Out of the syllabus

When I took up my diplomatic role as the Director of Nehru Centre, London, a few months back, I did expect and plan for many challenges. But not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be handling the fallout of a global pandemic! It is, to use a term from our college days, “something completely out of syllabus”! But my team and I have been coping in the best way we can. For me, there is the additional challenge of being stuck alone in my flat in a cold, unfamiliar city I had not lived in before!

Workwise the Nehru Centre had closed on March 12th and postponed all events, as a measure of abundant caution. Our staff were asked to work from home. Within a few weeks, the UK government also announced a lockdown. The High Commission of India in the UK is working hard to facilitate and support Indians stuck in the UK. Our weekly meetings have moved online through video calls, and practically all work is being done through emails or phone calls, since physical meetings are impossible. Getting anything done has become a far more complicated process.

Dark circles of sleep

At the beginning of the lockdown in London, I did face some trouble getting foodstuff. Eggs had run out for some reason. I called a friend (who owns the exclusive Benaras restaurant at Berkeley Square) to get my essential breakfast ingredient. Indian vegetables are also hard to find in the area I live in, Mayfair in central London. So, one makes do with what’s available. Fortunately for me, I’m not too picky about food. In London, we are allowed to venture outdoors for a jog or some form of exercise once a day (for an hour), provided we maintain social distancing. Hyde Park is right next door and I go for a run every day. I couple that with my regular yoga, pranayam and dhyaan (meditation) every morning.

I am using the free time to write. I have started working on the fourth book of the Ram Chandra Series (the third book of the series, Raavan- Enemy of Aryavarta, was released in 2019). There is a non-fiction book idea my mind had been flirting with, which I have also started working on.

Many institutions are organising webinars, where writers/thinkers meet online with their readers. I have started participating in some of them. So, all in all, I’m able to keep myself busy. Having said that, I notice that I am sleeping a lot more than I used to. I normally wake up early (around 5-5:30 a.m.), which continues as a habit. But I find that I’m sleepy a lot earlier; I doze off by around 9 p.m. as compared to 10-10:30 in the pre-lockdown days. And I’ve discovered that lack of sleep is not the only way to acquire dark circles and bags under the eyes. You can get it by sleeping too much as well. One sleeps and learns!

Missing the big happy family

We take some things for granted in India, where societal structures are still strong. Most of us in India do not live completely alone. We usually have family members living with us. Or we have strong relationships with our neighbours. We bond with our live-in staff, who become like family members. There are downsides to this, I won’t deny it; people do not hesitate to blithely interfere in each other’s private lives. But such societal structures have one immeasurable strength in crisis time i.e. you are not alone. This realisation has hit home when I look at the atomised society of the UK, where many people live completely alone; this is especially true of London. I’ve been reading about people dying alone at home in the UK from the Wuhan Corona virus. Reading about this in the London newspapers deeply disturbed me. I can only hope that I am able to come back to India soon to see my son, Neel. I miss him terribly; and video calls are not a substitute for the real thing, no matter what the technologists say.

Turmeric latte

Not much can be done to prepare for the Wuhan Corona virus. There is no cure. There is no vaccination. But you can do a few things to strengthen your immunity and reduce the likelihood of suffering severely from it. Grandma’s nuskas, we call them. I try and practice some every day. So, I drink haldi-milk every night (the woke westerners call it “turmeric latte”!). I do salt water gargling 3 times a day. I do pranayama every morning. I eat healthy Indian food. And stay away from cold stuff. Also, I practice social distancing. Stay home. Stay safe. And please try to help the less privileged. For privileged people, like those reading this magazine, the biggest problem is the ennui of being alone. Others are facing far bigger challenges. Contribute money, food, resources and whatever else you can to help them. If not now, when?

Amish is the bestselling author of Shiva Trilogy & Ram Chandra series

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