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!

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