Monday, 17 March 2014

Sarna Mata- The eco-feminist warrior.

In the roots of east-central India, mainly in Jharkhand, resides the Oraon tribe. Known to worship Sarna Mata, whom the tribe considers as the Goddess of Earth; is believed to reside in sacred groves. The groves typically consist of a cluster of primarily Sal trees, along with a few other species. With constant degradation and degeneration of the groves, caused due to neglect on the part of the tribe to conserve them; Sarna Mata is said to have turned unhappy and dismayed.
According to belief, angered by the state of affairs, Sarna Mata possesses a woman. As the woman she possesses whirls her head in a hypnotic trance, Sarna Mata’s frustration towards the environmental situation finds an outlet. After their trances, the women feeling a sense of connect with the Goddess, are empowered to take religious and political assertions.
As time went by, these trances began to occur more often, the women devotees took upon themselves to start preserving the groves and gave rise to an eco-feminist movement in the forgotten interiors of India.
The movement is peculiar in its case as its origin is from revival of spiritual devotion to the deity. Sarna devi is a pre-sanskritic goddess and has long been understood as the female neighbour of the supreme male deity.
Earlier, women of the tribe were not allowed to enter the sacred groves. They were prohibited from participating in the ritualistic worship of the sacred groves. Breaking the taboos and forming their own rituals, today, the Sarna Mata female disciples conduct rituals in the groves every week. The rituals are held every Thursday, where women devotees enact acts of symbolism, which the women believe has instilled in them an environmental consciousness. The rural women have been successful in acquiring money from the government to build walls around the groves and have implemented rules that prohibit anyone from cutting down trees. In fact, new saplings have been planted that are blossoming under the women’s devotional care. Women have come up with ingenious solutions to carry forward their forestation program. Sal and Karam are the tree species that the women most commonly plant as they have a link with the Adivasi myths and rituals. In order to protect the saplings, the women have started planting Ipomoea hedges – a species that is toxic to grazing animals. Women in the villages have come up with several economical methods to protect the groves.
What is significant of the movement is that, groups of women who care for the groves that are in every village cluster have decided to move forward with more of such afforestation programs. Socio-economic empowerment of women seems to be the foremost objective of the movement. Organizing themselves into groups and forming self-help groups and NGOs, the women from these villages have also taken to micro-enterprises such as sale of handicrafts and other activities. One such group of Sarna Mata devotees has reportedly achieved great success with their mushroom cultivation program. The Sarna movement is also using the re-sanctifying of natural sites to reclaim the land that was once used by marginalized communities.
Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, claims that a woman has a special connection with nature.  Her daily bread, fuel, fodders and home is obtained from nature and hence she feels a stronger urge to protect it. With several rural women taking the responsibility of saving the environment, India is seeing an emergence of several tribal eco-feminist warriors.
Wednesday, 23 October 2013

New things, little things

I’ve always heard people wait to leave their teenage years behind and jump with joy as they turn 20. If you ask me, I don’t know what to feel. Yes, it’s my birthday and I’m going through the pre-board exam boredom phase, and I can hardly care about it. What can be worse than having to study the various scams that have occurred over the years? If anything, it is depressing. So no celebrations this year, it’s just me and a week of romance with exams.
As I drown myself in books, (and hopefully awesome food too) I need to give an important announcement to you guys. As a birthday gift, Ali (best web designer alive on this planet, in my opinion) has linked my blog to a Facebook page. “If you don’t have the guts to show the world your work, what’s the point?” he says. Thinking over this, I believe he is right. After all, being the designer, he gets a say.
So from now on, to comment on a post, click on the title of the post and you’ll find the comment box at the end. Your comments will directly appear on the Facebook page, keeping you and I connected constantly.
And as you all know (and those of you don’t) I want to be a food journalist. There is a new tab for all my food-related articles. Give me a little time setting up and it will all be up there.

Till the next, and do like the page. 
Sunday, 6 October 2013

The First

Everybody has a time when they feel that they are at their lowest. Unfortunately, to me, it happens every other day. Having classmates who are smarter isn’t easy. And at times no matter how hard you try, you will always find them a step ahead of you. To make matters worse, the silly girl that I am, I have made writing as a career choice where I will always have someone who will never appreciate my work. Writing is subjective, they say; you will always have a few who love your work and a few who don’t. It doesn’t matter how much I tell myself to only concentrate on the ones who love my work without completely ignoring the ones who don’t appreciate it; it is difficult to be happy about the applause and back-patting.
Despite having friends (few are writers themselves) who constantly motivate me and give an honest opinion, I find myself turning deaf when they appreciate my work. I struggle to motivate myself and often question my choice to take up journalism. But in the end, I am left with only one thing – the happiness of the first write-up being published. I always had some love for writing. I grew up writing about my day every night in my diary; it was something my mother inculcated in my sister and me. In school too, my essays and other related submissions were always appreciated. I would write for myself numerous times and sometimes, to just get things out of my system. Coming from a family where my opinion or my stories are never heard, I found a sort of solace in penning down everything I felt and then erased it so that no one at home would know my thoughts. I had never considered journalism as a career; I was always considering studying law.
In a few ways, my life is as dramatic as Hindi cinema. I too have that one day in my life that changed everything. The Mumbai 26/11 attack changed everyone’s life in Mumbai in some small way. During that period, Mid-day ran a column ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ so that people could vent out their emotions about the attack. Angered at the problems my city was facing, I too sent a long write-up about how the blame-game should stop and that the main concern was to tackle terrorism. From the time I sent it, I would check the paper everyday, hoping the write-up would appear in at least the ‘my view’ section. I waited and after three days lost hope. I went back to concentrating only on my studies (I was in standard 10, then) and forgot all about the article. My father would come home from work with a copy of Mid-day every night, and my mother would read it later as a habit. When the paper arrived at night, on December 9th, 2008, I casually picked it up for a glance.
My hands froze, my eyes flared in shock. I let out a loud scream. The next 5 minutes were spent in jumping in one spot with the paper in my hand and everyone at home questioning my excitement. My mother took no time in guessing and ran to check if it was true. My piece had finally been published (after a lot of editing, of course) in the ‘my view’ section. The perfect way to put it would be using the cliché ‘my joy knew no bounds.’ I didn’t know what to do, so I simply sat there and cried in happiness. I jumped around the house showing off. I was on a different kind of high, a positive one.
Agreed it wasn’t an article that I had researched and written and it was more like a ‘letters to the editor’ piece. Some of you may find my excitement silly, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was happy. Maybe because that was the first time someone had listened to what I wanted to say or because I was thrilled to see my name in print. Regardless of how small that achievement may be to anyone else, for me it was something so beautiful that I decided, this is what my calling was. I knew it then, like I know now, that I want to write – for myself and professionally. I feel intimidated by my colleagues at times, and I may not be great with words or have a brilliant vocabulary; but no one can change the truth that writing makes me happy.
My doubts about taking up journalism were cleared (although on some occasions, smart classmates leave me in doubt again) when I would sit in the office of a magazine as an intern, dumbly smiling away (I was doing what I love) despite the stack of pages I had to proofread with the added pressure of preparing a questionnaire for an interview I had to take the next day. But more on that later.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mirror Men!

Have you ever visited a beauty store and found shelves and shelves of products for men? Or simply noticed your brother or a close friend not leave the house without a glance in the mirror? Yes, it’s raining mirror men!
Vanity and grooming are considered to be stereotypical to homosexuals, but why is it beautifying oneself thought of as feminine or gay? While Indian men still struggle to find peace with the concept of metro sexuality, their foreign counterparts are way ahead.
Father, son, husband of a Spice Girl, fashion icon, role model, sporting ambassador. It is sometimes easy to forget that David Beckham was ever a midfielder of the highest caliber with more than 100 appearances for England. He has worn a head scarf, nail varnish, adorned his body with tattoos and changed his expertly styled hair-do every other week. He speaks sparingly and when he does, it is a slightly high-pitched effeminate whine. And as far as anyone can tell, his female partner seems to make all the important decisions. And yet his masculinity was never in doubt.
Masculinity has been established in a bizarre way. The man has to be strong, needs to have a beard or a mustache, have chest hair, shouldn’t have groomed nails and so on. But it’s time to stop defining masculinity by such dated ideas. Would you prefer a man who is clean shaven and has waxed his body hair in an advertisement or a hairy man with a big belly and a beard?
In a conformist country as ours, our men shy away from wanting to look more appealing. Despite, urban youth being open to stepping into metro sexuality, the concept still doesn’t appeal a major chunk of the heterosexuals. A traditional hetero sexual will however consider any man who is in touch with his feminine side, gay.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

With a Pinch of Desi Tadka

Imagine a traditional French recipe cooked with spices used in an Indian curry or a Mexican taco stuffed with tandoori chicken instead of its authentic beans. Sounds interesting?
Chicken Tandoori Taco
Fusion cuisine is not just experimental but fun as well and gives you an opportunity to experience different flavours on the same plate. A different kind of cuisine in itself, it blends the culinary traditions of two or more nations to create innovative dishes. The roots of fusion food are drawn back to ages as humans have been exchanging culinary heritage for centuries, but the concept popularized in the 1970s. French chefs began blending a lot of traditional French recipes with the Asian cuisine, mostly Vietnamese and Chinese. The concept quickly spread across Europe and to the American coast as well. Good fusion cuisine combines ingredients and cooking techniques from several cultures in a way which pulls together well, creating a seamless and fresh dish. Confusion cuisine, on the other hand, throws ingredients together like confetti, and sometimes causes an inevitable clash.
Talking about India, our country is known to have accepted various cultures and made them her own, the Indian cuisine does the same. It has absorbed and assimilated a number of influences and has still managed to maintain its own unique flavour.
In a rapidly shrinking world, fusion is inevitable. Urban India is gleefully infusing Italian pastas, pizzas, cheesecakes and Mexican enchiladas with the familiarity of a desi tadka. Gujaratis have been tossing around the definitive, pure vegetarian Jain pizzas, Jain pastas, tacos and enchiladas for decades. Chowmein stuffed samosas are a huge hit across Punjab and Ahmedabad. Thrilled with the new mood, top chefs are now coming with never seen before sights like Gulkand Cheesecake, Khubani ka Crème Brule and much more. Delicious Chinese flavours have been adapted to suit the Indian palate. And all of us eat and enjoy it almost on a daily basis. The Chinese bhel, Chinese dosa, Szechuan idli are all examples of the Indo-Chinese cuisine. As a matter of fact, Chinese restaurants across India use more spices to match up to the Indian taste than the authentic Chinese cuisine which is known to be bland.
The gastronomic mix that first started in the French cuisine is now the future of India. The desi palate has for long had the advantage of multiple cuisines, local as well as those brought in by various invaders and traders. Fusing food began long ago and is now taking the form of a culinary genre of its own in India.

Dabeli is a hugely popular street fare rumoured to have been 'invented' in the Kutchi port city of Mandvi in 1960. Dabeli, meaning 'pressed', is a Kutchi burger in Mandvi, a bun-tikki in Amritsar, Ludhiana and Jalandhar, and simply a desi burger everywhere else. It has for long, been the staple food for students. A spicy potato cutlet sandwiched in a bun and pepped up with tamarind, jaggery and mint chutney with anaardana and peanuts.

Chinese Bhel & Szechuan Vada Pav: Classic Maharashtrian bhel puri using chop suey instead of puffed rice. Szechuan sauce and melted mozzarella on grilled vada-pav. It is certainly not fine dining but costs under Rs.50 and is very popular

Friday, 28 June 2013

Definitely Dubai

The Gulf’s most bustling city has a piece for everyone, especially tourists. Take a walk around JBR or hop into a car and enjoy a rollercoaster like experience in the sand dunes or walk through Bastakia Quarter for knowledge of traditional Dubai as opposed to the sky-high buildings and buy Gold at the Gold Souk or ski at Mall of the Emirates or simply shop till you drop. There is so much to do in Dubai. I give you a list of top 10 things to do.
1. Burj Khalifa
The planet’s tallest building is impossible to miss. Soaring above the city like a giant, it looks like a spaceship ready to take off. It truly is a wonder of modern technology and design. You could view the whole city in from the viewing deck at the 134th floor. Day or night, the view remains picturesque.
Tip: Book tickets a few days in advance, online. Visit in the evening and get a glimpse of the beautifully lit Dubai Mall fountain show, from atop.
2. Dubai Mall
Dubai is popular for its malls. This mall isn't simply huge but offers you so much more that you will find shopping and the food area, side attractions. With a 22-screen cinema; an indoor theme pa

rk, called Sega World; a world for children, called Kidzania; a giant Aquarium with an underwater zoo; and a full-sized ice rink you, will want for little. Just be sure to be wearing comfortable shoes. The icing on the cake is the Dubai Fountain, which has shows every evening starting at 6 p.m. that easily rival the Bellagio in Las Vegas has to offer.
3. Skiing at Mall of the Emirates.
Telling your friends that you went skiing in a desert is quite a boast. The skiing experience at Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates is quite real. With the longest run at around 1,300 feet, Ski Dubai gives you a genuine skiing experience. You can rent skiing gear and enjoy, don’t worry if you can’t ski, simply play in the snow park and squeal in joy.
4. Desert Safari.
A visit to the desert isn’t as peaceful as you would think. The desert safari tours are extremely popular. Get ready for a rollercoaster ride up and down the sand dunes in a jeep, touristy BBQs, belly dancing performances and henna painting services and lots of other tourists- the desert safari is the place to be.
5. Traditional Dubai
While chunks of the city have been demolished to make way for the future, one neighbourhood still remains the quiet fishing village that it once was. The Bastakia Quarter, which squeezes itself between the Dubai creek and the buzzing Bur Dubai district, is a mini maze of wind-towered buildings, most of which have been converted into art galleries and cafés. Weave through the textile souk- where you’ll find magnificent blots of fabric- and on to the Creek where you can either join the commuters for a AED 1 (Rs 12) Abra (water taxi) ride across the water or hire your own boat for a scenic tour of the waterway. Back in port, head to the small but interesting Dubai Museum to see how oil and ambition mixed to make this modern oasis.
6. The Walk- Jumeirah Beach Residence.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is a 1.7 kilometer strip at the ground and plaza level of the Jumeirah Beach Residence complex. It covers a wide range of world renowned brands strewn across the stretch, including restaurants, clothing stores, boutiques, department stores, cafes and gyms. It is the perfect place to treat your eyes to various luxurious automobiles- Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Jaguars, Harley Davidsons-which are driven by the Arabs who are the original residents of Dubai. The Walk is one of Dubai’s outdoor and tourist attractions, with activities such as street painting, recycled art displays, comedy shows, sand sculptures, photography displays, and booths selling fashion accessories and crafts.
7. The Beach
You will definitely want to see the shore while you are in town. Try the Al Mamazar beach, a public beach near the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah, which means it is frustratingly inaccessible on working days. You could enjoy family BBQ’s on the beach during summer months.
8. Gold Souk
Dubai is known for really cheap gold. But you’ll have to quibble for it. Even if you do not wish buy any gold, a walk through the gold souk is a must. Your purchases will be guaranteed genuine as the Government keeps a tight control over the quality of merchandise sold. The shops also offer platinum, diamonds and occasionally silver. If something in the window catches your eye, be sure to barter.
9. Burj Al Arab
The only seven star hotel in the world, cannot escape the must see list. Agreed that there is no such thing as a seven-star rating; the world’s tallest hotel dominates Dubai’s skyline and the tourists imagination too. With dancing fountains in the foyer, the only way to get inside without paying for a room is to book a table at one of its costly eateries. Al Mutanha is on the top floor, with bafflingly bright interiors that prevent you from seeing the views outside. Al Mahara is a fish restaurant with an aquarium larger than most people’s homes. If you cannot afford to enter the hotel, admire its exteriors which are quite frankly more beautiful.
10. Food for the soul.
If nothing excites you, go to Dubai for the food. Give your taste buds a different experience than the regular Indian palate and try Arabic food. Eat everything from Shawarmas, Fattayehs, Faloodas (different from what we get in India), Falafels, Fatoosh, Tabbouleh, Shish Tawouk, Labbneh, Hummous-eaten with Khaboos, Arayes Kafta, Samke Hara and much more.
Tip: Try the Shawarmas that are available in small roadside eateries rather than in restaurants. Try Zatar (an Arabic herb)

Before you start booking your tickets, remember Dubai is an Islamic state and their laws need to be respected. Alcohol is freely available in a number of restaurants, however that doesn’t permit you to walk completely drunk on the streets freely. 
Sunday, 16 June 2013

The salwaar-kameez girls

She must be homely, simple, may not be talking to men-are all common judgments we make only because a girl prefers to adorn a salwaar-kameez instead of a pair jeans and a t-shirt, don’t we?
Walking by in a salwaar-kameez is all that it takes to call her a ‘behenji’. Although the true meaning of the word is ‘sister’ and the ‘ji’ suffix is used as a mark of respect; its derogatory meaning is what has become more popular over the years. A salwaar-kameez clad, non-party goer who follows the values of no drinking or smoking sincerely is what a behenji is these days. And haven't we all once awhile judged someone and titled them a ‘behenji’? 
Stereotyping obviously affects the victim of the stereotype in ways known to everyone. But, do we ever realize that by ridiculing traditional outfits, we are in a way laughing at our own culture? Since eons, Indian women have dressed in everything from sarees to salwaar-kameez, to ghagras and the works; it is only thanks to globalization that western outfits are the ‘it’ thing. 
Stereotyping is leading young women to shy away from wearing Indian garments and soon, our culture would’ve been forgotten by the generations to come.
Walk into any college and you will find that girls in traditional clothes are alienated and not allowed to hang out with those who call themselves “modern”. Peer-pressure takes a toll if one amongst the group is a ‘behenji’ and the ‘we are grown-ups’ phrase is conveniently forgotten when it comes to bullying.
It is often said, ‘what you wear is a reflection of what you are’. The statement is confusing in many ways. 
One, who decides what kind of clothes portray a particular characteristic of a person? 
Two, isn’t ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ a far more true saying than the one above? 
For many, fashion is what they feel comfortable in, it is an individual choice and in that regard clothes are something one can associate oneself with. Drawing assumptions and ridiculing someone over what they wear, is extremely immature.
The 'salwaar-kameez girls' are also often assumed to be shy and slow. People often misjudge them as not tech-savvy and unknown to contemporary fashion, art, lifestyle et al.
People often also assume that a girl in an Indian getup will hold age-old traditional values of being homely, shy and not talk to men, help around at home, not party or hang out with friends and so on. However, people forget that clothes do not define behaviour or a person’s likes and dislikes. A “fashionable” young woman could also be an introvert.
 So why do girls who can opt to wear a pair of pants, skirts or dresses prefer to remain traditional? The reasons are many ----- Fashion is a subjective concept, it isn't necessary that everyone is able to associate themselves with western outfits; denims honestly are uncomfortable during the hot Indian summer and shorts, dress or a skirt are no match to a light-coloured cotton salwaar-kameez that one can simply slip into; or maybe they are too grounded to their Indian roots and are proud to dress traditionally. Regardless of the reason, the concept of judging someone only because of their clothes is very immature.

And while you are at it, I'll also request you to analyze your wardrobe. You may have some hidden skeletons too.