Yesterday marked the beginning of Navratri, a nine-day festival for us Indians. And again, as has been the trend this year, the festivities are dampened by the phantom presence and talks of pandemic rampaging outside.

Each year, Ganesh Chaturthi, the long 10-day festival begins the season of festivals here in India. Everyone accepts that once the August dawns, it never is too long when we are already ringing the new year celebrations. We and our families are too busy with one festival after another.

This year the festivals did arrive, but the festivities were lacking. In India, we love celebrating our festivals outside, and with others. With our extended families and friends. We welcome them at home, and we don’t hesitate to visit them and wish them loads of happiness.

So no surprise this year’s festivals have been a lot different and a lot less fun. I understand the gravity of the situation that all us in the world find ourselves trapped in. But we Indians are known to dance away our fears and stresses together, as we celebrate our festivals.

From North to South, East to West of India, there are different names for the each (and at times the same) festival. But the purpose is common – celebrate the feeling of togetherness and of happiness that that togetherness brings to us. In that sense, this year has been dampening.

Anyway, Navratri began yesterday. Unlike each year, we are all working from home and hence have got a chance to be with our parents. Usually, my wife and my mother fast throughout these nine days of Navratri. They are not changing there routine, they will fast even this year. To keep me appreciative of how difficult that is, I have decided to fast today.

But the DJs blaring the loud sounds from the pandals set up for Garba are missing this year. Also missing are the endless debates between left and right on how we should stop spreading the noise pollution. Missing are the colourful stalls selling Gagra cholis and missing is the excitement of getting ready as per the colour schedule for each Garba night.

Sure, I understand the reason for all the gloom and also realize that we have bigger problems in front of us. But I abhor this year because it’s stripping away the opportunities from us to celebrate and gain the strength we need to face the problems.

I hate shopping for deodorant…

That sentiment is a lot stronger for me in today’s times of a pandemic that spreads by touching any of the open holes on a human’s face. I’m tensed anytime I’m to touch my own face these days, especially if I don’t have a hand wash or sanitizer around. I hate this crazy, fucking virus.

You can stop eating particular meat or can boil & reboil the water before drinking it. You can kill all the mosquitos around or have yourself bathed in repellant. But how the fuck do you not touch your own face? That’s like asking your kid to not put herself in harm’s way – she invariably will.

Anyway, with the bottled up frustration out of the way, my dislike for shopping for deodorant isn’t new. So much so that it’s no longer just a harmless dislike, it’s a feeling of extreme hate. How the hell do you decide if a deodorant is good or not? I don’t know how it’s done at other places, but here in India, trying out a fragrance from a tester pack is pretty common while shopping for a deodorant. Everybody does it. Everybody apparent can do it. Except me. I never learned how to keep the fragrances separate. Once I’ve tried two, everything smells the same to my picky nose – you might as well make me smell the water and still get a comment from me after that.

The way-out for me earlier was that I would only try a couple and select one from those. I can’t say it always works – I end up choosing one that smells the worst. Too strong or too mild or yuck. These are the only reactions I get from my family. I haven’t let that affect me until now – I have managed to convince myself that no one likes how the other smells. As long as I’m happy with how I smell – or there’s a complete lack of any form of smell for that matter – I was fine. So I bought whatever smelled best for me or didn’t smell at all from the two I tried.

This trial for fragrances is out of the picture in the pandemic times. There just are too many logistical problems.

What’s the other way then? You can for once judge a book by its cover or title, but there’s no way one can judge a deodorant by its canister. I mean all fucking look the same. You can’t select one because its nozzle opens up funny or the shape of the container is “different”. The content isn’t.

And what’s with naming the fragrances? Dark Temptation, Sea Drift, Thunder Bolt, Regal Burst, Voyage. When every fragrance could be named as simply as “strong”, “mild” and “mildest”, fact that marketing would spend so much time and money to come up with these names makes no sense to me. How am I supposed to select between Dark Temptation and Gold Temptation?

And the money that marketing spends on the advertisement for men’s deodorant must absolutely go down the drain. The only message they aim to deliver apparently is put this on and be a magnet for girls? Or be sensual? Or be “irresistible”? On the other hand, how can you even advertise for fragrance? The only thing you can say is it smells good.

Or simply strong, mild or mildest. I’m telling you, it is simple to solve this problem. Just use those names.

Anyway, I went shopping for deodorant today again. Looking at me struggling, toying around with all black canisters, the store owner pulled all the options away, kept one in front of me and said, “you will love this, sir, trust me”. That won’t have done it, but then he added, “you will click a picture of this and come again next time asking for this one”.

Once I returned home with that deodorant, I minutely stared at my reflection in the mirror, wondering what in the way I dressed gave that store owner the feeling that I can’t read English.

I also binge-watched the complete final season of The Good Place. I didn’t like it at all – such a disappointing finale for a brilliant series overall. With unnecessary blabbering and too much of gyan, it just went downhill with each episode. About an hour-long final one was a drag – half-an-hour too long, maybe. I wonder which are the shows that have a timely, yet brilliant end – where once it’s done, you go, “Is that over? So soon?” The Newsroom?

I watched Moneyball today and, as someone who doesn’t fully understand baseball, I didn’t like it as much as the ratings would suggest. Sure, it’s a good drama, but not a good sports movie. It felt tailored-made specifically for US viewers.

I enjoy reading books and essays in the humour genre the most. However, I find it extremely difficult to consistently find something funny that excites me. I look at the Goodreads recommendations for humour and all are memoir types. Or they were written a long time back. Is this genre just not explored anymore? Why do so few people write funny fiction?

Having written a few humour short stories myself, I understand that it is an extremely difficult genre to master. You can’t write something that everyone will find funny. Some will like what’s written, while some will consider it to be absolutely silly, or even garbage. Maybe that’s the reason not many want to go through the trouble of writing something that won’t find universal acceptance.

I do wonder, at times, that may be the issue is about discovery. Maybe a lot of good humour is written but I am not aware of it. If that’s the case, I would like to know of them.

So what’s the best humour that you have recently read, preferably something that’s not memoir (because am tired of reading short essays that are only funny in parts). I would love if they are pure fiction. Or fantasy even. I am ok to read anything and everything funny. Especially in today’s dire times.

I read this heartfelt post at McSweeney’s by Jen Coleman, a high school English teacher, on children already returning to schools amidst the pandemic. It makes no sense to me that someone somewhere is making a decision that puts these budding souls at risk just so that the perception of “we, the leaders, are handling it well” can be maintained. I am happy in my developing country if that’s how a developed one handles crises.

That Sharpie tells me everything I need to know about teaching through COVID. We could have poured resources into prevention. We could’ve spent all summer enforcing mask use and social distancing. We could’ve sacrificed small pleasures for the greater good. We could’ve kept this from happening. But instead, we’re blindly barreling toward reopening even though we know teachers and students will die. We’re going to treat COVID the same way we treat school shootings.

I finished reading the second book in The Rabbi Small Mysteries series, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry. Though I enjoyed this story, the overall experience was a bit dampened by the political subplots and unnecessary chatters.

Sure, every discussion that Rabbi was involved in was, though repetitive, refreshing; it was a welcome lesson on Jewish traditions and values. However, unlike the first book in the series, the mystery and the rabbi didn’t feel like the core of this one.

A good quick read, nonetheless.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Getting Back to Reading More Books

If there’s one positive change that the lockdown has brought into my routine, it would be that I am reading a lot more, both online essays & books. My Goodreads currently reading list is full of some wonderful books. It is a result of some intentional changes in my habit and the easy availability of a lot of free time.

I am “reading” a lot more books in their audio forms. The Audible subscription has been one of the best investments. I enjoy listening to books as I am doing other tasks. Be it the regular household choir or exercising. So if I am thoroughly involved in a book, it clearly shows in my walk/run times. I would go on long walks just to “read” more.

Additionally, I have since long stopped carrying my mobile phone with me – rather I keep my Kindle around. I always take it along as I move through my routine. This is my observation when I had first started following this habit a while back.

I take my kindle, walk to my balcony or to my terrace or to the garden and settle there. Without my phone. Or my iPad. Anyone needs my attention, they have to come and fetch me. And I realised I was back to being more earnest while reading.

This holds even today. So whenever my mind reaches out for some getaway, it’s the list of books that is accessible. Not some social media feed. Or emails. No risk of doom-scrolling.

I have also realized that I can’t read only one book at a time. What I want to read depends on a lot many external factors. My mood, the weather, what and who am surrounded by, the thoughts my mind is full of. So I have a list of 10 books that I am reading at any given time based on these factors. And I don’t hold myself to add another to the list if none of these excites me some time.

Being a completionist has been a habit that I was proud of one time; that’s not the case any more. If a book is unable to hold my attention, I will stop reading it. I will skip chapters if it is non-fiction to see if there’s any other chapter that interests me. There are more pages that we can eagerly turn than there are minutes that we can breathe. Don’t touch a book that doesn’t keep you excited to turn to the next page.

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Hunter S. Thompson

I asked Alexa to set a reminder for 10 PM. She did, however for the next day. Then I asked Siri to do the same. She said there’s no app that can do that. Well, Reminders app was offloaded. Because, storage. Then I asked Google. It did what I wanted.