Monday, October 26, 2020


Now that frugality is back courtesy a pandemic,

it's time to acknowledge that our middle class upbringing was our saviour.


My childhood resided in the pre-liberalisation era when everything from television hours to material pleasures was rationed. Romantic intimacy on screen was left to the imagination of the audience while flowers were made to violently collide with each other. Kwality had yet to merge with Walls and was served in paper cups and plastic balls with a lid. Eating out was reserved for special occasions. For us it was always at the same restaurant and we ordered the same dishes every single time - chicken sweetcorn soup and tandoori chicken that came on a sizzler tray. My brother and I would leave the restaurant with fistfuls of mishri and saunf and savour one mishri at a time on our drive back home.

Image courtesy Google

With both my parents working we were blessed to have never faced any financial hardship. Yet my parents, especially my Mom, were terrified that I’d immediately transform into a wastrel with a future as dark as our neighbourhood during load-shedding if she allowed me to go on a school-arranged overnight excursion with my classmates. 

I kind of understood where she was coming from after having heard countless stories of their austere childhood where new clothes were handed over like good news in 2020. Her growing up years were devoid of colours like the movies of her time. It was every vamp’s moral duty to smoke, drink and wear western clothes. I doubt if she had ever set foot inside a movie theatre. Maybe my Dadu thought exposure to censorious content would turn her into a rebel and she’ll throw her chappals in the air screaming ‘down with tyranny!’

Compared to that, I had a Disney-world like childhood. I had the joy of looking forward to annual family vacations even though it was a painful exercise in how to save money. I was exposed to stellar cinema-making  of Basu Chatterjee, Sai Paranjpye, Satyajit Ray and Basu Bhattacharya, but an ice-cream coupled with a movie day was frowned upon vehemently. 

Sometimes I end up blaming this forced austerity as a child for my penchant for overindulgence as an adult. Buying that flowy ensemble in teal that I absolutely don’t need with a pair of heels that will be impossible to fit in my shoe closet. The elation is as short-lived as clean air in Delhi NCR though. My middle class upbringing makes sure I always test guilt positive till I feel I have done enough to earn my moments of short-lived highs. Worked myself to a frenzy, sprouted brand new stress lines on the forehead and shed half my hair. It also makes me stop, think, evaluate and then discard the idea of buying that insanely expensive watch as wasteful.

For many of us the first few weeks of the lockdown was the toughest. While we were bursting our capillaries scrubbing the house clean, cooking meals and washing stacks of dishes, there were no rewards or self-pampering in sight. It was a constant emotional yo-yo of patting our own backs for living like saints, our credit cards lying forgotten in some dark corner and bracing ourselves for an unhappily ever after in our frayed pyjamas and having aloo gobhi for lunch. 

The uncertainty brought many of us at the precipice but also taught us the importance of savings and living within our means. Over optimistic businesses surviving on over-borrowings collapsed. YOLO died a quiet death.

Interestingly our parents were cool as cucumbers through this forced imprisonment in their nightie and pyjamas, treating it as just another weekday. Unlike us they were not fancy meal addicts, didn’t take off for a vacation every few months, didn’t land up at a pub every weekend! Their frugality was their children’s saviour as well. Many went rushing back to their parents at the first hint of financial and emotional distress. 

It'a not as if the older generation was spared of anxious moments. They had to deal with agony of being told again and again they were the most vulnerable to Covid... That it will be really long till they get to see us again.... What if there’s a medical emergency and then feeling terribly lonely....

Maybe our obsession with indulgence goes back to our childhood when every good job done was rewarded with a gift. It felt hard-earned and well-deserved. Though I made sure I denied my parents the opportunity by being lazy and unyielding by choice.

We carried this tradition to our adulthood and made sure we rewarded ourselves amply for even the most minimal of efforts. Couple it with constantly seeking the thrill of new and voila - we have created a culture of excess. Your favourite pret brands get this. Which is why they come up with a new collection every few weeks and we end up buying more and more even though we know fast fashion is killing our planet.

An all you can eat buffet with 65 mains, 120 varieties of starters, and a separate hall for desserts, where diners waste more than they eat. Weddings with 15 ceremonies, a guest list bigger than the population of Helsinki because this is how weddings are meant to be celebrated- like public events!

We’ll cry for the dry, depleted, stressed ecosystem we are leaving for our kids but will do zilch to change our lifestyles. And when we are forced to thanks to a pandemic, we grieve endlessly.

It’s been 8 months since I have traveled with my family. We don’t eat out as much. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in extreme distress especially in peak summer when memories of my past vacations would appear unannounced on my Instagram feed. Reluctantly I learnt to adapt.  I discovered new interests like looking at other’s travel pics with lust, making travel plans and then cancelling them. Explored the beauty of Aravalis, the city we tend to take for granted, looked for monuments to visit during weekends - just like my parents did when we were young. It also made me wonder why our cities had so many malls and pubs and so few parks, botanical gardens, running and cycling tracks! 

Perhaps it’s time we rationed our many wants. What if we try an intermittent fasting of our indulgences? The first few days will be awful, angsty, restless. We may end up with fewer hair on our scalp but eventually we’ll calm down. Soon it’ll start feeling perfectly normal (not the bald part). Wheee, I survived 2 weeks without trawling the net for yet another useless thing to acquire! And when the cravings gradually dissipate, it’ll feel as special as vanquishing the invincible Ravana. It will also help us figure out what is really important and what is unnecessary. Most of them are manufactured anyway by our favourite social media platforms.

I just hope my mum doesn't read this because when she does I know exactly what she’ll say - See, I was right all along! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Baal baal dekho, hazar baar dekho

When hair is everything, can shampoo be far behind?

I have scant memories and feelings for my first boyfriend but turn into mushy over-cooked porridge when I think of my first ever shampoo from the US. This was the first time someone had made me feel like a Mills and Boon heroine - sighing and perpetually weak at her knees.  After years of an arranged match with sanskari Halo Green Apple that smelt nothing like green apples, White Linen was like a breath of fresh hair. My knight in a bottle was tall, smelt so posh and big. Of course size matters! 

During my college years it was my most prized possession. Once when I got a whiff of its perfume from my brother’s crown I promptly sniffed out his stash of chocolates from their hiding place in Tora Bora and finished them all in one sitting.

Revenge had never tasted this sweet. 

How dare he contaminate my beloved with his touch! It is not often that a girl is blessed with a presence that repairs, rejuvenates,  restores her tresses to its browning glory. And when it does happen, she wants it all for herself and clutch it so tightly that it asphyxiates.

Tell me, is there a better feeling than your hair smelling like a French perfume while it feels like Dove! You want to stroke it like it were your pet. Toss it over your Head and Shoulders.  Sway it like a cow’s tail.  Wind it around your neck like a silk scarf. Twirl it seductively. I still can’t get women who have embraced reetha, amla, shikakai and other herbal wonders and are okay with their hair smelling like a compost!

How can you subject yourself to so much cruelty? I would like to escalate this to the higher ups. Why can’t jasmine, rose, sandalwood be as good for the hair as they are for the body! How dare you delegate onions, eggs, fenugreek, amla instead as elixir and make our follicles smell like a man’s armpit! 

One of the cardinal rules of femininity is that hair is meant to look WOW in its glossy glory and smell even better. Sadly, the journey to her sweetheart shampoo who is 7 times hydrating, uplifting and nourishing than anyone we’ve worked up a lather with is way tougher than a trek to Nanda Devi. It is paved with frustration, hairfall, dandruff, split-ends and frizz. 

Each time it’s the same story. Our curiosity is piqued when we hear so many friends rave about this hot new thing in the market and its stellar performance. Soon we start craving and fantasising about it’s velvety touch on our scalp. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Help! I have no idea what to do with my hard-earned Unlockdown

Has prolonged isolation robbed me of my ability to have a normal conversation again?  Should I move to a cottage in the hills and prepare for a rest of life in solitude! 

After all these months of keeping in touch with friends and family through WhatsApp forwards and emojis I have forgotten how to have an intelligent conversation. 

The much fantasised unlockdown has been set into motion. We are finally free to do what the government wants us to do - watch Arnab burst his capillaries on Republic TV as he brainwashes the masses.  But left to our own devices, we have no idea what to do outside of our homes anymore.

The thing with captivity is, after a while you get so comfortable with it, you start calling it the new normal. The initial few weeks of confinement are choppy though and bring out your inner Mamata Banerjee. You bang your dirty pots and pans, attack dirty floors with the mop, believe every conspiracy theory you read and oscillate between bouts of anger and fear. Then you get so used to spending your days like that lizard stuck to the wall in stupefied silence, it becomes your comfort zone.

One day after much deliberation and long winded  arguments with your inner-self, you step out armed with sanitizers, masks, and a fluttering heart to a world that isn’t the same anymore.

The dining precincts, pubs which would give you a happy headache with loud laughter, louder music as you waded through a sea of city dwellers desperate to have a good time, now resemble abandoned cities and civilisations. You can almost hear sad violin tunes playing in the background as tears run down your eyes and season your cheeks.

Perplexingly, local markets thronging with daredevils dressed like bank robbers in their masks on their chins and sunglasses don’t make you happy either. They make you nervous, fidgety and almost angry. 

Most of your friends are still revelling in the euphoria of saving the world by vegetating at home, not shackled by their bras. They mulishly refuse to pay heed to your pleas to meet. Luckily for you there are a few odd ones as desperate as you who you manage to coax out of their caves with the promise of a rainbow and reviving forgotten chemistry.

Monday, July 27, 2020

How to make most of the monsoons - hint, do it the Bengali way

Monsoon in India is anything but mundane. It is chaotic, disruptive and joyous at the same time. As the skies open up after months of relentless heat and drenches the parched earth making it fragrant and green, emotions run high and the mood becomes festive. Each spell of rain becomes a momentous occasion that must be celebrated the only way we desis can celebrate - through gluttony.

At the first sign of thunderstorm, the kitchen comes alive with the sound of pakodas being fried crisp in sizzling oil. Served with piping hot chai, the heart sings loudly like a peacock in heat while the stomach prepares itself for acidity.

But if you are a Bengali, you curl your lips with disdain at the sight of your Panjabi neighbour gobbling pakodas with glee. You are the self-anointed human version of L’Oreal shampoo. Since you’re 5 times more enlightened, cultured, opinionated and intellectually evolved than the boddo-average Indian. even your monsoon celebration is meant to be five times more elaborate and painful.

You're loath to spend a piddly half an hour to rustle up crispies to celebrate the drumming of rains against your windows. You put the book you’ve been reading aside, and announce to no one in particular - aami aajke khichuri khabo.

I can already hear a chorus of ‘who the fuck has runny khichri meant to soothe an agitated tummy on a rainy day?’ Let me assure you all, the Bengali version is nowhere near the sloppy mess you have on diarrheal days.

For Bengalis, khichuri is not merely a dish, it is an emotion. It is the culmination of utter joy we experience when we see dark, angry clouds gather and rumble with displeasure, the air heavy with promise of rains. As the parched earth, greying trees, dusty buildings greedily soak up the rains, the house starts filling with the aroma of moong dal being roasted for the khichuri. 

Pic courtesy Cosmopolitan Currymore

Unlike the khichri a hastily thrown mix of daal and rice thrown in the pressure cooker and served as a watery, tasteless gruel that you want to throw up, the Bengali version is a mix of rice, lentils, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, seasoned with spices, chillies and served with a dollop of ghee. If you dare dump all the ingredients together and make it a lumpy mess, you will be haunted by a Robindro Sangeet humming ghost for the rest of your life! Each one of them must wait for its turn before it is added to this desi risotto and stirred till your arm falls off. While the potato adds silkiness to the texture, the cauliflower and lentils breathe in their unique flavours, and the peas add a sweet note to the khichuri.

Since ek poder ranna(one course meal) is considered a cruel joke in Bengali households, we coolly pick up the exhausted arm from the kitchen floor, stick it back and proceed to slog a few more hours to prepare the side dishes, bhajaas and chutneys for the khichuri.

The rains have long stopped. The locality kids who were splashing around in newly formed puddles are now back home. The Panjabi neighbours are now prepping for their dinner of rajmah chawal when their ears prick up to the sounds of ssssss. No worries. It is their Bengali neighbours who have let go of their table manners. They are scooping up the hot khichuri with their fingers and going ssss in a futile attempt to cool it. It will be followed by loud slurping and crackling noises as they take a bite of the begoon bhaja, fried Illeesh, deem bhaja, break a crisp papad into pieces, take a noisy lick of the sweet, sour tomato chutney, pause to mix the labda( a runny mish mash of veggies) with the khichuri, interspersed with loud sighs. The K drama climaxes with obeisance being paid to the creator of this feast. Boddo bhalo baniyechho eibaar!

The Bengali neighbours are finally on their balcony, rubbing their tummy gently with satisfaction of a feast partaken. One of them is going through her Instagram feed and rolling her eyes at the million rain drenched pics that her friends have shared. Losers, she mumbles to herself. They are now singing Jhoro Jhoro Borishe even though the rains have long retreated. The bottle of Gelusil in the medicine cabinet is getting ready to play its knight in shining armour role later in the evening.

The night is still young. One of them chimes - kalke luchi aloor dom? The weather forecast says it’ll rain tomorrow as well.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Vocal for the local Gamchha

If you are a Bengali kid whose childhood resides somewhere in the 70’s and 80’s, you were probably scarred by the memory of a grandparent prancing around the house in a mere gamcha. Since they were no Zeenat Aman, you probably had difficulty sleeping for the next few weeks, haunted by the image of their shrivelled frames and flappy skin. But then this was a generation that had yet to be introduced to the miracles of skin tightening formulas and gave ‘zero fucks’ to the outside gaze.
Image courtesy- Google 

 Perhaps this jaunty confidence stemmed from their cape with superpowers, the limp gamcha. To the uninitiated, gamchha is the country cousin of the fluffy bath towel. This deceptively flimsy piece of cloth resembles a dusting cloth that has seen better days. Usually check patterned, it is as soft as it is absorbent and dries as quickly as a Twitter outrage.

The gamcha was the OG of multitasking. Either flung casually on the shoulder, or tied carelessly around the waist, this versatile piece of cloth flitted from one role to another with little effort. To ward off the pesky fly disturbing the much cherished afternoon nap on the armchair. Gently wipe off beads of sweat while surveying the storeroom for pilferage by the staff. As a hand wiper, table wiper, God, I need another bath wipe, wrap-around bathrobe to scar your grandkids for life….. It was everyone’s favourite silent companion.

Ms G was loved so much, it was embraced across all communities and castes with equal vigour, making it one of the greatest equalizers. On a hot day it would transform itself as a farmer’s turban as he toiled in the sun. On a lonely evening it was the homely housewife’s cheek caresser. The adolescent’s dhoti because why waste a proper garment on a growing child. As an all purpose scarf for the male on the move it was also his fashion statement.

It wasn’t until my 30’s that I let myself be introduced to the wonders of the ubiquitous gamcha. And when I did, it was love at first wipe. As I gently rubbed myself dry with the gamcha, I could hear my forefathers and foremothers sigh with contentment. Its texture reminded me of my favourite pyjamas with half a dozen holes that I had held on for years despite its sorry state. It felt as soft, airy and comforting - just like an ideal relationship that exists only in our dreams.

I shed silent tears for all those years I had wasted on alpha towels. I chastised myself for being led astray by bulky towels wrapped around glamorous divas beckoning sultrily on billboards. My heart was simmering with rage thinking of the unfair treatment given to gamchas, ignored, taken for granted, dismissed as too unsophisticated. Even in movies, Ms G was relegated to cranky old men who wouldn’t stop talking about their daily ablutions! 

No my dear gamchha, not anymore! I will not let you be subjected to anymore humiliation. I held it close to my cheeks, whispering sweet nothings and pledging my undying love to it.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Dammit Covid - Did you have to cancel Gluttony as well?

The beloved breakfast buffet, the sole reason why many of us went for vacations, is about to be relegated to the dustbins of history. I mean I get it. These are unusual times. Thanks to bat borne virus, the greatest threat to humanity is now humankind. We are supposed to jump into the nearest hedge every time we sense human presence to save ourselves from their length and breath.

Hotel buffets is where guests converge to exchange pleasantries, germs and viruses. Ask the ladle, the chafing dish that has been touched so many times by so many. It’s the favoured playground of the gluttons because dammit I paid 20k a night for a deluxe room with ‘all you can eat breakfast’ package. Diets die a swift death and without any regrets. And why not? How many times in our lives do we get the opportunity to eat our weight in aloo bondas, meatballs and egg Benedict, and follow it up with a mountain of croissants, muffins and danish pastry taller than Everest! And then wait for a pot of green tea to erase our guilt.

Agreed, Mrs Mehra’s chutney smeared hands on the sambar ladle will now be a health hazard and Samikshaputrika sneezing near the bagels will give us seizure. But hey, that doesn’t mean you can deprive me of the dilemma of having to choose between crab legs and poached prawns while downing wheat-germ shots! Buffet breakfasts taught me the art of balancing my plate delicately on one hand while trying to open the lid of the chafing dish with the other with the other and then dropping it with a loud clang on the floor.

God forbid if hotels go a la carte, my vacations will become as bland as the daal I had on my last trip to London. Imagine having to start your day without half a dozen sausages, smoked salmon cartwheeling with bircher muesli, coffee, orange juice inside your stomach, and not being able to complain about indigestion for the rest of the day! And now I am getting the sinking feeling that lunch and dinner buffets are on their way out too. Oh no! My life will become pointless if I won’t get to spend nearly an hour at the buffet table meditating in front of the 16 varieties of orange gravies that look exactly the same but claim to be different. I’ll miss giving exasperated looks to the lady who’ll appear out of nowhere to ask me if this dish is gluten free, fat and taste free! Is this prawn or fish? Is this dish vegetarian?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quarantine- when you discover everyone has hidden talents and you have none

The last 50 plus days of quarantine have been extremely distressing for me. I had to experience the ignominy of discovering that every single one of my friends and acquaintances, including the ones I had long dismissed as useless, have hidden talents. While everyone I knew and did not care to know was busy channeling their inner Jamini Roy, Lady Gaga. Behen halwai, Nigella minus the decolletage, handstand diva, I discovered I had none.

Maybe their huge reserves of talent was a shy thing, bit of an introvert, waiting for an epidemic to be coaxed out of the closet? Perhaps the anxiety pangs of dying from a mere virus had made everyone desperate to seek refuge in creative pursuits and discover to their horror they were damn good! I would stay up all night desperately seeking answers to these questions. I even tried passing off insomnia as a talent but realised it was too commonplace.

Initially it wasn’ t this bad. I was too busy feeling euphoric and was determined to make the most of this unexpected break from the outside world. One could actually open windows without being assaulted by cacophonous sounds of screechy traffic. The air had become so clean, I could actually see my neighbour weeping on her balcony. Rivers were detoxing with relief. I would often stand near our windows for hours hoping to spot a leopard.

Nature was healing, you know!

As an act of self preservation I pretended not to care at all. I had even mastered the dead fish look while I faked astonishment and awe with panache. But pretty soon it became impossible to be the ostrich and ignore the sudden influx of talent parades. Inside me was a raging dust-storm. My heart was breaking into tiny pieces. I tried assuring myself my heart would emulate the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The broken pieces would magically rejoin themselves with lacquer dusted gold and become so beautiful that I’d be tempted to take it out and flaunt it for envious glances.

Even as I was busy dismissing these divas as wenches suffering from performance anxiety, constantly seeking validation from strangers who they will never meet, a part of me was dying to wear the crown. I wanted to do back flips and splits in my living room, without crashing into the furniture and breaking a limb or two! I wanted my breads to rise and shine and sing an aria too while they were at it! I was finding it impossible to accept I was a lazy oaf who lacked the willpower to pick up a new skill, or master a language I may never use.

My impatience and addiction for a drug called Netflix was the biggest impediment between me and imminent greatness. Obviously I have many hidden talents. I just don’t have the time to rake them out!

Eventually I did find my refuge, not in french bread braids, overripe bananas or my vocal chords, but in my rows and rows of potted plants. If I could clean pigeon potty all day and feel like their long lost Mom without wings, surely I could adopt my plants and smother them with tender care! Plus they needed protection from these winged assholes who were treating my helpless plants like their ‘all you can eat buffet!’