Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Be Kind to Yourself

"The world does not revolve around you."
I don’t know who else needs to hear this, but I certainly do. There are days when I am almost paralyzed because of what is happening in the world around me.
Violence. Injustice. Poverty. Hopelessness.
A virus. Cyclones. Locusts.
A world seemingly spiraling out of control.
It breaks us. Every story of suffering. Of women giving birth and continuing on their journey. Of men almost reaching home after walking several hundred miles, and coming to hear of the death of a child. Of the wife who kept waiting for her husband to return, not knowing he had died and been cremated. Of the man who died of hunger because there was no food to be bought on train he was on.
We feel guilty because we cannot do enough.
But we need to realize that we have limited means, limited influence, limited time.
We can do our best, but that’s all we can do. We cannot feed every hungry person. We cannot bring back any of the lives lost to negligence. We certainly cannot change the direction of a cyclone so it expends it’s fury over the sea. We cannot reverse what has been done.
If we could, we would. But we can’t.
And beating ourselves up doesn’t help.
All it does is break us from within.

And then we feel guilty about feeling the way we do. We tell ourselves that others are worse off than us, and we have no right to feel broken or scared. It seems almost disloyal to acknowledge our helplessness. But the reality is that we are all overwhelmed, confused, worried.
Just because someone is worse off doesn't mean we cannot give in to our fears. Our feelings are real too. Very real.
We too are badly affected. And our emotional needs also count. Being kind to others is important, but before that, we need to be kind to ourselves too.
We should continue to be empathetic. Because empathy is what makes us what we are. But we should not allow our empathy to incapacitate us.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


I smile in anticipation after finding a piece of shriveled ginger in the fridge. With fresh ginger no longer available, this piece is pregnant with possibilities. I drop it into boiling water, and wait for the flavours to seep out.
Ginger is not just ginger. It can be adrakwali chai.

“Thoda chai patti aur shakkar de sakte ho?”, a man asked my friend when she at the grocer.
A stranded laborer, he was getting food from the government. But it was chai he craved for.
She gave him all the money in her purse, wishing she had more.
Back in the space which his family inhabits, he will brew chai for his wife and child. As they sip the sugary concoction together, at least for a few moments, the city would feel like home.
Chai is not just chai. It never was. Chai is belonging.

I drop the Red Label chaipatti in. And wait.

In camps where stranded laborers are housed, they wait for 4 pm. Chaitime.
Today there is no chai. The camps have run out of money. They barely have enough for food.
Reduce the food, they say, but give us our chai.
Chai is not an essential, but it is necessary to stay alive.

The steaming beverage on a hot summer day. The sugar rush it provides.
Chai is belonging.
It is the feeling of being wanted.
Of letting you forget you situation.
Of making you feel that you are in control.
I pour the chai into my favourite mug, and inhale deeply. The pungency of the ginger hits me like a tsunami. Carries me away to the ocean where only chai drinkers go.
Chai means different things to different people.

Handloom Face Masks

 Couple of weeks back, a friend and I were joking about getting handloom face masks to match our blouses. I was dreaming of face masks in ikat and indigo mul, when the pop-up ads started appearing.

Two and three layer masks in handloom or handprinted cotton. Some reversible, all beautiful.

They were so beautiful, and with the linkages to providing livelihood in the handloom sector, and for women tailors, they appealed on more than just aesthatics.

But do these masks really work? When I set out to find out, I realised that most of those mask do not serve the purpose for which they are designed.

The purpose of the masks is to act as a physical barrier to prevent the spread of the virus through respiratory droplets suspended in the atmosphere. Which means, the fabrics and/ or combination of fabrics should be tested for the ability to filter out particles.

The efficiency of filtration of these aerosols was tested on various fabrics and combination of fabrics, especially cotton. Since the size of the droplet is not known, the fabrics were tested for aerosols from 10 nm to ∼10 μm sizes.

Details of the study are given in the article, but to sum up, a double layer was more effective than a single layer, and a combination of fabrics worked better than multiple layers of the same fabric.

Two layers of cotton provides protection of above 70%, but only if thread count is 600 TPI.

Coming to handlooms. Handloom is not densely woven, and has thread count of 80-200. Two layers of 80 TPI provides protection as low as 40%.

Though handlooms look nice, they aren't effective as face masks.

The most effective masks would be a combination of cotton-silk or cotton-chiffon, but both fabrics should have tight weaves.

In the absence of a certifying authority, we should be careful before buying and using a handloom mask- if it doesn't protect, is it worth wearing?

We should certainly support handloom and handmade, but we should also insist on the face masks performing the purpose for which they are designed.

Incidentally, four layers of silk (a scarf wound around) provides upto 85% protection.

Details here-

Photograph taken from the web.


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