Category Archives: Personal
Homemade snacks: ‘Lahiya’ and ‘kheel’ mixes
In the generally carb-rich Indian diet, namkeen (savoury) mixes occupy a special place. Nearly every part of the country I’ve lived in has its own set of these. In many homes across India, these are homemade at regular intervals and stored in steel dabbas (boxes) to be consumed as snacks at teatime or whenever the hunger pangs get the better of you. In my childhood days in Bombay, for instance, chivda was de rigueur in Maharashtrian homes, a tasty mixture of deep fried flattened rice with coconut slivers and peanuts garnished with curry leaves and red chillies. When we moved to Lucknow, lahiya chana, a quickly rustled up mix of roasted puffed rice and gram was commonly eaten as a healthy snack. Come Diwali and kheel, another type of puffed rice, used for the Lakshmi puja is consumed as freshly roasted mixes for days to come, till stocks last.
In urban Indian households like ours, homemade snacks are fading away and it’s a real pity. There isn’t any time to make them and a variety of snacks, including ‘diet’ items are easily available at the superstore. What’s more, with online ordering, the superstore comes home, so it’s no effort to have a stash of munchies ready at home.
I find that stash does not satisfy me. It’s got too much salt, too much oil and trans fat and I certainly don’t trust the ‘diet’ labels. What’s more, they don’t taste fresh. I find myself craving for the simple namkeens of my childhood. Hence, the Sunday morning frenzy to rustle up these two simple snacks. Neither of these are deep fried, nor are they ‘diet’. They are just normal food, so don’t think too much. Just make them and eat them!
Put a tablespoon of cooking oil in a heated kadhai (anything you can roast stuff in will do, wok like!). To the heated oil, add green chillies (slit don the middle), rai or black sesame seeds and curry leaves, heeng (asafoetida), turmeric powder, red chilli powder, dry pudina powder. Wait till the rai splutters. Add puffed rice and roasted peanuts (you will have to dry roast them before) and mix well. I added to this mix some leftover namkeen that had been bought for a party- sev, moong dal and bhuna chanaa, but this is optional and sicne these are deep fried it does add some serious calories! Add salt as desired. Let this cool and store in air tight boxes, preferably the traditional shiny steel ones for the real desi effect 🙂
Can be stored for a week or two easily.
To a teaspoon of heated oil, add thinly sliced onion and garlic, turmeric powder, whole red chillies, heeng (asafoetida) and dry pudina powder. Let the onions turn brown. Add the kheel and pre-roasted peanuts and stir for 5 minutes. Add salt as desired.
Best eaten fresh, but can be stored for a few days in an air tight container.
Re-reading Bhagat Singh: Those who question and disbelieve pave the path to progress
As political parties around us continue to appropriate and re-appropriate historic figures from the past in a desperate (and despicable) attempt to reap mileage from their reflected glory, a few days ago we reflected on the idea of revisiting the writings and documentation of some of these resurrected (and often misinterpreted) heroes. Fittingly, we started this journey on Shahid Diwas, a day to mark the martyrdom of the three icons of the revolutionary side of the Indian struggle for Independence- Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. The idea was connected to a discussion last week between Udai (my nearly 12 year old son) and my mother-in-law on atheism and belief, the chief takeaway being the importance of informed opinion that builds from a knowledge of all possible points of view, not just one’s own position.
In this context, we decided to read Bhagat Singh’s famous Essay titled ‘Why I am an Atheist’, written in October 1930 and available here in an English translation from the Punjabi original. I made Udai read it aloud to us (and several new words were learnt and discussed along the way, but that’s another discussion). I hadn’t read it before either and it was eye-opening. I’m sharing some excerpts that I think are particularly relevant, both to today’s political situation in India and to my immediate objective of expanding the debate within our home.
Questioning the status quo
Udai’s outcries against religion (and many children go through this phase) are almost always based on the idea of the lack of scientific proof that a higher omnipresent power exists. Add to that the idea of what the rational arguments could be for or against the existence of God. Bhagat Singh’s passionate plea in support of his atheism, however, rests on the idea that a periodic critique of existing ideas and beliefs is the only way forward. He writes:
“It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.
“Any person who claims to be a realist has to challenge the truth of old beliefs. If faith cannot withstand the onslaught of reason, it collapses. After that his task should be to do the groundwork for new philosophy. This is the negative side. After that comes in the positive work in which some material of the olden times can be used to construct the pillars of new philosophy.”
The corollary: When society represses the urge to question and shrinks that space, especially for young people, we also throttle the pathways to progress.
Belief in oneself despite all odds
All atheists I know have an unwavering faith in themselves, including my late father with whom long discussions on the matter of religion and belief systems were a common occurrence. It is not that they are devoid of self-doubt. On the contrary, they have no choice but to work very hard to find conviction within themselves, to question their own actions and motivations frequently and they work to re-focus themselves. It is an exhausting task!
This is because the solace of faith, in which sacrifice and good behaviour is ‘rewarded’ by freedom from re-birth (as in Hinduism) or the experience of paradise (as in Islam, Christianity) is not available to an atheist. Bhagat Singh points this out very clearly as he counters the allegations that atheist is born out of vanity or arrogance. Remember, he wrote this only a day or two before he was sentenced to death.
“Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant. Man can find a strong support in God and an encouraging consolation in His Name. If you have no belief in Him, then there is no alternative but to depend upon yourself. It is not child’s play to stand firm on your feet amid storms and strong winds. In difficult times, vanity, if it remains, evaporates and man cannot find the courage to defy beliefs held in common esteem by the people. If he really revolts against such beliefs, we must conclude that it is not sheer vanity; he has some kind of extraordinary strength. This is exactly the situation now. First of all we all know what the judgement will be. It is to be pronounced in a week or so. I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause. What more consolation can there be!”
Some questions raised: Does your religion empower you or does it work as your crutch? Are the positions of atheism and faith contradictory or can they both find space in a broader discussion on morality, empathy and self-empowerment?
What are we learning from Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom and struggle?
It is getting harder and harder to propose empathy and cooperation as strategies to wage a war that is increasingly violent, repressive and chauvinistic, be this the war on terrorism, the war of identities or the war with oneself as young people navigate the complex pathways to economic mobility and ‘success’. There is no patience for this approach, which is perceived as too slow, too risky. The dangers are put forward as imminent, the solutions needed as urgent. The liberal perspective is not exciting, perceived as the bastion of those already comfortable, and run down as impractical for a nation full of impatient youth in a race to get ahead.
But think: Are the dangers we face today any different in urgency that what Bhagat Singh and Rajguru faced in the 1920s? Are the quandaries and moral dilemmas those young men found themselves in any less heart wrenching and difficult? If Bhagat Singh could question what was prevalent, so must young people today. And that is the legacy we must take forward. Not the machismo, not the ‘nationalism’, but the thinking and rationalism that drove it.
Why I’m working towards hands-off parenting
In a hyper-aware super connected world where paranoia is becoming the main strategy by which we live our lives, parenting has become a complex job with immense responsibility. As parents, we are constantly aware of the grave consequences of wrong decisions. We obsess over every choice we make with regards to our kids, from choosing a school to monitoring the company they keep, from the toys we buy to the places we take our kids to.
As a mother of two reasonably intelligent and talented kids, I am constantly stuck between two distinct models of parenting. The very structured and demanding ‘Tiger’ mode that Amy Chua eloquently bats for in her book[Ref: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (2011)] and a more relaxed instinctive style that allows children to experiment and set their own pace. I’ve tried both and I’ll say this: Tiger mode is seductive for parents who are ambitious for their children and need to feel in control but relaxed mode is more fun, more gratifying, more humane. I’ll also tell you why I’ve come to this conclusion.
Children are individuals, parents do not ‘own’ them
Someone recently asked me this: “Aap apne bacche ko kya banaana chahte ho?”- What will you make your child? It’s a common enough question in Indian society. “Why would I make him anything?”, was my incredulous retort. Mine wasn’t a naive statement. Questions like these imply that parents own their children or at least own rights over their future, and I do not buy that.
Children, right from the moment they are born, are individuals. They have ideas, a sense of themselves and their place in the world. These ideas are shaped in the early years by their parents and guardians, teachers, friends, caregivers, by what they see and hear. In this, a parent plays a defining role. But to extend that role to decisions about their careers, or who their partner should be, or where they should live and what they should wear is a gross mistake and a fallout of an erroneous patriarchal construct that we need to urgently challenge. For several reasons, and I will not go into those here and now, but simply because freedom is a right. No parent wants their child to live in chains. To examine our own relationship with our children and see the chains we feter them with for what they are is an important step of good parenting. A step we should not take with a sense of insecurity and trepidation, but with a sense of empowerment, knowing this is the right thing to do.
Freedom nurtures creativity, creative people drive change
By conditioning children to over-instruction and putting in place a system of rewards and brickbats, we teach them that seeking our approval is the chief objective of their lives. As adults, they continue to work towards the approval of someone or the other. A spouse, a boss, a friend.
Pushing kids through rigid structures and pressurizing them to over achieve may drive excellence and cause success in the short-term, but it severely compromises originality, believes Wharton Prof Adam Grant. “Limiting rules,” he writes, “encourages children to think for themselves.”
No one can be in doubt that we need original thinking to take us forward. We need new ideas to tackle a host of problems, from malnutrition to climate change. We need innovative technology to drive economic growth and create prosperity. We need creative people to compose music, write plays and books, make films that entertain as well as enrich us immeasurably.
Easy to say, hard to implement: ‘Letting go’ is a mindset change
Even if you buy my arguments for less structure and more freedom, how do you act upon it in an increasingly competitive world that drives you to measure success instantly (and share it on your social media feed even faster!)? For a parent, taking a step back is incredibly hard. Taking the long view seems like a risk. What if it backfires? What if my child does not get through the best colleges? What if her musical talent goes wasted? We worry about the possibility of a perceived failure in the future because we are comparing our children constantly to their peers and to the best in the world.
My main rejoinder to myself when I find myself worried is that less structure does not mean apathy. It must be accompanied by an emphasis on quality interactions between parents and children and a concerted effort to create opportunities to expose our children to multiple stimuli, experiences and information sources. So the formula changes from choosing a select set of structured activities and ensuring they are done, repeatedly, till excellence is achieved to something else. Choosing fewer of these structured routines to free up time for a wider variety of less structured ones.
To make this shift happen is requiring me to change the way I think about life, about choices, about expectations. It is pushing me to place more value on the here and now and worry less about a future that I, in any case, cannot determine. Increased conversations are creating opportunities for debates within the home, often about complex and ethically difficult issues. About sex and gender, about the drug regime and politics, about the failings of the modern parent even!
I hope this journey will make questioners of my children (and push me to question too, as I learn everyday from these two and the students I interact with on a weekly basis). Those of you who know how disturbed I’ve been over what has transpired in university campuses across India these past few months may now understand why the muffling of dissenting voices is deeply disturbing for me. While I persevere in a difficult personal journey towards hands-off parenting, I fail to understand how a political agenda that envisages a nation of minions instead of one with creative thinkers will serve a nation that professes an ambition to inclusive economic growth.
Notes on teaching, Feb 2016
There’s a lot on my plate and yet, instead of weeding my part-time teaching work out of my already nonsensically crazy schedule, I sign up for these commitments semester after semester. Up until now, I’ve been advising students of architecture on two specific research components of the Bachelors in Architecture curriculum- the dissertation and the research seminar. This year, for the first time, the School of Planning and Architecture has introduced a research component to the final year design project, known as the thesis. This is new territory for all of us and it’s going to be challenging and hopefully interesting. Those were my thoughts this afternoon as I drove into college.
Thinking through the research requirements for my group of eight final year students is a time consuming task. I listen patiently (that doesn’t come easily to me), understand each student’s motivational landscape and then offer targeted advise. Some students are very high on motivation, others are blessed with clarity and the ability to structure; still others are completely under-confident and lost. While guidance needs to be offered to each individual, I find students face similar problems regardless of their abilities and some common guiding principles are very valuable. So is the opportunity to cross-learn from each others’ struggles.
Three basic tenets have served me well in my short sojourn as a teacher. One, treat students as responsible adults. Assume that they know what they are doing. Remind them that their action and inaction has consequences that they must be responsible for. Of course, this does not mean that they always take responsibility or produce work of quality. No, that varies. But it does mean they are more responsive to what you are trying to say.
Two, show genuine interest in their motivations, however banal. I find judgmental attitudes towards students only puts barriers between the teacher and the taught and impedes progress. Sometimes the starting point is not an indication of how far the kid can go.
Three, approach teaching with a sense of humour. Making light of embarrassing mistakes and using funny examples to illustrate situations go a long way in breaking the formality of the teacher-student relationship.
An additional, and perhaps defensive strategy, is to keep expectations low and build them as you get to know students better. I teach students at the end of their time at SPA. By this time, its hard to change their self-perceptions or push them to break out of habits already formed. One can try, of course and instead of worrying about falling standards and changed levels of commitment, I consciously choose to appreciate how increased exposure can create inter-disciplinary linkages in how students now look at issues. If even a handful emerge the ability to tackle problem solving smartly and sensitively, it’ll be gratification enough!
Ruminations on blogging, looking out to 2016!
Why do we blog? Because we have something to say, perhaps. Or a lot to say. Or something we think only we can say. Or because we want to find words to express what we think and observe.
Why do I blog? My blog has been as much a journey into myself as a documentation of what I see and do. It’s been an exercise in self-discipline or a mechanism to unravel and see patterns in the complex and intertwined conversations I have with myself.
I’ve also used my blog to set goals for myself and monitor them. Fitness, self-discipline, my journey in dance, travel targets and even career goals have found mention on this blog. New year resolutions too (2012-1, 2012-2, 2013) have been made and then assessed here. The blogosphere has been my confidante, my sounding board and my shoulder to cry on board, but it has also been my gauge!
Despite my blog’s pre-eminent place in my life, I haven’t written a lot on it this past year. A little over a year ago, I realized my posts were crossing several distinct themes. So I re-arranged my blog thematically, hoping to make it easier not just for visitors, but for me, to understand my own blogging behaviour. It’s been interesting to see that posts with a personal take are most visited, followed by those linked with my work in urban planning and policy.
Today, I’m at a crossroads and wondering where to take ramblinginthecity. Should it continue to be a personal exploration or take on a more knowledge-based position? Should I open it out to more voices or hone my own voice to be more powerful and much sharper? Should more academic content be on it at all, or find a new space elsewhere? Lots of questions!
As the first month of the year draws to an end, I can see 2016 is going to be the busiest and most exciting year I’ve ever had work-wise. I do hope I’ll be able to take my blog along with me on my new adventures. I fear it will be hard. I fear it will drop off on the wayside. But if it’s really come to occupy that space of the voice-in-my-head, I’m confident it will find new and interesting connections with my life! To another year of blogging……..
Today’s food experiment: Pancake Tacos
So much when you cook and before you can say ‘Jack Robinson’, it’s on the kid’s blog 🙂
Our breakfast this morning was an innovation by our mother and it evolved from the constant demands from me and my sister.
Pancake Tacos: Serves 8
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- Milk (as required)
- Any cheese
- Butter/Olive oil
- Put everything except butter/olive oil, milk, apples and cheese in a bowl. Stir and add milk until the batter flows back into the bowl when you tilt a ladleful. Leave the batter to rise for an hour.
- Peel and chop apples finely then set aside
- Heat pan and spread butter/olive oil on it.
- Put a heaped ladleful of the batter on the pan move the pan until batter is equal everywhere.
- Put a lid on the pan until one side is cooked.
- Then flip it and on one half put the cheese and the apples. Then carefully put…
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Remembering Geeta Dutt, missing daddy, enjoying the melancholy today
It’s her birth anniversary today. Geeta Dutt, whose voice influenced me deeply in my growing years, teaching me that its not the perfect tone and pitch but the soul that makes good music. I spent hours on end listening to the collection of Geeta Dutt songs we had on cassette. There was a small cassette player that I would use, not the larger music system that stood in my parents’ bedroom, where Hindustani classical music would play in the early hours of the morning and through the long evenings as well. The little cassette player was mostly left to my use and Geeta Dutt ruled the roost here. I remember the play-stop-rewind-play routine we used to pen down the lyrics of all her songs. Considering I had hardly any Hindi on me at the time (we lived in Bombay and I was fluent in English and Marathi only), I wonder what sense the words made to me, but I loved them nevertheless.
Geeta Dutt’s melancholy numbers appealed to me the most. I’m listening at this very moment to ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya‘, from Do Bhai, Music by SD Burman. The song is in Raag Bilawal and Annu Kapoor reminded me this morning, as I tuned into his radio show Suhaana Safar with Annu Kappor on my way to work, that the song was Geeta’s (she was then Geeta Roy) first solo break in 1947. Other favourites continue to be ‘Koi door se Aawaz de, Chale Aao..‘ from Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962, Music by Hemant Kumar, Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni) and ‘Kaise koi jeeye‘(1964, Baadbaan, Music also by Hemant da) . The desolation and desperation that Geeta Dutt could bring into her voice left everything else far behind and took me, even then when I was not yet ten, into a very different world. A world where only emotion mattered.
Annu Kapoor signed off this morning’s show with the immortal ‘Vaqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam‘ (1959, Kaagaz ke phool, Music by SD Burman, Geeta Dutt was in her prime in Guru Dutt’s movies!). As Geeta Dutt’s voice came through over my car stereo, the tears began to flow. I remembered sitting on daddy’s lap as a child, my ears glued to his chest, hearing him sing along to the stereo. I would tilt my head to watch his face as he sang. His eyes shut, a smile on his lips, his face resplendent with peace and joy.
In his time, my daddy would have put modern day Bollywood fans to shame. When he was young, he used to watch the First Day First Show of as many Hindi film releases as he could. He could tell you not only the actor, producer and director for nerly every film released through the late ’50s and early ’70s, but also the music director, lyricist, playback singers, and many stories peppered with gossip about the affairs, the tiffs and the saucy politics of the Hindi film industry. But when the music played, he would not speak. He would be totally immersed.
In the last few weeks of his life, daddy would ask me to sit next to him and sing. And he would too, as much as he could. He told me the best thing he did was encourage me to learn music. He told me that my voice gave him the deepest possible pleasure.
He left us so many years ago, but the gaping hole he left behind will never be filled. No wonder the melancholy in Geeta Dutt’s filled me with a deep personal pain this morning. A pain I did not fully understand as a child, a pain that now fills me with despair but also tinges my moments with the sweetness of nostalgia.
Reflections on being a saree pacter #100sareepact
I had a lot of fun updating my #100sareepact gallery yesterday! My heartfelt gratitude to everyone who, in their own way, has encouraged me and egged me on. I’m nearing the end slowly and steadily and people are beginning to ask if I would continue to wear sarees after Day 100 is done and dusted. A friend who wears sarees quite a bit but is not doing the pact asked me if the frequency of wearing sarees would change drastically and why that would be so….
These are very interesting questions, because they go to the core of what motivates a person like me to do the #100sareepact. Hopelessly addicted to over-analysis, I’ve been questioning myself about whether it is the adulation over social media that drives me rather than my love for sarees. What if I wore sarees and didn’t post? Wouldn’t that be enough as well?
On the other hand, I’ve made many friends, re-connected with many I knew from before, found common interests and gained a lot of knowledge because we are all sharing our saree posts. It’s the stories that go with the pictures that fascinate not just me, but everyone I know who has been avidly following the pact, whether they are pacters themselves or not.
What we wear, what we choose to wear is so intrinsic a part of who we are. It is an expression, but it also shapes our journey. By choosing to wear sarees, I make a statement to myself first and only then to everyone around. About being comfortable in my own skin. About being unapologetic about the extra 10 minutes I spend everyday choosing a saree, ironing it, draping it and accessorizing my look for the day. These acts give me that edge of confidence, bring out that inherent sexuality and power within me; they center me.
The #100sareepact has also coincided with a particularly industrious phase in my life. A career-focused phase, an ambitious forward-looking time, a time of re-invention and action that followed a rather long period of introspection, dithering and decision-making. The extra boost of confidence that wearing sarees has given me plays no small part in whatever I have managed to achieve. And for that, I shall remain eternally grateful to the pact.
Whether I will wear a saree as frequently post the pact remains to be seen, but I do know that the saree is now firmly entrenched among the regular choices I make about my attire. I think of the myriad motivations that have driven women across the world to take up the saree with such enthusiasm. I think of conversations last night with friends about how hard women are working to make a mark in the world around them, often against severe odds. I think about how desperately we sometimes need validation and encouragement and yet are too inhibited to seek it. And I know why the pact is so successful.
Anju, Ally, you struck gold with this. For all of us.