Monday, December 29, 2008

Comfort Foods

I’ve always been a fussy eater. I am a vegetarian. But I hate green, leafy veggies. I avoid them like the plague. And I occasionally eat prawns. I hate dairy products except for butter and ice cream. If I set out to list the food items I can eat without wrinkling up my nose…the list won’t even cross the hundredth mark. I don’t eat stuff that I’ve already decided would taste “yuck” just by the look or smell of it. And refuse to even taste it. But I’m forced to do so at times by my father who would drive himself up the wall seeing me play around with the food (something I must have decided to be “yuck” earlier) and counting seconds till it’d be appropriate for me to leave the dining table. He has made it his mission in life to shovel nutritious, wholesome food down my throat even if that meant running around the house with a salad plate in hand, chasing me the whole day. It has become a game for us now. If he’s stubborn…I’m no less. I don’t do this to irritate him. I’ve a very narrow range of food items I prefer, and I’m happy eating that simple fare daily. But it’s a tough for everyone at home to accept that. They too have a reason apart from worrying about the lack of nutritious food in my diet. My fussy food habits create a lot of problem when we visit someone’s home. My relatives and close friends know by now what are the basic dishes I love eating…and I get them whenever I visit their homes. It’s the new acquaintances I dread visiting. I hardly stay for meal times…often bringing up some excuse or the other to go home. I still remember the day I visited a friend of mine whose mother served four different varieties of green, leafy veggies for lunch and a thick, creamy glass of ‘lassi’ as an after dinner drink. Time stood still that day for me as I painfully gulped down the food. The food was tasty for everyone present…I know. My friend’s mother is a good cook…I even know that. But how do I explain to them my eating habits? And now that I’ve grown up that has become a major issue in my life. If I find myself in a situation where the food I prefer is not available for a considerable amount of time and I risk starving myself…I eat whatever is available then. But I can’t continue it once I get back home.

It’s not that I ever regretted my lack of interest in tasting new dishes. I am happy with my choice of few simple dishes…everyday fare in most homes. They are way too simple…almost boring. But these items have etched very fond memories in my mind. And that’s what I want to share with you today.

1.My earliest food associated memory that I still fondly recall would be “orange ice-cubes”. My mother used to fill the ice-cube tray with orange juice…and by the time I’m home after hours of playing out in the sun…I would have those “orange ice cubes” waiting for me!

2.Coffee. I’ve a nagging doubt that I’ve more caffeine running in my veins than blood. The pleasure of waking up to a hot, steaming cup of coffee beats everything. Just the smell of it…that rich aroma…is so comforting for me. It makes the job a lot easier when I stay up late to study for exams. Just writing about it makes me crave for another cup of coffee now. A caffeine addict? Not yet. But on the verge of becoming one. Need desperate control measures soon.

3.Buttered toast dipped in dal. This had been my evening snack for years as far as I can remember. With a gap of two years in the middle…when I shifted to hostel where the rule was “maggi noodles” for lunch or dinner. Mostly out of laziness after a long day at the college hospital.

4.Come rainy days and there are a few things that I look forward to…Pakoras dipped in imli chutney, roasted corn, samosas, and hot jalebis.

5.POTATOES!! Bake them, roast them, fry them, mash them…cook them any way you want…And I’ll love them. That explains the extra flab around my tummy. Aloo(potato) parathas on Sunday mornings, roti and aloo ki sabzi a couple nights a week, mashed potatoes with chopped chilies and onions eaten along with rice…have been part of my every day diet always. And aloo chops. There was this shop in my hometown where I ate the best aloo chops ever. It was triangular in shape, about 2 inches thick, no stuffing, just plain boiled potato fried in little oil and few select spices and an amazing chutney go with it. Unfortunately the shop closed down a few years earlier…And I knew I’d never taste the chops that I was so fond of ever again. My mother knows these are the select few dishes I really love eating…So she prepares them without fail since so many years. Waking up on a Sunday morning and knowing what exactly would be laid on the breakfast table…two aloo parathas, mango pickle and chole…the taste rarely varying all these years. And that’s why I find it so comforting.

6.I love tea. No milk, no sugar. And the biscuits from the local bakery. Salty ones preferably. I love orange cream biscuits too…Licking off the orange cream in between first and then eating the biscuits.

7.Prawns. Only exception to my vegetarian diet. When I was about ten years old, I used to catch prawns for dinner myself. There’s a huge pond on the backyard of my home where I spent my childhood years. On Sundays and holidays…I used to carry a wide bamboo basket with some bread crumbs in it and kneeling down on the edge of the pond would dip the basket in the water. And wait. Without making the slightest movement. And soon enough I would see tiny prawns swimming into the trap to eat the bread crumbs. And I triumphantly ran into the kitchen with the catch of the day, handed it over to my mother to cook for dinner later that night and asking her to cook them as spicier and crispier as possible.

8.Ice creams. Love vanilla and chocolate flavors. Hate strawberry and butter-scotch flavors. During my school days, my mother used to hand me and my sister money to get one ice cream each on our way back from school. Once every week. Always on Thursdays. My sister would excitedly wake me up to remind me it’s Thursday and we would spend a good half an hour on the way to school debating which flavour of ice cream to buy that day. We weren’t allowed to have aerated colas. But we didn’t protest. For us the mango drink “Frooti” ruled! As it did for most of the kids growing up in the nineties.

9.There was this food stall run by an old man outside the primary school I attended. He used to sell a lot of snacks…paani puris, chole bhature, aloo chops etc. But it was the chole along with the spicy chutney that I was interested in. Some days I used to carry an extra tiffin box with me to school…a small round steel dabba. And bring back home the chole to eat for lunch.

10.And now onto what has been my staple diet all these years. It’s rice and masoor dal. Simple dal- chawal. I crave for nothing more. The other items to go with it vary…but not too much. It’s either stuffed capsicums, soybean curry or mashed potatoes. That’s it. I’ve ate this for lunch and dinner every single day since the past 20 years almost. Since the time I was capable of voicing my opinion about what I’d like to eat. Every single day. And I never got bored. I still look forward to it after a busy day in college or hospital, or after coming back from a trip. I associate it with “home”. I associate it with my ‘mother’, who by now has perfected the art of making these days just the way I like them.

Going through the list you must have guessed why parents panicked over the kind of foods I loved. My parents used to force me to eat spinach saying it’s good for the eyesight and I would end up with thick glasses by the time I’m 20 if I carried on with my unhealthy diet. But within a couple of years, everyone in my family started wearing glasses for poor eyesight. I still have perfect vision. That’s why I don’t fuss about my unhealthy diet. I know I don’t eat most of those healthy foods. But I was growing up well. So the nutritional requirements of my body had been met. I must be eating at least something right. If not everything! I recently turned 23…still staying with my parents because I attend college here. I know in a year from now…I’d have to leave home for further studies. And I would have leave behind my comfort foods. The sense of security I feel coming back home each day…knowing my mother would be at home…and has kept my favorite dishes ready to eat. I know once I leave home…my fussy eating habits would stand no chance in the hectic pace of life that I’d be thrown into. Maybe I’d be eating a spinach sandwich for breakfast a year from now! But as of now I savour these comfort foods…And I will always savour the memories.

Losing Self-Respect

“Self respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself”

—Abraham J. Michael

That’s where she failed. In saying “no” to herelf. It’s not that she hadn’t tried. But the resolve faded out soon enough.

It wasn’t like this always. She valued her self-respect. And never compromised it for anyone. Her parents were proud of the way she carried herself. People were careful about saying anything wrong or offensive to her. And she never gave anyone the opportunity of treating her badly. She was happy that despite any adversities she faced she’d managed to maintain her self-respect and dignity. She was proud that she was in full control of her emotions.

And then the worst happened. She fell in love. That was 5 yrs ago. She was 20 at that time. She loved, trusted and respected the person completely. And it delighted her when her feelings were reciprocated.  Gradually emotional dependence increased and her vulnerability lay exposed in front of the person. That was the worst mistake of her life. Her first regret in life. Letting the one she loved know that he had the ability to hurt her. Slowly the “occasional differences in opinion” became “full-fledged quarrels”. But she always apologized and made up if it was her fault. What was unsettling that it was her again who had to soothe his wounded ego even if it was his fault. She wasn't looking to settle scores. She was in love, and convinced herself there shouldn’t be any ego hassles between partners. Apart from it slowly becoming a regular occurrence, another trend started. Blame game. She was always at the receiving end. If he verbally abused her, she should be the one apologizing because she provoked the outburst and brought it on herself. That was his twisted logic. Why did she give him a chance? He never ever apologized to her. She still didn’t feel something was amiss in their relationship. A slow but sure stab on her self-respect had occurred, but once again she was too much in 'love' to notice that. There were moments when she saw reason, when she detested this downfall; but the fear of losing him was too overshadowed everything. She had invested a lot of love in the relationship, and she was determined not to let it go unrequited. The denial to see the extent to which she’d become emotionally dependent on him brought out a whole new side of her. An ugly side that she wasn’t aware of earlier. She became a clinging, emotionally insecure person who was ready to bear anything to save the relationship, even at the cost of losing her self-respect. Every time he used to hurl abuses at her and not talk to her for some time, she started reminiscing the good memories, often glorifying the past. She used to call him up later, trying hard to hear the love in his voice, which had long ceased to exist. 'One day he would realize how much I love him, and he would be back to his old self', the thought she slept on every night. It was no surprise that he never did.

He broke up with her saying that his family won’t agree to their relationship.She accepted his decision, and was too naive to understand why he got into the relationship in the first place if he didn’t had the guts to stand up against his family for the girl he loves. But she still nearly begged him whether they could remain friends. He was reluctant. But eventually agreed. She used to count the minutes ticking by till she heard from him next. As obvious, she was the one who did most of the “keeping in touch” part. Life continued. And all along she nurtured the secret hope that he would one day be back with her.

She came to know later that he was with someone else by the time they had their break-up. It angered her and an ugly confrontation followed. He admitted to this 'lapse' but adopted the policy of offense being the best defense. He once again hurled abuses at her. She stopped all contact with him.

Her inability to say “no” to herself when it came to matters of the heart got better of her. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing him from her life completely. The very fear that made her lose her self respect in the first place. She managed to curb her desire to keep him as a part of her life and contact him, even though it took her an year and half. To let go of someone you love and accept that they no longer want to be with you can be a very difficult to cope with. But her heart healed; it just took a little longer than others.

She hated this particular aspect of her life. The whiny, clingy girl ready to go to any extent to save her “love”. When the love faded away, and sense prevailed in her life,  she couldn't fathom why she was ready to settle for a guy that abused her trust and love, and in all certainty would repeat it. Her friends and family too were shocked at the person she’d become. They always knew her to be a very balanced, emotionally strong person. And then they saw her when she was in love. The damage was done. She’d failed them too. But she tried hard to re-build her self-esteem, she resolved never to compromise her dignity for anyone. Ever. She had seen herself during her worst and was scared of ever being in that place again.

Life was good. And then..

She has fallen in love again.. She considered the risks involved, but love had slowly begun its hypnotic effect on her.  She told him  He didn't find her worthy of any response. She is trying her best not to repeat her earlier mistake of putting her self-respect at stake again. She tries not to ring him or text him. She'd failed again. She started doing the opposite, and called him up when she knew she shouldn’t have. She'd tried various ways to distract herself, and her failure popped up on his inbox. But she can't get him out of her head. She is scared she would lose her self-respect again. Friends and family point that out to her too. But she still nurses that damn 'hope'!

How does one walk away from the person one loves? She doesn’t want to let him go. Her mind knows that she must. But her heart longs to stay. The logical and the best advice would be to let go. Let time fade him away.

The indecisiveness continues.

They say “no one can make you feel inferior and hurt you without your consent”. She had given the consent to someone. And she is hurt. And she does feel inferior as a person. It just took 5yrs. And she can’t look in the mirror without feeling ashamed of the person she has become. If only she had the sense to stop herself from giving the right to hurt her that first time. She is scared now. It’s a sort of addiction. She has paid a heavy price for it. The one thing she valued the most A sense of dignity.

Quirky me...

1.Sometimes I repeat stuff four times or in multiples of four. Say a prayer four times, leave four missed calls if the person I’m calling up is unreachable at the moment, take four deep breaths when I’m stressed, and even count till four while I pee! I like think it’s just one of my quirks. Doctors call it “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” though.

2.Organizational freak. Think Monica Geller. It’s not just a chore for me. It’s something I look forward to every week. Organizing my closet, my study desk, and my cupboards gives me immense pleasure. My mother who never tires of complaining about my laziness often wonders how I dramatically get the strength to clean my room so often. Every time I see a messy drawer or closet, it takes a lot of self control to stop myself from organizing it. And “lists”. How can I forget about making lists? A part of my need for complete organization of every aspect of my life. I make lists, rewrite them, I schedule and I organize. The pleasure of crossing off completed tasks from those lists. I have innumerable tiny notebooks, filing systems, study lists, to-do lists, random scraps of paper stuck to the bulletin board, organizational software on my pc…I’ve done it all. The results are not always what I expected them to be. I waste more time than I can afford to in making these lists in the first place…but nothing can beat the pleasure of opening the blank page of a new notebook, pencil in hand and my mind working furiously at the prospect of organizing a new schedule and the best way to do it. Nerdy and oh so pathetic. I know. But I love it.

3.Listening to the song I love repeatedly till I get bored of it eventually. Much to the annoyance of those who are forced to hear the song along with me for the nth time. This usually happens while going out for a drive. At home, my parents go out of their way to gift me headphones. And I love drifting into a daydream, a different scenario each time, while listening to the song. No wonder the rewind and play buttons of my iPod have smudged

4.Love mush. Worship mush. It’s a wonder how even the corniest of lines can make me go “aaaaaaaaaaaaw” and make tears well up in my eyes. Even the most commercial, most manipulative Hollywood movies trying to cash in on the emotions of romantic fools like me, would have at least one moment which would make me go weak in the knees. I believe in love despite not so good personal experiences. And I so want to believe that the harsh real world, that I’ve become a part of as an adult, still has those perfect little moments of pure romance hidden in it. And the movies, books that glorifies love gives me hope that maybe someday I’ll have those moments too. And for a change they would be real and true.

5.I have a very odd sleep schedule. Wake up at 3am. Sleep at 2pm. Wake up at 4 pm. Sleep at 11pm. And the cycle repeats. You got the idea. This is only a sample. It varies every week.

6.I love writing in purple ink. I’ve got a very bad handwriting. But when I write in purple ink…it appears legible and very neat. Maybe only I think so. Because my professors still have a very hard time making sense out of my chicken scribblings. Thank God for the digital era. Typing makes the job so much easier.

7.I love writing on whiteboards. Making concept maps. Random thoughts. That’s the way I like to study instead of taking notes on paper. I’ve made myself a portable whiteboard by laminating a few sheets of paper glued together. And I find it a far more convenient and active way to learn than passively copying notes. Economical and environment-friendly too.

8.I never forget birthdays and anniversaries. Yes, there had been occasional slips. But those are maybe one in a million, or a thousand, I mean a few hundreds. And that doesn’t count too much.

9.I love sketching. I know I’m not good at it. But I still do. I like sketching eyes. And buildings. And trees. I can’t sketch hands.

10.I’d never had long hair. I’d always worn my hair short. Really short. I tried few times to grow my hair long. But could never tame my hair during that awkward phase when your hair is too short to tie in a ponytail but there are flyaway strands sticking in all directions. I ended up cutting it short again.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Life Of A Packrat

I’m a pack rat. I hate clutter. But I still hoard useless objects in my room only because I’m too sentimental about the memories attached to them. I tried to be ruthless in cleaning up my room and getting rid of the knick-knacks that have accumulated over the years, but failed miserably.

Few of the random things that I found while cleaning up my room today:

Several hundred comic books in the storage cabinet under my bed.

An old broken ruler that a guy I’d a momentary crush on in 9th grade had borrowed from me during exams and accidentally broke it. I’ve preserved the broken pieces too! I don’t know why; because I don’t even remember what the guy looked like!

A dozen old t-shirts I know I’ll never fit into. And even if I do, will never have the guts to wear in front of anyone. Think “tweety bird” prints in shocking yellow.

The first baby pillow I slept on.

Sketches I made when I was in kindergarten.

School badges, a library book I forgot to return at the year end.

Hundreds of postcards and greeting cards received over the years.

A set of few miniature animals made of glass. I won them as a prize about a decade back.

The English text book from 6th grade where I first read a concise version of Shakespeare’s plays. That prompted me to start reading the classics.

College year books, few photo albums with some hideous and very embarrassing pictures of mine which I know I’ll never show to anyone.

The Barbie kitchen set I used to play with, tiny pots and pans and a mini oven! My first doll, which has lost one eye and half of her hair over the years.

A pair of oh-so-pretty pumps in black leather that causes shoe-bite marks all over my feet every time I wear them. But they are too pretty to throw or give away.

A Frisbee disc.

A dismantled skeleton inside my cupboard; reminder of my first year in medical college.

Letters, old valentines.

Report cards, every single one of them. I’ve failed only once in a quarterly exam in the fifth grade in my least favorite subject…Hindi. I got 32 out of 100. Passing grade was 40. Shame. Shame.

Old video games.

And yes…even my chemistry set from school.