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ATTACKING HINDUISM IN HINDUTVA’S NAME

Why an event like ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’, co-sponsored by over 40 US universities led by Columbia, Princeton, Berkeley and Harvard, invariably targets Hinduism, of course in the name of Hindutva, which is nothing but an excuse.

Utpal Kumar

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In 2016, Rajiv Malhotra, an intellectual of repute, wrote The Battle for Sanskrit, in which he recalled an incident where a group of wealthy non-resident Indians (NRIs) in New York had teamed up with the top administrative leaders of Shringeri Peetham in India and representatives of Sringeri Peetham in the US to set up a university chair in the name of Adi Shankara. They had by 2014 already collected $4 million for the chair, which was to be created at Columbia University. And to head the chair they had zeroed in on Sheldon Pollock, a prominent American Sanskrit scholar.

Most Indians involved with the project were brimming with pride at the prospect of Pollock heading the chair named after Adi Shankara. For, ostensibly, he was an ardent advocate for the revival of Sanskrit. What many of them didn’t realise was that his idea of revival was, as Malhotra writes, “the reinvigorated study of Sanskrit as if it were the embalmed, mummified remnant of a dead culture”. He wanted to see the revival of Sanskrit studies, and not the Sanskrit language or culture! He loved Sanskrit but bereft of its “sacred” identity.

Probed deeply, one realises that Pollock has nothing but deep-seated abhorrence for Sanskrit culture, so much so that he even partly blames “Brahmin elitism” for shaping the ideologies of British colonialism and German Nazism. At another place, he accuses Sanskrit of offering “at one and the same time a record of civilisation and a record of barbarism, of extraordinary inequality and other social poisons”. Given this ideological understanding, is it any surprise that Pollock saw the Ramayana as a weapon for inflicting violence by Hindus against Muslims? One wonders if he would hold a similar critical, unwavering, iconoclastic view for Latin, or for the religious texts of other organised religions that invariably divide humanity into two watertight compartments, where the twain shall never meet and one side is invariably condemned to suffer howsoever righteous they might be!

The episode raises two pertinent questions: Why do most mainstream intellectuals, in the West and in India, carry one yardstick for Hinduism and another for other religions, especially the organised ones? And two, why do even well-meaning Indians, in this case the people involved in setting up a chair for Adi Shankara, end up being so gullible to support those very forces that have been antithetical to their very existence?

If one finds answers to these two questions, probably one can also understand why at a time when the world should be observing the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and pondering where it has gone wrong in Afghanistan, there’s a three-day event being organised in the US on 10-12 September analysing ways at “dismantling global Hindutva”. Interestingly, the event is being co-sponsored by more than 40 American universities led by Columbia, Princeton, Berkeley and Harvard!

The apologists would soon jump into the debate and claim that the event has nothing against Hinduism. It is against Hindutva, they would say. This is the latest ruse to target Hinduism. It’s like making a difference between good Taliban and bad Taliban! The fact is Hinduism can’t be good if Hindutva is bad. For these very people questioned author Gurcharan Das, as he recalled in his book, TheDifficulty of Being Good, when he showed interest in reading Hindu texts like Mahabharata, Manusmriti and Kathopanishad. A self-proclaimed leftist and secularist asked, “You haven’t turned secular, have you?” These very people, when in public, differentiate between Hinduism and Hindutva, but in private show their utter disdain for both.

A similar disquiet one finds in the writings of well-known economist and self-proclaimed historian Amartya Sen who, while celebrating the “argumentative” nature of Indians, never acknowledges that this is precisely because of their innate Hindu-ness. In his book, The Argumentative Indian, he says that those who speak of a Hindu civilisation “are the promoters of a narrowly Hindu view of civilisation”.

An episode surrounding American author Wendy Doniger is equally revealing. When she encountered massive protests for writing “an alternative history” of Hindus, which was actually a flippant, mischievous attempt to exoticise, eroticise and psycho-sexualise Hindu religion and traditions, Doniger gave an interesting defence: Oh, I didn’t write this book for Indians; it was for my American students. I never thought Indians would ever read this!

What’s even more ironic is that Doniger and her ilk make such sweeping—often damning—generalisations about a community which is a minority in the US. Spreading misinformation or hate, in the garb of scholarship, may put the lives of these people in jeopardy. One wonders why the American academia, which otherwise projects itself as an upholder of minority rights, never bothers to care for American Hindus. Or, the US universities, which swear by free speech, never sponsor a “Global Hindutva” like event calling for the dismantling of political Islam or evangelical Christianity.

One can understand why most mainstream intellectuals, in the West and in India, with a predominantly leftist bent of mind, treat Hinduism so condescendingly. Because Hinduism is seen as the glue that keeps the nation together, gives it a unique identity. It is this “dead wood” of the ancient past, which Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Indians to chop off to become a modern nation, that has given us a character that is innately liberal and secular. India is not liberal because our founding fathers at the time of Independence desired so; India is liberal because it has always been so for millennia. It is secular because it still pursues Hindu ethos. One just needs to look at the landmasses that got separated from India as late as 1947 and the fate of minorities there!

It’s understandable why forces that want India divided and diminished paint it black, but why do well-meaning Indians, as in the Adi Shankara chair case, end up supporting those very forces that question their very existence? One, there is a lack of real conviction among them. A former journalist of repute, who is otherwise an unapologetic Right-winger, once told me in private: “I am a Brahmo, not a Hindu!” We lost touch, but his words remained with me, constantly reminding me what’s wrong with the Right today! Then, of course, there are those who have internalised what their ideological adversaries have been saying all these decades. A year back, I met a top functionary in an esteemed social sciences research body, who in an attempt to showcase the quality of research work being done during his tenure, could just show up the accolades his institution had received from international social sciences bodies!

Their legitimacy still matters! Our intellectuals still want to be judged by parameters whose scales have always been tilted against India. No wonder, there may be a paradigm shift in the sphere of governance in the country, but academia continues to work as before. It seems nothing has changed. Just the people presiding these bodies are different! And this explains when it comes to India, its ancient past and traditions, why people like Pollock are still having the cake and eating it too! This also explains why Indians, despite being influential in American politics, do so little to make amends in US academia, universities.

Be that as it may, the fact is there are protests being organised this time. It may not be well-organised, but at least there is an attempt to register their reservations. Meanwhile, these pressure groups should also look at how other communities—from Christian, Jew and Muslim to Chinese—operate, and why such events invariably target Hinduism, of course in the name of Hindutva, which is nothing but an excuse. For, it’s Hinduism which is—and has always been—the real target.

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People are more aware of the quality of products after Covid: Ashish Khandelwal

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX India A-List, Managing Director of BL Agro Industries Limited Ashish Khandelwal spoke about new initiatives undertaken by his company.

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Ashish Khandelwal joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation for its special segment NewsX India A-List. Speaking about the company, Ashish spoke about how it was formed in 1999 and was made by his forefathers. Having been in the business for the past 75 years, BL Agro Industries Limited has created a niche for itself.

When asked about the reason behind the entry into kitchen ready products, Ashish said, “Basically for diversification, we started it. We are doing distribution and all the customers and retailers ask for quality products. So we decided why not move forward with diversification and move into food products.”

Talking about the response gained for the product, he said, “Just after the launch, Covid-19 pandemic started. It started in January 2020. The journey has not been very long. We faced lockdown. Moving forward, we will hit our targets.” After Covid-19 pandemic hit, kitchen ready products became one of the most searched products and most of the people started exploring various options. Talking about this, Ashish said, “We got a good push in delivery because of this. Otherwise, a new product introduction during lockdown would have been tough.”

When asked about the existing market and new markets in India, he replied, “Right now, we are in northern parts like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Bihar, etc. and we are permanent here. In a couple of months, we are moving to the South.” Stressing on the company’s new marketing strategy, Ashish informed, “We are always after distribution. We try to maintain relations with distributors. So, companies provide sales staff and everything. The sales staff gathers all the market reports and demands and then we work on it. The more prominent and convenient strategy is retailing nowadays because nobody is moving out much and going to market often. Today, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing problems for retailers to move out. So we are trying to maintain our market. We recently started our online portal. Soon it will be fully functional.”

Most people are used to bigger platforms like Amazon but small companies have also curated their apps that shows whatever product is available. BL Agro Industries Limited has the same plan. He said, “We are launching an app. We will be available side-by-side on the websites. We are trying to fulfil the desire of the customers.”

“We are thinking about expansion, typically in pulses, and other grocery products. In India, it has not been innovated. There are not many innovations. So we have tried to introduce some machines. Right now, we are grinding it with the stone mill which is modernised and is from Austria. We have started vacuum packaging of pulses and food items. Nobody in India does vacuum packs for pulses. Similarly, we try to procure more specific machines and try to give more flavours and more specific aromas and the best quality we can provide,” added Ashish.

He expressed, “After the Covid-19 pandemic, people are more aware of the quality of products. They are more concerned about the quality. So we are trying to produce good and better quality products today. We are focusing on Indian pulses.”

When asked about organic chains, Ashish said, “Right now, we are not planning for organic because organic has lost its quality as every brand is producing organic products. Specifically, we don’t have any tests for organic. That is the problem when we say organic, it needs a specific amount of time. It takes seven years for an organic crop to come and is financially not feasible.”

After the Covid-19 pandemic, people are more aware of the quality of products. They are more concerned about the quality. So we are trying to produce good and better quality products today. We are focusing on Indian pulses.

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EVERYBODY CAN BE A SUPERHERO: VIVEK OBEROI, DR VIVEK BINDRA ON ‘I AM OXYGEN MAN’ CAMPAIGN

Vivek Oberoi, a well-known actor, and Dr Vivek Bindra, founder and CEO, Bada Business, recently joined NewsX and spoke about the campaign ‘I am Oxygen Man’ and more.

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Covid-19 taught us the importance of helping each other. The pandemic, being a blessing in disguise, made the people more empathetic towards each other and etched the concept of humanity deeper into the fabric of the society. Vivek Oberoi, a renowned actor, and Dr Vivek Bindra, founder and CEO, Bada Business, recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-list to speak about their campaign, ‘I am Oxygen Man’. The campaign has managed to raise around Rs 7.5 crore and helped numerous families in such dismal times.

Talking about the advent of the campaign and the drive behind becoming a co-pilot for this initiative, Oberoi said, “For me, it’s funny how aside from the life of an actor, I live an alternate life of a philanthropist. Vivek Bindra is a friend, and I am the brand ambassador for the CSR work for Bada Business. He reached out to me with a plan to fight the problem of lack of oxygen.”

Highlighting the leadership of Dr Bindra and the zeal of the team at Bada Business, the actor added, “The entire team at Bada Business was hugely motivated to work for the cause, and Dr Bindra is a master motivator. The campaign built up in a matter of four days. What I thought will take at least a month to achieve was executed from nothing in four days. I am just playing a supportive role, and I am proud to be a small part of such a big initiative. More than 800 lives have been saved through it, and that gives me immense satisfaction.”

‘I am Oxygen Man’ is a brainchild of Dr Bindra. Talking about this philanthropic cause, he said, “The idea was to create a human contributing to humanity in difficult times. A businessman always looks at a hassle and creates a premium out of it by solving the problem. Therefore, I believe every negative situation can attract new customer acquisition. Due to this, a businessman is always solution-oriented. Real solutions are those which involve every individual. Through ‘I am Oxygen Man’, we aimed at making every commoner a superhero.”

Elaborating more on the vision, Dr Bindra added, “A comedian, an actor, a journalist, a hotel manager, a rickshaw puller, a railway employee, anybody can be a superhero. Humein doosron ki madad karne ke jazbaat rakhna zaroori hai. We wanted people to come forward to help the community as an Oxygen Man.”

Many celebrities like Sanjeev Kapoor, who gave PPE kits and Kailash Kher, who contributed Rs 25 lakh, also helped achieve the vision that Vivek Bindra and Vivek Oberoi had. Vivek Oberoi also donated a sum of Rs 25 lakh to this campaign. Three organisations together worked for the cause involving ISKON, Kailash Kher Foundation, and Bada Business. “Bada Business basically means Vivek Square (Vivek Oberoi and Vivek Bindra)”, said Dr Bindra. The campaign also garnered a total of 1 million views in just four hours.

Talking about a new initiative for the first time, Dr Bindra said, “I am thinking of starting an ‘Oxygen Man Challenge’, similar to the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’, which was started to raise awareness for ALS and ‘Rice Bucket Challenge’ initiated by Manju Lata Ji, inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which involved cooking a bucket of rice and feeding the poor. A small challenge can bring a big change in the society.”

The next wave, which is believed to hit children, is problematic. Talking about the road ahead and preparations for the same, Oberoi said, “The thing about Bada Business as an organisation and as a family is that they do not stop. They always think about the next big thing.” Echoing the thoughts on the social media challenge, he added, “Social Media is a potent tool. If people cannot contribute capitally or physically, they can at least use the power of social media to spread the word about the problem and its solutions.”

When asked about how can the viewers contribute to their campaign, Dr Bindra urged the users to post pictures on social media helping others, use the hashtag ‘IAmOxygenMan’ and tag five of their friends. Oberoi added, “We don’t want to be a complaining man; we want to be an Oxygen Man.”

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INDIA SHOULD UPHOLD INDIAN LIFESTYLE & CULTURE EVEN IN JHATKA VS HALAL DEBATE

Only those religious codes which don’t intervene with the lifestyle of other religious groups would be feasible in a democracy like India. As long as Muslims practise or prefer it in their private lives, there aren’t reasons to complain. However, when such practices enter the public domain and question the Indian system and Constitution, these should enter wider public scrutiny and consensus.

Shweta Shalini

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“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last,” warned Winston Churchill. Indian politics has a long history of appeasement. The pandering to the wishes of a small minority who vote en bloc has been a lucrative career choice for decades until PM Modi arrived at the scene and gave a reality check. In many ways, the Indian situation of appeasing the Muslims is more ridiculous than other nations. Just a few generations ago, India was divided on cultural lines and the Indian society had clear ideas of the choices. Muslims who chose to stay back in India have exercised that choice by saying No to an Islamic nation. Given this historical and cultural background, under no circumstances do Muslims expect or require special treatment or religious code. Yet, religious codes exist and demand for Sharia and other Islamic practices find many takers in secular parties and in the Muslim community. The outright appeasement in the Shah Bano case was a defining case in point when the Indian masses said enough of it and rallied behind the nationalists.

Like Sharia law, halal is also one of the core principles of the Islamic way of life. Halal—an Arabic word that means “permissible” runs completely in contrast to the system India has adopted. If an ancient religious code can dictate what is permissible (halal) or forbidden (haram) in India today, it’s a challenge to every legal system which isn’t an Islamic one. But then, the target of those promoting such concepts is precisely to introduce foreign cultural influences to subvert our national life. Strangely, the usual proponents of halal and Sharia are the same set of people who harp on secularism. It’s clear from this double-standard of theirs that what they actually seek is pick-and-choose. They want an Indian secular state to protect where they find themselves weak while also weakening the superstructure by insisting on exclusive religious codes.

The halal and jhatka food debate is part of this larger debate on how many religious sanctions of earlier eras should apply to modern India. One is about sticking to religious dogma while another is a question of a more humane approach to slaughter. The proponents of halal claim that the halal lifestyle is mandated for Muslims. In a practical sense, no religious mandates should be allowed to subvert the lifestyle of anyone else except followers of the specific religion. In the case of halal, it ain’t so. Halal food is food that is slaughtered by Muslims only which makes it a clear case of discrimination and runs counter to our system. Secondly, the brutality incurred on the animal needs to be reduced as much as practical. That’s a humanitarian argument devoid of any religious bias. The Sikhs and others who support Jhatka are taking a better approach when they insist on minimum suffering. Numerous western countries practice stunning the animal to instant death than incurring the woes which it would otherwise suffer. However, halal in Islam isn’t simply about food but encompasses many aspects of the life of which food is just one element. Beginning with halal food, the aim is to introduce halal finance, halal lifestyle and many other aspects which is nothing but a red herring for Sharia. All these tendencies should be nipped in the bud and a strong legal framework should be brought to ensure to avoid pandering to any segment of the society. 

As a final word, only those religious codes which don’t intervene with the lifestyle of other religious groups would be feasible in a democracy like India. As long as Muslims practice or prefer it in their private lives, there aren’t reasons to complain. However, when such practices enter the public domain and question the Indian system and constitution, these should enter wider public scrutiny and consensus. As long as nationalists like PM Modi occupy the seat of power, such appeasement won’t ever happen. It’s up to the Indian system to guard against any attempt to push agendas. In the New India of today, primacy will be to Indian culture and the Indian way of life and nobody has any reason to complain. 

Shweta Shalini is BJP spokesperson and advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis. She is also state-in-charge of the BJP North Indian Cell.

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NEED FOR FAMILY OFFICES TO WORK TOGETHER UNDER A CO-INVESTMENT STRUCTURE: JAHNAVI KUMARI MEWAR

Jahnavi Kumari Mewar, CEO and Senior Portfolio Manager at Auctus Fora, talks about her business firm along with insights on internationalism, effective global governance practices and the way forward in the post-Covid world.

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Jahnavi Kumari Mewar recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, she spoke to us about her business firm along with insights on internationalism, effective global governance practices and the way forward for the post-Covid world.

Jahnavi commenced her talk by speaking about the creation of Auctus Fora and its uniqueness. She said “Auctus fora was born with a need to work with family offices (preferably) without a fund structure in place. If I take a small step back, I initially worked for JP Morgan from where I decided to set up a boutique investment bank and as that business developed and progressed, I had developed very meaningful relationships with family offices globally. We found that there was a significant need for family offices to work together under a co-investment structure rather than that of a fund. Moving on we decided to set up a co-investment platform, entirety focused on private acuity and private structure credit working with family offices globally. It’s a unique model because we work on the ‘reverse origination methodology’ developed in 2011. We use this methodology to make investment decisions and direct our investment philosophy.”

When asked about how pandemic months have been for her and her firm, she responded “I think based on facts that firstly we are directed to an asset. Secondly, we don’t do listed securities and are a private acuity focused and private structure credit that organically gives you a lot more control over your investment decisions. I am very rigid when it comes to the investment decision making process. For example, we’ll never chase dues or get into a bidding war as I believe that if you get your buying price wrong then you already made a big mistake in terms of capital allocation and investment process. In such disruptive times when others have faced upheavals, we have ramped up because of our decent decision making. Based on that what we have done over the past 15 months is that the assets which we felt will continue to give long term returns and are relatively resilient to the disruptions caused by global pandemic and lockdown, we have reinvested capital or added additional capital into those assets and portfolios. So, at a macro level, we have reinvested capital into our portfolios and at a micro level, into select asset portfolios. I mean not to say that we haven’t felt pain but we have been more resilient.”

Explaining the post-Covid global economic changes, she expressed, “What we are seeing globally is an unprecedented crisis for which a lot of nations have lacked institutional memory because they have never experienced something like this before. In the absence of institutional memory, there is institutional unpreparedness. I think that the responsibility and accountability of this crisis don’t solely sit with the current government because there have been decades of under-investment in the public healthcare infrastructure. Instead, the present government has put concentrated efforts towards formulating new public policies. It is my personal opinion that unfortunately, the government lacks sophistication in its policymaking. Therefore they come across significant opposition to their policies.”

When it comes to changing global supply chains, Jahnavi described “let’s look at global supply chains from both political and economic perspectives. Politically speaking, we have fallen short on collective action and there has been a crisis of global governance. Supply chains and global governance can work hand in hand. A good small scale example is of QUAD members who have been working together and have been multilaterally more effective. So when we talk of re-engineering global supply chains, we have to look at from the perspective that are we going to create an incentivising engagement that affects better global governance practices.”

Lastly speaking about the importance of institutions like QUAD as representative of the changing world over institutions like UN and WHO, she said “QUAD is a great example of a force for global good. WHO has been less effective than QUAD as it has been dispersing contradictory information globally, it along with the UN have failed to garner collective action for a global solution to the pandemic. QUAD is a representation of the way forward. We need to re-engineer a pragmatic form of internationalism which meets the needs for today and future.”

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INDIA-BORN SINGER FEATURES ON UK’S BBC RADIO

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The latest composition of the Indian born, London-based singer Saisha Hayes’s ‘One Way ticket’ was selected by UK’s BBC Radio to be played on its platform on Monday night.

At 20, she is among the youngest singer-songwriters to feature on BBC radio and her song was selected among the pool of well-established names.

BBC Radio 1 Leeds chose Saisha’s composition under the “Best modern Asian fusion music”. While the words of the song have been penned by her, the music has been composed by Rohit (Foenix). The song, sung by Saisha, had earlier featured on the coveted ‘Rolling Stones’ India hitlist.

She is a second-year student of King’s College, London and the granddaughter of Hindi literary giant and former IAS officer Bhagwati Sharan Mishra, who passed away last month.

The song is being played on all major music platforms including Spotify, Amazon Music, and YouTube.

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IT’S TOUGH FOR PLAYERS TO STAY IN A BIO BUBBLE, SAYS MURALI KARTIK

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX India A-List, former cricketer Murali Kartik talks about his lockdown experiences, how he felt being part of the IPL in a bio bubble, and much more.

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Murali Kartik, a former Indian cricketer and a popular figure in commentary, is well-known for his slow left-arm orthodox bowling. Having charmed cricket lovers across the world with his bowling skills, Murali Kartik recently got recognised by NewsX India A-List for excellence in Cricket. Joining us for an exclusive conversation, he spoke about his lockdown experiences, how he felt being part of the IPL in a bio bubble and much more.

Speaking about his emotions and experiences during the second wave of Covid-19, in the wake of which IPL was first postponed and later stopped in middle, Murli said, “Pandemic has been a tough one for everyone but more so for people on the ground. We were actually much protected as a commentary team. With that point of view, we didn’t have many problems but I can imagine teams travelling and engaging in contracts would have been tougher amid the pandemic.”

“Since last year, I got the feeling that as soon as a little bit of unlocking starts people got careless. It is our responsibility to make sure that we don’t go out till the time we aren’t needed to go out. Most important of all is we should all be happy in our homes and not feel entrapped into them. We can only control the controllable,” he added.

When asked about the concept of bio bubble, especially in cricket, which is a contact game, Murali responded, “People in bio bubble is never easy. We need to return to normalcy. We all are missing luxuries of life which are not to go around in expensive restaurants but to simply move around with freedom and without a mask; meet our people without the fear of either contacting with the virus or passing it to someone else. That is the normal luxury. From a sports point of view, it’s tough for players to stay in a bio bubble. There’s a life beyond a sport. Hopefully, we come back to normalcy soon.”

Speaking about what the players have missed out in almost past two years of time is very evident now, he said “Unfortunately, it’s same for everyone. People who had to write exams are unable to do it and are sitting home. For sportspeople, the Olympics has been postponed and rescheduled. So, imagine all the athletes, who worked so hard for it. We come back to the same thing that it’s for everyone. Now it is about mental strength and controlling the controllable. We need to be surrounded by positive people and thinking. We need to look inwardly because the easiest thing in these days is to get despondent.”

When asked about something new or novel he has picked up in the last few days, Murali shared, “To be honest, I have caught up in a lot of sleep these days at home. I am not someone who’ll sleep a lot. I have been the happiest being at home. The only thing I did in my 1st lockdown was to read Sai Suchadutta. I read it six to seven times. I have read books but apart from that I haven’t done any specific thing.”

Concluding the interview on a humorous note, he stated that he has been a couch potato watching many fun OTT programs during the lockdown. He added a funny but profound thing that we teach a dog to sit and stay but we are not able to do it ourselves.

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