Feb 29, 2012

Mr. R

It's been a year-and-a-half now since M and I made the epic sojourn to Kailash and Manasarovar. Although overwhelmingly brilliant, I simply could not find the right words to describe the journey for a long time. Eventually, I thought it best to document it bit by bit, one wonderful experience at a time. The Lake Where No One Lives came first, hopefully others will follow.

While there are several noteworthy stories to share about the sights we set our eyes on, equally inspiring and interesting were the 40-odd people we shared our pilgrimage with. Names are hazy and easily forgotten, but their faces and their smiles, their words and their deeds, will remain etched in my memory forever. 

There was Maa, who had literally turned blue after catching a cold but went on nevertheless. There was Doctor S, who I'd witnessed administering stitches to an elderly lady after she had met with an accident. At the end of the procedure he touched her feet, thanking her for the opportunity to serve her. Both pairs of eyes welled up, rendering useless any further words between them. There was also the girl who made my dip in the Lake possible, who helped me walk into the cold waters with courage I never knew I had.

But most of all, I remember this one man, whom I shall refer to as Mr. R.

Mr. R, with silver-gray hair, was probably in his late fifties. He was the kind of man you could tell was very handsome in his youth, good enough to have been a movie star. His frame was muscular and there was a certain beauty in the way he held himself and took his long strides. As you'd know if you've read some of my previous posts, I take great interest in observing people who catch my fancy, and Mr. R was certainly one of them. 

So observe, I did. It was hard not to. Impossible, really. The man was remarkable not just in terms of physical beauty, but also physical endurance. The cold and high altitude that had gotten to me, a person half his age, had seemingly no effect whatsoever on his health and attitude. While the rest of us bundled up in layers, he went about regally in the only flimsy pair of clothes he had packed - as a man on a true pilgrimage would. Due to the lack of hot water, the group abandoned bathing as we gained in altitude. But not Mr. R. He continued to cleanse himself with ice-cold water at every stop we made, after washing his clothes. As he waited for them to dry, he would chant aloud Sanskrit verses on the praise of Lord Shiva

Naturally, I was not the only one whose attention he had managed to grab. A few considered him a man of extraordinary physical strength. There were rumors doing rounds that he would walk all the way from Chennai to Tirupati and back, once every month. Others in the group said he was a show-off, trying desperately to gain some attention by openly defying the rules. I'm not sure if the whispers ever reached his ears, but they seemed to be of no consequence to him. He seemed set in his mission, whatever he'd decided it was.

It was around 4 am on a dark, chilly morning in Paryang, Tibet, when my intense observations of the past week had actually led me to do something I never expected I would. The group was readying itself for the next leg of the journey, the all important one that would lead to the Lake Manasarovar. I was ready ahead of time, completely uneasy with the climatic conditions, having vomited non-stop from altitude sickness the previous day. It irritated me beyond reason that I had to have fallen sick while on the journey of a lifetime.  As I walked out of my room, I tried to gather my thoughts, focus myself on devotion and nothingness. And that's when I spotted in the hallway, a lone figure, seated on a wooden stool. Faint chants told me that the person was none other than Mr. R. Dressed once again in his flimsy t-shirt and pants, he was engrossed in singing the praises of the Lord, while all around him were busy looking for toothpaste and waiting for some hot water to arrive. 

I stared. I could not believe it. What on earth had this man done, I burned to know, to have possessed such an extraordinary control over his body. Here was a man, who at the age of fifty could do something that I could perhaps never, ever hope to do in my lifetime. Here was a man who had mastered something that I have been struggling with ever since I could remember - the body. He was comfortable in his skin, comfortable in his discomfort, and for that, there was no way I couldn't have done what I did next. I walked straight up to him, and bowed down at his feet. 

At first he didn't notice me. A few seconds later he did, but his chanting continued nevertheless. I shed a few tears, got up and walked away, realizing how far I was from where I wanted to be. Also realizing that maybe not too far, if I could only find a way to bow down to every creation of the creator, just the same way.

Feb 22, 2012

Time is Money!

Okay, so maybe it isn't, whatever. But I'd still like to stress that time is important and especially when it belongs to others. So, if you are one of those who waste people's time then, well, don't. Take as long as you want in the loo. Do what you want to with your hair. Stay late at work, take a shower before dinner. Hey, it's your life and it certainly is your wish. Just don't waste my time while you're at it, okay?

Granted, I'm not the most punctual of people. True, I've probably kept people waiting a few minutes too, just a few. But no way, never as blatantly as the following examples:

  • Couples who, when invited for lunch will turn up at 4.30 PM. Need I rant any further?
  • A person who will claim she is just 10 minutes away and will turn up after 3 freaking hours. Arghh!
  • People who will invite you to go out to dinner, ask you to come over first, and then take their own sweet time showering and trying on outfits. And then when you think you're finally on the way to that much-awaited meal, they will make stops to run their errands. Double Arghh!

Seriously, I understand that younger folks take their time doing things, I understand that it takes time to get kids ready, I understand that at a certain age time doesn't seem very important. I was not very time-conscious myself when I was younger. But with age, I guess it's not so unreasonable to expect some responsibility, don't you think? At least a sense of respect for other's time and plans. 

Despite all the ranting, let me tell you that I'm actually a very, very patient person. I tend to give people second chances, and thirds and fourths, and several more after that. But then it gets too much, sometimes. Perhaps that's what I do wrong. Perhaps I need to skip giving chances and be honest the first time around. Oh, well.

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Feb 10, 2012

Food || Chocolate Cake in a Box – Easy Peasy!

This Valentine’s Day,

  • are you married/dating/in a relationship and looking to do something special for your ‘special’ one?
  • are you single and looking to do something special for yourself?
  • are you sick of all the hoopla every year and will be busy at work only to return late at night with no time to do anything special, but that’s okay because it isn’t even a special day anyway?
  • are you one of those eternal chocolate haters who will not touch anything with even a hint of chocolate in it?

If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of the above, I have just the thing for you. If not, I still have just the thing for you. No matter what your stance in life, this cake cannot fail you. Fine Print: And if it does, well, then you don’t know me and I’ve never heard of you before. :D

It’s Chocolate Cake in  Box! Well, originally it’s not made in a box, but I made it and put in a box, and ate it out of the box, and then washed the box and put it away, and hence the name Chocolate Cake in a Box! And let me tell you, it was one of the best comfort foods ever. It is also gender-neutral. As in, people can make it and enjoy with ease regardless of gender. Especially so, if you're a guy looking to impress your woman. :D

I made this cake almost a year ago, when I had lunch with my two best girlfriends. We ordered in some Chinese food that day, kicked back on the couch and chatted away, and later for dessert, there were three spoons and my Chocolate Cake in a Box! Needless to say there was a lot of 'mmming' that followed. :D

So without further delay, I present to you the recipe of my Chocolate Cake in a Box! Okay, I’ll stop saying that now.

There are two parts to the recipe – The Cake and The Ganache.

The Cake - 

Believe me when I tell you this is the easiest and least messy cake to make in the world. No mixing bowls, no eggs, nothing!

  • Preheat your oven/convection microwave/whatever it is you use to bake at 180C/350F for 10 minutes or so.
  • Take an 8 inch square baking pan/dish/tin or any other shape that would hold the same volume. It must not be greased. In it, dump 1.5 cups maida (all purpose flour), 1 cup sugar that's been powdered, 1/4th cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1tsp baking pwd, 3/4 tsp baking soda, and 1/4th tsp salt. Mix it all up with a spoon. In order to avoid lumps, you can sift the dry ingredients first.

  • Next, add 1/3rd cup melted butter (unsalted, room temperature), 1 cup warm water, 1tsp vanilla essence, 1 tbsp lime juice. Whisk it all around so there aren't any lumps in the batter.

  • Stick the pan in the oven at the same temperature for about 30 minutes. Or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. 
  • Cool the cake and put it in a Box! Or, just leave it in the pan and eat from it directly. Who cares, really?

The Ganache Frosting - 

The name might sound a bit fancy if you've never made this before, but again, it's really really simple. A child could make it.

  • Take 50 g of Dark Chocolate and 50 g of Milk Chocolate. (Cooking chocolate that's available in any grocery store). You can substitute this with 100 g of semisweet chocolate if you like, or use more chocolate if you like it really sweet. I wanted it rather mild so everyone could enjoy it. 

  • Chop up all the chocolate and place it in a bowl

  • To this, add 3/4 cup or 180 ml of Amul Fresh Cream and 1 tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature). 

  • Place a large bowl of water on the stove and bring it to boil. Then place the bowl of chocolate over the bowl of water, and keep stirring until everything melts and forms a smooth paste. It's really quite fun to do this.
  • Remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. Your ganache frosting is ready!

  • You can pour this directly over the cake, or do what I did. Whip it! Preferably use an electric whisk or egg beater to save your arm from falling off. But it gets so much more creamier and yummier. Like this!

Note: This recipe has been adapted from this one, at JoyofBaking.

The ganache can be completed as the cake is baking. So once I had them both ready, I simply slathered the chocolate frosting all over the cake and took the box to my friend's. And then we dug in and this is what it looked like:

Huh, well won't you just look at that. Looks like we dug in pretty neatly. But feel free to make a mess as you please. After all chocolate is the tastiest when it's the messiest! :D

Happy Valentine's Day, folks! Lemme know what your plans are.

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Feb 8, 2012


Img Credit: h.koppdelany

I’m sitting in my aunt’s house, it’s newly constructed. I’m trying to change my clothes. The walls are disappearing. What I thought was a room turned out to be a balcony. I’m trying to hurry up. There are several people in the house, several voices. They are related to me, very distantly. M is nearby. He’s smiling, like an acquaintance. I feel a bond, but the bond is feeble, not as strong as before. A young girl comes up to me, stands beside me. She is dark, sweaty, unattractive, overweight. Yet, she is well dressed. She calls me mum. She’s probably in her mid teens. She tells me she wants to go shopping. I tell her, sure dear, let’s do it. Now? Where do you want to shop, Delhi? Mumbai? Here, in Chennai? You name the place and we’ll go there. I feel the need to indulge her. She hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s been a good daughter. She looks innocent and sweet. I like this girl. She tells me she doesn’t want to go now, because it’ll interfere with her studies. She says she wants to go after the exams, during the holidays before she starts college. I agree. I can’t remember what she’s studying. I just know she’s my daughter, I have no other memory of her. I feel regret.

The scene shifts. I’m sitting outside a huge mansion. It is built in the style of ancient Indian architecture but it’s new. I don’t know what’s the purpose of this building but it isn’t someone’s home. I’m sitting among a group of people and Sadhguru is sitting before us. M is somewhere in the group, not beside me. I suddenly realize I’m missing something, I left it at the hotel. I need to go get it and get back. I start walking barefoot, the path to the hotel is up a small hill. I walk ten steps, near enough so that Sadhguru’s voice on the microphone is still audible. He’s talking about a story, of the enlightenment of Lord Vinayaka, which happened on those hills. As he speaks, I look up and there is a temple of a Goddess on the slope. I realize that I’m standing on the exact spot of Ganesha’s enlightenment. I am unable to move. I need to go forward. I look back, I’m not too far away I think, no one will miss me. I am overcome by the urge to sit down right there. I fall to the ground, close my eyes. A song is playing now, a powerful one. I fall bang into meditation. I go deeper than I ever have gone before. I’m forgetting who I am, I can feel it. The identity of Sumitra is getting all erased, wiped out. Everything is blanking fast. It’s scary, I panic. I want to go back, I have to go back. I force myself to get out of this. It’s like a black hole, pulling me fast into the void and I’m struggling to pull the plug. Finally I yank my eyes open. I’m in my aunt’s house. Changing my clothes. I hear several voices. But I am alone.

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Feb 6, 2012

My Loo, My Paradise

Paradise, technically, is probably a place you would never want to leave. If this were true, then my paradise can lie in one and only one place.

The Bathroom.

In order to explain myself, I must start at the very beginning. The apartment I grew up in was a warm and cozy double-bedroom. It was just enough for a family of three - my parents and me. I loved that little home dearly, and I probably still do. The place is so synonymous with the word 'home' for me, that even today my dreams are filled with that apartment, and not my current place of residence. I had a nice room all to myself, but the bathroom was where I got all the real privacy I needed.

Our bathroom was neat and simple; it had a tub, a toilet, a basin and a washing machine. I can still imagine being in it vividly, as though I were there only yesterday.  As an avid reader, imaginer, mirror-actor and day dreamer, it was the one place where all my antics would go completely unnoticed. And so I remained there for long periods of time. It was common knowledge in my family that once I went in, I rarely ever came out. People wondered what I could possible be doing in there for so long. Oh, if only they knew how the place came alive for me in more ways than one.  

Img Credit: nanny snowflake

Most of all, I liked to read in the loo. Especially during exam-time, when I wasn't allowed to read any story books. I would stuff a book under my shirt and dash inside. Once the door was locked, people were hardly likely to bother me because, well, I was in the loo, doing my business! That's legal, right? So I read and I read, and then I read some more. Coming out with the book wasn't always as easy, especially if someone was waiting to use the bathroom next. So I came up with hiding places - outside the window on the sill, behind the washing machine, the bottom of the laundry basket. Soon, I stopped being bothered to retrieve the books at all, so I always had my stash waiting for me when I sneaked in. This went on for long, until my mother one day discovered a high stack of books sitting on the sill. It was not a good day for me.

While there are several other things I did in there (refer to this post for more info), I find reading in the loo to be the most relaxing and stress-busting activity ever. In fact, I will now sheepishly let you in on a little secret of mine. I have read so much in the loo that now I cannot spend more than 15 minutes in a book store. Because if I do, I will have to go! Seriously, every single time. M says I'm psychologically wired that way for life.

So as you can see, I have had a long-standing relationship with my beloved bathroom. It is the place I go when I am happy or sad, when I must think and ponder, when I must read, or simply to get away. No I really do not need an expensive vacation to get away from the stresses of life, a few hours in the loo will work out just fine. The bathroom is such an important place to me that it is the first thing I look at when we're looking for an apartment to rent, or even in a hotel room. If the loo is good, I am good too.

Img Credit: rockinfree

But I must tell you that I have a dream as far as bathrooms are concerned. A dream bathroom, if you will. That is, if I ever write a book that will make me as rich as J K Rowling, the one thing I know for sure is the kind of bathroom I will build myself. I don't really care about the rest of the house or anything, it could be in ruins for all I care, as long as I get this room right. And I will now tell you exactly what I have in mind (rubs hands together gleefully :D ).

  • A minimum area of 400 sq.ft.
  • Two toilet stalls, each with their own door and separate exhaust. 
  • Two wash basins complete with mirrors and appropriate lighting.
  • Noiseless exhaust systems.
  • A shower room with glass doors, that also works as a steam room.
  • A bathtub.
  • A lounge area, consisting of but not limited to - a soft couch, a fully-stocked bookshelf, a massage table, LCD TV, laptop, WiFi connectivity, a bowl of exotic chocolates, a collection of aromatic oils.
  • A dressing area that has the softest of silken robes, the fluffiest of towels and the warmest of slippers. 
  • Super-ventilation with sunlight and fresh air pouring in from all sides. 

If you cannot possibly imagine the kind of room I'm talking about, please search Google Images for 'Luxury Bathrooms'. I assure you that you will still have no idea as to what I'm talking about. I have myself never set eyes on a bathroom like this except for in my imagination. If you do stumble upon a picture close to what I've described then pliss, pliss to be sharing with me, kindly :)

So now you know why my loo is my paradise. Do you share a special relationship with any of the rooms in your home? Do let me know!

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Feb 1, 2012

The Truth About Relationships

It feels good to get back to my blog after a nice, long break. The mind's refreshed and brimming with ideas now. M and I had been to Chennai this past week, visiting with my family - cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. We had a great time bonding with everyone, it was a happy and welcome break from being alone most of the time in Bangalore.

Photo Credit ~ left-hand

The best part of our visit to Chennai, I would say, is the stuff I got to learn about relationships. M and I do not have siblings and hence don't have any family bonding to do on a regular basis. We're pretty much on our own always. My extended family lives in Chennai and the last time I'd spent any time with them was a good half-a-dozen years ago. So as an adult, this was the first time I got to see what relations are like up-close, other than what I'd learned from my parents as a kid.

During my growing-up years, what I witnessed most around my grandma, mom and her siblings in the name of family bonding was mostly, gossip. People were always talking about someone who wasn't there at the time and it was never really anything good. There were too many misunderstandings to even keep count of. So my general opinion of extended family was really quite distorted. Though I never did make it known, I was always skeptical about the meaning of a family, when all everyone ever did was bitch about each other. I grew up not liking those discussions, and tried my best to stay out.

But this time, I really did see a very different side to my family. It think it was more so because my mother and her siblings are now older and have taken a back seat. It's more the generation of my cousins and their children and to a large extent, things are very different today. I ended up thinking that if this is what family is like, I'd love to be a part of it. 

So I'd like to share with you the three most important truths about relationships I learned during this visit.

Truth #1: People are Basically Good

The things we hear on the news and other sources around us have possibly convinced us that the world is a bad place to live in, and that we have to watch out for ourselves. We're always warned of being robbed, duped or assaulted. I'm really not familiar with statistics when I say this, but in reality I think the contrary is true. In reality, most people are actually pretty good.

Photo Credit ~ Katerha

I spent a lot of time observing and understanding the way people talk and behave in the past week. I've also spent time in pitting people against what is being said about them behind their backs. And the truth, I feel, is that people are just plain good. Misunderstood, yes, but most certainly not as bad as they are made out to be. 

What people certainly are, is defensive. The fear of getting hurt has basically robbed us of the ability to trust, and hence we doubt the motives of everyone around us. We also misunderstand the most basic of actions, failing to realize where certain words or behaviour might be coming from. 

So the first truth is this: If you are able to get past the many guards and walls that people have built around themselves as protection, you will find that they are really as sweet and vulnerable as puppies. Yes, most people are really just good.

Truth #2: Affection is to People, as Pollen is to Bees

Deep inside each and every one of us lies a desire for recognition and appreciation. What people want out of relationships is to be understood, for others to be on their side, to see the world from their point of view. In short, everyone is looking for affection.

Photo Credit ~ PSS

An age-old wisdom that I've been hearing about ever since I can remember is that when you live in affluence, people will flock around you. Examples have been quoted from time to time, in order to drive this point. And yet, I don't see this to be true. In fact, the opposite is true. The more affectionate you are, the more people tend to enjoy your company. I'm a great believer of Mithe Bol, roughly translated to sweet or polite words, that are of course, not fake.

I was really quite surprised with all the affection that M and I received from my family. They all had gifts to offer us along with home-cooked delicacies, which was a wonderful gesture and completely unexpected. Far from the monetary value, what we saw was the thought behind the gestures and we were totally bowled over by everything that was done for us. 

And so, the second truth is this: It's nice to be nice, even when you are being truthful, even when you are saying what you have to say. People appreciate being treated with the respect and courtesy that they deserve and this is what it takes to build great relationships.

Truth #3: It's Best to Turn Off the Super-Sensitive Radar

As we all know from our own individual experience, where there are relatives, there is bound to be an abundance of comments, advice and judgement. This is really a universal law of sorts and something that cannot be escaped. In fact, since every one is in the same boat, your relatives might be thinking the same of you. We are all guilty of having made comments on the lives of others at some point of time. There's no denying this.

So, what's to be done? Nothing, really. Acceptance is what makes everything easy. If you learn not to take anything seriously, and take everything in your stride, you will see that judgments and advice are a very small part of life that take up very little time. They are only blown out of proportion in our own minds, when we incessantly dwell upon them. 

Other things that are common when relatives gather are comparisons and complaints . Sometimes people miss out a person or two while offering something by mistake, sometimes people genuinely haven't heard you because they were preoccupied, sometimes people were tired and didn't make that second dish for lunch or could only make you idlis for dinner, sometimes they might have miscalculated and the rice wasn't enough, or they forgot to offer you a bedspread or towel and you had to ask for it, sometimes people select the wrong color or material of clothes they gift you - these are really very, very silly things that I have heard people complain about for years and years. 

So the last, and perhaps the most important truth about relationships is this: You really have to know when something is silly and let it go. You need to look at the larger picture, at how much effort has gone into something and how much people have done for you out of their own capacity. While appreciation goes a long way, nitpicking takes you nowhere.

Photo Credit ~ Arbron

So these are the gems of wisdom I've gathered from the past few days I spent visiting with my relatives. What would you like to add/subtract/confirm/oppose to/from these? Any of these apply to you and your family? Do let me know in the comments below.

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