“GDP doesn’t register the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, or the intelligence of our public debate. GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile”.
I thought this quote from Robert Kennedy aptly describes what many of us are experiencing during these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unprecedented yes to our generation but the world has gone through similar disasters during the two world wars and many nations such as Syria, Libya or Afghanistan who are at war, whether military or economic, continue to experience similar difficulties as they struggle to eke out a living.
As we edge towards complete recovery, the most difficult decision so far for me has been to initiate pay cuts and convey the same to my team. But as with every difficulty, one has seen people rise to the occasion and my team’s empathy to the situation and its expected aftermath made it easy for me. I have been a firm believer of the adage that tough times don’t last but tough people do, and I am confident of the same going forward. Equally important for me is another one that every difficulty, every crisis, every disaster throws up an opportunity, has a silver lining and makes us a better individual.
I have divided this blog into three parts:
- My learnings during the lockdown,
- The post lockdown world and what we as individuals must do and
- Some ideas for the authorities and the government to explore
What have I learnt during the lockdowns? A significant lot. Perhaps more than what I have learnt over my lifetime. Simple joys and trivial matters that I am discovering during the lockdown. I have listed them below not in any order of importance:
- Nature is back to its former glory or is at least crawling its way to recapture all that we humans have taken away. Social media has been filled with videos and images of birds and animals trying to capture their lost land. I have been witness to one such miracle where every evening half an hour before the sun sets, around three to four parrots gathered on my terrace, the number has now swelled to 300 to 400. It’s a blissful cacophony one I know will not last forever.
- The importance of simple and frugal living: I always had my New Year resolutions with this simple concept in mind. But then the vices and temptations got the better of me and the resolutions remained only on paper. Since the lockdown, I am trying to lead a more disciplined life. So far so good.
- The therapeutic impact of family bonding and yet at the same time giving each other their space.
- The importance of working together in a larger society and neighborhood. I live in a society of twenty buildings and around 200 families. We have service providers in the form of security personnel, gardeners and trash collectors. Each one of us is working to ensure that these service providers have enough to eat and lead a dignified and happy life.
- I have started meditating for fifteen minutes every day. I never believed that meditation could make any difference. Trust me, it does.
- The importance of having hobbies and interests. For me it is reading and writing. In just one year of the pandemic, I had devoured fifteen books and I am enjoying every minute I spend reading a new one. At the same time, I have heard people crib about getting bored with nothing to do other than read some crap on the social media and then spread that crap faster than the current virus. I have never been busier as I am now – working from home, video calls with colleagues, doing household work – washing the utensils, cleaning the bathrooms, dusting, washing, drying and ironing clothes albeit with the use of electronics, reading, watching some select and interesting programs on TV (definitely not referring to Arnab Goswami), spending time with my boys and wifey, chatting with friends and family all over the world. Frankly, I don’t realize how quickly the day goes by. I am exhausted by the time I hit the bed.
- Eating right and innovation in exercising: At the start of the lockdown, the most shared jokes were on how everyone post the lockdown will be significantly heavier than before. And it indeed was a worry with very little scope to exercise and the tendency to pile on calories while at home. During the first week or so, I was treading along the same path, but then thanks to my younger son Krishaan, I got into a regimented workout schedule. Fortunately I had a couple of dumbbells, kettle bell, skipping ropes, balancing ball etc. with me. I moved all of this to my terrace and started focusing on high intensity interval training, running up and down three floors and complemented that with weight training. Now between 6 and 7 pm, this is a daily routine. Drenched in sweat, high on serotonin and soaked with delight. But exercising is just one half of the solution to maintain or reduce weight. Eating right is always a challenge for a foodie like me who has his task further cut out with a wife who is an exceptional cook. She continues to do so, but I have helped myself by reducing my portion of serving and it has worked. More importantly, while I was drinking almost every day during phase 1 of the lockdown, it is now down to once a week.
- The importance of our support system and taking things for granted. These have been eye openers to me and I am sure most of you must be experiencing the same. The people who make our daily lives easy – our house maid, driver and other help. Only when we start doing their work can we truly empathise how back breaking it is. We at least have the luxury to rest our back in the cool confines of our air conditioned room. They do not as they move from one household to another doing the same physically demanding task and then retire to their 10×10 furnace of a room.
The lockdown period has perhaps been an ideal world for the misanthropes. They must be basking in the self-isolated world. But post lockdown, it is vital that all of us come together and get the world back on track. I believe the lockdown is going to be the easy part. The worse is yet to come. The post lockdown world with the double whammy of learning to exist with the virus, irregular vaccination coverage, the possibility of many more unknown viruses breaking out, and more importantly with the economic difficulties that each one of us will have to face, is something we all must mentally be ready to withstand. The second part of my blog lists down my perspective on the post Covid world and what we as individuals must do. Again the below are in no order of importance but rather each point is equally important.
- Be patient: This is perhaps the most difficult quality to express when the tide is against us. However, as individuals, as workers, as taxpayers, as members of the wider society, we need to stay patient. It is going to take time for normalcy to return. But going forward, we must learn to live patiently in an abnormal world.
- Live within our means: This goes without saying. No one knows the economic cost of the pandemic. Hence we must tighten our purses and spend only if necessary as we might have to spend on things more important like medical expenses and home needs . This does not mean that we must not splurge on a good meal, or indulge in a good piece of jewellery or a good Chilean Merlot or an Argentine Malbec. These are things that will help us maintain our sanity but we must do so without going overboard. But do spend or else how will we revive our economy.
- Keep it simple: Do not complicate life. Now is the time to lead a far more disciplined, balanced and a focused life than ever before.
- Learn to adapt and use technology wherever possible: This applies more to our work life. None of us can afford to have parochial attitudes. I have been in the retail industry for more than 20 years now and most of it within the luxury retail world. My life and expertise revolves around the brick and mortar format whose obituary has been written by several experts over the last few months. However, I do not believe in these obituaries as long as you are prepared to adapt and embrace technology. As a leader of a diamond jewellery brand, along with my team, we have already started working on how we can reach out to our customers in a “new normal world”. That includes customers who are hesitant to step out or have gotten comfortable with shopping from home. We are looking at technology to help them shop – video consultation is one such way. We are also upping our game with online sales and investing in making our website more user friendly and exciting. While brick and mortar will thrive albeit after a few difficult months, every retailer must be innovative and use technology and adapt.
- Travel less: Travel only if necessary and whenever you travel take all precautions as prescribed by the authorities. It’s better to be safe than risk getting any infection before this virus is completely eradicated.
- Help others less fortunate than you: This is perhaps the most necessary of all acts each one of us must carry out. We will have plenty of opportunities to help others and we must assist others come out of the difficulty at the earliest. There can be no better vaccine than the blessings of these people.
Now I come to the last part of my blog where I have a few suggestions for the authorities and the government, who I am sure are overwhelmed with the same and who are doing a thankless job. They have made mistakes and will continue to make a few more, but it is important for them to learn from the same and for us citizens to do our bit as well.
- Widen the income tax net: Why should only 5.78 CR Indians pay income tax which is just 2.5% of the tax paying population. India is one of the worst countries when it comes to income tax adherence. As a salaried person, I feel aggrieved with these statistics. Now is the time for the government to use emotion in advertising to drive the need to pay tax and take strong action to bring more people under the tax net.
- Improve the salary paid to the police force, the paramedics, the paramilitary, the nurses, the medicos attached to government hospitals. These are the people who have gone beyond the call of duty during these difficult times. This will also encourage more to join these professions.
- Improve rural employment by focusing on technical and vocational training. Our primary education system in the villages is a mess and perhaps it is too late to rectify it. The only solution is to make the rural population’s skill relevant to the country’s economic requirements by establishing technical and vocational training institutes.
- Invest in agriculture and encourage reverse migration from cities to villages and small towns: I am keen to relocate to a smaller town or village once I have completed my responsibility towards my children’s education. I am looking forward to using my skill and expertise in making the lives of the village and small town folk better and also living and enjoying a healthier life personally.
- Encourage individuals to set up social service related enterprises.
- Keep the interests of the small retail investor in mind and not the corporate sharks and the speculators who create mayhem with the stock market.
- A key point missed out in the 1st version of this blog – Investment in healthcare facilities across the country. This would involve infrastructure upgrades across all levels of government medical facilities based on global benchmarks such as those in Germany, the NHS of the U.K, and Taiwan. In addition, private hospitals to jointly share pandemic related burdens in the future.
While there is surely a big worry about the uncertainty that will unfold in the coming days, I am also excited and confident to start afresh with a new outlook in all spheres of life. I would like to end with a quote from the American educationist Booker T. Washington – “Character, not circumstances, makes the man.”
Yes, we need a strong character to face the new world!!