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So much more than a vacation

I’m still a bit disbelieving that we pulled off a vacation in Bali as a reunion of our gang at the School of Planning and Architecture and though it was disappointing that more of our inner circle of friends could not make the trip owing to family and work commitments, I’m glad this short break worked out. Traveling for two days and vacationing for three has certainly taken a toll on our sleep cycle and exhaustion levels, but we’ve all come back richer and wiser for making the effort. Reconnecting with friends who know you well, sometime even a tad better than you know yourself, has the peculiar ability of bringing the most challenging aspects of your life into sharp focus even as you revel in gratitude for everything that has worked out well.

For me, the intense discussions we had on an astonishing variety subjects—politics, gender, sexual freedom, family and social structures, tourism, food chauvinism—were not merely informative (on the last night entertaining too, as two among the four of us proceeded to have an enormous noisy contest over the popularity of food from two different regions in India while the other two alternated between collapsing in giggles and worrying about the neighbors waking up and yelling at us!). They helped me look inwards and overhaul some assumptions I’ve been making in life, re-evaluate some priorities, refocus. As I flew the last leg toward home, I realized that experiencing Bali like that, among friends who are well read and intelligent (and opinionated may I add, with the caveat that I wouldn’t have them any other way!) added a certain variety and sharpness to my own perspectives.

Moreover, it made me realize how much strength it’s possible to draw from people you know. To hear about how each friend faced a particular set of adversities is hugely educational. More than that, it is reassuring that I’ve been able to surround myself with people who are die hard optimists, rock solid in their ethics and belief systems (even if rather varied), non-judgemental as well as unconditionally supportive to each other.

In the end, this trip to Bali for which I risked a precious working week and some, was not just a vacation. It was so much more!


#GirlyRoadTrip Day 0: Madness, bonding and nostalgia

After a crazy dash to the Delhi airport thanks to a truck turned turtle on NH8. Nupur and me took the flight to Mumbai with a distinct feeling that adventure was waiting for us with a vengeance!

Friday afternoon in Mumbai was dedicated to winding up Rachna’s house. After all, the trigger for the road trip was her big move back to Gurgaon. The three of us reached Juhi’s place one by one, after completing the errands that had fallen in our kitty. Juhidi as well call her is Nupur’s cousin, but also our buddy from the good old school days in Lucknow. Loads of nostalgia to fall back on, but also a genuine bonding. From sharing life experiences to politics and finally, just plain old giggle-fest, the stopover at Juhi’s was a perfect launch pad for the Girly Road Trip.

Gosh, even I will miss this house with the view!

Gosh, even I will miss this house with the view!


While the last few cartons were being packed!

Rachna and Nupur- While the last few cartons were being packed!

Brain dead, but trying to look like she's thinking! All that packing must have done her in!

Brain dead, but trying to look like she’s thinking! All that packing must have done her in!



Chavath in Goa Day 1: Dedicated to Gouri-Mahadev and easy bonding!

This is a day for bonding and easing into the celebrations. As per tradition, married ladies fast on this day, in empathy with Parvati or Gouri, Ganesh’s mother. This is a day dedicated to the Goddess and to Mahadev or Shiv, her husband and also our family deity.

My camera’s roving eye found various groups of people in conversation, in camaraderie over activities like cooking or decorating or, in the case of the children, on burning firecrackers! Looking back at the pictures I clicked, I see how the young and old come together, how barriers come down as people ease their guard, how the ritual activities of a family festival take over a rhythm of their own and individual moods, opinions and priorities take a backseat. It is this transformation that grips me each time I come to Goa for Chavath. I revel in the slowing down of the pace of life, in the inversion of priorities away from the self and into the realm of family, community, ritual and perhaps even faith.

Rashmi kaki creating a small, lovely rangoli

Rashmi kaki creating a small, lovely rangoli

Cousins posing....a series

Cousins posing….a series


mamas, mavshis, kiddos...

mamas, mavshis, kiddos…

Favorite mama!

Favorite mama!

My little girl...

My little girl…

My aunts sat together, peeling and cutting vegetables and also sharing memories and planning the menu for the next two days. Ajjee sort of oversaw what they were doing, out of sheer force of habit because this is what she has been doing for the last forty odd years! We cousins swapped stories, clicked pictures and ‘Whatsapped’ them to each other and to other cousins far away.

All my kakis, working, chatting, having fun!

All my kakis, working, chatting, having fun!

Ajji the matriarch presided over the session!

Ajji the matriarch presided over the session!

All smiles!

All smiles!

Ajjee, no words, only a big big hug!

Ajjee, no words, only a big big hug!

As evening came, we gathered to sing together. The aarti, to me, is the crescendo towards which the events move. The chaal, best described as the rhythmic tune, in which we sing the aartiyo in Goa are distinct from those in Maharashtra. More musical and complex rather than merely chanted, participating in the aarti is as much about skill as gusto. We all enjoy this bit immensely, as you can see in this video. The kids particularly charm me with their enthusiasm!

Udai sitting right up front in the aarti config!

Udai sitting right up front in the aarti config!

Saurabh on the cymbals

Saurabh on the cymbals

The entire household, from the youngest to the oldest participates in the aarti

The entire household, from the youngest to the oldest participates in the aarti

The kids utilize the evening to do what they enjoy the most- Fog, or firecrackers! See the joy on their faces!


Tech is changing us deeply, scarily! So love your children more, as much as you can! #THiNK2012

Sherry Turkle has been thinking about the social and psychological impacts of the Internet and that makes this session super exciting. Technology is having a deep impact on us, changing who we think and even who we are. Is it taking us to places we don’t want to go? What are the ethics of advancement? Questions we ask all the time. Are we humanizing tech while we dehumanize ourselves? Robots become men, men become machines. This is her life’s work. Eager to hear what she has to say!

Hackers gave her a clue that humans now see their minds as a computer. Change in the way we evolve. Changing our identity. Initially celebratory about these changes, Sherry is now not so optimistic. As a psychologist, she thought it fascinating that people could experience playing with identity and learn from their online lives to live better real lives. The situation has turned darker now. She saw in the ‘90s that mobility changes. Transitions between computer identities and real connections become faster. We were never completely present to our reality. Another phenomenon was sociable robots. A new kind that doesn’t try to be smart, but tries to make you think it loves you. By using the right gestures, this robot pushes your Darwinian buttons to make you feel someone is home. Fascinating! We nurture it, we love it. She began to study these bots used in Japan for eldercare and to be nannies. Strong attachments to computers that do not deserve our love and that we never leave ourselves alone at all are disturbing trends we need to be aware of.

Why would we rather text than talk? Because it gives a larger sense of control, which is seductive. We can hide real feelings. Tech allows us to have the illusion of companionship without the demands and intimacy.

So does tech make us lonelier? All those of us addicted to technology, are we actually keeping the real people out? The real relationships away? I wrote about this recently. One of the wonderful things about being here at the Thinkest is to hear experts and researchers take forward my tentative musings about how we live life. That’s why so many of us are back to this fest.

People text at funerals, mothers in the park are texting…Are we losing the sense of human attachment? I find that scary, concerning. Why do we want to be elsewhere when we are somewhere? Why do we go there at all? I don’t want to be this sort of person, who forgets the difference between conversation and mere connection. The person who forget nuance. But yet I love what technology makes possible as well. When we have sessions at Shikshantar where my kids go to school, we often are told about how texting during dinner is not a great thing to do. We roll our eyes, hate the lecture! Well, Sherry used the exact same example today. Children deserve to grow up feeling they are important enough for us to set aside even something as important as technology. And I agree.

We need to set rules for ourselves that will help us achieve some sort of balance. We need to make a better attempt to really connect, with ourselves and then with people around us, then also with issues and events. Many levels of connection make life exciting.

What is reassuring is that Shirley thinks the younger generation is more likely to be able to build a tech Sabbath, build in breaks from technology. We, who came to it later, appear to be completely smitten! Kids might stand a better chance to achieve the balance. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that when children are little, say pre-teens and teens, we adults who ‘parent’ them (I say that in a larger sense) have the opportunity to give them a real sense of how important human contact is. We can love them with all we have got, reach out to them, involve them. Give them a legacy of humanity so that they can use technology to their advantage without being emotionally consumed by it.

Crazy fun with cousins and the joys of a simpler life- Oct 21, 2012

Most of us have childhood memories of vacations with cousins. Watching the kids all day today has revived mine. What is it about family that enabled children to revive connections instantly? It took five minutes for Udai and Aadyaa to be running around in glee with Golu and Raman in Kota last evening. The drive to Jalwara, our village, this morning and the rest of the day has been intensely pleasurable for the little ones.
No fancy games. Just a lot of screaming, urging Rahul to drive faster and overtake tractors and bikes on the highway, plastic guns and false bullets bought from the local store for a few rupees, and then on our fields, holding ducklings and chicks, picking fresh amrood, playing with water, running wild….
The dynamics are interesting to watch. Udai the oldest, the gang leader of the foursome. Aadyaa and Golu, the chirpy ones, who have formed a close bond already, the tomboy gals. And Raman, the one with the conscience, fruit eater, the gentle one.
As night falls and a freshly slain rooster is cooked over a coal flame, we sit on charpais on family land that goes back two generations. Skies are clear, a sliver of moon looks down at this happy sight. The kids are tired, but not done yet. A pile of sand is now their occupation and sand laddoos are perhaps what we will be fed for dessert!








An emotional ride: Kids tell their stories of 10 years of Shikshantar- Sep 27, 2012

Shikshantar, where both my kids study, is celebrating its 10th birthday this week. Yesterday, the primary and secondary blocks threw their classrooms open to parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to take a peek at how they had expressed their journey in the school. The theme was Stories and narratives were central to the exhibits around the school.

Oh boy, it was an emotional ride. While the younger kids had attacked the theme with enthusiasm and gusto, the older ones clearly expressed a strong bond with their schoolmates and the institution. Hearing the teenage kids, I was transported back into a world where even the tiniest gestures by friends meant so much, when passions ran high and relationships were intense; when we felt strongly about everything in our lives, when adults were often perceived as enemies of fun.

It was a pleasure to see the comfort the kids shared with their teachers though. I visited in the late afternoon, when things were beginning to wind down. In most classes in middle and senior school, groups of kids were hanging out and having a lot of fun. And also chitchatting and laughing with their teachers.

Here are some pictures I took, that express the love and the bonding the kids feel with their school, its spaces, its people and the entire world it creates to nurture them.

Nitya shows us a model of senior school as they visualize it to be. This is Udai’s class exhibit

Dear to all of Udai’s class, this model is about the nostalgia of the pre-primary block. Vanar Vatika, their open air play space in J Block is shown in all its glory!

I loved this way of showing kids inside a pipe….the big pipe really does exist. You can crawl inside it and it is my personal favorite space in J Block

An interesting way for kids to express the favorite part of their day at Shikshantar. The school day comprises unique elements like circle time to encourage sharing and expression, daily outdoors and project time as well as choice time, where kids can revisit activities they enjoy

Middle schoolkids got a wee bit sentimental!

Comfortable and full of enjoyment!

A middle school student explaining their exhibit

The school was peppered by these larger than life paper dolls…very expressive!

They looked rather dramatic against the lawns….

Shikshantar is also where we parents meet our friends- Gauri and Preeti share a laugh

Preeti and me….one of those crazy ‘pose’ moments!


I loved these quirky little figurines the kids had made from old plastic bottled and waste material….cute ones and hilarious ones!

How can you not love that guy?












Ganpati Bappa’s dose of fun and bonding- Sep 19, 2012

I woke up Udai with ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya!’ this morning. And the first thing he said is “Why didn’t you take us to Goa this year for Ganesh Chaturthi?”. That stumped me and pleased me and brought the tears to my eyes all at the same time.

When I was a kid, I remember making the trip to Goa for Chavath only once. In my mind, it is a blur of song and dance, firecrackers and new clothes, glowing excited faces and noise. I don’t think I ever asked my parents why we didn’t go more often. I was very much embedded in my role as the cousin-who-lives-far-away, an outsider of sorts, a tourist in the family. I knew we did not have the means to travel every year and that it entailed my parent’s taking leave as they did not have vacations at this time of the year. Logistics ruled our lives and that was that.

This is a different generation; many would say more technologically oriented, with an ability to take rapid changes in their stride. A privileged generation, secure and able to make demands without compunction. But that’s not what made me feel all warm and glowing inside. I was amazed and gratified because Udai’s reaction exhibited his recognition of the family bond, enjoyment of rituals and festivities and the security that comes with the unconditional love and affection my kids have got from all our relatives in Goa.

And in the end, isn’t that what festivals are all about. The symbolism and even the details of how we celebrate may change from Christmas to Diwali, from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to the Chinese New Year,  but festivals remain a means we employ to reinforce age-old systems, institutions and values like family, tradition, respect, love, faith, joy, etc. Myriad forms of expression, through art and craft, through elaborate culinary preparations often specific to the festival itself, make the occasion an opportunity to savor new experiences.

Last year, in Goa for Chavath, we got together to make a rangoli (pity, I don’t seem to have a picture of it), learning new techniques from older aunts, singing old songs together, laughing insanely at comic impersonations of characters from old Hindi films or family legends. What a good time, we had. Ganpati Bappa sat there presiding over all this frolic, a broad smile adoring his face. Now this is what I’m here for, we heard him mumble!

Here are a few pics from last year’s Chavathi celebration in St Cruz, Goa. Missing all of you cousins and kakas and kakis and above all, Ajjee, a lot today 🙂

Check out the smile!

Told you that the food gets rather elaborate- Here is an edible modak (favourite food) and unir (rat, Ganesh’s vehicle) in preparation!

Yum! Bhog being prepared for the pooja for Ganesh’s parents and sibling, etc to celebrate his birth!

Ajjee, giving someone instructions or regaling us with a story….


Aadyaa fascinated at a visit to the idol maker’s workshop! So many Ganpati Bappas 🙂

Festivals are for family bonding!! The cousin gang






Cities and the eating out culture- Sep 9, 2012

Eating out is a big big part of urban culture worldwide. One sign of India’s urbanisation has been the huge increase in restaurants and eateries. And a breed of people who are hungry, literally, for new culinary experiences.
If we didn’t have young children, we would be in that lot of people that tried every new restaurant and were up to date with the latest in the world of gastronomy. That’s thanks to Rahul, who is quite a foodie. His only two rules for eating out are- avoid Indian food and it must be non veg!
Tonight we caught the last day of the Pakistani food festival on at the Great Kebab Factory at Gurgaon’s Park Plaza Hotel. For starters, we waited over an hour to get in, chatting at the bar working up an appetite. Once inside, we were presented with a fixed menu of several kababs, none surprising but all tasty. Now fixed menus are worse than buffets. You stay put and people just bring you stuff. In this place, we realised we needed to stay focused on conversation as there were long gaps between rounds of food. The only good thing is you don’t need to think, only decide between a yes and no for everything offered.
The food was good, but not superb. North Indian and Pakistani cuisine must be really similar for it held no novelty for me at all. The quality of meat was excellent though and I wondered if they procured equally good meat for their regular buffet.
As we ate, I pondered the close relationship between food, drink and friendship. Can you be close friends with someone who doesn’t share your food preferences in today’s city life, where food has become a pivot around which our social life revolves? I wonder.
In a sense, food becomes an opportunity to interact and engage with other people. In a restaurant, it’s always fun to watch people at other tables and guess the relationships, conversation, circumstances. When you call people home, you offer them a peek into your palate and your life. When you bond over food, you take the focus away from the relationship and find the taste, the price, the presentation of the food to be great subjects to build a friendship on.
What would life be without being able to go out and eat? Boring indeed.

We need a new social order to harness the power of frugal innovation or ‘jugaad’ to improve communities- July 17, 2012

Shashi Tharoor puts it succinctly in this article. India has a lot more going for it than the macro economic indicators suggest. He talks about frugal innovation or what we know better as jugaad. This is a cornerstone of the Indian psyche. Whatever be the situation, Indians will find a way around myriad obstacles to get ahead.

It puzzles me that this jugaad mentality of finding innovative solutions to problems both simple and tricky does not extend to community issues. We Indians are comfortable thinking in terms of the family unit. In the days gone by, the biraadari, loosely translated as the community, was based on certain elements that bound families together. Caste and sub-caste played a strong role here and this had a correlation with the occupation and therefore lifestyle, that included eating habits, dress codes, language, mannerisms, social structures and codes of conduct, etc.

After independence, India has struggled to establish a democratic society despite the fact that most Indians associate themselves with a biraadari or kaum; that is what drives their identity, that is where allegiances lie, the people within the biraadari are ‘us’, everyone else is ‘them’. This sort of thinking has posed as an impediment to the establishment of a nationalist thinking as well as to the nurturing of democratic values.

Modern societies, especially in the urban context, are diverse and multicultural. People from an astonishing array of backgrounds live together in new forms of community, like apartment blocks and gated colonies, or work together. It will take us time to establish common ground that is not based on the traditional concepts of biraadari. I see this where I live. Despite being educated, serving or having served in government service or the armed forces, or in senior positions in corporate organizations, I observe that people often feel most comfortable forming groups that have caste and region as the binding factor. Religion, of course, and language, are very strong elements in social interaction across age groups. Younger people do deviate from this trend, and world view, political leanings, income class and aesthetic tastes become differentiators basis which we decide who our friends are. Perhaps this is because they are idealistic and still willing to trust most people; they haven’t been stung by the bug of cynicism and social interactions are not about seeking safe havens, but about creating excitement. I would like to think that a new social order is emerging in urban India, but to be honest, the robustness of this new order remains to be seen.

I have no doubts, however, of the urgent need for this new social order. The creation of new common ground for people to come together is essential so that we can harness the power of innovation for the community, not just to further individual aspirations.

Mothers are irreplaceable, invaluable, bedrocks of our lives- May 13, 2012

In our family, when I was growing up, we weren’t too big on celebrations. The main festivals and birthdays were definitely made special, usually by modest gifts and perhaps a meal out to a favored restaurant! When the Archie’s and Hallmark cards and other sundry brands manufactured several new occasions to celebrate, we hardly ever subscribed to these and Mothers’ Day fell into this category of occasions to be scoffed at, made fun of, acknowledged but not made a big deal of.

Now I’m a mother myself; the institution of motherhood signifies a great deal more to me than it did before. I have come to appreciate in the past few years that the mother-child relationship is at once the strongest and yet, the most sensitive in our lives. My children instinctively know when I am sad or upset, even when I think I’m outwardly normal in my behavior. My mother always knows my moods, even if she has the sense to not question me about them all the time, but only when she really feels I need the concern. As a mother, I feel responsible for my children and give them the kind of unconditional love I didn’t think existed before I had them.

It’s true. No matter how old we grow, mothers will remain the bedrock of our emotional world. And so, in that spirit, we did celebrate Mothers’ Day today. Four mothers and some of their brood dined out, laughed together and cemented the only relationship in the world that probably does not need the cement!

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