Monday, May 21, 2018

We are a all a ray of "Hope for Peace"

Kathua. Unnao. Syria. Gaza. Afghanistan. Iraq. What do all these words have in common? Violence? Exploitation of powerless by the powerful? Utmost rejection of human values and empathy? Blatant disregard for the dignity of human lives? 

Frontline issue of May 2018 covered the stories related to most of the introductory words. The case of Unnao ripped my soul apart; it was a classic case of poverty being ridiculed by the rich. The death of the father of the girl and the girl's attempt to immolate herself in front of the Chief Minister's residence provide testimony to the inexplicable pain that she and her family had to go through. Can we imagine that state of mind in which a person chooses to immolate himself or herself? Can we? No matter how hard we try, we cannot. And this is reality we are talking about, truth, far stranger than fiction. Even after 6 years of the deplorable Nirbhaya case our law and order machinery has not been able to take stringent steps to ensure security and safety to its women. Even after scores of amendments, introduction of new acts and new clauses, offenders of such culpable crimes walk away with impunity. What is more shocking is the fact that most of these people are actually those bestowed with a trust  to perform public service. 

I was just imagining the plight of the father of the Unnao girl who was incarcerated for some petty offences and brutally beaten, ultimately succumbing to his injuries. How on Earth could all this happen and no one had any inkling, not one human opposed it? Why such bold steps to shield the accused, to hide the truth and to threaten the victims and nothing of this stature to defend the rights of those at the receiving end? It is because of incidences like these that laity has lost faith in police, judiciary, law and order in the country. It is because of the loquaciousness of culprits and the silence of society that an adolescent girl, a young girl, a woman do not feel safe in their own country. The question is what can be done. That is the right question. Thousands of books have been written on women rights, millions of articles have been shared on Facebook, Twitter and I am sure there are hundreds of movies related to the issue of women. So, as a reader you have every write to say, "Ah!! One more article, same old story. What purpose does this serve?" And I do respect that. But I have something to say. 

Amidst such overt harassment that women face in India we can be the ray of "hope for Peace, Respect and Dignity". Sexual assault is essentially, in my opinion, an act of domination and stamping of the authority of a person over another. In current times it if often used as an act of subdue a community, family or the woman and mar their life. But if we look closely at it, the genesis of such feeling to act violently lies in dissatisfaction, inability to manage soaring egos, guided by frustration and sometimes an act of vengeance. As far as I have observed my life in my utmost blissful moments of solitude and incommunicado I have realised that in all of us exists evil and good. We all have the tendencies to lose our minds and act violently but we also have the wisdom to channel those feelings of resentment, revenge, dissatisfaction in a way such that it does not harm other individual. Who, at the first place, gave us right to harm our own fellow brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, even ants for that matter? 

I am sure none of us would want to add to the already grim state of affairs in the world today. Now obviously, you would say that, "I am not gunning every second person down, or I am not hatching any conspiracy to kill someone" - but violence is not only defined by such occurrences which are much more readily seen and acknowledged forms. Violence is very subtle and we battle with violence all the time in our minds. Not so long ago I learnt that even thoughts can be violent and if not handled with wisdom can metamorphose into something devastating. Believe it or not but we do contribute to violence even without being aware of it. The most common form of violence would be to retort back at someone who apparently said/did something which apparently offended us. Such back and forth business only contributes fuel to the fire and never is the solution. The tougher and wiser thing, most of the times, if not always, is to send a silent blessing, to swallow the unmindful behavior of others and go our way with much more humility. There is a wonderful quote that means something like this, "I am grateful to those who bash at me or criticise me because they are my best teachers; they are attacking my ego and by that I am becoming more humble".

To cut the long story short, what I really want to say is that we all have situations in our lives where we can either practice peace or advocate violence. The decision and the choice that we make determines whether we add "hope" and "peace" in the world or merely add fuel to the existing fire of estrangement widely pervasive. For eg. I believe relationships with people provide us the best opportunities to practice the lessons of peace and violence. Not every relationship is the fairy tale that is depicted in the movies, they have their ups and downs, moments of separations, sometimes indefinite, moments of confusions, sometimes recurrent, moments of dissatisfaction and disagreement and the like. All these things are very normal and it is also common that ego-clashes occur and dominance might be not that apparent but under the covers it is always there, though in a very deceiving form as to belie its existence. It is precisely in those situations of friction, in circumstances of suffering and pain that our better version can be formed if we have the courage and discipline to look at the other person as a human being with his/her own idiosyncrasies. These moments can transform us and if we just allow the dignity of the relationship and the person involved to be upheld no matter what, we can diffuse the "metaphorical bomb" minutes before its expected explosion time. The energy that causes conflicts between two people is the same energy that causes conflicts between communities, nations and governments. -Gary Zukav.  It is a powerful energy but becomes reduced to a snake without venom if we have the required wisdom to deal with it and to not allow that energy to take hold over us. It's really that simple. 

Everyone wants peace, but the very genesis of peace happens in our families, with our loved ones, with our colleagues, with our estranged lovers and beloved. How? Our conduct determines and exemplifies whether we want peace in the world or wish to threaten the world just to satiate our amorphous yet enormous egos. I remember I always used to tell my beloved friend that, "To give you happiness is not my business because that's your business, my business is your peace of mind and I'd never do anything that'd divest you of your peace of mind".  Because honestly, that's what I believe in, peace, inner-peace is much more vital than happiness. To quote Geeta, it is a state of being "sthita-pragya" and being "sambhaav". 

Coming back to the theme of this post, let's be like the ocean which can swallow millions of rivers  yet never overflow :) Wishing for world peace and exhibiting violence in and around ourselves, in our thoughts, in our deeds is not wishing for world peace, merely professing. I believe very strongly that we are all a ray of "Hope for Universal Peace", not merely cogs. We can light up the world of others, sometimes by our presence, sometimes by our absence, sometimes by our words, sometimes by our silence - lets just serve the world in every way possible, let us never forget that when we serve others we serve ourselves. The peace that dawns upon our hearts knowing that we regarded the inner-balance of others is too precious to be lost in meaningless tussles or in attempts to stoke our egos. Try it - there's nothing else more lasting, more satisfying than that - the mental discipline to allow, accept and respect. 

We need to respect each other today more than ever. 
Love & Blessings. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cooking : An Act of Self-Care and Self-Love

Normally, in a day I am not free from anxiety related to food. Since I workout heavy, I pay particularly tremendous attention to what goes down my mouth. This blog idea had been on my mind for long and I do believe that sharing it and writing it would tremendously help readers who wish to take their health in their own hands. 

Only now do I actually realise how conscious my parents were when it came to healthy eating; back then I hardly was ever grateful for the wonderfully healthy meal my mother cooked for me every single day, three times a day. I remember that our school bus used to come at 6 am in morning, that meant that she was to wake up at 4:30am and cook food for me. Although I do not have any memory of ever thanking her for her efforts but I do remember that not for a single day during my school years have I taken bread-jam, maggie, toast or any such quick meal to school - something my classmates often used to bring. Lunch was a set of 4 boxes, one containing sabzi, other rotis, one containing curd and the last one sprouts for breakfast during the travel to school. Looking back I see extremely wonderful parents and an unmindful and ungrateful child and then an adult (not even during my 11th or 12th class had I realised what it meant to wake up at 4 in the morning, to sacrifice sleep to cook food for her beloved children). Both my father and mother cooked together for us, it has never ever been the case that my mother was up and father was not, vice-versa has happened though,  when she has not been in best of her health. I have many fond memories of us having great food together. I actually paused while writing this article and called my mother and ended up talking to her for 40 minutes, obviously not telling her about what led me to dial her number.

Coming back to the story; well, its clear to me that I have taken healthy food availability for granted during my growing up years and today for the first time in nine years that I have been out of home do I realise how important it is to take control of your health in your hands, particularly when it comes to healthy eating. May be others won't realise, but this is a huge transition in my life - I would have been the last person to cook for myself on Earth, even if some apocalypse was to happen and only those who cook for self were to survive. In college, when I used to get hungry, I always rushed to my seniors (Yashita ma'am, Purnima ma'am, Ishi ma'am, Neetha ma'am, Anusha ma'am) or to my juniors (Anshika, Annu, Charu, Kusum, Monika, Mohini), they were always very generous, extremely kind and with much love prepared something to satiate my hunger. I was so addicted to Yashita ma'am's cooking that when she left, all I could remember was the love with which she used to cook for us. Crazy days!! Although I have never had junk food more than 4-5 times in my life nor have any particular affinity towards it, the transition in my eating habits became very natural when I started feeling the changes in my mind, body and soul as I experimented with food. 

It was not difficult to observe that food without/very less salt, boiled, clean, with lots of vegetables, fibres, olive oil and herbs and spices : was way healthier, good on stomach and also cleansing for the soul. Often times I have invited my friends to home and we have enjoyed dinner of just boiled vegetables, sweet-potatoes with nuts, jaggery and they have actually shared their feelings after eating the food. I have always believed and today I believe much more strongly that we become what we eat, our thought process is guided to a significant extent by the type of food we ingest. Just like the nature of man : saatvik, tams and rajsik, so is the food of that type. I think I have experimented with food a lot and this is just a beginning. The equation of healthy food habits is something that sweetly confounds me a lot of times; I do not eat outside, I just have become immune to the temptation that others feel at the thought of eating outside in some super-six star restaurant. Infact, when I have a plan to have lunch or dinner with someone, I usually invite them to home, we cook together, this way time is also saved and solidarity is deepened as efforts are shared towards the common act of cooking. Moreover, the excitement of eating outside in a city like Bangalore fades away thinking of its traffic, pollution and dust!! 

Preparing food for self, actually investing time and energy in deciding what to eat, how to manage proportion of items in food has quintessentially taught me some of the greatest lessons of life. I am also learning that healthy living is really about the kind of food we eat and the way it is prepared - the fuel that we need to keep our mortal bodies running and to keep our brain functioning must then be handled with utmost care and caution. Isn't food an important commodity for our survival and sustenance, and isn't food the most recklessly handled commodity, the most abused thing in current world? It seems most amusing to me that the very thing that fuels us, we hardly care about it and rather load up our bodies with all kind of deep-fried, ready-to-cook, junk food, convenience foods, breads, cakes, biscuits etc. , there is no end really. It really surprises me a lot. Food according to me is not pleasure, it is a source of strength, something that keeps us going. Imagine like this, a car running on authentic diesel and another one on contaminated one, what will the fate of the latter be? Poor food, hastily prepared food and unlovingly prepared food is exactly like that - a car propelled by contaminated diesel. 

Food has caused anxiety in me for a long time and it still does, but I know the source of this anxiety. "Me not willing to prepare food for self and then thinking whole day from where to eat because nowhere really do I get something which satisfies me from the health point of view, this causes headache to me, I often become more anxious and then in the end I have to resort to some sub-optimal dosa without oil. I eat it thinking I made a healthy choice only to discover the next day that the batter used was bad because I have an upset stomach now". And I have had multiple such experiences, I keep on going back and forth between such kind of experiences; if food was a beloved it would have been a very difficult relationship for me. It still is, but I try to work around it. And with any relationship, I am only beginning to know that I have to invest in this relationship if I have to ensure my long term health. I am beginning to learn that health ought to win over convenience and I have also observed that my days go fantastically productive when I invest a little time in cooking for myself because that way I am free of any anxiety and can peacefully carry on with my day without having to be consistently anxious about health quotient of the food from tuck shops! I never realised before that in an attempt to save time from cooking I actually ended up inviting whole lot of anxiety also, but investing 30-40 minutes in cooking food for self has actually made my life easier. Though I mostly eat boiled food and sometimes cooked food but I have, most certainly, experienced that investing time in cooking for self is worth it because that is also a way of caring for self, a way of self-love. Who would want to fuel up their bodies with junk, sub-optimally prepared food. For a long time I have, although in temperance but today even that does not exist. I have been experimenting with food a lot, my mind is very much involved in these experiences but at the end of the day when I sleep, not only do I feel happy about how the day went by, I also feel a little satisfied that I did not abuse my body, my mind and my soul. 

Health, I have learnt is an every day decision - we have to push ourselves every single day to make healthier choices, be it in exercise , food , sleep, thoughts or actions. Yes, health is an every day decision and it is tough but we become tougher as we follow our decision to live a life of utmost health and peace. Infact, I feel much better from inside when I know that I am eating the food that has been cooked by me, exactly like I desire it to be. Interestingly, when it comes to cooking often times I remember Aayushi, she has never flinched from cooking food at home even after a long day at office. Such could be the commitment to eating  home-cooked cleaner and healthier food. She has taught me by her actions that cooking does not have to be a burden, but an act of love, an act of self-love committed towards the goal of self-nourishment. The same way when on mobile Mohini used to tell me that she is making food or Anshika used to tell me that she is chopping vegetables for dinner or even Ronak sir that he is making food for himself, I used to get surprised as to how these people can make out time to cook. But today I understand, I understand because I do the same now - I invest a little time in ensuring healthy eating for my longer life ( I WANT TO LIVE LONG).  And its not easy, believe me, exercise is way easier than all this!! But health is 70% food and 30% exercise as you'd know. Therefore, I have welcomed this change in my life- a challenging transition. Besides, I am getting to learn how to take care of myself in a better way. Cooking for self is an act of self-care and self-love; the feeling of having nourished your body with most healthy foods, fruits and vegetables is definitely a very liberating one. 

This change has taken a lot of sulking to finally gather some shape, a lot of failures to come at this stage. Cravings have disappeared, the exotic menus of restaurant hardly excite me (nor have ever much), I seem to be finding bliss in simple, healthy food - particularly Mediterranean diet. I believe it is a step towards a healthier me, a more sane me and a more clean me. My energy levels are higher, I feel fulfilled that I am living like a mature adult who knows how to take care of self and make wise decisions related to healthy eating. I do not think I would have ever imagined writing this : But cooking for self seems empowering to me, I feel empowered. I have always known how to cook, since 7th class, thanks to my mother who ensured that in summer vacations I learnt a little about how to cook and she trained me in learning certain survival skills. But in matters of making and preparing food I have seen no bigger truant than me. Today it all seems to be dissolving and Lord is teaching me all these lessons so that I can thrive and survive on my own wherever I am while learning how to best manage my time and tasks. 

Sincerely, preparing food is one of the best investments towards your health and if you have someone at home who ensures that all your food anxieties are theirs, then it is time that you go to them, hold their hands and kiss them for preparing food for you. I have overlooked my mother's efforts well till my mid-twenties but only today when I seem to be struggling in my algebras and calculus with food do I seem to immensely realise such perfect was her hold on food and such unconditional was her love for us that even in the worst winters in Delhi she has woken up bravely and prepared the warm food for us. Only a mother can be so kind and so selfless. 

I have only taken the first step towards healthy eating and there is still a long way to go, many more challenges to come and many more lessons to come. But one thing is very clear to me : "Crap food makes us feel crap, nourishing food makes us feel nourished. It is our choice to treat our mouth as garbage bin or a way to much stronger selves". 

Invest a little time towards a healthier you by making wiser decisions about what to eat. Let's not abuse our wonderful bodies, the medium to salvation. 

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