July 04, 2020
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Coronavirus Lockdown: Work From Home Comes With Its Own Set Of Rules

COVID-19, our much reviled, unwelcome guest, prompted a few welcome changes, as work from home (WFH) became the new normal.

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Coronavirus Lockdown: Work From Home Comes With Its Own Set Of Rules
Coronavirus Lockdown: Work From Home Comes With Its Own Set Of Rules

When life demands a reset from its routine it takes time to adjust. The morning alarm, the muffled protestations of drowsy children, harried mothers, the swear-heavy and sweaty commute to work, the post work hangouts at pubs and malls late into the night. All need to pause before change imposes itself upon us.

Coronavirus, our much reviled, unw­elcome guest, prompted a few welcome changes, as work from home (WFH) became the new normal. Children and parents under the same roof for the entire days altogether knitted families closer. ‘Quality family time’ materialised in abundance; the few unexpected, and expected, fissures are, of course, subject to patient smoothening.

For school-going children, this was a bonanza—an early onset of summer holidays that otherwise had to be earned by running the gauntlet of exams. With promotion guaranteed, this would be a year of magical reality. For their working parents, the bonus took a different form—more time to sleep in lieu of hours of commute, a freedom from formalwear and meetings over conference calls masking barely stifled scowls at bosses’ impossible targets and inane witticisms.

Initially, home-maker moms loved the new arrangement—everyone under her watchful eye, sitting everyone down on time for meals at the dining table. This cozy arrangement starts fraying under unforeseen pressure points—the WFH man, so tied to the coffee machine, demanding an endless supply of beverages, children scrounging for pre-lunch snacks and, in the absence of eating out and Swiggy deliveries being a casualty of COVID-19, the necessity of cooking several courses for dinner.

To top it all, the lady of the house wonders about her vanished ‘me-time’—those hours of listening to music, watching TV, chatting up with friends. A virtual house arrest means children sans playgrounds—and mothers have to fill in when video games turn boring and father is working (from home). If the crisis has claimed the presence of the household too, the home-maker finds herself burdened with an ever-increasing load of household chores. Now add a working mom (WFH, naturally) to the mix, and the stress is potentially combustible.

WFH is like the ususal Bollywood romance—it holds up well until the interval; after that it needs fixing. Unless some ground rules are in place, WFH can be a strain over a long period of time, warn psychologists. A reasonable timetable one dev­otes at office has to be adhered to. A lack of discipline could trigger chaos. Like the temptation to grab a post-lunch nap or lounge on the sofa watching a movie at 4 pm.

A journalist who worked as a foreign correspondent in Colombo cautions that complacence can set in easily in a home office set up. To overcome this, she would diligently finish breakfast, dress up in office wear and step into her office room in her house before 11 am. Barring a 30-minute break for lunch, she would use only her office room for phone calls, watch news on TV and type her story. “Unless I had to step outside to meet someone, I made sure that I remained in that office space for the day,” she recalls. WFH is not an extended  holiday, she cautions.

Here we take a look at how celebrities and regular office goers are handling the corona confinement that forced them to work from home.

G.C. Shekhar in Chennai

Dad’s Home

R. Ashwin, cricketer, Chennai
Place of work: the cricket ground. Many deskbound screen-oglers would consider    that a boon but, to put it gently, being in top shape as a cricketer is a hard, often bitter, slog. Around this time, Ravichandran Ashwin should have been sweating it out at the pre-IPL training camp for Delhi Capitals. Instead, he is goofing off with his two daughters—Athira and Akhira. He loves every moment of it. “This has been an unfortunate interruption to our daily lives. Probably it is nature’s payback for the way we humans have been treating Earth and her resources. When you are not socially responsible nature has a way of teaching you a lesson,” Ashwin philosophises. Being away from training and the gym, Ashwin nevertheless has to stay fit. “I have a small gym at home and work out there. I regularly jog and am careful about what I eat since being cooped up inside the house leads to frequent detours to the fridge.” He is confident that the world would be back on its feet soon and is hopeful that IPL and the games would resume. “I had been waiting for the Olympics but it won’t happen this year,” he says. 

—G.C. Shekhar

Pasta And Peace

Rasika Dugal, Actress, Mumbai

Some might blissfully cut themselves off from a monolithic, steadily darkening stream of news, but Rasika Dugal constantly updates herself. “It’s important to read everything, so we can all behave responsibly in the given situation. But it’s also imp­ortant not to panic or to give in to a sense of gloom and it keeps the mind occupied,” she says.

Rasika was to join the sets of Lord Curzon Ki Haveli in mid-March in the UK. But the project has been put on hold after the coronavirus outbreak. Suddenly, a pool of spare time bobbed invitingly before Rasika. She promptly signed up for an online course on ‘Religion, Conflict and Peace’, hoping to get an academic insight into polarisation and religious conflict, through examples in history. “With all that’s been happening in our country these past few months, I have felt a sense of hopelessness like never before. So, that keeps me engaged most of the time.”

A quiet beaver if ever there was one, spending time has never been a problem for Rasika. “I can spend an entire day on one task. Most of my time goes in cleaning, cooking, reading, watching, exercising, clearing the backlog on some scripts to read, taking care of my plants, having long conversations with family and friends, esp­ecially people who live alone. Then there was the serendipitous rediscovery of cooking skills. “I have made only pasta in the past few months, but can’t remember the last time I boiled rice,” says the actress normally rushed off her feet, who now sharpens her culinary skills by watching cooking videos.

Rasika is also keeping herself fit with a couple of home work-out videos that require minimum equipment. “So, I can do with a yoga mat, one kettle bell weight and the furniture in the house. Till a fortnight ago, I was also stepping out for a short run.” And yes, there’s television. She loved the crtically acclaimed animation movie I Lost My Body. “It is one of the most beautiful films I have watched recently. Beautifully scripted and brilliantly visualised. And the background score is a precious bonus.” She has also finished watching Unbelievable, a limited series. “It’s moving, disturbing but also gives hope...something we badly need now,” she says.

—Lachmi Deb Roy

Wings of Time

Waheeda Rehman, Actress, wildlife photographer
Her images are burnt into our memory: as seductively vivacious as a village belle as few has been before or since, animating her rustic garb with an ineffable charm; or dancing, in an elegant white saree, atop the ruins of Mewar, stepping perilously close to the edges but not minding really. With that side glance gracing that smile, she might have danced at the edges of time. Then, well into retirement, Waheeda Rehman took up a camera and found herself a wildlife photographer at 81. Does the lockdown’s enforced inactivity bother her? “No, I am the kind of person who never gets bored. So, what if I can’t go out for photography, life is beautiful. I am making the best use of my time by clicking pictures of birds, plants and flowers in my garden,” says the actress. Waheeda bel­ieves in finding happiness in small things. “My daughter, Kashvi and I are doing a lot of yoga and meditation.” There are the perennial activities of the nimble of mind: “I am reading, writing and growing vegetables. Time just flies.” Though the morning paper is missed, Waheeda is on to something new, for she believes there is no age for learning. “I have downloaded some apps and trying to learn acupressure.” She notes the positives of the stricture. “The air is so fresh, there is no pollution and people are disciplined—hygiene is taken seriously, spitting on roads has stopped,” she says. It also leads her to wonder at the bustle of modern life. The need of ‘slow living’, she feels, was never more apparent. “Why do youngsters need to work every day in a week? Are we not managing with limited resources? Are we not working from home now? Why can’t this be the norm?” she asks. “Officegoers should work from home at least for a few days a week. We can save on many res­ources and go easy on nature.”

—Lachmi Deb Roy

She’s Playing

Aahana Kumra, Actress, Mumbai
The advent of web series has made Aahana Kumra one of the busiest actors around. She was propelled into fame with a television show, Yudh (2014), co-starring Amitabh Bachchan, but it was her power-packed performance in Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) that made film-makers queue up for her time. From Inside Edge (2017) and Rangbaaz (2018) to Bombers (2019) and Marzi (2020), back-to-back web series streaming on over-the-top (OTP) platforms have kept her tremendously busy. Now, coronavirus has offered her a breather, with all her shooting schedules having come to a grinding halt. “I am, at present, staying at my sister’s place since everything has been shut down.” Aahana tells Outlook. “Thankfully, the place has beautiful premises, where I go once in a while for a walk after taking all necessary precautions.”

Since there is hardly anything she can do as an actor as far as working from home is concerned, Aahana says she is making the most of her break by watching the best of programmes on television as also by keeping tab on the performances of fellow actors. “I like to consume all kinds of programmes but shows based on sports are my all-time fav­ourites,” she says. “I like to see the struggles of sports people onscreen, how teams come up together to fight against the odds. I can watch just about anything on sports.” Aahana is currently watching Drive to Survive, a show on Formula 1 streaming on Netflix while The Test, a series on the Australian cricket team (Amazon) is next on her watchlist. “In fact, I am such a sports buff that I would have been a sportswoman had I not been an actress,” she says.

This forced sabbatical, Aahana says, has all­owed her to keep track of what is happening in the rest of the world. “In a sense, I am happy that I have got some time to watch shows and appreciate my co-actors and others in the film industry,” she says. “At times, you really need to sit back and notice how people are pushing the envelope in their fields and what you are not doing. It is time to realise all of that.”

—Giridhar Jha

Susegad With Mrs And A Pup

Rajeev Khandelwal, Actor, Mumbai
Looking for a much-needed break after his hectic promotionals for his latest web series, Marzi, now streaming on Voot, Bollywood actor Rajeev Khandelwal recently headed for Goa along with his wife and dog to spend time at his picturesque house by the sea. He hoped to return to Mumbai in a week and resume shooting of his forthcoming projects. Then, the lockdown intervened, confining Rajeev and his loved ones home, extending his staycation indefinitely. “I came to Goa with my wife and our dog, thinking it would be a short trip. But things have since taken a turn for the worse,” Khandelwal says.

The 44-year-old actor, who made an impressive debut with Aamir (2008) and went on to act in other movies as well as popular television shows like Sach Ka Saamna (2009), wants to make the most of the isolation. “We have a nice house in Goa,” he says. “I am utilising this break by doing many things that I had not been able to do for want of time. I am reading, playing, trying out new recipes of food, working out and binge-watching shows.” Khandelwal—preparing for director Kunal Kohli’s next, a web series called Naxal, where he plays a cop (he considers it the most challenging role of his career)—says he is doing ayurvedic detox during the forced vacation. “We have a spa at home.” Praised for his acting in films like Shaitan (2011) and Table No. 21 (2013) and the web series Cold Lassi and Chicken Lassi (2019), admits to the scary, unseen threat of the coronavirus, but is hopeful that something positive will emerge once the situation improves. “I understand that it is a very, very difficult situation but once we overcome it, something positive in terms of pollution and environment will come out it. At least, people will be more aware of such things. It will also prove to be a phase of learning for us.”

 —Giridhar Jha

Actor Vicky Kaushal cleans a fan and jokes in between—”Jiska ladka lamba uska bhi bada kaam hai, pankhe saaf karwa lo, stool ka kya kaam hai.”

Shikhar Dhawan, wife Ayesha are seen dancing on the Bollywood number Dhal gaya din, ho gayi sham from Hamjoli. Dhawan wore a classic white, aka Jitendra. Ayesha matches the black suit of Leena Chandavarkar in the movie.

Preity Zinta, devoting her time to household chores, shows how a snug-fit biker’s goggles help during the teary process of chopping onions.

Actress Kriti Sanon is utilising the lockdown to de-clutter her wardrobe. She posted on Instagram a photograph of her doing that, although puppy Phoebe won’t give up playing with her clothes.

Self-isolation brings out the real human in us, stars included. Proof: Katrina Kaif doing her dishes in the sink, and picking up the broom to keep her home spic and span.

Simba’s Master

Kris Srinath, Founder and CEO, S4Carlisle Publishing Service, Chennai
It’s the time for sartorial abbreviation. “If you are not wearing shorts, what is the fun in working from home?” laughs Kris Srinath, who manages an e-publishing business out of a modern office complex, but has become the latest addition to the WFH force. Srinath has just returned from office after despatching his staff—all 140 of them—to their homes with office laptops so they could all WFH to keep up with the company’s tight schedule. He quickly changes into a tracksuit and T-shirt—his WFH dress code—before plonking before his laptop. The workflow needs managing. “The urgency that the office atmosphere generates will be lost when you WFH. The time-lag, because you cannot get a job done by poring over someone’s shoulders, is missed. But since most of our work is stored in the ‘cloud’, we can still monitor the workflow. One needs to be constantly on the phone with the COO and the team leaders, though,” explains Srinaath, 57. To make sure that employee productivity does not
suffer he has laid out strict deadlines with only the immediate ‘printer files’ on top of the queue. “The employee may work four hours a day or even less but his completed file has to land in time. True, there will be distractions at home, but it is their
problem. I stick to a strict work schedule even when I have to WFH. The only concession I give myself is to let my dog Simba curl up next to me,” says Srinath. The other, not insignificant pluses are hot homemade lunch and filter coffee.

—G.C. Shekhar

Calling Kritis

Sandeep Narayan, Carnatic singer, Chennai
The 70-year-old mridangam vidwan phoned carnatic singer Sandeep Narayan just a few hours before their scheduled recording at All India Radio. He was not comfortable being cooped in a small air-conditioned cubicle for two hours during the coronavirus scare. “Can we have it after this whole thing is behind us?” he had asked Sandeep. The singer readily agreed and passed on the request to the AIR programme head. Sandeep, who had just returned from a motorbiking trip in the Nilgiris, found that two of his concerts in Coimbatore and Mysore had been cancelled. “The organisers and we performers were left with only two hard choices—sing before an audience of 200 and help the virus to spread or sing before an empty hall, which serves no purpose. So cancelling the concerts was the only sensible thing to do,” he laughs. Similarly, his concert at the Cleveland festival, slated for April, also got pushed to August. Sandeep and wife Radhe, a Bharatanatyam dancer, who are otherwise constantly on the move for their performances, are using this spell of home confinement to sharpen their skills. “I had planned to learn a few new kritis, so this break has come in handy. Without the pressure of concerts, learning becomes easier,” he explains. Radhe, meanwhile, plans to continue her dancing lessons with her teacher Leela Samson over Skype. Contemplating a hiatus without concerts, Sandeep says he still needs to maintain concert fitness by collaborating with his accompanists online. “For a city used to year-round concerts, Chennai’s music scene has not encountered such a void,” he rues.

—G.C. Shekhar

Life With Dennis

Sohini Mitra, Entrepreneur, Mumbai
The pet dog barks intermittently, a baby cooes and gargles beckoningly, and a nine-year-old haltingly plays the piano­—these background scores punctuate a Google hangout with team members. For extra effect, add chimes of the doorbell and the metallic clang of utensils. Through this avant garde mixing of Mozart with Philip Glass and Steve Reich, 34-year-old Sohini Mitra, an entrepreneur and mother of two in Mumbai, tries to finish her work within a deadline.

Hers is the farthest end of the spectrum of work from home. Sohini narrates a representative incident: “I was on a video call, accessing the team viewer to change some vendor details with a client and had to share an invoice hard copy. ‘Look behind,’ says the amused client. There it was—the same invoice being torn to pieces by my 10-month-old son.”

Skipping an age group further upwards, the board games ‘business’ or ‘monopoly’ take centrestage. Sohini’s nine-year-old, seized with the seriousness of the transaction at hand, extracted his mother’s cheque book from her bag. “I was working on my keynote presentation when a client called up for my IFSC code. I went to my room to see my son and his friend playing with my current account cheque book, signing of cheques with flourish. I couldn’t scream, but had to make them understand that you can’t keep wasting cheques,” says a determinedly resilient Sohini. “It’s like working from home amidst a live telecast of Dennis the Menace in the house,” she shrugs. But she is happy so long as the kids are safe and she is nearby. As we all wait for sanity to return to our adult world, revel in the exhilarating lunacy—a children’s domain.

—Lachmi Deb Roy

Secure With Mom

Subhashini, Project manager, TCS, Bengaluru
“Where have you kept the rice powder? I am looking everywhere,” her mother pipes loudly from the kitchen. In the middle of a conference call with her team, Subhasini grits her teeth; she can hear suppressed giggles.The project manager at TCS has been WFH since March 16 after it was mandated by the state government. Karnataka’s second corona-positive patient worked in the same complex that housed Subhasini’s office, requiring total evacuation of the building. “Since schools were closed I hoped WFH would help keep a tab on my 11-year-old son; I enlisted my parents to help out,” Subhashini, 38, says. With a clarity of purpose unique only to mothers, Subhashini’s mater hoped to utilise the time spent together to catch up on family gossip. Only to have her daughter cut her off mid-sentence to attend calls. As this kept repeating, her mom complained: “You willn’t have time to speak to me, but you will talk to some foreign chaps.” “In an office environment pressure is greater and you concentrate. The occasional joke might relieve tension but at the end of the day you’ve the feeling of completing some work. When you WFH there is a tendency to take it easy. A post-lunch nap creeps over you as your bed or sofa lie invitingly. You add curd rice to the mix and you will be asleep in no time,” she says. Subhasini saw the work of her team suffer in the early days of the scare. Everyone had to be given secure laptops and VPNs. Patchy internet in some areas made things worse. There is one real positive though—with no tiring commute she is fresh enough to whip up a tasty dinner for son Pranav and her husband, an admin manager who still has to work from office. When her fitness freak hubby kept complaining about the closed gyms, she devised a new fitness routine for him: wash utensils before going to bed. 

—G.C. Shekhar

Coaxing a Corona Smile

Alexander Babu, Stand-up comedian, Chennai
After the global success of his solo stand-up show Alex in Wonderland, Alexander was all set to launch his Tamil play, with seven shows lined up for March—only to see the lockdown obliterate his schedule. His plans to take Wonderland to newer venues like Sri Lanka also fell through. With little to do, Alex, 44, who packs in an hour of yoga early in the morning followed by meditation, decided to plot his next concept. “Zoning into that creative area can be tough, especially when you have suffered a fin­ancial loss due to cancelled shows. Thankfully, yoga and meditation have been a cushion, along with my family,” says Alex, who left Amazon in 2014 to be a full-time stand-up comic. While thanking providence for keeping him safe, he commiserates with those who cannot afford to save up for a hard time like this.

Asked if the coronavirus would be part of his next show, Alex answers with a glint in his eyes: “It is already part of our lives. So I need to give it the due respect in my next outing on stage.” The biggest challenge is to concoct something funny in these days of memes and Twitter humour, so Alex is also reading scholarly articles on the virus in the hope they will provide a humorous ingress into an arcane subject. Since he is also a trained singer and his shows are packed with film songs across the ages, Alex is utilising the forced break to brush up his singing by Skyping regularly with his guru Raghavan Manian. The biggest bonus has been spending time with his two sons, who otherwise would have had to catch up with appa on Facetime.

—G.C. Shekhar

Devi Next Door

Nivedita Sharma, Journalist, Noida
Reporters need to be around and about, and for Nivedita Sharma, her 13-month-old son dominated her mind even while she was chasing stories and stiff deadlines. This is why she probably wanted to work from home. So, when COVID-19 enforced social distancing, then a lockdown dug in its heels, Nivedita let out a suppressed ‘yaay’. “This might sound illogical and insensitive to many, but this allowed me to spend time with my son,” she confesses. She soon realised that catering to needs infantile made WFH a tough ask: “One whimper from him and you have to leave work to entertain him.” Running from your work station to the kitchen where a broth is boiling, or take time off to change diapers, or to feed him regularly…why, these shutdown days have made Nivedita a shining exemplar of multi-tasking. More so since COVID-19 has put a halt on maids and cooks as well. “Well, you all know husbands are fun till the time they don’t touch things because once they are in form, you have to manage two kids,” laughs Sharma. But has WFH changed her life? “My office work starts at 9 am, but before that I need to prepare morning meals, change the baby’s dia­pers... Then comes the time to open the laptop when comes a panicked shout from hubby: ‘He pooped’!” Lunchtime is also when a reporter typically would start writing/framing her stories. At home at 2 pm, and lunch jostles with words for mindspace. Next, it’s time for a baby-nap. Day’s end finds Nivedita wrung out, yet suffused with satisfaction.  “We are superwomen.”

—Lachmi Debroy

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