(Originally published on the Times of India web, April 27, 2020, 12:51 PM IST)
In one month of lockdown due to Cornoa virus outbreak, I have complained around every important activity –sweep, mop, cook, work-from-home in random schedules or quit community gathering activities. However, if there is one thing I am truly comfortable with, it is the suspension of fashion in my life.
Corona times may have banal outcomes; it is but a period of utmost gratitude for a non-fashionista like me.
I have always hated dressing up – be it for office, parties, gatherings, conferences or even for a workout in the gym. It has felt like a pain! How cumbersome to match the right shirt with the right pair of trousers, both meticulously ironed and then further team it up with correct socks and shoes – day after day, occasion after occasion. What adds further misery to the annoyance is to make a choice of suitable make-up (not mandatory though), hairdo and a permutation of related accessories to enhance the look.
Of late, life has come around like a boomerang to a non-fashionista’s prayer, rendering itself simpler than ever.
With workplace having moved to home laptop screens, meeting and seminars to webinars and community gatherings to digital portals, it implies – no one will be watching what I wear! Hurrah! All I’d have to do is to put on a decent shirt over comfy pyjamas and worn out tee, dab a shade of lipstick, comb hair bangs and zoom the webcam to cleverly capture just the face. Mission Deception is successful!
No qualms that my hair has overgrown like branches of a tree from every wrong side, eyebrows blossomed like a dense bush over my forehead, traces of uncoloured hair turned into a grey forest, yet I am unashamedly unbothered. The salons and parlours are locked down, you see, leaving everyone helpless (what a brilliant excuse)!
In last one month, the maximum choice I have made with regard to dressing up has been between a few comfortable shorts and tees. Did not realize how cathartic would it be to lose sense of collection my wardrobe has maintained over a period of years! I no longer remember the shades or variety of dresses, office suits, sarees or shoes it stores. Besides, neither there is a pressure to buy clothes nor to keep them in order!
Corona has fuelled my fire to live a minimalistic lifestyle. There is no place of fashion in my life any longer, not even a bit. Yet no single important activity seems to have stopped. Life has only become better. I now dress to survive. I neither judge nor get judged. The bug of apparel consumerism does not bite me any further. I have forgotten what a mall, fashion street or online shopping page looks like without a whimper. I have stopped consulting youtube fashion channels or makeup tutorials for rescue hacks to save my world. Nor do I cringe for wanting to look a certain way on some special occasion.
For some, fashion could be a sense of self-expression (which is appreciable) but it always has felt like a load on my head to cover up the real self. If they tell me wedges, fringes and tassels, it makes me think of bushes and not hair styles. If they tell me olive, teal or rose, it takes me to a flower garden and not to skin undertones. If they tell me about angled, contoured or flat strokes, it leads me to painting palettes and not to makeup brushes.
Am I not well-read in image management? No, I pretty much am. But my mind refuses to get wired with fashion theories and fundamentals compared to the feel of original skin. Do I care? Not anymore. I have learnt to embrace the naked reality of simplistic living.
And therefore, I now look how I should – in the truest sense of self. I can count my grey, feel botches on skin, accept a unibrow and fall in love with every little flaw in the body. My energy has diverted to eating right, building mental strength and nurturing a healthy self, which certainly has no place for pretension.
Soon, Corona will fade away leaving us in our new skin. I have picked mine and it is called ‘minimalism’, and I plan to hold on to it for the rest of my life – happily.
(Originally published on the Times of India web 'Rest in Pieces', March 24, 2020, 10:30 PM IST)
I always believed that the world is full of idiots.
Until Corona outbreak happened!
And suddenly, we discovered an absolutely new species of absurd muggings who we call “Covidiots.” Unfortunately a part of human race, they are as lethal as stupid.
Originally arrived as a Twitter hashtag, the term Covidiot has made its place in the Urban dictionary during Corona outbreak as “Someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safety or a person who hoards goods denying them from their neighbors.”
In times, when the entire world is united together in fighting the deadly Corona virus pandemic, standing in solidarity with each other, Covidiots stand out.
They are one in a million. Have you spotted them around?
This list could help.
1) You could find them chatting in a group on the street. It does not matter if people across nations get affected with the virus attack or there is a repeat advice from the authorities to stay indoors during lockdown, the Covidiots must defy the rules. It is extremely important that they gather on streets for chitchatting, clubbing, jogging, shopping, car-racing and at worst, beating utensils on the streets as if it was a war-cry march and not simply an appreciation for the healthcare workers and doctors. In case they were to remain locked-down at home like ordinary citizens, they fear our economy might go down, politics run wild and who knows, the earth collapse. They must, therefore, stand out and save us from perils.
2) You could find them hoarding up grocery stock from the market. The wise Covidiots seem to have received a gospel that since end of the world is arriving, they must play the Noah. They must consider their home an arc and hoard it up with every plausible grocery, not just for themselves but for their generations to come. Grains, toiletries, medicines, sanitisers, masks, makeup, perishable food – you name it and it will be right there – stocked in their refrigerator. One day, when the world will drown in Corona, Covidiots will be the only ones to see the new day surviving on their stocked supplies.
3) You could find them racing on roads during lockdown Find them racing their cars at high speed on the six lane expressway during lockdown period just because the roads will be unimaginably traffic-free! And as it is, better be killed in a car crash than by Corona. On your mark, get, set and go!
4) You could find them absorbed in forwarding unverified messages on social media Perhaps, the easiest way to spot Covidiots is tracking unverified social media forwards. Whether it is about unproven trivia like garlic prevents Corona, bathing in cow dung heals it, collective clapping breaks its membrane killing the beast, sun basking makes it evaporate — to criminally serious and fake messages like recommending a medicine or vaccine, Covidiots are the undisputed knight among keyboard warriors. At their best wit, they would be busy on whatsapp, facebook or youtube creating absurd content, fishing for a few hits, likes, views or comments and at their worst, they would not hesitate mongering fear.
5) You could spot them as an epicenter of a public debate on politics or religion In times, when the world is discussing on the best ways to fight the Corona battle with science, empathy, kindness, joys of giving and community support, Covidiots would most likely be raging their fists in public or on social media with debates on their preferred political or religious affiliation, either defending or demeaning their favorite. They fail to realize that we are all made of similar fabric, blood, bones, and sinews, that neither a deadly virus nor any medicine would ever differentiate between.
6) You could find them hiding their travel history Braggarts who used to boast about their visit to foreign lands and exotic cultures suddenly seem to have zipped their mouth regarding travel history to a Corona affected country despite statutory advises. At least not until flu symptoms throw up, by when they would have already affected a hundred others, forming an exponentially multipliable chain. But then, do Covidiots really care?
7) You could find them harassing doctors in the hospitals It is a Covidiot’s birth right to demand services from medical professionals at their own sweet will and fancy, sometimes harrowing doctors for a Corona test on random symptoms or sometimes demanding gluten-free food in the sensitive Covid-19 ward (unbelievably, insanely true!).
8) You could find them giving two hoots about seriousness of Corona “Oh come on! Corona is just a marketing propaganda by China and the US.” “Corona is a brand positioning strategy of pharmaceutical companies that sell sanitizers and masks” “Nothing will happen with lockdowns. Corona is just a product of fear mongering.” “Indians have the highest immunity to viruses, let alone Corona. We will beat it.” We wonder how do they come up with such funnily creative logics!
Take a moment. Look around. Find Covidiots. Spot and note them. In a few weeks, (hopefully) Corona will disappear from earth but they will still remain, having become deadlier than the virus itself. We would require each others’ support to deal with their maliciousness and foolery. So stay put!
(Originally published in the Lifestyle section of Times of India, web edition; July 11, 2019)
I clearly remember the first time I received command from my class teacher to switch from a pencil to a Fountain Pen. I must have been in standard sixth at that time. “Strictly a fountain pen of nib size ‘Medium’ filled with Royal-Blue ink,” she had insisted. Her instructions were precise and clear. Besides, studying in a Convent meant absolutely no deviations from the rules once set by the Sisters of the Institute. Some students went ecstatic with the decision as if they had been waiting to overthrow the couth of sharpening graphite lead ever since they learnt writing while some like me, who had mastered the art of committing endless errors and erasing them away cleverly, now feared the horror of getting caught. “Once written in ink can never be rubbed away!” along came the teacher’s reprimand which sounded more like a forewarning.
I refused the idea of liking to write with a fountain pen right away. The days of doodling in the last pages or scribbling a thread of chat in each others’ school notebooks which could neatly be erased later was soon going to become a thing of the past. What else could be more disheartening for us, the naughty backbenchers?
However, there was to be no respite! In a matter of a week, we found ourselves complying with the school order, fiddling with the mess created while writing with the good ol’ fountain pen. It must have taken me a hundred days to figure out the most appropriate angle at which the nib of the pen must be tilted to ensure ink’s best flow and another few weeks to learn how to write without staining the fingers blue.
My pencil box would no longer have fragrant erasers but pieces of calcium smelling chalks (you know it if you have used it) to absorb ink blots which I couldn’t manage but spill all around my work-desk. I remember shaking the pen enough every time I would use it, just to resume free flow from the dried nib. The only ink blots which looked good were the ones staining a perfectly white school uniform of the best friend in dotted blues. Thinking of it still brings me a smile.
That is how my rendezvous with the mighty fountain pen had started in school. Messy, unmanageable, staining, cumbersome and bringing my handwriting speed to an all time low!
But little had I realized that the royalty of the Fountain Pen was all set to have me enchanted and make me fall with its classiness in the times to come.
Just as true love gradually grows, I began feeling the grandeur of nib on paper, the eloquent strokes of ink gliding on paper with emotions and the rich legacy behind history of fountain pens. I began cherishing the beauty of holding it, sometimes between the fingers (literally) and sometimes close to heart.
I started seeing subtle shades of blue-black in my handwriting like never before. Azure, temporary royal blue, permanent blue-black, deep black, dark grey, turquoise blue, bright violet, mauve, emerald green, I felt a spectrum of colours even in the pages of dry notes.
I played with the nib sizes to doodle even better. Anfanger, stub, needlepoint, extra fine, medium, bold, zoom and ROM; While most of it I learnt from my grandfather and father, under their tutelage the rough pages of my diary now jazzed with colourful caricatures and penmanship. How funny I even began creating my own Rorschach Tests with blots of ink folded between blank pages to make patterns and interpret stories!
Once school got over and college began, I tried my best not to let go of the habit of writing only with the fountain pen. But economics of the new global market as well as our budget constraints had most of us switch to, what they called, a new-age Ball Pen. This newest suitor in town made more promises. It gave the similar ease of writing at almost one-tenth of the cost of fountain pen, was less messier, did not have to be occasionally flushed out for cleaning, hardly stained clothes-fingers-bags and was easily available (no puns intended) at every second stationery shop in the street.
The cost benefit analysis hinted that it was time I must give a try to the most feasible option. And hence, I carefully packed away all of my fountain pens keeping in safe in a boxed treasure, bringing it out only once in a while but promising never to let it go forever. It was no longer just a writing instrument for me. It was sheer delight contained in a barrel of ink.
Time passed by and saw us grow up, find a place, new beginning and settle down.
Getting the financial liberty to choose and spend on the most desirable of things, I decided to fulfill my long lost love. I now have a collection. An enviable collection of fountain pens! And there is a reason I like to believe my collection is precious. I have in my treasure a 1976 Sheaffer Fountain Pen that belonged to my father when he was a student at Arizona State University. Despite done and dusted in decades, it still glows with the pride of having churned innumerous unwritten pages into gold. Other keeps include Lamy, Pelikan, Montblanc, Faber Castell, Cross and Parker gifted to me by family and friends just so they knew what would fetch me a smile most (apart from books, of course). Even dearer are ink bottles of Waterman, Quink and sweet ol’ Chelpark that gush up my senses the moment bottle is uncapped. Even today, there is a pleasure in manual refilling of ink barrel that readymade ink cartridge can never bring.
But closest to heart are the fountain pens I used during my school days, scribbling away my dreams on blank pages without the fear of erasing them ever.
Fountain pens have made me learn that mistakes committed need not be erased away from the memory but rewritten to a new glory.