09 June, 2016

Be a lighthouse - Stop rape culture !!


(Image courtesy : spitfiregals.wordpress.com via Google)

There is outrage again – and rightly so.  With the Stanford Rape Case out in the open, the focus, the spotlight has once again landed on the problem that is endemic, worldwide, one which is undoubtedly rampant.   Misogyny reigned supreme yet again as Brock Turner (charged with rape and sexual assault) was let off with a minor sentence. 

There are protests, there are petitions on for removing Aaron Persky from the bench.  I signed a petition myself because I do personally believe that misogynistic people like Persky have no place in the legal framework, let alone on the bench.  How can women even hope for justice to prevail with such people around ?  He was in an official position to make a statement by endorsing accountability and doing his part in stubbing misogyny.  He did exactly the opposite.

I read a letter by the rape survivor – one she read out in court.  It was horrifying, it made me sick to the stomach and mad as hell.  Yet, despite all the lady in question went through, it was she that was being questioned, it was her life that was being dissected at will by Turner’s legal representatives, it was her word that was being questioned – all the while with the perpetrator in plain view in the courtroom. 

In fact, Turner’s father is said to have gone way ahead of himself and described the rape as his son’s ’20 minutes of action’.  With that kind of attitude in his head, it is small wonder that his son thinks raping women is a done thing, is perfectly ok and that it is his god given birthright (perhaps).  These people belong to a band that considers themselves unaccountable for anything and everything they do. These people belong to a band of people that consider it their birthright to get what they want, when they want – a shameful faction of the human populace who believe they are unaccountable for their actions, who bring up their children with the idea that they too are totally unaccountable for their actions and then there are friends and neighbours who contribute to such rotten standards.  Then you have judges like Persky who let these criminals off lightly, thus granting their own passive approval to the crime committed.   I’ve often heard people say that it takes a village to raise a child.  In this case, Brock Allen Turner is a rotten apple in the basket which has been tended to, catered to, raised and now supported by a whole village that has putrid standards.
Just because he is a swimming star at Stanford does not give him the right to rape, it does not give the judge or people to justify what he did.  What  he did was wrong.  Period.  He should pay with his freedom, commensurate to what he did.  Period.

I go back to what I’d said quite some time back.  If parents don’t fulfil their responsibilities and duties in educating their children, what hope do we have for the future ? 

The one undisputable fact parents all over the world need to attempt to bear in mind is the fact that children are the future.  So, if there is no endeavor on the part of parents, to educate the future generations about issues like sexual abuse, rape, being sensitive towards the needs and feelings of others, understanding that a NO means a NO and that a NO does not mean a MAYBE or a YES, what foundations do we hope to build ?  If this does not start at the family level, how can we even begin to hope for a safer, more secure world for the future generations to grow up in ?

Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that is evolving by the minute.  The pace of change affects children even more so because they, at this age, have minds that are more gullible than ours.  We are bringing up our kids in a society in which peer pressure has more of a push now than it did when we were children.  What peers say, matters.  What peers think about them, matters to them a great deal.  We are bringing up our kids in times when information is there for the taking.  Newspapers, the internet, magazines or social media websites – are all open fields, waiting for information to be sought and gleaned.

Take movies or TV serials, for instance.   There is no denying the fact that as things stand now, girls and women are still viewed as a conquest of sorts in many movies or serials.  Falling in love or being sexually active are viewed more as a victory or a triumph, a conquest, if you may, rather than something that is born out of consent, mutual affection and desire.  There are books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” where the main protagonist in the book “agrees to take” the female protagonist’s virginity without the two of them “signing an agreement”.   Makes it sound like a favor that the male protagonist is bestowing on the female.  There are scores of youngsters who have ready access to books like these or many of the movies, where male superiority and dominance over females is clearly the underlying theme.

Every single time a child picks up a newspaper or a magazine that asks “what was the women doing out so late at night ?” “Was she drunk ?” “Was she improperly clothed ?” “Did she have a lot of boyfriends ?”  “Was she already sexually active ?” – thought processes are unconsciously being implanted in those susceptible minds.  Their minds are automatically being driven towards associating these notions with the idea that if these conditions were present then it was the woman that was asking for it, that it was the woman that was to blame.  We, as adults, are comprehensive enough to realize that no woman ever asks to be sexually assaulted or raped.  No woman ever asks to be violated.  How about the younger generation ?  Who’s going to teach them to read between the lines here and get the point across that if it has happened, it is not the woman who is the instigator, as the media and people rather conveniently seem to deem and assume.

Society gives boys a lot many more concessions than it does the girls.  Things like sensitivity and empathy are not a “requirement” in a boy’s psyche, simply because they are males.  Boys need to be educated, they have to be taught about consent, they have to be taught about respecting others’ feelings and sentiments, they have to be educated about the evils of peer pressure.  They have to be taught that there are lines which are not meant to be crossed.  I do know, as my own son grows up, that this is easier said than done.  When those teen hormones are raging through them, it takes very little to drown out the parents’ voices and replace them with those of other teens who are equally testosterone driven.  But that is no excuse for not trying to educate them in the first place. 

It is a parental responsibility and one that needs to be taken just as seriously as we take their education and the many other aspects of their lives that we deem important.  Apparently, Turner’s parents thought otherwise, what with his father still going around making absolutely crass statements.  If there’s anyone out there who goes around giving some excuse for his behavior as lame as ‘boys will be boys’, I have just this to say.  Boys who learn to respect consent are boys, Brook Allen Turner just had his credentials changed – He is a rapist !!

I loved what the survivor said at the end of her letter.  While I am terribly terrible sorry for the ordeal she went through, a part of me is proud of her for having stood up in a courtroom full of people who were trying and doing their level best to malign her, in a courtroom with her rapist in it, in a courtroom with a misogynistic judge presiding – she stood and she said what she had to say.  I have just one word for her. 

Respect.

Towards the end of her letter, the survivor quotes Anne Lamott when she says
Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” 

Yes, lighthouses shine.  They guide.  They show the path towards avoiding danger.  They ‘prevent’ disasters. 

For every parent all over the world – Be the lighthouse !

We need to be a lighthouse in standing up for right and wrong, even when it involves our own kids.  More importantly, we need to be a lighthouse in guiding our kids as they grow, teaching them the value and importance of consent and more importantly, to respect a ‘NO’.  We need to be a lighthouse in teaching them that a NO means a NO and not a MAYBE or a YES.

We, as parents, have a parental responsibility in believing and carrying forward on the premise that we need to actively do our bit in raising our children to be more responsible citizens and more importantly, more caring and empathetic human beings.  We, as a collective, as parents, need to make serious changes in the manner in which we talk to and convey to our children the importance of sex, consent, empathy and respect and how they are inextricably interlinked.

Be a lighthouse.  Stop the spread of rape culture.




26 May, 2016

Why are Bollywood actresses so scared of the F-word ?



(Image sourced via Google)

Lisa Haydon is the latest of Bollywood actresses to join the bandwagon that says ‘I’m not feminist’.  Vidya Balan has said it too, so has Madhuri Dixit and many others.  Leads me to wonder why Bollywood actresses are so scared of the F-word ! 

I do accept the fact that people could have different opinions on just about any subject.  The same applies to feminism.  If women were to just say ‘I’m not feminist’, now that’s absolutely fine.  The grouch I have with public figures like Lisa Haydon is when they make statements like ‘Feminism is just an overused term and people make noise about it for no reason’ or ‘I don’t want to be a man’ and what have you.

Growing up in a patriarchal society that is India (and many other parts of the world too), girls, right from a young age are taught to conform and obey, no questions asked.  As a child, I came in for a lot of flak from the elders in the family for playing cricket with the boys.  Apparently, it was something “girls simply would not and should not do”.  I didn’t get the logic behind that statement then and I don’t get it now.  If that makes me a feminist, so be it.  And no, it does not make me a man.

Whatever anyone might say about the Indian society having changed its outlook, its mindset towards gender inequality, sad fact is that things remain pretty much the same.  Attitudes are the same, mind-sets, outlooks and approaches pretty much remain similar.

Women should not have to protest, should not have to hold up banners, should not have to walk around naked holding placards, should not have to burn bras to be heard and taken notice of.  When a woman speaks, it is as much her right to do so as it is any man’s out there and when she does speak, giving her an ear is something that needs to come naturally to the public just as they would, if it was a man speaking.  That is what feminism is about.  Feminism does not ask women to holler and for men to be muzzled.  Equality – that’s what it asks for.

Being a woman has never been easy anywhere in the world, especially so in patriarchal societies like India.  Come to think of it, a woman is pretty much doomed the day those XX chromosomes decide to hang out together.  That is essentially when the struggle begins – a struggle for life, a struggle for existence, a struggle for self-identity, a struggle to have her voice heard, a struggle to have her opinions taken seriously.  For a woman, life gets down to being a struggle to simply survive with her senses intact, for, she comes into a world, a society which is biased and inclined towards heeding the XY chromosomes over the XXs. 

Despite rampant cries for change, the cultural identity of an Indian woman is still looked upon, first and foremost, as being a wife, a mother.  The traditional female identity in India still pretty much places a woman in a very restrictive environment.  Education too, even now, is seen by society, not as much as a tool towards an independent woman but more as a means to improve their chances of finding a husband of a higher social status.
Irrespective of life in a village or a city, women are still expected to adhere to traditional expectations.  In many families, it is still considered necessary for a woman to touch her husband’s feet as a mark of respect, she is still expected to wear on herself, accessories that “mark” her as a married woman – her mangalsutra, her sindoor, her toerings.  Does society show a shift towards expecting something on similar lines from men, now that we call ourselves an advancing society?  Sadly, the answer still remains in the negative. 

Religion is still used to reinforce cultural stereotypes of feminity.  Sita is still embodied as the perfect Indian wife who sacrifices just about anything and everything at the drop of a hat to follow her husband and does what is asked of her – no questions asked.  Patriarchy demanded that Sita walk through fire because her husband heeded the words of a washerman.  Feminism would demand the same from him, given that he was alone all the time Sita was a prisoner in Lanka or it wouldn't demand it from either of them.  

Equality – that’s what feminism is about.

The media is often found saying that sexism is on the decrease now as compared to what it was a few decades back.  There are countless articles which say the lines between male dominance and female submissiveness has blurred and that there definitely is a grey area which is growing.  Well, as things stand in society today, what we see is probably not the institutionalized sexism that one used to witness a few decades back.  There are no professions from which women are barred or not allowed to practice.  What we see in today’s world is sexism in a more subtle form.  Every single time we let sexism raise its ugly head, feminism takes a beating. 

Sexism in the modern society rears its head every single time a female faces catcalls and sexist comments as she walks down a road.  It rears its head time and again when male colleagues attribute just about anything and everything about you to it being “that time of the month”.  It rears its head every single time men deem it fit to make jokes about women not being able to do things which society has always considered “macho”, driving for instance.  It rears its head every single time the so-called “educated” men don’t think twice about making statements like “a woman’s place is in the kitchen, making rotis and cooking for her family”.

Sexist attitudes are long gone, is what some people say.  It is something that used to belong in the previous century, said someone, the other day.
Unfortunately, that is not quite the case.  Not quite.  It is still very much out there.  We still live in a society which defines woman-ness or feminity in terms of actions or dress codes.  We still live in a society that permits and makes sanctions for gender based jokes in workplaces or schools, we still live in a society which ruled some time back that family owned businesses do not have to cover contraception in their workers’ health insurance.  We still live in a society where male members in the Senate and the Supreme Court get to decide on whether women should have control over their own bodies.

So when public figures like Bollywood actresses go out on a limb to avoid being tagged with the ‘F-word’, when they feel the need to speak out and make it clear that they are not feminist, they just need to think very carefully.  You have the choice to wear what you like, you would like to have control over decisions about yourself and your bodies, you would like to have the freedom to use birth control and decide when you bear children and give birth, you would like to have the freedom to decide whether or not you want an abortion, you would like to have the freedom to decide whether you want to marry or not.  If all of the above are true, truth be said, these ladies totally believe in feminist ideals – they just don’t want to be tagged with the feminist label. 

Feminism is not about women wanting to be men.  Feminism is not about not wanting a husband or raising a family.  Feminism is not about not being able to show tenderness towards humanity in general.  Feminism is not about going around flaunting a bra strap.  Feminism is not about exposing breasts and nipples and nudity.  Feminism is not about not taking care of your kids or not wanting to take care of your kids.  Feminism is not the belief that one gender is more powerful than the other. 

Feminism is about moving towards a society which does not rebuke men for showing vulnerability just as it does not chasten women for wanting to be independent. 

Simply put, feminism is nothing but a movement towards wanting an equal society – a society where man, woman, transgender, LGBT – all have an equal footing in society and all of whom can express their opinions in the secure knowledge that their voices will be heard.  Feminism is a movement towards a society where the genitals one has, doesn’t decide how much power an individual has or does not have, in society.  Feminism is a movement towards a society that does not discriminate, castigate or penalize people for what they are.

Like Kate Nash said "Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a bitch or a dyke. It means you believe in equality.”

28 March, 2016

God's Letter (a translation)

The below post is a translation of a blog post by veteran actor, Mohanlal.  The link to the original blog post in Malayalam, is posted at the bottom of this page.

(Image credit : desipainters.com via Google)

'God’s Letter' by Mohanlal

One of my friends recommended that I read a book by Paul Kalanithi  - a book named “When breath becomes air”.
 
Paul Kalanithi, an Indian by origin, was a famous neurosurgeon in America.  He studied literature, philosophy and specialized in neurosurgery, all at the same time.  He had been diagnosed with cancer of the respiratory tract.  The above book, about life, was written by him when he realized that he had but a very short time left in this beautiful universe. 

This book, which has a lot of thought provoking insights on how one can live one’s life to the optimum, is indeed a heart wrenching read. 

Paul Kalanithi passed away last March.  He was 37 years old.

It was when I read this book that I became very acutely conscious of human mortality and the value of time.  Realization dawned that God has given us very little time on Earth to accomplish what we need to.  This reality, once the penny drops, brings with it a feeling of deep sadness and humility.

As I normally do under such circumstances, I wrote a letter to God.  As usual, I got a prompt response.  I am presenting below, the response I received from God.

Dear Lalu,

I received your letter.  Since I am not as busy as you are, I decided to send you a prompt reply.

This time, you wrote to me, having read a book by someone who had death staring him in the face.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  One thinks of other human beings and God only when one faces death or when one contemplates the reality of death.  I have no complaints about that because is it not me who knows your behavior better than anyone else ??

This time around, your concerns and misgivings are about the limited time that I have granted you on this planet.  Quite a bit of your concerns are right but most of them are wrong.  As per my plan, the average time span I’ve allocated for you to spend on Earth is about 70-80 years.  Some people return early but those are rare instances.  Why that is so, I shall elaborate upon later.

Every human being is granted just 24 hours in a day.  No one gets even a second extra.  How those 24 hours are utilized by each one of you is not the same, they are different.  How many humans on Earth are aware of the fact that each one of you is like a timepiece which can stop at any time or that each one of you is a candle that be extinguished at any time?  How many of you use this time span that I have allotted each one of you uniformly, in pursuit of good deeds? 

People are opinionated, busy criticizing each other, interfering in other people’s lives, fighting among themselves on the basis of caste, creed, race, religion, color, nationality – all of which are self-created.  People are busy suing each other, exposing others’ faults / shortcomings, bringing to light others’ skeletons hidden deep in their closets and wasting their lives in jail.  How much time do human beings spend on such frivolous, unwanted, unproductive thoughts? 

The first time we met each other was in a train compartment, a train being pulled by a steam engine.  I still travel in trains pulled by steam engines but at least in Kerala I know that you, Lalu, cannot do that anymore.  You should have thought about that before becoming a film star.  Recently, I took a long ride through your country, on a train drawn by a steam engine.  During that journey which felt never ending, not one person even bothered to come over and talk to me.  Everybody was just busy with their cell phones, staring at the screens and tapping away at the keyboards.  When I asked someone what he was doing, he brushed me off saying he was ‘busy on Whatsapp and Facebook’.  I am sure you use these apps too. 

In the past, on long train journeys, we used to see people sitting and reading books, chatting with each other, sharing jokes, interacting with each other.  Nowadays, everybody just stares at/interacts with their phones on Whatsapp / Facebook etc.  ‘What’s so special about Whatsapp and Facebook’?  I asked the youngster.  He puffed his chest in pride and said ‘On this, you can write or say anything about anybody, nobody can stop you.  You can start movements / revolutions.’  When I asked him why he needed to start movements and revolutions, he smiled and replied ‘If anybody says anything against our God, our religion or about our political affiliation, we can use this medium to respond.  Just one post and there will be plenty of people to fight, to abuse and make life miserable for the targeted individuals / groups’.  Having said this, he turned his attention back to his phone.

Having spent much of your time abusing others and getting into fights on social media, is it fair then that when your time comes, you complain to me that you did not have enough time in this world?  

There’s one more matter.  Humans spend a lot of time on me, praising me, building places of worship that are hot and which suffocate me.  Humans fight with anyone and everyone who has anything bad to say about me and kill people in my name.  Humans use different names for me, they form associations in my name and collect funds.  Is this humankind’s idea of spending time in my name?  The way humans behave, one gets the feeling that God cannot survive without humankind.  Who has bestowed humans with the power to determine and conclude that God will cease to exist, as a result of the actions and words of some among them?  This is something I don’t understand.   One thing I’m sure of is that I have not handed down that responsibility to anyone. 

People see their own reflection in me.  They tend to perceive me as an entity that loses its temper when there is a difference of opinion, an entity that lacks a sense of humor, an entity that is portrayed as an egotistic idiot.  Humans then fight over all this?!  Imagine the amount of time that is wasted on such vain thoughts and actions!!  Am I responsible for these?!

To help you understand better, I will list out a few names.  Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, M.T.Vasudevan Nair, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Amartya Sen, Mammooty, Yesudas, Lata Mangeshkar, Maradona, Sachin Tendulkar, Ilayaraja, A.R.Rahman and many more.  I gave all these people too, just twenty four hours in a day.  I gave the same amount of time too, to thieves, robbers, murderers whiling away their time now in jail.  It is not a question of how much time I grant people.  What is more important is how they use and utilize that time so given.

People who have accomplished big things in life are the people who have been conscious of time.  These are the people who, without wasting a moment, made the best use of time and accomplished great things, did good deeds and scaled great heights. Like I said before, people who are not conscious of time waste their lives and at the end of it all, complain that they were not given enough time on this planet.

Dear Lalu, life is nothing but an enchanting illusion – a vision you see when you are sitting, enjoying the shade of a majestic tree.  Understanding that is the greatest essence of life.  Only then will one understand how priceless and invaluable it is.  Once you realize this, you will not waste your time on trivial pursuits.  You will be determined to ensure that your actions serve a better purpose.  Thus, every moment will result in contentment. 

Just understand this in living your life.  Nobody has any right to physically or psychologically trouble others.  Please tell people not to get involved in matters related to my well being. 

Even if you tell someone not too smart that I, who am responsible for the entire Universe, cannot even take care of my own issues, you will be laughed at.  So, leave me alone, stop hateful thoughts and focus on making your life worthwhile and good.

Yours lovingly,

God

There are some other matters but I will mention those some other time.

The words at the end of the letter were smudged. I am sure they were smudged because of the tears he shed. Why he was crying, I do not know.  I’m afraid I cannot guess. Were they tears of sorrow, or rage, I know not.  I can’t guess that either.    
   
Translation credit : Venkitaraman Krishnan

The original blog post in Malayalam can be found here.     

(The above blog post has been translated with the best of intentions.  Our sincere apologies for any error of omission or commission in the process of translation.)   
  

14 November, 2015

Peace !! Please !!!

(Image courtesy : upcob.org via Google)


‘Carnage in Paris’, the headlines screamed
One by one, through news agencies, reports streamed
Just the other day, a movie we watched
Called “Attacks of 26/11”, it left the mind scorched.

What is wrong with the world of today ?  I now often wonder
Why are people tearing each other, countries apart, asunder
Why is there so much hatred in this world ?
With allegations and accusations against each other, being hurled.

Violence rears its ugly head way too frequently
Gunmen get into schools and go on shooting sprees
People in nations tortured, maimed and killed by terrorists
There seems to be no room in this world, for non-conformists.

In the days of yore, news used to be about heroes
Nowadays, the reports are full of terrorist prose
Goodness used to makes its presence felt, in the years bygone
Of late, the news has been full of Jihadi John !

Religion still happens to be the most favoured tool
Steeping minds and hearts with hatred, forming vile cesspools
One still hears of bloodshed aplenty in the name of God
In the name of One who's supposed to protect and nurture, is that not odd ?

That day in Bombay's history will forever be etched in my memory
Where some people strapped bombs on and went on a bloodthirsty spree
I was at work when, one by one, the bombs exploded
As, one after the other, multiple places in the city were pounded.

I’ve seen bodies being carted away in trucks, limbs lying scattered
The heart ached to see the city torn, families shattered.
If one thinks these incidents were just events in the past
Look at the more recent ones the world over, they'll leave one equally aghast.

Caste and religion are such fertile breeding grounds even today
Little children being indoctrinated into violence, their minds led astray
The heart aches and the eyes sting with tears
As children are taught to handle guns and bombs, and terror cheers.

Women have no space to voice themselves, in many a place
As their own, physical or mental, many women can claim no space
Women are still treated as objects, to claim and plunder
When will good sense prevail, if at all, it makes one wonder.

Watching the evening news is nary a pastime anymore
For, all one hears in the headlines and news, is a whole galore of gore
What comes from such violence, I ask
Is there indeed such hatred deep in the minds of people, to unleash and unmask ?

Violence, bloodshed, carnage and mayhem rule the roost
With false values and deceptive tenets, young minds are being seduced
Is this right, is this really the road to heaven or jannat, as claimed
Does violence not leave families shattered and youngsters, for life, maimed ?

Why then, does humankind spread such hatred and loathing
And in doing so, what sort of a future course are we charting ?
War and bloodshed in the name of personal conviction
Oh brethren ! Human attitudes are so very brazen.

We humans are fast being dragged into a mire
We humans are fast setting the world afire
Humanity has imprisoned itself in cages of bigotry
To random violence and anger, there seems to be no boundary.

Change is what the world over, humanity needs
Pray, who's going to make a start towards change by sowing the seeds
This hatred and bloodshed needs to stop, it so does
To crush prejudices and bigotry, do we humans have it in us ?

Oh ! Don't you think there's got to be a start somewhere ?
Right now, the heart’s in a state of despair
Oh ! Why won’t this bloodshed and mayhem cease ?
What the world desperately needs is the virtue of peace.
What the world desperately needs is the virtue of peace.
What the world desperately needs is the virtue of peace.
Peace !!!  Please !!!! 


20 September, 2015

Sky 726 - A decadent treat !

“Gourmandise is an impassioned, rational and habitual preference for all objects that flatter the sense of taste.” - Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

There was a time when restaurants were frequented by diners purely on the basis of the food being served there.  There still are a few establishments that hold on to that basis but overall, if one were to give the Food and Beverage Industry a long, good look, the industry has come a long way from just resting on the laurels of good food.  Restaurants and food establishments have evolved, and how!  They’ve moved forward from titillating just the sense of taste onto newer, more demanding frontiers – those of finely balancing the art of stimulating and appealing to all five senses that humans are endowed with.

Little did we realize that it was going to be a delight on so many counts, when we walked into Sky 726 on Saturday last.  It was presumably a new restaurant, a Kitchen and Bar concept which automatically implied an open kitchen and bar.  The first hint of an all round experience manifested itself as the elevator doors opened onto the top floor of the building where the restaurant is housed.  The moment the lift doors opened, subdued hints of music floated through the air as we took in the visual panorama that Sky 726 had to offer. 






Once we were settled into our table for the evening, we took in the finer details that have gone into making Sky 726 what it is.  An oil painting added a bold splash of color to the place which is otherwise done up in subdued hues of base colors.  Later we learnt from the hosts, that the crystal chandelier embedded into the wall, had been put into place crystal by crystal. 




The bar, impressively well stocked, sits right in the middle of the establishment and is a treat for the visual sense.  The chief bartender made it quite obvious that he loves what he does; mixing and churning up cocktails while he moved to the rhythm of the music, exhibiting the passion and zest he has for his profession. 

Our four course dinner started with a fresh garden salad which was served with a refreshingly light balsamic vinaigrette.  Foodies that we are, we’ve patronized many an establishment in HK.  In many places, the one thing that has stood out consistently is the overkill on the salad, either in terms of too many components battling for attention on the palate or in terms of a salad dressing that’s so heavy that it completely takes over and overwhelms the taste buds.  Sky 726 dished up a lovely salad - fresh crisp organic greens consisting of a variety of lettuce for the crunch, some rocket for the zing with finely sliced cherry radish and cherry tomatoes adding a splash of bright color and sweetness.  The topping of toasted slivers of almonds, completed the bouquet of textures and tastes that the salad brought with it.



The salad which set the taste buds tingling with that refreshing vinaigrette  was followed by a hot minestrone. A light, herby tomato base, loaded with chunky vegetables, the soup was delightful.  The kitchen had made sure that the soup wasn’t loaded with sodium or overly spiced, thus letting the natural flavors of the vegetables seep through into every spoonful.



There was a good variety of entrĂ©es on the menu that night.  I opted for the Organic Chicken Breast rolled in vegetables, served on a bed of pumpkin puree, studded with pickled pearl onions which added a bit of crunch and sourness to the sweetness of the puree.  Never before have I had such moist, tender chicken ever.  Slow cooked, sous vide the chicken breast was stuffed with blanched spinach which added to its taste and texture.  The smooth pumpkin puree, on which the chicken breast rested, was the perfect accompaniment to the plate - smooth and creamy.



In the meanwhile, Vic opted for the Seafood Pesto Pasta which was equally lovely to look at, with the aroma of fresh pesto wafting tantalizingly from the plate.  The dish was liberally topped with pan seared prawns and the sear on the prawns looked absolutely perfect.  It did apparently taste awesome too because well, I wasn’t as much as offered a single prawn!!  Vic chose to wave those perfectly seared prawns in front of my eyes before treating himself to that gastronomic delight.



Both the entrĂ©es were outstanding.  Yet again, the chef scored big with letting the natural flavors of the dish speak, without being overwhelmed by salt or spices. 



After having our palate sufficiently aroused, we opted for a Panna Cotta for dessert.

Panna Cotta literally means “cooked cream” in Italian and is one of the mainstays of Italian cooking tradition.  We loved the twist the chef added to the panna cotta both, in terms of taste and presentation.  Traditionally, Panna Cotta is served unmolded, on a plate.  The chef here had chosen to serve the Panna Cotta in the goblet in which it had been set.  Whilst being set, the goblet had been tilted, to add a lovely angle to the Panna Cotta, which was then complemented by a mix of berries.  The extension to the taste came from the Baileys Irish Cream that had been poured over the berries.  The end result was a lusciously creamy dessert that brought the entire course as close to being divine as possible.  It simply hit the spot.

Like I said before, we’ve frequented many a restaurant all over HK and there have been times when the food has been great but the service has left much to be desired.  That’s another area where Sky 726 stands out.  The team at Sky 726 is such a wonderfully motivated, driven one.  

The entire crew working in tandem with the chef, the bartender and the manager reminded me of a scene from Robert Brownings, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”.  
“So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!  And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon, all ready staved, like a great sun shone glorious scarce an inch before me.”



09 September, 2015

On the cusp at Forty Five :-)

                                                  


(Image courtesy : moviespix.com via Google)

Forty five.  

I just turned forty five today.

That number is considered by many as exactly halfway through life.  I’m not laying any bets on any numbers here but given that it is the norm to consider the number 45 as ‘halfway there’, I did stop and reflect about how I feel, having reached that milestone.

It feels no different, truth be told. 

Life, so far, has been a very interesting journey – a very agreeable, equitable one.  Life, like it is meant to be, has taken me on straight paths at times and around very convoluted circles at many others.  There have been times when the roads seemed paved, smooth enough to send things whizzing down the fast lane and there have been times when the road has been bumpy enough to leave me rattled and exhausted.

What I did realize though, as I stopped to introspect, was the fact that life is indeed a great teacher.  What it does, through the experiences it puts us through, is increase awareness.  Through increased awareness, comes change - a change in attitudes, perspective.  As attitudes and perspectives change, it seems to automatically bring with it, a sense of freedom - a freedom that comes from acceptance, peace and tolerance.  It does bring about the realization that life is pretty much what we make it.  We’ve been dealt a hand, how we use those cards is totally up to us. What life also does, in its own inimitable way, is deliver lessons in humility.  As maturity sets in with a change in attitudes and perspective, as we get more tolerant and accepting, humility slips in somewhere along the way, quietly, very true to its name.  

Humility, which is such an important component in life. Youth often confuses humility with timidity. Once upon a time, I did too. But like I said earlier, life does teach you a thing or two. And this was one very important lesson that life imparted me too. Once upon a time, the brashness of my youth would have said “humility is nothing but debasing yourself”. Over the years, life has taught me that humility is nothing other than maintaining our own pride about who we are, what we are and what we’ve achieved in life – maintaining that sense of pride without arrogance, without conceit, without a feeling of superiority.

A decade back, what people thought about me or would think about me did mean a lot to me. I now realize that it is no longer the case. Somewhere along the way, I’ve realized that I’m no longer concerned about what people think of me or say or talk about me. As long as my conscience is clear at the end of the day, I’m at peace with myself and the world around me.

To be honest, I’m more at peace with myself now than I’ve ever been before in my life.  It was just the other day I was saying to Macadamia and Pecan that I’ve stopped being analytical and critical about many things, in many different situations.  In that sense, the process of learning is still very much on.  I don’t get my knickers in a knot over situations that I know are totally beyond my control.  I find myself much calmer, much more focused.  There is no longer that need to cram as much as one can, into one day because life is whizzing past. 
  
Of late, I have sensed this need to consciously ‘slow down’ – to learn to slow down, if I may use that term.  Life has whizzed past, kids have grown up and I am indeed now sensing the need for more of a ‘me’ time.  Just quiet time, during which to put my feet up and do something I’ve always wanted to indulge in.  This has, of late, nudged me towards spending more time nurturing the creativity that’s been hidden somewhere in there.  I never really acknowledged it earlier.  Now, I do.  I never used to give in to that need to just curl up with a sketch book, a pen or a pencil and just give vent to creative urges.  Now, I do.  More importantly, I’m glad I do. 

The forties, I must say, have been full of pendulum moments in terms of the kids.  It has alternated from feelings of absolute bliss and pride at their accomplishments and at the kind of people they are growing up to be on the one hand and on the other hand, there are moments when I feel they are growing up too fast.  “Let go” was something I’d told myself many years back that I’d need to learn and I have, to an extent.  As university education and the possibility of that taking Macadamia to some other corner of the globe looms, I do feel those moments of despair and realize that I’m not as ready as I thought I was.  I’m not ready for that bit yet. 

As I stand on the said cusp of time today, I can only say that the human mind is pretty much like a treasure chest.  A box full of memories from the years gone by, little snippets of conversation, pictures etched onto one’s mind, aromas and fragrances even – they are treasure untold.  I do now realize how much I hang on to them within the deep recesses of my heart and mind. 

Today morning, as I left home to get to work, I met parents of good friends downstairs and they rushed over to wish and bless me.  My mom called from Bombay, to wish me.  I find these filling me with a sense of joy and well being.  These are times when realization hits home as to how much of a space in our lives, our parents, our elders continue to fill.  They are irreplaceable and I do realize that we can never have enough of them.

As I looked at my picture that Vic posted on Facebook today morning, I did notice the wrinkles, the laugh lines around my eyes.  I do notice those little crinkles around my mouth and my eyes. Each and every time I notice one of those wrinkles, I remember to thank that Universal Force. For, those wrinkles remind me of the times when life has made me laugh. They remind me of times when I’ve had the sheer luxury of laughter, for, life has indeed taught me that there are many in this world who do not have that luxury . Those little wrinkles – yes, they are my laugh lines and yes, I carry them around with pride.

All of forty five today, I don’t stake claim to have understood life in all its totality.  I guess one never will but I’m kind of beginning to accept how this whole wheel turns.  I don’t fret and fume or stress myself out over the little things, probably because I’m at an age where I’m distinctly aware that things like good health, joints and limbs that listen to your instructions and do as you ask them to, having physical senses in working condition – are all things that cannot really be taken for granted anymore. In that sense and lots more, the bigger picture takes precedence over the small little things that used to bug me, earlier on.  Fretting over little things don't seem to appear anywhere on my priority lists anymore and in turn, it has made life a lot easier.

These are indeed the quieter years of life and I welcome the quiet and peace with open arms.  I am blessed with a beautiful, wonderful family who mean the world to me and then some.   I am in a profession that I care deeply about and enjoy thoroughly, a profession that takes a lot out of me yet is so fulfilling and gratifying.   I have a whole bunch of friends in HK and all over the globe who care about me, there have been a lot of old friends I’ve reconnected with over the past years. There have been numerous instances in my life when I’ve felt the hand of the Universal Force in my life. What more can I ask for ?

So, every evening, at the end of the day, when I find myself at home just being ‘me’, doing what I feel like doing, surrounded by people I love and who love me, having spent the day in a profession that I love and care about, two kids who alternate between driving me mad and making me proud, I realize that I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

If that’s a sum total of the first forty five years of my life, as I stand on the cusp today, I’d just say “Bring on the next forty five”.  Let’s do this !




09 April, 2015

Eggless Carrot Cake with Pistachios and Raisins




Ingredients (Baking cup quantity measures)

Grated Carrots - 2 cups
Light Brown Sugar - 3/4 - 1 cup (depending on how sweet you like the cake) (I used 3/4 cup)
Unsalted Butter - 125 gms (For healthier options, use canola or corn oil)
All purpose flour - 1 1/2 cups 
Pistachios - 3/4 cup 
Raisins - 1/3 cup
Milk - 1/4 cup (I used full cream milk not skimmed milk)
Salt - 2 pinches
Baking Soda - 1 tsp
Baking Powder - 1 tsp
Apple Cider Vinegar or Distilled White Vinegar - 2 tbsps
Vanilla Extract - 2 tsp
Cinnamon powder - 1/4 tsp 
Grated nutmeg - 1/8 tsp (optional)


1. Coarsely grind the pistachios.  Just a couple of whizzes in the food processor.  If you have the patience, you could chop the pistachios :-).

2. Take a deep dish just so it makes mixing easier :-).  Add the grated carrots, salt, sugar and the pistachios and give the whole thing a good mix.  Set aside for about 10 mins for the carrots to release moisture.

3. Then add the raisins, all purpose flour and give it a good mix so that the raisins get coated in flour.  This prevents the raisins from sinking to the bottom once the cake batter is in the oven.

4. Add the baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon powder and grated nutmeg.

5. Melt the butter and pour the melted butter into the mix. Gently fold the batter with a spatula.  It does not need an electric mixer or a whisk.

6. Once all the ingredients are mixed, add the milk and vanilla extract.  Fold the mixture with a spatula until just mixed.  The batter will be lumpy.

7. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

8. Finally, add 2 tbsps of vinegar and gently mix.  The batter will foam a bit because the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.  

9. Line a baking pan with foil and coat with butter.  You could reserve a bit of the melted butter to coat the pan.  I usually use foil and leave a bit of overhang because it makes it so much easier to take the cake out of the pan, once done.

10. Move the rack in the oven lower else the top of the cake will get done while the insides would not have cooked enough.  Since this is a dense batter, it takes longer to cook.

10. Pour the batter into the greased, foil lined tin (I used a 8" x 7" baking tray).  Bake at 175 degrees C for about 35-40 mins.  

11. Don't leave the cake in the oven once the timer goes off.  Let cool outside before taking the cake out of the pan.

12. The vinegar gives this usually dense cake a fluffiness and airiness.  It is a delicate cake because there is so much for the all purpose flour to hold together.  

Variations

1. The spices - I used cinnamon.  You could use cinnamon and nutmeg or cinnamon and ginger powder, depending on your taste.

2. I've used pistachios in this recipe.  These can easily be substituted with walnuts / pecans / cashews / slivered almonds.

3. Raisins can be substituted with cranberries if you want a slight tinge of sourness to the cake.

4. If not using spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, you could use the zest of lemon or orange to give it a lovely citrus flavour.