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I was watching FlashForward – a TV show focused on high-concept narrative around a mysterious event, that caused nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for 137 seconds, during which time people see what appears to be a vision of their own life approximately six months in the future: a global “flashforward“.
It boggled my mind. 2020 pandemic reminds me a lot like that. A black swan at global scale. Nobody, not even the brightest of minds on this planet, could have predicted that. Well, Bill Gates did. But that’s debatable.

As I survived through the pandemic, I feel fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by the people I love, who made the over-long lockdown worthwhile. The black devastating year was a great teacher, and a living testament of my emotional intelligence – patience, perseverance, pluck, and compassion. Someone once asked me, if I have learned anything at all. So let me tell you what I learned. I have learned that nothing in life is permanent. I have learned that nothing can replace the pain of losing a loved one. Life is fickle. Everybody dies at the end. But if we mean something to someone, if we loved someone, we are not truly gone. As long as our memories remain in the heart of those we love, our tales are told, our music is listened, our books are read, our paintings are admired, a part of us, though little, continues to live in this world.
I have learned that happiness can be found in darkest of times. I have learned that little things in life can be beautiful beyond imagination. Sitting on the porch, and watching the sun fade into the sky – lying on the rooftop, and counting the stars as they emerge from the blanket of darkness – strolling on the crosswalk, holding hands of a loved one, while they whisper something in your ear – enjoying exquisite delicacies someone you prepared only for you.
I have learned that nature always finds a way to heal itself. Covid19, while it deeply scarred the lives of people across the globe, there are things in nature which we never realized were there. Dolphins returned to Venice. Himalayan ranges can be seen from certain parts of Punjab. Clear blue skies, vibrant sunsets — colours that I so wanted to see in Hyderabad for the last 7 years– were all here.
I have learned that you can find love in weirdest of places in weirdest of ways. And that lockdowns can be beautiful. Nothing can really replace the feeling of spending the moments with someone you love. No materialistic thing in this world is, and will ever, be capable of that.
I have learned that sometimes we should follow our hearts, and take its guidance. If you want to meet someone, spend time with someone, never ever think twice. Life rarely gives a second chance.
I have learned that as you grow, the number of friends trims down. Fake and pretentious people leave, and those who are true remain. It’s a process of selection.

Having lived a good part of the year in silent contemplation of various aspects of life, I’ve come to realize that nothing in life holds permanent. A year filled with pain of losing a loved one, joy of finding new love, opportunities missed, chances not taken (which sometimes never come), decisions – good and bad, lost friends, regrets. I realized that life is fickle after-all. Humans are minuscule in grand scheme of things, and sometimes we don’t have a choice. All we can do is wait, and watch events unfold in mysterious unpredictable ways.

Last year was truly special because of two major events in my life. I met a wonderful woman, Keeya, my life partner, because of whom the lockdown turned out to be the best gift I could’ve asked for.
I also took a difficult decision relocating to North American shore. As much deeply as I want to pen about it, perhaps it’s a long story for another time.

When everything is over, when the worst has happened… there’s still one thing left in Pandora’s box — hope — hope that everything will be okay. It has to be. It’s a cycle of life.

March 23, 2020 – A date that still sends the shivers down me. I saw my net worth plummet like a rock to 47%. Nifty was at 7600, and I just didn’t know how to react. Wonderful businesses were selling at throw away prices, and I had no clue if I should buy or sell. As I reminisce those unprecedented times, I am fortunate to have held onto the businesses I believed in. I kept calm, and pretended I was living under a rock, as if nothing has happened. Albeit my floccinaucinihilipilification of the market bottom lost me a multi-decadal opportunity, the feeling of coming out of it unscathed is unparalleled, and can’t be expressed in words. Patience is the silent acceptance that things can unfold in a different order than planned.

As we’re at the fag end of an unfortunate year, here is a list of things I learned in 2020.

  1. It is often when one least expects it that fate arrives at our door. We can’t foresee it any more than we can escape it. No matter how hard we run or hide, fate, like death, will always find us.
    You can’t always plan for unprecedented times. Be flexible. Learn to adapt
  2. You don’t seek love. Oftentimes, you find it in weirdest of places in weirdest of times
  3. You don’t find excellence. You build it and then it takes you places
  4. Developed countries are not always developed in everything. The first thing that I missed in Vancouver is the disruption from Mukesh Ambani in India
  5. Loneliness is real. It’s hard to make friends abroad
  6. Stay away from pretentious, dishonest people. They suck all your energy and positivity. If you spot a pathological liar, run as far, and as fast as you can
  7. The colour of Autumn is worth all the hype. Despite being ephemeral, and a showstopper of destruction, it oozes positivity. I realize why writers have been musing over romantic October evenings, Cinnamon brown leaves, benches filled with dried leaves, for eons.
  8. Life doesn’t always give second chances
  9. Plan for FIRE as early in your life as you can. Timing the market is a futile exercise. Time in the market matters
  10. Lockdowns can be beautiful – if you’re stuck with the right person
  11. Be grateful for the good health you got. Other things in life may not hold much value, if you’re not healthy
  12. Never ever tie your happiness with wealth. Your wealth can erode in a single unfortunate day

Cheers to yet another year! And remember, Anni, amori e bicchieri di vino, nun se contano mai – “Years, Lovers and Glasses of wine… these are the things never to be counted”

Copyright © 2021, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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I am writing this, from my apartment, scared, and defiant, trying to adjust myself to the new realities of life and finding calm in the chaos. My brain still can’t handle the fact that we’ve been caught up, in-between what they call, once-in-a-century pandemic. Spanish flu, infamous as pandemic of twentieth century, infected one-third of the world’s population. And today, we are struck again by a novel virus.

Bill Gates — “The next outbreak? We’re not ready”

Interestingly, Bill Gates had warned us about an outbreak like this in one of his TED talks, dated April 3rd, 2015.

If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic

If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.
The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola.

Ebola killed about 10,000 people that year,  and nearly all were in the three West African countries. Because of nature of the virus, it didn’t spread more. Ebola does not spread through the air. And by the time you’re contagious, most people are so sick that they’re bedridden. 

So next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola, or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse. 
In fact, let’s look at a model of a virus spread through the air, like the Spanish Flu back in 1918. So here’s what would happen: It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly. And you can see over 30 million people died from that epidemic. So this is a serious problem. We should be concerned. 

In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic. 

From Bill’s Ted talk

How bad is this?

Covid-19, a name rarely heard three months ago, is on the lips, and in the mind, of every living individual on the planet today. Coronavirus fear is deepening in our hearts, with each passing day, forcing us to reassess our priorities. The panic is real. The threat is real. I am waking up to new heart wrenching numbers every morning. The day isn’t far, when it would reach every nook and corner of the world. Soon, each one of us, may know at least one infected person. We could have contained it. But we didn’t. USA downplayed it. So did Italy, and Spain. Countries with 2003 outbreak scars, seemed to control it well — South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong — until cases started rising again.

As I type this, USA and Italy have surpassed China’s numbers, with Italy — “The China of Europe” — accounting for one-third of world’s Coronavirus death toll. It has only begun, far from done, pushing the world into a fresh recession, as bad, or worse than, 2008, and challenging & overwhelming world class healthcare system.
If this is the situation in developed countries, I can’t seem to think what would happen in India, for it scares the hell out of me. I suspect the official numbers may be vastly dwarfed by the actual numbers. 21 days lock down is only a beginning. After effects will be far worse, and daunting. The blog — Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now — says a lot of things, things one should know.

Coronavirus cases worldwide

We can mitigate it

Exploding number of cases is blowing whistles and raising alarm across the globe. It took 67 days to reach the first 100k, 11 days for the next 100k and 4 days for the next 100k. Before it becomes catastrophic, uncontrollable (are we already there?) and renders us into history — like World War – II, 9/11 — it needs to be taken very seriously. And for that, each one of us, have to play our part seriously, patiently, and wisely. One infected person can reignite the sparks in regions where we have successfully extinguished the fire.
We still don’t understand the virus enough. It took nearly twenty months to find a cure of less 2003 outbreak. We have got one chance of saving the humanity, going into flames, by doing nothing. Let’s not waste the opportunity. Do what a hero does in situations like these. Please stay home. World War – II and 9/11 have given us enough scars. We don’t need a third one.
As they say, nothing lasts forever. We will come out of this, stronger and better. It’s a war of resilience, more than the fittest.

Is technology making it worse?

The advancement in technology has greatly eased our lives. But it comes with side effects. Coronavirus originated from Wuhan, a province in China. Before we took it seriously, we had cases in every other country and territory in the world. We are more connected than ever. Cheaper air travel and change in how we run businesses, exposed us to greater risk of spreading the virus much much faster. The question is not, who or what to blame. The question is, how do make best use of the technology in our hands, while avoiding its side effects.

Coping up with stress and anxiety

News channels and social media, flooded with Coronavirus, are polluting air with distress. With all these around, the question is, how do we cope up with stress, anxiety and fear. Once a hypothesis has become a reality. What-if is shadowed by Now-what.

I’ve been staying at home since March 20th, have stepped outside for groceries only twice for short while. I am writing, playing Piano and reconnecting with people I lost touch with. Most of the conversation I have over audio/video calls, revolves around the pandemic. I am trying hard to hold my sanity altogether — to not allow my mind to wander in distress. I am keeping my hope up — the darkness will clear up, and the sun will shine again.

Coronavirus is giving you a gift,
The gift of time —
To rekindle relationships,
To spend time with your loved ones,
To read a book,
To reflect on your priorities,
To realize there are far more important things in life than money —
A gift of self realization.
Use it before it’s gone.

How are you coping up with the situation? Let’s share and stay strong. This too, shall pass.

Copyright © 2020, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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