Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two book reviews

I have written only one book review till now - when I was freelancing for CT Indian Life. I want to review two books on this blog post. You know, there are times when you read something, and know that this is going to always stay with you. These books are like that for me. They are both very well known. A lot of you would have already read them as they are not new. The first is the book 'A Mighty Heart' by Mariane Pearl and the other is 'The Last Lecture', written by the late Randy Pausch.
(Image courtesy:

I read 'A Mighty Heart' maybe a fortnight back. After returning a string of books back to the library after reading only a page or two, I finished this book in about four days. I got this book when it was the 10th anniversary of the death of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, who worked with Wall Street Journal and was brutally killed in Pakistan. I wanted to read this book as I always wanted to know how he died, and the fierce way in which his wife fought to get her husband back. Why I loved this book is because of the sheer presence of mind that Pearl's wife Mariane had when everyone realized her husband was kidnapped. Despite being in the second trimester of her pregnancy, she and her fellow companion, Asra Nomani, took on the herculean task of trying to get him back. Although the outcome was known to me and any other reader, the book is still so gripping and poignant.
She does not give up till the very end. In a nation where she found it so hard to trust anyone, she had formed a trusted group of Pakistani and American men who were toiling day and night to get Daniel Pearl back. She was resilient, and coherent of whatever was going on around her. It was through his laptop and emails that they formed a map with Daniel in the center and all the members of the terrorist groups that he had interacted with. I learned from the book that you have to be calm when you are dealt with a challenge that you think is beyond your capacity to handle. She demonstrated that calmness. Mariane said that she had grown up chanting the Buddhist mantra - Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, which she chanted a lot when she and her late husband really needed. Imagine being pregnant and having to go through something of this magnitude that will change the course of your life.
Towards the end of the book, her description shows that she too, is human. She breaks down when a member of her trusted group gives the news of him being brutally killed. She finds some solace initially as her brother comes over to Pakistan. As promised, Mariane tells the story of herself and the group that had helped her immensely to several presidents - including the U.S. and French presidents. She also met with then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and has a no-nonsense talk with him. Apart from all this, she said something that I still think about. Mariane mentioned that she has not lost her spirit to live and not lost her purpose in life. She said that if she loses that, then she will give in to what the terrorists always wanted and she will not give them that. She is now mother to an almost ten-year old son.

I read The Last Lecture almost six months ago when I had just moved to Washington DC, and had time on hand (and no TV to distract me). A lot of people had told me about this book, or at least see the lecture on line. I am quite certain most of you know about the author. If you don't, he was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had very few months to live. The University regularly conducts these hour-long sessions, where professors are invited to talk that if you had to give one last lecture, what would you say. Ironically, Pausch didn't work at the University much longer after this lecture. The reason behind reviewing this book is that he had some very simple lessons to offer. The lecture or the book is not a self-help book. But it does make you think, and in my case, it did make me implement what I learned through his book.
(Picture courtesy:
Pausch's kids are very young and he wrote the book and steered the lecture in a way that his children would know about him, even when he is not there. He passed away in 2008. In his lecture, he talks about how to achieve your childhood dreams. There are a few things that just stayed with me. For instance, his very famous quote is that brick walls are there for a reason. He said that brick walls/ obstructions are for those people who don't want something so badly. If you really want something, you will not let the brick wall deter you. He gave an example, by which he said that when you want something, keep trying. And when those who are trying to stop you for whatever reason stop that, at that time you know that you will make it. A and I knew this was true soon after we read the book. A's interview process for his current job in DC took a very long time, and we kept getting mixed signals. But he was persistent, and he didn't let anything deter him.

The other thing that Pausch said, which I know, a lot of us can use is to never give up. He mentioned that every person has a good side to himself. And you have to wait a long time for a person to show his/ her good side. Simple lesson, but very profound. How often have we given up on someone, because that person has done a lot of bad in our lives, and to those we love. One has to wait and that person will show his/her good side at one point.
Of the several other profound thoughts that he had, he cited an anecdote, where his colleague gave him advice on relationships. He said that when it comes to men, who are romantically interested in a woman, ignore everything they say. Just pay attention to what they do. It is profound advice that a lot of us can implement or share with soon-to-be adolescent children.
In short, I loved his book as it shows his and his wife's resilience amidst an illness that he eventually succumbed to. And that is was positive from any angle you looked at. The girl part of me loved his admiration for his wife and the beautiful way he thought of her and got her a cake during his last lecture. It was very emotional and if you read the book, you will read what their interaction was during that special moment. Read this book to believe in yourself, to start something new, to love your significant other and children and never take anything for granted. Cancer is a disease that takes a lot of you and your family. Only those who have lived through it or have seen their family member through it, would comprehend the tireless and unending efforts one makes.

The common theme between both these books is the extremely brave women - the better halves of both the men who are not in this world anymore, but am sure are there in spirit with these women. We all can learn a thing or two from their courage.

This post is dedicated to a very close family member who passed away last week, after battling cancer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Worried about daily meals? Kickstart your Week with a Food menu-list

I was speaking to my masi (mother's sister) in Bombay the other day, and told her that once I have the menu ready for the week, things are a breeze. And she said that it is a good idea to have a menu ready, so in the middle of the week, you don't feel like, 'Oh I don't want to eat this today.' Or your wife or mother will not bore you with the same question, 'What should I make for dinner tonight?'

What had started as a compulsion for me has now become a habit. When I was in school for two years, and also worked, there used to be nights when A and I returned home by 8:30 - 9 PM. The last thing you want to do then is stand over a stove and cook potatoes or make a healthy pasta. So we began making a menu every weekend. A lot of things become easy if you plan your menu for the week on a Friday or Saturday. For starters - your trip to the grocery store becomes much more beneficial. You know what you want, how much and why you want it. As a family member pointed out, since things are planned out, you don't visit the grocery store on a weekday, running to buy single things like onions or a bunch of cilantro (fresh green coriander). Since you are putting ten minutes aside only to make a list, you make sure that a) You make healthy things that are a good balance of proteins and starch and carbs and b) You don't have to eat the same boring roti-sabji (Indian flat bread with dry veggies or veggies with curry) everyday. You can put a good casserole for one day, healthy soup the other and roti-sabji the third. There - we just planned a three-day meal for you in less than five minutes. Also, if you are a picky person - you have a say from the start in what you want to eat. If you say at the last minute that you want to eat something interesting and nice, chances are the ingredients may not be at home. In this case, it won't be so.

It has been a long time now since we have been making menus and putting it up on the fridge. I would like to share some tips that may make your task a little bit easy. I have shared my own lists with you in these photographs. As you see in one picture, you can even combine a to-do-list with it.

1. If there are things in your fridge waiting to be used, see what you can cook with those. It's amazing you can make a good square meal out of humble leftovers, or uncooked vegetables or meat if you have that in your fridge.

2. If you have been really keen to try a new recipe, put that on your list. Encourage your creativity.

3. Make it a point to write your list before you do your weekly grocery. Write all ingredients you need that you don't have at home, especially if it is a new recipe.

4. Very important - don't forget to take the list to the store. Sounds crazy, but don't tell me you have never left your list at home and realized it the minute you enter your superstore.

5. As you make the list, go over in your mind whether you'd like to take leftovers for lunch the next day. If not, please add lettuce, cucumber and basic salad needs to take salad to work.

6. Make your list healthy - make sure to put ample legumes and sprouts and greens to your menu. If you eat any kind of meat, space it out for the five days and include that as well.

7. Last, but very important - don't make your menu boring. If it is, then it is very likely that you'll be tempted to order take-out Chinese food on Wednesday night!

I now come home and make my meal every night. But as a student, I cooked on Sundays for the week. It's your call. If you want, you can also chop veggies on Saturday or Sunday and refrigerate them. It will be so simple to just saute them after that. Depending on your schedule - you can cook daily or every two days or over the weekend if you want.

If you cook at home, and try to eat an overall healthy-balanced meal, please give this a shot. Give ten minutes of your time to a small list and see the difference it makes. It will give you peace of mind and an opportunity to include favorites of what every member in your family wants to eat.
Go ahead, give it a try. And let me know how it works for you.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New Delhi and Washington DC - my Perceptions

My cousin M introduced me to a friend of hers, who lives close to where I do in the District. During the course of conversation over dinner, our talk veered on how Delhi is as a city. Delhi is the capital of India and is situated in the northern part of the country. One of M's friends had told her that she would be careful in a city like Delhi (or something to that effect. I forget what she said exactly). I echoed her thoughts. When I worked in Bombay (yes, I still call it Bombay, rather than Mumbai), the head office was in Gurgaon, and so I went to Delhi a few times and have also been to Delhi during family trips.

There is something about Delhi that would naturally make me more guarded. I never for a minute felt that I was not originally from Bombay during the more than three years that I lived there, but Delhi definitely made me feel like that. Like me, most people in Bombay would walk around freely, not explicitly thinking of their safety. Being a woman, and not from Delhi, I used to be careful every time I was there.
What I noticed in Delhi was that everyone knows a politician or someone in the political circle. The minute you are about to enter in an argument or squabble with a person, the first thing that the person may tell you is, "You probably don't want to mess with me as my connections go a long way and I know politician X and Y from A or B party political party." I used to feel like I was one of those people who didn't know any politician, and was all by myself.

This is entirely my perception - but I feel like people from Delhi can outwardly be very sweet to you, but I would be wary of their intentions and how they would react to a situation. If you asked a simple question, you might just be countered with several other questions - asking your intent of that question and a simple situation could just get convoluted in no time. To tell it simply, the straightforwardness seemed amiss from the people. The other thing was that if you traveled by auto rickshaw drivers in Delhi, you would have to haggle for the travel fare. I saw this when I went in 2009. My friend T had told me about it, so I was aware of it. It is not as if the rickshaws are devoid of meters. They do have meters, but they just don't use them. Thankfully I didn't let the driver get the better of me. Whereas in Bombay, you pay the auto rickshaw driver by the meter.

That's why, when I decided to make the move to Washington DC, which is the capital of the United States, this thought that, 'What if DC is like Delhi?' kept coming in my mind. And I wanted to live in a Bombay-like city. Before coming here, I used to wonder if here too people would be more than eager to associate themselves with a politician (even if s/he is a wannabe), and I had to be guarded 24X7. Thankfully, in the first month itself, my thoughts were put to rest. I have felt safe on the Metro and when I come home after it gets dark (Irritatingly enough, it used to get dark by 5 PM till about two weeks back!) I have had a smooth transition from the mid-west to DC and am enjoying work and what this city has to offer.

Please note that what I write on this blog are entirely my opinions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bidding Adieu

I don't want you to be misled by this title. I am not going anywhere and nor are we moving. This title is about what we (A and I) went through a couple of months back. I said bye to Columbus, Ohio first in August, and finally in December, 2011. A bid his farewell to the city, close to New Years Eve. When I flew out of Columbus the last time, I was reflecting on how saying bye feels and the various times we have done this. All of us have gone through this similar phase - at some point or the other.

I remember three distinct farewells now. One was when I left India in 2006 to come here, the other when A and I left Connecticut to move to Columbus and now when left Columbus to settle in Washington, DC. If there is one common thread between the three, then it is that that your association with a place lasts longer than you think. When I was leaving Bombay, my friend K told me not to be sad that I was going away. She said that we will continue to be in touch. And we are. After six years, I find myself connecting with K often, or speaking to her when I am super elated or confused or….

Your ties with a place are not simply restricted till the time you live there. What I learned - you will keep in touch with the people you want to. You will miss them, yes, but, if you really want to, you will maintain contact. And that's the good thing. This is not because we have Facebook, which has made things easier. You will be in touch via other ways also. I had emailed someone from my work place in Columbus last week. And she said, I am doing a good job of keeping in touch. I feel as if some things don’t require a lot of time and effort. I have seen some of the busiest people reply every so quickly to emails. There is always time to send a two-sentence email to people who you think about.

You may move on from one place. But memories from there remain. A and I still miss a lot of things about Connecticut. Most of all, we miss the people and our friends. Other than that, we miss the parks and other things we take for granted. There used to be an Asian restaurant that we really liked. It still lingers on in our minds. The first time we went back to Connecticut, A and I wanted to go to all our favorite restaurants and visit some parks that we really liked.

We all get emotionally attached and associate one place with a particular event, which makes it more special. For instance, it was Connecticut where I first landed after we were married and I first came to this country. Although I didn't have much of an adjustment period, everything that I knew about the United States was first through New Britain, Connecticut. It is the place from where A got his PhD. Bombay was where I began working, and made some really close friends. Columbus, Ohio is where I went to school. That too, was huge for me, considering several things. So you may bid adieu to a place, but the emotions and sentiments remain.

It is for the same reason that after all these years, we hear our parents recount that, "When we lived in Nairobi or when we lived in Calcutta, we went for a safari every Sunday or peanuts cost X rupees." They talk ever so fondly about their time there, the weather and how the place was. Who knows, someday, after twenty years, we will recount to our children or friends of how life was when we were in our 20s and 30s.