We Have No Time to Stand and Stare

It has been a month now since life started slowing down for me, thanks to the pandemic. With the numbers still spiking in my home state where my parents live, I wake up with anxiety and go to bed hoping for the pandemic to come to an end. However, on the other hand, despite all the extreme inconveniences, I am still grateful for things especially this standstill in our days. I now have time to sit outside my door and watch those squirrels playing around. The street dogs who happen to be my husband’s best friends tease me with their yoga stretches. I play cat and mouse with those evil cats in the neighbourhood. Every time I hear the sound of a truck, I go out without fail to check what they are selling. At times, I sit in peace watching the leaves sway, the butterflies flutter while not yielding to those big bees who try to perturb me. I soak in some sun and I keep wondering how this pandemic has taken me back by 25 years at least.


Growing up, we didn’t have a television at home. It was our parent’s decision that there won’t be a TV until we finished our education. In the current times, it might sound like a bigger sacrifice, except it wasn’t that big a deal when we grew up. Guests would ask why did we not buy a TV and then they would be impressed with my parents’ answer and that would be it. We did buy our first TV a few years back after me and my brother graduated. But, not having a TV at home meant that I wasn’t able to relate to Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Jungle Book or any such tele/cartoon series that my friends now feel nostalgic about. I did occasionally sneak out and catch a few episodes of Chandrakanta or Shaktimaan from my neighbour’s home, but those experiences barely make me nostalgic.


Instead, I followed ant trails trying to find their hidden treasure. Sometimes, I would place my little finger in the trail to see how the ants got back to their trail. Even before I learnt science, I was convinced that they left behind a secret scent for the rest of the group to follow. I would also try straightening our pet dog’s tail and see how it would stay straight before it curled back. I was also convinced that if I did it daily, it would become straight someday. In the evenings, when the koel started calling out, mimicking her used to be my favourite evening activity. But before she was koel, I knew her as “Akka Kuruvi”. Someone told me that the koel had lost her family tragically and she missed her sister dearly. Apparently, since that day she had been calling out to find her sister or Akka. That is how she came to be called the Akka kuruvi. I always responded to her hoping she will come to think of me as her Akka and be at peace someday. I was very convinced of my theory when one evening I found her outside my grandmother’s home where I was spending my summer vacation. But, now I can’t remember when the dear Akka Kuruvi went on to become koel. Anyway, coming back to my younger days, when I was done with the animals and birds, I sat outside our home and watched people who walked by but then, I grew up in a village, which meant most of the times the streets were quiet in the day time, just the way it is right now in the streets of Bangalore. So it’s no wonder that I feel like the world has gone back by 25 years.


That is not all. Those days without tv and with not too many friends to play with naturally led me to read. I read newspapers page to page, including the ads and obituaries. Sometimes much to my mother’s annoyance, I even read from bits of papers that came wrapped in groceries. I always finished reading my language textbooks in the first week. I read the Bible from Matthew to Revelation. And then I topped the scripture test in my school and I was given the Old testament. Again, I read from Genesis to the end. I began to borrow books from friends. I read the book their parents read, most of them, spiritual literature. When I discovered that my school had a library and they were ready to lend books to students, I was the happiest. Every Saturday post-lunch, I bugged Indrani Miss who was in charge of the library. I had a partner in crime, Tamilselvi. We always picked the biggest books in the library, two each. Those kept me going through the entire week. That’s how I ended up finishing War and Peace over a weekend in barely a day and a half. I wept through Uncle Tom’s Cabin but waited for the Saturdays to come. Saturdays became the favourite day of my weeks. Even after being introduced to TGIF, Saturdays continue to be my favourite day, and just like those days many years ago, the pandemic has blessed me with the privilege to sit down and drown myself in endless pages of words.


In the last few weeks, I caught myself exclaiming how there is so much peace around although my neighbourhood has always been peaceful, except for my husband’s four-legged friends. Now when I think about it, it wasn’t the peace outside. It was truly the peace from within, or should I say the meme-worthy ‘inner-peace’. Even as we continue to work from home, there is an undeniable sense of calm and quiet that has settled in these days. Even though workload continues to be the same and sometimes even worse, I must say there is less to be stressed about. I do miss the fun of being in office. I do miss going out. I do miss those movie halls I had given up on after the advent of Netflix. I do miss the chaos on the street. And there are times I am just too bored that I end up falling asleep. But despite all the inconvenience and anxieties that fill our days, there is an invisible bliss. I might sound insensitive but I am being honest that I have longed for all these running and chasing to stop for a while. I have wanted life to come to standstill and as always life has a weird way of granting your wishes. To call these days a blessing, I know is a privilege especially when the world is paying for it with thousands of lives every day. Nevertheless, I am not sorry for the strange sense of peace it brought to my doors. I shall go when my time comes just like the many others before me, but for today, I can finally “stand and stare” and for that I am grateful.

What Indian CEOs/Founders are Reading – Arun Jagannathan

Arun Jagannathan is the founder of CrackVerbal (GMAT / GRE coaching for MBA / MS) and English for India (Corporate English training programs). At CrackVerbal, he is responsible for academics (content & delivery), marketing, and new product development. “English for India” is his second entrepreneurial venture, in which he helps businesses meet their business outcome through clear and effective communication. When he is not at work, Arun likes to read about his twin passion: digital marketing and productivity. He also mentors some startups on pro bono basis. As part of our new initiative to map the reading habits of Indian business leaders, The Seer spoke with him about his reading rites and more.


What’s the book you’re reading at present. Tell us what the book is all about without giving out any spoilers.

The book I am reading right now is sort of nerdy. It’s Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. You might wonder: why would an English teacher be reading this book. You know that English is the primary form of communication in today’s world. And I believe that it is vital that you have an in-depth understanding of the language–more so when you are a teacher.


Physical books, Kindle or just your mobile device – where do you spend most of your reading time?

I want to add Audible to the list. You know, I noticed something funny about my reading! I actually use multiple platforms/sources. On Audible, I probably hear a book when I am working out, and then when I’m in the car, I look something up to read and mark it on my Kindle. Then there are the tangible, physical books. You might ask why books. Sometimes, after a long day, you just want to get away from all your digital devices. Flipping through a book is a different kind of pleasure.


How many books do you read in a year on an average?

Now I really wish I could say a 100 books because I come across like I have this hack on how to read multiple books (laughs). But I get to read about 12 to 15 books. I am very conscious of the kind of books I read. So I use the Blinkist App, where I can read the premise of a book, and only if it appeals to me do I go out and get it. I also buy books if they come highly recommended by my friends. A friend who works at Amazon recommended this book I am reading right now. He said, at Amazon, English language skills are so important that if you can’t express yourself with clarity, after a point, you are probably not going to be promoted.


Who are your favourite authors?

Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely come to mind. If I were to pick one, I’d go with Dan. He is probably my favourite.


A book you wish you had written.

I definitely wish that I had written some of Gladwell’s books! For example, Blink and Outliers. I love reading them. What interested me most about these books was how the author compiles all this data, analyses them and gives meaningful insights about the world around us.


How does reading help you?

I don’t read cover to cover anymore. I pick up a book, and I usually read it in bits and pieces. Whenever I find a compelling part, I reflect on it to see if there is anything that could be done with it – if I can implement it in my business or day-to-day life.


From all the literary characters you have read, whom do you relate to most and why?

Okay, I have got some bad news for you (laughs). I don’t read fiction. I usually read non-fiction! I tend to read books on language, business, etc.


Are you waiting for any book to be made into a movie? Any favourite film adaptation from the past?

You know, when you think about the kind of books that I read, you probably don’t want to see a movie based on it (laughs). But I also read biographies. Then again, not like ‘Super 30’ or anything jingoistic. I prefer movies that portray the truth about a person. A good example of this is ‘Steve Jobs.’ It showed Steve Jobs in all his complexity, you know–as a visionary, but also revealing his slightly eccentric side.


What’s your favourite time of the day for reading?

To be honest, any time of the day. But, I would probably pick sometime in the evening or at night because I’m just more relaxed at that point.


Suggest a book that every business leader should read.

This is a book that came out a very long time ago. It’s a short book, and you can just read it in one go. The book is called Who Moved My Cheese. The book is very simple, but it’s a metaphor for something a lot larger. It says you have to keep moving and what you did yesterday may not be good enough for today.


Do you write? Where can we read your writings?

You can read a couple of articles that I wrote on LinkedIn –
Executive MBA New Year Resolution
3 Life Lesssons before you seek an MBA