Happy bytes

The instructor on my workout video has this refrain whenever the workout hits a particularly tough or burn-inducing spot. Right when I’m wincing at that last rep, about to give up, he’ll go Just go to your happy place! and two months ago when I began using this channel, I’d chuckle, roll my eyes and have a giggle at his morbid sense of humor.

This morning though, right in the middle of all that burn, something like 45 burpees in, when he said Just go to your happy place! I suddenly got it. Even in that eye-popping, muscle-stretching moment, while I was melting nose-first, when I could have been seeing white spots in front of my eyes, I had such an endorphin rush I burst out laughing. In a truly happy, full-body guffaw of sorts.

I’m so happy that I’m back in this old familiar zone, even though I feel like a whole new me this time around. Where the exercise isn’t a pain or a chore (like it had become through 2017-18), and is in fact a joy-inducing, happy-making activity I am willing to put other things aside for, dedicating myself mind, body and soul.

***

Speaking of happy places, it’s been five years since P and I made the Goa Happy video, our little contribution to the literally thousands of local spin-offs to the Pharrell Williams song that took the internet by storm in 2014. So I revisited it!

If you watch closely you might even spot me hahahaha.

***

I spent the weekend with D, because VC went away on a bike trip with work buddies to Gokarna. I think after food, therapy and tarot, the thing we’ve started to discuss the most is plants and gardening, and as usual (as always — I realised I’ve always left her home with plants or cuttings or both, on this trip) I came home with so many new things to pot.

I came away earlier than I usually would have. Ostensibly to catch a Sunday nap, wake up in my own home so I have the mojo to cook and settle back in, rather than be washed out by Sunday evening blues as it tends to happen to me.

What followed though made me want to stop and think, What Sunday blues?! because I woke up from my nap and went straight out into the terrace. I planted a whole bunch of fresh cuttings of plants I wanted that she’d painstakingly made for me, I repotted some plants that have grown too big for their pots over these few weeks, and I did sundry round of tending to everything, picking out dead leaves, watering, loosening soil and the works. All this while listening to Coke Studio that has made a timely pre-monsoon comeback in my life, right on cue.

The evening light was beautiful, and we’ve had a warmer couple of days so there was the residual heat of the day, as the sun is getting the full effect of the last of it’s rays in. My terrace was strewn with picked weeds, dry leaves, piles and trails of soil from all the dirty work, pools of water, muddy footprints. The sun set in a glorious pink yesterday, and when I looked up I was a sweaty, muddy mess. Such a joy. Such bliss. I didn’t realise I had kept going long after the sun had set, until VC walked in and laughed at how engrossed I had been.

***

Last weekend I cooked pork ribs for the very first time on my own. Following no recipe, winging it as I went along, throwing things in intuitively. And it turned out beyond delicious, if I can say so myself.

This has been happening a lot of late. The draw to go experiment, without too much planning, going in and going all the way. Some days are for the simply comforting givens like khichdi, and some days we pull out all stops and go the whole hog.

Either way, the kitchen has been a huge source of comfort for me these past few weeks. I’ve said so much about the peace and quiet and solitude staying in Goa offers me. And as much as I have enjoyed it, last week I realised I am ready for the hustle of my Bangalore life again. But this kitchen joy, the steadiness and joy that it brings to me, is something I want to try and keep going in Bangalore. Even if I am cooking in Amma’s kitchen, or even if I’m cooking for just myself at home.

Today, I’ve just cooked a marinara sauce, fortified with minced carrots and smashed stove-top charred red and yellow peppers, with smoky cumin and coriander and lots of red chilli flakes. I tossed up some frozen meatballs in some olive oil, and I will put them together right before we eat, mopping it up with millets and a salad.

***

After the bursts of those quintessential curly edged long green leaved mango trees, delicate frangipani and bougainvillea, we’re at that time of year where the gulmohar trees have come alive in all their glory. Literally everywhere, there are these clouds of fiery red, leaf-less trees, curvy and orb like when seen from a distance, eye-hurting flaming red when seen up close.

***

I’m all set to go back to Bangalore. I feel like this time of rest has been amazing, and well-timed and I am so refreshed and ready to get back to regular programming. I’m excited at the blank canvas sense I have for the next few weeks, and I feel certain I need to be in Bangalore as it unfurls.

Looking back, I’m so happy for the unexpected twist that brought me to Goa earlier than time, and kind of set a very different tone to the way the last two months have gone. It was unpleasant and challenging at the time and induced a fair bit of anger, frustration and resistance within me at the time, but as usual, as always, I can only connect the dots looking back.

It’s abundantly clear to me that there was no escaping this time, or the gifts it has brought, foremost amongst which has been the quality of the time VC and I have had together this trip. It’s been different. There was a quiet, reassuring and steady quality to it that hasn’t been there for a while — probably ever since we moved to Bangalore two years ago — that I didn’t know was missing until we somehow have regained it while not even looking for it. And so while I am looking forward to going back to Bangalore, this time around I am already feeling the pangs of missing him that I am anticipating will follow.

This is new. I have been so busy and involved with myself for the last six months, there hasn’t been a lot of room to sit and miss him really. I’ve been having a really good time in Bangalore, too much to let the usual longing dampen it. So this is going to be interesting.

Three years ago: Malleswaram market things

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Better

Some days are heavy. Especially after particularly investigative therapy sessions that come like a bolt out of the blue, squashing my optimism about maybe finally being able to go longer without a session, reminding me how much I need to heal still.

Monday was that kind of day and it took till yesterday evening to lift. When it did, in that instant, I knew something had flipped internally. I woke up from lying in bed yesterday afternoon, and from the moment my feet landed on the ground and the way I stood up, I felt something had changed. The cloud had flown by, the heaviness had done it’s time and left the building.

A lot happens in that time of heaviness. A time I have now learned to just let be. I don’t fight it as much these days. I am quick to recognise it to begin with, no longer mistaking it for random blues or anything else. And I give in and go with the flow. Allowing myself slow days if that’s what I feel is the need of the hour. Actually allowing myself whatever else is needed in that time. On Monday night it as chocolate chunk cookies, eaten without sharing, in bed while watching Mission Impossible.

It’s been six weeks of slow days for me here in Goa. And yesterday I began to feel the time for that too has passed. It has played it’s part, served a much needed purpose and yesterday as the cloud lifted, I felt a distinct feeling that it is time to move. What felt serendipitous and right for the most part, and gave me so much needed time (and boredom, even) now feels done.

In the sprightly energy I suddenly felt there was just one thing I wanted and needed to do. Cook myself a hearty, wholesome meal. Not eliminating the carbs, not eliminating the dairy, not eliminating the fried crispies.

So khichdi it was. This was my heavy days ending. Right here in a single bowl. Eaten all alone, fresh out of the cooker at 6.30 pm even before the sun had set.

Some days are heavy. Then there are some days that feel like simple perfection. And the difference between the two is sometimes just a bowl of humble khichdi.

One year ago: Waiting here to find the sign that I should take it slow
Three years ago: Who do I think I am?

Gratitude

I didn’t really plan on “birthday week” per se, but as it happened, the entire week of my birthday was a blissful happy time and it makes me really thankful for so much.

I watched Endgame, twice — on opening day and the day after. I am still not a hardcore MCU fiend by any stretch of imagination, but last year I really got into it and bothered to try and watch some of the better films of the lot, in order to get a handle on the overall plot. I did, to some extent, but watching Endgame made me realise there is so much I am suddenly curious about. So I also spent some parts of the weekend watching older movies. Dr Strange, for one, which I think is so far the best movie in this series for me.

We finally ticked off the other thing on my wish list on the weekend too. And. It. Surpassed. All. Expectations. The burger was huge, juicy, spectacularly flavoured, with a side of homemade potato chips, not fries, and aioli. MMMMMMM. The burger was in fact so big and filling, and my appetite has shrunk so much, both VC and I packed half a burger away to have for dinner. Which worked out just great for us.

Having my birthday on a national holiday has meant that there is always someone to celebrate with, and this time was no different. When I was growing up, it was always summer holidays and I’d mostly be in Bombay with my handful of chuddy buddies, and everyone was available because everyone was on holiday. As an adult, Labour Day has ensured that I’ve always had the day off and spent it with friends. VC had a holiday too, and we planned to go to the beach. But I got my period that morning, bummer, and was in no mood to swim anymore. So we made a detour and I got me another tattoo I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. Even though it’s been in the works in my head for a while, I think the timing was perfect, and the tattoo suddenly means so much more to me, personally.

We then went out to dinner to my favourite Italian restaurant because earlier in the week I went down a rabbit hole watching endless videos of pasta in the making, that had triggered a serious, massive spaghetti bolognese craving. I went totally crazy and ate dessert too — a luscious, flowery fragrant creme brulee. Memorable.

It’s time to write my annual birthday letter to myself, and I got down to it this past week. Last year, I decided to write two letters a year to myself and ended up actually writing three — just so many thoughts and feels to share I suppose hahahaha. This year, in addition I’m writing letters to some folks I feel like letting know how much they’ve contributed to my life this past year. So there’s going to be a fair bit of letter writing in the coming days.

This is probably the only “work” I did. With fasting diligently on weekdays at home, I’m pretty much down to one meal a day. And that means I only need to cook dinner. So I spend a large part of the day, really just chilling. This extended chilling, with literally nothing demanding my attention or asking for my time has been timely, and hasn’t happened ever before. I’m learning to go with it, and doing my best to shut the guilty person in my head down.

Meals have been really good. Something kicks in in the evenings when I decide to get up and cook dinner. They’ve been simple meals, but low-to-no-carbs and unlike ever before, I’ve been feeling inspired to create something fun and hearty even with those limitations. VC has joined in and this entire week we managed to eat well, stay on top of the fitness goals by exercising every day, which always sets me up for a good state of mind.

On Friday, I went to my happy place this side of Goa — the Friday market at Mapusa and bought the freshest veggies, mangoes, and generally revelled in wandering about the crowded place. I love, love, love this place and going there just makes me so happy. To take in the sights and smells and to jostle about with the locals, watching the hustle does something for me. I came home with these insane flowery plants that I’m going to put in my terrace too.

I ended the week with watching Endgame yet again hahaha — third time’s a charm. Because I watched some of the older movies, and now I actually get — at a deeper level — what some of the little details mean. This past week I’ve been very taken by the cultural phenomenon that this entire comic book universe has been, almost like the Star Wars of our generation. So I got all academic and geeky and did a lot of reading to fill in the blanks for myself. And that really changed the experience for me. I’ve now decided to slowly go through the entire lot of movies in sequential order. While I think I should watch them in the chronological order of the sequence of events that unravel in the movies, VC believes I should go in the (mis)ordered way that they were made because that back and forth has a place and a logic, apparently. My sequence-obsessed mind is having trouble accepting that.

For various reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into the mangoes this season. Also, the best has only just begun in Goa, in my honest opinion. I’m firmly in favour of Goan mangoes over even the best Alphonsos which I honestly find super overrated. So I also got back some of my favourite mangoes from the Friday market, and I have to say there is quite nothing like breaking a 16-17 hour fast with mangoes. And for that, I am utterly, utterly grateful.

Every day this past week I’ve woken up to mildly overcast skies, with that sticky pre-monsoon stillness of heavy humidity hanging in the air. It’s given me wild hopes that I get to witness at least a shower or two before I leave for Bangalore again.

One year ago: The beer I had for breakfast
Three years ago: At sea

Slow and steady

It’s been a rather flip-floppy week and I’ve floated along feeling unanchored for the most part. First the extended weekend and the extra day spent at the beach. It took me a whole day to recover from that and get out of the holiday blues and back to work. Just then I had the blow out with the client. I felt all loud and fierce in the moment when I stood my ground, but a couple of hours later I began to feel really sad about it. Not for what I said or did, because I was in the right, but just about yet another disappointment. Human beings are just so disappointing and it felt like a last straw.

So I turned to good old carbs for comfort. With a side of a Sri Lankan cinnamon and burnt star anise infused G&T at my new favourite pizza place. VC was only more than happy to take me out and so I binged on a meatballs on focaccia starter followed by a pepperoni pizza.

Today though, I woke up feeling quite rudderless because it dawned on me that suddenly a large chunk of my day is absolutely free and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Work does give my day structure and purpose and I’m back to the drawing board about where to go next. All of this is especially floaty in Goa where my days are long and lazy, and I’m technically in this limbo between holiday and regular life, not sure which way to go.

It could have been another floaty, aimless day but thankfully by now I have figured out my go to fixes that anchor me and bring steadiness to my days. I’ve dragged my feet with exercise this week, thanks to sleeping late so many nights in a row and all the indulgence in terms of food and drink. I’ve flaked and fudged a workout or two, even though I caught an hour long beach walk/run with R every morning that we were away.

Today I just knew I needed to not give myself any excuses. So I kicked myself to workout in the morning and forced myself to finish it strong, in a pool of my own sweat. I was finished, totally wiped, by the end of it but I felt so good. It’s like every single day, I forget how this is just starting trouble and that just seven or eight minutes in when I really break into a sweat and begin to feel the burn, is when the endorphins happen and I begin to thank myself for not allowing another miss.

I went to the nursery again this past weekend and got some new plants for the house. I’m afraid it might have become my new retail therapy, considering I’ve decided not to buy any clothes, shoes or accessories for at least another year.

After my workout I spent a good 20 mins tending to my plants. Don’t ask what I do and why it takes so long but I just enjoy pottering about, digging here clipping there, moving pots around. I don’t believe I’m very good at it but it is extremely satisfying and warms my heart.

I’ve also figured I don’t do well with just being cooped up all by myself for many days. I’ve been especially lonely after VC leaves for work this week, and the lethargy has made my enthusiasm to plummet. So today I got out and decided I should get out every few days, even if it’s just a supermarket run. I’m no longer the homebody I used to be when I lived here, going for days on end without stepping out at all. An hour outdoors was all it took, stocking up on groceries and stuff for a BBQ dinner VC has planned tomorrow, for me to feel steady and like I was back to being myself.

I came home, put things away listening to John Mayer and cooked myself a simple lunch. Dal, millets, a sabzi of sprouts and ate it with leftover kheema. Later, I watched Brene Browns new Netflix special and I ended up doing a couple of card readings for peeps.

This is pretty much all it takes to bring steadiness back to my life. A rhythm of utterly mundane tasks. Some days are just like this, steady and normal, as S said just as I was going about my day and she coincidentally texted me at the very same time telling me how she went about her plain and simple day and how it grounds her in ways nothing else does.

The benefits of having a routine are seriously underrated and I realise this is just what my parents talked about all along when I was growing up. I’m just living and experiencing the wonders as an adult.

Watching Gully Boy yet again in bed tonight and already looking forward to the beach tomorrow morning.

This is joy.

One year ago: The times, they are a-changing
Three years ago: Go far, they said

Mostly nothing

After spinning like a top for two weeks, I had a much needed quiet weekend of mostly nothing, all to myself. It was just what I needed to hit reset, make the wheels in my head stop spinning. And it was good to just resign — to sleep, to cooking for myself, to eating eggs and toast for dinner, to binge watching shitty movies, to just being without doing much else.

I say nothing, but it wasn’t an empty weekend. It was just a low-key one, filled with basic, mundanities. The stillness of a regular routine, of being able to do whatever I want of my time, of lying low like the afternoon sun slanting in, stark yet sleep-inducing, is seriously underrated and I don’t know what it will take for me to remember to indulge this luxury that I have, more often.

If on Thursday I was confused and disconnected, this weekend reconnected the link that had snapped. Who knew all it needed was a weekend spent simply, spontaneously?

There are times where I arrive at perfectly regular, unspectacular days like these. Where everything is just normal, and I get the sense I’ve been here before. I know this, it works, it has worked before. And the way in which they ground me and bring me back to myself, I sometimes feel they heal — harder and deeper — than the epiphanies and breakthroughs on days that come like a spectacular bolt of lightning and shake the ground beneath my feet.

I wish for more days like these. Where the truth is easy, and it dawns unannounced. Where there is love in simple acts of pleasure. Where I feel grounded and held, even when I’m going about my home all alone. When I suddenly realise that what I’m looking for has been here and within my reach all along.

***

It began on Friday, actually. With S coming over for lunch, I ended up cancelling all plans to work. This wasn’t part of the plan, but I just went with it — and this is something I am trying to let myself do more often without attaching judgement to it. I enjoyed cooking that meal complete with greens, salad, curry and millets. There was filter coffee post-lunch and we ended up gabbing till well into the evening, having to forcibly stop because I had to leave. Else we might have gone on and on, I suspect.

On Friday night I drove an hour across town (willingly, excitedly, on Friday evening. I don’t know who I am anymore.) met with A and caught Girish’s Karnad’s Rakt Kalyan, a Hindi translation of the original in Kannada, directed by Sunil Shanbhag. The play was stellar and deeply moving because even though it’s a tale of a perfectly idyllic society degrading to despicable levels of anarchy and bloodshed, it felt all too real and relevant for where we are as a country today. However, it was dense, intense and in such perfect Hindi, I had a hard time not tuning out. It wasn’t the play, it’s me. I realised that night that I’m just not in the headspace for anything densely engaging right now. It’s why I haven’t been able to read a full book this year, and why my journal writing is fragmented and staccato, not flowing like it was just last month.

The feels come deeply and sweep over me and I can’t do much but sink with it — a feeling I don’t quite enjoy. It makes me listless, my mind torn between over-engaged and letting go, stuck in between and doing nothing.

The play made me feel something. A little too deeply. And when we got out to catch dinner, I found myself nursing the idea of breaking my carb fast to chase the blues that had descended away. Luchi-aloor-dom it was. And it did not disappoint.

***

On Saturday morning, I woke up early, ostensibly, to hit the gym. My body has been stretched to the max this week and that morning I felt it in every inch of my muscles. I was very, very tempted to chicken out, but I persisted and pushed myself out the door. Thankfully it was a spot running workout, and even more surprisingly, once I was past the 7 minute mark, something inside of me kicked alive and I began to enjoy the run. Even so, I was battered — in a good way — by the time the 45 minutes were done. I’m still only running 50% of the stipulated time, and everyday that I make a small improvement whether in a new distance reached or a better pace, I feel good for it.

There is something ridiculously satisfying about getting my workout for the day done before 8 am, coming home to a super hot shower, getting back into my night clothes and back into bed for a daytime snooze. In summer, with the AC on, it hits the spot a little more. I meant to catch a short nap but woke up 2 hours later, when the doorbell rang.

I then spent half an hour sorting and arranging flowers around my home. This week I got two deliveries worth of flowers which means there’s currently more vases with excessively dressy flowers in my home than there are humans. The ratio is 5:1.

A lunch of leftovers was meant to be had, but after binge-watching the Bong Eats youtube channel yet again (I have no idea why it’s so addictive and makes me go on and on, one video after another, losing track of time) I was craving a simple masoor dal. So I made myself some and ate my lunch in bed, watching Netflix.

A few hours of Netflixing later — I really got into the gritty and raw Delhi Crime (can’t dial into anything serious, she says) — I received an annoying Basecamp notification from a slightly irrational client who I suspect has the idea of timelines all wrong in their head. I was so triggered in the moment that I decided right then and there to just give them what they’re on my case for (even though the timelines they expect are crazy). Sped off to Third Wave, which has become my go-to when I need to kick my productivity in action, and pounded away for a few hours getting some work done even though working on the weekend was the last thing on my mind.

Somewhere in between D texted me and what ensued was a really funny conversation that had me stifling loud laughter and wiping away tears. The dude working at the table next to me kept glancing sideways, with a very perplexed and worried look. Later I realised it must have looked like I was crying, violently shaking as I was from trying to mute the noisy laughter that was threatening to erupt, while wiping away a stream of tears. I really needed that bout of laughter, and the endorphins that rushed in.

I came home and made myself a boiled egg sandwich with Kasundi (thank you, Bong Eats!) and ketchup, salt and pepper before calling it an early day.

***

Thank God for Sunday being rest day. And after the brutal week it’s been in the workout department, I was looking forward to it. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hit my Sunday walk again after so many weeks. We promised to try. Except I woke up and promptly listened to my body, — clearly begging for some rest — cancelled and went back to sleep for two more hours.

I spent the rest of Sunday pretty much horizontal. I managed to read a bit, cook myself some cholle for lunch, loll about for extended periods of time for the rest of the day, watching Delhi Crime. Niyu came over in the evening and we chilled for a bit, before I caught Captain Marvel (again!) in the evening with D.

***

Time and time again I am shown the beauty and wonder that slowing down, minimizing and steadying myself has to offer. Most times, when I have nowhere to go, no place to be, no timelines to worry about, I am happy. This past weekend I was all alone. My folks are travelling, my maid took the weekend off and I had no real plans — something that hasn’t happened in many weekends now. The plans that got made, happened spontaneously, with ease, and because I wanted to. No obligations, to stretching myself more than needed.

Cerebrally, I know the benefits of letting go, going with the flow and all of that. And for the most part I am in sync. But there are times, like the last two weeks, when everything about my being decidedly rejects the idea and insists on staying on the run. I must remember to especially slow down and stay still at such times, not to see what I am getting away from when I run, but to see what emerges when I stop.

I know what it was this time, and I feel a little silly that it takes a weekend of forced staying in and nothingness for me to dial in to that. When will this become my default? When will that inner knowing be fine-tuned so much that I don’t have to think about it and I just know when to pause, without having my external life orchestrate the pauses?

I was chatting with VC the other night about how much I am loving what has become of my life. Aside from the fact that it’s missing his presence sorely, I am thoroughly enjoying how much space I have for me, for what I want to do, even if it is sometimes nothing at all. I hope I can get myself to turn the negative self-talk down more often and really make the most of this time. That was after all one of the major motivations of staying on in Bangalore.

I must remind myself more often.

Three years ago: Piece of peace

Love-filled

I feel soft and full of love today.

***

Today, I cooked the first proper meal all by myself in my home. I’ve had the extreme, extreme luxury of hopping over to my parents place for every single meal since I got back from holiday over ten days ago. Between feeling disoriented and resuming a killer workout schedule that has rendered my movement in the rest of the day a little compromised, and a whole week of hectic social activities, I have unabashedly leaned on amma and her unrelenting capacity to give and keep giving. Whether it’s hot meals, breakfast every single day, her car whenever I need it (which has been every day these days *eyeroll*) and just generally being that fall back I always have. It has meant I didn’t have to stock up my kitchen till yesterday, I didn’t have to worry about my nutrition as I stepped into the 6-week program, I didn’t have to do a thing other than show up and be fed with wholesome, nutritious food.

S is coming over for lunch today, so I decided to cook rather than order in or go out. While cooking this morning, I realised that to be able to slip into domesticity as and when I feel like, rather than bound by necessity is such a game-changer at this present time of my life. This is one of the big issues I fought in Goa, right before I left. I felt bound and tied down by some parts of domesticity, and constantly felt like doing them was keeping me from doing the things I really wanted to. I feel grateful for the proximity to my parents that allows this, for amma’s constant presence and support in ways I don’t even have to ask for, and for how life sometimes conspires to make possible the smallest, seemingly insignificant details of my life a reality, and for how hugely that impacts my life.

***

I woke up this morning feeling fresh as a new summer day. I’ve been having some incredibly good sleep since resuming working out harder. My digestion feels more settled, my skin feels better — these, and some other small niggling physical changes in my system that had begun to creep up last year seem to be on the wind-down. It’s amazing what a little extra movement, some essential burning of excess energy and regulation in food and hydration can do. I’m grateful for another opportunity to workout with S. For the new sneakers I got this past week. For access to a gym so close to home. For summer mornings that make waking up easier. For VC’s constant, unquestioning support in this area of my life.

One year ago: Somebody holds the key
Three years ago: Silence

The food, the food

Be warned: this is a picture-heavy post.

This trip was all about the food, for me. I had a pre-planned list of things I wanted to taste, and I am happy to have knocked it all off except for the bhaang which although I was keen to try, just looked so dodge when I saw how it was made that I suddenly had cold feet and didn’t feel ready to experiment with.

Right off the bat I have to say we didn’t have a single non vegetarian meal through out this trip. Now, this is very easy for me to do. While I enjoy eating meat, it’s not a crucial component of a good meal for me. I can go days, and in fact I prefer this, with simple, hearty, vegetarian food. But VC is the kind of person who needs meat. So for him to admit he didn’t miss eating meat at all said a lot.

Our very first meal was breakfast on day 1. We dumped our luggage in the hotel and started weaving our way through the narrow lanes looking for a “breakfast place”, realising very soon that there are no “places”, just beautifully characteristic hole-in-the-wall type establishments with giant kadhais set over hot coals, right at the foot of the store, inviting you with an array of smells.

Kachori-aloo-jalebi is the staple Benarasi breakfast and I wanted to try nothing else. We ducked into the first joint we found because a) it smelt so good and b) a cow was blocking the road ahead.

Turns out they call them kachoris, but they’re actually puris mildly stuffed with something (I couldn’t figure out what, exactly.). For a mere Rs 25, we got a stack of kachoris, a dona of aloo curry — this place had a curry mix with aloo, black channas and kabuli channa faacckkkk — and a couple of hot jalebis. Uncleji handed it to us and watched us for a minute as we tried to juggle all the hot stuff in our hands,  side stepping piles of you-know-what, looking for a place to settle and eat. Kindly, he invited us in. Behind the stove that was right at the entrance to the store, he had two small tables squashed into a room blackened with years of soot from cooking over charcoals. Warm, smiling and just so hospitable, it was a sharp contrast to what people had psyched us about “watching out for” people before trusting them.

Rubbish, I tell you. Across the board, the people of Benaras were nothing short of lovely, warm and helpful. We didn’t have a single bad experience, and I was happy to have my faith in my innate tendency to trust first, until proven wrong, reaffirmed. Of late I’ve been told I’m too quick to trust, and I find that I had begun to sometimes second guess my instincts. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Breakfast was so sumptuous and filling, and was followed by adrak chai and a morning of roaming around the ghats white VC scouted for spots to shoot over the next few days. I just took in the sights, smells and sounds. Benaras had already begun to gob-smack me, taking me in fully from the get go with its bizarre mix of heavy character and just so much life, along with the inherent paradoxes that are so hard to miss. It’s a city that you sense heavily, feeling it under your skin.

We managed to sneak a boat ride in too, and returned to the hotel in time for check-in. We had landed into a 15 degree post-winter morning, but by noon the sun had come out full force, the heat was searing and dry and we realised it was going to be the kind of trip where we spend a bulk of the day indoors. So we lugged back a couple of beers each into our room, fully expecting to skip lunch thanks to the heavy breakfast and settled in to Netflix and chill.

But that was not to be. In a couple of hours we got hungry, but I suspect it was more a curiosity about what we could taste next. We scoped out the closest chaat bhandaar, one of the highest rated ones in Benaras was 400 mt away from us, so we walked there.

We sampled the gol gappas (good), the papdi chaat (excellent), palak chaat ( beyond excellent!), a samosa chaat (it didn’t do much for me — the masalas in the samosa and the gravy they pour over it was an overkill), aloo tikki chaat (much nicer because the tikki itself was mildly spiced, lending just that required starchy potato-goodness that allows the flavours of the chaat to shine through) and the local specialty: tamaatar chaat, which I thought was no big deal. It was essentially a cooked curry of tomatoes, tangy and spicy, covered in a medley of chaat-y toppings like imli ki chutney, green chutney, spice powders and dahi, showered in crunchy sev-like thing (which in Benaras is chunky and shaped like pellets).

Dinner on day 1 was late, and because we didn’t feel up to venturing out a third time in the day to look for food, we slipped into one of the many local “shuddh shakahaari bhojanalays” and packed rotis cooked over hot coals, with sabzi and dal. So satiating and hearty, consumed in bed while binge watching Made In Heaven.

The next morning we set off to catch the sunrise over the ghats, which was a good two hour affair, of which one hour was spent on another boat ride along the entire length of about 25 ghats. This had us occupied and quite frankly just so engrossed, I didn’t realise it was breakfast time. On our way out, we discovered a stall that served what is easily the best tapri chai I’ve ever had in my life. Non-boiled, but just so kadak and good. It was so good that VC, the desi-style chai lover of the two of us, admitted to it being the best tea he’d had and came home and tried to replicate what he’d seen of the chaiwalas method.

But the star of that stop was the bun-maska. OMG. 100 gms of Amul butter spread over 4 buns that were toasted over a smoky charcoal fire, that we dipped in hot tea and gobbled before it fell into soggy blobs into the glass. JUST SO EFFING GOOD.

We made two pitstops at this tapri over the next two days and the bun-maska-wallah had figured I was a fan. I don’t know, maybe the incessant picture taking gave it away?

That bun-maska was just a appetiser, and the real breakfast that followed was this kachori-puri-jalebi, which at another joint was a medley of vegetables — potatoes, carrots, peas and cauliflower. Equally delicious, but so heavy we’d started to share a single portion between the two of us.

I saved the best for last. This right here is the crowning glory of the food we ate in Benaras and since it is only made and enjoyed in the winter, Im so glad we managed to catch it.

This here, is malaiyo, a fluffy airy, cloud-like form of cream and full-fat milk. I’m told it is traditionally churned a day in advance and left out in the open over a cold winter’s night so the dew that settles on it, over the course of the night, helps hold up its airiness.

It looks like rabri, but has the texture and mouth feel of something that beats the best tiramisu pants down. It is quite literally like eating a cloud of rich, saffron and pista rich rabri. There’s no biting it, because it just disappears in a pool of air in your mouth. It is only available before 11-o clock because the heat causes it to collapse so even if you step out as early as 6 am, you’ll find street vendors with giant vats of malaiyo along the way to the ghats.

Our breakfast was fixed, 90% meals comprised entirely chaat, and the remaining 10% was a roti-sabzi affair. VC sampled the famed Benarasi paan on three occasions, but claims none of them really appealed. I am not a paan-eater. I have in fact never tasted the thing and I refuse to even try it, so I could not vet his opinion.

***

And here’s some pictures of the people who made the food, people who fascinated me as much as the food did.

Even though he doesn’t look it here, this was the extra warm, hospitable uncle who gave us space to sit and enjoy our hot breakfast on day 1
Fresh kachoris
Laung Latika (a crispy pastry pocket filled with mava and finished off with a single clove pressed through it) in the making
Mr Malaiyo, my favouritest food-person
Bestest chai tapri just outside Dashaswamedh Ghat
Piles of kachori-sabzi every morning
Benarasi paan-wala who failed to please

One year ago: We form our own boundaries

Of days that turn around

Allowed myself to bunk yoga and sleep in today.

Then I watched a shitty, shitty movie that I really shouldn’t have wasted my time with.

Made up for wasted time with an afternoon of work and a huge headstart on the month’s deliverables.

Followed it up with a good chat and an iced coffee.

And then this, wandering in the crotch of Bangalore, following our noses and the warm smells of fresh street food, was like the icing on the cake.

Some days really do turn around dramatically.

One year ago: The only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind

Food and friendship

When the kind ladies at The Lookout Journal wrote in to ask if I could write a feature on food and how it forms such an integral part of documenting vignettes of my life, I was flattered. But also mostly shocked. That a) my blog interested someone enough to ask me to write for them and b) the angle they’d taken in talking about food was quite a refreshing departure from most things I’ve seen food-documenting in a while.

I didn’t end up writing the essay. What with being smack in the middle of travel, moving cities, setting up home, and continuing to work through it all. So they were kind enough to turn the opportunity into a Q&A with me instead.

I was deeply touched by how insightful the questions were, moving away from the most obvious and usual extension of food — nostalgia. Particularly inspiring for me to get down to answering their questions was the fact that really to got the heart of the place food occupies in my life especially this year — facilitating friendship with others and with myself. 

So here it is if you’d like to give it a lookie and a read.

***

It’s true. Food is such a vehicle for normalcy and finding grounded-ness.

This is the first meal I cooked at the new home in Goa and immediately I felt at home in a way that only cooking a full meal can make me feel. Even though it was just khichdi and aloo-fry. 

VC had been eating take out for over a month since he moved in. I had to buy a pressure cooker to begin with. But I went a little extra and bought a set of idli plates, a hand-mixie too. And I stocked up on a lot of masalas, which I’d been avoiding thinking VC is not going to ever cook an elaborate meal that will require them. Soon enough I realised the stupidity of that thought process. This is my kitchen too. I’m going to be visiting often enough. As soon as I gave myself the space to settle in, spices, pressure cooker and all, I immediately felt at home.

We have since had idlis and chutney, dal rice and anda-masala, aglio olio with mushrooms and sausages. On New Years Ever we even managed a barbecue for two — VC outdoing himself with a malai chicken (which had no malai hahaha) and paneer skewers. I tossed together some buttered veggies to go with it. It was simpler than I imagined, and we had a quiet, satisfying evening of it by ourselves.

***

Somewhere in the midst of it all R came to visit, and it happened to be the eve of VC’s birthday. So we bought our favourite chocolate cake for old time’s sake to surprise him with. And then on the birthday we had dinner at a quaint little “pizza bar” in North Goa.

I’m really enjoying exploring the food here. I didn’t do enough of it when I lived in Panjim, especially in the years just before I left. So I’m glad for the opportunity to be closer north. And for friends who’ve arrived bearing enthusiasm to make me get out and about. 

One year ago: Day 2: Gratitude. That is all.
Three years ago: Day 2: Love

Day 360: I just want the realness

A day that begins like this can only go well. And today was that kind of day.

One year ago: Warm sound

Day 353: We got soul food in the house

Within mere hours of reaching Goa, I came down with a massive cold. A combination of the drastic spike in temperatures between Bangalore and here, and spending upwards of an hour stuck in a non air-conditioned bus and then plane, breathing a cocktail of germs while we got through the inordinate delay in taking off from Bangalore international airport.

The dust from the carpentry work at home hasn’t helped. It’s day 3, and today, finally it settled. After a chilled beer, beef fry and a bigass mackerel fry.

Day 340: Now I’m free falling

I’ve been feeling drawn to cooking again. And I’ve been feeling equal enthusiasm to make quick dinners of things as simple as eggs and toast as I am for the the slow, laborious, long-drawn out way that the food I grew up eating is made. I realise that primarily, it is the act of using my own hands and brain to create a meal that gives me that kick of dopamine. It happened last week when I made a large pot of pulao, some faux cholle and a mashed pumpkin sabji. And it happened again today when I cooked this meal for A who came over to spend the day.

What is it about this kind of food that takes one right back to ones roots, that spells home? Today it was the wispy fragrance of the just-boiled beans from a freshly released pressure cooker, or the crackling pungent hit of coriander seeds and crinkly red chillies sauteed in coconut oil, or the weedy robust and palpably green smell of freshly barely wilted dill spun in the mixie with fresh spices and coconut, that kindled a warm fullness in my Heart.

A full plate of this sort makes me indescribably happy. And to make and share this with friends — complete with granularity, texture and a transference of the tedium that this sort of meal requires — is extra special. 

There is something about labouring over the food that sustains me. An experience I take for granted on a daily basis when I casually waltz over to Amma’s and eat at her table, and of her giving. Perhaps it’s the slowness, or the act of proceeding in a sequence of actions, or just the sheer meeting point of all the senses, that taps right into that deep, primal dormant fire that is stoked every time a good meal is in the works, and immediately invokes a feeling of connection to The Source. Of belonging. Of roots. Of home. 

Two years ago: Day 340: Happy high

Day 295: They say you were always enough

I’m exhausted. After days of fighting that itchy throat, my body gave in today. It felt like there were rocks embedded in there every time I swallowed. And so for the first time this year, I have caved and decided to have antibiotics. I know what has brought this on — exhaustion. This is my body saying, enough, get some rest. It was also probably tipped over the edge by the three chilled beers I had at lunch yesterday. Oh well.

It’s been non-stop this entire month, and I felt my energy really flagging on the weekend. Unfortunately I can’t fully stop just yet. We’re int he midst of packing before we set off to Goa in a few days. Once there too, a whole lot of things need to be done to get our home where VC will stay, up and going in time before I return.

So today, I took comfort in a big fat pill, an afternoon nap, a cancelled evening appointment and some forced downtime, before I made a batch of Asian summer rolls and headed over to my aunts for dinner. There’s quite nothing like a hot meal someone cooks for you, to hit the spot on an ill day like today, when my body has wanted to just stay curled up and asleep. We had fried fish, a hearty chicken curry, and topped it with a small Jagermeister shot that fixed my throat good and proper.

Tomorrow will be a better day, I know. And that R in the image, it stands for REST.

One year ago: When one door shuts, open it again
Two years ago: Day 295: In with the new

Day 266: You’re still young, that’s your fault

Paris. Day 4.

There’s just so much to say, about this city, about how not having a plan when we travel worked out for us, about intersecting with friends in parts of the world and about just how incredibly overwhelming beautiful this has been.

We’ve been so lucky with the weather this week, even with the spots of rain, we had J fly down from Hamburg to surprise us and S who anyway lives here now, which dramatically changed the way these four days have been.

Mostly, I’m grateful for life’s little surprises and how things always work out. I came without a plan, just a vague idea of what I would do, and it didn’t involve a single museum. I had no idea it would turn out that I’d spend my time the way I did, but somehow it has been exactly what I wanted.

My brain has been shutting down from the sheer sensory party that this place is. I can’t seem to string one sentence straight even though they’re all there in my head. Try as I might to invoke them, all I get is a bunch of superlatives that still fall short.

I’ll have to try once again in a few days after I’ve had a chance to process it all.

Paris has my heart. Good and proper.

Day 239: Cake by the ocean

One whole year since the life-changing 6-week diet and 8 whole months after I gave it up completely, I am finally fully feeling like myself again. I know I point out my hips a lot, but this has been the real indication. My pants no longer hang on me. They’d all gone shapeless, several sizes too large, and needed belts and all kinds of other fasteners to keep them up. Now they’re staying on their own now, and they feel snug.

My hips don’t lie. I’m back in them the way I used to be. Thick thighs, wide hips and everything in between.

I’ve been steadily moving on to the side of regular unabashed eating over the months, but nothing pushed me over the edge like the frequent travel this year did. I find that as long as I am at home, eating home food I am balanced, measured and satisfied with what I eat. And I feel good eating the way do. But starting with the Thailand trip, when I really cut back and ate ALL THE THINGS, I’ve been on a non-stop no holds barred eating trip. This continued with every trip to Goa after, normalising only a little when I come back home, only to fall off the balance again with the weekly visit to VCs. So somewhere in between, I just completely stopped thinking about it — carbs, sugar, alcohol, bread — like I said, all the things.

Something about being on holiday mode (even if only in my brain) makes me want to eat, eat, eat all the things. And I realise I have been happiest when I have allowed myself to eat. It has taken so much rewiring to really admit, without berating myself and calling myself a pig or shaming my genuine love for indulgence, that I really, really love to eat. And that I eat a lot more than the average woman my age. Yes, my skin might sometimes suffer because of it — sugar sends my acne out of control. Carbs and alcohol make me bloat, and I have to find balance and exercise moderation. But I have realised, I love food far more than I love the idea of flawless skin or a flat belly. For now.

For many years, the last decade, I was in love with the idea of being fit. It was great, it made me feel invincible, I was in the best shape and health. Even when I was on the diet, and for months after, I continued to feel good. In my body, about my body. Perhaps it was the turn my life was taking, and the necessary twist in my self-development journey, but it wasn’t long before I began to feel a strong dissonance between what my mind demanded — ease, softness, openness — and what I was doing to my body — abstinence, curtailing, starving it.

Life has this way of beating me down into submission, to see the truth that needs to be seen. And if it weren’t for the therapy and the work I was forced to put in, I could probably have taken a lot longer to see the mind-body connection, and how much what I was doing to my body was slowing my mind down. On one hand, my soul was raring to go on this journey, but my body was stopping to exercise portion control and self-flagellation.

I couldn’t keep it up. This is not to say indulgence is the way to go. I know that my periods of indulgence and binging are short and are always punctuated by adequate windows where everything gets balanced. Home food is good food, and what we eat on a regular basis is good and wholesome, even without all the eliminations. And that really keeps my system ticking. But it was important to let the reins go. To feel fully, to be me fully. To allow my being to sprout.

In Goa last week, I realised this love I have, to treat my body with good food of late, has been such a vital part of that process of sprouting. About accepting myself just the way I am — hips, thighs, abs, arms, face as they are. In the months between stopping the intense diet and working-out and now, there were periods of struggle when I’d look at fitness icons every now and then and momentarily slip back to wishing my butt were a different size, my waist were smaller and the like. I’d stress about how I’m undoing what I worked so hard to achieve. I was so hard on myself, and it routinely made me so unhappy. First the lack of eating what I wanted to eat, and second the fact that I was even putting myself through it.

It is only as recently as the last 2 weeks that I am experiencing a new level of freeing self love. And I knew it was freeing when I stopped counting what I was eating.

I’ve realised it’s possible that for many years, I was more in love with an idea of being painfully fit, more than I actually loved what it takes to be that fit.

In reality, being just a little bit fit will do.

Second, that idea of what fit is was woefully inadequate for the person I was becoming. It was limiting, restrictive and at a very fundamental (and unconscious) level, ate away at my joy. My sprouting quite literally needed nourishment, and there I was not allowing it.

I’m trying every day to redefine my idea of fit — to tone down the emphasis on how my body looks, and focus more on how I feel. In my heart, in my mind. Deeper down, in my soul.

I realise now that the only want any of these life habits can be sustainable is if I feel good practicing them. And I will only feel good practicing them, if I listen to what it is I need, and move accordingly. So it has taken constant nourishing, through good food, healthy thoughts, and it has taken constant reworking of limiting beliefs and it has taken the hugely painful and taxing work of including everything that I was too afraid, ashamed, proud to see and accept as mine — my faulty beliefs, my inaccurate definitions, my terribly harsh goals.

Try as I did for a while, this process simply didn’t allow for exclusions of any kind. Not of food groups, not of happy moments shared in the company of people who would call bullshit gently when I faltered, not of the opportunities to look deep within with honesty, not of the ability to change

I simply could not keep going with the pursuit of “strong” the way I believed it to be true to me, when deep down my being craved and needed softness, less rigidity, more vulnerability. And acceptance.

In this too, there has been a big lessons in loosening up, and allowing a little give. As much as I struggled to embrace the fact that I did in fact have a warped sense of body image, I have found that joy in embracing my whole self again.

It is enough. I am enough.

The truth is, I love a hearty meal. How else can I explain the glee in planning even the simplest dal-rice meals? This joy comes to me on a daily basis, day after day after day. It’s true what they say, abs are made in the kitchen, but I love dal-rice-and-potato meals way more than I love the idea of flat abs.

Accepting myself, and my body has meant being realistic about its capacity, it’s limitations. It has been about understanding that joy happens when my body works with my mind, and vice-versa, not against. It has meant accepting that the softness I needed in my emotions, needed to find a home in my body.

It has been about choosing kindness and allowance, over the many disallowances Id made mine. It has been about growing soft, letting those muscles really soften, as a blueprint for giving up the obsession to be strong, literally and figuratively. It has been about spreading myself out, taking up space and not shrinking to fit in. It has been about allowing myself vulnerability in my very being — not something I can simply talk about if I don’t bring it into my life, in every aspect possible. And that has meant letting go of the labels, the notions, the sense of self I had cultivated so strongly attached to fitness.

I had to break it down and let a newness grow out of it, to see what else I could be.

Could I be a new kind of fit?
Can I find happiness in a different form and shape?
Could this be an essential part of the journey?

It has not been about seeking comfort in telling myself I’m perfect and flawless. It has meant accepting that my body, me, is just what it is. Not perfect, not horrific. It’s big in parts, smaller in others, it has skin that leaves so much to be desired, a shape that’s sometimes hard to clothe.

It is just what it is. Some days I feel great in it, some days not so much. But it has meant learning to be okay and comfortable in this body, this skin, despite it all. It has been about wearing it with love and acceptance even on those days when I’d rather not. It has been about finding clothes that fit me, rather than fitting myself into clothes I believe I should. It has been about letting go of labels of strength and muscle, and embracing the softness and vulnerability my life so needed.

They say what you eat, is what you are. And I can’t help but believe it is so darned true. These days I feel full and whole. I feel no parts of me left behind, or out. I feel lovely and loved.

I feel intensely. Every emotion I witness fills me up, every encounter and experience, a reminder to dig in and enjoy myself fully. Every time that I am faced with a desire an inkling these days, I find myself choosing action over abstinence — whether a mug of hot chocolate or the idea of a journey or an assignment or a tattoo or a new experience. This agility and impulsiveness is so new for the over-thinker and over-planner that I was. And this has made such a massive difference to the quality of my life. Suddenly everything is wide open, and so full.

The day I came home from Goa and got into my night shorts after 10 days in other night clothes, I felt the elastic bite into my waist, a wee muffin top on either side. Back to normal, like I was last year, I said to VC. Immediately, his reaction was to remind me to relax and not get obsessed about losing it. He’s used to this dance — I complain about my body and he swiftly does his job of making me feel better.

That was who I was. I’d only ever notice and acknowledge my body when I wanted to point out its flaws.

That night thought, it was different. I grabbed my waist, ran my hand around the little hump it created on either side of the elastic waistband, and realised just how joyful this process of filling-out has been. I have enjoyed watching what happens when I let go, give myself permission to eat freely. I have loved fattening myself up.

I have enjoyed watching my body up close and making it mine.

I want to take today to remind myself that this process, the progress, is slow. It takes time, and I might falter. But as long as I continue to allow myself everything — the transgressions as much as the permission to be — I’m moving towards the best life. Time will pass on, and I will continue to grow. In all the many, ever-changing ways possible.

Two years ago: Day 239: Friyay