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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.

"...to 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...

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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.

July 09, 2015

Bickering over Bhindi...

It had been three years since their marriage. Shalu and Amit were my friends since school. Theirs was a love marriage. Everybody envied the chemistry between them. They were the ideal 'complete-each-others-sentences' kinda couple, the type who would never fight. We often joked that if there was one couple that would cross heavens gates for being so perfect in matrimony, it would be them. They were the Lily and Marshall of our group. So it did not come to us as any surprise when they finally decided to tie the knot five years back.

However, what came as a big surprise (to them) was us paying a surprise visit. As a rule of thumb, every surprise deserves a counter surprise. Life sticks by its rules. We got ours as well...even before we entered. We were just about to press the door bell when we could hear voices from inside.It was Shalu and Amit, and they were fighting over something. As we contemplated on retreating our steps and coming back another time (next time after prior notice), we could not help but overhear the argument.

"Do you think I am some sort of super woman? Because at least that is what your mother thought I am when she was had come to visit," Shalu was complaining.

"Don't you drag my mother in this."

"Why not? It is she who has managed to spoil you like this," Shalu was muttering.

"Shalu, can't I expect a decent meal from you? Is that asking for too much?"

There was a pregnant pause. We wondered what they were fighting about. We were aware that Shalu lacked culinary skills. But Amit had never complained. We knew it was bad manners to eavesdrop but now we had to listen. 
"and since when did 'bhindi' become an indecent meal?"

"Since you started cooking it every day of the week," Amit snapped.

"You should have married a cook then,"

"I would. If only I knew better..."

"Six years of dating and three years of marriage were not enough?" she wailed. "You have changed, Amit."

We knew she was using the final weapon. Emotional blackmail. No man can ever say anything after the 'You have changed' card. But our Amit just would not listen. He continued to tread on another ground...a safer area of the blame game zone. Bickering makes sure you recall every single fight from the past with all its petty details, blow it out of proportion, and use it to the best of your interest. Bickering makes sure you never forget.

"There starts your daily drama. Can't a man have a little peace around the house? This is all because of those stupid 'saas-bahu' soaps you watch on TV. Do you know anything about current affairs? All you are interested in is this filmy nonsense.":

"You have a problem with my TV watching too! You watch the same news over and over again despite having read it in the morning paper. You do that just to harass me, I know."

"Harass you...hah! Do I ever get to have the remote? If there is someone in this house that is being harassed, it is ME!"

We knocked a couple of times, but our knocks were drowned out in the voices. The argument was getting heated now.
 "Yes, this idiot box seems like a better companion than you sometimes. What else should I do the whole day?" Shalu retorted.

"Err...cook something other than Bhindi?" Amit blurted, his reply more like an innocuous question.

There was a moment's silence, and even standing outside the door we could sense the heavy feeling of guilt it contained. Then as if realizing the pettiness of the argument, we could hear both of them burst out laughing.
We heaved a sigh of relief. The bickering had come full circle at 'Bhindi'.

We took the cue and knocked again, this time to be received warmly by Shalu and Amit. They asked us how long we had been waiting.
"Long enough to hate Bhindi for the rest of my life," I grinned.

We had a good laugh over the outrageous episode. Later in the privacy of her room, I held Shalu's hand in mine and asked.
"Are you guys having problems?"

"With Okra, yes!" she giggled.

"I am serious, Shalu."

That is when Shalu's downcast eyes met mine.

"You know something, " she said. "Bickering need not always be a bad thing. Sometimes it proves that a relationship is alive...that we still hold expectations from each other. Had Amit eaten the bhindi without complaining, I would have worried that something is seriously wrong with us. I know he hates Bhindi, and the very fact that he can tell me so only means he trusts me to understand. "
I listened in silence as she continued.

"You know, Pri. Marriage changes a lot of things. But all is well as long as we can be comfortable enough to point out those changes and fight them out. Amit and I are fighting out our changes."

"But what happens if the bickering goes out of hand?"

"It never does. We haven't lost the ability to laugh at our mistakes. I guess that is what love is all about---when you fight over petty things that still make perfect laugh-out-loud memories."

"Like today's bickering over Bhindi," Amit entered the room laughing.

"Exactly," she blushed.

I couldn't help but smile. Our Lily and Marshall were still the same. Their love had worked its way through the transition from courtship to marriage by bending (to adjust) but never breaking. Communication, even if it meant bickering over petty issues made sure they never let misunderstandings seep through. They argued, fought, grumbled, mumbled, but made sure they never went to bed angry.

The evening was a huge success. We basked in the nostalgia of the good old days. We all had loads of stuff to update each other about. I carried home several memories that would bring a smile to my face for eons to come.
The taste of Bhindi that day had seemed familiar...a lot like love.

No compromise

India, the land where people worship over 330 million Gods, yet have one common religion---cricket. Even today, you will see kids running out to play cricket. In this modern age of play station and video games, cricket remains one and perhaps the only sport that has maintained its charm.
This cricket mania gets worse when India is playing. You will see fans glued to the TV set, waiting with bated breath for Yuvi to score six sixes in an over (because we Indians know he is capable of that). We will postpone our ablutions, kill anyone who dares touch the tv remote, curse the doorbell/ringing phone, and do all sorts of absent minded nonsense as the nail biting experience continues hoping against hope that our prayers will be answered and that India will win.  Now picture your wife asking you to go and pick up your mother-in-law from the railway station that very instant? Can you imagine the irritation?

I was not much of a cricket fan until a few years ago, my only excuse for it being I do not have a brother. I thought it was okay for a girl to know nothing about cricket. However, living at the hostel during my MBBS days changed my perception and made me take a keen interest in the game, thanks to my room mates. Prachi and Sanju were major sport buffs. I remember watching them with curiosity, the way they enjoyed the game. The TV room at our hostel was in another building. I remember the entire girls hostel would empty out and land up in the TV room whenever India was playing. In that situation, I had no choice but to join them (I was too afraid to stay all alone in the deserted hostel). I watched the first few matches with absolute zero knowledge of the game. I found it silly, eleven people running after a ball. Prachi and Sanju took it upon themselves to enlighten me. They just could not believe I knew nothing of cricket except for 'Sachin Tendulkar'. I was bored. They were amused. Thence, they made me watch every single match with them. I was horrified at first. I was being ragged by my own roommates.

Slowly but surely, the interest caught on. I started sharing their enthusiasm. First subtly, then when I got to understand it a little more, boldly. I cheered, prayed, rooted for India, and soon enough I was the first to bunk lectures and run to the TV room whenever there was a match. I still remember the days when there used to be a power cut. How we would sulk and keep calling the electricity department. Missing a match was sacrilege. In hindsight, those were the only days when afternoon lectures would have 100% attendance. Memories of those hostel days can never be complete without remembering those cricket matches in that noisy TV room. Our moods would depend on who won the game. So did our studying pattern. We always scored better in the viva voce on the following day when India won. I guess it had something to do with the professor's mood as well. Cricket all the way!

Today, we are all busy in our respective lives. Most of us are so caught up that we hardly have time to indulge in our passions. It is thanks to advances in technology that we are  not restricted to our living rooms to watch our favorite sport. Mobile internet has brought all cricket fans closer to cricket. Now I no longer need to make up silly excuses for not running an errand or not attending a social function because of a crucial game. My friends do not need to feign sickness to take a day off from work. We can now surf it all and surf it fast with UC Browser. This is available for downloads across various platforms like computers, ipads, laptops, mobiles, and through iphone, windows, androids, and Java. Unlike other browsers, this is faster and easier to use with seamless transitions. An important feature of this browser is UC Cricket (Open UC Browser - HomeScreen - Find "UC Cricket" with blue icon) a space dedicated to all cricket lovers, connecting them to the match wherever they may be.

Latest cricketing news, live score, auto updates and go-to-videos are now easily available once you download the app. (check the UC Browser and UC Cricket for details). In addition to this, you can also set reminders for matches so that you never miss out on them. UC Cricket also provides latest news, fixture and result that keeps you in the know wherever you go.

The UC Browser brings the cricket experience to a whole new level. Say good bye to excuses. You no longer need to miss out on that get-together you were thinking of missing. You don't need to call in sick to work or cancel your date. Now you can take the entire Indian team with you.

UC Cricket says 'No Compromise'...

June 15, 2015

The premiere

It was a cold and damp evening. Subulaxmi Ramaswamy was beginning to feel nervous about the screening of her debut movie. She had invited all the prominent celebrities of B-town for the premiere.

The cinema hall started filling in slowly but surely. Subulaxmi crossed her fingers and hoped that her maiden attempt would not fail her. She had tried her hand at the unconventional horror genre.
As she sat with the star cast in the crowded hall, she scanned the audience. They all seemed mesmerized with the chills and thrills on screen. Subulaxmi smiled proudly as she saw the silent spectators yelp, squeal, squeeze their eyes shut, bite their nails nervously...her film was sure to be a box-office hit.

All of a sudden, her eyes fell on a man in one corner of the front row. She could not see his face clearly in the dark, but noticed he was wearing a black overcoat. What caught Subulaxmi's attention was that he did not flinch even once, not even for a single scene. As he continued to sit ramrod straight in his seat, she could not help notice him stifling a yawn or two as the film moved on.
For the next ninety minutes, Subulaxmi could not concentrate on anything other than this impudent man. She had heard of Mr Ramu Sharma who was her competitor and a self-proclaimed expert in this area of expertise. She did recall inviting him but had not expected him to attend the event, especially when his recent movie had crashed so badly. But could it be him trying to jeopardize her screening, she wondered.

The movie ended with a thunderous applause from the dumbstruck audience. Subulaxmi received hordes of compliments and jealous handshakes from her B-town guests. However, her eyes wandered to the corner seat in the front row. He was still seated.

Politely, she excused herself for a minute and went up to him.
"Hi, I have been noticing you for a while...and," she said extending her hand for a friendly handshake.

"Honored, lovely lady," he squeezed her hand firmly interrupting her mid sentence. His grip felt ice cold. Subulaxmi felt his bloodshot eyes bore into her. He flashed her a charming smile as she felt a strong constricting pain in the right side of her chest.

She woke up in the hospital bed after what seemed like several hours.
"You had a massive cardiac arrest, Ma'am," they told her. "Your crew saw you with a black coat in your hand just seconds before you collapsed. You seemed to be muttering something to yourself.."

 (You can read more such stories and other updates on the Facebook page dedicated to my debut novel. Here is the link http://facebook.com/TOFthenovel ) 

June 14, 2015

A modern-day fairy tale

'Here is the other slipper," said Cinderella as she produced the glass slipper the prince had come searching for.

"But...but your hands are covered with soot, your hair is in a mess, you are wearing a tattered dress. The maiden I saw at the ball was wearing a diamond studded gown and arrived in a golden carriage. She was nothing less than a royal princess. And you..." the prince trailed off, refusing to meet her eyes, unable to hide his disappointment. Try as he might he could not deny the semblance between the two. But he refused to acknowledge it.

"That was me. My fairy godmother did all that," Cinderella explained the magic spell by her fairy godmother, how she had changed the field mice into coachmen, how she had provided for the shimmering gown, the tiara, the glass slippers.
"...and the golden carriage was actually this pumpkin," she said pointing to the plump orange vegetable sitting in one corner of the room.

The wise men who had accompanied the prince smirked. The prince's face turned red with embarrassment.

As if on cue, the wicked stepmother rushed out of the kitchen.
"Oh dear," she exclaimed. " The poor girl has forgotten to take her anti-psychotics again."

The prince breathed a sigh of relief.
"Stop the search party immediately," he ordered his minister. "It's not everyday that a wicked stepmother will rush to my rescue."
He then softly asked him to dispose off the glass slipper to a place where it can never be found again.

Back at the palace, the king chuckled on hearing his son's narrow escape.
"I'd told you the slipper was a bad idea," he exclaimed in an all knowing tone, wagging his finger at the prince.
"You should understand that compatibility is much more than silent ball-room dancing."

The Prince sighed. His father was right. It was too risky living in a fairytale.


(You can read more such stories and other updates on the facebook page dedicated to my debut novel. Here is the link http://facebook.com/TOFthenovel )  

June 13, 2015

A closer look

"Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of us all?"

No matter how much we pretend not to care, every woman, as a rule of thumb, is concerned about her appearance. Every single one of us desire smooth and spotless skin, a glowing complexion, and a radiant face. More importantly, a clean and clear face is not just a compliment-magnet but also an indicator of good health, and that is something we need to keep in mind.

How many times have you looked into the mirror and frowned? The angry pimples that somehow make an appearance every time you have an important board meeting or function to attend, the greasy skin that you need to constantly dab with a tissue all the time, the ugly blackheads that leave equally ugly marks when you try squeezing them out with that painful blackhead remover are issues most of us deal with. Well, all I'd say is stop torturing your face with synthetic products and harmful cosmetics. Concealing the problem isn't going to solve it. A cosmetic facial care regime will cause more harm to the skin than good, and hence the need of something totally natural and holistic in its approach like Ayurveda. 
After all, the perfect skin care should be done at both the intrinsic as well as extrinsic level. 

Here are a few important tips towards attaining a naturally beautiful skin:

 Intrinsic measures:
  • Proper nutrition: This is the key to a healthy and glowing skin. Eating fresh and nutritious food items instead of preserved ones or those containing artificial sweeteners or flavors reduces the production of impurities in the body, enables easier digestion, repairs damaged tissues, regenerates skin cells, fights against skin problems thus leading to a smooth and glowing skin. Eating a lot of vegetables (especially lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and tender asparagus tips) and fresh fruits also provides vitamins and adequate nourishment leading to good health and hence good skin. Foods like coffee, chocolate, fried foods, direct sugars should be limited.
  • Adequate hydration: Consumption of 3-4 liters of water every day is important to maintain a healthy system. Proper hydration is required for detoxification of the body. Accumulation of toxins can lead to skin problems, and consumption of water helps in cleansing the body of these toxins, thus preventing skin eruptions or breakouts. Green tea is rich in anti oxidants and helps in maintaining vitality of the skin.
  • Adequate exercise and sleep: Brisk walking at least five times a week for half an hour every day is important. Sweating during exercise promotes circulation which is important for healthy skin. Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises are known to help a great deal by improving blood and lymphatic circulation, as well as muscle tone. Also, one must have at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep every day for a younger and improved complexion. The growth hormone that is produced during sleep and exercise is responsible for promotion of fibroblast health which in turn promotes growth of collagen and elastin that is responsible for the skin to become firm. 
  • Essential vitamins and minerals: Taking a multivitamin every day will help the skin look younger and glowing. Calcium and Vit  D (from exposure to sunlight) is also important.
 When it comes to skin care, extrinsic measures are equally important as compared to the intrinsic measures discussed above. I remember my grandmother telling me how they would use various home made methods to  achieve a blemish free complexion in the good old days. I recall her asking me to boil neem leaves in my bath water to ward off pimples. She would ask me to slather a cream and turmeric paste on my skin. Some days it would be lime and honey, other days it would be gram flour and curd.  I would cringe just imagining the messy affair, and luckily manage to give it a skip.

Here are the home remedies as I remember them from Aaji's kitchen:
  • Mix chickpea flour and milk powder in equal parts. Take two teaspoons of this mixture in the palm of your hand and add water to make a thin paste out of it. Scrub lightly over wet skin. Rinse off and pat dry. The chickpea flour acts as a natural exfoliant and the milk powder provides nourishment to the skin. 
  • Take two tbsps of natural raw honey. Add a few drops of lime. Slather on face. Wait until dry and then wash off in upward motion. (Warning: Can be messy. Err...stay away from ant hills.)
  • Rinse face with water. Pat dry. Mash up the flesh of the papaya to a paste like consistency. Leave it on for 15 mins and then rinse off with warm water. This papaya pack is useful for acne prone skin.
As I grew up, I developed my own skin care regime--simpler, less messier and something that wouldn't leave me stinking like a garbage truck.
The cleansing-scrubbing-toning-moisturizing regime: Rinse your face with water. This fattens the dead skin cells by soaking the water. Make a paste by mixing two tablespoons of oat flour and one tablespoon of water. Apply it on your face with the tips of your index, middle and ringer finger so that it sticks. Scrub gently so that it removes the dead cells especially near the problem areas which are more prone for blackheads. This home-made scrub makes sure your skin is not stripped of its natural oils. Once the exfoliation is done, dab your skin with rose water to moisturize your face.

The only issue with this above regime is its time consuming nature, In today's busy world, we are forever searching for that quick fix that will not just save our time but also be equally effective.  But fear not. Where there is a will, there will be a way. Say bye bye to greasy skin, pimples and blackheads, look in the looking glass and say 'Hello beautiful.'
Yes, it's time to come closer to radiant skin with VICCO Turmeric Cream .


We can now be totally tension free. This one-step method of skin care is complete in itself and entirely Ayurvedic. So we can safely put aside all our worries about the harmful effects of cosmetics and chemicals on our skin and reach out to the power of haldi and Ayurveda. A convenient preparation by VICCO, this cream makes use of not only the cosmetic benefits of turmeric to ward off acne, comedones and excess oil with every wash but also of the microbicidal properties that claim to prevent skin infections and stop bleeding from minor cuts and wounds.

Having said all this, I must mention that a proper balance of intrinsic and extrinsic measures is required to maintain a healthy and glowing skin. The hormone cortisol also called the stress hormone (released during stress) is responsible for a lot of health problems including poor skin. Hence it is very important to de-stress every once in a while. Smile, laugh, indulge in your favorite food (if it's unhealthy which it most probably is, then only once in a while please), dance, do what makes you happy. Spend time with people who make you laugh.
Love. Live. Learn to relax.
Life is full of chaos anyway. Learn to find a pattern you love. If you can't find it, create one.
Allow your skin to breathe. Open your pores to happiness. It shows.

So next time you are in self doubt, ask yourself if you are happy. If you are, then yes you are beautiful!