Showing posts from February, 2019

Learning to Spice

During my recent foray into baking bread, I discovered that the jar of rapid rise yeast I have sitting in the fridge dates back to times before J was born. How and why I carried it with me so many years, through so many moves is beyond me. The nice folks at Mefi and Reddit reported having baked successfully with yeast at least as old as mine. It was heart-warming to see I was not the only crazy around hanging on to herbs and spices over a decade old. 

There is an odd sense of comfort and continuity in these things - some of which have been gifts. Chamomile from Z the year I got the mother of all colds and was preparing for a big move, saffron from a dear childhood friend, the sprigs of lavender from D's yard before she sold her house and relocated. The more nostalgic the provenance of the spice, the more thrifty I am with its use.  I want to remember the good memories associated with them for a long time. 

I had saved some Darjeeling tea my parents got me from Kolkata for a good fiv…

Wearbles as Amulets

Nice article on the dubious benefits of your smartwatch replacing the EKG machine. The author concludes the essay with the following line: The wearable EKG offers the comforting weight of medicine itself, worn on the wrist like an amulet warding off evil, whether it ever gets used or not. 

The benefits of amulets cannot be denied. To the believer, they do work. I remember as a child, receiving one from my grandmother to ward off bad dreams. It took her about a month to get it to my parents by post. The process of making a customized amulet was fairly involved. 

It was a tiny silver case containing some herbs in it sealed off with wax. I was warned not to poke or prod it. It was placed under my bed and like magic, there were no scary dreams again. A lot had to do with faith, ritual, and anticipation. Grandma's amulet was billed as the remedy that never failed to work - every grandchild at some point has received one of them for an assortment of maladies - poor grades, class bully pro…

Dampening Hype

Maybe we should look forward to the time when most people can print out their kids' braces at home, feed them alternative meat produced right in the kitchen and thanks to smart and connected everything have hours of time freed up to do things they had never done before. It would be instructive to see what good use this bounty of time is put to.

This story about the "real" environmental footprint of lab-cultured meat is just as expected as this one about security gaps in blockchain technology. Once the hype rises to a certain level of illogic, irrational bordering on insanity, such writing follows next - to temper the craziness to a commonsense level. The handwringing around meat consumption and the harm caused by it can be addressed perhaps by portion size and variety in diet. Michael Pollan had summarized it in just one line "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

In parts of the world, where eating meat regularly is an option for a majority of people - maybe e…

Content Drone

I once knew a guy (S) not so different from the one featured in this modern-day parable of a guy who works for a website. S was recruited out of college to be a digital marketer back in the day when that was still a new and sexy thing. This was a very forward-looking company, seeking to reinvigorate the way they marketed and sold their very traditional product hoping to attract a new generation of customers. S had landed his dream job. When I met him during one of my consulting gigs, he had been at this company for over a decade and they were paying off his sizeable student loans. He had by then completed his masters on their dime. He was the resident SEO and social media guru, tweaking content ad-nauseum to achieve the impossible goals laid out for him. Just when he thought he had made it, the goal-posts would change, the ranking algorithm would be updated, the old tricks would no longer work.

For the year that my engagement with that client lasted, I saw him interview scores of vendo…

Lost Connections

Reading Lost Connections by Johann Hari. He speaks to a mother who has lost her daughter and how she copes with the grief. 

Far from being irrational, Joanne says, the pain of grief is necessary. “I don’t even want to recover from her death,” she says about her daughter Chayenne. “Staying connected to the pain of her death helps me to do my work with such a full, compassionate heart,” and to live as fully as she can. “I integrated that guilt and shame that I felt, and the betrayal, by serving others,” she said to me, with some of the horses she has rescued running in a field behind her. “So in a way my service to others is how I remunerate—it’s my way of saying sorry to her every day. I’m sorry I did not bring you safely into the world, and because of that I’m going to bring your love into the world.” It made her understand the pain of others in a way she couldn’t before. It “makes me stronger,” she says, “even in my vulnerable places.”

Recently, I called my grand-aunt who I have not sp…

Watching Billy Elliot Again

I watched this movie for the first time when I was pregnant with J. It made me cry and incredibly happy at the same time. I could imagine having a baby that would spontaneously dance for joy much like Billy. Indeed J was one of those - she could start to dance just about anywhere, anytime as a child. Frequently drawing the attention of an appreciative audience taken up by the cuteness of the moment. 

Even past that phase of her life, nothing made me quite as happy as to see J at her dance performances. The idea of persisting with what you truly value despite insurmountable odds is one that I have a great appreciation for. I wanted to watch this movie with J as a thing to remember before she left for college - maybe there would be some life lessons there for her too.

There are few memories that I will hold as dear in my heart as that moment when we watched that magnificent last scene of Billy Elliot together. It was a deeply emotional moment for both of us. As we cried together and I fel…

Natural Causes

I am having so much fun reading Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, that it almost feels wrong. I find myself agreeing with Ehrenreich on most counts and where I differ, I appreciate her point of view as a valid, thought-provoking one. The experience makes me wonder if I might have entered a bubble created by this book that reaffirms everything I believe on the topic. 

It gets to be a bit scary when a credentialed author validates my uninformed rants against the "system". Ehrenreichholds a Ph.D. in cell immunology; I was grateful to emerge alive out of tenth-grade biology never to venture near it again. She is wicked snippy with her little barbs like calling Deepak Chopra an all-purpose Guru like he were all-purpose flour suitable for any baking project or this line about Jobs "Steve Jobs had been a Buddhist or perhaps a Hindu— he seems not to have made a distinction—". On the mindfulness fad she say…


Watched Indochine for the first time recently. Had heard of the movie back in the day but never got around to watching it. Read the reviews after I was done and thought it was interesting how most reviews were middling and the gripes reviewers had with the movie made sense. There was an expectation it seems, of a great war story told with intelligence and nuance. Indochine does not quite deliver that and to that extent the disappointment is justified. It has been compared to the French take on Gone with the Wind but that does not define this movie either. 

I happened to see it as a very different story - that of motherhood and sacrifices that often go with the territory. The locale, the defining events and historical context were the backdrop against which the story of this mother was told. The articulation of a grand sacrifice is far more difficult in a mundane setting - it does not make for cinematic epic. Yet each day, everywhere in the world there are ordinary mothers who are helpi…

Fiction Assortment

Trying to like reading fiction once again, find a way to enjoy a simple story simply told. Started with Pigs In Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and even got off to a bracing start. By chapter three I experienced the familiar feeling of restlessness that has been the bane of my fiction reading experience for over a decade now. I am not sure if I should stay or leave. 

The feeling is akin to that of being stuck at a dinner party where it would be easy enough to slip away without calling too much attention. On the other hand, if you decided to stay you may meet some interesting people, have a few decent conversations. It's not a given that you would be rewarded for time spent but there is a distinct possibility. Some of us may choose to linger while others may skip out. I was at that point at the beginning of chapter three and decided to stay a while. Page sixty-nine, chapter eight and I had not yet been made whole for the investment of my time. The characters remained two-dimensional cu…

Imagined Outcomes

Read this quote in The Coddling of the American Mind

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. EPICTETUS

Every part of it bears a huge significance for me. I have experienced the fright and dismay of external events beyond my control; consumed by the myriad of what-ifs and how many things could go wrong. The outcomes most dreaded seldom came to pass and all the energy was wasted in vain. The significance of the event was found to be greatly over-stated. A year or two after the fact, it was as if it had not occurred at all. One would think after several repeats of this same pattern, a person may learn something. 

I have yet to see that happen with me. There are still triggers that can send me off on wild, unfounded tangents. What I have been able to control a bit better is the proliferation of such disturbance on to people around me that I…


I have been a fan of Nandita Das for the longest time but I saw her in an entirely new light with Manto. It is a beautifully made movie that tells a story of a people who had lost their way once and are still largely lost. The protagonist and those close to him were ahead of their times seventy years ago and they still are. I had not read a lot of Manto in the past but this movie made me want to. As I read, I found it impossible to believe that his stories were written in those times and even more astounding that there was actually a readership. His words are like a blunt instrument designed to inflict pain and let it linger. It is not possible to ignore or forget a story like Khol Do

Reading Manto made me think about people I knew of that era, many of whom have passed on by now. Or people like my parents who were just born around that time and have only heard of the atrocities and bloodshed. The lucky amongst them were largely sheltered from it and have no personal memories of the t…

The Happy Couple

This post about low divorce rates in India and the reasons for it are (sadly) all true.  Earlier today, I was chatting with my cousin M about the only happy couple we know in our whole extended family. That is a lot of people we are talking about here. In my grandparents' generation having eight to ten kids was more norm than the exception. The couple in question who stood out to us as the happiest we ever saw, had none of the traditional markers of "success". The man had a humble job in Indian Railways and never went to college. His wife was better educated but stayed at home.  Their wedding was a very simple affair as she came from a poor family. Over a decade after the marriage, she got pregnant and had a miscarriage. They died people of very modest means and childless. 

Through the fifty plus year marriage, they remained the only couple anyone of us knew that lived in peace, never ceased communicating, frequently laughed together and made others feel at ease around th…