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Dear TV, I’m just not that into you (and I’m not sorry)

I don’t own a TV. Well, there is a flat screen television that came with our apartment but we have never bothered to switch it on. Along its edges hangs bunting with our little girl’s name on it, something children were being encouraged to make at one of her classmate’s birthday parties. This was before we moved, when Delhi wasn’t sure if it wanted to rain on a Toy Story themed party in a school-that-rents-out-space-for-birthdays. That was in August, barely weeks before the flight to a new life, or at least that’s what the postcard in my head said.

In 2011, while our girl was growing from the pea sized spec on the monitor in the ultra sound clinic to the thing with hands and feet I went everywhere with, I was glued to what had become urban India’s prime time fetish – Masterchef Australia. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse was, but I was then a bloated vegetarian cow who wanted to eat a horse and the frenzy of the competitive kitchen coupled with all the food flying around was enough to satisfy all visual cravings. When the calf arrived and began moving her head around, I banned television in the house. People had to choose what they wanted more, baby gurgles or insipid television laughter, which was the enemy of my child’s brain and eyes according to an article that suggested no screen time of any sort (phone, television, tablets), till two years. I had liked television, sure, but I liked sleep more and after heading back to work in six months, anytime I had left was happily spent away from the box. This meant of course that I didn’t know Mad Men from The Good Wife and was none the worse for it. I caught up with and completed the former in entirety last December, in two weeks really. It brought back memories of student life – late night binge watching and days filled with remorse over approaching deadlines. Then I sulked for two days because it was all over. There was nothing to treat myself with when I’d been a good girl at work and all else.

I have little memory of television growing up. I know we had one, because there is a picture of me dancing in front of it with the late Shammi Kapoor’s face plastered on the screen. I’m wearing ghungroos, highly inappropriate for the sort of music I guess must have been playing. Then came boarding school for four years where I kept busy reading library books inside texts during study hours and spent the remainder bouncing ‘crazy’ balls off the boundary wall and into a stream that purportedly led to the lake below. My real television moment, that I have a recollection of, was as a teenager when we had moved to Delhi. It was with Blossom, the quirky teenager growing up in a house full of men – her divorced father and two older brothers. I couldn’t exactly relate to her but she made me smile, sometimes laugh, and that has been my checklist for a lot of programs and films thereon. Then came Friends, again not in tandem with how it was playing on Indian screens. I watched it much later in entirety with borrowed DVDs, followed by others like Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy, and more recently True Detective (Season 1 only please) and Narcos.

As fate would have it, my first job right out of college was in television production. Any starry-eyed ideas I may have held about the screen, which I didn’t to begin with, were lost in that time seeing the clockwork up close. It was days of hard labor, little rest and lots of sparks, the sort of thing that will outlive any human being’s enthusiasm for an adrenaline rush. I appreciated people who could make their lives in the field, but knew that it wasn’t for me, just as the act of putting my feet up and watching the telly for hours wasn’t for me when I had my mojo on. That perhaps made it easier to let it fade into the background, even more so with things like You Tube and now oh-how-I-love-you Netflix, which I would like to believe was built for mothers with little time and even less patience. Get-to-the-point is all that we wish for and get.

My parents speak of the early days when only one person in the neighborhood would have a television, and everyone would gather around to watch news or cricket or a sitcom. When cable television hit our shores it was often banned for children stuck with dreaded board exams in Grade 10 and 12. Looking back it feels like much ado about nothing. All the advertisements and shows with stories that didn’t go anywhere were better missed. But there were some gems, like detective Vyomkesh Bakshi, which thanks to You Tube we can enjoy today too. While stories still rule and make even people like me turn into nefarious gluttons once in a while, the television set itself is now discarded furniture. It’s there because no one will take it and because we think someday we might use it, which is never going to happen because we’ve lost that loving feelin’ and it’s not coming back.

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How to pack your life in a bag and other moving tales

Maciej Frankiewicz - The SuitcaseMy life is at it again.

You would think a child would settle it, make a homebody out of a nomad, fix my feet in the city where family and only some remaining friends were. When my daughter began pre-school two years ago, I thought this was it. We had signed on the dotted line to be Delhi dwellers forever, or at least till she graduated. Then past fifty I would become a farmer and live in the mountains, again. But forever is a tricky thing. It’s laughing behind your back as you make plans for love and life.

So here we are, on a 14th floor apartment in chilly (if you’re sitting at home) Dubai, overlooking yachts go by in one direction and an unmanned metro crossing buildings that The Jetsons swung their hovercraft around many years ago on the telly. And I’ve been cooking every single day of the one week we’ve been here, me of the never-step-in-the-kitchen syndrome. I’ve already begun an uncertain relationship with the stove. We had our first spat today. It screamed, I shut it down. Soon enough we were okay. I’m also doing the evening slides round with the girl, something we never had time for in the almost four years she’s been around.

I’m the person all the “I’m not going to do that…” things happen to. Never not going to work (current status screams ‘Not allowed to work’ on a stamped paper in case I didn’t hear it clear enough). Not leaving the country now. Not packing like a fool. One week before departure I told everyone how I had finished packing everything and things would be smooth hereon. I wasn’t going to get sentimental and try to take everything. Instead I would take the high road, not clutter our new apartment with non-essential items. Till a few hours before leaving for the airport, I was on Round 7 of the packing-unpacking routine. “I can’t live without Rebecca West’s Black Lamb Grey Falcon or the 75th Anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. I don’t care if they weigh 3 kilos!”

I couldn’t carry everything (except those books of course). Does it matter? Can you really ever pack your life in bags? For the most part just getting up and leaving works too. We can build it here, piece by piece, not in things we buy and hang but memories of that-time-we-lived-here, however long it lasts. My last night in Delhi, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the “Why?” Why were we leaving? Our girl has seen both sets of grandparents around her from the time she was born. And isn’t family all that really matters. Why move to another city now. A better job perhaps but is it really. What if I sit on that white desk in the new apartment and can’t write at all? What if Delhi is where all the words will be? And then I slept, not fighting it anymore. This is what we’re doing right now. This is where we will be. Virtually present with families, physically present in a trio. Learning to live by ourselves, not starting out anew but moving forward.

I went to five different schools growing up. I never have a good enough answer to “Where are you from?” I am from here and everywhere else I’ve been. I am from the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, the stories I’ve heard about strangers. I am from the places I’ve seen and those that mark my dreams. This life can never be packed in enough suitcases and would do just fine without it. It is to be lived and kept in open jars. May it always spill over.

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10 Ways to Decorate with Wine Bottles in 30 Minutes or Less

10 Ways to Decorate with Wine Bottles in 30 Minutes or Less_EggfacemomheadWhat must a mother (and others) do when they’re done downing their favorite wine? Well, slurry speech monologues and then, some decorating. With their slender neck and bulbous bottom, wine bottles are beautiful. Why would anyone want to throw them away anyway? I’ve never thrown one till date. So what I’m always looking to do is decorating with wine bottles in interesting ways around the house. If, like me, you went about searching for design hacks on the web you’d likely hit upon many gems but most of these are very elaborate craft projects. The latter are definitely unsuitable for people who have had to perfect teeth brushing under two seconds.

Instead what I wanted to begin working with were easy on design (and time) ways to use old wine bottles, without having to chop, cut, drill. Here are ten ways to decorate with wine bottles in 30 minutes or less.

#1_Use String LightsThis one does require a visit to the electrical shop to get string lights (which may be more than 30 minutes), but if you can pick it up on your weekly/fortnightly market visit, then just dip it inside, turn it on and watch the magic.

#2_Wrap A Twine AroundFor a rustic vibe in a corner or your centre table, just wind a twine or a jute rope around the wine bottle. Then throw in some real flowers or colorful dry decoration inside or even an interesting tag around the neck.

#3_Paint the BottleThis one the whole family can have fun with. Bring out your paintbox, choose your colors and go crazy. Okay, stay sane because honey you’ll be the one cleaning up afterwards.

#4_Wrap in FabricEver so often we have odd bits of fabric lying around that is too small to do anything with. Just wrap your wine bottle in it, tie a contrasting ribbon around the neck and voilà, you’ve put two ol’ things to good new use.

#5_Make a hanging vaseSounds too darn simple and that is why it’s here. As a bonus, it can also look very garden-y if you’re stuck on the 14th floor far far away from any garden. Put a twine around the neck, tie it to a balcony railing or any pole resembling surface, fill water and put your favorite flower in it.

#6_Bring the beach inFill the wine bottle with different shades of sand, small pebbles, shells and set it on the window sill or your writing desk. Dreamy days will be made of these.

#7_Candle Light ItMany tall candles fit in to a standard wine bottle mouth. If not, use sand to fill the base, drop your candle in and light it up.

#8_Glam & GlitteratiSome boys and girls love glitter. Even if you don’t, a little shimmer and shine never hurt a soul. Spread some glitter on a paper, roll your bottle in it and watch it turn the groove on. When you decide to try this one out, I suggest declaring it Glitter Day and putting the leftovers on old boring tee shirts, white canvas shoes, your faded denims and just about anywhere that cannot protest. (Your cat will.)

#9_Go VintageEveryone has old, yellowed, frayed pages of books or even newspapers lying around. Cut these out (keep interesting headlines in to make them pop) and give the bottles an old world makeover.

#10_Bottle of MemoriesMy absolute favorite. Feel like a pirate as you roll up an old photograph or a love note from a beloved and preserve a message in a bottle, maybe even for posterity. The odd maneuvers to make it straight once it’s inside might take a bit of practice and loads of patience, but hang in there because the result will be delightfully sweet. (P.S.: If like me you’re wondering what if I want to pull that picture out at a later date, you could also put the picture on the outside. Otherwise the bottle will have to break. But if you are ready to commit to letting go of a bottle bottom, then there’s a whole lot of other decorating ideas to try out!)

Why don’t you give these a go and tell me how easy or difficult you found them. And which one was your favorite?

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Apple, Carrot and Walnut Salad in Lemon & Honey Dressing

In the past, many a cooking experiment has resulted from my not having eaten the fruit of the day. First it was bananas, which I’ve more or less begun to eat religiously first thing in the morning. Apples by contrast are reserved for that post 5pm pang, which coincides with the let’s wrap up work & run home hour. Thus resulting in a guilty apple trudging home with me. On one such evening, I decided to give it some glory once I got back, dreaming up something pomegranate-y. Finding no pomegranates at home, I found an interesting recipe for a Carrot, Apple & Walnut Salad. While I like to have a recipe hanging before me as I experiment, I always end up going with instinct on measurements. So here’s what I did:

  • Chopped 1 Apple (you could ideally skin it & slice it thin. My excuse was laziness and hunger)
  • Sliced bits of 1 orange carrot
  • Roasted 1/2 cup walnuts for 3 minutes in the microwave
  • Mixed all three in a salad bowl
  • Doused & mixed them in 1/2 squeezed lemon
  • Topped off the salad with a separate mixture of 1 tablespoon honey, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil & 1/2 lemon
  • Sprinkled a little black pepper & salt

And Voila! My 10 minute (or less, depending on your chopping speed) crunchy, lemony, bittersweet salad was ready! Apple, Carrot & Walnut Salad Tip: Go easy on the walnuts since a little more could completely overpower the flavour. But mostly, even after a long day at work, this is an easy please & a great way to get kids (and grandparents) to eat their fruits and veggies!

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The Thing About Grey

It pulls me in from the crowd, makes me go weak in the knees, colors my dreams. Out of a thousand things in rainbow shades, I am extremely likely to pull out the grey. It’s hot stuff, if you ask me.

Let’s suffice it to say, I have ‘a thing’ for grey, referred to (quite unfairly I feel) as the color “without color”.

The crowds may chant bleak, boring, old and sad to its face, but I find there’s much beauty and fun to be had in it. Of course if this were the 18th century, and Paris, I would have been quite the ravishing enchantress about town in my swishing grey gown.

Charlotte_Walsingham,_Lady_Fitzgerald_by_John_Hoppner

Or a happy fly on the grey wall buzzing over Whistler’s Mother as she sat in perfect composure for this portrait.

James_Abbott_McNeill_Whistler_-_Portrait_of_the_Artist's_Mother_-_Google_Art_Project

Wikipedia offers a grim reflection on one of my favorite hues by (horribly) stating:

In Europe and the United States, surveys show that grey is the color most commonly associated with conformity, boredom, uncertainty, old age, indifference, and modesty. Only one percent of respondents chose it as their favorite color.

And goes on to make matters grey-er by quoting color historian Eva Heller.

“Grey is too weak to be considered masculine, but too menacing to be considered a feminine color. It is neither warm nor cold, neither material or spiritual. With grey, nothing seems to be decided.

Bah, Humbug I say!

Let a girl salivate o’er grey

Ogle at the grey sweater-chest,

slip on a plain grey dress,

jump off the steel-grey train,

dance under the glowing grey rain.

Images via https://www.pinterest.com/manikadhama/

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The Mushroom Experiment (without an A-Bomb)

For those of you who know me, or have walked in here sometimes, the image of a ladle circling apron-clad mamacita does not come to mind. On my date with food, I mostly sit in the EATING ONLY section.

But a slow, aromatic change is coming.

After an end of the day banana fix experiment months ago, and nothing afterwards, I recently decided to graduate out of the baking comfort zone to ‘real’ food, or at least appetizers. Now, I personally love some steaming mushrooms, and so does the husband. And our little girl has been granted no food choice at the moment. So I got all excited about whipping up a steaming broth for my lovelies, especially since it played on the good side of healthy eating (with only a little butter, I promise).

Mushroom Soup IngredientsTo begin, I wanted to send everyone packing to a warm room around the TV, like good house inmates. But I soon realised there wasn’t enough cream to make my soup sexy. So off went Daddy and the girl while I brought out the magic mushrooms, garlic and onion over to the chopping board for some quick and tough love.

My cream party was back just as the last mushrooms came under the knife. And within minutes off went the pan with butter on board. A bay leaf began the play, and then it was all drop, drop, churn churn with a brief interruption by the husband trying to ensure that I hadn’t burnt harmless beings alive. I shooed him out.

After minutes that felt like months at the time, a sight resembling soup came through.

Isn’t there something delightful in the word simmer, even more so when it’s accompanied by a (visually) normal and naturally peppery scent of soup. It was done.

Cream of Mushroom SoupThough I had tasted the broth in motion to see that all was good, it was quite another treat to see the family lick it off their bowls (our furry pet included). The husband even licked the pan clean (though that’s usually undesirable behaviour in my books).

Within two days I had made it again, lots more this time. And it will probably happen again soon.

Until I find a new food road to travel, we can (if we have to) live on some soup and cake.

For your notebook: I used this recipe, strictly by the book, the first time around (without nutmeg). But the second time I increased the amount of water and milk with the same mushroom quantity and extra seasonings. It was thinner but swell.

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The Shy Blue Sky and Painted Earth

You could blame it on the Shibori pants I slipped into this morning and the brown boots of yore waiting for true winter chill, but my head is all royal and earthy now. For a fix I lost myself in all sorts of brown and blue and now that I’ve resurfaced there seemed to be much good in sharing some treats.

There’s something about a hint of blue peeking in from behind an old cupboard or on an iron fence.

This is the color the walls have been missing. And I dare say stories read better in a cozy blue corner.

Of course you would get the first peek into my boudoir if it ever went royal

You could stay for tea…

…And partake in adventures that began, when brown boots walked out into the winter sun.

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Sleight of Hand

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Melon and Tomatoes, 1903

I am not much of a cook. To be honest, I don’t cook at all. The kitchen has always been a space I have shunned for the (imagined) drudgery that must be carried out within its walls. Running my hands in repeat motions over a boiling broth has never defined my idea of time well spent.

And yet, I have watched enthralled as food masters and many a mistress of spices have created magic in a bowl. I have spent precious minutes devouring the choicest phrases describing a meal cooked with love. I have often led myself to imagine a life set amidst curious curries and painted pots.

The body has played its part. There is the scent sorcerer, the nose that dives for treasures unseen. Then there is the palette, which defies kitchen-hatred and is always a keen diary keeper of trusted tastes, with the oft surprise that gets a special note. The eyes linger on scrumptious sights while fingers turn crusaders.

Even as I’ve escaped daily cooking so far, there have been fluffy chocolate cake days over the years (“I don’t cook, I only bake” doesn’t look so bad), a lone sandwich or two and more recently ice-cold shakes. Many a dying banana and malfunctioning mango has been rescued by a magic swirl. Peanut Butter, Oreo Cookies, Instant Coffee have all met their milky match in these adventures.

There is hope then, for carrots and peas and crunchy beets, for onion in wine and sun-kissed lime, for hands to rise and practice each turn, for cinnamon dreams to perhaps ring true.

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’tis Nobody’s Business

Alone time, whether self-imposed or induced by circumstance, can often be fairly refreshing, as opposed to depressing as some people will tell you. One must hail alone time as the elixir for embattled souls and for those who’re as self-obsessed as certain people I know (yours truly included).

Whether you spend these glorious alone-hours indulging in tomfoolery or otherwise is merely a matter of personal choice (as ‘personal’ as choices can possibly be).

There are countless activities to choose from:

Making burnt egg-toast to satiate evening hunger, while dancing not-so-gracefully around the pan.

Wearing clothes with a colour combination that has the potential to cause blindness.

Watching movies rich in nonsensical content in entirety, and preparing to criticise them later.

Sending countless emails to friends who’re definitely busy at the time.

Telling yourself that you need to get back to work and not doing so at all.

Continuing to prance around the room.

Identifying the source of strange sounds emanating from certain corners of the house, just to make sure one is indeed alone.

Indulging in time travel (of the imaginary sort of course).

Sleeping and waking with particular disregard for dawn and dusk.

Not being busy at all but grumbling at the sound of the doorbell.

Losing oneself in the pages of a book and resurfacing only when the world comes searching for you.

…I’m sure there are those who use their time (whether alone or otherwise), rather judiciously (a term stubbornly closed to interpretation).

However, it is of no concern to me and neither should it be to you.

Suffice it to say that ‘tis surely a treat and luxury to be unnoticed and unheard, though only for a while.

And imagine what great potential something must hold when it is best described thus:
What you do on your own time is nobody’s business.

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(Q)uotidian Chaos

Earlier this week I spent a harrowing half hour trying to understand the psychology of my laptop. Why would it go blank on me in the middle of harmless mail checking? And why would the display cut itself into six pieces (or more) when I tried to restart? It was being so curt about the whole thing that I didn’t have enough time to even understand the problem. There was no Fade to Black.

It is only at times like these that the thought “I must backup my data” comes ringing in one’s ears. I started walking through the corridors of disk drives in my mind to understand just how upset I should be if data recovery wasn’t possible. I was grateful at having saved most things on e-mail. But that’s another area that needs back-up. Another time perhaps.

Then of course without being overtly upset about it I had to get out the tech support numbers and start dialling. I was sitting there ready to fire serial number and product number on command. It’s a little difficult to start describing the trouble itself. The person at the other end probably thought I was one daft cookie to be saying things like “the display on restarting is divided into six sections and before I can do anything it all goes blank”. It is quite like answering Doctor’s questions: “What kind of cough?” What do they mean what kind? Its cough and it hurts and that’s all I care to know about it.

Finally the support at the other end actually had something to say to support me. Do this, press that, go there, and wait. Tra la la la la. Things didn’t fall in line exactly the way she told me it would. So I did some more of Press this, Do that and Wait. Now I don’t know if you’re expected to make small talk while your laptop is making you wait. And the support keept asking “So what is happening now madam”. I will bloody well tell you what is happening when something does. My laptop says wait. So i’m waiting. So you should too.

And by the grace of God (and tech support), the laptop began talking language I understand. It also went on to inform me that “Disk drivers had stopped responding and have been restored successfully.” Thanks a ton.

If only before you crashed you could’ve flashed the “I’m going to be of some trouble to you” sign. Perhaps laptops are (some) people. Crash and burn and then say sorry. Bah Humbug!

P.S. : I have now officially made a back up for all my data. Which also made me realise I have a lot of junk lying around. If it wouldn’t hurt to lose it, its time to get rid of it! Mission good-riddance here I come.