Sunflowers, strawberries and other reasons to visit Saj on the Mountain

  1. This chance to be a goofball with your parents
    2. This chance to have your strawberries and eat them too.3. This bright yellow which is your mamma’s favorite color 4. These sunflowers you can use as a muse for watercolor afternoons5. This funky pool to splash in the evenings6. This road to your cottage7. This strawberry butter making session 8. This BFF you made over the strawberry butter making session9. This grand finale to your high tea10. This play area you can be a goofball in all over again

Death and other difficult conversations with parents

A few weeks ago, my phone rang in the middle of the afternoon. It was my first cousin. I am at an age where such calls are ominous because sadly, we no longer call each other when the going is good. We used to, a long time ago.

I felt a twinge of guilt that I had exited the family Whatsapp group because I could no longer bear the white noise or the cheery forwards.

The call was about my maternal uncle (Amma’s older brother), who had passed away after a prolonged battle with diabetes related complications. He was 77. The eldest brother went the same way a few years ago, and my mother is sure she is next in line. She has two valve replacements on her resume apart from diabetes, the family heirloom.

I don’t know how this sounds but I rehearse this call in my head all the time: making and receiving it. When I bring this up with my siblings, they are in denial. “She’s only 73,” my brother reminds me exasperatedly. He is in California and furthest away from my parents. His optimism is essential for his survival. My sister is in Dubai and into Reiki. Whenever I bring up existential questions she reminds me I should try it too.

I watch Mukti Bhawan and Amour in the same week last month and both movies lead me into the space of talking to my parents about their death. May be when they are both home at the same time, I think. Such conversations need the right ambience I remind myself.

Most of my friends have lost a parent; some have lost both.  I show up for condolences, I call relatives who live far from their children, I flip when my father doesn’t answer the phone (he usually doesn’t. These days he has also learned how to put me on hold while he cooks).

I call my father to tell him about my uncle’s death and book his ticket to Mumbai. For the last six years, Appahas been living by himself on a farm in Zad- Shahapur, a village in Belgaum. It’s been his lifelong dream to be a farmer. He is finally living the dream, although it is inconvenient to all of us.

Appa likes to describe himself as 80, not out. It’s been a long standing joke in the family – referring to death as ‘out’. My uncle (who is no more) and my father used to regularly discuss the geriatrics in the family with their scores:

“ You mean Ramki? 87 not out?”

“No, his older brother. 91 not out.”

“I think you should move back,” I tell my father. You are all alone there, and it’s a jungle. What if there is an emergency? Who will take you to the doctor? What if no one knows you are unwell and your phone is dead as usual?

“My father is with me,” he says. My grandfather passed away when Appa was 14.

I hang up.

I don’t think my parents think as much about their death as I do. They think about life. I think about logistics. I think Belgaum-Bombay- Dubai-Los Angeles and my head spins. Death is a lot about logistics. Who to call? What to do? When to do it?How to do it? I know I will be stuck with the operations. As chief planner and executor of all things in my family, I know this will be my lot too.

I have been visualizing a family home, a sort of halfway house where my parents and all the bereaved members of the family can live together. Perhaps that will help them lean in for each other? I store the idea in my drafts folder.

A year ago, I had the biggest fright.

Appa called one morning, saying he couldn’t see a thing. His cataract had insidiously burgeoned over the last two years to blur out his vision completely and an emergency surgery had to be scheduled. We rushed him through a battery of tests that were routine before the surgery, given his age. His bloodwork was impeccable and my father couldn’t stop beaming. “I have really enjoyed life, doctor!”. However there was an 80% hearing impairment owing to the long time effects of tobacco (my father is a heavy smoker)

He promised he would quit smoking. I sent him a consignment of nicotine gums. When I visited again, the gums were untouched. I was mad at him.

“Don’t you worry about dying?”, I barked.

“What is this dying business all the time? Let me live yaar!”

I imagine a death shower for my father, where he will invite all his friends and family and cook a feast for them.  I think 80 is a good age to do this. If there is one candidate who can throw a death shower, it is Appa. I am scared to suggest it though; my mother would consider it a bad omen.

My mother is on life-long blood thinners. This essentially means that she treads the fine line on a daily basis between bleeding to death or choking to death if her INR (International Normalised Ratio), an indicator of her prothrombin time (essentially the time it takes for human blood to clot) is not adequately managed.

Amma regularly defaults on her INR tests and if I don’t keep tabs on her, weeks go by without her being tested. The last time, her ratio was dangerously high, at 5.2. She was to travel in two days to visit my sister in Dubai. The doctor advised her not to travel until the INR was brought down by monitoring her dosage of warfarin for a few days.

She lost it.

“What does he know? Has he had his heart opened up twice? Has he given birth to twins when his weight was 40 kilos? Does he know that traveling makes me happy? I need a new doctor. I am going to sack this doctor.”

And that was that.

(I post this on Facebook and it gets 200 likes. Amma has a fan club.)

Back from the clinic, Amma has a chat with our cat Millie. They often chat about this and that, but mostly about who is going to go first. Millie is 16, which makes her 112 in human years and a more likely contender for the first spot.

When Amma speaks, she has Millie’s full attention.

“I am not going to be scared by doctors. If I feel happy visiting my children, what is the doctor’s problem? Wouldn’t you get angry too?I am going to do what I want. But you still have to wait for me, ok?”

Miaaaooww, says Millie, and sashays back into her favorite chair. I let Amma go.

My parents have become my children. I am constantly admonishing them for being careless about their health, diet, exercise, and whatnot. For tempting fate. They are constantly ignoring me like I were an errant child.

Amma sent me quite a few voice notes on this trip. Most of it was about me being a drama queen and that she had a right to live as she pleased. She had a right to enjoy. Needless to say, my sister was on tenterhooks for the time that Amma was with her.

During my mother’s second valve replacement surgery around five years ago, the surgeon had told me that this was a way to buy ten more years, at best, for my mother.

She keeps reminding me that five are down, five to go.

“I want to go like Rangu,” she tells me these days. Mrs. Rangarajan was her closest friend; she died last year and went real quickly. It’s my mother’s dream death. She wakes up some mornings and tells me she dreamt about dying. There’s a sparkle in her eyes. Tell me about it, I say. She does. We both giggle (me nervously).“I don’t want to be in a hospital bed ever again and no doctor will open my heart and make me look like cockroach,” she announces.

Amma was still in Dubai when I had to break the news of her brother’s death. She was quiet. The voice notes stopped.

Last month, Appa called with a sense of urgency. What now, I wondered?

“My passport is expiring. Don’t we have to renew it?”

“Hahahha.You still have a passport?”, I laughed. “But you don’t go anywhere Appa”, I teased him.

It’s true. Appa hardly ever leaves his farm. Except for the bereaved. I don’t know what he says or does but my relatives tell me he knows exactly what is to be done when someone dies.

I visualize myself turning into my father.

He reminds me of his unused US visa. “I have to go now yaar. It’s not correct to get a visa of a country and not go. How they will feel?”

I panic and call my brother. “Dude, we have to make Appa’s trip happen this year before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?” he asks.

“He is 80,” I remind him.

So?”

Back to square one.

Some days, when I walk into the house after my morning walk and Amma is in shavasana, my heart stops. Is it what I think it is, I wonder? Hell no, because I am not ready yet. I am not even ready to let Millie go. All this rationalizing and ruminating over death hasn’t really made me ready for that call. That call I may have to make.

May be being in denial is not a bad thing after all. Death is all around us, but even that checklist for the death shower may not provide me with the emotional inoculation I need. May be talking about it just buys us time. It buys us another opportunity to have conversations with the one who hasn’t gone yet. It buys us another night of going to bed without having to process grief.Because grief is a certainty in a way that joy can never be.

Till then, let me let my parents live yaar!

 

(An edited version of this post appeared in Arre here )

 

 

13 reasons we love the J W Marriott in Mussoorie (even though we couldn’t find any walnuts on the walnut grove)

  1. This great way to start your day with a picnic by the stream

2. This view while chomping on your post-breakfast Danish

 

3. This walnut grove to hug

4. This evening of story-telling

4. This tiramisu you never tire of eating

5. This shortcut to lunch

6. This comfort of watching Harry Potter movies

7. This corn-on-a-cob at sundown

8. Or this lolling about on a beanbag

9. This magical glow after sundown

10. This hide and seek we never tire of

11. This quick screen time while mamma is at the spa

12. Or this play with water curtains that tells you she is still watching

13. And this new BFF who totally gets us

Saving a million trees, one smokeless chulha at a time

Last month, listening to Hrishikay on Radio One (the only way I can drive in peak hours), I chanced upon a conversation involving a Himalayan Rocket Stove.  The interviewee was Russell Collins, an Australian whose soul lives in India and this was something he had invented for the Himalayan region as a more environment-friendly way to cook and heat up the house. The stove works on a principle of vortex heating,  which burns even the smoke created by it, rendering it almost 70-80% smokeless, while creating such high temperatures that you can not only cook food on it, but also use to heat up the house in winter.

He had me at one million trees.

He had me at sustainable cooking solutions.

He had me at 40 lakh deaths resulting from indoor pollution.

He also had me at “we need volunteers for workshops”

As an extension of this idea for the rest of India, which doesn’t live in sub-zero temperatures but can still benefit from smokeless cooking – Russell’s company conducts workshops, which they are proud to call the Smokeless Chulha Project. The aim of these workshops is to train as many end users (and trainers) in the making of these chulhas while highlighting the hazardous effects of conventional chulhas, the drain on forest reserves they create and the inordinate amount of time and effort spent on collecting and transporting firewood. Consider this: Every day, women in rural India walk as much as 10-20 km in search of firewood, and usually bring back a few kilos. If they are lucky, it lasts two days. By the time she is 40, a woman would have walked the distance of Kashmir to Kanyakumari and back just in search of firewood.

If you are still wondering what the fuss about smokeless chulhas is all about, allow me some gory detail:

If this is what a conventional chulha can do to a wall, imagine the extent of damage it can do to your lungs and respiratory system. In contrast, the Smokeless Chulha creates 80% less smoke than a conventional stove and also uses 80% lesser wood.

I quickly shot off a message to Hrishi and prompt as ever, he shot me back a number of Nitisha Agrawal who manages the Smokeless Chulha project while Russell is in Australia. She is armed with years of branding and corporate experience, but is thirsty to be an agent for social change. She also rallies around to find people truly passionate about the project to give it further wings. As someone who is constantly reinventing the way I live, I was happy to be a catalyst to what I saw as a less consumptive way of living.

By the end of the week, I had signed up for their forthcoming workshop at Kanha Tiger Reserve, in collaboration with the Forest department of M.P, ably led by Sanjay Shukla and his deputy, Anjana Tirki. For a state that is abundant in its forest reserves, Madhya Pradesh wears them lightly. Watching this dynamic duo and their team at work, I realized that most of real conservation is silent. On one given night, Anjana was at our guest house at 8 pm, trying to get feedback about the workshops, what could be done to ensure that the villagers do indeed make these chulhas and train others to do so. She had to travel back 75 km to her home in Mandla, to a 15 month baby, but she was unperturbed.

Of course forest departments are believers in conservation; it’s in their DNA. But it’s quite another thing to recognize the potential of an initiative from an outsider and let them in and want it to be scaled up to your region and community. That requires vision, that these able leaders at Kanha had. There were two workshops on two different days, and for each workshop, they had lined up at least 30-35 people from different village communities around Kanha. The turnout was far more than that. 150 people from 75 villages turned up over two days to learn about Smokeless Chulha (cookstove).The first workshop was at the Eco Centre of the Khatia range of the Kanha Tiger reserve and the second at Gadi range, around 70 km away.  Although several of them had secured an LPG connection through various schemes, they knew that the chulha is here to stay. It is what is used to heat water, cook rice and of course make rotis (which always tasted better off the chulhas). Plus, everyone wanted their gas cylinder to last.

The constant in all workshops is the chief trainer Tanzin – trekker, naturalist, horse-doctor and farmer with a huge love for the forests and mother earth and who mourns the infestation of plastic and consumerism in our daily life. Tanzin is the official trainer of trainers, local communities and volunteers for all smokeless chulha workshops , but clearly we need more Tanzins. We need to create more of them.

What does it take?

The doughnut mix:  (this forms the basic skeleton of the chulha and you can stack up three to five depending on what height you need for cooking) : clay, sand, puffed rice (murmura) and bhusa (dried hay)

The fuel for the smokeless chulha: Twigs, dry leaves, cowdung cakes, etc. You don’t need large pieces of wood, which means trees need not be felled to cook your meals

What it costs to make: Well, not more than a hundred rupees.

Well here is a video on how to make a smokeless chulha with step by step instructions. The video is in Hindi, but an English version is also available

After two days of observing an eager and enthusiastic audience, asking questions, devising their own chulha hacks and promising to go back home and make a chulha for themselves, it was time to go home. It was a small milestone, these 150 people, but what we left behind was larger dreams, a few leaders and a renewed passion for the environment. Meanwhile, the Kanha team was already talking about the next workshop. More villages. More people. More chulhas. Less smoke.

If you wish to request a workshop in your region, click here

If you wish to volunteer with this project, click here 

To follow their work on facebook, click here

 

On un-ambition, the bigness of small things and a love affair

I know. I meant for this to be a new year post, but looks like time has run ahead of me already.

Every year in December, WordPress  sends me  ‘my year in blog’. It’s a pat on the back that includes statistics: how often I had posted, how well the posts had done, how many  new visitors had there been, how many old ones had kept coming back, how many comments, shares, likes, reblogs, and all the things people do to show you virtual love.

This year, they sent me nothing. It’s the sort of thing we do when we don’t have much to say to a friend. We stay quiet, hoping they will understand.

Perhaps they were too embarrassed to point out that I had, indeed, had a more or less abysmal year in blog. At best, there were a few guest posts or travel blogs that I had committed to do. I didn’t post enough, I didn’t engage enough, I didn’t share enough.

Somewhere in the course of 2016, I decided I had nothing to declare.  I felt nothing. No bylines I wanted to flaunt, no articles I wanted to pitch; I was tired of having opinions, a point of view on everything. I was tired of trying to stay relevant. It was as though I wanted some time to be in a state of un-opinion.  I wanted to be the audience, the reader, the observer.  Perhaps after years of putting myself out there: columns, features, reviews, this blog…I felt depleted. It reached a point where I felt I was at the tipping point of social media, as though the boundaries between real life and virtual life were blurred. I had an epiphany when I read this article.

I had discontinued my column, stopped posting on my blog and decided to watch my life go by. It had been a while. I hadn’t given myself the time or the luxury to grieve all that had gone wrong with it. Yes, I was sad, but the tears just wouldn’t come. I was on autopilot mode. I was a get up and go girl, how could I stand still? Stillness was unimaginable. Movement kept me sane. Do this, fix that, plan this, post that.

Plus there was Re. His conversations, his wisdom, things he wanted to share, his energy, his enthusiasm, his never-ending desire to always collaborate with me for things.

But last year, I held his hand and allowed him to lead me. The world also seemed interesting through his lens. Sometimes we have to un-parent to become better parents.

He is an artist; I wanted to learn how to draw and paint too. I joined a small art class. I found joy in watercolor. I was always fascinated by it but too intimidated to try it. 2016 was about trying everything.Like this Shakira song, which Re and I often danced to whenever either one of us needed a pick-me-up.

I found that water was forgiving. And generous. And that even if you never ended up with what you envisioned, it always gave you something to smile about. And that when things dry up, they become different things.

img20161214103425

The earlier competitive me would have said: so when do I get really good at this, start selling my art, illustrating books and whatnot?

The me now said: Wow, I can make a hollyhock. Tomorrow, I’m going to try roses.

I also started taking violin lessons with the same teacher who teaches Re the piano.

The earlier-me would have wondered when would I be able to compose my own tunes, figure chords of songs.

The me now said: Lalli, as long as you don’t touch the second string while bowing on the first one, you are doing fine.

In another time, I wouldn’t have factored these in as victories or even milestones. But now they were big. They mattered.

I became diligent about homework. The earlier me was cocky. She didn’t believe in practice. She thought she was beyond homework. The new me couldn’t wait to get home and do her homework.

I think I like the new me more. I’m falling in love with her..

And there was Amma. When I was tired of being the parent, she let me be her child.

The universe was kind. Kindness came from lovely places. Old friends who I thought I had lost. New friends who I never knew I had. Strangers who wowed me with their generosity.

Whenever I was low or too clammed up to say so, someone always picked me up. Sometimes, all it took was a ping on my phone. A comment. A message in my inbox. Food. Tea. Silence. Words. A mosaic tiling workshop. An evening in a yacht. Goa.

And then there were letters. Postcards.  Books.

A friend sent me Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and it was perhaps the best gift of last year. It was a letting go of what I was supposed to be and an embracing of what I truly was. With all my glorious flaws and imperfections. I wrote more letters to my future self, in the delicious stationery a friend gifted. How did she know this is what I had to do?

There were many more gifts and several random kindnesses. The universe opened its arms, big and wide, and welcomed me into its lap. It was a year of going back into the womb. Of submitting to the universe  that I needed nurturing, that the child in me wanted to look out the window because she was so tired of looking within, looking after.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned last year was from my friend Jo. I was sharing with her my concerns as a single mother – that I couldn’t orchestrate things beyond a point , that I was beside myself with constantly curating like-mindedness: whether it was friendships for  my child, or myself, that something felt wrong when friendship took so much work. And she said to me what will perhaps be the most valuable parenting advice anyone can ever receive “It’s not about like-mindedness or finding people-like-us. It’s the random kindnesses from people. And it’s mostly people you have nothing in common with.”

She was right. You can’t count on PLU. There is a demand-supply situation out there. What you can count on is the kindness of ordinary people. They may not get the books you read or the shows you watch or the movies you like, but you can count on them when you are trying to raise a child. They are your village.

Some invited me to their homes for a holiday. Some fed me food or words. Some played board games or had meaningful conversations with my child when I was too spent. Some listened. Some spoke. There were free EFT sessions. Inspiring podcasts.Videos. Cake. Jam.

My body was forgiving too. After years of inaction, it was delighted to be stretched,  twisted and contorted by yoga. It was forgiving when my backbends didn’t turn out as I had planned.

I often wondered why people posted shiny happy posts on instagram  while they were actually sad. I know now that they were sending affirmations. Or just expressing  gratitude. And there’s always plenty to be grateful for.

So dear 2016, thank you for all the small things. You deserve a hug. And some roses. Better late than never.

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Why Sol De Goa is a good place to soul-search

When I said yes to an invitation from Sol De Goa a few months ago, little did I realise that it would open my heart to a very different Goa – where one feels faint need to go even close to a beach (although Candolim beach is just 2 km from this tucked away resort in Nerul, overlooking the Sinquerim river). Strangely, Sol De Goa seems unperturbed by its more opulent neighbour LPK, which going by the signs all along Candolim, seems to be some sort of party capital – a thing I am perhaps too old or too sensible for.

Once a getaway for distinguished Portuguese officials, Sol was redesigned, renamed and restored by its current owner, Suraj Morajkar – one of the few real estate people who genuinely cares about restoration and heritage. Designed by acclaimed designer Tarun Tahiliani with strong Goan influences and a classic Portuguese feel, the property includes 21 rooms: four suites, two deluxe suites and 15 well-appointed rooms. All these are made further charming by the fact that they hug a beautiful central courtyard pool, flanked by some exquisite pottery.

So unwittingly, I found pieces of my soul in different ways at Sol De Goa:

Like when I entered the resort and felt it was someone’s grandparent’s home, with all that old world charm.

img20160902113001Or when the same night, it transformed into this high octane place that never went to sleep. Thursdays is when  Goa’s best come to shake a leg at Sol De Goa:

 

Or when I sat in my balcony the next afternoon and nibbled at my chilli cheese toast, listening to bird song by the Sinquerim river. img20160901171044Or when I partnered with the resident chef, a lovely man named Prashant in creating mangane, a traditional goan kheer of sago, yellow gram, coconut milk and jaggery for Ganesh Chaturthi. And had two full bowls of it.
img20160902080006Or when I stared into space, eating my pancakes with strawberry butter one morning, wondering just how long would the twin towers of Our Lady of Hope church be. img20160901090738Or when I attained zen just by loUnging by the courtyard pool, doing nothing, wondering which one was a more exquisite shade of blue: the pots or the pool.img20160902113025

 

10 reasons to love Novotel Goa resort and spa

So I spent a few days in Candolim during my Goa R&R last month and one of the places that hosted me was the Novotel Goa resort and spa (Pinto Waddo, off Candolim road). Here’s why you should go too:

  1. There as much room to do nothing as there is to pack it all up
  2. img20160905154352There is splashes of color when you need it
    img201609051223323. And then there is tranquility when you need it too. And some wonderful spa treatments at their poolside spa.img201609051523154. And how can I forget the memorable Sunday Brunch at La Briese, their beach-side restaurant, which also features a live band every weekend. And is also a great spot for sunset cocktails. img201609041427195. Just when I was missing the boy, I saw this father-son duo X-box connecting or Nintendoing (to me, it’s all the same) in the lobby. There’s plenty more where that came from. img201609051222076. And certainly it’s not all about the kids. Some things are all yours img201609051524277. And while you sip your poolside cosmopolitan, you can stare at this viewimg201609051526228. Or take a selfie (or if you are lucky, a photo) before you say good bye to it all photo-79. Did I forget to mention there is a special tree sandwich for those you have the eye for it? img2016090413201410. And how can I leave you without a sunset? photo-8