Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leaps of faith

Be warned: Long. Boring. Rambling. Personal opinion.

In the 30something household we were having a random conversation about how our personalities develop as we age. The crux of the discussion was an argument/ agreement about how with age we become more entrenched in our habits and more risk averse with our lives, loves and jobs. There are sterling examples of this amongst our friends and family and even in our own lives. And I love reminiscing.

When it came time to go to college we both traversed parts of the country, encouraged by our parents to follow our dreams, alongside others like ourselves, determined to find what our calling was. We lived in different cities to start with, did college even further apart and yet managed to work out and at our relationship with phone calls and long hand letters. And college, no matter how tough or easy it was we took on challenges to make new friends, learn new lessons and take risks like never before. For many it was the first time out of home, without the boundaries of parental guidance or the comforts of warm kitchens and soothing words, and the first of many life opportunities to draw our own boundaries and find the path for our feet to carry us along. College was tough for some, easy for others – multiple lessons, demands of continuous deadlines, hostel living (and food), friendships and cliques – they all required a modicum of planning and enthusiasm and it was a precarious balancing act to do well and have fun. I soon found that financial circumstances largely varied and I, like most, learnt to budget and live within my means with imagination and without complaint.

We leaped into jobs that required travel and long hours. We took buses and autos and ate chaat and momo’s at road side stalls with abandon. We stayed out late, went to parties, threw parties, cooked and drank, played cards and board games, watched movies and plays, travelled to unknown countries on work, lived without mobile phones or Facebook, took road trips and holidays, celebrated birthdays, hung out at people’s houses and campuses, spent our money before we were paid and generally were game for a lot. In an ever changing programme we were always ready for something new.

V sought the opportunity to move abroad, to a non- English speaking country, learnt the language and turned back into a non-vegetarian for lack of cooking skills. Then he plunged us head first into yet another country, into yet more studies, which for V meant a student loan and for me a tiny budget to manage on. We lived in a tiny studio apartment (where we had guests from India come and kip on the floor/ sofa), used school facilities, made new friends, reignited old friendships with people from India who lived here now and over time learnt to love ( or at least live with)the people, place and its dreaded weather.

We found jobs, made yet more friends at work and most importantly piled our stuff into a van and moved home to a place more convenient for work. We hosted lunches, teas and dinner parties, Diwali and New Year’s celebrations, houseguests and family for prolonged periods, embracing people new to London within our friends circles and mindspace. We travelled on holiday to far flung places and across the earth making more our friends and family than many did of us. We thoroughly enjoy life, making the most of weekends, catching up with people and pursuing our own interests.

But the larger questions in life have crept up on us and it would seem that in a small way being risk averse and habituated into the week/weekend routine is on our plates as well as many others. We were talking about how dreary and cold this winter has been and how we should up sticks and move to warmer climes. But then we started talking practicalities it turned out (in a nutshell – much wider, longer discussion) we can’t think beyond our house with its mortgage, bookshelf and recently constructed laundry cupboard. Or our somewhat safe jobs in this recession market and our wide (if often random) social life in London.

To make ourselves feel better we then moved over to the lets-accuse-other-people-of-their-risk-averseness game. This was much more fun. Like the couple we met at someone’s house recently where the man commuted 2 hours across London EACH WAY EACH DAY so that when his daughter is 5 (she is 2 years old now) can go to a ‘good school’ in their chosen area. Besides weekends he never sees his daughter awake. Or like the guy who got given a car by his in-laws so their daughter could ride around in comfort, but the furthest he would take it was the local supermarket or the petrol station. He won’t drive at night or if the roads are too crowded because ‘you never know how other drivers are, yaar’. Or like the couple that moved to the countryside for ‘fresh air’ and want to commune with the greenery but have NEVER been for a walk in it. Instead they come into central London each weekend or mope around at home marathon watching movies and complaining about the cold damp air.

It’s funny that of all the conversations with friends and family it’s these 3 incidents/ things that came to mind first when we tried to veer away from our own shortcomings. Of course then we felt bad semi-smirking at other people for their risk averseness. For all we know there are bigger and mightier influences - reasons that guide these people to behave as they do, to commute endlessly, not to drive ever and to live in the countryside but not enjoy it - that they don’t feel like sharing. Their life view may not be as simple as ours. Having children and other weighing down responsibilities may make their choices harder than ours. Or maybe they crave sameness and routine and its us that’s weird in wanting (no, in my case, craving) something new and unknown. But this is not about them. Or us in comparison to them. It's about us. And what we want from our lives. Pure and simple.

Overall I felt better because all our settled habits had to do with the bigger, mightier influences in life. Not that we made any strides in breaking free from those, but still. It wasn’t small risks that we seemed afraid to take, it’s all seemingly bigger picture steps. It was vaguely comforting to know though that with the smaller things it’s not often fear that stops us but sheer laziness or lack of the resources to back it up – and we soon get our act together and try consciously to overcome things. Like knowing we need to make changes to the house to make it more comfortable and add value before we sell and move to another part of town, for one reason or another. Or learning to drive and getting a car. Or learning a new language. Or something.

Our bigger picture however is still entrenched in the old tired habits and the inability to shake off what a big risk upping sticks and changing everything would mean. Some of it is inertia but mainly its fear. Of the unknown. And while sometimes there is nothing like a bit of stability, after 7 years in London I feel we are both ready for a change, of scene, of weather, of jobs (maybe even careers), of cities and even possibly life priorities. It’s not to say we should go live in a beach shack on some coastline (because really that would kill me, city girl, with boredom) – but to take chances, experience and learn about a new culture, meet new people and possibly feel the alive-ness that we lost with our youth. We are too young still to be mired in the stability of never moving, learning or doing anything new, of taking each other and our comfortable lives for granted, of never delving into the unknown because well, it’s unknown. I think we need to take a leap of faith. I pray that in the next few years we find the strength to take it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dimsum in Soho

In case nobody yet got it from this blog, I love food. And eating out in the vast smorgasbord of London Restaurants is one of my top reasons for living and loving it.

This weekend we went to Yauatcha in Soho for a (most) belated Anniversary lunch of dimsum and tea. Yauatcha was opened by famed restaurateur Alan Yau of Buasaba, Wagamama, Hakkasan and ChaCha Moon fame. We’d been to every single one in the tantalizing food line-up, in fact Wagamama and Busaba feature frequently, but Hakkasan was only for my birthday last year and somehow despite continually saying we’d be going soon, Yauatcha had completely fallen off the list.

When I first called Yauatcha a few years ago the economy was in full b(l)oom and people were spending their money like free water. All we ever managed was a rude person on the other side barking instructions about a 2 hour slot (and not a moment longer) in two weeks time to begin precisely at 2.14 pm (or something equally convoluted). I didn’t warm to the idea of shoveling the food down my throat in record time – tea and dimsum after all are to be savoured at leisure. Also, the rudeness was uninspiring and Yauatcha was off our menu.

Now that the water tap is running dry everyone is vying for a slice of our thinning wallets. At 11am the lady who answered was polite and said that a table for 2pm would be no problem, infact where would we like to sit? Booked we made our way across the dysfunctional London Tube into a less crowded than usual Soho. We were seated almost immediately, on comfortable seats made utterly uncomfortable by a table base which allowed no room for ones feet. V drank a pot of Taipei Green tea (I stole some – it was delicate and light) and I had a kiwi and lime iced tea (which was delicious although the tatse of tea was masked by the other flavours). We started off the meal with a soup each, V had crab and caviar soup (he thought the smell overpowered the taste), I had hot and sour chicken (possibly the best one I have had in a long long time). Then we shared venison puffs (delicious, lived up to its reputation – my favourite), salt and pepper squid (V’s favourite, too much batter for me - I am more partial to Busaba’s Thai calamari), Pandan chicken with a lime dip (again Busaba does a better version of this) and duck spring rolls (filled with perfectly seasoned duck and served with a delicious plum sauce.

We were full but in greed decided to order one more dish. V ordered steamed a seabass and mooli dimsum and then not wanting to be left out I ordered a spring onion pancake. The pancakes were really stuffed puffs, with spring onion and bacon, very tasty but not pancake like at all. Big mistake, as we were both full. Eyes bigger than stomachs. Greed is a vice etc etc etc.

We staggered out into the bright world a few hours later, stuffed to the gills on good food, chat and endless sniggering at our neighbouring table which had an American woman, her chatterbox stiff-upper lip English architect husband, his sister and their father. The father insisted to the American woman that he was paying for the meal and not broking any negotiation on the matter since he was in town only for a week etc etc. His loud mouthed son then proceeded to order about 20 dishes and multiple drinks and then talked continuously, not letting anyone give their opinion or get a word in sideways. He kept saying things like, “...and this is made from Taro and chicken, and isn’t it tasty?”, to which someone would say “ye...” and he would immediately interject with “which is why I ordered it. It’s the best thing on the menu, I had it when….blah blah blah”. Everyone looked bored enough to shoot themselves including his father and partner. Then he went on to talk about how people who have been vegetarian for years (his partner, the American woman) could not digest meat even if they wanted to, blah blah blah. And then ordered 6 extra things for her to try out because “being vegetarian means she eats fish, but doesn’t want anything gloopy, too obviously fishy(?!)”. And then began to expound on about air conditioning duct design, at which point I too was ready to shoot myself. Thankfully we were done and could leave.

The meal was not cheap by any means but the determinedly underlit setting, fish tanks and enormous wine coolers lent themselves well to the idea of a ‘fancy meal’. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I think V did too. The ingredients were fresh, well prepared, beautifully presented and very tasty. If a special occasion arose I would go back. Or with the wide variety of untapped London restaurants, will I?

I so owe my blog a post on Hakkasan. Next week?

Yauatcha: 15 Broadwick Street, London W1F 0DL. Tel: 020 7494 8888

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crushing weight myths - 1

Why are we conditioned to thinking that thinner is hotter when in actual fact most men like women with a bit of curve that a 40kg flat chested women can never have? Is there much point in wearing revealing clothes if all you are revealing is skin, bones and an empty starving stomach?

A wild debate that reverberated in my college days was about inside beauty vs outside beauty. And although everyone had an opinion and most (for reasons of looking like balanced, kind human beings, probably) chose inner above outer, one of my friends said he could never be with a fat woman. That for him beauty was all about extreme skinny-ness i.e. how paper model thin could you be. He confessed/ reiterated that it was all to do with media throwing thinness as the quality for women to behold at him. I disagreed because most successful actresses, be it in Bollywood or Hollywood, were curvaceous rather than anorexic – the difference is not slight. And that while it was not wrong to look after your weight and be healthy there were far more important character building things in the world than thinness. We agreed to disagree. Of course times change attitudes and the woman he fell in love with had love handles much like the rest of womankind. It was her smile, her kindness and spark that were the star attractions. He broke free of the preconceptions he grew up with, not an easy task for anyone I imagine.

A while ago I met another college acquaintance at a reunion of sorts and he was terribly excited about his forthcoming wedding. Not being very tall or well built himself he was thrilled that the bride his parents had found for him was also not very tall and quite thin to boot. How thin was the mystery that was solved when we first saw this bird like creature he had married. As skinny as a teenager, not more that 38kgs, she picked at her food lest she put on weight and looked at us (a gaggle of hAlthy girls) with shock while we gorged on kebabs and laughed into our drinks reminiscing about the horrid hostel food that forced us into become connoisseurs of Maggie. She looked unhappy and out of place and no matter what we talked about she always tried to bring health into the conversation, and how being thin was best for the body, and how salad and water were king. We never bonded.

My problem is not really with choice. Or thin people. People choose to be thin for a multitude of reasons – most of them noble and health conscious, yet many misguided and vain. Some people have health issues that prevent them from putting on weight. And yes beauty does lie in the beholder and love can be blind. People are free to choose what they think they like and can live with. And there is nothing wrong with being thin, healthy and well groomed. Similarly there is nothing wrong with being curvy, plump, healthy and well groomed. Nothing is mutually exclusive and no two people are identical in thought and looks. But be assured that your inner beauty ain’t going to shine through when all you can think about is how you look. There is definitely something wrong with being 40kgs because you have starved yourself to that weight.

My problem is with the idea that thin = hot, which is blatantly untrue. If you took 10 men and asked them to pick the hottest woman from a line up most would probably not pick the thinnest but the curviest, the one with the twinkling eyes or the sunniest smile. Hotness is a quality, a state of mind, a connection between the carrier of style, a way to hold yourself, a confidence and the eyes of a beholder. Thinness does not make hottest. Period. So stop thinking, saying or behaving as if it does because no matter whether you realise it or claim otherwise that is what you are perpetuating. Bad body image. That nobody, girl or boy, man or woman, should have to buy into believing is true.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eating my words

I am. Eating my own words that is. I am back to blogging, though not with a bang. More like a pssst, have you heard? London is too interesting to stop talking about; my life on the other hand is not. My mind is too full of things, random sentances and phrases I want to spew to stop. Atleast this was my thought this morning. So I'm back. For now. Till I'm bored again.

Right. Before expounding to every bored and distinctly unbelieving reader out there on what my fabulous resolutions are for this year I think a short update on how last year’s resolutions went is in order. These were them:

1. Get a haircut, look more presentable, start wearing a bit more make-up. Take pride in how I look, whatever my shape. – Right, had a haircut early on in the year but barely wore my hair open even then. Bad-haircut-turned-good in early October has helped the cold from pinching off my ears. I wore/ wear make-up in fits and starts. Some days I will even glam up my jeans and jersey office outfit with a bit more than kajal. But old dog, new tricks has meant this has been more sporadic than anything.
2. Wear less black and more colour. Get new happier, less goth/ student wardrobe. And save my sneaker/ trainers only for the gym. Look less like a Hobo. Be the envy of all. – Got a lot more colour in wardrobe, although I still prefer black and dark colours most of the time. But experimented a lot and wore adventurous colours and jewelry a lot more this year than in the previous. Also bought two fabulous pairs of boots to round off the year.
3. Follow through with the cooking more & different, eating better & wiser resolution from my birthday. And stick to the gym. The ultimate Gluttons diet. – Did both these with a single minded-ness my maths teacher would have fainted at. Bought and got gifted cookbooks and continued to treat V as my guinea pig of world cuisine. Ate wiser definitely. And lost a shitload of weight I am Oh So Proud of!
4. Read a LOT more. The 33rd birthday is only 6 months away and if I want another bookshelf I better finish everything that’s stacked on the first one. And find suitable place for the second monolith. Display my greedy side. – Finished books on first one at record speed. Didn’t buy a new bookshelf but did buy and receive a lot more books to add to the growing stacks by its side. Read a lot more, shunning ipod for many a train journey into work – wires getting tangled in peoples coat buttons on sardine tin trains is not fun. Found suitable place for the second AND third monolith but have not got around to buying them yet – procrastination is indeed my middle name.
5. Practice my avatar as a sloth. Sleep more and sleep deeper. Last year for the first time I didn’t sleep as much or as well as the preceeding 31 years (and no it has nothing to do with age). Previously though, if sleeping were an Olympic sport V & I would have been strong contenders for gold. I plan to claim that prize. – Am self-declared sloth queen. Slept well, deeply and wholly for the most part. Yes, that was me in Beijing claiming Gold. V though has become more restless with age – still a champion but not as deep sleeping as in his youth. I don’t in any way let that stop me.

I'm definitely more shallow, promised results of teh 2008 resolutions - but the insides joined in and in true competitive spirit have given shallowness a run for their money. I am now shallower and yet, way deeper!

This year my 6 top resolutions are very basic and more of the same shallow-ness. If history has taught me anything then enumerating them might help me stick to them more rigourously:

1. Learn to de-clutter. Break with genetic code. Post to follow.
2. Read read read. My house and bookshelf are ripe for this. I have the books, the means to get books and the resolve to get my bookshelfs come heaven or hell. Nothing like looking for the book that will inspire me to give up work, sit in the sun and write my own piece of nonsense.
3. Treat my friends and acquaintances better. Be ruthless about people taking advantage, expecting you to call, takers not givers – cut them out. Stop taking Facebook so seriously – it is not called Friendsbook – not even 20 people on would qualify as friends.
4. Host yet more convivial meals. Am keeping good with this one already – New year’s party something of a success (do you want to know?) and a big party of 30 scheduled for month end.
5. Slow down with the blogging. But try not to stop. Stop being obsessed by blogs. And by people who write them. Just because I like what they write does not mean I like them as people. I am sure this is true in the reverse as well. But be kinder in thought. Less harsh about other people's crap.
6. People watch. An art that London is ripe for and that in my busy life I have let go of. Basically, stop, smell the roses.

So, ready or not, new years resolutions here I come!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Expectations 09

So its 2009 already, and despite every intention of shutting ze blog down, here I am, glutton for punishment and stubborn assed as ever, writing crap even I don’t want to read anymore. My own expectations from this blog have changed tremendously since I began. I initially intended it to be my letter home. But secretly, like every writer out there, somewhere in those first few weeks of writing I fancied myself as the next published Author. I roller coastered with that idea for ages - giving up the thought, then re-invigorated by a random comment, then giving up again. etc etc etc. There was superlative stuff everywhere out there. And I’m way too lazy to boot – as missing pictures and empty promises to the web are testimony to.

It became, clearly, about writing for the sake of recording what I was doing with life in the run up to and in these speedily passing by thirties. And in some part keeping the folks and friends clued up with what was on in my life. The friends all lost the url and quickly moved to that evil evil Facebook. It would seem no one wants a constant update of friends they haven’t met in 10 years - I think I am the same as I just deleted this long rambling update email from a long not seen friend. Just a status bar on facebook is enough – where I went for dinner, what books I read are all too much information in this faster than you can blink life. Yada yada yada. I don’t blame them. I too have been coerced onto the evil side although the rarely updated status bar and other networking sites before it just don’t cut it for me.

In addition to real life friends from yore, I inherited a few blog people who would leave me encouraging remarks and the odd disagreement to chew on. Some of them even became real life acquaintances and A-class friends. I think I’ll more than live.

It was sometime last year I think I realized that I was no longer writing it for the benefit of my folks as they never seemed to have the time to read it consistently or could not find the url when they did have the time and access. They never once left me a comment unless under coercion or mentioned anything in our conversations in all this time, unless I initiated a ‘did you read what I wrote?’. I assumed many a time that my ramblings had gone too wide and too long. But like an addict I still could not stop.

I still cannot stop. Last year for the first time I was sorely tempted to just delete this blog and get a real life or an alternate really anonymous blog. But each time (twice) that I have come to do it I find I cannot bring myself to destroy what (I feel) I have lovingly nurtured all this time. Or to begin elsewhere – too tedious a job for the perennially lazy, no? It’s as if my brown thumb is turning a tentative green and I cannot possibly discard the sad sad nearly dead fungus laden plant. I think this blog is here to stay. Although, really, I’m not sure. Maybe a new properly anonymous blog which nobody who reads this knows about, will help me get out of this funk. After all many of my favourites no longer write, so why should I? Maybe its time to be a new avatar. Or maybe not. The jury is still out.

Happy new year peeps. See you when I see you. If I’m back that is.