A renewed fresh perspective

A fresh perspective

A wonderful thing happened to me last week. Two things actually. I got to meet / talk to some of my closest friends and it led to conversations which I was in dire need of. Secondly, I started reading a book that I had read as a teenager. And I see the world and myself in a new light, which used to shine within me when I was a young girl.

Since some time now I have felt like getting in touch with the people who knew me while I was growing up, in my teens and early 20s. And asking them one question. “Was I always such a worrier?”

I am much more confident now, I can be assertive on issues that matter to me, but I am so worried all the time. Worried about the company, the employee who has resigned, worried about the child, about someone dying, about hairloss, Modi-ji’s policies and everything under the sun. I want to know if this was how I used to be or is this something I have picked up along the way? Because as far as I remember, I used to be a fun person. Easy to break into spontaneous laughter and always ready to smile. Now I feel as if I am a tightly strung ball of wool with frayed edges and threads coming out which I am constantly trying to tuck in. The softness, the laughter is hard to come by now.

But not in this week that went by. Two of my best friends from school made me laugh so much that my sides hurt. The restaurant was almost about to throw us out because of the ruckus we were creating. We remembered how we would crackle on silly jokes in school and leap across the room to give a high-five and laugh uncontrollably. Both of them confided that they are as much worried now about everything as I am and perhaps its just this growing up business that sucks. One of them, the chirpiest girl I’ve known said that she hates talking now. Everything feels fake. But that night we talked. We convinced each other that this is a phase and it shall pass. We must keep reminding each other of who we were and of who we are deep within.

Another friend assured me on WhatsApp that I was always “optimistic and looked at the world amidst chaos like you always found the needle in the proverbial haystack”. These words were a balm to me. Chaos is everywhere, why had I forgotten to find my needle of peace?

A little bit of peace was found in Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I was 18 years old when the book came out and it stunned me. I had a purchased a pirated copy somewhere on the street shops of Mumbai, it was missing a few pages, but the message was alive. The words were magical. I dreamt of going to a dessert after reading it. I am reading that one again, from a fresh perspective. It’s a simple book which tells you to believe in chances, in the soul of the world. Of having faith in Maktub, ‘that what is written’. People believe in God, some believe in science, some others in holy men and women. I started believing in destiny. It’s all already written. So many things could have happened if something else had worked out or if something hadn’t worked out. We would be entirely different people if just one thing in life had changed tracks. But this is where we are, for better or worse, this is what is written for us. Now this doesn’t mean we stop working hard towards what we believe in, but its always “Karma kar, phal ki chinta na kar”. Dont worry about something that didn’t happen exactly as you thought it would, but what happened is the best for you. I also know it can get difficult to believe this in times of despair, but I assure you that once you are out of the tunnel, you will see the magic that went through you.

In this glitzy age, more things come to you than you can digest. Fancy places, ground breaking concepts and songs that you can’t make a word of.  It’s like spinning all the time and you can only see everything in a blur.

But I am slowly bringing back things which I cherished and savoured 10 years back. Arjun and I dance to the tune of ‘Chhaiyya chhaiyya’ and those wonderful 90s songs. I have made vow to meet and talk to my old friends more often now. To read my journals from that time and start believing again that “everything happens for the good”.

May you too hear the language of your soul.

Love,

Rutvika

Here’s a toast to a non-fussy Valentine’s day

Valentines day

Cheesy is as cheesy does.

There are a couple of Valentine’s days that I remember very vividly. Now at 31 it is not a big deal, but there was a time when it did mean a lot.

I was about 12 or 14 when the song ‘Chui Mui Si Tum’ had released. Remember that one with Preeti Jhangiani and Abbas and that weird teddy bear which clung to your tee-shirt with its paws and feet? Yep, it had become a huge craze and all the shops were lined with those teddy bears embroidered with Valentine messages. I was perhaps too young for anyone to give any Valentine’s gift to me, especially since my father was a police inspector then, but I wanted it so badly. And then I remember walking down to that shop with my dad and buying a small off-white teddy bear with a red jacket and black paws with a velcro. I had that one for several years, a Valentine’s gift from my dad. That teddy bear brought in a lot of promises for a youth filled with cheesy indie-pop love songs.

Later as we were growing up, there were countless number of Valentine’s days celebrated with several people. There was a time when my brother and I were such partners in crime that we would bring our gifts home together , remove the personalised messages and say ‘oh, we just got it for each other’. Once a girl gave him a 3 foot tall soft toy and that disgusting thing sat in our bedroom for so long that I still see it in my horror dreams.  I am sure my parents knew exactly what was happening but they played along.

Our first Valentine’s after marriage was a wreck. We were 24, both of us had joined our family business but we were unsure about what exactly to do. After a long drunk dinner on Valentine’s eve, we woke up at 9 am and stumbled into office sometime at 11. My father-in-law gave us a talk that day. We had sure inherited the business but we had no reason to be callous about it. It was time to man-up and take responsibilities. And all this he said to his son for both of us and not directly to me (which is such a relief when you are newly married), but it hurt in the correct way. Now six years later, many times he has to tell us to relax and take it easy, but on some days it feels as if the office has become our Valentine.

I also remember the February of 2008, 10 years back, when I was madly in love with a guy who had promised to take me to the gully wali chai-ki-tapri for a date. It was convenience. He could smoke there and wouldn’t have to fuss over the details. I lit his cigarette for him, may be smoked one myself too. It was the cool thing to do you see, but being young and stupid can make you do the most foolish things and fall in love with the best rogues in town.

Now at 31 all I can see is the commercial mushy side of Valentines day. Just like me, the Shiv Sena seems to be calmer now, they used to create havoc every Valentine’s day when we were in college.

I am not sure what the 20 year olds do on Valentine’s Day now, but for me when you are facing real world problems like your maid falling sick and asking for a 2 month leave, I want to dance around her and woo her so that she comes back sooner and my life returns back to normal. Or when the child is preparing for the annual day at school and keeps singing ‘nanha munha rahi hoon’ all day long, you start humming it even in the bathroom and cannot for the love of god remember any other romantic song to sing to your husband.

The silver lining is that after 6-7 years of marriage the cynicism level of husband and wife has matched and he expects as much (or just as little) from Valentine’s Day as I do.

So cheers to that and a happy Valentine’s day to all of you!

Rutvika

Carrot chocolate chip cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

Carrot chocolate chip cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

This delectable wintery cake is packed with a lot of cinnamon and ginger giving the carrots a festive feel. The brown sugar and chocolate chips give it a beautiful crumb.

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What you will need:

  • 350 gm carrots, grated
  • 150 gm chocolate chips
  • 200 gm flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 ml vegetable oil
  • 150 gm brown sugar
  • 60 gm curd hung to drain excess water

For frosting :

  • 125 gm cream cheese, cold
  • 50 gm unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 300 gm icing sugar, sifted

What to do:

  1. In a bowl sift together flour + baking powder + cinnamon.
  2. In another large bowl, whisk brown sugar and oil together.
  3. Add the eggs one at a  time incorporating fully before adding the next one.
  4. To this mixture add the hung curd, vanilla essence and grated ginger. Mix well.
  5. Add flour mixture to it and mix it till you see no streaks of flour.
  6. Gently fold in grated carrots and chocolate chips.
  7. Line the bottom of an 8 or 9 inch pan with parchment paper and butter the sides.
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170C for 40-45 minutes.
  9. For frosting, mix all the ingredients together til it forms a smooth paste. Refrigerate it for 2 hours before using.
  10. Once the cake cools down completely, frost it with the cream cheese frosting and decorate with chopped pistachios or rose petals.

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Notes:

  1. Instead of chocolate chips you can use chopped and toasted walnuts or pecans or even cashews.
  2.  Carrot cakes are usually moist and denser because of the carrots. But to check if it is baked, insert a skewer and check if any batter sticks to it. If yes, bake a little more.
  3. Especially for this cake I felt that you should not skip the frosting. It gives a very delicate balanced flavour to the carrot cake.

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Cheers!

Rutvika

This baby girl, my sous-chef!

Baking with Sara

When my four year old niece Sara came to Mumbai to spend her vacation with us for a month, I was unprepared for the way she would make me fall in love with her. My three year old boy already takes up all of my free time and I was sure that I don’t have room in my mind and my heart for another child, even as an aunt. Work is hectic, we had foreign visitors to entertain, but every evening for the last one week I felt like I should leave work and go back to the kids. Take Arjun and Sara for a ride and get lost in their little world.

For the first day or two after they came, I actively resisted getting drawn in to her magical little being. I felt that I anyway won’t understand her US accent, she doesn’t really know me and would prefer being with her parents and grandparents since she is attached to them much more than me. She speaks only in English and Arjun understands mostly Marathi, I won’t even be able to do anything with them together.

But I was so wrong.

Ever since I remember, I have always wanted two kids, and at-least one daughter. But in a marriage there are two people and eventually the husband and I decided that one child was enough. We should concentrate on Arjun so that we can also focus on the increasing demands of our expanding business. So you see I have a daughter shaped void in my life. I did not know the extent of it till Sara came and snugly fit into it. With her little skirts, and her hair which I love to braid, the quiet understanding way in which she holds my hand when we are in the market, the way in which she sits on my lap and twirls my curls and asks me to paint her toenails and becomes my sous-chef when we are baking cookies, all these little things make up for the lack of a daughter who I always wanted. I love my sonny boy, you know how much I do, but its just different with girls and boys. Your nieces and nephews will always make a special place for themselves in you life.

I have countless memories of me and my younger cousin sitting with my mami, my maternal aunt, while she taught us craftwork, origami, let us play in the mud in the garden for hours and read to us from the Big book of Fairytales every single night before going to bed. She would come home every evening, tired from work, do the house chores and sit with us to satisfy our never ending demands and resolve our squabbles. Last whole week when I sat down with Arjun and Sara sticking pictures in a scrap book or taking them to a restaurant to eat ice-cream, I imagined that I had turned into her. She is miles away, but I felt as if she was standing besides me in the same room and feeling proud of how I had turned out to be. My cousin remembers a different version of our time spent together, a version where the adults in the room were fighting with each other, but my brain has skilfully learnt to mask that story.

When Arjun and Sara grow up, I want them to remember these good times. Remember that they are so loved and that we are always available for them with a hug and unconditional love, no matter where they are. The world is changing like it always does, times are getting stressful, but these kids prevent me from getting drowned in a sea of my cynical worries. And these two little people should also develop a strong connection with each other, to support one another even long after we are gone. Living in two different continents, their backgrounds, cultures will be different. But what hopefully ties them to each other will be the memories. Of the family gathered together, laughing and joking over tea, while they are busy making towers of colourful Lego and learning from each other.

As for Sara and me, we will be best buddies, baking up a storm. Wanna come have a cookie?

A very smitten Aunt,

Rutvika

Finding my own meditation space.

 

A space where I can meditate.

There is a rain-tree in front of me outside the window where I sit and write in my mom’s house. It must be atleast 50 years old, towering six floors. It is my metaphor for life. Sometimes in full bloom, sometimes shedding leaves, the ups and downs resonate with my life too.

I have spent all my childhood study time here at this table, often daydreaming the hours away while looking at that tree, that mamma squirrel scurrying through its branches in search of food, the flaming yellow golden oriole perching itself close to some yellow leaves, the constant hoom-hoom of a Bharadwaj and the crimson forehead of the coppersmith barbet peeping through the green foliage of the leaves. There is so much activity going on there, but its still very peaceful. Very calm. When a sparrow comes and lands on the branch, the leaves dance, the branch sways a little and in just few seconds it regains its composure and stands very still, ready for the next bird to land on it. The squirrel sometimes tiptoes to the end of the branch and I worry that it will slip and fall down, but in the last 15 years, I have never seen that happen. I am sure it never happens, even when I am not looking, not worrying and waiting for her to go back to the stronger branches close to the main trunk.

My friend used to live in that building opposite ours, just behind the tree. Sometimes she would come to the balcony and we would wave at each other. It is quite far away, you can barely communicate with hand gestures, but I could see her smile. I would smile back, suddenly conscious now that she is looking at me. But that feeling of someone out there is looking out for you used to perk up my mood. She is married now and stays somewhere else, but I can still see her mom, doing her own things, oblivious to me watching her in a trance.

The home that I went to after I got married was on the second floor of an old building. Shaded by the branches of tall trees, it used to be very quiet. Then we shifted to another apartment, on the seventh floor. Now we are above all these trees and how we crave for their company!

Sometimes I still come here to my mom’s house just to sit in front of the window. In front of my tree. When work, the child, different opinions in my head make to much noise, I come here and sit. Meditate. Not that type of meditation where you have to forcefully focus on the inhale-exhale, but a more subtle one where you just have to sit and let each thought come, process it and file it away. Eventually the thoughts cease, there is nothing more that can be processed and then you become one. With the silhouette of the pigeon cleaning its feathers, with those powderpuff pink flowers you hadn’t seen earlier, the gracefully arching branches and those tender new leaves, their colour so different from the other leaves.

Every year around December- January, the tree sheds all its leaves. With every breeze, there is a rainfall of leaves. The bare tree makes my soul feel naked. As if a blanket was removed. The sun shines too brightly, the birds fly away, the sticks of the branches feel poky. But then tender new leaves sprout and within a week the tree is loaded. There is slight nip in the otherwise hot Mumbai air, the leaves are fresh, birds start to chirp and life feels full circle.

At times, I worry about the death of that tree. Someday someone will decide to reconstruct the building and chop down trees in the compound for more FSI, or my parents will shift to some other place and I will feel rootless. That space, my zen, my piece of mind are in some way all interconnected. One gets chopped down and I will come crashing down. I was telling this to my business mentor the other day, and he nudged me to work towards creating that space in my head. Imagining things so that my roots are firmly planted in my head. So that the comings and goings of the world wont affect me beyond a certain extent. I find it hard to do. It is easier to worship and have faith in a clay statue of a God rather than worshipping an abstract concept.

But for now I am surrounded by trees and plants and the people I love and need. We are branching out, nesting and growing. Spring cleaning, shedding off unwanted leaves and giving scope for new ideas to take root. And this is all that matters.

Cheers!

Rutvika