Saturday, 26 December 2015

Don't let your language die

Do you know what is a 'menu' called in Hindi? Can you name the three greatest Punjabi writers? Will you be able to make sense of Faiz's poetry without a translator? Unfortunately and shamefully so, neither will I...

Like many of you, I was born to educated middle class parents whose sole ambition in life was to see their children do well. And one of the pre-requisites for doing well was your command on the English language. So, having worked tooth and nail on their toddlers, they were overjoyed when my twin sister and I got admitted to a reputed school run by Christian missionaries. Now, if you have been to a Christian missionary school you will know how it is. You pray in English, you curse in English, you think in English, you speak in English and you even dream in English. Class monitors are often asked to 'fine' the students for speaking in any language other than English. You will, of course, learn Hindi formally because it is compulsory, but it will not be encouraged.

So, my schooling was majorly responsible for my love for the English language, and my family for my love of books. It just so happened that 99% of those were written in English.

I grew up to be one of those English speaking snobs who frowns on those who make spelling and grammatical errors, and can't stand the 'texting' language. I won't read text messages written in Hindi and my proficiency in Punjabi is limited to home schooling by my dad. Till date, I get cold feet if I have to write or speak formally in Hindi. Punjabi? I will hide my face and run. My accent is just too funny! 

I'm assuming that most of the people reading this will identify with what I'm saying. Our generation grew up to be in love with everything 'Englishy'.

My Nanaji would often reprimand my mother for our lack of Punjabi speaking skills. Trips to Nani's house meant that at least at some point of time you would be handed over the 'Ajit' newspaper to read. 'How will our 'virsa' (heritage) survive?' Nanaji would say.

To be honest I had not thought much about it until recently. Though I yearned to learn more Indian languages, I was happy and complacent in my English world. What made it important for me was my recent move to a southern state of India. Everybody here speaks a language I don't know and they guard it fiercely. They may know English well but among themselves they will talk in their regional language. Add to it a new mother's pangs about giving all the wisdom and knowledge she can to her child. This sort of shocked me with a Eureka moment. My virsa will get lost if I don't make an effort to save it! I say this at the cost of sounding like a fundamentalist, but the onus of saving my culture lies on me.

The language that you speak in is not just your mode of communication, it is thousands of years of your cultural heritage. A heritage that comes with its own prose, verse, vocabulary, religion, social customs, medicine and science. If we allow our language to die, we are also letting that thousands of years of heritage to die. Who will tell the foreigners about the Shastras if we can't study them? How will I tell people why my Guru is important for me if I can't understand what it says? How will my children discover the joys of 'Panchtantra ki Kahaniya' or the poetry of Dinkar if they have no interest in Hindi?

I think it is safe to assume that most parents hand over a book of the English alphabet before the Hindi one to their children. We presume that our kids will learn their mother tongue through daily dialogue. It is true that most kids will gain a working knowledge of their mother tongue like that. But it is also true that unless we work hard on teaching them this language and their culture, they will be unable to appreciate its depth. They will not have the right words to express the innumerable things that English has no room for. They will not be able to address an audience in their mother tongue.

We have to make them feel proud of who they are, and not just convince them that speaking good English is an important life goal. Learning English is important because it is the language of the world, of science and technology. It is the language of the World Wide Web. It has brought humanity closer in more ways than one. You will get judged harshly if you can't speak and spell in English.
But it is not what defines us. What defines us are our roots. Roots that hold the fabric of our lives together. Roots that provide us our identity as a civilization. Roots that will get lost if we lose our language.

We owe it to our children to give to them the best of our culture. We must talk to them in their mother tongue. Teach them how to read and write in it. Introduce them to good regional literature that encourages them to read more. Let the school take care of their English, French and German. You take care of their Hindi, Punjabi and Kannada. Occasionally, wear that saree that you've been saving for the 'ethnic days' at office. Your dress is not a 'costume'. It is YOUR dress. It is a part of your being.
I've recently made some pathetic attempts at reading and writing in Hindi. I promise I will try writing more often until I learn to express myself meaningfully. In my bucket list is also to write a poem in Punjabi and to learn elementary Urdu. Let's see how far I can get. Until then you try saving your virsa and mine. And make your children fall in love with it.

(Dedicated to my Nanaji, who has spent his entire life trying to teach Punjabi to reluctant souls like myself)

An edited version of this post appeared here.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Hey girl! Take care...

In our society, and in most cultures around the world, women have been the primary caregivers. They toil day and night to make sure that everyone around them is looked after. Women, unfortunately, are also twice as likely as men to suffer from depression and stress related diseases. Their biological makeup and the monotonous and thankless nature of their work are probably the main contributing factors.

I too am among those women who put family before themselves, and get stressed easily about everything. From my own experience, I wish to share a few self care tips that have kept me together when everything around me seemed to be falling apart. 

You have to understand - it's important to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of those around you. A moping, unhappy and unhealthy woman cannot bring cheer to others. You need to recharge your own batteries so that you can fill in everyone else's. It's not being selfish. And don't let anyone have you believe so. It's only when we love ourselves truly are we able to love others wholly. You're doing everyone a favour by looking after yourself.

So here are my few self care tips for all my girlfriends out there. As a disclaimer, while this article is aimed mainly at women, it applies to anyone who is the primary caregiver in a domestic setting.

1. Try and sleep at least 6-7 hours a night.
Trust me I know what I'm talking about. There is nothing more important than a good night's sleep. As a person who is a chronic insomniac, I value my sleep more than anything. Lack of sleep predisposes you to all sorts of anxiety disorders, eating disorders, physical, emotional and mental fatigue. Try and catch those 40 winks. They ensure the start of a healthy being. 

2. Eat well
Don't skip your meals. Ever. Crash diets never did anyone any good. Learn to make some quick nutritious meals so that you don't end up eating junk or missing your own while you are busy taking care of everyone else. You owe yourself that much at least. The multivitamin pills cannot make up for lost meals. 

3. Get up. Dress up. And show up. NO MATTER WHAT!
There are times in our lives when we are truly grieving. The times when we would rather stay locked inside our room and not see anyone in the world. Those are the times when you must go out. It peps you up instantly. The ritual of taking a nice warm bath, and dressing up to look good will immediately make you feel better. Go to work. Or go out anywhere. Just 15 minutes of sunshine will make you feel happier. Also, it will distract you from whatever negative thoughts that are surrounding you. 

4. Stop underestimating yourself 
I have, time and again, said this- there is no such thing as a weak woman. It is only when you face it do you realise how much strength you have. Every time you overcome what you thought was impossible, you will give your self image a boost. So don't ever give up thinking you can't do it or aren't good enough. 

5. Make time for your friends 
True friends are one of life's biggest treasures. They remind you of your inner beauty and strength when you think you have nothing left. They bring laughter, and cheer in life. And they will even slap you hard and bring you back to reality when you start getting lost. So don't lose touch. They are important.

6. Say what you feel 
No point keeping it in. It will only make you more frustrated and you will burst one day. Better to say it the way it is.

7. Stay quiet when you are angry
Wait. Let it go. It will save you a lot of regret. Go back and clear it up when you are cool. Most things seem better the moment you cool down. 

8. Switch off your phone, and TV and laptop - move your butt
The modern smartphone, while a very useful device, uses too much of our mental bandwidth. Switch it off. Talk to people face to face. Go out for a walk. Listen to the birds chirping. The lesser your screen time, the happier you will be. Get moving. Nothing works better than exercise as a stress buster. 

9. Go to the salon. Often. 
I don't know one single woman who wouldn't love to feel beautiful and be complimented. Please, please go to the salon and get all the beauty treatments you want to get done. We have but only one life. 

10. Lower the bar
The quest for perfection is a sure shot way to lead a miserable life. Take it easy on yourself and those around you. Life will be so much better. 

11. Do the things you love to do
Every  day, keep 15 minutes aside for yourself. Read a book, dance to Shakira, bake that cake, go out shopping. Make sure you take out time to do things that YOU love, not what others want you to. 

12. Shut out the people who talk negative stuff about you 
You don't have to take the bullshit. Ek kaan se suno, doosre se bahar. Better still, don't listen. Treat yourself with compassion. Respect yourself. And don't let anyone take it away from you. 

13. Don't ignore your own illnesses
Get a massage for that aching back, visit the dentist, get your cold treated. Take rest if needed. 

14. Invest in some good lingerie 
Ok, so good lingerie can be really really expensive. But it's worth the money. It makes you feel so good about yourself. And by good, I also mean appropriate. Leave the racy stuff for the bedroom. Buy some well fitting, full coverage seamless brassieres for the workplace. What you wear on the outside may bring you respect, but what you wear under it is a reflection of your own self respect. 

15. Seek help whenever you begin to feel lost
It may be a spiritual guru, a friend or a doctor. Make sure you get help if you feel like it

16. Have faith 
In God, in yourself and in humanity. Pray pray pray. Faith works wonders. 

Last but not the least, make sure you cuddle. There are not enough hugs and cuddles in the world. So just give one and get one in return. Especially from little babies. And your loving pets. Who can feel sad when you have so much cuteness around?

Friday, 23 October 2015

Why must I worship Ram?

Dussehra just went by, and like every year, this year too the Ravan effigies were burnt with great gusto. I'm a huge fan of festivals and celebrations and I love this time of the year, but every time a Ravan is burnt, I'm left thinking, is the Ramayana really relevant today?

From a feminist point of view, the Ramayana is what's everything that is wrong with our society. If you read it just as a story and not as a religious scripture, you realise how much it reveres the patriarchal system. The telling of this story, generation after generation, is an indicator of how deep this reverence is embedded in our culture.

There are such great flaws with the character of Ram. Firstly, suppose some prince's very unreasonable step mom insists that he be thrown out of the palace and lead an ascetic life. The King stays mum and lets it happen. The prince too, like a spineless git, agrees to such a demand. Not only does he give up the privileges of being a prince, but he's also running away from his responsibilities as a prince. Very convenient huh? Does choosing to lead a life of suffering make one a worthy head of state?

Would such a thing be acceptable for our generation? Should the prince not have tried to reason it out with his parents? Dictatorial roles for parents are no longer the norm. There are disagreements in every family, sure, but happy families sit down and sort it out like adults. Or they fight it out. That's ok sometimes too. Everyone in the family has a say. Even the youngest child. That's what we want to show and teach our children. It's ok to question authority and think for yourself. It's an important skill in life. To be assertive and be able to negotiate calmly. In fact, many Asians lose out to the Westerners because we aren't assertive enough, we do not speak up in the presence of authority and try to be too nice.

Coming back to the Ramayana. Ram, of course, is an extremely skilled warrior and wins his wife back from the clutches of the evil Lankan king. But what does he do after that? On popular demand, he asks his wife Sita to take the Agni Pariksha to test her 'purity'. Even after she passes the test, he abandons her to please everyone. Really?

Firstly, it isn't a woman's fault that she gets kidnapped by someone. Secondly, imagine the trauma. After coming back from captivity a woman is asked to prove her purity! Who does that? Even if a woman does get kidnapped and raped, should her husband's role be that of a protector and healer or must he join the bandwagon in shaming and abandoning his wife?

Look at Ravan on the other hand. He is an extremely learned king with many great skills acquired through many years of 'tapasya'. As a matter of fact, he's portrayed as having ten heads to highlight his brilliance. The main reason he kidnaps Sita is to avenge the insult of his sister Sarupnakha. Now that's a very brash thing to do and I in no way approve of it, but look at the reason. Protecting his sister's honour. How many men are bold enough to do that?

Next, while Sita is in captivity, she's treated with the utmost respect by Ravan. She's well looked after and provided for. Not once does he touch her forcibly. He's waiting for her consent. Which never comes because she loves her husband too much.

Until the very end, this powerful king is invincible, but loses out to Ram only because his own brother betrays him. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Almost.

Doesn't Ravan sound like the better of the two men? His only vice is his arrogance. Why must I favour Ram over Ravan, when Ravan sounds like the kind of man who would stand by you and protect you.

History has always been kinder to the winner. I'm sure if Adolf Hitler had won the war, a 1000 years down the line, there would have been legend and folklore surrounding his greatness.

I do not, for one moment question Ram's morality and integrity. He was after all a committed monogamous man, hugely popular, respectful and nice and a very skilled warrior. I question the relevance of such a character in our time. I haven't read the scriptures myself, so this is probably a very superficial analysis based on the stories I have been told. Maybe we aren't telling the stories right. Isn't it time that someone revisits the scriptures and tells the stories again? Makes Ram more popular and returns his lost glory? So that I see more pro-Ram and not pro-Ravan messages on Dussehra...


Sunday, 18 October 2015

My Experiments with (Healthy) Eating

Anybody who knows me knows that I've always been 'chubby'. While I'm quite comfortable with how I look, I have to be careful with what I eat to prevent an indiscriminate overload of 'cuteness' - as my mom calls it. Thankfully I'm not a fussy eater and badly made dishes don't ruin my day(especially the ones that I make). And hence, many years of trying to eat right has made me develop a palate that naturally gravitates towards fresh fruits, vegetables and non-oily dishes. BUT, I'm an unapologetic chocoholic and coffee lover, so I do tend to balance out my healthy eating with chocolates :).

Here is my account of the little wisdom I have acquired with trying to eat right.

I must start with a disclaimer though - I am an extremely lazy cook with very little experience in the kitchen. And hence, those of you who are passionate about cooking will find my knowledge rudimentary. I don't do 'diets' so I don't have much to say about them. Also, I have almost nil advice for non-vegetarians, because I try really hard to stay away from chicken and meat. So, here goes -

1. Sugar is your worst enemy, and it's everywhere!

Yes, that's right. Refined sugar is the worst ever food ingredient. It's even worse than fat. It is not only bad for those who are trying to watch their weight but even for those who are not. It is extremely addictive in nature - in fact - it gives a small high like narcotic drugs do, and hence, the more you have sugar the more you want it. It causes your blood sugar levels to fluctuate rapidly, has a high glycemic index, and saps you of energy unlike what we are made to believe.
And it is everywhere - from your tea, to jams and jellys, to flavoured yogurt, to packaged juices, to that harmless looking biscuit, to even that 'tasty' cough syrup. There's no escaping the hidden sources.
But you can consciously change your habits. Try having tea without sugar, only 100% juices or fresh juice, cut down on bakery products - and replace as many things as possible with unrefined sugar. Brown or demerara sugar is just cane sugar coloured with molasses, so that's no good. Use jaggery powder, unrefined sugar, date paste, honey, or use fruits to sweeten your dishes. It is just a matter of time. Once you get used to subtle sweetness, you won't even like 'sweet' sweets.

2. Replace refined carbs with complex carbs wherever possible

This has been one of my most successful swaps. I've replaced maida with whole-wheat wherever possible. All the baking I do is with whole wheat flour, no white bread is ever bought, no bakery products except digestive biscuits, and only whole wheat pasta. I haven't tried this swap with Indo-chinese dishes - so I have no idea if you can make momos or manchurian with whole wheat flour, but I might give it a try soon.
My unsuccessful swap was with introducing brown rice. The cooked brown rice has a consistency between white rice and dalia, and it does little to appease us basmati eating kinds. I will keep trying though. Maybe someday, I will start liking it.
I'm yet to try the more fancy stuff - quinoa types, so can't say much.
Also, try not to have refined carbs at night. They're less filling and more fattening.

3. If you can't find it, you won't eat it

Get rid of ALL the junk food in your house. Biscuits, namkeens, butter chaklis, fried nuts, everything. No mukhwas or ram laddoos or churan goliyan. If you can't find it, you will automatically reach for the healthier option.

4. Load up on fruits,veggies and lean protein

I really don't need to explain this one do I? Flavour your oatmeal with some real apples, dry fruits, or bananas(though dieters won't want them). Making some garlic bread? Add bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and olives. Try to bake your pizza at home. And tacos too, they turn out great! Add some spinach to that omelette. Grab a handful of nuts when hungry. Make that fruit smoothie.
I have grown particularly fond of South Indian dishes. They are so easy to make, full of flavour, you can add all kinds of dals,veggies and dry fruits, minimal oil is required, very few spices are needed,and one kind of batter gives so many different dishes. Heaven.
You should also have lots of lean protein. Lentils, mushrooms, paneer. Egg whites and chicken for the non-vegetarians. All of these things - complex carbs, fibrous vegetables and lean protein keep you full for longer and also keep your blood sugar levels stable.

5. Read the fine print

Whenever you are buying a packaged product make sure you read the nutritional information. For instance, durum wheat pasta is actually made from refined durum wheat, just a fancy name for 'maida'. What you want is whole wheat pasta - the deep brown one. Many commercially produced 'wheat' or 'brown' breads have significant amounts of refined flour, as do many 'digestive' and 'oat' cookies. So, before you buy, read the fine print. Become a smart consumer.

6. Try to have an early dinner

This is one advice I can never follow myself, but I did lose weight at one point of time just by having early dinner. Now I end up eating quite late, a habit I'd love to change.

7. Exercise. Exercise.

When you're working so hard on your body, you automatically want to eat healthy, so that all that hard work doesn't go waste. But, if you let yourself go, you just keep going downhill. So, exercise.

These were my few words of wisdom for those trying to eat healthy. I am still in a transient phase and am very open to suggestion. Please do write back with your own tips and suggestions. I'd love to incorporate them.

Till then, Happy Eating!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Thank You, With Love

This Teachers' Day, I take the opportunity to thank everyone who has taught me something in life. I must have left out something, so my apologies in advance. 

And there's still a lot to learn - so bring it on life!

To my mother who taught me how to hold a spoon, thank you,

I will need your embrace till the end of time. 
To my father who taught me manners, thank you,
I will need your support and strength always. 
To the sister who taught me companionship, thank you,
It is because of you I've never been friendless. 
To the brother who taught me to keep cool, 
It's because of you I can smile when things get hot. 
To the teacher who taught me how to read, thank you,
It's because of you I discovered the joy of books. 
To the teacher who taught me maths, thank you,
It's because of you I know there's a solution to every problem. 
To the teacher who taught me science, thank you,
It's because of you that I question and learn. 
To the teacher who taught me language, thank you,
It's because of you I can express myself in words.
To the teacher who showed me the world, thank you,
It's because of you I yearn to travel. 
To the teacher who believed in public shaming, thank you,
It's because of you I resolved not to humiliate a child. 
To the mentor who believed in me, thank you,
It's because of you I did not give up. 
To the authors whose books I read, thank you,
It's because of you the world is a better place. 
To the family who taught me how to love, thank you,
It's because of you I find family wherever I go. 
To the friends who stood by me, thank you,
It's because of you I've always felt loved. 
To the things that weren't meant to be, thank you,
It's because of you I learnt to embrace loss.
To the ones who left me, thank you,
It's because of you I learnt to be strong.
To the ones who stand up with courage, thank you,
It's because of you I believe in goodness of humanity. 
To the road accident in which I was unscathed, thank you,
It's because of you I started taking the weather seriously. 
To the times I saw suffering, thank you,
It's because of you I learnt gratitude. 
To the ones who lied to me, thank you,
It's because of you I learnt who to trust. 
To the 'bad' ones who actually became friends, thank you,
It's because of you I discovered new colours. 
To my husband who held my hand, thank you,
It's because of you I understood true love. 
To my new mom who loved me unconditionally, thank you,
It's because of you I became a proud woman. 
To the pain of birthing a child, thank you,
It's because of you I understood endurance. 
To my baby who teaches me motherhood, thank you,
It's because of you I found the child in me again. 
To the Guru who has always guided me, thank you,
It's because of you I still have faith. 
To life our greatest teacher, thank you,
It's because of you I learn something every day. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ain't no Disney princess!

I don't want my daughter growing up on Disney movies. Don't get me wrong, I love them and have myself grown up on a steady dose of Cinderella and Ariel, but I still don't want my daughter watching them. These stories depict everything that women today don't want to be. Extremely girly girls wearing these unmanageable dresses, shy and timid, whose only mission in life is to wait for their Prince Charming to come and sweep them off their feet. 

Sorry, but that's not what I want my daughter to be. 

Childhood is the most brilliant time of anyone's life, where you can dream and fantasise and be anything you want to be. I can't imagine how dull life would be if we did not have these brilliant childhood memories and fantasies where we were allowed to be anything. But if I have to help steer my daughter's dreams, it would be towards seeing herself as Superwoman! Somebody who can fly and lift heavy things and run faster than trains and be a messiah of the masses. She wouldn't need a Prince Charming to come rescue her. She would be more than any of the boys her age can wish to be. 

If we take a look around at how our world is evolving, I believe even men today do not want to be with a fragile touch me not. A man needs to be with a strong woman, who can look after herself and him when the time comes. Who is ambitious, conscientious, hard working, has a mind of her own and can earn a buck. The old patriarchal ways are changing. Nobody thinks it is dishonourable if a woman works. Parents are proud of their scholar daughters. Just like men, women too demand respect in their relationships and they are willing to earn it. A fragile woman who is afraid of cockroaches would only be a liability and not an asset. 

The Disney princesses are irrelevant and obsolete and I wish there were better stories to tell ( or I just might end up telling some of my own). But if my darling daughter must see these movies, I would rather have her become Maleficent, the protector of the moors, than Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Choori ka Ladoo!

It is amazing how food can evoke some very powerful emotions. Some of my most cherished childhood memories revolve around food - particularly that made by my Nani(maternal grandmother). If you are a Punjabi foodie like me you will understand what I mean. The inspiration to write this article came while preparing this beloved dish for my family.

For the uninitiated, Choori is basically a hot paratha mashed with generous amounts of ghee and sugar to make a mouthwatering dessert. You have missed something in life if you haven't had it. Yes it is VERY unhealthy - probably worse than a halwa, but who cares, it's Choori!

So here I am, making Choori in the kitchen, infusing it with love, ghee and sugar, all the time missing my Nani so much. This happens every time I prepare the dish - for she was the one who would make it for me and my siblings, roll it into nice, round laddoos and give one to each one of us. It was the highlight of our trips to her house. And if she would come to meet us, all of us would be eyeing the tiffin boxes in her hand - looking for our ladoos. She never came empty handed- ever. As you must have already guessed, she was a superb cook. She made the most awesome vegetarian Punjabi food, and there was always enough for anyone who wished to eat. Even on the day she died, she had hosted a lunch for all the daughters of the family and their husbands, knowing fully well that this was probably the last meal she would feed everyone.

My Nani was the most badass woman I know. There was nothing she couldn't do. She could weave, sew, embroider, crochet, knit, cook, pray, wash, clean, read palms, sing, dance, invest, save, small talk, empathise, advise - everything done to perfection and in time. She broke social norms and was the first woman in her clan to ditch the purdah and take bold social and financial decisions at a time when her family needed it the most. From the meagre salary of a teacher husband, she managed to make both her kids doctors. She had two kids, which is commendable considering that it was at a time when people couldn't remember how many they had. She was not very educated but had wisdom no school can teach. She was much ahead of her times and yet firmly rooted in tradition. Two qualities that endeared her to all and made her the best guide to go to in time of need.

She was also the most spiritually enlightened woman I know. You could feel it the moment you were in her vicinity. Her aura was so pious. She herself confessed, had she not gotten married, she would have spent her life doing Bhakti. Though she belonged to a Hindu family, and got married into a Sikh one, she was equally proficient with both types of prayers. She would be up at 5 am, and then everything she did was a prayer. Work and worship amalgamated, and it was visible in every aspect of her life. Such was her tuning with the Universe, that whatever she uttered would turn out to be true. To me it was magical and awe inspiring!

The last most commendable thing about her was her ability to stay happy in every situation. No matter what life brought, she would find the opportunity in it and turn it around. She battled severe illness for many years before her death, but never complained. Whenever asked, she would always say she was feeling great!

My Nani led an exemplary life which was an inspiration to everyone. She touched the life of anyone who ever came in contact with her. The sheer number of people present on her funeral was a testimony to this fact. She was a pillar of strength for everyone. It is true that life goes on but some voids are impossible to fill and shoes too large to fit in. She is missed each and every day but her legacy lives on. Through every life she touched and through everything we learnt from her. We carry her in our hearts. So next time you have Choori made by me, you know there's a part of my Nani's love in there. Feel like having some? Bon appetit! :)

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