Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bacardi Breezer Orange: For a convert

Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of alcohol. Despite having it readily available and around all my life, I have never been tempted to drink.
I was offered a Bacardi Breezer Orange during one family outing.
I decided to forego my usual lime soda for this heavenly smelling temptation.
I wanted to experience what was the  haahhahoohoo about this new drink that everyone wanted to have.
Why was it the done thing to have this rather than any other alcoholic drink or a demure glass of wine.
I took one sip and wondered if it was an exotic wine from an orange orchard or an orange juice with champagne added to it.
The taste is a combination of a bubbly champagne and a slightly bitter orange.
An ice cold Bacardi Breezer Orange flavour cools and satisfies.
The tongue feels the tingle of the drink while the orange flavour teases the sense of smell.
It just works.
While sipping a  Bacardi orange breezer I feel relaxed, slightly heady and just so...sophisticated.
On a  celebratory occasion I prefer the Bacardi Orange breezer now and ask for it by name.
Bacardi Orange is bright, bubbly, fruity, and oh so cool.

This is my entry for the Indiblogger contest Breeze: Live life in color; Catch The Flavour.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

To Massage Or Not To Massage?

New parents are bombarded  with conflicting advice about how to bring up their babies.

There are as many opinions as there are people giving advice.

1. Pick them up when the babies cry.
2. Don't pick them up. Let them self-soothe.
3. Feed them on demand. Use home cooked food and mother's milk.
4. Feed them as per a schedule. Use baby cereals/ fortified powder milk/high fi sounding foreign made baby food.
5. Do everything for them yourselves to encourage bonding with you.
6. Let the hired help take care of the messy stuff and play with the baby when it is clean and happy.
7. Massage the baby with olive oil. It is Italian in origin and hence wonderful as everything that comes from foreign lands must be excellent quality.
8. North Indian say massage the baby with mustard oil. It is time tested original practice and must be right because we have been doing this for centuries.
9. South Indian say that one must massage the babies with coconut oil as that is the best option available.
10. Bottom line is that almost all Indians agree that babies should be massaged.

One can see this happening in the road side shanty of a daily laborer where the mother will put the baby on a small mat in front of her and massage the crying baby's limbs and head and little feet not paying any attention to the desperate cries.
She knows she is doing the right thing for her little one.
Giving it the best chance to survive, develop, increase immunity and generally be as well as possible under the circumstances.

It can also be seen in a well to do home where a midwife comes every day to massage the baby and the new mother to ensure their well being.

The act of massage is the same in both places and it helps all in the same way.

Everyone agrees, in India at least, that massaging babies helps them to grow faster and gain height better as compared to non- massaged babies. Tradition and knowledge both concur.

Their strong little limbs will grow faster and help them not just to develop well but to sleep better and have a happier babyhood and a healthy adulthood.

So go ahead massage the little ones and make them feel the pleasure of a baby spa.

Happy parenting!

Happy massaged baby Kunal Singh.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Right Or Wrong?

One Person's Right Could Be Another's Wrong.
The more I think about something from my point of view the more I become aware that there is a perfectly valid alternate view.
Do I want to accept it though. No way. I am right and in the right so help me God.
I mean God help the other person.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jarda/Zarda for Dummies

Jarda (Punjabi style) pronounced as Zarda by the sophisticated people is a favorite dish across most of India. It is called by different names but is basically sweet rice colored by saffron (or orange food color as it mostly happens).

Here is a simple recipe that anyone can follow to make it easily in one pot without any elaborate preparation.
This is how it looks. Ahem! I am rather proud of this picture as I am the cook and the photographer. Aha!

1 bowl of basmati rice (long grain)
2 bowls of water
2 tablespoons of desi ghee (clarified butter)
5 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons mixed nuts like almonds, cashew, kishmish
4 laung (cloves), 4 small ilaychi (green cardamom), 1 big ilaychi (black cardamom), 1 cinnamon stick about 2 inches

Wash the one bowl of rice and soak it in two bowls of water.
(This is the rule. for every bowl of rice one needs two bowls of water. Soaking for 15-20 minutes is a must.)

Take the desi ghee in a thick bottomed pan and heat it. Add the cloves, both green and black cardamoms, cinnamon stick and stir for a few seconds in the hot ghee.
Drain the rice and reserve the water.
Add the drained rice to the hot pan with the ghee and spices in it. Stir the rice gently for a couple of minutes. Make sure to not break the rice.
Add a pinch of orange food color to the reserved water.
Add this water to the pan with the rice in it.
Stir lightly.
When it comes to a boil, add the sugar.
The quantity of sugar can be increased or decreased as per taste.
Stir a little and cover the pan. Reduce the heat under the pan to a gentle simmer.
After a few minutes add the mixed nuts to the rice in the pan and cover tightly again.
Check after a few minutes. The rice should be cooked and each grain should look shiny and separate.
Shut off the heat.
Let the rice sit as is for at least 15 minutes.
uncover, fluff up with a fork and serve.
This is traditionally served with beaten curd to which salt, pepper and red chilli powder has been added.
Serves: 4

Note: The elaborate method to make Zarda calls for parboiling the rice and then making a sugar syrup (chashni) and ......more in the same vein.

My method for dummies works great for all of us who want to make the Jarda/Zarda without the hassle.

Manikaran in pics: Just a glimpse

Manikaran is a picturesque spot in Himachal Pradesh (India). A bone rattling bus journey away from the plains but is every bit worth the jolts and discomfort endured in the journey by road. The hot pools drain away the hurt and infuse happiness. The scenic beauty revives you.

The Story (in Punjabi)

Manikaran Sahib (Gurudwara)

The Shiva Temple (right next to the Gurudwara)

Shiva Tandava pose with vapour rising furiously from the rock: awe inspiring sight

Ramji temple a little away from the gurudwara but in the same complex

Naina mata temple 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Siddu: A delicacy from Kullu

Siddu, the local delicacy of Kullu that tastes just wonderful. 
Don't miss the sheen of melted desi ghee (clarified butter) poured on top before eating. 
The lightly spiced steamed flat dumpling is stuffed with poppy seeds and crushed walnuts
A tart pickle made from a local berry called 'bee dana' and a tomato garlic chutney complete the unassuming dish. 
We had it at the famed Rajni's counter in the Kullu Dussehra mela. 
Thanks Mr. Kamal Sharma for introducing it to us ignorant outsiders.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ramayana: another take on the epic

Ramayana by Jalabala and her team
I had heard about one lady performing multiple roles in the epic story of Ramayana and thought it must be boring to have just one person on the stage trying to convey the entire gamut of emotions and action all by herself.
Watching Jalabala and her team perform at the Akshara Theater in Delhi on a navratra night was an unexpected pleasure.
Jalabala was on the stage wearing a beautiful orange silk saree and sitting in a chair. She was Dashrath and Kaikeyi by turns.
There were long monologues in literary words and she delivered them as if she were just talking to someone. It was almost effortless. I could see how much effort had gone into this seeming effortlessness.
There was the old Dashrath and the insistent Kaikeyi in their personal quarters arguing over her wish for Bharat's accession to the throne and a 14 year banishment for Ram.
They sounded like any normal husband wife who were at an impasse. There was no theatrical Manthra coaching Kaikeyi to say this or that.
It was just one woman who thought her son should be king rather than her co-wife's son and she could ensure this would happen as the king owed her from before.
He had promised to grant two of her wishes for services rendered during a fierce battle.
And this is what she wanted NOW.
Or the king could deny her and accept that he was a LIAR.
This she knew he could not do as he would rather die than be called a liar.
" Raghu kul reet sada chali aayee pran jaye par wachan na jayee"
The king cried like a baby and implored her to relent but she refused.
Lights darkened on the scene and lit up the stage in a few moments again to show Ram, Sita and Laxman in their forest home.
Ram was suitably princely looking and also benevolent as a God would be. Sita matched him with impeccable acting and diction. ALL actors had their parts down pat and did not miss one cue or one word from the long literary dialogues and frequent monologues that many of them had.
Scene followed scene and we were transported to the traditional Ramlila held every year during Navratra to mark this epic story and its culmination in Dussehra and Diwali.
How lucky we are to have such enduring stories in our lives!
The actor playing Ravan was superb in his rendition of the learned but supremely arrogant king of the Golden Lanka . He inspired awe and fear, even fascination as evil is wont to do.
The mirage of the golden dear was suitably elusive and flighty and so attractive as to tempt Sita and then Ram to catch it as a gift for Bharat.
The girl playing the golden deer had also checked our online booking and issued our tickets earlier in the foyer. It was really great to see everyone pitching in any which way to get things done.
The girl playing Mandodri was ushering the audience to their seats in this tiny and intimate all wood theater. I was pretty thrilled by the entire experience.
The guard at the theater asked us to park the car right near the gate in a safe place as a favour because we were there to watch the play and maybe because it was just my daughter and I and the play was about to begin.
It felt great, personal and intimate. As if we were guests in their house and not ticket buying public who came to watch the play.
We were taken through the entire story in this confident manner with scenes that defined focal points of the story.
The best scene was probably the one wherein Ravan abducts Sita from her forest home. Sita's struggle to break free was really impressive and so real.
The subsequent planning for war on both sides and its execution were more symbolic than theatrical.
In this version the story was taken to the bitter end when Sita is troubled by her twin sons behaving like typical teens. She is calmed by the Rishi Balmiki in whose ashram she had taken refuge.
Jalabala was the calm Rishi and a distraught Sita by turns. And it was completely believable.
There was tomato soup on the house for all who wanted it and the writer and main patron made an impassioned plea to save the theater as the government seems to be doing some 'shenanigans' to take it away from them.
I am glad I have discovered them even if so late in the day.
They have been performing this play for almost forty years now. Their grandchildren and some other young actors have joined them and hopefully are learning from them to carry this tradition forward without a break.
This Sita, Dashrath, Kaikeyi, Balmilki all rolled in one must have others who can take on where the senior member leaves off.
I admired her sheer will power that allowed her to do so much even though the body betrays signs of age. The spirit soared in the sky and took us all with it.
Do watch it if you get the chance to do so. You will not regret it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wella Hair Color - The Complete Truth

Wella Wall of Facts

Wella History Sheet and Mile Stones
Ammonia free is not damage free.

 This is the take away from the cool Wella meet that we just experienced at the Wella International Studio at the Select City Walk Mall in Saket, New Delhi.
Beautiful color that protects your hair and strengthens it at the same time is a dream for most women who want to color their hair.

The Class for Scientific Facts

The Practical area

 Just words cannot make it happen though.
One needs to know the product that one puts on one's hair thoroughly.
 Hair is considered to be the crowning glory.
Our precious hair  is just as sensitive and delicate as skin.
If one protects one's skin with sunscreen and a hundred other things then one does need to protect one's colored hair too with color protection shampoo.
It is just as prone to be ruined by the UV light as skin is.
So why should it be neglected?
Know your color before you apply it or allow the salon to use it on your hair.
There is a hype in the market for ammonia free hair color. But it does not tell the complete truth.
Hair color that does not have ammonia has MEA which is far worse than ammonia.
It stays in the hair longer and is more difficult to get out of the hair.
Ammonia smells while evaporating but is then gone out of the hair unlike MEA.
Wella is not ammonia free but it is MEA free and that says a lot chemically.

Conclusion: if you are looking for superior color that protects your hair, choose Wella.

Wella meet participants interacting

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mayonnaise: Home made

When I first had a scrumptious creamy layered sandwich somewhere I could not understand how butter could be so creamy and taste so good.
A more educated in the outside food department person told me it was mayonnaise that gave the sandwich that taste.
I began my quest to get, find, buy, learn, make or steal the creamy wonderful spread to feel that taste again.
After many moons and many adventures and disasters I found the perfect recipe that I will now share with you selflessly.
After all good things are meant to be shared.

Rule of thumb and fingers.
Remember that you need SEVEN things.
Even after you forget or lose this recipe you will remember the number SEVEN and it will bring the recipe back to your mind.

Eggs, oil , sugar, salt, pepper, yellow mustard, vinegar or lime juice. (Seven in all. Count, if you don't believe me.)

Eggs: 2
Oil: about 1 cup (olive, salad oil or any other nice clean smelling refined oil)
Sugar: two table spoons to start with and you can vary as per your preference
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh ground yellow mustard seeds 1 table spoon
Vinegar/lime juice about two table spoons. vary as per taste.

Break two eggs and put them in the blender jar (large one that you use to make cold coffee, milk shake etc.)

Add salt, sugar, salt, pepper and ground mustard powder.
Run the blender for 45 seconds or so. Check. It should look nice and all mixed up.
Add a little bit of oil through the vent in the blending jar, keep the blender on and keep adding more oil as it keeps getting absorbed by the mixture inside the jar.
you will be able to add about 3/4 of a cup when the mixture emulsifies and you see a smooth, light creamy product in the blender.
Add the vinegar/lime juice and give it another whirrr (blend for another 5-10 seconds).
Adjust sugar, salt, vinegar as per your preference.
Remove into a clean glass bottle, keep in the fridge and use as required.

Keeps well for about three four days.

Note: Remember SEVEN things and count them on your fingers to ensure you have not missed out on anything.

Recipes using mayonnaise will follow. Watch this space.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Take your chance, baby!

Garhi bahar nikalo.

Take your chance baby.

 ( Dialogue from 'Life in a Metro')

Never will there be a time when everything is just perfect.
So, do it now.
With all its imperfections and likelihood of nasty surprises on the way, still you will be on your way.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vegetarian Fish Fingers

Here is a recipe from my random Army cookery classes conducted by senior ladies for newbies like me who were stuck at pakoras and potato wafers and could not make another snack to save their lives.
We were first fed these at the lady's house and then taught how to make them so that we were motivated to learn them and actually try them out.
This became a favourite over time and was made again and again for the frequent parties that we hosted for friends and family.

1 glass diluted milk (3/4 milk and 1/4 water is ok)
1/2 glass of dry roasted suji (semolina made from wheat)
4 cloves garlic minced fine
1 cup of grated processed cheese
Salt and pepper to taste.
Oil to grease the tray and to deep fry

Heat milk in a pan, preferably in a karhai.
When it becomes quite hot but is not boiling yet, add the dry roasted suji slowly, mixing well to ensure there are no lumps.
Add the garlic, salt ,pepper and cheese too.
Keep stirring till you get a mass in the pan.
Put it into a greased plate or thali. smooth the surface with a small bowl or spatula so that there is an even layer about 3/4 inch thick all around.
Let it cool.
Cut into fingers. Remove from the plate.
Deep fry in hot oil till a beautiful pink.
Drain on absorbent paper.
Serve with tomato sauce and green chutney.

This quantity is enough to fill one large plate and serve 4-6.

Variation: If you want to make a healthier version, brush them with some oil and bake in an OTG till light pink/brown.

I promise everyone will ask you what went into these.

Sorry, no photo available. It was easier to remember the recipe and write it all down rather than actually make it. Send me the pictures of the end product and I will post their links here. :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Home-made pizza

Home-made pizza

Hot Pizza from one's own kitchen can be just as tempting, tasty and satisfying as the ordered one.
It is quite simple to make and gives one the choice to add or not add things as per one's taste.

Pizza base (bought from the market)

For pizza sauce:
Tomatoes- two large or three medium sized
Onion- one cut in small pieces
Capsicum- one cut in small pieces
Garlic- four large cloves or eight smaller ones peeled and crushed
Any oil or butter as per your choice a few tea spoons

For toppings:
One onion cut round and separated into rings
One capsicum (green, yellow, red as per availability and your choice) cut into rings after de-seeding
some fresh corn kernels, baby corn cut length wise or in roundels
Two mushrooms cut as per preference
Non vegetarians can use shredded cooked chicken, salami or whatever else is available or desired.

A large piece of processed cheese Amul/Verka/Mother dairy or whatever you can find easily.
Grate the cheese. About half a cup but you can vary this quantity as per your wish.

For Sauce:
Heat a pan and add two spoons of oil/butter in it. Add the onions and saute till transparent, add the garlic, small cut capsicum and stir for a minute or so.
Add the three tomatoes cut small. Add salt to taste. Stir  well and cover. Cook on low gas for a few minutes till tomatoes are cooked.
If you want a smooth sauce blend it in the mixer. I prefer the sauce to be chunky plus it is less work so I let it be as it is.
You may want to add a spoonful of tomato sauce to it to improve color and spread-ability. (No such word I know but you get the idea. No?)

Heat the oven at 160 degrees.
 (It depends on your oven and what works best it in. Generally, the oven should be medium hot. I made this in a round oven but an OTG works out better for pizza. Microwaves generally produce anemic looking pizzas.)

Grease a baking tray.
Put one pizza base on it. Brush it very lightly with olive oil/butter/refined oil.)
Spread the home made pizza sauce on it. The quantities mentioned above are enough for two medium sized pizza bases.
Arrange the rings of onions, capsicum, mushrooms, baby corn, and other ingredients as per your wish.
Sprinkle grated cheese on top.
Put the tray in the oven.
Bake for about fifteen minutes. Keep checking (from outside) to see that it does not get burnt.
Ideally the cheese should melt and ooze around and the base should look nicely toasted/brown where it is visible near the edges.

Remove from the oven.
Sprinkle oregano, chilli flakes or black pepper  if that is what you like.

Cut into wedges with a round pizza knife or whatever knife works best for you.
Eat while it is still hot.

Be proud of yourself for having done it all at home.
Experiment with the toppings and sauce as you gain confidence.

There are no rules here. Just do your own thing.

P.S: 1.If you can manage to get bread dough from a local bakery, use that as the pizza base. Cooking time will be more then.
2. If pizza base is not available, use bread slices as the base. It tastes great plus has the advantage that you can use Atta bread or brown bread.

Another home style version 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Punjab Village style: Sawan festival

How is it that things that we experienced in childhood stay with us forever?
Tucked away in some corner of the brain and popping up suddenly out of the blue to surprise and delight us.
The other day I saw a picture of a beautiful spread of rice dishes that are made in Tamil Nadu on the occasion of the first day of Sawan.

It reminded me of the signature dishes of Punjab that are cooked in the month of Sawan.

In Punjabi language Sawan is pronounced as /saun/ with a hard /n/ at the end.
Kheer and Poorha are the signature dishes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

15-minutes to plate: Instant Dhokla made in Microwave

All of us love food.
Many of us want to cook but feel intimidated by the elaborate preparation, sourcing of ingredients, techniques, kitchen gadgets and hours and hours of labour involved.

Here is an endeavour begun as a tribute to all those who are willing to experiment and reap the fruit of their labour and eat it. (Please excuse the pompous dialogue and mixed metaphor).

We need 15 minutes or so, simple, inexpensive ingredients and basic kitchen equipment.

Recipe 1:

Instant Dhokla made in Microwave

Instant Dhokla_1

Instant Dhokla_2

Besan (Gram flour): 3 ladles heaped
Suji (Semolina): 1 ladle heaped
Curd: 1 cup
Ginger, garlic, green chillies paste: 1 tsp
Salt: to taste
Turmeric: a pinch (optional)
Sugar: 1-1/2 tsp
Fruit Salt (Eno): 2 tsp
Lemon: 2
Oil: 1tsp
Mustard seeds: 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves: 1 sprig (10-15 leaves)
Green coriander leaves: a few chopped small

The quantities given here are enough for four people but I am sure two can polish it off too. Keeps well in fridge for a couple of days.

Take the besan, suji, salt, ginger-garlic-green chillies paste, 1/2 tsp sugar, turmeric in a biggish bowl.
Add the curd to it and mix well to make a batter like that made for pakodas.
 Make sure there are no lumps. You may add a little water to get the right consistency.
Add two level tea spoons of the fruit salt. Squeeze the juice of one lemon on top of the fruit salt. You will see instant bubbling/foaming. Mix it in gently. Ensure that it is distributed well in the entire batter.
Do this quickly because otherwise the bubbles will be lost and the batter will become flat.

Grease a microwave proof flat dish and pour the batter into it.
Put it in the microwave and cook for 4 minutes. Let the microwave stay as it is for another couple of minutes.
Check if the Dhokla is cooked by inserting a dry knife. If it comes out clean then the Dhokla is done.

On a hot tawa /girdle/frypan, put a tea spoon of oil.
 Add mustard seeds when the oil is hot.
Add curry leaves and a few green chillies slit length wise.
 Stir for a few seconds. Add half a cup of water. Add a spoon of sugar and the juice of a lemon.
Let it come to a boil. Pour the tempering over the cooked dhokla. Sprinkle the chopped green dhania.
Cut the dhokla into pieces as per your wish.

Find green chutney, coconut chutney, or tomato ketchup or all of them.

Eat. Serve if you like.

Alternatively steam the same batter in lightly oiled Idli moulds in a pressure cooker (without putting the weight on the steam vent)/ steamer. It will take about ten minutes. Remove from moulds, cut into pieces and add tempering.

I have been told that one can cook the same dhokla in an electric rice cooker too.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ruma Roka the down to earth pioneer

The video of Ruma Roka blew me away. Such simplicity, such passion, sheer determination to do something for people who need it most and are the most neglected part of society.
She is all heart and conveys that with her simple words and gestures.
Rare would be a person who does not get infected by her enthusiasm.
We happen to live in Noida and I am determined to go find her and make my contribution to the cause of helping those who are differently-abled.
If she can do it so can we all.
All we need is the conviction that it can be done.
Ruma is working toward developing employable people who would be a success wherever they may go to work.
She has lit the spark. We need to keep it going and make it into a full blown fire that will light people's lives.
Thank you Ruma.

Franklin Templeton Investmentspartnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cheese in Illinois

Ishita was extremely happy to be studying in Illinois University at Champagne Urbana for her student exchange year.
Her room in the hostel had a Microwave and a mini fridge. These two trusty companions helped her to feed herself for the entire duration of her stay at the university.
She is thrifty and vegetarian to boot so with the limited choices available she was happy to fend for herself and in the process experiment with food.
She has always been in a structured environment where food has been the last thing on her mind as it magically appears when it is time to eat. :)
In Illinois it was another story.
She bought the groceries, stored them and used them to feed herself.
While she was still new, she bought a carton of milk which had around four liters of milk.
She consumed some of it in the first few days and then noticed that the rest of the milk in the carton tasted funny.
Those days Skype used to keep us connected for hours at a stretch every day. She asked me what could have happened and how she could fix it.
I told her she could make cheese with the off color milk.
She had a small half litre borosil bowl that was her one all-purpose utensil.
She began by taking some milk in it and putting it in the microwave with some lime juice added.
Soon she saw cheese in the bowl, drained the whey and saved the cheese. She was elated as it tasted good and was something that she could recognize, use and eat.
It was almost as if she was the first person in the world to make cheese from milk.
There was plenty more where the first batch came from. She did it again and again till all the milk was used up and she had a big mug full of cottage cheese.
Oh, she was so proud for not having wasted the milk and having a supply of cottage cheese that she relished over the next few days. On bread, in her mixed veg salad, and just like that.

She did set the fridge to a lower temperature and none of the other cartons that she bought later turned sour or were made into cheese.
That first carton had taught her a lot.
Good lesson for the price of one milk carton.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Letters in a sand storm

Parveen and I have been inseparable since babyhood. I don't remember how and when we first became friends. We just have been. This is a fact that has been accepted by all around us. They let us be.
This incident is from when we were around seven years old. I was visiting them in Nasirabad, a small town near Ajmer, deep inside our beautiful Rajasthan.
I can see many sandy hills around in my mind's eye even though I could not find them later when it visited Nasirabad as an adult.
One day, my uncle, parveen's father wrote many letters to friends and family, sealed them and gave them to us to post in the letter box which was some distance away.
We left together, parveen and I and walked toward the letter box. We were absorbed in telling each other our endless stories and were not paying much attention to the letters in my hand.
Suddenly a gust of wind came and tore the letters away from my hand.
We ran to catch the letters that had immediately taken on a life of their own and scattered with the sandy wind. If we ran one way, we saw another letter blowing tantalising away the other way. We managed to catch two of the letters with great difficulty and the other two I think were just no where to be seen. They were borne on the sand storm to a destination chosen by the wind.
We were terrified at this fiasco and did not know what to do.
Self preservation won, even at this young age. We posted the two left over letters And came back home quietly. No body asked us and we did not tell that some of the letters had Been lost.
Many days pased. Our worry lessened and we went our way normally.
I came back to Delhi to my own home with the secret safe.
Many months later when we met again, we told uncle of what had happened that day.
He said that he had wondered why he had not received replies to his letters.
He asked us why we had not told him then. He could have just written more letters to replace the lost ones.
We had no answer to this logical question and just stood quietly with lowered eyes. The sand storm had literally stolen those letters from us.
I can still see ourselves running wildly in the sand storm trying to catch those elusive inland letters.
This just cemented our friendship even more.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Plane Ride On Bicycles..

Prakash was posted in Agra at that time.

'Posted' is the term used to indicate the place where an Army man is stationed, placed or sent.
These are common questions in defense circles," Where is he posted?"
 "When are you expecting your posting?", Or the more dangerous, "When I was posted in XYZ...." Run for your lives when you hear that because you are in for an hour long story of the man's exploits when he was a strapping lad in the Army.

Friday, June 21, 2013

To Stop Violence Against Women: Group Therapy Could Work

While wasting time in one of the more popular threads in Indiblogger, I read Nisha's appeal to bloggers to write for Ring the bell.
She said that even posting some useful links will help.
I am pasting some links on this subject.
These talk about stopping domestic violence, bringing about change in the way women are treated in our country and thus leading to REAL CHANGE.

These are links to some blog posts written earlier for Ring the Bell are also pasted below. These have not been submitted as main entries now as these are not fresh and have not been written for this drive.

Group Therapy as treatment:
I read a report in The Chicago Tribune that talked about having a support group for wife beaters or others who knew only one way to control others and that was by hitting them or abusing them.
They are asked to join a group therapy session to help them work out their basic issues that lead them to resort to violence.
The session runs on the same principles as Alcoholic Anonymous.
People get together and turn by turn talk about why they use violence in their lives and what can they do to stop it.
 They are encouraged to not indulge in violence, one day at a time.
The longer they can manage without resorting to violence, the more the chance that they can stop using it altogether.
This presupposes that the person is willing to change.
It may even be an activity that they are forced to perform as a legal measure. That means if they don't attend the meeting they go to jail.
This is an idea worth exploring in our Indian context too.
If we can have Sharab mukti and drug mukti drives, we can also have violence mukti ones.
Most of the times, many of these issues are inter related. The domestic help who comes to work with bruises on her face and back has been beaten up by a drunk-out-of-his-mind husband.
A drug addict could rough up any one in the family to get money for his fix.

The more I think about it, the more logical it sounds.
We have tried many other options to stop people from beating up their wives and daughters.
Why not try this one too?
It could work.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Warriors......To Fight Evil

We are warriors.
We don't have swords, guns, missiles, or bombs but we are still warriors.
What are warriors and why do I insist that we are those?

Dictionary meaning:
Chicago Manual Style (CMS):
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):
BibTeX Bibliography Style (BibTeX)

  [wawr-ee-er, wawr-yer, wor-ee-er, wor-yer]  Show IPA
a person engaged or experienced in warfare; soldier.
a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.
1250–1300; Middle English werreieor  < Old North French,  equivalent to werrei er to war1  + -eor -or2

war·ri·or·like, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Five Generations Connecting

The other day someone said on Twitter that there will be a time when our grandchildren will say," Oh, our grandparents were so cute. They used to send SMS to each other on iPhone."
It was hard for me to imagine the time when that will happen.
I wondered what would be used by people in the future to connect to each other then.
The answer was that the future is still unseen. The inventions that will be there at that time cannot even be imagined now.
Makes sense.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tempting Taste Buds: Missing Her

Life can be traumatizing for a retired person who has lost his wife of 65 years.
He is at a loose end in a huge house.
 What is the meaning of this life?
 Why stay alive?
One misses one's wife for various reasons. She was the companion, the friend, the go to person and general man Friday who made life meaningful.
She cooked, kept everyone in line, and maintained cordial relations with the hordes of pesky relatives and others with a smile. Every one just loved her.
Without her, the buffer is gone.
Everyone wants a piece of the main man.
The questions are many and diverse.
"What to do about this? How is this to be handled? What should we cook? Do you want this or that?"
 A hundred questions dog his footsteps wherever he moves.
 He wants to stay quiet, not have to deal with anyone and be generally left alone.
But yes, he must be served tasty food at the right time every  day as per his need. Just a little in quantity but of impeccable quality.
He misses his wife so much and talks to her photo as if she were still there.
One major topic is the food that she cooked for him and how no one else seems to have any idea how to cook right.
 She knew the various tricks needed to make something taste just perfect. Yummmm soul satisfying food.
She is a tough act to follow for any one.
Daughters, daughter in law, cook, dhaba wala, neighbours, other relatives. No one cooks like she did.
Would the Kitchens of India ( Chicken Darbari and Chicken Methi do the trick?
Will he like them as he liked the chicken curry that she cooked?
Even though a vegetarian, she cooked chicken for him, grumbling, and making him put the raw chicken into the pot so that she did not have to touch it by hand. It came out perfectly seasoned. Such was her expertise.
I am going to find out if this chicken out of a packet thing works for him. If it does, then his issue of tasty food will be solved. He can open a pack and have a gourmet party whenever he feels like it.
Here is to hoping!
Anything is possible. No?

Open Jail in Delhi: Hark back to the movie Do Ankhen Barah Haath

I was attracted to the news item in The Times of India that an open prison was being started in Delhi.
Those prisoners who were  serving a sentence for five to ten years would be eligible to stay in it. Another requirement was that prisoners should have displayed model behavior during their time in jail. They should not have been a part of any organized gangs outside the prison or inside.

These prisoners will be allowed to take up jobs outside the prison and will go to work from 9-5 like other regular folks and will come back to their cells in the evening.

What a novel concept! But is it really that new?

My mind went back to a beautiful black and white classic from Indian Cinema, Do Ankhen Barah. Haath (1957).
An idealistic jailer tries the Open Jail experiment with six hardened criminals who look so scary that one would not want to be an enclosed space with them. He is discouraged by all but refuses to give up his idea.
The jailer represents the Do ankhen (two eyes) and the six prisoners represent the barah haath (twelve hands).
Initially the criminals try all stunts but cannot shake off the two eyes watching them. Slowly, they are transformed into normal, social beings who take responsibility and prove that the jailer was right.
People can transform themselves when they really want to.
There was a scene in the movie where the criminals turned farmers go to the farmers' market in a near by town to sell the farm produce. The sheer joy of that unsupervised visit is heaven for these hardened men.
The classic song 'Ei maleik tere bande ham' that we have all sung in school assemblies is from this beautiful movie.

It is funny how something jogs your memory and leads you to a different world altogether.

 References: Wikipedia, Youtube

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Amritsar to Kohat (Pakistan) by train

Prakash was 14 and restless. Full of energy, bravado and the need to do something new every day, every hour, every minute.
He was no different from any other 14 year old boy from that time or any other time.

Aparnath, his father, had five other children at that time.
He had nine children in all, seven sons and two daughters, a good number in those pre-partition days. Most families had the same or similar numbers as child bearing went on till it stopped on its own in due course of nature.
His eldest son Ram Saran Das was a havaldar in the British Army and was posted at Kohat.
In pre-partition India, Kohat was a big Army cantonment up North.

The decision
Aparnath decided to send Prakash by train to Kohat. He thought this would be a good way to channelize the boy's energies and also get some work done.
He wanted to send some home-made ghee and pinnis for Ram Saran. Also called laddu in some places, pinni is a home made sweet made with gram flour, ghee, sugar, and dry fruits. It keeps for a long time and serves as emergency rations for travelers, soldiers, and children in hostels. It is a common gift from loving mothers and grandmothers to sons even now in India and Pakistan.

The Preparation
Accordingly, a big empty ghee tin (peepa) of 15 ltr capacity was procured. This was a common way to carry things on journeys. An old ghee tin was cleaned, fitted with a lid and latch.
This tin/peepa was filled with gifts from home, locked, and the key was handed over to Prakash. This was his only luggage apart from a change of clothes (Pathani Salwar Kurta) and a new pair of shoes bought from Amritsar for Ram Saran Das. These he carried in a thaila (small cloth sling bag).
The new shoes fitted Prakash perfectly and thus would fit his elder brother too as they were the same size.

The journey
The journey started very early in the morning in a tanga (horse driven carriage) from Rokhe, a village in tehsil Ajnala, district Amritsar.
Aparnath and Prakash reached Amritsar railway junction in about an hour and an excited Prakash boarded the third class compartment of the train going to Lahore from Amritsar Railway junction.
 The seats were made of wooden slats and the compartment was crowded. As per custom whoever put a sheet or other possession on the seat first became its owner for the duration of the journey.
Prakash stood in a corner and put his locked peepa down on the floor. He hoped that when the train started the owners of the seats would relent and he would be adjusted on the berth.

His father gave him many instructions as to how to behave during the journey and what to say to his brother when he reached Kohat. He also gave him a packet of  fresh home made paranthas that were to sustain him in this journey, his first one all alone in a train.

Google map of the rough route from Amritsar (India)  to Kohat (Pakistan) as it exists now is at this link.

The route was some what different in 1942 when this journey took place.
Actually, there is no real link now as there are two countries (India and Pakistan) now instead of one as it was then and one needs a difficult-to-obtain visa to cross the border.

Prakash made friends with a family travelling in the compartment and sat near them. They were also going to Rawalpindi, his next destination on way to Kohat. He felt reassured.
This first leg of the journey was quite short and was covered in a few short hours.
It was mid day when they reached Lahore. They asked around about a connecting train to Rawalpindi and found that it was due to arrive in some time.
The other family wanted to stay put at the same platform while they waited for the train.
In their experience, the train came to any platform that was free at the time so they did not want to move all of their luggage to another one before hand.
Prakash had no such restrictions and he moved toward the designated platform with his ghee tin and thaila. He went on to the railway bridge that connected various platforms and saw the platform number two where the train was supposed to arrive from up there. He had no clue how to reach the platform and thought of jumping down from the over bridge directly onto the platform.
 While he was weighing his options, a kindly gentleman passing by, sensed something amiss and asked him what the problem was.
Prakash told him of his dilemma. The gentleman told him to not jump down from there as there was a perfectly good staircase connecting the bridge to the said platform.
Prakash was delighted to find this easier way to the platform.
He boarded the train to Rawalpindi as it arrived and this time was lucky enough to grab a seat.
More co-passengers and conversation about who was going where and why.

Prakash kept to himself mostly and did not even open his packet of paranthas though he was hungry. He did not want to eat in the crowd where strangers could look at his food.

He reached Rawalpindi and changed to a train going to Kohat late in the night. He managed to find an upper berth in this train, settled his luggage and slept through the night and the rest of the journey.

He dreamed that some one was shouting his name.  Prakash, Pachhe, Oye Pachheya.
He sat up with a start.
It was early in the morning and the train had reached the Kohat Railway station.
Ram Saran Das alerted by his father's post card had come to the railway station to receive Prakash.
 He was shouting his name to locate him among the passengers of all hues getting down from the train.
Prakash sat up and looked out the window. His brother, handsome and resplendent in his havaldar style independence was outside the train. He had also brought along a friend for company.
Prakash was very happy to see his elder brother and called out to him.
He was received with much hugging and laughter.
Ram Saran Das took the ghee tin off his hands and asked him about every one in the family back home, as they walked to the barracks where Ram Saran lived.
The ghee tin was opened with much mirth and the first round of pinnis were passed around.
Prakash told them of the paranthas from home which were still uneaten. These were quickly warmed and demolished by this band of boys.
The new shoes were tried on and were a perfect fit. Every thing was just right.
 Prakash was very proud of himself at having made this long and complicated journey all on his own.

He was much impressed with his brothers' life style and decided that he too should join the army when it was time for him to work.
He spent a week at Kohat and enjoyed the new place.

Ram Saran Das gave him a hundred rupee note, his salary for two months, to take back to their father for home expenses. He also gave him some change to spend on the way back home.

Prakash put both the note and the coins in his khisa (pocket) and felt very important. He felt the crisp note many times on the way back to Amritsar to ensure that it was safe.
After a long journey changing three trains and a tanga, he reached the village adda late at night.
He took out some coins to pay the tanga wallah.
He was excited to go back home and share all the news and his adventures with his father and other members of the family.
They were happy to see him back safe and sound.
Aparnath asked him after some time if Ram Saran had sent something for him.
It was normal for earning sons to send almost all of their salaries back home for the family's use.

 Prakash said that he had sent a hundred rupees note. He put his hand in the pocket and was stunned to find that there was no crisp note in his pocket. He checked all his pockets several times but the note was just not there.
He felt sad at having lost the note maybe at the last stop where he gave the coins to the tanga wallah. He had brought it so carefully through out the journey and had lost it so close to home.
It was a lot of money in those days and could have helped to buy  many things for the entire family.
The hundred rupee note was not found even though Tara devi, Prakash's mother went looking for it at the village adda the next morning.
There was nothing to do but to accept the loss stoically.

 This was a spoiler in the otherwise exciting adventure that Prakash had. But young as he was, he soon forgot all about the lost note.
This journey had whetted his appetite for more adventure and led to many more such in future.

References: Wikipedia, Google maps

Monday, June 3, 2013

Using photos and drawings from the internet. Copyright,credits and what is public domain?

There is an important question that concerns all bloggers. How to illustrate the articles that they write?

The article could need the picture of an animal, machine, family, girl, old man, cute baby, lush green spinach, yummy looking chocolate cake or some such.
The obvious way is to click a photo using one's own camera and use it.
Or go through one's collection of old and new photos and choose the one that best illustrates the text in the blog.
The creative ones draw their own line figures, drawings, or cartoons.
So far so good.
What if you don't have the photo or drawing you need and also don't have the means to get it quickly and easily?
Simple, you just search the internet ocean with the key word of the image required and presto there are many that match your needs.

Well, can you and would you just copy and paste the ones you like best and that is that?
I know one is tempted to do this as the easiest option available.
Here is the catch: All the photos, images, drawings and illustrations that you get by any online search are owned by the people who originally clicked them or created them. (I know you already know this in your heart.)

Well, some of the artists may have generously donated their creations to the world and you can use these for free giving due credit to the original creator.
Most others are copyrighted  material and it is illegal to use them in your blog, article or elsewhere.

Who is to catch me, you say.
 Well, no one may catch you given the vastness of the online world but you are stealing all the same.And you can be caught too if someone tries to.
This is plagiarism. Plain and simple.

So, are there any pictures or illustrations that you can use in your content without worrying about propriety or legality?
Yes. The images that belong in the PUBLIC DOMAIN can be used by all and no permission is required for these.
What is public domain?
No, these are not images that you see in public on Facebook, Twitter or personal blogs.
 All of those are copyrighted material too and you cannot use them unless you ask for and get the author's permission.
Images in public domain are those that have been used and seen so often that they are not restricted for use any longer. For example, a picture of Shakespeare, Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi that has appeared and re-appeared in countless places. I know the examples are not adequate but you can research and find images that are thus available.
For all other images, you have to ask for permission before you use them.
You may get the permission for free with or without the rider that you will give due credit for the image to the owner.
Even if the author does not ask for a credit line it is common courtesy to give due credit as mentioned.

Or you may be asked to pay for the right to use the image and the price could be any amount depending on its perceived value.

This is the right way, the professional way as I have learnt working in the publishing industry.

Please don't use others' images without going through due process of permissions and credits.

Update: I was thinking where one could find some images for use. I researched the internet, like all of you do I am sure and found something which will really be helpful to those looking for images that they can use without breaking any laws. This is a comment under an article. Click on the link given as 'here' and you will see thousands of images on Flickr that you can actually use if you don't have any of your own.

Pete Stevens says:
You can freely use images from flikr that are under the creative commons attribution licence. Just add a credit for the photo.
You can search the Flikr creative commons here

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Amritsar: Kulfi from Hall Bazar

If you visit Amritsar there are many must do things.
The obvious ones are to visit the Golden temple, Jalian wallah bagh and the Wagah border.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Darbar Sahib: Golden Temple Amritsar

A few pics from my visit to Amritsar, the city known the world over as the city of the Golden Temple.
Golden Temple is a place of peace, beauty and spiritual calm. It has many moods. Judge for yourself.

Model of Golden Temple at Amritsar Railway Station.

The model of Golden Temple that greets visitors at the Amritsar Railway Station.

The 'Real Thing' in all its majesty.

Golden Temple in the evening light.

 Molten gold in a pool of nectar. Amritsar literally means pool of nectar. Locals pronounce Amritsar as Ambarsar.

Golden Temple in late evening light.

Golden glitter in the late evening.

Amritsar Railway Station

Amritsar Railway Station in the early morning.

Amritsar Railway Station: another view.

Amritsar Railway Station: another view.

Baba Atal: The twin pillars on the Golden Temple parikrma.

Baba Atal: another view.

Golden Temple entrance gate.

Golden Temple entrance with the verse," Ditthe sabbe thaun nahi tudh jehiya". (Translation: I have seen all places. None match your grandeur.)

Molten Gold which leaves one speechless and spellbound.

To visit Amritsar and see Golden Temple with one's own eyes is a blessing and a privilege.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Boy or Girl?

Boy or Girl?
This is the first question asked as soon as a baby is born.
 The mother wants to know.
 The family waiting outside with bated breath and fingers crossed wants to know.
 The neighbors, relatives, and even strangers who see you walking with a baby in your arms want to know.

 How does it matter what the gender of the baby is?
It is a spanking new human being who has just arrived on this earth to reiterate the fact that "God has not lost faith in humanity."

The arrival should be a celebration of life, of basic perpetuation of human race, for which nature tolerates us on this earth despite our extremely provocative and obnoxious behavior while we are here.

I know of many people who ask/have asked this question even before the baby has been born.
With the technology available and people who would do anything for money available, it is easy to find out the gender of the baby even before she is born.
I purposely said 'she' because she is the one who needs to fear this line of thought. She who is likely to be murdered in the womb before she even becomes a reality.
And don't be fooled by the law and the rules that make it illegal to determine the sex of the fetus.
 Despite those laws and rules this trade flourishes and makes the practitioners rich.
It is blood money. Plain and simple.
Do they care? Of course not.
And why would they when people want to remove the RISK of having a  girl instead of a boy?
All is well! All is well!
Hunh? No. It is not.

I understand the whole cultural background of girls not being the preferred sex as babies for parents, families and even entire societies. This is such an abstract topic that one can read and hear about it dispassionately and keep calm.
What I cannot handle is parents who have the heart to get rid of their baby, their own flesh and blood just because she is a girl.
It appears monstrous to me.
Do they feel like murderers?
Are they treated like murderers?
Do they go to jail like the criminals that they are?
Because till they suffer the consequences of this murder, they will not stop.
Violence against the female will continue unabated.
We need to give her the chance to be born please.
I plead with all of you who are in this situation or who have others in their families and social circles in this situation.

Ring the bell. Bell bajao.
We will stop anyone we know from having the sex determination test before the baby is born.
If there is no test, there will be no murder of the fetus because it is female.

I am the mother of two beautiful girls who are our pride and joy. When my second baby was to be born, I was asked by many 'well wishers' to get the sex determination test done to rule out a second girl.
I did not budge. I am so thankful and proud.
 Actually this is the right way. Nature's mysterious way. To not know beforehand if it is a boy or girl. Find out only after the baby is born.
Is it a boy or girl?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Home style chocolate cake that tastes like a Slice of Italy

Yes I know this is not a food blog. But can anyone survive without food?
Specially when the food in question is a Chocolate cake?
I baked one the other day and it turned out so well that I was asked to share the recipe.

So here goes:
Ingredients for the Chocolate Cake: 
1  tea cup plain flour ( Maida)
1 cup cream or milk top (malai)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
Two heaped table spoons coco powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (meetha soda)
1 pinch salt.
Sieve together all the dry ingredients and keep aside.
Put cream/malai and sugar in a big bowl. Mix in one direction with a wooden spoon.
Add one egg at a time. keep beating.
When it is nice and smooth and all sugar has dissolved. Begin adding the dry ingredients slowly and keep beating slowly.
Meanwhile the oven should have been switched on and heated at 180-200 degrees C (at least 15 minutes in advance).
Line a cake tin with foil. Pour/scrape the cake mix into the tin. Put it into the hot oven. Bake for 45 minutes or so till done.
I have a round oven with glass top, so I look in to see what is going on. You can use your way to check this.
Switch off the oven when you think the cake has been baked but DON'T OPEN the oven. Let it cool naturally.

Make chocolate sauce.

2 tbsp butter or 1 tbsp clarified butter (desi ghee)
5 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp coco powder
1 tbsp corn flour or plain flour
1/4 cup water
Add 2 table spoons butter in a fry pan. Warm it on very slow fire. Add the coco powder and mix. Add the sugar. Continue to mix. 
Dissolve a spoon of plain flour/corn flour in 1/4 cup of water. Sieve it in to the coco powder mix in the fry pan. Keep mixing slowly on very low fire till it is thick and glossy. In about 1 minutes the chocolate sauce will be ready. Cool the sauce.
Assembling the cake:
Slice the cake into two layers horizontally. Spread chocolate sauce on the lower half. Put the top layer of cake on it. Spread more chocolate sauce on the top layer. Shave milk chocolate or any other chocolate from a chocolate bar onto the cake. Shave a few almonds too onto the cake. 
And it is all done. 

Admire your handiwork. And it is all done. 


N.B: Clean the plate better than I did before photographing your lovely chocolate cake. Send the pictures to me. :)