Spirits in a Spice Jar – book review



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.”


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.


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.


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.


Satyameva Jayate


I missed the opening episode of this much-talked-about program on Star Plus. But after seeing all the rave reviews, I didn’t want to miss it the following sunday.

Being a big fan of Aamir Khan, I just couldn’t help admiring him on this show. He has conceptualised & directed the show so well.

He’s taken topics which are usually spoken in hushed whispers in almost every household in the country, and brought them out oh-so-bravely to the drawing rooms of millions of homes.

Yesterday’s topic was sexual abuse in children. And the audience were predominantly parents of young children.

He actually got victims, who are successful individuals now, to open up and share their nightmarish childhoods with the whole nation.

He even got one parent to come forward and admit that she was helpless when her son had complained to her about the abuse he was going through.

He invited experts to offer their opinions on analysing the situation. A lawyer who told us about the loopholes in the law, and how he had to fight for 10 years to convict two foreign nationals who were caught abusing street children in Mumbai.

He bowled over a victim/guest in the show by getting yester-year actor Sridevi to grace the show at the end, because he had said in an earlier interview that her movies had really made those abusive years a bit tolerable. Of course the man was awestruck & over the moon.

But I did find a few things a bit jarring.

Why did he, the anchor, had to wipe his tears surreptitiously every time he spoke to the victims about their abuse?

It’s not like this is the first time he should be hearing such things… Hasn’t he heard of  the ‘casting couch’ in his own fraternity? Didn’t he realise it may show him in a bad light of  not being too genuine?

And I felt he was a bit too short & abrupt with his expert guests. Maybe it was because of time constraints. But did he always seemed to overshadow them or is it just my imagination?

But having said all that I must also say it is really very gutsy of him to do a show with such calibre. If he ever wants to join politics, he’ll beat any of his opponents hands down!

A toast – to good health!

A while ago, my father complained of numbness on his right side. I took him for a check-up. The doctor panicked after checking his blood pressure. Said it was too high and he needed immediate admission and a CT scan of the brain to check for clots.

“He’ll need to be here for about two days” He told us.

My father, at 73, is a very active man, who’s never suffered from anything more than a fever over the years. So when they sent us off in an ambulance for the scan, he refused to lie down. So we sped around sitting side by side in the long bench reserved for the attendant, while the patient’s bed was empty.

We got back an hour later and he was whisked away to intensive care. While my brother and I sat in the reception, biting our nails, my father was having a roaring time inside. He’d expected the doctor to check him, prescribe some tablets and send him home. It was a rude shock to find himself in the ICU, with beepers attached to him and glimpses of other patients in various stages of sedation all around him. Plus he was hungrier than ever since it was well past his lunch time and he had been advised to report on an empty stomach that morning.

We were allowed ten minutes to see him that evening. We went in very nervously only to find him sitting upright on his bed with a scowl on his face. “The food here is terrible!” he griped to us. “I couldn’t even eat half of it! Now I’m so hungry!  Can you ask them to get me something?”

I spoke to a nurse.

She peeped in after a few minutes. “Sir, your coffee & bread on the way!” She announced cheerfully.

“Bread?” My father barked. ” Can’t you get me something like a bajji or bonda?”

“Do you know your cholestrol levels?” She countered. “The doctor will sack me if I give you anything deep-fried”.

My father’s scowl intensified. We made our way out quickly before his famous temper erupted.

The next day’s visit was worse. He was even fiercer and nurses and ward-boys gaped at him, open-mouthed as he sat there and cursed everyone in the hospital and their families.

To placate him, I told him to be patient till evening. “They’ll shift you to a room.” I soothed. “They’re just waiting to finish another course of intravenous medicines ..”

“A room, my foot!” he spat out. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going home!”

“Where’s my wallet & glasses?” He asked my brother.

“I have it.” He replied. ” You’re not allowed to have those inside the ICU” He informed my father sternly.

“Well, I need them. And what happened to my clothes?”

“I have them.” I told him.

Before he flew off the handle, I spoke to a nurse and got permission to hand him his reading glasses and the day’s newspaper.

When we were ready to leave, he instructed me to have a word with the doctor.

“Tell him I’ll really end up a patient if I stay here any longer. I just need to go home”

But sadly he got shifted to a room only the next evening. But thankfully by then he’d resigned himself to his fate and was a bit more cooperative.

First day in the room was restive. He looked a bit weak, thanks to all the semi-starvation and the sedation he’d received. But the next day he was back to his restless ways.

He tried walking around his bed while the intravenous drug was still attached to his hand. Had a big argument with the junior doctor on the rounds.

After a while, I gave up getting worked up and just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

During a lull between the nurses fussing over him with either medicines or taking his blood sample, a young woman in a doctors coat came in and introduced herself as a physiotherapist.

“Take a deep breath.” She told my father. He complied. “Now wiggle your toes…” He wiggled. She noted something in her book.

“Thank you sir’ She said and went away.

Five minutes later a young man in a doctor’s coat walked in. Introduced himself as a physiotherapist. Asked my father the same set of questions. Noted something in his book and went away.

Fifteen minutes passed in silence with me going back to my book and my father dozing off.

Another knock. Another young thing in a white coat. Introduced herself as a physio.

“There were 2 physios who just examined him in the last half hour,” I informed her pleasantly.

“Oh! ” She stuttered a bit. “They’ve covered this room?”

“Yes!” my father & me chorused.

She beat a hasty retreat.

Then it was time for the evening rounds.

A pleasant young man came in with a retinue of nurses who briefed him on my father’s parameters. He nodded sagely and looked at the patient.

“Sir! how are you today?” He boomed.

“I’m perfectly okay.” replied my father. “And I’ll be even better, if I can go home now.”

“But sir, You still need  another four days of intravenous medication. Just bear with us.” He said placatingly.

“What??” erupted my father. “Four more days? No way! You people promised me only 2 days of admission. This is already day 3! You cannot go back on your word!”

The doctor was now sweating a little. “But sir..” he began.

“No but!” interrupted my father. Then went on to extol the virtues of a calm mind to heal oneself. On how he’ll be instantly better the minute he’s home in a familiar surrounding and with his dogs.

Whenever the doctor tried to get a word edgeways, he started full throttle on something else.

‘Just give it up! Agree to whatever he says & just go!’ I told the doctor in my mind.

After about twenty minutes the doctor did just that. With a promise to speak to his superiors about his discharge, the doctor took off, wiping his sweaty brow.

“Che!” my father cursed after he left. “Kallulimangan! My throat is parched after all the talking, but he didn’t buy any of my stories!” he muttered under his breath.

Another two eventful days passed by, filled with my father’s theories of insurance scams and the underhandedness of doctors and a very scary ambulance ride for another CT scan. SInce there was no emergency, we just drove around  normally, till we reached a signal. When the driver saw it was still red, he turned on the siren and stepped on the accelerator with so much gusto, I was having palpitations with all the near-death experiences by the time we reached the scanning centre!

When we got back, we were  finally informed that he’ll be discharged the next day.

The young doc who had made himself scarce for the past two days, surfaced again.

“Good evening sir!” he boomed. “How are you?’

“Perfect” replied my father.

“Happy? I just saw your release papers being signed.”

“They could have easily discharged me four days ago.” said his father.

The doctor had not learn his lesson. He actually disagreed with my father. “Sir, I’d already explained to you,” he began.

“This was all with your best interest in mind. And once you go home, please stick to the prescribed diet, have your medicines on time and surely, no smoking!”

Now this was one thing the doctor didn’t know about my dad. He’s from a generation which thinks smoking is disrespectful & has to be done only behind closed doors. To this day, he never smokes in front of his mother or his siblings. (But smoking in front of his wife & kids are not disrespectful, I really don’t understand why!) And will never admit to smoking to anyone who’s not immediate family.

Here he had to admit not only to the doctors, but also to the nurses, ayahs & the ward boys standing around his bed!

He now looked the doctor squarely in the eye. ‘Oh my god! Why are you such a glutton for punishment?’ I sent another telepathic message to the doctor.

“You say smoking is harmful to me”

“Yes, sir. It is a well-known fact.”

“But doctor, smoking will kill me in about ten or twenty years. But have you heard of carbon monoxide poisoning?”

“Of course,” said the good doctor not knowing where this was going.

“If I walk on this busy road outside, the carbon monoxide from the exhaust of about hundred cars will kill me in half an hour. So, do I stop walking on the road?” he demanded.

Stony silence from the doctor.

“If  I take your advice, have all the pills, eat horrible food without salt, avoid sugar and quit smoking, how many more years will it add to my life? ten, twenty?”

The doctor shrugged.

“But if I continue living like always – eat tasty food, smoke and live happily I’ll probably live for another two years?

The doctor started to say something.

But again my father’s voice drowned his.

“I’d rather live for two years enjoying my life rather than live for twenty years like a sanyasi!”

After a teeny tiny pause, the doctor found his voice again. “But sir, I agree with you. But what if you get another clot and end up with paralytic stroke? Then you’ll not have a life at all! You’ll be bed-ridden & lose all your independence!”

‘Don’t you ever learn? Just agree with him & get going! He’s just using you to amuse himself!’ I wanted to scream.

My father glared at him. “Courage.. is what I have. If you think you can scare me with such stories, you’re mistaken. You’re looking at a man at one time had lost so much money in his business and never even gave it another thought and went on with his life the next day” He announced. “And I’m not going to sit in a corner in fear what will happen next.”

“But sir, I maybe too young to give you philosophical advice but Shree Krishna has told in Bhagavad Gita….”

‘OH MY GOD!’ I screamed inwardly. ‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???’

But as soon as he began he caught himself on time and said, “You know what’s best for you sir! All the very best to you!” WIth that he shook hands with my father and left.


The next day after waiting anxiously for his release, my father paced the corridor, sat in the chair for a while, fidgetted with all the gadgets in the room and finally when he couldn’t take it anymore, started tormenting the accounts department about his discharge.

Then, while I was lying down in the attendant’s bed and reading a book, he went down to the second floor, paid up, collected the paperwork, came back to the fifth, handed it to the nurses, came into the room, picked up his bags and we were ready to go.

I felt like I was the patient and he was the attendant!

On the brighter side, now he’s so terrified of getting admitted again, he’s very regular with his medicines!

But to quote my husband, we don’t really have to worry about that. Because if there’s a next time, the hospital staff by now will definitely have standing instructions to stop all other cases to check him up as fast as possible and send him home with prescription at the earliest!

Best wishes…

All my childhood years, attending a wedding meant tagging behind my mom, behaving myself in front of strangers who were actually related, eating lots of laddus & jangiris & occasionally playing hide and seek with long-lost cousins from distant lands.

But after K’s sister got married, this meaning changed for me. Having just stepped into college, we were all still getting used to being treated like grown-ups.

Now it was all girly fun, where we could all dress up in our mothers’ fineries and prance around, inventing jobs for ourselves or just hang out together, gossip & look around coyly for good-looking boys.

Oh , and it gave us a legit reason to stay out late.

So when K’s cousin’s wedding rolled around a year later, I was all set to have fun. I went across to H’s house the previous day to check out what she was wearing. But she wasn’t attending.


“K did not invite me properly..”

“What? Didn’t she come over to give you an  invite?”

“Yeah, but I felt she did it for formality’s sake. Didn’t say I have to come or anything. After all, we hardly know her cousin.”

“But H! K is sooo close to us! Remember the fun we had at her sister’s wedding? We chatted with this cousin for hours!”

Nothing I said moved her. Now I was in a dilemma. Should I be the patch-up friend here and call K and tell her about this? Or should I just ignore it and go for the wedding with N & B? Or should I call them too and find out if they felt the same? Weren’t we a little too young for such grown up ego-tantrums?

But then, what if K was not very keen on me going too?

To end all the endless questions, I dialed K’s number. When I told her, she was horrified.

“I went over to her place & invited her with a kumkum dabba!” she wailed. “Please explain what she means by ‘inviting properly’?  And hey! I invited you over the phone. Are you also going to ditch saying that was not enough? What will I tell my aunt & uncle? They are so keen to see you all at the wedding!”

I assured her I’ll make it with the other 2 and in fact had a great time at the wedding.

I’m sure this is a unique problem we face only in India.

Anywhere else, either you’re invited or you’re not!

No ‘inviting properly’ or any other hidden power-play at work!

But with us, the inviting and the attending has so many subtle nuances. I suppose it’s because, we’re totally caught between the age-old customs and the evolving westernised concept of giving people their ‘space’.

There were times when we used to land up at a friends’ or reatives’ homes unannounced and never doubt for a minute if you’ll not be welcomed with open arms.

Now we have to call beforehand to check if they’re home and if they’re free to receive you. Heck! even I wouldn’t like it if someone lands up with family for a meal while I’m planning on catching a movie or have anther dinner scheduled!

At the other end, we have the custom of ‘visiting’ an ailing person.

When do you know its the best time to visit someone who’s recuperating/has had a baby/has had a surgery/is in the intensive care?

We hear horror stories of someone who’d underwent a minor surgery, but expired because he’d caught an infection from a visiting relative.

Or about a newborn who had to fight for his life for weeks in the neonatal care, because some visiting relative had forced a pinch of sugar into his mouth which had some bacteria?

When one of my own family members was in the ICU, even we, the immediate family, were given only 5 minutes to visit her, twice a day. Reason: she’s recovering from a serious infection and she does not need any fresh ones. And since she was stable and would require a few more days of intensive care, we were asked to go home at other times. “What’s the point in you guys hanging out in the crowded lobby?” we were asked. “She’s doing well and if there’s an emergency, we’ll call you. You’re fifteen minutes away, anyway.” Reasoned the doctor.

So we trooped back home and hoped for the best. But we kept getting calls every evening from relatives who called us from the hospital lobby, demanding to see her. And were horrified by the family’s absence!

One of them said, “Can one of you be in the hospital, so we can at least see you?” It was like marking their attendance. It only got worse after she was shifted to a room. Every evening we were swarmed by visitors and the patient just wanted to sleep!

Ditto when I delivered my son. I was still getting used to the lack of sleep and all the other discomforts only a new-born can give you, and every evening, I had to grit my teeth and be nice to the hoards that wanted to ooh & ahh the baby…

But when I did refrain from visiting a sick person, fearing infection, I was gently reprimanded for not showing my solidarity to a fellow human being!

God! its all sooo confusing!

The line between giving someone their space and giving your moral support when a person needs your presence has been so smudged that we don’t know when we’re wanted and when we’re not.

After my experiences on both sides for years, now I’ve made rules (at least for me) to follow.

When I need to be on my own, like when I’m ill or taking care of someone, I tell people not to bother visiting. I personally find making small talk when ill is all the more draining.

Sometimes its very irritating when people gape at you as you’re lying in bed, trying to memorise every detail, so they can compare notes with a fellow visitor. And don’t even get me started on the ones who just want to cross you off their list of visits that day!

And I never visit a new-born till they’re back home & well-settled. (except for very sensitive folks who keep a tab!)

But best of all, I like this uncle of a friend, who held his son’s upanayanam at home with just him, his wife & son and later sent a card to all relatives & friends which said,

“My son’s Upananyanam ceremony was held at home on ——. I know you’ll want to be informed and your blessings will always be with him”

It really requires lot of guts to something like that. I’m sure none of his relatives forgave him for depriving them their share of elai sappad and all the gossip they’d have caught up on!

I swear it…

Coming from a true-blue Tambrahm family, I grew up with cuss words as part of  the language at home.

My grandmother called most people (including her own sons & grandsons) endearingly, “Yei, kattela poravane!”

My dad almost always started a conversation with “erumma madu!”

My aunts addressed most of us as “saniyane!”

And almost everybody at home were given to a fiery temper. And when that happened, cuss words flew around us like pigeons in flight in a Manirathnam movie!

But these words  are not to be confused with the obscenities you hear on the streets. Oh we’re very decent people, you see. We never abuse the parentage or any other sensitive areas of a person.

It is just that we enjoy getting things off our chests with a good show down. And peace follows almost immediately.

On an everyday basis, we like calling each other more names than our given ones. And most of us have to talk in ear-shattering decibels.

My mother was a total exception to this as she had the softest of voices and a very diplomatic nature.

But the majority of others had another rule too. Always agree to disagree.

Right from deciding on the menu for the day to planning a trip with family, each situation met with oh so many opinions and criticisms. In my younger days my brother and me spent our holidays placing bets on the outcome of everyday battles.

I dreaded the days when my father dropped me off at school. Because he’d invariably stop the car, roll down his window and scream at a passing biker or another car or anybody on the road with the choicest of  cuss words, while I cowered in my seat praying none of my friends would see me.

But once I grew up, I noticed something.

My mother had to deal with hypertension in her forties and my  grandmother at ninety, still is free of  such maladies.

The rest of my clan is also relatively free of hyper tension. (My aunt at seventy did have it for a while, but on her doctor’s advice, she’d stopped watching the soaps in the regional channels and she was healed without medication)

Does it mean all of us have this angry energy swirling inside us and needs an outlet regularly?

Do softer people bottle up everything and it ruins their health in the later years?

I’ve read health capsules which advices you to write the nastiest of letters to some one who’s wronged you and then tear it up to bits. It gets the whole negative emotion out of the system, they say.

Or lock yourself in a sound-proof room and scream your head off till your anger melts and vanishes.

Me? I prefer screaming at my object of ire ‘yei! ariuvketta kazhudhai!’ any day!!

Saves a lot of effort! I’m working on my voice too.

PS: I only feel sad my son is having  too peaceful an upbringing. Once my father told him “Stop staring at the TV and eat the saniyan in your hand,” in true Tambrahm tenor and the child promptly burst into tears!

The Disapprover….

I have this person living in my head. She disapproves of many things I do. She clucks and shakes her head disapprovingly at most of my thoughts and actions.

Hardly aware of her presence, I usually mistake her for just another opposing thought in my head.

I think she was created by my parents and teachers when I was still finding my feet in thinking independently. To be precise, I think phrases like ‘why can’t you be more like him/her?’ or ‘you stupid child!’ sowed the seeds for her existence.

Nurtured by things like bad report cards, jealous words, sharp reprimands, conditional love by people around, she slowly began taking shape.

By the time I was a teenager, desperately seeking my identity, she had rooted herself firmly in my mind, posing as another self. Steadily growing and gathering strength by planting a doubt here, bringing down my self esteem there.

In school and college, she made sure I was always in the background so I’ll never know what it is like to be confident and self assured.

As the years went by, my own independent spirit began rebelling. Looking back, the times I’ve ignored her voice completely and just went with what I call gut-feel has been more fruitful to me than the time I’ve held back with self-doubt.

Another cunning strategy she adopts is to make me comfortable around people who think like her. I’m always attracted to people who judge me harshly, who bully their way so I please them and ignore my own emotional growth.

Not just that, the constant struggle between her and my free spirit leads to constant stress. That stress strangely manifests as a myriad of physical discomforts…

Sometimes it’s a headache which starts at the base of my neck with all the bunched up muscles, sometimes it is a severe stomach pain and indigestion… and a few times just plain fatigue.

Now this whole reflection makes me wonder if in fact the mind is the root cause for all diseases?

In people who are totally a slave to their personal ‘disapprover’ for many many years, do the physical discomfitures slowly turn into malicious and life threatening illnesses?

After all, if stress can interfere and play havoc with the nervous system, the digestive system, immunity, et al, it can easily lead to their break down too, isn’t it?

The good news is, the only thing she knows is to disapprove. She has no ego nor is she evil or malicious.

When faced with a strong faith in oneself and love for oneself, she simply disappears…

Don’t lose your mind, lose your weight – Book Review

Book covers


I was listening to a friend drone on about her dietician… Another friend had just asked her how she managed to lose so much weight from the last time she’d seen her…

I politely interrupted to ask her if she’d read this book by Rujuta Diwekar.

“Pooh!” spat my friend. “My dietician told me that book is nothing but trash!”

Having read that book and totally taken in by it, I was a bit mortified by her strong reaction.

But in retrospect I always wondered how the regular dieticians would react to this book which attacks dieticians who use startvation to reduce weight so vehemently.

There, I got my answer!

Infact, I’m surprised why they all didn’t gang up together and sue her or something!

I,  for starters, have totally changed my perceptions on eating, after reading this book.

Its fantabulous!

The author, whose claim to fame is that she got Kareena Kapoor to achieve size ‘0’ tells all in this book. She even got Ms. Kapoor to write the foreward.

If a friend hadn’t recommended it so highly, I’d have just dismissed it as another filmy, hyped-up book…

Thank god I didn’t!

Because there’s nothing filmy about this book. Its more like the collective wisdom of all I used to hear from my grandmother, aunts and not to mention my own mother! With simple educational information on how to treat your body right and feel good about yourself.

She breaks down the most complexly percieved notions on the most simple process in our lives – feeding ourselves.

She educates us in a very simple language the processes involved in building a healthy body and how we punish ourselves by denying our bodies in the name of fad diets – nutrients.

I learnt that there are types of weights we carry. Lean body weight; which are the bones and muscles. And fat: which is just fat.

How those diets which tells us to avoid carbs or sugar or whatever reduces our lean body weight which is so essential to being healthy and not our fat…

She gives lots of examples from real life too, to make her point. For instance,  how a man went to weighing 68 kilos from 116 kilos after he joined a centre which promised rapid weight loss. But never felt energetic. His hair was falling at a rapid rate. His skin sagged around him. He tripped over a speed breaker while walking and ended up with multiple fractures in his arm. Why? Because his bones had lost their density due to starvation.

‘Don’t ever hold your body ransom to the weighing machine’ she cautions. ‘Weight is just a number. Once you start eating healthy and cultivate good fitness routines, you’ll automatically lose your fat’.

Along with all that we’ve heard and never paid much attention to.

Like chew your food, swallow and then take the next spoon (I was amazed that I was eating only 60% of what I normally eat to feel full!), think positive thoughts while eating, no TV or phone calls while eating, (this is the hardest! Istill haven’t mastered this!) eat something every 2 hours, eat your dinner maximum 2 hours after sunset, sleep early, never have alcohol on empty stomach, exercise regularly… all this and more.

She has a chapter dedicated to the four basic principles of eating right, which blows up a lot of myths on eating.

I was so floored by this book I was a zealous follower for about 2 weeks.

I could actually see my cheek bones at the end of 10 days and even my tummy had visibly reduced. Excited I got  a lot of copies and distributed it to all my friends.

But once the enthusiasm waned I’m back to my usual sins! And gained my weight back.

But since I have seen the results of  this book first hand, I’m making this my bible. I read a few pages everyday to drill it into my head.

I push myself to practice Yoga even when I can think of a million excuses….

Maybe  now I need a book for self discipline!

In sickness and in health…


Whenever I fell ill as a child, (which was quite often!) the whole household revolved around me. Ditto for my brother too. Whenever one of us, or both of us (most of the time) fell ill, my mom stayed home and had a perpetually worried face. Dad called every hour to check on us. Everyone joined forces to make sure I swallowed my medicines.

This pattern continued well in to my late teens.

Once I came down down with a viral when I’d just started working.

“You go to work” I told my worried mother. “I’m old enough to take care of myself”

Reluctantly, she left me with instructions on what I should eat and what medicines I should take, still with a worried face.

I dozed off into a fitful sleep.

I woke up at lunch time. Tried to get up and walk to the dining room a few feet away. But my feet just didn’t co-operate…

Wobbly, I held on to the wall and staggered to the table. I fed myself and staggered back to bed.

Now I had a horrible headache plus a raging fever. The tablets lessened the fever, but the headache refused to go away.

After much tossing and turning, I drifted off to another bout of fitful sleep.

I woke up to my mother opening the front door.

She came straight to my room to check on me.

“Don’t ever leave me when I have fever again!” I croaked.


Years later I fell ill when I myself had became a mother. My husband just couldn’t take off from work, but he did his bit by dropping off my 2 year old at his parents’ during the day and picking him up after work.  My dad brought me my lunch. (perks of living within an 8km radius of one’s parents and in-laws!)

Again my raging fever and headache stopped me from reading or doing anything remotely enjoyable. But surprisingly, I didn’t falter when I had to walk around the house.

My rest lasted only 2 days, since my son spent his second day whimpering & crying for me alternatively and refused any nourishment.

So the third day  I had no choice but get up and take care of him!

A few months ago, I was sick again, but never had the luxury of a  lie in. Armed with paracetamols, I drove my son to school, did all my usual chores for the day. Only difference was I napped for an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon.  And went to bed early.

But what surprised me was, I somehow had the strength to do all my chores.

So it brings me to an essential question… Is illness merely a state of mind? If I have responsibilities, my body gets the energy to perform the chores and when I don’t, it runs totally out of it?

Or is it just one of the curses of motherhood?!!

Changing times

Recently, I bought a choppu set for a friend’s daughter. Delightedly, she ran away to her room to start playing. After a while, she came back to us, looking puzzled.

“Amma, what’s this?” she asked, holding up a kal-ural. “Its something in which you grind mavu for idli” My friend explained. “But how?” the little girl demanded. We gave her a demo of pretend-grinding.

After she left us alone, my friend and me looked at each other. “She’s never seen one!” my friend exclaimed. “We grew up with these things. Imagine a whole new generation is growing up without knowing a kalloral, ammi or the other stuff used for dry grinding” (my own grand mom used to refer to it as aarikkal, but none of my friends in Chennai seem to have heard of them!) we mused.

It really got me thinking.

Just imagine, my son, for instance would have never seen a washing stone.

35317255.jpg For those who don’t know what it is, a washing stone is a cement platform on which a rough granite or sandstone is mounted. Its easy to stand over, spread a piece of cloth to apply soap and then holding one end, beat the cloth on the stone many times, before rinsing it and wringing it dry. I still don’t know the thought-process behind beating it on the stone!

Of course in an apartment there’s absolutely no space for ammi or ural. And with the maids and washing machines, nobody needs to know what a washing stone is.

9770814.jpg I remember the two washing stones in the backyard of my grandmother’s. Because the house was always full-up, it was really handy to have two. I don’t remember the maid washing any clothes over there. They only washed the non-paththu pathrams in the evenings, and swept & mopped the house. The major vessels were washed by an aunt or an older cousin in the backyard.

Every one washed their own clothes. A visiting daughter like my mom used to wash hers & her kids’. Wash-times were always fun for us. It was normally done in the mornings, just before people went in for their baths. It was a sort of communal thingy.

I remember vividly how us kids used to pass time in the backyard, either picking fruit or flowers are something equally idyllic. While our mothers and uncles washing their clothes and having their gossip-sessions. While someone drew water from the well, two others would be at the washing stones. Someone else would be wringing the clothes and hanging them dry and some one else would be at the back verandah combing her hair to get ready for office. My grandmother would probably be putting up her feet in the same verandah, drinking her second cup of coffee while taking part in the morning banter.

It all seems light years away! Now who has that kind of time? I always wake up late, do everything in a mad rush before locking up the house to go to school!

If only we still did all these things, we’ll never need a gym!

One of the books I read on healing says that the process of grinding and cooking before the machines took over was very therapeutic. The rythm of grinding, the smell of spices, inhaling the aromas of cooking are all very soothing for a woman, the author claims. I tend to agree, because I feel so de-stressed while I cook.

Maybe we really had something going for a healthy living those days.

Right from eating on a banana leaf to sleeping soon after sunset, we had such close commune with nature.

And we were so eco-friendly too!

There must be some way to reclaim all that while still enjoying our mobile phones and plasma screens!

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