Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: The Wedding Photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal

 It's been a while since I read fiction and when I came across the synopsis of this book, I was intrigued. First, the title. I know an acquaintance of mine who does wedding photography and her work is amazing. Capturing the candid moments as the couple enters an important phase in life must be challenging but interesting too. So I was curious to know how they work and capture such brilliant pictures.

I got a good glimpse into their work through the life of the protagonist Risha Kohli. A good person at heart, cheerful, confident and passionate about her work. Through a chance encounter, she gets to meet Arjun Khanna - rich, talented, business guy who generally feels out-of-place in his world. How these two characters meet, fall in love and deal with their setbacks form the crux of this story.

I loved how the author has built Risha's character through specific incidents in the storyline that not only move the story forward but also elevates the character. The first section where Risha and Arjun meet and the events leading upto it were funny and witty. Once the Punjabi wedding part begins, it started to feel like a Karan Johar movie (due respect to him, I love some of his movies), especially the grand sets and costumes. The part with the nani character and her broken English gave a good laugh. As the wedding events progress, Risha and Arjun come close and realize their love for each other.  Up until this point, I loved how the story progressed.

I felt the third section where they face a certain setback could have been dealt with better. Love is built on trust and understanding. I couldn't accept Arjun breaking up with Risha without giving her a chance to explain herself. Also, the solution that solved the work-related issue that was bothering Arjun a lot is not really believable. I like all-is-good kind of endings and so towards the end, everything works out fine for the couple.

An easy read, funny and romantic - a good story for a Saturday afternoon. Monsoon is on its way, so save this book for a rainy day.

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

Thursday, April 07, 2016

How I stopped using white sugar

Around a month back, I waved a permanent goodbye to white, processed sugar from my pantry. That's the best decision I have made so far in 2016. "If sugar comes from sugarcane, why does it look so milky white?" - A question I was curious about when I was a kid. After reading up a lot about the kind of processing, bleaching and other processes that go into converting a sugarcane juice syrup into dry lump-free white sugar, I decided to put an end to it.

I use jaggery extensively for making Indian desserts like payasam/kheer. I also use it for baking sometimes. I use panankalkandu (palm sugar crystals) for adding to milk or to a porridge/kanji. The only purpose for which I was using white sugar was for sweetening my 2 cups of milk tea everyday. Though I reduced the quantity of sugar as I had written earlier, there was always a guilt feeling at the back of my head that I'm adding this artificial, chemical-laden substance to my tea.

I found the perfect alternative in the form of cane sugar. It's easily available these days. It's also perfect for baking needs.

Now if you are thinking "Why not sugar-free sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame etc?", these are again artificial, processed chemicals which I would like to stay away from. Stevia, being a plant-based sugar alternative seems okay but it's very expensive.

Ayurveda recommends that we include all 6 forms of taste in our everyday diet. So we don't have to stop indulging in sweet foods. Make sure you choose the "right" dessert to satiate your tastebuds - say No to sugar-loaded pastries, cakes, jams or spreads. Enjoy desserts made out of normal jaggery, palm jaggery, palm sugar, dates, honey, fruits etc but in moderation :-)

All store-bought packaged foods like biscuits, cookies, cakes, tetra pack juices, jams, sauces, aerated drinks etc are made with white sugar. Stay away from them as much as you can.

On World Health Day today (7th April), I highly encourage you to keep a distance from white sugar. All it takes is a little conscious effort for yours and your family's future wellbeing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

A relaxing long weekend at Mugilu, Sakleshpur

It's been more than 7 months since we took a trip outside Bangalore. That's so unlike me! Many changes in these past few months led us to settle into a routine. Now with one more change ahead of me, I felt it's high time we break out of this routine and head somewhere, up the mountains.

Once, I was having a conversation with a friend.
She asked me, "Are you a mountains person or a sea person? I'm a total sea person. Any holiday, I'll head to the beaches. What about you?".
I quickly responded, "I'm a mountains person always. Mountains and I share a special bond. They make me come alive. I'm so relaxed and at peace when I'm surrounded by hills, greenery, forests etc".

So when I plan a vacation, I always look for places surrounded by mountains. I had narrowed down on Chikmagalur and Sakleshpur. We had already drove to Chikmagalur (although way back in 2009). This place Mugilu came up a couple of times in my social media feed. What attracted me initially to this place was the vast expanse of open land, that would turn into lush-green meadows after monsoons. Bookings made, packing done and we started around 7 AM on a Friday morning. Unsure about good breakfast options in NH4, we stopped at A2B inside the city. After crossing NICE road and Neelamangala, it was a smooth ride to Sakleshpur. It was quite hot and there wasn't any breeze, even after reaching the Malnad terrain.

When we entered Mugilu, the friendly dog of the property named Shunti greeted us. She's such a sweet heart, always likes to lead the way when going for hikes, shows a lot of love and likes to be in the presence of guests, especially children. My daughter loved Shunti so much that she would hug her and cuddle her without any fear. Mugilu is a nice home stay amidst the coffee plantations that is run by a friendly couple, Sapna and Chandan. It has 4 cottages, each with a spacious bedroom and a balcony with a great view. We loved sitting on the relaxing chairs in the balcony and spent a lot of time, admiring the trees and mountains.

View from our balcony

One of the best things about Mugilu is the tasty home-cooked Karnataka style food. We loved every meal we had there, especially loved the saagu they serve with pooris, green tomato chutney and a capsicum sabji with peanut masala. Tasted amazing. The coffee was great too. The service was friendly and we also had some good conversations with Chandan during lunch.

The trek in the vast open space in the evening was awesome - great views, pleasant weather and a lovely sunset. We had a bit of rain in the afternoon the day we checked in, so that brought down the temperature. We met an interesting family there and we had some great conversations with them too. It was so nice to hang out with them. D also made a new friend with their 6 year old boy and so that gave us, parents, the time to have a chat :-)
The vast open-land / meadow

We drove to Subramanya temple on Saturday morning after breakfast. A smooth ride again, for around 1.5 hours. We luckily managed to get the darshan on time. The temple closed at 11:30 AM that day. After we came out of the temple, it felt so hot that we gobbled up glasses of nannhari juice, ice-cream, cucumber slices and tender coconut. We were told that the summer has already picked up in this part of the region and it's going to be a very bad summer this year :-(

We checked out on Sunday morning after breakfast and it was time to head home. The stay at Mugilu was so relaxing and rejuvenating, with no phone connection, 3G/4G, TV or Internet. I'm thankful to Vodafone for providing such bad connectivity :-) Folks who had Airtel were still connected and they were responding to their office emails on vacation ;-)

We have already made plans that we will visit Mugilu again in the month of Oct/Nov after monsoons. Would love to see the green meadows!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How I controlled my hair fall (and how you can too)

tl;dr answer - I stopped using shampoo.

Hairfall has become one of the common issues among women today. Hormonal changes, stress, increased body heat, hard water, lack of adequate nutrition, lack of proper sleep, PCOD/thyroid issues are some of the reasons why many women are facing hair fall, especially in urban areas. I've also been one among such women. After 3-4 years of taking multiple steps, I've finally managed to control it.

The first and most important step that has shown good results is that I have stopped using shampoo. Why this drastic step? I have tried 3-4 leading brands of shampoo that promised less hair fall and strong hair. They end up making the hair look so frizzy that you have to use their specific conditioner to get the straight look which would last for a day or two max. Once I had been to a parlor for hair wash and the lady was quick to spot and say "mam, your hair fall is very high. why don't you try this brand of shampoo?" She handed me a pack that was way too expensive which I politely declined. Another time, a lady suggested I go for hair straightening which is the latest "trend". Somehow, I feel that hair straightened that way looks too artificial (might be easy to manage ofcourse!)

It's been more than 4 months since I stopped using shampoo and I'm so happy that I've taken the step forward. It has not only benefitted my hair but also helping the environment a little by not sending chemical-loaded water into the sewage pipes. What's the alternative, you might ask. As I have been embracing the concept of "return to your roots" quite seriously with my food, I searched for answers from our ancestors. Years ago, my grandma used to apply warm gingelly oil on my scalp and then apply a paste of shikakai paste(soapnut powder) to wash my hair every Saturday. I used to hate this paste as a kid primarily because it would get into my eyes and burn like hell.

I got hold of a pack of shikakai powder from an organic fair sometime last year and then there's no looking back. Hairfall has reduced a lot and my hair feels good and dense. It acts as a natural conditioner too. During winters, I massage my scalp with coconut oil while for summers, I use gingelly oil. After leaving the oiled hair for 10-15 minutes, I apply the shikakai paste and rinse it off. That's it - easy, simple and effective.

Apart from this major change, I have also started including more curry leaves in my diet in the form of curry leaves podi and chewing the leaves that we generously add in our South Indian dishes (which we nicely collect in a corner of our plates to throw away). All other lifestyle changes that I have mentioned in my earlier posts on PCOD and migraine would also have helped me control my hair fall.

Shampoos are loaded with many harmful chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate, polyethylene glycol, parabens, diethanolamine etc. Please look at the ingredients list during your next purchase. The used shampoo water eventually gets into our lakes and rivers, contaminating the water bodies. The plastic packaging that we throw out every time a bottle gets over ends up in landfills.

Switching to natural alternatives that are not marketed day-in and day-out using celebrities and making tall promises is the right choice for many issues today.

P.S. If you are not able to find shikakai powder, try Meera herbal powder. It is usually stocked up in a corner in the bottom-most shelf of the shampoo rack. Or ask your grocer to procure it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The "instant" life

We wake up, we would rather grab a cup of instant coffee than take a few more minutes to prepare the traditional, filter coffee.
We fall sick, we would rather pop some antibiotics immediately than let the body's immune system to fight it out.
We feel pain, we would rather pop a pain-killer and get instant relief than try to understand why the pain has occurred in the first place.
We feel hungry, we would rather grab a pack of ready-to-eat food and stuff our mouths than prepare healthy snacks and stock up at home/office.
We want to cook, we would rather buy a pack of cut vegetables or sprouts and whip up something quick rather than cut the vegetables by ourselves.
We want to make dosa, we would rather buy the readymade batter pack than prepare the batter using a electric mixer/grinder at home.(Dear grandma, you really used that huge traditional Indian stone grinder? unbelievable!)
We don't get sleep, we would rather pop a sleep inducing tablet than try to calm our minds by doing pranayama/yoga nidhra.
We visit our extended family and we would rather buy a pack of chocolates/biscuits as a treat for the kids than spend some time preparing a healthy treat at home by ourselves.
We are over-weight/obese and we would rather buy shape-fit clothes than take up exercise everyday.

Numerous such examples of how we run towards "instant" shortcuts than seeking the "right" solutions. I can't help but yet again reflect back on my favorite line from Harry Potter when Dumbledore says "we have a choice between what's easy and what's right".

In Tamil, there is a very interesting word - "menakkedal" (மெனக்கெடல்). For some reason, I have fallen in love with this word. In English, it would roughly translate to "deliberate effort".

Our grandparents made the time for deliberate effort on activities that's important for their health as well as their family. Neither our parents nor we are ready to make this time.
Is it the easy availability of such "instant" shortcuts?
Is it the excessive, loud marketing that makes us believe that these shortcuts are indeed the solutions?
Is it that we are so time-starved?
Is it that we think these efforts are not worthy of our time?
Is it that our priorities are so different?
Is it that we are so addicted to technology and devices that a few minutes away from them makes us feel insecure?

Since I was born in early 80s, I have seen the lifestyle of then and now. I feel strongly that the present lifestyle is not sustainable - neither for us, our health, our relationships nor for the environment.

Let's embrace "deliberate effort" on the priorities that are important for the long term. Let's make time for them - our health, our relationships, our peace.