31 January 2014

Phew - Blogathon - Last day. Thoughts

Lessons-learned time. I like doing these exercises: do something, and then try and distill what I learned from it. Besides, it nicely provides a topic for the last post of this Blogathon. 

What did I learn from this exercise?

- I am not as opinionated as I thought. When I took up this challenge, I thought finding topics would be easy because I can complain about just anything. Perhaps, I have matured enough to not have that many things to complain about? Isn't that backwards though? I thought the older you get, the more you crib. 

- There is only so much I can write about myself. After a while it got nauseating. I mean, really - my life is not that interesting. Although I can't help but share that I saw a snake on the road today. I had to swerve hard right to avoid running it over with the scooter.

- I can't pop out Rukmini stories to a deadline. In spite of my friend Shoots giving me some brilliant ideas for context, I couldn't get the flow going. It wasn't writer's block - I would write a couple of paras, and then when I re-read them it would appear more boring than the guarantee section of the washing machine user manual. I am working on the Rukmini pieces and hopefully, will publish them in Feb.

30 January 2014

Preparing for Grandma




Amma (My grandmother) and I go way back - I think to the time I was born. She has the restless syndrome - cannot stop doing something useful with her time, all the time! We don't have cable, so that frees up TV watching time as well. Last time she visited, I came home and opened my kitchen cupboards to see - look at the photo - all the spices were neatly organized and labelled. Now I don't have to open four boxes before I find what I am looking for, or worse not find what I am looking for (all this typically happens while the stuff cooking on the stove is slowly burning to a crisp). So we have Amma for a week again and this time, N and I have made a list of things we would like her to do. It starts with making butter from all the cream we accumulate. Hurrah for kind, loving and restless Amma.

29 January 2014

Colour up cauliflower with red pepper

This is a quick, low-resource requiring sabji.

Ingredients
  • Cauliflower - Chopped into florets. The faster you want it cooked the smaller it has to be
  • Red pepper - Chopped into two cm bits. Same rules as above.
  • Jeera/ Cumin seeds
  • Dried Red Chillies (Optional)
  • Coriander leaves (Optional)
  • Salt
  • Oil 
Method

- Put oil in pan, heat. Half a tsp suffices if you are watching your oil consumption.
- When hot, toss in jeera and red chillies. Do not burn it. As soon as roasted aroma hits the nostrils, throw in the cauliflower.
- Sprinkle couple tblsps of water
-  Cover the pan; when cauliflower is tender, toss in the red pepper.
- Few tsps of water, put the cover, allow it to steam for a couple of secs.
- Done. Salt it up. Garnish with coriander if you want more colours in the dish.


I haven't mentioned ratios or proportions because you can pretty much put in any combination and it will be fine. Tadka/ tempering quantities for jeera and red chillies apply. For tadka/tempering ideas for dal, click here.

28 January 2014

How far ahead do you plan?

I am going for 5 years!

Yes, like Indian State Planning. BTW I love planning and being organized so this isn't a chore. It is just a time horizon.

Got this advice from a professional I deeply admired. Have been thinking a lot about how my career is somewhere between the toilet and the sewer. Today, an honest discussion changed that. How about I don't think about where my career is, and instead enjoy the moment?

N actually had the same advice. But if I listened to him, then where would be the fun in our marriage?

27 January 2014

Reading list

This stack of books is what is on my bedside table. 

I typically have two books that I read simultaneously. One fiction, the other non-fiction. A pile of 5 books is unusual. It all started with Albert Camus' novel - A happy death. It has been difficult getting through it, and to give myself a break from it I kept adding books to the pile. The Vonnegut is classic, and though easy to read (Short sentences, simple words), is a brilliant caustic observation of human behaviour which eventually leaves me cynical. The Gita, is a filler. I am in Chapter 2 where sissy-boy Arjun is getting a dressing down by Krishna. Of course, one can't read the Gita as a novel, but this version is a transliteration of the original lectures given by Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission. Swamiji liberally uses examples from politics, day to day living to convey the message of a sloka. Indira Gandhi was still alive when it was published and her "Roti, Kapada, Makaan" motto features. We have an extensive collection of books, two libraries that we combined when we started to live together. Alice in Wonderland is from N's collection - a tangential comment, I think no matter how old we get, we will always know which is "his" book and "my" book. Every time a reference is made to Alice's adventures I think I should read her story. I got started, but it has not me so engrossed that I feel compelled to finish it. The short stories by Gulzar was a Christmas gift. The perfect way to spend 10mins between chores.

26 January 2014

Where are the toilets?

There are massive infrastructure projects underway in Bangalore - the metro, flyovers, underpasses, multi-storey apartment complexes. People put these things together. They use machine and implements, but finally it is a person who lines up the stainless steel bars, climbs atop a scaffold and breathes dust the entire time. What do we offer these people? A salary? A place to live? But let's really look this closely. These projects are workplaces. Can you imagine working in a big project, and not having access to a flush toilet? Where is the doctor? What about health insurance? "Wear your helmet" is the only safety sign I see at these sites. A file of yellow-helmet men walk past. Look at their feet. Flimsy chappals caked with limestone or cement. Do they get a place to shower and clean up? Oh yes, a bucket of dirty water at a corner of the site. They work day, and night, with little protection against the elements. Don't you think that a nutritious meal should be provided on site? What do they eat? What sort of water do they drink? When they want a break, where do they go? Looks to me that their only outlet is a corner tea stall where they continue to breathe in the dust and grime they were working in. Every time we go out into the city and I watch these projects, I think about the people building them.

Why is it acceptable that we treat people this way?

25 January 2014

Bark, but don't bite?

I had a run in with a crazy taxi driver.

Here's the plot. I live about half a km from my workplace. I ride a scooter. There's one single road from my home to the workplace. It's broad, hardly has traffic and paved. It's part of a network of roads for a layout where there are very few homes. Newbie learners use this road to practice/ learn how to ride a bike or drive a car. 

While returning this afternoon, I am out of the campus gate and trundling down this road. I see a giant SUV in the oncoming lane. Behind it is a white Indica. As I approach the SUV, the taxi driver appears to make a quick mental calculation, after seeing me, because he suddenly swerves out of his lane, on to mine, and bears down on me. Caramba, I have to go off the road or get hit. I drive off the road. I yell.

I get really mad. I turn around and follow the taxi. I want to know if he realized he did something wrong. He gives chase. So I am following him around on top speed on a scooter I rarely push over 30km/hr. I am going so fast that my helmet is flying off my head and slipping backwards. The driver realizes this and keeps speeding. Luckily he decides to go towards our local market. There are enough speed bumps, cows, cars, cycles etc to slow him down. I catch up and corner him. I park in such a way that he can't get out without reversing. I can't stop screaming. I wish I hadn't though. I wish I had the presence of mind to park my scooter in front of his car, and ask him to get out and apologize. He yells, I yell. I memorize the license plate number. He reverses and drives off.

I get home and call the Traffic Police. I complain about rash driving and give them the licence plate number. The cop tells me that if only there was an accident he can do something. 

All this aggravation for what? It was a generic white Indica taxi, with two men, whom, given the briefness of our interaction I would not be able to identify. Also, what did I really achieve by giving chase and yelling at them? Was my being a woman riding a scooter one of the elements that figured in the taxi-drivers decision-making when he decided to swerve into me? I wish I had a James Bond style gizmo appended to my phone which would have allowed me to accurately deflate all four tyres! Bah. Humbug.

24 January 2014

My concept of time

Yipee, only a week left for the blogathon to end. 

If my readers are wondering about some of the blog topics, N is responsible. "Cows", "FDI in retail" - these were all his suggestions. So is this. It's a point of major disagreement with us.

Okay, so about time. I hate being late. Hate is a strong word and I use it consciously. And for me being late is a physiological reaction. I hate myself most of all for being late and feel extremely agitated knowing I am late. Now in India, being late is a cultural character. Time is fluid. If someone wants to meet you, they'll give a time and 10-15mins late is considered good etiquette. For me, appointment time is a time, not a window, and about a minute or so late is acceptable. Not more. I like to practice punctuality and it is extremely difficult being married to someone for whom the same standards don't apply. We get to shows on time, but when meeting people it is fluid. I get the idea: different rules for different situations. But I don't gel with it. Yes, quite a military attitude.

I like pack my day so that each event is planned and timed. I like it when things move in precise steps. I like to know how long it will take to get somewhere and then plan my day accordingly. Some might be clicking their heads going, "tsk, tsk, totally lacking spontaneity"! Very true.

I also get perturbed when things don't start on time. Shows, trains, flights etc. And the most exasperating idea of them all, it is acceptable if things run late. As in, if things do go ahead in a timely fashion, it is a bonus. Gah!

What to do? Can't say. N keeps reminding that after we have children I can't afford to have this attitude, so I might as well start getting used to time as a fluid concept.

23 January 2014

What do you do when someone disagrees with you?

Something I was thinking about while swimming...

With siblings, parents, spouse, the underlying belief is that you love each other no matter what, so disagreements come and go. But what do you do when someone you work with or meet at a party or have to deal with in your building (a bunch of kids broke one of my pots recently and the plant is dead! ugh), an acquaintance whose long term happiness is not your priority, disagrees?

Dissent is of two types: rational and irrational. Mind you, this is subjective too. What is rational to me, might be irrational to you. Except for mathematical, physical and natural phenomenon, which are immutable, you can pretty much argue that something you think is correct. But the problem is that there will always be people who disagree.

In my profession, evidence rules. If you can prove it, your word holds. If someone can independently prove the same thing you have, but differently, the better. If no one can reproduce your data, it's a big problem. So, a disagreement can be more or less easily settled - you have to prove the other person incorrect by doing an experiment. Because at the end of the day, good, clean (as opposed to doctored) data wins.

Now unfortunately, when you are arguing about the merits of the colour purple as a curtain-choice, or whether to place the newly arrived potted plant in your office in the corridor or next to the loo, there's bound be a range of opinions. Some that you might not like. Do you quickly run through your mind that this isn't important, ergo don't argue? Or do you stand your ground? How comfortable are you to agree to disagree?

I am very bad at handling disagreements with people on personal matters. As far as science is concerned, there is no argument - data wins, but for everything else, rules apply!

22 January 2014

Three must try local dishes - Bangalore

I was inspired to blog about this after reading a BBC article on this topic, and I am writing this just before lunch so all I can think about is food.

Local dishes in Bangalore. First, let's define local. I can't think of one specific thing that's made in Bangalore that would not be made somewhere in South India. Therefore, I am going to take liberty of including items that would ordinarily be found elsewhere, but I think has typical Bangalorean formulation. These items are all vegetarian - no particular reason, and things we would eat for 'tiffin', our version of a snack. In no specific order,

  1. Khara bun. Dotted in various markets you will find some version of an Iyengar Bakery. There will be many baked goodies here. My favorite is khara bun - a spiced bun. It's not spicy hot, but flavoured with pepper, chillies etc. Get them fresh right out of the oven, and they can be enjoyed with tea or coffee. 
  2. Akki Roti. At a darshini (Shiv Sagar, Sukh Sagar, all the various oceans/sagars of food), this would be served only as a tiffin item - between 4pm and 7pm. It's made of rice flour and served with red chutney. My favourite stop for this is, Ganesh Darshan next to Jayanagar Shopping complex. While here, also try the ragi roti.
  3. Jola Rotti & Brinjal curry. This is a north Karnataka item. So, not really hitting the local mark. However, if you really enjoy Jola (Jowar; some type of millet) roti, you should eat them fresh. The best place I tried this is Hotel Kamat Minerva, just off Lalbagh. They serve a thali lunch with these items which is super tasty. A perfect way to combine a visit to the park. Another place to check out for this type of food to Hotel Nalapaka, Rajajinagar.


21 January 2014

What I learned yesterday

Yes, this is a desperate attempt at keeping the blog alive through the marathon. 

- If I sit back just a little bit in padmasana, feel my buttocks kiss the ground, I can lengthen the spine a lot more. My teacher repeats to me, "Keep your back straight" and I feel like I have stretched it as much as I can. A quick glance in the mirror confirms that I could audition for the hunchback of Notre-dame. Obviously, there's a disconnect, and I think I have solved one part of the puzzle. Now the challenge is to keep my back straight. 

- gingelly (sesame seed/til) oil, is the not the best medium for tadka in palakwali dal. I try to mix up my oil usage, coconut for beetroot/ avial, peanut for dosa/tadka, ghee for rasam/plain dal. I normally use gingelly for chinese stir-fry types. It tasted strange with moong-dal. 

- cast iron pan needs to be cleaned properly with boiling water, preferably right after cooking. 

20 January 2014

So I have periods, big deal!

Growing up a girl, one day you find that you are bleeding: down below, in a place that you know isn't supposed to be talked about. If you are lucky, someone (my mom in my case) has told you to expect it. The bleeding is followed by cramps and the necessity of thinking about sanitary napkins. I feel that in my adolescence what passed for a sanitary napkin was a tea towel, rolled up. My gait changed to accommodate this new fat accessory.

One day you need to go to the store to buy one of these. When you asked for it at the pharmacy (long before you had the luxury of shopping in privacy at a supermarket), you got a glance and then hurriedly, a display of varieties. Sometimes you didn't even get the display. You got asked how many packets you wanted. It got wrapped in a newspaper and then shoved into a black plastic bag. Why was it treated like contraband? I was once sitting with my purchase, a packet of napkins, in my lap while reading the newspaper in the common area of the girls' hostel. An inmate walked up and asked in a whisper, "May be you should hide that thing?" Why was that my display of a commonly used female product in a GIRL's only environment, evoke such prejudice? Every babe in the hostel used one. You bought it in the stores located on the premise. Why should I hide it?

Then there were the practices around the experience, which luckily I did not have to experience. In homes, there was a big do: hurrah, the girl has come of age, have a puja. Or, yikes, you have your periods, stay away from the kitchen and Puja room. If you believe in God, do you think He/She really would have created an experience that would exclude you from worshiping Him/Her? Isn't purity of mind more important than "purity" of body? Actually, I don't even understand why the menstruation state is considered *impure*? It's a bodily secretion, that you can't control; just like sweat. You don't stop going to the puja room on a hot day, when you are sweating, do you?

I know I write from a position of privilege. I have the luxury of using a pad, many in India don't. I have the luxury of taking a break from my routine when I have my periods, many women I know, don't.

Watch this awesome video, a TED talk by Mr Arunachalam Muruganantham, who designed a low cost sanitary making machine for rural Indian women. He was inspired by his wife's discomfort, the fact that she had to choose between the milk budget and using a pad. The funniest point comes when he describes that he didn't find women to test his pads. So, he wore one himself, using a sac that dripped animal blood on to the cloth! Wow, just WOW.

Here's something I want to put out to my readers:

1. The environmental impact of using a pad: Fancy cotton type material goes to make the filling, but the base is plastic. Obviously, not biodegradable in our lifetime. I have been thinking about an alternative, and found something made in Auroville (http://ecofemme.org/). These are washable cloth pads. If your blood makes your squirm, too bad. Just imagine all those women who use home made rags instead of polished pads!
2. Donate old cotton clothes to organizations that make cheap cloth pads for economically weaker women. There's Goonj, spread over different parts of the country, which I used in Hyderabad. I give to an NGO in R T Nagar now.
3. Being mindful of pad disposal: Previously, you used newspaper to wrap soiled pads, and today, you can use the plastic wrapping that comes along. The next step, is to put it in a newspaper bag - I collect it in a bag made by stapling three sides of a newspaper - when it is full, I seal the whole thing, and putting a big red X on it. This identifies it as hazardous biological waste. The sad thing is I don't know if our trash collectors do segregate it out. At least, it is easily identifiable now.

19 January 2014

Saaru Anna - Comfort food

Saaru is the Kannadiga version of Rasam, at least in my family. And it's comfort food for me. Here's my recipe. This recipe is for N, to make when I am unwell. Picture coming up.

A memory: My dad was in the Air Force and in the summer holidays we would pack up for Chandigarh, his last posting. Two months of loitering about on a large campus filled with peacocks, trees and protocol. Each meal was eaten in the Mess. Where, ahem, you used cutlery, to eat everything. No fingers touching the food, at all. For my sister and me, this was the only sore point. Your meal would be staring back at you, and the easiest thing would be to scoop it all up with your fingers, but you couldn't. You had to use the blasted fork to fill up the spoon and then balance it just right to get it into your mouth, without spilling it. Let's not even visit how we were supposed to eat a Roti. Also, this was food in the mess, in the north, in summer. You got small tinda, big tinda and asymmterical tinda. Moong dal or tur dal. Seviya or custard. Day in, day out. So, at the end of the holidays when my grandma asked what would like to eat on our return, I promptly said, Saaru (Rasam), Anna (rice) and hurlikkai palya (beans palya). This type of watery stuff can only be relished through the fingers!

Ingredients:
  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • 1/2 Tur Dal, cooked with pinch of turmeric and hing
  • 1 tbsp Saaru (Rasam) Powder
  • 1 tbsp jaggery (Gud)
  • Juice pressed from lemon sized Tamarind which has been soaked in warm water
  • Tadka: Ghee (1 tbsp minimum), mustard seeds, jeera, kadipatta, red chilly
Method
  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, add ghee. Melt. Add ingredients of Tadka in order they have been written.
  2. Add tomatoes. Add 1 cup water. Cover with lid. 
  3. Allow tomatoes to cook. Take potato masher and pulp up the tomatoes.
  4. Add dal.
  5. Add jaggery and tamarind water.
  6. Mash again.
  7. Boil for 2 mins.
  8. Add Rasam powder. Adjust water content as per taste.
  9. Boil till aroma floats about and permeates kitchen.
  10. Garnish with coriander leaves
  11. Pour on to rice and consume.

18 January 2014

Cows

I normally don't think much about them. But they figure in my life in two ways:

On the road. My commute to work is 500m; yes, half a km. Yet, I always come across at least 2 bovine creatures once a day. Slowly swaying their buttocks, they languorously move across the road only when they hear traffic approaching. Try honking, and maybe you will get a sideways glance. Try to go around them, and they will change their path to intersect with your vehicle. Go slowly and you'll be slapped on the face with a swish of their tail.

As compost material. Gobar - green gold I call it. One of the first ingredients you collect when you start gardening is soil. Go to a nursery and the caretaker will immediately sense you are a newbie. You price tag will now increase exponentially each time you open your mouth. Soil, eh? With manure or without? You don't think about this. With manure, you say with authority and without realizing get poorer by twice the cost. How? Because "with manure" is simply the same soil with goat and cow poop. They collect it in the farms (read: get it for free), add it to the soil and then jack up the price. So now, when I go fill up soil (which I get from an open excavation site, thanks to the construction boom Bangalore is littered with these!) I just pop some of dry gobar lying around. Cheap thrills from beating the system! Now, if only I had a goat - then broccoli leaves would also have a taker.

17 January 2014

FDI in retail - a laygirl perspective

In the last few months, off and on, you would have come across the topic of "FDI in retail". What does it mean? And why should you have an opinion? 

I am not an economist or public policy expert. Here's why I have an opinion on it though. I think it is needed. Not just some flimsy excuse of an FDI, but a good solid push.

FDI - Foreign Direct Investment. It's a way for our country to attract capital and with that, the industry. Nehru, and with more gusto Indira Gandhi, took our economy down the road where only some people were allowed to setup industry (so no competition to be better), and everything was desi: responsible for the description of a hindu growth rate. While the desiness works for ayurvedic medicines, it does not for technology. The only exception has been the Space department, which has survived and competed successfully internationally. So, we had a country where the State machinery actively ensured that we don't import the best technology and knowledge. 

Enter Manmohan Singh, and freeing up of the Indian economy. That's why you are able to get a job that pays well enough and economy that can lend you money, to buy a home at 35. These policies thus have long term effects on our ability to earn and enjoy!

FDI in retail is mainly to enable Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco types to enter the Indian market. I am not a big fan of big shops such as these; I can't shop at Big Bazaar because it elicits a strong physiological reaction, nausea. However, what I am a big fan off, is the processes and technology that these big companies would bring. Two articles I read recently highlighted how a very small fraction of what you pay for your vegetables, actually goes to the farmer. (articles - India Together, The Economist). The process of procuring veggies involves at least three tiers of middleman, no underlying mechanism to protect the crop during transit, leading up to 30% loss (you pay for this loss as a consumer!) and opaque auctioning where the farmer who grows the stuff, has NO say in prices. Think about that: you slog and work with nature to grow something and you can't decide what to sell it for. Also, the farmers can only sell it at the auction. There is no alternative. 

FDI in retail would mean that giant superstores will want uniform produce (Ok, that's annoying for me as a consumer) but think of what it means to the farmer/producer. There is more demand for their stuff, and there is another alternative for them to sell their produce. Plus, if the stores want to keep prices down they will have invest in cold storage and packing practices that will cut down on the loss from farm to market. 

I support FDI in retail and it's foolish for any State/ Central government not to push for it in earnest. We are starting to surge into our demographic dividend (the largest share of the population are growing to be 15-25 yr olds) - if the state does not figure out how to give them jobs and sustenance, by opening various parts of the economy, and enabling industries that employ them, we will not see a dividend, but a loss. 

16 January 2014

Petpals column in The Hindu

This post is inspired by R's mom post today describing the characteristics of a Tambram mama; it includes a penchant obessession for The Hindu. When I read this part of her description, I felt she was talking about me!

Tuesdays in The Hindu are exciting for me. I race to open the supplement, and search for the Petpals column. Nested in the write up are pictures of puppies. Just thinking about it makes me smile. Who doesn't like looking at puppies? For the cat lovers, there are kittens sometimes too. Cats don't make me smile though - Sorry, I am a big time dog lover and neutral about cats.

Your choice of newspaper can stereotype your political inclination. I wasn't aware of this when I first thought about subscribing to one. I just knew that reading a newspaper in the morning was part of my routine. In the US I read the The New York Times. Here, I read The Hindu. This choice I learned essentially placed me as a left wing liberal, tending to communism. Frankly, I don't understand these labels.

A newspaper, first and foremost, should inform. The second aspect for me, is the quality of information. The third, is the breadth. Of all the choices available to me, only The Hindu appears to offer a decent spread of information, in English that isn't cluttered with typos and exaggerations. Show me puppies once-a-week and I am sold!

15 January 2014

Yoga and Me

When you do yoga class, there is always that one student who seems to be able to follow instructions seamlessly and wrap themselves around in whichever way, all with the calmest expression on their face? That's not me. I grunt. I moan. I can't ever reach my forehead to the ground. In sitting posture, my knees never touch the ground. I can't balance for nuts. I actually find it funny watching myself in the mirror. The only thing I can do is smile on demand!

But I still like doing yoga. Because when I move away from thinking of it in terms of flexibility and really observe myself in a pose, I learn more about the state of my mind. The days I am cranky and stubborn, I am unable to stretch; the days I am happy and in sync with the practice, the floor magically appears within reach. Yoga has taught me self-observation.

So what really annoyed me the other day was when the teacher suggested we practice to enter into a competition. I loathe this concept. For those who enjoy competitive yoga, go for it. I believe these competitions rate you for flexibility and strength; nothing can rate you for your commitment to self-observation and mindfulness. And isn't each of our spiritual journeys different? Isn't yoga, as a practice of poses, just one way of being aware of that journey?

14 January 2014

Sonia Gandhi - An inspiration for handloom sarees

Whenever I see a report about Sonia Gandhi, I dive in excitedly - to see what saree she is wearing. If it is one of those shots with just her face, then the excitement is short-lived; if not, I pass silent judgement at her choice. Most often the judgement is admiration, laced with envy. Where does she get her collection of handloom sarees from? I admire her choice immensely and the exacting way in which she drapes herself. Her ensemble is always dignified and if you notice carefully, she matches sarees to the occasion, picking handlooms that come from the area that she is visiting: ikat for Orissa, Maheswari for MP. That is a level of detail I see no other women politician in India practicing; not even her own daughter who emulates her choice in sarees, comes close to the style and elegance she represents.

I love wearing sarees and am rather rigidly devoted to handloom cottons. The occasional kancheepuram silk is part of my wardrobe but it's a concession. What I love to look at, and buy are handspun cottons, preferable where I can understand who the weaver might be and how it was processed. Just the smell of handloom cotton delights me.

I was inspired to write this post as I wore my latest Malkha Khadi (pictured) kurta today. Enjoying the feel of khadi and look of vegetable colours!

13 January 2014

Killing hunger pangs

I can't remember a time when I haven't wondered what was there for the next meal. I had a colleague who would have eaten cereal and come to lab by 7am, his next meal was in the evening, when he went home for dinner. Me - Breakfast at 830, coffee at 10, lunch at 1230, coffee at 2, snack at 4/5, dinner at 8. I also do dessert at dinner, everyday, even if it is just a little piece of chocolate. When it emerged that eating often, but less quantities was the way to go, I was patting myself for having a healthy lifestyle.

Part of the obsession is physiological, my blood sugar drops quickly and I get extremely cranky if I don't eat right away. A trait I share with my sister, so there's a genetic tint to it. For me symptoms include, my hands starting to shake and being totally unable to have coherent thought. But then I see people who fast, without taking a drop of water, go on with their daily life without an incident, and wonder if this food craving is also a sign of poor self-control.

I don't think I will ever be able to diet. That would be a living nightmare for me. Even as a teenager, who was most conscious of her paunch, I could not diet. I ran crazily up and down stairs because I read in a magazine that they give shapely thighs, but I could not cut out anything in my diet.

With age though, metabolism changes and I have had to consider options for what to eat. Our canteen offers fried goodies for snacks, not the best option to eat everyday. N made me a snack pack (he's usually at the end of the low blood glucose crabbiness) with chikki (yummy) and energy bars (ugh!). Luckily, I don't have a taste for sev, bhujiya, mixture so I avoiding those is not a problem. But then, what to snack on? Here's what I have on me these days:

Chikki (peanut & sesame), sugar coated gooseberry (amla), dried channa (no salt or masala).

Any other low-cal alternatives I should be trying?

12 January 2014

Baby Pink Peanuts

Normally, I wouldn't gush about the colour of my garden produce. I can't tell colour, rather I can't associate colour names with the colour. The basic red, blue, black is what I can manage. Mauve, purple, mustard, cyan are beyond me.

But look at these peanuts. Who knew they would come out blush pink. This was the harvest of my peanut planting. I planted 3 peanuts and this was my yield, not the greatest output. Peanut growing is a long term experiment I am carrying out on potted soil. I am seeing if this is a natural way to rejuvenate the soil between crops. Hopefully, some Rhizobium has grown along with the roots of these plants. My blasted balcony gets little to no direct sunlight, so with this awful handicap I have to figure out what to grow next.

11 January 2014

Where is the cosmic justice in -

- walking triumphantly down a hallway, the kat kat noise of your sandals attracting one and all, only to stumble, lose balance and collapse in a heap?

- making a tart witty one-liner joke (at least you think it was a joke), and having to spend the next 10 minutes explaining it?

- neatly writing down every single step of a 40-step experiment, complete with notes in the margin and then losing the book entirely?

- getting a call from your tailor, to let you know that your clothes are not ready?

- growing methi, and finding out that you have a vegetarian rat in the neighbourhood that like green leafy veggies in its diet?

10 January 2014

Millets - How to incorporate them in your diet

Kodo Millet (Aarika)
Millets: Bajra, Jowar, Barley, Ragi, this is how I was familiar with them. We didn't eat them growing up; while Ragi was a major part of my Grandmother's diet, somehow by our time, rice and wheat were our major cereals. I tasted Ragi twice as a child, as a mude (round ball), and didn't care much for swallowing a tasteless paste. That's the problem with Millets in general, flavour. It could also be that since I didn't grow up eating them, I hadn't developed a taste for it.

Barley was my first foray into millet land - when I was in London, S and E introduced it to me as a cutlet, a recipe I later modified and adapted for my kitchen as Barley Cutlets.

When I began trolling organic shops in India, I came across a much wider breadth. Slowly, over time, I have modified some things in our kitchen to increase our intake of millets.

Okay, why the bruhaha about millets?  
One: They are super nutritious; cup for cup they have more protein, and nutrients than polished rice.  Two: They are indigenous Indian plants and require much less water to grow. Three: They were the major cereals that Indians consumed, till the government decided to subsidize rice and wheat production in big way. All that farmer distress - it's caused by poor policy. There is no incentive for a farmers to grow what is suitable for the land that they have. Rather, by making available cheap seeds of only a certain kind and cheap fertilizer, without providing the heavy water resources that may be required, the Govt has created a market only for certain products. So, buying and eating millets is not only good for you, it encourages farmers because they have a market for a crop that requires much less resources.

How to incorporate them in your family's diet?
Millets are available in three forms - Whole (as a rice), Flour, Semolina (rava)


Here's what we do in our diet:
1. Cook Millet rice with a bit of ghee/ butter and salt. That marginally improves it for consumption. Substituting this
Mushroom, peas, carrot pulav with Aarika (Kodo Millet)
for rice is possible, but not tasty. I usually make two types of rice dishes with millets - Khichadi (good old pongal types with moong dal; mix up various millets + rice), or pulav (pictured here, Mushroom/ Carrot/ Peas pulav. Everything about cooking it is similar to rice, except increasing the amount of water)
2. Using Millet rice in dosa and idli batter. Recipe blogged here.
3. Flours can be added into your regular atta dough. Keep the ratio of wheat: other atta at 2:1, else the roti will turn out hard and if not consumed right away, can be used as a frisbee. The millet dough itself stays for a while in the fridge. Variations: Ragi flour can be added to regular dosa batter to make ragi dosa.
4. Rava can be used to make upma and payasam/kheer. Warning: The taste of millet rava is not as smooth as wheat or rice rava. In upma therefore you might want to ease in the quantity of millet rava you use. However, millet rava takes more water to cook. In payasam, the sweet flavour (jaggery) and nuts (badam, kaju) will compensate for the texture of the rava. The payasam is probably the first thing to try if you want to introduce your family to millets. If they like the first item, there will be a positive association with millets! 

Excited? Where to buy millets?
In Bangalore, organic shops dotted all over the city carry millet rice, flour and rava. Things like Sattu ka Atta or Ragi flour, you will even find in your regular MK Bazaar types. We patronize two millet producers: Timbaktu Organic and Earth 360 (Check this link out for nutritional info).

9 January 2014

Bangalore allergies? Try jal-neti

Usually, mine start in the morning. While I have had allergies all over the world, my most frequent attacks are in Bangalore. It starts with loud successive sneezes, tearing up, and then loss of bodily fluids through nose and eyes. My nose gets redder than Rudolf's (of the reindeer fame), and my visibility drops as fat droplets of tears form and flow. If I could compose music, I would have an "ode to the allergy".

I remember allergies in school, so mine is a fairly old complaint. Cetrizine, was the tablet that was recommend. Pop one, as soon as it starts. I was lucky enough to be sensitive to its other effects - sleep-inducement. Ah, the joys of sleeping in class due to "medical reasons". This went on till college. When I got to the US the tablet of choice was Allegra; unfortunately, not a soporific. The allergies returned in full gusto when I returned to India.

A few years ago my sister suggested jal neti - an old technique of pouring water through one nostril, and letting it drip from the other. My brother-in-law too has allergies and adopting jal neti really worked to alleviate symptoms. Despite this knowledge, I continued to pop the pills. Then one day my sister mentioned how all it takes is 2 minutes. Somehow the knowledge that it only takes a couple of minutes finally forced me to consider it. Go figure!

I tried is first when I had an allergy attack. Remarkably, symptoms cleared in seconds. Yes, seconds. Worked the second time too, and now I am hooked. I am too lazy to adopt this as an everyday thing, so, I do it as soon as I get my first set of 4 successive sneezes and the allergy dies down immediately. I have done this now for the last two months, about thrice a week and it has worked each time. I used to pop Allegra like you do vitamin pills and that's stop completely. There is a technique to doing jal neti, and best to have someone teach you. Also, I learned after burning my sinuses that you should definitely add salt and use warm water (body temperature).

Okay, n = 1, is not the most convincing scientific study. However, I can't believe how effective this has been for me. Anyone else out there for whom Jal neti has worked?

8 January 2014

I can't tell left from right; well, not intuitively anyway.


I have a brain wiring issue when it comes to telling the difference between right and left. Try this - raise your right hand. You did it in what? Under 1 sec. For me, it takes about 15secs. Not the lifting part; the thinking about which side is right part. I know which is which, only I can't tell you that right away.

Funnily enough, I have a fantastic sense of direction. I only have to visit a place once to know a route, even in a new city. I don't even have to consciously register the route. It just happens. Ask me directions though, to even a route I take all the time, then there are lots of pauses as I try to figure out which is right, and which is left.

This is most excruciating when I am sitting next to someone who doesn't know the way, and I do. Then I have to communicate left and right. Poor auto fellows; I have left them tearing their hair out because I would be pointing with my finger to a certain landmark and saying aloud the complete opposite direction. When I drive with N now, the rule is: follow my hand, because verbalizing the direction is way too much work. Also, when I have to say directions in a hurry, my tongue gets tied up because of the traffic jam in my brain and I get really frustrated, thus ending up barking instructions because I am annoyed with myself.

It's a peculiar tick!

7 January 2014

Things Change: From managing people to managing flies


A comparison of my life

From 2 years ago:
Get up, yoga, breakfast, step out with BB glued to ear, go up the road to office in share auto, stare into two screens all day long, drink coffee at regular intervals, have meetings in groups, singly, write tonnes of emails, read applications, make lots of decisions, manage several egos, walk home with BB glued to ear, buy veggies, make dinner, read book, sleep.

to now:
Get up, inspect plants, realize phone is dead, find charger, go to lab, inspect flies, squish, dissect larvae, check for virgins, set up crosses, pray flies lay eggs, process blots, drum fingers nervously while machine reveals if blot has worked, transfer flies, go to market, buy veggies, look at stock portfolio, come back to lab, collect more virgins, look at accumulated wealth of failed experiments, go home or to yoga class, make dinner, eat dinner, go back to lab to transfer flies again, get ragged by grad students about being a forever postdoc, go home, try very hard to read Economic and Political Weekly, fail, read something light, sleep.

Even though flies are a lot more work, I prefer them to people any day. At least they don't hold grudges, and expect to have their ego stroked all the time. I find flies to be far more professional than colleagues! Hmm... just re-read this bit - kinda obvious now why I don't have any friends. :)

6 January 2014

Book review: The hour before dawn (Antordeep)

Have you wondered how you would react if your husband decided he needed another wife - if he married a younger woman and had a family with her?

This book a deep reflection on one such woman, Menoka. She has been married 11 years; has produced children, and maintained a conduct of piety and goodness to all around her. So she can't fathom why, one fine day, her husband decides to get married again. The book tracks her story after this marriage, how she behaves (has a brief affair) and the story of her eldest son, who was emotionally old enough to be traumatised by his father's behaviour.

The story is set in rural Assam and weaves between people's actions and thoughts. How the community and family react to this major upheaval in Menoka's life, and how she is expected to deal with it - especially by her son. It's one of those books where the story draws out strong emotions and these stay much longer with you than the literature, words and story itself.

The book is originally in Assamese by noted writer Bhabendra Nath Saikia, translated to English by Maitreyee SC. Check out the cover on the author link - it echos the depth of feeling the book will evoke.

5 January 2014

1522 - Our neighbourhood pub

Not for nothing does Bangalore have a reputation as a pub city. About 15 years ago when we started to do the pubs, it was Pecos. Now there are plenty more options to nurse your drink and enjoy music. N and I like beer so the slew of breweries has been a boon. The only problem is that they are all located where all the yuppies are - CBD, Indiranagar, Kormangala etc. The drive out there is long, and then for the drive back we have to be mindful of drinking and driving, because the cops here are super vigilant. Even with one beer their breath-analyzer goes over the limit [our experience: if their machine continuously registers below limit digits, they will go and find a machine where they get a number they like!]. The checks, however are required. So, we found something in North Bangalore, which can definitely be called a neighbourhood pub.

Located on the road connecting Malleshwaram and Rajajinagar, a few clicks from the swanky Orion Mall, 1522 is an otherwise nondescript road. There are shop fronts on the main road, and the narrow road leading away have homes stuck together on 30' X 40' plots. Cosy. [read between lines: parking is an issue].

They have kingfisher on draft. Yes, draft. So you can get a pitcher and make your way through peanut masala. There are non-veg goodies as well. What we like is that they play the music we enjoy, loudly, so you can sign off-key and no one will know. You can easily speak with the waiters in Kannada and not get a *what a rural bumpkin look*. They have expanded their space, so there are lots of nooks and crannies to snuggle with your drink. Above all, it is simple - the decor, the menu (no fancy nachos, pastas and three-cheese sandwiches, it's amul all the way baby) and the type of people who come in.

Thanks to Blogathon I now have a new category on my blog: Bangalore

4 January 2014

Desi Crepe - Nutella, Roti & Fruit - Five minute breakfast



I have become lazy about cooking breakfast especially since I now live 5 minutes from work and we have a decent canteen that serves up upma, idli, parantha and all manner of savory items. There is the taste and oil issue, but ordering something takes way less time than cooking and cleaning. So, here's what I do on days when I feel I should eat at home.

Step 1: Take old roti (mine are like 20 hrs old by this time, cause the maid makes them each morning; also, ahem, pat on the back, our rotis are not plain old wheat affairs; I add soy, ragi, bajra flours in whatever ratio I fancy. Note on ratio in another post. Got to have something interesting to say for another 27 days! caramba)
Step 2: Wrap in kitchen towel. Shove in microwave. 30 seconds. Start. Let it stay in there for as much as time as it takes for me to do step 3. I do this as our rotis, because of all the other flours in them are like frisbees sometimes; letting them soak up the steam from the towel makes them a tad bit softer.
Step 3: Chop fruit - either banana or strawberry. Haven't tried any other fruit.
Step 4: Spread nutella on roti.
Step 5: Roll and enjoy!

3 January 2014

*Short story* - Expectations


Suman snorted in consternation. She was weaving her way through traffic, her patiala pant billowing in the wind, as she made her way to office; a ride so routine, that it had become mindless. Her thoughts instead, were with the morning conversation.

She seethed inwardly. So she had agreed for Amma and Appa to search for a boy for her, that did not give them the right to randomly propose guys to her. Why can't they understand that what she wanted in a husband, was very different from what they wanted? Actually, Amma and Appa seemed to be searching for a family, not a groom. As long as the family had a good reputation, meaning stable jobs and appropriate assets, they were ready to hear the proposal. In vain she had implored that she was going to marry the boy, not his mother. No, said Amma. You will be marrying the family.

The latest proposal was from landowners who lived off their plantation; the closest town to their home was 50 kilometers away. How will she live there? No malls, movie theaters and importantly, no friends! Why can't her parents understand that these things are important? Her parents were raised in a village, but she had been born and brought up in the city. To top it all, they had already set up a meeting with the prospective boy's family this weekend, for Saturday, when she went to Rukmini's bar. That was another thing that would be missing there - would these simple people be OK with a bride who drinks and sometimes, slyly smokes?

Suman burned with these thoughts and was distracted at work. While her fingers tapped away on the code she was working on, her mind visited the morning conversation again and again. Finally she got time at lunch to call her friend Maya. They decided to meet at the bar to talk things over.

Being a weekday, Rukmini felt relaxed. There were few people in the bar and she could spend much of the time obsessing and cleaning the countertop. The circular motions of wiping calmed her and something about a gleaming, clean surface made her feel positive, alive; a clean slate held many possibilities. She noticed when Suman and Maya took a seat, and gave them her loyal customer smile. Their talk was in low voices, with an occasional swear word escaping loudly from Suman. Rukmini had always found Suman to be ignorantly opinionated, so she assumed her rant to be about something frivolous.

Maya was the eternal sweet friend. She listened to Suman without interrupting and made soft, sympathetic noises at regular intervals. She tried hard to make Suman look at the situation differently - her parents had only organized a meeting with the boy, they weren't forcing her to marry him right? What's in a meeting? All Suman had to do was deck up and serve coffee. If she found it distasteful, she could pretend that she was acting in a play. Suman was not ready to consider any option that went against her current feeling of anger and annoyance. She wanted her parents to feel bad and decided that she would sleep over at Maya's to further demonstrate how irritated she was.

On Saturday morning, a dark cloud hung over the household. In order to explain and calm Suman, her parents had asked her brother, who was in the US, to talk to her. After hearing Anna's plea, Suman relented to going through with the meeting, without looking grumpy the whole time.

His name was Arya. He came accompanied by his parents and two aunts. Suman's heart gave a little tug when she first saw him, for he was handsome. Preliminary conversation was banal, with both sides trying to trace common relatives and acquaintances. It was Arya's mother who finally requested her parents that the two of them should be given a chance to talk in private. Amma looked at Suman to indicate how this gesture was so forward looking and to pay heed. Suman tried not to read between the lines. At their private meeting Arya finally spoke at length. He had a strong baritone; a steady, calm voice which immediately caught Suman's attention. He described himself: he had been educated in boarding school and then trained overseas in business management. He worked for a while as a consultant but city living didn't suit him, so he moved back to the plantation. He found great satisfaction in working with the soil. He then asked Suman to do the same. By this time Suman wanted to make an impression; she was smitten with Arya. In a relaxed manner, Arya led the conversation, trying to convey his personality through his decisions, stories and what he wanted in a partner. He allowed Suman equal expression and attention. When the conversation stalled naturally, Arya suggested they go back to the families. They decided that they would continue to speak over the next couple of weeks.

Suman fell in love; she had never before experienced the agitated anticipation of meeting a man or waiting to hear his voice. Arya was no different from when she first met him; she ascribed that to his nature which did not get easily excited, bordering sometimes on ascetic. In her fantasies she was the apsara who would change everything for him. They conversed about many different things and Suman realized that he was deeply knowledgeable, well traveled and engaged wholly in making a good business of the plantation; contrary to her expectations on all counts.

In a few weeks time she was certain she wanted to marry Arya. She told him this and was taken aback with his response. With a warm smile he said,"Suman, you flatter me immensely. Let me think about this." Think about it? That was not what Suman expected. She wanted at least on this one occasion, for Arya to become sentimental. And what did he need to think about? She had already conveyed her thoughts to her parents and felt crushed. Arya sensed her disappointment that day, but didn't discuss it anymore. He dropped her home and as was his routine, texted her when he reached the plantation.

The next few hours and days were agonizing for Suman. As per decorum, her parents were waiting to hear from Arya's home to finalize the commitment. Arya had planned previously to take a vipasana retreat and wasn't available to take calls or meet with her. It was a testing time. Every day Suman would come home from office expecting to be greeted with a smiling Amma.

The phone call came two weeks later. They had just finished dinner and were clearing the dining table. Appa picked up the phone and immediately, from the tone of his voice and his greeting, they knew who was calling. The next few minutes, Suman watched as her world changed. All she heard was Appa say, "Of course, of course. Yes, Yes."

Arya did not want to marry Suman.

2 January 2014

The thin fat Indian - aim to lose fat, not weight!

"Losing weight" is perhaps the most popular of New Year Resolutions. Here's a little titbit in the Indian context.

When you want to lose weight, presumably you want to lose fat? That chubby tyre that you can pick up and measure as a lump everytime you navigate towards your abdomen, or that chunk that you pinch on your thigh. Each morning or weekly you get on the machine and bemoan what number shows up? But what if knowing and measuring your weight is not good enough to indicate if you are healthy?

An oft-used parameter to assess obesity is your BMI - Body Mass Index. You measure your weight, and divide it by the square of your height. You look at the range that your BMI falls in and then categorize yourself in some flattering version of obesity. This test was devised in the west and few people realize that not all tests are applicable across races.

Dr Chittranjan Yagnik of KEM Hospital, Pune coined this term "The Thin Fat Indian" to allude to those of us whose BMI handily falls in the "Normal" category but would be considered obese based on the amount of fat we have relative to our body weight. The only way to measure adiposity (fancy science name for fat) is to do an X-ray absorptiometry scan. Basically a machine that does a full body scan, and based on density can calculate how much fat you have. The other trivial way of doing this to calculate your Body Adiposity Index which takes into account your hip circumference and height only. Yes, no weight measurements involved in this. 

Dr Yagnik has led some fascinating long term studies to show that Indians with a low birth weight, have a low BMI but high fat percentage, and tend also to develop diabetes and cardiovascular diseases more easily. This high percentage of fat in a seemingly *normal weight* individual is maybe why that Chacha died of a massive coronary despite appearing dashingly slim and walking 5 kms daily. You would never suspect that he had a high percentage of fat. One of the reasons for a low birth weight is the mothers' nutritional status during pregnancy. So, you could blame your mother for your lifestyle disease. There is also a new study [Padmanabhan et al., Cell, 2013] that shows that folate deficiency in the maternal grandparent can influence the mental and physical development of the grandchild. Yup, your grandmother is to blame too!

The bottom line is this - doing that item number and getting your body in shape might actually work out better than simply trying to reach the lowest number on that weighing scale. So ladies, do the twist!

1 January 2014

Writing Resolutions

I start the year with a challenge. I am participating in a Blogathon where you write a post every single day for a month. There are quite a few participants and quite a few prompts by Maya @ dreamymommy. I learned about this from R's Mom.

I have never written a blog post to deadline. I started writing when I needed a way to walk out off and come to terms with a life-altering painful situation. I wrote from the heart, still do, only now I worry more about sounding correct - grammatically, not politically! :) 

The biggest source of writing joy has been story-telling: The adventures of Rukmini, who runs A Bar Called Shantum Pappum, have been fun to dream up. It all started with a conversation with N, about how in India pure vegetarian food and alcohol are considered incompatible. N is vegetarian and enjoys his drink, like many other vegetarians I know. So the bar was born - a pure veg establishment that can also serve you kick-ass vodka martinis; the twist of lime on top is that the bar is exclusively for women. Rukmini provides a personality, and the bar a venue, for the short stories. I often wonder if a) Rukmini is my alter ego, and b) my writings make me a feminist? I try to make Rukmini think, act and talk differently from what I would have done in a situation, but for those who know me, I think the distinction might not be there at all. About feminism, I haven't given it too much of thought. A big thank you to my friend Shoots for always stopping by and reading my stories. Just knowing that she will always read and comment is a big motivation for me.

Anyhow, with that as context, my new year resolutions are going to revolve around writing, basically exhorting my imagination to try a little harder:
  1. Try to write more from a perspective of a man
  2. Finish the Rukmini travel stories to develop writing skills that describes different cities and people. 
  3. Try to explore more general life experiences, rather than women-centric ones.
  4. Write a comic Rukmini story.
If you have had the time to read the short stories, please share your comments.