Jan 25, 2016

The musical destination

A few days back, I went for a Bollywood dance night in my apartment. It was a lot of fun, dancing after a long time. Great energy, adrenalin pumping and a good workout. But I felt a slight tinge, which made me realize something. Of the 25+ songs played that night, I could hardly recognize 3-4 of them. Most of them were the latest Bollywood dance numbers. I haven't been in touch with Bollywood music off late (with the exception of ARR's albums). But that's not exactly the point. I didn't like many of these new songs. Neither I'm able to recollect them now nor I feel the urge to look them up. The few words that I was able to recognize made me uncomfortable. Is it a mandatory requirement that all dance party numbers need to have words like dhaaru, vodka etc? 

When I was a school going kid, I used to wonder why my dad never appreciates Illayaraja, AR Rahman or Jatin/Lalit albums. He is quite happy, repeating the same MSV and RD Burman albums over and over. He still bores me sometime with repeats of the sad Gemini Ganesan songs in loud volume :-) I remember he did mention once in the 90s that the latest songs are so loud and jarring.

I guess I have now reached the same stage in my life. I can listen to Kishore Kumar, Rafi, Illayaraja and ARR a million times again but cannot bear the latest noisemakers. I miss the Hindi Pop of 90s. It's not that I don't want to accept new music but the new ones don't appeal to my taste anymore. Is this called "growing old"? :-) I'm sure in a few years, D would wonder why I'm not liking her kind of music. If she asks, I'll tell her that I have arrived at my musical destination.

I'll continue to search for albums across the world that fit my taste and discover new musicians and new forms of music. In that direction, I have set myself a goal for this year to start listening to more Indian classical music - Carnatic and Hindustani. Any recommendations for artists/musicians/albums, please share. Would love to hear from you.

Jan 19, 2016

10 habits to keep PCOD under control

Disclaimer: I'm neither a gynecologist nor a dietitian. This is purely based on my experience. Do consult your doctor if you are making any major changes.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS / PCOD) has become so prevalent among women these days. The official reports state that 25% of women in India face this problem but the actual numbers might be more. And this percentage is on the rise.

I've been facing this issue for many years now. There's no medicine/treatment to completely cure this hormonal disorder. But there are ways by which you can ensure that it doesn't lead to further complications.

I'm not going to talk about the symptoms or complications of PCOD as the primary purpose of this post is to help women who are already facing this issue. So my assumption is that you are aware of PCOD and looking for ways to keep it under control.

Here are the 10 habits that I follow diligently for the past few years that have resulted in a positive impact in my overall health. If you look at these habits, these are lifestyle changes that will help you stay away from all non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and PCOD.

1) Cut down on junk foods and packaged foods completely
It's not as hard as it might sound. The high fats and sugars in packaged foods lead to weight gain, especially the abdominal fat. Except for occasional biscuits, I have stopped eating any ready-to-eat foods in packaged form. I take the time to make all my meals at home. If you don't have the time, hire a help/cook. I also include a lot of fruits, nuts and vegetable salads for evening snacks.

2) Keep your weight in check
Women with PCOD tend to gain weight easily, especially around abdomen and thighs. So it's necessary that you keep a tab on your weight and ensure you are within the healthy BMI range. If you are overweight or obese, consult a dietitian and a fitness trainer. Studies show that weight loss of just 2-3 kgs can regulate your menstrual cycles. Thanks to my genes, I was always underweight until my early 20s. The sedentary lifestyle in my 20s increased my weight but now I ensure my weight is steady and within the ideal range.

3) Do not skip breakfast
This is the mistake that costed me dearly when I was in my teens and early 20s. Except for a cup of coffee, I didn't eat anything while going to college. When I started work, I skipped breakfast number of times. I would feel hungry by lunch and gobble up a lot of simple carbs based foods like rice and roti, along with a sweet dish from office cafeteria. Take the time to prepare a healthy breakfast at home. Get up early if you have to but please don't skip. And no packaged sugar-coated cereals please.  Choose simple Indian breakfast dishes like idli, poha or parantha, boiled eggs and/or some fruits.

4) Reduce simple carbs
By simple carbs, I mean the foods that have high glycemic index (GI) - those that get digested faster and release sugars quickly into your bloodstream. The pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that helps the cells to better absorb sugars and convert to energy. Women with PCOS have insulin resistance and so the pancreas has to secrete more insulin. The high insulin leads to increased secretion of male hormones like androgen.

Being a South Indian, I used to eat a lot of white polished rice. Now I have reduced my polished rice intake and have been consuming more millets. Millets are high in fibre and have low glycemic index. So you feel full for longer time and you don't stuff yourself up with more carbs. Ever since I switched to millets, I notice that my abdominal fat hasn't increased and my overall carbs intake have come down. Wheat is also fine as long as you are taking whole wheat flour and not processed flour (maida). Also do check if your body agrees to wheat. Listen to your body's signals. For me, wheat in excess causes acidity and bloating. So I cannot take wheat in all my meals.

5) Stop sweets, desserts and chocolates
Indian sweets are my weakness. I can say NO to ice-cream but not to a piece of gulab jamun :-) Sweets made out of white sugar have high GI and so the same issues mentioned in habit (4) are applicable. If you have sweet cravings, eat a piece of date or a sweet made of jaggery. But do not overeat.

6) Increase fibre in your meals
The importance of fibre cannot be emphasized enough. It increases satiety and also helps to flush out toxins from your digestive system. Sprouts, raw veggies and fruits, slightly steamed veggies and pulses are all good sources of fibre. Ensure you get your 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruits everyday. I find this a tough task but I'm slowly getting there by being aware of my eating habits and making small changes.

7) Exercise consistently
Though I have been watchful of my diet by following the first 6 habits, reversing the damage done earlier was made possible ever since I started exercise consistently. My mood swings haven't been drastic (one of the symptoms of PCOD). My monthly cycles are more regular now. Consistency is the key here. Whichever form of exercise you choose, be consistent at it for atleast 4 days a week. Give importance to daily exercise, just like you brush your teeth or take a bath everyday. No compromises. Get it over with, first thing in the morning, before the other priorities take you over. Do check out my earlier post on how to get into exercise as a regular habit.

8) Control your stress levels
Stress plays havoc with your hormonal levels. Try to dig deep on what's causing stress on you and take steps towards reducing it. Is it work, relationship, commute or internal conflicts? Two mantras that have always worked for me - "Let it go" and "This too shall pass". Compared to my 20s, I'm much more calmer and relaxed. I'm clear about my priorities now.

9) Get your 7-8 hours of sleep
Lack of sleep for just a couple of days can increase your blood pressure and your stress hormones like cortisol. To stay awake, many of us tend to drink many cups of coffee or tea, which increases acidity, leading to headache and a whole lot of other complications. Give priority to your well-being first, before you think about night-outs for your work or studies. I have never done night-outs and I'm proud of that. Stop checking your phone/laptop atleast an hour before bedtime. Read a book, listen to soothing music or play with your child. These will calm you down and will help you to sleep better. There's nothing more important that requires you to compromise on your sleep.

10) Live mindfully, slowdown, stay happy
This is applicable for all women, irrespective of whether you have PCOD or not. Worries from the past and anxieties about the future take a toll on our mental health. Be mindful about your present moment, take deep breaths, meditate, spend time amidst nature, do what makes you come alive, invest in a hobby and learn to relax. There were times when my to-do lists were long but now I have accepted that there should be DO-NOTHING days where I can just relax and enjoy the slow afternoons, sipping tea and reading a book.

If you have read this far, hope you found this list helpful. Do let me know if there are any questions.

Part 2 of this article - 10 more habits to manage PCOD

Jan 13, 2016

10 Tamil melodies of AR Rahman that you might have missed

One of my goals for 2016 is to get back to listening to my kind of music more often whenever time permits. The little one has been hogging my iPod with her favorite fast beat songs and I hardly get to hear even a single favorite of mine :-)

I grew up with the music of ARR and have been a hard-core Rahmaniac for the last 2 decades. More than the popular songs, I love his melodies - soul stirring, soothing and relaxing. He has given some fantastic melodies that have been quite popular even after the release of the movies and the music channels repeating them everyday. But there were many beautiful songs that didn't get the attention they deserve. I'm sure these reside in the playlists of Rahman fans like me. Here's a list of 10 such least popular melodies that I love:

1) Nenje Nenje from Ratchagan
The right choice of singers in KJ Yesudas and Sadhana Sargam, meaningful lyrics and the music that doesn't interfere too much with the flow and the words. The tune just before the second stanza is so soothing that you should just close your eyes and listen to it. In the same album, there is a tiny song "kaiyil midhakkum kanavaa" which is also a beautiful one.

2) Kalakalavena Pozhiyum from Rhythm
Yet another beautiful album where each song emphasizes on one of the five elements of the Universe. Though I like the popular "kaatre en vaasal", the song that I love the most is the one that focuses on the sky and the clouds. Sung by Sadhana Sargam, the beat that's present throughout the song, along with the sound of the anklets is so addictive.

3) Ennuyir Thozhiye from Kangalal Kaidhu Sei
Though this movie was a big flop, the music is just awesome. This song sung by two of my favorite singers Unni Menon and Chinmayi has a soft Carnatic base. I'm not sure about the raaga (Carnatic music fans, please share if you know). The music yet again provides a nice, supporting gesture and the voices sound so clear.

4) Sonnaalum from Kaadhal Virus
I clearly remember the time when this movie got released. I had just shifted to Bangalore and while I was hanging out with friends in Brigade Road, I quickly hopped over to Planet-M and bought the cassette. When I came home, I listened to it in my new Sony Walkman :-) The singers Harini and Unnikrishnan have given their best performance in this song but sadly the music didn't reach the masses.

5) Azhagae Sugamaa from Paarthale Paravasam
I fell in love with this song when I heard it the first time. It didn't need any time to grow on me. Soft and melancholic tunes, beautiful lyrics and soothing voices of Srinivas and Sadhana Sargam convert this simple song into a masterpiece. The violin tune towards the end gives a caressing feel to it.

6) Thoda Thoda from Indira
This is one of those songs which you should listen to, closing your eyes after a long tiring day. This song relaxes me completely if my mind is disturbed or overactive for some reason. The legendary singers SPB and Chitra make it sound so effortless and easy.

7) Naan Paadum Sandham from Duet
I came across this song long time after the album was released. I somehow missed it even when I saw the movie. It's a happy song, aptly supported by the saxophone tunes of Kadri Gopalnath and the voice of SPB.

8) Kangalil Enna Eeramo from Uzhavan
This movie got released right after Roja, I guess. But I never got to listen to it. I discovered this particular song only a few years back and regretted why I didn't hear it for so many years. Chitra has poured in so much of emotion and hope into this song. After the first stanza, the song elevates to a more positive, spirited one, sung by SPB. When you are down or upset, I highly recommend this song as an antidote.

9) Sevvaanam from Pavithra
I remember hearing this song in Oliyum Oliyum in Doordarshan many years back but never knew it was from ARR. It's definitely not a unique or special one but for some reason, I like this song. Reminds me of simpler times, I guess :-)

10) En Swaasa Kaatre from En Swaasa Kaatre
Last but not the least, how could I miss this one? I even wrote a blogpost on it couple of years back. This song reminds me of the beautiful times when my hubby came into my life :-) And ofcourse, the times when my little baby used to sleep on my arms, listening to this song as a lullaby.

P.S. I so wanted to add "Vellai Pookal" from Kannathil Muthamittaal to this list but I presume it's a relatively popular song as compared to the songs listed above.

Jan 12, 2016

8 insights I learnt running a food stall

The last Saturday was a very memorable day in my life. I took my passion of healthy cooking in front of my customers. I had registered for putting up a breakfast counter stall at a local community event. The items I prepared were sold out in 2 hours. Some of the customers came back and said that they enjoyed the food. They asked for recipes, questions around ingredients etc. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience with lots of lessons and insights to carry forward.

1) A well defined goal and a deadline is extremely important to get started
I have been thinking about this idea of catering healthy and traditional food for quite some time. But there has been resistance, questioning myself, anxiety and procrastination that prevented me from getting started. It's easier to read loads of books on nutrition, try new recipes at home, watch numerous recipes on youtube etc but it's quite a task to take the step forward and actually cook food for people outside my immediate family, friends and neighbors. Thanks to this event, I had a clear goal and a one-week deadline. It brought me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to test my idea. In the one-week prior to the event, my mind was completely fixated on it and the associated tasks to work on.

2) Planning every step along the way makes execution so much easier
I'm a big fan of making to-do lists and plans. But this event taught me the impact of planning out the minute details. As Abraham Lincoln rightly said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe", I planned down every little detail and added to my list in Evernote. When I had to actually cook the dishes on the D-day, I just had to go through the list and check off the items one by one.

3) Going completely organic is challenging
The organizers had asked me to use organic ingredients to the extent possible. This was the first time I checked out the prices of organic lentils in the grocery store. They were more than double the cost of non-organic ones. Checking the quality and authenticity of organic claim is a challenge too. The fact that the product is branded and packaged doesn't make me trust the "organic" label. I did use organic millets and rice as I wanted to use the unpolished varieties. But going "completely organic" would have put a lot of pressure on my pricing.

4) Eco-friendly plates and spoons are very expensive
Serving or packaging food in eco-friendly materials is a very important criteria to me. I have been researching about such materials for quite some time. I want to ensure that my business/hobby doesn't add on to the plastic in landfills. I procured arecanut plates and spoons from a wholesale dealer. It costed me Rs.4 per plate and Rs.3.20 per spoon. The retail prices are far higher (around Rs.10 per plate). Only if the demand for such products increase, the prices can become affordable to the masses. Else, we will see loads of paper plates and plastic cups piled up after every party or event. Eco-friendly packaging is one area which I hope gets enough attention from the innovators in this space.

5) Selling a new product category is hard
I have faced this challenge in my previous work experience as well. The solution I have read and implemented was to map the new category to the customers' existing mental models. In this case, I'm selling foods made out of a new product category "Millets". Though they are gaining popularity in Tamilnadu, I find this to be relatively untapped and unheard of among a younger crowd like in Bangalore. Some of them were a little hesitant to try idlis made out of finger millet (ragi). I tapped their "mental model" by trying to convince them that it will taste very similar to regular idlis.

6) Seeing is believing
Related to the previous point (5), if customers were given a chance to see how the food looks, their resistance to buy reduces a lot. It also makes selling a new category easier. Giving a sample for free would also break down this resistance.

7) Children and teenagers don't care much about traditional foods
This is a painful insight which I knew already but got reinforced through this event. This is also one of the powerful motivations for me to take my passion forward. I don't want future generations to forget about our idlis and paranthas for breakfast.   Sugar-coated cereal boxes have already become a staple for breakfast in our time-starved mornings. It's our responsibility as parents to ensure that our kids eat fresh breakfast from a kitchen rather than from a factory. I know it's tough but let's not give up hope for the future well-being of our children.

8) Delegating is a MUST to scale further
It was a solo effort from my side to cater to around 50 people. This required clear planning and a 3 AM wake up alarm :-) But if I want to scale and expand on this idea, it will be difficult to manage everything on my own. Getting someone on board to help me with cooking according to my values is going to be tough but will have to start my search if I'm serious about it.

Jan 7, 2016

A tribute to mothers of this generation

As I regain my breath, sipping tulsi green tea, trying to calm myself from the 1.5 hrs of multi-tasking and running behind my little one to get her ready for school, I wonder how times have changed. When I was a child of 4-5 years, my paternal grand mom would be making my breakfast and packing my lunch box, my dad/mum would give me a bath and get me dressed, my aunt would tie up my hair into two cute ponytails and then she would drop us to school. I don't remember any tension or hurry in their faces.

Now as I look at my frazzled hair and yet-to-change sweaty t-shirt from Yoga class, it's no surprise that we are pushing hard *single-handedly* getting our naughty little ones ready for school. Though my daughter's school starts relatively late compared to other schools in the city, it's still quite an ask to brush her teeth, give her breakfast, pack her lunch box, get her dressed and comb her hair, all in a matter of an hour. The little one thinks it's funny to make maama run around with a toothbrush or to throw her t-shirt and jump on the bed when the bus is just 5 min away from the apartment gate. A normally low BP person like me would not be surprised if the scale shoots above 130/80 in the critical one hour. I feel even more bad because I would have just returned from my Yoga session with a relaxing Savaasana before the madness and rush begins.

I asked myself "Why am I taking so much of tension? Can't I just laugh it off?". The main reason is that I WANT that 4 hours for myself - the pending to-dos to complete, errands to run and numerous other interests to be kept alive, which is only possible during her school hours.

So to all the moms who do this morning routine every single day, single-handedly, hats off and salute….Relax and take a break once kids are off to school, sip your favorite tea, put on your favorite music and take some time for yourself. WE DESERVE IT!!

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