Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmas In The Air

We usually do not celebrate Christmas, but it's always very much a part of our lives, for it is in the air, everywhere greeting us.

This year, with my son just beginning to learn music in school, I get to hear Christmas songs at home when he returns.

My husband, who is in Delhi, has ordered some of the most delicious Christmas cake and pudding (from IIC) which he will bring back.  Thus I have saved my Christmas cake recipe for next year.

We have a tree in our little garden, but as we will be in Kolkata over Christmas this year, I have kept the decorations for next year (when my son will be older and able to reach the top branches).  This is prudent because our garden is full of leaping monkeys, inquisitive squirrels and nosy ravens right now.

Christmas in Kolkata has its own charm, even if Park street is too crowded to walk down, even though the old jazz haunts are now hard to find, even if our favourite traditional bakery closed its doors last year.  Christmas is still Christmas, and spending it with family and friends is always special.

Here are two old versions of my son's favourite Christmas songs -

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer-

Jingle bells (apparently the first song to be played in outer space, which gives it an added appeal, in my son's eyes)-

And here is my favourite song (which was also Elvis's favourite Christmas song, as sung by him)-

Blue Christmas-

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Listening To My Spirit

The end of the year is just a calendar reminder to stop and think of one's resolution for the year to come.  It's something I always like to do and the best resolutions are the ones that don't wait for the year to end before being implemented!

Sometimes, it's not very easy to think of one particular thing, but there are times when a specific thought slips itself into my mind effortlessly, as has happened this year.

This year has been marked by great changes in our lives, and  for me, the most important, through the ups and downs, has been the expression of the spirit (as I perceived it, in myself and others).  I usually refrain from dwelling overly on personal details but have decided to do so, for this blog.

As I write, my son, Nayan, weaves his way through nursery school, with optimism and determination; qualities that I hope will serve him well through his life.  He is learning how to deal with things he doesn't understand, things that scare him or worry him.  As we ourselves are.

An unexpected death in the family left us grappling with pain, wondering how to deal with it and what to make of death - and life.  I am grateful that my mother-in-law lived an active and happy life almost upto the end, and left with very little suffering.  I am grateful also for parts of her which live on in spirit- in the things she did and, in some way, in Nayan.

This year, my husband found an opportunity to extend his scientific creativity (an essential part of his life) to do some of the research that he was not able to easily do in his academic life (which continues alongside).  He has started a company to design new flu vaccines.  This is a big leap of faith that appears to be leading to much satisfaction (and fatigue)!  It would not have been possible without his business partner, ex-student and old friend, Gautham, who complements, supports and sustains the company.  They are the only two employees, as of now!

As for myself, life has taken me down yet another untraversed path.  I'm just beginning to pick up the threads and feel my way through.  I have a new routine (at least on school days) that I had not really planned in any way.

My yoga practice has restarted, in a slow but definite way.  I sense the presence of my yoga teachers and something leads me on, one small step at a time.

At the start of the year, I had a head full of ideas for books and I wrote one (a children's book called 'Marco Polo Gets A Job!').  As months went by, most of the other ideas evaporated, leaving me in blankness.  Blankness is not something I despair of or dread, it usually indicates a period of shifting and refocussing of energy.  I just let things be.

Finally, this month, I got the feeling that the most fulfilling thing to do (fortunately I have the option!)  is to listen to my spirit.

Dentists' clinics have their advantages!  While waiting for yet another filling to be done, I began reading Walden and came upon this line- "The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling.  Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly."  I had plenty of time to dwell on it (and hope the dentist did too!) and it resonated somewhere deep within.  Soon after, things began to get a little clearer.

I awoke the next morning (pain free!) with the thought that I was really missing my diary.  I had kept a diary for years and had abandoned it at some moment when other forms of writing emerged.  While I express a few of my thoughts and experiences through my blogs, I realized that I would like to spend a little time on writing for myself.  Jotting down thoughts and stray bits of information that might be of no particular interest to anyone else.

Memories flashed through me - not of my own diaries- but those of my mother and grandmother.  Very distinct and different from mine, and from each other- providing just a glimpse of their lives, with gaps to be filled through knowledge or imagination.  As time and energy is limited, I know this will cut into my professional or everyday writing, but it feels like the perfect thing to do at this moment.

This was by no means the end of my instinctive decisions.  Things got curiouser and curiouser.  The next change involved my reading.  I have a large collection of cookbooks and books on food that I have not had time to look at.  It seems a bit ridiculous to spend a precious hour perusing these when I cannot possibly try the recipes immediately, and when there is a long list of already pending chores to be attended to.

But I just felt like reaching out for those books - and so I did; thus I began reading about food once more.

This feels absolutely right and it leaves me with happy, intriguing thoughts on cooking and eating.  To my surprise, this has also led to ideas on clearing and tidying up, beginning (not surprisingly) with the kitchen.  One step paves the way for the next, and I find myself carrying out my pending chores in an unplanned but simple manner (they are far from over, in case you would like to know!).

I have seen this ease and efficiency when the spirit (a word I use, but others may put it differently) expresses itself - a non linear, ill defined path that a computer would not be able to traverse, but which humans can do effortlessly at times.  Often it results in the feeling, "Why didn't I think of this before?"

I am grateful for all the help and happiness I received this year through various people, near and far.  Many friends reached out to us during our time of grief, the thoughts and feelings they shared helped to comfort us and fill a void.

Apart from this, there were acquaintances and friends, new and old, who made a difference to my life this year.  I'm mentioning a few of them-

Our cook in Delhi, Pushkar, who spent his own money in keeping the household going while my mother-in-law was in hospital, and did not even mention it until he was asked when his last salary had been paid.  He knows what each person likes to eat and makes a special effort to cook these when we visit, without our asking.

My driver, Busanna, who received a call yesterday morning, telling him that his young nephew had died in the village.  He was driving Nayan and me to school and did not tell me until we reached.  He tried to make arrangements to go home once his driving duty for the day ended, but this meant he would miss the funeral, and so he decided not to go.  I was making arrangements for another driver but he said it would not be necessary.

These are the kinds of people upon whom we depend, without whom our lives would be much harder and less happy, and it is only fair (as Pushkar requested while talking at my mother-in-law's memorial) that they be treated with consideration and compassion.

Other people, who, by being what they are, have enriched my life, and that of my family-

Nora, a wonderful friend, and a gifted acupuncturist, whose wisdom and love always help me while I am faltering (and whose writing I love to read).

Danny, whose quest for tribal carpets leads him to central Asia, but also to Bangalore, where his carpets now have a happy home.  He spontaneously and very kindly offered his newly set up carpet studio as a place to hold a memorial for my mother-in-law, and it was the perfect place for such an occasion.  His family- Renuka, Luri and Tulu, who bring us great happiness in little ways.

Prakash, one of the last few accordion players in the country, who plays just because he wants to (and has an immense repertoire of music stored in his head) - who deals with family responsibilities with the same apparent ease that he displays while playing his music.

Amit, the jazz guitarist, who is trying to make a place for himself in busy LA, but who always has time for us when he's visiting Bangalore.

Vikram, a new friend discovered during my son's swimming expeditions, an author who spends his time writing and swimming and occasionally giving me advice on how to get published (with no success so far)!

Tanu, sister-in-law, but more of a sister and friend, the one I turn to for all my needs in Delhi (and who never fails in her attempts to help!)

Andrej, the scientist of Slovenian origin, with an extraordinary mind and heart, who stepped into our lives quite by chance.

To these, and others who  make our lives rich and complete- and to all my readers - for helping me sustain this blog!  A big thank you (for wading through my writing) and a happy new year!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Life Gone By

Lotika Varadarajan passed away on October 9th, 2017.  I miss her, as a friend, as the mother in law she was happy to be, as the grandmother she was to my son.

My son and I have written poems about her, which are given below.  In addition, I add some pictures showing various aspects of her life.  She was on her feet - working, meeting people and planning events, almost till the end - I believe that this is how she would have liked to go.

Ajji has gone with the water.

She will become a white flower.

Her happiness will burst into the stars.

  Nayan Varadarajan

A life..

Wild elephants and hills of Shillong
Then to Bangkok, Chulalongkorn

​At Miranda House, with daring do
​Away to Cambridge she flew

Another world, a brave romance
​Sparked off​ from a mid-air glance

Drew people in from many spheres
​Sharing​ their lives, laughter and tears

Science, melded with history
Produced engaging progeny

Kolkata, with its warm embrace
Chaos defied her frantic pace
Fine boned ilish, of silver hue
Perfectly steamed ‘neath Didi’s view

Breakfasts lingered o’er cups of tea
​Discussing friends​ and history

Her world – that of the seven seas
Of sailboats guided by the breeze

Salt smattered steps in still lagoons
Southern stars and crescent moons

Her world – that of the warp and weft
Silken cocoons and fingers deft

Shifting sands, missing dockyards
Harappan sites with silent sha​rds

Wood fired stoves, a simmered stew
Smoky mithun, fried woodworms too

A world that overflowed​ with friends
New and old, at turns and bends

Of dizzying height and daring depth
world​ gone by, we won’t forget

Just for completeness (and for those who would like to know more about her work), here are links to her obituaries-

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Moving Inwards In Yoga

I have resumed my (much interrupted) yoga practice, and as always, it's wonderful to get back to it.  Interruptions are inevitable but if I don't resume, I always feel terrible from inside. Muscles and nerves start protesting!  So I am compelled in a sense to return to it, with much gratitude and relief each time.  It reminds me of the words of the Tai Chi master, Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing, who said that each time he gave up Tai Chi, he became sick, and thus had to pursue it (eventually he became a great master).

When practicing away from a teacher, a student has to choose his own path.  This, of course, changes with time and one's requirements, also what one is ready for.  This time, my practice has begun with a focus on the inner energy rather than external refining of the postures.  Interestingly, although we use our limbs a lot, and spend much time using (and despairing over) them, in yoga the focus is a little different.  The ultimate aim being the stilling of the mind, the main energy centres one focusses on lie along the spine and up, to the top of the head.

Now that I have begun focussing on my inner energy, I find myself unconsciously sensing the energy given out by the environment as well - in particular nature.  Not in discrete units but in a fuzzy kind of way, feeling the difference between the energy of water and land, of grass and granite, of raindrops and wet earth.

I feel an immense gratitude towards all the traditional, wise systems which recognized this energy, and devised unusual ways to work with it - in particular the systems I have come in contact with - Yoga, Five Element Acupuncture and Tai Chi Chuan.  It's a magical feeling to be linked to everything through something so basic yet intangible, and to be able to tap it and use it wisely.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It Never Hurts To Ask

This has recently been driven home to me in the gym, where I do my morning practice of yoga.  I usually go there around nine, when there's hardly anyone around (except a couple of regulars).  Often it's quiet but occasionally the radio blares on, loudly and unrelentingly.  Initially I would just grit my teeth and get on with it, especially as the radio seems to coincide with some additional person working out at that time.

Lately however, I have been asking people if I could turn it down a little (the talk and music are really quite grating) and to my surprise, every time I have asked, everyone has said that they do not want the radio on.  They say it was just on when they came, and there's a universal sigh of relief when I turn it off (with cell phones and headphones, no one really needs a public radio in a gym).  This has happened about five times in a row, which just goes to show...!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Poetry and Conversation

My neighbour (a remarkably astute principal of a college) periodically asks me to judge a poetry contest she conducts during their college festival.  So it was that I spent much of yesterday poring over poems, almost all reflecting teenage angst (except for one, who had written about Hitler's prowess as an artist!).  The title given to them was 'Is This Me', hard enough for anyone to think about, more so perhaps for young adults.

When I went to return the poetry filled sheets, I mentioned to my neighbour about how much angst the students seemed to have.  "Yes," she said, in a very matter of fact way.   "That's partly why I organize these contests - to give them an outlet."

We have all gone through phases of struggle; the process is familiar but the contents seem to have changed, and we discussed this for a while.  She said that the main problem students in her college voiced was not peer pressure but being unable to communicate with their parents.

I was a bit taken aback at this; I had attributed many of the problems to social media, lack of time and place for sport or creative opportunities, a sense of isolation and more.  Not to parents.  But that's not how the students seem to see it.  Reality probably lies somewhere in between but I can see that relentless pushing at home would not help a teenager who is anyway struggling to come to terms with the world around.  Something to ponder about.

The poems were free and frank and reflected more confusion and dismay than anger.

At the end of all this, I was happy to turn back to old loved poetry, to Rilke, who reminds us that every moment is precious and life changing.  I have quoted this poem before but I put it down once more for it moves me each time I read it-

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Five Element Acupuncture- A Patient's Perspective

I'm writing this blog because I have often been asked, "Does acupuncture really work?" and I have been thinking about it long and hard.

My answer is, "It depends."

It depends on the style of acupuncture (my husband visited a clinic in Delhi where he was hooked to a machine that gave out a signal.  Based on this, a doctor shoved in some needles.  My husband felt nothing, then or later).

It depends on the practitioner and their ability to read the patient's problems and what is causing them.  ("When you see a child who comes for treatment, it's often the parents who need it," said my friend Nora.)

It depends on the nature of the condition to be treated and whether the patient has tried other systems of medicine or healing.  (A visiting scientist and friend from California recently said that for several days he had been hiccuping continuously.  Nothing helped until he finally turned to acupuncture, and the hiccups stopped soon after.)

Acupuncture did not enter my life in any determined decisive way.  Like most of my decisions, I drifted towards it entirely by chance.  While returning from America, I stopped to meet my mother in law, who was staying in London with her old college friend, Nora.  I spent a few days with them and when I left, Nora gave me a book to read on five element acupuncture as I am interested in traditional forms of healing.

I did not think I would ever need treatment, but many years down the line, when I was feeling burnt out and low, and conventional medicine had no answers, I turned to acupuncture.  Instinctively, I turned to Nora, who had become a close friend.  Since then, I have returned to London several times, sometimes just for a visit and on several occasions, for treatment as well.

Each time, my experience with acupuncture has been the same (though the treatments have varied with each session).  There are some points which trigger a discernible physical reaction- warmth in certain parts, an unblocking of the ears or nose, coughing out mucous or tears that well up in my eyes.

But these occasions are few.

Generally, there is a feeling of relaxation, sometimes fatigue, a desire to sleep or to release one's emotions in some way.  I often go for treatment when I am at the crossroads of important decisions (as I realize later).  They are times when things seem very difficult or when I have just finished a period of struggle and am completely worn out.  I feel I need something more than my yoga practice or a holiday, to renew myself.

I always love the moment when I enter Nora's clinic.  I get a timeless feeling of being part of something old and venerable, and recently, of being in the presence of a master.  Nora is warm ('fire'), spontaneous and brings a wisdom and slant of her own to the practice.  (In fact clinic is the wrong word for this place, for it is filled with paintings, calligraphy, beautiful stones, a cheerful air and a comfortable bed where one can lie down and shrug off one's cares.  My son is very fond of the dragon in the corridor, whom he has named 'Flamie Jamie'.)

Decisions about diagnosis and treatment seem to come from Nora and beyond - as if a whole line of  teachers were standing behind guiding her spirit and her hands.  This might sound fanciful, but it's what I felt on this visit.

For those who wonder how it's done, five element acupuncture is not a gentle, wishy washy process.  The positioning of the needles is very precise.  Often the spot is warmed before by placing a little cone of moxa and heating the area, and repeating this a few times - if you don't tell the practitioner when you feel the warmth, you're likely to get slightly singed!  You don't feel the needles as they go in, but when the point is being needled there is a definite tug, sometimes a feeling of being stung!

Energy shifts and changes can be very strong and the effect is not always felt immediately.  This time I felt like a rusty old engine - coughing, spluttering and eventually coming to life.  Nora detected a block in my ears that I had completely forgotten about (after having visited several doctors, all of whom told me there was nothing wrong).  I awoke the next morning to find smells from the street almost overwhelming as I began to smell clearly after ages.  Needless to say the migraines have also been receding.

After the treatments, there is a general feeling of stillness and contentment that I have experienced time and again. A feeling of being at peace with nature and with oneself.  It's happened too often to be a coincidence.

After a week I returned to India to find I was able to deal with all the physical and emotional demands around without getting flustered.  I began to change my attitude towards things that had got me stressed and anxious earlier (this was partly a result of feeling stronger and partly an aftermath of conversations with Nora about dealing with things that worry me- something no doctor in any conventional clinic would waste their time doing).

The change has also reflected in my creative decisions - writing to begin with.  I have found a tranquil place to write and I now have the energy to write almost everyday, which I didn't have earlier.  My thoughts about what to write and the next project to embark upon have changed tremendously.  Right now I'm standing in the midst of a very happy jumble of paths, feeling my way forward.

For me, five element acupuncture with Nora has cleared many physical and mental blocks at times when conventional medicine or yoga could not.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Delights Of British Food

British food is not very highly rated back home (perhaps elsewhere as well).  I will never know why.  My nephew (who spent a couple of years in England before going to America) always makes a face and says he much prefers his current options - and so do many others apparently.  Perhaps many people look for vegetarian options and don't find much, or don't take kindly to the boiled and bland options available.  I disagree.

Perhaps it is because much of my vacation time in England has been centred around London, which is a melting pot of cuisines.  Perhaps it is because I have had the good fortune of being invited to home cooked meals with British friends who serve wholesome and tasty food.  Looking back, I find that while in America I would eat largely the food of immigrant origin, in England I look forward to sampling British food.

In India we grew up on a hearty diet of traditional and western (Anglo Indian) fare.  In the pre-oven days, my grandmother would turn out delicious steamed puddings served hot with custard and would roast chickens in a large pressure cooker.  We could smell the fragrance of the ginger, garlic, black cardamom and bay leaves long before the chicken appeared at the table.  Roast mutton, fried fish and a variety of soups and stews periodically made an appearance, along with rajma, chicken curry, kulfi and other favourites.

My mother acquired a Baby Belling, a reliable and sturdy little oven, on a visit to England.  This tiny, accurate device works still but is not used by anyone at home any more.  In this oven, we made our hot puddings, baked potatoes and it was with this that I learnt to make my first cakes and tarts.  I would pore over the Women's Weekly recipes (and I still love to flip through this British magazine, if I find issues of the sixties and seventies, which were utterly charming) or the Reader's Digest gigantic tome of recipes arranged month wise, and decide what I wanted to try.

My family and I visited London this month and ended up eating meals that we could easily assemble in the apartment where we stayed, buying not very exotic fare from shops close by.  We were lucky to be in a 'good food zone' (I think certain areas of cities just have a higher concentration of better food options than others- not just restaurants but also shops, big and small, that make and source fresh food).

Just down the road from us stood a little Nordic bakery with unusual and delicious seafood and dill sandwiches,  pastries strewn with berries with a hint of sugar and more (the question of Brexit raises its unpleasant head, and one wonders what one will see a couple of years down the line).  Further down the road was a fruit seller who stocked fruit from England and parts of Europe.  Opposite this there was an organic food shop which had delicious soups, stews, fruit, vegetable and meat.  Waitrose - the excellently stocked store, our sustenance really - was where we bought oatcakes, smoked salmon, cheese, cold meat, olives, cider and fresh bread in copious amounts.  My little son was often content with his summer berries and a plate of bread and butter, Cornish Yarg (a cheese) and Scottish smoked salmon!

One Sunday we visited the local farmers' market just outside Paddington Street Park (a short walk away) and (bought and) sampled an excellent array of local food- potted shellfish (freshly caught), savoury British pies (which I like immensely - steak and ale, chicken and leek and my son (who wanted to have Stilton) ate a delicious meat and Stilton pie).  We also tried the handmade fresh sausages - freshly fried with onions and served in a soft roll of bread (we could only manage one between the three of us), and these were very flavourful.  Along with all this, we had fresh summer greens, eaten raw, with just a dash of dressing.  We rarely made it to desserts, but the summer fruit in all its forms (particularly delicious by itself or served in puddings and sweets with whipped cream) was the perfect way to end a large and satisfying meal.

Not for me the chicken tikka masala or balti chicken (ridiculous names in my opinion though these dishes are immensely popular).  A glass of cider, fresh bread with smoked salmon or a crisp, hot pie, a handful of watercress and dark sweet summer cherries would be my perfect summer meal.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dreams Drift On

One relearns many things through little children.  The importance of dreams, for example.  Not the kind that come when we are asleep but the ones we actively generate.  Much of the time we are too busy to dream, too reticent to voice them.  But children have no such reservations.  My son has a distinct set of things he would like to do in an ideal world, and he says them all aloud.

Saying things aloud has a different effect from just thinking them.  They seem more concrete, like little rose coloured clouds that take shape in front of us and drift along beside us.  Our companions, not our foes, that serve not to dredge up frustrated goals but to remind us of wondrous possibilities.  If only..

One of my son's most predictable dreams is to swim in any water source he sees.  Thus it is not surprising that he now wants to swim in a lake close to our house, called Sankey Tank.  This is a dreadfully muddy and polluted place, so it is now his dream to clean it up so that people can swim there.

A long list of what he has to do follows - remove the mud and the rocks, take them to a dump, filter the water, add some chlorine and ozone to clean it up and then, finally, to put up some signs.  What kinds of signs should he put, he asks me.

"Please don't throw garbage in the tank.  Use the garbage bins," I reply.

He nods.  And then dreams on.

"I think we will have some more signs -

'Hallo and welcome and how nice to see you'

'Have a good swim'


'Bye bye and thank you and see you next week'"

He laughs and claps his hands, and I'm amazed that these dreams did not occur to me.  Now that we say them aloud, it seems as though it may only be a matter of time that Bangalore lakes are cleaned up and full of happy swimmers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Swimming Lessons

My three year old son and I are going to the swimming pool everyday, until school begins (for the first time, next week).  We wake up early, get ready the way we would for school and set off in the car.  The driving time is about the same as what it would be to drive to school.  We carry our bags, filled with the same things we will take next week.  We meet people and swim and, afterwards, sit and watch the swimming classes for older children while eating our tiffins.

I did not plan this routine months ahead, it just fell into place by itself.  I'm not a meticulous planner!  This schedule has given my son a sense of direction to his day (he loves water so it's nice to see him waking up all excited every morning), a sense of independence (he now happily converses with all the 'aunties' sitting around (the children are too busy swimming to notice him)) and has increased his stamina to the extent that I am confident he will not get completely exhausted during his long school hours.  He has also figured out ways to cope with the unpredictability of traffic and road conditions.  Apart from all this, he has learnt to make egg sandwiches from scratch and loves doing so (more than eating them)!

I too have learnt much from my visits to the pool, which in the mornings, is filled with elderly people and children who are taking swimming lessons.  There are no young people or teenagers in sight.  All the mothers (and an occasional father) are sitting at tables scattered around the pool, waiting for their children, shouting a few instructions now and then.  Some are talking to each other, many are busy with their cell phones.

My son and I are cheerily greeted by many of the women, the coaches smile when he comes because he's so excited about going into the water.  He and I are the only ones to enter the children's pool.  All the other children are hard at work in the main pool while we are playing about in the water. Many mothers are surprised that I am teaching my son on my own instead of handing him over to the coach next year.

I realized, with some surprise, that parents feel that other people (especially professionals) are better equipped to deal with the education of their children.  This is something I came across while searching for schools as well - mostly it was said by teachers (except for a small number who urged me to keep my son at home in the early years), but it seems to resonate within a large group of parents as well.

I see four year olds crying, throwing up and older children wanting to 'goof off' periodically in the pool.  The parents are not sympathetic.  My instinct would just be to go and hug the child and say, "It's all right.  You can relax," but parents look disapprovingly at the child and a bit apologetically at the coach (who is a very dedicated and well meaning teacher in my view, but not every child is ready for intense coaching).

Play is greatly underestimated nowadays, especially spontaneous play.  My son and I have a wonderful time playing in the water, driven mostly by him.  He is at the stage where make believe adventures have just begun, so he's not just swimming when he's in the water.  He is standing like a sea horse, jumping like a dolphin, floating like a jelly fish.  He is surfing, he is hunting, he is deep sea diving.  He has learnt how to move in water, how to cope when water gets into his eyes, nose or mouth.  He has understood the feeling of floating and he loves to enter the big pool whenever he is allowed (the sense of buoyancy and the excitement of seeing so much water is far greater there).

I have learnt the importance of sharing these adventures and moments of learning with a child.  Of being there at the same level, and doing the same things, to enable him to overcome fear and hesitation easily.  Of not pushing him into things he is not ready for or not meant to do no matter how sensible or worthy the ideas appear.

Of enjoying each step of life along the way, if I have the chance to.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Supplements To Counter Ill Health

My migraines had reached a level of frenzied frequency last month and constant travel, stress of various kinds, disruption in food and sleep did not help.  It was a time I was on pain killers half the month and finally I felt that enough was enough.  My migraines are triggered by hormonal changes in relative levels of estrogen and progesterone (I have figured this out on my own), so they are triggered repetitively each month.  Several women I know say they experience these (Asian women have lower levels of estrogen, and are therefore more susceptible to migraines apparently) and menopause is the solution, something I don't agree with in principle!!  Apart from this, who wants to wait that long??

Migraine sufferers know that there is no universal solution, each one has to work his (or her) way through the condition and hope for the best.  Circumstances, lifestyle and temperaments dictate choices.  For me, the first choice is always nutrition (perhaps having been brought up with a mother who was a nutritionist), and I began a search for information on diet and migraines.

Of course, there are the usual trigger foods that one has to avoid, but there are also a lot of supplements which seem to help some people.  The internet is a vast (albeit slightly biased) source of information, and internet delivery services make many things accessible to us which were not earlier.  This helped me choose my nutritional supplements.

About two weeks ago, I began to add supplements to my diet.  Magnesium, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin D and vitamin E.  Also a highly purified extract of feverfew, which is the only known western herb which can be safely taken for migraine relief.

Around the same time, I began to take my son to the swimming pool evryday, where he and I splash around for 45 minutes.  Exercise always helps migraines, and I find swimming and running in combination with yoga to be ideal (if one has the time, which I don't right now!).

Most treatments are said to take effect in 2 to 3 months, but I have already noticed a decrease in intensity (and more recently perhaps in frequency as well).  I have also noticed an increase in energy, both physical and mental.  I am also sleeping a little better.  Long term control will require optimising safe combinations but this is a positive beginning.  In a short while, I hope to return to my yoga and also to get some acupuncture treatment, which has always helped me.  And I will take it from there.

The role of specific nutritional supplements in reinforcing good health and in relieving even drastic symptoms has long been discussed.  Linus Pauling's theories on the role of vitamin C in curing heart disease and cancer continues to be debated and there are innumerable such examples and other studies in progress.

A recent very interesting scientific study (published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences in March 28, 2017) showed that giving mothers who had recently given birth certain selected protein components (tyrosine, tryptophan) and blueberry juice and extract (rich in anti-oxidants) helped greatly in reducing the depression that often arises after delivery.  This depression is triggered by the sharp decline in (100 fold of) estrogen and (50 fold of) progesterone hormones and an equally sharp rise in other molecules that increase oxidation.  The activity of many molecules that ultimately contribute to this postpartum depression can apparently be lowered just by taking a small set of nutritional supplements.  I looked up the kinds of foods that tryptophan and tyrosine are normally present in and I could see that a traditional Indian diet (specially vegetarian) prescribed currently for new mothers will not contain high levels of any of these molecules.  It's probably time to reassess our nutritional needs based on some of this emerging evidence especially because postpartum depression is far from being on the decline (and given modern lifestyles, it may well be on the rise, I don't know).

Finally, I quote from an old book that belonged to my mother, a book I have always enjoyed dwelling upon."Anatomy Of An Illness as Perceived by The Patient', by Norman Cousins (who managed his crippling illness on his own when conventional medicine had no solutions to offer)-

"Pain Is Not The Enemy-

We know very little about pain and what we don't know makes it hurt all the more.  Indeed no form of illiteracy in the United States is so widespread or costly as the ignorance about pain - what it is, what causes it, how to deal with it without panic.

...Of all forms of pain, none is more important for the individual to understand than the 'threshold' variety.  Almost everyone has a telltale ache that is triggered whenever tension or fatigue reaches a certain point.  It can take the form of a migraine type headache or a squeezing pain deep in the abdomen or cramps or pain in the lower back or even pain in the joints.  The individual who has learned how to make the correlation between such threshold pains and their cause doesn't panic when they occur, he or she does something about relieving the stress and tension.  Then if the pain persists despite the absence of apparent cause, the individual will telephone the doctor.

If ignorance about pain is widespread, ignorance about the way pain killing drugs work is even more so.  What is not generally understood is that many of the vaunted pain-killing drugs conceal the pain without correcting the underlying condition.  They deaden the mechanism in the body that alerts the brain to the fact that something may be wrong.  The body can pay a high price for suppression of pain without regard to its basic cause."

We are far from understanding basic causes and effects that happen in our bodies, but my recent experiences have made me more open to taking supplements in terms of nutrition and alternate medicine, even though I don't completely understand how they work, as long as I seem to feel stronger and more balanced from within.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bond, Agents And All That Stuff

I've been busy the last few weeks, with travel, and also trying to get my children's book into some shape.  That's why the blog has been dormant.  The work is still in progress but I've learnt quite a bit that I didn't know about trying to get a book published!

When Bond brings to mind Michael rather than James and agents are invariably literary, it's time to finalize that list of people to send your manuscript to.  I began with Indian publishers for children's books and wondered whether to contact an agent or not.  Searched on the internet and found a handful of agents and authors and children's publishers (no dedicated children's book agents) - each set cursing the other and decided it's probably simpler to begin on my own.  The good news is that apart from the usual publishers, I found a couple of small but enthusiastic new ones - Tota and Yolk Pickle, whose voices I liked.  Whether they will like mine is moot.

I continued my research by checking on U.K. agents (largely based in London), the idea being that the commonwealth group might be easier to reach out to, in the case of an Indian book.  I've made a list of fifteen (though ambitious authors advise going through entire books of agents' addresses and mailing them in batches of twenty five!  Almost all agents now only accept queries by email, which seems to enable this kind of process).  Of these, one represents Bond (yes, the one who wrote Paddington), another Milne and  Shepard (Winnie the Pooh etc.) ...ooops!  Regarding illustrations, there seems to be no rule.  Whether one should write 'XXX and YYY' for author and illustrator, (the advantage in this case as far as I can tell is that some publishers only want single author cum illustrators (I don't know why) and maybe will extend themselves to a team) or whether to specify 'written by XXX and illustrated by YYY', which, to me is only fair.  Then there is a another set who says 'Don't bother with illustrations, we have our own illustrators and so do the publishers' (or we know what we want).  It's too late to pander to this group though they are welcome to reject our illustrations.  A tiny set say, 'No unillustrated manuscripts will be read'.  I can safely send my draft to this minority.  Whew!

As for the illustrations, they are still in progress, about two thirds are done.  It's been a terrific learning experience, working with an unknown foreign artist miles away.  Once we got to the thick of things, where the story moved to India, chaos began.  The illustrator (naturally) had no idea that small town garages and shops were not gleaming and filled with machinery and that women were not typically tall, aggressive and dungaree-clad.  Where to begin to fill the gaps?  I gave a one-paragraph description and about five pictures of street scenes (including Indian cows!) and he came up with a terrific picture, so realistic that one would not guess he had never stepped into an Indian town.  In this process, I also remembered that in the sixties and seventies, the only cars sold were fiats, ambassadors and standard heralds.  From there we proceeded, with the usual ups and downs, some successes and some failures and a lot of learning.

I realised how invaluable Indian film songs were to describe certain scenes, and it turned out he liked music and now wants to visit India with his girlfriend sometime!  What songs did I send?  My story is set is the sixties and seventies, a time when many pleasant songs existed in relatively down to earth settings.  But to showcase some of the natural beauty and joy that still exists in this large and varied country, the song I liked best was from the early nineties, 'Chinna Chinna Aasai' (from the film Roja).  It's been translated into other languages, but I give below the link to the original Tamil version.  When I need to take a break from those long lists I am still compiling (will have to begin the U.S. agent list next, which will be an uphill task), I sit back and listen to this song, which my son likes as well.  It translates to 'Tiny tiny hopes...'

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Flying Finish

My mother had a little sign in her consultation room (that doubled up as my bedroom).  It hangs there still, many years after her death, and each time I see it I remember her philosophy.  Hand painted, blue letters on a white board proclaim, "Miracles happen".  I have always believed in miracles and am ever delighted when I see them unfolding around me.  Not the phenomena couched in mysterious, religious or philosophical explanations, but in those down to earth situations that call for determination, faith and the sensing of an inner purpose.

Sport is one of the most direct and dramatic ways to see some of these extraordinary achievements- the result of people who use their gifts, with the necessary focus and intuition to attain something previously unreached.  The recent Champions League football match (Barcelona vs Paris Saint- Germaine) was one such event.  In a way it was more exciting than watching a solo performance for it was a team effort, with both teams playing at full strength.  Individuals certainly helped but the game went beyond big names.  Fortuitous events did occur, but they did not dominate in any way.  It was the effort of a team fighting for everything, with no time to spare (without the luxury of extra time), willing to convert every move into an opportunity and believing in themselves until the end.

Many people have described it better than me; the New York Times had a write up which summed up the situation and game wonderfully (if one ignores a stray reference to the American Super Bowl, possibly thrown in to woo their local readers).  Here is a link-

Here is another link to some highlights leading to that soaring, giddy feeling of having achieved the (almost) impossible - a flying finish that is just the beginning.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Thoughts On Writing

I can't think of a time when I didn't enjoy writing.  And so, when I came to a blank wall at a stage in my career as a scientist, and had the option of choosing an alternate way to spend my time, I decided to try my hand at writing.  It began with a trickle (and continues, for various reasons at that pace!) but in the course of over a decade, I have tried my hand at various kinds of writing and have learnt an enormous amount, more than any formal course would have taught me.

A few days ago, after my recent manuscript was shot down (it has happened on innumerable occasions!) I happened to sit and reminisce, to dwell on where my various pieces of writing had led me.  It may not be as interesting for readers as it is for me, but I decided to write down some of my thoughts.

When I first began, I wrote whatever came into my mind.  I felt I needed to write, to begin the flow of thoughts and their translation into words.  I began with a children's book (which I illustrated) - far from perfect, but enjoyable.  All the neighbours' children liked it, which was good enough for me!  A series of poems and a short play followed.  No one was interested in doing anything with these though people were happy to read them.  The short pieces led me on - I wanted to write longer stories and I began writing novellas and a longish interconnected tale of stories- science fiction for young adults.  At the time, the ideas were all part of fiction but now several are taking shape in our present world as science advances.  This manuscript actually made it through to the final stage, past the editors, but was shot down by the marketing team who said they would not be able to sell it.

Writing long pieces is very different from short stories - I learnt about the importance of discipline, consistency and also about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.  I have no illusions about my writing - it's done in a very basic and simple (often conversational) style.  I write largely but not entirely for myself, in the hope that people might relate to or be helped in some manner by a few of my thoughts.  Sometimes I just write to vent my feelings!  Most of all, I like to write to express my faith in the strange but wonderful ways of life and the world around us.

Science fiction led to real life science reporting - a form of archiving.  My husband pointed out one day that no one interviewed and recorded Indian science in the country (that was over a decade ago).  Why not try?  There were several outstanding scientists and engineers who had innovated and invented entirely in India - their work would be interesting to document and it would be good for people (especially students who keep talking about the limitations of opportunities in this country) to know about amazing things that could be done with good ideas and determination.  I approached a science journal for permission to write.  Reluctantly they agreed.  Before each piece, I would get their permission and then be given a relatively free hand to proceed.  This was my introduction to interviewing people, recording their words and thinking about how to demystify technical issues for a lay audience.  I also had to do some basic photography, for I needed recent photographs of the speakers (and had no cameraman with me!).  It was an incredible experience and all the scientists I interviewed were enthusiastic and gracious.  Somehow this column gained a lot of popularity and many others began to do similar series of interviews.  I decided it was time to bow out.

I had always felt that one needed to be outgoing, outspoken and quick thinking to do justice to interviews but I realized that this was not essential.  I (a water person, according to the Chinese five elements) blended so much into the background that I found the scientists talking aloud, almost as if to themselves.  All I had to do was sit and listen, and to talk only if a clarification or specific change in direction was required.  It was a time when I really learned the importance of listening and accurately conveying information without distorting it or bringing any aspect of myself into the picture.  I got letters from several readers who had known the speakers, saying the interviews gave them the feeling that the speaker had appeared before them and was talking to them.

There is often a pattern in the way we work, though it is not evident to us at the time.  After the interview series, I realized that just as there were people who had changed the way Indian science  functioned, there had been drastic events that had reshaped Indian lives and our environment - these were often described in political terms but not scientific ones.  One such extreme event was the Bhopal gas tragedy.  I wanted to document it in greater detail as seen by the scientists who were actually on the scene.  Now the information is declassified but when I began, no one was allowed to publish their Bhopal scientific data.  Short interviews would not suffice.  I began by talking to some of the more active scientists, several are dead now and the ones that remain are very old.  I did not finish this piece of work but it led me to a phase of conducting very long recordings that gave me a glimpse into ways of doing science very different from how they are done today.  I gave up this project during my pregnancy for I felt it was too morose a subject to pursue at the time.

Somewhere along the way, one of my very close friends suggested writing a blog and I wondered.  Well, you know the result of that venture (and I thank you all for your patience in reading all that I have to say).  Writing short pieces for an unknown but direct audience (no editors!) and the ease of publishing things online brings with it a different kind of responsibility.  The typed word cannot be erased - a sobering thought when spontaneity beckons!

In the midst of all this, my aunt wanted to write a cookbook.  She and I share a passion for cooking, and I began this as well, along with a friend who is a photographer.  Documenting family recipes, testing them, making notes and the most challenging of all - trying to photograph them at home under very basic conditions was a different kettle of fish.  This is a huge tome and it's still very far from completion.

Recently I wrote a draft for a children's book, this one was based on my own experiences with my toddler, who wanted to read 'Marco Polo Gets A Job!'  Not finding any such story, I wrote one, and sent it as an entry for a contest.  As with my other manuscripts, this one did not even make the shortlist (far from getting any awards!!).  But the friends I sent it to liked the story and I do too (on the scale of children's books, I think it's quite comparable to some of the more entertaining ones).  So I have decided to get it illustrated (by someone better than myself), send it out for another round and then if (or when!) all else fails, to self publish.  This recent exercise has been one of tremendous learning once more.

I wrote to an illustrator in Bangalore but got no reply.  I looked at all the Indian children's books we had collected but could find nothing suitable to the style I had in mind (the current trend in books here is a colourful folk style, which doesn't really suit my story).  I looked at the foreign children's books that I really liked - all my favourites were from British publishers.  I wrote to the illustrator I most admired - Juan Wijngaard (who magically illustrated 'Cloud Tea Monkeys') with no hope of getting a reply.  Surprisingly, he did write back - a long detailed letter about how the world of children's book illustrators worked. explaining the time and financial commitments, the royalty involved and the fact that basically the publishers dealt with the whole exercise.  It was a very kind letter, giving me a glimpse of a world I knew nothing about.  He added that he was flattered that I had thought of him (!!) and that he had stopped illustrating children's books and only focussed on art that he wanted to create.

After that, I confess I didn't spend hours looking for all possible Indian illustrators - I have very little spare time each day.  I knew that my book on its own would never make it to a publisher - publishers rarely touch unknown authors and one needs a very good agent, someone I have not yet found.  I tried the internet and eventually contacted a person whose illustrations I liked, whose time frame and budget were reasonable.  In this manner, I have begun this new venture, with an illustrator from Uruguay, who is pleasant, who seems to have liked my story and is enjoying illustrating it.

We have just begun and I have never before worked with an unknown person across the net.  It's the first time that my words are being put into pictures by someone else - and I have given them the freedom (with a brief explanation of what was in my mind when I wrote the story) to depict the characters and scenes as they want to.  Now I truly understand the importance of a symbiotic relationship between writer and illustrator - the words tell a story but the pictures draw attention to some aspects of it in a distinctive style.  It's very enjoyable to see the addition of colour and pictures to black and white typing - drawings that would not be meaningful on their own but that make a page come alive for a child (and hopefully for their parents too).  I have no idea where this will lead or how it will turn out, but it's a new and very interesting turn that my writing had led me to and I'm enjoying every moment of it so far.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Trip To Kolkata

Kolkata is always an interesting city to visit.  It is filled to the brim with sound and life and incredible street scenes, and overflows with people who are on average more temperamental and vocal than those in many other parts of the country.  Partly because it has not been able to attract much industry, it remains a family oriented city - one sees a lot of middle aged and elderly people moving about (the men often clustered together gossiping in their 'addas', the women bustling in groups or ferrying their children between school and tuition classes or shopping or doing arty stuff!).  Despite the noise and the rush, if one manages to time things correctly, there are quiet spots and peaceful spaces to be found.

My little son and I had developed a nice routine - we would wake at the crack of dawn (the best way to function as Kolkata lies so much to the east that dusk approaches by five in the evening), have a delicious breakfast of local fruit (very hard to find yellow 'desi' papaya, wonderfully sweet and juicy little Darjeeling oranges and more), then head to the lakes.  The lakes and the surrounding parks are very peaceful early in the morning.  There are some morning walkers and a motley group of young men doing miscellaneous exercises - for martial arts, wrestling etc. but in the relaxed Bengali way, stopping every few minutes to rest.  Most of the old men would stop to say, "Hallo dada (older brother)" to my son!).  Policemen stand about, talking about subjects like what a pity it is that little children must be compelled to carry big bags and so on.  The lakes are full of fish; amazingly they are also clubs along the banks that offer very professional training in swimming and rowing.  Regattas are often held in the mornings.

We ate large meals of tender winter vegetables, fresh hill greens and ferns and delicious winter fish.  We would spend the afternoons slumbering - the Kolkata sun (as Bengalis say) is sleep inducing!  The air was still a little cool and we used light quilts, hand stitched, of the softest old cotton sarees, made even softer by decades of washing, their colours surprisingly intact.  These quilts make use of the traditional kantha stitch that now adorns many fabrics, sarees (and even a little cloth elephant in London)!

Evenings were spent in shopping, visiting tea shops or sweet shops or walking by the lakes again- the lakes look very different in the light of the setting sun.  As the weather was still cool, all the sweet shops were filled with notun gur mishti - sweets made from the new (year's) palm jaggery.  Tea shops typically serve Anglo Indian fare - sandwiches, pastry, puffs, pies (and even delicious scones!) along with Darjeeling tea.

We bought various bits of food to take back - the local varieties of rice, which are all very different from what we get in other parts, kasundi (a Bengali piquant mustard paste eaten with fried fish and other such stuff), palm jaggery, pumpkin flowers (or pumpkin blossoms, as my son calls them) which are delicious when dipped into a batter and fried and freshly harvested turmeric and tiny bitter neem leaves.  I have often wondered what to do with fresh turmeric - it's so mild and aromatic but is a pain to peel and grind for every dish.  The wise Bengalis (especially women) eat little nuggets of it raw, along with neem leaves.  My relatives turned up their noses but I quite like it and find it very good for my liver, and my little son also chomps it down quite happily (asking every morning for his meen leaves and haldi)!

One morning we went to the riverside and took a row boat down the Hooghly.  It was peaceful (and not surprisingly - sleep inducing!).  This was how we spent much of our time - outside with flowers, fish, the spring air, the river and at home, with our excitable, endearing Bengali family.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Warm Thoughts on a Cold January Day

I apologise for the delay in wishing all of you a very happy new year!  It was a cold that did it.  A mild fleeting cold after a trip of many firsts, to the heartland of north India - Kanpur and Lucknow.

It was an exciting trip.  The first visit that my son made to these cities (and my first trip to the genteel, many dimensioned city of Lucknow), my son's first stay in a guest house and a hotel, first sighting of peacocks and buffaloes. his first bus ride, his first auto ride, his first cycle rickshaw ride, his first soak in a big hot tub, his introduction to a vacuum cleaner (he loves sweeping and mopping), his first jalebi , giant gulab jamun and naan (and my introduction to Awadhi cuisine ).

We were in Kanpur to attend my husband's college reunion and in Lucknow just to spend a comfortable night before taking the next flight back home.  Kanpur was fun but tiring as these events tend to be - meeting lots of old (and new) friends over a short span of time.

Lucknow was more relaxed - we had a lovely room with a large, private garden full of winter flowers, which was made all the more exciting by a resident mongoose.  We ate shorba (spiced broth) and chaat for lunch, an odd but delicious combination.  Different kinds of rotis (traditional breads), kebabs and biryani for dinner along with half a dozen chutneys and pickles, and a delicious rabri (sweet made with thickened milk).  I have never been particularly drawn to spices, feeling that Indian food is often over-spiced, but these dishes, where the flavour of each spice emerged so clearly and complemented the other so distinctly, were very appetising.  I was impressed with the (small set of) Awadhi dishes that I tasted and have resolved to find out more.  Unlike my experience of eating Indian food outside the home, where I often encounter generic red chilly powder liberally sprinkled over food, and find that it drills holes in my stomach, this food left barely a trace.  Much of the heat in the food came from ginger, black pepper and perhaps some freshly ground chillies.

Renewed and refreshed, we were looking forward to getting back home (with thoughts of returning to Lucknow some other time), when the hotel staff dropped the equivalent of a bomb on us.  The Prime Minister had decided to visit Lucknow (capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, which was currently seething with political mayhem; the much awaited state elections are round the corner) - we should leave early in order to reach the airport.  How early?  No one (especially the unhelpful air hostesses of our airline, who were also residing at our hotel) could clearly indicate.  With a little child in tow and having to pack our belongings as well as lunch and tea (in case there were flight delays), it was a race against time.  We thought we were fairly safe when the cab pulled in at our hotel, and the driver took off early enough (complaining incessantly about road blocks) but this was just the beginning of a long adventure.

As we proceeded, we could see car loads and bus loads of villagers being brought in with the main purpose of flooding the city for the rally.  People were hostile and belligerent, our driver (whose reactions were a few seconds slower than mine) made me a little nervous, I hoped he wouldn't bump into any of the vehicles as we inched along.  The police misdirected us and finally were stuck in the middle lane of a three lane jam on the peak of a flyover.  "If I can get off this flyover, I can try another road," said the driver peering down hopefully, as if he wanted to drive off the flyover into the empty space below.  I told him his best bet was to keep inching (and not switch off the engine which he had done gloomily, convinced that we would never get anywhere).

Inch by inch, we went down, and then he suddenly veered off to a small side road, drove like the wind, only to reach (with a satisfied smile) the gates of a petrol pump.  "I need CNG," he announced, "Everyone has to get off the car."  Easier said than done.  Try to explain to a two year old why we are veering off the road, what the noise and crowds are about, why we should stay calm and eat our cold packed food periodically so as to stay energetic and remain hydrated and step out of the car in the middle of nowhere on a cold winter morning...

Anyway, gas filled, the driver seemed more cheerful, and immediately we set off, backtracking a few kilometres.  Then  onto side roads, bumpy tracks, through some fields and hamlets on the outskirts of Lucknow, trying to overtake scooters, tempos, cows on the one-lane village roads.  With the driver honking loudly and making blind turns, I hoped that all the children running on the road would move away in time.  At one moment, we came to a screeching halt because someone had parked a dashing new red car in the middle of the road and vanished.  No sign of the driver, another car waiting frustratedly ahead of us.  Luckily it was only about a ten minute wait.  The owner strode along, at an unhurried pace, looked around calmly, tried to start his car a few times, then (to our relief) succeeded and drove off.  We continued, the driver telling us how he was risking all by trying to get us to the airport, my husband trying to call the call centre for the airlines and inform them we were on our way, the google map (very accurately) predicting another traffic holdup a few metres down the road.  We swerved and went onto the highway (the wrong way), horn blasting, hoping that the old man on the rickety cycle who was looking backwards at the rally, would see us in time, hoping that the trucks and cars and motor cycles would give way, and with much cursing, the driver finally arrived at the airport.

We disembarked, and then my husband couldn't find our identity cards (required for entry to the airport, in this case they were our driving licenses).  Finally he found them jammed in a corner of his pocket.  We rushed through, trying to tell the security that we were in a hurry.  Cleary, they weren't.  We reached just half an hour before our flight was to take off.  Somehow all the other passengers were there.  Somehow, miraculously, we were let in.  The only person who frowned was the lady at the counter who told me I wasn't holding my son properly, and that's why he was screaming his head off.

We were drenched in sweat (no blood or tears fortunately).  Peeled off our layers of sweaters.  The flight was a little late (thank heavens for small mercies).  Our neighbouring passengers frowned and made rude faces as our son (strapped into his seat) was still screaming from time to time.  I tried to play some music but these fellow passengers (all belonging to one large disapproving family) frowned upon it too.  Finally I played the movie 'Bend it like Beckham' without the volume (which was the only thing saved on our computer).  Slowly, gradually, my son calmed down and he finally fell asleep.  I glugged glass after glass of water and ate my anti-migraine pills...

It was a relief to get back home.  Not soon after though, my husband came down with a cold, and my son followed.  My maid left suddenly to attend funerals and family functions, for an unknown period of time.  We had a flurry of visitors (new friends and old).  Finally, I too succumbed to the virus.  It wasn't too bad, but probably the cumulative exertion had left me drained of energy, so much so I couldn't write or do much.

Now, with energy seeping back in waves, with trees outside bursting with birds, I sit down on this crisp January afternoon and wish all my readers a warming and happy year ahead.  And think of my resolutions for this year.

Little things of the spirit are what I want to focus on - not national or global catastrophes or authoritative policies that change our lives overnight.  I don't want to sink in gloom each time (and it's unfortunately very often!) I see signs of intolerance, insensitivity and various forms of deception and mediocrity around me.

This year I choose to focus on individuals (who I may or may not know directly) who have changed my life in a positive way.   To be thankful for those who have helped me in small but important ways (Kiaro, the wonderfully professional organic milk company who agreed to deliver to my doorstep even though no one else in this area wanted the milk), Fresh to Home, our terrific online doorstep deliverer of fresh seafood and chemical free meats, our neighbourhood shops which stock organically grown foods and also home deliver fairly healthy pizza (which has staved off emergencies and hunger pangs!).  Those who hand knitted sweaters for my son (as I couldn't find suitable winter clothing anywhere here to brave the north Indian cold), those who dropped by with amazing and thoughtful gifts (including a pair of gigantic exciting kites for my son, an engraved artisanal cutting board in maple wood that came all the way from Stanford for me and piles of fresh fruit sent carefully wrapped in giant fig leaves, from Pune for all of us).

And so this year I have decided to focus on doing small things which make me happy, knowing that there will be a ripple effect, but even if there isn't, I'm not overly concerned.  For me, this is not the year of Grand Plans.  It's a year of working quietly and happily on my own - to restart some yoga eventually, to write some fiction (for myself), to make some more artisanal breads - and to learn some more about Awadhi food (a style of cooking influenced by the food of central Asia, northern India and the long years of Mughal rule).  To learn knitting!  These are my plans, and how they unfold only time (and my blog perhaps!) can tell...
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