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Sunday, January 29, 2012

A NEW ANGLE TO MY MORNING WALK

Morning walk in the park is my prime time activity and one of the few indulgences I cherish. I love to observe the members of the avian families chirping, pecking in the grass and fluttering, seemingly carefree, but fully alert to the threatening movements around. I deeply enjoy the spectacle and a silent interaction with them in the course of the walk. The sight of changing seasons reflected in the flora of the park sometimes touches a philosophical chord, regarding the ultimate truth of the mortality of life, the unceasing cycle of birth and death and the continuity of life which Almighty ensures.

When I extend my range of observation to humdrum life I find that the pulsating world, which moves on the roads encircling the park , is also interesting and entertaining. It presents a picture worth chronicling. The miniature world on the roads is representative of the macro world, which we inhabit.

A glance at my right (myself facing east) reveals a lot of coming and goings on outside a particular house in which resides a medical doctor. He does private practice in the mornings before going to his hospital and in the evenings after coming from there. Since he is a pediatrician, parents with their young ones in toe or infants carried on their love handles make a beeline for the clinic (a designated room) inside the house. The area in front of the house remains filled with all sorts of vehicles parked haphazardly. The place buzzes with activity and by 8 o’clock normalcy returns again when I see the doctor driving to work. This is the typical scene on every other road, where lives a practicing doctor.

Residents with high end jobs or doing businesses have chauffeur driven cars. In the morning the drivers come and clean the cars parked on the road side and on some days they wash them flooding the roads unmindful of the inconvenience to road users.

I see one Mr. X walking his dog and allowing him to ease on the clean grassy area outside the boundary wall of one of our neighbour's house. If I had not been in sight it might have been the area outside my house. There’re many such dog lovers around who lack any sense of civic responsibility.

Suddenly I become conscious of school buses honking horns moving around the park and adjoining roads to pick up children of different schools.

I see women engaged as part time helps,( living in nearby villages) rushing to the houses where ladies go out to work.

Another common sight is that of  groups of village women carrying lunch boxes using our area as a short cut to go to the main road. They’re picked from the roadside and transported to the fields to pick vegetables or do hoeing.

Many a time I see a black bull with patches of white on his back and legs following a couple of cows who ignore him completely. This fixture has become an eye sore for the residents. Sometimes all of them are seen chewing the cud basking in the sun on one side of the road. Villagers from the surrounding villages shoo their cattle into our area for grazing with impunity. Sometimes I feel so scared that I take a detour to avoid them.

On Sunday mornings gardeners with tools placed on their cycle carriers are seen heading towards their clients’ residences and till afternoon our ears get assaulted by the peculiar noise of the lawn mowers.

Village urchins give car wash service on holidays and you can see puddles of water on the uneven parts of the road throughout the day.

Early morning on weekends men with heavy thundering voices riding their cycle carts, hawk to buy old newspapers, scrap iron, broken plastic goods, old tyres and other stuff to sell to the scrap dealers(recycling is a thriving lower level business in India). They do a good job of hauling our unwanted stuff and pay us as well.

It is a mosaic of amusing snapshots of morning landscape which my walk makes it possible for me, gratis. This kaleidoscope of vibrant humanity keeps you in touch with the ground realities of life.



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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

GINGER AN EXCELLENT HOME REMEDY


Ginger root is a wondrous herb having many therapeutic qualities. In India, Ayurveda has used it for centuries for medicinal purposes. With new studies confirming its efficacy in treating many sicknesses, this herb has grown in stature world wide. With its regular use one can bid good bye to nausea, feeling of distension, indigestion, heart burn and a host of other minor ailments.

Chewing a small piece of fresh ginger after every meal helps in the digestive process. Remove the skin from a piece of ginger root, wash it and chop it into small portions. Put one or two into your mouth and allow it to stay under your molars lightly crushed and let the juice pass inside slowly. It will ease discomfort either through a burp or passage of gas. For nausea or morning sickness continue chewing tiny pieces till you feel better.

My mother used to prepare a curry of dry ginger powder in winters and also whenever she had some digestive problem. Over time I have also developed a liking for it because it sharpens appetite and provides a feeling of warmth and well being.

This is the recipe: Pour one tbs. of clarified butter/ refined oil in a small frying pan over low medium heat. Stir fry one heaped tbs. of dry ginger powder till it turns light brown. Add salt to taste and a little turmeric powder to give it color. Then pour a cup of water and let it simmer till it thickens, stirring occasionally. Add about two tbs of beaten curd (this is to make it palatable) into the curry and mix it well for about a minute or two. Remove and savor it with a chapatti, lightly toasted bread or boiled rice. It is especially beneficial for women during menstruation for easing cramps and providing internal warmth. It also gives relief from back pain as it possess anti- inflammatory properties. 

A popular hot beverage in winters is ginger tea first thing in the morning. Simply boil some crushed ginger in water till it turns  yellowish and prepare tea the usual way. Keep moving while sipping it and be conscious about the urge to go for bowel movement.

Ginger also acts as an expectorant in coughs and colds. Squeeze out the juice of a piece of ginger to fill half of a tablespoon, mix it with honey and lick it slowly morning and evening. It helps in dislodging and bringing out the phlegm thus giving immense relief.

It helps in dyspepsia by releasing trapped gas in the stomach and also eases heart burn.Ginger neutralizes the harmful effects of fatty, acidic and fried foods. It acts like a digestive enzyme and promotes good digestion.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

WINTER IN NORTH INDIA

Early morning fog has engulfed the area


Winter starts in November on a placid note and we welcome it with wide open arms after the scorching summer months. November ushers just perfect breezy warmth and going for a walk becomes a luxury and unadulterated pleasure. Come December and winter asserts itself and then the whole of January shows its mighty power.

At the moment North India is reeling under bone chilling cold. Winter has its own unique landscape here. Some days it drapes itself in slow soaking rains and pushes us in the confines of the house and we warm ourselves in the folds of quilt and eat winter savories. Some days it keeps us indoors by sulking with grey foggy environs which are depressing to say the least and turns life upside down. Some days it becomes so magnanimous that it wakes us up with a bright sunny spread which ignites a spontaneous remark, “How heavenly to be alive on such a day.” Automatically with a clear azure sky one is filled with optimism, zest and hope. This is the novelty and illogicality of our emotions. With a small change in externals we are elated and very soon with a minor change we feel dejected. Our emotions always surpass the actuality of the moment.

Because of the extremities of weather, we in the north have to have wardrobe of specific fabrics according to the need of changing weather. In winters our cupboards overflow with all the paraphernalia of soft, fluffy woolens, headgear of various shapes and sizes, cardigans, pullovers of varying thickness and in severe chill, jackets, long coats; thermal wear and leggings join the bandwagon. Winter’s arsenal carries the discomforts of colds, coughs, fever and, stiff joints. It being a tough task master, we keep ourselves prepared to withstand its assaults.

However, winter’s rich kingdom offers us special cuisine. Our eating preferences take a u turn. We brush aside the cold beverages and opt for soups, herbal teas, and fresh citrus juices; home made delicacies like carrot dishes and rice pudding garnished generously with dry fruit. Nothing can beat mouth watering winter specialties like paranthas stuffed with grated radish, cauliflower or finely chopped fenugreek leaves to be eaten with a dollop of home made butter or curd. Other favorites which we Punjabis can never say no to in winters namely sag, makki di roti and sweet snacks prepared with sesame (til) seeds and sugar and Bhugga with Khoya (thickened milk) coconuts chunks and sesame seeds and sugar.

Besides winter for us is a harbinger of auspicious festivals like Diwali and days like Christmas, New Year, Lohri and host of others. It promotes love solidarity, camaraderie and unites people in celebratory reunions around dining tables, exquisitely laid with festive dishes; around fireside reliving nostalgically good old days of togetherness.

In the north winter’s uniqueness is reflected in its snow bound mountains and silvery hill tops dazzling in the early morning sun. What bliss to see the rosy cheeked children frolicking around, covered from head to toe!

Not to forget the romantic interludes, soulful rejuvenation and self connect in its long nights of cuddling and snuggling? The indescribable feeling of security mixed with mild alarm when the scary howling winds are raging outside and you’re warm and cozy under your fluffy quilt-an experience special only to winter nights.

Edith Sit well says: “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

Winter is a play field for the adventurous and the courageous with the exciting and thrilling winter sports in Gulmarg in Kashmir and Shimla hills.

Now that we are in the throes of winter we’re already looking forward to the spring and console ourselves with these famous lines: “If winter comes can spring be far behind.”

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Dear blog friends: It is said,
1. An optimist is one who borrows money to buy a lottery ticket.

2." If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless, if they disagree all the time, then both are useless." Darryl Fzamick





Thursday, January 19, 2012

RADISHES ALL THE WAY




Have you heard of a snow white beauty in the vegetable fraternity or a Cinderella in the foppish vegetable platter, which the winter months offer us in abundance? Last week when I went to the farmers market for my weekly grocery shopping, the sight of this dew fresh product with its green leaves intact, caught my attention instantly. I’ll vouch for the popularity of this seasonal delicacy as all the vendors had spread it neatly and attractively in small mounds as if it were their prized ware and all their sales dependent on its inviting armour. You must’ve made a guess by now, if not, then, I‘ll be telling you right away. It is the poor man’s food the lowly but ubiquitous, glistening radish, inundating the market at this time of the year. It looks glamorous with its fair exterior, long conical shape and freshly green head.

My brethren in Punjab are crazy about this seasonal, daintily slim produce. Its mouth watering flavour tempts as well as pampers the taste buds. Its pungent and peppery taste and its fleshy crunchiness when eaten raw is peculiar to it, and that is what makes this humble root so very distinguishable. Not long back I remember it being sold, neatly sliced into quarters with salt and pepper sprinkled over, at cut price to appease hunger pangs just like pan puri, burgers, cucumber pieces etc.

It possesses a unique versatility as it can be eaten in many forms like thinly sliced with a dash of rock salt and pepper as a salad; grated and squeezed of its juice and mixed with condiments and carom seeds (ajwain) as a stuffing for all time favourite paranthas served with home made well set curd. It can also be cooked grated or cut into small pieces like any other vegetable and presented as a side dish or can be enjoyed sautéed or pickled. Finely grated it can be kneaded in wheat flour or corn flour to make delicious rotis. (All these are my mom’s recipes tried by me zillion times.) It adds richness and variety to the winter cuisine like none else

Interestingly this cheap vegetable has many healthy attributes. It is hydrating and acts as a diuretic and detoxifies the system by promoting generous urine stream. It improves the liver function and most importantly it decreases the severity of piles because it provides a lot of roughage, thereby cleansing the body of toxins. This apart it has many beneficial vitamins including vitamin C. Its juice applied to acne is believed to clear the skin fast.

For a balanced diet this savory root rightfully deserves a place in our daily menu.

image courtesy: Google

Leave a comment pl.





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Saturday, January 14, 2012

HAPPY LOHRI

It is 13th of January today and ‘Lohri’ the sacred festival associated with ‘the mother of all bonfires’ is being celebrated with traditional fervour and gaiety all over Punjab. Families with new born babies and newly married couples celebrate it with great pomp and show. In the evening young girls and women adorned in their special Lohri attire and ethnic jewellery dance and sing around the bonfire to the beats of Dhol. Excitement and thrill rise every minute with the foot tapping music and dancers stop for breather and start all over again. The festivities continue till late at night or till people have their fill.

Traditional Lohri sweets like peanut jaggery bars, crunchy sugary squares coated with sesame seeds, groundnuts, popcorns and carrot sweetmeats remain the hot favourites of all during the festival.

Lohri is also celebrated with much enthusiasm and cheer in colleges and schools. Special functions are organized where children dance and sing decked in their colourful dresses. Sweets are also distributed among them.

Punjab being an agrarian state, the festival signifies a sort of rest period for the farming community after harvesting rice crop and sowing wheat crop. Lohri augurs good omens for all. It ushers in a period of bonhomie and camaraderie in society. It brings a change in the weather and gives respite from biting cold. It fills everybody with cheer and hope and decimates cynicism at the altar of mighty fire. It provides an excuse to rejoice and make merry. The pent up negativities are driven away in the gay abandon of Bhangra and Giddha.

I recall the way my parents used to celebrate it year after year with us pitching in with firewood and cow dung cakes (our gardener’d bring some) and sit around the fire and my mom insisting that all of us throw a palmful of rice, sesame seeds and jaggery in the fire while singing a couplet-udam aye dalidar jaye, dalidar the jar chule paye- let you be blessed with the ability to initiate good deeds and let sloth be destroyed in the fire. This ritual made me feel so good. I followed this practice to make my children aware of our festive traditions. After they flew away from the nest I somehow stopped. However, I make it a point of buying Lohri sweets and prepare a special dish to savour it the next day which is the holiest day of Makar Sankranti, the first day of the month of Magh according to Vikrami samvat (calendar).



Thursday, January 12, 2012

Words: Nuclei of Thought and Communication

I have had an amorous relationship with words since way back when I passed high school and joined college. The first two books which I got issued from my college library were Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth” and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's ( the creator of the unforgettable Sherlock Holmes )“The Hound of The Baskervilles” Both books introduced me to an entirely new but fascinating world in which words communicated beautifully every aspect of life. I came to know a lot about China before the revolution from the first book and suspense, mystery and horror as the core of the detective fiction from the second. Later my interest in Doyle's  detective series with the cult figure of Sherlock Holmes deepened and his mysteries turned into unputdownables till the unraveling of the knots in the end.

Sherlock Holmes the enigmatic detective tempted the hungry curiosity of my young mind for long. It is during these years when my interest for reading and learning new words developed and became a lifelong passion. Simultaneously, I religiously started jotting down difficult words and their meanings in the course of my readings. (My father got me a copy of “Oxford Pocket Dictionary” which became my best friend and loyal companion till it was replaced by a regular one). I had a couple of diaries for writing new words and their usage and would look them up once in a while to refresh my memory and this habit has stayed with me till date.

Words are powerful entities and extend their semantic boundaries regularly, defining new concepts, and conferring nomenclature to unimaginable changes which are taking place in the universe all the time. Words keep pace with the needs of the expanding world by assimilating words from other languages and cultures and by coining new words to explain the strides in the field of technology, literature, art, music, cinema and many other fields.

The power of words can’t be over emphasized. It is not for nothing it is said that ‘pen is mightier than the sword’. Battles are won or lost depending on the oratorical dexterity of a General, to revive the sagging confidence of his forces or of a teacher to lift the students out of examination fever or of a parent to calm a restive child or of a lover to overwhelm his partner.

Just look at various word games proliferating in print media and being lapped by young and old. All time favorite ‘Scrabble’ has its loyal fan base. Testing  vocabulary and comprehension of  students are an integral part of school curriculums, language proficiency tests and competitive examinations.

Remember the contribution in this field by the most popular ‘Reader’s Digest’ with its attractive page, “Word Power”. There are readers (including myself) who are addicted to this page so much that the first thing they check out is this interestingly conceived page.

Words will always remain inadequate to express the infinite world in which we dwell. Language says Saussure (father of modern Linguistics) is a living organism and flexibility in its connotative sphere is inbuilt. Words denote particularities but connote concepts as they combine two aspects of the language phenomenon i.e. concept vs. acoustic image.

In his book “Literature and Science” Aldous Huxley says that words empower us not only to communicate scientific quantified regularities but also to weave oceans of human experiences and emotions in a purified, highly sensitized and nuanced language.
For a writer enriched vocabulary is no less than an ‘El Dorado’.

 Image courtesy: Internet

Dear friends, let’s share a few gag bags to revel in the word play

Howzit:)
Gossip: A person having a great sense of rumour.
Flattery: Giving someone your candied opinion.
Marriage: A bachelor’s blunder to taste the thunder.
Lock: A device to keep your neighbours honest.
She wanted to see the world, so he gave her a world map.

Friday, January 6, 2012

AN OUT OF THE BLUE ENCOUNTER



I had an unusual guest in my house for a few days and that too without my knowledge. People write bizarre stories about their odd encounters which sometimes are stranger than fiction. Here is one in which I was the chief protagonist and was saved from a possible unpleasant situation by the grace of God.

It happened many moons back when I was still in service. One day because of some extra work in the college I was late in coming home. Hubby was waiting. As soon as I came, right away I went to the kitchen to fix some late lunch and didn’t even change my dress. Meal finished I was putting the left overs back into the fridge when I felt that there was some rustling around my feet as if our dog ‘Nutty’ was striking my sari with his tail.( Nutty had a habit of showing affection by touching me with his mouth and striking me with his tail around the house.) Like wise I thought it must be him attracting my attention. I harshly said, “Stop Nutty. Leave me”, and kept on adjusting the things in the fridge.

At that very minute I happened to look down and to my horror I saw the long body of a snake with its head probably under my shoe. (Presumably it was flapping its tail desperately to extricate itself.) I let out a scream and jumped out of the kitchen. Dear hubby was still nearby and understood what I was muttering though incoherently. The snake in the meanwhile more scared with the hullabaloo than us slithered to an open space under the kitchen sink and coiled itself into a safe position. There was no option but to eliminate it.

We got a lot scared as actually our friend was with us for not less than a week and for about as many days I was disturbed at night by some rustling sounds when it was so quiet otherwise. It must have been coming out of its hiding place under the sofas or from under the fridge (the fridge is placed on a low wooden stool and there is the ideal place for such an opportunity) to forage for food in the quiet of the night. We attributed the noise to poor ‘Nutty’, though we knew he slept like a baby on a small couch near our bed, since an explanation for that noise had to be reasoned out.

We were perplexed as to how the reptile managed to enter, when our house is fully secured with double doors. After much brainstorming the answer came in a flash and the story got unfolded easily enough.

We’d arranged it like that the maid’d do the cleaning after we had gone for our respective jobs. While mopping the floor she used to place the water filled bucket in between the net door and frame of the door and resultantly a quarter of the door was left open till she finished the job. While the door was thus open my uninvited guest sneaked inside and in the unfamiliar surroundings lost its bearing and failed to manage exiting though the similar route was available each day.

I’d cautioned the maid many a time because I had noticed mosquitoes and flies flying inside. But this intrusion I had never vouched for. And she completely ignored my directive and her carelessness led to this.

Thank God we escaped any untoward incident.

Our life is a fertile landscape of novel surprises and if we’ve a skill of spinning the surprises into words, the experience can be enlightening and amusing too.

Image courtesy: Internet





Tuesday, January 3, 2012

FLAX SEED FOR HEART HEALTH


The lowly flax seed has acquired the status of a mighty force; thanks to the new researches in the field which attribute innumerable health benefits of this dark brown wonder seed. There is a plethora of articles in magazines and news papers extolling its beneficial constituents which are a boon especially for vegetarians. Irony is that my parents and my grandparents were aware of the efficacy of this seed long before I was born, though they didn’t know about the details of the mechanism of its nutritious potency. But they very well knew that eating it in a palatable form mainly in winters does a lot good, for it provided the body heat, vitality and prevented sniffles and colds and is good for the joints and bones too.

My grandmother lived up to almost hundred and used to enjoy a sweet delicacy prepared from flax seed every day. My parents did the same and had fairly good health till the last days of their lives. Their meals consisted of fresh vegetables throughout the year and a preparation of flax seed and sesame seeds during winters.

The healthy effects of this seed have been proven beyond doubt. Flax seed has numerous components which help in maintaining good health. It contains heart healthy Alpha-Linolenic Acid or ALA referred to as omega-3 fatty acids which fatty fish salmon has in ample measure. Omega-3 fatty acids help heart’s defense mechanism against disease and, help reduce inflammation inside the body.

Flax seed and its oil is said to increase HDL or the "good" cholesterol and control the formation of LDL or bad-cholesterol. It even aids in reducing blood triglyceride levels.

Flax seed is an excellent source of lignans, which work as a kind of antioxidant, fighting free radicals which can cause a number of ailments in the human body. It is said to enhance immunity against certain cancers.

A source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, it helps in cleansing the body of waste and toxins and promotes colon health.

It contains almost all classes of ‘B’ vitamins.

Its oil is unsaturated and reduces threat of blood clots.

Studies show that flax seed assists in stabilizing blood sugar levels as its absorption process is slow.

In the west it is available both as whole or ground meal. It can be incorporated in many dishes and bakery products.

A recipe (my parents’) follows which is very palatable and can be had as a substitute for breakfast in the hurried life of my friends in the west.

Ingredients:
Flax seed ground: 1lb
Whole wheat flour- 1lb
Brown Sugar- 1lb
Clarified butter/ butter- 3/4 lb
Almond halves, Walnut pieces, Raisins, 4oz each.
Dry ginger powder-3Tbs.
Aniseed coarsely ground-1 1/2 Tbs.

Method:

Roast wheat flour on medium heat till golden brown stirring constantly in heavy bottomed deep fry pan. Keep aside. Roast ground flax seed on low heat for five minutes approximately, stirring all the time. Keep aside. Heat butter in the pan till fully melted. Turn off the heat. Pour in sugar, flax seed and wheat flour  turn by turn. Mix the stuff thoroughly. Add dry fruit, ginger powder and aniseed powder and mix once again. When it is comfortably warm make round balls of the size of your liking by pressing the stuff in your hand.

Relish with milk or tea (not coffee) before going to work or eat the ball while behind the wheel or whenever you wish to.

How do you like the recipe? Pl. let me know.

Image courtesy: Internet