It’s true girl power when boys have girl role models

Re and I are reading Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls right now. Every night, we read 2-3 stories and are not allowed to proceed further until we have passed the Rebel Girl exam of the previous night’s stories (which he always does with flying colors, while I goof up quite often). One of the common struggles in all the stories is fighting against limiting beliefs : eg science is not for girls and neither is math or computer technology, being a pirate, astronomer, boxer, orchestra conductor, surfer, primatologist, astrophysicist and whatnot.

Of course he knows what breaking stereotypes and fighting for what you believe in is very well; as an “unboy boy”, he’s often been subjected to scrutiny for doing “girl things” viz: dressing up his dolls, loving glitter and sequins, sewing and wearing purple Dora crocs, amulets (Sofia) and Doc McStuffin bracelets and thinking Hermione Granger is the coolest girl on the planet.

And that’s why I wasn’t surprised when he got hooked onto Project Mc2- featuring teenage spy Mc Keyla who teams with three other super smart girls to become secret agents who use science to save the day, from hackers, villains and other control freaks. “Mamma, they are rebel girls too,” he said. The timing was perfect.

Needless to say, when a hamper with a DIY kit arrived from them, he gave a squeal of delight. Apparently the lipstick and lip balm making DIY kit is an interesting diversion when they are on a mission to stop a hacking device.

And that’s how our DIY project lip balm began: mixing wax base with wax chips, melting, adding flavor, shimmer, pouring into molds and creating our very own name – Melon Swirl

It was nice to have our lip balm and eat it too. We can’t wait to raise the bar now and try something a little more complicated.


Netflix and the art of pixie dust

Towards the end of last year, I had a sort of pixie dust experience. A little fairy called Netflix walked into my life and and I began to look at screen time so differently. It was about me time and family time interwoven so well, everybody won!

I was invited to this really cool party to be a part of their core #streamteam (yes, I got a sneak preview of many new shows including Llama llama (and also a pair of red pajamas to go with it. And the book)

With my brand new subscription, the child got a profile all his.

Although the cat is still waiting for his.

Soon it was Christmas and this happened!

And then, I became a true connoisseurBut what they did for Valentine’s Day made me fall head over heels in love

with myself!

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

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



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