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?

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.

2020: The year of micro resolutions and micro influencers

As the New Year dawned, two important words etched in my mind – Micro Resolutions and Micro Influencers. Unconsciously I have been thinking about it, making sense of the personal impact of these terms in 2020.

Micro Resolutions: With New Year comes New Year Resolutions – breaking some habits, embracing few, making personal and professional goals. I was never into making New Year Resolutions nor a person to plan things. While I always knew my area of interest, I did not really plan every career move. Instead I worked towards somethings, few happened along the way.

A believer of experience is the best teacher, deep somewhere they taught me to become conscious of my goals or to know what I really want. Importantly, a philosophical inclination made me aware of the need to take action to achieve my goals or my prayers.

A step further was to breakdown these big goals or ideas into small achievable goals. The universe was leading me to become more focused; some in-office trainings, my philosophical practice and even the circumstances. Hence when I read Ravi Kiran’s LinkedIn post about the need to make Micro Resolutions – it was a cue to win small victories for big experiences. Thus, began my journey towards making micro-resolutions, leading the way to big experiences through 2020.

Micro Influencers: Speak to any marketer or a media professional, a common denominator in the conversations will be micro influencers. Increasingly brands want to engage with these niche influencers, experts who will influence the opinion of their customers. Their social media profiles and presence is sought after to gain new customers and build equity.

Are these micro influencers only in the online world? The response to my post My Foodie Santa turns 93 validated that micro influencers are everywhere; they need to be tapped at the right time and in a correct manner. My memories about our uncle and his love for food resonated well with our friend circle. It became my most read post as uncle’s well wishers connected with the post. This experience took me back to my thesis while studying marketing communications. Then I had dwelled on the impact of word of mouth communications in choosing travel destinations and hotels.

Micro Influencers are nothing but a contemporary version of the word of mouth communication. Your product, service, offering or even a creative concept needs to connect with their passion and interests. These influencers, whether online or offline, will engage with you or influence your choice with open arms.

What comes to your mind when you think of micro resolutions or micro influencers?

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?

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.

Refresh – making sense of my random thoughts

Years ago I had registered on another blogging platform. But I only started penning my thoughts when I moved to London for my post graduation studies. Today, when I look back at my blog I realize it was my London memoir. I remember, then too I was thinking how can my blog be different from a personal diary. Do I want to publicly share my thoughts?

But what encouraged me was the number of visits my blog started getting. I started to think of new topics to write. Just as they say – it’s one thing to start anything but takes truck loads of determination to sustain it.  I lost my momentum and determination.

Blogging has seen a sea change since 2011 and so have I. This time when the blogging bug returned – I thought of it and said let’s take the plunge again.

So here it is Random Thoughts in a refreshed avatar. I am eager to rediscover my blog and what it brings out. Hit me with ideas / thoughts/feedback on blogging, motivation / sustaining these random thoughts so that you don’t regret visiting this page J