Dr. Vivek Murthy – COVID-19, Anchors and Loneliness

The latest (#417) episode of The Tim Ferriss Show is with the former Surgeon General of the United States of America, Dr. Vivek Murthy. He spoke of various things that made this episode an enjoyable listen – how he would have handled the COVID-19 pandemic, anchors and loneliness.

I just loved listening to his calm voice. I hope he takes Tim’s suggestion of starting a podcast seriously.

From his suggestions on how he would have handled the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Lead with Science in your decision making and Scientists in your communication.
  2. Be transparent with the public. This is key to building and maintaining trust. This also creates accountability.
  3. Provide resources needed by the people in the front line. This means things like providing Private Protection Equipment to people in the front line.

Dr. Murthy says “Remember your anchors” is a reminder he developed when he was serving time in residency dealing with life and death on a daily basis. He defines anchors are forces that anchors his life. These are people, in his case, like his parents and friends. He tries to stay connected with his anchors because he found that the times when he found himself to be anxious and worried was usually the times when he had lost touch with his anchors.

Dr. Murthy’s friend provides a definition of friendship that I particularly liked. A real friend is someone who reminds you of who you are even if you forget.

Dr. Murthy said that he had begun writing and talking about loneliness when he found that people at his workplace did not step out of their place to help others. He instituted a practice of sharing an employee’s non-work related life once a week. This 5 minute practice, over time increased helpfulness among employees and productivity at the workplace. He says, the lack of connection has an effect on health and also is a basis of social connection.

He thinks that organisations should work on loneliness at the workplace because it has an impact on the organisation’s retention capability and profitability. He said asking employees if they had a friend at the workplace showed an impact on their engagement at the workplace.

His book, Together (Amazon Affiliate Link) , to be released on April 28, 2020, called Together, is about loneliness but also deals with workplace loneliness.

In passing, Tim Ferriss mentioned an essay by Tim Urban called the The Tail End. Tim says this essay had an impact on the more time that he spent with his family since reading the essay.

In the essay, Tim Urban says that he would spend less than a year’s worth of time with his parents for the rest of his life compared to the first 18 years of his life. Hence, he says that he is down to the last 5% of the total time he would spend with his parent. He says that he is at the tail end in terms of time he would spend with his parents. Hence he says he wants to improve the quality of time that he spends with them.

Working from Home

For the past three weeks, I have been working from home. We are faced with a global pandemic that, as on today, has affected more than 5,00,000 people all across the globe and more than 800 people in India. My work place allowed us to work from home during the period. The period of work from home was extended after the Prime Minister of India announced a 21-day national lock down.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

Before I got to work from home, schools and colleges shut down. Then IT companies in Pune asked its employees to work from home. Our fiber optic cable based internet provider faced issues for a few days but seems to have stabilized two days into the 21 day lock down. Over the last few days, there have been power outages where I had to switch to my Jio hotspot to access the Internet to continue to work.

My nearly 3 year old daughter does not understand why things are shut down. The concept of a lock down is alien to her. Her explanation for why the school is shut is that her teacher is asleep. At the rate at which the lock down is getting extended, I think her class teacher will soon compete with Kumbhakarna.

Despite having heard podcasts about working from home and having read various articles and online websites about working from home, I did not find myself prepared for this transition. Since we live in a 2 bedroom apartment, I was able to assign one bedroom for me. However, it has been getting more and more difficult to demarcate work time and home time. They have been fluid so far.

Internet speed and power outages have affected my productivity besides the usual transition time to getting used to a new setting. Focusing on work when you can hear your family members next door is difficult. I have been getting better at tuning out the noise as time passes.

A few months back, I had started listening to the Distributed podcast started by Matt Mullenweg (co-founder of WordPress, that powers this blog) that spoke of how to re-imagine the work place of the future when everyone was at home. His company, Automattic is totally distributed.

Om Malik, founder of GigaOm, wrote a piece a few days back about working from home. The article links to further resources that might help in your quest to work from home. He had started a website called WebWorkerDaily way back in 2006 to think about the distributed future of our work place.

The Rudest Book Ever (2020) – Shwetabh Gangwar

I heard of Shwetabh Gangwar on the day my credit got added to my Audible account as a suggested book for me. Reading about him, found out that he was a professional problem solver on Instagram using the handle @mensutra. He also has his own YouTube channel where he has been more active lately.

His book, The Rudest Book Ever (Amazon Affiliate Link) is built around three ideas –

  • People are weird
  • Rejections are common
  • We are not special

He then builds these three ideas up throughout the book applying it for fields like relationships, career advise, use of social media etc. Personally, I really loved the Chapter on how to think.

To me, with my limited experience came across as someone who apes the style of GaryVee and applies principles that I have heard on some Osho talks but falls vaguely in between. An interesting book to browse through especially if you have the airs about you being someone special and who are not used to accepting rejections easily.


I’ve subscribed to Ryan Holiday’s daily email newsletter, Daily Dad since I heard about it on his podcast with Peter Attia. Before this, I had struggled with answering questions related to bringing kids into such a violent world and the curbs on our freedom that they impose. In his newsletter edition on March 13, titled The Trade off is worth it (you can listen to the edition as a podcast) answered this question for me.

This is the last paragraph in the newsletter:

Most of the freedom I had before kids,” Paul Graham wrote, “I never used. I paid for it in loneliness, but I never used it.” It’s true for you too. It’s true for all of us. We’ve paid a high price for these kids, but we have gotten—we will keep getting—so much. 

The quote above is from Paul Graham’s essay on Having Kids, which is also a great read. That is a longer answer to Holiday’s concise one.

Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020)

When AK released in theaters, our daughter and financial priorities meant that we decided to wait for the movie to release on an OTT platform. AK came out on Amazon Prime this Friday (March 13, 2020). We decided to watch the movie at home. We streamed it on our television set using Chromecast.

The COVID-19 virus had hit Pune with 9 positive cases. People were being wary of visiting malls and theaters. So, we decided not to catch any of the new movies in the theater over the weekend.

I had watched YouTube interviews (one and two) of the cast which included Biju Menon and Prithviraj before watching the movie.

Poster art for the movie. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ayyappan Nair is a Sub-Inspector in a tribal area of Attappadi in Palakkad. Koshy is a retired havildar with an ego of having served in the Indian Army. The Police and Customs joint team arrest Koshy with liquor in a no-liquor zone. Upon arrest, Koshy makes his contacts known and the police are worried about the influence. Ayyappan Nair comforts Koshy with tactful words and seeks to appraise Koshy about the seriousness of his offence. Koshy now sobered by the realisation that he might have to spend time in jail, appeals to Ayyappan Nair’s humanity and the fact that he has a bedridden mother and two children at home, near Christmas time. Ayyappan Nair says he cannot help in the situation since it is a joint operation. Koshy acts as if he won’t be able to control himself if he can’t have a glass of alcohol. Ayyappan Nair commits a faux pas with encouragement from his superior of offering a glass of alcohol to Koshy who captures this on video in his phone.

This is the premise from which the whole movie starts. What follows are complications because of Koshy’s ego and Ayyappan Nair’s sense of justice that a person with influence can get away with so much in our society while the poor who have little or no-influence are made to suffer. Nair and his subordinate are suspended despite 27 years of unblemished Police service. Ayyappan Nair’s dismissal from police service returns him to his old ways – his wild animal self unleashed by knowledge of what a person with influence is able to accomplish. His wife is branded a Maoist and sought to be arrested. Ayyappan Nair’s good faith and trust built in his community, knowledge of the law and some good snooping skills are probably what saves him.

I find it hard to believe that Ayyappan Nair lets his guard down as Koshy films him at the beginning of the movie. He mistakes it for the fact that Koshy is looking for a contact on his phone. There wouldn’t be a movie if this didn’t happen.

As Koshy’s character develops, that his actions are not only ego-driven but are also a reflection of his relationship with his father. He seeks to gain his father’s approval which seems to drive his machismo. He soon learns of this, reprimands his wife for not having acted earlier despite living in fear and decides to teach his father a lesson.

Koshy also tries to teach Ayyappan Nair a lesson but interference by his father complicates a simple issue that the two men could deal with. Koshy admits defeat and claims that Police uniform is the only thing that would tame Ayyappan Nair’s wild animal reaction.

Ayyapan Nair’s tribal wife is one of those confident female characters who shatters Koshy’s machismo. It probably begins Koshy’s journey of self-realization and moderation. Ayyappan Nair’s journey back to moderation begins at the end of the movie.

The best way to end this review is to quote from another review:

This is a movie of two men and their egos. If you need an adrenaline rush and enjoy larger than life images venting out animalistic urges, go for this. It is a good watch for this day and age.

Anjana George, The Times of India

I’d recommend watching the movie.

Immortal for a Moment (2018) – Natasha Badhwar

I began reading Natasha Badhwar’s column for The Mint Lounge every Saturday before my marriage. Since, I began, I have got married and have become a father. The best way to write this review is perhaps to quote her to explain her writing. I don’t think I can do any justice writing it myself.

As usual, I am getting the reading all wrong. I am reading her last book first. Immortals for a Moment (Amazon Affiliate Link) is her second book after My Daughter’s Mum (Amazon Affiliate Link). It took me about two months to read the book starting on January 3 and ending on March 4. Some of the chapters are overwhelming and the depth of the matter leaves you thinking for quite a few days after you reading. Her writing made me observe my wife and my relationship with our daughter.

Let’s start with the title of the book. This quote comes towards the end, in between the last and the penultimate chapters –

Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.

Tennessee Williams

Most of Badhwar’s writing is routine, day to day happenings. But, as they progress, they somehow catch a glimpse of the eternal laws. She writes somewhere:

Stories trick us. A story that starts off looking like it’s my story turns out later to be everyone else’s story.

Natasha Badhwar

She talks about how writing helped her create a record of happenings that let her look back at her life and spot trends that she would have missed otherwise in her conversation with Amit Varma. In the book, she writes:

Writing connects the stories. The writing brain is usually not the social self. It is slower and smarter. Writing forces me to understand and unravel, rather than judge.

Writing makes us read better. I scour words by others, looking for sentences that say what I have also felt. I look for worlds that are more honest than the one I am stuck in. I am forced to become honest to deserve entry into a better world.

Writing can be a pious activity, like a prayer after a bath. It has to be done with a clean and honest intent. Its purpose is to focus our own mind so we can draw on our abilities.

Natasha Badhwar

Reading the book during a particularly troubled times in the backdrop of the CAA-NRC protests, I found some of her writing reflective. Especially since some of the arguments are with people we love.

I have given up on arguments without bothering to engage. But I am holding on to the belief that people are more than what they say they believe. It’s a waste of time to take them personally.

Natasha Badhwar

One of her observation made me learn about something I experienced in my past life as a bank clerk. Each document with a different spelling of the same name. But, only in the documents of the poor. It seemed that so many updates to the names that I made makes sense in light of this sentence:

‘We are poor,’ she said. People get offended if we have good names.

Natasha Badhwar

I’ve never felt particularly attached to any home that I have lived in so far. However, this definition of a home that she provides, makes me reconsider my own definition of home:

Home is a place you create inside yourself, we discover. It is a landing ground whenever we need to touch base with our own selves. The further we travel to immerse ourselves in an unfamiliar world, the closer we get to ourselves.

Natasha Badhwar

Her insights into parenting alone will require reading the book and her pieces in Mint Lounge. But, this is the crux, according to me, or my interpretation of her work:

One of the biggest lies of parenting is that the parents are always right. The second lie is that it is the children’s responsibility to make their parents happy when they grow up.

Natasha Badhwar

A passage of the book that I stayed with for a really long time was this:

Perhaps the greatest delusion of my life has been the belief that the world in which I was a child may have been the dark ages, but the world in which I have grown up to be an adult has to be far more enlightened and equitable than before. Social norms and attitudes that perpetuate injustice have remained tenacious. The news remains the same. Questions that had remained unanswered when I was a child still demand answers. If I do not want my daughters to internalise that violence is the inevitable fate of women in our society, I have to find a new language to speak to them. ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,’ Audre Lorde wrote in her book of essays, A Burst Of Light. The first time I had read this sentence, it cut through my cultural conditioning like a sheath of light. It demolished the notion that putting everyone else’s needs before one’s own is a virtue to be extolled.

Natasha Badhwar

Listening to people like Naval Ravikant speak, it seems to me that each generation is improving. This is the sense I’ve had. I do not reach a similar conclusion as she reaches reading the words of Audre Lorde. But, having a daughter and thinking from the point of view of my wife, I can see the pulls of social norms and attitudes affecting their thinking. It left me with the question of this difference in the way of looking at the world between men and women.

I’d just like to end to let you think through this thought near the beginning of her book:

In the beginning, we love like our life depends on it. Then we learn to live, because our love depends on it.

Natasha Badhwar

Her writing is simple, her observations are mind blowing and I think reading her work, whether in Mint Lounge or this book is worth your time. These are themes that we don’t think about in the course of our day.