Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter produce at its best

In our country the winter season generally lasts from October to March. The days begin to get shorter and there is often just so much more to do, in terms of cooking and eating. A reason behind this is the ample amount of a variety of produce that becomes available in winter. When I close my eyes and think of the colours that correspond with winter I see lovely hues of greens, reds and oranges.
Why don’t you try it? Close your eyes and think of the vegetables as well as various fruit that you associate with winter. Let us try and get to know the goodness that lies hidden in the wonderfully colourful world of winter vegetables and fruit:

I took to spinach as a fan of Popeye the sailor man who in testing times grabs a tin full of spinach and wins against his rival. I shred palak leaves to use in soup or steam them to pair up with a healthy dose of cottage cheese to make an irresistible palak paneer or knead it into my dough to reap its goodness in the form of the regular roti. The green leafy vegetable is known for its high content of iron. Other than that, spinach leaves are a rich source of carotenoids and flavonoids which are an important source of anti oxidants for our bodies. Spinach is also rich in various minerals and vitamins that are a must have for everyone, especially growing kids like you.
Fenugreek leaves

Methi or fenugreek leaves are more commonly known as a close cousin of spinach. The green leaves bunched together offer as many benefits for your body and immune system as any other vegetable. Rich in fibre content and minerals, fenugreek leaves are known to help lower cholesterol ­— the harmful part of fat — as well as help to control the dreadful disease diabetes.
Radishes and Carrots

The two root crops carrots and radishes are known for their high fibre content but that is just the beginning of how power packed these are. Radishes are high in potassium and ascorbic acid which are required by the human body whereas carrots are loaded with carotene and Vitamins B, C, E and K. Carrots can single-handedly take care of minor vision problems. So grab a bowl of gajar ka halwa or munch on a raw carrot.
Citrus fruit

The joy of sitting under the warm winter sun and enjoying an orange is rarely matched by any other experience. This forms a major part of my fondest childhood memories which were full of other sweet-tart citrus fruit like mousambis and kinnows. The citrus fruit are a rich source of Vitamin C. Hardly is there anything else that can beat the Vitamin C content in them or the freshness that they infuse in their air as soon as one of these is peeled.

You must have grown up hearing the old adage ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Have you ever wondered why that is? Let us delve into the benefits that lie within this deciduous fruit. That apples are a rich source of iron and fibre is common knowledge, but recent studies show that apples also help fight various kinds of cancer in the human body especially lung cancer. An antioxidant called quercetin found in apples aids physical endurance by making more oxygen available to the lungs. Apples like many winter fruit and veggies are a rich source of antioxidants which prevent damage to our cells and tissues. Apple consumers have been noticed to run a lower risk of heart diseases.

(The post appeared as a column first in The New Indian Express on Dec 21, 2012. You can find it here-  

Monday, December 10, 2012

It’s halwa season

Winter is here. The thought of getting under layers and layers of woollens does not really make me happy. Also, winter brings with it bouts of cold and sneezing fits which leave me with a persistent headache.
But what can make winter bearable is the food — the kind and the quantity — that one can eat during this season.
A mere mention of rounds of hot ginger tea accompanied by delicious pakoras is enough to set my heart racing.
Add a dollop of pudina or mint chutney and I could survive on pakoras alone for days and days together.
Too much pakoras in my system now and I crave for something sweet, besides the tea, to restore the balance.
A godsend answer to this craving is the Indian sweet called halwa.
The wonderful Suji ka halwa

When I was a kid, Mithun Chakraborty in the guise of a certain halwa-wallah brought joy to children in a Bollywood film. I did not get a chance to know him or the type of halwa but I have had my share of a variety of halwas that are sumptuous and delicious.
Halwa is also associated with auspicious occasions. It is a ritual followed in many parts of our country to serve halwa made of roasted semolina, also known as suji or rawa, combined with sugar and ghee, generously garnished with dry fruits as prasad.
Probably the suji halwa is the most famous of the halwas but another popular halwa that you might know very well is the gajar ka halwa. Carrots are found in abundance in winter and what better use of them if not in a resplendent orange halwa. The carrots are grated and then cooked with milk and sugar. Khoya is an important ingredient of the carrot halwa.
Gajrela or gajar ka halwa

Besan halwa is known for its remedial properties. It is an effective counter against sore throat and common cold as gram flour contains the medicinal properties of B-complex molecules. This also helps to increase the body’s immunity. Atta halwa is a delicious cousin and I associate it with the gurdwaras where the dish is distributed to the people as prasad.
Two vegetables that you can expect to see in a halwa avatar are the pumpkin and bottle gourd. Honestly, when I was presented with the prospect of tasting these two in the form of a halwa I was not very happy or keen. But I must admit that after tasting them my opinion changed very quickly.
Our adventurous kith, in search for quick and easy to make recipes, have invented dishes like bread and banana halwa and also an egg halwa.
Oh! So sinful, the Karach/ Bombay Halwa

For those who like their time in the kitchen there are various options like the moong dal halwa, badam halwa, Karachi halwa and also the sohan halwa. All these dishes demand a lot of labour but end up being worthy of the time and labour spent. 
The word halwa comes from Arabic language where it literally means sweet. Halwa is a popular sweet not only in India and neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka but this sweet dish is also consumed in Central and West Asia, North Africa, Balkans and the Jewish world.

This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on December 7, 2012. The link to it is here:

"The Straight Hair Experiment"

The gravitational pull has been known to put many things into an aligned perspective. Remember the fame it brought to Newton? Similarly to straighten hair I would use the same- yes you guessed it right the magical pull, the GRAVITATIONAL PULL.

The first step is to apply the right amount of weight to your hair to align them. In case of wavy hair, you can use coins to straighten them first. Using Rs 5 coins is highly recommended as the weight of this denomination has been found to be ample for slightly wavy hair.

In case of more problematic hair aka dense curls, you will need to take help from a brother or a boyfriend keen on body building. Raid their body building equipment for dumbbells. The principle 'the weightier the better it is'can be applied while choosing the right degree of weight for your curliness.

Moving on to the next step. After you have applied the appropriate weight to your curls/ waves, you have to lie down on a bed and let down your hair from the edge of the bed. Now it is important to ensure that this  position remains undisturbed. You will also need to maintain the position for as long duration of time as is possible to achieve the desired results. SO this way you can achieve two things at once; you get your stright hair and while you are at it, you manage to get your beauty sleep.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tandoori delights

Have you seen a tandoor? It is a clay oven that is used to cook and bake food by generating fire within it. The food cooks in its own fat and juices as it is exposed to high temperatures inside the tandoor.

This method of cooking, called the tandoori method, is often associated with Mughlai food or the food from the Mughal era. This also refers to dry foods especially meats cooked in a clay oven over a high heat. The chicken tikka, mutton tikka, kebab, tandoori murg, paneer tikka are some of the grilled delights that come out of a tandoor.

The earliest tandoors were discovered alongside the remains of the Indus Valley civilisation. It is now a strongly held belief that the tandoor travelled with the migrating Aryan race.

The Aryans, who originally belonged to India, would travel often in search of grazing lands. Some of their travels took them to the Caucasus Mountains and also brought them back after a couple of centuries and so the tandoor travelled from India around Asia and back again.

If you were to look at the origin of the term tandoor, history would take you to the time of the Mesopotamians. Some also believe that the term had its origin in Pashto where tata means hot and andar means inside.

The evidence of the use of clay ovens set in earth have been found in Ladakh in the uppermost reaches of India as well as in Egypt when they were mummifying bodies and building pyramids. History tells us that in Afghanistan, tandoor was used as a community oven and people could bring their dough and get it baked for a fee.

Amongst our medical treatises written as early as in the Vedic Era, the food cooked on an open charcoal fire has been lauded by the father of surgery, Sushrut. Charvak, another renowned physician, also praised this method of cooking which aided the digestion of marinated meats.

Imperial poet Amir Khusro in some of his works noted that flatbread cooked in a tandoor, popularly called naan, was relished by the royals.

Some varieties of the tandoori naan were enriched with the addition of the choicest nuts for the esteemed consumer.

In Punjab and Rajasthan, the tandoor is also called bhatti. Bhatti is derived from the name of a tribe of the Thar desert. These people developed a variation of the tandoor in the deserts to optimise the heat trapped in the sand to cook their food. Smart, wouldn’t you say?

During the rule of Jehangir, tandoori food gained prominence. He took his love of the tandoor to the places he conquered and introduced it there. This led to the invention of portable tandoors. Some food historians do believe that tandoori chicken originated during these times. It was popularised by Kundan Lal Gujral and his partner Kundan Lal Jaggi who settled in the Daryaganj area in Delhi after Partition and opened a restaurant called Moti Mahal specialising in tandoori delights. The rest as they say is history and today tandoori is a favoured choice of millions around the world.

(This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on September 21, 2012. Here is the link to it:

Culinary delights of Amritsar

Continuing on our food journey, let us today explore a destination that has given the taste of India to the world to sample. You must be familiar with the name of this city which is also an important place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. It has held great significance in the annals of history owing to a massacre.

Amritsar is known throughout the world for its rich culture and cuisine. Harmandir Sahib or the Golden Temple is the most prominent religious place for Sikhs and in 1919 the holy city saw many lose their lives at the Jallianwala Bagh.

Today let us venture into the gullies of Amritsar and explore the foodie delights they have to offer.

Amritsar lends its name to a fish preparation that is not only exquisite but also has had a big hand in putting the city’s name on the food map of the world. We are talking about the Amritsari fish. A simple dish of fish that is fried in a mix of very basic ingredients like besan and yoghurt has caught the imagination of chefs around the world. The result being that Amritsari fish is served with slight innovations in hotels and restaurants almost everywhere.

The food item that is next on my list is the Amritsari kulcha. There are different kinds of breads but hardly anything comes close to the divine Amritsari kulcha that comes as crispy as can be. Generally served with a spicy preparation of chickpeas, called chole in Punjabi, the chutney that is served alongside adds to the experience. There are shops that are specifically in the business of churning out kulchas and the variety that they have to offer will blow your socks off. You get plain kulcha, of course, but then there are also the stuffed kulchas which often travel through as many as three tandoors to make it to your plate. The kulcha-chole combination or the humble aaloo kulcha are a vegetarian delight up for grabs in many restaurants boasting of authentic Indian flavours.

All this food talk is making me thirsty, and that brings to mind the next thing that Amritsar has lent many international menus — lassi. This sweet drink that is highly refreshing has seen many forms. A perfect way to deal with the scorching heat, lassi, comes in many flavours. You get to choose from a wide spectrum including kesar, malai, mango, strawberry and almond. For those who prefer something salty, a jeera version is available. Keeping in mind the changing preferences of people, the lassi shops in Amritsar have started to offer a diet lassi. Usually served cold, this frothy drink is rich in consistency and creamy in its taste. Another famous drink from here, which I think must have been invented to fight the cruel Indian summer, is the shikanjvi. A close and a little tweaked version of the regular nimbu paani shikanjvi is richer in terms of having herbs, especially those with cooling properties like mint, and masalas that aid digestion. With all that talk on food I think I need to get a glass of that shikanjvi.

(This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on September 7, 2012. Here is the link to it:

Sweet sweet Diwali

Bengali sweets have often found a major following everywhere they go. K C Das canned rosogollas and finding a confectioner who doesn’t sell them even today will be a tough task. The tradition of exchanging sweets during the festival season is indeed a sweet tradition. It serves to remind us that not only is there an unfathomable joy in sharing but also that all that is actually worthwhile in our lives are the sweet moments of togetherness.

For children, these times are made even more memorable by the uninhibited supply of sweets along with an unrestricted access to them. Diwali, to my mind, is one festival that the whole country celebrates with the spirit of unity. The various elements of Diwali — sweets (of course!), bursting crackers, donning your best clothes, rangoli — are much the same from the top of the country to the bottom.

So let us look at the five sweets that add that extra special flavour and sweetness to this festival of lights.

Gajar ka halwa: Doesn’t just the mere name of this particular preparation bring to you a delicate aroma that warms your heart? Prepared with carrots in ghee, milk, sugar or jaggery and an assortment of nuts, nothing can beat the home made gajar ka halwa at being a popular favourite.

Kaaju katli: A rich preparation made with generous amounts of ghee and cashew, the kaaju ki barfi, or kaaju katli as it is also known in some parts of the country, is the lovable diamond shaped barfi that is a sinful indulgence for many. This sweet is also often prepared during the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. It is also one of the most expensive barfis available.

Gujiya: Diwali and holi are almost incomplete without a fair amount of gujiya hogging. Why I use the word hogging is because you can rarely stop at eating just one of these. Also known as karanji in the state of Maharashtra, ghughra in Gujarat, karachika in Tamil Nadu or kajjikayi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, gujiya is made of flour and is stuffed with sweetened khoya and nuts or in states like Goa with shredded coconut, nuts and jaggery.

Gulab Jamun: Considered to be a popular Diwali sweet, gulab jamuns are made from khoya or concentrated milk solids, refined wheat flour, sugar, chenna or pressed milk curd, rose water and cardamom. The term gulab jamun originates from the Persian word for the flower rose, gulab — as rosewater syrup is often used in the preparation of this sweet — and jambul fruit. Gulab jamun is also a hot favourite during the Muslim festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The sweet offering holds a special place in the menus of the weddings of almost all regions of India.

Puran Poli: The Mahrashtrian delight that is also famous by the name of obbattu in the state of Karnataka is a flat roti that is stuffed with a sweet filling made of coconut, dry fruits and a pinch of turmeric for extra flavour.

Besides these five delicious sweets, which I have not assembled in any particular order, rosogollas, ladoos, Mysore pak, adhirasam are popular and mouthwatering Diwali mithais which are eaten by one and all.

(This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on November 9, 2012. Here is the link to it:

A sweeet rush

One festive season has just gone by. I am sure you brought out your brightest and nicest clothes. Some new ones must have been purchased for an important puja or your favourite day of festivity.

It is awe inspiring how various festivals celebrated by people belonging to different religions and communities follow one another so closely, and we spend so much time in gaiety and revelry.

One thing common to festivals, be they of any religion, is the tradition of exchanging sweets. Durga Puja, which just concluded, brought me closer to the wonderful world of Bengali sweets and that is what we are going to delve into today.

Rosogollas, sandesh and mishti doi rule the roost, yet there is much more to the Bengali sweet. The lovely chom-chom, the aromatic kalakand, the shapely langcha… you name your preference and the Bengalis will present you with something that is apt for your sweet tooth.

A wonderful thing about most Bengali sweets is that they make for a healthy choice. The main constituent of these sweet preparations is milk, used in the form of chenna or sweetened cottage cheese. These milk preparations are a winning choice also owing to the fact that they are rarely fried. For example, consider the sandesh. The sweetened cottage cheese is simply dried and pressed into a shape, often that of a ball, to make the basic avatar of the sandesh called kaanchagola. Thanks to the innovative minds in the food industry this sweet now has many variants on offer, made with the addition of syrups, fruit and even chocolate.

The rosogolla also has been touched by chocolate. The internet informs me that the Bengali rosogolla had its origin in Odisha where it was popularised by a local confectioner Bikalananda Kar. Nobin Das, a Kolkata confectioner who is also fondly called ‘rosogolla’s Columbus’, tried to simplify the traditional Odisha recipe. He also wanted to increase the shelf life of this highly perishable item. The end result of the various trials that Das Babu carried out was spongier and could be kept for a longer duration without fear of its getting spoiled. Rosogollas were earlier sold in earthen pots, a trend that has made a healthy comeback over the years, but Nobin Das’s son K C Das saw a business opportunity in selling canned rosogollas. This led to popularising the sweet as it became easier to transport. So much so today any sweet shop, and many selling confectionery items, can be seen selling either their in-house preparation of the rosogolla or a product of one or other major brand in the sweet business. The sweet has even crossed the seven seas.

Rosogolla served as a predecessor to many chenna-based preparations like chom- chom, kheer sagar, pantua and, even rasmalai.

(This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on November 23, 2012. Here is the link to it:

Trading tastes

A little obscure village on the left bank of river Hooghly, now known as Kolkata, became the city of Calcutta under the influence of its many rulers. The Portugese landed in the village Kalikatta in 1517. In 1580, Akbar, gave them a charter to settle here. Basically traders by profession, the Portugese would buy things like muslin, spices, cotton, rice, and other agricultural products here and then sell them off at high prices at various ports in the East. Initially the Portugese would stay in Kalikatta during the rainy season, trade and then head back to Goa where rains would be over . With time this practice gave way to permanent settlements and records say that by 1670s ‘there were at least 20,000 Portuguese and their descendants in Bengal’.
Though the political influence of the Portugese diminished after the arrival of Dutch and finally the East India Trading Company yet even today it pervades the life in Bengal in many other ways. One of the ways in which the Portugese influence continues is through the usage of spices, various ingredients and techniques that they brought with them.

You will be surprised to know that many plants that you might have thought belonged to us Indians were introduced by the Portugese. Let us take the example of a versatile- a sort of star vegetable- potato. It was 1780, when a basket of potatoes was presented to Sir Warren Hastings in Calcutta. Called batata on the west coast of India, aalu was being grown in the foothills of the Himalayas in 1830s and by 1860s potato had become a popular part of the Bengali food being incorporated in its dry form as well as a gravy avatar. Today a proper Bengali meal begins with shukto which is incomplete without its fair share of potatoes alongside a melange of other colourful vegetables. So much so, shukto is often the measure of a good cook here in Bengal. The addition of potatoes to curries alongside meats and seafood is also an example of the carrying on of the Portugese influence.
Many fruits like Pineapple, Papaya, Guava and Litchi were brought to Bengal by the Portugese. The Portugese name for Pineapple- ananas- is still retained and in much use.

A legacy of the Portugese baker that still lives on in Bengal as a mainstay of the cuisine is the luchi. Generally plain boiled rice is served alongside the meal but if bread is served it is the luchi, made of white flour or maida.
The sweets too have been much influenced by the Portugese. The basic method of curdling milk with yogurt or lemon juice to produce chenna is often attributed to them. This is an important ingredient of countless sweets like rosogulla and sandesh.
The Portugese also bought the influence of Goan dishes into the Bengali cuisine and today you can find these listed alongside many native dishes in any cookbook on Bengali food.
It will not be wrong to say that Calcutta’s cosmopolitan food and culture owes much to the Portugese.

(The post first appeared as a column on October 19, 2012, in The New Indian Express. Here is the link:

The magic of Kolkata's cuisine

In another month’s time I will complete one year of being in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. Many dishes typical to Kolkata are identified as the main stay of the Bengali cuisine.

Bengal of yesteryears included the present day state of West Bengal and Bangladesh, often referred to as East Bengal. This undivided Bengal had been ruled by Mughals who made Dhaka their central seat. Kolkata rose to prominence under the British raj. Besides being a major trade centre, Kolkata was also a major centre of education, science, culture and politics.

Your History books will tell you how Lord Curzon partitioned the state of Bengal in the name of administrative reforms in the year 1905. The creation of East Bengal and West Bengal was a highly unfavourable move and Bengal had to be reunited in 1911. A second partition took place in 1947 when Pakistan was formed. East Bengal came to be known as East Pakistan and in 1971 was declared as an independent state of Bangladesh.

Till date the Bengali cuisine proudly bears various influences it has inherited owing to the trade relations with distant nations and as well as the impact of the colonizers. Many traditions from these varied cultures and communities have stayed on even after the original followers have left. Today these very traditions form an essential part of the Bengali kaalchaar.

Let us take the example of the tea ritual. An absolute English tradition, this must have been adopted by the Bengali babu with great √©lan. Today this tea break is an immensely important and revered time slot. Observed with great seriousness and often referred to as ‘Tiffin’ time, this tea break is accompanied with delicious preparations, generally of the savoury kind. The pound cake and the puffs are generally preferred over anything else at this point of time. Be it the maids, known as moushis, or the office folk, ritualistically catch up with the day’s gossip during the Tiffin time. The British also brought with them the chops and rolls and you will find a shack here and there all over the city selling these mini delights. These are up for grabs in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian segments though the non-vegetarian varieties generally find more takers.

Like I mentioned earlier, trade in its wake brought people from many communities to Kolkata. Among these, Jews was one of the prominent ethnic communities to call Calcutta home. Unfortunately the Jews of Kolkata are almost on the verge of becoming extinct and so are the bakeries that their families had once established all over Kolkata. The one that still stands tall is the Nahoum's Bakery in the New Market Area. Established in 1902 and housed in the same shop in the Hogg’s market since 1916 Confectioners Nahoum and Sons is famous for its fish pantras, cheese/ mutton samosas and rum balls. Packaging is not the sale mantra here, taste, flavour and aroma is. Nahoum’s is synonymous with Christmas in Kolkata but I am looking forward to repeating my experience a few times before that mega event.

(The post first appeared as a column on October 5, 2012, in The New Indian Express. Here is the link:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Not now, not here

It was here just now.
This idea that I wanted to write out.
This story I wanted to tell the world.

It was here just when
The door bell rang
And a bunch of chirpy girls
Tumbled in
Bringing laughter and demanding snacks

It was here just
When the cooker called from the kitchen
When the doodh-wala came to ask for his dues
When the neighbour rang to ask for spare potatoes
When the guard called a wrong number to announce guests
When the friend pinged on gmail

It was here, in my head
Then for a while
It swam in front of my eyes
Getting hazier with every passing moment
And I chased it
as I read the newspaper
as I sipped my tea
as I watered my three potted plants
as I sat in the loo trying to recall it
as I watched a serial, about the best surgeons in the US

I failed to grasp it
Simply could not clasp it

Now it won't return
Says has another concern
About others in the fraternity
For them it worries and asks me
'Whether they will find a voice
Or will it too become
homeless like me?'

Friday, September 21, 2012

Colour Purple

Dear Netra

You are about to turn 5 and I have started to plan a party for your birthday. The first one probably in the actual meaning of the word. We will have a theme- purple- the colour you are obsessed with. Asked anytime about anything that you would like to have on any occasion, you dole out a list and then add “in puddple”. It doesn’t matter to you that Disney intended Cinderella to wear a pink gown, you want her on your cake in, yes, puddple. You even have the birthday song ready for the theme- Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday Netra Sood, Purple Flower. May God Bless you, purple flower Netra Sood.

I once asked you what you wanted to become when you grew up and your answer was a purple butterfly.

Both your father and I have asked you many times the reason behind this fondness for colour puddple and in your reply you have pointed out the simple fact of life, which I have just gripped. To answer our question, you always say- because I like it. There are no further explanations. This is supposed to end the matter. You get busy in other things.

No further debates. No degrading other colours. No praising this one to the heights of heaven. A simple thing, put simply- because i like it.

I am wondering now whether anything else is even required.

I hope that you are able to remember this little lesson and use it in your life as well. As you grow up there will be many things that you will get a chance at. You will learn new words with complex meanings- happy, sad, love, hate etc. But I hope that you are able to carry the ‘like’ with the same panache that you have now for the word. I hope you do many, many things that you like. I hope that you learn to recognise your ‘likes’ by tuning in to yourself. I hope you have many conversations with yourself and let those guide you towards your likes. I hope you learn to listen to your voice, your gut, your instinct. I can tell you for a fact that your likes will always bring you happiness.

Love Mummy (who hasn't deciphered either what colour she likes or what does she want to become when and if she grows up!)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Interview that Matters

I have known Prerna Uppal since my days at ANI. So that tells you that she has been there and done that as far as TV news is concerned. Add to that the fact that she has also worked with CNN-IBN as well. Not just that. She has worked in every sphere of print - be it writing for a newswire, a magazine or a newspaper earning bylines and winning friends wherever she has gone. Her stories have been featured in Chicken Soup series and having read them I must say, they do warm up your heart and make you feel light as only chicken soup can.

She wields a mighty pen and has during her stint with various media houses has done many stories on a wide range of topics. Now a days, she is busy combining her love for cooking, writing and exploring the world at her blog besides holding a full-time job (Phew!).

When an opportunity at ChilliBreeze arose to write in an aptly titled column- Interviews that matter- I did not have to think hard about whom to interview.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is a dollop from Prerna's vast experiences over the years that she has been kind enough to share.
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A 'Pratham' effort

It was a fine evening when a green package arrived at my door step. I was super excited as I tore it open and found a treasure inside. The treasure- the books – were sent by the Bangalore based publishers Pratham Books who were encouraging people to conduct a story telling programme on the World Literacy Day. And with just that much I became a Pratham Books’ Champions.

The book reading was to be conducted on September 8 which fell on a Saturday. I had decided to conduct the story telling session at my house and had duly called up all the mommies around me, who I knew would be and should be excited by the prospect of a story session.

Though the day had dawned bright and gay, by the time evening arrived, the rain gods seemed a wee bit unhappy. That, however, did not dampen the enthusiasm that had built inside the Sood household with the husband helping with shifting the furniture to make ample room for jumpy kids and Netra donning her brand new lehenga to essay the role of Susheela, the protagonist of the book- Susheela’s Kolams.

Susheela’s Kolams a vibrantly illustrated small book had arrived as part of the treasure earlier. This book was being read across the country by many other Pratham Books’ Champions in numerous events being held the same day.

Susheela learnt to draw kolams from her mother and loved to draw them everywhere. So great was her love for kolams and so great her talent that she was even approached by the Air Force whom she told ‘how to dip, dive and turn their planes...’

On the appointed hour, our guests began to arrive, unfazed by the shower, thunder and lightning. A couple of them were accompanied by their mommies as well. A dear dear friend, Deepa, was generous enough to bring with her a friend's daughter who herself was not keeping well. We started our session at 5.30 PM. I read out the story to them. There were enthusiastic oohs and aahs as I used a puppet to play Susheela and other things like a kite at the appropriate moment. The session was interspersed with a lot of interactive questions answers like what material was Susheela using to make her kolams. What else could be used? If they had assisted their mommies ever in making kolams or something similar? This was fun and the kids came up with well-thought out answers. They could easily draw a parallel between Suseela’s kolams and rangolis that were made with gulal on various festive occasions and to mark celebrations. Our youngest participant 'Siya' was as enthusiastic as the didis.

The story telling session was followed by a game of chits in which each child was asked to draw a chit and then perform the activity written therein. The chits had a name of a colour and a number written on them. This meant that you had to name the number of things with that particular colour. Others included telling a song or a rhyme on colours which had them all singing the poem on traffic lights.

Next came the most interesting part, where my champion Shikha treated us all for our hard work with delicious cake, savouries and a sumptuous chowmein.

By the end of the session Shikha aunty and Susheela had won many ardent fans.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The YWCA gang

The cast and characters of the following tale and true, alive and kicking ass somewhere.
The year was 2003. I had finished a Masters degree quite painfully and boarded a bus to Delhi.

Delhi has had an impact on my life which remains unparalleled in every sphere. I attribute it to the age factor. I was young, a dreamer, an idealist and contrary to when I came to Delhi, when I joined the YWCA, I was a happier soul, having shed the presents from the past to an extent.

When I came to Delhi I brought with myself a grumpy-ness and heaps of frustration, both of which my eldest massi and her family bore out with an impeccable smile. The things that I picked up while staying with them bore fruit later in life when I sat down to contemplate my life. As I sit down to write this, I am amazed at my naive-ness or should it be called foolishness, I known not.I did not come to Delhi with any dreams. I came because I wanted to get away from Chandigarh and because I was hurting due to a beautiful friendship gone awry. Strangely going back home never figured on my list and so as soon as the varsity released me, I boarded a bust to Delhi and was at my massi's door before she could say SKADOOSH.

I don't think I moved a muscle for good couple of months or may be they were three when I remained immobile, lost in my thoughts and wallowing in self-pity. It must have been my maasi's massive urgings and pleas that I set on the path of finding a job. A job I did find, in fact, I vaguely remember getting some 3-4 offer letters simultaneously in about a month's time. Much more about those adventures, you can read here and here as well

Well as it turned out, I took the job which had been offered to me impromptu and that too without a due call letter. After I had a job it did not seem fit to keep extending my relative's hospitality and I was introduced to the option of the YWCA.

Young Womens' Christian Association has a hostel on Bangla Sahib Road and a certain guardian angel who has played an important role in my earlier life was already staying there. So to cut a long story short, with all the paper work done and a sifarish from a Christian colleague at ANI, I got assigned to room number 317 at the YWCA.

I barely had a clue what a roller coaster ride the stay was going to be. I was already adopted in to the huge family that my guardian angel- Charu Di- had without any qualms. There I was a raw, awkward girl from a small town with a job that I thought I was lucky to have and looking forward to every day in the national capital.
Charu Di and Joycee Sembian were in room number 301 down the hall, bang opposite the loos. Then in a huge dormitory that homed about 8 other girls were- Jaya Kanchanbaras, Shagufta Jawed, Preety Arora. A room ahead on the same side of the hall was given life by a vivacious kid who now is a mommy of two beautiful dolls- Ruchi Kapoor.

On the second floor Pema Sherpa, our mate from the northeast resided and I think was later joined by Jaya's younger sister Priya.

Our days were spent at our respective workplaces but as the evening came around and we began to gather back at the hostel, life became interesting like never before. there was much catching up to do, gossiping, a visit to the market, supplies to be purchased, trips to the dhobi and all that hostel life is composed of.

Charu and Joycee worked at a call centre and were mostly on night shifts. This oddity gave birth to certain rituals which form the most cherished part of the days at YWCA.
These included ordering food from the CCD (or was it a Barista) at their workplace along iced teas. Today when I think of it I wonder how they must have managed to fulfill our demands along side pressures of work and strict timings of their cabs. I don't remember anything better than spending those nightly hours with lights dimmed, in their room, washing grilled sandwiches with (warm) iced tea, listening to music, lost in our own thoughts, world did not seem like a formidable place at that point. We were in no hurry to get anywhere. We lounged in that one room as if that was our lifeline, our moment of glory. Maybe the owners objected to the intrusion, may be they didn't but they never let anyone feel unwelcome. So much so they even adopted my room-mate Neha (of whom I was recently reminded by a pic that Joycee uploaded)with as much affection and good-will that was shown to me.

Our weekends were almost incomplete without a visit to Dilli Haat. Fruit Beer and momos from the Manipur stall, I could write an ode to but I remember it being a complete shopping stop for us. I remember buying bangles, bags, bed-spreads, etc from there with all of drowning a merchant with our questions and bargaining skills.

Weekends and memories would remain incomplete without the mention of a certain four-wheeler. I can feel the breeze in my hair as I cling to the door of a blue, Maruti 800, which carried the eight of us to various destinations all over the city. The car belonged to Jaya, who was also our chauffeur. The freshest memory of a trip in that car is a trip to the India Gate. It was either a 15th Aug or a 26th January. At night, after having finished our dinners we were taken by the wish to see the decorated monument and Jaya was summoned with the orders to get the ride ready.

It escapes me how we must have fit in that car, but we did and we did make it to the

monument to see families sprawling on the nearby gardens. The lit-up monument was a breathtaking sight in itself. There were a couple of nefarious accompaniments and sitting in the car, dangling from the windows we celebrated the day of national importance and the wonderful feeling of being alive, free and young.

Besides being an absolute delight on the dance floor, Jaya was also worldly wise. She gave me her precious jewellry when I was supposed to go for a photo session for a matrimonial-ad to ensure that I gave the right impression. Joycee accompanied me to the photographer's. She told me how to pose, ensured that I did not get clicked wearing my spectacles, was threaded(!!!) and that I looked more than presentable.

Joycee and Shagufta went along to see the husband-to-be and dragged me back at the some three times when I ran off. They bore with me as me and S as we got lost in conversation.

Preety Arora, fondly referred to as Preeto came from a different mould altogether. She pampered me and indulged me. I fondly remember our trips to Regal Cinema to catch the latest flicks soon after having our breakfast on some Sundays. Chameli is a distant memory but the thrill of that dubious theatre and an evening show at that is still alive. She was my introduction to 'classy'.

Pema- our fiery Darjeeling beauty and I were fond of each other but then some misunderstanding cropped up and we parted on a not-so-happy note. When I lost a baby and she came along with Jaya and Priya to Chandigarh to see me, it was as if we had not lost a day.

There are many more memories- of golgappas at Odeon, of mangoshakes and breadpakoras at the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, of lunches, of discos and disco hopping and dance sessions (in one such memory I can clearly see Jaya dancing to Dilli ki sardi, having come straight from work and surrendering to the rhythm. It was a Christmas celebration at the hostel.), of Boost vending machine, of morning walks, of award ceremonies on TV in the dorm, of creams and lotions, of borrowing handbags and clothes, of unending sessions of soul healing conversations, wonderful gifts, food and music.

As the year 2004 drew to a close, the group had started to disperse. I was probably the last one to leave hostel. That time in my mind has sepia tones.

We all continued on our journeys and as we go on to fulfill our destinies,we are bound together with innumerable memories of love and affection, of lending a shoulder, of a helping hand, of being there. These are feelings and memories which stay as you cross a threshold into another, like a warm shawl, thrown carelessly over your shoulders. A reminder that however busy you might get, when you begin to feel cold, there will be that warmth to cover you up and remind you of your own glow.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Melbourne Dream

It's your time to visit Melbourne NOW
But let me tell you about the holiday I dreamt of and how

Deserve a holiday, yes I do.
Melbourne I am getting a call
Why else would I be dreaming of
Little penguins tapping their happy feet, after all?

If it ain't for the
Great Ocean Road that beckons
Why would I dream of clear water,
Nature's wonder the Twelve Apostles
And some heritage
All at once?

I am the one for some quiet time
But hey! I would not mind
Being on my feet, to taste, toast and soak the Fed square
May I also offer a tribute to the moving pictures in sight?

Oh! hark now
I hear the exhibition space calling to me
Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi here I come.

Get me a ticket, put me on the tram
Or a shuttle if you please
The city lanes call and I must obey
I have to see the architectural wonders on my way

Next fly me in a
big bright colourful balloon
as over the Murray, awaits another dream
Fly me high and higher still
so that I may learn to live enchanted and thrilled

The Sports Museum I have had but what is this that I now hear
A crowd asking for a six and then some more?
Sandhu,Ponting, Maxwell and Clarke
Wade and Pattison, I need to see
To pack along a bag of tricks

Before I head back home
On the wings of that dream
Send Bana to tell me a joke
Better still would be Kelly to strum
A melody and the memory
of all that is chic
in this metropolis
where every moment must be seized
And where its my time to visit NOW!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

To be organised, that is the answer

Did a post on the Importance of being organised for the website some time back. This post was inspired by the success of a certain person I have known for years. This person firmly believes that patterns replicate in the different spheres of life. He firmly believes that his organisational skills have played an important role in upping his career as a manager besides A class training at an A class management school.

I found an interesting infographic, part of the post, resourced from the website
Hope you enjoy!

What had I been doing

I wrote a few articles for a website a few months back. Unfortunately that project had to be stalled but I hope it picks up pace. In the meantime I got busy with The New Indian Express column on food and am thoroughly enjoying it. In between there have been prizes from twitter, a few books, which have been highly entertaining.

Getting back to the writing for the website, I really liked what I was doing there. Some of the articles had been created curating stuff from the Internet. So here is one sampling of such work which is a personal favourite of sorts. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, August 31, 2012

So that I may not forget again

That I am a happy person with a cheerful indisposition

That listening to music always uplifts my spirit

That sky gazing and deciphering the shapes of clouds is a favourite activity

That I love waking up early and enjoy the company of solitude and the house

That I consider kindness as the biggest quality and honesty follows soon after

That writing is fulfilling

That reading is essential to being

That I can cry at the mere mention of certain things but that is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about

That I believe in life, resilience, hard work and laughter. ah! also hugs.

That I may need to have some more self confidence in my abilities from time to time but I often know better than what I give myself credit for

That I believe that no relationship is a waste of time and utna hi upkaar samajh, koi jitna saath nibha de

That going the extra mile is fun because it is not crowded and you get some time to be on your own

That I believe in holding my head and standards high

That I believe in the power of prayer

That I also believe that if God brings you to it, He will also bring you through it.

That Samay se pehle aur kismet se zyada kisi ko nahi mila hai

That people either inspire you or drain you. Once you recognise who is doing what, act quickly.

That taking a deep breath is an instant remedy to anger

That moving your butt helps in getting distracted and distraction often helps you embark on to better things than sulking

That my daughter will always carry a part of me and it is up to me to lend her the best there is in me

That I am a decent cook.

That I am blessed to have the time and resources to do what I want.