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The walk to the jaws of hell.

We went to Indonesia a few days back for an adventure filled trip. I am generally not a person who finds pleasure in doing random acts of adventure especially during holidays where the contrasting option is always a lazy morning with a widespread buffet breakfast made complete with items which I never miss while I am at home – orange juice, potato wedges, baked beans and so on. But during holidays, these items are the elixir in my life, seducing me every morning to wake up and grab a nice seat by the water body which is always around the breakfast area. My husband being painfully aware of these fascinations of mine probably shuddered before he booked this trip. He would probably have imagined my breakfast buffet devoid face while going through a trip where the only thing that spelt luxury was the woollen jacket that I got to choose few days back and also Kopi Luwak, one of the most expensive coffees made in the world, made through a careful series of steps, one of them being passing through the intestines and in the poop of an animal called the Asian palm civet.

Note- I did not have Kopi Luwak ultimately.

A bit of background-My husband had started planning for the trip a few months back. We were 4 of us going for the great adventure. He sent us multiple emails on the itinerary asking us to confirm whether we were okay with the plan. We agreed to the plan, without going through the email. There is something about avoiding blatant and harsh truths which gives a sense of comfort, of knowing that you are in control. Reading that email would have led to months of discussions on how difficult it was going to be without food, sleep and clean air, in some cases. Avoiding reality gave us a nice bubble to hang out in, in a world where all of the above were freely granted.

Reality didn’t strike us even when we landed at the Surabaya airport, from where we had to drive for 9 hours to a resort near Ijen crater. The drive was peaceful and we reached the resort(?). The walls of the resort were paper-thin, which reminded me of the Friends episode where Ross cheats on his girlfriend with Rachel. Of course, nothing of that sort happened here, but I was incredibly tuned into the hope that there were no snorers in any of the adjoining rooms. Thankfully, I slept like a log for two hours, before it was time for us to see the Ijen crater.

Note: I didn’t know till I came back from the holiday that BBC had a documentary on this place titled – ‘Kawah Ijen Volcano- In the jaws of hell’.

Knowing myself, I would not have hopped out of the hotel like a happy bunny wanting to go to a place with a description ‘Jaws of hell’ . Come to think of it, I would not even watch a movie titled ‘Jaws of hell’. I get teary eyed when I think of my blind innocence. We reached the foothills of the mountain on which the crater was located.

Note- One reality you need to be aware of when you go to Ijen, is that the concept of time and distance is lost on the tour guides. They will say anything to make you keep walking. If they say it is a 5 min walk to the crater, glare at them till they come out with the truth. Sometimes even that doesn’t work. You might just need to ask your lungs on how long it can keep you alive and that is the distance to the top(can be the top of the mountain or the place you go to after your lungs give up).

Anyhow, we started walking. We were of the impression that it was an uphill walk of 2 km. I was overconfident about my abilities to scale such a tiny distance. There were N95 masks passed around, but I folded mine and kept it in the pocket. My lungs had survived the haze in Singapore and a little bit of volcano dust would not do me or my lungs much harm. And I had done pranayam(breathing exercise) a week back, so my lungs were probably covered in some sort of impermeable golden halo which no volcano dust, smoke or farts could penetrate.

Note: I did not know that the crater boasted of vast amounts of sulphur and the beautiful lake that you see in the picture below is an the largest acidic lake on the planet Earth.

We started moving forward. We had carried an innocent looking torch for the trip. The tour guide and my husband were the ones who got to carry the torches. The rest of us were clueless people just walking ahead step by step, counting metres till we saw what was to be seen.

I did a bit of small talk with the tour guide.

“So how much time from here?” I asked, not seeing the point since we had to reach the top anyway.

“2 km.” he said.

“Ah!” I said.

Silence followed by some panting and puffing by the people around. It was cold and the wind was hitting against my face. I used my muffler to cover my face as much as possible.

“How many times do you go to the top?” I asked.

“Once a day.” he said.

“Lazy fellow. Had I been him, I would have gone at least 3 times. It is just 2 km.” my brain said.

I decided not to let the rudeness of my brain escape in the form of words through my lips. I smiled and walked on.

The air started becoming more and more impure. It was getting difficult to breathe. The voices in my head were getting muddled. The only saving grace was the misery of the people around. Had they been hopping on the way up, it would have raised serious questions on my fitness levels. We gave each other the look that prisoners probably give each other – one of desperation coupled with anger . For us, the anger was based on the decision to leave the cozy confines of the thin-walled hotel in order to smell sulphur(willingly).

My husband was relatively unperturbed by all of this. He reminded me of Jillian Michaels where she gets all brutal and smiles occasionally to encourage the gasping beauties on her show. We took breaks, walked on, trudging in darkness most of the times, because the tour guide was flashing the torchlight everywhere except on the ground and we were too out of breath to complain. Some prayers may have escaped my lips, not that I remember now.

I stopped asking the tour guide on how much longer we would take to reach the top, because of his blatant lies and his lack of knowledge of time and distance. Amidst all the helplessness, a wave of sulphur air hit us, almost as if a bunch of dinosaurs had decided to fart at the same time, although the smell was a bit more pungent than dinosaur fart would be.

The tall women walking in front of us announced to their tour guide that they were heading back because someone in their group couldn’t breathe properly. I was tempted to join them.

We were then given masks by our tour guide. These masks, my husband informed later, are used to avoid poisonous gases in war zones, etc. Although the masks looked ugly, they looked like the sweetest present sent from heaven as if to give us one last chance at life. Can anyone else hear a symphony of angels?

There we were(gasp) finally at the top. The tour guide told us that we could either wait to see the sunrise from that point or we could walk down(ugh) a few metres to see the blue fire, which is essentially ignited sulphuric acid. The couple who had come with us decided to stop at the sunrise point. My husband wanted to see the blue fire. I was game until I saw the narrow path down the crater with few rocks being used to balance oneself and walk downwards.

“I am not going down that road. What if I fall into the blue fire? What if I skid, surpass the thousands of people who are walking in front of me and end up right in the middle of the blue fire?” my brain protested.

I decided to go ahead anyway. We started walking downward, with me using curse words ever so often, to warm myself up from inside. There was a railing which we had to hold(read grab onto for dear life) as we walked down the slippery path. The smell of the sulphur fumes grew stronger. The blue fire would take at least 45 minutes to reach given the slippery path and the heavy crowd. My husband (thankfully) decided to click the pictures from a comfortable spot, at a fair distance from the blue fire. I gasped in and gasped out, trying to get back to normal after the walk we just had. During this time, the tour guide informed me that there were workers who carried 80 kg of sulphur from the crater to the foothills every day. My lungs shuddered when they heard this fact.

We walked back up to the sunrise point after 15 mins of picture clicking. After reaching the sunrise point, we clicked selfies and smiled at each other as if all of the above never happened. Some people, however were undeterred by the entire walk or probably had done a lot more pranayam(breathing exercise) than me. One of the guys who was standing next to our group asked me as to what language I was speaking and told me that it sounded cute. At that point in time, I couldn’t have cared even if a bird had come and spoken in Hindi, which happened to be the cute language I was speaking.

But it was not over yet. In our minds, we knew that there was a long walk back, down the slippery road. But, the thought of hot Indonesian coffee and clean air kept us going.

Image Credits- https://www.facebook.com/lenspaint (my hubby’s page)

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Mom, the cake is salty!

It was a bright morning. My friends were about to come home for a giggly girl gossip session. Going by my choice of words, I am sure you would have figured out that this incident dates back to my teenage years, back to a time when having giggly girl gossip sessions were considered ok. Of course, now we call them venting sessions for lack of better words, or plain old anger. I had gotten up early on that day and was feeling particularly open to hard work. It was a new feeling, especially during the summer holidays where the days used to be laced in a blur of endless eating, drinking and sleeping.

I had decided to make chocolate cake that day. My friends were(and still are) special and I was in a mood to soak in some compliments from them on my baking début.

One swift move and the apron was on. I opened a cook book which had pages that looked so delectable that I wanted to start licking the pages.Thanks to the concept of 2D and 3D , no such calamity befell the recipe book, which lay glistening with all the glory of the beautiful dishes which people often got tempted to lick off from.

As all recipes go, this one also had a (rather long) list of ingredients. I started collecting all of them, scurrying into the storage room next to the kitchen ever so often.

Do you recall the last baking show that you watched? Does it resemble anything that you do in the kitchen in real life?

The answer for me is no.

Baking shows make it look effortless and beautiful, with transparent bowls and everything neatly arranged before the camera starts. They don’t show a teenager darting off to different corners of the kitchen and store room using curse words that she has recently learned if she is unable to find the ingredients. No, those women are the power ladies(or teens).

After gathering all the ingredients and instructing everyone to stay out of the kitchen, I started preparing the dough and mixing the ingredients. Portions were carefully measured and the flour was washed off from the hands ever so often. Everything was perfect. My friends would be home in around an hour and the cake would be ready by then, shining in all its glory. After using all my muscular power to mix the dough properly, I carefully emptied out the contents into a baking tray brushed with butter so that the cake would not stick to the tray.

Note: I did not taste the batter.

As I often do, as soon as the batter was popped inside the oven, I started staring at the dough, almost pressurising it to rise. It did ultimately rise, flaunting its spongy golden brown fluffy texture. I was mighty pleased and was mentally preparing for an acceptance speech. My heart started beating faster as the time to take out the cake from the oven approached. I was gleeful, to say the least.

After what seemed like an eternity, the oven went ‘ting’. ‘Ting’ is always a sign of completion, a sound of achievement. But it is often accompanied by goofititis( coined by me- fear of goofing up). I picked up a fork and smoothened out the cake, leaving behind some crumbs for me to taste.

The cake crumbs went into the mouth. Even today, I recall everything from picking up the crumbs to putting it into my mouth in slow motion. That was where the illusion of having baked a perfect cake was shattered, and that tiny moment determined whether I was a good teenage baker or not.

“Aargh.” I shouted, blinking my eyes quickly as if to make sure that I had tasted the cake properly.

My mom who was just outside the kitchen came rushing in, realising that the earlier rule of no one inhibiting the kitchen but me could be broken.

“What happened?” she said.

“The cake.” I said.

“What about it?” she said.

“It is salty.” I said.

“Are you sure?” she said.

“Yes.” I said, now snorting like a pig.

She could not taste the cake because there were eggs in it and she is a vegetarian. But this was an acute baker goof up. How did the tv shows get it so right, I thought, my face turning a little green due to jealousy and due to the contents of the cake.

My logical brain ( which I think I possessed back then) came into action, trying to make sense of the situation. I looked at the recipe again. Did they intend us to make salty cake? You never know what trends pick up and suddenly you are the uncool one not knowing that salty cakes are being eaten all over the world. The ingredients however did not reflect anything of that manner. It was meant to be a boring old sweet cake.

What in there could I have goofed up?

Of course, I had put in salt. But what had I not put in? The only two contents that were white were flour, rice flour and sugar. I knew what sugar looked like – grainy. I was specifically given the jar for the all purpose flour from the storage room by our cook. The only thing that I hadn’t seen before was rice flour. I remember having opened the cabinet in front and picking out the first white thing I saw thinking it to be rice flour.

“Mom. Where is the rice flour?” I asked.

She went to another cabinet and showed me a jar. My worst fears that had culminated in that 10 minutes had come true. Instead of a cup of rice flour, I had used a cup of salt. My friends were to arrive in half an hour. I tearfully threw this cake into the dustbin, with a sense of valour rising up in me.

At least I know what rice flour looks like, I thought, my head held up high.  (If you wish, you can imagine some motivational song playing in the background to blend in with the sense of valour that had risen in me.)

I took in a deep breath and some tea and started again. My friends thankfully(and predictably) arrived late. I had a cake ready for them by the time they came. Needless to say, the cake’s name was fancier than the actual cake. But at least it was not salty.

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1 large popcorn and some cherophobia please.

Happy day, peeps. Who likes to watch movies? Yay! I do. That’s why I decided to write a bite-sized fiction story on movies and their impact on our lives. Please note that there may be some gasping followed by some eureka moments. For the interest of the public, please do remember to wear your towel before you start shouting ‘Eureka’ while running on the streets. Ready? Here goes!

It was 6 pm. Sesha was going out for a movie with her best friend Tammy. Tammy arrived on time and lined up in the snack line before the movie started. She was fiddling around with a box of tissues in the line.

“Hi.” Sesha said.

“Hi.” Tammy said, pulling out tissues from her bag and folding them neatly inside her wallet.

“What are you doing?” Sesha asked.

“The movie. I heard it is a real tear jerker. The scene where the teddy falls from the roof and dies.” Tammy said.

“Get a grip.” Sesha said.

The snack line was moving fast.

“1 large popcorn, 2 coffees- one without additional cream, 2 samosas(Indian snack).” Tammy said, memorising the order.

“We have dinner plans after this. And I have had too much caffeine. I will start whinnying like a horse now.” Sesha said.

“You know what? My 5th floor aunt saw a horror movie yesterday- ‘Fangs and Bangs’. She is in hospital now.” Tammy said.

“What? Is she ok?” Sesha said.

“She claims that she started seeing with differently as soon as she got out of the theatre- her vision changed. All these years, she had never seen fangs anywhere, and suddenly there they were. Floating near her ceiling. Just like in the movie. She felt a pain in her chest and she was rushed.” Tammy said.

“Oh my God! Was it a heart attack?” Sesha said.

“No. It was gas.” Tammy said.

“What the….?” Sesha said.

“But the point is. She saw the fangs which didn’t exist.” Tammy said.

“So?” Sesha said.

“Movies…They do weird things to us. They control us in weird ways.” Tammy said.

“I think you have taken this a bit too far. Earlier you said aliens controlled us. And now movies.” Sesha said.

“There might be a link there.” Tammy said.

“What will you have?” the guy at the snack counter said, tapping his fingers on the counter.

“Umm. Let’s see. I large popcorn and some cherophobia, please.” Tammy said.

“Ohkay. 1 large popcorn and some……..?”  the counter guy said.

“Cherophobia.” Tammy said, not blinking an eyelid.

“What’s that?” Sesha whispered.

“Ma’am. We don’t serve cherry phobee here.” the counter guy said.

“Cherophobia. Forget about it. Don’t be stingy with the cheese, please.” Tammy said, putting the money on the counter for the popcorn.

“What was that? And what is cherophobia? The names of food these days.” Sesha said.

“I was just picking a bone with him. Cherophobia is not a snack, sadly.” Tammy said.

“Then what is it?” Sesha said , grabbing two handfuls of popcorn.

“It is a phobia. A mental disorder.” Tammy said.

“Why would they serve that here?” Sesha said.

“They don’t.” Tammy said.

“Tammy. Are you drunk?”Sesha said.

“Drunk, hypnotised, affected.” Tammy said.

“Why? Who did that to you?” Sesha said.

“The movies.” Tammy said.

“What?” Sesha said.

“Cherophobia is a deadly thing. You know the scene where something bad happens when you are extremely happy?” Tammy said.

“In which movie?” Sesha said.

“All.” Tammy said.

“Ok.” Sesha said.

“It has an impact on us so deep that we can never fathom. Like it had on my aunt. That was not cherophobia, though” Tammy said.

“I don’t see where this is going.” Sesha said.

“I don’t know what ‘it’ is. But I know where we are going. To the place where we will be hypnotised to believe that bad things always follow the good and that the world is a place to be scared in.” Tammy said, her eyes now glassy.

“You are crazy.” Sesha said.

“Ssh. The movie is about to start. Have some cherophobia, will you?” Tammy said.

***End of story***

Thanks for reading this post. I was not attacked by aliens, if that is what you believe caused me to write this post. I read an article on how movies impact us and it might do us good to be aware on what beliefs we pick up and whether they are true or simply absorbed from movies. Movies are after all a figment of someone’s imagination.

http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-you-dont-realize-movies-are-controlling-your-brain/

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Bus marathon and grocery bags

There is a new type of marathon I am considering inventing- ‘Bus Marathon’. The word marathon was inspired by the run of a soldier from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon, Greece to Athens in 490 B.C. I am trying to guess what I would have been doing back then. If I was a human being in that lifetime, I would probably be sleeping in late, trying to avoid any stresses from watching that soldier run the marathon. If I was an insect, I would probably be hiding far away from the street on which that soldier would be running on. No trampling please.

Anyhow, back to the bus marathon. Over the past decade based on no data samples collected, but based on pure observation, I have come to realise the mechanics of buses and their correlation to your reaching the bus stop. Following are the only combinations I have come across in my life. You may have come across more combinations like reaching the bus stop just comfortably on time as the bus arrives. I will gladly label you as ‘lucky’ and frown a little.

The bus stop- bus boarding correlation scenarios:

1. It is sweltering hot, so much so that you feel like a walking talking sauna bath. You make your way to the bus stop. You wait patiently hoping the sun won’t melt you down by the time the bus arrives. You turn on Facebook to avoid eye contact with any person or reality. You are happily wrapped up in the bubble of stories flying around from the world, and you realise that it still hasn’t arrived. You look at the clock on your phone, totally ignoring the brand new yellow coloured watch you bought the previous day. It has been 2 min 37 seconds since you got here.

“Pich” you say, with an air of superiority, as if it has never happened to you before. The others also mimic your facial expression. Some even mimic your irritation. People are now one shade redder/darker than before. 6 inch heels have now melted to become 4 inch heels. Life is bad and global warming is sweeping the heels away. The makeup has melted from everyone’s face, making the faces look like botched water colour projects that their teenage children would have done on them.

After all hope in the world is lost, you see the big vehicle come gingerly. As if nothing happened. 19 minutes 57 seconds have passed by. In Twitter world, that is a century. The driver is unfazed, cut off from reality, even as you walk into the bus. You make your peace with everything, as soon as wind hits your face. Of course, the bus was supposed to arrive in 20 minutes.

2. You buy 10 kgs of grocery. Of course one needs to. What if there is an emergency? What if you feel like having salted chips and there is none? Planning is everything. You pick up the 10 bags from the counter, and still manage to hold on to your phone in your hands with the bag slung on your shoulder. Midway you realise that you can’t even get keep the phone inside the bag, because it would require unloading all the packets, opening the bag, finding a spot which is clutter free(so that the phone surface doesn’t get scratched) and then closing the zip and picking up the bags again. So you decide to hold the phone in your hands or between your jaws like a dog(haven’t tried this one yet). As you are about to reach the bus stop, barely registering the weight you have been carrying and thinking of rewarding yourself with a chocolate ice cream, you shriek in your head. The bus is already there and the passengers are already filing in. The lucky passengers who didn’t have to run the bus marathon.

Bus Marathon

Your body gears up in seconds and you start looking like the bull whose only intention is to bore its horns through the elusive red cloth.  You start running. But then you realise that your shoes might not be as skid proof as you would want to imagine them to be. Plus, with shoes as delicate as rose petals, one needs to be careful even breathing near the shoes lest they magically tear, like Salman Khan’s shirt in Dabbang. You decide to run the bus marathon, while keeping all the above factors in mind. You look like a pestered chicken by the time you complete the bus marathon, knowing that you would have to run the next day again. Consistency is key. Over time, one is able to look ladylike(if that person is a lady, of course), sophisticated, careful and extremely fast.

Of course the story inside the bus is very different. Bus etiquette is something that needs to be taught in schools. I will write about this in a later post.

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The tarot lady with big rings and cricket.

I have to confess. I never thought I would be the ‘tarot lady’. I coined this name for myself after I ordered my second set of angel tarot cards from Doreen Virtue.

I remember the hot summer days in India, when holidays were on. We would sip on lemonade, eat kaccha(unripe) mangoes with chilli powder and salt and watch cricket matches. There was an interesting phenomenon those days- to couple cricket matches(at least the important ones like the World Cup), with predictions on who will win. Tarot card experts were called on television along with celebrated astrologers analysing every detail of the player’s kundali (horoscope) coupled with what positions the planets would be at during the time the match would be played.

At that time, whenever I observed the tarot ladies, some attributes were common amongst all of them- long hair, big bindi(a coloured mark or jewel worn by women between the eyebrows) and rings the size of laddoos(ball shaped sweets). They were the more colourfully dressed cousins of the crystal ball ladies who mostly locked themselves in dark dingy rooms and had a cloud of anger in their eyes, possibly due to what they saw in the crystal balls. Also, the crystal ball ladies mostly had long bindis almost like the pitch of the cricket field, with the rest of the face being the stadium.

It used to surprise me that something as simple as drawing out cards from a deck could predict the future. Could the future be so simple to predict? Could the output of cricket matches be so simple to predict, a game which required the players and the audience to participate equally in a dance of togetherness and complexity which even the best mathematicians would fail to explain the equation of?

Complex, you think? What is so complex about a guy hitting a ball with a rectangular shaped bat and 11 guys running after the ball trying to make sure that it doesn’t hit the rope circling the stadium?

It runs far deeper my friend, just like the iceberg which hit Titanic. You see, superstitions ran rife during the cricket season. People would gather in their living rooms and watch the match. If you(as a television viewer sitting at your house which you paid the rent for) stood up and the wicket of the opposing team fell, a comment would always be made – ” Couldn’t you have stood up earlier? Now keep standing.” Of course, you would have to do it, because the entire country’s fate and happiness lay on the feet which bore your weight. If you think this is simple, think again. India has a population of 1,256 million. This superstition was not just related to people standing and sitting, but people farting, eating, lying down, laughing and so on. So if you farted when the wicket fell, it would be considered in the best interest of the country for you to keep farting. This whole ordeal made the viewers as important as the cricket players. The combination of people farting, eating, lying down, laughing, standing, sneezing, coughing and so on made it a complex science rather than a simple sport which determined a winning and losing side.

And there was no question of replacements either. If you sneezed when the wicket fell, you were the chosen one and no one else sneezing would help. In fact, it was believed(and still is) that it might spoil the fate of the game, and the sneezer would help the opposing team score a boundary. Gasp!

The science and combinations of winning the match was achieved by hit and trial and pure observation. But the tarot cards made it sound simple, as though nothing we, as the television viewers, did was of importance, because if it was written in the cards, it was true. Where did all the sneezing, laughing, farting etc that the junta did come into picture if it was so simple? I was in denial for many years, refusing to believe tarot cards and even astrology to some extent.

Things started changing when I started watching some people doing angel card readings and the readings came out to be true. I watched the videos each week and bingo! They were right on target.

My conflict about cricket matches and tarot cards resolved greatly because I almost stopped watching cricket, ever since Rahul Dravid made his exit(and got married).

I then bought one of the angel tarot cards, with all my insecurities about the simplicity with which future was predicted. It turned out to be more of a general guideline rather than a cast-in-stone predictions. I ordered my second set yesterday, because one deck predicting the general guidelines to follow in life was too difficult to comprehend for me. Now I have labelled myself the tarot lady, but I don’t wear large rings, large bindis(I think my forehead is too small for those) and my hair is cropped short. So much for stereotypes!

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Invisible hair colour and my novel dilemma.

I sat in the salon, staring at the decor. It is what I do when I am made to sit anywhere without further instructions. I looked at the mirror a couple of times but then decided that too much of staring at oneself in the mirror presents itself with the label of being narcissist. I didn’t want to be like the guy who stared at himself in the water all day. If I did that, who would stare at Facebook feeds all day? Anyhow, I felt good that I was well stocked. I had a couple of books not so neatly kept in my bag. I had eaten well. I had a bottle of water waiting to be drunk.

I get a little paranoid about how to spend time during salon trips, travels and so on. Being a person whose mind wanders without permission, there needs to be a backup plan all the time. Having something to do always makes me feel comfortable. At least my mind would wander only to the contents of the book, which I think is fairly acceptable in the psychological, philosophical and spiritual world.

Before we delve into what happened at the salon, let us talk about my latest book choices. You see, ever since I have decided to keep away from my know-it-all-titis, at least till I grow into that tone more in real life, I have started reading stuff for pure entertainment without a deeper meaning. That has been puzzling to me on many levels, having spent a good part of the last 2 years looking for meaning behind everything including correlating the colour of the birds I saw to a particular spiritual meaning. Yep!

So, when I went to the library to explore the fiction side of the world, I was lost. I was sure I didn’t want to pick up heavy or gory stuff or anything which would keep me up at night. That left me with humour. Even within that, there was humour that I understood and that which I didn’t understand, purely because of the regional parlance and not because I was reading it upside down. That left me with a few guy-lit(?) novels. Two of them made their way into the aforementioned bag.

As I sat in the salon, after having discussed my preferred hairstyle with the hairstylist, who then proceeded to make some snide remarks about how I had not maintained my hair properly and how some of the (coincidentally)overpriced products would do magic to my hair, I pulled out one of the novels. It was about a guy who was having a quarter(+5 years) life crisis. I assumed from his healthy habits that he could expect to live to be a 100, if he quit the binge drinking which his quarter(+5 years) life crisis burdened him with. The novel was light and breezy. After my haircut, the salon guy started applying colour. I wanted to try out global hair colour and not streaks. I remember that I was feeling particularly bold that day. The salon guy, who himself was quite bold, going by his choice of hair colours(there were atleast 3 different shades on his head), assured me that I had made the right choice, and then said something which sounded like techspeak on hair colour and texture which I could not understand and didn’t care to question him more on. Our time is limited on Earth, eh.

Shampoos followed by hair colour application happened, along with small talk which usually and painfully accompanies these situations. Silence is probably so unbearable to us that we are forced to talk to people whom we spend even five minutes with. With me, silence is not much of an issue because my head keeps babbling. Oh did I tell you that I started meditating and ever since the salon trip, my head is reasonably devoid of thoughts? Maybe it has something to do with the hair colour entering my brain as well. Hmm.

After 45 minutes of the colour application, the salon guy checked my hair and confirmed that I was now officially coloured. I hopped onto the big chair and let my hair be shampooed intermittently asking him if the hair colour looked good. I hate information asymmetry. For those few seconds, it felt that the entire decision of whether the hair looked good or not lay in his hands.

He replied in a rather raspy tone.

“Yes it looks good.”

After the shampoo, I was led to my seat. I stared at the mirror, forgetting the whole narcissist theory. My phone was switched off anyway and there was no Facebook feed to stare at. He started drying the hair. I blinked a couple of times. He blinked too. I know we all blink, but these blinks were in quick succession and my life history reminds me that is never a good thing to blink in quick succession.

“Err. Is the colour the same as the catalog?” I said.

“I don’t know.” he said, now peeking into the depths of my hair, as if he was going to pick up one strand and say ‘Eureka. I found the coloured strand of hair’, whilst trotting around the salon wearing the 3 shades of colour in his hair.

“You know I am not going to pay for my hair colour to change from black to black.” I say, holding onto the novel, as if that was the only thing in my life I could control right now.

“I swear this has never happened.” he said.

A lioness inside me dharo-ed roop(came into form). I normally don’t like to say unpleasant things, but I had to.

“Well, what do you suggest?” I said.

“We can try another colour.” he said.

“What if that doesn’t catch colour? You know my hair is now full of chemicals and still the same colour.” I said, remembering his previously detailed out thoughts about my split ends, et al.

“I promise it will.” he said, his voice even raspier than before.

“Ok. But I won’t pay any money if the colour doesn’t come on.” I said.

“Yes.” he said, as if it was my fault.

“Has this ever happened to you before?” he said.

“No.” I said, returning to the novel.

Reading about the confusion in the guy facing the quarter(+ 5 years) life crisis made me feel slightly ok. In my head, I was doing some math on how much I would pay him if the hair colour didn’t catch on this time also. I should pay something, I thought. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t hear the stuff he said about him having used 4 tubes of colour on my hair and only 1 tube on others.

I tried looking for a deeper meaning within this too. Maybe hair colour was not meant to be for me, because it would make me look like a scarecrow like it did the previous time. But, my doubts were wiped off when the hair colour came out good and the quarter(+5 years) life crisis guy decided that his life did not have much of a crisis anyway.

Now, my husband swears that my hair colour grows bolder every time I sit in the sunlight, which is something that I do every day. He says it with an air of helplessness. I take it as a compliment.

Fun Fact: While writing this post, I spelt ‘dilemma’ as ‘dilemna’ as I have for centuries(counting all my past lives). I swear that I remember ‘dilemna’ being the right spelling. I found this post which might be an interesting read on the dilemm(n?)a of dillemma.

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Fair or not? Sun, Sun go away!

The title might not make sense to a lot of people, but as with a lot of aha titles, this baby has a story behind it. My Indian friends might be able to relate better to the title. You see, of all the irrational things we(Indians) base people(especially women) on, one of them is fair skin. It is akin to having a clean body and beauty. It is not known for what it is – less or more production of melanin pigment in the skin. It is this pigment which has decided the fate of many Indian women, especially their ‘capacity’ to get a good groom and their general acceptability in the society. Of course there are other factors based on which society may or may not accept you – how you walk, talk, whether you wear semi transparent clothes or whether you wear opaque clothes, whether you speak English well or not and whether you know how to make stuff like halwa(type of Indian dessert) and chapati(Indian bread) or not.

For the people with a higher secretion of melanin pigment on their skins, fret not! Coz they have the perfect solution.

Fairness creams and extremely low exposure to sunlight! 

Little me didn’t know the whole deal on melanin pigment and how deeply it impacts how society views those who have more melanin secretion. Gori(fair) and sundar(beautiful) were words that were synonymous just like popcorn and movies or cricket and Tendulkar. From a very young age, people started giving me tips on how I had to do stuff to become more gori(fair). Honestly, I did some of the things that my ‘well wishers’ wanted me to do, including applying those fairness creams. For me it was the only way for a wheatish person to get accepted in the society and to be praised as much as the fair kids.

This led me to take extreme steps, including banishing sun without wearing sunblock, from my daily life. It became a habit so deeply entrenched to apply sunblock on every exposed part of my body, to avoid getting more dark, because that translated into a lot of other consequences and what a kid or teenager learns from observing the society, stays in his mind forever as a deep fear, if nothing else.

This story got a new turn when I went to India and got a couple of blood tests done. It turned out that the Vitamin D levels in my blood were low — 5.98 ng/DL as opposed to a healthy range of 30ng/DL to 100 ng/DL, and an ideal Vitamin D level — 50ng/DL. But who cares about Vitamin D as a fairly young person, right? It is related to bones and all the stuff that we don’t want to think about until the creaking sounds start. Plus with adrenaline drenched terms like YOLO , boring old Vitamin D doesn’t fit in. Wrong!

Let me bring in some of the research I did like a maniac since the last few days.

Vitamin D is now being termed as the miracle vitamin, the lack of which can cause the following:

  • Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
  • 17 varieties of Cancer (including breast, prostate and colon)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Gout
  • Infertility and PMS
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Pain
  • Periodontal disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Fatigue
  • General muscle pain and weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Restless sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Headaches
  • Bladder problems
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Source- http://www.drfranklipman.com/symptoms-diseases-associated-with-vitamin-d-deficiency/

There are a few points I want to make here:

Firstly- I am not putting down anyone with fair skin. I am just reaching out to people who have fallen prey to the whole concept of wheatish or dark skin being not as good and wanting to correct it.

Secondly- the safe limit of sun exposure(risk of skin cancer,etc) varies for people depending on their skin colour.

Thirdly-You still might need to protect your face skin more(use a sunblock) because it is more prone to skin damage(wrinkles, pigmentation, et al).

Let me now throw in a fact- Approximately 80% of Indians are Vitamin D deficient.

Source-http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/More-than-80-of-healthy-Indians-are-vitamin-D-deficient-Diabetes-Foundation-of-India/articleshow/19898114.cms

I am not claiming that the fetish for fair skin is what is making most of us deficient in Vitamin D. I am saying that it certainly adds to one of the reasons of not going out in the sun without sunblock for a few minutes every day. As I understand, the melanin pigment acts as a natural sunscreen for a few minutes- which means you can have your skin as it is and expose it too. I now enjoy a good half an hour basking in the sun. Optimum health comes before entertaining a society which may have lost its way in terms of overestimating the value of fair skin and underestimating the value of good health.

Watch this video below for more information on Vitamin D.

Hope you have a sunny day ahead.

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Simplicity and a cough of relief.

I had updated my website last year- got a wordpress.org account and the fancy stuff along with it. The tech gizmo made my head reel initially, but I controlled the reeling of my head by raising my eyebrows enough number of times. Anyhow, the company which hosted my website gave me the shiny black dashboard and lots of tools to play around with it. I downloaded plugins, themes and customised the website to no end. In fact, changing themes became akin to changing dresses before a party. But…But…But… Did someone tell you that too many of these but’s is not good news?

The code-speak was too much to handle. I longed for the simpler days- imagine me with a cloud over my head reminding me of the simple blogging days where I didn’t have to worry about files ending with .php. The longing got stronger. In the meantime, some of the stuff I had written started sounding too wise even for me. I wanted to let go, to break free and to write silly stuff(like this) which didn’t make sense all the time. I wanted to let go of the need to be perfect, to know-it-all.

Some powerful guy sitting up above the clouds answered my prayers and my website got hacked. I felt slightly giddy, but it turned out that was due to the lack of caffeine that was supposed to be coursing through my body for me to function like a human. So then, after my cuppa joe, I felt better. It felt right to let the old baby with the wise speak go. It felt good to have fun and to not know it all. Then I contacted the hosting company who told me that the website had not been hacked.

Now you need to understand how a person like me thinks. Everything, including an ant sneezing has to have a purpose and a bigger meaning in my life. If the website was not hacked, it meant that the powerful guy sitting above the clouds, wanted me to continue writing the same stuff that I used to and wanted me to learn more of the tech stuff.

I did something else entirely.I started avoiding the shiny dashboard and writing online at all. I lazed and grazed around on the internet and kept looking at people’s blogs which seemed so effortless and so much fun.

Until one day. Tadah!

The hosting company told me that my website had indeed been officially hacked. I blessed the hacker for a few seconds, who had freed me from the shackles of my earlier blogging voice which had become more bothersome for me than fun. I let out a cough of relief as well. Oh, did I forget to mention that I have a bad cough and cold since a few days?

Note: I am convinced that coughing might be one of the ways to develop six pack abs.

Now, I am going to write whatever catches my whim and with the limited capabilities that this platform offers, I am going to bless it a 100 times because it helped me let go of a huge know-it-all-itis that I had been carrying on my back.

Here’s a toast(of cough syrup) to simplicity and going back to a world where I can jabber whatever I want to.

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Interview with Dr Madan Kataria- Founder of Laughter Yoga

Dr Madan Kataria_Profile

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Dr Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga. Laughter Yoga had a humble beginning with just 5 participants, but it has now flourished in 100 countries around the globe.

1. How did you get the idea of starting Laughter Yoga? Were there any stressful situations in your life which propelled you towards Laughter Yoga?

Dr Kataria: My pushing point was the stressful life that I was leading in Mumbai. I was practising as a medical doctor as well as editing and publishing a health magazine. I was passionate about what I was doing for the magazine- educating people about health, healing, yoga, wellness,etc. It gave me a holistic approach on health and healing as opposed to my practice as a physician using allopathy, which had no preventative component that I could teach.

I started studying homepathy, ayurveda, acupuncture, acupressure, yoga as well as meditation and spirituality. I thought I would give people knowledge in terms of holistic approaches in order to avoid the use of too many medicines. The work for the magazine was very interesting because I learnt something every time I published an article.

It was then that I thought of writing an article- ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. It then struck me that I needed laughter the most. I realised that although people knew the benefits of laughter, nobody really practised laughter consciously.

I excitedly did a research on the benefits of laughter, which has been proven by science over the last 4 decades. But, there was no effective delivery system to dispense the benefits of laughter. At that time, the delivery system was mostly humour, comedy, etc which might not have such a profound effect on the immune system because one experiences the benefits of laughter only if one laughs for a sustained period of time, as proved by one of the studies.

I thought of starting a laughter club at the park. I floated this idea around to people and they started laughing at me. But eventually, we started a laughter club, wherein we told jokes. People started joining our club and our attendance grew. In a few days we ran out of good jokes. People started saying vulgar jokes which were not that well appreciated by everyone. I requested the club members not to close the club. I asked them to give me one day for me to find out an effective way to laugh without having to indulge in such jokes. I wanted to look for a breakthrough solution which would enable people to laugh easily.

I always believe that if there is a problem, there is a solution to it. I started frantically searching through magazines and books on how to laugh without jokes. I found a book which talked about fake humour which said that the body cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter. I read a research piece which stated that holding a pen between the jaws such that it represents a smile sends a feedback to the brain similar to what the feedback would be if a person is smiling. The brain on receiving the feedback, triggers the release of happy chemicals, like endorphins.

Laughter Yoga is not a mind-body medicine. It is a body-mind medicine.

If faking a smile can release happy chemicals, faking a laughter can do a lot more. That gave me the idea that I could make laughter as an exercise. We came out with exercises which would prompt us to laugh- like milkshake laughter, namaste laughter, etc. Within a month, we could come out with 20-30 laughter exercises.

But, we used to get tired laughing continuously for half an hour every day. We then started doing some breathing exercises in between. It then dawned on me that we could name it ‘Laughter Yoga’, because laughter in itself is a form of breathing. Breathing and laughing together helps to exhale stale air from the lungs and helps to oxygenate each cell of the body. Slowly our focus became only laughter and not the cause of laughter. This gave us the freedom to laugh in a sustained manner for a longer period of time which really brought out the benefits.

2. What benefits did you experience on a personal and spiritual level due to Laughter Yoga?

Dr Kataria:  It has been almost 20 years since I started practising Laughter Yoga. My day starts with laughter. I wake up at 4 am and start laughing all by myself in another room for 30-40 minutes. I then go on to laugh on Skype and other places.

My immune system has become very strong and I have stopped falling sick. Earlier I used to fall sick 4-5 times a year, but laughter has changed that.

My capacity to laugh has gone up. Earlier, my brain used to be judgmental about what is funny and what is not. But now that has changed, due to the laughter exercises. My sense of humour has gone up. My perception of what is funny and what is not has changed a lot. Even small things crack me up now.

My mind has become very positive. There is a lot of negativity around us, which can easily influence us. My inner resilience has gone up and my reactivity has gone down. I have achieved calm and peacefulness within myself and with others. I have become spiritual through laughter.

I have become very generous. I love helping people. As a young man, I used to focus more on my achievements, but now I feel I have everything. I am getting lots of love and affection from people. I am not in the race for money. I have become more conscious about how I can be more service oriented. I have become aware of the environment. If I see a chocolate wrapper on the road, I just pick it up and throw it in the dustbin, thinking that even a small action can drive a change. Now if I see a cockroach in the house, I don’t kill it. I sweep it out of the house. I am a vegetarian for more than 25 years now, purely because of my love for life.

Spirituality for me means being able to raise your spirits by yourself and others’ spirits by any method. You don’t have to do anything religious to be spiritual.

Laughter Yoga has given me the tool to keep my spirits high right from the morning all throughout the day. Through laughter I am contributing to the entire world, even with all the doom and gloom in the world. I continue to be a crusader for world peace. My understanding about world peace is that ‘what is inside is outside’. So, world peace has to achieved through one person at a time. I am multiplying these laughter clubs all over the world. In this way I am contributing to the world peace in a big way, because Laughter Yoga clubs are now in 100 countries around the world.

3. What are some of the common beliefs amongst people which prevents them from laughing?

Dr Kataria: Firstly, people are not aware of the benefits of laughter. People still think that laughter is only for relaxation and entertainment. They don’t know the impact laughter has on one’s health-physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. That is changing now, thanks to media and articles.

Secondly, people think that this laughter is not real laughter. They look for spontaneous laughter. My challenge is to make people aware that this laughter is much better because there is no guarantee of laughter if you rely on only spontaneous methods, through comedy or jokes.

4. Are there any stressful situations in your life when you don’t feel like laughing? How do you get into a mood to laugh?

Dr Kataria: Yes. I do have stressful situations in my life.

Firstly, lot of people want me to react. By choosing not to react, you make things easier. If you don’t react, and just be with the situation by responding appropriately if required, it helps you and other people as well. They can also vent out their stuff. I still react 5-10% of the times, but I have overcome 90-95% of it.

Secondly, there is no control on what happens to us. We have 110% control over what we do when something happens. Rather than getting involved in the problem, laughter has helped me to swing into action, to understand how I can make the situation better. Reaction complicates things. Nowadays I laugh when I miss my flight. It makes me feel better instantly and I don’t feel stressed out. I laugh at practically every situation which is not in my control.

Thirdly, laughter gives you acceptance. Sometimes people criticise me and my laughter and make nasty remarks. I can’t do anything about it. I feel that you can only accept those situations and they way you can accept those situations is by laughing about them.

I get problems every day, despite me being a laughter guru. But the way I deal with problems is amazing. That is the way yogis will handle the situation.

5. How important is childlike playfulness in day to day life and Laughter Yoga?

Dr Kataria: Children can laugh so much because they play. The problems with grown ups is we don’t play because we are conditioned that way. But there is an innate desire within all of us to be like children sometimes.

Laughter Yoga provides a safe environment for people to revisit their childhood. We do a lot of child play activities like clapping hands together and saying- “Very good. Very good. Yay!” Playfulness is an important for nurturing creativity. Laughter Yoga club is like kindergarten for grown ups.

<End of Interview>

To find out more about Laughter Yoga, head to www.laughteryoga.org.

Watch Dr Madan Kataria on Satyamev Jayate, a popular show hosted by Aamir Khan in India.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzvabRX10H8

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One Step at a time!

As the new year greets us, I am reminded of the immensely popular and meaningful song by Jordin Sparks – One Step At A Time. 

Here is how it goes:

Hurry up and wait

So close, but so far away
Everything that you’ve always dreamed of
Close enough for you to taste
But you just can’t touch

You wanna show the world, but no one knows your name yet
Wonder when and where and how you’re gonna make it
You know you can if you get the chance
In your face as the door keeps slamming
Now you’re feeling more and more frustrated
And you’re getting all kind of impatient waiting

[Chorus:]
We live and we learn to take
One step at a time
There’s no need to rush
It’s like learning to fly
Or falling in love
It’s gonna happen when it’s
Supposed to happen and we
Find the reasons why
One step at a time

I realized something about goal-setting last week. Running always seemed like a difficult task to me and I always felt it was not my forte. This caused me to give up even before I could run a stretch of 2.5 km. This would hit my confidence as far as running ability went. My brain somehow had convinced me that I should not attempt running. But somehow I decided to set smaller chunks of targets. I went out one day and decided to do 5 laps of 800 m each. And I promised myself a tiny breather of 30 seconds after one lap was done. This was the carrot at the end of the stick for me. It turned out to be super simple and I ended up doing 6.5 km. Completing the tiny targets helped me gain confidence that I could achieve whatever goals I set. The bigger picture of completing the full stretch was always in mind. But, the immediate focus was on the more achievable target which was a huge confidence booster. The next few days I surprised myself with the ability to achieve my running targets easily and the motivation to surpass the goals set. I also linked this with affirmations which I truly believe in the power of.

Anthony Robbins says, that most people fail with positive affirmations because their conscious brain rejects the input the affirmation is trying to feed. For example if you say to yourself repeatedly “My work is highly creative and I enjoy what I do”. The brain will reject this automatically if what you are saying is not true. You need to add an element of truth into this. Maybe you spend one hour of your time doing something creative during which or immediately after which you affirm the above. Affirmations for abundance work better when you truly feel your life is abundant. I found it useful to use affirmations during my run and it helped me go that extra mile.

Coming to new year resolutions, most people do make lofty new year resolutions and are disappointed later. People feel inspired to make resolutions but it is hard to follow up if there is not enough motivation. It might be difficult to switch on the motivation overnight, especially when the resolution is something which demands a lot of commitment over a sustained period of time.

My small running example has taught me something important when it comes to new year resolutions. Make small commitments. It is good to dream big and everyone should. But it is better to keep milestones along the way so that motivation does not take a hit. It might be helpful to set these milestones  at monthly or biweekly intervals and with a carrot at the end of each milestone. It helps you stay focused and motivated for the entire journey.

As rightfully said by Lao-Tzu-” The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” and indeed with each step, we are one step closer.

Stay blessed. Stay alive & keep walking one step at a time!