30 December 2011

Goodbye Hyderabad: Things to do before I leave

I find myself in the same spot that I was 3+ years ago: voluntarily unemployed. This time however, it isn't quite so dramatic as moving countries and rediscovering myself. The current phase is all in the name of holy (?) matrimony. Both N and I do enjoy being solitary but I felt it was time we discovered the joys of sharing a refrigerator and closet. I am sure my readers out there who have experienced the state of sharing with a non-sibling will understand the process of adjustment I am alluding to.

Hyderabad has been a lovely city to start my professional life in. It is not a city I or my family were familiar with - we had only heard of Banjara Hills in the context of it being a classy address. Therefore my sister was most perplexed that despite not being a B-grade actor or soap opera double I was easily able to find a giant 3 bedroom place to live in here.

My apartment is on one of the several hills in Banjara Hills and thus the view from the Balcony is quite beautiful. At night drops of orange and yellow colour the asphalt and concrete. If you squint your eyes enough it looked like a large canvas of pointillism. In the morning, if it's clear enough you can see the silhouette of Golkonda Fort. Along with the visual treat, I also enjoyed audio soundtrack from the 4 mosques whose loud speakers seem to be directed right at my balcony. Harmony is not a concept their believe in, so each mosques' prayer is just a few minutes out of register. During Ramzan, the alarm clock was a gentleman on a bicycle who beat loudly on the drum attached to his cycle and rode in every lane. I did find it useful once to get up at 3am to catch an international flight.

Hyderabad also revealed to me a cuisine I had never tried much at all - andhra food. My colleagues at Office treated us to goodies from home all the time, the spice always leaving my lips on the fire and my nose fluid. Ah, but the flavours - sheer poetry of tastes and smells.

The person I will miss the most is my housekeeper. A has been very professional person who has developed into my friend and confidant. Without her, I would be ineffective. In fact the month she took off to grieve for her daughter is what drove this message home for me. She has a limited vocabulary in Hindi yet I have managed long conversations with her on almost everything. The virtue I admire most is her discretion. I am aware that household help offer advise and are convenient vectors for a disease called gossip. But A was amazing - never once asking me about my singleness or querying N's presence when we weren't married.

Last but not the least what Hyderabad has given me is a love for fabric. Hurrah for Daram.

So here's my list of things to do before I leave:
  • Shop at Evolution, Punjgutta
  • Shop at Shilaramam
  • Shop at Daram, Begumpet
  • Eat at Chutneys
  • Walk along Tank Bund
  • Eat at Southern Spice
  • Have a drink on my balcony

9 September 2011

Red and Blue

A woman in a blue sari entered warily and heavily - this was her first time at the Bar. Rukmini sensed the unease from behind the counter and loudly welcomed her.

“Hello Ma'am, If you are alone why don't you sit by the bar?” Rukmini's voice echoed through the filtered light.

Blue looked up, smiled, picked up her pace and adjusted herself on the tall stool by the bar counter. She appeared to be in her mid-forties, with all the trappings of marriage - thali, bangles, gold watch, and matching blouse. Being used to surrounded by family or friends or maids, it was unsettling for her to be alone and that too, at a bar. She tried to loop her titantic handbag on the stool but its weight unsettled the balance of the stool, so she let it hit the floor like a brick. The handbag was more of an accessory for utility rather than style. Although her children were older she had not yet stopped stuffing it with things they might suddenly need.

She looked nervous, so Rukmini leaned forward and sincerely said, “How can I help you? If this is your first time, let me assure you as the proprietor that your privacy is respected here. You can have a drink or a lime soda. Just make yourself comfortable and relax.” and then softly she added, “This bar is a place that allows you to be alone yet surrounded by people.”

Blue looked her in the eye and whispered “Thanks ma. Can I have a whisky on the rocks?”

Rukmini had learned early in the business not to judge people by what they wear and what they drink. It rarely followed a pattern and in any case, clients found it patronizing when she tried to guess their favourites. Now she either let the menu card or the client decide. Without a trace of judgement she asked, “Would you like domestic or foreign? If you like single malts I recently got 16 year aged whisky?”

Blue was certain. “Single malt sounds very good. I want lots of ice”.

Rukmini fixed her the drink, and asked Thangai to bring over some bit size potato samosas. Blue took a long sip, sat back and closed her eyes. Rukmini felt some sadness radiating from her. A story would unfold; she must wait.

Across, in the horizon of the bar there now appeared a new client. From afar she looked like a college student and for a moment Rukmini wondered if Swami had checked her age before letting her in. But as she walked closer, she observed the slim hands give way to folds under her arms and birds feet at her eyes. She wore a red sleeveless dress, red heels and looked stunning. Rukmini did not recognize her as a regular.

“Hi”, gushed Red, “I have heard so much about this place and wanted to try it out.” She smiled from ear to ear and planted herself firmly on the bar stool. Not wanting personal prejudice to overtake her business interests Rukmini let the two ends of her mouth twitch upwards about a fraction of a centimetre, let her eyes twinkle a bit, and jauntily said, “Welcome then. How would you like to start the evening?” Red asked for a cosmopolitan. No surprises there.

Red watched Rukmini closely as she made the drink and gave her an appreciative nod when she took her first sip. Rukmini was wary.

She slipped closer to Blue and asked her if she wanted another drink. Blue nodded and Rukmini this time served out two portions. The second she took and sat down by Blue.

They didn't say anything for while, till Blue asked, “Is this place only for women because you hate men?” Rukmini got asked this often and she searched in her head for the stock answer for the married types. “No, my husband cheated on me and I felt very lonely during that time. I didn't want to drink at home in front of the children and I didn't have any other respectable place to drink in private. So when my husband died I opened this place so that I could provide a space for broken-hearted women.” Yes, Rukmini lied when she wanted to hear a story.

Blue took the bait. She looked around her, assured that no one was within earshot and began. She was 47. Despite objections, she married for love. They had been married for 25 years now and had two teenage children. For the past year things had become unsettled. Her husband took more business trips alone, stopped making love to her and she noticed that he purchased jewellery that was gifted to no one in the family. She confronted him; he accepted it. She asked him to end it; he said that he couldn't stop. She asked for a divorce; he said he would fight to get custody of the children and she being unemployed, he stood a better chance of winning. She asked him what she should do; he asked to be left alone. Rukmini had heard this story many times, she squeezed Blue's hand and asked her if she wanted a third drink. Blue agreed.

While Blue was talking, Rukmini was watching Red from the corner of her eye. She was on the phone, having a soft but aggressive discussion with someone. When Rukmini got up to prepare Blue's drink, Red summoned her. She acknowledged the summon, took her time to prepare two drinks and served Blue. She waited till Red finished her conversation before walking over.

“That was the best Cosmo I had”, beamed Red, a hint of ruby now visible across her fair cheeks. “Can I have another?” Rukmini obliged and while she was serving the drink, Red asked her, “The décor is beautiful here. Did you design it yourself?” Rukmini decided that it was time to indulge. “No” she said flatly, “my boyfriend is an architect and he gave structure to my emotions.”

“I wish my boyfriend was this creative. He only knows all the standard things - dinner dates, movies, vacations and buying me expensive things. He's good in bed though but still when will men understand that we need more than all that? Who will feed the soul?” Red winked and looked to Rukmini for a response.

Rukmini stifled a grimace and asked sweetly, “What does your boyfriend do?”

This was the opening Red was waiting for. Raj, as the boyfriend was alluded to, was the CEO of a software company. He had started it from scratch, right after completing his engineering. It was now one of the top 5 tech companies in the country. They met at a mutual friend's house. He was a shy man so it was she who first approached him. They chatted desultorily for a while, till she suggested that the party was the drag and if wanted to go somewhere private. That time, the only she could get him to agree to was a walk on the beach. That was a year ago, and today they are inseparable. Well, as inseparable as other responsibilities in life would allow. She has rolled her eyes upwards at this point. They vacationed often together and had just returned from Bali. She was trying to convince him that the relationship had potential for the long term. He has disengaged from this discussion and here she was.

Rukmini decided to be mean. “Yes, it is hard to be on the same page sometimes, isn't it. My boyfriend and I went through a similar process, but we are getting married now. We are planning to honeymoon in Bali. Is it nice this time of the year?”

Red pouted for a short second and then exclaimed loudly, “Congratulations! When are you getting married? How long have you been seeing each other?” She bluntly left aside answering about Bali.

“For 3 years. We were both undecided about marriage as an institution but after a while it just made sense. He proposed six months ago and we are getting married next month.”

Red slumped on the bar counter, her face in her hands, “You are so lucky. My boyfriend loves me a lot but he just doesn't mutter the m word.” Rukmini nodded sagely before indicating that she had other customers to go back too.

At the other end Blue was sitting up straight despite the three drinks. When Rukmini had brought the fourth she asked Blue how she was getting home. A driver with car waited outside for her. Then without preface, she became blunt with Blue, “So what's the plan?”. Blue looked hopeless and tired before saying, “I want to meet the woman. Maybe she and I could come to an understanding? After all he is using her as much as me. Why should he have everything? I think that if I talk to this woman face to face, heart to heart, we will be able to sort this out.” Rukmini did not offer advice unless explicitly asked of her; keeping with this policy she only acknowledged the plan.

Blue drained her drink. She asked for the total. She didn't have cash so would a card do? “Yes”, said Rukmini, “A card would do”. She took the card from Blue and walked to the till. Red too wanted to settle her bill. She had cash. So Rukmini settled with Red first and then went to swipe Blue's card.

In the brighter light of the till she saw the name on the card: Bharathi Nataraj. It was a company card and imprinted below was the company name: Raj Technologies Pvt Ltd.

After Blue signed the bill, Rukmini watched as she gathered her belongings and walked toward the exit. Red followed her. For a brief moment their eyes met, they checked each other out, smiled perfunctorily and exited together.

As Rukmini shuttered down for the night, she thought about Red and Blue, and what could have been. All in a night's work at a bar called Shantam Pappum.

4 September 2011

A bar called Shantam Pappum - Short Story

Rukmini saw the red brake lights in the distance and scowled. Nothing seemed to be moving on the road ahead. She came to a grudging halt, placed her hands impatiently on the steering wheel, observed her nails and then cursed. If traffic was held up this far away from the intersection it only meant that an accident had happened, and a drama with all involved must have ensued. She only hoped that the accident did not involve the summons of an ambulance or a tow truck because then, she might as well hop over to the beauty parlour on the side and get her nails done. The vermin like two wheelers were still moving; trying to occupy every available lacunae between cars. It incensed her even more. She was going to be late and she didn't like it. The bar would have to open later than usual.
Luckily her ire was short-lived. Shortly after she had exhaustively tested every available frequency on the FM radio for decent music or news, hand brakes were released, ignitions turned on and traffic started to snake ahead. Indeed, it was an accident that held up things. A tomato truck had over turned and created quite the scene; “One bloody Mary” would probably have been Murugan's quip at this point.
Ah, Murugan. Rukmini was not a wistful woman so she didn't prolong the sigh of thought that threatened to slip into a vortex of nostalgia. Murugan was her husband, now dead.
At 20, mid-year through college, Rukmini decided that she didn't want to follow the preordained path that defined women in her family - marriage, children and death. How this came about remains a mystery to her and everyone around her. In her orthodox Brahmin home she quietly but steadily rebelled, with the winning play of marrying Murugan: college union leader, 2nd Class BA graduate and out of caste. Doom. That's what her family foretold. Rukmini on the other hand saw opportunity and at that time, love. Murugan and she set up a small home separately, ostracised by both families, but content in their own company. Three years of marriage flowed past, but before Rukmini could identify the monotony, Murugan was run over by a truck.
Her family rallied around on their own terms: not abandoning their “I told you” stand yet insistent that she should now come back to the fold. Surely a older brahmin man, perhaps divorced but with children could use her? Murugan had left Rukmini some money and more importantly, confidence and self-esteem. She decided that she would celebrate Murugan's memory by setting up a bar since he liked drinks and he liked people. And that is how, the bar was born. The name too was important to her. While with her family, many people stopped in to pay condolences but actually to pass judgment and pity. The older ladies would tut-tut when her mother recanted the story of Murugan, the elopement and subsequent death. When informed that Rukmini intended to start a bar, they would touch both sides of their cheek and exclaim, “Shantam pappum”.
Rukmini started her business with gusto. She bought a small place, decorated it modestly, invested in music and to create a niche, decided that her bar would be for women exclusively and serve vegetarian food only. At first it was slow and hard to break even. But as word spread about her service, the privacy afforded and the piping hot vadas, clients became regular and she started to do well. The bar kept her happy, occupied and focused. Not in the least because she always had stories to tell and stories to listen to.
As predicted, Rukmini was late opening the bar that evening. Couple of clients and her staff were already at the door. They greeted her with warm smiles as she unlocked the premises and turned on the warm lights. Music started to filter through, a string quartet she enjoyed and Thangan had begun to heat up the oil for the vadas. It was Thursday so she didn't expect a crowd. She settled herself behind the bar and watched life unfold around her.
NB: N and I were driving to a restaurant in Hyd and lamenting that our destination probably would not serve alcohol since it was "Pure Veg". Why is that this combination is so prevalent? Are drinking and being vegetarian of equivalent "moral" value in our society? If one were to look at it biochemically alcoholic drinks for the most part are pure veg. Think of the ingredients of beer: Hops (flowers), malt (fermented barley), yeast and more barley. Yet killing another being and drinking an alcoholic beverage in the restaurant business is equivalent sin! Go figure.

27 August 2011

Organic vegetables from my balcony gardening

When I had first written about composting, a reader asked what I intended to do with the compost once I had made it. Luckily composting takes months so I had enough time to think about this. After about 8 months the bottom pot of my khamba was full and I had a plan.

I purchased a trough (2 ft wide X 3/4 ft deep), added some mud (notice how red uncultivated mud is) and mixed in my compost. I made three troughs this way and planted scallions, radishes, broccoli, beetroot and zucchini. Thus far, no sign of the scallions or zucchini.

Interestingly though I soon had plants that I did not plant! My compost was all the kitchen waste I generated and therefore, was rich in seeds. Apparently, some survived the dessication in the compost. Soon after preparing the pots, pumpkin saplings sprouted in all the troughs. In one, I allowed two to mature while in the rest I proceeded to commit mass murder. However, after the squash invasion was (s)quashed, I noticed a whole bunch of plants with non-squash like leaves. I let them be out of curiosity. In 6 weeks though these champs have grown strong and tall. I have identified one of them as a tomato plant (the fruit was a give away) and another, as a pepper plant. I think the pepper plant is green capsicum; no fruit yet, only flowers.

So in effect I have managed to grow organic vegetables on my balcony and what a joy it is to see them each morning.

21 August 2011

BSc - a degree but no learning

I am reading a book called "Timepass: Youth, class and the politics of waiting in India" by Craig Jeffrey. This book offers an academic view of how youth (mostly male) in Meerut College and Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut indulge in "timepass" and its socio-political ramifications. I am yet to finish the book, yet half way through I am already provoked.

My feelings right now are of sadness. The research elaborated in the book takes place in 2004/2005. A section of the students indulging in timepass are in their late twenties to early thirties, accumulating degrees because they have not been able to secure government jobs or any other salaried job. The book does not record what percentage of the youth in the college belong to this category of the chronically unemployable, but this struck a chord. I have interviewed many people for assistant positions at my organization. Many come armed with an MBA and are applying for the receptionist's position.

Imagine doing a postgraduate degree just to become an office assistant?

It's a cruel joke that our education system is playing on the students. It is acknowledged and accepted by parents of poor economic and social means that education is the ticket to upward mobility. So they toil and sweat to send the child to an English-medium school where with each passing year in addition to regular fees they have to cough up for some fund or another. Then to be able to get a seat, despite our quota system, many will go for tutions and yet, ultimately may only end up doing a BA or BCom or BSc. Of this, having completed a BSc, I can confidently say that in the BSc I got a rubbish education. We memorised heavily for an annual exam and there was no thinking or logic needed for any of the subjects. The course material was archaic and the exam was a test of your ability to reproduce from memory. The only thing I did enjoy was poking around in the laboratory and thinking of the cool experiments we could do with the resources we had. And also Sanskrit - but that's another story.

My point is, we don't have a system where acquisition of a degree ensures employment unless you are at a top school. Even an engineering degree from a B grade place appears to be insufficient (at the last bank adventure N and I undertook, our FD processing agent was a BE in computer science!). This is just wrong. Heck, I am sure that many of the ATM watchmen I worry about are lettered folk who just were not able to find jobs. I have even chatted up autodrivers with postgraduate degrees! And then you see a headline on what the topper in IIM is going to get as her starting salary.

I am all for free market but about about a free and fair market? How can our education delivery spectrum be this wide and importantly, be so redundant?

All countries struggle to determine the best approach to education and we too are learning. But I worry the pace is not good enough, so this demographic dividend which we are all supposed to be thrilled about is going to turn out to be a demographic division; unless, manual labour becomes a major economic force or may be, just may be, we are able to scale up quality of education in this country.

8 August 2011

Pace vs knee pain: my running paradox

N and I have signed up to run a half marathon (Kaveri Trail) and I have been training for it from early July. Since I was trying to lose weight by running, it made sense to have a goal for the work out. (Note: interested readers may wish to be informed that I have lost NO weight whatsoever since I started running. Go figure.)

I enjoy running, well...at my pace one may call it jogging or trotting. My pace has never been great but sometimes, when my heart is beating steadily and my shoes beat rhythmically against the asphalt, I reach a place of immense tranquility - this is when I think I am in the zone. I feel like I don't ever need to stop running. Luckily (?), the shrill piercing sound from a horn of an irate driver is all it takes to break the spell.

The problem with running though is knee pain. It normally manifests during my longer runs but in this training cycle I was rather amazed that even the weekday runs were turning sour. A kilometer into the run and my knee began to announce it's unhappiness, escalating quickly to a screaming inflammation in the next 10 mins or so. This is not fun. It prevents me from getting in the zone; heck, it prevents me from simply signing off from life and living in my head for a while. I can't think: that's the level of pain I experienced. I tried ice packs, strengthening exercises and the whole drill that worked previously, but to no avail. Then, at my last run, not wishing to prolong the agony (my goal is always distance not time) I decided to quicken my pace. And lo! no pain. I went from doing 8 - 8.5 Km/hr to 8.2 to 9 Km/hr. It's not a major change in pace at all, but the relief from knee pain is immense. I never thought that increasing my pace would reduce the pain. I have only tested this hypothesis on the treadmill and will explore it more when I run in the park on Saturday.

It's counter-intuitive but I am fairly certain that increasing my pace has improved my running form to the extent that I am knee-pain free for a large part of the run. Tomorrow morning will tell if there is any stiffness but already while doing bends I don't sense any residual throbs of pain in the knee. Hurrah! I do wish all solutions in life came so easily.

21 July 2011

ATM Watchman

There is a profusion of watchmen in our lives. Like potted money plants, they are present everywhere, nestled to one side of any space and seeking little attention. Well, unless he has a whistle and is a parking lot watchman; then he makes a racket.

But I am writing this as an observation and concern. My building watchman works crazy 12 hour shifts; sometimes 24 when the person to replace him doesn't arrive. However, I see my building watchman busy, pottering about in the parking lot, sometimes directing people, sacredly protecting the residents of my building from pesky door salesman and keeping tabs on the newspaperman, the milkman, the maids, the dogs, the cats... But what of the other watchman?

I am particularly struck by the ATM watchmen. Some lounge indoors, in the full arctic blast of the AC but I rarely see them reading anything. They are simply sprawled on a wicker chair doing pretty much nothing. It's not like you can get any advice from them on your bank or your account. He (for it is always a he) stares numbly as you enter, and like a tennis match, his gaze follows you out. In my fertile imagination, I think of this person as a someone who can work with their hands and mind; perhaps repair watches? grow tomatoes? I am quite curious: does this person really want to be a watchman? The ATM watchman also bothers me because whom do they talk to? Sure they have chumps like me go in and out, but imagine having no office colleagues? Also, what is the job description of this person: I don't see this person being able to stop a bunch of hoodlums from doing as they please. He's been sitting on his bum all day long and really, how active do you think that sort of lifestyle is?

Growing up, a watchman meant that something important was happening and he was hired to shoo away the crowds. But in cities today there is an entire platoon of people in gray or blue outfits who are ubiquitous and we do take them for granted. They need jobs, they migrate from villages deep in Bihar or UP or the northeast; I see how economic necessity is driving this market? But shouldn't we stop to think about what we are building - a nation unable to even withdraw cash from an ATM without human presence?

16 July 2011

Ajwain Patta Parantha

The other day I googled "Ajwain patta parantha roti" and drew a blank. My colleague brings many dishes peppered with Ajwain ka patta and I had naturally assumed that Guru Internet would list a range of options. Sadly, besides the pakoda recipe there was little to be had, even on the normally fertile food blogs. So, inspired, I have jotted down my usage.

I have to give credit here to my colleague and foodie friend N, whose mom plies us with delicious rotis stuffed with these leaves. The crux of this recipe comes from his instructions. N gave me a plant cutting a few months ago and it has been relatively easy to grow; despite my homicidal tendencies, this plant has thrived in the garden. Newbie "edible garden" enthusiasts can easily use this to boost their gardening morale.

Main actors in the plot:

6 large Ajwain leaves pureed (minimum water) with
1 green chilli
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
3/4 cup fox millet flour (bajra flour)
1/2 tsp grated ginger
Salt to taste

Drama outline:

The trick is to not use water for making the dough, but instead to use the wetness from the ajwain puree. I essentially threw everything into a mixing bowl and checked for consistency as I would normally do for making roti dough. Because of the bajra flour the dough remains a bit wetter and stickier than just plain atta dough. The point to stop adding water is when everything comes together. Then you knead it with knuckles and thumping fists. Generally, this works for me.

Rest the dough for a while. I leave it in the mixing bowl with a wet cloth on top to maintain humidity of the chamber.

I made the paranthas after leaving the gluten to break down for about 20 mins. Drink a glass of wine in the meantime.

For the parantha, I normally use as little oil as possible. I cooked the parantha on one side, till little dark spots appeared, flipped it over and for the grease, put a bit of oil from the back of a spoon on the cooked part. Then I flipped it over again, greased the new side and generally, flip it back and forth till I am happy with the colour. I have noticed however that once the roti rests for a while it changes colour. When I first started cooking I kept looking for the perfect brown and ended up with the perfect black. Now I know to look for a slightly under-done colour.

Drama outcome:
Ajwain ke patte ka parantha

14 July 2011

WHY didn't I join the gym sooner?

Many (OK, the few that land here by mistake) might have assumed that I had not written a follow up to my new life at the gym because I may have dropped out. Wrong. I was merely being lazy about updates.

It's odd how for months I thought I didn't have time to go to the gym and yet, now I go religiously 3 times a week; even to the extent of planning my running days and times according to my schedule. A full work out (I have added some toning exercises to my 4K routine) takes me about an hour. Add to the fact that I travel to the gym in peak hour traffic, it's another 30 mins to schedule. So I have mysteriously found an extra 1.5 hours in my day?

My gym is also a great place for people watching. The windows overlook a car park that appears to cater to teenage brats driving their parent's Skodas. Double parking is the norm and countless time cars are pulled out, re-adjusted, pulled back in - it's quite interesting to watch because at least in the limited time I have watched this, there is no apparent rule.

Then there are my gym buddies. Technically, I don't even know their names, but I see them regularly and I have even managed to exchange smiles with one of them. I am absolutely inspired and impressed with my buddies. They come in all shapes and sizes, yet they are determined to work out. It's funny when some of them get on the treadmill with a newspaper or magazine, intending to catch up on their reading only to realise that reading and walking are not entirely compatible. Or I will see a whole row of damsels by the stationery bikes, with their legs mechanically moving as their minds carefully absorb the crystals on a dress worn by someone in a glamour magazine. My favourite though is the BB crowd. It's interesting how a mobile phone is like an an essential organ now. Some only keep it for emergencies while the some text non-stop. I have overheard flirting, cooking tips and bitchy gossip, and it's fun trying to imagine these people from the conversations. Who needs a TV with this kind of entertainment? It's all too jolly.

I broke one of my rules BTW. I weighed myself. About two weeks ago I was 55.4 and yesterday it had moved down to 53.9. No measuring tape yet so I don't know what the hip/ waist situation is like. I do feel lighter, and the crossword is getting is better.

30 June 2011

It's going somewhere - hurrah!

The calorie-burning program has been initiated. They say it typically takes 2 - 3 weeks to know if you are going to stick to a program; but I am on outlier. Well, I am also an optimist. I didn't realize what a disciplined chimp I was till the day of the my first Marathon in DC. The entire gang that trained with AfE New York was bundled in with million other runners in the train to the starting point and a discussion began about how often one missed training runs. Our training was over a 6 month period and as the rest spoke, I realized that I did not miss a single run. I certainly delayed some runs, especially the Sunday 3 miler; but got it out of the way. To give credit to my running mates, their miss-rate was not high either: they could count the missing runs on their fingertips. My point: I have a bit of history sticking to routine.

The gym is quite nice. Filled with babes, mostly determined to lose weight. The weight loss chicks have cards with their details filled out and a measure of accomplishments. I wonder if the gym will publish statistics of how successfully they can motivate people? Anyhow, as I left last night, I noticed they had a message board out in the front in which someone in neat handwriting had proclaimed that pistachios, among other benefits, helps to keep integrity of the membrane. Got me thinking... the things I know that destroy integrity of membranes are detergents: octyl glucoside, SDS or pore-forming toxins. I am not familiar with any agent that helps the integrity - maybe in constituent parts - surely, cholesterol is most important. Academic rigour might not be a strong suit of the gym.

I have a trainer BTW. S is interesting; she flits from "Madam" to "Madam". My efforts to get her to just say my first name are in vain. She still has not understood my motivation and therefore, we are working on getting a routine. The happy news is - running is back on track.

I would inform on the change in stats of body parts; only, I don't have a measuring tape. So once that is procured, I can get a little more quantitative with my progress. Empirically though, it's working: I can solve an average of 1 clue on The Hindu's cryptic on non-exercise days and it jumps to 4 on exercise-days. Happy Days!

25 June 2011

The next run

It was better than the first in that - I could do more running than walking and I therefore, took lesser time. But, it was still unpleasant. I have now convinced my soft चन्दन-सा बदन that it is the heat. Admittedly, it was cooler on this run because I left Office later (6pm vs 5pm), however, my ears got really hot like last time and I found myself panting more because I was thirsty than out of breath.

So, in order not to let this become a losing battle I did something I never thought I would do - signed up at a gym. They call it Pink, some sort of chain, and a sassy young thing walked me through the gym this morning recommending with a beaming smile that I don't need a weight loss package; just a general fitness package would do. If only she knew of my paunch anxieties. I was planning to go back in the afternoon, but I was too happy with my efforts on securing a gas connection with HP gas (this story only when there is a ending) to drive back to the gym.

Now the cryptic crossword awaits.

22 June 2011


Well, Day 2 can hardly qualify as progress.

As I was popping a mysore pak in my mouth yesterday, I was re-contemplating the whole fat situation. Like, is my fat transient or permanent? As the ghee from the mysore pak melted, I wondered if the fat that I am going to lose (crossing fingers here) is actually going to go away? or is it going to get converted into something else? or is simply going to get smaller.

I got analytical about this. From what I know, fat is stored mainly in adipose tissue and these are distributed according to sex. Women store them in the buttocks (check), thighs (check) and hips (check). At this point I wanted to learn more so I went wiki. Now this fascinating page gives you lots of information on fat and from it I have concluded that belly fat is visceral fat and it might be an indicator of cardiovascular disease. I have always believed that I will die of a heart attack - my body it seems, is working to put this together.

The mysore pak was too sweet suddenly. Anyway, I didn't dwell on this information too long because later in the afternoon, to make up for all the stress of learning about fat, I ate a puff. Now, before you shake your head and tut-tut me reader, I also went for a run yesterday.

KBR park is a hop, skip away from Office so at 5pm I donned the garb and went for a run. I ended up walking for much of the time though, because my body and I differed significantly in spirit. The weird part is: the whole time I was out, all I could think of was the physical exersion. Have to get into the zone; that's what will enable me to forget about the pain and panting. The whole circuit was about 3.5 miles.

Tomorrow is a re-run.

20 June 2011

Growing up and out

About two weeks apart, two different women have asked If I was pregnant. Well, not as bluntly as that. They did try to be cautious - "Is it good news?" and "So, are you planning a baby?" Now, as it happens. No. I am not pregnant. But what I do have is an unflattering paunch.

I was having myself measured at the Tailors' today, watching him scribbling in tiny letters my dimensions so as to remind himself of the pattern and the bulges. And at this point I was forced to confront the situation that I has been weighing on me for a while.

Some uncomfortable truths:
  • My waistline which was a petite 26 has climbed to 29.
  • My hips have grown from their heydays of being 35 to 37.5.
  • My weight has gone up from 50 to 55kgs
The pounds have not rushed in but merely sauntered, found places with a view and settled comfortably in my tissue. I used to think the fats were renting; turns out they purchased the entire condo and the parking lot. Most women struggle with weight. My battles are limited: From ages 0 to 15 I was chubby; then something happened (romantics would call it a blossoming; realists would call it hormones) and I lost the flab. The paunch though, remained. It was just less visible. That status quo remained till I was 29 when I started my job in India.

What changed? Well, I went from sitting only for lunch and tea to sitting forever. The current job has all the trappings of a luxury life - two computer screens, a housekeeper who makes coffee better than the italians and an office where meals are an all-you-can-eat buffet, everyday. I tried to interject some exercise, but the lazy genes got activated and before I could say "freeze" I had ballooned.

Do I want to change? Well, having grown up being a chubby tubby for some junior years, the fatness per se doesn't bother; what annoys is the places in which it is sequestered. The real estate map of my body is all wrong. Why dont' fat like ankles? Consequently, I bulge in awkward places. N was very sweet about this body image issue - he says I should just wear loose clothes so no one can tell how many tyre manufacturers I have hidden away on my abdomen. I still haven't answered the question, right? Well, yes I do. Not in the size-zero way though. Because, most importantly, I can't diet.
Just thinking about dieting makes me hungry. I get cranky and like a young child with cooties when I am hungry. This foray would not work for me professionally. Imagine starving and PMS-ing together? Cataclysmic. Not so much for me, but for all those brave people who work with me.

Right, so something has to give. Exercise. N got us a stationery bike which I used to ride for a bit after new years (make the connection?) but I got bored of sitting again. Walking and running are alternatives but the heat did it in for me. Now though, the monsoons are in, so I suppose that's not an excuse. Well, I want to lose some flab. But I am determined not to do two things:

a) weigh myself

b) diet

(a) is a potential issue because it would not be so easy to tell if the weight loss program is working. But I think what I am going to do instead is measure the waist line and hip. (b) is a no-brainer. For world peace, I have to make this sacrifice. So in the coming weeks, I am going to use you, dear blog, to map out my progress. To the exercise bike, and beyond.

19 June 2011

tereBin - taking responsibility for our litter!

I got the nicest email from theuglyindian a few days ago. Own a dustbin on MG Road- Brigade Road and thereabouts. The rates were - 1000 (for purchase and maintenance for 100 days); 1500 (for purchase and maintenance for 1 year). The bins are a sight - painted in white, green and blue, designed by a creative soul. I wish I had a picture of the bin to post; but anyhow, if you wanted to watch the bins in action catch them on youtube.

This is a group that relies on action, not speak and I am so glad that we such initiatives. It's one reason why I am considering joining facebook!

5 February 2011

Garden Politics

Lately there has been much war and strife in my life; and I have created it.

At my last visit to the foreign shores I picked up a packet of seeds for Salad leaves. I was looking for Arugula (Rocket) to grow but didn't find it so I settled for a packet that cheerfully announced itself as "Speedy Salad Mix - Harvest in 25 days". At the back it also talked about how you can impress your dinner guests with this home grown collection of greens. I don't have dinner guests but I figured that maybe the salad was a good way to enlist some and perhaps, impress them?

My gardening skills are, ahem, pathetic. But my brown thumb doesn't stop me from trying to grow just about anything - after all, what will happen? They will wilt and die or not sprout. Having gone through the emotional trauma of losing seedlings, large plants, small plants, once-upon-a-time healthy plants I have become immune to the failure of no-growth. So it was with this faith and optimism that I prepared my garden tub for the speedy salad mix.

The packet advised that one must plant them 6 inches apart and increase the distance once things have sprouted. Well, that doesn't apply in my case because, hey, the survival rate of any plant in my concentration camp is close to 10%. Besides the seeds are so small that planting them singly 6 inches apart calls for neuro-surgical skill levels of teasing and implanting. I simply gathered a third of the seeds in the packet (allowing myself to fail 3 times) and scattered them in half my garden tub.

In parallel I also decided to grow Zucchini. Having seen squash blossom out of my compost even, I was more confident that these seeds would not disappoint thanks to their inherent hardiness. So I plopped two zucchini seeds down in the north sector of the tub.

Lo and behold, there was action on the soil front in almost a week. Little leaves had emerged and I continued to water them, smiling each morning, wondering how long they would really last. Well, the joke was on me. Because 3 weeks later, I had war on an unimaginable scale.

Previous inhabitants of this tub were some mint, lemongrass and a chilly plant. The mint was growing like a weed, a statement that must be eliciting a vigorous nod from my gardening enthusiast readers. So, I tore it up and transplanted to a more contained pot. Of course, a stray root had escaped my barbarism and sprouted mint. The Chilly plant too had received a razor cutting at the time the seeds were planted - to stimulate it to put out more chillies. The Chilly plant was one of my first attempts at growing stuff. I had carried it from home, that distant land, on train and given it the No 1, Garden Street address. In it's 1.5 years with me, for the the first 9 months it put out leaves and flowers - no chilly. Exasperated, I shared my idea with N with de-planting it to make room for something that actually gives a product. But N accused me of discrimination on basis of fertility and defended the right of the plant to live, just because. So the plant stayed and two months later produced its' first chilly, much to N's delight. Since then, it has retained it's princely address on Garden Street. The lemon grass was shifted from its luxury compound to No 4, Pot Enclave where it now shares it's balcony with purple basil and can see italian basils' bedroom from it's kitchen.

What started as a ocean of space and calm though has now become an urban jungle of the Salad Kingdom. I still don't have dinner guests to impress and can only get through so much salad in a week. Even the mint, which is quite good about surviving any invasion has buckled. The Zucchini is inching it's way out by growing out of Garden Street and into Pot enclave. The chilly has held it's ground by sprouting leaves but boycotted the status quo by not making chillies anymore.

That's urban planning for you. Reminds me a bit of Bangalore actually - what it was and what it has become. I will leave you all now to impress myself with a cheese sandwich stuffed with fresh greens.

2 January 2011

The "ruling" democracy

Watching TV is not my favorite pastime, but it does substitute for dinner table conversation at our home sometimes. Recently though, thanks to the scams and countless exciting things that our dear countrymen & women are up to, we have been tuning in to the 9pm news regularly. Sitting agape, as usual, during one such evening we were treated to Chidambaram's masterful oration at the 83rd Congress baithak. He said something like the BJP won't rule the country for the next decade ( one report here). I sat up.

Rule? Wait a minute, aren't we in a democracy? I thought we elected you to govern the country.

Now Mr Chidambaram is one of our most well educated politicians, who I would have thought, would pick his words carefully. What, unfortunately, they do reveal, is the real mind set of our politicians. No one wants to govern and serve the nation. They want to rule us and we, like twits, don't mind that.

This ties into another unpleasant experience that N and I had around that time. Most restaurants in Hyderabad offer valet services. Which means that when you drive up to the entrance, a gentleman in a white suit will offer to park your car in a public parking area, not as you might assume, the parking garage of the restaurant. If you wanted to park yourself... well that option doesn't exist. To avoid the valet service we parked in the side street ourselves, next to yet-another-palatial home at Jubilee Hills. Two champs immediately asked for our car to be moved. The argument - its' the MLA's house, you can't park there. Hmm... we retorted, it's public space, we aren't parked in front of the gate, so that's a pretty unreasonable expectation. What happened next was an explosion of noises, with the MLA's goons threatening to beat up N and me trying to get a chump from inside the house to intercede. We tried to make the argument that actually the road belongs to us, the tax payers and the MLA had no right to the particular stretch in front of his house. The MLA BTW is a chap called Chandrashekar Reddy. Not sure what party he is in; he lives by Road no 36, Jubilee Hills, if that's of any help.

It was an unsettling experience to say the least - basically even a road can belong to someone in power, when in theory, it's we the citizen that these politicians are supposedly working for.

I do feel discouraged by our leadership. If you are in power, you just run with it. Electability has more to do with whom you know and your bank balance, rather than intelligence and humility.

Well, if you can't beat'em, join'em. So this year I am contemplating joining a political party. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, if you have any good ideas for a scam, do let me know. I would like to strengthen my national credentials - you just aren't an Indian till you have been in a scam and fleeced the country.

Happy New Year.