2016 – A thing to remember 


First times are always remembered. Good or bad, the first kiss. First dip in water. First time you scored an A (or a F :P). It is hard to forget those experiences. The older we get, the harder it becomes to experience firsts. 2016 was a year when I was blessed enough to experience a new first. 

It was related to a meditation technique (vipassana) I practice in daily life. To strengthen this technique you are required to go into 11 day camps where 10 days of silence and strict meditation routine is followed. In January, I sat in a course and in September, on my birthday, I went as a server. The camps are only occupied by servers and students. Students are meditators who come to learn and practice. Servers are old students who come to serve, i.e. provide students with the necessary environment and all facilities required for them to do well in the course.

As a student you are not allowed to communicate with anyone other than your teacher, mostly initiated by her. Your last meal is at 11 am in the morning. If you have established well in the practice, after 5-6 days, you don’t sleep normally. Either you sleep very deeply for a couple of hours or you are in a continuous meditative state of mind. Whatever you might be doing – eating, bathing, walking, watching, sleeping, you are in the same state of mind as you are with your legs folded, sitting still and meditating. Time passes extremely slowly. You can observe threads of thoughts coming in your mind and disappearing, very similar to observing vapours getting dissolved in air over a hot cup of tea in the morning cold. It is beautiful. It is very obvious, at that time, how insane our minds are.

Talking about vipassana is very similar to describing your first sexual experience. You know those who have done it would be able to understand you immediately, without you having to explain much. And those who haven’t done it, won’t be able to understand you properly no matter how much you explain. And yet there are poets all over the world attempting to describe their passion and love and share that experience with one and all, because that’s what we humans do. We communicate.

After those 10 days of intense experiences, on the 10th or 11th day, when you open your mouth to speak and communicate with servers and students, it seems quite unnatural. However, on these days, your body and mind remove it focus from itself and start observing and paying attention to the outside world. All the sensory organs can start working full swing now. It is then you realize your part in the world. The highly crucial role you play in the world.

I was a third born. Honestly, an accidental child. Hence for me the question, why am I here on the face of this planet, was a very obvious one. The more I read, the more I found out that no one knows an answer to this one. Everyone is here pretty much like me. Accidently. Well, that didn’t help much. If we all are here accidently, might as well stop being here, stop all the killing, stress, hate or even love, which is mostly longing and desiring. Why run all through the life to die. The only theory which made a little bit of sense was to have fun, do whatever makes you happy. You will anyway die sooner than later! Hedonism seemed better than most of the other farce of theories.

I challenge all those who practice hedonism properly, with all their heart, to come out and say, it gives them the highest form of happiness. I can very much say, been there and done that. It can give you a lot of satisfaction and a purpose to life, however, there is much more to life than that, I believe now. This realization happened in the year 2016.

When you serve for others, it is not much different from working. You have your role and responsibilities defined and you just need to act on it. The key differentiating factor is “if at any time you are not at peace with yourself, if you are agitated or disturbed, you are required to stop the service at that very moment and find your peace within before continuing”. Now this small piece of difference is a huge one.

Imagine you didn’t do a very important task which was assigned to you. And your boss finds out. You make excuses. Boss gets angry and blows you off. He had every ‘right’ to be angry with you! Now in his state of anger, he attends a meeting where he rejects a proposal of a new project which isn’t very crucial to the company. The enthusiastic employee who worked for a week on this project gets pissed off. He might end up leaving the company, a huge loss to the team. All because you didn’t do the job and the boss got angry. You would obviously say it’s coz the boss is incompetent and gets angry. The boss will say it’s coz of lazy people like you that company culture gets rotten. The fact is Anger is very expensive. There is never a negative emotion which can be justified, no matter whatever a reason, a so called cause. 

The practice of being able to observe your emotional state and act accordingly is what you learn as a server. You also learn that if you don’t let your emotional state affect your actions, you can actually bring peace, productivity and sense of fulfilment to the world. If you can be peaceful and avoid all negativity, at least a very small world around you will follow the path. What that means is, every individual is immensely powerful. We have the power to bring or to take away not just the happiness of ourselves but also of other human beings.

Happy people spread happiness. Unhappy people spread unhappiness. Angry people spread anger, sorrow and disappointment. This becomes very obvious after vipassana. And so does your role in the world.

Like the title mentioned, this is the first time in life when I found the meaning of life to be so simple. There is a lot more to be seen, to be understood. Many more years to live. Amen.

Mumbai monsoons milestones

Being in Mumbai again and experiencing the monsoons once again, I remember and reminiscence about how life and I have been changing around yearly monsoons. It is as if every passing year and arrival of new season marks a change, turns a milestone.

  • July 2005 – The first lesson in survival.

My first experience of Mumbai monsoons. Oh the magic. The romance of walking on tiled Mumbai streets in light drizzle, late at night. A city turning into a hill station. The freedom. The huge waves which left you drenched on Marine Drive. The clean air and no hurry to reach anywhere. And finally, getting caught in the crazy floods, walking in 1 meter high water level, and experiencing what survival meant for the first time. How it builds relationships. Character testing. That remarkable night spent in a broken bus near Santa Cruz with 60 odd strangers.

kemcomrbmr_1906_9

  • June 2009 – “Singing in the Rain” stage. Literally. 

Living with the love of my life, enjoying life and rains after the unbearable heat of Mumbai-May. Monsoons had become a synonym for hiking at that time. The hills are alive with the sound of rainfall. Treks and hikes and trips and plenty of getting wet. Ah, the freedom of roaming around in green ghats. Pure joy!

hike

  • June 2010 – I was a Mumbaikar now, turning my heart over

Another flood scenario, a short and sweet Mumbai monsoon encounter with a stranger. A lift with a stranger. A final incident which tipped me over. Now officially, I was a Mumbai girl. The Mumbaikar in me had arrived.

  • July 2012 – Risks and returns 

Another life changing event within an year of marriage. Husband broke his neck on a hiking trip when we lost our way and had to take a bad and risky detour on our way down. Of course in retrospect it turned out to a blessing in disguise. But more about that sometime else.

  • June 2016 – Staying in? Getting old? Hope not…

It has been more than a decade now, since I first started my journey of changes with Mumbai and monsoons. Now I find myself happier to stay in the house and not go out in search of adventures, creating stories. Found myself ordering indoor games from Amazon! When a friend asked if I didn’t like getting wet in rains anymore and I answered in affirmative, I realized, another milestone has been reached.

game

Mumbai monsoons have something about them. They always take you to a newer level, you didn’t know was capable of existing earlier.

The boy who got me back to Bangalore- Part 2

You can read the first part of the story here.

To recap, I reached Kalpetta, the biggest town in Wayanad district in Kerala in the dead of the night without any adventure or mischief. Next day in the morning, I found that this town hardly got any tourists. There was a small tourism booth next to the Inter-State bus stop that provided the brochure of tourist attractions in Wayanad. As Hero had predicted there were no tickets available towards Bangalore on Sunday. However, I was told that there are plenty of alternatives available. I could go to the next nearby town Sulthan Bathery; chances of getting a seat from there are very high. Or I could wait for some private buses from the evening and board one of the many buses that run to Karnataka. All of them go via Bangalore.

Now when you are on an “adventurous” solo trip, you don’t really want to plan ahead and prepare too much. You know, it kills the entire concept of “adventure”, “living in the moment”, etc. If the man at the tourism booth says, it is easily possible to get back to Bangalore without reservation, it would be so. Since I am here only for two days, I can’t afford to waste time on going around, getting a reservation. Worst case scenario, I would return on Monday. It was possible in those days to fall ‘sick’ and not show up for work. So I didn’t care much about Hero’s words. He was probably trying to act too smart.

I decided to get started with my trip at the earliest, which basically meant visiting touristy locations around Kalpetta. I decided to take a local bus to go to Edakkal Caves. Bless 100% literacy rate and Christian missionaries in Kerala, language was not a big problem. The bus was rickety and broken just like it is in the northern states; the difference was that here I clearly stood apart in the crowd. There were fisherwomen with daily harvest, men working on tea estates and I, a light skinned, girl from a big town. I finally understood how Shah Rukh must have felt in Swades during local commute to remote areas.

1438087558_swades

To be less dramatic, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I got a place to stand and swing as the bus went around the hilly curves on the route to the caves which were on a hill top.

The caves were a big disappointment. They were hardly comparable to Elephanta Caves near Mumbai which I had visited already. Plus, I am not a fan of caves anyways. They stink, they are dark, dirty, and you can’t do much there. So I was standing there looking at all the families who were out there on picnics, making happy noises and cheer. It felt kind of stupid for me to be standing alone in a place which was certainly not recommended for solo travellers.

So I decided to move on. I wanted to go to a place of natural beauty where I can sit and meditate as I have seen seasoned solo women travellers do in travel pictures such as the one below.

Traveling-Solo-Women

If I want to make that picture, the timing was going to be right as the sun was rapidly moving towards the West. All I needed was a water body. I asked a nice man at a food stall about a dam nearby, Karapuzha Dam, another tourist destination. It turned out this man owned a van and was traveling in that direction. He offered me a ride.

Now, let’s review the facts. First of all, I had never hitchhiked in life previously. Also, I had always wanted to hitchhike badly. It was a dream. Standing alone on a highway, with my backpack on my muscular shoulders, looking like this. Ummm…

pretty-young-woman-tourist-hitchhiking-along-a-road

As I was drifting in my dream world of being that super confident cool hippie girl, this man in front of me was waiting for my reply.

Anu: No no no, I won’t bother you. I will go on my own. Can you guide me how to reach there?

Man: blah blah blah…. (Gist of what he said was that there is no easy way to reach via public transport.)

Now, I was kind of stuck. One option was to take the bus back to Kalpetta and figure a way to the next destination. Another option was to take this ride to the dam. The image of dusty noisy road and forlorn hotel (which by no standard was 2 stars, forget 4!) in Kalpetta made me incline towards this ride with stranger.

So how does one decide whether or not to take a ride with a strange man?

Appearances do matter.” [Quote: Me.] Though I usually don’t give a damn about my own appearance but that never stopped me from judging others by their appearances. I don’t care for brands or fashion, often that goes pretty low in my hierarchy of “trustworthiness”. Questions that I try to answer while looking at a stranger’s appearance are “Is he married?”, “Does he have kids?”, “What job would he have?”. I try to put a “no-nonsense” label: low, medium, high.

93% of communication is non-verbal.” [Quote: Management School Prof who taught my husband.]

Based on the above two signals, I took the call and became this girl. (While editing this pic, I realized I am blessed for not being a blonde.)

anu hitchhiking

It was one heck of a ride. Bumpy and Rough. Literally. There was no road. And I was in a strange man’s vehicle. All reasons to be supremely nervous and doubtful of the destination. However, this man was one gem of a person. Seriously, it is funny (& erroneous) how quickly we make impressions of a place based on small/tiny experiences/datasets. However, that is exactly what I did. Based on that one car ride, South India (especially Kerala) for me became the most reliable place in the country. If you know me, you must have heard me comparing the two parts of the country and vehemently stating how safer southern states were. This was an impressionable moment.

hitchhiking-free-travel-good-people

I will skip through some of the other details of my trip which included a visit to beautiful and enchanting Kuruva Islands, where you can walk the across river Kabini to reach islands in the middle of the river. However, let’s come back to the main story and fast forward to Sunday evening.

Now after two days of solo travel, I had quite enough of the adventure. Many a times, I ended up feeling quite lonely. A few times I remembered my office gang from Bangalore and wondered why I didn’t invite them along. By Sunday evening, I was quite packed and ready to get back to my friends and home. The only problem was that I had no reservation. I had exchanged a few smses with Hero in the meantime which more or less meant that there were no seats available.

There wasn’t enough time to go to Sultan Bathery, so I stationed myself at the bus stop on Kalpetta main road and would check with each and every bus, if they would go to Bangalore and if they would have a vacant seat. Starting at around 6 P.M., I did this till 10 P.M. By this time, everyone at the bus stop knew me. As it grew darker and late in to the night, number of people on the stop gradually decreased. Only others like me without reservation remained. None of them were girls.

Four hours is a long time to spend on a bus stop hoping to get a bus back to your home. It is a reasonable amount of time to retrospect and curse yourself. It is enough time to think about different possibilities that might occur. I might not get the bus after all. For how long would be I standing here out on the road? Yes, Kerala is safe, but until what time should I start searching for alternate stay arrangements? How will I go back tomorrow?

A little after 10, a private bus for Bangalore moved in. We, without reservation riders, all crowded in close to the bus door to plead the conductor to take us in. Just then, someone tapped me on my sounders. I turned around to see Hero standing there.

Hero: Are you still without a reservation?

Anu: Yes

Hero: You can come with me. I had reserved two seats in this bus. We can pay inside the bus after we get the seats.

Anu: thank you thank you

At the time, my status msg at FB would have been something like this: — feeling shocked relieved happy thankful grateful.

We got the two seats. I thanked him again and slept off.

It was 530 in the morning when our bus was gliding towards its platform on Majestic. I was still amazed how I reached back home safely, without any misadventures. All thanks to this guy. We, with all other passengers got down. I was wondering what to say to him. How should I express my gratitude? Should I ask him to meet me later in the week sometime.

We were standing near an auto, ready to go separate ways. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him out for lunch or coffee to show my thanks. We said byes and rode off. Until a few days later, I kept thinking about the whole thing. I was expecting a call from him. Usually guys do that. Especially if they know they have a favour on the girl. But he never called. And it was too late by then for me to call. Or so I thought.

I never really got to thank him properly at that time. However, after a decade, I understand that travel is all about meeting different people and helping them. We help strangers and friends, without expecting anything in return. It happens naturally. That is why travel is one of the most compassionate and patient teachers in life.

The boy who got me back to Bangalore – Part 1

This story is about a case of male chivalry and getting your ass saved by a stranger.  

At the age of 23, when you land up in an extremely high paying job, live in one the most beautiful cities of the country, don’t have any responsibilities to take care of, it is very easy to get dissatisfied. Yes, dissatisfied. You know, if at 23 your colleagues/friends start buying houses, cars, looking for brides/grooms, it is as if you can see your entire life planned and organized in a google calendar. Monday to Friday, work. Wednesday, lady’s night out. Friday night, party. Saturday night, party. Sunday, chill at home. Get married, have a kid. Go to kid’s parties. Buy another home after 10 years. Buy another car. Vacations abroad. Have another kid. And goto repeat.

Even now, after almost a decade, this line of thought creeps bejesus out of me. At 23, it would make me go berserk. I would do crazy things. Go on solo trips. Join and work in NGOs. Give up all the money and comfort of corporate job! This story is of one such trip.

It was a Thursday. Remember this old cartoon? This is how a typical Thursday is for most of the corporate sector.

typical work week

In my case, the state of Wednesday usually continued on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and actually all other days of the week. So my cartoon worked like this:

sunday-to-saturday

 

And that’s what I did. I booked tickets for Wayanad. A beautiful forested district in Kerala. I had always wanted to go there to stay in the tree huts of Vythiri resort. But I couldn’t go to the resort, since it was somewhere in the middle of the woods and I was on a solo trip with no personal vehicle and no co-passengers. The next best choice was to go to the nearest biggest town and figure out the rest of the travel from there. So I booked a KSRTC ticket online (in the time of no redbus, there were government booking sites!) from Bangalore to Kalpetta in an A/C Volvo. I used TripAdvisor, a very new website, to book a room in Kalpetta in a 4-star hotel, close to the bus stop and still not the main road to avoid traffic noise. This was the first time I had used TripAdvisor to book a hotel reservation. I never confirmed the booking directly with the hotel. In fact, it never occurred to me that I might not even have a booking! In my defence, I get this insane trust/faith that everything will be okay from my mom. #23-years-old #risks #stupidity #innocence #genetics #recklessness #easy-to-trust

On Friday night, I reached Majestic, the inter-state bus terminal in Bangalore. For me, it was the pride of India. Amazing infrastructure, ease for passengers, safety, cleanliness. And when compared to Delhi’s ISBT Kashmiri Gate, it was a world apart! Bus terminals are a place of extreme excitement, just like airports. Even though you are still in town, you feel your trip has already started! I got into the luxurious bus, settled down, waited for my co-traveller in the 2-seat coach.

The co-passenger turned out to be a young boy, almost same age as mine. We introduced, exchanged pleasantries. As always, he was surprised to find a solo travelled. But the more I spoke about myself, he understood that this is one cuckoo case. I remember seeing some sort of sympathy for me in his eyes.

It was 4 A.M. in the morning, when he suddenly woke me up. We had arrived!

WHATTTTTT?!! It is still dark out there!

I found myself standing on a deserted road below a single street light at the bus stop of what looked like a very small town. There were a couple of people sleeping outside the deserted shops, dogs were barking and a few other passengers had quickly disappeared into cars or whatever conveyance was waiting for them. While my panic nerves were firing up, I asked my co-passenger how to find the hotel. He explained the way. It was about 300 mtrs away and I could see the road leading up to it. For the sake of brevity, and also because he really was, for the rest of the story, we will call this guy ‘Hero’.

Within next 2 minutes, I was really scared as I could suddenly realize all that can go wrong going further. A little too late, but yes, now I was thinking about it. What if the hotel doesn’t have a night desk? What if I do not have a reservation? What if the hotel is not safe? What if someone jumps on me in the dark before I reach the hotel? What if… While I was numb, thinking of all that could possibly go wrong, I heard Hero’s voice.

Hero: When are you going back to Bangalore?

Anu: Ummm.. Sunday night.

Hero: Oh cool, me too. Which bus?

Anu: Actually I do not have a reservation yet. I will find out tomorrow.

Hero: Oh, you know, it is really difficult to find the reservation this last minute.

Anu: Umm…  (Right now I can’t be bothered about Sunday!)

Hero: Would you like me to help you get a reservation? I would also be looking for one. I can look for both of us.

Anu: Hmm.. okay..

Hero: Give me your number so that I can confirm you about the ticket.

WHAT?!!! As always. Ladki dekhi nahi uska phone number pehle chahiye. Seriously, why the hell do I get caught up in such situations.

Anu: Why don’t you give me your number? If I do not get ticket tomorrow I will give you a call.

Wow! If I was a guy and offered help to someone who would not trust me with her number but was willing to call me back for help, I would be seriously offended. But, at 23, brought up in a gender unequal society, as a girl, being helped was my ‘birth right’. If I am in trouble, ‘good’ men were supposed to protect me, help me, guide me. Be chivalrous. Weird thing is, they usually were!

Hero: Okay cool. Here it is.

Anu: Ok thanks! How will I reach the hotel? (Current situation grabbing my nerves again)

Hero: Just walk down the road. It is so close. You will be fine.

 

He said bye and left. I walked on. He was right, it was quite alright. I reached the hotel quickly. Woke up someone to open the front gate. Woke up another person to check me in and give me my room keys. No one looked at me with leering eyes and threatening looks. They were all too sleepy to care. I slept off too.

Next day I realized Kalpetta was not a tourist place. It was more of a trading station for merchants and businesses. And yes, Hero was correct. There was no seat on the government operated bus back to Bangalore on Sunday. But I was too adventurous to care about it.

To be continued

The Casanova professor and his lovely wife

This post is a part of series “Dialogues with Strangers” capturing some of the most impressionable ever-lasting conversations I have had with strangers.

Murren is one of the most beautiful alpine villages in the world. It is the last connection by rail in the Jungfrau region near the mountain Eiger. It is also a car free village; means there is no road connecting to Murren. There are plenty of cycling and walking routes around Murren.

IMG_1469

 

In 2013, we were in Murren for a few days, exploring the hiking routes across the meadows and beyond. Our balcony overlooked the peak, Eiger. Murren reminds you of Heidi and re-installs your faith in the miraculous healing power of the mountain air.

alps murren

One evening, after a long day of hike, followed by a dip in the heated indoor pool, as we were sitting in the balcony sipping tea and beer, we met our next door neighbours. I had previously seen the man in the pool and thought he must have been some corporate hotshot. He looked like someone in a powerful job. The woman he was with, looked quite young to be his wife. We exchanged pleasantries.

How was your day? The man asked.

Pretty good! We were hiking all day long! How was your day?

Very good! We were out too. Is this your first time in Switzerland?

No, we have been here before, but we didn’t stay in Murren earlier.

This is our first time in Switzerland. We usually go to Austria in summers. From the last 6-7 years we have been going to Tyrol region in Austria, for 2-3 weeks each time. Over the years, summer lodges and hotels have shrunk there. Most of them now only operate in winters for skiing. So we planned to come here. It is pretty beautiful here as well.

Yeah, we love Switzerland. It is quite convenient and supremely beautiful.

So where did you guys go today?

Oh we were somewhere around Birg and Schilthorn and later we walked around Schiltalp.

We were at Birg too. Actually we had a bit of an adventure. The path from Birg to Murren was getting cleared of snow today. The men with clearing tools were just ahead of us and we were following them down. At a point, one of the three men fell down as there was a big gap in the earth and he broke his leg. Luckily, nothing happened to us. We were careful to take the same steps which the men ahead of us took.

Wow! This was the same route which Nitesh and I had discussed in the morning. He wanted to take it, but I was against it. I thought it was not safe to venture on this path as it came in “difficult” category and we didn’t have hiking boots. There was no one to be seen on that route either. And these guys, people who look considerably older than us, not just took that path, but also finished it – safe and sound! They don’t even look tired!

We asked them further about the Tyrol region. In the last 6 years, they have spent all their annual leaves and savings in walking across the Austrian Alps in Tyrol region. Every year they go to a new or same valley within that region and walk for 10-20 kms on a daily basis exploring a new route. Over these 6 years, they would have covered about 1200-1500 kms on foot, in the Alps. Whoa!!!

Who are these people?! What do they do for a living?

We both are professors at University of Oxxxd, UK in the department of engineering.

Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!!!!

Suddenly I had a flash back. Imagining my fat bellied, languid college professors, I couldn’t believe this man in front of me could be in academics and research. Didn’t research mean you have no other pleasure or interest in life expect for your research topic?! Aren’t they supposed to be eccentric, weird and poor? Of course I know this was just a prejudice I had, but apart from a few outliers (like that amazing History Professor from JNU) I have never seen academicians who look like this guy, like a Casanova. Or who would spend so much time, energy and money in pursuit of other interests! Much like common, greedy mortals!  What about their age; how old are these good looking adventurous cool college professors?! We were soon going to find out.

How long are you here and where are you going next? The prof asked.

We are here till Thursday; then we go to Zermatt. I was hesitant to add that we will further hike there. Our hiking and their hiking seemed way apart!

Oh cool! We are going there too! We are not staying in Zermatt. It is actually a funny story. Our son and his girlfriend were in Zermatt last year, when they came across this very small hotel between Furi and Schwarzsee which has a perfect location. Zermatt is in the valley and Schwarzsee is quite high towards Matterhorn so the views are fantastic from up there! Though we would have to climb for 20-30 minutes to reach there but it is worth it.

Man, these guys were killing me. How old is your son? I had to ask now!

He is 30, blah blah blah….

I stopped listening to him. My head was spinning. If their son is 30 years old and these guys are researchers; means they couldn’t have had kids in early 20ies; they must be older than 55. So this man and woman looking young and fit, above 55 years in age, climbing much more than us, are going to remote exotic stay locations on foot while carrying their entire luggage on their own!

In India, so many of us do not even carry our luggage across platforms, up the stairs on a railway station! Does being in late 50ies or early 60ies mean nothing to them, who are living life as if they are in early 30ies! As of what I have seen, in late 50ies, people start getting joint pain, arthritis, back problems etc etc. They do not go wandering in mountains for fun!

Yes, this was probably one of the most impactful conversations I have had in life until then. Within the next 3 months after the trip, I ran my first 5K. A girl who hated treadmill and couldn’t survive 10 minutes on it, I ran for 40 mins in less than a month of practice. A lot of my prejudices were shattered in that trip. I had learnt an important lesson. What I do today will directly impact my life 20-30 years down the line. When I am 50, I can either climb mountains up and down in fresh clean air like those profs or I can climb up and down the escalators in different hospitals to see various docs and specialists like so many of elder people I know. The choice is mine. And it depends entirely on how I choose to spend my today.

Proteins for active vegetarians – 3

In my quest to find proteins rich diet for vegetarians with quick and easy recipes, I tried a few age old classic recipes. All these dishes take about 5-10 minutes of cooking time and 5-15 minutes of preparation, which is why these are my favorite dishes for the season!

Quinoa Lentils Porridge

I like Quinoa in all forms: salad, soup, rice, patties and now porridge. Though high in calories, it is also quite rich in proteins and easy to make. My mom adds lentils (moong daal chilka) to traditional porridge which enhances the chewiness and improves the protein percentage in the dish. I did the same, only replaced broken wheat (daliya) with quinoa.

Half a cup of raw quinoa and half a cup of raw daal is enough for two people’s breakfast. First I soak both separately for 20-30 minutes. Then I rinse them thoroughly. Simply put them together in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water add turmeric powder (haldi) and salt to taste. After one whistle can let it cook at slow flame for few more minutes. Like my mom, I garnish the dish with finely chopped green chillies and ginger which makes the porridge quite spicy.

porridge

 

Caprese salad with egg and spinach

The one thing I used to miss in Singapore is paneer (cottage cheese). In India, every week we used to make paneer and cream cheese from left over fresh milk. Here, we never boil milk and there is almost never a case of left over milk. In fact, when I tried making paneer from the bottled milk, it came out quite funny, with a sink full of utensils to wash afterwards!

Without paneer, a major source of protein for vegetarians is lost. That is when I discovered “cheese”. Mozzarella slices, string cheese, feta, ricotta, there are plenty of options.

galbani-mozzarella-ball-125g

My favourite is buffalo mozzarella and its combination with boiled egg whites and spinach. Just chop and add olive oil, salt and pepper. Actually so much can be done with this cheese, with so little effort that I do not miss paneer anymore! It makes a perfect snack for Sunday movie session!

caprese

Methi dana (Fenugreek seeds) masala

I had no idea how super nutritious methi dana is. If it is discovered by the developed nations, it would be termed as “super” food. In addition to controlling sugar levels, cholesterol and maintaining heart health, being rich in fibre, methi dana is also quite high in proteins (25%), iron. So it is kind of perfect food for women, especially those who want to lose weight!

fenugreek-the-natural-herbal-cure-for-diabetes-and-15-other-health-benefits1

Yet, methi dana is not widely eaten as a food in itself. It is mostly used as a spice in Indian recipes. The reason is that methi has a bitter taste. This recipe reduces the natural bitterness of methi dana and the outcome is a very delicious dish. It is my mother-in-law’s recipe.

Preparation:

Soak 2 tablespoon of methi dana overnight. Drink the water in morning. Replace with fresh water. I store this in fridge. Drink the water again next morning. Replace it and store again in fridge. This water is supposed to be super nutritious.

Cooking:

Boil the 2-days soaked methi dana for 10-15 minutes on medium flame. Strain the water and rub salt thoroughly on the boiled methi. Then wash off the salt in flowing water. Now methi is ready for tadka, which is simply a combination of cumin seeds and asafoetida in hot oil with Indian masala (turmeric, coriander and chilli). Add methi to this. Cook for a few minutes before adding 2 table spoons besan (gram powder). Cook for a few more minutes and add amchoor (dried mango powder). That’s it. Total time required for tadka is less than 10 minutes. The taste is super awesome! It can be eaten with chapattis or even stand alone.

methi dana

A friend tried this recipe in Maharashtrian style, using kokum juice, shredded coconut and rice powder instead of gram powder, and it turned out even better!

methi dana 2

That is what I love about cooking, every time you discover a new taste, a new flavor, a new texture by adding different and new ingredients! It is the most rewarding experiment which also fills your hunger, literally!

Hope you enjoy these recipes! Please share some of your own protein rich, delicious and easy to make recipes!

The Old Himalayan-Tibet Highway

It was called The Hindustan-Tibet Road, built by British to connect India with Tibet via Shipki Pass. The existing highway has been stretched to to connect the remote areas of Himachal Pradesh including the Zaskar valley and Spiti Valley.

The Old Himalayan-Tibet Highway
The Old Himalayan-Tibet Highway

When in 2007 winters I had visited Narkanda, that lies on this route, my fascination for this highway started. It was my dream since then to travel from ISBT Delhi to Kaza in a continuous journey of a state transport bus. The total journey in those green local HPDC buses is around 36 hours long, costing about as cheap as 20 dollars(!).

I finally got my chance in 2014 to come back to this area. I was lucky to be travelling in the month of April. Early spring is the best time to travel in the Himalayas, especially in Himachal Pradesh where the apple, cherry, apricot orchards begin to blossom. The dream which is seen in early 20ies but lived in early 30ies requires one to make a few essential adjustments. I booked the AC Volvo bus to and fro Delhi-Shimla part to get as much comfort as possible during the trip. After reaching the hilly region, beyond Shimla, I decided to rely on local advice to choose the best way of commuting through public transport. This seemed like a crazy plan but a dream is a dream, however insane; I had to give it a try and tick it off.

ISBT Delhi
ISBT Delhi

I love ISBT in Delhi. Over the years, I have seen it transform from a creepy unsafe unorganized bus terminal into family friendly safe well-scheduled platforms, something which Majestic Terminal in Bangalore was since ever. My bus was on time and when I was comfortably settled in the bus I remembered the dozen odd journeys taken on the same road at different points in life. This highway for me is like home’s backyard for those who have the luxury to stay in same house for decades. I love to wait for different cities to come and go: Karnal, Kurushetra (with rath entrance towards the city), Panchkula and every town which we cross till the town of Kalka appears, that mark the foothills of Himalayas. At the dead of night, the Kalka market street, which is also a national highway, is so peacefully different from the usual hustle bustle of daytime; but the narrow lane and thousands of small shop booths on both sides still clearly stand out.

Next morning when I reached Shimla before sunrise, I was not so tired and ready for another long unknown road journey. Though my plan was to go until Kalpa, I was ready to change my plans as per the transport situation, weather etc.

I boarded the first bus to Kalpa which had a halt at Lal Bazaar for half an hour before taking off again. This bus was not an express, which meant it would stop for anyone anywhere. Initially that bothered me as mine was the last stop on a long journey, but eventually I found a good companion in a fellow traveler who was a school teacher. My interactions with her are recorded in a previous post here.

Majestic mountains
Majestic mountains

Until Rampur, which we reached a little before noon, the journey was really beautiful. The winding hilly roads through blossoming orchards and cool morning breeze made a nice journey through Theog and Narkanda. After a brief halt at Rampur around noon, the sun made its presence felt a tad too warmly and the roads started disappearing slowly. Roads completely disappeared after Jeori, giving way to pebbles, dirt, rocks, and sand. The rest of the journey was a bumpy ride through clouds of dust and sand.

Narkanda Bus Stop
Narkanda Bus Stop
Leveling the road
Leveling the road

Honestly, I was shocked. Saddened. Angry. Disappointed. Scared. I didn’t want to die and vanish on a trip like this. The valley was deep and fall could be fatal. We were a few inches away from the cliff at many times. I looked at the passengers around me, now that the bus was overcrowded and people were hanging through the bars. This is what they do regularly. Risk their lives to meet their families, to run their businesses. Fuck. What a reality check this is.

The white peak and broken path
The white peak and broken path
At the edge of the road
At the edge of the road

But this is not how it was supposed to be. Garhwal roads were superb more than decade back. What crap had happened here? These roads are worse than Baran roads, the poorest tribal rural area I have seen in remote India so far. Wasn’t this area supposed to be a rich with all the fruits and nuts plantations? Why then are the roads non-existential? This question stayed with me not just for that trip, but for many months to come.

What if there is a bus coming downwards
What if there is a bus coming downwards

We stopped for lunch at some local dhaba where I had momos, as they are the local delicacy. There I met two girls who were my co-passengers and were going home during their college break. I realized this bus is only going till Peo and Kalpa is still a good one hour away from Peo. When we disembarked in Peo, the two girls offered me ride in their dad’s car till Kalpa’s market road. But I wanted to go further up till HPTDC hotel. It was already evening and intercity buses had stopped running for the say. I went to a government travel agency office and they helped me get a taxi till Kalpa. The taxi driver was also a funny and interesting chap, but that is another story.

When I finally entered my room in the Kinner Kailash (after changing the initial room which has visible creeping bed bugs eeeeeekkkk!!), the view from my room was my reward for the last 24 hours of torture of a journey!

Kinner Kailash Range
Kinner Kailash Range

From my journal: “Phew! The last 24 hours was like a roller coaster ride, only emotionally and physiologically more consuming! “

Equality does not really mean equality

It means I or my group wants to get our rights. Even if that means others have to give up theirs.

The recent and most ridiculous development after the BBC documentary, #IndiasDaughter, has been to sign a petition against the defense lawyers for ‘their hurtful misogynist statements’. Already more than 16k people have signed. So much for the right of freedom of speech!

After some thought, I realized it is not surprising the way people have reacted to this documentary. That is the fundamental cause behind all this any ways! We do not really want a better society, a more liberal, equal, respectful, peaceful world. We wouldn’t be able to live in one! I have started to think the current version of the world is perhaps the best version of Utopia. It is okay if eunuchs are feared and disgraced in the society, homosexuals are pointed out and laughed at in the crowd, it is even okay if uneducated tribal women are raped every day. There are no petitions against all that as per my understanding!

The educated and rather well to do middle class of India strongly believes in equality of women. But when it comes to helping their household maid, which is also a woman, with a few extra money, they shrink back. They can spend thousands in a night out in pub crawls or buying new watches and perfumes, but when it comes to giving extra 500 or 1000 bucks per month for some cleaning service, they are quite sure the maid is out their to cheat them, even rob them if required. At that time, it doesn’t occur to this class, that perhaps this woman who gives her service to them every day might be in more need of money than they understand. No no no, maids are just lazy people who do not do the job well unless you remind them again and again and again. They are just not trying enough to uplift their living standards. Look at them! They have 4 kids! How awful! You do not have money to raise kids but you still have plenty of them! That is the root of your problems!

The same crowd will also ask their married friends without kids, boss, bachhe kab ker rahe ho! Jaldi ker lo, baad mein problem hogi! Obviously, the rich and beautiful must procreate. Else there would be a tremendous loss of good gene pool you know! Oh, you want to adopt! <Silence>

In a country with a huge population problem, it is still a matter of pride whether we have our “own” children or not. There are many stories around having your own blood children. It is essential for women’s health later on. What about your genes, etc? But it won’t be a blood relation! Even the children are not equal! Forget the rest of the world!

Though it is a crime speaking out hurtful misogynist statements against women, it is okay if sometimes we become nonsecular and say disgraceful things about other religions. It is okay if we actually find ourselves saying that some religions are really the cause of terrorism. Are we really so naive or are we just plain stupid?

It is no surprise that the petitions of the following kind didn’t come out as a result of the documentary:

  • We pledge that we will train our children and our women to be able to use public transport, by learning self-defense and survival techniques to be able to travel independently. (Not a single of my Delhi friends used public transport during their college days. They were not allowed to and they didn’t mind it since all of them were provided with new cars to drive!)
  • We pledge that every year we will adopt 10 children, both boys and girls, and help them get educated. It is quite obvious that education is the need of the hour to change the mindset
  • We pledge that we will help kids get off the streets. We will find out about NGOs who help kids study after their work hours (yes, there are many. I have visited a few in Delhi, if you are interested to know more, pls message me)
  • We pledge that we will treat all human beings with equal respect, even if those people are our lowly servants. We will speak to them nicely, we will help them in any way possible – monetarily or emotionally, we will not judge them for their circumstances, we will not mistrust them because of our traditional thoughts.
  • We pledge that while fighting for our rights, we do not cross the thin line and take away someone else’s. This is a very difficult pledge, but a crucial one, if we actually believe in equality and freedom and these are not mere words to get more rights and power.

If there are any such petitions around, I would be happy to sign. Wish you a very happy Women’s day! I wonder which women qualify to be happy today!

Fighting the gender stereotype

My FB news feed is currently full of ‘anger’, though there is nothing new about that! This time, it is the BBC documentary called India’s Daughter that has re-sparkled a subdued issue. Not just sparkled, more like torched the fire to satisfy the need to be emotional about a very important issue. Most of my face book friends lie in the same group of educated, coming from the middle class community with secure jobs and financial independence, living quite a good life style. Almost none of them have ever lived in rural remote India, much less experienced the culture of hard core traditional setup.

The documentary is quite provocative, the film maker very clearly wanted it to be provocative. Remember, Su in Rang de Basanti? Do you think she wouldn’t have made a provocative ‘anger’ generating movie? Before going further, let me clarify that I haven’t watched it. I started watching it, but after a few minutes I couldn’t continue. I am unable to watch any video which generates too strong emotions, just like the recent hit Baby, which was quite distastefully made, arousing intense emotions in audience during the entire show. There was no objectivity in the film. You involuntarily react, the way video wants you to react. I simply can’t stand such videos, hence I needed to stop this documentary as well.

Coming back to the strong single voice of my face book friends that is filled with lot of anger and frustration, I would like to ask this crowd a few questions:

  • How this powerful negative emotion of ‘anger’ will help you do something positive about this issue? If you are helpless and do not know what to do, how does your being angry and affected, help the suppressed Indian women?
  • How many times in an year/decade, do you get molested or watched someone get molested? How did you handle those events in the past? After watching this documentary and backed up with all that anger, does you plan of action for future has changed? If you are a girl, what do you plan to do when you are traveling alone from Gurgaon to Delhi after party after 10 pm? If you are a guy, what would you suggest to the girl about traveling in Delhi alone after dark? Have the answers to these logistic questions changed because of this documentary?
  • I assume further that your anger is towards the ‘attitude’ of people who treat women like objects. From a few glimpses at the documentary, I believe, among those people would be the defense lawyer and the criminal. As per my understanding, their words are worth not much. The criminal is going to die and defense lawyer was doing his job. But I agree, more than 100% if possible, that attitude towards women is that of objects, especially when it comes to freedom to express one’s sensuality. Now, my question is to those highly educated, very talented Indian women, living in India or abroad, do you remember being treated as objects by the men in your life? I repeat the question to the highly educated, ‘at the top of their corporate careers’ men, do you remember treating women in your life as objects? If you are having a hard time remembering those instances, let me give you a hint. Do you remember how you were married? Do you know what those symbolic rituals represented? Do you know what vows you took when you were getting married? Do you know how much money was spent in to ‘maintaining an image’ for your wedding? If your spending crores in a wedding and later in jewelry to wear in more weddings is required to ‘maintain an image’ in the society, why do you support such videos which create and publicize a horrific image of India in the world? Why is not maintaining an good image of India in the world as important? May be, because of the stakes, right? I would like you to spend a moment and think about the hunger/malnutrition/epidemics that the money could rather be spent on. As a collective society, we do not question spending a lot of money in buying the ‘dream-bridal gown’, which is never used again. Have you ever questioned why the groom’s suit does not cost even 10 percent as compared to the bride? Why does a woman of your stature bring with her, in her marriage, jewelry worth a good Ivy League education degree? Or just simply answer a very basic question for me: Why doesn’t a man wear jewelry? It is not an absurd question. It is the crux of the matter. Why is only a woman sexy and beautiful? And how many times in your life, have you accepted this as a fact? What are our values? 
  • By this point, I am sure a lot of you would be thinking of me as an insane person who doesn’t understand the real issue. I agree, may be, I do not. Being a girl, who was brought up in a very liberal set up, was told at a very young age to find my own life partner if I ever wish to get married, showered with all possible opportunities to become a person I wish to be, I still fight stereotypes every single day. In every call I have with my parents or in-laws, I need to ideally inform them what I have cooked for my husband that day, whether he is eating properly, where I am fulfilling this ‘duty’ of the marriage. If I am keeping in good health, both his and mine. He is also supposed to answer some questions:  whether his work is going well, how he is investing his savings, if he is taking care of his health. There is a clear division of labor. A woman cooks and cares. A man earns and provides. I would like to know from my FB friends, how many Indian households you know of, which do not follow this division of labor? Even if you are well off and have help for everything, who manages those helps/maids?

I wrote this post today not to create more anger or frustration in an already spent mind of yours. My mere attempt is to ask some pinching, uneasy questions, just like those which were asked in the video to people who come from a completely different set up and background and circumstances from our own.

The change starts from introspection, not from anger.