Kitchen Conversations: In the Real and the Virtual World

Since last few weeks I have become a bit more active on Instagram – like everyone else posting pictures of lockdown cooking as we now know it. I tried preparations posted by some food bloggers, shared pictures of my progress of breaking the mental barrier of microwave cooking, etc. Gradually my Instagram posts started giving a sneak peek of my memories associated with certain dishes or my preference of enjoying that particular dish. All these comments were actually the Kitchen Conversations – that I was missing the most.

Instagram: Is it new normal of kitchen conversations?

My memory of cooking is that of a chatty kitchen. Growing up in Mumbai, I remember my grandmother always talking or interacting while cooking. It could be multi-tasking, giving instructions for some housework, attending to some guest at home or our neighbour who would have dropped by while she was cooking. Ours was old Mumbai house in a chawl, sort of a community living. Doors of our houses were always open. Buying fish at doorsteps along with the neighbour, sharing daily menus and even food was an everyday routine. My neighbour was my first go-to person for recipe tasting, validation or even suggestions for cooking. These chatty kitchens took to a different high during festive season – Diwali was amongst the best when we visited each other’s house to help in preparations. From buying groceries, sharing finer details about particular dishes to tasting the first batch of delicacies – everything was a group activity.

This tradition followed during kitchen conversations with my mother too. When you try to be responsible, plan menus and cook on your own, an instruction here, a suggestion there would always follow. How to  roast some ingredient, amount of water needed for making some pastes, which veggie needs to be boiled / steamed or fried,  how to know if the meat is cooked… it would be a lengthy set of instructions while cooking – sometimes making me angry and a bit rebellious I may say. In the pre-video calls era, these continued over phone when I was studying abroad.

I generally cooked over weekends – trying some recipe under mother’s guidance or preparing our all-time favourite seafood.  I could spend time with our house help only on weekends. It was our catch-up time. Every weekend she started looking forward to the special menu – sharing with me her food experiences while working at other places, any new kitchen appliances or tips used in other households, her traditional recipes, updating about latest roadside joints around, etc. It was a chatty Saturday afternoon over tea. Over the years she became so central to our kitchen – our backbone.  We started depending on her for planning daily menus to grocery buying to storage. From our weekend tea sessions, she became the important factor of my kitchen conversations – at times guiding me about mother’s cooking practices in her absence.

With the lockdown these kitchen conversations went on mute. Our house help couldn’t come for work, mother’s health did not permit her to enter the kitchen. The same love and instructions followed over a call from the hospital. A few days later they fell silent forever…

From a chatty kitchen, I learned to make peace with a silent kitchen. I became the lead actor without my audience. Of course there was guidance from some close relatives, but immediate conversations were few. Maybe Instagram started breaking these silences with a post here and a video there, finding new recipes, following some new foodies, learning about cooking techniques, attending live sessions……. Sort of virtual kitchen conversations in the virtual world.

What are your memories of Kitchen Conversations? Do you miss them?

6 steps that help in developing positive mental strength

The death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput came as a rude shock amidst the challenges of Corona Virus, Lockdown and it’s after effects. It has brought to fore other issues like mental health, nepotism, surviving the challenges, connecting with people, etc. Our social media timelines and WhatsApp groups are buzzing with the importance of mental health, dealing with emotionally weaker people and advice on communicating with someone going through a low phase in life.

These developments made me think of another group – mentally or emotionally strong people. When in doubt or faced with a problem we always call or speak to someone close to us. A friend, colleague, relative, acquaintance who listens to us, offers help, gives us some direction. These are the people who generally deal with a sensitive issue /problem with a balance and sometimes give us the much needed clarity. Then how do mentally strong people deal with their own problems, low emotional phases?

It’s been three months, people in Mumbai are confined to their houses.  It’s a long time to manage and survive this new life – working from home, housework, groceries, social distancing etc. Personally, this pandemic pressure was opening some cracks in my behaviour or emotional response. After listening to one of my seniors, I thought to myself; these people are taking care of so many lives, how are they managing their own – especially mental and emotional balance?

Are mentally strong people more vulnerable? This lingering thought on my mind became more dominant post Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

I have a huge self-doubt, low self-confidence about so many times. At one point of time I use to be amused if someone complimented my mental strength. Today, looking back I have indeed developed some mechanism of facing challenges.

Me Time: My favourite mechanism to refuel positive vibes

Faith: Not a very religious person, over last few years I started following Nicherin Buddhism, which helped me believe in faith. Faith, I realized could be different for each individual – meditation, breathing exercises, etc. However regularly practicing your faith does have many visible and invisible benefits.

Accepting Challenges: One of the biggest life lessons in recent years has been to accept the challenge and tackle it firmly. Last 5 years were challenging at different levels. I learned that accepting challenge and preparing oneself to tackle it changes our perspective towards it. It helps one think rationally, imbibes in us a mechanism to distinguish between emotional and a rational response.

Finding Opportunity in Adversity: I have always tried to find one positive outcome from every challenges, sometimes result of wrong decisions. These opportunities or positive outcomes have been a good point of self-reflection, personal improvement, accepting some gaps and shaping future decisions. It has furthered strengthened my belief- whatever happens, happens for the best.

Me Time: I vociferously believe in Me Time – not only to tide over challenges but in generally. With our life pace, constant distractions, pressures, Me Time is like a fuel. We need to refill our lives – spend time with ourselves. One of the reason I have still dreaming of that one solo trip – to spend time with myself without any distractions. Me Time becomes a necessity when a lazy, leisurely day become a luxury for oneself. Like right now, I could instantly jump to reserve a stay vacation to get over the lockdown blues and other turmoil.

Feed Positive Thoughts to Your Mind: Me Time and Positive Thoughts complement each other. Me Time gives us space to think, reflect and energize positive vibes. Personal experience tells me positive thoughts may not lead to the desired result as you envisage it. On the other hand, it helps to seek clarity, understand what we really want. Setting daily intentions is my latest magic tool of positive thinking.

Gratitude and Empathy: Since childhood I felt conscious or some niggling un-comfort while expressing Thank You. Not that I was not grateful or accepted appreciation. Over the years I tried to understand the deeper reason of expressing gratitude. Life challenges pushed me hard to be grateful for every person, soul around us. Though a caring person I became more empathetic, reflecting upon my reactions and actions.

Have these mechanism made me void of low emotional phases. Certainly not. On the contrary it is teaching me the importance of expressing every emotion – happiness, sadness, doubt, anxious. When vulnerability peeps in, these same mechanism become a shield to fight weaker moments.

How do you tide over vulnerability or weaker moments?

How can baking a pizza help in achieving goals?

One of the favourite pass times this lockdown has been preparing delicious food. Is there anyone whose social media feed is not filled with pictures of banana bread, dalgona coffee, pastas, cakes, healthy smoothies, etc.?  One fine day I also decided to join the party.

I wanted to bake a pizza in a microwave. One my friend has just done a Facebook Live session on Pizza, I checked some 3-4 other recipes online, spoke to a couple of cousins on how they make a pizza at home. Mind you, this was not the first time I was doing my ‘research’ on baking a pizza at home. I have prepared myself bake a pizza so many times and each time I did not go ahead with my plan.

What is the big deal in baking a pizza? Nothing. It was my mind and self-doubt. I did not have confidence of microwave cooking. I was not sure if I can choose the correct ingredients, the right sauce, of making an ‘edible’ pizza. Over last couple of years I tried to win over this fear or doubt of microwave cooking – baking cookies, a cake and fish. Of course they were not perfect. But my wish of enjoying a homemade pizza still remained unfulfilled.

Relishing a homemade pizza was a first step towards learning to bake

Thanks to social distancing and a long wait at the super market I finally shopped for the ingredients – gingerly I picked the pizza bread, cheese, pizza sauce and paneer. I was bit nervous and anxious as I opened the door of my microwave. There it was – my first homemade pizza!

It was not just a Pizza. It was another example to show we can conquer our own fears / mental blocks. Some have fear of water, while others are afraid of darkness. Since childhood I have fear of heights. While I like the idea, I haven’t gone on a trek or enjoyed paragliding because of my fear.

Couple of years ago I managed to break my psychological barrier of fitness. I started looking forward to exercising, following a healthy diet and reading about simple ways to remain fit. Until a few months back I believed I could not make chapatis or rotis.

In 2020 I set some steep goals, one of them is to learning to bake. The first half of this year has shown it will indeed be a steep climb. But taking my lessons to become consistent, I am determined to take one step at a time to learn baking / microwave cooking.

My homemade pizza was again not perfect, had burned at the edges. But I improvised, changed combinations of the toppings and stopped thinking much about the burned edges. As I finished off the last bite I had already decided my next baking experiment!

It took me courage to take that first step to bake a pizza! Which is the most courageous activity you have recently undertaken?

When a virtual session boosts confidence to re-invent for the new world

Webinars, virtual summits, online panel discussions, Instagram Lives, etc. have become buzzwords in the corporate world during the Covid-19 lockdown.  Recently I attended one such talk by Dr. Anil Kakodkar, a renowned nuclear physicist and former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai. Approximately 300 people were glued to YouTube, watching him speak on the advancements in energy and its impact on climate change.

However, this was a virtual forum with a difference. For the first time in seven decades, Amar Hind Mandal, a social organization in Mumbai, adapted digital platforms to host its annual spring lecture series Vasanta Vyakhyanmala. It was an anxious, nervous, courageous and a period of taking bold decisions for the volunteers trying to continue the 72 yrs tradition of this lecture series amidst the pandemic and series of lockdowns. Over 250 live audience, 1000 views and connecting with members across geographies was a moment of elation for this conventional thinking social organisation – giving them the confidence to take the digital leap in their operations, organization and communication.

Amar Hind Mandal’s first online lecture series received 1000 views on YouTube

As a silent observer, it was quite an enriching experience of understanding the learning curve. The popularity of smartphones and access to mobile internet had made our parents go digital. Like other fellow Indians, they use social media, regularly check WhatsApp and forward messages. But this simple exercise of attending an online session exposed them to other aspects of social media – What is a YouTube channel?, Do you pay for subscription, will it be an audio or a video speech?, how can I share this video with others? Can I watch this video later? The joy of listening to an intellectual talk from the confines of their house when the world is fighting Covid-19 and Cyclone Nisarga has just missed Mumbai was boundless. It was a moment of truth for a generation of Indians, making them further adapt and adopt a new means of communication.

While Facebook and WhatsApp have become a part of our lives, other tools like Facebook Live, Video-based meeting platforms, online seminars is still a novel concept for many. Apart from shopping and entertainment, Covid-19 has inclined us towards online tools and platforms in areas we have never imagined. If not for the pandemic and lockdown, so many of this audience of 300 people would have not experienced an online lecture series or a virtual session outside the corporate / professional world.

This incidence is like a drop in an ocean of individual, organizational, institutional and sovereign transformation that Covid-19 has enforced upon the world. I have seen an ordinary shop selling cold-cuts & poultry turn into a one-stop-shop for quick breakfast and ready-to-eat food, a food blogger using this period to reinforce the importance of simple cooking and supporting local businesses, from religiously sharing restaurant reviews on apps a girl dedicating lockdown to become fitter and healthier. The things we do, learn and unlearn, follow and let go during this phase will shape our lives as we emerge on the other side of this pandemic.

As for me, last two months have been a big lesson in facing a personal loss and challenges with stride, finding the silver lining instead of whining about the circumstances.

How have you coped up with this changed world during Covid-19?

5 Ways Caregiving Changed Me Personally

Recently I watched two movies that really touched my heart – Smile Please and The Sky Is Pink. Some stories resonate with you, making you think deeper, giving different perspective to a particular situation.

Nandini, the successful fashion photographer in Smile Please, struggles to come in terms with the diagnosis of early stage of dementia. She finds hope in Viraj, a stranger, who makes her believe in herself and continue to pursue her dreams.

The Sky is Pink is a rendering story of a couple who make it their mission to take care of their daughter diagnosed with a rare generic disorder. Daughter’s survival and happiness becomes a prime purpose of life for a mother, who is undergoing many personal struggles within.

  • Smile Please and The Sky Is Pink movies highlight the role of a caregivers during critical times of illness

Both the movies focus on another important aspect – role of family and friends during illness. Personal experiences have made me realize that it’s the immediate family and caregiver who many times need hope, direction and empathy.

The care givers go through a different journey – coming to terms with the diagnosis, doctors, taking sensitive and important decisions, finances, etc. Above all an emotional phase – dealing with the patient, people around, managing daily lives, so many of them. At this point it is hope and their courage that helps caregivers sail through this storm.

Perhaps it’s the reason why I connected so deeply with the story and emotions. Last three years I have discovered so many aspects of my own self while attending to my mother’s illness. Deep within you become empathetic, start valuing people in your lives, making you realize the importance of good health, finances and even your professional and personal goals.

How did this phase change me?

  1. I started taking care of my own health
  2. Becoming fit and eating health became more important
  3. Developed patience, empathy and more gratitude
  4. Overcame psychological barriers
  5. Learned to cook some more recipes

Hence, Smile Please, The Sky Is Pink have faith and hope, discover yourself during the darkest of the times!

Blogging: 3 lessons I learnt from my Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts in its new avatar turns two today. This new journey has taught me these three key lessons:

Cherish your personal thoughts: It was a wakeup call for me when I decided to renew my blog. In the race of time, professional and personal commitments we tend to forget our own thoughts. Things that matter, relations, memories you cherish. Random Thoughts became my place to stop, reflect and pen my opinion, experiences and observations.

Set Goals & Plan Ahead: This was a big takeaway while writing and developing Random Thoughts. Without planning, thinking ahead and putting down my blogging topics, time management, it would have been impossible to shape my Random Thoughts. I fumbled like how! It also made me think about goal setting and planning, not only for this blog but imbibing it in my daily life too.

Be Consistent: Often my mind is buzzing with so many ideas. I feel like exploring new things and experiences. My josh is high and I start doing a few things, but then it fizzles out. Random Thoughts was a rude reminder for me to become consistent in everything I do.

A deep Gratitude for everyone who encouraged my Random Thoughts. For your guidance, feedback, love and hand holding me.

Welcoming 2020 with Gratitude, Steep Goals

Personally, 2019 was extremely challenging. Looking back, I feel every month threw new challenges at me – professionally and personally. Someone recently told me ‘Life happens when we are busy planning’. As 2020 dawned my sense of Gratitude became even stronger and set steeper goals.

2019 was of self-reflection, self-discovery, edging me out of my comfort zone at so many levels. More importantly it taught me to develop a greater positive attitude towards life, with a deep sense of gratitude.

Every failure or a setback has a huge learning for us. My biggest test was in May 2019 when cancer yet again gripped my mother. Since then it has been a roller coaster – of emotions, understanding relationships, learning and unlearning. More importantly, at every stage it made me aware of immense gratitude towards every soul we touch in our lives. These times truly show us our life path. We were grateful we had blessings in abundance.

Taking care of my ailing mother was also a journey of self-discovery. Maybe it became a reason for personal reflection. It boosted my confidence in managing housework. I experimented and learned to cook many preparations that I was hesitant to make.

I renewed Random Thoughts yet again. Originally started in 2010, I had stopped blogging for long. In January 2018 yet again, I gave this blog a fresh outlook, but it was still not consistent. Last six months I started observing some many things some consciously some unconsciously.  It edged me to pen my Random Thoughts more often. This was another attempt at making this blog a platform for my Random Thoughts. This time my new role in content was indirectly helping me improve my thoughts, giving me confidence to explore new topics.

By now social media timeline was flooded with year-end reviews, opinions and personal resolutions. 2019 threw another challenge at me, elbowing me to be stronger and believing in myself. It gave me my 2020 objective and set steep goals for myself.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

What are you looking forward in 2020?

My Foodie Santa Turns 93

Christmas is here – at office, in beautifully decorated shops and malls, special gift hampers on display and cakes been baked. Secret Santa makes this season of giving more fun at work. Since last few days our work desks are overflowing with surprises – pastries, waffles, cakes, muffins, even health food & cookies! These happy vibes made me ponder about my original Foodie Santa who turns 93 today.

Yes, my Foodie Santa. He introduced me to the true joy of giving so many years back. Looking back, I realise he has been our own Santa. Unlike the old, fair, chubby Santa, my tall, lean Santa in crisply ironed clothes is young at heart. He is always ready with delicious goodies and treats perfectly chosen for the occasion – wedding, birthday, pooja, festivals or just a warm visit to meet friends and family.

Owners and staff of every restaurant and shop he frequents greet him with equal warmth and love. He fills his sack of food, love and joy at these places. A delectable spread of mithai, farsan, biscuits, puffs, hot breakfast or a bag full of fish bought at the market. It is happily emptied at your house over a hot cup of tea, jokes and laughter.

A hearty meal of traditionally cooked fish, bhakri and rice is reserved for weekends. As a child he would diligently send message to me and my bother to be ready for lunch. A cab would arrive sharp at 11.30 am, taking us to famous seafood restaurants around Dadar, Lower Parel and even Fort. The popular khanavals like Anant Ashram (Girgaum), Jai Hind (Dadar), Kshirsagar (Parel), Highway Gomantak (Bandra) came into my life because of him. Else we would head to Bhagat Tarachand and Badshah falooda in town for a rare vegetarian meal. Dare not try to pay for your meals! Such is his aura that restaurant staff will not accept payment from his guests.

On our breakfast trails were local eateries in Dadar and Matunga – Prakash, Mysore Café, Ramanayak. We also enjoyed a brun maska, omelette at Café Colony in Dadar (East). On other days, he will knock on our door with a box of goodies from Parsi Dairy, Merwans, D. Damodar or some other well-known place.

My Foodie Santa is now little frail but young in spirit. Still walks down the lanes and by-lanes meeting people and friends. Urging us to make our next meal or a travel plan. Occasionally taking a bus ride just to wander around. Over weekends he enjoys a hot meal of fish curry and rice or simple dal cooked by me. For his love for food and feeding, will still drag you to a nearby restaurant when you cross paths.

As he turns 93, I am ready to celebrate with his favourite delights. For all you know he is our own Santa, teaching us the joy of giving and loving!

Who is your own Santa?

Memoirs of a changing political fabric as Uddhav Thackrey becomes Maharashtra CM

Last few weeks the state of Maharashtra and the nation witnessed some unforeseen political developments and power struggle. An unprecedented turn of events for the state known for a strong political culture and some robust contribution to the Indian democracy. As I write this Shivaji Park, a stone throw’s away from my house, is getting ready for the oath taking ceremony of the next chief minister Uddhav Thackrey, the Shiv Sena supremo and the heir.

Shiv Sena and BJP alliance had an unceremonious fallout after contesting elections together for 30 years. Observing this political drama, I realized in some way I have witnessed this change closer home for the last three decades.

In the mid-1980s a little girl would see Shiv Sena shakha and its workers as a call away for help – ambulance service, blood donations, etc. Growing up in Dadar, cradle of Shive Sena’s birth, was not a surprise to see Balasaheb Thackrey’s car (there were no convoys then) passing through some wadi for corner meetings. Public meetings were not glamorous, even during election time. The only big meeting was the Dasara rally which would fill Shivaji Park with saffron flags.  Once the Shiv Sena – BJP friendship became stronger Lotus symbol accompanied Bow & Arrow on the posters and pamphlets.

This teenager was then a by-stander to another significant political development. In the pre-TV and internet era locals in Dadar gathered outside counting centers to know the election results. EVM machines had not made their debut yet. The josh was high in Dadar during 1995 Assembly Elections. Accompanying her father to Shiv Sena Bhavan on the counting day, she saw a huge crowd errupt with joy as one particular election result was declared – Bala Nandgaonkar had defeated Chagan Bhujbal in Mazgaon. As Shiv Sena – BJP alliance inched closer to the government formation, Gokhale Road leading to Shiv Sena Bhavan was full of people, Shiv Sainiks celebrating on every naka. The culmination was the oath taking ceremony at Shivaji Park. With the downing sun, Manohar Joshi, senior party leader and resident of Dadar, became the first Shiv Sena Chief Minister.

In next few years another wave swept Dadar. Like the rest of Maharashtra, this Sena stronghold was torn between the big split – Uddhav & Raj Thackrey. Through her window she would observe a symbolic struggle. On important occassions the statue of Prabodhankar Thackrey – a social reformer and Balasaheb’s father would be surrounded by two flags with different symbols – Bow & Arrow and Railway Engine. Festival celebrations also saw this impact. Krishna Kunj, in a sleepy lane near Shivaji Park, became popular for its resident – Raj Thackrey. Dadar supported Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, elected its MLA and backed corporators in the BMC elections.

Last decade was another transformation. Now a working woman with interest in political science and developments, the change was palpable. National political environment was not the same – rising power and clout of BJP was visible in the neighbourhood. While people were pro-development, there was some disillusionment and an underlying soft-corner for Shiv Sena.

Amid the political wrestling and the game of Kabaddi, it remains to be seen how will Thackrey Sarkar be different, will Dadar yet again be witness to a new Shiv Sena? This time it is the other Thackreys – Uddhav and Aditya.

The Crown & The Queen’s world

I finished watching The Crown Season 3 in four days. Though OTT has become our primary entertainment, I am not a binge watcher. Then why is The Crown special? It’s the evolution of the young Elizabeth to the Queen, the monarch. The series reflects the inner struggle, journey of so many women, thus making you reflect on so many hidden sometimes not so hidden emotions. The first season made me go back to the history books and political developments. It hooked me to Netflix.

While the plot unfolds, glimpse of the life of royals – the drama was personally fascinating. I remember seeing images of the Queen on television, photos of their annual Christmas parties or royal weddings in newspapers. History textbooks referred to the royals from colonialist perspective. They taught us that Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India. The closest I came to Royals was on a tour of the Buckingham Palace during my stay in London. Other memories are that of passing by the palace on the eve of Prince William’s wedding or seeing the palace in Edinburg. So, The Crown lifted the veil for me of the royals and opened my mind to the British history.

Each season reveals so many facets of Queen Elizabeth. The narrative has changed my perspective about the Queen as a person. Her relationship with her father, love for her sister, decision to marry Philip or passion for riding is what every girl wants, dreams of.  The young Elizabeth wears The Crown, reluctantly and with a lot of apprehension. As she assumes this new responsibility, time and again she juggles between her personal thoughts, emotions and views against those of the establishment, family and the crown’s legacy.

Elizabeth learns the ropes of power, decision making, diplomacy with a kind heart. Her dialogues with successive prime ministers demonstrate this change – from vulnerability to decisiveness. The Crown Season 3 has ample evidence of the Queen and their maturity. Her concern for the school children caught in the mining incidence, efforts to save sister’s marriage, helplessness in matters of Prince Charles personal life or her visit to the ailing uncle -all stuck an emotional chord.

Watching her journey made me reflect on our daily lives. Some rules we have to follow or can decide to over rule as we assume responsibility – personally or professionally. Every woman at some stage has to decide between her dreams and her duties. Balancing once personal relationships while in office or position of power. More importantly it is what we take from these incidents is makes the difference. As the Queen thanks her uncle – His not accepting the crown changed her life forever. At the cross roads of life, our decisions and thoughts have the power to transform our lives.