-week shutdown on March 25. Now it has been extended to May 3. Initially, I felt the stay-at-home a welcome change. But not before long, perceptions of 'captivity' and 'imprisonment' began creeping up.

Nothing more miserable than locking up oneself in the house, not for a few hours but, for days on end. Finally, it was time to step out to get the essentials.

The walk up to the neighbourhood department store was a whiff of fresh air. Perked up, I realised how the concrete confines sequestered me from nature. I decided, henceforth, I must be out of my house at least for a minimum of half an hour every day.

As I go for my morning walk/jog, while the fresh air (pollution is really down now) along with the rays of the morning sun pumps in energy into the body, the lush greenery of the shrubs and trees along the perimeter invigorates the mind.

The proximity to nature is not just about the liveliness it brings. That's something that I have experienced before too. What the recent 'lockdown escapades' made me realise was how nature is important to us. After all, in this "new normal" we are getting used to, nature is having the last laugh, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

M for Movies - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 13 today.)

Movies are a good distraction in these trying times. There are too many of them out there on platforms like Netflix, Prime, Hotstar, and YouTube.

I have been randomly watching some over the past weeks, the ones that normally come up as recommendations or suggestions. A good majority of them are run of the mill, one can watch to lighten the mood or just kill the time. I am not mentioning them here.

However, here is a very short list of some recent movies that I have liked. These are just what I can recollect immediately; so, by no means an exhaustive list. I am leaving aside the great yesteryear classics.

Minnaminungu, 2017, Malayalam, Netflix -- It's the story of the travails of a single mother and her college-going daughter. What I liked the most is the untiring strength and spirit of the woman; her will-power to accept difficult times in a positive manner, and finally, accept unreservedly the choice her daughter made for herself.

Kumbalangi Nights, 2019, Malayalam, Prime Video -- The movie is about the love-hate relationship among four brothers in the fishing village of Kumblangi in the outskirts of Kochi.

Tumhari Sulu, 2017, Hindi, Prime Videos - It portrays how the life of an ordinary happy-go-lucky homemaker in Mumbai changes when she unexpectedly lands the job of a radio jockey.

Lust Stories, 2018, Hindi, Netflix - An anthology of four movies. It explores the lives of people in different strata of society: the common theme being lust.

Sudani from Nigeria, 2018, Malayalam, Netflix -- It's the story of a Nigerian football player hired by a club in north Kerala, where football is very popular.

Meri Pyaari Bindu, 2017, Hindi, Prime Videos - It's about a successful writer returning to his roots to write an old-fashioned love story, three years in the making.

Paa, 2009, Hindi, YouTube - It's the story of how a father tries to help his son cope with a rare condition that causes the young boy to age beyond his years.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

L for Learning - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 12 today.)

Learning -- obviously something new -- is among the most positive activities one can indulge in. Nothing more ideal in these trying times.

I am not very good at learning new languages. But I have picked up a few besides my mother tongue Malayalam and English.

Since my career took me to Bhopal and Indore, I learnt Hindi as well. I was in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Hyderabad. There I learnt Gujarati and Telugu. Since I haven't been using them, I have lost touch. Now I am in Bengaluru and I have learned Kananda.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE 

Among foreign languages, I had a fascination for French, right from childhood. Many reasons for that.

One, there are many words in English that are either borrowed from French or have some French connection. That sparked my interest. Two, during my college days in Thiruvananthapuram, I used to go to international film festivals, during which I could watch some good French movies. Three, the language is very pleasant to hear. Four, I remember, former prime minister Indira Gandhi speaking in French during a visit to France. That was very impressive, I thought.

When I came to Hyderabad in the late nineties, the Alliance Francaise, the French cultural embassy, wasn't too far from where I stayed. I thought that was the perfect chance to learn the language I was so fascinated with. During the three years, I was in Hyderabad, I managed to come up to the pre-diploma level. I couldn't complete the diploma level since I moved to Bengaluru.

PICKING UP FROM WHERE I LEFT

It's now 21 years since then. Though I can't now write an essay in French as I could then, if you throw me into a French-only speaking people, I will be able to manage, with some difficulty.

Now the lockdown has presented me with an opportunity to pick up from where I left 21 years ago.

I downloaded Duolingo, and now I am spending about 30 minutes every day on different lessons. Unlike 20 years ago, there is now plenty of reading material, very easily accessible, on the internet to practise. Plus, there is the France 24 TV channel. In addition to all these, I have my French grammar books and the French-French dictionary still with me.

Duolingo provides a very engaging method of learning. There are different levels. You gather points for completing different levels within a specified time. Plus, there is a section called 'stories', wherein a story is narrated sentence by sentence, with small exercises along the way. I am loving this absolutely. Let me see how far I can go.

Maybe one day, there will be blog post in French! (Don't worry, I will provide an English translation!)

Monday, April 13, 2020

K for Kindness - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 11 today.)

One big leveller in the modern age was technology. There is now one more: novel coronavirus-caused COVID-19. Making no discrimination, it has scared everyone and driven them all indoors.

However, its effect on the haves and the have-nots isn't the same. People who depend on their daily wages and those who don't have a permanent job are among the hardest-hit. Apart from them, elders and the sick are also badly affected. The least we can all do is to reach out them in whatever way possible to mitigate their suffering.

In our apartment complex, the resident association has formed two groups of volunteers. One, to help out the senior citizens amongst us who might need some essentials, like medicines or food items. The other group gathers funds to ease the financial burden of the housekeeping staff and domestic help, who would be finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Though we often tend to have a very cynical view of the world around us, the fact is that in this time of crisis, there are many others too -- as individuals and organisations -- reaching out to people who are in need of help. In many cities, including Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram, the police are providing food to the homeless on the streets and for the people who have been forcibly confined to shelters.

As the famous quote of Aesop goes: "The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted."

Update on April 22

An article on the efforts being made by some of the residents referred to above was carried in Deccan Herald newspaper today.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

J for Jest - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 10 today.)


When I think of humour what comes to my mind first is the Reader's Digest, the monthly magazine once upon a time very popular all over the world. It had wonderfully edited condensed articles from magazines around the world, and a book section that had a long extract from a book. (The magazine is still around, but I am not sure how popular it is now.)

However, what my friends and I always looked forward to were sections like 'Humour in Uniform' 'Life is Like That' and 'All in a Day's Work', apart from short, light-hearted fillers at the end of each article.

These sections comprised anecdotes that packed in them an unmatched level of humour that made the heart lighter and infused a huge amount of positivity to the mind. There are a few bound volumes of old copies at home, which I go back to, to refresh myself!

Another childhood memory associated with humour is movies of Laurel and Hardy [Music Box, which won the first Academy Award for Best Live Action Short (Comedy) in 1932] and Charlie Chaplin (the YouTube channel).

Their films used to be screened using a 16-mm projector in Sainik School, Kazhkootam, Kerala, where I studied. Needless to say, I keep watching them on YouTube. There is then, of course, Mr Bean (the YouTube channel).

There are now hundreds (or thousands?!) of stand-up comedians as well. Two of whom I watched live recently in Bengaluru are Papa C J (his YouTube channel) and Anuvab Pal (at The BBC New Year's Comedy Special).

Friday, April 10, 2020

I for Ikigai - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 9 today.)

A suggestion that came up on my Kindle last month was a book Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life. The Japanese are known for their high life expectancy. The nation also has a large number of centenarians, especially in the southern island of Okinawa.

I have never heard of this Japanese term, so I downloaded a sample of the book. Since it was interesting, I bought the book. I am more than half-way through it.

I am not enamoured by this focus on long life. Because there is no point in living many, many years if we aren't healthy. I would rather prefer to have a happy life, which I guess, might lead to a healthy life, and ultimately a long life.

According to the book, Ikigai is one of the keys to a long life; the others being diet, exercise and strong social ties. So, Ikigai is only a part of this book. Practising Ikigai is all about finding what excites us, focusing on it, and thereby realising our full potential. The book talks of certain tools to practise it.

Well, have I started on it? I must say I have begun taking baby steps. Why not ... There is always scope to improve our lifestyle. I have often felt I need to be more focussed, organized and do less multitasking.

Course correction never happens overnight; it's a long-drawn-out process. The ample time and energy during the enforced home confinement have provided me with an opportunity to embark on it.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

H for Household work - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 8 today.)

Household activities are a good diversion from the regular office-related work. Now that the domestic help is staying at home because of the lockdown, there is plenty of work to do at home. It's not only a good distraction but also some vigorous exercise for my body.

Washing dishes is one of my favourites. That's something that I have been doing even in pre-COVID days. The entire work of getting the utensils absolutely clean makes me feel good.

The other work that I do now is mopping the floor. It needs to be done at least once in two days otherwise the floor tends to get dirty, mainly because of the dust. My niece sweeps and I follow that up with the mop. It's a good exercise as well.

In fact, I sometimes keep the mop aside and clean the floor by squatting down on the toes and stretching. It's much better for the body.

Another activity that has found a place in my daily routine is the visit to the nearby provision store. Earlier too I used to go, but not very often because of lack of time. We then used to order stuff online. But now it's the nearby stores that are our saviours. Amazon, Flipkart, Big Basket etc., who used to entice us with deep discounts, are now non-functional.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

G for Games - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 7 today.)

One of my activities to break free of monotony and stress is playing games. Nothing like a game of badminton or table tennis. They help us burn lots of calories in a short time. During my school and college days, I used to play cricket, hockey and tennis.

My earliest memories of games are of board games. As children, we used to play 'snakes and ladders' and carroms.

Now, of course, there is no dearth of games. There are plenty of them online. One can even compete with others sitting miles and miles away.

One of the simplest games I have found is Brick Classic - Brick Game.

Among the word games, Scrabble perhaps is the most popular one. Then, of course, there is Sudoku. Another one which I like is Word Connect - Word Games Puzzle. Then there is the jumbled letters game.

These games are not only pleasant distractions but also exercise for the brain. The challenge prods the grey cells into working and keep them active; thereby refreshing our mind and body.

Do you play games? If so, which are your favourite ones?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

F for faith - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 6 today.)

These are uncertain times. Lots of information that we get to read and hear are depressing. In such times, it's important to have faith; a strong conviction that everything will be fine and we will come out of this.

It's not only now that the future is uncertain. Future is always uncertain. But in normal times, uncertainty is not something that we bother about because, by the law of probability, the chances of something catastrophic happening every other moment in the future is next to negligible. However, we now have a situation when that uncertainty is bothering us.

While it is true that science has been able to answer most of our doubts, there are many still unanswered. Though some scientists predicted another pandemic, there was no indication of when and where that would be. If we had known that, we could have been prepared for what we are facing today.

FAITH IS NOT JUST ABOUT RELIGION OR GOD

Though faith is commonly associated with religion and god, it's beyond that.

It's our belief in anything that gives us the strength to face uncertainties of the future, and it is personal to an individual. It's this strength that enables us to keep going and finally see through the tough times. What one person believes in might not be what another person believes in.

One might believe in prayers. For another, it could be merely lighting of a lamp. For others, it could be reading something inspirational or just listening to songs that lift their mood.

I derive strength from many sources. One of them is the belief that nothing -- neither the good nor the bad -- lasts forever.

As the Persian adage says, "This too will pass".

Monday, April 6, 2020

E for e-books - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 5 today.)

Books are a great companion, always. It transports me to a different realm. Unlike movies, books leave a lot to our imagination, making our creative cells work a bit. I am not a fast reader, and rarely I get a long stretch of time to read a book. Mostly it's short spells of 20 or 30 minutes.

Ever since Kindle came, I have been reading a lot of e-books. I find it quite handy, comfortable, and easy to read. So many advantages: you can adjust the font shape and size, change the background, adjust brightness, check meanings of words, and make notes, which are later searchable. Since I can have the Kindle on my phone too as an app, I don't have to carry either the Kindle or the book along with me.

Additionally, the annual Kindle Unlimited subscription gives me access to a huge collection of books.

I tend to read more of non-fiction, generally biographies and travelogues.

Some of the non-fiction books I have read are:

India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in Our Time, by Shashi Tharoor,

Federer by Chris Bowers,

Tuesdays with Morrie by Albom Mitch,

Barack Obama: Life Lessons by Michael Winicott,

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama,

This Unquiet Land: Stories from India's Fault Lines, by Barkha Dutt,

Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in Northeast India by Nandita Haksar.

Some of the other authors I have enjoyed reading are Arther Hailey, A J Cronin, John Grisham, Dan Brown, R K Narayan, Preeti Shenoy, Chethan Bhagat, Anitha Nair, Shashi Deshpande, etc.

I am currently reading A Hundred Little Flames by Preeti Shenoy. This is her fourth book I am reading. The other three are The Rule Breakers, Life is What You Make It and The One You Can't Have.

I am on Goodreads where you can find some of the books I have read.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

D for documentaries - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 4 today.)

Documentaries are like audio-visual counterparts of feature articles in newspapers and magazines. 

I like them for a variety of reasons. I am basically a non-fiction person. I choose fiction only as a get-away from the monotony of non-fiction. People, places, events, issues, society, lifestyle, culture, traditions, etc all interest me.

Documentaries bring a number of facets of human life together, putting many current-affairs topics in historical perspective with archival footage, giving us a big picture.

There are umpteen documentaries on a variety of subjects on platforms like Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime etc.

On YouTube, I like the documentaries made by DW (Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster).

BBC has plenty of them, on its iPlayer. Unfortunately, I can't watch them in India because of geographical rights restrictions. So I listen to The Documentary programme on BBC World Service radio, and I catch up with the missed episodes on my podcast app.

The one that prompts me to watch on Netflix is Pandemic. No, I don't watch that now; it defeats the whole purpose of this month's resolution.

I don't want to give you a long list of recommendations. But still, I'll mention three:

American Factory
 (story of Chinese tech 'invasion' into industrial America),

Minimalism
 (on 'frugality' vs 'unbridled consumerism') and

Period. End of Sentence (Story of Indian women fighting ancient misconceptions about impurity associated with menstruation and how they manufacture low-cost, biodegradable sanitary pads).

And, there is one British TV series, which I am reluctant to mention, but nevertheless, I shall:

Trump: An American Dream
(Life of Trump through 50 years). After watching that, I am no longer surprised by what the American president says or does!

Friday, April 3, 2020

C for Cricket - A few of my favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's day 3 today.)

No, I am not playing cricket. That's unimaginable in these times, isn't it? So, what am I doing with cricket now? Wait, read on.

My interest in cricket was mainly because of an excellent English teacher, Prem C Nair, who was also a good cricket player. He introduced me to not only some of the famous cricketers but also cricket journalists. He used to tell us about the unique relationship between cricket and English literature. Some of the famous writers I got to know about from him are W G Grace, Neville Cardus and C L R James.

I can't believe now the amount of time I spent in school days listening to radio commentary during holidays. Those were the days of only 5-day Test matches. I did nothing other than listening to radio commentary from 10 in the morning to 5 in the evening on all five days. A number of friends also used to come to my house to listen to the ball-by-ball description or telecast on TV.

GREAT COMMENTATORS

The two great commentators of All India Radio I can fondly remember are Anand Setalvad and Suresh Saraiya. There were many others too like Balu Alaganan, J P Narayan, Sushil Doshi and Jasdev Singh.

On the BBC, I was a great fan of Test Match Special, which had the likes of Henry Blofeld, Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Don Mosey, and Johnathan Agnew. Unfortunately, I am unable to listen to TMS on the BBC app now because of geographical rights restrictions.

COLLATERAL BENEFITS

There were a few collateral benefits of my interest in cricket. I learnt very early where different nations, especially the cricket playing ones, are located on the global map. Secondly, I understood the concept of the time difference between nations. In New Zealand, matches start around 4.30 am Indian Standard Time, in Australia, around 5.30 am, in England, around 3.30 pm, in the West Indies around 8 pm.

THE FAMOUS LEG OVER

Okay, what am I doing with cricket now? I am watching clips on anything to do with cricket on YouTube. Unfortunately, there are not many archival clips of Indian commentary. I am still searching the web for excerpts of Anand Setalvad and Suresh Saraiya commentary. If anyone can find one, please let me know.

Henry Blofeld would easily rank as the most popular of all commentators, and the most well-known episode from his commentating days is what has come to be known as the "leg over". In fact, that bit was hailed by BBC Radio 5 listeners as the best ever piece of commentary on the radio!

Here is BBC TMS producer Peter Baxter explaining what that episode was.




Below is that very famous clip



Henry Blofeld's final moments of his 47-year-long radio commentator career



Blofeld reflecting on those final moments




Henry Blofeld has written two books: Over and Out and Squeezing the Orange.

If you are interested in some of the great funny moments inside the commentary box of Test Match Special, there is a book called Rain Stops Play written by Brian Johnston. It's when rain stops play that all the fun begins with commentators exchanging jokes and pulling each other's legs!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

B for Blogging - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 2 today.)

There are so many social media platforms -- from Facebook and Twitter to TikTok and Reddit, besides a relatively closed social media in the form of WhatsApp.

A forerunner of all these is the blog -- a term that evolved from 'web log' and 'we blog'. It was the beginning of the democratisation of publishing, or in other words, blogs gave us the freedom to put out information in the public domain, which hitherto was limited only to established publishing and other media institutions.

Here are some reasons why I have been blogging since 2004. The current blogging challenge has come at the right time: when I need a good distraction.

A blog post has no limitation of word count. It allows me to be very brief or very elaborate. I can put up texts, images, videos, besides providing hyperlinks to other web pages. It allows readers to interact with me via the comment option. My posts are not going to compete for people's attention on their timeline. Readers choose their own ways of following my posts.

I find reading blog posts more enjoyable and engaging compared to reading posts on other social media platforms. I also find it easier and more comfortable to relate to them. I have a list of bloggers whom I follow, and that list is slowly growing as I chance upon newer and newer blogs. This A to Z Challenge is giving me opportunities to discover more blogs and bloggers.

In short, blogs are a more well-grounded and therefore a more dependable social media platform.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A for Aerobics - My favourite things to counter COVID-19 stress

(This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. I am writing this month on activities that keep me refreshed during these depressing days. It's Day 1 today.)

I was around 14 years then. While I was walking along with my father in the residential school campus, I met the school headmaster on the way. During our conversation, he looked at me and said, "Why don't you go for a run every day. Do some exercise, it's good for your body and health."

Soon my father began to gently prod me to go for a run in the morning. Initially, I was reluctant. Soon, a run for about 30 minutes became a habit. I was also a part of the school athletics team, initially for short-distance races like 100 meters, and later for long-distance ones like 2,000 meters and 5,000 meters. Once a month, I also went on a cross-country run, which is about 8 km.

During these days, it's a bit frustrating to realise that I can no longer do that sort of running, now that I am 55. But I do long walks and short-distance jogging, and follow that up with some stretching exercises and deep breathing.

Health experts say aerobics -- a term that stands for exercises that involve the active movement of our body along with deep breathing -- improves the blood circulation and generally keeps us healthy. These exercises also have a positive impact on our emotional well-being: it's refreshing.

I have realised that what works best is not short bursts of long hours of strenuous workouts, but consistently exercising, every day, even if it's short duration. And many exercises can be incorporated into our daily routine. Like climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, or washing some clothes or vessels physically instead of putting them in the machine, or rearranging the study table or wardrobe, sweeping the floor and mopping it.

These are days when we need to take care of our physical as well as mental health.