Thursday, June 24, 2010

Of Food and Wisdom

How often do we come across customs and traditions that seem silly, or useless, or even counterproductive to us? Well, I, for one, certainly feel that way about a lot of Indian customs. But I'm not going to talk about those here. I'm going to talk about some that do make sense to me. Food and fasting.

We have this concept to Navratri where we eat only specific kinds of foods for nine days. It's supposed to prepare our bodies for eating differently with the onset of the changing season. Think about it. We all eat differently in the summer, in comparison to the winter. We could all use a few days of detoxification in the spring and in the, well, autumn. (Digression: It's not really autumn if the trees don't shed their leaves, is it? But let's just use the term to refer to the transition from summer to winter.)

One of my colleagues in India used to religiously observe a fast every Thursday when she would only eat fruit and vegetables from sunrise to sunset. Well, I am not sure of the technicalities, but you get the idea. Me, I always knew about the health benefits of this kind of thing, (If done right, not if used as an excuse to eat mounds of halwa and puris before sunrise and after sunset.) but I never really tried it myself. Sure, I always ate a light lunch, but I tried to include at least a little bit of protein - legumes - and a little bit of grain - rice or wheat - in my lunch. And I would allow myself to eat dessert whenever they made fruit custard in the cafeteria. It worked for me most of the time.

A few months ago, I had a couple of days of digestive distress and I got around it by eating only strawberries and carrots for lunch for two days. It works better than any medicine. It also tastes much better.

Ever since, I got into this habit of observing a detoxification day approximately once a week. Some weeks, I don't do it. Those are the weeks that I didn't go out to eat and didn't eat anything particularly fattening at home either. Some weeks, I do it twice a week. I don't have a fixed day of the week, but I do often end up doing it on Thursdays. Just like I would so often end up showing up at work in a yellow outfit on Thursdays (Apparently, that's what you're supposed to wear when you are observing the aforementioned Thursday fast.) when I was in India. Sometimes it's Tuesday. Sometimes Friday. It doesn't matter, because I don't do it to please a supernatural being. I do it to keep my digestive tract from turning into an overpowering being. It works really well for me. My rule for those days is, no processed food from 8 AM to 8 PM. That means no bread, chapatis, oil, or milk. No cookies or cake or ice-cream. Milk is pasteurised, so it is a processed food. Plain rice with vegetables without oil is allowed, but generally not eaten. I don't fret if I happen to break the rule. Because even if I did it for the last four hours, or will do it for the next four hours, some good is going to come out of it.

I like the way I follow the ancient wisdom without the rigid rules. Because that's the only way that it's a good thing for me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

34 Bubblegums and Candies

So I've been reading Preeti Shenoy's blog for quite a while now but I never got around to reading her book. Funny, since I actually started reading the blog after I heard about the book. But I needed something to get me back on track with my reading. I needed something I could read in just a day or two. And something written by an Indian.

The book is a collection of thirty four real life experiences, each with an insight into human nature. Each is told straight from the heart, with no frills or flowery language. Just a simple, usually quite touching, true story. She talks about her children, her friends, her husband, her father, just about everyone who is anyone in her life. It's all so honest and so beautiful.

In the last chapter, the most touching one of all (for me, at least), she talks about how she became a writer and blogger. She talks of her great personal tragedy that spurred on a series of events that led to the book. It's a beautiful chapter, one I can sort of relate to, because I also started blogging after a rather sad incident in my life (though a much smaller tragedy than what Preeti talks about) which led me to become something of a reclusive, sad sort of person, very different from my usual self.

On the back cover of the book, it says that you will probably recognize yourself in some of the thirty four real life incidents. I did. And for me, that was the best thing about the book.

I do have a word of criticism here, though. The book could have used a little better editing to take care of a few minor grammatical errors and some unnecessary capitalization. Sorry, but that's the kind of thing I have the strongest urge to point out!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Out in the Open

In Delhi, I used to work out in the gym because, more often than not, it was too hot and too dusty to go outside. Here, I like going out in the open for a walk or a jog or, usually, a combination of the two. It's a lovely 64 F (18 C) outside. But it's been raining almost non stop for five days now.

Remember the bit in Pyaar Ke Side Effects where Mallika and Rahul Bose run into each other at the mall and he tells her that he came there for a walk, because in Mumbai there's more room for walking about in malls than in parks? It's also true for Delhi, I think. I used to go out to malls on weekends all the time. But it's certainly not true for suburban Massachusetts. I have a beautiful water reservoir (like a lake, not like a tank) about a mile away from here and I love taking a walk along its banks. But there is such a thing as too much rain.

Song of the Week

I have never been a big fan of Shakira's music, although I do think she has a really cute and charming smile. The Whenever Wherever or She Wolf of Hips Don't Lie kind of music is really not for me. But I happened to hear the Gypsy number recently, and I totally loved it. It has this wonderful, soothing feel to it. The music is not quite the kind you would play at a dance party, but the kind I listen to when I need to relax. It has a wonderful Latino flavor to it. And it has lyrics that, when I hum to myself, make me feel free of worldly worries.

Speaking of songs, I only recently got around to listening to the songs from Raajneeti. The Mora Piya number does not hold a candle to Mora Saiyyan by Fuzon (I can't help compare. Can you?) but it is a great song in its own right. It's one of those songs that is actually supposed to be sad, but somehow has a good feel to it. It makes me want to dance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Prime Obsession

Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire is about the Riemann Hypothesis - one of the greatest unsolved problems in mathematics. I read about a dozen or so pages of the book before I bought it, and from that preview it seemed to be a book along the lines (actually, it seemed to be a lot better) of Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh - a book for people who don't need to have a background in advanced mathematics but do have an aptitude and an inclination towards the subject.

In the first chapter or so, the author explains his basic mathematical concepts so beautifully that even someone who has little aptitude for the subject can understand what he's talking about. He has his readers interested and waiting for more.

But after that preview is over, it gets rougher. Perhaps because the subject of the book is a lot more complicated than Fermat's Last Theorem or any of the other popular unsolved problems in mathematics. Perhaps because the author talks too much about the history of all the mathematicians and the places involved. It doesn't hold my attention that well.

I'm about halfway through this book - and this is the first book in a few years that I feel like leaving halfway - and I can't understand some of the mathematical ideas in it. Not like I don't know how he arrived at a certain conclusion, but like I firmly believe the conclusion is wrong. Well, some of this is because he's not presenting rigorous mathematical steps in a book that's not meant for rigorous mathematicians, but, even so, it leaves gaps in my understanding.

I must say that the author has made fairly commendable attempts to explain rather complicated concepts to readers with insufficient background in the subject. It just seems that a reader who wants rigorous mathematical proofs should look for a different book.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Shrek Forever After

I'm going to put down some random thoughts on this movie here. I'm not in the mood to write an actual review.

This one was quite different from the others in the series before it. It had a dramatically different theme, and a different moral of the story. The others were mostly trying to put across the fact that beauty is more than skin deep, and so is ugliness. But this one was about counting your blessings and being happy with what you have.

Isn't it strange, and yet so very common, for all of us to want exactly what we don't have? When Shrek was a feared ogre, he complained that nobody wanted to talk to him and everybody ran off at the sight of him. That they judged him even before they knew him. And when he had great friends and a loving family, he wanted to live like an ogre and be feared.

This movie puts forth a previously mostly unseen (except a little bit in the third episode), fierce, aggressive side of Fiona. I know a lot of people are going to find this weird and/or make weird comments on this, but this side of Fiona was so much more appealing to me. It showed her as a more independent woman who knew her own mind and did exactly as she wanted to.

This movie is not the kind of thing you would expect from a sequel to the first three movies. It seems to be a slightly different genre altogether. But it has its own appeal. And it is still a must-watch for Shrek fans.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Out Shopping

After a really long time, I went shopping today because I wanted to, not because I needed to. I wanted to buy myself a dress. Because I've wanted to wear dresses for a long time, but I kinda felt that they didn't look good on me when I was rather pudgy.

Now, having shed at least fifty pounds and four dress sizes in the last three years, I am in the mood to wear dresses as often as I can. Of course, the warm weather here is very short lived, but, as they say, make hay while the sun shines.

But guess what? I didn't find anything I wanted to buy. I don't want to wear the kind of dresses that American women wear so often - halters or spaghetti straps or 33 inch lengths (that's too short for my liking). I did, however, find a few that had none of these disqualifications and also appealed to me otherwise - in terms of fabric, print and fit. Well, almost fit. I didn't find the correct size in any of those. But you know what the great thing is? All the sizes were too large for me. I could fit into the smallest sizes for a few styles that I tried on, just to see if what size would fit me correctly. Now, of course, the smallest size in an American clothing store is not the same as the smallest size in an Indian one, but this is still a big, huge deal for me.

So I'm happy today. Even though I didn't buy anything after a three hour shopping trip. So what's the problem? How do I celebrate? I don't celebrate this kind of success by eating something special. Shopping for something nice to wear was the only way I knew!