Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thinking of getting pregnant? Think correctly!

When you think of getting pregnant, when you plan it, you are not actually thinking of it as a process, rather as an outcome. Let me explain - when you plan on getting pregnant, what is the image in front of your eyes - you see yourself surrounded by an adoring husband and a cute little baby - THAT is the outcome - not the process.
You never see yourself going through the wrongly termed - "morning" sickness, or the moods that swing like a pendulum on gatorade, or the various aches afflicting body parts you did not know existed. You do not imagine the extreme aversion to foods, and their effect on you. All you think about is the happy baby in your arms. Even that is a myth, apparently. Babies are happy only for so much time, the rest of the time they are crying, pooping or sleeping!

But that is how it is!

Notwithstanding all these "sicknesses" , you look forward to your life changing completely. Again, I am not prepared for it - for life as i know it, to stop existing, and to morph into something completely different, sucked into a stratosphere where the baby is the center of your universe. You cannot prepare for it - how will you go about the preparation anyway? But you just know it is going to change, and it is a change you look forward to. 

As i let my body come to terms with the horror i have and the baby will continue inflicting on it, i rest peaceful in my mind. At least my mind has come to terms with it. However, since it is the body that has to bear the major brunt, my mind has considerately decided to wait for it to relax and accept in its own sweet time.

How quickly we want everything to materialize the moment we think of it! When we decided to start trying for a baby - i couldn't wait - it had to happen that very month, And then when it doesn't you start thinking of the worst case scenarios. And then it happened the next month - thanks to advanced pregnancy tests, and ovulation kits and other gizmos, we can expedite this phase of trying to make a baby. But ultimately, nature takes the lead - 9 months it has always been and 9 months it shall always be. 
And you think - how is it that we haven't come up with solutions to this lost gestational period as yet?
But, i honestly think, nature has been kind and understanding the impatience of mankind, has got this number down to the absolute least. The body just about adjusts in 9 months - anything less and it would probably rebel or give up.

This is just one of the many tangents that my thoughts seem to venture into, the majority is occupied with the best of thoughts! It is a game - if you are in, there is no turning back and if you are out, you cannot wait to get in.
Sometimes it is the disbelief that - this is actually happening, sometimes it is the sheer pressure - will i be able to cope? Often it is the day dreaming, marred by the occasional bout of sickness, many a times it is the joy of creating, the happiness of love.
Do you ever take time to get used to being pregnant? Do you sometimes forget that you are - Absolutely not!
It is something that is there at the back of your mind, always, ticking like a time bomb, never letting you forget that you are in a region full of minefields.
And when you see the little dot in the sac, its heart pumping viciously, you know this is as real as it gets! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

When i had the chance to meet the elusive 0.1%

We recently had a bed bug attack at our home.
Thankfully it was restricted to one room, and in its early stages. We launched a full scale counter attack - replete with chemicals, sprays, hot water, lots of washing, burning. The poor things had no chance of surviving that apocalypse.
And the counter attack was like Hitler's blitzkrieg - all at once, sudden, from all sides and lasted only 24 hours.   
No, there was no way a even single tiny bug could have survived. 

But as in all advertisements of toothpastes, insect repellents, sprays - the promise is to kill 99.9% of the germs. There is a margin of error, the absolutely incredible that survive - the 0.1%. You never know for sure if they exist or they are a figment of the advertiser's imagination to avoid future lawsuits. How can the attack kill all but this 0.1%? What is so special about them? Is it luck or something more basic, engineered into the very soul of their being? Are you born with it, or can it be taught and learnt? And if it can be taught and learnt, why has the percentage stayed a constant 0.1% ? The more you think about it, the more it starts sounding like a legend, whose authenticity can never be verified.

But i had the privilege of meeting a member of this elusive category.
Long after the darkness had set in, and flush with our victory we lay down for the long awaited peaceful slumber, who would have thought that it was not to be?
Sagar woke me up in the middle of the night, to ask me if something was still biting me? I thought - the poor thing has become obsessive. This is what killing does to your soul. But wait no - scratch scratch scratch - that does sound like me scratching my arm. No! It cannot be, it just cannot be.
Our minds refused to accept that any bug could have survived, it was just plain impossible!

Out came the flashlights, sheets were dusted, corners carefully searched and secured and we could not find anything, and then when we were just about to give up and accept that there is no real winner in a war - either you die or you lose your soul and accepting that this would haunt us forever- there we saw it move. A ting baby bug - right in the middle of the bed, crawling forward lethargically thanks to all the blood it had sucked out of us and consumed. Yes, it was there for us to see - the 0.1% is not a legend. They exist! And i wanted to stare at it, and follow it and see what its plans were. Oh, how i wished bugs could talk. I wouldn't mind asking this one for a cup of tea, getting to hear its tale of survival. 
And swat! Before the obscure chain of my thoughts could complete itself, Sagar, with rage on his face had killed the last surviving bed bug. And i just looked on in complete disbelief. 
There was no way i could have told him what my thoughts were - inviting a baby bug to tea - he would have had a field day with that! - but - i cannot believe he just killed the 0.1% category bug without a second thought! 
Wasn't he curious even a little bit?
I guess not, nothing is more important that his sleep and beware anything that tries to take that away from him!

Source of Image: memeshare.net

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tandoori Cauliflower

Adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s book – “Great Escape – India”

Excuse the photography, in my hurry to sample the dish, i couldn't keep still!

This is like rassam – you can have it with rice also.

Serves: 2

  1. Cauliflower – 10-12 large florets
  2. Water
  3. Dahi (curd) – ½ cup
  4. Ginger – 1 inch piece, grated
  5. Garlic – 3-4 cloves finely chopped
  6. Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
  7. Red chilli powder – ½ tsp
  8. Coriander powder – ½ tsp
  9. Salt
  10. Onion – 1 cut in rings
  11. Tomato puree – 1 tbsp
  12. Oil – 2 tbsp
  13. Garam masala – 2 tsp
  14. Chaat masala – 2 tsp


  1. In a pot of boiling water, add the cauliflower florets and keep them there for 2-3 minutes. Remove and put in a pot of ice cold water to refresh. Set aside
  2.  In a bowl, mix curd, ginger, garlic, turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, 1 tsp each   of garam masala and chaat masala.
  3. Add the florets to this marinade and coat well.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (Skip this step if time is a constraint, but refrigeration helps the flavors of the marinade to get infused in the cauliflower)
  5. When ready for cooking, preheat oven to 180 Celsius and grease a baking tray. Spread the  cauliflower mixture over it.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes – 15 minutes on both racks (top and bottom) and 15 minutes only on the top  rack. Keep checking to ensure the florets are not burning when heat is on top rack only.
  7. While the florets are being baked, heat 2 tbsp oil, and add onions, tomato puree. Sautee till onions  turn soft – about 5 minutes. Keep stirring. Add garam masala and chaat masala and continue to cook  for another 5-6 minutes. Keep warm.
  8. Once the cauliflower florets are done, top them with the onion rings and garnish with coriander.
  9. Serve warm

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Left hanging

The headlines today in most papers in India read out boldly - "Yakub to hang on his birthday for 257 deaths".

What do you feel when you read this?
The first thought i had was better late than never, next thought was maybe capital punishment is not such a bad thing (to make my stand clear - i am still unclear on what i feel about capital punishment, i am not vehemently for it, especially given our flawed justice system where an error / bribe may cost someone their life,  but i do believe some crimes fall under the rarest of rare category, where death must be awarded, with unfettered access to higher court appeals and mercy petitions. Well, i guess that means i am not against capital punishment).
Then i read the headline again, what is the point of telling the public that we are hanging the terrorist on his birthday?
What is this disgusting satisfaction that we are supposed to get for hanging a man on his birthday. It obviously is completely coincidental, but it could very well have been a fact kept out of the headline. Unless you are a person directly affected by the blast, why would you feel glad over hanging somebody on their birthday. I doubt the satisfaction derived even if you were a victim of the attack. I think after 22 years, we should be ashamed that it took so long to deliver justice to the victims and instead of making a big show of such a big failure on the part of our justice system, the hanging should quietly take place and announce in the paper the next day, just like Ajmal Kasab.
Justice delayed is justice denied.

The 1993 bomb blasts were the first 1st serial bombings that we had ever witnessed, the first time RDX was used for terrorist operations after WWII ( Source). If India had taken a tough and aggressive stance then, fast tracking the case through the courts, sentencing and carrying out those sentences with the speed of light, maybe we could have avoided a few of the later serial bombings.
Obviously, even after setting up a special court under TADA, the case took 10 years to complete - in September 2003.
The special court started handing out sentences in 2006 and now in 2015 comes the news of the hanging.
The main accused are still absconding.
Maybe in 20 years time we will catch them and in another 20 years we will sentence them to die on their birthdays. By then we will have judges who would have been born after the attacks and would be incapable of comprehending the terror and destruction the attacks left in their wake.
 And victims who died without ever seeing the perpetrators brought to justice.

Source of image

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Under our Umbrella...

You think rain and all sort of images conjure up...for me, it is a nice cup of hot tea, a book (maybe a kindle), sitting by the window and some uninterrupted reading time, all to myself, all by myself, with the rain drops performing a symphony on their stage of the windowsill.
It also makes me want to sing and dance, and actually believe in the romance of life.

Aahh...rain....where art thou?

The sun is sizzling, the roads are hot, mirages are dancing on the tarmac, the trees are losing their green hope and turning to brown despair again. The metal in the street is hot to touch, and the dust is flying free in this torturous reign of rising temperatures. The phone is still buzzing with messages for "summer sale" from retailers, clearing away what they though was the last of their summer stock, more needs to be re-ordered. Ice creams and cold drinks, fired from the show, have been given lead roles again. Raincoats that eagerly stumbled out of moth balled closets, have been stuffed back in where they belong.

And to think we thought the last of the hot, dry days were behind us!

In that moment, when we thought we couldn't hate the sun anymore, couldn't envy its power anymore, couldn't take its unmerciful beating anymore, it gave way. The hot afternoon, suddenly turning dark, clouds looming overhead, threatening to spill if given an oh-so-tiny nudge. You wait, you watch. You have been tricked before. And not until you feel the first wet drop on your outstretched palm, are you going to believe that "acche din" are here!
Breath held in, palms outstretched, balancing on one leg (See Modi and yoga are not very alien from daily life), we wait and we wait.
And then - plop - comes down the first drop!
And Hurray! We celebrate, we dance, we play, we rush out to the destinations beyond the city to enjoy the rains - all because we believe the first drop of rain, cleared the path for the rest of the drops to make their way down to us.

But alas, the first drop, now looks like the reject material sent down to us, at a discounted price, to be enjoyed till it lasts, which is not going to be very long - well, because you know there is a reason you are paying a discounted price of the item!

The dance and play soon tires us with the sun cruelly grinning overhead, the rain destinations look at us quizzically, like hosts would at guests who turn up early for a party, wondering how we get fooled by the fake, first plop drop, every time!

And we travel back to (in time and space) to our mundane lives, complaining about the sun under our breath, lest he hear us and impose an emergency (heat storm, is what i meant) and then god knows when we will be able to get rid of him (5 years i should think!). Life goes on - the same place, the same people (ministers), the same intentions (corruption), the same drama (scandals).

Quite like our Indian government, you thought it would get better, but we keep swimming (that would be wrong, you would need WATER for that). Ok, then maybe you keep rusting in the hot (bure) days, waiting for the "acche din", but it seems like every scandal, every corruption, every breaking headline, has been borrowed from the previous ruling party, and no one has even bothered dressing up the characters differently, or changing the circumstances just a tiny little bit.

But we are a hopeful lot, looking into the future, try to shape it to meet our needs.
Beyond the blazing, selfish sun rays, we can see the clouds regrouping to "Rain in India"
Beyond the inept, corrupt ministers, we see the struggle of one man and his honest hard working team,  to "Make in India"

And as Indians, hope rests in our soul.
Every drop, however solitary, is going to remind us, not of the slush, the grime, the non-functioning drainage system, but of greenery, romance and life !

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Easiest Steamed Veg Momos Ever!

"In the mood for (indian) Chinese" is a real thing, and when it hits you have to either go out there and grab a place at Chinese Room, or make it at home.
I decided to make these momos at home and hence the post!

By the way, we associate dumplings or momos with Chinese cuisine, they are after all, an essential dish in every Chinese restaurant here, but many believe that the dish is native to Nepal, popular among the Newar community in Kathmandu valley.
Bet you didn't know that!

Anyway, the recipe..

Makes : 6 (i had dough for 2 more left over, my filling ran out, so makes 8)

The dough for the cover

1. Maida (all purpose flour) - 1 cup
2. Salt - a pinch
3. Baking powder - 1/4th tsp
4. Water - about 1/4th cup. enough to make a stiff dough

Combine all these ingredients and make a stiff dough.
Keep it aside to rest

Filling -

1. Cabbage - 1/2 cup grated
2. Carrots - 1/2 cup grated
3. Onion  - 1/4th cup, cut thinly
4. Garlic - 3 cloves, sliced thinly
5. Oil - 1tbsp
6. Soya sauce - 1/4th tsp
7. Vinegar - 2-3 drops
8.Salt and pepper


1. Heat oil in a pan. On a low flame, add onions and saute till translucent
2. Add garlic and cook for 2 mins.
3. Add cabbage and carrot and saute over high heat. Do not let them burn / become mushy. They should still have a crunch - about 3 mins.
4. Add soya sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper
5. Mix well and take it off the gas.

Making the momo -

1. Roll the dough out completely, spread it quite thinly. Use some flour on the counter so that it doesn't stick. Thinner the rolled out dough, better will be the momo.
2. Cut into rounds, about the size of your closed wrist.
3. Add filling - 1.5 teaspoons to each round, in the center
4. Bring edges close together to make a complete momo. Twist and seal to make them as one on top.
5. Steam for 10 minutes. If you don't have a steamer, use any utensil with water boiling in it and place a strainer plate with momos on top. Cover the strainer plate as firmly as possible with another plate.

Schezwan Sauce

Ingredients and Method

1. Rinse and soak 6-7 dry red chillies in a bowl of warm water
2. After 30 mins, de -  seed them (if you want to), and grind them in a grinder with a little bit of water to make a paste
3. Heat oil in pan and saute 3 cloves garlic (roughly chopped) and 1/2 inch ginger (sliced thinly). Do not let it brown.
4. Add 1/2 cup onion (a little less than 1/2 cup actually) and let it ook till onion is translucent
5. Add the chilli paste that we have made and saute well.
6. Add water (about 4-5 tbsp). Keep checking the consistency of the mixture after every tablespoon and only then add more. You want a thick, but moving consistency of the sauce
7. Add salt and pepper as per taste,. Add 1/4 tsp soya sauce and 1/2 tsp vinegar
8. Cook for mins. Add sugar, again as per taste ( i added 1 tsp)
9. Cook for another 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning
10. Serve with the momos made!

Note : Eat the momos as soon as done, while they are still hot. Cold momos taste like rubber!

1. Tarla Dalal - Schezwan sauce
2. Spice up the curry
3. Veg recipes of India / Momos
4. NDTV Food

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Continuing - The War on clutter

For those of you wondering about the War On clutter Project, fear not, it is still on.
And no, we are not waiting for the summer to pass, nor have we fraternized with the enemy. The War Is On!

I took over the strategic port of "Dressing table" - the place where clutter has been ruling, like a tyrant, since the founding stone of the dresser was placed.
It might seem like a small niche, a corner carved in, but it has the capacity to absorb maximum number of small objects and place them in underground prisons, away from the eye, so much so, that you forget the very existence of these small, humble objects.
If you are a small, uncommonly used object, the dressing table is the worse place to slip into oblivion.

I kept some time and mental energy aside for this task.
I had to be ruthless, throw out things not used. I had to be heroic, and rescue things forgotten and locked away, i had to creative and turn it into a pretty little place to live again for all my things.

And this was the end result -

And i am so happy with it!
Husband's stuff is delegated to the top most shelf. (i have no control over that, i do not know how soon the enemy - "clutter" will regain that piece of land, that insists on being autonomous, and not affiliated to the rest of the clean  kingdom!)

This also gave rise to another DIY project using recycled Pringles container and my DIY pattern paper (This was the chips container we bought on our flight from Ethiopia back home, which i had asked Sagar to keep in his baggage to his intense discomfiture).

Now, i rest on my laurels and eye the vast arena in front of me. Before long, i will be out fighting in some corner or the other.
But, today, right now, i am enjoying the view of my dresser in front of me!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Great Indian Jugaad

Everyone has heard of it - the Great Indian Jugaad - an easy solution to complicated problems, an innovative, albeit temporary fix to problems.
A workable solution to a complicated problem using available resources  - is how it is meant to be seen. An innovation borne out of necessity.  
But the other side of this jugaad - is the compulsion to by pass systems and procedures in favor of make shift solutions.
We see it around us all the time.
You step out of the house, and you realize a part of the parking shed in your building is broken, it is fixed temporarily by putting patra on it, weighed down by bricks.
You move out on to the road, you see big drums being used to mark lane borders, where dividers are not present.
You glance up and see a hoarding and you see it chipping of in a corner, held together by a contraption of rope and wire.
You even glance into your own car and see a piece of cello tape holding up some part of the dashboard, a piece of cello tape holding the cover of the remote to its back.
I see this in our factory- nuts and bolts that don't fit, electrical switch covers taped in place.
Crude, though extremely innovative steps taken as a temporary fix to a problem.
This attitude stems, I believe, from two things -

1. A willingness, almost eagerness to bypass established systems. 
2. Scarcity of resources, leading to innovative use of existing resources

The second is a macro problem faced by our society, where our governments and institutions struggle to get the resources distributed to us. In such an environment, innovation thrives. Simple, easy solutions are valued and practical. This is jugaad at its best.

But, the first condition is something that is ingrained in us. And i am not so sure how good a thing that is. 

At work, in the factory, i see it in the form of systems being bypassed to complete tasks such as production, quality systems being by passed on the authority of marketing, management systems being by passed in favor of shop floor operations.
Delegation systems being by passed to complete deadlines, audit systems being by passed for daily operations.
This happens everywhere, our customers, our suppliers, our accountants talk of by passing systems - not with a criminal intent, but with an intent to save time and effort.
We by pass established procedures when we do not use the zebra crossing, break a signal, over or under speed, stop at no parking spots, pass a live wire lying unattended and do nothing about it, ignore noise restrictions after 10 pm, throw garbage on the street, spit on the road, drive without a license, ride without a helmet and drive without a seatbelt, drive when an indicator does not work, or the number plate that is partially broken, attempt to bribe a cop, ask for a plastic carry bag from the neighborhood grocer, honk loudly, talk loudly on cellphones in public spaces, don't clear our plates in self serve restaurants, leave the bathroom unclean after our use, accept bad roads and not demand accountability from the municipal corporations, not report street lights left on after day break, use water and electricity carelessly, not pay our taxes, not pay our bills on time. Think about your whole day and you will be able to come up with a dozen more offences.

So many instances, that we do not even recognize them as minor offences, disrespecting rules set up in a civilian society,
And then we complain about the state of our country, lament about the conditions in which we live, blame the government.

The minute we accept that by passing the systems is never a solution, we will have made a beginning, a very strong step towards a coherent future, where systems work in equilibrium, and a checks and balances system will be instituted.

Most systems are broken because at that point in time, it is the easiest thing to do. 
The harder thing would be to halt, think about what was wrong, and correct its root cause. So for example if your indicator is broken and you have tapes it together somehow (a temporary solution), the first thought should always be - "I need to get this fixed as soon as possible, and not drive until its done" and not "I will bribe the cop if he catches me with my indicator broken" (a thing we know never happens here)
But what we fail to realize is breaking the system, will reap benefits right here, right now. But what about the long term? 
Do you really think its safe to drive with an indicator broken, posing a hazard to not only yourself but other on the road? Do you really want to see your broken indicator every morning and fret about the cops catching you?
The problem worsens when you study the political class - which ignores systems to the extent of making the act a criminal offense.
But as a common man (and woman) we can take steps to ensure the movement starts from the grass root and flows upward. Not everything has to be, or can be provided by the government.

Isn't it just better to endure short term hardship rather than long term pain?

Its this comparison, between the now and the future efforts, that we fail to do at that point in time, which makes us reach for that easier solution, to the detriment of long term benefits.
When by passing a system is never a solution, we will truly have world class factories, world class cities and a truly developed country.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Unconditional Acceptance

We, as a younger generation, have a lot thrown at us in the form of how our generation is selfish, ambitious, materialistic and cold.
Women have to take a bit more than that starting from the above mentioned characteristics to being un-sanskari to not respecting our culture.

Some allegations may be true, some false, some borne out of malice, some out of genuine despair. Some out of misplaced concern and some out of nostalgia.

But the one characteristic about this generation that no one talks about is unconditional acceptance.
This generation and the coming ones are proponents of individuality - where every individual is just that - an individual, without a need to form a part of a homogeneous set up.
Where personal choices are just that - personal, not evoking judgement or even discussion.
Where one's caste, creed or sexual orientation does not form basis of a friendship.
Where age does not determine to need to be married or have kids.
Where long distance marriages are not thought of as a sham.

Of course, i am talking about pockets, urban minuscule pockets of living.
But the change has to begin somewhere.

We still live in a country where homosexuality is criminal, inter caste marriages are frowned upon, sometime even killed over, gender inequality is stark, where we still get questioned if we have friends in our circle who are of the same caste. But we are also living in an age where live in relationships are gaining some acceptance, homophobia is acknowledged as inappropriate, where advertisements like The visit, and shows like the Fosters, strike a chord and resonate the sentiments of a minority.

We do not ask women their family planning status, out of sheer respect for their privacy. And when a woman says she never wants to have children, we accept it as a way of life chosen by her and move on. But have you ever notice the raised eyebrows, and questioning stares of the meddlesome to the same answer?
Honesty is valued, even at times when it sounds crude.
A simple yes or no is preferred, to a long winded maybe, may be not
Where friends are few, but enemies never permanent
Where personal choices and consequences are made and borne by the same person

Of course we have been exposed to this free culture via media, ease of access to other cultures and free movement. And that is why it is easy for us to accept a person unconditionally for who they are, and allow people around us to have beliefs different to ours.

Tolerance, better still, acceptance of everyone's individuality is a very unique change that I noticed. There are a lot of things that we as a generation are doing wrong, many things we should be wary of or not doing at all, but this way of unconditional acceptance is something very unique that we need to foster.
And maybe instead of focusing on, and trying to change the attitudes of this generation, rigid people can take a leaf out of this book.

After all, the winds of change are blowing, strongly.

Source of image : dirtyandthirty.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dreams and Us

My husband turns 30 this year.
And to mark this step into the official adulthood of man, he did what most responsible men would, he bought a super bike. Let me correct myself, before he hacks into my account and corrects it himself, it an adventure tourer - The triumph tiger XCX. (yes i remembered that without having to run down to check the bike).

The first time Sagar told me about his dream to buy a bike, a serious dream that he was considering turning into a reality, i resisted. The financial implications, the safety issues, immediately sprung to my mind. I asked him for some time to think about it.
He is a person who has very little wants in ordinary life. I persuade him to buy  clothes when i get tired of looking at the same things on him, i urge him to buy jeans because he is not 16 anymore to wear pants torn at the knees. Shoes are bought when current pair snaps under the pressure of constant use. He has no particular restaurant that he HAS to visit every month, or any coffee place that he NEEDS to go to every evening. Entertainment for him is not to go clubbing or for a movie, but have an evening on the terrace with me, or his friends. He can sit evening on evening at home and not get bored.
So when a guy with such few needs, comes up to you and says he wants a bike, you know he means it. You know he has thought over it, studied all implications and after over analyzing it, has come to you for your opinion.
So i knew he had thought about the financial implications, he had thought about safety issues, he had thought about parking and he had thought about accessories. 
But a doubt lingered.

When i asked him about which bike he wanted to buy, the spark in his eye and the gestures of his otherwise rigid hands gave away how much he wanted it. 
He had come to me not to ask me for my opinion of which bike to buy, but for my reassurance. To tell him that he should go ahead, take the plunge.
I did just that. 

Despite a lot of pressure from family, from some friends who advised against it, i asked him to go ahead. Becasue i had seen how badly he wanted it. And if he could not gather courage to buy the bike at this age, there was no way he would be buying it at any time after that.
That's when i realized the saying that when you have age on your side you lack money, and when you have money you have missed out on age, couldn't be more true, And if by a little struggle it was possible that the two things were actually overlapping, why should he not go for it?

With all these deep thoughts, many of which i am sure never reached the right conclusion in his head, he decided to go ahead. A day or two before, he asked me - i really want this. But i am scared. is it worth it? 
The question of whether it was going to make him happy - was too simple to solve his doubt. 
That's when i gave him my bag philosophy, (Finally i had found something that might convince him that no matter how many bags you buy, you never have enough is true!) It's simple - if you buy it and you realize it is not what you wanted or not what you can afford - you lose a little bit of your money, you enjoy the bag (bike) as best as you can, and in a few years you get over it. But if you don't buy it at all, you will never know whether it was the bag (bike) of your dreams, in which case your dream may have come true and happiness would have been for you to have, or you realize it was not what you wanted, so you work a little harder, earn a little bit more money and continue dreaming! The never knowing bit will eat at you every day though.
It sounds so dramatic, but it is so true. 
How many times have people looked at their dream across the abyss, but never taken that leap of faith? How many people express regret every year that they grow older, of things they missed out on?

My father took this leap of faith, when he quit is job and started his own business in an obscure little town 25 odd years ago. My mother took this leap of faith with my dad, supporting him and moving from her home city to Aurangabad without a single word of complaint, my grandmother took this leap of faith too, when she moved with them to support her son and daughter in law, leaving behind an established social circle, so important at an older stage in your life.
My sister took a leap of faith when she refused to study the usual science, commerce route and studied liberal arts, and lived in a village to understand organic farming, and went to Ahmedabad to work with innovators in the field of education and today we are all very proud of the work that she is doing for the AMC and the city of Aurangabad. 

Today, Sagar is a proud owner of a bike of his dream and i am so proud of him.
We are busy planning trips on the bike, he gets up every Sunday morning to go on a bike ride with his friends o placed near and around Pune. Who would have thought he would get up early on a Sunday?! He goes down every morning to have a look at his bike like it is some precious baby that has been locked up in another room. He goes to the gym on his bike, he talks about it like it a person with a heart and feelings. It has a name. It has a place.
He says he has me to thank, quite sweetly, but every time i hear the bike rev i wonder if the roads are safe enough, if his helmet is sturdy enough, if his jacket strong enough. 
I think it's time i ask for a bag. That is the only thing i can think of that is going to calm my nerves :)

Source: www.pinterest.com

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The beginning - War on clutter Project

Going forward with my War on clutter Project, i have to say i won the battle of the bedside drawer!
Everyone has "that" drawer, preferably by their bedside, where in one reach of an arm, you can dump whatever it is that you prefer not seeing on the outside.
The space looks small, built with an intent to keep things needed at the bedside - but once you start dumping things in - it seems like a bottomless pit, or like the stomach of my dog - no matter how much you feed it, it can eat more. And slowly the clutter increases, and accumulates and you keep thinking to yourself - "one day i will sort it out".
That day my Day 1 of War on clutter.
Keeping with my battle plan of attacking small spaces with viscous strikes - with my trusted dustbin and box for collecting things needed, but not to be kept in that drawer - i charged!

The enemy -Clutter and the wine opener that i had been looking for kept captive by the enemy - rescued to great joy and warm welcome

My trusted commander in chief

After taking hard decisions - throw, give away, change, destroy and preserve - awaiting space allocation i had a completely changed drawer.
The top drawer for things needed next to the bed - odomos, bug spray, sleep patch, a torch, chargers.
And bottom drawer - which surprisingly had nothing left in it has become the new medicine cabinet - with expired tablets being thrown out and new ones bought and stored nicely.

Organized top bedside drawer 
Bottom Drawer - that was turned into a medicine storage space

This project gave rise to the another DIY activity - making pattern paper at home. Since i didn't particularly like the look of the plain brown box, i decided to make my own pattern paper in orange with white polka dots!
I took 2 A4 size papers - got something round in the  size of my polka dots - coins would work too and  painted around these round thingys.
And voila - i had my pretty pattern paper. I wrapped it around my brown box - and transformed it into a pretty polka dotted box!
A Friday afternoon well spent!

Turning plain paper to pretty paper!

All's well that end well

I am ready for the next battle. The enemy seems forewarned now.
With the surprise element lost, the task is going to be uphill now!
Wish me luck.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

War on Clutter Project

Everyone hoards.
I do not know a single person who at any given time does not have at least one item in their house that they do not need, do not use, and also it has no emotional significance.
Most hoarders, and by that i mean, many of us, keep things in the hope of "i will need it one day". Needless, to say for most of us that one day is as distant as the sun!

The next justification for my hoarding is that "the thing" may not have any useful purpose, but it has emotional significance for me. Over time, i forget i own the thing - so much for emotional attachment, and then over some more time, i forget why i am emotionally invested in the thing. By then the thing has just become a part of some drawer/ cupboard or shelf. And it will stay there for eternity.

De-cluttering - the  word sounds so fancy, and so efficient.
Every time i hear that word an image of a big crane with disposal boxes attached to it comes to my mind. It picks up all the useless stuff and segregates it automatically into recyclable, to be given away, and garbage. Imagine a little crane like that moving through your house. I think i may be able to fit in an entire zoo in my house after the crane finishes its job!
The problem is not just me - but all the people i live with too. We are a family of hoarders. Dealing with one's mess is tiring, imagine de-cluttering everyone's precious prized trinkets.

There have been times i have gone on a rampage of de-cluttering, and thrown things out. An all out, fight till the end, where the beginning is good - calm, logical. But by the time you reach the end - either everything is rubbish or nothing is rubbish. And after all that effort and trauma you are nowhere near your goal - either you are miles away from it or you have crossed it and run over it and so far beyond it that in Joey's words - "you are so far past the line, that you can't see the line. The line is a dot to you!"

So after years of losing this battle to clutter, i am back to take it head on. This time it is going to be a war. A long well thought out, strategic war. Frustration, impatience and  instability have been replaced by the war generals of - calm logic, patience and cold decisions.
This is a start to my - War on Clutter Project.

I am not assigning a fixed number of days to this - because like i said the strategy is not like German blitzkrieg during world war two, but more of a patient attack room by room, drawer by drawer, drawing the enemy out, using the weapon of cold logic on it, and boxing it in its grave.
Let us see who survives.

The project is simple enough - given my limited cavalry in terms of time and energy that i can devote to this mammoth of a task, i am taking on small, tiny drawers, which at the end of a not-so-distant number of days, will add up to a big shelf, which again will add up to a cupboard, which in turn will add up to a room and then the house will be mine! Tiny 10 minute efforts every single day - sincerely implemented and coldly executed.

Non violence and "clutter go back" have not worked, surprise - all out bursts of attack have not worked. Maybe sustained firing is the solution.

Source of image: lotsofyoga.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chocolate Chip cookies

Keeping in mind my last post about a a messy kitchen being a happy kitchen, i unleashed all my suppressed messiness to bake extremely simple, delicious chocolate chip cookies.

With this i have also started using all my recipe books gathered over the year and till date sitting prettily atop my kitchen shelf.
This recipe is Pooja Dhingra's first recipe in her book - "My big book of treats."

I have modified it very little to suit the ingredients i had at home, and it turned out heavenly. So, it is true - if you focus on the little details of the recipe and the consistency of your batter, and the method of mixing, rather than fretting about the mess created, and the cleaning up to be done, you can bake amazing treats and enjoy the process too :)


(original recipe in the book makes 20 cookies, i modified it to make 10 cookies)

1. Butter - 30 grams (roughly 2 tablespoons, and maybe a little more. Extra butter never hurt anyone). Ensure the butter is at room temperature - which means it is soft, but still hold its shape if cut through. If it is too gooey / liquidy, that will be a problem. Also it is right out of the refrigerator, you will get a crumbly mixture. I used Amul butter.

2. Sugar - 57.5 grams (which is roughly 1/4th cup + 1 tablespoon) (The original recipe indicated castor sugar and brown sugar, i have used normal granulated sugar and it works just as well)

3. Egg - 1

4. All purpose Flour (maida) - 88 grams (roughly 3/4th cup)

5. Dark chocolate - chopped into tiny pieces - 175 grams (roughly 1/2 cup)

6. Baking soda - 1/2 teaspoon

7. Extra butter for greasing the baking tray / use a baking sheet

8. Vanilla essence - 1 tea spoon ( i do not particularly enjoy this ingredient, so i skipped it. You can add it to your list of ingredients.


1. Add butter and sugar in a bowl. Beat till fluffy. (Which means 2-3 mins with an electric mixer and 5-6 minutes with a hand beater.
I have a hand beater at home and it took me 5 mins. Thankfully i am ambidextrous, so this step is not very physically challenging for me !

2. Add the egg and whisk for 3-4 minutes (hand beating). 1 minute with an  electric mixer. Now would be the time to add your vanilla essence too. As mentioned i am skipping this ingredient.

3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and add to the butter-sugar-egg mixture in lots. Maybe 2-3 tablespoons at a time and fold it in. Be very very gentle and use a spatula for this, holding it gently and folding the mixture in. Folding should always be done in one direction only.

Do not miss out on the sieving step. It doesn't sound very important, but make a difference to the recipes. Also sieve baking powder and flour together, so that you don't get the powder clumped only in some parts of the dough.

4. Add the chopped chocolate chips and fold them in too.

Leave the chocolate out for 10 mins and it should soften enough to enable rough chopping

5. Cling wrap the bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Use the resting time to clean up!

6. Preheat over to 165 degree Celsius.

7. Take one tablespoonful of the batter and make round balls. The first batch i made with perfect round ball and cookies came out smaller in width but taller. The second batch i made, i rolled the dough into a ball and pressed down, making it a slightly flatter oval shape. These came out nice and flat. Both the batches taste the same, anyway!

8. Bake for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven. Do not immediately touch them. They will be warm and crumbly. Give them 10 minutes to cool down and firm up. Transfer to a serving dish or straight into your tummy!

These lovely cookies also make an amazing present.
I made a batch for my little niece to enjoy :)

1. Recipe and techniques inspired from - Pooja Dhingra's Big book of treats.
2. Some ingredients are substituted as per availability
3. The book is simple enough to understand, however pictorial presentation of the method is not included in the book. And sometimes that is important to get things right.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Flour, sprinkled, unchained

So, now i have proudly gone on to baking breads - different flavors and shapes from a modest beginning of cakes and cookies.
There is something very liberating in being able to bake your own bread. It's like if the world crashes over and there is no food left on earth, i can bake MY OWN BREAD. (Of course, assuming all ingredients for making the bread are not destroyed!) But you get my drift, right? It makes me feel very independent and like a domestic goddess, ruling over my kingdom of sugar and butter and milk and flour.

I am a very neat and precise cook, i plan when i am going to cook / bake anything, i take a stock of the ingredients needed, i shop well in advance in case anything is unavailable. I have, honestly, no idea how it feels to start off with a recipe and realize some ingredient is missing. I rarely use the "what should i substitute for...." webpage in the middle of cooking. That page is only used in case of ingredients not available at my local grocer's when i am out shopping!

I lay out all the ingredients, measure them. Now, this i agree, i do very precisely with all equipment that i have ordered over the months from ebay and Amazon and have been gifted by my ever supportive guinea person(!) - Sagar and my comrade in arms, cousin - Renu. But intuition kicks in every time. I never, if at all, stick to these measured quantities. A little dash of, an extra little sprinkle of, a small little table spoon, a pinch more... of ingredients always ensues. Nevertheless, they are all measured out and kept, as are all the bowls and utensils that will be needed, including the aluminium foil required. Imagine opening the cupboard with flour or chocolate covered hands to take it out in the middle of the recipe! I realize that it is not a big deal for most, but for me it is nothing less than a nightmare - that tiny little drop of chocolate hanging on the hinges or the handles, accumulating over the years, till it takes over the cupboard, then the kitchen and then the whole house and turning into this huge chocolate monster...wait a minute, THAT is not a bad idea. A chocolate monster. It will be legal to bite it to kill it :)
But coming back to the point!
So i keep everything ready, there is a newspaper spread over the kitchen counter which is my work area, or a wipe cloth. Wash cloths are ready, utensils are washed the minute they have finished the work they were supposed to do and wiped and put away in the cupboards. My utensils must be feeling like prisoners, being made to do hard work and then marched back right to their little cells without ever being able to enjoy the sunshine or the breeze!

And i think this need for precision and neatness is what sometime frustrates me about cooking. If it a quick recipe, it doesn't bother me much, but come elaborate recipes and i start to lose my cool. Then i am like a controlled robot on a suicide mission - looking for the most efficient way to kill all the joy that i get from cooking.
I love cooking. But it doesn't give me unconditional joy - because i am so focused on the peripherals that i lose the essence of it.
Cleaning, making sure everything is neat and organized occupy most of my cooking time. When actually it should be my recipe, my quirky additions to it, permutations and combinations of ingredients that should be what cooking should be about.

Looking at a cake rise sitting next to my oven, instead of washing up.
Taking in the yummy fragrances, rather than throwing scraps and pieces in the dustbin to clear the space
Admiring the pretty pictures in my cookbooks, rather than wiping the kitchen counter
Getting the pretty little plate to put my cake on, instead of putting utensils back in their place.
I should be scribbling notes on the recipe books, instead of organizing my recipe papers and books and placing them back as they were

And this revelation suddenly hit me yesterday, when i was busy making my bread. It was annoying me that the flour was falling everywhere even though i had laid the newspaper down strategically. And then in a fit on annoyance, i threw some flour down. And then, as they say, history was made!

It was so liberating, like some chain had been thrown off, and i  could do as i pleased. A big smile came on my face. And my eyes refused to see, and my brain refused to register all the stuff strewn around about me. All i could see was the dough in front of me and what i had to make out of it. A beautiful creation was to be made, and how could i even be thinking about the stuff lying in the washbasin? I cannot believe i have been like a robot in the kitchen, when of all the places in the house that is the one place which fosters creativity and spontaneity. Playing in the flour, licking the chocolate off my finger and the spoon, having the utensils just sit there, this is how cooking is supposed to be. The cleaning up might take me 5 minutes longer than usual - but who cares?
I want to be in a messy kitchen, with flour on my face and chocolate on my hands, but oh, what a feeling of joy it is going to give me.
Cooking basics 101 be damned. Organisation and neatness are never used to describe great chefs or awesome home cooks.

My mother is a great cook, not because her cooking style is neat, but because her food tastes heavenly.
And as my mother always says - "The one thing that makes your food beautiful is the secret ingredient you put in it - LOVE"!

Source: pinterest.com

Monday, April 27, 2015

Twisted Feminisim

A man does it, so i will.
This is what feminism has come to mean.
Aggressiveness, ego, intolerance are marring the true spirit of feminism which fights for equality, freedom of choice and independence..

A man can drink, smoke and so can i, and so will i.
A man can not take care of his kids or raise them and so why should i?
A  man can have multiple sexual partners, so can i.
A man can commit adultery, so can i.
A man can ignore social etiquette, so can i.
A man can engage in violence, so can i.
A man can be rude, obnoxious, loud and overbearing, so must i.

The ugly side of feminism is rearing its head on social media and distracting men and women from the real grave issue. Try watching the The Vogue Campaign starring Deepika Padukone, and tell me seriously if it does not make you cringe. It starts off quite brilliantly, with the focus being on CHOICE. The right of a woman to do as she wants, to break out of the cage and empower herself and be responsible for her decisions. But soon it degrades into a man vs woman, aggressive, immature monologue about things that really shouldn't even be talked about in the context of feminism. Clothes and sex don't constitute the debate on feminism. The video soon turns irrelevant.

Women before us and today many women of our generation should rightfully be insulted and offended by this campaign.
Women in the 1910s - 1960s fought for equality, voting rights, right to property, to a say in marriage. Many women today still have to struggle for their right to education, freedom to choose to have a child or not have a child. A daily fight for equality with their brothers, husbands and co-workers, a right to equal wages and representation.
And with all these brave women taking bold steps towards liberating women, comes this brazen, insensitive campaign, extolling women to commit adultery, to drink and smoke, to be insensible just because some men do it too!

Who wants to be equal to weak men anyway?
Who wants to compare equality and freedom with irresponsibility and immaturity?

And who said feminism was about putting men down? Who wants equality by dragging men down? Shouldn't equality be achieved by reaching that height where merits, personality and strengths count for something, and gender does not matter.
Many men are comrades in this fight for equality. Many men are free thinkers who believe and work for women's freedom and right of choice. Many men are not aware of this fight, it is up to the mothers, sisters and society to enlighten them. Many men, especially in India, are coming to terms with a financially, emotionally independent woman and we should give them the time to adjust. There is a wide gap between how they have seen their mothers behave and how their wives / girlfriends behave. They do not oppose, many are even supportive, but most are just bewildered. Maybe this phase of adjustment will be completed in our generation and our kids will grow up in a more open, equal world. It is up to us.

Feminism is not about doing everything that a man does, not all that he does is correct.
It is about freedom to make right and responsible decisions. It is about respecting the women before us who fought for the rights that we enjoy today. It is about continuing this campaign forward, not as a war to be fought and won. but as a peace to be attained and sustained.

If a woman CHOOSES to stay at home and take care of her family, she is empowered
If a woman CHOOSES to advance her career, and not have a family, she is empowered.
If a woman CHOOSES to drink and smoke, she is empowered.
If a woman CHOOSES to be a manager, a painter, a homemaker, an artist, an architect, she is empowered
If a woman CHOOSES to nurture a loving family, she is empowered.

If she can choose, she is empowered.
If she can take a decision, she is free.
If she can take a responsible decision she is liberated.

Souce: www.thepeopleproject.com

Saturday, April 25, 2015

To do, or not to do?

How do you live your life?
A series of decisive actions one after the other forming a cohesive journey?
Or a laid back procrastination of actions believing that things that will happen as they are meant to?

I belong to the first category. It has a lot to do with the kind of upbringing that you had. There is no right category or wrong category. And shades of grey and overlaps do exist. These are broad generalizations. But if you had to select one, which would it be?

I was brought up to believe that your life will pan out as a consequence of the decisions you make. A lesson my sister and i were taught - Always understand consequences of your decisions. We were encouraged very early on to make our own decisions. Be it academics, which sports to participate in, if at all. Which extra curricular activities to choose, if at all. Which graduation field, post graduation field to opt for, if at all!
Which job to consider, when to start, when to quit, whether to switch fields or not. Accept responsibilities and even marry whoever we want.
And all the time it was drilled into our heads - your make decisions, you face the consequences. I do not remember a single instance, for as long as my memory stretches back, of somebody else making a decision on my behalf. I am sure as a child when i did not have the resources for decision making i must have been bullied into obedience by my parents. But the minute my brain could process the choice -research - action - consequence sequence, i was left to my own devices. Which does not mean that my parents approved of all my decisions, or that they didn't let their disapproval be known. They did! But it was never an ultimatum. It was a way of presenting their point of view that i probably should be taking into consideration before reaching a conclusion.

Because after all i had to face the consequences of my decision.

And when i see so many of my peers and friends planning the lives of their child like an event manager on drugs - i am utterly surprised. If you plan every single moment of their life, have made all their decisions for them, when are these kids going to learn to decide for themselves? When are they going to understand and appreciate the art of making their own decisions - sometimes right and sometimes terribly wrong? How will future managers and professionals be - if their days are planned by over zealous mothers - 7 am get up, 9 am school, 12 pm - lunch, 2 pm horse riding, 4 pm - homework, 5 pm - video games, 6 pm - cricket coaching, 7 pm - dinner, 8 pm - A specific program on tv and 10 pm - sleep!
Look at the rigid pattern that we force the kids to follow. All spontaneity forgotten. Turning them into robots. All in the quest for the kid growing up to be a doctor, an engineer or a cricketer.

How many parents would be okay if their kid came home one day and said i want to be a painter, or a dancer or a musician? How many times have we heard the argument of - "these professions will not sustain you and your lifestyle"? Why not? What if your kid really is a Picasso or Sudha Chandran in the making? And even if he / she is not - who are we to take that chance of discovery out of their hands?

Fortunately, i did not grow up in a household where i HAD to be an engineer or a doctor. I had a choice. To do what i wanted, what i felt i could excel at. And of course, i realize i had a privileged life, where i never had to to work or get a degree for supporting my family, where the choices were real with all other variables staying the same. The only determining factors being what i wanted and what i could do. Not everyone can afford to have no other compounding variables affecting their decisions. But the kids i see placed in a straight jacket are just as privileged as i was. They are being geared and trained to be rats in a competitive race and because one family does it, the others feel inadequate if they do not have every second of their child's time accounted for in some productive or learning activity.
Why can't schedules be like - 7 am get up, 8 am choose and learn to make breakfast (with pretty little children's cutlery!) , 9 am school, 12 pm - lunch, if hungry, 12 onward - do whatever - play in the mud, splash in the water, make weird shapes with play doh, write a drama, act in a drama, read a book, draw or paint, look up at the sky doing nothing, go out and play hide and seek, come home for dinner, sleep.
Yes discipline is required, discipline to not be indecisive, discipline to have the perseverance to stick by your decisions, discipline to have the courage to admit your decisions were wrong and to correct them, discipline to excel in whatever it is that I CHOOSE to do.

And that is why questions which have yes, no or maybe as an answer make me really angry. Maybe - what does it even mean? It is just a tactic for getting more time, a relief, a short term procrastination. How annoying are the people who cannot make up their minds? They often make the worst shopping companions - try shopping with a person who cannot make up his / her mind about what to buy - it is infuriating. You want to yell - "Just buy any damn thing, i no longer care. The dresses have started looking the same to me". But you have to be polite and pretend to re-examine the options with a careful eye, and make silly observations hoping the person can make a decision before the end of time.
Or try deciding where to go for dinner with an indecisive person. Until you sit down and have food on your plate, you will not really know where you are going to have your dinner! I think it is these kids who had everything planned out for them and were never given the freedom to choose that turn out to be indecisive adults. Partly because they are so used to blaming parents or someone else for their failures, because in the first place they never made the decision. And partly because they do not know how to face consequences, to accept that it was their decision and they have no one else to blame.
When i look around me, i realize i have attracted and been attracted to people who are quick decision makers, dithering and procrastinating is abhorred. People who believe that every second of procrastination makes decision making that much harder.

A philosophy that i choose the path that i follow. And even if the path i choose is wrong, it is a journey on which i have set out and it is up to me to turn around or continue, it is all my decision.
My parents are always there, looking out for me, as lamp posts, shedding light on the path and guiding me on towards the goal, or guiding me back home but never changing the direction of my path.

Source: www.pinterest.com

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Under the starry skies

There are so many things that we give up doing as we grow up.
Many little things that we do as kids and then life takes over and suddenly there is no time or inclination to do those things.

Recently i had gone for a sleepover at my cousin's place and we slept on their beautiful terrace, under the starry sky in the crisp summer breeze, cooling and calming everything.
A ritual of getting the mattresses out of cobwebbed corners, dusting them, putting them all out in a line, covering them in washed, clean bedsheets, laying out the pillows and soft blankets. Putting up mosquito nets and lathering copious amounts of odomos.

And then the joy of lying down and gazing upon the sky. Nothing between you and the sky except for the light breeze like a lullaby. No ceiling, no fan, no paint and no concrete. Just you, gazing right up at the millions of stars looking down upon you. And choosing the brightest star that you would like as your diamond. My uncle used to promise us the star of our choice if we behaved ourselves. How did we never ask him for it the next night when we were off to sleep again and he made the same promise is really surprising. Maybe we were not as smart as kids are today. Maybe we really did believe in fairy tales and never looked for logic in stories. Maybe phones and videos were not as important as good old grandma narrating a story we had heard a thousand times before. Gently being lulled into sleep with the "happily-ever-afters."

And you are left wondering why did we ever stop doing this? Sleeping on the terrace? Since when did an air conditioner become preferable to a gently blowing breeze rustling your hair? Since when did an alarm wake you up instead of the early sun rays at dawn?
And the thrill of predicting if it was going to rain at night, and sometime, just sometimes,  .your predictions going wrong and big splashes of rain drops on your face in the middle of the night waking you up, urging you to quickly bundle up your mattresses, bed cover pillow and blanket and carry it inside. Sleep would then be a far way off. Watching the rain drops fall down on the very floor where you were sleeping peacefully a minute ago, dreaming about yellow sunshine and green grass.

In the course of work and family and home and social commitments little joys of life are forgotten.
Which was the last summer you had pepsi cola -  as, the flavored iced in plastic bags, was called? Which summer was it when you decided you were too old for it?

When was the last time you participated in the society's Ganesh Mahotsav games and cultural programs? When did they get boring for you?

When was the last time you played hide and seek with your cousins and friends? The scary anticipation of determining who the seeker would be, the feeling of relief that it was not you, the thrill of looking for a place to hide. I am sure as adults with the weapons of deception and manipulation tucked in our belt, we would excel at this game now.

When was the last time you sat down with your family, the whole extended family, for an amras party. Getting everyone together and assigning responsibilities - prep team, peel team, squeeze team, and the aamras. The bigger the mess created, more the joy on the faces of the company.

All these things seem golden again, when we are longing for the comfort of the familiar, the security of the known.

Phases of life take us through a journey which is varied and interesting, sometimes happy and sometimes sad, but in the end the roots never move. You come right back where you started - on certain, familiar grounds of  your childhood. We experience the world, and we travel. But all our travels remind us of home. The one place where every journey begins and ends.

Source: www.fodors.com

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Experiences of a store manager

When i left my job at Croma, as a store manager, after 3 years to join my dad, i left i with a bitter sweet feeling.
It had been a great experience, but there was so much more i could have done and learnt. Education does not prepare you for what you have to face.

Here is an article i had written after i left.

I started my work at Croma on 1st June 2009.

I remember sitting at the conference room at the SO, writing on the green pad 1/06/2009…my first day/my first job. It was scary but at the same time I was excited. I knew I was about to enter a world I had no knowledge of but a world that I would fit in anyway. And so wrong I was.

The project at Mumbai taught me about the retail world and what should I expect from it? Did it teach me how to run a store? No.
Did I make an effort to learn how a store should run? Honestly No. I was busy trying to understand the little details..the products, how to sell them, what customers expect…the discounts, or markdowns as they are called in retail. Was that wrong? I don’t think so. It was my first job, in a unknown sector, with lesser known products. I felt the way to go about this was down to up. Know everything I have to know about the products, and then other things like handling the store could be learnt – MY FIRST MISTAKE. I placed learning about the products and learning about the processes to run a store on an equal platform. Now, after  19 months I can confidently say, process knowledge is 60%of the job, handling people 30% and product knowledge 10% or even lesser.

I took over 'M' store, I knew I was not ready but I also knew I would learn to sail once I was put on the boat. I relied on my ADM who had been in the system for 3 years. I thought he was the final authority on everything. My area manager, in fact told me to not rely on him but on the SOPs - MY SECOND MISTAKE. I did not understand the significance of what my area told me then. Processes are at the heart of running a store. Processes form the order in the chaos. Processes maintain consistency. And it is true not just for retail. Not even then did I go through and try to understand the SOPs.

What I did learn from Megamall was how to set up a store. It was store I had set up with my own hands, with my young team of 20 staff. We had taken the store from a mere block of furniture to a well merchandised store. The store manager of Juhu, the flagship store was the closest to my store and he dropped in to help me understand how to merchandise – MY THIRD MISTAKE. The fact that the operations head asked hin to drop in and help me I took it on my ego. Did they think I was not capable of handling a 8000 sq foot store on my own? Honestly, of course I wasn’t. Shouldn’t I have welcomed the help and learnt as much as I could from him? How many people got the chance to interact and understand from a guy who handles a 20000 sq foot store, a flagship store?
My learning – no one gives a damn about your ego in the industry / company, especially when it is misplaced. That is how the professional world works. Did I really expect my operations head to call me and say that it was not the lack of belief but business need that he was being asked to look into my store? No. and I should have been mature to realize that I needed that help. Ego has no place in the industry. You show results. Results speak for you and your efforts.   Of course, I met store managers who themselves spoke / boasted about their stores in the hope of getting attention / promotion for themselves and you cannot be judgmental and say that what they did was shallow. It wasn’t. In a space of 40 store managers, you have to open your mouth and blow your own trumpet. But I understood that there are some things you cannot do, because they are dead against your nature. Even now, after everything, I would still not be comfortable talking about my success to boss or any other person. So what did I learn? Results speak for themselves. Efforts are seen, maybe even acknowledged, but never recognized if not translated into results. In the end numbers speak. But no one is paid for efforts alone. The balance scorecard used to measure a store manager’s performance does not have a yardstick for efforts put in. it has benchmarks for numbers – sales, profits, bottom lines, attrition rate( yes, even people management is measurable and measured).

I moved to Pune after a lot of false alarms. When I interacted with some other store managers in the later stages, they told me exactly how much they used to pester area managers for shifting them to other regions. I never did. Why? Was he God or the demon I was scared of? MY FOURTH MISTAKE – Escalating your issues to your bosses and super bosses is not a crime but a necessity. In handling 40 other stores and their managers, did I expect my area manager to keep a track of what was happening to my career path? Of course not.

My learning – in the mesh- mash of the retail world, you need to shout…maybe not loudly…but shout anyway to be heard. No one is a mind reader, least of all your bosses. You want something, you be shameless and ask for it. What was the worst that could happen? He would ask me to be patient? But at least it would be registered somewhere in his mind. (This was my dad s advice that I kept ignoring).

Then I moved to Pune, I realized, had a completely different work culture, bordering on laziness. As young, fresh and vibrant my team was in Mumbai, that old (in the system), lazy, laid back my team was in Pune. The farther you are from the head office, the lesser the control it has on processes and systems. It was in Pune that I was first introduced to my fear of Delegation – MY FIFTH MISTAKE. I knew I had to delegate my work. Yes, in understood that, but some controlling tendency in me did not let me do it. To the extent, that I hated my job. Every decision was mine, every effort was mine and as long as the staff did not have to work, they were happy. It was a vicious cycle where I did not delegate, the staff did not work, I thought the staff did not work and hence I did not delegate.
My learning – running a store is like running a mini city. Everything from housekeeping, staff problems, customer issues, merchandising, cleanliness, warehousing depends on you. And if the mayor of a city was alone expected to do everything what kind of cities would we have?

From day one at another store I continued my mistake of not delegating, either to ADMs, DMs or staff. I am no super woman. I read somewhere that a good manager is one who trains his team in such a way that even if he is absent, the team works as a whole, he is not a cog of the wheel as is believed, without whom the wheel cannot move forward. In this sense, I failed miserably. MY SIXTH MISTAKE – it takes a lot of courage for me to actually ask myself this question – Did I bother training even ONE person in any of my team thoroughly? My honest answer would be No. because I never thought any one of them was capable of that kind of work. Now that I think about it, instead of complaining to my mom about how inadequate my managers were, /could I have trained them better? Couldn't I have given them realistic expectations; concrete actions, fundamental training, and then measured their results? Wouldn't that have made my job easier?

My learning – everyone is not born with retail experience and process expertise. The most important job of a store manager is not sales. Sales happen anyway. Sales do not depend on the store manager. The most important job is to train my team. Starting with my ADMS and DMs.  If they would have been trained properly, my tactical workload would have been reduced to half, leaving me with time to train the staff on merchandising standards, SOPs, so that the staff could take merchandising decisions on their own, so that the staff could be trained for appraisals. Why does Pune staff not qualify for appraisals for promotion to next level? It is solely the failure of the store managers. Store managers who have been given the resources to train the staff, but do not have the time to because they are doing a department managers job, who is in turn doing the assistant department managers job, who are in turn no better equipped than the sales staff.
. A store manager needs to be a disciplinarian, a headmaster hated but feared. You help the staff in the time of In all the stores, I tended to slack off on the discipline after the initial few days. I do blame myself but I also feel it is because when you work at a place for more than 10 hours and you are alienated, because you are the boss, you have no colleagues, you tend to get bored alone, is why you start interacting more and more with the staff and the discipline slacks off.  But how could I have let my personal reason of boredom come in the way of my professional conduct? As crude as it sounds, it is very important that the line between you and the other managers as well as the staff is clear at all points. It does sound extremely crude, but that it what matters. Only tough managers can get things done. I would rather have people hate me, but do their work for the fear of me, than love me and not do their work knowing that I am their ‘friend’.
I proudly told my parents that 3 people cried at my farewell. I realize now, I would have been happier if 5 people had cried out of joy that I was finally leavingtheir need, no doubt, you teach them everything that they need to know about the job, but if the job is not done in spite of the training, they should be taken to task. I failed on the training front, so there was no question of taking them to task on something they didn’t know how to do in the first place.
Lastly, coming to the final problem I faced during handover.
I had never received such a handover (I did not demand it either because I did not know the process). But I had to give a thorough handover. The stock discrepancies which came up had come up before and had been mailed to my area manager. Sent items deleted and my boss putting his hands up – that taught me MY SEVENTH MISTAKE – the importance of escalations.

If my area manager did not let me show the discrepancy in the stock takes, what stopped me from approaching regional manager, if he did not help why not head of operations, my CEO? My learning – when you are the sole person in charge of an entity like a store, it is very important to get the albatross off your neck, basically pass on the responsibility or at least the information higher up, beyond your boss if issues are not solved. Escalation of every tiny, trivial event is important, and for the very basic reason – SYOA! Save your own Ass! Documentation and escalation is the key.
I entered the company believing that I would make an excellent store manager, half way through the journey I thought I was really doing a good job, then the more I learnt, the more I realized that I was doing a half decent job and I leave the company thinking there was so much more to learn, and all that I have seen is the tip of the iceberg.

But I am not disappointed. I consider myself lucky that at the age of 24 I got to handle 3 very different stores, set up one store, manage a team of 40 people and though I come out of it a little bit bummed, but not crushed. I can now appreciate the fact as to why most of the store managers are 30 years of age and above. It requires a great deal of maturity, a far bigger view of the whole picture, a lot of experience, to actually call yourself a good store manager.
However, through it all I emerge a confident manager. I accept all that I have done wrong; I see how it went all wrong. And I know the mistakes that I will never commit henceforth. Yes, it was a world I could not properly fit in as I expected on my first day of the job. But it was a world I could become a part of, if I had persisted.

It was, however, without doubt, the greatest learning experience of my life.

Neha Mirashi
Ex-store Manager