Progress Takes a Step Back

As a child I was taught to recite out aloud the fundamental rights offered to me as an Indian citizen in school. I sat alongside my classmates; children from different faiths, different castes, different upbringing, but united in the common grounds of belonging to a country that taught us that we were all equal in the eyes the laws of our country. That we shared the same rights. After all, it was to achieve this freedom of choice and dignity of life that our people fought and paid for so dearly during our struggle for independence.

Fundamental Right #1

Right to equality, including equality before law, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, and equality of opportunity in matters of employment, abolition of untouchability and abolition of titles.

 

But this week, this sentence became mere words. This sentence that has been taught to us so that we could understand and appreciate the beauty of the law that offered us the freedom to live the life of our own choice has become a farce.

India was hailed as having made a landmark step forward in 2009 when the Delhi High Court ruled in favor of decriminalizing homosexual acts. I celebrated alongside all the people of my country who believed that prosecuting people on the basis of sexual choice that are consensual was a sin and that it went against every law of equality and freedom. But it seems that my country isn’t willing to take a stand of righteousness. Instead it has allowed itself to sink into backwardness, cowardice, discrimination and a blatant disregard for equality and freedom.

I grew up without having to worry about my orientation. I could fall in love, get married, have a family, and no one would bat an eye lid. I had the freedom of choice which everyone celebrated. Was it because I was an extraordinary citizen who brought laurels to her society and country? No. It was simply based on the fact that I was heterosexual. I had the right to be happy, a very basic right of every human being. Or so you would think. And now, there will be many like me, growing up with the same desires of wanting love, family, happiness and celebration, all being denied of this basic right just because they have a different sexual orientation. Are they robbers stealing other people’s belongings? Are they murderers claiming lives? Are they rapists violating human dignity? Are they pedophiles committing vile acts of horror? No, they are human beings like me, trying to live a life of their own choice, hurting no one, coercing no one. But being attacked, cornered and stolen from based on the fact that they have a different choice.  They might have had a better chance at a free life were they robbers, murderers, rapists or pedophiles because our society seem to prefer these groups of human beings over honest, happy, socially conscious, but gay, human beings.

Is this the heritage I pass to my children? Is this the heritage passed to me? Is this what my people fought and sacrificed lives for? For acts that deny courtesy and respect to other human beings?

Today I am ashamed to be a citizen that is part of a system of such inhuman laws.

I hope tomorrow brings changes.

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The Bumpy Ride So Far

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I can’t remember how old I was when I first held up a doll and pretended it was my baby and cradled it. Every little girl does it. Just as most girl grow up with thoughts of the children they would have in the future kept as a treasured fantasy in their minds, brought out to be mulled over and weaved on whenever they found the time to, I too had my dreams. What will I name them? What will they look like? What games will I play with them? Then comes a time someone you know has a baby. For me, it was my cousin sister Malvika who was 16 years younger to me. Ill never forget her sweet milky smell, her soft as butter cheeks, the way she curled her fists around my fingers when she slept, her gurgles of laughter. Oh i loved her desperately; the warmth of cuddling the baby and listening to her little heartbeat. I enjoyed every aspect of looking after a baby, even cleaning up after her, changing her soiled diapers, walking around with her weight aching down on my arms till she fell asleep. Every experience created a memory that I still hold close even after 14 years.

This year, was my turn to finally see my dreams materialize. No one could have been happier to see those 2 pink lines than I. I was going to have a baby! I was going to be a mom. And what a marvelous time I intented to have with the pregnancy since it would be the only time I would be pregnant coz Bart and I had already decided that we would adopt our second child. I was ready to make an eating chart, an exercise plan, buy cool pregnancy clothes and basically strut around feeling like I was on top of the world. I had already tested positive at 3 weeks, even before I missed my period. I took the test coz I had stomach flu like symptoms. But I thought to myself, how bad can it be. Ofcourse women feel nauseous in their first 3 months. But thats no problem, I have a high tolerance to discomfort and pain.

Never could I have been proven more wrong.

Morning sickness and first trimester nausea is one thing. Hyperemesis Gravidarum, is a completely different ball game. 1% pregnant women get it. And anmongst this 1 % , .02% have it in extreme severe form. And what do you know, those odds chose not to skip me in its mathematical improbability.
So what does HG mean to me? It means
– throwing up more than 50 times a day
– slowly being unable to keep food
– being unable to keep liquids
– being unable finally to even swallow your own saliva without puking
– having nausea from morning to night without a moment of break
– being able to take no medication coz im pregnant
– lying down next to the toilet coz im so tired of walking to it every time i need to throw up
– losing 10 kilos of weight
– your body developing acetones because there is no carbohydrates in your body to produce glucose so it starts digesting reserve fats and muscles
– having constant migraines
– reacting severly to ALL smells
– becoming depressed
– developing a caseine intolerence
– having my skin dry up and crack with dehydration
– being hospitalised
– having to keep an IV on for months
– funally having to insert a nasal feed coz the body was getting depleted of nutrition.

This was my first trimester. I kept the IV on for 2 months and the nasal feed for 2 weeks. The nasal feed finally brought in the much needed change, but at a cost. Having a tube going down your throat through your nose let me tell you is no party. Every movement, every time you talk creates distress and discomfort. Your throat already blistered with the never ending puking bleeds all the time. Your nose bleeds all the time coz the tube chaffs it. But finally, I thought the nightmare was ending. True, i still puked. But 10 times a day wasn’t so bad was it? I still threw up after most meals. But i was able to swallow so that was all right wasn’t it? I still had nausea all day inspite of taking my nausea pill 3 times a day, but that can be put up with right? It was normal to choose food that you thought would be tolerable on its way out more than on its way in right? walking around with vomit bags was not so unusual right? I had one and a half month of my ‘imaginary’ better time. Its strange how human mind works, that even a horrible situation becomes ‘normal’ to you just because you have been in it long enough.

There was one other person who suffered as much as me, but in a different way. My husband Bart who stood by me like a rock. He managed to set up a new business, take care of the household, look after me and much more all on his own. He carried me back and forth to the loo EVERY SINGLE time i puked, gave me endless massages, stayed up whole nights comforting me and never once showing me what a toll the situation took on him. He let me vent all my frustration, anger and sadness at him and never once uttered a harsh word.

The worst part of HG is what it steals from you; the joy of being pregnant, the glow, the excitement, the planning of the baby. The baby was the last thing on my mind and I constantly felt guilty about that. But when your battling with HG, its humanly impossible to think of a baby. I was SICK of being told to think if the baby to help me through this. Really? Try being sick for 8 and a half months with no respite and then try to walk the talk.

Im now 36 weeks pregnant. Tomorrow, my 37 th week starts. The last 2 months have been the toughest part of the pregnancy. 2 hairline fractures with my baby boy having kicked my ribs making it difficult to move since the fracture cant heal since the ribcage expands with pregnancy, being on the nasal feed again now for a month and a half coz my stomach finally collapsed with 8 months of puking, stomach being constantly empty coz the tube bypasses the stomach and goes right into the duodenum so as to give the stomach rest but which causes acidity to build up and makes me vomit bile every day, having been admitted in the hospital multiple times, hundreds of tests, injections , ultrasounds and IV, horrible RLS that allows me no sleep at night, painful hemorrhoids, severe heartburn, having not eaten a bite for 2 months which leads to its own kind of mental depression, being bed ridden and trying to get everything organized for Eashaan, losing energy every week, miserably nauseous all the time, angry, sad, depressed, frustrated and just waiting for it all to end.

A far cry from the perfect pregnancy that I dreamt of since I held that doll. But the miracle in all this remains that Eashaan has been healthy and has been growing wonderfully. Its my silver lining for which I am very very grateful.

My darling Eashaan. I am waiting to hold you and kiss you and remind myself of how much I wanted a baby when I wished for you.
But im also waiting to find myself again coz I lost myself in these last 8 months. I am waiting to feel joy again, to enjoy waking up after a happy nap, to be able to eat a meal and savor it and not throw up after, to not feel nauseous any more, to sleep on my stomach, to be able to walk around without puking, to spend time with Bart, to be able to look after him again, to have a social life, to not feel so fed up and defeated all the time…..to just be me again so that I can really enjoy you. And I know thats what your papa wants the most too. Its not too far now. We are waiting to see you. You are our light at the end of this bumpy tunnel.

PS: HG is a serious issue that deserves more attention. Many pregnant women die from negligent care or choose to terminate the pregnancy because they don’t get the help they need to deal with it. The following link explains in detail about HG and its complications

http://www.helpher.org/

The Art of the East- Memories of China

Think of one of the most popular cuisines; Chinese cuisine is sure to pop into most people’s minds. You see them almost everywhere and that is a fact. They are given changes according to where they are found to suit people’s palate; Indian-ized, Western-ized. So much that at the end of the day you really have to ask yourself, “What does real Chinese food taste like? Have I ever had any?” Well let me assure you that in most cases the answer would be ‘No’! It was such with me till I walked into ‘Memories of China’ at Vivanta by Taj at MG Road.

 

We were greeted in by Murali Babu, the senior Restaurant Manager and he made our whole evening one of absolute pampering. I had to just think of something and it was served. The staff made you want to lounge, relax and they help you enjoy every nuance of the food and drinks served to you. The ambience was quietly elegant and had a chic charm. The gold leafed roofs, the shimmering white walls, the exquisitely engraved window panels; the clichéd idea that all Chinese restaurants were done in red and gold with elaborate fan decorating the wall was completely done away with. Wooden structures warmed the white and gold deco and the delicately designed modish deco did justice to the restaurant that saw influences of ‘The Paris of the East’; Shanghai.

 

We sat down and the mysteries of the East unfolded in front of our eyes. It was a true Odyssey into the best Chinese that I have ever savoured. Paired with some delicious Chardonnay which I was surprised to experience suited my dishes, every bite was sheer pleasure.

We started with the Amuse Bouche, an ensemble of honey chilly lotus stem, asparagus and black fungus, pan fried silken tofu with black bean dressing. Each section was so beautifully arranged that I almost felt sad to dig in; but dig in I did. This was followed by a Crab Meat soup that I saw my husband tasting with his eyes completely closed in delight and a hot and sour vegetable soup for me; properly thick, with the right tempering of the two flavours. The vegetables used really worked its magic on my taste-buds; the highest quality of ingredients that were so fresh that you could hear them crackle in freshness with each bite.

 

We tried a few different appetizers, but I will mention the Crackling spinach. Now this was a recipe I have tried unsuccessfully to master in the past and I was envious at the perfection with which it was cooked here. Chef Thomas personally came out to chat and explained the secret behind the recipe. This was an aspect of service I really enjoyed at Memories of China; personal attention which made all the difference to our evening. I saw the chef having a quick chat at every table and asking people for personal preferences in taste. How many times have I gone for a meal and struggled to order only to be left disappointed. I felt here that each dish was customized to my taste, and it was.

 

The main course was food made in heaven. I had the burnt garlic fried rice, mapo tofu, wok tossed string beans and spicy Schezwan noodles. The tofu was buttery and perfectly cooked. Juicy and full of the most amazing flavour while the beans were fresh and tender. But the Peking duck stole the show. I am vegetarian, but seeing the wonder on my husband’s face, I have to give points to it. The chef, Amar Daimari, prepared it in front of us and it was quite the spectacular moment of the evening. Having specialized in Cantonese and Schezwan cuisine, the deft artistic way he put the dish together was quite the sight. The duck, imported from Singapore, had been tempered and seasoned for a whole day. It was cut into tender slices and rolled in soft rice pancakes and served with fresh veggies and a sweet red bean sauce. Each slice of the duck had a crispy golden skin, but what amazed me was the sight of the inside, soft and tender and almost like butter. The other highlight on my husband’s plate was the stir fried king prawns and scallops in ginger oyster sauce.

 

And all this royal food was rounded off with chocolate mousse, baked cheese cake and Madeline’s. Perfectly crumbly pastry with soft, rich filling inside. The evening couldn’t have been any better. Great food can be an art that comes with perfection. But what makes Memories of China stand out is the magic they create with the ingredients at hand that is customized to suit their guests. A twist here and there and it is the most perfect morsel to have ever graced your mouth. The care to details and attention to guests was remarkable. I saw a lot of people sitting around and treating the place like their home. The repeat guests are here for one reason; to experience the truly remarkable evening that memories of China offers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Evening at Graze

There are many people who share my story; a life that is brimming with activities, travelling around, being busy behind the laptop all day, taking care of your home, taking care of your family and the list goes on. In between all this you find yourself craving for little time to relax, to sit back and enjoy the finer things in life and to be able to share this with someone you love. Like lot of other couples, Bart and I love to have an evening out every now and then. But we walked into Graze in Vivanta by Taj at M.G Road last night and we realized that we have been missing out on true dining experience all this while. All we have been doing is eating, not experiencing.

Graze has a very charming feel to it as you walk in. The warm colours of wood, the soft lights and the spectacular display of wine and fine scotches plead with you to sit down, unwind and enjoy an evening that is all about being pampered. You have a choice between cosy seating around the restaurant or of being the privileged audience to impressive live cooking at the interactive counter. We chose to sit here so that we could try and discover the secrets behind Graze’s amazing dishes.

And under the watchful eyes of the Restaurant Manager Ashvin Singh and the gifted chef Uday Nath our dining experience began. Rated amongst the Michelin star restaurants in the world, Graze is the only European restaurant in India. They promote real European cuisine and do not call themselves a Multi-cuisine restaurant. With a tagline that says, ‘The lighter side of European Cuisine’, we soon discovered why it was so.

When asked what people think of real European cuisine, it is astounding how many people have the idea that it is heavy; and without a question it cannot be argued that the ingredients going in are rich. Think of a creamy pasta sprinkled with parmesan or a rich truffle pastry dressed in its buttery glory; it isn’t an out of whack perception that you will find walking back to your vehicle difficult. But this is what Graze completely proves wrong. European food can be cooked in such a way that you feel light and sated after a multi-course meal. The quality of the ingredients served is so high, that they do not need to mask it with heavy sauces. Graze is one of the few restaurants I have eaten at where the sauce enhances the food and not drown it.

We were educated on the sous-vide technique of cooking by Chef Uday who talked about how the food is cooked in air-sealed plastic bags that are immersed in a water bath and cooked at low temperature for a long time. This ensures that each ingredient retains its fragrance and texture without shrinking and when served is juicy and a delight on the palate. Another tip I learnt yesterday is not too have too much going on in one plate. Two to three strong ingredients and all the necessary accompaniment to enhance flavour; this is where Graze differs from other restaurants. That they know how to create magic with the ingredients at hand. True artists in my opinion.

With the restaurant manager helping us pair our wine with food, I had an amazing glass of Chardonnay that was smooth without the acidic bite and Bart had a Pinot Gris which we were told would go well with our main courses.

Then the food magic began. Watching Chef Uday cook can give any self proclaimed cook a complex; stunningly artistic, maniacally clean and completely entertaining. He talked us through all the courses and explained what went in and what flavours to watch out for. Ashvin took us through how to pair the wine with the food; something we never experienced before where the chef and the wine expert tells you the right way to understand your meal. Two soups that were so creamy and frothy that I had to swoon and consider swapping Bart for the chef, the five spice poached figs with fresh greens and shaved Manchego cheese salad that was fresh, crisp with the best dressing that my palate has ever experienced, a main course of gnocchi that epitomized tender and was full of flavour, the sea bass imported from Chile that Bart claimed melted like butter in his mouth topped up with Crème Brulee Napoleon that had filo pastry floating like air on top of it and almonds stuffed into it. And to make it even better, we were presented with a second dessert of lemon tart with a Sabayon sauce. Tangy, crumbly and perfect.

We normally have evenings where in 45 minutes we eat our food and leave the restaurants. Restaurants these days seem to be waiting to get you off the table and bring the next guest in. But at Graze, they strive to create an experience where you take your time to savour the food, enjoy the wine and actually sit back and listen to the wonderful band live band that is there for your entertainment. Between your salad or appetizer and the main course, you are served a sorbet so that you get a break between the courses to take time and enjoy the company with you and around you. We sat there for two and a half hours; the longest we have sat at any restaurant. And it truly was an experience; from the food to the wine, presentation, ambience to the dedicated attention and care we were given. And all this done in an unobtrusive, friendly manner. One word to describe our evening- SPECTACULAR.

Think about the last time you have had such an evening experience. It isn’t too hard a task. Just make a reservation at Graze. And you can thank me for it later.

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Food for Thought

I was reading a mail from Niels today. I was trying to explain to him the whole Ram Janm Bhoomi- Babri Masjid situation. And he mentioned his take on it that made me think; that religious discussions are not really healthy food for thought.

Religion. The dictionary defines it as the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.”

Here’s my take on it. When man finds instances in life too much to comprehend, overwhelmingly scary or happy, too wondrous, too agonizing, it is basic human nature to want to turn to something or someone. A primeval instinct to look for comfort, something we learnt right in the womb. So he constructed a higher purpose and put down a set of rules to control society through it. All the focused energy vibrations together formed ‘God’. Throughput the world, this ‘god’ is called different things; Jehovah, Rama, Allah, Jesus, and so on. But what we turn to finally is that intrinsic energy that resides in all of us human beings which transcend with pure belief into something bigger than us. Atleast this is my take on it.

But at the end of the day it can be agreed that god is spiritual faith and religion is a manmade construct. And the people who use god’s name to justify vile act of violence not religious at all. All religions talk of the same vices and practices; peace, love, brotherhood, loyalty. There is no religion that says, “Please use god’s name and kill all those around you, sacrifice innocent lives and create bloodshed and thou shall be welcomed into the sanctity of heaven”. And people who think so are so far removed from god that religion is just a hasty understanding to them. So to you Hindu and Muslim extremists out there who took lives of men, children and women, who created fear and terror in the hearts of your own countrymen, who incited hate into the hearts of people who lived as peaceful neighbors, god is dead to you and you killed him.

Today as the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid verdict looms over the country, it isn’t Rama or Allah that is bothered. It is the common, everyday people of India cowering in houses, scared of a tide of violence they once witnessed, fearing for the lives of the people they love and ashamed of the cruelties of their own countrymen. So today, I bow down my head not as a Hindu or a Christian, but as an Indian, hoping that her country will make her proud and rise above the pettiness that she once witnessed before. Hoping that she can once again, live in freedom in a country that fought for it. Hoping for peace. Jai Hind.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Fact 1: A good looking woman walks into a room full of people, and all the men look.

Fact 2: A good looking woman walks into a room full of people with a man, and the rest don’t look (well openly at least).

To have good looks is definitely an asset. “Beauty is only skin deep” is quite true, but the depth sure stretches a long way. The good looks helps women cross over some initial hurdles in a social set up fast and that is an iron clad truth.

So you are good looking and you know it. You have always had men show interest in you. Always have had an easy time fitting into a social group. And if you are blessed with brains and wit, the rest has always been easy too. You feel confident and sure of yourself.

And then enters ‘the man’ in your life. Now there is a catch here. If you are with someone who reminds you of your worth; that you’re good looking, that you are fun to be with, then you don’t forget it. Otherwise after a while of sly looks that you don’t notice, the guys shying away from you and your man, of not being reminded; one actually tends to forget. I have seen gorgeous women looking surprised when reminded of their looks. The ‘are you talking about me’ look on the face, tells the story of another one bites the dust. So to all you women out there; look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, “You are the fairest of them all”. Cheers ladies!

Progress; a Pseudo-Name for Chaos

I recently got into a conversation with my mother, a woman who has the ability to multi-task and take on the woes of the world onto her fragile little shoulders like no one else. Amongst the many social work she is a part of, the Tribal Outreach Program of Kanyakumari is one she is involved with.
The tribals. Words that people hardly dwell over. Where do they live in a world that is so quickly evolving into an urban jungle? What do they eat? Where do they work? How many of us can actually say that we have lent a thought to them?
The outreach program extends medical help, family counseling and other aid to these people through a mobile hospital that makes its round to tribal areas. Situated in deeply remote parts of the terrain, these people are completely cut off from services that the urbanites take for granted.
Before the urban culture, before Bill Gates made his millions, before the first airbuses were invented, the tribals existed in peace and harmony with their surroundings. These are people who have lived amidst nature and her splendors, who truly understood her, who never took her for granted, who appreciated all the offerings and never exploited any part of it. Talk to them even now and their knowledge of the forest and their sheer love for it is mind blowing. They lived on the land, farmed on it, made makeshift biodegradable houses of twigs and branches and kept moving before the land was depleted of all its richness and minerals. Their way of life was in tune with nature’s balance and harmed her in no way. The tribals of the Kanyakumari area hunted wild boars which provided them with their main nutrition and protein. It kept in balance the population of wild boars and their world was one of total balance with them giving back to nature as much as they took.
Then crawled in ‘Progress’. DFO’s and Forest Officials who ‘learnt’ about nature and her forests and understood all about her through text books and power point presentations. Who probably became DFOs because they couldn’t get through their IAS. People who had no grasp on the reality of nature and had no true love for her. These people became the decision makers and passed laws in the name of ‘Progress’.
When the delicate balance of nature is disrupted, it ends as always in chaos. And the people who suffer are the ones who have not contributed to the chaos at all. The tribals in Kanyakumari were banned from farming, from building huts, from hunting wild boars; mind you all this was for ‘Progress’ after all. The aftermath? They lost their livelihood, their way of living, the culture, their source of food; in short their lives as they knew it. Soon the wild boars increased in numbers and started killing people and destroying farm lands and the tribals were forced to look for hard labor to avoid poverty and starvation and now live in complete chaos.
So I place the question out there. What is ‘Progress’? Is this what we understand of it? Who are we protecting and who are we helping? Land and livelihood is stolen from these people who have never harmed any one in any way while whole forests are cleared in India, protected animals pushed onto the brink of extinction by these same officials who turn a blind eye when the green notes are tucked into their pockets. So are we really moving ahead? Ironic isn’t it?

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