Thursday, December 03, 2009

Our First Conversation!

My 3-month old girl: Heh!

Me: Heh!

She: He-eh!!

Me: He-eh!!

She: HE-EH!!!

Me: HE-EH!!!

And so on and so forth for another minute or so, volume getting louder & louder, till:

She: HE-EH-(hic)-EH!!!!!

Me: ????

She: HE-(hic)........(hic)........

Reduced to hiccups by the sheer force of her "Hehs", thus ended our first mother-daughter chat!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

When "Justice" Itself Is Injustice

In the initial weeks after the 26/11 attacks, when Ajmal Kasab became the face of the worst terror strike our country has seen, a debate raged as to whether or not he deserved a fair trial.

I remember commenting on one blogger's furious tirade for him to undergo every physical torture possible, that, no matter how heinous the crime, the system had to be allowed to function; if we set a precedent of executing even one criminal without trial, slowly but steadily the system would lose meaning. So even though my gut reaction demanded that he be mercilessly crushed right away, my sanity reasoned that the justice system had to function.

In the year since, the justice system has "functioned", it has "functioned" to the extent of 31 crores, and is still "functioning".

31 frikkin CRORES!!!!

Thoughts of 26/11 haven't been far from any Indian's mind over the past few days, and one of the things I wondered about was how much it was costing to keep Kasab alive. But never did I imagine it would work out to 31 crores! And counting!!!

Yes, he absolutely deserved a fair trial, but come on, when the whole damn world knows he's guilty, how can it possibly take so long to sentence him??? How much more evidence, how many more witnesses does the court need??? The mind reels when it thinks of all the good uses that much money could've been put to.

Is our coastline better protected than it was last year?

Are our policemen better equipped than they were last year?

Are we more secure than we were last year?


But yes, Ajmal Kasab is better protected and more secure and probably more well-looked-after than he's ever been in his whole life, courtesy the Indian government. The system that should've dealt with this in a matter of months, if not weeks, has churned on for nearly a year, until the whole thing is nothing but a farce. This prolonged pursuit of justice itself is the greatest injustice being done.

No one is going to feel any better the day Kasab dies, because killing him doesn't bring back those lost that day. No one is going to heave a sigh of relief, because we know there are many more Kasabs out there. But Kasab must be killed, and must be killed soon, for no other reason than to stop this ridiculous drain of resources, resources which could be diverted elsewhere to actually accomplish something positive.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Keen on Clean: Thanks Mom & Dad!!!

So this is one of those times when I've read something that just compels me to post immediately (or as 'immediately' as my lil baby will allow :D) I was casually bloghopping this morning, when I saw on someone's blogroll, a post with the intriguing title "No one ever thanked their mom in an acceptance speech for keeping the house clean".

I was ridiculously happy on reading it; I mean, there I was battling an oncoming headache, trying to think positive and keep it at bay and then I read this post, was grinning from ear to ear, all potential aches & pains vanquished!!! That's how great it feels to know that there are other people who take cleanliness very seriously, because as I have resignedly observed, most of the people I know, don't.

And I guess that's due to the fact that as Sraboney Ghose titled her post, no one ever thanked their mom in an acceptance speech for keeping the house clean. As my mother noted several times over the years, housework is a thankless job; there's no reward in it other than your own satisfaction of living in a clean home and the occassional recognition from those rare souls who think like you.

Growing up, both my parents raised us to be particular about cleanliness. We pitched into help and did whatever mom asked us to do (sometimes a bit later than when she wanted it done :D). We enjoyed living in our clean & beautiful home, but I have to admit that most of the time, especially in my younger years, I took it for granted. It was only towards the end of my teens and later that I really started observing other houses, seeing the very noticeable difference between others' and my home, and realizing the worth of my mother's tireless daily efforts.

But this post is not so much about her's or my dad's hard work, as it is about my response to it. Sraboney's post drove home a point: it struck me that, in comparison to how much sweat & blood they've given to the maintenance of our home, I haven't thanked them nearly enough. Sure, I've mentally thanked God countless times for parents like them, but I haven't said it to them as often as I should have.

I have been a homemaker for almost two years now and try daily to live up to the same values my parents instilled in me. I have an additional responsibility now of fostering the same in my little girl, and its easier said than done. Looking back at my own life, I know how many years it took me to realize what my parents had done (and are still doing!), let alone acknowledge & appreciate it.

My mother once said that its thanks enough when she comes to my home and sees that I'm living the way I was raised, that I run my home the way I was taught. But a verbal (or written!) expression of gratitude never hurt anyone, right?

I might never have a chance to deliver an acceptance speech in front of the world, so I guess my blog is as public as it gets for now. Nonetheless, Mom & Dad, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU FOR RAISING ME TO KEEP THE HOUSE CLEAN!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Life Behind the Fiction

It was through the magical writing of Enid Blyton that I first realised and appreciated the power of a book in transporting the mind to a different time & place. I have many happy memories of being curled up with one of her books, reading with delight, secretly longing to solve those mysteries, go on those rambling walks, attend those wonderful schools and of course, sneak away for a midnight feast or be a part of those amazing tea parties!!!!

So it was with an increasing sense of disillusionment that I read this article this morning, about a forthcoming biopic which describes the popular author as she really was.

First thought: how could the woman who created such wonderfully warm worlds be the complete opposite in person??? She is said to have been quite the adulteress, but what truly shocked me was her own daughter's description of her as "arrogant, insecure and without a trace of maternal instinct".

However, the article also states that the author's father left her mother & her when she was 12, and that emotionally, she remained a child. Writing was therefore her way of escaping that pain.

Every Enid Blyton work that I've read, I've loved. There is an innocence and purity in those stories, and nearly all the characters she developed have real integrity, so as a child, I guess I naively transferred those qualities to the woman behind them and that's the impression that remained till date.

Its difficult to reconcile the sweet, motherly person I'd imagined her to be with the reality revealed by that article. I feel sorry for the child she was and sorrier for the woman she made of herself. Its saddening to know that the stories I've treasured all these years stemmed from a desire to avoid a painful reality.

Someday, my daughter's bookshelf will definitely hold a collection of Blyton's best because I would love for her to experience the same wonder, the same sense of revelation and excitement those stories gave me. Will I relive them the same way though? Sadly, perhaps not.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Tagful of Tasty Memories :)

I've seen this tag on a few blogs and have elected to go ahead and do it, because complete and total foodie that I am, how could I pass up an opportunity to write about:

"Five memorable meals ever eaten: It could be anything that makes the meal memorable - the food, the place, the place you were in your life when you ate, the company, the weather, the ambiance - heck, the guy who served the food!"

In doing this tag, I face a problem of plenty. I come from a majorly foodie family and consider it one of my greatest blessings that I was born to the couple who're the best cooks in not only my family, but among all the families I know. So food has always been an integral part of my life, or rather, amazing food has always been an integral part of my life.

Understandably then, it becomes difficult to pick just five out of a lifetime of memorable meals, but it was a process I thoroughly savoured :D

1. Festive Meals - As long as we were based in Bombay (a timeframe which spans the first 22 years of my life), our routine for Christmas, New Year's & Easter was almost always the same. Breakfast was at home, a meal which in the later years was mom's homemade bread and roast chicken. Our mouths would start watering the day before with the house fragrant with the aromas of baking bread and roasting chicken! Lunch would be at my maternal grandparents' home where my grandmom would lay out a spread of Indian delicacies. I say "Indian" because she travelled all over India with my granddad and her cooking reflects that diversity in addition to the flavours of our native Kerala. The Christmas sweets post-lunch also were just as versatile. Dinner was at my paternal grandparents' home where my grandmom favoured Western flavours more. So we'd have a roast again, and she'd make a yummy stuffing to go with it. Surprisingly, what my sister & I both looked forward to were granny's salads, because the dressings would be 100% rich mayonnaise (not the healthy yoghurt like our mom usually made us eat!), and aside from the veggies, there'd be crunchy croutons (again, not on our mom's usual menu as its deep-fried bread), and of course, extremely generous chunks of cheese!!!

2. Murg Shifta at Ivy Restaurant - This is a place close to home in Bombay. We checked it out some years ago, and have been hooked since our first meal. My favourite is this heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth chicken kebab - the Murg Shifta. The first time I bit into one was the first time I was moved to tears by the sheer exquisiteness of food. Whenever we've visited Bombay after settling in the UAE, no matter what else needs to be done in the short time we're there, we ALWAYS eat from this restaurant. If we can't go there, then dad orders in advance and then picks up the food. This restaurant was also the setting where I had a meal with this dude who'd come to see me; food came second to the conversation that day as we each evaluated whether or not we could spend the rest of our lives together, though I made it a point to mention the Shifta and how it was a favourite :D I later married that dude, and when we visited Bombay post-marriage, we all went to Ivy again (or as he puts it, we returned to "the scene of the crime"!!!)

3. Stamp of Approval - My mom & grandmom came to visit us a few months after my marriage. As soon as she freshened up after reaching home, mom came straight to my kitchen to check out what I had prepared for dinner, and on seeing the dishes, she couldn't resist sampling one of them. As I had learnt how to cook only after marriage, this would be the first time she would taste a dish by yours truly. Though baking had become a passion some years before and she liked the cakes & desserts I made, I think its somehow different when it comes to the food you eat on a daily basis. So there I stood, making tea and watching with some nervousness as she took a bite of a chicken preparation - one of her recipes itself :). To my dying day, I will never forget that look of surprised admiration & pleasure that lit her face!!!

4. With My Oldest Friends - Most of our socialising in Bombay was with the families of my dad's two oldest friends. Their kids are my oldest friends and we've gotten together countless times at all our homes. The atmosphere is always comfortable & relaxed the way it is when everybody goes back donkey's years and every get-together was loads of fun. But there are two meals that especially stand out in my mind as I do this tag. The first was my 15th birthday party, which was just 11 days before my tenth standard board exams. When everybody else was feverishly cramming, we partied on till 3 a.m.!!! (And yes, I did do pretty well in the exams too :D) The second meal was a get-together when I visited Bombay in January this year. Hubby couldn't get leave, so I had gone alone. I knew I was pregnant, but as I hadn't seen a gynec yet, my parents & I didn't share the news with the others. That night, us "kids" played cards like we've done nearly all our lives, and we laughed and laughed with the same abandonment as when we all really were kids and even as I was laughing, I was filled with this bittersweet feeling that this would be the last time we were together like this. My life, at least, had changed forever, and the next time we would all meet, I'd have a kid of my own.

5. Thankful for the Blessing - The first trimester of my pregnancy brought on nausea so intense that for the first time in my life, the mere thought of food made me sick. The culinary sights & smells I'd savoured all my life suddenly became so unbearable that not only did I keep out of the kitchen, I'd stay shut in my room if somebody else was cooking. My diet was reduced to a chutney sandwich for breakfast and either a simple khichdi* or chapati** & curd for lunch and dinner. With my energy level at an all-time low, I couldn't make even these basic meals; first my parents, then hubby & my ma-in-law took over the kitchen. So the first day I re-entered my kitchen and was able to stand there and cook a decent meal was a huge blessing for me. As I made a proper, tempered dal*** and marinated mackerel for frying, I actually had tears in my eyes! I was that happy and that thankful to have regained my old strength and abilities, and I vowed then that I would never take them for granted.

So these are some of my most delicious memories :) Anyone else wanting to take a tasty trip down memory lane, feel free to pick up the tag!

* khichdi - rice, lentils (and vegetables if you want ..... I didn't!) cooked together.
** chapati - Indian flatbread.
*** dal - lentils cooked to a soup consistency.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Going Ga-Ga Over Gu-Gu!

My baby girl is nearly 10 weeks old now, but even within this short span of time, she's changed (and changing!) so fast!!! Its not only her appearance, but also her personality. The near-silent, frail little child who only uttered the softest mewling cries post-birth is now a sturdier, bigger version who's not shy at all about being heard!

While previously she only tested her vocal range in terms of how loudly she could yell, these days she's started making those typically baby gurgling sounds and its the cutest thing ever!!!

Her word of choice as of now is "uh-gu" with the ocassional variation thrown in, so when she's awake & content, that's what our vocabulary gets reduced to :D We're gu-guing and gurgling and coochie-cooing, and sometimes (when we go a bit overboard, I think :D), she looks at us with this half-curious, half-amused expression almost as if she's thinking: "What the hell???? These guys are supposed to be the adults!!!"

But its not as if we're only indulging in baby talk; I've read about the importance of speaking to babies early on itself and so I keep talking to her just about everything and anything, not at all difficult if you're me ..... I can yammer on and on and relentlessly on ...... all in the hope of hearing one little "uh-gu" :) That's the sound that makes our day these days!

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Best of Us!!!

I'd mentally started off on this post a hundred times, but floundered when it came to taking it forward. It wasn't for a lack of things to write about; rather, just like it happened after marriage, I feel waaaay too much for words to express.

So I'll just simply shout it out from the rooftop (or rather, my laptop :P), that

I have a DAUGHTER!!!!!

God!!!! I remember the first time I used the words "my daughter" in a conversation some weeks ago, I stopped mid-sentence, wondering if it had all really happened or if it was a dream. Well, it did really happen, so here's the when, where & how:

'When' was 31 Aug - she surprised us by arriving a week before the due date :) 'Where' was Bangalore and 'how' was a normal delivery (thank You God again!!!!), following a completely "uneventful" - to use the word from my medical file - pregnancy (more heartfelt thanks to God).

But while the pregnancy itself was uneventful, life in the last trimester and in the two months since certainly has been very eventful, hence the long absence from the blog. I missed this space terribly, missed writing, not to mention the dear friends I made here (thanks to all of you who enquired about us!), and I definitely will catch up with everyone soon. Now that I've put up this initial piece, hopefully the blogging will pick up pace again.

In the meanwhile, here's my darling little Kristyn, born a mini replica of her papa, but now slowly starting to look like me. Either way, she remains the best of us :D

Monday, June 08, 2009

On the Palm

With a couple of occasions to celebrate, we joined up with my uncle & his family to do something a bit out of the ordinary over the weekend. We drove onto Dubai's famous Palm Jumeirah island to see the Atlantis resort (pictures uploaded on my photoblog).

Atlantis is the only commercial establishment there open right now; the rest are in varying stages of construction, currently stalled due to recession woes. The residential apartment complexes and villas are up and ready, and its nice to see from the monorail that runs the length of the Palm.

There are many attractions within the Atlantis, including its water park, aquarium and what I think is a dolphin show. I believe they have an area where you can swim with the dolphins and feed sting rays. Someday perhaps, it'd be fun to try, but in this murderously hot weather, none of us was game to be out in the open for too long. So we just rode the monorail and clicked loads of goofy photos with the resort as a backdrop.

Having lived in Bombay and Abu Dhabi, we're no strangers to reclaimed land, but I have to say, the Palm is certainly the most creative of them all and also the most controversial. On the one hand, it is a stupendous engineering feat, but on the other, the project has also drawn intense criticism for the resultant environmental damage.

I fell into the latter category initially, but having actually been there, I'm torn between both viewpoints; I can't decide if its a testament of human ingenuity for mastering a bit of Nature, or of human stupidity for messing too far with Nature.

Either way, it is a sight worth seeing at least once!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spellbound: How It All Started

April 2002.
It was almost the last week of our vacation in Dubai. We were staying at my aunt's place and on the particular weekday afternoon that this story begins, my uncle was at work, the older of my two cousins was at school, my parents were off browsing kitchen appliances or something, and since at 18, I didn't give a damn about cooking, I was stuck at home with my sister and the younger cousin running amok, and my aunt who was escaping for her siesta.

I had already emailed & chatted with my friends back in Bombay, the younger kids were getting on my nerves, there was nothing good on TV and what I was desperately craving was a good book. Reading has always been my favourite pastime and though there was a library just up the road, it would open only in the evening, meaning that I was facing a long afternoon of utter and complete boredom.

On arrival itself, I had checked out my cousin's book collection, but the reading choices of a 7-year old are obviously limited. I definitely didn't want to read Panchatantra or Aesop's Fables, and of Enid Blyton's many books, I've always preferred the school and mystery series over the magic tales on my brother's bookshelf.

But there was something else on that shelf, something that I'd already sneered at and then dismissed without another thought. On that afternoon though, Bored Beyond Belief, I reconsidered. An old friend's passionate pleas echoed in my head: You have to read it, you just HAVE TO.....its awesome!!! I had just as passionately argued back: its hocus-pocus for kids!!!! To which my friend emphatically declared that there was NOTHING kiddish about it!!!

Thinking some book was better than no book, I resignedly curled up on the sofa with Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets, and with a highly skeptical look on my face, I read ........ and read, and read, and read ........ till the next thing I knew, it was evening and my blissful solitude was shattered by everybody else returning home and making plans for dinner out.

How can I go out, I thought wildly. How would I find out who the heir of Slytherin was?? What if it were Harry himself??? What was this monster in the Chamber???? What if it killed off one of the characters, characters who, in just a few brief hours, I already thought of as friends.

And then an even worse thought struck me: what of the story after this book???? The fourth book in the series - Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire - had been released some months earlier and with it, Pottermania had hit India big time. I had scoffed at the fools who'd queued outside bookshops hoping against hope they'd be lucky to get a copy ...... but now I totally empathised!!!

My mother has always been against buying fiction, and she has a point: with us being members of two libraries, we usually got to read the latest books for a negligible monthly fee, and, most importantly for my mom, we didn't fill up precious storage space with books that we'd likely never re-read. So I knew there was no convincing her to let me buy the book. And the chances of getting a copy from the libraries back home any time soon were very, very slim, what with so many Potter fans around.

The only hope seemed to be the library up the road. I insisted on going there that very evening, though I still hadn't finished the second book. I practically ran there, hoping, yet not daring to hope too much in case it was all in vain. But, Hallelujah!!!! There they were, all four books in the series sitting pretty on a shelf!!!!

However, now I was in a dilemma: which to take??? The situation demanded some quick thinking and advance planning (Ma, you'd have been proud!!!) I knew for sure that the first book had been lying around in one library back home and since I'd already begun from the second book, I figured the first could wait some more. But I was still only halfway through the second ...... would I be able to finish the third and the fourth, which is a really chunky volume, especially since I had just a week, and that too with many outings planned???

I had to try, didn't I? :D

And with a single-minded determination that would've produced wonders had I applied it to academics, I gave my goal my all. Not stopping to savour the thrilling end of the second book, I dived straight into the third. But the leap to the fourth was not as direct; I had to go back and re-read the third book's climax, because it is just ....... beyond thrilling!!! My vocabulary can't do justice to just how shockingly brilliant it is, so lets leave it at that.

However, that little deviation cost me precious time: with everything else that was going on, we now had just two days left in Dubai, and the mighty Goblet of Fire loomed large before me. I was facing my single greatest reading challenge in the midst of more going out and the added burden of packing ........ and I can both proudly and humbly say, that I did it!!!! I finished reading Goblet of Fire in two days!!!

Back in Bombay, I caught the first Potter movie on TV before I could read the book (and someday perhaps I'll do a post on exactly why I loathe all the Potter films so much!), and eventually re-read the others too. My mother not believing in instant gratification, we had to wait a while for the fifth book; it arrived a few months after the release as a wonderful surprise gift from the parents :). Same with the sixth book. I was working when the last one released, so that was my treat to my sister & me.

April - May 2009.
By mutual agreement, my sister had kept the Harry Potter series. So naturally, on this visit home, reading the whole saga from start to finish was high on my list of things to do. I have lost count of how many times I've read them all in these past seven years; but on each occassion, the magic of J.K. Rowling's writing is still powerful enough to make me forget all other hobbies & interests. No other books have captured my imagination as completely as this lot, and I think that will be the subject of a future post - why I love this series so much. In the meanwhile, in the current reading session, I am off to embark on the final part of Harry's tale, as spellbound as I was the first time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not Just an Economic Crisis

And so again after a visit to Renu's blog, I'm compelled to convert a comment into a post, because one thought led to another which led to a third ..... so on and so forth, till its just too long in the comment form.

Straight off, let me say that I struggled mightily with economics and finance in my formal education and still do not fully understand the intricacies of both. But what I do understand very clearly is this: you violate His laws, you will pay a price someday. As you sow, so shall you reap, or to borrow my sister's favourite acronym, JKVB - Jaisi Karni Vaise Bharni (and now look at the amazing coincidence that as I was going through some of my regular blogs, I came across Goofy Mumma's latest!)

In many places, I recall the current economic crisis being described as the failure of the capitalist philosophy. I disagree.

I see this crisis as the failure of regulatory authorities who should've ensured organizations didn't overstretch their limits. I see this crisis as a failure of organizations themselves in that they were over-ambitious. Most importantly, I see this economic crisis as an after-effect, the result of a much more deeper cause: a moral, ethical & spiritual failure.

Very simply, people got greedy.

Right from childhood, we're taught that greed is bad. In fact, Christianity considers it as one of seven deadly sins. Deadly sin. I find it really amazing that people get so immersed in their careers and money-making that they forget these basic truths along the way. Many will scoff at anything to do with religion & spirituality; they outright dismiss simple values as 'touchy-feely crap' and see them as having no connection to the "business world".

And yet, when this crisis first erupted, and companies - supposedly well-established industry giants - started collapsing one after the other, the first thing people ran towards was God. Churches, in New York City especially, reported record attendance as desperate souls from the corporate world turned to Him for some way out of the mess they'd gotten themselves into.

I repeat: you violate His laws, you will pay a price someday. You can't ..... restrict God to a slot in your life. You can't say, ok God, I'll come see you in so&so place of worship, I'll give some money to xyz charity and that's it, be happy with that, what I do in my job is my business, not Yours.

Many people (including some members of my own family), believe that their "security" and their "status" lies in the size of their bank balance. Everything else comes in second to the all-important goal of money. Instead of work being a part of life, it becomes their whole life, to the exclusion of God, their own health and personal relationships. So when you make that sort of uncontrolled greed your way of life ....... how do you expect to walk away unscathed? And for a crisis of this magnitude to have occurred, its not just a few people here and there who went astray, but entire generations, entire societies that are to blame.

Anything taken to an extreme is bad; so the fault does not lie in capitalism per se, but in the unchecked, unbridled capitalism and materialism. I still believe in the capitalist philosophy, so long as we operate within a moral and ethical framework at the individual and the larger organizational and societal levels.

The values of hard work, honesty, saving and spending within your means are extolled by most faiths, and they are meant to guide us in all aspects of life. They are NOT irrelevant or outdated in present times however "modern" we consider ourselves, and whatever our accomplishments, none of us is above them. Provided we adhere to these guidelines, we have every right to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More Money, More Faith?

I got started on this post quite a few days ago when I read this terrific piece by Amrita, but with one thing and another, blogging took a backseat and I couldn't complete it with the same steam that I had begun. I also needed time to think, to do a little introspection and get my thoughts in order. I feel very passionately on these subjects and can be very vocal on them, so some distance was needed if I wanted to produce a coherent post. Hopefully, I've succeeded.

My first instinct right after reading Amrita's post was to rant about how people needlessly fritter small fortunes away on flowers, garlands, fireworks and other frivolities.

Does He really need them? In the grand scheme of things, what are a few flowers offered at any one place of worship when you compare it to the vast variety He Himself has created? And fireworks ..... the lakhs and lakhs spent on them! One explosion of sound, a few seconds worth of flash and glitter and poof! Its over. How does that match up to the unimaginable wonders that exist in His universe - the stars, the shooting stars, planets, comets, galaxies that have endured since beyond our comprehension?

But then a small voice in my head said: Don't I like attending mass in a clean church with fresh flowers and candles at the altar? Don't I appreciate the paintings, sculptures and other ornaments that adorn the interiors? Don't I get excited to see the extra lights and decorations at festivals? Don't I watch fireworks displays as enthralled as any child?

What about in my home itself? Don't I like to have a well-decorated altar? Don't I light candles and place flowers there? Don't I like to jazz up my home during festivals? Christ was born in a shabby little manger and there were definitely no sparkling lights, no shiny decorations around at that time ..... so why do I bother with them at Christmas?

Now let's move outside to the buildings themselves. Don't I pause to ooh and aah over a beautifully built church / temple / mosque or any other place of worship? The more exquisite the architecture and the embellishments, the more money involved in its construction. But as I gaze at them in awestruck wonder, do I care about how much it would have cost? Even if my thoughts turn to money, do I begrudge it, do I think it a waste? No ....... its for God, I'd say.

But can any human creation possibly compare to His creation???

So then why do we do it?

These things are a token of our faith, our humble efforts to honour God. I emphasize 'humble' because again, in comparison with His works, anything we do is just that - humble. And more importantly, these are mere tokens; they cannot be the sum & substance of our faith.

Many priests whose sermons I've had the privilege of hearing, constantly stressed the need to go beyond mere ritualism and tokenism and actually live our faith. This simply meant keeping the ideals of love, service and forgiveness paramount in all aspects of life, something I believe all the great religions of this world preach.

But sadly, many people seem to believe that the more money they spend on religious activities, the more God will be pleased with them. Its far, far easier to hand out some notes or write a cheque than it is to practice "love, service and forgiveness" in the daily grind of life. But ultimately, it isn't how much you have, but how you live your life that matters.

Its not that we shouldn't spend money at all on our religious functions; just as long as we remember that whatever we do, we do it to glorify Him, not to glorify ourselves. And as we spend, I think we should also remember that we are duty-bound to help those in need. There has to be a balance between celebrations, donations and trying to live our daily lives by His word for faith and worship to be truly meaningful.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Recipe: Fruit Teabread

I love food and trying out new recipes, but as I've said before, I don't have the patience to blog about them. Usually.

But now that I'm at my parents' and the planning of daily tasks and menus is handled by my mother, my creative juices seem to be flowing stronger. Plus, with a proper oven here, I can fully indulge in my first culinary love - baking! So as I set about making this Fruit Teabread, I decided to put in the extra effort and share this recipe here because:

a. its incredibly easy and no-fuss: you don't need to bring out electric beaters / food processors, just simple hand mixing will do.

b. its very versatile: instead of the fruit, you could put dates or nuts like chopped almonds / walnuts, or you could do fruit and nut, or chuck it all and go wild with chocolate chips!!!

c. though the name says 'teabread', its closer to a cake, great for kids' tiffins or evening snacks (I made this one for my dad's teatime snack).

d. the way my mom showed me to make this, its healthy too!



- 300 g whole wheat flour (atta)
- 50 g oats
- 100 g unrefined sugar (read the Notes at the end of the post)
- 150 g dried fruit (or nuts etc. I used mixed peel, dried blueberries & cherries)
- 5 level tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt


- 300 ml milk
- 60 ml ordinary vegetable oil
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- Few drops food colouring (totally optional, but the kid in me LOVES coloured cakes, so :D)

This makes 1 900 g loaf.


1. Line a loaf tin with wax paper, or grease it with oil. *

2. Mix all the dry and wet ingredients separately.

3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ones in.

4. Mix ONLY to the point where all the dry ingredients are coated. DO NOT overmix this. Also mix everything only when you're ready to bake; if you leave the batter standing too long before, the efficiency of the baking powder reduces.

5. Pour batter into prepared tin, and bake at 180 degrees C for 1 hour 25 min or till golden and pulling away from the sides.

6. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

* My loaf tin struggles to release the finished product, hence wax paper makes our life a lot easier. If your baking dishes are more well-behaved, just greasing them will be fine.


1. This recipe was taken from the Good Housekeeping cookbook. The original calls for 350 g plain flour (maida) and 275 g sugar. But since my dad's diabetic, we try to make such dishes as nutritious as possible, without compromising on taste. And so I used lesser whole wheat flour (300g) to accomodate the oats (50g) as well. I drastically cut back on the sugar, as the dried fruits I was using would also add an element of sweetness, and it turned out sweet enough. But you can absolutely use the entire prescribed quantity of sugar, or lessen it and then add some honey / golden syrup into the wet ingredients.

2. The use of oil, instead of butter, is another plus on the health factor.

3. VERY IMPORTANT: The baking time listed was as per the original recipe. Ovens vary tremendously ....... my loaf was done in 50 minutes! Given the quantities, I think this teabread should take at least 30 min in most ovens, but do keep an eye on it from then on. If a skewer / toothpick inserted into the centre of the teabread comes out clean, its ready.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Week That Was......

...... was pretty much a whirlwind. On second thoughts though, ordinarily, it wouldn't really have been hectic, but with me halfway through my pregnancy, I tend to tire out a lot easily than before.

We landed in Kerala right before Easter and spent a few days with hubby's folks. The rainclouds came along with us, so we were at least spared the usual heat for the most part (but not the humidity :( ) There was one excellent thunderstorm, and I can say 'excellent' because obviously, I enjoyed it from the warm & dry comfort of home :)

Between an Easter dinner at a relative's place and an engagement, we had a lot of socializing to do. I've observed that Kerala socializing is still largely segregated on a gender basis, especially in smaller gatherings. So I spent most of the time talking to various aunties and ammachis *, swapping pregnancy stories - basically, who threw up and how much, what foods make us nauseous and so on :D

But the highlight of this trip was that I got a chance to get all decked up in one of my silk saris!!! Despite it being meltingly humid (and me eventually wishing I could take the sari off), I think I carried myself a lot better than in previous attempts, so yaaay on the gracefulness-in-a-sari front!!!

The next day saw me on a plane early in the morning, headed for my maika* (sadly alone; hubby's leave situation is such that we need to preserve it all for when the baby comes). I landed in Dubai by noon, and got off at the spanking new Emirates terminal.

Like most places here, its all bright-lights and sparkling-tile gloss. But what had me absolutely gobsmacked were these huuuuge elevators that take you down to the ground level to Immigration and Baggage Claim. I guess they could take 30-40 people at a time, and they're completely automated with doors that sound an alarm (like subway trains) before closing. I was maha-impressed by that!!!

I got out fairly quickly, and settled in for the drive to Abu Dhabi. Again, I was gobsmacked by the many, many changes I saw ...... and its just been some 7 months since I was last here! The construction on the Bangalore Metro (at least in the MG Road area) has been as is since I first saw it in early 2008; but the Dubai Metro has made such giant leaps forward since last August!!!

Even within Abu Dhabi emirate, there has been soooo much development. Skeletons of buildings already several storeys high are up where there was just plain desert last year. The most fascinating construction was this building near the Al Raha Mall - its in the shape of a circle!!! Whatever people may say about the UAE (and anyone who's lived here for any length of time can say a lot!), no one can deny that things move here. The autocratic government works to the extent that things happen, and they happen fast.

Anyway, with the travel and the impact of all these changes, it took me a couple of days to settle in. I'm here for a couple of months, in which time I hope to get into a good exercise regime (despite the tempting food options!), get out and see my old haunts which should, Inshallah, translate into some fresh photographs!!!

Ammachi - grandmom in Malayalam
Maika - a woman's parents' house in Hindi

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Tune Tag

When Reflections tagged me to do this some days ago, I realised with a little jolt, that there's nothing at all on this blog about music. Pretty odd, considering how much it means to me. I learnt a couple of instruments till my teens and had a decent voice back then, but it was always listening to music that was ........ uplifting.

Uplifting. That's putting it mildly, but I had to struggle even to come up with that word. And that's perhaps why I've never written about music (despite requests from my equally music-mad better half to sometimes contribute to his blog too). I've almost always experienced music on the level of pure 'feeling', sometimes on an entirely spiritual plane, and its very difficult for me to translate that into words.

Looking back, the earliest memory I have of feeling the power of music is at age eight. My parents, grandparents, uncles & aunts were all watching a Malayalam film, His Highness Abdullah, starring the family favourite, Mohanlal. I was watching too, in parts, but I was more interested in playing with my sister. There's this one song, its like a contest between Mohanlal's character and a highly accomplished singing guru. I don't know the actual name of it; I refer to it as the 'Anandam' song because that's the word most repeated at the end.

When it first started up, I wasn't really listening. But as it progressed, it caught my attention. I was suddenly as engrossed as everyone else watching the movie. The changes in the melody and the raagas completely fascinated me, and by the time the song reached its climax, I was spellbound. I don't know who the other singer is, but K. J. Yesudas sang for Mohanlal, and the sheer power and passion of his voice and the melody towards the climax left me breathless. My throat felt tight, my heart ached, and I had shivers down my spine ...... but in the most beautiful way possible.

In terms of this tag, which requires you to list your 10 favourite Soulful, Slow & Melodious songs in any 2 languages, hubby told me that this Anandam song isn't exactly 'slow'. But among the very few Malayalam songs I've heard, it is certainly the most soulful & melodious, and holds a very special place in my heart (Nancy, this selection is for you, since you specially asked for it :))

Getting back to the main requirement of the tag, I'm listing 10 favourites in English and Hindi. Again, not all might meet the 'slow' description, since more than tempo, its the soul & melody of a song that grabs me. It took me a while to do this, because I was facing a problem of plenty: how do I restrict myself to just 10??? Anyway, here's my list, in no particular order:


1. Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
2. Everything I Do I Do It For You - Bryan Adams
3. Hallelujah - the Leonard Cohen & Rufus Wainwright versions
4. Hey Jude - The Beatles
5. Going Home - Dire Straits
6. Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
7. Harvest Moon - Neil Young
8. May It Be - Enya
9. Father Figure - George Michael
10. Kiss From A Rose - Seal


1. O Mere Dil Ke Chain -- Mere Jeevan Saathi
2. Zara Zara -- Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein
3. Ajnabee Shehar -- Jaan-e-mann
4. Tum Se Hi -- Jab We Met
5. Tu Hi Re -- Bombay
6. Aksar -- Shaan (the singer, not the movie ...... its a lesser known track from one of his albums)
7. Dil Kya Kare -- I love both the original version by Kishore Da and Shaan's later take for Instant Karma.
8. Saaiyan -- Kailash Kher
9. Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar -- Strings (the best thing to come out of Pakistan)
10. Tere Khayalon Se -- Shankar Mahadevan

I now tag Amrita, Deeplydip, Mumbai Diva, Smriti and Thought Warp to do this.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Success of Secular India

My mom sent me the article below, entitled "Indians and Pakistanis are no longer the same people" by Vir Sanghvi. There was a time when I naively believed that we were the same - ordinary people with similar aspirations. But today, I believe we are the same only in that we are all human; however, as a nation, that collection of human beings has chosen a very different path, one that only leads downhill.

Despite that, I still wouldn't go to the extreme of saying that EVERY Pakistani is an India-hating, West-hating, Islamic fanatic, just as I don't believe that EVERY Indian is true to the idea of India.

Recent events, especially here in Karnataka, show a growing and alarming intolerance on religious, gender and linguistic grounds. Our neighbours across the border are a glaring example of just what intolerance can deteriorate into, so we, as a nation, need continual reminders to not stray onto that path, consciously or subconsciously.

Which is why I liked this article. It reminded me that all our successes and achievements, whether individually or nationally, are at least partly rooted in our national ideals of democracy, tolerance and most importantly, secularism.



by Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times, The Mint

The same people? Surely not.

Few things annoy me as much as the claim often advanced by well-meaning but woolly-headed (and usually Punjabi) liberals to the effect that when it comes to India and Pakistan, "We're all the same people, yaar."

This may have been true once upon a time. Before 1947, Pakistan was part of undivided India and you could claim that Punjabis from West Punjab (what is now Pakistan) were as Indian as, say, Tamils from Madras.

But time has a way of moving on. And while the gap between our Punjabis (from east Punjab which is now the only Punjab left in India) and our Tamils may actually have narrowed, thanks to improved communications, shared popular culture and greater physical mobility, the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense.

This was brought home to me most clearly by two major events over the last few weeks.
The first of these was the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on the streets of Lahore. In their defence, Pakistanis said that they were powerless to act against the terrorists because religious fanaticism was growing. Each day more misguided youngsters joined jihadi outfits and the law and order situation worsened.

Further, they added, things had got so bad that in the tribal areas the government of Pakistan had agreed to suspend the rule of law under pressure from the Taliban and had conceded that sharia law would reign instead. Interestingly, while most civilised liberals should have been appalled by this surrender to the forces of extremism, many Pakistanis defended this concession.

Imran Khan (Keble College, Oxford, 1973-76) even declared that sharia law would be better because justice would be dispensed more swiftly! (I know this is politically incorrect but the Loin of the Punjab's defence of sharia law reminded me of the famous Private Eye cover when his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith was announced. The Eye carried a picture of Khan speaking toJemima's father. "Can I have your daughter's hand?" Imran was supposedly asking James Goldsmith. "Why? Has she been caught shoplifting?" Goldsmith replied. So much for sharia law.)

The second contrasting event was one that took place in Los Angeles but which was perhaps celebrated more in India than in any other country in the world. Three Indians won Oscars: A.R. Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar.

Their victory set off a frenzy of rejoicing. We were proud of our countrymen. We were pleased that India's entertainment industry and its veterans had been recognised at an international platform. And all three men became even bigger heroes than they already were.

But here's the thing: Not one of them is a Hindu.

Can you imagine such a thing happening in Pakistan? Can you even conceive of a situation where the whole country would celebrate the victory of three members of two religious minorities? For that matter, can you even imagine a situation where people from religious minorities would have got to the top of their fields and were, therefore, in the running for international awards?

On the one hand, you have Pakistan imposing sharia law, doing deals with the Taliban, teaching hatred in madrasas, declaring jihad on the world and trying to kill innocent Sri Lankan cricketers. On the other, you have the triumph of Indian secularism.

The same people? Surely not.

We are defined by our nationality. They choose to define themselves by their religion.

But it gets even more complicated. As you probably know, Rahman was born Dilip Kumar. He converted to Islam when he was 21. His religious preferences made no difference to his prospects. Even now, his music cuts across all religious boundaries. He's as much at home with Sufi music as he is with bhajans. Nor does he have any problem with saying 'Vande Mataram'.

Now, think of a similar situation in Pakistan. Can you conceive of a Pakistani composer who converted to Hinduism at the age of 21 and still went on to become a national hero? Under sharia law, they'd probably have to execute him.

Resul Pookutty's is an even more interesting case. Until you realise that Malayalis tend to put an 'e' where the rest of us would put an 'a,' (Ravi becomes Revi and sometimes the Gulf becomes the Gelf), you cannot work out that his name derives from Rasool, a fairly obviously Islamic name.

But here's the point: even when you point out to people that Pookutty is in fact a Muslim, they don't really care. It makes no difference to them. He's an authentic Indian hero, his religion is irrelevant.

Can you imagine Pakistan being indifferent to a man's religion? Can you believe that Pakistanis would not know that one of their Oscar winners came from a religious minority? And would any Pakistani have dared bridge the religious divide in the manner Resul did by referring to the primeval power of Om in his acceptance speech?

The same people? Surely not.

Most interesting of all is the case of Gulzar who many Indians believe is a Muslim. He is not. He is a Sikh. And his real name is Sampooran Singh Kalra.

So why does he have a Muslim name?

It's a good story and he told it on my TV show some years ago. He was born in West Pakistan and came over the border during the bloody days of Partition. He had seen so much hatred and religious violence on both sides, he said, that he was determined never to lose himself to that kind of blind religious prejudice and fanaticism.

Rather than blame Muslims for the violence inflicted on his community - after all, Hindus and Sikhs behaved with equal ferocity - he adopted a Muslim pen name to remind himself that his identity was beyond religion. He still writes in Urdu and considers it irrelevant whether a person is a Sikh, a Muslim or a Hindu.

Let's forget about political correctness and come clean: can you see such a thing happening in Pakistan? Can you actually conceive of a famous Pakistani Muslim who adopts a Hindu or Sikh name out of choice to demonstrate the irrelevance of religion?

My point, exactly.

What all those misguided liberals who keep blathering on about us being the same people forget is that in the 60-odd years since Independence, our two nations have traversed very different paths.

Pakistan was founded on the basis of Islam. It still defines itself in terms of Islam. And over the next decade as it destroys itself, it will be because of Islamic extremism.

India was founded on the basis that religion had no role in determining citizenship or nationhood. An Indian can belong to any religion in the world and face no discrimination in his rights as a citizen.

It is nobody's case that India is a perfect society or that Muslims face no discrimination. But only a fool would deny that in the last six decades, we have travelled a long way towards religious equality.

In the early days of independent India, a Yusuf Khan had to call himself Dilip Kumar for fear of attracting religious prejudice. In today's India, a Dilip Kumar can change his name to A.R. Rahman and nobody really gives a damn either way.

So think back to the events of the last few weeks. To the murderous attack on innocent Sri Lankan cricketers by jihadi fanatics in a society that is being buried by Islamic extremism. And to the triumphs of Indian secularism.

Same people?
Don't make me laugh.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Recipe: My Favourite Dip!

I am very passionate about food, I am very passionate about cooking, and I am very passionate about finding and sharing recipes. Sadly, that passion doesn't have the patience to note measurements (or take step-by-step photos!) as I cook so that I can share them with the blog world. Which is why I sincerely admire bloggers who do, like Renu, A and my more recent discovery - Lan. Kudos to you for your food blogs!!!

Anyway, even without precise measurements, I am still going ahead and sharing the following recipe here. Can't take credit for it; that goes entirely to my mom. I call it Herbed Cheese Dip; you can call it whatever you like :) And as it says in the title, this is one of my absolute favourite dips. Some of the reasons a particular recipe becomes a favourite is one, obviously because its yummy beyond belief :), two, because its incredibly easy, three, because its versatile and completely open to personal interpretation.

What I mean by the last point is that you can use this dip in many ways, and that the amount of specific ingredients depends entirely on your taste; use more or less of anything, as you like. So here it is:



1/2 cup feta cheese (or regular cheddar blocks / slices if feta's unavailable)
1 tsp mayonnaisse (healthier substitute: plain yoghurt)
1 green chilli deseeded (keep the seeds if you like the heat)
1 garlic clove (use more if you like the flavour)
5-6 mint leaves (or coriander, or both; again, use more as per taste)


Blitz all ingredients in mixie / blender till you get a smooth paste.

And that's it!!! Some important notes though:
- If you're using yoghurt, add it gradually till you get the consistency you like; if you add too much straight off, it might get too watery.

- You definitely don't need extra salt in this if you're using feta cheese; you probably won't with cheddar either, so taste the dip & then add salt if needed.

- This'll keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.

Serving Suggestions:

1. The dip itself is vegetarian, but it goes well with all kinds of food like french fries, bhajis, potato chips, fried chicken, fish fingers etc.

2. If you make the paste a bit thicker using less mayo or yoghurt, you can use it as a spread for sandwiches, great for lunch boxes or a kids' party. For adults, you can spread it on crackers or Monaco biscuits and garnish attractively and voila! you have a canape ready!

3. If you have leftover white meat (not in curry form though!), you can blend it in too for a nice, chunky paste.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who Am I?

My masters' degree dissertation required me to do a lot of reading on workplace diversity, and then on culture, cross-cultural management, sociology, psychology and other related areas. I'll be the first to say that the final product wasn't the most sound piece of research, but what I'll eternally be grateful for is the knowledge I gained in the process.

In a word, it was mind-broadening. Not only in terms of a better understanding of why people differed culturally, but most importantly, in terms of a better understanding of myself.

Much of the material prompted me to introspect, to analyse the way I perceived and interpreted the world. It forced me to confront my prejudices, to realise that though I believed in equality, I too had racist, sexist and all other discriminatory -istic tendencies in me. But perhaps the most valuable insight was a clearer understanding of my identity -- who I am.

I didn't just randomly decide to do a post on identity; it was this thought-provoking piece by Renu that set off the introspection again. Although her post largely centers on women retaining their maiden names post marriage as part of their identity, it got me thinking about the whole issue of identity itself.
What makes up a person's identity? We each get some parts of our identity simply by being born wherever we were - we're instantly a part of a family, a society, a nation. But I think for the most part, our identity is how we choose to define ourselves, what we choose to make of ourselves.

Most people go through life without a clear understanding of their identities; they just go with the flow because that's just how things are, or feel compelled to be whatever the current media trend tells them they should be because they want to fit in. I think its just a handful of people who're lucky to instinctively know who they are. Most of us have to grapple with the issue for a long time till we arrive at that understanding.

For me, it was this particular exercise that really helped me clarify my identity. While some things were immediately obvious, I still took a few days to sort through it, but the end result was a renewed self-confidence and a sense of being at peace with myself, and that's why I wanted to share it here ....... maybe it'd be just as useful to you. I don't remember now exactly where I read it or whose concept it is (I think it was put forth by an American college professor to his students, but I'm not sure).

Basically, you divide a circle into segments representing the most vital components of your identity; the size you give each segment depends on its importance to you. (In case you wondered, no, this drawing is not a representation of my identity :), its just an illustrative example.) The dimensions here are what most people tend to include; you may want to add / subtract, again based on what you consider important.

And that, really, is one of the key conclusions of this exercise: to realise what is important to you. For many women today, the main identity clash seems to be between that of family and career. I know that prioritising one over the other can be incredibly difficult; indeed for anyone, prioritising various aspects of your identity, deciding which is more important than the others is not easy.

But its not as if you need to rank them or anything, because different situations in life call for different facets of your identity to come to the fore. In some circumstances, you'll have to put work first, sometimes you may need to put your child's need before that of your spouse, if you're watching a sports event you'll cheer or boo as a citizen of whatever country, if you read about atrocities committed anywhere you feel for the victims simply because you're human too.

So the point of the exercise is purely to determine the aspects of your identity that matter to you. What is it that fulfills you? What brings you satisfaction? What is it that really makes you happy? Because isn't that ultimately the point of life, to improve as a person and to find happiness? And how better to get there than by starting out with a clear understanding of who you are.


For the curious: who am I??? I have and always will be a faith-and-family-first kind of person, happy and proud to be an Indian woman. I try my best to live up to 'Shalom' - its the Hebrew word for 'peace' from which my real name is derived. I tend towards artistic pursuits, so getting better at writing, cooking, painting, photography matters a lot. I've never been the career-driven type, though getting a good education was important, and I'm currently gearing up to face the biggest challenge of my life, and what will become the most important part of my identity for a long, long time - being a good mom!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hello New Blues!!!

Yesterday was the first time I set foot in a department store in over two months - quite a break for a weekend-window-shopping-loving person. We headed straight to the baby & maternity-wear section, and it was such a thrill to see all the teeny-tiny lil clothes!!! Even the outfits for older kids were so unbelievably cute ...... ah, to be a child today!!!!!

But then we got down to the business at hand - getting the mama some clothes :) The maternity-wear selection was very basic at this particular store, but to my absolute delight ........ there was a pair of jeans very similar to my old favourites!!! I tried them on, and man, I cannot describe how incredibly comfortable they were!!!

In fact, I would recommend that if, like me, you struggle with a lil extra tummy weight (even ordinarily!), go in for a pair of maternity-wear jeans, seriously!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bye-bye Blue Jeans

During the past couple of months, I made hay while the sun shone (and even when it didn't!): everytime we went out, I wore my more form-fitting tops ........ coz who knows when I'll be able to fit into them again??? No more right now, as I realised a couple of days earlier trying one of them on ...... the tummy has already begun its outward push!

So yesterday, I decided to reorganize one of my cupboard shelves, stacking the slimmer tees in the back. Also resigned to the back were some pants and capris, among them being my favourite blue jeans.

Now this may seem silly, but I actually had a lump in my throat as I folded this pair up. I've had them for maybe five years now, and they've been the absolute best pair of jeans I've ever owned! Dark blue, bootlegged, comfortable stretch denim that fit faithfully through thick and, ummm, not-so-thick ...... (sigh!)

I knew the last time I wore them (which was about a month ago), that it would be the last time I wore them ...... for a while at least. I was ok about it at the time, but yesterday, actually packing it off, it was like saying goodbye to a dear friend.

It was then that I realised that they were pretty much a constant companion over the last five years. Though I wear all kinds of clothing, I'm most comfortable in t-shirts & jeans, and this particular pair were the most comfy. I wore them every other week and took them with me on every trip, long or short.

And what I loved best about them was that they're not an overpriced, over-hyped "brand"; I'd bought them from a small store in Bombay for around Rs. 600-700 and despite being well-used, they're still going strong, unlike the crap from Lee / Levis which costs double that, but starts fraying out in a year (personal experience!) Comfort, style and value - all my purchase requirements met, making it one of my best buys!

Anyway, its time to move on to preggy-proofing my wardrobe now. Maternity-wear fashion is gearing up in India right now; I've seen ads of some really smart designs so hopefully I should have a lot of options that'll make the shopping fun! Top priority: a pair of comfy pants to replace my jeans ....... temporarily!

And to my beloved blues - we WILL get back together someday!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great Expectations

I began this year, determined to stay optimistic and positive. But have you ever noticed, that the moment you take some important decision is exactly when life / fate / God puts you to the test? Its like He thinks, hmmm, so Shalom has decided to do so & so; well, lets see how she handles this. And BAM!!! Something happens that tests that decision's strength to its limits and my optimism flies out the window.

I am not naturally optimistic. In fact, I am the exact opposite, a total pessimist. I came to this self-realisation in college, and was quite disappointed because I'd always believed myself to be the "glass is half full" type of person. Its easy to be so when things are going great, but when problems hit, or any challenge comes my way, I realised that my instinctive reaction is full-on panic. I immediately think of everything that could possibly go wrong, and how completely unprepared and unable I am to deal with the situation.

But then I also realised something else: after the force of that initial panic ebbs a bit, I pray, and prayer and effort get me through the challenge quite well. So that's my modus operandi, that's how I function. I don't deny the panic, but I don't let it stay too long either (and here, fans of Lost might recall the pilot episode where Jack describes something similar, but I'm digressing, so back to the topic). I have to fight off the panic, I have to consciously choose to be optimistic and say, yes, I can do this, and I can do it well.

So now back to the start of 2009, where I was revelling in my optimism and the strength of my faith. Just a day later, and something happened, or rather didn't happen, that put a dent in my optimistic armour. Over the next few days, that dent became a mighty gash, and I panicked like I've never panicked before, all thoughts of optimism forgotten. I actually questioned God, why are you doing this to me NOW? We had had other plans in place, big plans, so how were we going to manage this ..... situation, along with all that???

I broke down in front of hubby, who bravely comforted me, suppressing his own worries in the face of my obvious distress. His one solution for me if I'm in doubt, is to talk to my mother who'll put us in a right perspective. And as always, talking to her helped control that panic, and then hubby & me both felt comforted. Practical as ever, she said we didn't know anything for sure as yet, and even if what we suspected turned out to be true, we could indeed manage it quite well.

Thus bolstered, I went ahead with my trip to Bombay, eager to see my mom, dad and sister. A couple of days later, something happened in the morning that completely clarified the situation - I threw up. Very resignedly, I then accepted it: I was pregnant.

After that, the changes hit almost instantly. Barely three hours into a shopping trip, I, who could happily spend a whole day shopping, suddenly turned to lead, plopping down in the nearest chair. I, who have always been a foodie, couldn't bear the sights or smells of most foods. I would bolt from the room if mom started cooking. I could keep down merely a fraction of my usual quantity of food. And though the number of times I actually threw up were very less, I spent hours feeling miserably nauseous.

When we returned to Bangalore, I went to see a gynec. At my first ultrasound scan, I lay down, and was craning my head to see the screen, not that there was anything much to be seen. I thought I could distinguish this line, so I asked the doc whether that was it. She said yes, that's your baby, and its about a centimeter big right now.

Oh, I thought, okay. She rolled the sensor thingy some more over my tummy, pressed a few keys on her keyboard, and then all of a sudden, this steady thump, thump, thump filled the room ...... and my mind went blank. I knew what I was hearing ........ but I had never imagined, never thought that there would be a heartbeat this early. Barely a centimeter big, but with a heart that thumped away strong and sure at 123 beats per minute!

Till that point, I think I'd been completely overwhelmed by the sheer responsibility we faced and how we would go about managing it; I was grappling with the nausea and crying jags so much so that I hadn't really thought about the baby itself.

Only after hearing that heartbeat, did it strike me that this is not a thing or a situation, its a new life, a new person. Hubby's best friend had a baby some months ago, and we just dote on that kid. I used to look at the new parents, and the pure love on their faces as they held their son or played with him, or just looked at him, moved me very deeply. I thought of all my blog friends here who are mothers, and the way you write about your children regardless of their ages, with so much love and joy ......

..... and it started dawning on me that we had been blessed!!!

The panic and the worry subsided then, for both hubby & me, and we started getting excited about our child. I won't say that its been all hunky-dory since then, because I went through the most intensely awful nausea, and its only in the past couple of weeks that its started to phase off. That affected my mood at times too, and it was again a struggle to not sink into a pessimistic slump.

But then, my family used to pep me up, and I would try to focus on my blessings to fight off the gloom: that we could conceive so easily when there are couples we know who have struggled to; that my parents happened to be here when we first found out and they eased hubby & me into this stage; that my mom-in-law then stayed with us a month taking care of us; that other than the nausea, I have had no serious problems ....... and so, managed to hold on to that optimism.

Last week, I completed my first trimester. This time, at the ultrasound, there was no need to strain to see anything as the image on screen was quite clear - head, body and limbs ...... our child, fully formed!!! And to our surprise, very active too, though I can't feel it yet since its only about 3 inches big! By God's grace, baby & I are both healthy so far, and I pray, and request your prayers too that we remain so.

Phew!!! Sometimes I still can't believe it ...... I'm going to be a mother!!!!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unforgettable: From the Oscars Red Carpet

The biggest film awards show on the planet is a few days away, and I'm more excited about who wears what, rather than who wins what. Its great fun to check out the showstoppers, the showfloppers and the in-betweens ...... even my always-been-a-tomboy-don't-care-about-fashion lil sister enjoys commenting on the stars' attire!
But then barely a couple of days later, we've forgotten all about those dresses and moved on to the next big event. However, in the past two years at the Oscars, there have been two gowns that I have not forgotten. Or more accurately, not forgotten because of who was wearing them.

I haven't seen any of Helen Mirren's movies (except for Raising Helen and National Treasure 2, which don't count since she had minor roles in both), and am not really sure if I want to see The Queen, for which she won Best Actress at the 2007 Oscars. In fact, I hadn't even heard of her before she was nominated. But one look at her on the red carpet that evening and she made a lasting impression.

Here's Helen Mirren again at the 2008 Oscars.

I was completely speechless when I saw her ..... isn't she just stunning for someone in her 60s??? Sexy and classy, I felt she was the best-dressed lady at both events, totally outshining the younger lot.

I'm largely clueless about the fashion world, unlike my friend Deeplydip, so I have no idea who the designers are, or who supplied the accessories. I just know that despite seeing so many red carpet shows since that time, and forgetting still many more outfits, I still vividly recall Helen Mirren dazzling the eye in these two gowns.

And as so many female commentators noted at the time, I too hope I look that good when I grow up! Or even half as good!!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Revealed: 25 Things About Me!

For a communications class in college, we were asked to first talk about someone we loved for 5 minutes. Everybody managed it easily, going and on and on about whoever they chose. Then, we were asked to talk about ourselves for 5 minutes, and all of us were stumped after 1 minute. There were a lot of ummms and aaahs and other noises as we struggled to come up with things to talk about.

Point of the exercise: to realise that its very difficult for most people to just talk about themselves.

This incident came back to me as I was doing this "25 Things About You" tag passed on by Goofy Mumma a while ago (thanks again, GM :D). I love tags, and normally I come back with answers straight away, but that's the thing ...... you have to have questions first. This business of randomly talking about yourself is really hard! I've been thinking over this for 5 days now, eagerly jotting down things as they struck me, and finally, its done!

So, the rules:

Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

And now, about me:

1. I'm a chocoholic.
2. I have a valid driver's license, but don't know to drive ....... yes, this happens only in India!!!
3. I have conversations with myself within my head, because if I talked to myself out loud, people might think I'm crazy :P
4. In school, I spent a week sitting in the corridor outside class with a bunch of friends - we'd been punished for talking too much and this is the one school achievement I'm proudest of!
5. I'm not at all an athletic person, I suck at most sports and games.
6. I started talking before the age of 1 and according to one relative, I haven't shut up since!!!
7. I LOVE junk jewellery.
8. I hate rainy, cloudy, gloomy weather, though I do enjoy a good thunder & lightning storm, but only if I'm indoors.
9. Most people's first impression of me is that I'm serious, studious and reserved ...... hee, hee, hee!!!
10. My favourite form of exercise is walking, but I don't care for treadmills and gyms; if I have the choice, I'd rather walk out in the open.
11. I would love to learn to play the guitar someday.
12. I love applying mehendi. As a child, I was so dedicated to getting the darkest colour possible, I'd keep it on all night and to avoid it falling off or staining the pillows, I slept with my hennaed hand wrapped in plastic!
13. I am immensely intrigued by the great civilizations and mysteries of the past; I love books and films based on these themes, and ......
14. ....... the one book I found absolutely un-put-downable was The DaVinci Code - I bunked college one day so I could read it at a stretch.
15. I am a total wimp when it comes to amusement park rides; even the minor ones leave me with such head-spinning, tummy-churning nausea that there's nothing amusing about it, but .....
16. ..... I have para-sailed!!! The initial lift-off makes you feel like your stomach will fall out, but after that its just awesome!!!
17. I had tears in my eyes when I finished reading the Deathly Hallows the first time!
18. I've always felt that there is an actress suppressed in me. Am I talking heroine material? Hell, no!!! I'd love comic roles; people like Whoopi Goldberg, Paresh Rawal, Rajpal Yadav and Philomena (of Malayalam cinema) are my idols :D :D
19. I cannot endure horror films.
20. At some point in my teens, I realised that I could either have food or have a figure. I chose food!!!
21. I am not the impulsive, risk-taking type; I not only look before I leap, I conduct in-depth analyses!
22. I started watching football in the 12th standard only because of a massive crush on Luis Figo, and then got swept away in the frenzy of the game itself. I still don't know most of the rules, but will religiously watch most major international football events.
23. The only person in the whole, wide world who can send me from the calmest, most cheerful of moods straight into a raging temper in 5 minutes, is my beloved sister :D
24. The one, all-important motto I try to live by is "Love one another as you love yourself".
25. At looonng last, the 25th item!!! And that is ....... I turn 25 this month!

And now, about passing this on. I want to know more about Agnes, Amrita, Moi, My Space, Renu and Smriti.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Weight of Happiness

Written last week, posted today thanks to the ever-unreliable services of BSNL.

I suppose most women tend to be at their slimmest best for their weddings.

Not me.

I'd finished my dissertation - nearly a year's worth of sitting in front of the computer, my mind at work 24x7, constantly needing food-fuelling to maintain my momentum. After that, I landed a job with a 10-hour workday, again pretty much seated at a desk the whole time. Somewhere along the line, I met the man I would marry and due to various practicalities and constraints, our wedding date was fixed a scant three months later.

November was my last month at work, as I'd wanted to spend a month's quality time with my family. However, that month also brings Christmas along, highlighted by my mom's superb cooking and Christmas cakes and goodies. So even though I tried to compensate by going for walks regularly, the ultimate result was still that, at the time of my wedding, I was the plumpest (objectively, I still wouldn't say 'fattest'!) I'd ever been in my life. That's how my in-laws and the rest of hubby's huge extended family saw me for the first time, and by Kerala standards where big is beautiful, I was alright!

A few days later, after all the festivities were completed and it was just hubby & me here in Bangalore, I assumed the responsibilities of a homemaker and life settled into a happy routine.

Cut to May 2008.

My mom and her mom were coming for a week-long visit. At the airport, I rushed forward eagerly once I spotted mom, and the first thing she said as she hugged me was, "Baby, you've lost so much weight!"

"Huh", I said. "Really? Oh, I hadn't noticed."

And as strange as it may seem, I truly hadn't. It was only after my mother, who's seen me all through these years, told me that I'd lost weight, did I realise that I'd finally achieved a goal I'd been pursuing (albeit not very determinedly!) since the age of 16. Only after she told it to me, did I realise that my pants & jeans were slipping down my waist, certain loose-fitting tops and kurtis hung limply on me, and t-shirts that once had me sucking my tummy in, now fit smoothly and without any added effort from me :D

I was thrilled!!! I was beyond thrilled, I was ecstatic!!! I had finally, FINALLY done it, though unintentionally. How??? I kept asking myself. I walked regularly and played table tennis with hubby a few times a week, but surely that couldn't compare to say, the two month aerobics classes, or the three-month intense gym workouts that I'd once done (neither of which resulted in any significant weight loss).

Nor was I dieting - for a foodie like me, whose entire set of 32 teeth are really sweet, 'diet' is a bad, bad word. Some might think I was stressed out, or moping coz I was away from my family for the first time, but no, that wasn't it; I was happily married, blissfully thankful for the life I had and anyway, when I'm stressed, I pig out.

So how then? Observing my lifestyle, mom said it was simply that I was active throughout the day ..... I wasn't sitting at a desk for hours together, I was constantly moving about, cooking or puttering around the house, and that, she said, was making the real difference, of course, supplemented by the walks and table tennis.

And I was thrilled!!! I was beyond thrilled, I was ecstatic!!! Did I write this before??? Hell, yes, but I don't care because that's how ecstatic I am!!!


I was in the minority, the very small minority of people who were thrilled. On subsequent trips to hubby's hometown, everybody's first comment was how much weight I had lost, and all conversation would revolve around that for the next few minutes. Initially, hubby's parents kept berating him, that he wasn't taking enough care of me etc etc, till I sat his mom down, and clearly explained the above saga to her. She was sort of convinced then, but how do you explain it to scores of neighbours, friends and relatives, all firmly conditioned to think that a new bride losing weight like this surely means problems in the marriage?

And if I thought that it was only in Kerala that my weight would be an issue, man, was I in for a rethink! Friends and relatives in the UAE and more recently in Bombay were flabbergasted! Most people found it incredibly difficult to get over. Some of my more outspoken buddies exclaimed outright: "She's not happy!" with a sort of perverse glee (hmmm, I should seriously reconsider these friendships!)

Even after the initial few minutes of explanations, when the conversations were like an hour old, I would get quiet, serious-faced questions: "You're sure you're ok, na?", "There are no problems with your husband, right?" And so on and so forth.

Only four people in Bombay, seemed genuinely delighted by the slimmer me and told me that I looked great. Only one college friend disagreed with the rest, and said of course she's happy, look at her smile, she's glowing from within!

Obviously, I did expect reactions to my weight loss, but somehow I’d naively assumed that my friends would be happy for me. I certainly didn’t expect everyone’s parting comments as they hugged me goodbye to be along the lines of “Next time we see you, you should’ve put on some weight”. What the hell??!!

Even though I’ve lost weight, I still cannot be considered thin, nor do I ever want to ..... I rather like my curves :) And its not that I’m looking hollowed out or miserable; hubby & my family are my most brutally honest critics and they’re totally ok with my appearance. Most importantly, I am totally ok with it!!!

Honestly, I don’t expect this phase to last very long, I know that eventually I will gain more weight and I’m totally ok with that too. But still, it feels fantastic that at least for once in my life, I produced some head-turning, eye-popping, jaw-dropping reactions!!!

And I am thrilled!!! I am beyond thrilled, I am ecstatic!!!

In case you were wondering what the fuss is all about, I lost 9 kilos last year!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Back from the Break!

I'll be the first to say that I've been a sloppy blogger lately. Three weeks since my last post, and not for a lack of things to write about. Much has happened, and I guess I've just been sorting my thoughts out.

My family had come down to India for a couple of weeks. We spent the first week at home in Bombay, a continuous bustle of activity, first in getting the house cleaned up (and then making sure it remained that way through the rest of the stay!), then in meeting relatives and old friends, squeezing in the all-important shopping whenever we could, and sometimes, just taking a breather and chilling out at home, enjoying each other's company again :)

We each rummaged through our cupboards and cabinets, going over stuff that we'd deemed to have too much sentimental value to throw out; wiped off the dust that had covered them during the past year, and then returned them to their places ..... to gather more dust during 2009!

I pulled out our old photo album collection, and we pored over the memories. My sis & I shuddered over some truly disastrous and censorable childhood pictures of the two of us and I fortunately managed to sneak them out; it was sis's job to hide them in a place where our doting parents wouldn't find them and be tempted to show them around {shudder, shudder}.

That week passed by all too quickly and before we knew it, it was bye-bye Bombay and Hello Bangalore. The new, sparklingly spacious airport at Bangalore seriously impressed the family, coming as we were, from the depressing dullness of the Bombay domestic terminal (they told me the international airport had deteriorated still further ..... sigh!)

I had braced them for the long drive home, given that we live quite far from the new airport and we'd arrived during the evening rush hour. But surprisingly, it took only two hours to reach home (I had expected three!).

Hubby had neatened and tidied up our apartment for his in-laws, and my family were quite impressed with all the decor improvements we'd made to the place. It was also my sister's first visit to our home and I was especially thrilled that she liked it. Of course, that delight may have just been for our TV, considering that a TV junkie like herself had just spent a week in Bombay without one!

We ended up spending most of our time relaxing at home, save for a couple of shopping trips, and the only sights seen were the mass of shops and humanity on Brigade Road. My sister discovered the game of squash at our clubhouse, and in the process, discovered the pitiful state of her fitness! A more shocking revelation was my dad's state of fitness: far, far superior than any of us had given him credit for, as he proceeded to run sis ragged almost every morning of their stay!

The highlight of the visit, and indeed, the reason for it, was (ahem!) our first anniversary. Yup, last week, hubby & I completed one year of married life. It was a quiet celebration ..... well, except for the balloons bursting!

Hubby's bro and sis-in-law joined us in the evening and we had dinner at Ebony, one of our favourite restaurants, located on the 13th floor of a building on M.G. Road. We sat on the balcony, enjoying a fine meal with a finer view of Bangalore at night down below us. The ladies were all suitably cloaked and jacketed against the chill breeze, but the men? Well, the men were men, and so manfully insisted they weren't cold. Right!

A couple of days later, the folks headed back (sigh!) But this is the optimistic me, so I'm glad for whatever time we got together and already looking forward to the next visit :)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sweet & Sour Sauce

Over the past year, I have discovered that the passion for cooking that runs in the veins of most of my family, surprisingly flows in mine too. I find the whole process extremely enjoyable, especially when it involves dishes off the typical home-cooking menu.

I follow in the footsteps of my mother, who believes that once you get the hang of cooking, you should feel free to experiment. She's the type of cook who feels that rigidly sticking to recipes and measurements takes all the fun out of cooking. Of course, if you're not careful, what should've been delicious can easily turn disastrous (as we've both found out!)

But nonetheless, experimenting with food is still real fun, and what I like best are dishes that are simple, scrumptious and can be tweaked to suit individual tastes. I had posted one such recipe earlier, and here's another one:

Sweet & Sour Sauce
Inspired by Kylie Kwong.

1/2 inch piece of ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 piece of jaggery (or a tablespoon of brown sugar, white will also do)
1 chilli - deseeded if you don't want it too hot (red chillies are better visually)
2 tbsp chopped spring onions (regular ones could work too)
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp soy sauces (either dark or light or ideally a mix of both: dark for colour & light for flavour) 1 tbsp vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp oil (olive, peanut or sesame preferably)
Dash of any other related sauces that you may have at home: eg - fish sauce, oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce.
Stock (veg or non-veg) to increase quantity.
(I don't use salt because the soy and other sauces are salty enough; however this depends on your taste)

1. Mince the ginger, garlic, chilli and jaggery finely.
2. Mix all the ingredients together, except the oil.
3. Heat the oil separately and when hot (smoking hot according to Kylie Kwong, but not really necessary), pour over the sauce ..... it'll sizzle and crackle deliciously!

You can serve this sauce with steamed white meat or fish (chicken in the picture), or with momos or with pretty much anything you fancy. For a vegetarian version, simply omit the fish and oyster sauces.

What I love about this sauce is that you can't really go wrong making it. Just keep tasting as you go along till you get it the way you like. Also, these measurements aren't written in stone; you can easily add more or less of the ingredients according to your taste. You don't even need every one of them: the essentials are jaggery for the sweetness and soy for the saltiness, and ginger and garlic. The rest of what goes in is limited only by your imagination!