Tag Archives: work

The Venus Flytrap: Working From Home, Within A Crisis

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I’ve been working from home since late 2016, and I hope I can offer some suggestions on effectively doing so if you’re new to it.

To begin, some practical tips: never work in bed. It’s terrible for your back. If you don’t have a desk, use a dining table or kitchen counter. If you have enough space so that you can set up an “office”, do so, and don’t eat or watch TV there. Demarcating spaces will also help you demarcate time. You may feel you have a lot less or a lot more time than you did before. Keep daily checklists (personal and professional) as well as weekly and monthly planners. It helps to keep your eye on the big picture when the days merge formlessly. If there’s less work, set manageable growth-oriented tasks: updating your CV, making a vision board, etc. Leisure soothes; don’t beat yourself up.

Working from home is an enormous privilege, as evidenced by the thousands of migrant labourers who walked the Indian highways to reach their villages when this lockdown was announced. People who are or provide the supply chain, sanitation services, home deliveries and medical attention can’t work from home either.

This reality doesn’t nullify the fact that “home”, even if there’s a roof above one’s head and Wi-Fi, can be a highly toxic environment. This is truer than not in the Indian context, bound by patriarchy, where every family has a mountain of “dust” swept under a flimsy carpet. Set private boundaries even if others don’t respect them. For instance, commit to not engaging with anyone whose behaviour sets you off. Bite your tongue, keep up self-healing practices if you have the privacy to, and train your eyes on the long-term. If you realise that you don’t want to live like this permanently, accept that it will be months at least before changing your life becomes viable. Focusing on surviving this, then getting out.

No matter your scenario, mental health is a priority at this time. In a state of uncertainty, we are softer targets than ever. With the anxiety-inducing effects of constantly checking the news, paired with the tentacles of inadequacy that brands/influencers still shoot into our lives, it’s best to be careful about social media usage. Take up journalling: empty your worries into it. There are many guided or prompt-based practices online. Be flexible about how you define productivity. It’s hard to concentrate right now, so if you don’t learn a new language or tackle that to-be-read pile, it’s okay!

When you feel overwhelmed, return to this question: Who do you want to be when all of this is over?

The skills you acquire in this time are not only meant for crises. They are all adaptable into the next normal, post-pandemic. Try to see this period as a beautiful opportunity to inculcate practices for the long-term. These include taking up meditation or exercise, budgeting better, building meaningful connections based on communication (not activity), fairer division or more efficient management of household chores, eating more creatively, developing clearer socio-political ideas, achieving a healthy work-life balance, becoming self-disciplined and much more. Lean into growth, not fear.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 2nd 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Wild Goose Chases

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So many of society’s systems have been revealed to be constructs by the global coronavirus pandemic. I’d been pondering all things illusory when a series of comic recollections of wild goose chases lightened my mood.

#1: I was on a boat in Pulicat Lake with an international photographer who’d flown in exclusively to take pictures of the flamingo season that local photographers were confidently presenting as thriving (probably using old material). Climate change had deemed otherwise; there’d been no birds in a long while. “Come next month,” the fisherman making his living from rare boat rides forgivably lied. My breaking point was when I suggested we change the story angle and salvage the effort: there was a colonial fort nearby. We circled and circled. The edifice had long been ruined, overrun by vegetation. It didn’t exist anywhere but on Google Maps and influencers’ charades.

So soon after that a curse was arguably in effect, a filmmaker friend wanted to visit a “film city” right here in Chennai. There were amazing, recent reviews online. Again, after hours of searching, getting snappy and exhausted, we finally accepted that it didn’t exist. A place that had opened and shut over a decade ago was still being promoted by – whom? Who has the motive for such mischief?

Wild goose chases #3 & #4: I was in Vagamon, where my favourite architect Laurie Baker had lived, in a house that was still a notable town boast. Except the interiors looked like a boys’ dormitory; outside, a tacky fountain was draped with plastic flowers. Red laterite, lush foliage, legacy? Nope. Everything about the assignment was superficial: I was to weave a facade of serenity from a bizarre itinerary covering too many hill stations in too few days. The fakest element of all was my newfound camera-toting colleague, who spent the trip buttering me up, convincing me to secure a similar assignment so we could meet again. I tried; thankfully, the wheeler-dealer’s using me as an unpaid intern rasped to halt when he admitted he couldn’t be bothered to read the published article, while posting it all over social media for his own credit.

Social media is a master mayajaal, a net of illusion. Concerned friends tell me about how a close relative of mine who is prone to fits of violence and manipulation contingent with untreated mental illness presents herself as a mindful, enlightened creator online. The true stories and the Instastories are a mismatch. I make an income from putting words in other people’s mouths (it’s called PR, babe). I know what goes on behind glamour. But when personal trauma and deceit intersect, it’s hard to stay unafraid. This is a situation many are in: cloistered in quarantine with all that work, money and travel lets them escape. On a greater scale, we also know we aren’t getting the info that could potentially save us.

I was able to laugh a little remembering those wild goose chases; but still, they led back here. The world should not go back to normal when this pandemic is done. Let the falsehoods dissolve once and for all. Let human survival be worth it.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 19th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival

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I’m leaving tonight for for a week in Bali (and yes, on work!), to attend the Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival 2008.

Other than general official engagements and anything that happens impromptu, my readings and panels, in case you’re there, are as follows:

Thursday 16 Oct: Performance Poetry Extravaganza, 19.30-21.30 at Warung Opera

Top performers and comedians from Australia, India and the Philippines present a riotous medley of rhythm, sound and song. Lexical dexterity will be at work in this high-energy, cross-cultural celebration of the literary spoken word. Tug Dumbly, Sharanya Manivannan, Edwina Blush. MC: Benito di Fonzo.

Saturday 18 Oct: Mindscapes, 15.45-17.00 at Indus

Novelist Charlotte Bacon tells us what happens “when geography rubs up against people’s emotional states.” Matthew Condon’s novel The Trout Opera was inspired by the stark beauty of Australia’s Snowy Mountains. Carrie Tiffany, an environmental journalist, explores agricultural issues and the lives of rural people in her fiction. Poet Sharanya Manivannan believes in the magical quality of water and coasts. These writers get together to consider the way exposure to different geographies shapes human experience and action. Moderator: Poonam Sagar.

Saturday 18 October: Wine Tasting, 18.30-20.30 at Casa Luna

According to Persian mythology it was a woman who first discovered wine. For that we are thankful! Join us as award-winning Indonesian wine writer Yohan Handoyo leads us through a menu of full-bodied wines matched with some of our most sparkling Festival writers and accompanied by tasty tapas in this celebration of wine, women and words. Featuring: Peter Zilahy, Tishani Doshi, Sharanya Manivannan, Dino Umahu. Cost: Rp. 650,000 | AUD $82.

Sunday 19 October: Poetry of the Body 15.30-17.00 at HSBC Lounge

Whereas poet and dancer Tishani Doshi sees the body as the place “where the spiritual and the sensual combine”, Sharanya Manivannan has a fascination with the ancient Tamil concept of a potentially malevolent force that exists in women’s bodies. These two Indian poets will discuss poetry, women, dance and the body along with readings of their work. This session will be followed by a 30-minute documentary film on Indian dance featuring Tishani Doshi and her teacher Chandralekha, legendary dancer from South India. Moderator: Debra Yatim.

I was really looking forward to another panel on sacred geography, but it was cancelled as the other writer is not able to participate in the festival this year.

On another note, Books Actually in Singapore will stock limited copies of Witchcraft from next week.

I’m told that the website from which you can order the book will probably go up while I’m away. More info will be available soon. Hold your horses please! Will let you know when I know. Ditto about launches, etc. And lastly, remember the Exec Assistant? Yeah, she’s out of the picture. Irresponsible would be an understatement. So for any enquiries relating to publicity, interviews and events, please contact either sharanya dot manivannan at gmail dot com or bullfighterbooks at gmail dot com.

Okay, I’m off to island-hop and shoe-shop… I mean, work. :) See you after the 20th.

Why I Dropped Out of Kitab 2008

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When I was 17, I was a much more ambitious person than I am now. I wanted not just to write and create, to love and to live, as I do now – I was firmly committed to being the change I wanted to see in the world. It was, perhaps oxymoronically, altruistic ambition that drove me. I wanted to save people. Women, to be exact. I categorically read nothing but feminist literature. I wore sloganned T-shirts. I volunteered. I picked fights with people at every single sniff of sexism.

I was serious. And one of the things I did at this time was to start producing alone what I envisioned to be a series of events that would combine my two passions: live performance and activism.

This series was called “CRESCENDO: Raise Your Voice”, and its first installment was in aid of a Petaling Jaya-based women’s rights organization. It grew out, in part, of the opposition I encountered trying to produce and perform The Vagina Monologues at my college at the time (a compromise was reached: I could do one monologue and one piece with another actor, under the title The Valenki Monologues. Valenki is Russian for felt boots. Right up to when I left KL, I continued to be surprised by someone or the other who remembered me from the performance, years later — the little lace and leather skirt really must have been something, but I’m digressing). CRESCENDO was zero-budget and featured poetry and music by artists performing pro bono, with all funds raised going toward the charity.

A few days prior to the event, a mass email by someone who had directed, by coincidence, a production of TVM for said organization and who had had a massive falling out with them sent out a mass email calling for the boycott of the event I was organizing. To cut this long story short (and there is also much I could say about the similar propaganda-type hostility I encountered a year or two later trying to organize a CRESCENDO event in Chennai, but I won’t), the mass mail was timed so as to have a direct impact on the scheduled event. Interestingly, the fallout gained me a certain notoriety that dogs me to this day – and roped in even more performers who had heard about it only because of the controversy. But here’s the thing — whether the organization had been at fault in their dealing with the director was not, to me, the issue by this point. That a long delay in addressing the issue was made, and somebody else’s hard work was capitalized upon in order to finally do so, rendered things unethical.

Something similar happened to this year’s Kitab festival. While I won’t go into details, allegations were thrown. Allegations timed to coincide with the few days before this festival, professional and personal battles that really should have been handled months ago. The timing reeked of deliberate sabotage. Because of my prior experience, I could not empathise with those who chose to bring up their allegations now. They may be right. But their methods leave me out in the cold.

Counter-allegations came. By this point, the damage was done. Sponsors fled. Bad press (and this is why I can blog about the matter: it’s already out there). The whole picture is still emerging, and there may be more than just two sides to this coin. Having been responsible for my own flights and accommodation, the difficult decision of whether to take a risk on what had suddenly become a very unsolid investment had to be made.

I chose not to go. I can reroute my tickets. But I won’t be able to recoup the losses of paying to be at an event with bad turnout or bad publicity (and please — if you’re thinking about giving me the line about no publicity being bad publicity, hold it — I would know. As Jeet said, controversy is my poodle: she follows me everywhere).

I am deeply disappointed – I was looking forward to Kitab since the middle of last year. But logic prevails. Being self-sponsored, in simple terms, means that if an investment will likely not produce returns, one doesn’t make it. The terms of my invitation – zilch sponsorship and no honorarium – were accepted in the interest of what seemed to be a good, strategic investment. But they no longer make sense.

I wish Pablo Ganguli and Kitab 2008 the very best. I regret not being able to be involved, but due to the current circumstances, my participation does not seem viable. While I do not wish to take sides in the current situation, and can clearly see that neither party is guilt-free in the matter, I certainly do resent the fact that the commitments, time and even expenses of participants like myself who only have to lose should the festival fall through were not taken into account by those who waited a year to publicly make their complaints.

Also see: Peter Griffin’s all-sides round-up.

Copywriting

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I fell into one of the blessings in my life, journalism, by accident six years ago. It happened nine months after high school, a period in which I did nothing but dance, write, co-edit a special edition of a poetry zine, attend readings and other randomly boho things of little satisfaction to the many wing-clippers around me, one of whom took me to several university fairs. Nothing came out of the fairs themselves; I would make a decision about college a few months later, motivated by entirely different developments. But it so happened that there was a booth at one of them run by the youth supplement of a national newspaper. The office was near my house, it would give me a great opportunity to get out of the house most frequently, and oh, I could write. So I joined them. One thing led to another and before I knew it, although I would carry on with some academic vocation or another, college slowly became redundant.

Today, under similarly serendipitious circumstances, I joined an ad agency as a copywriter. I hadn’t wanted the job even when I agreed to meet with them. But something made me go, and something made me decide to do it.

I looked up “copywriting” on the net for kicks. Was surprised and glad to see that I join enviable ranks. All of these fine writers were one-time copywriters too: Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey, Ogden Nash, Indra Sinha, Fay Weldon, Don DeLillo, Joseph Heller and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There’s some trivia for today. :)