The Next Action

Too long; Will not read: Old wives got it right. First Things First. One step at a time. Rest between tasks. 

There is irony in the fact it took covid to drive in the impact of simplicity in tasks of daily living to me. Covid left many with an inability to sustain effort beyond a very short period. During the initial weeks after recovery, I struggled to put in 10 minutes of work, and many months later, still struggle to sustain effort for as little as 30-45 minutes.

David Allen, the proponent of GTD or Getting Things Done differentiates tasks and projects by saying anything that requires more than one step or one action is a project. We cannot “do” projects, but only the next logical action or step required to move the project forward. As I dealt with the reality of self isolation and impaired energy and attention, the next action helped find closure on activities of daily living, cooking, doing dishes, cleaning house.

Mixed Vegetables Fry


I was unable to embark on a task like cooking a meal and see it to completion at one go. So I started chunking it into next actions. Batching purchases based on a menu plan. Taking the veggies out of the fridge and keeping them on the counter. Taking out the chopping board and knife. Keeping a small bowl for waste near the chopping board. Similarly for recipes, chunking up tasks helped - making the paste, marinading, roasting spices for grinding, etc. I also learned how to make base preps and freeze them for subsequent use - mixed purees, boiled lentils, chopped and steamed veggies, gravy bases, marinades, etc.

I would work out the next action for each of the preparations and tasks needed to get the meal off the ground, and do them in periodic shorts bouts of effort. This often meant I started prepping tomorrow’s meal tonight. It took a little getting used to but once I got fluent, I wondered why I didn't do this all these years.

Another “hack” I deployed was to use time and heat to do the heavy lifting. Almost every culinary culture has its own variation of the “one pot.” Basically this throws a combination of carbs, proteins and fats, with spices and flavoring into a pot and slow-cooking them to release the flavors and goodness to a delicious climax. Kunda chicken, sous vide fish and poultry, khichdis and khichdas, rasallas, steamer fowl curries, dum biryanis, the list is endless. These all allow you to invest in small amounts of prep and then let time and heat do their thing. This also let me take breaks from being at the stove for a long stretch.


In the interest of public health, there was no help available to keep the house clean. But dust and grime don't care for your inabilities. So I learned to clean one room at a time, dusting and sweeping one day and mopping and decluttering another. In the course of three to four days, the whole house would get a once over. Thankfully, with the self isolation, things took longer to get dirtier, so in the long run, things evened out.


Two events trigger dishes - cooking and eating. So cook less frequently and eat less frequently. Cooking tends to generate more dishes than eating, especially if you are eating in self isolation. The symptomatic days made it more practical to batch dishes into one manageable session in the least frequent intervals. But later, when it was more an issue of energy versus letting water exposure and effort trigger a symptomatic crisis, it made more sense to clear out dishes from eating immediately after the meal. For cooking, using the waiting time between steps in the recipe to clear out accumulated dishes ensured the sink stayed manageable. I remembered all the domestic science advice I received all my life but never paid heed to.


The pandemic turned shopping on its head better than all the marketing gurus had been trying to do over the last 10 years. From the initial days of online groceries (2013 when Bigbasket sponsored the second Hyderabad Bloggers Meet), we had moved to the hyperlocal quick commerce models fully aware of the ecology/environment compromises being made. For everyone who needs groceries in 10 minutes or less, I have one thing to say - you aren’t organized much. But I am often guilty of starting a recipe with two ingredients missing, so I forgive us all. 

Quick commerce also allows me to buy small quantities of what I need to avoid wastage. Since I buy into the subscription models, I can place smaller orders and get the benefits of membership, of course, the ozone be damned. And I am still struggling with plastic and waste. But hey, I think about it. Better than virtue signalling or blowfishing, kada?

You still here?

Slow down. Life is short. Very short. You don't realize it till the finish line is in sight. Age, infirmity, disability and tragedy creep up on you faster than the vultures that circle our skies. Prioritize. Time. Energy. Attention. Affection. Take rest. Self care. 

Live meaningfully. Let your living have meaning. Not just to yourself. But to all who look at your life.

Assuming someone looks.

Why Don't I Write

Four decades back, almost to the day, a middle aged man with a paunch yelled out to me across a vast hillside as I was watering the concrete slabs that would later become a place for thousands to gather to revere the guru. “Write a book!”, he shouted over the sounds of the breeze and birds. This was during a few months of clear thinking bookended by deserts of darkness. While I considered him one of my lifelong mentors, I have not written a book. I have blogged. This blog has nearly 400 posts with an average of 800 words each. That’s a few books if you ask me. Thankfully, nobody asks.

I wandered frequently but was rarely lost. I repeatedly fell prey to my weaknesses, for fame, pleasure, money, popularity, but was always gifted the strength to climb back on my horse and head north. I often took these gifts, and other gifts, for granted. Sometimes, I found in me the capacity to be grateful, truly grateful.

In an age of instant news, instant unfollows, and instant validation, we have lost our capacity to reason, to revere, to remember. We no longer view history as learning but filter it to suit our beliefs. We code for neural networks without appreciating the sutras of a Patanjali or the timeless transmigrations of a Pythagoras. We look to science for data to build unicorns instead of understanding the love hate relationship planets have with the sun. We count down instead of counting up. 

I write to put in perspective the dualities that make existence possible. I write to leave a record of my time, of the times I remember, and the times I have learned about. I write to put in perspective that there is goodness and greatness in our genes, that there is evil and entropy too, and that this battle is the meaning of life. 

I write to remind myself of the mystery that is me, that is you, that is us. I write to acknowledge and overcome all that I do not wish to be, and to celebrate and strive towards all I can. The being in the human being comes into existence without a user manual. The product design is that the laws of nature and nurture, of parenting, teaching, and friendship will build for each being its own unique user manual. All of us are broken in some ways, alone at some times, despairing at others. None of our journeys are free from breakdowns and wrong turns. Yet, here we are magnificent and victorious, ready to look the abyss and our own destruction in the eye. I write to leave behind my user manual so it can be used as a template by those who need it. 

This Frog Is My Stone

This is not a picturebook. This is my frog.

Why I walked, why I am going to hit publish at the end of this page, and whether it will be different this time around. 


Why I walked

I have gotten used to explaining myself, so here goes. My attempt to build community over shared concerns made me face three truths - my own “genuine impostor” status, the immense depth and breadth of commitment that my fellow travelers brought to the table, and the abundance of “perpetrator victims”in the field. Not everyone who is wounded is a healer, no matter how bad you hurt. Further, my effort to build community through writing was short-selling my commitment to writing as an art. I will be dragged through the mud but copywriting and SEO are not art, and if there is a tragedy greater than climate change and strident identity based politics in our times, it is the sacrifice of art and artists at the altar of commerce. 

Why I am going to hit publish

I write to overcome entropy, to make peace with darkness, and to give thanks for the pain. I write to celebrate the gift of language, the music of the worlds, and to laugh at the mirror.  I am not writing to make the world a better place. I write to remind my future self that there never was, never will be a better place. I am going to hit publish because I have not done that in the last five years (barring the very personal series of paintings and poems from earlier that were pulled out of the drafts in an act of bravado that I will regret any day now). I am going to hit publish because I made a promise as a teenager that I would love her till the day I died. I am going to hit publish because I broke my promise again and again. I promised again and broke my promise again. And again. And each time, she let me back in, black coffee and buttered toast, wordlessly. 

Will it be different this time around?

I remember my mother often, bless her tortured soul. But never more than when I make her famous stone soup. Stone, water, salt, and heat. Seasoned with nigella seeds, green chili, and on splurgy days, a hint of ginger or fresh coriander leaves. Garnished with raw mustard oil. Of course, there were tweaks and tricks, the powdered cumin and turmeric, the slurry of flour, and the fried onions to hold the soup together. If she had potatoes and pointed gourd, great. If she had fish, super. But to set the ball rolling, all she needed was stone. This frog, this tub of concrete I have stood myself in, this hitting publish, is my stone. This frog is my leap of faith that I will be able to say what I need to say to myself, all else be damned. I have taken this leap many times in the past, only to have to retreat into my cave to nurse myself back to willingness to be. Every time, I took the wrong turn and started saying what I wanted others to hear. This time, it is different. I am different. I am old. And tired. Tired of explaining myself. Tired of working around the wounds of others. And I won’t be fooled again. Music of the worlds. 

Bay leaf and fenugreek seeds to follow.  

Come Of Age

So I cry, come of age
I see you, see how you hurt
So I don't hurt you
Living out a generic curse.

So I turn and walk away, come
You don't ask me to stay
Dinner with Dolores
Ready, really, any price to pay.

So you look down on you, age
You are not broken or wrong
I am a mindless, soundless tear
I am an unsung song.

So I sleep tonight, of age
Wouldn't ever do anything else
I want to feel the universe
Want to unring all the bells.

Not Eliot

Between those happenings that prefigure it
And those that happen in its anamnesis
Occurs the Event, but that no human wit
Can recognize until all happening ceases.

~ W.H. Auden

Not Eliot 

The times I wrote

I am not this, I am not that,
Prince Hamlet, Lord Rama,
Jiddu, Osho or Narendra Modi,
Do not summarize that nothing
Is it at all. Not Keats. Not Mann.
Not anybody else at all.

For we have nothing new
To write, to say, to paint, to sing
All we had, warts and all, are in the past
A mistaken but undeniable past.
Another nailcut and I will have
Clipped away my dance with
Everybody that there ever was.

Each one of us ships at night
Working less trying to achieve more
Meaning, purpose, love, legacy
All Joyced in the flood of time.
Million artists a million lifetimes
Passionate, convinced, determined
Pawns at the feet of fears, commerce and survival.

Hollow men are we filled
With fraudulence and vanity
Time wipes all slates clean and our children
Do the goosestep of hating all we
Stood for. For all we stood for
Was a selfish premise. Of what we thought
Was right. Not knowing that nothing is really ever right.


You fear
Art is when you or I see and hear what the artist sees and hears even if it is just

Or symbols
From your real life palm fronds hiding everyone knows for example rhetorically

Dog dreams
Since human
Dreams could never match up or even reflect what might be meant by symbols like

Checkout counter
Five items or less
Cash me my reward points I am never coming back, ever, nothing ever could, not even

A Scratch

We built you
Not by design
But because we loved each other so.
Not a scratch.

You are us
Chosen by that
We never could claim to understand.
Not a scratch.

The world is
On our side
Sometimes we need to be taught.
Not a scratch.

Nothing can
Stand in the way
Of what we are destined to become.
Not a scratch.

We invite
The bruises and hurts
That are needed to set all of us free.
Not a scratch.

Look up, ours
The road ahead needs
Fortitude, forbearance, compassion and strength.
Not a scratch. No.

Nothing can
Stand in the way.
Not rejection, not insults, not blame.
Surely not.

Not a scratch.

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