Raised for success in the COVID-19 world

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As we prepare to enter an era of prolonged constraint and restriction, it may serve us well to fall back on the lessons of frugality, balance and compassion that previous generations practised and instilled.

Our parents have fed us, along with mouthfuls of food, dollops of old-world wisdom that gains stark relevance in these times.

It is a truism, the older you get the more you start resembling your parents. In this COVID-19-induced stand-still moment, I have discovered that the old cliché fits me to a T.

Unlike a lot of my contemporaries, whose parents were born in the 1950s and got married in the 1970s, mine were both born in pre-independence India (I was the last born, my father having hit his forties when I made an appearance).

Much like Billy Joel’s iconic song “we didn’t start the fire” they too were witnesses to the vissisitudes of a colonised country becoming independent, new systems, economic migration to better jobs in a totally different part of the country, three wars, and a massive economic change wrought by the 1991 liberalisation era. They dealt with it using homespun wisdom, deep rootedness in their culture and values and always remaining humane and compassionate. They also reflected the scars of dealing with all of these changes, some scars were present in the way we dealt with our everyday life, others were imparted as life lessons almost in passing.

For my father, who left Mangalore in the late 1940–early 1950s for what was then Madras, the wartime rationing that continued into early independence was a fact of life he carried till his dying day. Living as a student on limited rations, after a life of plenty in his own home, he developed tuberculosis, and my grandfather, fearful for his son’s health, scooped him back up into the safety of his home. My earliest memory of this story being recounted was when as a child I would waste food, refuse to eat or leave my yele (banana leaf plate at a formal lunch) uneaten. This conjuring up of my father’s hardships as a student under rationing has made me instinctively take small portions, and make sure I finish all the food I’ve taken. Eat as much as you need, not want, and make sure there is enough for others to eat too.

In the years that have followed, despite the cornucopia of food stuffs available from across the world, from the mundane to the exotic, I have never had the heart to take more than what I need, despite the explosion of conspicuous consumption from the 1990s to this day.


In the world of COVID-19, we will have to dig deep into our value systems and wells of compassion to come out into the other side with our sense of self intact.


COVID-19 menus in our house now are moderate –– stick to one carbohydrate (rice or roti), portion sizes limited to what you can eat. Photographs from across the country of homeless and migrant labour queuing up for hours for a meal have shown that large-scale hunger, always simmering under the surface in a country of our size and income, can roar back to visceral life in a moment. To consume without thought is a crime in this day and age, after nearly thirty years of celebrating consumerism.

My mother’s life lessons to me, too numerous to count, stick in the memory because of her inimitable style. Not for her the carefully chosen words and respect for a child’s dignity. She didn’t have the time, with three children and a house to run, to care much for all that. She knew though that she wanted careers for her daughters, and an independent space for them in society. Housework is important, she would say, but its important to be your own person too. Her hacks with regard to chores, her insistence that we must not allow chores to chain us at home are standing me in good stead as we work from home. House work is just some more work, it shouldn’t be allowed to overwhelm everything else that you are. Reading, writing, engaging with the outside world though your work is a value to be aspired to, and never taken for granted. In my fourth week at work from home, it has helped me set drills and timetables and stick to them religiously. And yes, continuing to do office work and file stories has helped keep things in proportion amid this great silent pause.

Both of them, now no longer of this earth, live through these life lessons, a disruption in our everyday routine has brought home the value of it all. In the world of COVID-19, we will have to dig deep into our value systems and wells of compassion to come out into the other side with our sense of self intact.

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