Infographics: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur
Online Board Games Kill Boredom
We all have WhatsApp groups which provide comfort and entertainment in our lives. One such group that I have feels more or less like home—it’s called ‘The Infamous Five’ (seriously). Apart from discussing life, politics, sports and what we’ve ordered for lunch, our favourite pastime is to play board games—between us we own multiple sets of Scotland Yard, Deal Monopoly, Flip Uno, Normal Uno (obviously), Jenga, Fletter and Poker, to name a few. It’s like having a cupboard filled with them… you name it and we’ve got it.
Over the last six years, we have met and played board games from Friday nights to Sunday afternoons. We fight, we get angry, we laugh at our own stupidity (of a card gone wrong) and mostly bring upon misery by ganging up on the person who is winning. Just before the lockdowns, we had met for a farewell party and thought our days of playing board games are over. How wrong we were!
The online versions came to our rescue and helped us kill boredom while we sat in four different locations—Johannesburg, Gurugram, Mumbai and Kolkata. We still play Deal Monopoly almost every weekend. Though I also enjoy Scrabble Go, online carrom and a bunch of Japanese maths games, this is my favourite game for the group.
We switch on our laptops and simultaneously get on video calls on our phones to ‘steal each other’s properties, ask for rents of $8 million in one go and wipe out each other’s bank balance’. It doesn’t matter that we are thousands of kilometres apart—we still scream, laugh and let our neighbours know that we have wild company.
While we are immersed in our games for hours, we order food on the side and enjoy a glass of beer or a cup of hot chocolate. Conversations about life are suddenly interrupted by ‘Give me your blue electric works’… and suddenly you realise life goes on. We refuse to grow up… not yet.
At 12, I mentally giggled through a dramatic rendition of Vikram Seth’s delightful poem, ‘The Louse and the Mosquito’ in drama class. At 17, 23, 28, I’ve picked up, leafed through, and gingerly placed back the author’s almost-1,500-page magnum opus, A Suitable Boy, losing the nerve to make the commitment each time. Until the lockdown.
It helped that I now had the book on a Kindle, no longer weighed down by the (non-metaphorical) weight of the novel. It also helped that I’d be taking on this challenge along with a group of readers who, much like me, had rekindled the desire to dive right in with the release of Mira Nair’s TV show version around the corner, starring Tabu et al. These people were all strangers, connected via an Instagram DM group, with reading milestones charted out. Could we make it through the reams and reams of pages in a month? Well, it was easier than I thought—the book races through most chapters, and the story is the kind that gives you something to look forward to at the end of a work day. It travelled with me around the house for when I could steal a few moments away, while eating, falling asleep or waiting on someone to join that call. Perhaps my greatest lockdown reading achievement was not in finishing the giant tome in a few weeks, but being able to replace doomscrolling mindlessly on Instagram as the first task of my day, with a leisurely half hour of reading instead. It’s a habit I’ve tried to cultivate for years, and unfortunately, lost as easily since too.
Yes, the lockdown opened up a whole lot of reading time, but for me, like many others, this came in waves, thanks mostly to Netflix. This e-group of people I have no doubt would make really interesting acquaintances. IRL, spanned Indians from the motherland as well as countries like Finland and the UK, biologists to consultants. I’d be hard-pressed to remember their names now, but I can match their opinions of Rupa Mehra and the most suitable of boys for Lata—along with their views on modern politics and how they relate to those in the book—to those floating Zoom faces.
In a world of physical distancing, it’s been a ride to find a 21st century community that’s rooted in the old-school written word: The most lasting of connections.
I was on a work call that evening when she strutted into the living room heading straight for my bedroom. That morning I had woken up to the sound of kittens meowing under my bed and when I opened the main door, the mother was standing outside demanding to be let in. All day she had been in and out of the house, coming in to feed them at regular intervals. She had sneaked in one kid and then another the earlier evening without us realising, and considering they were scampering around near my desk, I had been driven out of my office space. “Can I call you back in five minutes?” I quickly told the person I was interviewing, worried she was trying to sneak in a third kitten even as I had been looking for ways to get her to take them away all day.
It was the middle of the extended lockdown, and for a few days before this fateful day every time she had found the door to my first-floor flat open she had walked in to check out my room. It was only later that I realised why and when the ‘looking for a safe house’ cycle repeated about four months later I was prepared. She has had a second litter and has been bringing on kitten cuteness in spades in her attempt to enroll me as a cat parent. I worry and I look out for them but it’s a battle of wills—being owned by a cat was not on my pandemic bucket list.
Blowing Candles Virtually
Benu Joshi Routh
Many a birthday plans would have been scuppered by the lockdown had it not been for some overzealous people and their strong desire to make merry, albeit online. WhatsApp and Zoom were only too happy to conspire.
With at least two online birthdays to celebrate every month, my kids have been thrilled to get unlimited ‘official’ time on the laptop to rig up slideshows set to soppy songs for all the birthdays. Quick on the uptake, they have figured out all the features a Zoom call has to offer and have been putting it to good use. Several apps have been downloaded and tested to churn out customised compositions.
The ease of hosting a virtual birthday has ensured that it is a global affair, with the niece from Dublin, the nephew from Victoria and the uncle from San Francisco, all joining in to pop some bubbly and sing the birthday song.
Many of my contemporaries turned 50 during the lockdown and all my attempts to escape the online parties by offering lame excuses of poor connectivity and bad network failed. Would anyone let me skip a milestone birthday?
A friend in Austin, US, went to great lengths to celebrate his wife’s 50th: He ensured that all the invitees in different parts of the world, yours truly included, received a package containing party accessories and a cake, which was cut at the same time as the birthday girl. A webpage dedicated to her was created in advance, with all of us sending in our contributions in the form of illustrations, slideshows, videos, songs, and what have you. But a tougher challenge than to get the creative juices flowing was to ensure that my kids did not polish off the cake before the Zoom call.
Then, there have been those one-sided online parties, where the attendees have looked on while the birthday girl would blow out the candles, cut the cake and sink her teeth into a gooey chocolatey chunk. All you could do was cheer, clap loudly and secretly wish you would get a slice too.
Now, after numerous online birthday parties, a sense of ennui and monotony is beginning to set in. Conversations are running dry and one has to deal with long awkward silences. Whenever an online birthday approaches these days, I start thinking of creative ways to wriggle out of it in advance.
And, now my family is excited about celebrating yet another online birthday—the fourth of my niece’s pet Cocker Spaniel.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say I have had online birthday parties coming out of my ears.
Making Peace with Washing Utensils, Thanks to Podcasts
Divya J Shekhar
I have always been a ‘listen to music and let your mind wander’ kind of person. I could never get myself to listen to podcasts, unless it was a particularly compelling story narration.
Things changed about a month into the lockdown. I shared my rented accommodation in Mumbai with three girls. Stripped of the privilege of outsourcing domestic chores in the wake of the pandemic, my flatmates and I divided tasks among us, all the while talking, laughing, or discussing the latest on Covid. So when all three of them left for their respective homes, I realised I wasn’t used to deafening silence while cooking, mopping the floor, washing clothes etc. Especially the drudgery of cleaning utensils that miraculously piled up in the sink despite washing them after every meal.
I listened to music all the time [typical], but very soon, the songs started to wear me off too. I finally turned to audio storytelling, starting with the Modern Love podcast by The New York Times and the Hindi story series Thriller Factory helmed by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap.
What seemed like a disengaged, silence-filling activity soon became a two-way interaction. As I progressed to other shows like The Anxiety Podcast by Caroline Foran, Cyrus Says hosted by Cyrus Broacha, 3 Things by The Indian Express—and even podcasts by my colleagues at Forbes India—I was participating, reacting, laughing, gathering new perspectives, gaining knowledge, and even constructing visual registers from the smallest details shared by the hosts or the guests. Hey, I still need the escapism of music, but at least podcasts have helped me make my peace with washing utensils.
Smelling ‘D’ Coffee
Just like every other Gen Z individual, mostly bored, unemployed and with way too much free time on their hands, I too succumbed to the raging Dalgona coffee trend. I must admit, I am not one to follow internet trends, but looking at numerous positive online reviews, I jumped onto the Dalgona bandwagon. In the beginning, it all seemed too simple. Just whisk some water, sugar and coffee powder until your arm falls off? Count me in.
I still remember my first successful attempt at making a Dalgona coffee, and I have never looked back. The soft, creamy Dalgona foam, lightly floating atop hot (or cold, take your pick) milk, made me look at the regular beverages with pity. Coffee had just gotten elevated for me. As soon as I roped in my family to drink it with me, they were hooked.
I always thought 2020 was going to be my year, however, there I was, spending 30 minutes of my day whisking a large batch of Dalgona coffee. And I was not complaining. It was that one moment of exquisite luxury that my family could share in our middle-class lives. Unfortunately, due to lack of time (and motivation to get out of bed), this ritual paused. But never does a day go by without me thinking about how Dalgona changed my coffee experience forever.
Playing Teacher to My Son
As the stay-at-home orders set in, my toddler’s playschool decided to shift to online learning. Unwilling to put a two-year-old in front of a screen, I decided to take on the task of teaching him myself. I scoured the internet, Instagram accounts and books on the Montessori method, learnt about Waldorf’s way and made note of the science behind sensory-based play. Armed with my newfound knowledge, I went about creating activities to engage my son: We doodled with paints, excavated animal figurines from artificial sand and made two-piece puzzles. But there were days when I ran out of ideas—and energy. At times like those, we’d sneak out for walks. It didn’t require any pre-planning plus was a refreshing break from being holed up at home. What I didn’t realise is it was much more than that. “What’s that?” my son asked pointing his tiny finger at a snail stuck on a leaf, during one such walk. No flash card or teacher speaking over Zoom could trigger a similar sense of wonder. I now know learning isn’t so much about lesson plans as it is about finding the miraculous in the mundane. And that can happen every moment, if you let it.
Taking The ‘Short’ Cut in Meetings
Since March, I have moderated around 20 virtual round table discussions for Forbes India, including the Forbes India One CEO Club, Forbes India CXO Dialogues, and other webinars. I have had moments in between these conversations wondering if my panellists followed sartorial choices similar to mine when it comes to what’s not visible on the screen. That’s because I sat through these meetings, with some of India’s best known CEOs, in my shorts to go with my suits and shirts. Not something I have ever done before in my life. It made me wonder if the panellists did the same. Unfortunately, we have never had that conversation, and I sincerely hope we don’t ever. Wearing shorts through long conversations, mostly barefoot or in slippers, is certainly comfortable, and my only prayer was to keep me alert if I needed to stand up on screen. The practice continued through numerous recordings for Capital Ideas, Forbes India’s video podcasts. A tip or two. Always tuck in the shirt into the shorts before putting on those jackets. Adjust the camera well and make sure that you don’t stand up, even if there is an earthquake. At least, not before you turn off the video.
After close to eight years, I’ve been home for this long.
The pandemic gave me an opportunity to spend quality time with my parents—cook with my mom and watch cricket with dad. But I needed to find some me time—a break from screen time, work and the constant conversations around the pandemic. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at baking, but given my “hustle life” in Mumbai, I never got a chance. A few weeks into the lockdown, I realised this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.
One Sunday, when my parents were taking their post-lunch siesta, I dug up my old recipe books—from the time I had taken a brief workshop a few years ago—and got cracking. With the right music, all the ingredients in place I whipped up a delicious looking—I say this only because it looked just like most of those recipe videos—banana walnut muffin batter. Set the timer, placed the muffins in the tray to watch the magic unfold. Twenty minutes later, the Instagrammable banana walnut muffins were ready.
This soon became my weekend ritual. The first couple of weeks were alright, then I started experimenting with slightly complicated—well, for a novice like me—recipes. Like Dalgona coffee, baking banana bread was a trend that had just picked up. I thought of trying my luck at making a healthy version, replacing regular flour with the whole wheat version. Big mistake (thankfully, the only one). I did everything else as instructed (or so I thought) and the banana bread started rising... kept rising, and once it was past its peak (pandemic lingo, people) it overcooked and sank. To top it off, it tasted terrible. Thankfully, that didn’t put me off baking entirely.
And so my trials and tribulations continue... every weekend, a new recipe.
The Art of The 20-Minute Siesta
Nine months of work from home (WFH)—with a stress on the ‘W’—would have helped you put a finger on the benefits and downside of the domestic slog. One distinctive feature—although I am not sure whether it is an advantage or a drawback—is that you can turn on and tune in pretty much anytime you feel like. You could write, edit and ideate at the crack of dawn (arguably one of the best times to do all of that) or way past the witching hour (less arguably the best time to do all of that).
What is a surefire plus of WFH is that, if you can tune in anytime, you can tune out, too, when you choose to. Which brings me to one of my favourite WFH routines: The 20-minute post-lunch siesta. You could blame it on my Goan roots—although the original siesta is (or, perhaps, was) a good three-hour post-feni, post-fish-curry-rice slumber. And, when a Goan politician (Vijay Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party) recently pledged to make a one-hour siesta mandatory in the state if he was elected chief minister, it would have had many waking up and sniffing the brew.
A one-hour snooze has its dangers, the biggest one, of course, being that it could stretch a wee bit over the limit. But, based on my WFH routine, I would have little hesitation in recommending a 20-minute catnap (other than the duration, another difference from the authentic siesta is that this one should not be triggered by any kind of grog).
I am not sure about the scientific benefits—which are apparently quite a few—but I can vouch for the energy recharge and increased alertness. Remember, though, that 20 minutes is what works for me. Anything over it—and colleagues may have noticed this at at least one 3 pm meeting—you may need a shot of caffeine in your veins to shrug off that heavy-eyed feeling.
Marathon on Treadmill
As a working professional, I have always been conscious and proactive about my fitness regime—running and cycling outdoors for the last decade. The pandemic followed by the lockdowns and work from home brought an abrupt end to these routines. But fitness is a state of mind and one found new ways to stay happy, h
ealthy and content in these challenging times. Outdoor activities ceased to exist, but exciting, virtual activities that could be done from home came to the fore.
One such trend was a ‘virtual marathon’. You register online, gear up on the day of the run, connect via your smartphone/watch app, ensure your treadmill at home is functional and do your best (or simply pass out). Once you share your data/best time with the organisers (after showing off to your friends on social media of course), you get your real prize/medallion delivered via post. Time to throw yourself a congratulatory party, albeit socially distanced.
I completed the 10K run after an invite from a marathon organiser in Mumbai. Since it was time-bound, the pressure doubled; so did my zeal to finish on time. I completed the run in 60 minutes, burning almost 1,000 calories, with a maximum heart rate of 185 bpm (as if it matters to anyone).
Such activities keep me healthy and sane, and also provide satisfaction about my physical capabilities and energy levels. They are also a subtle reminder that I am probably one of those lucky ones blessed with an indoor gym. Time for a silent prayer.