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Death, Productivity and Distraction in the Covid Times

Death, Productivity and Distraction in the Covid Times

Yesterday, I was undone by the death of an actor, of all things.

As a child and then a teen and youth, I’d considered myself above fangirling. I liked the product (mostly books) and that was that. No interest in the person behind the art.

Ridiculous then, to be caught in the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, acceptance, all in the space of one evening. Irfan Khan died this Wednesday, and it seemed like a grave personal insult from the Universe straight to me. The actor from Life of Pi and Slum Dog Millionaire, from Lunchbox and Life in a Metro was gone just like that, and suddenly there’s no way we will see those eyes again in all their poetry and power. That man fit in more layered nuance in a glance or a vocal projection than many actors achieved with pages of dialogue.

He’s not the first great actor to die, but he was young, just 53, a powerhouse of talent. The loss might have felt personal because he embodied a kind of Asian masculinity that I’d grown up admiring, subtle yet strong and wise. Trustworthy. Relatable. Not smooth. 

He had also lost his 95-year-old mother 3 days ago, and not been able to attend her funeral due to the lockdown in Mumbai. Perhaps it was this unfairness that hit me square in the jaw. The way this story is repeated over and over and over again. Isolation in life is one thing, isolation in death, quite another. From the very beginning of this pandemic, I’ve heard of funerals that families and friends could not attend, deaths alone in hospital beds with a dozen tubes, with loved ones far away. Death is the great equalizer, but facing it in a hospital bed without being able to see a face you love, that’s torment none of us deserve.

And then Thursday, India lost Rishi Kapoor, and Chuni Goswami, both legends in their own right. I’m not a Kapoor fan, but the Bollywood songs he lip-synced to were the soundtrack of my childhood. I loved how he’d grown as an actor over his decades in cinema. I’m now terrified of what tomorrow would bring.

Everywhere on social media there are stories of doom and gloom, and this has shot my focus. Been trying to get stuff done on the writing front, which led to this article on writing productivity during the pandemic.

And in an effort to cheer myself, I found this live conversation between Stephen King and John Grisham, which got very absorbing very fast, when the two grand old men of fiction discuss bookstores, their books and their writing processes. Especially their plotter vs pantser banter. Stephen King can be so adorably dramatic when flipping out and lovable when he talks about his wife and the correction tapes on his typewriter; and Grisham goes on about the ‘strip at the bottom which gets a red thing that goes ding and then he wants to check it.’ Great to know that even the giants are not immune to the internet’s distraction machine!

So that’s my picture of the covid roller-coaster this week.

How’s life treating you? How’s the writing been? Reading? Life? Grocery shopping? Lockdowns? Comments have dipped lately, so if you do stop by, drop me a line instead of the usual Like. Be good to chat, hey.

Are you part of nay online or offline book groups? Founded any? What is the experience like? Do you think online book groups are similar to those offline?My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is available in India here.

Worldwide, here.

Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • | Purvasha | says:

    This is very relatable. Even though I’m not a big fan of bollywood either, it feels like a real personal loss to see our actors bid goodbye. But anyway, let’s cherish what we have and write about it! I’ve just begun my blog during this lockdown, so that’s a new hobby. And btw, nice blog. Thanks for sharing this

  • Yvonne V says:

    So much tragedy. 🙁

  • Kala Ravi says:

    The back to back deaths of two mighty legends of Bollywood were a big shock and loss to everyone. I was a big fan of both. I have rather mixed feelings about the times we are going through. Most of the times, I just think it is a dream, it really seems like an unbelievable dream, no, a nightmare that refuses to end. Other times, I am happy to have more time with my family and relieved we are safe together. I hope and pray, life gets back to some semblance of normal at the earliest. You keep safe too. Love.

  • Parul Thakur says:

    I hear you! I went through similar sort of grief on the deaths of these two actors. Mortality is a thing that we all know of but every time I hear of a death, I think of how cold and dark it is.
    My lockdown stories are made up of work and house chores. Video calling has been good though.
    I will check out the conversation that you mentioned. Take care, D!

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    I will check out the banter between the authors. It would give me the needed distraction from all the bad news. The death of Irfan Khan was shocking. That sheer talent, his persona! We truly lost a legend.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      It was a good distraction for me. What with one bad news after another, it makes me want to reach for distractions.

  • Obsessivemom says:

    There was something about Irfan Khan’s passing away that felt personal. Perhaps because he wasn’t a superstar in the Indian sense of it. He was more one-of-us kind of an actor. And then there was Rishi Kapoor. Only recently we were watching Bobby and he was just the cutest. You’re right about isolation in death being harder than isolation in life.

  • pythoroshan says:

    I need to check out the video of the banter between the two… I’ve always found Stephen King’s interviews and even his ‘prologues’ in his books where he talks about his writing process to be very illuminating.

    Work front is…well, it is in an operation theater and ICU during COVID times, so the less said the better. Food and tv shows remain the main escape from reality for now.

  • toconnell88 says:

    I’m saddened to learn this. I remember Khan from his two biggest roles. His performances were full of gravitas and he infinitely elevated Life of Pi, at least in my opinion. Our reaction to celebrity death is a curious phenomenon. We don’t know them personally so should have a degree of distance, but at the same time we emotionally invest in their work and often associate their films with moments in our own lives (almost like they’re timestamps; I distinctly remember where and how old I was when I saw Slumdog and Life of Pi, for instance).

    Anyway, any emotional response to death is valid. I think you’ve paid touching tribute to these actors. Looking forward to checking out the Stephen King clip! Take care!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks Tom–I didn’t intend a tribute to the stars, just a reaction, and how their deaths affected me last week. You’re so right when you say this: “We don’t know them personally so should have a degree of distance, but at the same time we emotionally invest in their work and often associate their films with moments in our own lives.”

      If you liked Khan, I’d suggest watching Lunchbox –it is one of his best works. He was so good with everything he touched.

      Hope you enjoyed the Stephen King clip. I was entertained for one solid hour.

      Thanks for dropping by and hope to see you often.

  • The dying alone thing yanks on my heart strings too. So much.
    Here there are signs that our lockdown (which was always soft) is easing. Hopefully not too soon.
    There are also flowers blooming, and neighbourhoods becoming more friendly (albeit from a safe distance).
    We are all in this together and I hope that kindness remains when the virus leaves.
    Stay well, Stay safe.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Sue, glad to hear of the recovery of your neighbourhood. They will relax restrictions in Singapore as well, starting today, But Covid will be a new fact of life, I think–not sure how soon we can eliminate it altogether.

  • Sad to see them pass on. They were an institution in themselves over many years.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      They were, Ian. Devastating to lose both in a span of two days.

  • firobertson says:

    Hi Damyanti, sending you best wishes from afar. It’s certainly a weird time, and there is a great deal of loss around the world. I know we’re being urged to ‘make the most of this time’ in social isolation, but it’s not so easy, we’re all on edge and many people have lost loved ones, jobs, homes etc.
    I’m fortunate to be with family but I’m still not writing – just a little editing if I can.
    I think just managing day-to-day life is a great success, and writing or creating is a bonus.
    Take care. xx

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks so much for stopping y, Fiona, and the kind words. Like you, I’ve not been very productive writing-wise, and editing is going slow. I plan to spend today immersed in my manuscript.

      Managing day to day sounds like my life, too.

      Take care of yourself, and stay safe. xx

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!!.. it is sad when someone leaves this mortal world, but their memory occupy a special place in your heart and be with your always… 🙂

    Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there, I do not sleep
    I am a thousand winds that blow
    I am the diamonds glints in the snow
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain
    I am the gentle autumn rain
    When you awaking in the morning hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight
    I am the soft star that shines at night
    Do not stand by my grave and cry
    I am not there, I did not die
    (Mary Frye)

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for sharing these lines, Larry. So appropriate and consoling.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I believe you saying their loss brings you grief … two actors of such standing … both dying in this time … yet both dying of other diseases. I just feel for everyone, all the families and friends … take care … I feel for you – Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Hi Hilary, yes it made me pause this week. It is a sad, uncertain time–et us hope the world heals from it and springs anew.

  • Pam Lazos says:

    Wow, what a loss. He was a tremendous actor.

  • That was sad about Khan. Too young.
    It is scary to think of a loved one dying alone.
    A lot of writers aren’t writing now. But we need to do something creative and productive and not dwell on the negative which we cannot control.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Alex, yes–Khanc ould have risen to much greater heights, and it is tragic that his journey was cut short.

      “do something creative and productive and not dwell on the negative which we cannot control.” has been my motto in the past weeks–let’s hope I have something to show for them this month.

  • fenlandphil says:

    “Any man’s death diminshes me”.

    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    John Donne


    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    Hugs for your losses. And they are losses, even when we don’t know them, the feeling is still there.
    Stay safe.
    Jemima xxx

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Jemima. Hugs right back. I wrote you an email, and wondered if you were ok–glad to see your comment here. Be well, and take care.

      D xx

  • Debbie D. says:

    It’s interesting how the passing of a beloved favourite celebrity can feel like a personal loss. And the death of one so young is always heartbreaking, whether we are fans or not. Such news amid this horrible pandemic won’t help one’s mood, either (or creativity). I hope we all find some joy in the darkness. We have learned here that the Covid-19 curve is flattening, at last. Still under lockdown, but they are talking of cautiously opening a few things, but in stages. Stay safe and be well!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Agree, Debbie–you have summed it up so well. Glad that the curve is flattening in Canada. It seems to be doing the same here in Singapore as well, though that’s not the case in India, yet. But everyone is reopening in stages–let’s see where that gets us. Hugs, and stay safe.

  • setinthepast says:

    The news of the deaths were reported here in the UK too: a lot of people are very into Bollywood films. It’s only natural to be upset – you hear a lot about famous people, and they seem to play a big part in your life.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I’m shocked at how well known both the actors were, beyond Indian borders. My Malaysian, British and American friends knew of Irfaan Khan! They were not a big part of my life, but their loss brought home what a waste death can sometimes be. Irfaan Khan was just 53 and could have been working for another 30 years.

  • Irrfan’s death seemed personal and that feeling was common for all. We all wondered why. I was amazed at the uniformity of the reaction. I remained restless all through the day, penned and posted a small poem about him but that wasn’t going to cut it. Finally, I wrote a heartfelt eulogy and it felt like a burden came off. But then came Rishi ji’s news and the cycle started again.
    It’s odd! Why do we feel that grief, hollowness and void for people we never met…as you say, coz they trustworthy and relatable may be! I am scared about 2020 too…

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Prateek. We’re all recovering from the losses, and it is not easy.

  • Shilpa Gupte says:

    Yesterday, after digesting the bitter truth about Rishi Kapoor’s death, I was wondering what today might bring along with it. I didn’t want to hear any more death news–neither celebrity nor the common man dying from anything.
    And, I was thinking how we all know that death is the only reality of life; everything else is a mirage. And yet, when we hear about someone dying, we all are shocked beyond words. Like, how COULD this happen? We didn’t sign up for this!!

    Life otherwise is going on…I am taking one day at a time, focusing on the good, ignoring the bad, and bring grateful for every little thing. Oh, it also includes not picking any fights with hubby, and ignoring the stuff that we think of as “flaws” in others. Trying to really learn something from this madness and staying ‘sober’!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      “we all know that death is the only reality of life; everything else is a mirage. And yet, when we hear about someone dying, we all are shocked beyond words.”

      So true, Shilpa we push our knowledge of the inevitability of death so far back in our minds, but that’s survival instinct, I think, it would be paralysing to remember death every day. Some do, and survive–most of those become philosophers, prophets or poets.

      I identify with household life–I go insane sometimes over a small detail, a dirty sink, wet towels on beds. I try to take it in my stride. We’ll make a saint out of me yet :D. Hugs–our chat is long overdue–let’s connect in the coming week–message me when free, ok?

  • Oh, it is so sad–any death, but the death of artists who spoke to us, especially during our formative years, is very tough. I just listened to this interesting discussion on death and loss during this time. It is incredibly unfair to those who are mourning deaths right now–because they can’t be with loved ones and take part in typical rituals that comfort. It’s just blow after blow this coronavirus pandemic is dealing. But I do think it’s good to talk about it. I’m glad we can all blog about these things; I’d feel an awful lot more despondent than I do if we didn’t have this medium to communicate. Very sorry for your loss, Damyanti!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks, Rebecca. And you’re so right when you write this: It is incredibly unfair to those who are mourning deaths right now–because they can’t be with loved ones and take part in typical rituals that comfort.

      My friend’s dad passed on, and she is stuck in another country, while her mom tries to deal with it all. It is horrific, and a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

      Talking about these things helps–thank you for stopping by, and your words. Stay safe, and hope to see you again soon.

  • Stu says:

    I’ve been struggling with my focus the last two weeks. I’m an Introverted/Extrovert, so staying home is fine by me. I’m pretty sure I’m not going stir crazy.
    I think that the extrovert in me wants OUT. I do go to the grocery store once a week for perishables. Almost everyone is gloomy. I say Hi, try to help if a person needs it (reaching an item they can’t; picking up things that fell off the shelf; etc). But, well….stay six feet away. Draining, which sends me back home always forgetting something. Vicious Cycle.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Stuart, I hear you. I haven’t been grocery shopping for a while–we do most of ours online, and thankfully the deliveries are all good and on time. I saw your grocery trips in my mind’s eye, and yep, they mirror mine from back when I was still going to the shops in February. Been self-isolating since March. Take care of you, and stay safe. I hear news out of the USA and am terrified for my friends and family out there.

  • Widdershins says:

    We’re living so far outside of our skins at the moment that things like this can hit doubly hard. I hope you could grieve in your own time and have space to be gentle with your Self for a while.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words. Deaths and losses affect us at any time, but you’re so right, we’re living far outside our skins right now. Stay safe, my friend.

  • Your post today touched my heart. The sadness overwhelmed and your comment about dying alone in some hospital struck a cord. I’ve told all my friends and family that If I contract Covid19 and as a 74 year-old with Parkinson’s went on to die, death holds no fear for me but dying,filled with tubes in a hospital without views and anyone I know would be hard. On a happier note I speculate that this pandemic has brought much of humanity together . You in India suffer similar anxiety, social isolation, deprivation, and fears as we experience here in America. The common men regardless of race, color, creed, or wealth probably understand each other better than our leaders. Here we sometimes wonder if our politicians know what a common person feels as they place themselves above the shut downs and fears that they have placed upon us. I amble,sorry!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Oh Jane, I so hear you. My mom is in her 70s, immuno-compromised, and I worry for her every day. I live in Singapore where things are not so dire, but my parents are in India. And you’re so right, we understand each other better than our leaders understand us. These times will test our governance and social capital, and ruthlessly lay bare the lacunae. It will be up to us to fill them up and find a new way of doing things post-pandemic. Thanks for writing, it is good to hear from you. Please stay safe.

  • Saada STYLO says:

    You write beautifully about our collective experience, covidly speaking. I watched “The Lunchbox” one afternoon years ago and fell for Irfan Khan. Was always happy to see him star in other films. So right you are about those captivating eyes and the tempered way he spoke. I feel for his family and his fans. My condolences on the loss of these talented artists who shared themselves through their work. Yesterday, my family lost an aunt we all grew up loving over the years. Your post mirrors the cauldron of emotions many of us are experiencing now. I’m glad you’re still writing.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      So very sorry for your loss. Losing a loved one is losing a part of ourselves too, and is not easy. I hope you have the time and space to be gentle with yourself.

      Thanks for the kind words. Irfaan was a stalwart, and it is sad that his family and fans wouldn’t be able to mourn him properly. Writing this post helped me resolve my feelings, and it is a comfort to be able to talk like this. Thanks for writing, and I hope you will stop by often.

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