World Breastfeeding Week – how we made it through.

Breastfeeding momma

Of all the things that are changing as Arjun is growing up, the thing that I miss the most is breastfeeding. My little baby being nourished and nurtured at my breast. I am not kidding when I tell you that I list it as an accomplishment when I take stock of life. It was not easy, no. Breastfeeding him exclusively for 6 months and then continuing it for another 6 months before the baby self-weaned – took up all of my reserve of determination. Hours of sitting at the same place nursing the child, feeding on demand and being available 24*7 and practically not having even a few minutes to yourself; it was all worth it.

Now I am not going to give any gyaan on breastfeeding, but all you women out there, it is the best gift to give your child. And I say this from personal experience. When the baby starts feeding, some hormones get released in your body, and the calm and peace which you feel at that time is unparalleled. Of course, you have to be in that moment, with the baby, not wishing to be somewhere else, but once you clear your brain of all your to-do lists, it can be a perfect zen-time. And the baby immensely benefits from mothers milk. From the closeness, from the attachment and also the customised nourishment that he is getting. Mother’s milk has everything your baby needs, on that day, modified as per signals received by the mother’s body during the previous feeding session. If this had to be explained in one word, I would call it miraculous.

And there were so many things I could do because the baby was breastfed. Arjun and I took a 28 hour long journey to San Francisco, just the two of us when he was 9 months old. I must have fed him 20 times in those 28 hours, but I did not have to carry any bottles, any formula, no sterilisation. Every time he would make a sound, I would start nursing him and it would instantly calm him. No fuss, no crying. A lady in the plane remarked later on that she didn’t know there was a baby on board.

Of course it took an army of supporters. My husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, so many of my friends and relatives, the very supportive pro-breastfeeding paediatrician, my lactation consultant and the Breastfeeding support for Indian Mothers group on Facebook. Each one had a huge role to play, especially in the first 2 months when baby and I were still getting used to each other, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. But we all did stick through it, and its been the most wondrous journey of my life.

Its now a year and a half since Arjun stopped feeding, and how I miss those moments. The baby would be mine alone at that time and I would be his. In sync with each other.

Arjun is quite an independent child now, stays away from mom and dad even for a week when we go away for meetings. Sometimes he is so engrossed in his play doh that he wont realise its been 2 hours since he spoke to anyone. But then there are days when he wont even let me go pee after coming back from work. Every minute after and before office hours have to be spent with him. Physically and mentally. No phone, no laptop, no talking to any other person. Just him. Momma, lets paint. Mom look at how I can jump, momma help me make a ball of clay, mum lets go to the garden, momma let me hug you (for the fiftieth time in the last hour) , mom you feed me, give me water, let me sit in your lap, let me play with your ears, I will comb your hair, you brush my teeth, teach me a new song, let me sleep in your lap like a baby and so on. An endless list of demands over your time and space.

But I wont have it any other way. If he was indifferent to me, or disinterested in doing activities with me, I. Will. Die. This might be my only chance at being a mom, and I want to cling to every minute of it.

Unable to decide if we should have one more child or not, it is in these moments  that I sometimes ask this 2.5 year old ‘Should we make one more baby in momma’s stomach?’

With the profoundness of a toddler, he quickly asks me ‘Then who will I call momma? Maybe then I will have to start calling my grandma as my mom’. Heartbroken I tell him, ‘Hey! I will still be your mom. Always.’ ‘But what if the other baby takes you to his home?’, he gets puzzled. My little baby doesn’t understand the concept of expanding the family, but he definitely understands that he doesn’t want to share his mom.

Well, for now, this is my only baby. The baby I created inside me, and nurtured wholly for 6 months on the milk that I made. Customised for him.

It is true that breastfeeding can be tricky and its a matter of personal choice. And all of us are still awesome parents even if we don’t do things in this way or another, but I firmly believe that Breast is Best. So all you gorgeous feeding mammas, hang in there.

Happy Breastfeeding Week y’all!

Love,

Rutvika

Finding cues from books to keep calm and carry on

Bookstore in Berlin

On a miraculous note, I have finished reading all the four books that I started reading in the last two months. I call it a miracle because believe it or not, there are 6-7 books on my kindle which I started reading but couldn’t go on. For varied reasons. And then I would give up reading for a while, keep scourging listicles to find a book which will help me get back on track and feel disconcerted all the while because I did not have a book to go back to. Working full time and raising a child leaves very less time to read (or even to take a shower for that matter), but escaping my own life and joining someone else through the books makes it rather bearable to live through the mundane necessities of life. We are so small in this whole universe, that our joys and sorrows, difficulties and breakthroughs are all insignificant and should not be taken too seriously.

Four years back when I was in Paris, I went to Lyon to spend two days with a business associate and his family consisting of his wife and three kids. His youngest daughter Lily (who was 6) and I became very attached. She doesn’t speak a word of English and I cant speak French, but sometimes you don’t need words to feel close to each other. I hadn’t seen her since then. When we were going to Berlin for our annual international meeting, I was going to see her father. I took a little gift for Lily and wondered if she would remember me.

We were in for a rude shock when we saw Lily with her father in Berlin and he told us that his wife had committed suicide a week back. 10 year old Lily accompanied him as there was no one to take care of her at home. I knew her mother, such a warm gentle person. But she suffered from depression for several years and couldn’t take it anymore. I felt the inevitable had happened.  She fought the demons in her head for 20 years, but refused to accept medication. As it often happens in situations like these, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything comforting. We hugged each other and said that we are very sorry to hear that.

I couldn’t focus on anything for the rest of the evening or night. A book came to my rescue. While in Berlin, I wanted to read something about the city and I had Stasiland by Anna Funder. I escaped into that book, The Berlin wall and the attempts to flee, atrocities committed by the Secret police – the Stasi, incessant spying by the East German government on the citizens and so on. Suddenly the bleaker world that I was reading about made my real world seem more cheerful. And the words, how they comfort a soul when troubled. Look at this from the book “I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” Or this : “We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips into the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators, fight for it.” These are the words that will save the world, one person at a time.

Next day, Lily and I then went to the Stasi museum, the museum of the Secret police of East Germany. We saw a lot of stuff that was described in the book Stasiland. Two people who didn’t speak a common language trapezed through the museums and streets of Berlin, trying to understand the people and the history of the city. Then we sat at a cafe and did what Berliners do. Lunch on salad and sandwiches and some hot chocolate before the whirlwind of 4 days of constant meetings sucked me in. I don’t know what Lily thinks of her mother’s suicide. She doesn’t know what fears I have about Arjun growing up in this world. We don’t have a common language to communicate. But there on that afternoon, we sat besides each other and knew that it will all be okay. In the long run, everything is always okay.

My best friend and I always used to believe in this theory of people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. You may not know it at that time, but each person who comes into contact with you leaves a part of them with you. Changes your perspective about something in some way that you didn’t know existed before. So I always believe if anyone asks you if you want to meet for a cup of coffee, say yes. And make the time for it. Something will conspire in that conversation, in that chance meeting and it will give you the energy, the zeal to carry on.

Akshay and I completed 6 years of being married yesterday. We have our good days and the bad days. There are days when I think how awesome he is and the 31 year old me can fall in love with him all over again had we met right now for the first time. And then of course there are days when everything seems to be pointless. Sleeping it out without saying any unnecessarily harsh things to each other works. And as Ann Patchett’s friend asks her in her book  ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’, –

“Does your husband make you a better person?” My answer to this question has been an unfailing yes. And that is all that matters.

IMG_7136Cheers!

Rutvika

Being at peace with things we cannot change

Stay calm and carry on

Find your inner peace and let it be.

A few days ago, I had a revelation.

Akshay, my husband (CEO of our company) and I (CFO) were having lunch. (Big acronyms , but just regular people doing regular work) . He was talking about how GST, the draconian new tax regime that will be applicable in next two weeks, sucks. How it is designed either by people who have never done any business or for people doing only bogus businesses trying to trick the law. For a while he went on dissing the GST, which intellectually I fully agree. The compliances under GST are not only very difficult, but given the current IT infrastructure and the way government companies work, it is okay to say apna band bajnewala hai mamu. I know this. But I also know that GST is here. And we have no way to escape it.

So then at one point, I had to ask Akshay to stop criticising something that we cannot change. It depresses the hell out of me. He is the obsessive thinker and I tend to ignore the things that I cannot change. During the course of our lunch I could see my morale sinking, a cloud of gloom was hanging right above my head and my energy diminished. Suddenly like a bolt of lightning I realised what’s happening. One of my fundamental principles of life was getting overruled. That minute I realised how much I hate cribbing about things I cannot change. And when someone from my core circle of people – my husband was doing that, it felt like the end of the world. I made him stop and explained the situation to him. He is a reasonable man and so he stopped talking about how GST sucks and then we moved on to contemplating how quickly the days pass and how little we feel we’ve achieved. But that’s something we can work on. But I could not keep thinking about how something will ruin our lives for a while. Especially since that something is a thing we have no power to change.

Some months ago, a few of us friends from school were talking about how depression has affected them in various stages of life and what they did to overcome it. I had no real answer to it at that time, I don’t remember being depressed enough for days to note it down as a problem. Now I realise that I am fighting the very act of getting upset, of feeling low on an everyday basis. I remember having read the Serenity prayer as a teen and it stuck with me. Bifurcating problems into that which can be solved and those which need to be accepted goes on in my head every single minute. It has averted any long upsetting periods and looks like it works for me.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

I am sure all of you must have read it at some point in those countless Pinterest quotes or somewhere.

Of course, with this attitude, with this mental set-up, I don’t think I can ever change the world. It feels like a task that cannot be done and I quickly classify it as ‘to accept’ and move on. And God knows, we need people who will stand up against the injustice of the world and see to it that things change. But maybe I am not the one who can do that.

Growing up, I remember several different days when I thought that something inside me had broken, that I can never be the jolly person I used to be. But slowly I come back to normal, to my relatively happy self again. With maturity that comes with age, I now realise what’s troubling me before I get sucked in too deep. Writing it down in my journal helps me to name the thing that’s not feeling fine. And identifying what’s wrong is the first step to get better.

Earlier the heartbreaking problems were different. Mom doesn’t let me go for a night-out when all my other friends do, the guy I like doesn’t seem to be interested in me, this exam seems to difficult to crack and I don’t know what I would do if I fail, etc etc. Now the problems are different. The turnover target for this quarter doesn’t seem to be on track, no matter what you do someone or the other is always disgruntled in the company, worrying about he longevity of the business etc etc.  The nature of problems and worries changes but at the base of it all, one thing remains the same. Can you do something about it? Go ahead and fix it. Brainstorm till you find a solution and get at it like a madman till you find an acceptable remedy.

But if you can’t do anything about it, then make peace. It will feel immensely better. And let go. Focus on how to make the most of that goddamn situation.

But pray tell me, who will change the world for us? Not me. Not today, I say.

Stay well,

Rutvika

Mango upside down cake

Mango upside down cake

I wait all year round for these delicious mangoes which taste so good by themselves and better in a dessert! Over the last few years, I have tried different types of desserts with fruits, but this upside down cake is one of the simplest ones to make and very flavourful.

Slice of mango cake

Mango upside down cake :

What you will need:

  • 2 mangoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • softened butter for greasing the pan
  • 2 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoon mango custard powder, optional.
  • 100 grams all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 100 grams butter at room temperature (I use Amul butter)
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoon milk

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200ºC / 400ºF.
  2. Generously grease a 8-9 inch cake pan with softened butter on the sides. Line the bottom with a parchment paper. Sprinkle 2 tbsp sugar on the parchment paper.
  3. Snugly arrange mango pieces on the pan to cover the bottom.
  4. In a bowl take flour, baking powder, baking soda and custard powder. Sieve it once to aerate it.
  5. In another bowl take softened butter, caster sugar and whisk.  Add eggs and whisk or beat with an electric beater until the batter is smooth.
  6. Add 3 tbsp milk to the batter.
  7. Now add the flour mixture and fold it in with a spatula.
  8. Then pour this mixture over the mangoes in the cake tin and gently spread it evenly.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then ease a spatula around the edge of the tin, place a plate on top and, with one deft – ha! – move, turn it upside-down.

Mango cake with slice

NOTES :

  • You can use any eggless recipe of your choice as the base cake too. One eggless cake recipe is here.
  • If you are using unsalted butter, add a little salt to the batter.
  • You can replace the custard powder with corn flour or omit it. But adding a little mango flavoured custard powder gives it a beautiful flavour.

Other mango desserts to try :

Mango Macaroons

Eclairs with mango pastry cream 

Chocolate Mango Vacerin

Mango Flan

Mango Cupcakes

Aim higher but not very high.

When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.

When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.

Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.

Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right?  May be yes, or may be no.

My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.

MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.

MMI baking cupcakes

Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.

Simple Eggless Bread Loaf with cheese and pepper

I think I got my bread baking mojo back. After a hiatus of 3 years, I am back in the game.

Pepper Cheese loaf cut

Baking bread is a time consuming affair and slightly complicated than just throwing in a few ingredients like we do while baking a cake. First it starts with buying or finding the right kind of yeast. Then adapting a recipe to the type of yeast you have, blooming of the yeast, mixing, kneading and first rise, shaping, the second rise and finally baking. So a simple loaf can take anywhere upto 5 hours from start to finish. When my baby was little, I couldn’t guarantee the loaf that I would come to shape it after its first rise, or I would be able to knead it for 5-10 mins without the baby requiring me on an urgent basis (with babies, it’s always very urgent). But now that he is over two, I am beginning to enjoy baking bread again. Its euphoric to see it rise. It is instinctive, scientific and artistic all in one go.

This here today is a simple loaf with cheese and some spices. I baked it twice on the weekend (it was that good), once with cheese and crushed black pepper and the second time with more cheese and a pizza spice mixture which I had at home – very similar to those Oregano spice packets which come with Dominoes Pizza. Its a fool-proof recipe, just follow the steps and the notes to bake your own bread.

This recipe is from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger is adapted to suit Indian flour and humidity conditions.

Whole loaf of pepper cheese bread

 

Eggless Bread Loaf with cheese and pepper

What you will need :

  • 2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 300 grams all purpose flour (maida)
  • 50 grams whole wheat flour (aatta)
  • 2 grams bread improver (see notes)
  • 90 grams freshly shredded processed Cheddar (I used Amul)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or any other spice mixture (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 4 tablespoon butter (I use Amul salted)
  • 3/4 cup cool water
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco)

What to do :

  1. In a big cup or a glass, warm 1/3 cup of water. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over this water and gently stir it. Keep it in the corner of your kitchen platform till it becomes foamy, about 10-15 mins.
  2. Meanwhile, in a big bowl, combine whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, bread improver, pepper and salt. Mix it with a whisk to ensure that bread improver is evenly incorporated.
  3. Add 4 tablespoons butter to this flour mixture.
  4. After the yeast mixture has become foamy, stir it with a spoon, and add the 3/4 cup cool water to it. Add the hot sauce to this mixture.
  5. Now with the dough hooks of a electric beater beating, add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture in a steady stream so that it all starts coming together to form a sticky soft dough.
  6. After the dough forms a soft elastic ball that clears the sides of the bowl, add the cheese and beat it for another minute so that all the cheese gets incorporated in it. If the dough is too sticky, add some more flour by a tablespoon , if the dough is too dry, add a teaspoon of water. (See notes)
  7. Using a plastic dough scraper, transfer the dough onto a smooth floured surface. Knead it slightly with the plastic scraper. It will still be an extremely sticky dough, just keep flouring the surface and keep bringing the dough together with the scraper.
  8. Grease a big bowl with olive oil or butter and put the dough ball in it. Turn it once to grease all sides of the dough.
  9. Cover it with a plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature till it doubles in bulk, about one hour.
  10. Grease a 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with butter.
  11. Turn out the dough onto a clean floured surface. Shape it into an oblong loaf and place it in the prepared pan. Cover it loosely with a plastic wrap. Let it rise again at room temperature until it reaches 1 inch above the top of the pan. Around 1 and 1/2 hours.
  12. Twenty minutes before baking, pre-heat oven to 170C. Using a sharp knife slash the loaf one-three times diagonal across top,  no more than 1/2 inch deep.
  13. Place the pan on a rack in the centre (or bottom rack – see notes ) of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes till it is lightly browned and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your finger.
  14. Transfer the loaf from the pan to a cooling rack. Let it cool before slicing.

Kneading and shaping the dough

Notes :

  • Adding bread improver to a bread recipe is optional, but I have found that since bread flour is not available in India, and there is no standardised flour type, it is better to add bread improver. Approximately 0.01% of the quantity of the flour and the results are remarkable. To know where to buy it, check this.
  • Pepper is a strong spice so 1 and 1/2 teaspoon is sufficient. If you are replacing it with anything other spice mixture, you can use 2- 3 teaspoon easily.
  • For point no. 6 : I have found that in hot and tropical climate like ours, generally the dough becomes very sticky and needs more flour. So you can add a little amount to the dough or generously flour the work surface so that it gets absorbed.
  • Indian ovens like MR, Bajaj are smaller and hence it is prefarable to keep the pan on the lowest rack and bake. Because the pan is tall and dough has risen 1 inch above the pan. So if you keep it on middle rack, the top gets too browned or burnt. So keep it not he lowest rack, with both rods on. If you have a big commercial oven, use the middle rack.
  • Do not let the loaf cool in the pan, or the bottom and sides will become moist. Always use a cooling rack to cool it.

slices of bread

Pepper and Cheese bread pinterest

Of stories that touch the heart and don’t let you go.

 

Our class teacher in school Ms. Nelson used to read out stories from the Bible to us, in the first hour called ‘Value Education’. I had very little understanding  of the Bible and don’t remember most of the stories, but I remember being enchanted when she used to read out about Jacob and Esau, David and Goliath. A short and plump Keralite christian, she used to wear more gold to school than my mom wore to weddings. When she sat there in the classroom on a wooden chair, sunlight shining in her hair from a window on the right, she looked angelic. The power of stories was manifesting itself through her.

I have been lucky to have had many people tell me stories. From contemporary books, from mythology, from their own works. My grandma often used to tell me stories of Shivaji Maharaj, as grandmothers often do – at bedtime. The dashing Hirkani who climbed down a dangerous fort in the dark of the night because her baby was alone at home at the foothills, ‘Gad aala pun Sinha gela’ story where Tanaji Malusare left his son’s wedding to go re-capture Kondana fort for Shivaji, how Shivaji cut three of Shaista Khan’s fingers in a skirmish and escaped and so on.  Bright, fierce and valorous stories perfect for a little girl. And the smell of my grandmother’s cotton saree and as I lay close to her.

Now in adulthood the stories continue, but are rarely fictional. Stranger than any others I have heard before, but true. A baby who died while taking birth because the family was opposed to a C-section, a young girl who gets bullied in the school because she is different, a teenage boy who slips into depression and doesn’t know how to overcome it, stories of long unhappy marriages, ungrateful kids and the list is endless. Sometimes there is a dark cloud hanging over me and I can’t see through it.

The silver lining to all this is my 2 year old child and the stories he tells. Of the plants he planted with his grandfather and how there was a bud which bloomed into a flower. Of Jugnu, the little boy from Vikas Khanna’s book who loses his rolling pin on the way back from school. Of fishes who are having a birthday party and giraffes who call him Daddy. Life would have been difficult if it was made up of only adults.

And then yesterday I watched the movie Room, adapted from a book by the same name. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I had read the book a year back and knew the plot, the ending, everything. But I couldn’t stop crying for the entire two hours of the movie. I struggled between abandoning the movie and going to bed to hug my sleeping child and watching this hauntingly realistic story of Joy and her baby Jack who were held in captivity for several years. Its a story of their escape and of finding themselves in this big world. There was one scene when Joy says to her boy Jack that she is not a good Ma. Jack without skipping a beat tells her ‘May be, but you are the Ma.’ You should watch the movie and feel it for yourself how that line pierces the most vulnerable part of your heart.

There will always be two types of stories in this world. The good and the bad. The ones which make you cry. With pain or with joy. Of little girls and strong women, of boys and their banter. The ones which make you recoil from the storyteller and some which will make you hug them. We cannot hide from any of them. All that we can do is listen with an open mind and be kind with our words. And make our own stories and tell them. So someone out there says ‘this too shall pass’ or someone else sees a light at the end of a dark tunnel on hearing your words. We have all been through it, in varying measures and different circumstances. But we are here, now. And that’s what matters.

Next month I will be visiting my granny, my only surviving grandparent. I am going to ask her to tell me a story. She will start with one where her old friend was abandoned by her son, but I will tell her to stop. Please ajji, not this one. Tell me one where everyone is happy, everything feels good. “You know too much about the world now to believe any of those” is what she will tell me. I will sigh and put my head in her lap. Lets go back to Shivaji Maharaj, ajji. And perhaps we will.

Rutvika

Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a giant book borrowed from an aunt – The Taste of Home : Ultimate Cookie Collection, which has several hundred recipes and very useful directions to almost everything in the land of cookie making. How to store cookies, how to ship them, what if cookies spread too much while baking, what if they don’t, what to do if they are too tough/ too brown / too pale, etc etc. its a delight to read the book and experiment from there.

chocolate-chip-cookie-split

And my baby Arjun has a book where the cartoon Elmo is making cookies. So he wants to make cookies every weekend. It’s fun to bake with him (only if you ignore all the mess that he does). 😛

Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies

What you will need :

  • 1 and half cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 150 gram butter at room temperature (approx 10 tablespoons)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cup chocolate chips

What to do :

  1. In a bowl, stir in baking powder and baking soda in the flour and then sift it once. This ensures that the baking powder and soda get mixed evenly in the flour and it gets aerated once sieved.
  2. In another bowl, take butter at room temperature and whisk it with an electric beater. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat till it becomes light, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add lightly beaten eggs and vanilla extract and beat for another 2-3 minutes. Let it all get incorporated well.
  4. Now add the flour mixture into the butter and egg mixture and whisk till it all comes together. Do not over-mix.
  5. Remove the whisk and then fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula.
  6. Take a baking sheet and line it with parchment paper.
  7. Now with a tablespoon, drop 12 heaps on the parchment paper, spaced well about 1 inch between two heaps.
  8. Put it int he fridge to chill for at-least 15 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 170 C.
  10. After 15 minutes chill time, put the tray in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, till the top gets slightly browned and the cookies get crisp on the outside. You can also rotate the pan once in between.
  11. Keep next batch ready for baking or if you have a bigger oven, you can bake two sheets at a time.

chocolate-chip-collage

 

Notes :

  • The cookies spread out once they go in the oven. So make small heaps and space them apart.
  • If you want very crisp cookies bake for a minute longer, if you want a chewy centre, bake for a minute or two less. Also individual ovens behave differently, keep a close watch while baking cookies.
  • You can also cut the cookies with a cookie cutter when they are fresh out of the oven. Like I did with a Christmas tree cutter in the picture above.

stack-of-choco-chip-cookies

Bon Apetit!

Rutvika

Going to school : Mom is more petrified than the child

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Arjun is two years old now. Which means he will soon have to start play school, nursery etc etc and get in the rigamarole of people telling him how to do stuff. Not to say that we don’t, but he barely listens to us and convinces – coaxes, pampers or ignores us and goes his own way. He has also learnt fake crying and does it with eyes wide open to check our reaction. But all of this won’t be tolerated in school. One playgroup teacher in fact even told us that she doesn’t let kids in her class use the toilet except in the designated break time. Kids need to learn discipline. I am not sure how she imposes this on snotty 3 years olds, but we excluded that play school from our (very)short-list.

In the last two weeks, we have visited 5 playschools in our area. And rejected each one of them. For very peculiar reasons. The first one had a “counsellor” on board. They identify what problem your child has and direct them to specialist doctors on their panel. The administrator of that school proudly listed the kids whose problems were identified – ‘A has sensory problem’, ‘B has walking problem’, ‘C has talking problem’ and so on. I am sure they will find some problem with my boy – “not a party-goer, hates loud noise” might be topping the list. And while I understand that adults can sometimes need counselling, the idea to have a counsellor for toddlers rebuffs me. This nursery struck off.

In contrast to this one, we went to a traditional playgroup, the one which has been around in the same place for last 25 years. Replete with leaking taps and paint peeling off the walls. They believed in keeping it simple. And while it ensured that they had no hyper specialised doctors on board, I kept wondering if the carpet was damp with fresh water or umm, otherwise. Those guys need to refurbish to let in a lot more light and make it habitable. Another one neatly erased from the list.

The other two were tiny, looked like covered parking spots. Basically set up in place of shops on the ground floor of residential buildings. They were sparkly and bright with animal murals painted on the walls. A little play area with plastic slides and building blocks.  But I wasn’t comfortable with either of them. I can’t say why other than the fact that it felt I would be leaving my baby in a converted shop.

Perhaps, I am just not ready to let my baby go out into the world. I am wary of public scrutiny. If he is very active, has ten things up his sleeve, he will be labelled ‘hyper-active’, if he sits quietly in the room, he will be termed ‘anti-social’. Whatever he does will not be confirming to the usual standards of normalcy. And with that people will judge me. As a mother. Me and my husband as parents. And even his grand-parents because he spends a lot of time during the day with them when we go to work. Now I have read enough self help books and articles and TED talks to know that I shouldn’t let it matter to me. But how do I protect my boy from all of this?

But finally, this weekend we found a school which prima facie seems to be in line with our beliefs. More focus on books, less on gadgets; a teacher who didn’t squirm when Arjun refused to enter the school, one who wasn’t shouting instructions but talking softly, giving importance to sending at-least one fruit with the tiffin box, etc etc. In isolation these are little things, shouldn’t matter much, but the whole as a belief system matters a lot.

Like most babies, Arjun is a sensitive little dude. Cries when Jack fell down the hill, or Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. We have to make amendments in the song and assure him that Jack and Humpty Dumpty are both okay. He is the one with a lot of hugs, lot of Eskimo kisses and is constantly making us tea, cupcakes, dosa with his plastic kitchen set. He is currently obsessed with mannequins and wants to go and touch all of them outside the shops in the market. Tells us that the mannequins are not real but believes when I say that they sleep at night and we can’t go see them. He is weird that way. But I would go to any length to protect his imagination, his story telling and his firm conviction that his baby cream can cure anything in the world.

And I am sure eventually he will be a master in self-help and give gyaan to us, but for now, it is our responsibility to take care of this little Peppa Pig.

Love,

Rutvika

The Paradox of Choice : Choosing the best one, or the good enough?

 

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Yesterday morning I read a brilliant piece in The Atlantic about Choice Overload. A peculiar phenomenon of our times where we have too many options- optimising that choice and selecting the best one suited to us is nerve-wracking. I wish I had read it before, I would have been a happier person at Japur Literature Festival over the last weekend.

After 7 years of ‘I-wish-i-could-go-to-JLF’, I was finally there. For three days, attending about 6-7 sessions or panel discussions each day. It was all great, you must have seen a countless number of articles about JLF floating everywhere, I won’t go deeper into it. But my mind was constantly in a dilemma. I couldn’t sit still in any one session, couldnt concentrate on what was happening and as per the new terminology, I was always having FOMO (Fear of missing out, you guys!).

Two days before going to Jaipur, I sat down with a printed list of sessions, googled the authors-speakers and highlighted those I wanted to attend. Before going, I knew exactly what I was likely to attend. My first morning at JLF began with the ethereal Swanand Kirkire singing O ri Chiraiyaa, Baanwara Mann and I was moved to tears on a cold winter morning while sipping the kullad-wali chai. I felt at peace and ready for the next 3 days of literary delights. In the next session Gulzaar saab released his book ‘Suspected Poetry’ and read a few verses. Thats when it hit me for the first time. 20 minutes into the one hour session, I started fidgeting. If Gulzaar saab was only reading the poetry out loud, I could just buy the book and read it myself. I should have rather attended the panel discussion on ‘Understanding Indian Aesthetics’. There was no way to leave that packed lawn venue, neither could I sit back and relish Gulzar’s baritone, his urgency of words, the composition and the pauses. I was berating myself for not choosing wisely and not having gone to some other session to begin with.

 

The same feeling kept creeping back throughtout the entire day. No matter what Mridula Koshi was saying about volunteering and her community library Deepalaya in Delhi, or when Shubha Vilas was explaining the difference between ananda and sukh, or when Nassim Nicholas Taleb was talking about disruptions and the black swans currently in the society, I was  frantically checking my printed list of sessions to see if I should leave this one and sneak into another session, or which one to attend next and so on. I was supremely exhausted at the end of the day. I wonder if it was from listening to so many peope in a day or from trying to be in many places at the same time.

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Next morning I accidentally landed up in Nandana Sen‘s interactive book release, because I was drawn towards her. Her persona, how beautifully and articulately she speaks and how gorgeous she looks. There were about 15 kids on the stage with her and she read out from her children’s illustrated book – Not Yet!. Watching all those kids and her on stage made me miss my baby boy back home so much, that I decided to get that book author-signed for him and read it out aloud just like Nandana was doing. Jumping like a monkey, crawing like a crow – all inane acts but they filled me with joy. I was sure missing Chandrahas Choudhary moderating a discussion on how the page is mightier than the screen, but so what?! Monkeys and giraffes and little kids are way more exciting.

After that I grabbed a bowl of steaming hot Maggi and sat on the steps watching multicolored paper fans put up near the entrance. I was constantly telling myself – ‘Relax, be at ease. This is not a competition to hear the most ideas. Take in a few and let it sink in.’ And saying so I ran to hear the author Rob Schmitz read from his book ‘The Secret of Eternal Happiness’. Left it mid-way and ran back to hear Amitabh Kant talk about Incredible India. Oh the pains of having too many interesting things to do all once.

I thought something was wrong with me. Days like these where you can indulge in yourself are rare once you have a baby. May be I was trying to pack it all in, really did not want to miss out on a single minute. I wished I did not have so many options to begin with, I wished there was only one auditorium/lawn venue that you could attend for that day and you had to sit through it. Without any other alternative. And thats excatly what I did for the third day.

There were two beautiful lawns at the Diggi palace and the weather was brilliant, so I picked the lawns over sitting cooped up in an auditorium. Simple. I attended 3 sessions in each lawn, got the best seats since I was already there and got to hear a wide variety of topics. Some even outside my comfort zone. From demonetisation to nutrition of the girl child to the art of writing a novel and creating fiction. I was composed, took a lot of notes and generally felt much better. Inspired and confident.

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A rollercoaster 3-day ride, it was difficult to articluate what was happening. Until I read the article from Atlantic. I was trying to be a “maximizer” trying to find the best session for myself. Instead it’s so much better to be a “satisficer”, select a good enough session and enjoy whatever is in front of you.

Different things work for different people, but I know for sure that this one works for me. How about you? Do you thinks it is okay to be a satsficer or is it essential to be a maximiser? Or as my father-in-law always says : “Yes and No. Depends.”

Cheers,

Rutvika

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