Mindfulness in the Kitchen

In the quiet time of a high decibel neighbourhood, when most of the living souls are fast asleep, you hear the steady stream of flowing water, the occasional gurgle of the sink, a gentle swoosh of scrubbing, utensils rubbing against each other, friendly banter of steel products,

“Time for a bath, you oily minx!” greets a pot

“The pot is calling the kettle black, you greasy pig!” a saucy sauce pan retorts.

The clean pot, pan, boilers of all shapes and sizes, ladles and spoons big and small come gleaning clean.

After a while, you hear wood pecking sounds with inconsistent rhythm. That’s vegetables being chopped: heap of onion slices, shreds of radishes, cubes of tomatoes bleeding out juice. Then starts the musical whirr of the mixer, working its way on the masala. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

The pan on the stove will start puffing shortly, while the pressure cooker eagerly wishes to whisper a secret. “Psst, psst, lisssssssssten”, it goes.

But the pan is unimpressed, it keeps making smoke rings and blowing on the cooker’s eager face. Cooker has to gulp it down, suppress its emotion, till it cannot contain itself at all. Then it burst out with a deafening scream. The pan who had snubbed the cooker, gives it a silent deference, “Wow, man!” Being accustomed to crying out loud, the cooker now screams out every now and then, till a pacifying hand turns off the knob of the stove, “Cool down dear friend and we shall see what’s inside, but first let the steam off.” Cooker exhales deeply, “Ahhaaaaa!”

Pulses are done just right.

Then comes the tempering. Watch out for the naughty little mustard seeds running off the kadhai, but then finally hissing into submission. Some jeera powder, some haldi, some hing, and what fragrant gandharvas will float in your kitchen.

And I watch all this action unfold, with a mix of anxiety and patience. I love the beauty of everyday chores, especially while I am not doing it! Actually, while I am at it, oh, I sting, I bite and brutally too.

A writer, a mother, full time Assistant Professor in a college, I already had my hand full, or so I thought. Life without a maid, I knew was going to be challenging. Every day, I ended up watching chaos unleashing in my house. I remembered Yeats as I tidied up the disarrayed house for n’th time,

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

I was exploding. Oh, the drudgery of it. How different is a woman’s work from Sisyphus’? A constant sense of déjà-vu. The endless cycles of laundry, like Karmic cycle, what goes around comes around, and dirtier! I scourge the greasy utensils, but the thought of doing it yet again, in a few hours stained my mind. Countless meals to be prepared, cooked, fed and eaten. Meals to be frozen, reheated, distributed, disposed. Oh the rigmarole of every life! Shouldn’t I be doing something more important? Or glamorous than this? Can’t it be any better for a gazillions of women around the world?

I tried patience. I failed. I tried laziness, the famous ‘I don’t clean the lot till it rots’ attitude, it was a disaster. I tried Gratitude, “I am grateful that I have a family to cook for, a house to clean, I have so many clothes to wash, which means I have dough to buy them.” I felt less dis-empowered.

Then one day, I read Leo Babauta from Zen Habits blog. And I read this in one of his posts:

“Washing dishes can be as great as anything else, if you decide to see it that way. You’re in solitude, which is a beautiful thing. If you do it mindfully, washing dishes can be pleasant as you feel the suds and water in your hands, pay attention to the dish and its texture, notice your breathing and thoughts. It’s meditation, it’s quiet, it’s lovely.” – Leo Babauta

Thich Nhat Hanh in his The Miracle of Mindfulness also writes about the wonders of everyday work in developing mindfulness. I must say, this knowledge changed my relationship with housework. Instead of seeing myself as a drudge, I now see it as a ‘me-only time’. It makes me push my limits, it makes me move out of my comfort zone. I may not be in the best of moods while mopping that corner near the cupboard, but I am doing it without whining, which is a galactic shift.

Since a few days, I think I have got a handle into doing dishes. I prepare my lectures, plan my day and visualize my book chapter while washing utensils. It certainly doesn’t seem like a waste of time.

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. – Agatha Christie

So, there you go, all you need is a perspective.

“sssstttt”, coots my pressure cooker in agreement.

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Why read Poetry…

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This is a shout out on why read poetry when you can be called cool or hot or whatever temperature setting you are comfortable with, by doing hazaar other stuff.

Wait! Please don’t minimize the window, don’t stop reading this post, not yet.

Why so aversive to reading poem? I know, a few years back, when language first came to you, it came through lullabies that your mother sang for you. Socialization came to you through nursery rhymes. So deep down, there is that soul of poetry which high decibel i-pods could not drown. My mother sighs even today, when she fondly remembers that truthful cow, Punyakoti, from the poem taught to her in school. My grandma’s trained voice still falters, choked by Karuna Rasa, every time she recites of the mother breastfeeding her calves for the last time. My friend dotes on Charan Kanya, a Gujarati poem about that girl in the forest who scares away lion through her sheer gaze. This unnamed girl has a celebrity status in Gujarat for so many generations now.

Read poems because they are a part of you, your world, your social fabric, your moral fiber.

Read poems, so that you can connect to those who are dead already, but speak through the invisible wall between this life and after.

Our Gods arrive to us with lotus legs, in the chariots of heavily adorned poems.

Love happens when you grow so heady that you exhale borrowed poems like your own. On reading Sonnet 18 in that excited state, does bard’s English bother you? No, you float. You mount on that verse and rocket away to the moon.

Adorned with alankaras or bare, packed with a rhyme scheme or without surround sound, poetry plays us. Starts off with the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, it goes out to rearrange the stars. Every time it rains, or you see a flower in bloom, poetry gives you the words, the skeleton in which you can flesh out your feelings. Every time your heart is torn apart or manhandled or walked over, poetry provides you that balm. Like strong tobacco you can fag it out, or drink it deep as Devdas did his alcohol.

It’s so tiny, yet all encompassing. It’s the crunchy nut of knowledge in the shell of words.

It does not provide statistics, neither working principles or truths, nor anything quantifiable. Who has ever become a millionaire by reading wayward verses? But those who don’t read poem at all, may as well stop reading altogether, and accept the poverty of their lives. Because all the prose in kindle won’t sweeten their little minds. Or give them wisdom; that outdated word; or a profound perspective on love, life and this world, that countless PDFs of downloadable poetry so freely provides.

Poetry is a terrific container, air tight, non-spill , better than your Tupperware. Every time you open it, you sniff that personal homemade aroma, that bitter-sweet- tangy smell of reheated memories come back fresh, despite all the preservatives in the deep freeze of the past.

Relive again,

 That special glance,

Finding luck when you had no chance

That cup you shared looking at the moon

Bathing in the first rain of monsoon

That never ending winter of pain,

Crying till you laugh insane

Your father’s jokes,

Your mother’s hair

Your old socks,

That long drive,

Those impossible travel plans

All those moments that make up

The slow motion,

Vintage movie of your life.

So, every time you feel you are about to burst out but you are speechless, every time you open your mouth with a mindful, but no word peters out, try a spoonful of Poetry.

Keep it in your mouth for a while. Slowly suck every word, one after another. Then chew unhurriedly. Finally, swallow it.

Feel it slide smoothly down your throat, feel it mix instantly with your blood.

You may have some burning sensation somewhere in your midriff.

Experts consider that normal. Its a litmus test used for differentiating the alive from the dead.  But if this sensation persists, I insist that you consult a fellow reader or a lover. Share a poem or two with her. Pass it around.

Repeat the process, if required.

Dosage: Once a day before going to bed. At least.

For Best Results: Read it aloud

Expiry: Eternity

Period Positive Part 1

I belong to an intricate net of devout extended family. What you kids call party, we call it puja. Be it birthdays or weddings or someone getting kick ass marks in the board exams – its puja time, folks! Loud music, piping hot food, frenzied crowd, what more can you ask for? Just when I look forward to watching films, back to back, at ridiculously overpriced multiplexes, my bank balance is saved by a puja invite or even two.

Pujas are a beautiful sight. I am not even talking about the paraphernalia of the divine, the golden diyas or the sparkling silverwares, the holy cutlery. No sir, I am talking about the people, they come in two types, the speakers and non-speakers.

The last category first, a few older men pretending to be awake but actually dozing off until stirred awake by their own snores. The babies are non-speakers too, unless they decide to blow the conch and give out a shrill deafening cry.

The rest are the speakers. Even those smashing their cellphone screens, are communicating their lack of interest in those present there. Most of my uncles and cousins, by differing degree of relations, invariably talk about cricket since time immemorial. I could close my eyes while they talk and pretend that it is still the 80s, they have the same stuff to talk about, only different names jump out of their conversation. Srikkanth to Sreesanth is the only progress in this time capsule. Of course, they have all grown older, fatter, and balder since then. Some alterations have occurred, some members are dead gone and some ‘boys’ have become ‘men’ and taken in their place. The time capsule dwellers are no longer childish enough to skip meals when India loses a match, but now have matured to observe a preemptive fast for crucial finals.

There are late comers and early birds. And there is this one inevitable scene:

“So why is your daughter not here, Poornima? Preparing for her tests, I am sure,” inquires a relative trying to show off 100% attendance of her own family members.

“No! She could not come to puja today.” Poornima replies and gives us all a meaningful glance.

Another female relative sneaks in long after the puja is over when most of us are about to leave. She stands awkwardly at the doorway, not a single detectable dab of concealer today and we can almost see her wrinkles. She insists on not wanting to enter the purged room at all.

“Sorry for not coming earlier” the latecomer catches hold of her silk saree clad hostess and continues, “You know that time of the month…” “Oh, of course I understand. Please take prasaadam for your husband. Here in this packet” the gracious female host replies. “No, no. Please wait, Vishu beta, please take this packet.” “Couldn’t you have?” quips an irritated Vishu. “Ha ha, these kids!”, smiles the hostess and so does our embarrassed guest.

It was all more interesting when I was growing up, visiting my grandma’s house full of young women in a village in Karnataka. They had their own language, their own code for periods. So when I would insist on being taken to a temple (No, I wasn’t baby Mirabai, just that temple was the coolest place you can hang out in the village) But I would be told very often that “a crow has touched ” my elder relative, no going to temples for a few days. While talking to each other, women would used phrases like “she is touched” or say, “she has been sitting”.
I remember getting exasperated, “Ask her to get up, why does she have to sit?! And why can’t she come and play in the temple yard if she is touched by a crow? And why do all the crows in the village touch you guys all the time?”

We tried making our own code when periods had a novelty element for us. We concurred on “Number 3.”Considering that there was a consensus on what number 1 and 2 meant in common parlance. But it never took off. May be it grossed people out.

I tried calling this phenomenon “puncture”, but it sort of hurt some of us. “It feels too real, ya”, one influential cousin said and then other empty heads just chimed in. So we dropped it too. I find the now popular phrase “chums” too repulsive. It simply reeks of ill logic. There has been a controversy over who/what is a girl’s best friend in the popular media. We all know the fierce battle between diamonds and chocolates. Menstrual cycle was never ever in this race, so how come our chums are those about whom we never talk about, but only whisper? The metaphor is derived from fishing sharks, I later discovered. This knowledge doesn’t help me like this phrase any better. I go by traditional “mensus”. No fancy names for me. Period.

But all these fade in backdrop, because during a puja, my sorority would talk about different conditions of their collective uterus(es).

About to start periods,

See how she swells.

Has she got it?

Not yet?

Get her tested.

Periods!

This early?

It’s what you feed her

Skipped periods?

Its what you don’t feed her

Pregnancy.

So soon, what was the hurry?

Pregnancy?

Why so late?

Can’t you hear the clock ticking away

Tick tock, tick tock.

Lazy women, how abnormal

Is normal delivery in your generation!

Look at us, we mopped, and walked, and worked

While you mope and lie around

C-section, complication and tension

Post-pregnancies and pee problem.

When would you plan for a second pregnancy?

Selfish mother, think of your lonely child

Third pregnancy? Stop her!

Pills popper, Copper T

Shhhhh. Aborshhhhions.

Contraception and contraptions.

Tie your tubes

Any method you choose

Don’t crowd your house

Beware of menopause.

No wait, I missed out a crucial part,

Perimenopause year 1.

Perimenopause year 2,

Perimenopause year 3 & 4 & 5,

Cancer scare but turns out a fibroid

Perimenopause year 6.

A cyst, or two more in your ovaries

Hormone replacement therapy

Will cool your hot flashes.

Why swing on the mood swings

Why-wait-go–for- hysterectomy.

Her-tear-ectomy, snip, snip, snip.

Bye bye utero,

Welcome extra weight

Induced Menopause.

Life is but a gaseous void.