Dec 28, 2016

2016 in review

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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?

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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 ( 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.

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