Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Sitla state of mind

I tagged along with Karen a couple of months ago to a lovely little place tucked up in the mountains of Uttarakhand called Sitla. Though I didn't initially intend to write about it, I enjoyed my trip so much that I wanted to write something. It came out a few days ago in the Hindu Metroplus, and it was nice to get back into some travel writing, which I haven't done for a while. I've included the original version I sent in, which is just slightly longer. Of course I left out bits - like Karen charging ahead at the train station and leaving me behind, both of us clambering on at different points, wondering if the other had also boarded or not. Or Karen waking me an hour early to jump off the train in a panic thinking we had reached, only to discover we were at the wrong station and luckily clambering back in. Other than Karen being a panicky train traveller (I'm not much better, I have to admit), it was quite the perfect getaway.



“If you see a leopard, just keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re singing, keep singing. If talking, keep talking, etc”. Solid advice from longtime Sitla resident and owner of Sitla Estate, Vikram Maira, who was patiently responding to my rather silly question on the sensible thing to do if one were to bump into the big cat. And at Sitla, that could be a possibility. Awash in green with wisps of cloud drifting through, this tranquil village up in the mountains of Uttarakhand is truly magical. With panoramic views of the Himalayas, fruit laden orchards, deep forests and soothing calm, Sitla lends itself to agenda-less days. For city slickers, it’s easy to appreciate, but hard to first adjust to the boundless silence, staggering beauty and the vast expanse of time that just stretches lazily ahead. Used to running around from pillar to post or swearing your insides out at traffic, the silence can be distracting and I was quite restless and fidgety on my first day. But by the evening, my restlessness stilled and I felt calm. It was three days of doing whatever I wanted.  True luxury!

Sprawled over 40 acres is Sitla Estate – a veritable mountain kingdom owned by Maira. Quitting the bright lights and the big city over two decades ago, he decided to return to his family home in Sitla. Since then he has opened it to visitors, inviting them to experience the warmth of his home amidst this idyllic and magnificent setting. We watch the resident kitten, which the team has christened ‘Toto’, dart in and out through apricot trees, silhouetted against the glorious mountains in the background. And Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas (or in my case Delhi!) anymore! Gazing down from the sit-out area, dotted with stone benches under the dappled shade of apricot and plum trees, there is a vast expanse of green as far as the eye can see. Layers of blue and purple mountains rise up in the distance, and when the clouds clear in this monsoon weather, the dazzling snowcapped Himalayas magically appear.

We laze for hours sprawled under the trees, gazing out at the orchards and forest. Our noses became increasingly sun burned as it’s difficult to look away from this hypnotic view. With a book in hand, a chilled beer or gin and tonic (or a poison of choice) in the other, you could play some music or let the birds orchestrate a concert for you. The hours pass by in a heady mix. And that isn’t the G and T’s, but just the drunken feeling you get taking in your surroundings.  One tends to vocalize the reaction to a great view or something you really like with a sharp intake of breath in a loud “sssssssss”. And boy, did I hiss a lot in Sitla. In greedy gasping amounts that left me rather breathless most of the time!

One of the mornings we set off on a bird watching trail following our guide, Raju, through a part-road, part-forest path. The non-resident dog, Tiger, who appeared to be quite the favorite by everyone we passed along the way, accompanied us and disrupted our bird watching several times as he bounced gleefully among spotted doves and nervous sparrows.  Slippery slopes were interrupted by gradual paths through lush greenery and generous hordes of cannabis, which Raju told us is a hot favourite with the parakeets. And once they’re in this stoned haze one could even reach out and catch them! There were black eagles soaring above, barn swallows perched atop electric poles, spangled drongos dashing between trees, bushes quivering with red belted bulbuls and long tailed shrikes looking at us seriously. There were black headed munias, rusty-cheeked scimitar babblers and spotted doves; there were shrieks and chirrups and peckings and whoops and tweets! It was a beautiful walk and we were back in time for a glorious breakfast of perfectly fluffed crescent omelets with homemade bread and preserves and jams – all proudly derived from produce of the estate. Tiger joined us for nibbles of toast interspersed with a mad dash up and down the terraced orchards in pursuit of a family of jackals.

You can interrupt the lazy pace with guided jungle treks through the lush forest, walks through the village or a spot of retail therapy at some of the NGO outlets like Kilmora, which sell a range of hand woven and knitted apparel and charming dolls and toys; preserves and pickles; and an apricot skincare range. Sitla Estate also has its own shop, which sources from Kilmora as well as other local NGOs and we came away with considerably heavier bags than when we arrived.
Slightly further out and great for day excursions are trips to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary for some birding, trekking and wildlife spotting. More spiritual pursuits could include a visit to neighboring Mukhteshwar Dham – a 350 year old Shiv temple perched at an altitude of 2,312 meters with great views all around. The cluster of 124 temples and statues in Jageshwar is a tourist hotspot and the ancient temple complex makes for a fascinating wander.  Nainital and Bhimtal are about an hour away if one might like to take in some of the sights at these more popular hill stations. 

We took advantage of our time at Sitla Estate to take a tour of the private orchards along the sloping terraces. Professional parakeet chasers whoop and yell intermittently through the day, shooing the green flocks away from nibbling on the fruit. The orchards and greenhouses are spilling over with everything from apples and purple cabbage, to basil and zucchini – much of which ends up on our plates at meal times.

Despite the lazy pace, the time does seem to end much too quickly. We spend much time tucking into a glorious selection of food at Sitla Estate, which includes everything from perfectly seasoned eggs, vegetables that almost jump off our plate because they are so fresh, “chocolaty” bal mithai – a local favourite; and elaborate four course dinners replete with elegant twirls of spaghetti in fresh pesto; aromatic herbed fish baked in paper; a hearty bacon wrapped chicken roulade; apple crumbles; and so much more. Evenings are well spent in fiercely competitive rounds of scrabble, our vocabulary becoming more inventive with increasing amounts of rum and coke.

We walked back to our rooms and look up to gasp involuntarily (very loud hissing!) at a sky awash in silver stars. It’s the perfect end to our visit.  Sitla is utterly captivating, making us wonder why we’re roughing it out in the city, when one should be fleeing to the mountains. Of course, then places like Sitla would hardly be an escape. For isn’t that what we all need? Somewhere to just let our minds luxuriate in being still, only to be interrupted by sharp gasps at an achingly beautiful starlit night.
 
Getting here:

Sitla, at 7000 feet above sea level, is in the Kumaon region of Nainital District in Uttarkhand. With panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks - Panchachuli, Trishul and Nandadevi - and filled with dense jungle and verdant orchards, the area makes for excellent trekking or more gentle rambles with trails of different grades; and birding opportunities. 350 kilometres by road from Delhi, the closest train station is at Kathgodham. The Shatabdi operates between Anand Vihar station in New Delhi to Kathgodham and there is the overnight Ranikhet Express from the Old Delhi Railway Station. Taxis from Kathgodham will ferry you to Sitla in a little under 2 hours.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What you can learn in 811 days


My dad died two and a half years ago. Two and a half is a general, all encompassing amount of time. Drill it down a little and you get 2 years, 2 months and 19 days. If you have to get really specific it's 811 days. However hard it is to lose someone, it is also horrible not knowing how you actually lost that person. For 811 days we didn't know how it happened or what happened. 811 days of waking up and imagining what might have taken place on that horrible night between the 23rd and 24th of November, 2014. All I could think of was how terrible to not have your loved ones around you or someone to hold your hand, instead to be surrounded by darkness and evil and no one to help.

We've muddled through these 811 days, trying to continue and on the most part surrounded by so much love and support that we will be eternally grateful for. But it also seemed to bring out the most insensitive side of people - having to listen to the negativity and the long list of theories was exhausting and gutting. You couldn't blame the "speculators" either, but it didn't make it easy for us. Particularly for my mom who had to deal with a physical illness on top of everything else. I actually got a call last year from someone who wanted me to help with something and then went off on to a rant about how inconvenienced he was by my dad's death. I was so furious I could have reached through the phone and slapped him. But we learned to ignore all that was inconsequential. It taught us resilience.

Trying to wrap up the gazillion things that needed to be worked on was arduous and continues. People were unsure and shying away because of the circumstances. But we plodded along and learnt patience.

Not getting a chance to say goodbye or to grieve because you had to deal with investigations, or mom's immediate illness, and the constant stress of trying to manage their work in Delhi and in Bangalore didn't give us a moment to think straight. But maybe it was a way of helping us cope, keeping us so occupied that we had no choice but to keep going. We learned to take it one day at a time.

However hard it is, we have come even closer together, fiercely protective of all the memories we have left with my dad. We learnt appreciation and gratitude for all he gave us.

But we bumbled on, never sure if we would ever find out what happened. But on day 809, my crazy Sarina, who has worked in my house for several years now, scared the living daylights out of me when I was sitting down to lunch. She was tidying up in the bedroom when she walked over to the front door and opened it. I wasn't paying attention as I was immersed in lunch, when I heard her announce loudly that my dad was at the door. I thought I had misheard, so asked her again. She repeated herself and pointed to the open door. I froze, unsure of why she would joke like this. She carried on for a while and I just told her calmly to shut the door and sit down. She looked visibly upset that I couldn't see what she could and kept saying that she really thought he was there, while I tried to console her and explain that she had probably been remembering him and thought she saw him. She looked at me sadly and walked away.

Two days later Sid's phone rang. It was the police. They had caught the guys involved in my dad's case. 811 days later, when we thought we would never be able to make sense of what happened that night, we finally had some explanation. I learnt that day to not lose hope and to have a little faith, even if I couldn't see what Sarina could.

A whirlwind of two weeks with a visit to Bangalore to meet with the police and the subsequent public announcement about the arrests brought back Day 1 in sharp definition. It was in some ways good to have some answers, but it reinforced the sadness and futility of it all - a robbery gone so wrong. Avarice and greed that was never even fulfilled because my dad got in their way.

It made us imagine how it all could have played out differently - what if he had not woken up and given them a reason to silence him. They would have just taken what they wanted and left our house and he would have been around to rant and rave today with us about all that is unjust in this world. But then that wasn't him. He did what came instinctively to him - to protect.

And so we continue to bumble along. Closure is a strange word. In reality it has cracks and crevices through which the past oozes in. Finding out what happens changes so much and yet changes so little.

But however hard and shocking a life incident can be, you have to look back and see what you learn from it (and hopefully will continue to do so).  We carry on and I'd like to believe, like Sarina, that he pops by once in a while to check in on us (and that he's not pissed I shut the door the last time!). Over 800 days later he shines on in our hearts and heads more brilliant than ever, and that's something they couldn't rob us off.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Where's the passion?


"Mia, what is passin?", asked an excited Molly.  Mia, who was in the middle of chewing her toes, looked up in disgust. "It's pronounced "pash-shin" you twit, not passin! Oh Molly, you've been here three years, when will you learn?"  Molly tried saying "passion" a few times, laying more stress on the "pah" part and spraying Mia in spit.  "Molllllyyy you disgustemundo thing. Look at what you've done. I've just had a bath two weeks ago, if Sid sees me like this, I will be hauled off for a ghastly shower! Go get my eau de cologne and hair gel at once. Let's see if we can mask some of this damage you've done."  Molly trotted away dutifully and returned with a large bottle of "Musk for Mutts" and a green tube of "Keep it straight" (taming shaggy dogs since 1873!). Mia proceeded to slather on vast quantities of the stuff, slicking down her unruly mane.  She made Molly spray the perfume while she walked through the cloud of scented mist and tossed her head about in style. Molly watched in fascination, sighing in admiration "Oh Mia, you're so elegant."  Mia twirled around and patted Molly on the head, flattery could get you anywhere with her!  "Come my little one, passion you said? Take notes!"

Molly settled down in front of a newspaper, a pen wedged in her mouth. "Passion, or pasión in Spanish", said Mia with a flourish as Molly shivered in excitement (she did love it when Mia spoke in foreign languages, it was all so posh), "comes from the Greek verb πασχω meaning to suffer". Molly looked puzzled at the unfamiliar letters, which Mia had traced with her manicured paw on the ground.  "How do you pronouce that Greek word?" Mia clicked impatiently, "Who cares, it's Greek to me! All that matters it's an old old word and basically means when you have an intense feeling for something or someone".  Molly still looked puzzled "Use it in a sentence".  Mia replied
almost instantly "I have a passion for antique furniture, crossword puzzles, tea ceremonies, origami, and old French movies". Molly looked amazed, "Wow, that's a lot of passion, where do you get the time?" Mia laughed, "Molly, we are dogs! We have only time. Just because you spend most of your time trying to find ways to open the cupboard and raid the dustbin, doesn't mean you can't have any other interests or find time to enjoy other things".  Molly looked genuinely puzzled, "But I like raiding the dustbin. It gives me such joy. I could do it all day long!"  Mia looked scornfully at her, "Trust you to have dustbin raiding as your passion. But then you are lucky, for not everyone gets the time or the opportunity to do something everyday that they are passionate about".  Molly looked pleased, but quickly adjusted her face to look pitiful (Mia loved it when she looked pitiful). "And what about Dad? He's passionate about photography and he gets to do it everyday.  So he and I are the same, we're living our dream!".  At this revelation Sid, who had been observing, and choosing to ignore the two of them, looked up in shock "Oh God! I can't believe the dustbin raider and I are the same!" Molly leapt into his lap, "But Puh-Pah passion is passion. Now take Mummy...totally unfocused she is. She works, but she wants to do everything else also. Dancing, writing, singing, baking, yoga, reading, start her own business, etc. No focus".

At this reference to my lack of focus, I chose to interrupt. "I like lots of things. And I can't do all of
them, all the time, but I'm lucky that my work allows me to indulge in other stuff. When I retire I intend to have a rollicking good time, there's so much to do! So don't feel too sorry for me my little Molly".  Mia looked pleased with this answer and came over with a withered piece of paper, which I took to be her attempt at origami. I accepted it with a straight face and patted her on the head, secretly thankful that she had other things to fall back on! But the whole discussion got me thinking about work and "passion".

I always find it interesting how most of us when introduced to new people and asked what we do, always answer with a "I work at XYZ". We are conditioned to see ourselves within the confines of what we do to earn a living. Which is not a bad thing, it's just rather dreary that our jobs seem to define us. When I was once introduced by someone to a new group, he said "She's a storyteller (aka a liar)." Which was an entertaining and a refreshing change from how I would usually answer. It also got me thinking about how several people don't do much else, outside of their work, presumably because they don't have the time. But I find it surprising that people feel that they have to work till they die, not because they necessarily need the money, but because it's difficult to just sit at home. I totally agree...but what does that have to do with a job? There is so much to indulge in beyond our jobs, and to let just that become our life is, to me, a dangerous thing. I spent 4 months last year in between jobs and I had the best time...there is always so much to do and learn...write, read, bake, sing, dance, yoga, travel. You could volunteer, play a sport, or even do something that pays you, not for the money, but because it interests you. I'm blessed
to have always had jobs that allowed me time to indulge in things that make me happy. Though I am quite insistent as well, my time beyond work is sacrosanct. For to live a life without passion, without doing anything that truly interests you...may as well never get out of bed!

My little internal rant was interrupted by a crash coming from the kitchen.  Molly was obviously indulging in her single minded pursuit of smelly trash.  As I walked towards the kitchen, ready to shriek at her, I noticed she was sitting by the windowsill, gazing at the moon outside.  So that meant? "Mia!", I yelled, glaring at a porky brown backside sticking out of the cupboard.  A cheeky whiskered face looked back at me, unapologetic, "You said it's good to have multiple interests, pursue my passion. I'm just trying out Molly's. And why is my origami in the trash?!" I hauled her out of the kitchen, while she yelped about the curtailing of her rights and she was better off on the streets where no one tried to interfere.  If I wasn't passionate about these two, I really would have torn my hair out by now!

Monday, May 30, 2016

On a Healthy Note


I wrote an article for the Hindu Metroplus, which they published on May 30th.  A subject close to my heart - my involvement with the choir, the Capital City Minstrels, has taught me a lot and continues to give me so much beyond just making music with other people. The benefits of choral singing are much more than one would imagine, and I chose to write about that, weaving in the experiences of other members in the choir.  The original article was a bit longer and had a bit of humour in it, while the final published piece (image below) was shortened a bit to meet word limit requirements and also keep the tone more informative and factual.

I'm sharing the original for a few of my friends or those who might enjoy my slightly longer version, with a bit of humour thrown in.

Hindu Metroplus, May 30, 2016

Music has always been an integral part of my life.  I was an abysmally poor clarinet player, a reasonably good dancer, and I am a safety-in-numbers-singer with a choir.  I’ve been a chorister for five years in school and now completing half a decade with the Capital City Minstrels in Delhi. CCM, as the choir is better known, has been performing in India and abroad for 22 years, with members from across the world.  And several, if not all, of us have experienced how choral singing is not just about singing in unison, but benefits the mind, body and soul.

Courtesy: Monica Chhabra
We have a horrendously addictive Whatsapp group, which wreaks havoc on mind and body, and I suspect does very little for our souls.  Apart from inane chatter, some articles on music feature as well. One pictogram showed the physical benefits of singing -from keeping vocal cords exercised so you sound younger; to getting an oxytocin high  - the happy hormone produced during childbirth (happy?) and sex (possibly explaining the slightly flushed and unconquerable look some of us get after singing). Another interesting piece was research by the Tenovus Cancer Centre, which analysed saliva samples of singers with cancer or caring for a cancer patient and found that just one hour of choral singing increased levels of immune proteins, reduced stress and improved mood - helping patients to be in the best position to receive treatment.

It made me think about how several of us in CCM have been impacted in similar ways – social, psychological and biological.  I am close to my choir mates, but they would probably draw the line if I took a swab to their mouths for a saliva sample. However, several of us have experiences that demonstrate benefits.  After losing my father, the devastation and helplessness I felt was savage and relentless. But almost on auto pilot, I returned to rehearsals shortly after.  The exhilaration that fills you when different voice parts blend in harmony and the camaraderie of the group gave me peace, joy and stability amidst the upheaval. Another member referred to the difficult time she had after losing her brother, tragically on a rehearsal night.  It took her some time to re-join CCM and sing her heart out in a cathartic outpouring - “I don’t pray anymore, I sing with my choir”.  Returning to the stage a couple of days after losing his father, Neeraj Devraj mentioned how important it was for him to sing with the choir at the time, in tribute to his father.
Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography

Others talk about choral singing helping with illness or work pressures, which manifest in problems like hypertension, insomnia or stress.  Dr. George Mathew, Reader with the Nehru Homeopathic Medical College, describes the rejuvenation he feels after rehearsals as a great stress buster.  Another member describes the problems faced when her husband fell ill and her daughters were young. She joined CCM in the early 2000s and refreshed and renewed through song, it took her through two angiograms and caring for post-operative trauma.  Yamini Joshi, a musician and music therapist, found CCM when she had fallen sick in college and was struggling to find an anchor.  “Having a choir family allows you to share and be surrounded by positivity. I find the act of going to rehearsal on a Wednesday evening after work, just brightens my day…it’s a mix of maturity and gay abandon.” 

Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography
Choral singing is also a great equalizer.  You can be a great soloist, a corporate bigwig, a struggling artist – you sing as one with the rest of your section.  Aasish Francis described his job where he was more of a single contributor in a smaller organization. He felt that being a part of the larger CCM not only “helps you understand your place as part of a larger whole, but also teaches you to guide and motivate others as they make the same journey”.  Another example of this was CCM singing in Europe last year.  We were hosted by a Swiss choir that didn’t speak much English and we communicated through hand gestures, smiling, and Google dictionary.  But when we sang together - language, age and racial differences melted away. 


So I may not have saliva samples to test, but most choristers will vouch for the power and healing of singing in unison.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year or rather Old Year finds

The new year always always comes with resolution building and making a to-do list of stuff you want to achieve. A clean slate, a fresh easel, etc, etc. I have tons of things that I'd like to do, but I'm not really the type to write all that stuff down.  This year, I hope to write more, and not just my little stories about Sid and me and the dogs and our friends, etc, but also some stuff about interesting things I find or use.

So for a person who spends an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook, I am quite bad at doing other things online - I don't shop much online, preferring to spend much more and go to a store! I do use sites like Pinterest to save things I come across, but most of the time I forget and then have to search for things. I don't like reading online so my Kindle and Kindle Fire are just lying around.  But in the last year, I've come across a few sites, products and apps that I've been using more regularly and realized how much more convenient, cost effective and useful they are. Some of these are more gifting ideas, but they are all available online and I discovered them through their social media pages and got them delivered to my doorstep. So here's some fun stuff I came across last year:

1) Flipboard - is not new, but like I said I only downloaded it recently and got Siddharth hooked on it too. While both our Flipboards look vastly different, his filled with current affairs, sports, technology news and mine with travel, food, books, social media, marketing and work related topics - it's the only app I end up reading on. It collates articles from various sources into a snappy magazine for you and you can flip through and get some really great content. Of course Sid now sits and reads on it all the time and is looking a bit cross eyed! https://flipboard.com/


2) All Things - I love chocolate and I can't remember how I stumbled across All Things, but I decided to include chocolate bars as gifts to my family in their gift bags at Christmas. I'm a sucker for anything home made or with a limited variety and basically not just the biggest brands and flashiest stores. Their packaging was interesting with each type of chocolate with a different cover - All Things Monday, was dark chocolate and granola with a blue pinstriped cover and a little pocket on the front with a To Do list slipped in! All Things Barcelona with a sangria filling, though not bang on sangria flavoured was still yum, and All Things Tropical with a passion fruit filling was my favourite. All Things Chilli with a hint of heat was alright, as was All Things Polo which had a generous hazelbut filling - but perhaps too generous as the outer chocolate layer seemed less in comparison. For the kids I got All Things Christmas and All Things Winter - which were sweet and magical and tasted like all things kids love - crushed peppermint candy in the former and marshmallow bits in the latter. Great gifts! https://www.facebook.com/allthingschocolates/?fref=ts


3) Avirich - I'm not big on buying clothes online, but I've realized how much great variety there is and a lot of them cheaper than in the stores. I recently bought some clothes from the Label Life, a website I have used to buy Christmas gifts before, but I ventured into buying some clothes this time and was pleasantly surprised.  I love dresses and I wear them to work and otherwise, so when I bumped into a lady at a Christmas party who had her own online dress store (only dresses!) I was really excited. She mentioned that she had recently invited a bunch of lady friends over to her apartment to try on dresses and buy them, but other than that they were only available online. I went to her website - www.avirich.com and I liked several of the designs - shifts, skater dresses, A-lines, sun dresses, etc so I have every intention of ordering a few. And once again much cheaper than I am used to paying for dresses at regular stores! www.avirich.com

4) Burst of Happyness - my sister, Shaheen, is into everything natural and organic and though I am not as disciplined, I am trying to make better choices.  So when my friend Karen told me about Burst of Happyness with their natural, homemade and vegan skin products, I decided these again would make great Christmas gifts for my mom and sister, and I ended up buying some for myself also. From natural deodorants scented with lavender and grapefruit and using coconut oil, baking soda and other oils; to shampoo bars of beer and aloe to moisturisers with mango, kokum and shea butters, I was quite happy with my haul as was my sister who put in a special mention for the moisturiser. Again some convenient and much appreciated gifts! https://burstofhappyness.in/

5) Books and Beyond - Last year was also the year I was told categorically by Sid that I just had too many books and needed to use less space in the house for them. After getting rid of around 150 or so, I decided to join a local library. I've been going to Books and Beyond here in Dwarka for a few years now since it is also a toy shop, and my brother-in-law, Anand, introduced me to it since they also rent out toys for kids' birthday parties and to schools. The owner, Gagan Jolly, is a very sweet man who chats with me about books and puts a lot of effort into helping me choose good reads.  And as convenience is key, he also has them delivered to my doorstep if I can't go to his place. If I call him up and ask him for a book, which he doesn't have, he orders it for me and it's delivered to me within a day or two. It's not just books, I even ordered a new Monopoly set from him and it shall be delivered to me in a day or two since he didn't have the regular version I needed at the time. At Rs.500 a month, and I end up reading 2-3 books a month, I'm happy, Sid's got more space and all is good!

6) Day One - an app I found through an article on Flipboard, this is a sleek and simple journal app. In an attempt to write more, I thought it might help to quickly capture a picture or jot down something that I can go back to later. It's private, but also allows one to publish posts to social media or via email and also converts it into PDF. It's clean, it's attractive and I've only just started using it and right now just jotting down silly things, but since it's just me for it doesn't really matter. It also lets you publish certain entries online if you choose to make them public - https://dayone.me/2q4pzDN













7) Gifts of Love - not new either, but I got gifted the nicest cake plate from here recently by Neha and Shamsher and I passed by the store in the mall and thought a lot of the stuff looked great for gifting. I bought some nice gifts from the Wishing Chair recently and was very pleased with what was shipped to me, and in my new aim to shift to more online shopping, I went to the Gifts of Love website and intend to use it for some gits this year- though I've got my eye on some great magnetic notepads and boards in quirky designs for myself and a very pretty looking calendar and some stationary for my office, http://giftsoflove.in/

8) Yoga Bars - I haven't tried these yet, but plan on ordering a few since the mayonnaise filled sandwiches and sugar filled drinks at my office cafe are diabetes-on-a-plate, and I like to stock up on filling and nutritious snacks.  Their nutrition labels show no artificial colours or flavours, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, no chemicals and no compromise on taste. I am ordering a box this week - probably an assortment of cardamom and coconut; chocolate chuck nuts and oats and almonds.  Say no to your office cafeteria!  www.yogabars.in

9) Ekaiba - I got the sweetest gift from a friend I made through the choir I sing with, CCM. Smita doesn't sing with CCM right now but has kept in touch and reads my blog and my posts about my silly dogs and mentions how much she enjoys these whenever she meets me (which is like once a year). So I was touched and very pleasantly surprised when she sent me some lovely candles and a decorative box with an assortment of herbal tea bags inside from her new start-up design label - Ekaiba. With decorative items hand made by her team who specialize in decoupage, she made me lovely candles with frolicking doggies on them! With pretty boxes, candles and other decorative items and online orders to be placed at her website http://www.ekaiba.com/, I'm happy I found another place for unique and fun gifts.

10) This last one isn't an app or a website, but more to do with convenience and variety. I follow Little Black Book religiously and am always looking out for good caterers for home parties. With a friend asking recently about South Indian food catering in Gurgaon, I did a quick search and LBB threw up this article about seven caterers that did regional food for parties - from Parsi to Goan to Hyderabadi to Malayali to Rajasthani and Kashmiri. If you're tired of the ubiqitious and generic "Continental" or North Indian with no particular distinctions between regions, I thought this would be a definite list to try out. https://lbb.in/delhi/food-from-all-over-india-in-delhi-home-caterers-from-every-indian-state/

So there's my list of interesting finds from the last year!






Sunday, October 25, 2015

Child's play

Calling Sid is never usually an instant process. Considering he is much too social for anyone's good, his cell phone is always engaged when one calls him. He thinks it is impolite to not take a call, and to not have at least a minute's conversation is unimaginable - even if it is a telemarketer (who I'm sure have blocked him from their call lists, as he tortures them with inane questions just to exasperate them). As his wife, a "privilege" I get is that he will cut the call he is on and ensures that he calls me back immediately to ensure that I am not stranded without fuel in the car or in the middle of some crisis  or needing him to ask him an important question like "Do you want me to buy you momos"? (if you don't pick up the phone, you don't get any!)

So I was quite amazed when I called him from work and his phone wasn't busy. He picked up after the third ring. Silence.

"Siddharth?"
"Bzzzz pssstt khchooo...this is Khandelwal"
"Who are you Khandelwal-ing?"
"Khandelwal to Khokhar, Are you getting this? Come in Khokhar"
"What are you doing? I don't have time for this stupidity"
"This is far from stupidity. This is life or death, Khokhar.  Survival on Mars to be exact"
"Are you playing The Martian again? Stop it immediately, I need you to pay attention"
"Uff baby, you are such a spoil sport.  What do you want?"

I quickly rattled off instructions to give to Sarina for lunch, which made him impatient, as expected.
"What is this mundane chit-chat? This is what you called me for? To get her to make lauki and daal?  Molly go call Sarina"! I heard some whining in the background and asked, "Have you made her wear those ridiculous cardboard antennae and green mask? Stop it immediately."  There was a pause and then a guarded, "No, I haven't", but before I could ask him again, there was some urgent scuffling sounds and an impassioned "Nooooooo, Mia don't take it off, Oh no she's swallowed Molly's antennae". And then silence, he had hung up on me.

I didn't bother calling back since the chaos at home tended to take time to unravel and I needed to get back to work, After wrapping up for the day, I headed home, distracted by various other things on my mind. I had forgotten about my earlier phone conversation with Sid and even if I had thought about it, I didn't think that the Martian phase would still be on several hours later. So I was completely taken aback to find the front door wide open, Mia the scaredy cat hadn't ventured far and was sitting right outside the door preening herself and bounded up happily when she saw me approach. "What are you doing outside baby, get in, come on" I said, while ushering her inside.  Wondering why in the world the door was open I walked straight into the living room, which had been shut, and walked on to the most bizarre scene. There was mud strewn around the room, and potatoes strewn around within the dirt.  The O'Jay's Love Train was blaring on the speakers and a large plastic sheet that I recognized as the talc sheet from the dining table had been pinned clumsily against a wall. Frolicking amid the potatoes was Molly, or rather Molly with a hair band - one antenna protruding from the right side of the band, while the stump of what must have been its partner, but had now been half chewed stuck out defiantly on the other side. Her green mask had slipped off her face and was hanging around her neck. She didn't look too unhappy about the situation and was amusing herself by pawing violently at a potato and delighting when it flew up in the air.  On the sofa, typing furiously, was Sid. He was eating a baked potato with ketchup and barely lifted his head to acknowledge my presence.  

"Siddharth, I spoke to you at 12 in the afternoon, it is now 7 in the evening. Please don't tell me you've spent a good part of the day on creating life on Mars! Did you get those papers I needed from the bank"?  He nodded towards the corner of the table to a few sheets of official looking papers were stacked and I snatched them up with a look of approval. "Thanks baby"! Nodding again he solemnly declared that "Meticulousness and ticking things off the list is what helped Matt Damon survive so long on Mars". I rolled my eyes and went to the kitchen to get something to eat. So much for meticulousness, I could see no signs of the lauki I had asked for, and went back to ask Sid about it. "I got aloo made baby, that's all that Matt Damon ate on Mars. We got to be true to the movie".  As I launched into a little rant about paying attention and knowing when to stop playing and take things seriously, he stopped me in my tracks. 

"Can you hear yourself, you're arguing about bloody lauki! Take it easy, there's enough of the mundane nonsense to deal with everyday, a little change from the most boring vegetable in the world is not going to turn your world upside down". And with that rather explosive statement, he went off to the bar. I noticed, while he was poured out some drinks, that he had bits of aluminium foil stuck to his track pants.  He came back, handed me a glass, and walked past me. Before I could follow him I got a call on my phone, after speaking for a few minutes I hung up feeling tired. Just another reminder of things I had left to do. This year has just been insane. I've lost a parent and watched the other become seriously ill almost immediately after. I've changed jobs in the midst of this madness, worked with my sister, brother-in-law and Sid to try and deal with the situation as best as we could - dealing with things a day at a time. The pressure has been so overwhelming at times, but the person who (as expected) would help me through this is of course Sid - or rather the child in him.  

Whirling around the house with the dogs, or calling me to tell me about a stupid joke he heard on the radio, or playing the Martian - even a few minutes of ridiculous distraction is totally therapeutic. I took a sip and walked back into the living room. Sid was strapping Molly into her harness and pulling her mask back on to her face. He looked up at me and asked if I wanted to play. When I nodded he tossed me some aluminium foil and explained, "I obviously don't have space suits so we will make do with tacky costumes, but it's all in the imagination"! As I pasted bits of foil on to my pants, I asked him what in the world had happened to his Downton Abbey phase where he would wear the most ridiculous wigs and drink tea and make Molly wear a tiara and sip cocktails, while Mia had to be the butler and answer the door (since she refused to budge from the front door usually!). "Oh babe, we're going American. Ever since you stopped working for the British, we're being loyal and now we're only doing American movies and shows. Next time we're playing Quantico. I've been practicing Priyanka Chopra's accent and I've bought the dogs toy guns and FBI badges, it'll be amazing"!  I chuckled at the thought of him crying and saying "No, I've been framed! Why would I do this?" while Molly pointed a gun at him.  He nodded in approval at my now silver-foiled pants and said, "Ok, so Mia is the Hermes space ship and we are in the rover.  We have to hurtle towards her and she will catch us and pull us to safety. Considering Mia can be resistant to orders, let's do a trial run with this Molly. Help me chuck her across the room, and if Mia catches her we'll go next"! As I helped him pick up a unsuspecting Molly, I thought of how I had been sucked into this ridiculous game. But two minutes in and I was totally caught up.Mars had thrown everything it could at me and I had survived, help was on the way!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The choir types!


“You don’t look like the choir type”, snickered a colleague, when I announced that I was leaving to make it in time for CCM practice. I asked him what a “choir type” looked like and everyone around chimed in with their version of what fit the bill – words like “sedate”, “reverent looking” and “pious types” were bandied about and some high pitched notes were shrieked out for my benefit to showcase what “choir types” sounded like. I tootled off for practice, after explaining to them that I didn’t sing in a church choir and that even if I did, church choirs hardly consisted of pious singers (sweet choir boys and convent girls are a myth J).  I listened to the learning tracks in the car (as with many of the other members of the choir, I listen to everything last minute in panic that I will be singled out during rehearsal to check if I know my music) – a rather “reverent” list ranging from “Who put the bomb in the bomb ba bomb” to “Heal the world” to rock gospel and everything in between.

Over my 3 years at the Capital City Minstrels (arguably Delhi's most well known and one of its oldest choirs) the “choir types” I’ve sung with are probably the funniest and most irreverent bunch of people I’ve ever met.  A few incidents come to mind over the years.  Our previous conductor, Fiona, was taking practice a few seasons ago and we had the accompanying percussionist, Suchet, thrum and drum and pum pum pum through one of the songs and finish with a flourish. Fiona (and all of us!) had watched him through this and when he ended she let out a long sigh to denote her approval/pleasure and within seconds a cheeky drawl directed at Fiona came from the ranks – “Cigarette?”. We erupted in raucous laughter and that one word still makes us remember that afternoon practice session.


We were in Goa for a music festival in 2012 and the sea air is enough to make everyone a bit crazy. Feni (that heinous drink that I am sure a few choir members who will not be named, have eternally
sworn to never partake of again), boisterous dancing including some on the bar counters, and more hedonism ensued over the next few days amid singing at a stunning church for the festival (such a memorable performance!) and at the governor’s house overlooking the sea!  One of the afternoons when we were all together at one of the shacks, Vanshika received a call on her cell phone - it was the cab driver from the night before. Sanjaya and a few of us were around her and overheard her saying something about “Whatttt…your pants…no, how could I have your pants, what are you saying?”. Sanjaya, always quick to jump into anything that looks vaguely murky, said “Oh my god Vanshika, what is this with the cab driver and his pants. What happened last night? You girls uff”.   We all roared with laughter and Vanshikha tried to make sense of the cabbie’s rantings.  It all settled down after a while as it turned out that she had picked up a packet from the cab, thinking it was hers, and therefore depriving the poor man of his trousers!


And so the madness continues – these are the only “choir types” I know really.  But don’t be
mistaken, for there is reverence as well.  We may not be a professional bunch of singers, some stronger than others, but the enthusiasm, passion and absolute mad joy on our faces when we’re belting out the notes – now that’s reverence!


After our summer concerts in the city, for two weeks in June 2015, our merry band of minstrels, 30 strong, will be journeying to Europe. The group consists of 27 singers, our brave leader – conductor, Carolin Remy (she is truly brave to embark with a raucous bunch for two weeks!) and two brilliant musician accompanists.  Eight concerts will be performed over 12 days in Hungary, Germany and Switzerland.  Along the way we intend to take touristy pictures and selfies galore as we travel to these places and assume that much of what happens in Europe will stay in Europe! So if you’re planning a holiday this summer, or have friends at any of the places mentioned, we’d be delighted to have a cheerleading squad there.  We work hard and have a wonderful time performing and are looking forward to a brilliant summer of singing in Europe!