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If you are reading this issue, it means you are S.A.F.E. Oh God, how important this four letter word has become in the last 1 year ! Amidst the avalanche of gloomy news, all that we want to hear from someone is “I am S.A.F.E”. Be it a chat with a friend, a relative, a client, a business associate, a team member, a boss, a professional connect or even a stranger, the opening remark is invariably “How are you ? Hope all of you are at home and S.A.F.E.” Never before has this statement seemed as genuine and caring as now. Such is the apocalyptic times we are in. Unpredictable. Unnerving. Unbelievable !
This takes me back to my childhood days when I got my first lesson in letter-writing from my dear mother. Be it a simple post-card that was like an open-book for the whole world to read or its better cousins – an inland letter or sheets of paper in an envelope – that gave the writer and the reader the much-needed privacy, space and cosiness, following was the protocol to begin the communication:
Safe Shri Date
I remember noticing this in every single card or letter that we received or sent back then. Well, of course until the arrival of more sophisticated forms of communication via computers and mobiles and the death of the dear old physical letters. Letter-writing has now become as antiquated as typewriting and shorthand – skills that were in great demand until the nineties (exception being a court complex where you still find rows of typists on their stools, amidst the clanking sound of the flying typewriter keys and incessant chatter). She would say the reader must first know that we are all safe and wish him/her good luck & prosperity (Shri in Sanskrit). I recall that if the communication was about something happy, celebratory, auspicious, the edges of the card / letter would be smeared with kumkum (vermillion) to indicate the content. Similarly if it was a harbinger of bad news, the corners would be smudged with black ink and the ‘safe-shri’ missing. That itself would indicate what to expect from the insides of the card or inland letter. Today these simple, ubiquitous words assume great significance as we continue to watch the dance of death around us – many sadly experiencing it in close circles. As the messages beep on our mobile all through the day and night, news notifications keep popping up, as emails keep pouring, as calls keep coming in, there is a sense of anxiety and fear since we don’t know whether it is a ‘kumkum news’ or ‘black-ink’ news ! After all we are fighting in vain against a tiny, invisible virus that seems to be multiplying exponentially and slaying us in heaps, as we humans, the so-called thinking-beings and super-power-species are gasping for breath and grappling for our lives, after ravaging Mother Earth mercilessly for years. It is a war-like situation with lots of ‘war-rooms’ operating all around to coordinate for the ‘elixir of life’ oxygen, beds, ventilators, medicines, food, transportation, ambulance, crematorium, caregivers and our brave health-care warriors. I do not want to harp on the heart-wrenching news that has inundated our lives. All that I want to pray is
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niraamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
May All be Happy
May All be Free from Illness |
May All See what is Auspicious,
May no one Suffer |
Peace, Peace, Peace ||
7th April 2021, Wednesday, mid-week, mid-day. In walked Ashok, my close relative. We were surprised to see him at that time since he was supposed to be at work. Of course, he was welcomed wholeheartedly because he always regaled us with his unique style of humorous narration. Be it his struggle in finding his first job, be it his sales trips abroad, be it his frustration at work, be it his bride-hunting escapades, be it his post-married life he always shared his experiences with animated gestures in a monodrama style, enacting all the characters himself. But mid-morning on a Wednesday, we least expected him. He said he just wanted to come away from home or office (he didn’t know which since it had been work, work and more work and nothing else since a year ago) to a different environment, to a normal world. The dark circles beneath his eyes, his growing paunch, his dishevelled hair, the forlorn look and his jerky movements presented to us a very different Ashok, fatigued and burnt out. He had lost almost everything about himself except his innate ability to look at the lighter moments in life. He still joked about his wakeful hours – at times working through the night until 4 am for a US client and again waking up at 8 am to take a call from some other geography, not knowing when to brush his teeth ?.
About his eating hours – grabbing food in between long calls, munching unhealthy snacks at midnight, dragging lunch over 3 hours and dried up hands due to back to back meetings without a break, not knowing whether he had extended lunch or early supper ?. He shared that many a times he wouldn’t be aware if he had eaten or not, or what he had eaten – pizza or paratha, rice or rotis, sabzi or salad – since he would be in marathon meetings or replying to endless emails. He remarked with his trademark guffaw “Here I am juggling with demanding clients and stressful multiple bosses and there is my better-half finding fault that I am not appreciating her new dress or failing to give my feedback on which colour curtain looks good ! How does it matter what she wears or if there is a curtain in the room or not. I just want to be done with my work and slump on the bed to catch up with sleep.”. Worse situation is when my body refuses to sleep before 2am and I am forced to watch some senseless stuff on the Television because there is no one to talk to. Ashok admitted that though his multiple-geography IT job was demanding earlier also, now in the Corona-induced WFH era, it has become unforgivingly killing. He has lost track of day and night, dusk and dawn, home and office, food and sleep, wife and dog and is wedded to his laptop, virtual calls, mobile and inhuman bosses who only want to please their bosses and show margins. When I suggested he must escalate his condition to his boss he said “To whom shall I point out ? He is also a forced workaholic Indian like me who is ready for meeting even at midnight and works through the weekend”.
While we enjoyed all his dialogue deliveries about his boss, wife, father, clients, colleagues etc., we could sense his anguish and helplessness. I am not exaggerating a bit because I have seen at close quarters other young professionals burning out early in their lives, thanks to inhuman business practices, unreasonable delivery promises to clients by overzealous and greedy business heads, unhealthy competition and a toxic ecosystem. One of my cousins has rationed her work and me-time on weekends by turning off the mobile on aeroplane mode. There are umpteen cases like this of overworked employees with demand from families also during the pandemic times. Shudder to think of the loss of human capital, damage to the health of a young work-force, dip in productivity, break-down of familial relationships and consequent shredding of the social fabric of a nation. The irony is that 7th April signifies World Health Day which focusses on mental health issues as well. What I heard from Ashok was reflective of the world wide debate triggered by the revolt of Goldman Sachs employees over work-life blur. It is an alarming reality that employers must take seriously and restore the work-life balance in their businesses with the strategy being driven from the top. Happy employees lead to happy customers. ROI from employees is bound to grow if there are saner working hours, adequate family / me time, regular meal-times etc. even in the pandemic induced WFH era. Messed up work-life is not new but what is new is the magnitude and our acceptance that this is the New Normal. Let’s together make this world a better and safer place to live in for a longer time !!
New Year | New Shoots | Old Roots | Fresh Beginning ||
This is what Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Baisakhi, Navreh, Cheti Chand, Bihu is all about. New Year celebrated across India under different names over last 2 days. Signifying that Life is a sweet-sour-bitter mixture of events and experiences. All the flavours together make it worth Living & Celebrating !!