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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Narika, Fremont
It’s been two years now since the world has been grappling with the novel coronavirus. Yes, the deadly Coronavirus disease of 2019 has trailed well into 2021. Causing global social and economic disruption, devastating millions of people, who are dealing with untimely bereavements, isolation, loss of income. Not to mention the onset of mental health issues. We are at the end of our tether!
Recently, the situation in India has become grim. In a vast country with an immense population, imposing restrictions like social distancing had taken a backseat. And that was a grave mistake.
You may think there isn’t much one can do to improve the situation in the world, but we can surely start by taking small steps to keep ourselves and our homes safe. Charity begins at home! And we all need to walk the talk. We need to change a few rudimentary things in our lifestyle and go back to our wise Indian cultural practices.
There is no revolution we need to stir, all we need to do is change ourselves. The first thought that strikes us is how changing just ourselves is going to change 100 crore or one billion of us? Not only is it a laudable thought, but I am also convinced it is an achievable one.
Since this is a difficult time of the pandemic, we will focus only on those lifestyle changes at our level which will make us safer at home.
What do we do when we meet an outsider? A traditional namaste has been replaced by a handshake followed by a clumsy hug or maybe a peck on the cheek. Not to mention which cheek to go for first, creating some comedy-filled moments. Now the world acknowledges the value of folded hands—Namaste—which conveys all your feelings with poise and dignity. We should adopt it not because it symbolizes our civilization, but also because it’s the safest greeting in these difficult times.
Traditionally, we (including visitors) left our footwear outside the house before entering. This isn’t the case anymore. We wear designer shoes with our designer couture. So, leaving our footwear outside is like being half-dressed. However, on our recent visits abroad, we noticed that it’s quite normal to leave your shoes outside and slip into slippers provided by the host or move about barefoot in a spic and span house. The logic behind being that the members of the family have to clean the house most times, and the parquet flooring doesn’t shine if dust falls on it. This has been picked up by the west from our culture. We should readopt this practice. Patent it perhaps?
Definitely, during the pandemic, it is essential to keep all invasions of germs, dust, and filth out. In the years gone by, it was customary for guests or any member of the household to wash their hands and feet before entering the house. We must ensure that anyone entering should remove their shoes outside and then either wash/sanitize hands. Seems difficult! You’ll be surprised how easy it will be if you bring it into practice, strictly following the rule yourself first.
Use a spoon when eating snacks
Avoid using hands to eat snacks like bhujia, peanuts, roasted chanas, etc. Use a spoon or serve all the guests in individual bowls. The same goes for serving saunf, elaichi and chooran after a meal. For the same reason, I never take the complimentary sweet saunf that is presented in any eatery after a meal.
Always wash your hands before a meal even if you have not stepped out. Sometimes we unconsciously touch our eyes, mouth, or nose and if there’s an infection lurking about, nip it. This should be strictly followed in every household.
Use cutlery when eating at the dining table
Eating at the table is the norm. Most of us have lost the ability to sit cross-legged on the floor. In certain circles, it’s considered chic to use hands while eating. Which is fine, but let’s not forget that in the olden days we would sit on the floor and eat with our hands, but never touched another vessel other than our own thali, as someone else would serve us.
But now if you are using your hands, you touch the serving spoon to take another helping—in the process, soiling the spoon with your saliva. I feel Indian food like chapattis should also be rolled up and the vegetable or dal should be eaten with a spoon to minimize contact with one’s hands or else after serving yourselves once, the serving dishes should be removed from the table. It may sound rude but all dieticians say that to remain healthy, one must never go for a second helping. And this should be our mantra during these terrible times.
Are napkins needed?
If we use cutlery, the use of napkins automatically becomes negligible. Westerners often kept the napkin as an adornment, hardly touching it to their mouth after a meal and almost never leaving a stain on it. Our Indian way of eating soils cloth napkins, rendering them useless for further use especially if they are light-colored.
Some curry marks are difficult to obliterate. During the pandemic, one should use disposable paper napkins if required and completely withdraw the cloth ones. It has become a norm to keep a paper napkin along with a cloth one. Table etiquette demands that you do not even touch the starched white napkin. Use the disposable one leaving the cloth one unsoiled. During this time of infection, showing off table layout is not as important as keeping oneself safe, so do away with cloth napkins.
Limit the numbers you entertain
Do not entertain more than 4-6 people (depending on the size of your living area) inside your house. As far as possible, entertain in the open—your lawn or balcony—but if indoors, ensure that at least everyone is seated 4-6 feet apart. Invariably, we maintain good social distance practices, and please forgo the photo! To fit everyone in one frame, we break the rule and invariably this is the time we talk/laugh the most in close proximity. A picture on Facebook is avoidable at this stage.
Abide and don’t complain
A lot of exploration and analysis goes into the matter before certain restrictions are imposed. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Abide. It is easy to protest or grumble. Do it only if you have something constructive to contribute. Wear a mask if required, a double mask if needed. Wear it the way it is meant to be worn, covering your nose and mouth. Don’t just wear it on your chin. You are not doing a favor to the authorities but a service to yourself and your self-preservation.
After receiving the first shot of the vaccine, people thought they had won the battle and defeated the virus. Even after repeated announcements by health officials appealing to people to not drop their guard, you could see bazaars full of people, liquor shops overflowing with masses, large wedding celebrations, religious and political gatherings. The result was the surge of the second spike of Covid, far more dangerous than the first one.
Sneeze in your sleeve
Make small changes in your everyday habits, like sneezing into your sleeve.
Open doors with care
Open doors with your elbow, or while holding a sanitizer tissue or regular tissue.
Care in elevators
Carry toothpicks or tissues to press elevator buttons. These do not require a lot of space and can be easily disposed of, after use.
Practice healthy habits
Starting the day with Prayanam or breathing exercises, some stretching, yoga or a brisk walk keeps you rejuvenated for the whole day. Pushing them off for later in the day can sometimes make it difficult to get to. Best to get done with them in the morning when you have more control over your time. These practices, especially yoga which originated in India 5,000 years ago, is becoming a la mode in the western world.
A full night’s sleep is a must for a healthy body
In the days gone by, we rose with the twittering of the birds and retired at dusk like them. Several studies attribute issues like the risk of a recurrent heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, leading to serious health issues including death to lack of sleep. During the pandemic, a lot of us were forced back into this tradition not out of choice but for the lack of opportunity to stay awake. With all theatres, restaurants, nightclubs, discos, pubs, and casinos shut, it was enforced confinement.
Once you get a good night’s sleep, you feel rested and calm in the day. It becomes addictive and besides your beauty sleep will keep your dark circles, puffy eyes, and headaches at bay. Soon you’ll be a slave to this miracle health mantra. Besides, it keeps stress levels low, thereby keeping immunity high. Something that’s a need of the hour these days!
Consume a lot of water
I remember as children gulping gallons and gallons of liquids, especially in the summer. There was always whey water (lassi), nimbu pani, bhel juice, aam panna, jal jeera and many colored drinks like kewra (yellow), khuskhus (green), rose (red), all made at home and roohafza, which we had with water or milk. Even if one had one drink of each, our daily hydration requirement was met.
Over the years, these natural flavors got replaced by fizzy soda drinks like Coke and Pepsi, which have their own set of adverse effects on health. They were almost addictive and took over the entire beverage industry. Also, with the excessive use of air conditioning and intolerance of heat, people tend to stay indoors and the need for hydration reduces considerably. Just drinking water when the body doesn’t seem to need it seems silly and actually one forgets to drink water. It happens to me often and my kids keep reminding me to drink water.
Water plays a very important role in our body. It takes nutrients and oxygen to our cells, flushes bacteria from our bladder, aids in digestion, prevents constipation, normalizes blood pressure, and protects our joints and tissues. So many virtues by merely drinking a 5-6 glasses of water! Just worth it. Make it a habit, and in no time, your body will start demanding water.
Eat right to build immunity
Indian cuisine is possibly among the most nutritious and balanced. Every meal of dal, sabzi, rice/chapatti, curd, and green salad takes care of our nutritional needs like proteins, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. Masalas and herbs like turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamoms, cloves, pepper, carom (ajwain), mustard, asafoetida (hing) and use of ginger, coriander, green chilli, tomato, garlic, onion and desi ghee that go into preparing our normal everyday food add not only a lot of flavor but also boost immunity thanks to each spice’s medicinal value. Having said this, it’s always nice to experiment with something different every now and then.
Eating out/ordering food at home should not be a norm but a diversion. Eat healthy, remain healthy. The fast food/junk food culture that we have adopted from the west makes life easy but sooner or later we will pay a price for it.
See symptoms and act fast!
If you experience even bourgeoning Covid symptoms, do something about it immediately. Isolate and get tested. If you test positive, announce it in your community. There are people who can help if you share your predicament. Take active steps to deal with the situation. To protect yourself and your loved ones, maintain an uncompromising quarantine for 14 days. Put in all your energies to overcome your situation by doing the right things. Exercise to keep the oxygen level high and take paracetamol for keeping the temperature in control. If anything goes out of control, consult a doctor for further action.
Watch your nutrition
Always, but especially during this time, take nourishing food. Often your sense of taste and smell is compromised thanks to the virus. As a result, food is unappetizing. This should not be an excuse not to eat. Do eat enough food to build immunity and get energy for the body to fight the virus.
Become as self-reliant as can be
I contacted the virus and was isolated for a fortnight. During this time, I was washing my own utensils, cleaning my bathroom, and washing my own clothes. After the first couple of days, I used to look forward to this monotonous routine. I realized my bathroom looked cleaner than before and my clothes washed by me had a sparkle that was previously missing. The whites looked whiter and the colored clothes got their gleam back.
In those 15 days, I wanted to run through my entire wardrobe to bring back the luster into my drab clothes. It’s very easy to slip back into the complacency of throwing all the clothes into the washing machine or ignoring a few lapses in cleanliness. But I resolved to look into some matters actively and taking action personally once my quarantine was over. It gives you a feeling of empowerment and self-reliance.
Ignore vaccine-related rumors
We have waited for the vaccine for a year, so why the vaccine hesitancy? Hearsay is misleading. Believe in scientists who provide research and scientific proofs in front of you. If required, certainly go for medication or any other medical intervention. But don’t solely rely on home remedies.
It is very important to keep yourself suitably occupied instead of only watching the news that can be misleading and anxiety-inducing. However, keep yourself updated on the current scenario through authentic news. You can divide your time doing things you enjoy. Read, catch a film on Netflix, hear music, meditate, or pursue spiritual/religious activities if it gives you peace. You can also get crafty – tatting, knitting, crochet, painting, writing or embroidering, have their therapeutic merits.
Verify social media news
It’s critical to verify the news that you circulate within your friend’s circle via WhatsApp or any other media to avoid the spread of misinformation and falling prey to it.
Besides following a routine of washing personal effects, it should be a norm for everyone irrespective of whether you have contracted the virus or not to always wash your mask or handkerchief oneself. Mask sanitation should be personalized. Even children should be encouraged to do that.
Wear a mask all the time
Mask wearing at all times, even at home when you are together should be followed. Wear a double mask when stepping out of the house.
Learn to groom yourself instead of depending on beauty salons for pedicures, manicures, massages, threading, head massages, facials, and haircuts.
Spend less time with gadgets & electronics
Instead nurture family bonds, revel in the sounds and beauty of nature around us. During this pandemic, a lot of people have lost their dear ones. One hopes one had spent better time with them. Don’t miss this opportunity to re-establish these bonds. Over the last year, a lot of people have posted pictures of their gardens, blossoms on trees, and the changing skies. I personally enjoy the sunrises and sunsets a lot more than ever before.
Instill a sense of discipline in your children and other family members by becoming a role model.
With that said. In a strange way, perhaps the pandemic came to heal the world and its people living on the planet through harsh but valuable lessons. Human beings have plundered the earth, abused nature, oppressed our natural resources, victimized wild and marine life, and overburdened the atmosphere with toxic pollutants. The losses that we have incurred are difficult to obliterate, the lessons we have learned are difficult to ignore. The values that we overlooked need to be reinstated. Let it be a lesson for a lifetime, and not disregard it once the crisis is over.
Let us be the change we want to see.
Poonam Kirpal is a Post Graduate in Child Development from Delhi University. A freelance counselor, she has three books to her credit: ‘Fast Forward’, ‘Saccharine and a Lot of Spice’, ‘Amma’ and ‘Ma + Ma = Grandma’. You can read her blog at www.midlifeuphoria.blogspot.in