Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A baking trip to winter wonderland!

Braving the wintry chill with a  blazer & shawl,  I stand  in my balcony and find our condo twinkling with fairy lights for the festive season.  The shrub trees are lit around the pool, there are buntings with the colors of the season red, green and a big santa sock  hanging over the gazebo where a huge christmas tree is decked up. 

 Now that the festival of  Christmas has taken secular overtones,I find even the  festive hollies adorn the doors of most homes along with  illuminated  stars and embellished christmas trees in patios . The festive look & the glow of lights around gives a warm feeling overriding the cool wintry atmosphere.

Nostalgia crept in and I was thrownback to those cold December Bangalore nights of my childhood when everything was right with this world.That time of the year again when the days are shorter with mild sunshine , nights are longer and cooler. Everybody would be back home early and huddle together into the warm confines of home for an early winter food of steaming hot pepper rasam, melted ghee and rice. Mmmm.... The aroma of hot rice, ghee and tomato rasam...Some warm memories travel with you for long!

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Christmas to me in my childhood meant  so many things, some of which I have already blogged about like the Christmas vacation, the stroll on the Brigade road in Bangalore Which wears the twinkling fairy lights and had  Santa’s walking on the road with their goody bags and  the plum cakes.
And the plum cake aroma is another memory that is deeply nestled in my heart and cloaks me in warmth. This aroma would arise from the kitchen of my aunt’s place at FRL in Malleswaram Bangalore. Dec 28th was my cousin’s birthday and my aunt would bake this lovely plum cake( without any icing), all of us playing out in the lawns of the huge campus would be drawn towards the aroma of the warm spices wafting from home. That was one of the  earliest memory of home baking for me.

Later, during my growing years, my mom and her friends had joined the canning center and would can jams, juices and sauces. They also learnt baking with a cooker. My mom would add sand to the the pressure cooker pan and make a lovely tea cake. We later bought a gas top aluminium oven which produced many tea cakes.

Then It was the turn of honey cakes, creamy layered cakes and sponge cakes that we would get from the nearby Iyengar’s bakery. The aroma of the baked goodies and bread would reach our house, the 10th house on that lane  at 3.pm when the fresh batch of breads and cakes were baked. 

But of all the cakes, it is the Christmas plum cake  that really stole/steals my heart. I love the  spicy bitter-sweet- fruity- nutty- zingy taste of the cake. In my childhood winters,  I would look forward to the plum cakes of Nilgiri’s, Brigade road( they are the pioneers of diary products & first supermarket in India)  which my dad would get or the ones which my Grandpa would get from Universal Baker’s Mylapore.They all left an unique taste which lingered for long. No other plum cake that I have eaten later has matched the taste of Nilgiris, Universal’s or my aunts. 

Infact, the celebrated  Parsi bakery cakes in Hyderabad, that i have tasted later left a bitter and a  greasy feel for long on my tongue due to the hydrogenated oil or whatever fat was used.

At home, this time I decided to warmup myself by baking this plum cake. I am no  great baker but love baking for my family. I have baked and tried black forest cakes, few eggless, vegan,  healthy cakes with whole wheat, flax, carrots, apples etc.,  and they were all gone in a trice. None of the cakes were appealing to look with fondants and icing but had health  and taste in every bite.

This time, I wanted to bake the plum cake  in traditional style by making the treacle, soaking the fruits(not in alcohol but juice) and it was labour intensive, trying to source the ingredients, planning and executing it.

But, I thoroughly enjoyed making and baking my dream cake at home. When The aroma of the spices that wafted from the oven filled the whole home with warmth , it  teleported me to the  Wintry wonderland of my  childhood times. And the taste was truly magical! This "first plum cake baking" is another winter memory in the making i suppose:). I

                                         The fruits & peels soaked overnight plumped up the next morning

That's the rustic home baked cake   whose aroma  often evokes winter  memories. 

The recipe is here in my food blog Recipes and stories from my kitchen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vacations - With children in tow

Nothing for me can be better than seeing the world with my family. Travel gives us new perspective and it’s my strong belief that it is the same with children. We have always wanted our children not to learn just from school books and what offers more to learn than classroom is travel. Life beyond the warm confines of our home and class rooms has to be seen to be believed. Although, as a family, we hav’nt travelled far and wide, there are only couple of  vacations we have missed. We often travel as a family if not to exotic destinations  at least to  interesting places closeby.

Packing for family travels is a major chore especially with a husband who would reach at the nth hour from work on travel day. It was at this time, I realized my children could pack their own things. They were already 8 and 6.5 by then. I would give them their travel bag( which was a jetair kids bag). They would draw a check list of items that had to be packed and put their things in that bag. I only had to supervise. While this was more like a play for them, my job was done and it also instilled in them a responsibility of carrying and organizing their things during travel.

Most of our day travels were car or train travels, while during the car trips they would enjoy the countryside scenery or sleep, we would hoard travel games, puzzles and comic books for train travel. Both of them were not demanding or fussy kids and were great company even when they were kids.

Temples, tombs, museums, farm estates, hill stations, valleys, beach, resorts, relatives place and many more…..these are some of the places  we have visited on vacations. While travelling on vacations, we have tried to balance our travel aims with their interests and age in mind.

 It was at Pondicherry, while we were ambling along the beach promenade, we found our daughter studying in class 8 then, describing the Bastille’s day on seeing the statue dedicated to “The French Revolution". Till then we were just enjoying the sea breeze and view   totally unaware that such destinations can unfold your history texts and open or reopen our eyes to which you’d become used to over time. The very fact that we were standing on a place where the Carnatic-anglo-French war was fought gave a new experience. With children in tow, you suddenly become a new being, not just another tourist.

We even underestimate our children many a times. The child who would refuse to walk over to the neighborhood store will clearly trek down the 350 steps much ahead of you.  We had  almost collapsed after the the 700 steps(Up and down) to patalganga @ Srisailam but not our kids, they were off to the bonfire camp site during our office team outing. 
To be honest, many a times they had more energy than us the adults while trekking steep climbs and walking the wild paths.

During our  routine at home, Children who never wake up at even 6.30 in the morning after several wake-up calls surprise us during vacations when they are up without any alarm at 4 in the morning . The early morning safari at Farahabad( an eco-wildlife resort) to watch the wild life was the bait.

Kids are  such great tools for connecting with new people too. Often, we need’nt put any efforts to befriend people, many a times people would walk over to our children and talk to them before they even notice us. At a resort in Munnar, It was because of them we found many contacts and even before we knew we joined another family on our trip to the nearby Parambikulam  sanctuary and mattupetty dam. Their interaction with many new people at the various   resort get togethers have helped foster many friendships.

But i believe, We have to balance our travel aims, while travelling with children. If we go only to holy places, museums and tombs, we have to balance it with the sort of experiences they get really excited about it. So while they were still young, our itinerary has had many theme parks and zoos although many were not on our “Must do” list.

Today , as  teens, they  heart travelling and they were helpful and made great  travel companions during our last vacation.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A thrilling movie ride to drive out fear

I am not an adventurous person and so prefer to be comfortably placed in my safe cocoon. I don’t venture into any dare-devilry act or accept tough physical challenges. If I had to take any risk it would be very calculative. On the other hand is my best half who is an adrenaline junkie. He loves adventure and tough challenges. My two teens have also inherited his genes. So, many a times I am the black sheep in the family at the various adventure outings and thrill rides.

One such adventurous outing we had recently was at Universal studios Singapore. I was not too excited about the visit because I knew adventurous and thrill rides were the highlight of this park. More on my mind was also the fact that my pushy family would encourage me to try the rides while I as always would try to find excuses. This drama unfolding in my mind was one of the reasons I was not too excited.

The moment we entered Universal Studios, my children and the husband eyed SCI-FI city which had a gigantic roller coaster and the most famous Transformer ride. The Transformer is a thrilling ride based on the movie by the same name. Here you are virtually involved in saving the earth from autobots but  the cutting edge technology makes it feel so real. We had heard about this ride from our friend whom we met the previous day at the hotel. He had warned it was a very frightening ride due to its speed and its special effects and it was nightmarish for him.

My family decided to try this and so we marched towards the queue. I was as usual skeptical about my fear of heights, dark and so decided to keep away. But many young kids and old people marching towards the queue and the constant chants of my family to join the fun, spurred me to take the ride. With fear in my mind, and the words of our friend ringing in my ears I stood in the queue which was in a tunnel where the movies setting with many missiles and autobots where recreated. The setting and the commentary of the movie made my heart race, I was feeling confused and panicky unable to share it with my family who were excited about the ride.

The autobat on which we had to experience the thrill ride was in front of us, we sat in along with two other families completing the 12 member squad in rows of 3. Our harnesses were fixed and there was a ‘voice over’ telling that the fate of humanity hangs and villains are invading to steal some spark( can’t recall now) and that we have been volunteered to protect the spark from stealing and save the planet.

It was totally dark and we were sporting our 3D glasses. I could see nothing for a moment and I was sweating. Suddenly, we were flung into the air and we encounter some monsters which spit fire, we spin,we zip up,  we hang in the air  and suddenly plunge with great speed and another moment crash into a skyscraper. The crash amplifies the sense of speed. It was very scary and at every moment, I was hanging on to my dear life and for a moment I thought I was the battling it all alone in the dark. After a while, the excitement caught on and I was completely absorbed , felt proactive , lost fear and enjoyed the thrill like a seasoned player. I seem to have conquered the fear of the dark or the heights.

I felt everything was so real and perhaps the visual mayhem through the 3D glasses apart from the water, steam and heat effects make it feel hyper-realistic and this is no virtual as I mentioned before.

When the ride ended, I felt I  enjoyed the ride and  had surpassed myself and felt a sense of achievement. Looking back, I want to do that ride again. It was thrilling and not dizzying or scary. I next joined my family in all their adventurous escapades and thrill rides in the park and did not stand out and hold bags.

This was a place where i realized "life begins when fear ends".

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ammavin aranmanai - A play with a social message

 Every year in December we have a week long concert fest which is iced with two tamil plays  on weekends at Keyes school ground. We have been regular to the plays if not on both days atleast one of the day.

This year too we were seated in the makeshift auditorium of Keyes school  to witness the play of Gurukulam’s ( original boys co. 95) troupe  “Ammavin Aranmanai” (Mother’s palace). Gurukulam to the best of our knowledge is not a popular troupe or atleast we had not heard of it. So, we were skeptical about the play, but thankfully we were not disappointed and I was happy my teens whom we had dragged with us, enjoyed the play.

The play dealt about the migration of people from  joint families in smaller towns and villages towards nuclear families in  cities and other continents. As they moved away some of them lost touch with their roots, culture and some lost their  identity or‘nativity’ too while adapting to their adopted culture.

The plays deals with the  above theme through a family which lives in a village home with its traditional architecture of open courtyard  surrounded by garden of fresh vegetables and flowers.

The sons, daughter, uncles  and their family who live in a flat in a city congregate at the family home for their father’s 80th birthday and relive the simple pleasures of growing up in a village home and say such simple lifestyles are not possible any more and are no match to their automated lifestyle they lead in cities.  

While the preparations are on for the 80th birthday, the patriarch  falls  unconscious due to exertion. The son’s and daughter decide to move the parents to the city after the function since the cities afford  best medical facilities.Post the 80th birthday, when the discussion veers towards moving the parents, the father refuses saying  there  would be nothing called ‘Native culture’ any more if everybody migrates and adapts foreign cultures . The temples which are not just place of worship but treasure trove of culture would be neglected, familial and neighbor hood ties would be fractured in cities. He says it is wise for elders to stay in their native and await the arrival of children to their homes atleast once in a year to visit the family deity and visit the native temples. This will help pass the baton of culture for future generations rather than stay in time-share resorts and home-stays.

The play never sounded preachy although it had a strong social message.  The beautiful  pleasures of growing up when life was not technologically connected  was comically built through lovely dialogues and versatile acting making it a memorable fare.

In short, i could identify with the play since the play's message were so similar to my thoughts which I had posted long ago in  "Connecting to my roots" 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Against all odds - e-book review

Against all odds by Jazz Singh is my first book on Indireads and i was a little skeptical about reading a full length book on a flickering screen, but when i finished the book in one go, i realized I enjoyed the experience. I seem to have picked up one of the best light reads for my first full length e-book experience and so am glad about the experience.

A typical  romance novella where a small town designer Sanjana dashes against City Tycoon Abhimanyu’s car and there is a misunderstanding. They keeping bumping into each other at various ocassions and sparks fly between the two. How they overcome the hiccups of misunderstanding & social standing is the story line spiced up with some clashes, romance and light family moments.

I loved the characters of Sanjana and Abhimanyu. Sanjana is a modest and fiercely independant woman who loves to be self-made without seeking external help and Abhimanyu character is what any young girl would fall far. An angry young man , although rich is down to earth without any airs and has many virtues.

 What arrested me in the whole book was the description of the small town Kasauli . I almost visualized myself in the hills of Kasauli with all those little children and Sanjana . Also, i loved the family moments and the camaraderie shared in small town relationships.

Overall a breezy read and  I throughly enjoyed my first experience at Indireads.

I read this book on Indireads whose vision i have copy pasted from their site.

About Indireads 

The Vision 

Between the blue shores of the Indian Ocean and the white tips of the Himalayas is a land crowded with the rich history of many peoples. Tapping into the region’s diverse cultures, languages, religions and traditions, Indireads weaves an intricate tapestry of fresh voices from the sub-continent.

Indireads’ books bring alive the vibrancy and intensity of modern South Asian life and present it in digital friendly formats, inviting new generations to fall in love with what it means to be South Asian. Digital, handy and engaging, an Indireads book is the perfect companion for a quiet afternoon under a Peepal tree, for the early morning ride on the bus, for that long flight or for that relaxing moment at the end of a long, draining day.

Indireads is a place for you to call home, whether you enjoy telling stories or you hope to abandon yourself to a web of words spun by other story-tellers. Join us on a magical journey through the sub-continent, with writers whose prose echoes the people’s voices, whose imagery paints vivid, familiar landscapes and whose stories capture the very essence of being South Asian. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Of stories,storytellers and storytelling

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.
—Robert McKee

Many people will remember the time when they were told a story, not read to, but told- the oral art of story telling.  

From my early memories, I recall my  Grandmom’s elder  sister who would lie beside me and tell stories of mythology, tales of royalty, of common man, wisdom tales, folk tales and animal tales etc. She would gesticulate with her wrinkly hands and modulate her voice as the story changed the settings from a forest to a Kingdom to a faraway land. The First story that I remember told to was a”  Kozhakattai”(modak) story in tamil.

 Later, it was my  grand parents, parents, aunts and uncles who would narrate family stories. Especially the moments spent with my Grandmom on the terrace of her home, with my cousins under the starspangled sky are my emotional cushions now.  These family stories are like the blueprint for our family identities. One such  famous family story is the Dhanushkodi story which I have already blogged about.

My Story tellers must have had a profound influence on me that even today wherever I see the word “Storytelling” in print or in e-media my eyes stop there and throw me back in time.

Then it was at school I wandered again into fairy land along with Thumbelina, Goldilocks, Tom-thumb, Red Riding hood etc. These listening and reading of stories some where left such a deep influence  in me that many years later my passion for stories lured me to take up  a profession of story teller.  For a couple of years between 2009-2011 my job was that of a life-skill facilitator(visiting faculty) which involved teaching life skills through story telling for children of class I through Class X and I even conducted a small Winter workshop in theatre through Helen-O-Grady style of story-telling.

The stories we told not just put ideas and moulded  the young minds but also enchanted and delighted the young ones so much that the children of the various schools where we went waited for us than their own school teachers. Infact, This was a pet complaint of many regular faculty when we interacted with them. Some children would even follow us after class hours for autograph.

I believe stories have that power. Apart from teaching moral values, life skills, they enchant, delight, teach, inspire, excite and take us to  unexplored lands .

 During my early school days we had an exclusive story telling period. One such story that I have heard during my young days  is that of “The thirsty crow”. This story was hung up as a chart and was divided into 6 pictures . The moral or values did not sink into our little brains then, we were more besotted with the art of storytelling. I am sure this story is widely heard and read for its lovely moral of "Where there is a will, there is a way". Even recently, one of my friend sent me a message on our Whatsapp group asking how many of us remembered this story. This is one of the evergreen story. Today's children of course, I am sure will apply the moral by seeing them in video formats like this. 

The other story  that is clear in my memory is that “Goldilocks and 3 bears”. This was a pictorial pop-up book and the baskets, tables, bowls and beds that popped up enchanted me more than any moral. I even remember seeing the dramatization of this story in a TV program called “Wonder Balloon”.

Some stories and story tellers leave an impression on our young minds that they are unerasable for a life time. Apart from the power to enrich us with language skills in the form of vocabulary, expression and communication, they inspire us with their morals too which are applicable in our day to day life. Today's kids have wide exposure and access to such stories like in the above video formats. 

This post is a part of Kids Hutactivity at BlogAdda.com

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Eco-friendly toilets for Babli

If ever you get a chance of driving through villages on a road trip in India, one of the common sight that you come across is the problem of poor sanitation, especially widespread open defecation. It is an irony that being one of the fastest growing economies in the world that a majority of our rural population still have bare minimum sanitation facilities. While most rural population had access to mobile phones, they have less access to a toilet.

There are many programmes by the government and NGO’s big and small who are involved in constructing toilets which are economical and child friendly.But still, it needs a massive reach. Rural India needs not just toilets but toilets that are eco-friendly and have funds for maintenance.

As a resident of Bangalore, In the late 90’s I have seen corporate comapnies  engaging with the then Government run by SM Krishna  in a programme called Bangalore agenda task forward.(BATF). Many corporate companies like Biocon, wipro, infosys and others came together to beautify and keep the city clean. One of the corporate company’s initiative(Infosys) was the Nirmala shauchalay which built many public toilets across the cities. A couple of years later the toilets were vandalized and fell into poor maintenance.

So, the need is not just for toilets but eco-friendly toilets keeping in mind the climate, water, space, maintenance etc.

Recently South Indian cameraman, director and social actvist Suresh menon has designed and built a prototype of a toilet by using an old shipping container.He has designed 5 bathrooms in each 20 feet by 8 feet container in which over 100 women could use it a day. These are strong, sturdy and easily transportable and is a green model using solar panel on the roof for electricity. The waste disposal is through an existing sewage mains, or discharged into a biotank like in Kerala house boats. The water source is either borewell or tankers. The sides of the unit could be used as an advertising hoarding to generate revenue for maintenance.

Such facilities could be useful and easy to maintain considering factors like water, space etc. It also gives  rural women and urban poor women and children dignity and self respect.

Also there are many NGO’s which come up with innovative design models, catchy slogans and media campaigns educating the rural masses about the usage of such toilets.

A recent survey states that No separate toilet for girls is among the top potential factors that leads to high school dropout rates for girls.

It may be squeamish or make us angry to see scores of women, children and even men crouched secretly across fields or in open spaces. I felt as a responsible citizen, I need to support such causes &  initiatives taken by
 Domex and blog about it rather than getting angry.

About The Domex Toilet Academy
Domex, HUL’s flagship sanitation brand, currently runs the Domex Toilet Academy (DTA) programme. Domex Toilet Academy was launched on 19th November 2013. It aims to become a sustainable and long-term solution to provide sanitation that benefits the local community and helps stimulate the local economy. The Toilet Academy makes toilets accessible and affordable, while promoting the benefits of clean toilets & good hygiene. Our effort has resulted in bringing the change in the villages of Maharashtra and Orissa and we aim to build 24000 toilets by 2015 in rural areas faced with the problem of open defecation. 

You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blog to feed a child

The right to nourished food and education  is a vital right for all children. Healthy educated children build an economic, social and culturally developed society.
Our government and many NGO’s actively participate in providing the  vital rights and in improving the  quality of health and education of the poor children in India. Some NGO’s like Akshaya patra foundation  headquartered in Bangalore, India strive to fight issues like hunger and malnutrition by implementing the mid-day meal scheme in the government  schools and aided schools. They also aim to bring children to school and educate them. The NGO is constantly leveraging technology to cater to millions of children through its state-of-the art kitchens.  Many philanthropic donors and well-wishers, business houses contribute to such NGO’s to build a healthy and educated society.
We still need to bump our resources  for this  mammoth task. Apart from donations used for meals,  inititatives can be taken  to eliminate the classroom hunger by growing food. NGO’s can co-ordinate with schools to grow their own food.  Each and every school can utilize the space in the ground or use container gardening in terraces and little sunny spaces  to grow organic food. The kitchen trash generated  in community kitchens of mid-day meals can be utilized for composting . The organic food can be grown by the children themselves as part of outdoor learning. The produce reaped from outdoor learning can be utilized for the mid-day meals thus saving substantial amount on raw materials.

By doing this, not only are we meeting the food demands and food security ,we are also educating the children on environmental sustainability,reducing the carbon foot prints  and saving our precious resources . It is usually a small group of people who bring about a change  and with little hands growing their own food  and getting educated,  there is hope….of a better tomorrow.
This post in response to Bloggers Social Responsibility.
                    I am going to #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A healthy child makes a happy family

I live in a city where most homes have atleast one NRI in the family and  also  in  this  city  most students from class 5 go to coaching institutes or tutorials for professional studies. Many even go to tuitions from PP1.(nursery)

Most kids who go to IIT/medical coaching get down from their school bus, refresh themselves and then hop onto a regularly hired auto or the Institute's van to travel to that most advertised and famous coaching( read by rote learning) institute which claims to qualify children in the entrances to premier institutes and there are plenty such commercial coaching institutes in my city which compete with each other. The children  travel in the traffic only to  return back like Zombies in the night. Many a times, they miss their regular school next day due to overwork and health issues like lack of sleep or improper diet. They absolutely have zero physical exercise in the form of games or sports.

In such a city, there are few families like mine which does not believe in private tuitions at such early ages. Those parents  have even asked whether we don't intend to educate them in the premier institutes subjecting us to peer pressure  or some want to know if we tutor them at home.

To be honest, we have never had the necessity to tutor them (may be on occasions) but yes we have guided them.

First, as parents we have never believed in the rat race and we are not preparing them for it. Secondly, our idea of education is not just scoring marks and ranks although we don’t tell  our children  this. Thirdly, thankfully till today we have never buckled to peer pressure and admitted them in any of the tuitions. Fourthly, we have reasonably traditionally intelligent children who can manage on their own with their  systematic regular school tutoring and mentoring.

 A healthy and energetic child which goes to school regularly has an alert mind, concentrates in class and comes home to recall all that is done through homework, correlates it with real life and visualize wherever necessary, the concepts gets embedded in their memory. The application oriented homework further strengthens the concepts.

  As parents, we have always believed that  apart from values, general problem solving capacities, decision making, analytical & logical skills, thinking skills, communication skills, life skills, etc are the results of a good education and that is learnt through school, home and external exposure  and not through the money spinning coaching institutes.

What is important is to have a healthy child and as a parent it is our duty to nurture and nourish one. 

That is the principle which has worked for us  but to keep them healthy was quite a task initially. As children with just 2.6 years apart, both of them have been cross infected many a times during their infancy. Those periods were easily the tough times as a parent, especially when both the children fall sick.

Thankfully, those days,  I  had experienced elders in the family who have raised many children to advice me. They guided me to help build their immune system through time-tested practices like weekly and monthly administrations of kashayams( herbal teas) like “inji sorasam”(ginger), “oma sorasam”( ajwain), home made regular food which had immune boosters like vepampoo( neem flowers), haldi, mustard, cumin, jeera, nellikai( gooseberry) etc, Apart from that, good rest, exercise in the form of games, seasonal vegetables,fruits and good hygiene helped them to keep fit and healthy during their early years(0-8).

As they grew older, they developed a taste for global cuisine and refused to follow the old ritualistic diet and drink the kashayams. Moreover, they had also grown old enough to overcome those cross infections. Now, I too allowed variety in their diet and so cheesy pasta, burgers,nachos, manchurians, noodles  etc., did make way into our house, in a way this also morphed them and me into great(?) chefs. It was also at this time when they were around 8 and 5+, I introduced them to a spoonful of  “Dabur’s Chywanprash”( especially winters)which took care of their immunity and strength. All these have kept them going healthy and strong. Thankfully due to which they have never missed their school sessions and so could avoid extra pressure in the form of private tuitions.

Our children are our pride and joy. Subjecting  them to constant study and competitive pressure does sap their energy and make them physically and mentally sick . It is important to nourish and nurture them with love and care because a healthy child is a happy child and a happy child makes a happy family. 

 Also, in this context i quote a poem which i followed in my parenting to raise my kids as healthy kids.

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

William Martin

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

More Indian than you think

"India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only." -American Author Mark Twain.

What many of them realize about Indian culture  now due to globalization, perhaps Mark Twain realized it much before.

 My husband was on a business trip to San Francisco last year. One of his customer who is an American had come to meet him. He greeted my husband not with a handshake but with his palms touching each other and said Namaste. That was not all, during his course of talk he mentioned to my husband how he adores and has taken to the Indian way of spiritual living. He practices yoga and applies its principles in daily life by breathing consciously(meditation). Today due to globalization, it is clear from instances like these and the news that the world has beautifully adapted some of our culture and lifestyle practices and one of them is YOGA.

My yoga instructor who taught me here has now migrated to the west coast of US and she says one need’nt look much further than the end of the road to see a yoga studio in many cities. My class mates in Denver & LA vouch for this and so does my cousin in Atlanta.

Apart from the people in my real life authenticating it, we know of celebrity practitioners like Lady Gaga, Singer Madonna, Oprah winfrey, Julia Roberts, Nicole kidman etc.,  and above all the first man of the US , President Obama himself promoting Yoga as part of school curriculum in the US.

Today, this Indian spiritual science and exercise form is a million dollor industry in the US. Although the traditional yoga has morphed and goes by many names like vinyasa yoga, restorative yoga, kathak yoga, therapeutic yoga, acro yoga, power yoga etc.,.All these styles are only adding popularity in almost every generation of fitness and wellness enthusiasts and this has also proved one thing. India is going back to the roots and leading the world too. Not just in US, Yoga Alliance has its network in Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe etc.,

There are also  many instances which shows that the greatest contribution by India to the world is not just material science and spiritual science but also in the field of arts, culture,food and cinema. The love for Indian classical dance has uprooted many foreigners from their own soil and brought them to temples of culture like Kalakshetra, nritya gram and there are many foreign researchers in the field of temple architecture. One such lover of Indian  architecture, culture, crafts and folk performing arts is Philadelphian Dr. Deborah who married an Indian Dr. Ram Thiyagarajan and set up the heritage village Dakshinachitra at chennai.

Indian food seems to be equally popular in foreign shores. In the US,  Obama's love for Indian food took him to Indian restaurant 'Rasika' in Washington for a quiet birthday celebration, David Cameron British Prime minister's fascination for Chicken rogan josh and Indian food has him hailing Indian food as  ' a Great British industry'  and so it is with many celebrities like Matt Damon, Tom cruise, Kate perry etc.,

The mention of Hollywood celebrities brings me to the popularity of Indian cinema. There are so many instances where there has been colloboration and where many foreign directors have moved to shoot in India like the 'Life of Pi' , 'City of Joy' etc,.   Recently, even Kevin spacey danced to the tunes of Bollywood song  "Lungi dance' at IIFA, Tampa.

If India food, dance, culture, movies has many lovers, can Indian music be far behind?

Indian music has had a big influence on music outside India. If In the past,The Beatles added sitar tunes to some of their recordings, George harrison learnt sitar from Ravi Shankar and  Yehudi Menuhin's  love for Indian music brought out the best of Ravi Shankar and him in "West meets East". In  recent times,  American clarinetist and music composer with the Indian name Shankar Tucker's  love for Indian music speaks soulfully in his musical compositions.  Needless to say about Musical maestro Ilayaraja's symphony orchestra and Madras Mozart AR Rehman who has teamed up with western singers. 

To top it all, recently the impeccable Sanskrit rendition of Rudram from Vedas  by Erhard brothers in The White house is another indication of popularity of our culture. 

 Erhard brother's impeccable rendition is viral on social sites.

 Even in India, it is a pleasure to see many foreigners in the premises of Ramanasram, Auroville , cultural centres like Nrityagram, Kalakshetra adapting to Indian values.  

Arts, culture, food, and cinema of India is now popular and accepted all over the world.  Thanks to globalisation, The world seems to recogize and  heart India.

 "If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India."-Romain Rolland, French scholar 

This post written for Indiblogger and Lufthansa's More Indian than you think  .

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Deepavali - From excitement to contentment

In  Tam-Brahm households like mine, Deepavali  is celebrated  on the wee hours of Naraka Chaturdashi. Although ritually it is only for a couple of hours before the sunrise,   the  preparations would begin  a week earlier. Uncles, aunts and cousins would descend on grand parents home and the Diwali fun would begin.  As a child, i have experienced many such getogethers which  has  forged stronger bonds and added many memories.

It would start with shopping for dresses, mostly readymade or if it is tailor made, then we would shuttle between home and  the busy tailor's shop wondering whether we would get our dress on time. Next, it was time for  the snacks, where the family elders would plan the festive menu, get together in the kitchen to make sweets,  savouries and a signature dish called  Deepavali legiyam( herbal concoction). We kids would try to sneak in to see if we could get something out of the kitchen, but we would be strictly told that we could not have them till Deepavali.  Next, the crackers would arrive only to be duly  placed in the attic, we kids couldn't take our eyes off the crackers. My dad though would get us only safe ones like  Ground whirls, flowerpots, sparklers, wires , pencils and not cracking 100 walas or atom bombs. There would be an air of excitement and anxiety to wear the new dress, eat goodies and burst the crackers that the eve prior to diwali most of us cousins would almost not sleep and  end up chatting.

In the wee hours of Chaturdashi, we would be up early with excitement, sit on the rangoli decorated wooden platform, Paati would slather the heated and treated gingelly oil on our head. What followed after the head bath was the Tamil way of Diwali Greeting " Ganga Snanam accha?" (Have you had bath in the Ganga?) signifying the purification, although Ganga flows nowhere near Tamilnadu. 

We would wear new clothes, have a spoon of Deepavali legiyam which would act as an anti-dote for all the sweets and savouries had during the festive season. The new dress, the various eateries, the crackers, the family get together all added up to the joy and excitement through the day, that at the end of the day, we would await the  next Diwali. Excitement and expectation -that was Diwali then.

                                  (pics are from my personal album taken last year)

Now, we don't wait to buy a new dress, eat sweets or no one has time for family get-together. We already have some new dresses piled in the wardrobe picked up during a discount sale. The sweets are mostly store bought or we make some for the sake of tradition. As  eco-conscious citizens, even the kids at home do not want to light crackers. Cousins are in different parts of the world and so call, Skype or whatsapp to wish.

There is no excitement, no enthusiasm  like before. That set me in contemplation mode.

 No excitement, no enthusiasm, but....... there is a sense of contentment and we are making different set of memories. I am happy with what I have, cherish and don't hanker for more. There is the "been there, done that" attitude and perhaps like a child I don't wish for material things  or chase them any more, Instead I am grateful for all the big and  little things in my life. 

This is Diwali mood now - a happy and contented diwali  :) 

This post is written for Indi-happy hours and Gharwalidiwali

Thursday, October 16, 2014

God is a Gamer - a book review

Touted as the world’s first bitcoin thriller, Ravi Subramanian’s novel God is a gamer   is woven around the lives of a few politicians,bankers,crooks, gamers with ‘Bitcoin’ and an  anonymous online  market place for shady deals called cotton trail playing a crucial role in the story. The plot  moves from Washington's congress to Delhi's finance ministry, the beaches of Goa to the corporate boardrooms of Mumbai.

The book starts with a high profile meeting  in Washington DC between Vijay Banga, president of Master card international and Joseph saunders, the CEO of visa international regarding a routine meeting by the head of a country which could shake the very foundation of their business model.

What follows is an explosion killing a US senator,  An ATM heist in US linking a vendor in India, Bitcoin scams,  Death of two high profile international bankers, FBI investigation etc.

Who kills the US senator? What is the mystery behind the death of the bankers?Who is the brain behind the ATM heist and Bitcoin scam? Is everything interrelated?Will FBI, CBI and Mumbai police get to solve the puzzle?  That forms the 310 page thriller.

Unlike his previous books, banking does not play a major role in this book, instead the book is high on online gaming on facebook and  “Bitcoin” which is touted as the currency of the future. It is very clear from the book that the author has done extensive research on facebook games/online games, bitcoins etc.,After reading the book, many gamers will understand why they are stuck at a particular level in certain online games. I had never known so much went behind a gaming console.These details were very new to me.

There are so many twists and turns thrown along with many emotions like romance, revenge, greed  that the pages turn by themselves. As one reads the book,the investigator in you comes to many conclusions only to be proven wrong in the climax. Another plus in the book is  the narration divided into many small chapters and most of them end in cliffhangers which maintains the suspense and whets the appetite of the reader.

 Editing and proof readingwise, another book in recent times which has many goof ups and I had to re-read at many places  to  grasp and see if I was reading right. For instance on pg 278(chapter94) The pseudonym  of the bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto is said to be derived from 4 japanese companies  Sa from Samsung, toshi from Toshiba, naka from nakamichi and moto from motorala. Now here, neither Samsung or Motorola are Japanese companies. Samsung is a Korean company and Motorola is American. There are also many confusing situations in the book which might rise as a doubt once you read the climax like in the place where Varun picks up the Wasabi nuts from Tanya’s kitchen shelf and Tanya advises him not to eat as they have expired their shelf life. So many such minor loop holes and proof reading errors.

Also, pages are wasted on parallel plots like Sangamner and confessions of a hooker and these are like speed breakers to an otherwise  entertaining book. 

This review is a part of the biggest Indian bloggers book review program  at blogadda Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A box/ tub full of delicious joy!!!

Neither do I have a large space of earth nor do i have a hoe, all i had was limited space where i threw in some earth, some seeds from my spice box and i turned the little earth with a broken fork, watered and she still did laugh a harvest...... a box and tub full of delicious and organic harvest.

My post Green story has pics of its beginning........

The 3 rows of methi seeds turned into a boxful of micro methi's in just 3 weeks time

                                                  and this is the ending
The boxful of joy morphed as delicious joy on plate in the form of menthiya keerai sambar, methi thepla and alu-methi on different days.

                                   the aromatic herb falling all over a butter tub in my balcony.....

enhanced the aroma and taste to the tangy tomato rasam in my kitchen

The happy mini or even  micro gardener in me is contented with the harvest grown from home grown organic wastes(compost)

You tickle the earth not just with a hoe, but even with a broken fork and she still laughs a harvest. That must be the miracle of Mother Earth.