If it’s Monday, it should be Madurai – Book review

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I had to drive my son to a book/gift store in search of an action figure.

Once inside, I refused to look at the tantalising array of glossy books.

Thanks to online shopping, I already have loads of books still in their protective plastic covers, waiting to be opened.

I absolutely have no time to get another book to add to that stack.

But after ten minutes of flipping through magazines mindlessly, there was no sign of my son, who was still in the store’s basement looking for his superhero.

I gave in to temptation and walked to the popular books display.

What harm can it do? I just have to look at books for future buying, I told myself. I can be strong. I can overcome the temptation.

But all my determination went out of the window when my eyes fell on this bright yellow book with three saadhus grinning and waving at me.

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ a small voice in my head warned me.

I ignored it and picked it up. I couldn’t stop with just browsing. I had to buy it.

I’m so glad I did.

I enjoyed reading this ‘conducted tour of India’.

The author Srinath Perur, goes on ten conducted tours to write this book.

Why conducted tours? Because travelling with a group of people with totally different wavelength makes it all the more memorable.

Not only does he sees the quirks of others, living in close quarters for about a week,  he also forms some lasting bonds, by the time it ends.

From a religious tour of the temples in South India with a pious band of believers where the average age was 55, he takes on journeys to the backwaters of Kerala with westerners, a whirlwind European tour with a gang of Indians who watch only Hindi movies in the bus, ignoring the stately sites outside, a trip organised by a professor to search and showcase local innovations in rural India, camel safaris in Rajasthan, retracing Kabir’s sufi yatra and more.

He even takes us on a naughty, all-men tour to Tashkent where, under the cover of anonymity, certain adventurous Indian men have the time of their lives, under Perur’s watchful eye.

This book makes an interesting read also because it’s so personal. It’s his personal journey of self-discovery as well. His reconnection with music in the Kabir Yatra, for example.

Lounging at home, I got to visit all these places, encountered some awesome characters and glimpsed at different cultures. From hookers in Tashkent to saadhus in Maharashtra, Perur’s writing brought all of them alive..

I realised there are so many versions of India even we Indians don’t know about.

I judged this book by it’s cover. I have no regrets!

Truly “an idiosyncratic portrait of India and her people…”

Spirits in a Spice Jar – book review

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After a long time, I read something so poignant, lucid and gripping.

Spirits in a Spice Jar is an autobiographical account of the author, Sarina Kamini, chronicling a difficult period in her life and how she pulls herself from it by recreating the forgotten recipes of her Indian grandmother.

It reminded me of something I had read years ago on how cooking is so therapeutic to Indian women.

The process of cooking – pounding, grinding, chopping, stirring, etc all these supposedly invoke our genetic or cellular memories from the previous generations.  And this nurturing side of us apparently soothes us and heals us.

This book stands testimony to this very theory.

Each chapter is about a particular dish or an ingredient. She lists it’s qualities, associated memories and marries them beautifully to an emotion. The events unfold so well around the ingredient/dish.

When she was 11, her mother, an Australian, was diagnosed with Parkinsons. It shatters the whole family which consists of her Indian father and two older brothers.

Her father, a pious Kashmiri Hindu, deals with it by turning to religion and rituals.Kamini takes it the hardest. She loses faith and turns away from all that she believed in.

The book begins when she’s 30, married and a mother of two young boys. Though she goes through the motions of a busy life balancing her career in journalism, her marriage and her toddlers, she’s very unhappy, feels disconnected from her mother and tries desperately to come out of it.

For some reason, she feels following her grandmother’s recipe book is the way.

This book is rife with cross-cultural nuances when East-meets-west. A typical Indian father who tries to make everything about himself,  as opposed to her Australian husband, who gives her a lot of space to heal, but never tells her how much it’s costing him, her Kashmiri grandmother, Ammi, rooted in tradition,but welcomes an Australian daughter-in-law with open arms and even teaches her Indian cooking…

The story flows so lucidly, touching lives across continents. We glimpse the lanes of Delhi, dusty roads of Jaipur, a Melbourne super market and even the inside of a psychic’s studio.

Each chapter blends seamlessly with the other and takes us on her journey back to being herself and makes peace with her parents.

Here’s a small taste.

“…the way salt is used is an indicator of the nature of our faith. Mum’s was soft, Ammi’s piercing. Dad’s, strident. And mine? I’m still figuring it out.”

How poetic is that! I have never read anything so beautiful about how someone’s personality shines through their usage of salt in their cooking! How every dish we cook has a little of ourselves in it.

After reading it, I felt very different about cooking! Every dish I cook has a piece of my soul… And that’s something to chew on!

Diabetic diaries.

“MY doctor said when he graduated in 1940, normal sugar levels were 190 and Hb1ac was 12. But American Association of Diabetes changed the values to 140 and 5.6. Overnight, half the world population became diabetics. It’s the biggest fraud by the pharma companies”

“Doctors have been cheating us by saying fruits are bad for diabetes. In fact, sucrose brings down our sugar levels.”

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Saffron Pistachio and Coconut Rice Pudding

As a budding diabetic, I’m assailed by such pearls from well-meaning friends and relatives everyday.

Especially in this era of information and misinformation at your fingertips, the advice I get on a daily basis is staggering.

Six years ago, when I was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, (Should I say mis-diagnosed, since I discovered with a second opinion that I did not indeed have it then!) I sat cheerfully in the doctor’s cabin after an exhilarating zumba session. She looked at me and said, ‘Chin up! Don’t be depressed! This is not the end of the world for you! Start taking these tablets, exercise an hour every day & follow my diet plan. And you’ll be just fine.”

Do I look depressed to you? I wanted to yell. Later on I realized this must be her standard dialogue to all her first time patients so they can put her on a pedestal as the god who saved them from damnation.

Anyway, another doctor who is a friend first, totally ruled out diabetes since it was based on just one reading and that too with 75 grams of glucose I was fed instead of the standard 50 grams.

It did catch up with me a few years later, but at least I was not on unnecessary medication that would have indeed made me drug-dependent in no time and the only people benefitted from that would have been the drug company and the doctor.

For the last two years, my doctor has been trying to manage my diabetes with a minimal dose of medication and a safe diet.

A few months ago, a friend dragged me to an alternative medicine practitioner.

He gave me along lecture on how diabetes and hypertension are not diseases, but our bodies’ response to a situation at a particular time. And how we eat at the wrong time, wrong food and wrong way that most of our food stays in the system undigested and becomes sugar in our blood stream.

The first step he suggested was an enema, which will detox me. I literally ran out of the door. But my friend had my hand in a firm grip. Seeing my reluctance, he said we’ll get to that later, but I can start with reflexology and a diet plan.

The diet plan consisted of eating uncooked breakfast. Fruits and nuts basically. And to avoid white rice, white sugar and all dairy products at all other times . The tablets I have been having are also supposedly causing a lot of congestion in my body.

And by feeling the soles of my feet he diagnosed me with Vitamin D deficiency, poor sleeping pattern and a liver congestion.

I was shocked since he was bang on.

Of course how anyone can diagnose maladies from feeling the soles of one’s feet is up on a heated debate in my rational group of friends.

After a month of following his diet (almost!) and painful weekly sessions of reflexology, my sugar levels had reached an all time high.

And I broke a crown chewing on almonds and walnuts.

So I said my good byes to him, despite my friend saying I was so wrong in not believing in him and going back to allopathy.

The problem with me is that I have no control when it comes to food. Rice is my staple and my sweet tooth has no conscience when someone offers me a jangiri.

Just when I thought I had everything under control, I go on a holiday where the desserts are the most memorable part of my trip.

Imagine my joy when a well-known nutritionist hailed rice as a super food! I read the book eagerly and discovered I can eat rice at night. I can have cane sugar with my tea. They’ve been our staple for centuries and just because the west maligned them, why are we spurning them now?

It’s those packaged food like biscuits and chips that are loaded with hidden sugars that spike our blood sugars. And fruits are so good for you in so many ways that even mangoes are good for diabetics.

So rice was back in my dinner plate and I enjoyed mangoes last summer.

Of course, my sugar levels spiked again.

A good friend told me about this keto diet for diabetics.

For the uninitiated, it’s a low carb diet with no rice, wheat, millets or dal. But fat is totally allowed. My friend who recommended this was gushing about it’s benefits not only on her sugar levels, but on her thyroid too. And she had lost 8 kgs in the first week.

I checked it with my doctor who was all for it. “Give it a try,” she said. “Another patient of mine with levels much higher levels than you have totally reversed it with her low-carb diet”.

“But I cannot live without rice!” I whined. “Can I have rice only for lunch?” I begged.

“Sure”, she agreed, “Since your levels have never been alarmingly high, try it for the next 3 months”.

My god of nutrition asks her readers to follow a sustainable diet. Something we can follow our whole lives. So I was happy to give this a try since I can still have my fill of rice once a day. I had nuts and whole milk for breakfast and salad and buttermilk for dinner. But for a vegetarian like me who has eggs only in cakes, it was a tough act to follow.

I did lose some weight and was happy with it. But looking at my husband’s and son’s plates in the dinner table, I felt like an under-privileged kid staring through a 5 star hotel restaurant window every night.

Plus I stared getting frequent headaches. Or wake up hungry in the middle of the night.

So I had some carbs once in a while.

Last week, I met my doctor socially for breakfast with a gang of friends. My plate was loaded with Masala Dosa and vada. She sweetly promised me to look the other way, saying it’s okay once in a while.

“Hey, I hate this dieting!” I whined to her. Why don’t you up my tablets instead?”

“God! You’re impossible! Some people just can’t see sense!” She said, in exasperation.

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Actually, it’s all very confusing.

What Allopathy says is refuted by Ayurveda.

What Ayurveda propagates is refuted by Naturopathy.

What Naturopathy recommends is refuted by Homeopathy.

All this conflicting information is constantly thrown at us through the social media gurus.

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Now I try to maintain a balance. If I crave rice, I serve myself some. I try to eat a filling dinner with or without carbs by 7.30 pm.

I downloaded this wonderful app for meditation on my phone and diligently meditate at least 5 days a week.

I go to my Yoga class regularly.

My 3 months is almost up. Let me see what the verdict is.