Monday, December 31, 2012


At the threshold of 2013, when the world did not end and there is still hope that human spirit may yet soar to exalted positions of thought, sentiment and action, I wish you a bottomless bucket of wonderful wishes that you may put in your best to achieve from now until your end of time. May new moments, new years, new time always hold a sense of happiness, hope, promise and fulfillment for you and yours.

Here's My Bucket List -

1. Learn to meditate
2.       Earn money, lots of money
3.       Share my money with those less privileged, especially animals

4.       Open an Animal Farm

5.       Age gracefully

6.       Work till I am 80, if I live to be 80 or till my last few days on this planet

7.       Be mobile and self-reliant till my last breath

8.       Renovate my homes – both – in the City and the Valley

9.       Travel – well and widely

10.   Learn to skydive

11.   Learn at least two languages

12.   Live for sizeable length of time in other cultures

13.   Write, prolifically

14.   Get awards for my writing

15.   Get Famous

16.    Read, voraciously

17.   Get into the list of 100 most influentially inspiring people on earth

18.   Return to Riding

19.   Play a sport or two

20.   Increase my IQ

21.   Study, all through life

22.   Lose Weight, once and for all and keep at it

23.   Master a hobby, like photography

24.   Smile, a lot

25.   Think, even more, before acting

26.   Practise being wise always

27.   Make a difference to both my inner and outer circles and hopefully to all the concentric ones thereafter

28.   Be the best companion that I can be

29.   Master the craft of Gardening; grow flowers and vegetables

30.   Give a sincere part of me to those around

31.   Read at least one book every month

32.   Save energy – water, electricity,

33.   Save mental energy from rampant wastefulness

34.   Reduce, reuse, recycle

35.   Become somewhat carefree and let my spirit soar with the birds at least once a day

36.   Worry about my actions, Worry less about other’s reactions

37.   Reflect on how I have led my life so far and learn from the gaps

38.   Put a thought out, often, to how I wish to spend my waking moments henceforth

39.   Be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey

40.   Try not to relax the grip on my passions

41.   Work hard towards my goals, every  single day

42.   Realize that the day – in its life - gives us the gift of 24 hours to do something worthwhile in

43.   Be grateful to God each day for giving me the gift of health, happiness, family, friends and above all hope.

44.   Fight off my phobia of water

45.   Aspire to be a philanthropist

46.   Day dream

47.   Spend the day such – in body, spirit and mind – that there are no nightmares

48.   Help the elderly, influence the young at every given opportunity

49.   Learn to be happy even when sad and temporarily bereft

50.   Learn to play at least one instrument in this lifetime

51.   While destiny plays out its cards, be camera- ready with all my plans painstakingly written out, typeset and spiral-bound.


Sunday, December 30, 2012


1. Mind is stronger than the body. You can accomplish anything that you resolve to attain. Nirbhaya, even in her death, has paved the way for bringing the devilish to the book. She wanted it from the time she was assaulted to even the time when she lay subconscious and her resolve showed in the way she kept her mind alert and recounted every detail in her statement. If a battered, young girl can do it, imagine what a healthy, stable headed person is capable of achieving!

2.        An unknown, young, hapless girl rose to become the symbol of justice and respect for women across the country on the merit of her indefatigable spirit that refused to cower down and on the basis of her irrepressible strength of will that sustained first the demonic onslaught and then intolerable pain beyond the limits set by the field of medicine.

3.       Nirbhaya, it is being said, wanted to survive and live. May she live on in our collective conscience as the one who stood her ground, not only when she could with her life but, also more importantly, with the power of her mind that kept ticking to a purpose while held within an almost lifeless body.

4.       Nirbhaya is a reflection of me – when I was nine and conveyed my displeasure in unequivocal terms to my mother on being touched inappropriately by an Uncle; when I was 15 and crushed the toes of a man rubbing against me in a public transport; when I was 19 and ran behind a man who had just felt me up to whack the daylights out of him; when I was 24 and jabbed my elbow into the sides of a molesting man on Delhi’s infamous Bluelines.

5.       Nirbhaya is a mirror image of my psyche that helped me raise my voice always and that urged me to pass on these lessons of self-respect, dignity and identity to the younger women under my fold.

6.       Nirbhaya has yet again taught us that we are capable of collective rage, common sentiment and profound empathy. What we mustn’t forget is that the cause is not for a day, a month or a season. It is a long arduous battle that we must fight with our own and those around.

7.       The real power lies with each one of us. It depends on what and how much we are willing to endure. The moment we cross that threshold, we can confront anything that is dished out to us, with force. It is, then, the question of which wolf we wish to feed – of fear or freedom.

8.       The terrible, mind-numbing case has yet again shown to us that, sadly, in the name of democracy we live in an Ungoverned State of Anarchy where ‘everything goes.’ We, as people of the country, do not wish to hold people answerable and situations accountable. Whether it is innate patience or sheer laziness, we seldom care to rise up to an incident / cause. We, then, are as much to be blamed ourselves.

9.       Things will not change unless and until we ‘will’ them to change. In the midst of our personal strife and everyday responsibilities are we willing to live that extra mile!

10.   The law, judiciary, policing and Governance in our country are only on paper because we have allowed them to rest there. Are we willing to rake them up into action with genuine demands that stay persistent and relentless?

11.   To say that our country is largely poor and that there are issues of food and shelter to be looked at first is a weak man’s excuse. Dignity, respect, safety are as important and integral to our living.

12.   We need to combat the ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide. What happens to ‘them’ happens to ‘us,’ always. If the city was unsafe and men deadly for Nirbhaya then the city and men with that mentality continue to be a danger to all of us.

13.   More than law and judiciary we need policing of our minds. If the mindset is not educated to change then the core of the problem will lie there and germinate into a full blown crime every time it is watered with any external stimulus or internal demons.

14.   The problem has always laid with us. Till the time we do not teach our men – sons, little brothers, boyfriends, husbands – to respect women, the problem will stay where it is. It is not just the men to be blamed. We women, who have been conditioned into patriarchal, submissive mindset are to be blamed as much – for suffering silently, for instigating, for turning a blind eye.

15.   We know that all men are not bad; just most of them are. But for every Ram Singh, Raju, Vinay or Akshay, there is a man like my father who always protected me or one like my brother who could pick up any challenge to save my honour or the close friend who shielded me from unwanted expressions of interest or my husband whose blood boils if anyone shows even an iota of disrespect towards me. And, I wish, may the tribe of such men show the light to those whose minds are enveloped in darkness and whose hearts have never known a single fine act of humaneness.

16.   That such a heinous crime can be committed against the most innocent, like Nirbhaya. You don’t have to be inviting trouble for it to come and hit you like a ton of bricks. No girl or boy deserves to suffer this, ever, in any part of the world.

17.   Nirbhaya’s case is not a solitary one or the last. If we do not change our reaction, if we continue to accept status quo, if we do not rally around, if we do not wish to change as a society, cases such as this will continue to raise their sinister heads in our lives.

18.   Nirbhaya’s demise is nothing short of martyrdom. She elevated herself in the eyes of all by her undying spirit. We cannot allow it to disappear in news archives and shove it into the deep recesses of our minds once we face other stimuli of personal pleasure or pain. The sad string of events must be strengthened into a chain that shackles out the bad of the society and reins in the inherent good in all of us.

19.   With Nirbhaya’s death, the guilty must be punished, fast and without any debate. A sharp example of law and justice must be set, as a first and quickest measure of prohibitive action. Changing mindsets will take a long time, changing and implementing law need not.
20.   As someone recently said, rape is NOT “izzat lut jana,” or ‘to get one’s honour robbed or modesty snatched away.’ It is the rapists who are izzat (respect) less. The person committing the crime needs to be shamed, not the victim.

21.   A congregation of people is a sum total of every individual. That individual is me. I will not shy away from raising a protest, lending my voice and support and creating that little difference in my corner because each dot connects to become a sizeable mass. That’s not just emotion speaking. It is the law of Universe.

22.   When the innocent face such plight, it shakes up our conviction in fairness of the Universe, sending us running into the recluse of such beliefs as in Karma. But to our logical minds, this need not and should not happen to anybody. Can we ensure, with strictures, stipulations, education, self-control and whatever else that is in our ambit to prohibit and prevent?

23.   The divinity rests in each one of us. God acts through our actions, speaks in our voice and shows His presence through us. Can we then always attempt to act in the name and way of God, whatever shape and form we believe Him to be in?

24.   Nirbhaya was a leader, even when she was lying gutless, speechless on a hospital bed. What a great example that is, that no motivational, leadership, management book would ever teach us. Can we emulate, even in small parts?

25.   Some of us will be leaders and a lot of us will always be followers, ready to be herded. Can we at least be wise to lead and follow what is right?

26.   Just as Nirbhaya, even in absentia, is refusing to accept the wrong; can we - intelligent, thus-far living beings - do the same! Can we refuse to accept all that is wrong in our society? Can we demand redressal of all the ills that beset the world we live in? Can we stop being apathetic and change ourselves first before we demand change in others!

27.   Can Nirbhaya always be the reminder to me for all those times I was shamed into silence, threatened into submissiveness, outnumbered into acceptance? Can I find my voice and lend it to those who need it the most?

28.   Can Nirbhaya, Damini, Amaanat, Braveheart be the tipping point of my psyche and of those that I can influence, the bridge on which humanity crosses over to the fair land of hope, optimism and promise and not be reduced to a statistic on a medical record, a number on a police file and more importantly, a fading memory of a gruesome case of a city crime that lies in the danger of getting embedded beneath the ravages of my daily life?
Picture courtesy - Kathleen,

Sunday, September 16, 2012

किसी रोज़ आंसू ही न बचेंगे बहाने को!

आज जी भर के रो लूँ
कल आंसू बहें ना बहें

आज दिल भर गम लूँ
कल गम सहने का जिगर रहें ना रहें

पकड़ कर रहेना चाहती हूँ जाने वालो का दामन
वो धुप में दमके दिन क्षण, पानी में भीगे पल उस सावन

थाम लूँ हाथ उनका हाथ में
ना घडी की टिक-टिक सुनु न देखूं कहाँ पहुंचा हैं समय

सर को अपनी गोदी में रख, चूम लूँ वो आँखें, वो माथा, वो लब
जाने किस जहाँन में मिलेंगे जो बिछड़ के रह गए उनसे अब

ना देखूं हाथ गंदे, ना साँसों में लूँ दुर्गन्ध
रिश्ते की अटटूता को समझते, बिखरने से बचाऊँ यह अजीबोगरीब सम्बन्ध

आँखों में सारी भावनाए पढ़ लूँ, ख़ामोशी में एक पूरी दास्तान
जब यह धेह हो जाये ख़तम, तो क्या रह जायेगा यह मन, यह मान 

बाँध लूँ पक्की गांठे उन साथ बीते पलों की
रह जाऊं जब अकेली, याद दिलाये जो गुज़रे समय का यकीन

आज बह जाने दूँ आंसुओं को, रोकू ना इस बाड़ को
कल किसी अकेले मोड़ पर थकी आँखों से कोई बूँद बहे ना बहे!

ल. अरुणा धीर 

(A heartfelt tribute to our dearest CHERIE, who left us for her permanent place in heaven at 9 PM on Friday, the 14th of September 2012)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


My mother was a great cook. She could make scrambled eggs look and taste like a gourmet dish. The beaten eggs were stirred and sauteed into just the right shape, not too mashy, nor humongously chunky, with their colour turning first white and then into resplendent hues of gold. The resulting scramble was attractively colourful - the translucent whites of oil-veiled onions, the fresh red of juicy, plump tomatoes, the green from fresh chillies and fresher cilantro. The seasoning was often simple with just a pinch of salt and pepper. The aroma wafting from the vessel would be simply heavenly sending a bored, slumberous stomach into raptures of hungry ecstasy. And the taste - well, paeans could be sung on the way the egg scramble would play with our palate, marry into a great union wrapped into a roti roll or perched atop a golden toast or sandwiched between two thick slices of whole-grain, home-made bread.

There were times, when I would return from school and she would pluck fresh leaves of the Chaulai greens (Amaranth) from her bountifully large Kitchen garden, throw it in with unskinned potatoes and dried whole red chillies into hot mustard oil with splattering mustard seeds in an iron skillet and serve the dry sabzi with hot chapatis. I can still taste it after a long gap of 25 years. The trick was in the timing. She would never under or over cook the vegetable cooking it into a perfect dish just as she had imagined it to be.

Ma learned how to cook Desi and Mughlai Indian dishes from her maternal side - they seemed to have a rich tradition of food and eating at home which borrowed heavily from the family roots both sides of the border - Punjab in India and Lahore in Pakistan. Ma also picked up valuable skills, techniques and recipes of Continental Cuisine from my Father's long-standing Khansama - Gafoor, who was more a Man Friday and Confidante than just a cook to my Father for most of his bachelor days and well into his marriage with my Mother.     

With such great schooling in culinary craft, Ma always managed to impart lasting lessons on making food - from the science of growing it in your own garden to the art of cooking it in divinely diverse and exciting ways possible - one of the permanent passions of our family.

This winsome Winter Salad, then, is a sort of a back-handed tribute to Ma. I am calling it the Winter Salad because some of the good stuff that has gone into it is available best in the cold season. But with ease in imports and demand from the consumers, anything is available on the store shelves anytime now. So, you could enjoy it at just about any time of the year. As for us, the Family has already munched on the good-looking medley of vegetables several times this winter. 

Here's presenting a nice, heart-warming Winter Salad tossed up by employing some of the finest food-related lessons Ma has left behind.

Ma always maintained that you first eat with your eyes. She put out her profound sense of aesthetics even in the way she planned, created and managed her gardens. I remember the time when I was eight and she won one of the biggest gardening championships in the Jhansi district for the Year 1974. A definite post material for probably my next outing here.

She prided in her pots & pans and her finest China that she managed to lug around without any breakage from Dad's posting from one part of the country to another, then another. She would polish and clean her China and silverware and bring them out in resplendent display at the several parties she had to throw as a Cantonment Top Boss's Wife. She taught us how different things - from salads to entrees to desserts - had to be plattered and laid out on the table - for an informal lunch for friends to more formal dinners to a larger buffet set-up for a big party at home.

Ma's first lesson - you first eat with your eyes!

And hence you need to choose your plates and platters well. You also must learn to present your food nicely in those platters.



Ma' second lesson - Balance

The ingredients must be in the right measure; they must balance each other well too. Her measure for spices and herbs was the time-tested Indian way - by the pinch and to the taste (swaad ke anusaar). For continental cuisine she would use her measuring cups but overall it was by estimation. And what a perfectly balanced estimation that would be - never leaning too heavily on a spice so as to overwhelm the dish and spoil its taste.

In her dishes, she would balance the basic characteristics of the ingredients too - some had to be on the same side while others could be conflicting yet yielding a pleasant taste once combined. 

In this Winter Salad, the crunch of green grams, onions, broccoli and nuts is balanced with the soft texture of tomatoes, sweet peppers and cottage cheese.

Ma's third lesson - Use of best produce

Ma was a great proponent of organic food long before it became a modern-day fad. Much before Nature's Basket became a gourmet store, we were picking out tomatoes, aubergine, gourds - bottle, bitter, snaky, striped; spuds, chillies, garlic, raddish, carrots, bell peppers fresh from her bounty-laden Kitchen garden basket.

Also, roses, chrysanthemums, gladioli, gerbera, carnation, calendula, dahlia, phlox, pansy, holly hock, sweet peas and many many more from her front garden that we would pluck on instruction (always the one's that were about to go in a few days time and never ever the buds as the flowers looked more beautiful on the stem than in the vase, Ma maintained) to set out in five to six elaborate arrangements to be placed all around the house - in the Living Room, on the Dining Table, at the bedside or the Dresser, one in the kitchen, another in the foyer and so on.

A meat eater unlike me, she also knew how to choose and select the best piece or part for the dish she was going to make; from cutlets to casseroles and curries, pasandas to pilafs, roasts to roulades. While Dad was once sold offals when he was asked to buy meat for a formal Do at home, Ma knew how to direct and guide the butcher ever so gently and have him pry out just the right cut for what her recipe demanded.     

That is one hell of a valuable lesson. Ensuring that the ingredients are the freshest and the best, already puts you on a winning streak so much that even if your recipe is commonplace it always ends up tasting good.

The Winter Salad showcases the best seasonal produce - dairy-fresh Paneer, fresh from the farm vegetables in lustrous colours, firm texture, juicy, tender or with the right crunch as the case may be. The Olive oil and dressing used is of one of the best qualities available.  


Ma's fourth lesson - Timing

Every cook worth his or her salt knows this. What is the smoking point of your cooking medium, just when should you add the onions and for how long should they be stirred to turn them golden and translucent before their edges begin to blacken, how long should the cumin seeds be allowed to sputter, at what point of cooking a dish should salt be added and when do you exactly add the tomatoes, for; if you add them too soon then the sourness in them will not allow certain vegetables to cook fully - there are scores of gems that abet you in presenting that perfect platter.

In the Winter Salad I followed a sequence for adding the ingredients. I also adhered to the time when I needed to bathe the vegetables in the silky smoothness of olive oil and  dress them up with the smoky, bronze-hued burnt chilli & garlic dressing. The most crucial aspect is the time when you need to squeeze the lemon juice over the bowl and add that pinch of almost mandatory salt, preferably sea salt - you add them in the beginning and the ingredients begin to react in the acidic medium turning limp. Mixing lemon juice and salt just before serving the salad keeps the ingredients perfectly al dente - just as they should be when they lodge themselves between your teeth.

Ma's fifth lesson - Shape and Size

When we were too young to understand we really thought that Ma was some kind of a culinary wizard - making the same egg scramble taste differently all seven days of the week if she wished, just by the swish and slice of her knife. The same was with her salads and several dishes. As time moved on, while we still upheld that Ma was a magician behind the stove (or grill or oven or the big, fat, mud-coated Indian tandoor that she stood by), we also became privy to one of her easily-shared secrets. She displayed in her oeuvre that it was important to knife out perfect cuts of vegetables for different dishes and also how each cut lent a different taste.

Try it. Finely chopped tomatoes, onions or any other vegetables taste hugely different from their thick, stocky versions. They also become a different preparation if sliced lengthwise or in other shapes.

For the Winter Salad, I kept the size to moderate and the shape to square. Had I decided to cut them in strips or juliennes my Salad would have tasted completely different to the one I laid out on this occasion.

Ma's sixth lesson - Technique

There were little things that Ma would do with her cooking to take it from one level to another. Sneak a bowlful of tomatoes under the hood of cooking vegetables to bring them to the same cooked-up level as the rest of the pack. She taught me how to brown the onions and add just that bit of water to it at the right time of frying so as to get a delightfully rich brown colour which would be used to give the royal treatment to the Shahi Pulao. She would roll her potato wedges into a mix of flour and salt before deep frying them into golden heavenly bodies with such dexterity that it would retain the inherent sweetness of the potato yet turn up as the finest crispy and salty fries this side of the Atlantic. There is one official lunch I remember where she made the Shammis sans meat, using only the lentils to cater to the large herbivore guest list such that even the die-hard meat lovers couldn't tell the difference. Ma would at times employ a western technique to an Indian dish or add an Indian seasoning to the Continental preparation to create her own innovations in the kitchen.

She beat and braised, cut and combined, drizzled and dressed, mixed and melted, weeded and whipped with such precision, enthusiasm and finesse that our Annapoorna turned into Julia, Nigella, Patricia - all rolled into one. My happily large size and innate predilection towards being a gourmand is one lasting example of Ma's prowess in the kitchen. She is known to have won many friends not on the boat but the bowl ride and got the better of arguments and disputes just by inviting the opponent to her dinner table. She even robbed me off my friend list as most of them turned turncoat towards me willingly stepping into her heartwarmingly, inviting camp!     

I tossed my Salad attempting to whip up some of the same frenzy but it fell shades paler to what Ma was capable of. Yet, the end result is quite appealing even if my technique is a far poorer cousin to hers.

Ma's seventh lesson - Visualization

Either because she was an award-winning Civil Engineer's wife or because she was one of the finest observers known not just to me but also within her intimate familial and wide social circle, Ma had fine-tuned her trait of Visualization to an attribute par excellence. Her simply designed yet beautiful country style home in her Doon farm house is a living testimony to that. She would visualize designs and knit exquisite patterns in her embroidered works and woollen dresses. She would visualize her front and back gardens (both were given the same place of prestige by her) in a certain way and then go about creating beautiful flower and vegetable beds, gravel or stone paved meandering pathways, water bodies, rock and cacti gardens, little or large self-made garden toys and sculptures.

Even in her cooking, Ma would visualize how she would create and present her dish and believe you me, it would turn up just the way she had thought of it in her head. I have tried this on several occasions and it works, enhancing the overall taste and presentation of my dish.

Ma's biggest lesson - Passion and Love 

These two words have been the crux or the focal points of Ma's entire life. Be it the philanthropic work she did or how she went out of her way to volunteer to bring up children of family members and domestic staff. Whether it was her award-winning gardens that she left behind as lovely gifts for the next inhabitants each time she moved with Dad for his next posting or the special classes she held at the behest of the General's wife for the benefit of the army wives, she did it all with the two most important aspects of her personality - rock-steady love and intense passion.

The same attitude she carried into her cooking. Because she was passionate about her produce, cooking style and end product she always presented the perfect platter, even when she cooked the simple homely fare of Dal, sabzi and roti. Her rotis were in perfect round shape and perfectly puffed up. Her marinades were so perfectly balanced that the meat or vegetables would lay happily in this mix imbibing all the juices and flavours to the optimum.

And what can I say about her love for food and feeding. My friends who she fondly cooked for, still remember her with a lot of affection even after the 12 odd years she has been gone for.

Ma loved taking care of people and feeding them her divine delicacies was one of her finest ways of expressing her love for food and the people she fed.
It indeed is Ma's finest lesson to me that when the basic two ingredients are passion and love not just in food and cooking but in your basic recipe for life even the simple turns sublime and the very common fare assumes a breathtaking character.

Here's wishing that you weave the fine lessons that your parents leave behind in the person that you are into the very fabric of your life. Yes, also in cooking too! 

Meanwhile, enjoy the Winter Salad in all the seasons of your life! 

Credits - 
Mis-en-place - Teju Sahu
Food styling - Karuna Dayal
Food photography - Moi