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

When we all turn into clouds.

Arjun contemplating

Every time when someone old is sick, I feel this is the final time I am seeing them. Every time my grandmother calls me I hold on to her words, I feel this is the last time I am talking to her. She is healthy as a horse, takes good care of herself, gives unwanted advice to everyone she meets, insists on them following her advice and in general keeps getting in trouble because of all the questions she asks people which she is not supposed to.

But still, every time I see a call from her number, my heart beat quickens till I hear her voice.

It is strange to have this feeling in your head at all times. It is a cycle of life and death. What is born must die, and yet, it feels as if we are all fighting it every minute. For ourselves and for our loved ones.

When Arjun, my 2.5 year old boy asked me where 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are, I pointed at the sky and told him that they have become clouds now. We can’t see them, but they can see us. Now in this monsoon season, when he sees a dark cloud or a soft white cloud against a grey blue sky, he points at it and asks me who that specific cloud is. I make up some stories and he entertains them. One day last weekend he came to me, held my face in both his hands and then very sincerely told me ‘Momma, please don’t become a cloud when you get old”. I squeezed him and said okay, but actually what I wanted to tell him is that ‘Becoming a cloud after you become old is the best thing to happen, honey.’ But may be he is too little to understand that thing happening to his mom.

And kids can be strange. This idea is stuck in his head and when he sees any really old person, he asks them, ‘When do you think you will become a cloud?’ I quickly change the topic before any more questions are asked, but you can imagine me getting a small panic attack when he starts questioning in that direction.

Last month, I asked my 80 year old grandmother who had gone to meet her dying 83 old brother, “What did you say to him?”. “Nothing”, she told me. “I just stroked his hand and his forehead”. “Thats it? No last words of wisdom from you or from him?” “No. We have just been there forever, what else to say?”

Getting old and then leaving this world is perhaps the best form of dying. Of having lived a life, of knowing that your children, their children are all grown up, that they can take care of themselves without you – that is solace. And I believe in re-birth. In same soul, many lives. So all those who have left us will come back in some other form, in some other person. It helps me navigate the everyday. My husband believes that we are all carbon atoms, there is no soul and there is no re-birth. And this belief makes him stay sane. Well, different things work for different people, but I refuse to believe that my grandmother’s unrelenting, unsolicited advice will leave me and not come back. I am sure she will pass on that baton to someone else, for her sake and for mine.

This week, we will celebrate her 80th birthday. All her sisters will be there too, in the old-age home where she now stays. Me and mom were trying to convince her that we should all go on a holiday to celebrate her 8oth. But she wants to stay put and wants us all to come there. So thats where we all will be, amongst 30 other grannies and grandpas, some of whom we know and some only she knows. Arjun loves it there, so much open space and trees and flowers, he runs around the whole time.

On the other side of the family, Akshay’s grandma also lives very close to us. Arjun is very attached to her. She is 81. In good health, but ageing. Arjun sees all of this. How fortunate he is to love and be loved by three generations, but he will also miss them the most when they are all no more.

But there is no better thing than to grow old and die. May we all have the same fate.

Cheers,

RC

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

A business coach for life, or a life coach for business? Its quite the same.

Professionally, for the last year or so, I felt as if I am at the foot of a hill trying to climb my way up. I am trying to bring more sense and structure into our company and struggling to find time for fulfilling my dream of writing.

About 10-11 months back when we realised that the growing business needed to graduate from a family run enterprise into a more corporatised structure, we were confused where to begin. Suddenly everything felt as if needed to be over-hauled. Outlook had to be changed before bringing in any systemic changes. Our company Anchrom was started 38 years back by my father and mother-in-law and most people in the company are older than Akshay and me and have much more experience at Anchrom.You can imagine the reluctance of people to adapt to change, I am myself averse to it. But some things have to be done. I did not know where to start. Days and nights were spent worrying. Anxiety, acidity and heart-burn were not far behind. Thats when my father-in-law suggested that we talk to Mr. Uday Arur – his business coach and long-time friend and mentor. With 23 years of holding managerial position in pharma companies and then being a business and life coach for 13 years, we knew he was perfect for us. But what startled me was that during these 4 months of coaching, he pushed me to find the answers which lay within. He believed, like any good mentor should, that I am fully capable of doing the things that I want and need to do and that its only a matter of going towards it full throttle.

Now I am a staunch believer of conversations and the fact that talking can help sort every difficulty. Sometimes is in the form of talking to my mom/husband/best friend or sometimes it is introspection or writing in a journal. Or sometimes talking to a mentor/ a coach who will guide you through it. While doing CA or while even growing up as a young girl I never wanted to work in my own business. Coming from middle class salaried background, I always wanted to do a job, where monthly salary is guaranteed. But life as we know it – always has different plans. I fell in love with a guy I knew from school, got married and started working in our own group of companies. And I terribly enjoy it. The process of building something together is exhilarating for me. But it comes with its own set of challenges, a very different working environment. My father-in-law, the MD and founder of the company, always supports Akshay and me in the decisions we take and gently guides us if we are not seeing a side of the story. Still, I always self-doubted my decisions. I lacked the confidence to make rules and implement them. But Uday sir convinced me that I should go ahead with full authority. He asked questions to make me delve deeper, consistently kept on asking me to examine where a particular fear was coming from, sometimes listed to my rants about misogyny for hours, took notes to make sense of my ramblings and constantly pushed me one step further towards believing in myself. I see that I am a new person now. I dress up well while coming to the office (even though it is just 5 minutes away), I don’t feel shy about being assertive. I also find that people have started taking me seriously, my staff and colleagues seem to be more forthcoming. Do they see the clarity in my head or is it that I just feel they do because I believe in myself now? I don’t know yet, but I love being in this positive frame of work and plan to leverage it to our benefit.

One day, Uday Sir bluntly told us to not take our acidity and stress as a badge of honour. It is in-fact something that needs to be worked on and eliminated to be able to work most productively. And ever since I stopped believing that high amount of stress = high productivity, I have stopped having headaches. I feel calmer and poised. I find time to write, follow my passions and still steer the company in the direction we want it to take.

A few weeks back, a fellow mentor from MMI asked me to recommend her some books to navigate through a rough patch of life. I am going to urge her to find a mentor, a coach who will help her. Who she can talk to without being afraid of judgements. Who will help her find a way for herself, because as we all know, some of the most sticky problems in life get sorted only by looking inward. The answer is right there, someone just needs to show her a way to unravel it.

Meanwhile, I would love to hear your stories of your favourite mentors.

Take care,

xoxo

Rutvika

How Cordon Bleu experience changed me and Cheddar Gougères recipe

Going to Cordon Bleu Paris, changed me in a lot of ways. It showed me that a different universe exists , one that is quite opposite to the one we live in. As different as black and white. And still very beautiful.

To put it very frankly, I come from a conservative background. My dad has retired as a cop and my mom worked in an insurance company and then as a teacher. Growing up, we fit perfectly into the middle class traditional family category. And I am myself a very cautious person. I wanted to secure my future. The best possible method to do that was getting a good educational degree. So up until I got married, I had never thought I would go to a culinary school, in a foreign land. Cooking and home catering was what the aunty upstairs did, because that’s what she knew. I was a studious girl. I was meant to be a CA. And then going to Paris on my own, seemed impossible. But somehow, I I applied, got admitted and went to pursue a hobby which tugged at my heart. Very cautiously.

Those 5 weeks in Paris taught me a lot. I met so many different people from such varied cultures that sometimes baking was the only common thread between us. Most girls there were independent, living on their own , having travelled so many places all by themselves and in general much more confident than I was. In the initial days I found myself gawking at them, at their bindaas attitude towards life. They had no strings attached and were carefree. Then one evening about 6 of us sat drinking wine at a friend’s studio apartment and we were then going to go to a nightclub called Queens. Believe it or not that was the first time I was going to a nightclub. So anyway, when we sat there talking, I said to myself “I have nothing to lose, so why worry? Just have fun”. In a way, those girls had already alienated me a little bit since we Indians come from a different background. My parents were not divorced, they both loved each other very much, I loved my husband and me and my husband stay with our in-laws. My plans for the future involved having a baby and staying with my husband forever and not to run away to some exotic location like they dreamed of. Perhaps they found me very boring with my baby and family plans and I found them intriguing yet not in a way that I wanted it for myself.  Then when we were dancing at Queens, 6 of us girls and 3 gay guy friends I suddenly felt my heart open up. There is so much to discover in life, so much to learn. I couldn’t do that while being judgemental. Each and every one is right in their own way, and so am I. That was a turning point in my life. I learnt to accept. With an open mind.

Glimpses of LCB

After that night I was able to enjoy Paris and its quirks better.  We went to Queens a couple more times and danced our way to glory. I also went with a Russian girl-friend to Crazy-Horse (google what that is) and as a group we had some amazing dinners with each one of us from different countries cooking up a speciality. And we talked. About our lives, our hopes and our dreams and the possibilities of making them come true. I felt liberated. Yet with a firm grounding of my family and culture.

All of this was possible because I knew I had a family to come back to. A husband who was waiting for me to return. Mom and dad-in-law who were proud of their daughter-in-law and my parents who had given me a sound upbringing that I could take on the world.

xoxo,

Rutvika Charegaonkar

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Gougères

Since last time we saw how to make Mango Eclairs which is a basic Choux Pastry dough, this time I have used the same pate-a-choux technique to make savoury gougères. This recipe is taken from Le Cordon Bleu book “Classic Recipes”. It says that origin of this pastry can be traced back to the Burgundy region of France and it is mostly filled with cheese. Most commonly used filling is gruyère cheese, however other firm white cheese can be easily substituted. I have used Cheddar cheese since it is easily available.

Cheddar Gougères

Gougères (Cheese Pastry)

What you will need :

  • 250 ml water
  • 100 gm butter (I use Amul)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 175 gram flour
  • 6 eggs + 1 egg for eggwash
  • 150 gm grated cheddar (100 gm + 50 gm)

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Combine water, butter and salt in a large pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once butter has completely melted, remove the pan from heat.
  3. Add all the flour at once to the butter and mix it in with a wooden spatula.
  4. Then put it on heat again and continue to dry out the dough on medium heat. Take care to see that it does not stick and form a crust at the bottom of the pan. Once the dough stops sticking to the pan and the spoon, it is done.
  5. Transfer it to another bowl immediately. It should fall in one go.
  6. Beat 5 eggs together and gradually incorporate them into the batter while mixing with a wooden spoon. Mix well after each addition to make the dough stretchy and slightly sticky.
  7. Stir in 100 gm of the grated cheese and transfer the dough to a piping bag, with a medium round tip.
  8. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  9. Pipe approximately 2- 2 1/2 cm balls on the tray, leaving about 2-3 cm in between two balls of dough.
  10. Brush the balls with eggwash and be careful that it doesn’t run down the sides. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  11. Bake until the gougères are puffed up and golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
  12. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  13. Sprinkle with some chilli powder and grated cheese before serving.

Hollow of a GougèreNotes :

  • The choux pastry balls puff up beautifully once baked. It can be then filled with a cheese filling, but I prefer to keep them unfilled and light.
  • Choux pastry is one of the most versatile doughs I have worked with, and so beautiful!

Gougères with cheese