My childhood memory

One of my fond memories of childhood is taking these long journeys in train. There’s something about the whole experience that has left an indelible mark in my mind. I remember them quite fondly, it wasn’t nice or special, rather it was contrary. It used to be one of the very few intriguing experiences a typical Indian middle class family could offer 8 year olds. At least till 20 years ago. Especially for us, me and my brother, it can only get as adventurous as this, since we had a very protective childhood.

We were from Kerala but lived in Surat, Gujarat. My father served in the Air Force for 15 years wherein he travelled the length and breadth of our country in trains. Later he joined the banking sector and got domesticated. This is very normal for us Kerallites, we are largely non residents. Like most migratory birds, as summer approaches we flock together southward. And the great Indian Railways was our only solace. Connecting regions unknown like stitching mismatched pieces of cloth. Or what else binds them, Ahmedabad and Kolkata; Jaipur and Delhi; Okha and Eranakulum except for these railway tracks. Indian railways is the fourth largest rail network in the world and carries about 22 million passengers every single day. It is a saga in itself.

Train travelling is not all that easy, it gets sweaty in the sleeper class and sometimes the compartments had cockroaches. The fetid stench of the bathrooms can put a person of any size to coma. But yet it was not boring. At nightfall, me and my brother would fight to sleep on the upper berth. Once my father figured to stop us from fighting it was best to put both of us to task. He asked us to jot down all the stations and rivers that went by. He made us believe that he had this master list from the train’s driver, a Malayali from the same village. Upon hearing this my brother had a quizzical look, after some back and forth, he looked convinced, then I too would join the game. One such night I insisted that I would sleep sitting near the window, or I shall miss all the stations going by at night. I was fascinated by names of stations like Guntakal, Jowalarpattai and Kuruduwadi. Sceneries would keep changing as we moved kilometres, it goes from warmly green to sparse mountains to the dry boulder stretches of Deccan or the lush green coconut and palm trees of Kerala. Many valleys and rivers would pass under our feet. Not to mention the varied scripts written in yellow/black on the stations.

Our journeys were as long as 50 hours, after we alighted, I would still feel the ground beneath me swaying for a day or two. Food for the train was made with special care and packed with precision. My mother would make them semi-dry so that it would last long. We had a designated food bag, a multi-tier steel tiffin that otherwise never came out of the attic. Pulli sadam (tamarind rice) and nimbu sadam (lemon rice) would be meticulously spread in thalis for a session of cool down under the whirling ceiling fan. It will then be packed in portion sizes in roasted banana leaves which again would be wrapped in a newspaper and again in a plastic packet. Aloo bhaji, puris, tomato and onions chutneys, hard boiled eggs (my father’s favourite), pickles of mango and lemon would go in the tiffin. Mor kuttan (buttermilk curry) or rasam in Kissan Jam glass bottles. Dry snacks like murrukku and paka wada which would be prepared days in advance and we would know about them only when she takes them out in the train. She would also take Rasna, the coloured squash drink that many of the children from 80’s would remember. We had the Milton’s Kool Keg for drinking water which was so huge that it qualified as another piece of luggage. These were the good old days before the plastic bottled water. Refilling the keg was a big deal as according to my father water can’t be refilled at every stations, it had to be a “junction” like Vasai or Erode. Apparently thats the time when coaches also get refilled. Obviously we had time in hand. I remember opening the lid of the kool keg and finding the tiny plastic cups stacked underneath the lid and its tap perpetually dripping. The keg would sit on the upper berth with its nozzle perching out where my mother would put either a piece of cloth or some newspaper to soak the water.

If we didn’t get reserved tickets for all then we would be sharing the berth. Me and my mother would fit in one berth with our heads on opposite ends. I always then wondered how she slept in a saree. We made friends with our co-passengers. Mothers with other mothers and kids with other kids. My mother would be chatting heart galore with other ladies, as no household chores or homework of kids bothered them here.

It would be very unfortunate, if I couldn’t get my kids to be a part of this saga. So I soon will one day embark again, this time I will be the mother.


Black and White

I haven’t picked my side yet, but I will have to. This is a very peculiar phase in one’s life. Some of you would have been here, if not already, in a while you will one day. All of sudden you find yourself on the other side but feel cheated because no one told you in the first place. The more I think about it the more I observe it in people around me. My house maid, most of my colleagues, few my aunts, friends, acquaintances, all of them do it. But the common denominator is that they are all women. Men flaunt and women hide it.
Recently my mother had come to stay over. She happened to notice my ever casual attitude in this regard and it greatly perturbed her. Even at the slightest mention, I would be on guard. She had expected this reaction but it made me introspect. So I took a long look at myself in the mirror and found the evidence. I was ageing and rounding off to forty. There was no going back. We are all ageing to die one day. My heart sank, only when I was about to get things right in life, now I can’t look the same. I assured myself it’s post partum, erosion of calcium, lack of B12, D3, pollution, stress, blah blah… But there is no fooling oneself. The clock is ticking and its showing on my face. After a while I started side parting my hair, stuffing the silvery strands behind the blacks but it was only a temporary relief. Nothing seemed to work and I was under attack with vengeance. So I insisted it was the growing wisdom. Well the truth of which was self evident to people around me.
Anyhow, I noticed that men hardly care. Despite the ease of it compared to women, they look least bothered. And of course they have Richard Gere, George Clooney, Milind Somans to look forward to. Women have no one. None in Bollywood or media. There are many successful women in business but there’s hardly anyone gutsy enough to flaunt it. When it comes to women success is directly related with the way you look. In some marketing research, they figured out that 85% of American women colour their hair. They find that it affects their confidence level and how they are accepted among their colleagues. Mother of a friend of mine, used to dye her hair for ages and recently gave up. She says, “You can’t imagine, what a relief this is! I have decided to go grey with dignity.”
Even though gradually I hope find peace with the whites. Isn’t that the beauty of it…everything is very gradual on the time scale.

Maharashtra Nature’s Park, Dharavi, Mumbai

Maharashtra Nature’s Park in Mahim is one of those places that is tucked away from the eyes of many of us. This site is a 37 acre green patch abutting the ever polluted Mithi (“sweet”) River. Its located on the Sion Bandra Link Road, opposite Dharavi Bus Depot.

This was initially called Mahim Nature Park which was many years ago a garbage dumping ground. Then with the initiative of WWF-India in 1976 a plan to convert this area to a nature park was conceived which was completed with the effort of MMRDA.Picture 1

This park houses more than 200 variety of trees and is a haven for close to 40 different varieties of butterflies and 80 different kinds of birds. During the migratory season one can watch hundred species of birds making here their temporary stay.

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Flamingoes in Transition

As soon as you step inside the gates of the garden, you will feel the drop in the temperature. The park opens every morning by 9.30 am and there is a very nominal entry fee for Rs. 5/-. You can also hire an attendant who will take you on a tour of about 2-3 hrs and show you around the vegetation and animals which includes variety of birds, reptiles, butterflies and mammals.

Survey says that there are about 14,000 trees in the park; Soccer ball, Kadamba, Red Silk Cotton Tree, Ashoka, Devils’s tree, Ballon Pant, Bottle Brusk Oak, Ficus Benjamin, Lasora, Teak, Golden Apple and Flame of Forest are just to name a few.

If you are a nature enthusiast (or will become one, once you are here) get your binoculars, hat and boots, because you will be entering a different world away from the traffic and tall towers. Some of the birds you can spot here are…Laughing Dove, Black kite, Greater Coucal, Shikara, Great Egret, Eurasian Wryneck, Purple Sunbird, Little Green Bee Eater, Blue throat and Barn swallow birds.

The park’s huge Mangroves’ expanse attracts different kinds of water birds and reptiles. Russell’s viper, Rat snake, Cobra and the Green vine snakes are some of the snakes. Also along the Mitthi river one can find varieties of frogs and lizards like Chameleon and Northern house Gecko.

Water birds like Greater spotted eagle, Ring Necked parakeets, Asian Pied Starling, Mahratta Woodpeckers and Barn owl can also be seen.

During the months of October through March the park hosts Mumbai’s Organic Farmers’ Market. Along with the market it hosts different events for the community too. It is a hub for music players and several NGOs who table their products.

Music Enthusiasts at the Organic Farmers’ Meet
Children putting their crayons at work under the Trees
People bustling at the Organic Farmers’ market
Small boy learning to work on a different kind of Charkha


Urban Leaves is one such organisation that hosts many of the events here. They aim to green the rooftops of Mumbai and inspire people to grow their own food. Here’s a link to their website,

Ways to get here: Its located on the Sion Bandra Link Road just opposite the Dharavi Bus Depot. It opens every day from 9.30 am. Be prepared to carry adequate gears like proper footwear, hat, sunglasses and I advice to wear the mosquito repellent.

The park does not have any website but there’s a Facebook page that one can check out for all the upcoming events.

The Butter Story…

Butter is mankind’s most amazing invention, says the famous Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep in the 2009 American movie, Julie and Julia. Like me, some of you may not understand the greatness of this statement. As for me the most intelligent of inventions are the diapers. I know, to each his own. Anyhow, I was greatly intrigued by this statement and also by the last scene of the movie where Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams places this thick slab of butter in front of Julia’s picture, paying her a tribute. Indeed this should mean so much to them and to the mankind.

Btw, butter was actually discovered accidentally about 9,000 years ago according to Elaine Khosrova. In her book titled Butter: A Rich History, she describes that nomadic humans used some kind of sack made of animal skin to carry their milk which most likely came from goats or sheep. This milk would have been transported from place to place either on animal’s back or human’s and eventually got fermented. All this walking on bumpy roads did the churning bit to the milk which formed butter. Butter then and now were quite different and would have tasted quite rancid too. Not sure how many of us would like it.

Butter if you see has not undergone a great deal of change in the way its made, except that machines have replaced the hands that did the churning. Its one of the rarest foods that has not changed in the way it is made since it was discovered 9000 years ago. So I felt this urge to invent butter at home. How best to recreate a stone age scenario when you have 2-3 hours in hand. Am not a cooking enthusiast, but I like doing it sometimes. Some research say its a stress buster, it disengages your brain and you are actively involved with all your senses, yadi yada…

Key ingredients required are:

Thick creamy milk, a horse back (or a food processor, this is 2018 AD) and lots of patience.

I took 300 ml of milk cream which is the top creamy layer collected over a week’s time. If you are using homogenised milk then you won’t be able to do this. You are better off buying butter over the shelf.


Use your blender, put the cream in it and blend away…

At first it looks like nothing is happening, thats when you add load full of patience. What you have now is something that is changing its physical state. From being cream to something like the thick and smooth whipped cream. Close the lid now and blend again.

From that emulsion like consistency its deciding to part ways with liquid. The fat solids are forming an union now….close the lid and still blend for a few seconds till the separation is evident.

It could be quite frustrating when you are doing it for the first time. I also did watch some you tube videos to keep checking if am on the right path. The process is quite counter intuitive, there aren’t too many things to do, yet the end doesn’t seem to be close. That’s when you keep adding one of the key ingredients, patience.

Once the solids are distinctively separate, then remove the water from it (maybe with hands) and mix some salt to it. Thats it, you are done. You have now created the stone age creation and witnessed a part of evolution itself.

Lastly, clean up the mess. Am sure there would be lots of it to do. Tip: I started from the floor first.

Bombay Port Trust, Colaba, Mumbai

The Bombay Port Trust (BPT) garden or Sagar Upvan is a quintessential garden. Tucked at the end of the narrow lanes of Colaba causeway, this garden is quite well kept. This garden is open for two hours in the morning from 8-10 and in the evening from 4.30 to 8.30 pm. Not long enough, I say. The entry fees is trivial as I don’t remember how much it was.

There’s a cactus garden at the entrance which is housed under a neat semi open space. There are a handful of varieties of cacti species. All kinds of creepers and climbers are hugging the tree trunks. Our very own household money plant show off their huge lotus like leaves. An exposed uprooted tree trunk which is now a painted artwork, reminds me of an idyllic bonfire scene. Few precast benches under the trees provide a quiet space.

This garden is heavily wooded. There’s the grand old peepal tree, bamboo bushes, palms, mango, rainforest, flaming gulmohar, bright copper pod tress and several other. The muscular arms of this banyan tree sits with its vast canopy.

Somewhere in the middle of the garden under the shades is some open space on a mound. This is a picture of my daughter’s picnic scene, after the snack time they roll on the grass. IMG_4190

There’s a mud walking track all along the periphery of the garden. In the morning time one can see health enthusiasts zipping past you on the track. Also lined all along are a few benches, a great opportunity to admire the sunset.

Overall its a great place to spend few hours in the evening and if you have kids its a must go over a weekend. Hungry as we are for open and green spaces in this city, such places are a sigh of relief.

My tryst with running

I haven’t ran many miles yet. But this looks like an endeavour I am beginning to enjoy. I am not at an athletic person, neither enjoyed playing any sport nor watching them. I don’t even remember playing hopscotch when I was a kid. Completely stayed away from anything that needed physical exertion. Why run when you can walk, why stand when you can sit. Adding to this, my family’s inheritance of being lean helped reaffirm this very notion in my head.

Its not until recently that I began to feel a lot older than I ought to feel. I live in a building with no elevators. Stairs started to seem steeper every time I climb. I would take a break and pretend to tie my shoe laces in the middle of the landing. I would insist my child walks or we were not going out.

For the sake of well being, I started walking in my neighbourhood. I got to have inspired by all the senior folks who walk zealously. But this only worked for two days, on the third day I hit the snooze button. Next I tried walking on the treadmill. It seemed ok at first so I went again. Then I tried running on it l couldn’t even sustain for 2 mins. Ego hurt I went again. Not this time too. It took me few times to finally clock in just above 2 mins. Mysteriously, the workings of time also felt weird, seconds felt like minutes and minutes took hours to move on the treadmill.

So I did some research. What does it take to run? Even though the jury is still out whether the human body is fit for running. I found some interesting facts. Our apparently excellent cooling system is worthy of envy among the animal species. Most animals cool themselves by panting, whereas we just sweat. A paper in the Journal of Sports Medicine, two scientists mention that our numerous sweat glands and less body hair works like an inherent cooling machine. Dr. Lieberman, a Harvard biologist said,  “There are so many features in our bodies from our heads to our toes that make us good at running.” Muscles like gluteus maximus, largest in our body and those on our butt only get used when we run. Given that most mammals with four legs have an added advantage but they say on a given hot day a human can out run a horse in 26.2 mile marathon. Interesting but 90% of the marathoners end up having injuries after a run. So what’s catch?

In the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, talks about the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe from Mexico who are known for their extraordinary running capabilities  in nothing but thin-soled sandals. He mentions that running alone can not injure one’s body. But thats only when you train yourself easier, slower and longer. Did I mention he is an avid runner himself? He actually criticises the marketing and commercialisation of running itself which promotes high tech shoes and running gears. Most of the runners don’t start training until way in their adulthood, also we run on artificial surfaces and in high tech shoes, these were not the ideal conditions where our body began to adapt to long distance running about 2 million years ago.

So let me summarise for you…

  1. Keep it simple with less cushioned shoes
  2. Try running on natural surfaces and
  3. Train easier and longer thats the key


New Year’s resolutions – taking a reality check

This was the blog I ought to have written a month ago. But lethargy and inertia beat me down. I would conjure up the energy to write and remove all distractions from my immediate vicinity. Like give kids their favourite toys, switch off notifications, keep my mobile in next room, finish returning calls (especially my mother’s), switch off the wifi, all done and checked. Then I sit with my laptop just the two of us, looking at each other earnestly. Who blinks first? This looks hard I say to myself, other mundane things all of sudden look important. Now all this looks like an utter waste of time. This is what happened the first day of the last month. I fine tuned the expectations from myself which meant essentially giving up with dignity. Truly, I felt some relief but I knew an impending sense of guilt is awaiting me.

So this is yet another attempt in the following month. I was fishing for ideas for this year’s resolution and I used to be a big fan of it. Until parenting, household and work made the possibility of it self evident. come to think of it each year we set these seemingly ostensible goals, which fall apart the very next day (at least for some of us). But we still look longingly at them and hope they become fulfilled one day. Our insistence on self improvement and our hope to see ourselves as better human beings is what inherently drives our species, isn’t it?

Honestly, I have been recycling these promises for the past few years. In 2015, I thought I should learn a new skill, so I picked swimming. I enrolled myself and went to the first class with my two kids, 5 and 1.5 yrs then, they cried, howled and created a scene. I never went to the second session. The following year I enrolled again and this time was in the month of July. I took three classes and the fourth one witnessed a heavy deluge to tank my motivation. This year I thought I should blog. So you think you can write?, reciepe for a new TV series, I say. I have always thought I could, though completely delusional of myself, but at least I gave it a try. So the idea is to blog each day of this month. I need to essentially push myself everyday till I have internalised the process after which I switch to auto pilot mode. Seems like a corporate strategy well explained. So lets try and hit the button…