The first question everybody asks me nowadays is, “Where are you Elsa?”
Not surprising, because if you know me, you are aware of my hectic travel schedule. And with the current COVID19 health scare resulting in social distancing and lockdowns enforced in various countries, my friends and acquaintances are concerned about my wellbeing.
Luckily for me, when the situation started to deteriorate in India, I was still in Mumbai which is my home. I had a series of overseas trips ahead of me for the next three months and whilst I was evaluating to pro-actively cancel my travel, the government issued instructions which informed my decisions. So now, I have no travel plans for the next few months and am getting used to staying at home in Mumbai. This is indeed a welcome change and luxury because for the past three years, I have hardly spent more than two weeks in a row at home.
Recognising that this is a major crisis early on, I led from the front and advised my family, team and friends to practice social distancing. Except for my early morning exercise routine, I hardly stepped out of the house except for essentials. I made sure my mum who is 72 years didn’t step out either. My household help was taught the right way to wash hands and instructed to sanitise herself when she came into the house. We stocked up on essential food items for at least a month — rice, lentils, tea and other daily items. Currently, like the rest of India, we are in a full lock down mode and have no outside movements.
My organisation, Red Dot Foundation, primarily functions remotely and it was only recently that we were contemplating moving into an office. Even so, whilst my team is used to working from home, they are not used to being locked down completely. With our workshops, events and all public facing events coming to a standstill and with family members also at home, it can be difficult to work given that most of us don’t have very large apartments in India. Therefore, we started a daily team call where we check in with each other and find out how each one is doing. We are also using this time to up-skill our knowledge and refresh our training offerings in preparation for the new academic year in June.
Everyday, our team members do an internal webinar on different topics that they have researched and which we believe might be of interest to a larger audience. Topics such gaslighting, marital rape, domestic violence, etc have been discussed using case studies, quizzes, films and role plays. Through these exercises, the team is learning to be digital facilitators as well as collaborate virtually. We as a team are spread over six cities in India and many have not met each other in person. So, we find this exercise very valuable to bond and get closer as a team. Shortly, we will be rolling these internal learnings out to an external audience as sharing circles and webinars.
I find the current situation in many ways similar to the time in 2012 when my airline Kingfisher Airlines went bankrupt. Suddenly my colleagues and I found ourselves with an uncertain future and plenty of time on our hands. One of the things I did then, which I found useful, was to make a list of all the things I didn’t have time to do earlier when I was busy and could do now. I have employed a similar approach this time too as I have learned from that experience the value of time.
Some of the things I am currently focused on:
- Exercise regularly. When one is on the road constantly, it is extremely hard to stick to an exercise regimen. So I am really making an effort to stick to my exercise routine every morning. We have now moved our fitness class to zoom and the virtual group effort is encouraging and motivating. Exercising daily is important at this point because it is very easy to become lethargic and lose a sense of normalcy.
- Staying positive. From the time in 2012, I have trained my brain to think positive. Now, more than ever before, I am actively thinking of this skill and trying to get others to also stay positive. My team for example started the lockdown a bit negative. Not surprising as they are fairly young, have never experienced major setbacks and are unsure of uncertainty. But the daily check-ins are helping and diverting the mind to focus on group activities like the learning sessions is also keeping them occupied. My mum always says, “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”.
- Reorganising my cupboards. Not quite a Marie Kondo moment but I am de-cluttering. I have started to re-organise my stuff. It is astonishing to find the amount of junk we accumulate over the years. This period has taught me that we don’t really need too much, and we will be fine if we live on just what we need. In the process, I have found greeting and thank you cards, pictures of self with friends and other items that brought back many happy memories.
- Connecting with friends and family. I now have the time to speak to many people in different time zones at leisure and am using this opportunity to check in with them and reconnect if we have lost touch. My family lives in Singapore and Australia and on a daily basis, we talk and share stories on how our countries are coping with the health crisis. It is a pleasure to spend extended virtual time with my nieces and not feel rushed when they are sharing their paintings or telling me a story or just hanging out.
- Silence and meditation. This is a moment to pause and reflect. There is no pressure to get anything done or be somewhere else. So am truly making the effort for quiet time, breathing and reflection. I am getting comfortable with silence and solitude even in this digital environment.
We can choose how we address and respond to this crisis. My parting advice is “Be Present” as we have no idea what the future holds. So, as we get used to this new normal, I wish you, your family and loved ones a peaceful, safe and restful time.
(This was written on the request of Ana Patel, Founder of Noisy Women)