Life brings with a plethora of experiences, each with a flavour of its own. I wish to share with all my readers these various experiences and observations that I have made during my time here on this planet. They may be funny, thought-provoking or simple reflections. I do hope you will find these enjoyable and interesting.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Lighthouse and I and Other Ramblings

From Google images

Life sometimes sucks.   Yes, it does for all of us. Even when we try to kid each other, trying to convince ourselves about how "privileged" we are to have been born human on this planet. Maybe true - sometimes - but not when one is feeling down in the dumps. When life sucks, some of us do wish we were never born. We look for some source of inspiration or even some means of escape, depending on how we are mentally tuned at that moment. We wonder why we are here at all. We try to comfort ourselves - try to convince ourselves that there is a reason why we have been put on earth. I certainly wonder, then, what I am doing with my life. Still trying to figure out my raison d'ĂȘtre (reason for existence). There must be some reason which we don't know I am told. I agree, maybe I shall find my life made a difference to someone, sometime. But the catch is, it is equally possible that my life did make a difference to someone, somewhere but I shall never know. I was not meant to know, which means I shall still be left with the question with which I started out. 

I saw a lovely card this morning on a networking site which said 

Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.
    -Anne Lamott

Well, I guess, since everything happens for good, there is a good reason why I should be kept within the four walls of the house. Whatever purpose I was meant to serve will probably be served very well within those four walls or probably is already being served. 

 It is good, to practice distancing oneself from the ego and just viewing oneself as a third person on the stage. Stop thinking of oneself as the "doer". Thinking one is the "doer" leads to a lot of pain. The moment one switches to thinking of oneself as the instrument in the hands of the DOER, one realizes that one is that lighthouse which shines not of its own doing, but only because the caretaker came and switched on the light. So has my CARETAKER switched me on, so that I am here to do whatever it was I was supposed to do. My job is to stand at the edge of the island shining come rain or sunshine and hope that some boat sees me shining there and comes in safely to anchor.

So yes, I shall stand and shine for all time to come, till the CARETAKER thinks it is morning and switches off my light. 

Thanks dear friend for waking me up to reality this morning with your status.  It will certainly carry me a little longer till the next time I wonder what I am doing on earth. That is part of being human.

I don't think it is wrong or bad to ask oneself this question once in a while. It spurs one on to think beyond the everyday, material boundaries of what we refer to as "life". It is good to think of this as being a school, where we come to learn some lessons. Life is an excellent if sometimes a bit ruthlessly harsh teacher. In that case, I wonder what lessons I have come here to learn from her. One of the lessons that Life nudges us endlessly into learning is to give up the EGO. This is true for EACH ONE of us. Till we do so, she just keeps hurting us so much, that we are forced to sit up and take notice.    (Life is allowed to do that, unlike the kind of school teachers we know). There are other lessons which are specific for each individual. I believe in rebirth and karma. So I believe, there were some lessons from the past that need to be relearned, reevaluated and some tests to be taken. A couple of important lessons I seem to need to learn seem to be how to control my anger and how to be patient. I love Life's teaching methods (yes, even if it means having my head flattened out every morning)  .   (As a teacher myself, I can't help examine her methods ). What she says is: I shall put you in various situations. Firstly try to figure out what I am trying to teach you. If you can figure that out, question it. Don't accept anything blindly. However, at the end, I shall see to it that you jolly well agree with me.  I seem to be a student who sleeps through her lessons. Only on the day of the exam will it really be revealed what I have learned and what I have not. 

With due respects to Tennyson: "Our's not to question why, our's not to reason why, our's but to do and die.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Big Fat Indian Wedding Drama

Some terminologies and concepts bring a smile to the face. Indian weddings, when they are not driving people (read the bride's family) to tears, generally serve as a cause of tremendous amusement. 

Just take for instance the way the weddings are orchestrated. The age old custom of "arranged marriages" was the norm till such time as "love marriages" appeared on the scene. To a casual listener, not quite familiar with the Indian way of thinking, both would sound odd. 

Arranged marriages generally implied (in earlier times) that the bride and the bridegroom did not know each other and probably did not even see each other till after the wedding ceremony. That they did not see each other during the wedding ceremony was taken care of in many communities by making the bridegroom wear a sehra (a decoration of flowers or beads covering his face), the bride had to wear a ghoonghat (a head dress to cover her face). Probably they were making that one or the other did not faint after seeing the others' face and the wedding did not fall through.  The spouse came gift wrapped, so to say, and the gift could be seen only after the priests had put their stamp of approval on the proceedings.

The rule (followed by people of decent upbringing and of good cultural and traditional values) says: "You shall not love before getting married.  It is a shame for the family and for the community.  Once married, it little matters whether you love your spouse or not, our responsibility is done.  Love/Like/Lump him/her."

I am reminded of a tweet by a certain famous personality goes, "All your life you are taught not to talk to strangers; Suddenly you are asked to sleep with one!" Well, that is the very Indian concept of virtue. 

Oh well, this concept obviously did not go down too well with some youngsters. Or maybe Cupid is very favourably disposed to certain types. So he introduces them to each other and they fall very much in love. Parental and societal disapproval rate is pretty high - "Aaj kal ke chora chori kya love shove ke chakkar mein padte hain" or "onga paiyan oru ponnai luv panaran" translated as "your son is doing love to one girl" (Please don't get any wrong ideas here.  It is just the colloquial expression for "to be in love".  Every possible means at their disposal gets deployed in the war against youngsters who "do love". The moral police of the country has recently started rounding up Romeos and Juliets holding hands at street corners or in the local park.  Other self help methods employed by the parents include locking up the girl at home, getting judgments passed against the couple for indulging in such extraordinary behaviour such as loving each other or worse still marrying the person they love (the khap panchayats are very helpful and obliging to parents in this matter), emotional blackmail - parents having heart attacks, threatening suicide or refusing food (wouldn't it be a good idea to distribute this excess food to the starving millions in this country?). Now the youngsters are only left with one option viz. to elope, go to the nearest court or temple and get married. No parents, no shamiana, no dowry, no wedding trousseau, no guests, no five star catering, no gifts, no wedding photographs, no album, no video-shideo .......  What an anti-climax.  After the excitement of a whirlwind romance, the wedding becomes a very sedate one.  They did break a very important rule of Indian married life, did they not?     

Well, the younger generation is pretty smart. Or at least some of them are. They do not like the idea of an arranged marriage, they “do love”, they want to get married, but they do not want to miss out on the side benefits – obviously they have to keep pappa and mamma happy. So what do they do? Sweet talk the old man and old woman and make them believe it was their idea in the first place to get these two married. The parents are happy to believe that it is an arranged marriage – parents arranged it, parents spent the money, parents invited a lot of guests, spent a lot on trousseau, shamiana, band-baaja, food ........ and happy young couple get a lot of gifts. They are happy posing with parents for the photographs and videos. They have a long line of visitors waiting with bouquets / gifts / envelopes containing cash in their hands to be handed over to couple; the obliging couple pose with them too, with bouquet and have a picture taken (guests now can have photographic evidence to prove they did not partake of the food for nothing. They honourably spent money to gift the couple something or other. Besides the couple and their parents have an idea of who gave what / how much, so when they are invited to said guest's son's wedding, they will pay back (in terms of gift or cash or boquet) to same tune. Such a wedding where everyone is happy is called a "love cum arranged marriage"

The parents are no less creative these days.  They introduce the eligible prospectives, allow them to talk for anything varying from 15 minutes to a week.  Then they "convince" the youngsters that the choice was entirely left to them and that they had the last word in fixing the deal.  Such weddings are termed "facilitated weddings".  Parents only "help" by "introducing" the main parties to each other. 

Now things have gone one step further.  This is the age of IT.  So everything is decided by the computer.  Computer plays role of astrologer.  Computer plays the mediator by introducing parties with similar interests to each other.  Wedding photos are put up on Facebook for everyone to see.  If the wedding ends in misery or divorce, it gets discussed on various forums.  Virtual friends help sort out issues, or advice consulting a lawyer. 

And soon the next generation arrives on the scene to carry on our rich and varied heritage or to add more variations to it.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Woman, Cast Aside Fear And Live!!!!!

Being a woman is not easy. Not in India, in fact nowhere in the world. If we Indians have our set of problems, women in other geographical locations have their own as well. Those might be different from what we face here in India, but by no means would they be any less problematic.

To start off with, let me sum up the situation in India. I was born in the early 60s. My life was considerably different from that of women born earlier in this country. Or that is what I thought. May be, being born in a "typical middle class family"(this was something to be proud of till a decade ago, when "middle class" suddenly became a kind of abusive word - one considers them down market today, but let that pass), I was brought up with values associated with that class of people, but had plenty of opportunities to study, to be "equal" to any male member of this society. Although I considered myself blessed when I compared myself to women of previous generations, "equal" always came with some riders - before my times, during my younger days and it continues to be that way even today.

The biggest limitation one faces as a woman is safety and the freedom of movement. Older generations of women never had that freedom. Period. They lived indoors and were always escorted either by male members or other women and their mobility was limited to going to the local temple where they met other women, gossiped and returned home. Mixing socially (other than within the family) with members of the opposite gender was strictly taboo. Dealing with trades people or men who came home was the responsibility of men. Women did not come out if their husbands had any male visitors.  Did this ensure that they were safe?

As I grew up, things changed a bit. The segregation was not so stark. However, movement was restricted because of the usual issues. Coming home very late on my own was cause for concern for my parents. Even if they did not define a curfew hour for me, they were certainly worried if I got home too late. Fear of being harassed by men on the road or the unspoken fear of being molested (nothing new - it has been the fear of women down the generations) certainly curtailed where I could go, how long I could stay out ..... Of course, some of these fears were also founded on personal experience. One stayed away from certain areas, modes of travel; one went out to certain places only during certain times of the day. There was a code of dressing – one was brought up to believe that women of a “certain kind” attracted “unwanted” attention. So one was personally responsible for anything that happened to oneself.

Have things changed today? Women work at all hours of day and night, they wear pretty much what they wish to wear, wearing western clothes is “in” or “cool”, wearing traditional gets one the label of being “behenji type”. They are professionally competent and may probably be far more competent than men. They are highly qualified, stay away from home to get more qualified and to work.  They might earn 6 figure incomes.  But all these changes, if anything, seem to be very superficial. Scratch the surface and it becomes evident that women, if anything, have it worse than women in the past. Today, they seem to be more unsafe than women have ever been in the past. Not a day goes by when we do not hear of women being molested, raped, exploited in the work place by unscrupulous colleagues or bosses or getting acid thrown on their faces for rejecting unwelcome advances from “admirers” and one sided “lovers”. They get molested openly on busy roads teeming with traffic and people, but no one goes to their aid. Look at what happened in Guwahati. The incident is captured by journalists and aired on news channels. (Was it more to get coverage or to try and save the girl)?  The police arrive after being tipped off and rescue her. But only 4 of the 15 molesters seen live in action have been arrested.

Or look at the case of a teenage girl who was thrown out of a moving train in Karnataka when she tried to stand up to 4 men who were trying to molest her. Just look at the sheer number of rapes that take place in the capital of the country. The statistics are devastating.

What safety can a woman expect in a country where her husband "protects her chastity" by putting a lock through her genitals?  And what hope does have one have for women like her who do not even think of questioning his actions and quietly acquiesce?  Women who do not think of complaining about him to the police till its too late?

This is the state of affairs in a country where we worship a Mother Goddess, a Goddess of Wealth and one for Learning. This is the cultural and traditional heritage that we crow about from the rooftops. This is the country we talk about when we indulge in empty jingoism like “Mera Bharat mahaan”, “India shining”, “Saare Jahaan se Accha”. We never tire boasting about the greatness of our country and of our country-fellows.

Having said which, the question arises, “So what are we going to do about it? How do we deal with such crimes”? It is very distressing and demoralising when we hear women in high places commenting on the need for women to dress “decently” or asking “what was she doing in a bar, dressed the way she was at such a late hour”? It sounds no different from saying “she asked for it and got what she wanted”. So the verdict of our “educated” women in high places is out. Men are helpless beings who are seduced by such wayward women and have no control over their instincts. They are not to blame. It is the women who seduce them who are to blame. So much for empowerment of women down the decades.  Are we going to wait for men to come and save us from other men and all the atrocities they perpetrate on us?  (What has changed since the times when a man who had to fight to get the practice of sati abolished, a man who had to fight to get women the right to education .....)?

We obviously cannot change “society” without defining that word. If it means all around me, except me, forget it. “Society” will never change. If I consider myself part of that “society”, then I have to be the change I wish to see. Well, I have started. For one, I have decided that “fear of what could happen” is not going to stop me from doing what I have to, what I need to for my own progress. It is not going to stop me from “living”. I would not stay at home just because I fear being knocked down by a car, or for fear of being robbed or killed. That could happen to me even when I am alone in the house (robbed or killed I mean - the people who were killed by aircrafts were also INSIDE the WTC towers.  Staying indoors does not prevent one from getting killed - be it by aircrafts, earthquakes, fires or any natural calamity.  Whatever has to happen, WILL HAPPEN ).  So too, there is no guarantee I would not be attacked inside my house by intruders. So I have to treat any crime against women (something that does not only happen only to others, but could potentially happen to me too) just the same as any other crime. I would not be the culprit. I would not be the one to be blamed. I would not be the one stigmatised. Would I be stigmatised if I was robbed? This is nothing different from any other crime that could be perpetrated on me. The day I decided to free myself from fear, that was the day I was free.  I would have to learn to ignore what "others" or "society" thought of me, if any such thing were to happen.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Soup and Pastas

I just love Italian food, especially pasta.  Pizzas are good, but not exactly healthy.  I can eat them once in a while, but give me pasta everyday, I would be only too happy.  There are many Italian joints around (wonder if there is any specific reason why the Italian cuisine has become so popular in India these days - is this a "foreign hand" at work????? ).

Anyway, coming back to the point, pastas when eaten outside are delicious and yummmmmmmm...... Smiley but not exactly healthy - they generally have a lot of cheese and olive oil.  OK, olive oil is healthy, but oil being oil, moderation is of the essence.

Today I was a bit fed up with the usual kind of menu and was craving a change.  So it was asparagus-broccoli soup, pasta with green pesto sauce (Sacla italia - Wild garlic pesto) and tomato based sauce (Dr. Oetker's Fun Foods - Pasta and Pizza sauce).

Lunch menu

Asparagus - Broccoli soup

The asparagus-broccoli soup was made according to a recipe I found on the net (  Although the recipe involved adding leek, I did not have any at home and so substituted with one additional onion. 

Coming to pastas:  Making pasta at home is advantageous in that it can be made really healthy by adding vegetables and cutting out cheese.  There are a variety of sauces available in the market - some imported like Sacla's pesto (green and red - made of sundried tomatoes), Ragu's or Prego or local brands too.  Ragu's or Prego sauces are far less oily.  The pesto sauces generally have a lot of olive oil.  So if I am using a ready made pesto, I generally do not add any additional olive oil.  I just use some of the oil in the sauce to saute the vegetables before cooking and then add the pesto with as little oil as possible (just drain out excess oil).

It is also possible to make one's own sauces or pesto with as little oil as possible.

Talking of health quotient, my individual choice of sauces would be in this order:

Home made tomato sauce = Home made pesto (no preservatives) - Ready made tomato sauce (preservatives present) = Ready made pesto (preservatives present).

The tomato sauce has no oil, but green pesto, although it has a lot more olive oil, is healthy as it has fresh basil leaves and pine nuts in it.  So it really is a trade off.  While buying readymade sauce/ pesto, please look for the green dot if you are a vegetarian.  If you are an eggetarian, check the labels carefully.  They might have a brown dot and other non vegetarian components such as fish, beef etc. or just eggs.

Vegetable pasta made with Sacla's wild garlic pesto

Recipe for home made green pesto:  There are many variations available on the net.  Here I have given the ingredients I use.


1 big bunch corriander
1 small bunch pudina (mint)
4-5 leaves of ajwain / omavalli (bishop's weed / caraway)
1 bunch of basil leaves (available in organic food stores) or a handful of tulsi leaves
1 handful of pine nuts (can be substitute with walnuts or cashew nuts or a mixture of both)
Salt to taste
Olive oil - enough to cover the pesto (or vary according to individual preference)


Blend all the above in a blender, add salt to taste.  Mix in some olive oil.  Preserve in a glass jar.  Use immediately or freeze to preserve. 

*I have never made pesto with sun dried tomatoes. 


Vegetable pasta made with Dr. Oetker's Fun Foods - Pasta and Pizza sauce

Recipe for tomato based sauce:

Chop a few tomatoes, puree them and add a few Italian herbs to them.  Also add a little bit of salt to taste.  If you like, you can defer adding salt to when you use the tomato sauce.  Use immediately or store in the freezer.

Making the pasta:  

Boil the pasta in some water.  When boiling use a teaspoonful of olive oil to ensure that the individual pieces do not stick to each other.  When the pasta is cooked (you can see the change in colour - it looks almost white and turns soft - just make sure you do not overcook the pasta otherwise it will turn into a paste), drain the excess water.

Take 2 teaspoons full of olive oil in a wok (kadai).  Add the chopped vegetables to it (you can include whatever vegetables you like), saute them.  Add a little water along with a bit of salt (1/2 teaspoonful) and allow them to cook.  Then add some pureed tomatoes or pesto to the cooked vegetables.  Add the cooked pasta to this along with whatever Italian herbs and spices you like.   Mix the vegetables, pasta, herbs and pesto / tomato sauce and cover the wok for a minute.  The pasta is now ready to be eaten.      

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I Rama - Age of Seers - Book 1

Like all young children of my generation, I grew up on stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata – the two major epics of India. I always loved the stories, but ever since I could think for myself and question right and wrong, I have always been critical of Rama whom I could never forgive for banishing Sita simply because of an ignorant dhobi questioning her chastity. I could never accept the explanation that as a king he was morally obliged to give up his personal rights in the interests of his “praja” or subjects. I could not help but ask “was Sita not a part of this same 'praja'? Did she not have rights as a subject/as a wife? One might argue that as a queen she was equally morally bound by the strict code for an upright human being. Well, we can keep arguing to and fro on this matter. However, this was the very reason I was really excited when I came across the title of this book “I Rama” which was announced on Blogadda. I was really curious now to know what Rama would have had to say on this matter.

The prologue talks of storm clouds brewing over the island of Lanka, which was surrounded by the sea and islands which “looked like pearl clusters in a necklace, linked with each other by backwaters”. This description heralds the kind of word imagery one comes across throughout the story.

The author (Ravi Venugopal) starts off by introducing the background of the story – about how the sages (beings who embodied all the positive energy of the universe) and the rakshasas or asuras (who represented the negative energies of the universe and were trying to stop the sages from achieving their goals) were at constant logger heads. The sages had to think of a way to fight Ravana who had become very powerful and arrogant. He controlled various galaxies and the cosmos and was virtually invincible and his demons were killing human beings and making life for the sages very difficult. The birth of Rama “a human blessed with the entire power of the cosmos” was the very event the sages were waiting for.

The story then takes off in the words of an aged Rama, as he sits on a rock along the Sarayu in reflective mood. He is met at sunset by his brother and faithful, loyal friend Hanuman. Hanuman expresses his desire to hear about Rama's story about his childhood. Rama has been waiting to tell his children this story and willingly decides to narrate it to Hanuman. It starts with the time when he was in his 7th year of training.

Rama narrates the stories of various sages like Gautama, Vashishta, Vishwamatra, Agastya, his father Dashratha's childhood and life, Kaikeyi's background as well as his own early life.  While most of these are familiar to us, what is different is that the story is presented in a way as to show how a certain preordained cascade of events are inevitable if a specific event has to happen. To name just one example:  Dashratha shooting an arrow blindfolded at a target thinking it was a deer, lead to Sravan being killed. His bereaved, heart broken father cursed Dashratha and set the stage for the successive events of Dashratha being separated from his son.

Or for that matter Kaikeyi being offered two boons by Dashratha and her telling him that she would redeem the promise at a later date set the stage for Rama being sent to the forest, which led to other events which eventually culminated in the destruction of Ravana at the hands of Rama.

The other noteworthy point in this book is the way Rama's narration has been presented in terms of contemporary concepts – inter-galactic travel, portals from other galaxies opening up for travel to earth, energy conversions, ..... the very stuff sci-fi is made of.  A very rational and credible approach to the epic - well within the realms of possibility.

The author has also added an original touch - Sita is presented as an articulate young lady who knew the art of warfare, was well-read, was a cook par excellence, had a vision about the future, involved herself with schemes involving social welfare, ..... in other words Sita could very well have been a modern day woman placed in the context of those times.

The one interesting revelation by Rama is that Kaikeyi's drama just before the coronation was not coincidental. She had appraised him about what she was going to do, why, when and how. This was necessary to ensure that Rama got an opportunity at fulfilling his destiny which may not have been possible if he had been coronated as planned by Dashratha.

On the whole, a very well researched, gripping narration with elements of the contemporary and some imaginary characters.  The word imagery used by the author in describing various events, the beauty of Sita, the resplendence of Sage Vishwamitra (to name a few examples) is simply wonderful. In three words: “An un-put-downable book”. Looking forward to the sequels.

Here is the link to the website:
ISBN 978-0615582504

This review is a part of the at Participate now to get free books!