August 30, 2015

Hunger in the times of TinyOwl

If there is one trouble maker member in my whole extended family, it has to be aunt Kanchan who we fondly call 'K Maasi'. I would not be exaggerating if I had to say she possessed the ‘Bambiligan’ gene .For those who haven’t got the gist of that concocted gene, it is a term that I have coined for K Maasi who possesses the innocence of doe-eyed Bambi and the notoriety of a bunch of hooligans, put together.
It is tough to say whether the havoc K Maasi wreaks is intentional or not. But trouble does follow her like a domesticated animal follows its master, rarely causing any distress to him/her but always managing to unnerve a poor unsuspecting victim in the process….in this case, mostly ME!

I can enumerate a million incidents (ranging from her bringing up unexpected matrimonial alliances to her talking nineteen-to-a-dozen which always leads her into saying what is not needed) when good old ‘Bambiligan’ K Maasi has pulled the carpet below my feet springing up the weirdest of surprises that I can never be prepared for. It is this trait of hers that has earned her the status of ‘Aunt Agatha’ (of Wooster fame) in the family thereby invariably making me head for the hills on announcement of her arrival. But like K Maasi light-heartedly says, “You can run but you cannot hide.” As for me, I can hardly ever run far enough.

The most recent incident that left a stamp ink memory happened around three months ago when  K Maasi decided to pay us a visit. My dad’s colleague along with his family had been invited over for a formal dinner at my home that evening. My mother and me were busy putting together a small spread when Maasi waltzed in and insisted on helping with it.
Knowing K Maasi's kitchen prowess, I stifled a tiny scream of protest. However, not wanting to offend her in any way, my mother reluctantly agreed.

“You go ahead and freshen up. I will take care of everything,” she instructed my mom with a gentle dismissal. Somehow the latter half of that statement caused more dread than relief in my heart which had suddenly turned tachycardic.

“Err...Are you sure, Ma?” I asked.
“Don’t worry beta. Kanchan will manage fine.”
My mother was showing a lot of faith in her sister’s culinary abilities today.  Later she told me the secret behind the sudden confidence---Almost everything was ready. The table just had to be laid. There was no scope for any kind of confusion. K Maasi was only too pleased to help and my mom had allowed her to feel important.

I was alone with Maasi in the kitchen now. She began to draw the lids from the various preparations and inhale the aroma wafting in the air above them with an air of urgency I couldn't really fathom.. I was all ready to accept a few compliments for the wonderful culinary extravaganza I had contributed to help making, when POOF! My bubble burst. K Maasi was wiggling her nose in distaste, her forehead showing vertical creases of disappointment.

“Err…is anything wrong, Maasi?” I asked.

“Shhh…” she silenced me. “Let me concentrate." 
Then biting the right corner of her lower lip, she exclaimed with a toss of her head, ”Salt! A little more salt in this!”

“But Maasi, shouldn’t we be tasting it first?” I suggested.

“I have been cooking for 25 years, darling. I’d know these dishes to perfection by their very aroma from miles away.” Then as if to appease me, she dipped in a spoon and tasted the ever so delectable Palak Paneer that my mom had cooked to perfection.
“There!! Didn’t I tell you? Go get the salt now,” she announced. I suspected the hot gravy had not even reached her taste buds yet.

Reluctantly I handed her the salt dispenser. I knew there was no hope now. K Maasi  was on an ego trip. She wanted to contribute and contribute she would. She proceeded to alter each and every dish with what she thought just a dash of pepper, a tinge of extra salt, a spoonful of sugar, a squeeze of a lemon and so on. I watched in horror but her confidence and enthusiasm could make a sous chef doubt his abilities. 

“Lets flambĂ© the caramel custard,” she rubbed her hands with scary enthusiasm..

“Noooooo,” I almost screamed.

It was just then that the door bell rang. K Maasi gave me a dejected look and went to answer it.

When mom entered the kitchen, there was hardly any time to tell her what had happened and explaining would have unsettled her. Besides I knew the trouble maker had only meant well. She always did. The guests would arrive any minute now.

I prayed to God for some miraculous intervention…something that would prove K Maasi to be a far better cook than we thought she was. Perhaps she had finally improved after all those culinary misfortunes we had been privy to in her past. Perhaps her husband was only joking when he had once narrated how even their neighbor’s hungry dog had refused to eat the food K Maasi cooked. Perhaps the guests would not notice the extra salt, pepper, sugar and whatever else she had kept adding.
Just then my dad entered the kitchen. He was looking rather glum. K Maasi scurried in right behind him.

“I’m sorry dear,” he said to my mom. “The Kumar’s had to cancel. Something unexpected came up and they had to leave for their hometown.”

I could not believe my ears. I almost jumped with joy. God had answered my prayers after all. That had been a narrow escape.

“Ohh. I was so looking forward to their visit,” said my mom dejectedly. Then glancing towards the kitchen, she continued with a crest fallen face, "Now all this food will go waste.”

I was still grinning ear to ear. The trouble maker was observing me beam with joy.

“What’s making you so happy?” she frowned. “We put in so much effort.”
Bambi's innocent face flashed before my eyes again. I went up to K Maasi and gave her a huge hug.
“Nobody’s effort has gone wasted. I am going to eat….eat it all,” I said with a mix of relief and regret in my voice...the former because we were saved from the humiliation in front of the Kumar's and the latter because I had impulsively promised to eat K Maasi's kitchen disaster.

“Too bad that the Kumars won't get to eat such scrumptious food,” chimed in Maasi only too happy to receive the hug from me. It was easy to tell that she had mistaken my relief for appreciation..

The trouble maker was clueless this time, clueless of what a mess she had whipped up…………..well, at least until dinner was served, and even though none of us could swallow even a bite of the food she had improvised, the memory of this incident leaves us in splits even today. We call it the 'luck by chance' event much to K Maasi's red face. The guests hadn't turned up and we had been saved the embarrassment. However, it was rather late and we were too tired to step out for dinner. As we scourged through the menu's of various restaurants for home delivery, we realized how frustrating it can get to get a simple meal delivered to your doorstep. After an endless call waiting and a couple of disconnections we finally managed to get our call through only to be told that the delivery could take some time due to lack of staff. The dinner finally landed up on our table an hour late by which time we were starving, half asleep, and ready to eat anything...all except K Aunty who on sniffing the food placed before her insisted that it required a dash of salt, a tinge of pepper, and a little modification that her 25 years of experience could take care of.

As I now recall the food fix that day, I wonder what a humiliating scene it would have created had the Kumars landed up for dinner. I did not have any plan B then, what was I thinking? But I believe in working on my flaws. I have now worked out a plan B for such 'kitchen crisis' management and sticky situations in the future---a pantry stocked with snacks and #TinyOwlApp on my phone.
From dosas to donuts, from pastas to parathas, from biryani to baingan bharta, Installing the TinyOwl App on your phone will make sure your choice of meal arrives at your door step. It makes the entire process of ordering food time conserving,  convenient and fun. All you need to do is tap (the App) and choose (from the options it provides). It is as easy as ordering a butler around, and guess what? This butler comes for free.
So the next time K Maasi experiments in the kitchen, I am going to sit back and just tap on an expert app with a minimal interface and order in from the city's best restaurants in and around the city.

In addition, TinyOwl allows both cash and card payments and also saves all your previous orders and addresses so that you don't have to type it every single time. It takes the entire responsibility of confirming your order with the restaurant and notifying you of the estimated delivery time. To sum up, this handy app reduces a lot of stress from your shoulders, especially in times of emergencies like K Maasi's cooking escapades or an unexpected visit from your friends on days you are just too bored to enter the kitchen or just too tired to step out. No more panic attacks. No more having to wait until you get connected to the restaurant, no more address mix-up's because the manager on the other end of the call is stone deaf, no more dialing numbers in the hope of getting through a busy line---now who wouldn't want a simple, easy to use, and most importantly, free-of-charge food ordering app that does all the irritating work for you?

So download now. Here are the Android and IOS links.You are now just a tap away from a scrumptious feast from your favorite restaurant.

Bring it on, K Maasi. I am fully armed for your next visit!

This post has been written for the 'Food tales with TinyOwl' contest conducted by TinyOwl and Indiblogger
If you are an Indivine user and like what you read, you can vote for me here.

C for 'Chimera'

Those who knew her claimed it was the uncertainty that she was in love with...

She could not single out any trait she adored him for. She was impressed with his versatility; her endless pursuit of the perfect amalgamation of attributes she so desired had almost come to an end...or so she believed.

The blend of contrasting qualities was as perplexing as was alluring. He was the perfect representation of power. Self-righteousness, determination, grit were some of his best qualities. A deep sense of pride for being a self made man, a majestic fervor, blue-blooded aggressiveness and a fierce unbridled passion only managed to increase his appeal.
However, the world has always been witness to varied hues of human nature. His fluctuating temperament was perhaps just one mixed-up shade. It was as if he possessed different sets of DNA inside him, exhibiting a splay of multiple conflicting personalities on the outside---a fine combination of malevolence and benevolence.
The diametrically opposite sensitive side proved just that. He could be quite the emotional fool at times. Mild mannered, passive and completely vulnerable to emotions, this subservient side stood entirely juxtaposed to the brazen king she otherwise saw him for.

However, the paradox would not end there. She would be stunned by the shrewdness of his conniving mind. They said nobody could survive his bite; it was akin to that of a serpent. She had witnessed the spewing of venom, the scheming mind at work. Apprentice to the devil himself, he knew exactly how to maneuver victory in his favor. That was the side she feared most; nobody could read his mind then. Nobody, no matter how close, was privy to his serpentine intentions.

He was a parody of errors, a prodigal being. He was a chest of secrets, a contradiction of sorts. Simba, Billy and Viper all rolled in one.

She could not comprehend her own emotions when it came to him. What was it that she felt for him really---admiration, empathy, fear? Was he a hero she had grown to worship or a monster she had started to feel afraid of? Was he the truth that reigned supreme or an incredulous lie she was trying to believe in?

The secret continued forever. Nobody could ever see him the way she did.  Who can confirm the stories behind the mystic, the occult, and the unseen anyway?

Some guess he was a muse she had fallen in love with.
Others call him her inspiration, the reason behind her philosophy, the lyrics to her song, the color of her soul, the fruit of a blessing, the power of a curse.
Some call him a sin she could not resist. Others say he was a dream she never woke up from, a phantom who broke her heart, a husband she had once idolized, an over-familiar friend. .
Those who knew her claimed it must have been the uncertainty that she was in love with---the ambiguity of her fantasy...the enigma of a chimera called 'love'. 


Writers note: 
For those who think this piece was a bit cryptic, I'd take this opportunity to explain the thought that triggered it.
A 'Chimera' (as per Greek mythology) is supposed to a fire breathing monster composed of parts of more than one animal (usually a lion, a goat and a snake). The term is used in literature to describe something widely imaginative.
The above piece speaks mainly of a lover 'She' is totally enamored by, insanely passionate about, completely overwhelmed with the idea of.
Slowly but surely, the lines open up and you realize that perhaps 'He' is someone she has made up in her mind. His attributes (even the unattractive ones) are the characteristics she has always wanted in her dream man. a fantasy that she harbours. Perhaps he is just a normal man, a flawed mortal. But she places him on a pedestal, elevates him to a celestial level. No matter how absurd it might seem to others, to her, he is perfect, flawless, supreme. Come to think of it, isn't that what we often imagine our love to be---an amalgamation of all the qualities we secretly and not so secretly desire? So she dreams of him being powerful yet equally gentle, sinister yet mysteriously attractive.
The lines in italic font are deliberately directed towards the chimerical quality of the lover that she has made up largely from her imagination.
The secret continues because nobody else can ever view him in the way she does, something that every one in love will be able to relate to or realize in retrospect. After all, isn't love exactly exaggerated day dream, a wild imagining, an unforgettable chimera?

C for 'Chimera' is the third post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please don't forget to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)

August 28, 2015

B for 'Bias'

When was the last time you formed a prejudice about something or someone--created an impression without knowing the facts right, formed an opinion a tad bit too early? 

Is the above question making you squirm uncomfortably in your seat?
Well, alright. Answer this one then.

When was the last time you felt someone having a biased opinion against you?  
Yes, I am sure you remember that.
Bias or prejudice is one of the most common characteristic of human nature, and our society is especially cursed in this regard. We often have all the time in the world to indulge in worthless and senseless gossip which is slowly but surely bound to create a prejudiced opinion over time. Sometimes we are not even sure about the reason for our prejudice. But once set in, we are simply unable to wipe it out. Ever seen the carriage bound horses who are made to wear blinkers on either side of their eyes to prevent them from seeing sideways or rear? We become victims to bias in pretty much the same way.

I have had the unfortunate opportunity of encountering a few such prejudiced opinions. Just like a butterfly fluttering its wings in a distant Amazonian jungle is capable of causing a typhoon across half the world, a prejudice is capable of ruining a nation.
I am pretty sure that a lot of people out there will differ and vouch for an improving world (at least I'm hoping they will), but I am taking the liberty to generalize.
I hereby elaborate on the various types of bias we commonly encounter in our day to day lives:

  • Beauty bias: I can safely say that this is perhaps the earliest bias to be ingrained in our minds from a very impressionable age. Little girls dressed up in ribbons and lace grow up watching their mothers lathering their face with beauty creams and makeup. Television commercials endorse lipsticks and chapsticks for smooth and shiny 'baby' lips, talcum powders and fairness creams promise to make one as white as snow, and varied shampoos and hair products guarantee silky smooth and lustrous hair. The problem is that these commercials and endorsements are creating a false definition of beauty in the hearts of the average teenage girl watching. Her favorite 'Barbie doll' with its unrealistic body proportions is not helping either. It has only managed to further mar her self esteem. As she touches her limp hair, her chapped lips and dusky cheeks, a deep inferiority complex begins to set in making her wonder why these products are not able to rectify her looks like it did to the girl in the ad. Is she so irreparably damaged?
The outside world is not that kind either. Thanks to the bias society has created against dark skin, she is humiliated time and again. "Hot chocolate", "Gobar queen", "Black currant", "Oreo cookie" and other jabs by boys in her locality further lower her self-esteem. Matrimonial pictures are toned down a few shades. Social network pics are in B&W. She has started skipping meals to attain a perfect size zero---the current Bollywood inspired craze amongst all young girls these days. She is instructed against wearing certain colors that will make her look 'darker than she already is'....
Every time her fair(er) cousin comes over, she feels a pang of jealousy. She goes to bed praying she turns a shade fairer in the morning, and yet every morning she wakes up and feels 'ugly' all over again.

Who decides the definition of beauty really, I ask. Each and every one of us is beautiful in our own way. You don't need to be a size zero or Snow White for someone to love you. You will always be perfect to those for whom you matter. Instead, focus on being healthy. Eat right. Stay happy. As for people who still judge you on external appearances, you can always give them a standing ovation with your tallest finger. 

Yet, I still see a small trickle of level-headed people trying their best to clear this bias. Campaigns like 'Black is beautiful' are being conducted. We have dusky celebrities setting an example and carving the way towards a better change. However, it is only when matrimonial ads stop demanding slim, fair girls and television commercials no longer show dusky women needing a fairness cream to become an air hostess that I will be convinced we are making progress.

On the flip side, all is not hunky dory for the pretty face either. There is a bias against her too.(I told you, we are a prejudiced lot.) I have heard people smirk and claim that beauty with brains is a myth. A beautiful woman is generally considered an unintelligent form of life. That is where terms like 'Arm candy','baby doll', 'tota', 'maal', 'bimbette' come in the picture..
Seriously, what is the problem with society? Why can't you stop this preposterous objectification  of women? And no, a fairness cream for men is not going to make us feel all liberated and equal.

  • Bias against the rich:  I have heard people comment that money and emotions can never go hand in hand. Somewhere deep inside, we all like to believe that those who are rich have traded their soul with the devil. Even Bollywood has been feeding off this bias in the 80s and 90s. Remember the exceptionally arrogant and beautiful heroine (with the gang of giggling girls) who discovers the meaning of love and life only after she gives her heart to the poor, jobless but self-righteous hero? Remember the scheming villain (yes, the one who owned the yacht) got women pregnant, eyed the hero's innocent sister, and splurged endlessly on extravagant parties (and at times even chambers filled with liquid nitrogen)? Remember how the hero always won in the end? The rich 'bad' guy either ended up dead, or in prison while the poor 'good' guy walked with the girl into the sunset. The film makers had discovered the formula for a box-office hit---feed on the sadistic side of the audience that took comfort in believing that nobody gets it all--until Karan Johar came along...(and changed the formula altogether. But that is a story for another day...sigh!)

But even today, there are people waiting to bring down those who are up there. What they conveniently forget is the effort and perseverance it takes to reach that height, the sacrifices made, the bridges crossed and burnt. It is a commonly known fact that in an accident involving a car and a bicycle, everybody would blame the car. The pedestrians walking by would pick a fight with the car owner and sympathize with the cyclist (irrespective of whose mistake it was). That is just the way our society functions. Pelt the rich with stones. The poor can be forgiven for their mistakes. Is it fair, I ask.
Yes, I agree its not a perfect world. Our minds have been clouded by corrupt officers, power play, bad examples set by rich brats who drink and drive etc. But somewhere in that commotion, there could be a honest man who is trapped due to bias despite having strived his way to the of you perhaps, one from the honest hardworking lot.  Everybody deserves a chance to fair judgement. Don't give a dog a bad name and hang him.

  • Bias of class, title, caste: This one is common mostly in India, and is tough to explain in just a few lines. What we see is only the tip of the iceberg. There has always existed a regressive school of thought in Indian society that believed in an unjust and baseless hierarchical system. They declared and propagated the theory that the son of a king deserved to be king (no matter how inefficient) while the son of a bard no matter how talented was meant to be nothing more than a bard.
In an otherwise progressive world, it is indeed shameful that there are still people gloating on titles that are entrusted upon them, not by merit but only by genetics.
Social class, caste, titles , just like skin color and beauty are intangibles that we have no control over. So what kind of a retarded mind set makes you believe that you are made to belong to a so-called 'higher' place because you actually 'deserve' it?
Discrimination against these intangibles gets me wondering if it's only those that do not have anything better to gloat about that take solace by fooling themselves into believing they are superior.---harboring such a bias is akin to adopting a pet piranha; It will eventually feed on the entire society but also eat you out of your home.

  • Bias of language: I see a lot of people in Goa raising a huge hue and cry over the medium of instruction in Government schools. Personally, I believe learning a new language is always a good thing. However, what I do not agree is restricting yourself to just one particular language. Be it English, Konkani, Marathi, or Hindi, I strongly oppose the bias held against any of them. 
While I see some people consider English to be their language of choice, others think it is too anglophilic and that we should resort to a local language.
I have been to Chennai where people refrain from talking in Hindi.Despite knowing the language there is a certain hostility towards anyone talking in Hindi. Well, people in Delhi show a similar aversion to English. So I guess that makes it even. NOT!

  • Bias of company: They say a person is judged by the friends he has around him. I disagree. This is again a bias---a prejudice you would hold against or in favor of someone. In my experience, I have known people to have been completely different from the friends they hang around with. I believe it is possible for one to be completely independent of the company he is in. You might not always like everything about your friends. I've seen people as different as chalk and cheese hang out together. Judging someone on the basis of his friends wouldn't be totally fair in that respect. It's a bias I would try to avoid.

I guess that's all for now. If you have encountered any more such bias, do feel free to add. Awareness is the first step towards making a change.
You might think I am too much of an idealist. But it's only when you aim for the moon that you fall amidst the stars. Clearing bias is no big feat. In fact, it is of utmost importance not just at the level of society but also at an individual level. I promise myself to stay away from all kinds of prejudice, starting today. I want to view the world in a totally unbiased fashion.

Call me an hopeful optimist. I hope to live in a world where nobody will judge me on the basis of the language I speak, the company I am in, on the clothes I wear, on the color of my skin, on the company of my friends, on the caste I belong to, on the profession I have chosen, on my financial status. I want the world to know me for me. I want the world to see the clarity of my thoughts, the smile on my face, the optimism in my heart, the enthusiasm in my soul, the freedom in my expression, the content of my character.

I want you to know me, the me I am, the me I want to be...

Writers note:  B for 'Bias' is the second post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please don't forget to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)

August 26, 2015

A for 'Armour'

Wikipedia defines 'Armours' as a protective covering used to prevent damage from being inflicted to an object, individual, or vehicle by direct contact weapons or projectiles, usually during combat, or from damage caused by a potentially dangerous environment or action.

Come to think of it, each one of us dons an invisible 'armour' for precisely the same reason----protection, albeit at a slightly deeper level.
Somewhere deep within us lies a fragile soul that has been shaken way too many times. The invisible  armour we build around us is meant to be a strong exterior to ward off all encroaching manipulations of a malevolent world, a safety suit to safeguard us against heartbreak, expectations, pain and the emotional vulnerability that comes along with it, a defense mechanism to keep our spirit armed and guarded from getting crushed.

Most of us (including me) often prefer to pretend to be tougher than we really are. We choose to act  within pre-set limits even though our souls crave to cross them. We hate to reveal our weaknesses, our softer side to people...mainly because we are afraid they might take advantage of our liabilities (remember Achilles), hit us where it hurts most. Hence the need to maintain a tough spiritual 'armour' that allows no one to look into our soul.

Invisible or not, armours however are never impenetrable. Slowly but surely, the chinks would start showing up. The real question would then be  how many chinks can an armour handle before it eventually crumbles?
I sometimes wonder if there would be less risk involved in revealing our vulnerabilities...wearing them like proud medals on our sleeves. At least that way we would not need to be constantly bogged down by the harrowing responsibility of maintaining a make-believe world. At least that way we can throw caution to the wind and live life carefree...guilt-free. After all, who are we kidding? At the end of the day when we look into the mirror and try to meet eyes with the person peeping back at us, we would need to have that iron 'helmet' off, wouldn't we? So why not live sans the 'masks' we otherwise seem to don? Why not shed that 'armour' we constantly hide behind?

However, ambivalence colors my mood, and yet another niggling thought argues with me.
"Too much of an unfettered life would make you succumb unabashedly to insult and injury. A care free life seems all good until your vulnerabilities stand out and join hands with the enemy," an inner voice rebukes.

"But an armour is not making me any stronger. It just fools the enemy," I mutter under my breath. "...and sometimes me as well," I sigh holding up my armour to see some amount of light penetrating through the chinks.

The voice in my head is silent. After a moment's pause it says, "Sometimes that is the best way to win the war."

It is my turn to stay silent. On the one hand is this voice in my head asking me to hold on tight to my armour, recall the mistakes of my past and tread slowly and carefully (for it is better to be safe than sorry). On the other hand is my heart telling me to throw away all my defenses, show off past experiences like battle scars and walk into the future with uninhibited passion---chin up, shoulders back, head held high. 

Human as I am, my thoughts are forever covered by the nebulous sheath of confusion. As strangers I  meet continue to delude me with their ever-changing perspectives, I see myself clamoring for some clarity. Introspection is the key to self-discovery, I tell myself. But then I wonder if that would be just another armour I am trying to slip into.

The mind is weary,
the soul is tired,
and I am just trying to breathe...

Writers note: A for 'Armour' is the first post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read on for more and please don't forget to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)

August 21, 2015

Airtel: The magic of 4G

It is not wrong to say that the Internet is slowly but surely becoming a life-support system for us 'netizens' of the 21st century. In today's fast paced world, technology has been rightly referred to as a boon to mankind. Its greatest invention, by and large, is the internet. A close second would be the ubiquitous mobile phones.

The world is constantly improving. New advances in technology and telecommunication keep happening. We are forever on the go, seeking new ways to improve our choices, finding new methods to  meet our needs. The era of smart phones had brought in its wake a whole new world of apps. We are constantly being smothered by new offers and deals by telecom operator services to better our choice of connection. However, what we continue to lack is time. There is so much to do, so much to learn and so little time. We are constantly complaining about having no/not enough time. To top it all, not even technology is able to match our expectations. We get rightly irked with slow networks, buffering delays, connectivity issues. Nothing can match the speed of our thoughts, we fume. How many times have you sulked that a movie you have been craving to watch is taking hours to buffer, that Google maps fails to open right when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, that you need some important information in between a presentation and the internet just refuses to yield, that you are in the mood for some light romantic music on your first date and your phone internet just acts up until it ruins your mood and consequently your date? We have all been in such situations. We have  blamed Murphy. We have blamed life. But more than that, we have cursed our sorry network.
Now imagine a world where you would have to face none of these problems. Hold that thought!

India's largest telecom operator Airtel has recently updated 4G network services. Its fresh new technology and exemplary network facility provides new deals and offers that are irresistible to  users across India. Airtel 4G has a nationwide rollout across 296 cities. Airtel 4G is available in Aurangabad, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack, Coimbatore, Dharwad, Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Gaziabad, Hyderabad, Hubli, Madurai, Kolkata, Mangalore, Mumbai, Manipal, Mysore, Nagpur, Nasik, Noida, Pune, Tumkur, Shillong, Tiruchirappulli, vellore, Udupi, Visakhapatnam, Rourkela, Rohtak, Sonipat, Vellore, Yamunanagar, Warangal.
Besides smartphones and iphones, Airtel now provides 4G LTE 4G services for dongles, phones, tablets and modems.

If you are an existing Airtel customer, all you got to do is tweet #GetAirtel4G to get a 4G sim card free of cost delivered to your doorstep.  Airtel 4G is just a tweet away.
 You can also obtain a free 4G Sim card by following the below steps.
1) Click on this Airtel link
2) Enter your shipping details on the form provided.
3) Click on 'Send me a 4G Sim'

Thus with the advent of 4G, internet users will be able to save up a lot of waiting time (as it is much faster) and this would enable them to utilize that time more effectively. A stronger connectivity also guarantees smoother and more effortless internet service. Also, safety of personal data online is secured by robust security and SSL technology. Besides 4G is now available at the price of is more cost effective, a win-win situation.

What more? Airtel has now announced an open challenge (The Airtel 4G Challenge) to users using other mobile phone operators. Airtel is confident of its unbeatable data transfer speed and so has declared that the company will pay lifetime bills of any subscriber whose network proves to be faster than its own.

So what are you waiting for? Say goodbye to that endless tiring wait, slow poke internet connectivity, poor buffering time lags and say hello to a speedy, smooth and cost effective network. Say hello to an unbelievable lightening fast speed that is around ten times faster than 3G. Say hello to google maps, pages, entire movies, high resolution videos downloaded in a fingersnap. Say hello to an all improved internet connection. Save time, money and (needless to mention) your patience in just one click. Get your 4G sim card today.

I am all ready to experience the magic of 4G. Are you?

July 27, 2015

To 'someone I used to know'...

I sometimes wonder what goes on in your mind when someone mentions my name to you.
Do you feel a lump in your throat? Does a silent tear creep up in the corner of your eye?
That empty feeling inside your heart, that pricking sensation in your chest, a skipped heart beat, racy pulse, that cold gush of blood flowing through your veins and reaching your head, do you feel all that, or is it just me?

When someone mentions your name to me, it’s as if the whole world stops…or perhaps is set in motion. I can’t really figure out which. I cannot really place a finger on it, just like I couldn’t years ago, when you asked me what you meant to me. Has the dilemma cleared, I cannot say. I can only tell you that the ache has worsened into a phantom pain, the void deepened into a bottomless abyss, and the silent symphony I once enjoyed is slowly turning into a monstrous cacophony.
The slightest mention of your name makes me smile in confusion; what do I call us, loyal friends who drifted apart, restless lovers who failed the test of time, or strangers who were only meant to cross paths and move on? I gulp in silence. Do I know you, they ask me. I thought I did, I want to say but bite my tongue instead. 

People who knew us as friends ask me what happened. I wish they would ask you the same. Why should I be the only one feeling uncomfortable? Why should I be the only one subjected to the discomfort of providing a sensible explanation for a senseless drift? No parting words exchanged, no formal goodbyes…even warring nations have the decency to conclude cordially. But I guess it was destined to happen this way. We were drifters from the start, drifters who on finding one another had  perhaps committed the folly of settling down a little too long, before they realized it’s not in their nature to do so.

Our footprints in the sands of time will forever remain, perhaps yours always a couple of steps ahead of mine…

July 19, 2015

A childhood to remember

Wikipedia defines 'Parenting' as the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. In today's age and time, we are constantly getting weighed down with new responsibilities. Even among these, parenting is one of the most complicated responsibilities, more because it is a magnanimous commitment. We all know of the popular dictum 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.' This kind of authoritarian parenting is based on a strict set of rules that create a kind of fear and miscommunication towards the parent. The child tends to feel misunderstood and misjudged and this kind of rigid behavior is often responsible for strained relationships and behavioral problems. I, for one, am strictly against the authoritarian approach. A very important reason for this is that I have seen all kinds of counter reactions to this 'Strict discipline' theory, and believe me none of them have been pretty. I have watched harassed mothers (usually friends or patients or sometimes even random strangers) punishing their kids only to be countered by bouts of passive hostility. Most often, the hostility is far from passive. I have witnessed doors being slammed, parents spat upon, and even reported (a friends from the US told me her nine year did that once---no serious consequences, but imagine the shame she had to go through. Besides it took a lot of effort convincing the police that it was just a misinterpretation and that she did not mean any harm when she chided her only son that she will lock him up in the cellar if he did not eat his greens. The cops showed a little understanding only when they realized that the house did not even have a cellar). I sometimes stand pretending to be invisible (to save the parents the humiliation) when their brats  complain, fight, stamp their feet, and even roll on the ground. I do not have kids of my own, but have been witness to a fine amount of temper tantrums, mood swings, and careless parenting from people around me thus making me averse to the whole concept. The more the chlld screams, the more the parent yells. The more the parent yells, the child screams even more. This has been the scenario in most failed cases these days. While an authoritarian style of parenting can cause kids to be cheerless, moody and more susceptible to stress, a pampered one often ends up ill behaved, irresponsible and haughty.
So what is the right method of parenting? Is there any 'correct' method at all? A few days ago, I got my answer...

I stumbled upon Samaira at the market the other day, and our brief encounter ended up with her convincing me to drop by her house to meet her daughter. I knew Sam from my school days. She was a few years my senior. But our friendship was fortified by the fact that we were neighbors back then. Later down the line, both families shifted homes. Initially we kept in touch. But eventually, phone calls and visits had dwindled over the years.

Samaira used to be quite the wall flower during school. I never really understood what happened after we shifted homes. But when I met her in medical school, she was a transformed person altogether. She was the head of a rambunctious gang that had ragged me on my first day. However, we had ended up being friends by the end of the freshers party. I remember peeping in her hostel room only to find a clutter of notes, books, pages, letters, stationary, stray lipsticks. Samaira did not understand the meaning of the word 'order'. Nothing in her life had a pattern. She would do what she felt like. Impulsive though as she was, she was fun too.

I was a little hesitant to meet her daughter. I was already having a splitting headache and I did not want any pesky, ill mannered tantrum thrower making it any worse. However, I was meeting Samaira in years and she just wouldn't take no for an answer. So I had to agree. As she slowed her pace to match with my reluctant steps, I was mentally rehearsing excuses for a quick exit.

When we finally reached her apartment, I quite expected it to be in a state of disarray. (just like her hostel room used to be). But I was in for a surprise. The apartment was spick and span with everything in perfect order. Wow, how things had changed, I wondered. But a voice in my head warned me, "Wait till you meet the brat..."

My thought was interrupted by another voice.

"Hi, I am Khushi," a cherubic little six year old had appeared from nowhere and was extending her hand for a shake. A grin spread across my face. She was wearing a pink plaid dress that reached just up to her knee. She looked scholarly with brown framed spectacles that she constantly kept pushing up her nose. In her hand, was a coloring book and crayon. As she grinned broadly, I noticed a front tooth missing.

"Hello Khushi. It is lovely to meet you," I smiled and took her hand.

"Likewise," she said. Her etiquette surprised me. Here was a kid with the most impeccable manners as opposed to the Rowdy Rathore's I would generally meet. I continued to gape in awe. The voice in my head told me not to jump to conclusions. This was too good to last.

"Don't be surprised. I taught her that," Samaira exclaimed proudly.

"...and I taught mom to..." Khushi giggled.

" make different animal sounds," completed Samaira laughing.

I must have looked confused, because instantly she explained what she meant by bleating like a sheep, mooing like a cow, mewing like a cat and neighing like a horse.

"We have a whole animal farm in there, " she laughed and high-fived her daughter.

I grinned again. I was falling in love with this mother-daughter duo. Khushi showed me her coloring book. I noticed that she had colored only on the left sided pages. As I appreciated her paintings, the creation of a six year old, I noticed that some right hand sided pages were filled with beautiful designs and caricatures filled with a splay of colors---elegant art work that could be pulled off only by an adult.

"The right sided pages are for Ma," Khushi explained.

Samaira had always loved painting. Sharing a common coloring book was a remarkable way of bonding. She told me they spent one hour coloring every day. The book was an album of their memories, with Khushi's childish scrawls and 'outside the line' paintings one one side and Samaira's exquisite art work on the right. It was somewhat an eclectic combination.

"Nothing for Daddy?" I asked.

"Daddy doesn't draw," Khushi giggled.

Samaira elucidated the reason behind the mischievous giggles. Not so long ago, Vivek had happened to doodle a caricature that unintentionally resembled Khushi's class teacher. The poor guy had been oblivious to this. But Khushi had instantly noticed the similarities and prodded Vivek to draw a few other details---gold bangles, flowers, hair clip, and not to forget a lazy paunch thus making the resemblance more stark. Vivek had assumed it was just a toon sketch that his daughter was asking him to draw and so had obliged. He had even scribbled his signature below in true Picasso style. It was only when he was summoned in school the next day that he realized the prank Khushi had played on him. Suppressing a giggle, she had brought the sketch to the teachers notice---the same teacher who turned red with embarrassment on seeing such an ugly portrait. When asked who had done it, she had grinned naughtily and said "Daddy".  Samaira and Khushi had a good laugh over it while a purple faced Vivek stared at them from the principal's office the following day. He had never touched Khushi's crayons since.

Sam recounted many other notorious escapades. I was convinced that this little scholar with her 'granny' glasses was quite a mischief monger. But nobody could deny the cuteness in her pranks. What I particularly loved about this mother-daughter duo was the freedom that was allowed in the relationship. Chatting with Sam convinced me that Samaira and Khushi had found a friend in each other. There were no punishments, just gentle reminders and explanations based on reason and logic---in a way only a child would understand. Samaira told me she often had to become a kid herself to understand Khushi's point of view, and she did that with pleasure. Their mutual love for chocolates and dancing to 'Hakuna Matata' had only reinforced their friendship.

"Khushi is a much better dancer than me. In fact, I have learned a few dance steps from her," Sam winked as Khushi blushed and hid behind her.

Samaira was a perfect example of young parenting...reminded me of a concept Kellogs had introduced 'Buddy Parenting'. Khushi and Samaira were more of buddies. It was a symbiotic relationship which made both of them happy.

"What else do Mommy and you do together?" I asked, giving Khushi a hug. The girl was adorable.

What followed was a long narration of their daily routine. The kid was quite a talker. But I enjoyed listening to her incessant chatter. While Khushi went swimming with her dad in the evening, most of her activities were with her mum. Both Vivek and Sam would take her to the beach every weekend. Sam made sure Khushi spent time connecting with nature---listening to the sea, appreciating sunsets, helping her plant saplings in the backyard. She wanted to introduce her to all the good things in life. What she'd later choose to pursue was up to her. They both reserved a special time slot every evening called 'Story hour' where they would tell each other stories.

"Most of Khushi's stories are nonsense---short narratives that she makes up by herself. But I enjoy listening to them," she laughed.

Khushi narrated one of her stories to me. I could see that the colors were not just restricted to her book but had also spread into her imagination. I loved listening to the story about the talking lion that entered the chocolate factory. I realized she was making it up at the moment, and I admired her innovative creativity. When I asked her to tell me one of her Mum's stories, a glimpse of childhood flashed before my eyes. Samaira told her stories with fine morals that promised to inculcate values like honesty, determination and perseverance in her daughter. That way, she was already schooling her about things that really mattered. Khushi would listen attentively to the stories.

"She always has so many questions to ask. I have to stay alert all the time and make sure I have  my facts right," Sam affectionately complained.

I was impressed. Creative use of a child's time in a fun way is an essential criteria for good parenting. I remember my parents would engage me in stories when I was a kid. I was surprised to find out that, Samaira, in this age where most parents prefer to distract their kids with iphones and play stations, still managed to find the time and patience that is much required for good upbringing. Peppered with reasoning and explanation, her stories developed a healthy  balance between reality and imagination.

While I was chatting up with Sam, I noticed Khushi reach out for the fridge door and take out a jug of milk and a carton of cornflakes that was kept within easy reach. She then proceeded to pour the cold milk and cornflakes into a bowl.

"She must be hungry," Samaira smiled.

I was surprised to see such self dependence at such a young age. Samaira was definitely bringing up Khushi the right way.

"That's her favorite. She has Kellogs Chocos for breakfast too. It's not just healthy but she does not need to depend on anyone for her breakfast/snack. She can fix it herself. It is rich in vitamins and provides her enough energy to go zip zapping throughout the day. So I am not complaining."

"I make chocos for Mom also sometimes," Khushi called out from behind the kitchen counter.

 I looked at Samaira, and we both burst out laughing.

"Guilty as charged," she said sheepishly.

"Your daughter is a darling, Sam. She is so delightful and sensible," I complimented. "Back in college, who'd ever think you'd make such a great parent."

"I don't know if I am a great parent, Pri. But what I know is that I am definitely a great friend to my kid," she sighed. "I guess that is most important. My parents never had time for me. Both, mum and dad would be busy working. The only time I interacted with them was when they had to sign my report card or when I got into trouble. That was the reason I never felt comfortable around them. I never found the friend I was hoping to find in them. It was only in college that I learned to break free, but at the cost of making some real bad choices. I don't want my daughter to suffer like me. I want her to have a happy and secure childhood. I want to create happy childhood memories for her. I want to spend the maximum possible time with Khushi, not as a parent but as a friend."

What she was saying was 100% true. Parenting not just involved being there for your kid in times of trouble. Good parenting meant being there for your child all the time, as a confidante, a well wisher, a guide...and most importantly, a friend---a buddy who interacts not instructs. The best parent-child bonding involved participation in activities. That helped parents learn about their child's world and understand him/her better. Sam was executing buddy parenting down to the T. She made learning fun for Khushi, and this in turn made their bonding a beautiful experience.

"You are doing a fine job, Sam," I said, giving her a tight hug. "I am so proud of you."

On reaching home, I was thinking about Brand Chocos  and  their ‘Khuljyaye Bachpan’ philosophy. Sam had told me that Chocos was their favorite breakfast cereal. Could it be that Kellogs had inspired her to be so unfettered? ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ is about empowerment, not being authoritative. It is about allowing children the freedom to be children. It is symbolic of unlocking the way childhood should be....adventurous and uninhibited, healthy and happy.

Spending some 'khushi ke pal' with Khushi helped me realize that maybe parenting, if done the right way, is not a burdensome responsibility. Maybe it is a very fulfilling one indeed.

Khol do dilon ki khidkiyaan,
aur keh do hawaon se,
ki wapas laaye bachpan ki khushiyaan,
jinka humein aaj bhi intzaar hai...

This post is written for a contest written for 'Kellogs Chocos ke saath khuljaye bachpan' contest sponsored by Kellogs Chocos and hosted by Indiblogger.

If you liked what you read, please do vote for my post here.

July 10, 2015

The balancing act

It had been raining all day.The thrumming of raindrops against my window felt like music to the ears. Rains somehow always make me happy. Monsoons--the magical season that brings along the much needed respite from a sweltering summer. Rain to me is petrichor--the heady scent that emanates from the wet earth. Rain to me is nostalgic evenings and sweet chai, piping hot samosas and corn on the cob, getting drenched in sudden downpours, long drives, outings with friends, haunting memories and melodies, rain songs and dances. Rain to me is inspiration, motivation...nature's way of striking a balance between scotching heat of summer and freezing chill of winter.

"This weather is so magical," I said to my cousin who appeared rather distracted and off-mood. "All this rain is making me hungry. Lets go and grab a bite?"
Now, my cousin is a real foodie and would normally perk up at the first mention of food. However, today was different.
"I am on a diet," she announced, taking huge gulps from a bottle of water, her way of distracting herself off food (or even the thought of it).

I sniggered. This has been an old joke now-my cousin and her various failed attempts to reduce weight. She has tried almost every quick fix method in the book...from magic weight-loss potions to ultra slim sauna belts. Her diets had never lasted for more than a couple of days, reason being she always bit more than she could chew. Unrealistic goals were her forte. Besides she avoided exercise like the plague.

"What are you laughing for?" she scowled. "I am following the 'fine in fifteen' diet this time. I have researched all about it. Payal has tried it before and has managed to lose 5 kgs this summer."

"Err...'fine-in-fifteen' diet, what on earth is that now?" I asked, my curiosity heightening.
It was then that she told me about this crash diet plan that involved micro mini meal portions three times a day (which in reality is a fancy name for starving oneself) that promised to help one lose 5kgs in a fortnight. Like most of her past diets, this one too had total restriction on carbs.

"Don't tell me you are on a crash diet AGAIN," I scolded, aghast at her meal patterns. It was no wonder that the girl looked lethargic. Dark circles had begun to form under her eyes and her skin looked tired and dull.
"It's a fast track world, Di. What's the harm in wanting instant results?" she defended weakly.

Well, fast track world indeed. Most teenagers, like my cousin, are very concerned about their body image. Of course, this isn't a bad thing. Being a little self-conscious always helps stay in check. But aspiring to achieve a size zero (from a size 15) and literally starving to attain it is not the solution. Just like the rains provide a balance in the environment, nutrition is of utmost important in the maintenance of our health. In order to maintain a healthy body, we should make sure that we are having a balanced and nutritious diet that includes carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in the right amount.

Lets look at it this way. Our body is like a machine, and nutrition is the fuel that is needed for it to work effectively. Poor nutrition increases our chances to disease, infection, fatigue, and ultimately wear down. Children are at the risk of stunted growth and developmental delay. Adults may experience symptoms of weakness, tiredness, inability to concentrate at work, symptoms my cousin was now complaining of.
It was time I showed her some evidence. I did some online research and showed her statistics that revealed how an unbalanced diet can lead to major illnesses like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even strokes. She seemed worried now and a little more concerned.

Its true. People seldom realize the value of a balanced diet. In the quest of weight loss, they try out ridiculous meal plans that rip them off the necessary nutrition that only a well balanced meal can provide.

A balanced diet should include the following:
  • Vegetables: Important source of vitamins and minerals...Esp dark, green, leafy vegetables should be incorporated in every meal.
  • Grains: Whole grains provides much more nutrition than refined flour.  
  • Proteins: Preferably lean protein. This includes lean, low fat meats like chicken, fish. Removing the skin and trimming off visible fat from the meat is an effective way to reduce cholesterol. Vegetarian sources of proteins include sprouts, beans, sunflower seeds, lentils, tofu etc.
  • Oils: Avoid deep frying of foods as deep fried foods contain a lot of empty calories. Using a polyunsaturated oil for cooking is always an effective option as compared to saturated oils. Rice bran oil, sunflower oil, and olive oil are safer options.
  • Dairy products (limited): Provide calcium, Vitamin D and essential nutrients.
  • Fruits: Fresh and healthy options. Provides necessary roughage, and most nutrients.
So basically a diet based on starchy foods such as whole grain chapatis or rice with plenty of fruit and vegetables, some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils, some dairy products, and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.

It is important to remember that our caloric requirement depends largely on our body weight and lifestyle, A sedentary worker will need fewer calories than a person engaging in moderate to severe activities.
Just as an extra caloric diet can be harmful, inadequate caloric intake is also a matter of concern. Hence crash diets need to be discouraged. As we embark on crash diets, little do we realize that this urgent short term basis often has extremely short term favorable consequences. It is best to reduce weight in a steady and healthy way (gradual decrease of 0.5-2 lbs per week) than a diet that radically restricts your daily caloric intake and cuts out entire food groups, thus eventually affecting your health and well being.
Other crash-diet compromises would include:
  • Reduces intake of carbohydrates that are an important source of energy, thus leaving you feeling drained out and weak.
  • Increases intake of protein and fat (to compensate for carbohydrate restriction): Too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol and in turn result in heart disease and strokes. 
  • Slows down your metabolism. Lowering body weight will eventually become much tougher for a person who has been on repetitive crash diets than someone who has not.
  • Can result in lack or deficiency of essential nutrients and vitamins.
"You don't need to go on a crash diet. Just give up the junk you gorge on and start eating healthy," I instructed my cousin.

"A major cause of concern is all the sugar you put in your system," I continued. I knew she had a sweet tooth and could not control her sugar cravings. This was a good time to enlighten her of the harm this could cause.

"Di, you know how much I love sweets," she sulked. "In fact that is why I agreed on this stupid crash diet. I can keep off sweets for a maximum of fifteen days after which I inadvertently turn into quite the addict scourging for something sweet to eat."

I smiled. Most of us face these kinda sugar cravings. Sugar, undoubtedly, is a rich source of energy. But when eaten in excess means we are consuming more energy than we can burn. This causes increase in weight...and increases the risk of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease etc. Sugar (especially refined sugar) present in cakes, chocolates, soft drinks, pastries etc is that friendly monster who beckons us with tempting offers.
Natural sugars (found in fruits) however are easier to break down by the body and are comparatively safer.

"So next time you feel a sugar craving, eat a banana or an apple instead of a pastry," I told her.

She sighed. Apparently, that wasn't enough. That was when I told her about a sweeter alternative .

Honey is considered as a top health food across the world. Honey acts as a fuel that stimulates the liver to produce glucose. This glucose is important to keep the brain sugar level high enough for proper functioning. It in turn stimulates it to release fat-burning hormones. Honey is the safer and healthier option as compared to direct sugar, and hence we see the 'Honey Diet' picking pace in today's world.

The 'Honey Diet' is a diet that involves replacing sugar throughout the day with honey. This means, you should not add sugar to your tea, coffee, cereal, or in any cooking. Instead add honey. You need to cut out artificial sweeteners too. In addition to this, you should consume 3 tsps of honey with hot water every night before bed. The 'honey diet' needs you to skip junk foods, high starch foods like potatoes and fruits with high sugar content. Instead, consume lean proteins and unrefined carbohydrates like wholemeal flour.
Principle on which this diet works: Consuming excess of sugar and processed foods rich  in sugar is the major cause of weight gain. When we consume honey before bed, the body begins to burn more fat before those early hours of sleep. When we replace all refined sugar with honey, the brain signal gets rebalanced and the mechanism that causes the sugar craving is completely shut down.
Honey is also a better substitute to sugar as it contains lesser calories and is rich in vitamins, anti-oxidants and minerals, Thus the 'Honey Diet' is an all-profit-no-loss plan to better health.

In addition to weight loss, honey has a lot of other benefits. These include:
  • Provides a lot of energy: as natural sugar and carbohydrates are easily digested by the body.
  • Honey is known to help in cough and throat irritation. It is well known for its medicinal properties. Also it provides instant relief in case of household injuries, burns etc.
  • It has great moisturizing and nourishing properties, and hence can be used in various face packs and beauty treatments.
  • Honey is a better low-calorie substitute to sugar.
  • Aids digestion.
"So the bottom line is 'No fasting, no feasting'. You got to respect this healthy balance." I concluded.

"This 'Honey Diet' sounds real great. I think I will try that,"

There was a spark of enthusiasm in my cousins eyes.  To motivate her further, I directed her towards the Dabur Honey homepage where Chef Vikas Khanna had shared interesting and healthy recipes with honey. Her eyes were gleaming now. By the time she was done reading, I sensed a new found vigor in her...a vigor to reach this diet plan to fruition.

"I just registered with their online dietitian too," she said with a final click of the mouse. Never had I see her more excited.

"Don't forget to work out though," I reminded her. "Exercise and diet are two sides of the same coin. You can't ditch one for the other."

"Yes, I know" she blushed. "All this while I shirked away from working out. But that was because I would be so drained out with the crash diets that I did not have the energy for any kind of exercise." 
 She promised to change that. I had seen her checking the fitness tips on the site and knew she was not lying. Something told me my lecture wouldn't go to waste.

I smiled and wished her all the best. It had stopped raining. The sun peeped at us from behind a solitary cloud, a fine act of balance yet again.