Dec 28, 2016

2016 in review

Image Source: http://www.bobbiecarlylesculpture.com/SelfMadeMan.php 

One of the productive years is coming to an end. It has now become an annual ritual to jot down a review of the year gone by. It serves mainly as a personal reference to look back after a few years. 

The year started off with planning my first food stall at a community event. It was a memorable and a unique experience, given that I have never done something like this before. The success of the food stall motivated me to kick-start a healthy and traditional food catering service in my apartment. There were hardly any takers in the initial couple of months but I persisted at it over the weekends. I'm extremely grateful for the handful of supporters who appreciate my food. I also extended my product line by offering a range of spice powders (podis). The whole experience has been phenomenal, from a learning perspective. 

Two key insights on food preferences that I discovered during this phase:
- Vegetarians are a teeny tiny minority group
- Most of us have adopted/switched over to global cuisines from a variety/taste/health point of view but reluctant to try out and explore regional cuisines of our own country. This could be due to biases, preconceived notions, past experiences, limited choices provided by restaurants etc

Early this year, I also started looking for flexible consulting opportunities on product management / marketing. I reached out to some of my contacts and found an opportunity with Flipkart. Initially I started off with going to office on a daily basis while my daughter was settling into a daycare. The traffic was horrible and I was wasting nearly 90 minutes in commute everyday. My daughter wasn't feeling happy going to the daycare in the afternoons. So I worked out a work-from-home option with my manager and was managing work and my little one (in the afternoons without a babysitter or family support). On some days, my daughter would be very supportive and let me work / take conf calls. But there were also days when she would be constantly demanding my attention. I would feel terribly guilty to switch on the TV in order to take a conf call but there wasn't any other option. My role demanded a lot of coordination with various team members, which was a challenge with working remotely. On evaluating these issues, I decided to step down and I'm now in my last week at Flipkart, wrapping up my work. It was an interesting 9 months, working as part of the seller side of marketplace team. I especially liked the conversations with various sellers, understanding their issues, challenges and perspectives of e-commerce.

In a scene from the Tamil movie "Kalki" directed by late Mr. K Balachandar (one of my favorite directors), there is an image of a sculptor sculpting herself. That image made a lasting impression on me when I saw the movie years ago. Over the last few years, I have been consciously taking steps towards improving myself - health, fitness, habits, thoughts and actions. This tweet reiterates the same point.




I continued with Yoga in 2016 and it has brought a lot of positive change towards my stamina, strength and flexibility. It has also resulted in more energy, calmness and clarity. I'm blessed to have a teacher who is the perfect "Goldilocks" when it comes to pushing me on a daily basis - not more, not less, just right ! :-)

Healthy eating continued with more rigor - millets are a regular feature in my diet. So are veg salads and fruits. I have also been diligently sharing the pictures of my plates in Instagram and FB, which motivates me to prepare healthy meals and share ideas. If atleast 5 people switched to millets or chose home-cooked fresh breakfast over packaged cereals, my purpose is achieved :-) I have stopped buying white sugar this year and switched to other healthy sweeteners such as cane sugar and jaggery. This year, I took over the complete responsibility of cooking at home without any help. I spent most of my mornings after Yoga in cooking breakfast, lunch and packing our lunch boxes. I'm glad that I took control over an important aspect of our lives (food, what else?), without outsourcing to an external help. Organizations don't outsource their critical business functions. Same logic applies to our personal lives as well.

BTW, I have lost 3 kgs this year, thanks to these steps although weight loss was never my goal. I wrote about this stubborn 3 kgs, way back in 2012(See, how the yearly review helps in retrospect!)

My other keen interest is writing and I had set a goal to hit 50 blogposts this year. I sprinted towards this goal and achieved it right on time in Dec :-) I have also moved to my own domain which was one of my goals for 2016. 

My food blog also saw some activity this year with 25 new recipes. Though I love Cucumbertown, it is sad that they have shut shop and I'm now forced to migrate to another blogging platform early next year. 

Similar to previous 2 years, I had set myself a goal of speaking in atleast one public event this year too. I checked off this goal when I signed up for the opportunity to speak at Unpluggd in Nov. The feedback shared by one of the attendees made the 2-week effort of preparing for the talk amidst other priorities all worth it.

Given the busy daily schedule of Yoga, cooking, work, playing with my daughter, writing and weekend catering, my reading suffered a lot this year. I read just a handful of books (listed below). I have also switched to Kindle this year and been reading many e-books, thanks to Kindle Unlimited plan. I don't mind reading fiction from Kindle but I prefer a physical book when it comes to non-fiction. 
  1. The great Indian diet by Shilpa Shetty
  2. Inippu by Senthamizhan (Tamil)
  3. The wedding photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal
  4. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  5. Faster, Smarter, Higher by Utkarsh Rai
  6. It doesn't hurt to be nice by Amisha Sethi
  7. The cozy life by Pia Edberg
  8. Nalla Soaru by Rajamurugan (Tamil)
  9. Skyfire by Aroon Raman
  10. PCOD Thyroid handbook by Rujuta Diwekar
  11. The bestseller she wrote by Ravi Subramanian
  12. Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
With my husband's busy job at a startup, we couldn't travel as much as we'd love to. We did a short 3-day trip to Sakleshpur and a 4-day trip to Marari Beach Resort. That's it for the year :-(

The many firsts I'm jotting down so that I can look back after few years. Some are outright silly ;-)
- Learnt to change the gas cylinder by myself. Don't ask me why it took me this long to learn something so simple.
- Traveled with my daughter in a train without hubby dear accompanying us. Both my daughter and I share the love for train journeys!
- Conquered the fear of oil blast by making murukku and ribbon pakoda for Diwali.....yes, I've been cooking for 12+ years but tried these traditional deep fried snacks for the first time :-)
- Rode a cycle along the paddy fields and coconut groves in a lonely village route (during my Marari Beach trip). The experience reinforced how much I love cycling and villages. One of the few times when I experienced and felt true "joy". 
- Talked to a just-met friend for nearly 4 hours about books, life, kids, women-centric issues at work, career, tech, ecommerce and everything. I don't recall the last time when I chatted with someone for this long. I thought that I'm not so good with spoken words in a group and I'm happy to just listen to the conversation. But I guess I can open up a lot more if I find the right person to converse with, who has similar interests.

I'm starting off 2017 on a clean slate, with a few goals/focus areas identified and written down.

Wish you a happy and joyful new year! Dream on, keep sculpting yourself.

Dec 25, 2016

Dr.Khader's talk on millets and healthy eating


Last Sunday, I took the time out to listen to Dr.Khader, one of my inspirations in leading a healthy lifestyle. I have listened to some of his talks on youtube earlier and had been awe-struck by how he puts forth his points on perils of modern lifestyle in a succinct, hard-hitting manner.

I reached the venue early and was surprised to see a buzzing millets outlet, setup by Grameena Angadi. Many senior citizens and middle-aged people were enquiring about various millets and purchasing them. The event got delayed by 45 min and I was conversing with a few attendees on my experience with millets. There is definitely an increasing interest in millets among 50+ age group, especially in traditional areas such as JP Nagar, Jayanagar, Malleswaram etc. 

Once Dr.Khader took the stage, in his typical style, he engaged the audience with lots of anecdotes and examples on how we are leading our lives and where it is leading us. He spoke primarily in Kannada but with English phrases here and there. I was able to follow almost 80% of his talk. Here's a short summary:

- Most of us are only addressing the symptoms but not looking at the root cause.
- Our country is blessed with 12 hours of sunshine and 12 hours of darkness, which is the optimum requirement for health
- Direct light from digital devices/gadgets not only disturbs our eyesight but also disturbs our digestion, nervous system, sciatic nerves and brain. He pointed out the rise in patients with Parkinsons disease and insomnia. He suggests to sleep in pitch-dark condition after 9PM
- Navane (foxtail millet) and Saame (little millet) helps to stabilize the nervous sytem
- Copper is the only metal to kill viruses and used in hospital bed railings to prevent infections. He advised drinking water using copper
- Drinking water from plastic bottles prevents absorption of selenium and zinc which causes hairfall and thyroid problems
- Brushing with toothpaste and toothbrush - most unscientific thing you can do to your body
- In the name of "science", we have abandoned many traditional practices
- Milk in plastic packs contain steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones etc, leading to PCOD and early puberty. On top of that, babies are given the same milk in plastic bottles with plastic nipples which worsens the effect. Millions of tonnes of plastic being used for milk packets - bad for health and the environment
- False propaganda everywhere that milk is the only source of calcium. Calcium absorption from milk is very less, whereas calcium from ragi milk is absorbed 100%
- "Why are we dumb?" - not questioning anything - in the name of science, progress, development, technology, looking upto the West
- Giving packaged malt drinks like Complan causes constipation, bleeding, piles, fissures, hemorrhoids etc among children. When toddlers are constipated, doctors advise Dulcolax to solve the symptom but the root cause is never addressed
- Millet based kanji / porridges are the best alternatives
- To reduce hairfall, stop using plastic combs. Instead use wooden combs
- Remove all things unnatural from your life. These subtle changes make a big difference to your life and meaningful existence
- People often question why millets are expensive but not question the price of expensive Nike shoes
- Elimination of wastes from our body - extremely important
- Millets are not only for people with diabetes or ailments but also for prevention of diseases and good health for everyone. Also helps local farmers. Can be grown without pesticides/fertilizers
- Millets being rich in fibre, removes all toxic material from the body
- Oodalu (barnyard millet) - good for spleen which purifies blood
- Many corporates/FMCGs want to get rid of kitchens from our homes. Proof - proliferation of ready-to-cook and packaged foods
- To get addicted to any food, picograms of chemicals are enough
- We Indians respect, love, adore, pray to Nature (animals, trees). We see God in everything.
- Take Kashaya instead of tea/coffee. Tea/coffee increases acidity, gas, stimulates nervous system abruptly
- For all problems of modern life, solutions lie in traditional practices
- Stop rice, wheat, sugar and milk for 3 weeks and you'll feel the difference
- Many nutritionists and doctors recommend eating every 2-3 hours, as though we don't have any other work to do. A millet based meal twice a day is sufficient
- Pharmaceutical companies are making Rs.15000 billion profits from diabetes medicines in India
- They prepare us to fall sick (using high sugar, high salt in packaged foods and junk) and earn profits
- India being a country with predominantly youth population - junk food targeted towards young people

If you can understand Kannada, do check out Dr.Khader's talks in youtube. His message is relevant for the entire country.

Dec 20, 2016

How willpower works?

Image source: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/01/08/willpower-part-ii/ 

Willpower is a powerful tool in each of our hands that can help us achieve our goals. I've always been intrigued by how willpower works and have been reading up on a few behavioral psychology books/articles/blogs. Willpower is a limited resource and it gets depleted with each decision we take.

Psychologists refer to this concept as ego depletion. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion.

I visualize it this way. Imagine a "pot" of willpower that gets refilled every morning, as you wake up.
With every decision that requires you to either inculcate a new good habit or stop an existing bad habit/addiction - you make a withdrawal from this "pot" of willpower
 - Push yourself to go for the early morning walk - you make a withdrawal
 - Pass by a pastry shop and end up not purchasing an enticing blueberry cheese cake - you make a withdrawal
 - Force yourself to not grab that 4th cup of coffee at 2 PM - you make a withdrawal

You get the drift? At the end of the day, the reserves are almost depleted and we tend to make wrong decisions with limited willpower in hand. That's the reason why it is better to finish the exercise routine first thing in the morning or go for brunch/lunch with friends where you can refrain from unhealthy food choices rather than late-night dinner when the reserves are too low.

The best part about this "pot" of willpower is that the more you withdraw from it, the size of the pot grows. As you keep saying Yes to positive habits and No to addictions, the pot of willpower keeps growing in size. 

On the contrary, if there are no withdrawals and you succumb to your temptations (snuggling up inside the cozy blanket till 8 AM and skipping the morning walk, going for a second serving of the juicy gulab jamun at the office cafeteria or grabbing that 6th cup of tea just because it has been a tiring day so far), the size of the pot shrinks. Your willpower reserves go down faster.

The basic supply-and-demand principle applies to willpower too. The more the demand for willpower, the more the supply of reserves from your subconscious (and vice-versa).

I'm not sure about scientific backing of this explanation but personally, this makes a lot of sense to me.

Looking at it from another angle, what we tell ourselves (thoughts) and how we end up behaving (actions) need to be in sync. It builds up self-trust and self-confidence. If our thoughts and actions are repeatedly out of sync, then we lose trust in ourselves, we fail to take up new commitments or avoid saying Yes to opportunities where there's no absolute clarity. The more our thoughts and actions are in sync, the more our willpower reserves are. The perfect example of this principle is that once you start exercising for 2-3 months consistently, your chances of bunking goes down. 

What's your understanding of willpower? How do you use it? Where do you most succeed / fail? Do share your comments.

Dec 19, 2016

The genuine appreciation (COP#3)

This is the story of a young woman who is 70+ years old and lives by herself. Thanks to my EthnicPalate food catering service in my apartment, I got to meet her a few months back. Her daughter reached out to me by email and had asked me if I could deliver food(breakfast/lunch) every weekend to her mother. I happily obliged.

The elderly aunty always greets me with a smile every weekend morning. I was initially serving food in arecanut plates and cups.

But aunty said one day, “why are you wasting such nice plates? You can give me in steel plates and I’ll wash and return”.
I asked her, “Do you have a maid, aunty?”
She said, “No, I cook and clean the dishes by myself. I have to keep myself active. There’s nothing much for me to do anyway”

I learnt 2 important lessons from her that day.
1. Our previous generations have always followed this principle - Reuse > Recycle. There is a cost to recycle stuff, even if it is biodegradable.
2. Even if you can afford luxury (maid, cook etc), it is extremely important to keep your mind and body active, irrespective of your age.

Most of the weekend mornings, I prepare healthy breakfast and lunch for aunty (and for my family).
It makes me feel so happy and grateful that I’m able to give aunty a little bit of rest and some variety of healthy food, and in return, I get an encouraging smile and genuine appreciation from her. What more do you need in life!

Dec 17, 2016

The star of words (COP#2)

This incident happened around 4-5 months back. As part of my usual evening routine, I took my daughter to the play area in my apartment. I was upset about something that day and I couldn't recollect now what exactly had happened. An elderly aunty also came by with her grand-daughter. We have met a couple of times earlier but never had a conversation.
I said "Hello aunty".
She replied "hello beta, kaise ho?" (how are you?).   
I said "teek hun, aunty" (I'm fine). 
She: "What's your name?"
I: "I'm Anuradha, aunty"
She: "You know, Anuradha means a star. Keep shining like a star always"
I: "thank you aunty" with a big smile

Those words meant a lot that day. It brought a few tears in the corner of my eyes but the effect didn't stop at that day. Every time I see her, I offer a "namaste aunty" and I could feel a lot of positive vibes. There's no long conversation or chat between us but just the hi/hello brings so much positivity. 

She is indeed a star - always a smile and a shining spirit. There are very few people in the world who can uplift you with just a few positive words. She is certainly one of them.

Sharing your gifts (COP#1)

I'm starting this series titled "Chronicles of Positivity" to log positive experiences/moments from my life. Given that the media is filled with negative news, we forget to appreciate the little, positive moments that just pass by like a soft feather in rough winds. My goal is to make sure that I log such moments that touched my heart, stirred my soul and made me take a pause in a busy day. Hope my readers can relate to these little snippets too.

Here we go - the first one!

On a Saturday afternoon, I had been to Reliance Footprint to buy shoes for myself. While I was trying out a few pairs, there was a family who were also checking out shoes for the lady of the house. The husband and their son (9-10 years maybe?) were eagerly selecting different models and giving to the mother, the son suggesting "Amma, try this" while the husband saying "try this, will look good when you go out on special occasions". Felt so heartwarming, seeing the shopping-as-a-family experience.

Meanwhile, I had made my choice and billed my shoes. The lady walked upto me and handed me a Reliance gift voucher that read "get Rs.500 off on purchase exceeding Rs.1000". She said "I have made my purchase. These extra coupons are expiring today. If you are planning to buy, please use them. I will anyway have to throw them". 

Since I had billed my purchase, I couldn't use them too. But this experience made me feel happy, meeting a kind stranger who wouldn't mind initiating a conversation with another stranger and sharing something of worth. 

In a society, where people try to avoid eye-contact on purpose and pretend to be busy with their smartphones, this experience felt like a fresh breeze in a polluted city.

Coincidentally on the same evening, I stumbled upon this tweet from @imwillsmith (not actor Will Smith btw)

Dec 13, 2016

Why you need an anchor?



I had briefly touched upon this topic in an earlier post titled "What's your slash?". A recent interaction motivated me to expand on the same.

A "slash" implies that you explore multiple roles in your lifetime by trying out and building expertise on various skills. But before adding slashes to your life, it is important to find an "anchor" to hold onto. 

Anchor doesn't just mean a hobby / interest. It is what makes you come alive, what inspires you to wake up every single morning.





"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." - Oscar Wilde
 
A Google search of the meaning of the word "Anchor" returns this phrase -
"a person or thing which provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation."

An anchor is extremely important for women and especially stay-at-home mothers who do thankless, often under-appreciated task of managing home and kids.

Anchor activities are those that inspire you to come alive, be creative, experiment with new ideas , build self-esteem, and demonstrate your identity. It increases your self confidence and a positive outlook towards life and people.

Without an anchor, the reactions can fall anywhere under this spectrum:
- dullness, irritability
- finding fault in others
- feeling jealous of others' success/happiness
- being egoistic
- getting defensive
- indulging in self-pity
- depression, anger
- chronic mental illness

If you haven't figured out your "anchor", reflect on your past - go back to your childhood and teen years.
What activities made you happy?
What subjects interested you the most in school/college?
What were the topics that you passionately discussed about?

Come back to your present life.
What kind of books do you like to read?
What articles do you stop to read when you browse through your FB/twitter timeline?
What activities do you like to do when you get a few minutes/hours of "me-time"?

In this Information Age, there are plenty of opportunities to build expertise and showcase your skills (and become financially independent too), if you can consciously invest time and effort.
Refresh your favorite subjects, register as an online home-tutor (vedantu.com is one such tutoring service)
Write stories and self-publish on Kindle
Start a home-baking hobby, there are plenty of recipes out there
Learn a new language using duolingo app and take up teaching/translation assignments
Learn a new art/craft hobby, explore pinterest, create something nice
Select and complete courses of your liking from Coursera, Udemy, Udacity etc

If a mother is confident and happy, then the whole family is happy. 
Find and hold onto that "anchor". You owe it to yourself and your family.

Dec 12, 2016

Relaxing holiday at Marari Beach Resort

Now that year 2016 is coming to an end, I'm wrapping up a few posts that are in my drafts for a few months now! One such post is this travelogue.

Having visited this place in 2008 when hubby dear and I were a couple, we decided to visit Marari Beach again, now as parents along with our little girl D :-)


D loves beaches and whenever we visit Chennai, she ensures we do the trip to Besant Nagar beach :-) So it wasn't a hard decision to narrow down a place when we were planning our holiday. Being the off-season, we got a good deal at the resort and booked the flight tickets as well.

We took the morning flight to Cochin and then boarded a cab to reach the resort. The just-subsided monsoon rains had painted a lovely, green picture around Kerala. The refreshing tender coconut water as a welcome drink felt so good after the long drive. After the check-in procedure, we headed to our room. As with any CGH Earth property, it was a neatly done, spacious room with all the essentials for our stay. Being our wedding anniversary that day, the staff of the resort had decorated the room so well. It was a pleasant surprise for me. I guess hubby dear must have informed them while booking. D went bonkers, playing with all the flowers and leaves and throwing them around :-)

The lunch spread was delicious, with a wide variety of choices - the local Kerala special, a few North Indian dishes, salads, continental foods, a couple of Middle Eastern specialties and the yum desserts. Though hubby and I loved the food, D hardly ate much during the entire trip (except a LOT of Kerala paapadams, of course!).


We rested a bit in the afternoon and then headed to the pristine beach. The next 1 hour was one of the most memorable moments of the trip. All three of us played together in the beach shore, built sand castles and collected shells, without any distraction from our gadgets. Moments like these are rare and ought to be cherished.

In the evening, there was a beautiful classical dance performance in the amphitheater and D appreciated it a lot. The staff surprised us again with an anniversary cake post dinner and it was lovely.

The next morning, hubby went for the Yoga session, while D and I roamed around the property. The rain gods were gracious enough to give us a lot of pleasant sunshine during our trip. I then caught up with the Ayurveda doctor and learned a few basic principles of eating right. We also booked our Ayurveda massage appointments and took turns during the day, while managing D.


I clearly remembered the cycle trip through the village, from the last time. The next day, I took the cycle and went for a ride by myself. It was an amazing experience, riding through the fields, greenery, narrow mud roads and lonely pathways. And all I had was a small map in hand. The experience made me realize how much I miss cycling.

Some more time at the beach, walking around the butterfly garden, organic vegetable garden and the sprawling property - our 4-day trip got over in a jiffy and we headed back home with good memories to add to 2016.

I had taken my Kindle but I didn't feel like reading a book. All I did during our stay was to walk around and breathe lots of fresh air. Such short breaks are so essential to rejuvenate our bodies and souls.

Dec 5, 2016

My food principles


 Healthy eating is not only about what foods to eat, which ingredients and raw materials to use, but it is also about cooking techniques. I'm listing out a few principles that I follow diligently at home and for my EthnicPalate catering initiative.

1) I don't prep or chop vegetables ahead of time. I know people who chop for a week and freeze the required veggies. But I believe that nutrition gets lost if veggies are chopped beforehand. I ALWAYS chop them just before I start to cook. This applies to my catering orders as well.

2) I make sprouts, peel small onions/garlic cloves and grate coconut all by myself. None of the store-bought peeled onions / packed sprouts for me. Hygiene is a very important factor that I can't take a chance with. Moreover, the freshness of the just-peeled shallots/garlic is completely lost. I'm perfectly okay to shed a few tears and peel the small onions, just before frying :-)

3) When I'm making salads, I chop the vegetables just when they are needed. If I'm offering salads in my EthnicPalate lunch menu, I start chopping the required veggies 30 minutes before I need to deliver them. I plan my time accordingly in order to serve a fresh, juicy salad.

3) During my childhood, we never had a fridge at home. Though the food at home was basic and simple, it was always prepared fresh. My parents/grandparents never followed the reheating / freeze-ahead practices of today. Having grown up in such an environment, I just cannot make sambhar/rasam/dal for a week, keep in the fridge, take out a small portion and reheat it. The food doesn't taste good when made this way. I had to politely decline a couple of orders when a neighbor requested me to prepare and refrigerate a meal for a few days since he was out of town on the day I had offered the menu. According to Ayurveda, cooked food has to be consumed within 3-4 hours. Beyond that, food turns toxic due to negative forces ("aama").

4) I invest around 2 hours in cooking on a daily basis, making 3 meals. Yes, it is an investment towards my health and that of my family members. I don't consider it as an expense/waste of time. I did outsource the work for a few years by hiring a cook. Given the control-oriented nature of mine, it gets very uncomfortable when the cook bunks unannounced, which happens a lot by the way. Most of the times, either the oil used would be too much or the quantity made would be excess for our small family of 3. So I decided to take charge of cooking completely and it has brought a lot of joy and freedom. I invest more time in cooking during weekends for my catering orders to serve fresh, healthy, home-cooked food to my neighbors.

5) Though I cook fresh food for most meals, I ensure the quantity I prepare is just right. I hate wasting food and I'm aware of the right quantity required for my family. So there's hardly any food being thrown out. I'm hesitant to put up a stall elsewhere to expand my food catering service, mainly because of the food that might get wasted due to unknown demand.

The underlying principle behind all this -
Let "convenience" not take a significant role in our lives that it interferes with our "health" (and environment)

Take time to cook fresh meals for yourself and for your family. It is worth the time and effort.

Nov 14, 2016

The treat to eyes

Playing hide and seek,
or feeling shy to be the
center of attraction today?

As I soak in your beauty
the chill breeze gently ruffling my hair,
my little girl exclaims
"moon is normous!"

who cares about correcting
her cute little vocabulary,
when I see the glee
in her bright black eyes

I capture your magnanimity
with the lens of my eyes,
my smartphone resting
peacefully at home

For I know I won't be alive
when you come this close
the next time around

those imperfectly perfect
craters that adorn you
like a beautiful bride,
those thick dark 
clouds that wrap you
like a soft pashmina

Oh! you super moon,
shining in all your glory
you are a treat to our
tired, puffy eyes!

Nov 7, 2016

How to glow from within?

Image Source: http://quotesgram.com/img/glowing-quotes/484162/ 

During a friend's birthday get-together, one of my friends complimented that my face has been glowing and was asking what I'm doing differently. Honestly, I didn't realize it, although I was aware that the pimples were out for the last few months (touchwood!). Her kind words made me ponder about the many changes I've been embracing over the past couple of years. I have summarized them as 8 reasons below:

(1) First and foremost, it HAS to be Yoga. I have been pretty much consistent at it for the past 1.5 years. Yoga has brought so much change in me, both in my body and in my mind. I can't explain the feeling of calm and peace in words but it just feels wonderful. During Yoga sessions, my teacher insists on breathing practice and I try to take deep breaths at least during that one hour of practice every morning.

(2) My passion towards healthy eating. It has become a way of life and I don't get tempted by any of the packaged junk. I cook for my family and eat home-cooked food most of the time. We eat out once or twice a week at the max. I cook from different cuisines of India and I believe that "eating local" is the key to good health. I have stopped the 4 whites almost completely. No white sugar (I use cane sugar instead). I don't use maida at home for regular cooking. Even during my occasional baking activity, I use wheat flour instead of maida or try to increase the wheat flour:maida proportion. Instead of iodized salt, I use Himalayan pink rock salt. White polished rice has given way to hand-pounded rice, millets and Rajamudi red rice. I eat my dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime. I have cut down a LOT on tea/coffee - milk tea once a day and green tea twice a day. I'm a vegetarian (and most of the dishes I cook are vegan). I love eating a lot of vegetables and fruits. I don't smoke or drink alcohol.

(3) Expression of my individuality. 2016 deserves a special mention in my life story for this very activity. Each of us has a keen interest or passion towards something. Most of the times, we don't make time for it, given the pressures of work and life. Identifying one's passion is in itself hard. On top of that, making time for it is even more challenging. If we suppress our expressions, it causes more stress and in general, lack of focus or purpose in life. EthnicPalate though very small in the idea/scale/execution, is an expression of myself, my passion and my beliefs/values. I look forward to spreading awareness on healthy eating using local foods through EthnicPalate every day. I'm so grateful that a few who have tried my food so far have loved it and have been kind to share positive, encouraging feedback.

(4) Importance of good sleep. I NEED my 7-8 hours of sleep every day. I will never take up any work or activity that will grab my sleep hours. I don't take pride in doing night-outs or long working hours. I would instead feel guilty if I ever do so.

(5) Exposure to limited pollution. I used to commute to work until a few months back. Though my office is hardly 6-7 kms from my home, the pollution and traffic was taking a toll on me. Due to various other personal reasons, I switched back to working from home and I couldn't be more happier.

(6) Staying positive. I used to hold grudge against a few people who have let me down when I needed them the most and as a result, a lot of self-pity for myself. I have come out of that phase by keeping myself busy with productive activities. I neither watch TV nor read newspapers. I stay away from negative people or cynics. Just an hour of talking to such people drains me out completely. I try not to take stress about events or people at work. 

(7) The belief that beauty is within. I don't find visiting beauty parlors a relaxing or de-stressing activity. I find quite the opposite. The constant complaints I receive from the beauticians "Oh ma'am, you have so many blackheads", followed by the painful process of pricking them out - Why would I want to undergo such torture every month, just because the "media" says that women MUST do this clean-up? The cost, time, pain - so not worth it. I follow a few herbal facial procedures at home and I'm satisfied with them. I no longer use ANY chemicals on my face or body - cream, lotion, lipstick, nail paints etc. I have switched completely from shampoo to herbal hair wash powders. I don't succumb to the pressure created by the society, media or the carefully crafted marketing material of multinational brands on their definition of a woman's beauty.

(8) I appreciate the fact that I'm unique, different and weird in my own way and I allow myself to be who I am. I love myself for this "attitude". I don't care about other's opinions or if people judge me for who I am. I cannot control anyone's thoughts and so I keep myself busy by working on myself and my various interests. There are miles to go, lots to learn and ideas to try.

What works for me may or may not work for you. The only takeaway from this post is "work on yourself consciously". Don't let others opinions bother you. It is YOUR life. Live it the way you are comfortable with.


Nov 2, 2016

Book Review: Skyfire by Aroon Raman

Image Source: Flipkart

 The synopsis of the plot intrigued me, especially the "freak weather disturbances" phrase. Skyfire by Aroon Raman is a fast-paced thriller which links various issues from child kidnapping to weather change.

Right from the first chapter, the suspense builds up at a steady pace, leaving many ends loose until it all ties up together towards the end. The author deserves credit not only for keeping up the interest levels of the reader but also taking the time to explain a scene and build up the narrative.

I haven't read his earlier books but references to Shadow Throne in a few places in this book made me want to pick it up soon. It is difficult to write a review without spoilers, especially for a thriller novel. But I'm proud to say that I guessed the negative character right, somewhere around the middle part. Maybe, there is a bit of Meenu in me! :-) She is my favorite character in the book - her strength lies in figuring out missing pieces of the puzzle at critical junctures that other two lead characters might miss easily.

The only area where I felt the author could have done better was that some of the gory descriptions and violence could have been avoided.

If you'd like to read an interesting page-turner, I highly recommend Skyfire. And make sure, you have some uninterrupted time on a weekend afternoon to finish this book in one go.

 P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

Oct 28, 2016

Why "reduce" is the only option for sustainable living


Among the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), I'm a strong believer that "reduce" is THE need of the hour to preserve whatever is left of our environment. 

The plastic ban imposed in a city like Bangalore is a welcome move but what's the alternative? Supermarkets and large-scale grocery chains have switched to brown paper bags for vegetables and fruits. I used to collect and reuse the plastic bags earlier but with paper, they are so flimsy and easily tear apart when you try to remove the price tag. When I end up going to these supermarkets, I leave behind a pile of use-and-throw paper bags in my garbage bin.  When I want to throw a party or fulfill food orders for my EthnicPalate initiative, I opt for areca-nut plates and cups. What is the source of these paper bags and areca-nut plates? Trees, of course. So if we need to switch from plastic to eco-friendly alternatives, we have to extract materials from the environment. How many trees need to be cut in order to implement the so-called eco-friendly switch? How much more can we destroy the planet for the sake of our convenience? 

I recently came across a very interesting, thought-provoking TED talk by Leyla Acaroglu, a sustainability strategist and designer based out of Australia. I highly recommend you take a look. Among the many observations and insights she shared, the one point that struck me was the design of refrigerators. The size keeps getting bigger and the number of sections and doors keep increasing, with new models and brands coming into the market each year. As a result, we hoard on groceries and fresh produce, without being aware of what's in stock. In the USA, around 40% of food purchased for the home is wasted. For a country like India where 270 million people live below the poverty line, it would be a crime to waste food.

Just imagine the resources and raw material that went into producing a kilogram of vegetables. Not to forget the energy and effort of the farmer. If we buy such produce in bulk and waste half of it, it's not just our hard-earned money that gets wasted but also the energy expended in the entire lifecycle - the chain of events from farming, harvesting, food preservation, transportation and storage. 

Buy only what's required. You don't need to stock up on all kinds of vegetables and fruits in your fridge. You don't need all kinds of grains and lentils in your pantry. Buy less, finish them and then go for your next purchase. Don't fall into the trap of bulk purchases and mindless discounts. I'm not exaggerating but I find myself to be more creative in the kitchen when I have fewer supplies. 

Be mindful of every little thing that enters your home and that gets added to your shopping cart (both online and offline). It only takes an extra minute to think whether you need a particular product or if you can postpone the purchase. 

The increasing popularity of Dhanteras and Akshaya Tritya (auspicious days to buy stuff) can only be attributed to carefully crafted marketing plans of consumer goods companies and jewelers.

This Diwali, let's ensure there is space in our homes (fridge, pantry and wardrobes too) for light and air to flow freely and not load our homes with "stuff". 

Oct 19, 2016

Why you need to care about your customer's motivations?

Over the past 4 years working on multiple products, I noticed an interesting pattern on the problems that many product managers are trying to solve. They seem to fall under one of these five major themes:
  1. Evangelizing the product
  2. Driving product adoption
  3. Effective onboarding
  4. Increasing user engagement
  5. Demonstrating value during the customer lifecycle
The debate on whether we are building the right product or not seems to have settled down. The much bigger question many are grappling with is how to communicate the right value to the right target customers. This makes me ponder if the role of product marketing is now becoming a lot more important and crucial for product success.

Many of these problems involve identifying the right audience, right channels, right message and right context. That explains the proliferation of contextual communication platforms such as Intercom, WebEngage, Customer.io, Appcues, Autosend etc.

With plenty of tools and platforms available, these problems should have been easy to solve. But the crux of these problems involve understanding customer motivations -
- why should a user be interested in your product?
- what conditions / situations / context in his life will lead to interest in your product?
- when do such conditions / situations manifest in your user's personal (or professional) life?
- what are the current alternatives that he has deployed in his life to solve the problem your product is intended to solve?
- what are the limitations of such alternatives? When will those limitations become such a big issue for your target user that he is ready to seek an alternative?
- what are the repercussions that would arise if he doesn't address those problems, by using these less-capable alternatives?

Unless we have a deep understanding of these areas, the problems listed will persist, irrespective of any number of targeted communications that a product manager / product marketer sends out to their users.

Oct 10, 2016

How can you improve your mental health?


 Today is World Mental Health day (10th Oct).

Dr.Sivaraman, the leading Siddha doctor from Tamilnadu has written multiple books in Tamil and these have changed my life. He points out repeatedly in his books and speeches about 3 issues that are the the main reasons for the rise of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, depression, cancer etc.

1) Change in our food habits - right from food cultivation, processing, storage, preservation, cooking techniques, serving to eating practices
2) Our disturbed mental health - attributing happiness to material possessions, societal status, raising ego clashes
3) The mindless violence we have unleashed on environment and nature

This post is dedicated to the second issue - our mental happiness and peace. When did our happiness start to be influenced by latest iPhone launches, purchase of new gadgets, getting FB likes, riding a swanky new car, jumping companies to get that promotion or a huge salary hike, buying expensive jewelry, renting high-end branded fashion wear etc etc?

In our journey towards achieving materialistic possessions, where is the last stop? Gadget manufacturers keep luring us with new upgrades and fancy marketing tactics. On top of that, we succumb to peer pressure and equate our "net worth" to these gadgets. Our parents used the same watch for 30 years whereas we want to upgrade our smart phone every year. We want to revamp our wardrobe every year based on what the growth-obsessed marketing strategists and the media-savvy Bollywood heroines dictate as the latest "fashion". We are ready to stay in lifelong debt in order to maintain the unaffordable, ultra-luxurious lifestyle.

The corporate cut-throat competition is not for the weak-hearted, people say. Clashes due to big fat egos, pressures of the rat race, sky-high expectations and the various challenges of climbing the steep corporate ladder suck our mental energies completely.

And when we are drained of our mental energies, where do we seek happiness from? Clicking selfies, addiction to social media, clamoring for FB likes, showing off pretentious lifestyles with those materialistic possessions and what not.

Jeff Hammerbacher (founder of Cloudera) once mentioned,
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads".  
 It's also worth mentioning that
"the best minds of our generation are thinking about how to get people to like their posts on FB".
Enough of the negativity in this post. What can we do about it?

1) Seriously think about what makes you happy - activities, feelings, people, experiences, moments etc. Carry a journal with you always and jot down whenever something brought a smile on your face, when your life felt more content and meaningful, when your heart felt calm and relaxed. Revisit your past and ask yourself what made you happy when you were a child. Invest your time in them every single day.
2) Be confident with who you are from within. Ignore the society's definition of how a man/woman of your age should look like, what they should do, what they should wear, how their home should look like etc. Most people would usually feel threatened if you are non-conforming. Let them be. Be rebellious and show off that "don't care" attitude. Care deeply about your inside happiness, that's all it matters. Celebrate your uniqueness.
3) Don't get glued to social media. Disconnect as much as you can. You don't have to share everything that's happening in your world. And you don't need to know everything that's happening in other's worlds. Use social media as a break from routine. But don't hitch-hike with it for your happiness.
4) Connect to real people in the real world more often. Meet them in person, have deep conversations, listen intently without judgment. Seriously, why do we judge people in a matter of micro-seconds? The more prejudices and stereotypes we have, the more opportunities we lose out in the world.
5) Always carry a positive attitude, keep the cynicism aside, be humble and always open to learn from others.


Oct 4, 2016

Listen to your body's signals


 I'm a firm believer of the fact that our human body has amazing abilities. How do we feel when a peck of dust enters our eyes or a sand particle enters our nostrils? Our body will ensure that the foreign particle is thrown out immediately, by the use of tears in the first scenario or a sequence of sneezes in the second case.

Over the years, we have lost touch with our body. While we want to stay connected to our smart phones with strong Wi-fi / 4G signals, very few of us are able to detect the signals sent by our body. The very basic of these signals are hunger and thirst. How many of us eat food when we are hungry? We like to be busy throughout the day and grab something on the go, without an understanding of our hunger pangs. Either we starve ourselves completely and pride on the fact that we had a late lunch due to a "client meeting". Or we keep munching something every 10-15 minutes, distracted with our umpteen number of devices.

As much as I respect Rujuta Diwekar for bringing awareness on Indian food traditions and practices, I don't agree to her principle of eating every 2 hours. I believe in the old adage - "eat when you are hungry". Hunger is a way of signaling us that the stomach has digested the food eaten earlier and is ready with the digestive juices to take in the next meal. At times, either our body needs rest (do we feel hungry when we are sick? Not at all) or the earlier meal is taking more time to digest. So it is better to wait for the signal before you eat the next meal. If we eat even a small portion of any food before the previous meal is fully digested, the undigested food interrupts the digestion of the previous meal. As a result, both the meals end up not getting digested and absorbed properly.

I also believe that we should drink water when we are thirsty. Not sipping throughout the day. It is very easy to understand the trigger our body sends if we care to listen. The one-size-fits-all measurement of drinking 4-5 litres of water a day doesn't apply to all human beings. Each of us are unique - our needs are different and so does our body types, activity levels, gender, food habits, genes, location and many other parameters.

This is what our ancestors believed, who led calm, peaceful lives without any lifestyle diseases. This might sound impractical, given our busy schedules. But I suggest that you try eating atleast one meal a day only when you start to feel hungry.  Start saying No to any food when you are not hungry. I bet you'll feel a positive difference (the lightness, the high energy levels) in a few days. Do share your experience in the comments below.

Sep 29, 2016

5 ways to manage wet waste

Earlier, I had written a post on managing dry waste. I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement (thank you all!) for that post. Continuing on similar lines, let me talk about five ways by which I manage wet waste at home. 

Wet waste refers to waste generated from cooking, take-away food, left-overs etc. Segregating dry waste and wet waste is a mandatory rule in Bangalore. In-house composting of wet waste in apartment complexes is also being enforced in order to control the amount of waste that gets into landfills.

(1) Home composting:

Since 2010, my husband and I have been diligently using Daily Dump's Khamba to compost wet waste, mainly the fruits and vegetable peels. It has become a habit for us to dump such waste directly into the compost bin 2-3 times a day. The Khamba sits in a corner of our balcony and doesn't emit any smell. It doesn't attract any rats either. Maggots do come into the bin but they only fasten the composting process. Our 5 year old daughter gets excited to see the maggots whenever my husband mixes the bin. He typically takes the filled bin once a week, adds dry leaves fallen on the floor from our little garden and mixes them together with a pair of garden tongs. We get good quality compost that resembles mud once every 3-4 months. Home compost rightly deserves the name "black gold". We sprinkle this compost onto our plants. Through this home-based composting, there are hardly any fruits and veggie peels that get added to our wet waste bin. 

(2) Plan your meals, Be aware of your pantry stock:
I plan my meals in advance, according to the veggies I have brought from store. I had earlier written a blogpost about how to put veggies to good use without letting them rot in your fridge. I follow this simple practice that has helped me tremendously in controlling the veggies that go unused. Do check it out.

(3) Cook food according to your exact needs (not more):
The only other wet waste that goes out of our home in little quantity is cooked food. With more than 10 years of cooking experience, I know exactly how much to cook for my family. I always prefer to cook the exact required quantity (sometimes even less) rather than cook more and store left-overs (or throw away the excess food). We prefer to eat fresh home-made food and I cook 2-3 meals a day. But there is hardly any food that gets wasted.

(4) Educate children and bring them onboard:
I'm strict with my daughter about food wastage. I would rather serve little on her plate and let her finish it fully than add more food to her plate that she would find it hard to finish. I know her food preferences and I don't experiment with her school lunch box. Tried and tested food items feature repeatedly and the dabba comes home empty most of the time. 

(5) Reduce take-aways / Order the right quantity:
Coming to take-away or store-bought food, we don't order food from restaurants or from the food delivery startups. Even when I'm tired or not well, we would rather eat a simple curd rice or dosa with chutney podi at home. We go to restaurants once a week but don't carry home any left-overs. This may not work out for everyone but my only suggestion is to order the required quantity and avoid food getting wasted.

We follow these principles 90% of the time but there is still 10% to be improved. Hopefully one day, we'll hit the 100% mark and I don't keep my wet-waste bin outside my apartment for collection ever.

Do share if there are other ideas of managing wet waste at home. 

Sep 27, 2016

The music of JTHJ discovered 4 years late


If you are wondering what JTHJ stands for, it is the Bollywood movie "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" :-) A regular reader of my blog would know that I'm a crazy fan of AR Rahman's music. His music is like a dear friend, a family member to me. My iPod and playlists are filled with his albums (mostly). 

There was so much hype when the music album of Jab Tak Hai Jaan was about to release in 2012. Media was going berserk that ARR-Yash Chopra-SRK combo would create magic. All fans of ARR were eagerly awaiting the album. When the first 2 songs and later the entire album was launched, there was so much criticism that ARR failed to meet the expectations. To be honest, I didn't fall in love with the songs instantly. They say ARR songs grow on you but to me, this album didn't impress even after multiple times of hearing that time. 

Now after 3 years, this album sounds so refreshing. When I'm feeling dull and tired, I just turn to the peppy "Jiya re". What an energetic song it is! It's even more impactful to watch the video with Anushka Sharma's high-spirited dance, SRK's mellowed expressions and the beautiful locations. Well-picturized with the superb voice of Neeti Mohan makes "Jiya re" my favorite song of this album.

In complete contrast, "Heer" is such a soulful, soothing song. I don't understand the lyrics completely but the feel of a father-daughter separation after marriage is brought out so well by the singer, aptly supported by ARR's tune.  The title track sung by Javed Ali and Shakthishree starts off on a slow pace and then takes a surprise turn with a classical beat. "Saans" as a song is a beautiful melody with the mellifluous voices of Mohit Chouhan and Shreya Ghoshal but the picturization was so pathetic. Maybe, it's just my bias that I hate Katrina but I also felt many scenes of the song were out of sync with the tune of the song. 

This experience made me realize that it is better to listen to a music album after the hype and media buzz dies down. We tend to appreciate the songs a lot more when the expectations are not sky-high.

Next in line is Tamaasha. 

Sep 23, 2016

What goes behind deliberate practice?



Twitter is my go-to source when I need some inspiration/learn new things/access interesting articles/stay up-to-date on what's happening in my areas of interest. On one such twitter browsing session this morning, I came across a story "the science of practice" from Hardbound. It is an excellent compilation on what goes behind the achievement of world-class performers. We have all heard about the 10,000-hour rule that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers". 

The quantity of time spent in "deliberate practice" of a skill matters. But what is equally important is the quality of time spent towards building a skill or expertise. I have been curious to understand how one builds expertise/mastery over a subject/skill. Mastering a skill is not possible by just reading books/articles, taking courses, listening to podcasts etc. 

This story link talks about a research by Dr.Ericsson that went into discovering the 4 elements of deliberate practice. 
  1. Goals - well-defined, specific. Acquire micro-skills
  2. Focus - full attention, block out all distractions
  3. Feedback - take the help of a coach
  4. Discomfort - push yourself out of your comfort zone. Set more difficult targets to achieve.
Sounds simple but made a lot of sense to me. It gave me a useful framework to work with. 

Many of knowledge-oriented skills are vague in the sense there is no clear destination or milestones defined. So it is a challenging task to define specific goals and identify micro-skills to be built in the journey of mastery. Say, you want to be a world-class digital marketer, what are the intermediate micro-skills you need to build? what goals you need to achieve?

In today's world of constant distraction, focus is a precious commodity. If we are constantly checking our phones/devices for FOMO, where's the attention needed to focus on a specific task at hand? When we were in school/college, studying for 2 hours at a stretch without any distractions was easily possible. Is this achievable in today's times? Do read this brilliant piece by Joshua Becker on why you should disconnect.

Without the right feedback, we wouldn't know which areas we have improved and which areas need more practice. Taking feedback from a coach/mentor will help us course-correct and plan our mastery journey better.

Just like how our bodies get used to certain fitness activity and has to be progressively stretched, our minds also need to be pushed out of our comfort zones. Extrinsic motivation through publicly announced goals to a friend/partner would help. Even if you don't announce your goals to the outside world, writing them down in a journal can motivate you to stay committed. The Goldilocks principle of "not too much, not too less, just right" holds true for progressively increasing the challenge levels of the skill that we are building. 

Take some time and write down the list of skills you are trying to become a master at. For each of these skills, think about these 4 elements of deliberate practice and how you plan to address each of them. I'll share my experiences once I put down this framework for the skills that I want to build.


Sep 15, 2016

What's your slash?

I stumbled upon this site this morning - FindYourSlash

According to this site, a slash (/) represents the following:
It is a symbol used to express the eclectic ensemble of avatars of those living in many different worlds. You could be an Artist/ Blogger; Writer/ Photographer; Technologist/ Musician; Fashion DesignerDJ; anything you love. 
While browsing through this site, it reminded me of the conversation I had with a classmate from college days when I met her a couple of weeks back. She decided to be a homemaker after her son was born. During our conversation, she remarked how her relatives are mocking at her for "wasting" her engineering degree. Do note that she did work for many years after college. She is now learning Sanskrit slokas and ancient Hindu scriptures. The casual chat I had with her that day triggered many questions in my mind.

1) If you pursued an engineering degree, does that mean you "have" to be in the same field for your lifetime? Once an engineer, should you "always" be an engineer?
2) Was the decision to pursue engineering solely made by you? Or was it made due to parents, peer pressure or societal expectations?
3) At the age of 17, did you have enough options in front of you (like today's well-connected generation)? Did you have the exposure on various fields that might interest you?
4) 90% of us (including me) took up Engineering because that was the only option students with good marks can get into (apart from medicine that was anyway not within the reach of deserving students who are "unreserved"). So what if you pursue engineering, later do an MBA and get into banking? The popular question asked by Aamir Khan in 3 idiots is absurd to me. 
5) Is becoming the CEO of a company the "ultimate" purpose for everyone in the planet?

Life is a journey. We evolve as we age. Our interests, preferences and ambitions would keep changing throughout this journey. If someone had told me when I was 15 that cooking would become my passion in my 30s, I would have laughed at them. The world is too big a place to just pursue one career for lifetime. 

One of my friends who is also an Engineer is awesome with arts & crafts for children. My husband's school friend who is a doctor writes amazing poetry and fiction. The rat race doesn't give us enough space and time to even think about other creative pursuits. 

For moms, we are blessed with a temporary break called maternity to rediscover ourselves. If you can financially afford to take a maternity break, I would highly encourage you to do so. If your industry doesn't appreciate career breaks, then do part-time work / consulting assignments during the break. Stay relevant, keep yourself updated with what's happening in your area of interest/industry/domain, never stop learning.  But also take the time to figure out what inspires you, what makes you happy, what impact you want to create, what legacy you want to leave behind in the world. Find your slash. 

How Shalabhasana taught me a lesson on failure?


Today is a special day for me. Having struggled with Shalabhasana for the last 1.5 years, I was able to do this Yoga pose today for 10 counts and most importantly, with ease. When I started out with Yoga last April, I had such a hard time whenever my teacher asked us to do this pose. My legs would hardly go up an inch. I pushed, struggled, tried a lot but failed multiple times. Though I was getting better at other asanas, this one gave me such a hard time. As months passed, I could see that I was improving a little bit and my teacher also recognized that. Today, when I got this asana right, I patted myself on my back. Certainly, a satisfying moment it was!

This experience reminded me of this interesting talk by Bharathi Baskar I listened to a few days back. She is one of my inspirations and I love her books and speeches.



In this talk where she talks about first-rank holders in schools (from 31st min of this video), this statement on failure struck a chord in me
"People who taste success all the time don't know how to face failure. Failure teaches us grit and determination to overcome any obstacles in life"
I had been a top-rank holder pretty much all the time in school and college. I never gave importance to sports or physical activity (except for a brief spell of basketball sessions in 6th grade). I used to play outdoors a lot when I was a kid/teen but never been part of a regular sports activity. Life in my 20s was spent mostly in comfortable cubicles, conference rooms and classrooms.

Years of sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise has reduced my flexibility and strength. Through Yoga, I'm realizing the positive impact of regular exercise, both in my body and mind. I still can't get many asanas right but the small improvements I make everyday give me such a high. It's okay if I fail and struggle but I know one day I'll get it right, like today.

A few of my favorite quotes on failure
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley  
“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” - Zig Ziglar  
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” - Eloise Ristad
What lessons have you learnt from failure? Do share your stories.

Sep 14, 2016

சிறு மகிழ்ச்சி

என் வயதில் பதினைந்து
வருடங்கள் பின்னோக்கி
சென்றது போல்
ஒரு உணர்வு
எண்ணம் புரியாத
ஒரு குதூகலிப்பு
முகத்தில் அகலாத
ஒரு புன்சிரிப்பு

இமைக்க மறந்தேன்
கணினியில் உன் சிரிப்பை
கண்ட தருணத்தில் இருந்து,
தனிமையின் பெருமை
அறிந்தேன்
இதயத்தின் படபடப்பு
உணர்ந்தேன்

எங்கோ எட்டா உயரத்தில்
நீ இருந்தாலும்
அருகில் அமர்வாயா
என்று ஒரு ஏக்கம்
அந்த புன்முறுவல் தருவாயா
என்று ஒரு ஆசை

கண்களின் காந்தம்
உன் மொழியின் அழகு
தேர்ந்த பல்வரிசை
ஈர்த்ததடா என்னை
இதயத்துடிப்பு வேகத்தில்
இடி முட்டியது விண்ணை

புயல் போன்ற இந்த
உணர்வுகள்
ஒத்தி வைக்க
முயல்கிறேன்
என் பணிகளில்
மனம் செலுத்த
அல்லல் படுகிறேன்

வேண்டாம் இனி
உன் திரைப்படங்கள்
வேண்டாம் இந்த
இளம்பருவத்து இன்னல்கள்

கடமைகளும் எதிர்பார்ப்புகளும்
அலைக்கழித்துக் கொண்டிருக்கும்
வேளையில் இந்த சிறு மாற்றம்,
வியர்க்கும் கடும் வெயிலில்
வரும் சில்லென்ற கோடை மழை
தாகத்தில் தவிக்கும் பயணிக்கு
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Dedicated to all Premam fans and to the one and only Nivin Pauly :-)



Sep 13, 2016

How to present healthy foods to children

This post is applicable to parents of children between the age group of 2-6 years. I'm not sure if the tips shared below would work out for older kids, but do give it a try :-)

"We eat first with our eyes" - this quote has struck me deep, ever since I came across it. The fast food / junk food manufacturers have been successfully applying this principle on us through their posters, large banners, drool-worthy advertisements etc. When you see a big hoarding of a burger with dripping mayonnaise and colorful veggies, you automatically salivate. In reality, the burger would be smaller and there would be hardly any veggies.

Children start to become fussy eaters when there are alternatives. When we were kids back in the 1970-80s, we ate what was given to us, no complaints or cribbing helped. We didn't have any McD or a supermarket stuffed with Kinder Joy or Lays chips right next door. As parents of today's age, we have an added responsibility (and challenge) to present healthy, home-cooked food in an attractive way so that kids eat without a fuss and not demand junk food for every meal.


Here are my 8 tips on how to present healthy, home-cooked foods to your children.

1) Buy a steel plate that has 3-4 compartments. For major meals like lunch or dinner, make sure you have different food items in these compartments. Children love variety. By variety, I'm not saying that you cook many dishes. Let's say, the dinner menu is chapati and dal. Apart from these 2 items, add few sticks of cucumbers and carrots. Add a few spoons of curd or a tomato raitha.
2) Children love colors, so make the plate look colorful. If your main course is say lemon rice which is yellow in color, add cucumbers, color capsicums, tomatoes etc. The overall color quotient of the plate goes up and the kids try the veggies too.
3) Play with textures and shapes. My daughter loves raw carrots. So in any meal, I give carrots in one of these forms - sliced in round shapes, cubed, cut into sticks, shredded (big, small) etc. Same strategy applies to cucumber, red radish, cabbage etc. For water melons and musk melons, use a melon baller to cut into round balls. You can also cut a watermelon slice in the shape of a triangle, top it up with some grated cheese and black grapes / olives and serve as a fruit pizza.
4) Take an extra minute and present rice/upma/kichdi in a round shape (fill it in a small cup tightly and flip it over on the plate).
5) Use cookie cutters/moulds and cut chapatis/parathas into desired shapes. It takes some time to cook each individual piece, so try this when you have some time in hand or during weekends. I have a few moulds in the shape of heart, star, hexagon etc. My daughter loves the mini-parathas when I cut into these shapes.


6) For salads, arrange the veggies/fruits as a smiley and let them eat as finger foods. Ask them which part of the smiley face they are eating :-) Try making a house, cat or even simple shapes like square, rectangle, triangle etc. No limits to your creativity :-)
7) Use a similar compartmentalized steel plate for evening snack too. You could serve some cut fruits, a bread toast or a mini sandwich, dry fruits/nuts, cheese cubes etc. As I keep reiterating, stock up on healthy, quick eats like fruits, dry fruits, chikkis, cucumbers, sprouts etc. Children's appetite is very less and they like to keep munching something or the other every hour or so. During holidays, all I hear from my daughter is "I want to eat something" every 30 minutes :-)
8) Change of place also helps. Arrange a small picnic in your balcony or garden. Spread a mat, bring the food and eat - nothing fancy.

This quote from Dumbledore changed my life -
"you always have a choice between what is right and what is easy"

Packaged foods are the easy choice - children love them, they don't take much of our time, they are convenient. I admit I have taken the easy choice multiple times. Moms are not robots who can operate at 100% throughput always. But if I'm able to give healthy meals to my child atleast 80% of the time, I feel content and satisfied.

Hope you find the above tips helpful. Do share other easy/quick techniques you use to present healthy food in an attractive way to your child.

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