Category Archives: lifestyle

Yoga and Me

I recently had a rather startling realization that my public persona is very much defined by yoga. Our public life is now almost exclusively on social media, and around 80% of my posts on social media is about yoga with photos of me doing yoga.

And it is funny because none of the conventional yoga narratives seem to suit the relationship I have with yoga. I dont claim that yoga is both a physical and spiritual exercise (for me at least). I dont necessarily feel more at peace or connected with myself after doing yoga.  It is not even a social exercise any longer, because it has been more than two years since i stepped into a yoga class (or yoga studio, to use the new term which has even caught up in small town India), and for me yoga is largely a family exercise.

In fact I came into, and continued to practice yoga for probably all the conventionally wrong reasons. But here I am, with over five years of experience, so something must have worked for me.

To start with, I started practicing yoga based on the advice of a gynaecologist, who suggested that if I were trying to get pregnant yoga was a good way, since it generally keeps you relaxed and fit. I dont know why I latched on to this particular advice, since there were many other suggestions she gave which I ignored. A yoga class was happening very close to home, at times which were convenient for me (I never could stand early morning classes, so these evening classes suited me). So I signed on.

I know what I should have been doing was to focus on yoga and not worry about pregnancy. But that is exactly what I didnt do. I would constantly google about pregnancy related yoga, and try to learn and perfect all the poses which were supposed to aid in pregnancy. Yoga was simply a means to an end and I rather felt very self righteous that rather than go for any medical treatments, I was doing yoga to aid pregnancy.

This continued for many months. I did not invest in yoga for myself, but my body seemed to take to it very well. I used to slouch very obviously, and even though my posture now is not perfect, the slouch is much less pronounced (one friend remarked that I seemed to have grown taller). I felt good, even looked good.

I have never been a physically active person. As a child, I was pathetic at all games, and somewhere along the line I cultivated a self image that I never could not anything physically challenging. As an adult, I had had some forays into aerobics, hip hop dance and even swimming, but none of them lasted. Yoga seemed to be the only physical activity at which I was good. Yes, I know in yoga you are never good or bad, you just keep doing whatever your body permits you to do. But hey, we all have egos, and whenever my teacher praised a certain asana of mine or when I pulled off an asana, which other students could only gape at I preened like a peacock. Finally I was able to come out of the self image of being limited physically. Yes, I could be clumsy when it comes to certain activities, but hey, there were many at which I excelled as well.

This continued for a couple of years. I finally started enjoying yoga for itself and at one point even started wondering if I would miss yoga when I finally became pregnant and had a child. That was not to be, since we ended up having an alternate route to parenthood. Our daughter came into our lives at about a week’s notice, a wilful, independent 8 month old whom we adopted.

The adoption threw me off yoga for about a month. I think as a major life event, it threw me off life for almost a year. I had to suddenly cope with the needs of a totally different person, focus on her full time and in the initial days, I didnt have a moment for myself. Within a month, I had to return to yoga, and in that period, perhaps for the first time, I was doing yoga as it was meant to be. It gave me a space for myself, made me feel a bit relaxed and offered a temporary break from the hundred and one demands of motherhood which were suddenly on my head.

I continued to have anxieties and doubts about motherhood for a long time, even after I cracked the routine tasks associated with it. I was deeply insecure, kept wondering if my daughter would bond with me, and more importantly find me fun. To myself, I presented a dreary serious picture, hardly playing, hardly watching TV, hardly having fun. Why would a child ever like my presence, specially when I was also the stern disciplinarian in her life.

And then the answer came to me, and yes, once again it was yoga. Yoga was the one unique physical activity I could do which she could enjoy. Right from the beginning, when my yoga practice meant I could comfortably wriggle under tables and chairs and be with her and play with her, onto giving her rides on extraordinarily fit back, onto her being curious about the asana, looking at it from different perspectives, and trying to figure out their names (and yoga can be fun that way, crow asana, camel asana, lion asana, a veritable zoo of asanas), I was finally able to offer her something unique, something which we both could share.

My daughter is now 4, and we now have some brief daily yoga sessions, where she tries to match me. I like it that I am her role model in this one activity, and I like it that it is one activity we have taken to doing regularly as a family. Not because it is healthy (it certainly is), not because it is a symbol of glorious Indian civilization (it probably is, but I am not too concerned about it), but because it is a lot of Fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : U is for Upma, kozhakattai and other typical South Indian tiffins

 

You really have to be a South Indian to understand the value of upma and tiffins. In the north, tiffin seems to mean anything which is packed to be consumed later, either at school or workplace, and from what I see, it is mostly roti, puris or variations thereof. Of course, with idli and dosa batter being available in most supermarkets now, people are venturing to pack these items too, but largely they stick to what is familiar.

 

When I was growing up my tiffin dabba consisted almost exclusively of a very non-tiffin item : curd rice. I have blogged earlier about how this is comfort food for most South Indians and I must be one of the many who carried this item to school everyday throughout my school life. In fact, during those brief ocassions when I had to carry a tiffin dabba to work, I again ended up carrying this item only. ‘

 

When I explained this to my Delhi raised husband, he was stunned. According to him curd rice was almost never carried to school because the tiffin dabba is kept with the school books and carrying curd rice means you risk ruining your books. The concept of having a separate basket which would carry your dabba, water bottle, napkin and spoon seemed alien to him, whereas almost all of us at school always carried our food separately from our books.

 

Which brings me to upma, a very typical tiffin item.Upma is made with a wide variety of base items :powdered  rice, vermicilli, beaten rice,  wheat, semolina. Basic principles of making it are the same, dry roast the base, and then add it to boiling water and let it cook. Your base items decides the extent of water which is added to ensure it is well cooked. One needs to be careful with the water because cooking in less water makes the upma very hard and unpalatable, and pouring excessive water will make it overcooked and feeling like tasteless  porridge.  With rice, there is also a variation called upma kozhakattai where you cook the rice half way as in upma, then make it into small balls (like dumplings) and then steam it. It is a kind of cross between upma and idlli and being double cooked makes it very soft and is a favorite of my daughter.

 

As a matter of fact, I personally have disliked upma for most of my life. I realized its value onlly when I had to daily pack a tiffin for my daughter and I knew that no matter how much I tried my parathas and puris would never be great and what is more I didnt have the energy to make them everyday. Upma, in its various forms can be alternated for most of the week, and allows me to plan breakfast accordingly.

 

Upma is easy to make, easy to carry and generally not so messy to eat (as long as you have a spoon). It requires little preparation time (no need to soak and grind batter). In fact it is generally regarded as a kind of item you offer to unexpected visitors, because it hardly takes time to make. A point of South Indian protocol : If you are have invited a person to eat and have had plenty of time to prepare for their visit, it is bad form to serve them upma, because upma is almost exclusively made for guests only when they drop in suddenly.

So upma is definitely not a fine dining item. Be that as it may, it is definitely a very quintessential south indian item.  I havent seen variations of this in other parts of India, and although I have not travelled the world so much I doubt if there is any equivalent of upma anywhere.

 

And while we are at it, can anyone enlighten me on why this name. It is the same in all south indian languages (upma in Tamil, Uphittu in Kannada and Uppupindi in Telugu). Roughly translated it means salt and flour, but we rarely use fully ground flour in it.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : S is for social media and the challenges it poses to relationships

I think I would be starting off with the biggest cliche if I state that social media has transformed relationships big time. Not only has it opened up new avenues to build and nurture existing and new relationships, it has impacted every relationship we have. I am sure most of you have realized what it feels like to have your parents or scary aunts and uncles on our facebook list, to whom we dont really want to reveal our life secrets, but end up doing nevertheless.

 

But more importantly the freedom and scope it offers you tests many relationships too. It makes you confront certain realities about attitudes of friends and family which you could safely shove away in otherwise periodic interactions. I may know many friends and families who say a nasty word about Anushka Sharma for Virat Kohli’s underperformance in the world cup. But without twitter of fb, I dont hear people say it and I can choose to ignore it and still continue some semblance of social interaction with people. Similarly people can express political opinions, their views regarding some public issue on twitter and it gets to my attention. With languages being rarely temperate on these platforms, it is sometimes scary to realize people who you love and respect may have some fanatical views which are frankly appalling to you. I dont exempt myself from this list. I am sure some of my own views are so radical that friends and family may find it quite difficult even to acknowledge.

 

I know we are supposed to understand that different people have different views and reconcile to the differences. But that maturity to deal with differences in social media is quite hard. In a face to face argument, we may still reach some point of compromise and understanding. FB arguments only keep getting more heated. You can choose to ignore unpalatable views but doing it every time you log in and see something which you disagree with is much more difficult.

 

This gets specially difficult with intergenerational friendships (or mostly with older generation family members on your list). I dont know if it is just an Indian thing, but I feel elders still have a lot of issues with public disagreement from someone they treat as a junior. I have myself had this experience of constantly being treated as a child by some people on my list, for whom my views remain rantings of a little child who should not be taken seriously. Worse, a counter from me on some view they have expressed, even if perfectly factual is seen as a hit on their ego and they lash out demanding complete obedience/acceptance for me.

 

This seriously impacts the relationship itself. I have withdrawn from or even unfriended people from my list not because I no longer care to be in touch with them, but because they just refuse to treat me as an adult who has thought through issues and has an opinion on them. A constant infantalizing of me, and therefore disregard for my opinion is quite disrespectful.

 

I think the challenge with dealing with social media influenced relationships is that disagreements on FB cannot be laid aside like you would probably do sledging in a cricket or any sports field. In sledging you can always say you dont mean it, but in FB, you do mean most of what you share or discuss. Accepting people warts and all, and continuing to treat them with the same poise and equanomity of before is going to take some time.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : R is for rosy starlings and how they made my home exotic

A to Z Blogging Challenge  April 21 R

Rosy starlings are a species of migratory bird, which comes into Gujarat in the late winter early part of summers. I think they are a native of the temperate regions of Asia, but come down south for a few months.

 

I noticed rosy starlings from among the different birds which abound near my house because they have a distinctive behavior. Every evening, they settle down near some shedding tree and keep making a huge noise. The din is positively deafening but it serves to attract many more of their species to join them on the trees. Finally, when they seem to attain a quorum (I dont really know, I am just interpreting their behavior), they become silent for a second and then fly away en masse. The birds flying away in a group is truly a sight to savor. The increasing noise as they gather, the momentary calm, and then the sudden scary sight of a huge number of birds flying together in formation. If you watch them from my terrace, which is quite close to the tree they congregate in, you will almost jump back in fear, since it is almost like they are attacking you. And then they will go and find another tree nearby and create a ruckus for some more time and then repeat the pattern.

 

I dont really know why they do it. If I try to interpret their behavior anthropomorphically, it seems like a roll call for the day or perhaps signing out of work or something. But I doubt if birds have those concepts. I dont know enough about them to understand whether they choose specific groups to get together in or just get into the nearest available gathering. I dont know who initiates the group. I just like to watch them everyday because they are a delight to watch. They mark time for me in the evenings. And they make me realize that the exotic is within my reach. I dont need to go on trips to new places to enjoy stuff all the time (although that is also useful). I can still be at home and have loads of stuff to enjoy as well.

Here is a video of the rosy starlings from our terrace. Watch for the mark at 1 min 25 seconds, that is when they begin to fly away. It is quite scary!!

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : N is for New Years all year around

A to Z Blogging Challenge Apr 16 N

 

I remember reading a humorous essay by PG Wodehouse on how one could practically celebrate New Year all year around because different cultures had different days marked as New Year. I think Wodehouse’s point was that if you celebrated New Year with drinks and if you wanted to celebrate New Years of multiple cultures, you would end up with a bad hangover pretty much all the time.

 

Now he was not familiar with India probably, or he would have wondered how we ever stay sober with our endless New Years within the country. Just for me personally, I think I celebrate four new years in a year. I celebrate January 1 as New Year. I dont care if right wingers think it is not Indian culture, I am quite happy to observe the event. Then there is Ugadi (which is New Year as per the Lunar Calender, and is observed in the Southern States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). I grew up in Karnataka, so I follow this practice. Closely following that is Tamil New Year (which is New Year according to Solar Calender, followed in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala). I am a Tamilian, so it makes sense to follow this. And finally, I have lived in Gujarat for the last five years, and  the Gujarati New Year comes much after all these (almost in November, right after Diwali). I may not be sufficiently acclimitized here to know what are the customs of Gujaratis are, but living here, I definitely acknowledge the day and greet people.

 

And I think I have covered only a fraction of New Years celebrated in India. I still dont even know what is the New Year according to a vast majority of the population.

 

Thankfully, customs around New Year in India dont always involve drinking. The most delightful custom, according to me is to cook something sweet, sour and bitter on the day, to acknowledge that in our lives, we need to have space for all three kinds of events. So more new years means more opportunities to gorge on sour mango jam, payasam and roasted neem flowers. .

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : J is for Junkfood, street food and why I very much prefer the latter

I guess many may regard junk food and street food as one and the same. Or many who prefer junk food over street food because junk food has more impeccable packaging and lets face it, street food, specially in India is not prepared in the most clean of places.

 

One easy way I distinguis the two is the source, junk food is largely branded, prepared in large scale. Street food is local recipes prepared on a limited basis in a place you can see. But there is more to it than the source. Junk food goes through multiple cycles of storing and reheating.  For example compare vada pav from a street vendor and the same item from say an airport shop (if at all any airport in India has sense enough to sell something really nice other than overpriced dosas, horrid panner rolls and couc couc salad, ugh). Airports will serve you stale vada pav heated in a microwave. This affects the taste in a very fundamental way. It is not crisp, the spice balance is disturbed. THe street vendor is going to give you fresh items because for him it makes sense to keep the vada half ready and then fry it when you order.You can feel the aloo inside must have gone for a dip in the oil and tastes much better.

 

I guess the same classification holds no matter what the item is. Pizza or pasta purchased from a roadside vendor is freshly made and hence not junk food but Italian street food. Three day old vadapavs microwaved and served in airports is junk food never mind its very desi origins.

 

I guess it is the freshness which distinguishes street food from junk food. I know the microwave has wrought a revolution in cooking and made life simpler for a lot of us, but I feel the presence of microwave encourages a lot of food reheating. They cycle of cooking excess food, refrigerating and then reheating gets kind of vicious in the end. Maybe that is why I am happy that I come from a traditional brahmanical family where cooked food in refrigerator is a strict no no. I dont like most of the restrictions imposed on me because of this background but this is one I appreciate. It forces me to cook moderate quantities enough for one day, and makes sure I realize the price for overcooking in the most literal way. A friend of mine and her family even made away with the refrigerator completely, because they realized they ate fresh food all the time, without that. I dont mean, an elaborate three course meal prepared fresh everytime, but even a simple single course meal which is made a few minutes before serving is well worth it.

 

Which is why I will eat street food over junk any day. And encourage my child to do the same.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : I is for Icecream and living in Icecream city

Ahmedabad is most certainly THE icecream city. It not only has all kinds of local brands of icecream and all kinds of new flavors, but also the citizens who are all slightly obsessed with ice creams.

 

There are probably many social and economic reasons why icecreams are so available and relatively cheaper in Ahmedabad. For one, this is still the city of largely local ice creams. No fancy ice cream parlour chains here. We have a lot of local dairy selling their wares, and even the popular brands – Vadilal and Havmor- are Amdavadi brands.

 

And then there are the flavors. There are some really good experiemental flavors here (Cinnamon, ginger, green tea!!!), and in local shops, natural means really natural. I know Naturals is a big brand in other metros, and whenever I hear other people mentioning going to Naturals for an overpriced ice cream, I feel proud of the city I live in. Here natural means you will only get the flavors as per the season. Natural means, your orange ice cream will have the orange fruit and sometimes, ocassionally and unintentionally, even the orange seed.

 

Local ice creams do not get the creamy texture of the branded ice creams. Sometimes, there is ice in it. But that sort of makes each ice cream eating experience unique. You never know how this lot of ice cream will taste compared to the previous time you ate it, even if it is the same flavor in the same shop.

 

And then there is of course the experience of eating ice cream. Perhaps that is why Ahmedabad is the ice cream city. Not just because it is one of the foremost milk producing state, not just because it houses Amul, but because here entire families think nothing of coming out in all hours of the day and night to have a couple of ice creams. Every time you step out for a ice cream you are sure to see a family there, where three to four generations are eating ice creams together. Kids of seven to eight are up and bright at 11 in the night and having their ice creams, early school hours and need to be in bed be damned.

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