Be it a chocolate ice-cream scoop, a sinful piece of a chocolate bar or a gooey chocolate brownie, there’s a certain guilty pleasure when it comes to chocolates.We eat them when we are happy. We eat them when we are sad. We eat them when we have a break up or a make up. We eat them to celebrate special occasions or when we just need a break.
I can shamelessly confess I’m a chocoholic. I’ve had a serious chocolate eating habit all my life and keep binging on dark, bittersweet chocolates – the darker the better. In college, I always had a couple of small bars in my jhola. I can never resist a chocolate dessert, and sometimes I use the ‘punch’ that chocolate gives me, to work late at night or do some boring edits on a sultry afternoon.
Good news is, now researchers suggest that chocolate is good for health in many ways like it keeps you de-stressed, slim and healthy [really??] Of course, there’s a darker side of chocolates – the slavery on cocoa plantations and weight gain issues owing to over indulgence. [but will talk about that some other time] But, as British comedian Jo Brand says: “Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.” Calling all chocoholics to celebrate World Chocolate Day. Forget all worries and let’s get drunk on chocolates. #WorldChocolateDay
Read more: A Chocolate Lover’s Dream Come True
Happy to inform you that my debut novel “Road To Cherry Hills” has been well appreciated at the recently held London Book Fair and Warsaw Book Fair, apart from the national [Indian] book fairs this year. It is getting good reviews on Amazon and Flipkart as well.
Thanks a lot for all the support and love. I hope to write more, learn from my critics and continue to write even better. Apart from some interesting reviews and interview by blog reviewers, I have been recently interviewed by News Now.
The other day, a little sparrow, accidentally slipped into our apartment room. The pale brown feathered creature looked around and quickly found a hiding place behind my father’s bookshelf. Though the sparrow was convinced that none of us were watching, it could not escape my 10-year old’s roving eyes, as he screamed in joy, “Mamma, look there’s a sparrow hiding. We have a new pet now.”
I immediately bent down to check if the sparrow was doing fine in that cozy corner. It was confused no doubt, but not uncomfortable, i gauged. And needless to say, it wanted some peace of mind. I switched off the fan immediately and asked my son to leave the sparrow alone. After all, we all need some ‘me time’.
I remembered my childhood. We have always had birds in and around our home. We grew up seeing sparrows perched on sidewalks, in alleys, in front of restaurants, in our own garden and balcony.
Watching them jolting and flying or listening to their melodious songs and chatters, it’s all very enjoyable and relaxing. And knowing that they eat grains and worms was a bonus. We attracted sparrows, mynahs and doves [and occasionally crows] to our yard by supplying food and water for drinking and bathing and by cultivating plants that give them a place to hide and nest.
Sparrows were one of the first living creatures that wished a good morning whenever I woke up early. They would come on to the roof of our house every morning to drink fresh and pure water that overflowed from the tank. It was always a beautiful sight watching them sing, dance and play as the golden morning sun reflected and refracted in the water on the floor.
And whenever, as a child, I went to feed them with grains and if possible catch one of them, they would flee leaving me with an elusive aim of catching a sparrow at least once in a lifetime.
Sadly, house sparrows have become a rare sight in my city and most Indian cities today. These chirpy, small birds seem to have vanished from our lives. Environmentalists have given enough reasons why sparrows are disappearing from our cities. From lack of nesting sites in modern concrete buildings, to vanishing kitchen gardens and disappearance of lake and other water bodies, depriving them of shelter, food and water – the three basic things to survive – our sparrows are clearly in trouble.
Also the strong electro-magnetic radiations released from the networks of mobile phone towers interfere in the navigation system and the nervous system of birds, causing sparrows and other birds and insects to cause premature death.
As a childhood practice, I managed to somehow pick up the sparrow in hiding and in a jiffy, put it in a plastic basket where we keep fresh vegetables and turned the basket upside down, keeping a wooden plate below. The ‘cage like home’ that was constructed, was big enough for the bird to flap its wings and twirl inside. We allowed it to rest for some time. Then i gave the little one some cooked rice in a small bowl and water in another tiny bowl. I wasn’t sure though what i was doing was right. After an hour or so, it started eating the rice [thinking no one was watching it], and to our surprise, it not only finished the entire rice and water, but also pooped and took a short siesta. By now it got a nice name, from my son. He started calling it ‘Pal’.
By early evening, it started getting restless, giving us the signal that it’s ready to leave and that we must set it free. While my son felt a bit sad thinking that it will never come back to us, i explained to him, birds are free spirits and we must learn to let it go. Our small balcony garden was the best place to set it free. Initially, it was a bit jittery, but soon after it fluttered its wings and flew all over. I believe, this sparrow stays with its entire family just beside our apartment in a patio like structure. It was a great feeling to give the sparrow the freedom it deserved after a lovely fleeting time it spent with us.
Within minutes, it flew up to us, made a brief appearance sitting on the balcony railing, chirping happily and again disappeared. That must be a delightful ‘thank you for the lunch and short stay’. Thereafter the sparrow keeps chirping and jolting in and around our home every morning. It brings friends, family with it and lots of joy to us, especially to my son Kush, whose face lights up every time he sees his ‘Pal’.
I’ve always tried my best to bring up my son amidst nature, which wasn’t possible every time by the ‘virtue’ of living in a big city. The sparrow adventure that day taught us the lesson that all is not lost and we can do our bit to save sparrows from extinction.
For instance, we can cultivate the habit of loving birds and animals, by giving them little food, and keeping some water on the terrace or outside your house for them to drink. And we are doing exactly that. We have also set up a water bath to let sparrows and other birds to drink and bathe.
Something very interesting has happened in the last few weeks. We have started to wake up to the chirping of the house sparrows every morning. Sparrows fly down in the early morning hours and feed on the food and water left out for them by us. They eat cooked rice, millet and chapattis.
Declaring March 20 as World Sparrow Day was indeed a step towards saving these tiny, agile creatures. But beyond declaration, the need of the hour is to conserve sparrows as well as the urban biodiversity and create awareness on the same.
Sparrows [or any living creature for that matter] have a right to live in this planet as much as we humans do. So, before your child asks you with the question, ‘What is a sparrow?’, let’s do our bit, save sparrows, protect sparrows, or else some day in the future they will become extinct like dinosaurs.
With most of our blue planet covered by water, it’s little wonder that, centuries ago, the oceans were believed to hide mysterious creatures including sea serpents and mermaids. Merfolk (mermaids and mermen) are, of course, the marine version of half-human, half-animal legends that have captured human imagination for ages. One source, the “Arabian Nights,” described mermaids as having “moon faces and hair like a woman’s but their hands and feet were in their bellies and they had tails like fishes.”
C.J.S. Thompson, a former curator at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, notes in his book “The Mystery and Lore of Monsters” that “Traditions concerning creatures half-human and half-fish in form have existed for thousands of years, and the Babylonian deity Era or Oannes, the Fish-god … is usually depicted as having a bearded head with a crown and a body like a man, but from the waist downwards he has the shape of a fish.” Greek mythology contains stories of the god Triton, the merman messenger of the sea, and several modern religions including Hinduism and Candomble (an Afro-Brazilian belief) worship mermaid goddesses to this day.
Many children are perhaps most familiar with the Disney version of “The Little Mermaid,” a somewhat sanitized version of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale first published in 1837. In some legends from Scotland and Wales mermaids befriended — and even married — humans. Meri Lao, in her book “Seduction and the Secret Power of Women,” notes that “In the Shetland Islands, mermaids are stunningly beautiful women who live under the sea; their hybrid appearance is temporary, the effect being achieved by donning the skin of a fish. They must be very careful not to lose this while wandering about on land, because without it they would be unable to return to their underwater realm.”
In folklore, mermaids were often associated with misfortune and death, luring errant sailors off course and even onto rocky shoals (the terrifying mermaids in the 2011 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” are closer to the legendary creatures than is Disney’s Ariel).
Though not as well known as their comely female counterparts, there are of course mermen — and they have an equally fierce reputation for summoning storms, sinking ships and drowning sailors. One especially feared group, the Blue Men of the Minch, are said to dwell in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. They look like ordinary men (from the waist up anyway) with the exception of their blue-tinted skin and gray beards. Local lore claims that before laying siege to a ship, the Blue Men often challenge its captain to a rhyming contest; if the captain is quick enough of wit and agile enough of tongue he can best the Blue Men and save his sailors from a watery grave.
Japanese legends have a version of merfolk called kappa. Said to reside in Japanese lakes, coasts and rivers, these child-size water spirits appear more animal than human, with simian faces and tortoise shells on their backs. Like the Blue Men, the kappa sometimes interact with humans and challenge them to games of skill in which the penalty for losing is death. Kappa are said to have an appetite for children and those foolish enough to swim alone in remote places — but they especially prize fresh cucumbers.
The reality of mermaids was assumed during medieval times, when they were depicted matter-of-factly alongside known aquatic animals such as whales. Hundreds of years ago sailors and residents in coastal towns around the world told of encountering the sea maidens. One story dating back to the 1600s claimed that a mermaid had entered Holland through a dike, and was injured in the process. She was taken to a nearby lake and soon nursed back to health. She eventually became a productive citizen, learning to speak Dutch, perform household chores, and eventually converted to Catholicism.
Another mermaid encounter once offered as a true story is described in Edward Snow’s “Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea.” A sea captain off the coast of Newfoundland described his 1614 encounter: “Captain John Smith [of Jamestown fame] saw a mermaid ‘swimming about with all possible grace.’ He pictured her as having large eyes, a finely shaped nose that was ‘somewhat short, and well-formed ears’ that were rather too long. Smith goes on to say that ‘her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive.'” In fact Smith was so taken with this lovely woman that he began “to experience the first effects of love” as he gazed at her before his sudden (and surely profoundly disappointing) realization that she was a fish from the waist down. Surrealist painter Rene Magritte depicted a sort of reverse mermaid in his 1949 painting “The Collective Invention.”
By the 1800s, hoaxers churned out faked mermaids by the dozen to satisfy the public’s interest in the creatures. The great showman P.T. Barnum displayed the “Feejee Mermaid” in the 1840s and it became one of his most popular attractions. Those paying 50 cents hoping to see a long-limbed, fish-tailed beauty comb her hair were surely disappointed; instead they saw a grotesque fake corpse a few feet long. It had the torso, head and limbs of a monkey and the bottom part of a fish. To modern eyes it was an obvious fake, but it fooled and intrigued many at the time.
Could there be a scientific basis for the mermaid stories? Some researchers believe that sightings of human-size ocean animals such as manatees and dugongs might have inspired merfolk legends. These animals have a flat, mermaid-like tail and two flippers that resemble stubby arms. They don’t look exactly like a typical mermaid or merman, of course, but many sightings were from quite a distance away, and being mostly submerged in water and waves only parts of their bodies were visible. Identifying animals in water is inherently problematic, since eyewitnesses by definition are only seeing a small part of the creature. When you add in the factor of low light at sunset and the distances involved, positively identifying even a known creature can be very difficult. A glimpse of a head, arm, or tail just before it dives under the waves might have spawned some mermaid reports.
Modern mermaid reports are very rare, but they do occur; for example, news reports in 2009 claimed that a mermaid had seen sighted off the coast of Israel in the town of town of Kiryat Yam. It (or she) performed a few tricks for onlookers before just before sunset, then disappearing for the night. One of the first people to see the mermaid, Shlomo Cohen, said, “I was with friends when suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way. At first I thought she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared. We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail.” The town’s tourism board was delighted with their newfound fame and offered a $1 million reward for the first person to photograph the creature. Unfortunately the reports vanished almost as quickly as they surfaced, and no one ever claimed the reward.
In 2012 an Animal Planet special, “Mermaids: The Body Found,” renewed interest in mermaids. It presented the story of scientists finding proof of real mermaids in the oceans. It was fiction but presented in a fake-documentary format that seemed realistic. The show was so convincing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received enough inquiries following the TV special that they issued a statement officially denying the existence of mermaids.
A temple in Fukuoka, Japan, is said to house the remains of a mermaid that washed ashore in 1222. Its bones were preserved at the behest of a priest who believed the creature had come from the legendary palace of a dragon god at the bottom of the ocean. For nearly 800 years the bones have been displayed, and water used to soak the bones was said to prevent diseases. Only a few of the bones remain, and since they have not been scientifically tested, their true nature remains unknown.
Mermaids may be ancient, but they are still with us in many forms; their images can be found all around us in films, books, Disney movies, at Starbucks — and maybe even in the ocean waves if we look close enough.
She has a bit of a thing about leaves. She uses leafy themes and shades of mocha to decorate around the house.
Rake up the leaves and jump right in! An Autumn girl needs the fresh, crisp air and the sound of dry leaves crunching under her toes.
An Autumn girl bakes. Take her to the farmer’s market. Fill her basket with harvest fruits and fresh, brown eggs.
Kindle nightly fires to cuddle up beside. If she is restless, take her outside, even in the rain. Tell her – her eyes are like topaz.
Every Autumn girl embraces her dark side. At times she will be as mysterious as the fog rolling silently through a cemetery. She smiles at the spooky. Explore a haunted house, shudder through a ghost tour. Let her clutch your hand and drag you into a corn maze. I bet you’ll have fun.
The Autumn girl is a cheerleader and a homecoming queen. She has team spirit and never misses the playoffs. Some cold, Friday night take her to a high school football game. She appreciates nostalgia too. Warm up with hot chocolate at a roadside diner.
Gift her with small, carved, wooden, antique jewelry box for her to store her jewelry or a set of designer luggage to hold her clothes for a vacation trip. Buy her new scarves and soft cashmere cardigans.
Be glad and be ready, for an Autumn girl is adventurous. Hike a rocky forest path. Canoe on a mirror-still lake, take the paddles and let her lie down for a long rest so that she may look up at the fire colored trees against the bluest sky.
Gratitude is her greatest virtue. Above all, an Autumn girl gives thanks. She knows her worth and will show you the meaning of true abundance because life to an Autumn girl is a cornucopia spilling over with fun, beauty, adventure and delight.
“It is to books that I owe everything that is good in me. Even as I grow older, I realize that art is more generous than people are…” – Maxim Gorky
This morning, my father pulled out an old black and grey dusty old suitcase with a golden handle from under his bed and declared that henceforth I keep ‘my property’ in my own room.
‘What’s in the suitcase?’ I asked him donning a strange expression, and as I rushed to open it [to my surprise], the smell of my childhood consumed me. It was full of old books of my growing up days, books from Soviet publishers and writers, books that were left unattended for years.
I couldn’t resist the temptation to go through each of those books – I grew up with – figuratively speaking; those that have always given me a feeling of warmth and magic.
Those days, while I was already getting familiar with names like CS Lewis, Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens, E B White, Rudyard Kipling, Louis May Alcott, and not to forget Enid Blyton, my parents also bought me a stack of books from Russian publishers and authors [most of those names unfamiliar to me] from book fairs which I equally cherished.
Those rusty, illustrated books from the Soviet, translated in English and regional languages were stories about real children and their tryst with life.
My mother often read those stories to me at bedtime. The lovely sketches and covers with simple and realistic plots, intertwined with magic, folklore, and a healthy dose of humor enchanted me.
In them, a mischievous eight-year-old boy finds all sorts of trouble. In another a small boy’s transforms from an underachiever into an A student.
I vividly remember a book where the protagonist Elena, a poor girl with little hope of living, meets a magic cat and that changes her life trajectory forever.
I remember a hardback pocket book on astronomy called Space Adventures in your Home by F. Rabiza fueled astronomer ambitions early in my childhood, until my math and physics classes in high school made it clear this was an unrealistic life choice.
The bulk of my mini book shelf was made up of books published by Raduga, Malysh, Progress Publishers, Pravda and some lesser known others—and those were an essential part of the growing-up years. Tolstoys, Pushkins, and Dostoyevskys naturally came to my life in the course of the journey.
It has been nearly three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union and those Soviet era books are a lost world now. Potter maniacs may give me a glance of scornful indignation, but for a generation that grew up in the ‘80s [and earlier], these glossy books, with their touching stories and fascinating illustrations [translated in English or regional versions], served as a sort of strange connection between distant lands and still fire the imagination.
Strangely, the world depicted in the Russian stories was so unique, far removed from the neighborhoods of Indian cities or towns, different in weather, names, food, and facades, yet, those exotic books belonged to a world its readers felt able to touch, to sense and know well and today it remains a part of my most cherished memories.
The other day, as I stepped out on the balcony to sip my morning tea, and just started to enjoy the bright orange flowers on the roadside, blooming against the brilliant blue summer sky, a sudden unintelligible shout disturbed my peace. To my horror, I looked down to see four agitated men running through the streets, some intentionally causing damage to the parked cars, while others caught hold of a young man probably in his early twenties, punching him so hard that he fell on the ground. He tried to get up but others were in no mood to stop.
It was a pretty horrendous thing to even stand there, watching the young man getting beaten up brutally. After a few seconds of shock, I shouted, “Hey Stop it…What’s happening there?” from the balcony. Not sure if the men even bothered to listen to what I said, but a police van landed in no time to put an end to all the confusion.
By then, morning walkers, security guards of other apartment and several other onlookers started jamming up, offering them their ‘invaluable’ comments and opinion, and some even looked busy capturing those moments of chaos on their mobile phones. It was a matter of only a few minutes and police happened to make a strange yet welcome interruption here…. But those undesirable few minutes were enough to disturb your inner peace. To say the least, it was pretty disgusting.
No wonder, we live in an age of outrage – where anger, resentment and fear rule over its combatants love, friendship and respect. I must admit to having being caught up in the outrage machine myself.
It’s kind of fancy to flag off angry tweets, write fiery Facebook updates, post snarky comments, and so on. It shows our outrage about our neighbors, state of the world, about people who are in some way or the other ‘different’ from ours. There’s so much of resentment that things aren’t working out exactly as we would like them to; and fear of what the future holds. As a consequence our daily lives are eked out amid a litany of complaints.
End of the day, you sit and wonder, what purpose does that serve? Not only are we eaten up with negativity about the rest of the world, we also end up being angry, depressed and dissatisfied about our own lives.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I am tired of living like this. So, in an effort to look past all that is awful and actively search for the good, I am now keeping what I call a ‘piggy bank of happiness’ and it is just working wonders. So I decided to share this thought with you.
We have a small piggybank where, instead of putting money, we put our happy thoughts. We started writing down our happy thoughts and insert them through the small open slot. We then come together once a week to read them and share a happy moment with the family.
This Saturday, as I opened my weekly piggy bank, I found so many wonderful thoughts in it: a phone call from my friend who lives abroad. We chat, we laugh, we catch up on our lives, we make plans to see each other soon. Old friends. Something to be truly grateful for.
Another thought in the piggy bank – as I was clearing out my cupboard last week, I stumble upon an envelope of old pictures: my childhood pictures with the entire family framed in it, lovely time at a riverside with my parents, zoo time with my aunt and cousin – lovely moments captured, laughing our heads off at some long-forgotten joke. And a priceless photo of myself with my college friends, the zesty, carefree souls, with not a care in the world. You really can’t put a price on that.
Here’s one more… Sunday mornings are the day to experiment with breakfast options. This time, I tried Bread masala, a snack I first had during my university days in Manipal [near Mangalore, India]. It was sold at food carts catering hundreds of students like us, who often stay awake in the pretext of late night studying. I put together the ingredients from memory, try and get the exact degree of crispness and sauce. And guess what? It’s absolutely perfect. The taste of my university in every delicious mouthful. My son just loved it crazy.
There are so many more -a moment from my karate class, Kush’s first word, a fun event in the family…. oodles of fun and laughter with friends at the school reunion.
At the end of the day, I have come to believe, it is in these tiny moments of joy that true happiness lies. And I am so grateful for each such moment in my life that I have decided to document it. In the little piggy bank of happiness, I can dip into whenever I am feeling sad and depressed and thank our stars for so many happy times gone by and pray for many more that’s yet to come.
I may not revolutionize the society, but through my blog, I can at least spread the word. So, all I can say is take a moment out to count your blessings; you will feel much happier for it. And just like charity, happiness can also begin at home, if we make an effort to be happy.