Air & Water

Trees, plants, fruits, flowers, rain, sand – I love my planet and the environment that it provides for all of us to thrive in. As a traveler, my wish to connect with nature gets reaffirmed quite often. I remember that as a city-dweller, most of my childhood was spent dreaming of a backyard with a garden, from where I could pluck cilantro/coriander to garnish my curries with. We always lived in flats or apartments. A few years ago, however, my parents moved to a ground floor flat which had a big backyard. Finally, my mother was able to grow tomatoes, eggplant (brinjal/aubergine), bitter-gourd, chillies, coriander, curry leaves and plantains too! The dream had come true; but I no longer lived in the same city.

Over the next few years, whenever I made a visit, which was maybe once a year, I would spend sometime in her backyard. Sometimes, the meals she cooked had vegetables harvested in her garden, and for me, that detail would add more flavor to the food. I even imagined to find a house for my parents with a bigger farm-area than the rooms. Eventually, we had to settle for a flat-like retirement house for them. Not a problem, I thought; I could build that house for myself.

As one can see, more than the house, I thought about the garden or the farmland. Apart from some science projects, I hadn’t grown anything all through my life, until last year. In the summer of 2013, I decided to try my hands at growing some herbs. Along with a friend of mine, I visited a nursery and picked as many as 5 herbs, 3 flowering plants and one indoor plant.

Curry leaves and BasilCradleChrysanthemumsMiniatureMarigoldRed kidney beansFrench beans

I called them my children and thought that I would treat the growing experience as a rehearsal to become a mother someday. I watered them, kept them in the required places and cared for them. Then, one day, I traveled and I left my plants at a friend’s house.

When I returned, they looked better than how I had left them. I was quite happy about that. I learned that the conditions at my house were not as great as at my friend’s. Over the next few weeks, I watched the health of the tiny plants deteriorate. Partly because it was too complicated to leave the plants at someone’s house and bring them back, every time I traveled. So, I started to leave them in their places and attended to them whenever I was home. Ultimately and unfortunately, all of them withered and died. Even though I was quite sad, I saw the end coming long before it did. After over 4 months, all that was left were blue, red, yellow, white, empty planters. As sad as it sounds, it was a cemetery.

A few weeks ago, I found the energy to try the process once again in our new house (we moved countries and live in a small flat now). I have limited space and most of it is indoors. There is a lot of sunlight and the house is well-ventilated. On top of that, I have a number of painted bottles that I want to use. To understand the possibilities, I did some research. I discovered hydroponic (or air plants) plants and as the name suggests, these plants grow in water. The information on the internet was abundant but confusing. So, I decided to just visit a nursery.

Incidentally, I walked into the largest plant&flower market in my city. There were more shops than I imagined but there was almost nothing for me. At last, I was directed to a guy who had some options.

“So, I am looking for plants that I can grow in water.”

“I don’t have much but you can take Anthurium and Lilies.”

I looked at the plants and was very happy to see how they looked – beautiful but nicely rooted in their soils.

“But will they grow in water?

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So, I just need to take them out of these planters and put them in my container?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“For how long will they grow?”

“Oh, forever”

“Wow!” I thought. I bought two plants but they had multiple roots. When I got home, I carefully removed them from their soils and put them in my various water planters, and this is a glimpse of how they looked. I covered 7 bottles, by transplanting the two potted flower plants and separating the roots.

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It’s been over 10 days and yesterday, I had to dry, cut and remove most of the Lilies, since they withered quickly. I changed the water couple of times but only the Anthuriums ‘look’ alright.

A pointless(I should’ve done this before bringing them home) research provided me some insight into the sad state of these flowers in my house :

 

1- If the flowers are already planted in soil, transplanting them in water is a bad idea. This is because the roots are adapted to a different medium.

2- Since there is no drainage, the roots are always wet and this infect the roots.

3 – Lillies thrive in shade and my window sills have light throughout the day.

I am feeling worse than before, especially because I uprooted perfectly healthy plants and killed them in my experiment.

Despite this, I am eager to keep ‘live’ plants in my house that can thrive in the conditions I have and the kind of medium I want to use. So, if you are reading this post and you know anything about water/air growing plants, please let me know.

One of the things I found out is that I can grow hyacinths and tulips in a vase using their bulbs. But since they are seasonal, I’ll have to wait. I would love to know if anyone has other creative ways to help me grow plants in my bottle-vases.

Meanwhile, I am growing some Basil, Jalapenos and Ginger from seeds!

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Kitchen towels can wipe worries too

I picked the wrong time to run that day. It was just 2 hours before I had to leave for a class. But the problem with my decisions is that I can’t override any of them. So, G and I got ready at 1pm to do a short(2.5 mile) run along the bay.

It was a scorching, hot day; and I hadn’t carried any water. I felt quite bad during the run but I pulled through and by the time we got home, it was 2pm. I had to leave at 2.45pm. I rushed to take shower, because, in the series of stressful plans that I had made for the day, one of them was to make lunch. The item on the menu was ‘Paneer Paratha’.

For those of you who don’t know what it takes to prepare paneer paratha, please check out this delicious recipe on Cucumbertown.

Now that you understand that this tight-timed recipe takes 15 minutes, you might understand why I my pitiful plan was ambitious too. I was out of the shower at 2:30pm. Hurriedly, I started to prepare the stuffing, kneaded the dough and kept the pan on the stove to heat up as well. Within 7 minutes, I had prepared the stuffing and the dough. I had to make 5 decent parathas in 8 minutes. When I was at the 3rd bread piece, I started to panic. G, my partner, came around and hugged me while I cooked. He knew I was stressed and despite his attempts to comfort me, I continued to struggle and meet my own expectations. I asked him to pack my lunch-box with 2 parathas with some yoghurt on top, so that I could eat on the way. He did as required and also asked me to just roll the other parathas and go. He said he would manage the cooking part.

At 2:48pm, I was packed and rushed out of the house. Just then, G handed me over a huge piece of kitchen-towel.

“What’s that for?” I said.

“Oh, you have yoghurt in the box” He said.

I didn’t understand what he meant; so,I just put the towel in my bag and went on my way. I managed to catch my bus but since I was hungry and stressed, I didn’t feel any better. I opened my box and the smell of the parathas with yoghurt filled my senses. At the same time, I felt awkward about the smell reaching the other passengers. In my starved mode, I took a couple of bites but closed the box to avoid further embarrassment. The yoghurt was all over my hand and around the box. I had to keep the box in the bag and wanted to not spoil the bag with the spills. That’s when I realised why G gave me the towel.

I wiped my hands and the box with it, and a huge smile cleaned my face.

When I reached the institute, I had exactly 2 minutes left to eat the rest of the food. I stuffed my face with the food and once again, the yoghurt was all over my face, hands etc.. I had preserved the towel and in the last few seconds, I wiped myself clean of all the spills with the paper and with the love of someone who never fails to show that he cares.

Yeah, it was just a kitchen-towel; but when I am reminded of my angel watching over me in my hour of need, I feel lucky to have found him.

Why Bus No. 12 is worth the wait

Every Friday, I wait for 10 minutes at the bus stop for a bus that takes me to my Piano class. Although the bus timings are precise, it’s always a bit too early or a tad late. When I see it approaching, the half-a-minute spent watching it break and move from the last stop, is also my moment of hope.

I board the bus, say hello to the driver and look for an optimum spot to sit in. Sometimes I like to stand. What happens in the next 20 minutes is neither predictable nor is it ever the same. There are conversations all around; most of the time between two people but many times people ramble to themselves. That’s San Francisco anyway, with its fulfilled dreams and the broken ones. The most interesting conversations are the ones between me and the quiet person. Studying the body language, exchanging smiles and occasionally a vocal gesture. Once, an old lady sitting next to me told me about how sick she was and that she was going to the hospital. She hoped to find her test results clear. I told her that I was going to attend my class and before she got off the bus, we both wished each other good-luck. Brief yet a surreal, pleasant connection.

It’s for these novel, uncertain interactions that I choose public transport almost always. Of course, with a work-from-home format, I have the luxury of my own schedule. But I am particular about efficient time management too. So, when I add up the wait time, the travel time and the time spent planning every bus/train trip, I spend more time getting to my class, than the class itself. However, my efficiency formula uses experience as an important factor too. And the net result of every bus or train trip is far higher than a cab ride.

Sometimes, I enjoy cab rides too. Like when I get to know the car driver better, hear stories or just share a joke. To some extent, that’s like taking an empty bus with a chatty driver.

That way, every choice, decision and experience in my life is evaluated by the number of stories I collect.

 

 

 

My 5 seconds of shame

It was the day before my wedding. There was an evening gathering of all friends and family. There was music, dance and everything that makes for a great pre-wedding party. It was all perfectly planned too. My sister and my uncle had put months of effort to make our wedding, a memorable one. The color of the fabric for the chair, the curtains, the size of the stage and to top it all, when my sister asked what I planned to wear for the party, I didn’t know that blue & gold would become the theme for the evening.

The tailor couldn’t deliver my dress on time and I saw the finished product the night before the wedding. There were some issues with it, mostly perceptive; such as the neckline was too low and the fitting was too tight and the skirt, even though technically long enough, appeared short. We got the neckline fixed overnight; I thought it was ready for the party.

It took a while to get ready and my makeup artiste took almost 2 hours to prepare my face. My partner and his family had arrived and everybody waited for the bride. As soon as my makeup woman gave me a go, I walked down my dressing room, straight to the hall. I looked at my partner first, he smiled and gave me an interesting look – it was the one of approval.

I turned to look at my dad and I read an untamed anger that was growing in him. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking but as I tried to talk to another guest, my father stepped in.

“What the hell are you wearing?”

“Put that dupatta on you.”

I was shocked, speechless and then noticed that most of the family crowd appeared negative.

The only reason I had agreed to a traditional wedding was to keep my parents and family happy. And at that moment, they were the only ones who were upset.

That short skirt, tight blouse and that fixed neckline – as much as I don’t care about appearances, a wardrobe malfunction failed me, when nothing else could.

Malfunction

Shave it off. Or not.

20 inches long, dark, thick yet shiny; my hair was beautiful. It grew for years, even though I chopped and trimmed once in a while. It’s hair, I let it grow. But what about hair in other parts of the body? I am talking about armpits, legs, hands and sometimes on our faces too. Why do we shave that all off? There was so much confusion in my head (along with hair) around why people treated the same entity so differently. And then I realised that it wasn’t the hair; it was the fact that I am a woman.

Other than the biological details, the image of a woman usually involves long hair and clean-shaven legs (if she is in her shorts). The image of a man, on the other hand, can have hair of varying lengths or no hair at all. What’s more fascinating is that while women make expensive visits to beauty salons every month, men could spend a lifetime showing off their body hair.

I’ll leave the body-hair for a later discussion.

So, I couldn’t stand this hypocritical attitude of the society towards ‘human hair’, and one day in 2011, got my head shaved. Yes, just like that.

For a girl in India, it was bound to create a furor; I was mentally prepared for that. What I had forgotten to consider was that if long hair symbolised I was a woman, no hair meant my husband/father had died. Oops! They were all alive, and most supportive of my new avatar too.

After wedding, women put flowers on their hair, and you went and shaved your head off! Do not talk to me!”

That was my mother who disowned me for exactly one week, once again. Most of the outrage, I was able to manage pretty well. However, what hurt me the most was that one of my uncles went too far and decided that the family support will weaken & fade away one day, because of what I did to ‘my’ hair.

Seriously?

Why does the woman carry the weight of symbols, signs and representation? Why doesn’t a man change his name after marriage? Why doesn’t he wear the ‘mangalsutra’ (a chain that Indian women wear after marriage)? Why doesn’t he put flowers on his hair? And why doesn’t the family deny him support when he decides to shave his head? (In fact, my husband has very long hair!)

This was the first time I shaved my head and it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

The second time, however, I decided to donate my hair and raise funds for Childhood Cancer Research. Interestingly, this time, my family wanted to contribute. Yes, I added meaning to an action; but how I wish, some societies freed women of the responsibility of every trivial activity.

Also, I am waiting for a day when I can wear whatever I want without wondering about my legs being unshaven.

You’ve a gift

I grew up hearing that I’m gifted in a number of ways. Voice, expression and a strong instinct for various life experiences. I can paint, I can write, I can cook, I can talk, I can dance, I can *insert activity here* . You might as well visit my website : http://www.pitchedhigh.com

I am not immodest, proud or overblown with a sense of superiority because of these natural abilities. In fact, I’m embarrassed when my gifted abilities outshine the hard work I put in to make them useful. So, when my music teacher told me “You sing like an angel”, it both filled me with inexplicable happiness and a fear that I’ll again be blinded by the sound of my own voice.

I aspire to be an artist in every way – a musician, a painter and a writer. My writing, I plan to make a difference with. I paint to not feel alone. But music makes me humble. The fact that my knowledge is a no match for my talent, makes me go crazy. I realise that I can’t make a difference to this world in any big way if I just sound beautiful; my melodies need to be meaningful too.

This struggle to make my efforts win over my talents, fuels my desire to spread the gift that I have, to this world, before I’m gone.

Assembly line efficiency

Do you enjoy cooking like some enjoy painting? Do you like to think about what to make for dinner? Do you like experimenting with your lunch as if that’s your great research in life?

Did you say ‘yes’ even though you are not a chef? You are going to like what I have to say here.

I was in Portland last week for a conference. A girl I met during another charity event, told me about it. She got me the tickets and also invited me to travel and stay with her. As of today, she is one of my good friends and someone I am glad I met. In this post, she is V.

The conference was for 3 days and our schedule was packed with talks, events and meet-ups. So,there were going to be short windows for our meals, and almost no time to have a relaxed lunch. For me, that usually means grab & go; for V, it means there is a possibility of going hungry. And she, as V puts it, is not a happy person in that state.

V is also not a whiner. So, she obviously had it all thought out.

Day 0, evening : Buy grocery, and include every ingredient that you can think of, but ensure that you have some ingredients that belong to these categories:

Salad/ Sandwich stuff : Tomatoes, Onions, mushrooms, carrots, capsicums, lemons

Breads & Protein : Eggs, cereals, oats, quinoa, bread

Sauces & dips : Honey, tea, mustard sauce, hummus

Fruits : Apples, grapes, bananas, berries

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Day 0, night

Cook quinoa; boil eggs; saute mushrooms, carrots, capsicums & onions; boil/bake beans; chop vegetables; let everything cool down.

Seal the cooked quinoa, boiled eggs, sautéed & chopped vegetables in separate bowls with cling wrap and keep in refrigerator.

Sleep!

 

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Day 1, morning

Get up when you can, laze around while you let the oats boil (you can grab an apple though)

Add nuts, fruits and honey to the boiled oats & enjoy the breakfast.

Before you run out, put the quinoa in a Tupperware. Top it with the sautéed vegetables, beans; add salt, pepper & any spice you like; squeeze the lemon; lock and keep it

 

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Repeat Day 1 but when you want a change, keep some cut vegetables between two pieces of bread, add mustard sauce and cling wrap!

If bored of the same quinoa recipe, add whatever you like such as hummus, olive oil, salad dressing!

 

 

 

I don’t remember worrying about food or going hungry during the conference! My energy was channelized towards the conference events, conversations and observing the world around me. At some instant, the sandwich might have even tasted exotic because of all the fun activities.

Food experiences are an integral part of my life. However, I am not a chef and do not aspire to cook for a living; so, I might as well cut a middle path; give cooking & food some routine; and develop a discipline for my work, projects and writing instead. This simple assembly line arrangement lets me stay attracted towards my day-to-day engagements; and saves me from culinary distractions.

I tried this last week and I could see the benefit on the first day. I didn’t waste any time during the day on cooking and  put all my effort in preparing dinner. The result was a highly productive day, a satisfying lunch and a delicious dinner!

Thank you V.