Latest News USA

Don’t get too comfortable with video meetings

A prominent writer for an American literary magazine, The New Yorker, got fired recently because he inadvertently exposed himself to some colleagues, both men and women, in a Zoom meeting. During a break in the online work-related meeting, the writer, a married man, apparently switched to another video call that was definitely NSFW (not safe for work), as well as another kind of NSFW (not safe for wife).

The writer’s wife wasn’t around, but he nevertheless landed in serious trouble, largely because of what he did when he returned to the meeting: he unknowingly pointed his webcam below his waist, allowing his colleagues to get to know him a little more personally than they ever wanted to.

Well, perhaps it was a lot more personally than they ever wanted to. I don’t know exactly how much they were able to see, but it was enough for them to be offended and complain to the higher-ups in the magazine. After conducting an investigation, the bosses concluded that the writer had committed an egregious offense.

It should be clear that the writer is fullyresponsible for his actions. But he may be cursing the technology that allows video meetings to be held and the COVID pandemic that made such meetings necessary. He may also be cursing Dr. Anthony Fauci for understating how deadly COVID can be, how  vaccines and ventilators may not be enough to save your career.

Video meetings do have several advantages, but it’s important to be aware of their shortcomings (or hazards); otherwise you may find yourself searching for a new job, either because you’ve been fired or you’re too embarrassed to face your co-workers ever again.

One of the benefits of video meetings, of course, is that you do not need to take a bath or shower. No one can smell you through the internet. If you spot someone holding their nose during a video meeting, it’s probably because they can smell something in their own home, most likely a family member who hasn’t showered in months.

Another benefit is that you don’t have to dress up completely, especially if you’re sitting at a table or desk. The camera will show only your upper body, so you need to just wear something nice on top, such as a coat and tie. What you wear below the waist is up to you: shorts, pajamas, or lungi. Just make sure you don’t forget to wear something.

Almost any article of clothing will do, as long as it won’t get you fired. You may think that the camera won’t capture it, but don’t count on it, especially if you have a dog, child, partner or roommate at home. One of these household members will likely make a noise in the middle of a video meeting. You will have to stand up to take care of this disturbance, allowing everyone to see your full attire, or lack thereof.

Getting household members to be quiet during online meetings is quite a challenge. But even if they’re quiet, you may find them making surprise appearances. Your co-workers may get a kick out of it, but you’ll be mortified to spot your spouse or partner in the background, coming out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.

You: “Zoom, honey! Zoom!”

Partner: “Zoom in or zoom out?”

You: “Zoom out, please! And next time please wear more than just that towel on your head.”

(Photo courtesy:

Melvin Durai is an Indiana-based writer and

humorist who was born in India and raised in Zambia.

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by Melvin Durai

Bring everyone in the neighborhood together to support one candidate through masks?
It was true that finding agreement was hard  even to get everyone to agree on which day to have a yard sale — and even harder on political issues. But Meena was determined to prove her husband wrong. A short story.

It was Mukund’s idea.

“Why are you just sitting around?” he said to his
wife one morning during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Why don’t you do something? It is good to keep
busy. That is what they say.”

“Who says that?” Meena responded. “Is it the people
who are unable to relax? If they want to be busy,
let them be busy. But I like to relax. Is that
okay, Mook?”

As if to emphasize the point, she propped her legs
on the coffee table, grabbed the remote and turned
on Netflix. “Time for some Nadiya Hussain,” she said.

Mook sighed. “Not her again. You have watched her cook
so many dishes, but I haven’t seen you cook even one
of them.”

“Yes, it’s true,” she said. “And you have watched so
many football games, but I haven’t seen you run after
a ball even once.”

Mook smirked, pushed himself off the couch and limped
to the kitchen to refill his coffee mug. He had pulled
a muscle during his daily exercise routine: searching
the front yard for the newspaper. The delivery person
seemed to throw it to a different spot every day.

As the coffee machine heated up, he picked up the
Lafayette Journal & Courier from the dining table,
unrolled it and scanned the headlines. He returned to
the living room, placed the paper on Meena’s lap with
the “Life” section facing her and pointed to an article
at the top. “How to Sew a Quick and Easy Cloth Face
Mask,” the headline said.

“I already know how to sew a face mask,” Meena said.
“It is not hard at all. I’ve seen many patterns online.”

“Then why aren’t you doing it? Why is the sewing machine
gathering dust?”

“It’s not gathering dust. I have a cover for it.”

“But it’s just sitting there, occupying space in our
basement. When was the last time you put it to good

“I made those flannel pajamas for you, remember?”

“Oh yes, during the Reagan Administration.”

“Stop it! We didn’t even know each other then.”

“Why don’t you use it again and make some masks?”

“But everyone is making masks.”

Well, it wasn’t literally true that everyone was
making masks, but on almost every street in the
neighborhood, someone seemed to be making masks and
placing them on a table outside for sale. At the end
of Hillcrest Road, several houses down from their
two-story home, a middle-aged lady was selling masks
with sports logos on them, mostly Boilermakers, Colts
and Cubs. Mrs. Freeman on the next street was selling
striped, checked and polka-dotted masks. A senior
citizen on Ravinia Road, which ran all the way through
their Hills & Dales neighborhood, was selling masks
with blue-and-purple flowers on them, promoting them
with a sign that said: “Share Irises, not viruses.”

“You need to come up with a unique mask,” Mook said.
“Maybe you could put something scary on the mask, so
people will keep their distance.”

“A picture of Donald Trump?”

“No, no, that would not work. So many people like him
in this state.”

“So the masks would sell well, wouldn’t they? I could
write ‘Trump-Pence 2020’ on them, sell thousands of
them and we could retire to Florida.”

Mook knew she was just joking. Why would anyone want
to retire to Florida? Mook would rather stay in Indiana,
where the winters could be quite cold, but greatly
minimized the chances of running into an alligator or

“What about Biden? You could sell masks to his
supporters, too.”

“He has not yet chosen a running mate. But he says it
will definitely be a woman.”

“You could put ‘Biden-Woman 2020’ on the masks and sell
many of them, too.”

Meena smiled. “Maybe I shouldn’t get so political. We’re
all in this together. Coronavirus does not distinguish
between Republicans and Democrats.”

“Yes, that’s true. Imagine if it just wiped out all
the …”

Meena didn’t let him finish. “You shouldn’t even joke
about things like that. Life would be so boring if we
didn’t have people to argue with.”

If all her friends had the same beliefs, their Facebook
discussion group would not have so many comments. She had
friends who were Republicans and friends who were
Democrats, as well as friends who acted like Democrats
one day and Republicans another day. Mary, one of her
closest friends, was a Republican who had voted for Obama
in 2008, then for Romney in 2012, and was now trying to
erase from her memory whom she had voted for in 2016. She
deemed it the second-worst mistake of her life, but only
because her marriage to her first husband lasted more
than four years.

Mary’s voting history didn’t make any sense to Meena.
But then again, it didn’t make any sense to her that
Mary had nine cats. Meena preferred dogs — she had a
beagle named Cody — and though she would never tell Mary
this, she would be reluctant to vote for anyone who had
nine cats. Even stranger than having nine cats were the
names Mary had chosen for them: Felicity, Serenity,
Charity, Clarity, Dignity, Purity, Affinity, Fidelity
and Sanity.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew Dignity, for the
orange-and-brown cat had gone missing for two weeks the
previous summer and Mary had plastered every pole in
the neighborhood with fliers that said, “Reward Offered
for Anyone Who Returns My Dignity.”

“Maybe I should have a unified message on my masks,”
Meena said. “‘We’re in this together’ or something like

“Nobody will buy it. Well, some people might, but it
won’t sell well. People like to support particular
candidates, not sit on the fence.”

“Then maybe I could bring everyone in the neighborhood
together to support one candidate.”

Mook chuckled. “Everyone supporting one candidate? That
will never happen. We can’t even get everyone in this
neighborhood to agree on which day to have a yard sale.”

It was true that finding agreement was hard — and even
harder on political issues — but Meena was determined
to prove him wrong. That afternoon, just after 5 p.m.,
she picked up Mary and drove to Michaels, where they
bought enough cloth and elastic to make 50 face masks.
They spent the entire evening making masks. Mary
measured and cut the fabric and elastic, while Meena
operated the old sewing machine. They used a fabric
marker to write messages on every mask. Mook came down
the stairs to look at the masks, but Meena shooed
him away, telling him to order pizza for everyone.

The next morning, she and Mary set up a table in the
front yard and, within three hours, sold 44 masks for
$5 each. They kept masks for themselves and their
husbands, and Meena kept two more for her teen-aged

“I knew I could get everyone to support one candidate,”
she said, handing Mook his mask. “I just knew it.”

“You were right,” he said with a smile, putting
the mask over his nose and mouth.

Meena and Mary had made the masks using cloth printed
with pictures of an orange cat. On one side of the mask,
they had inscribed the message:  “Vote for Dignity.” On
the other side, they had written, “Dignity-Sanity 2020.”

thesatime | The Southasian times

Melvin Durai is an Indiana-based writer and humorist who was
born in India and raised in Zambia. He has also published a novel titled ‘Bala Takes The Plunge’

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Despite social distancing, I’m keeping the conversations going …with ants, pants and plants

By Melvin Durai

Coronavirus-related restrictions have kept many people
from meeting face-to-face with friends and neighbors.
This has helped curb the spreading of viruses, not to
mention rumors and gossip. But experts say it’s important
for us—for our mental well-being—to keep the conversations
going in whatever way is possible. That’s what I’ve been
trying to do. Just the other day, while sitting in my kitchen,
I had a long conversation with a couple of ants.

Me: “Hey guys, nice to see you. Can you stay a while? Would
you like a little sugar?”

First ant: “We’d better get out of here. Something doesn’t seem

Me: “Don’t leave so soon. What’s the hurry? Would you like
some honey instead? How about gulab jamun? It’s an Indian

Second ant to first: “You’re right: he’s a psycho. Let’s get out of here.”
Me: “Do you two have a big family? You know, if you come back
with eight other ants, you could stay here forever. I could be
the landlord and you could be my ten ants.”

First ant: “Let’s get out of here before he makes us sign a lease.”

I tried to be friendly, but the ants didn’t stick around for long, and
I had to spend the rest of my day chatting with my houseplants. I
began with my pothos, also known as a money plant.

Me: “You look very green today.”

Pothos: “And you look very brown today.”

Me: “Are you thirsty? Can I get you something to drink?”

Pothos: “Beer would be nice.”

Me: “Beer? Aren’t you underage?”

Pothos: “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Me: “Okay, I’ll try to sneak you a few drops from my glass.”

Pothos: “Just spill some accidentally on me. That’s how I got
my first taste of beer. One of your guests had too much to
drink, and as a result, I had too much to drink.”

Me: “Did you get drunk?”

Pothos: “Yes, I think so. It was really weird.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Pothos: “Well, I started having strange thoughts. I imagined that I
had been transplanted into a garden bed outside. And I woke up
with a strange plant in my bed. It had its vines and tendrils all over
me and I didn’t even know its name. I kept screaming, ‘Social
distancing! Social distancing!'”

I spoke to all my plants, but some were chattier than others. If you
never talk to plants, you may be surprised to learn that it’s actually
good for them. About a decade ago, the Royal Horticultural
Society (RHS) of Britain conducted an experiment and found that
tomato plants grow two inches taller when they hear women’s voices
compared to men’s.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to persuade my wife to go outside
and chat with the tomato plants. She hasn’t even shown the courtesy
of thanking them when they produce big tomatoes.

It usually falls on my shoulders to ensure that all our plants get enough
love and attention. But please don’t get the idea that I talk to them often.
It’s usually just a few words here and there. Truth is, being stuck at home
during the pandemic has made me engage in all sorts of conversations.

Me: “Hey, why are you so tight today?”

Pants: “Who are you calling tight? I’m the same size I was last week.”

Me: “You just feel tighter.”

Pants: “And you just feel fatter.”

Me: “Watch out. One more unkind word and I’m sending you off to

Pants: “Sorry about that. I’m just upset that you stuffed me in the washer
yesterday with so many other clothes.”

Me: “I thought you’d enjoy the company.”

Pants: “Do you like to take baths with 30 other people?”

Me: “No, I guess not.”

Pants: “You’re not supposed to wash a ton of clothes at the same time. It’s
not good for our morale. We’re not like humans—we don’t like to share
dirt with each other.”

Me: “Do you prefer to be separated? Some people separate the whites from
the colors.”

Pants: “People still do that? I thought segregation was over. I don’t mind a
little separation. Not whites from colors, but pants from underpants. Please
don’t put me in the washer or laundry basket with the disgusting underwear.
I spend enough time with those bozos during my work day.”

In case you’re wondering, I spoke to a psychologist and she confirmed that
it’s perfectly normal to have all sorts of conversations during the pandemic,
whether you’re talking to ants, pants or plants.


thesatime | The Southasian times

Melvin Durai is an India-born, North America-based writer and humorist, author of the humorous novel “Bala Takes the Plunge.


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