Dagny Taggart, or Scarlett O'Hara, or maybe…

Over at Plinky.com, the prompt was to choose which book character you’d want to be. As I thought about it while idly browsing through some of the answers, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to come up with just one character. I mean, how can I ever let anything be that simple?! So, here are just a few of the characters that I would absolutely love to be!

Dagny Taggart, the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged. She’s smart, intelligent and objective; takes independent decisions without bowing down to the baseness and commonality of society; she’s the epitome of woman as an equal to man without having to shout about it from the rooftops. By extension, I’d also like to be Hank Rearden – who though he knows the value of his metal isn’t able to see the shallowness of character in his mother and wife because he doesn’t think like that – and so wrongly believes that no one else does – or even John Galt, who shows all people who love their work above all else the “light.”

Scarlet O’Hara, the flighty, tempestuous heroine of one of my all-time favorite books – Gone With the Wind. I love her flirtatiousness, her verve and vigor for life. She’s selfish to the core and knows how to use her charms to get exactly what she wants. In love with the idea of love, she fails to see that Rhett Butler, not Ashley Wilkes is the love of her life. (I was lucky enough to not have made that mistake!) But when push comes to shove, she rises to the occasion and through determination, sheer will, and good old fashioned shrewdness, keeps her family together and drags them out of poverty.

Harry Potter, the wizard who was able to survive the dark wizard Voldermort’s killing spell. With the love of his mother as protection, a lil help from his friends, and an inquisitive mind, he’s able to triumph over evil time and again.

Lady Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti’s younger sister, protagonist of Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti. A herbalist, level-headed character who gives up most of her life to ensure that her family’s name isn’t forgotten in the sands of time.

And of course, this list can’t be complete without my favorite childhood characters – Nancy Drew and Mr. Pink Whistle! The first, my teenage hero – the fearless mystery detective – the second, my absolute favorite childhood fantasy – the magical Mr. Pink Whistle, who quietly does good and sets things right. I can read his books even today and still be fascinated by him! (Shhh! Don’t tell!)

So, which are your favorite book character(s)?

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The perfect comfort food – 5 min chocolate mug cake

I recently came across a recipe for a Five-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake, and I just knew that I had to try it. So today, when I was craving some comfort food but wasn’t in a position to cook ’cause I’m not feeling well, I thought this cake would be perfect.

Chocolate mug cakeI have to admit, it took me a bit more than 5 minutes – 15 maybe? I didn’t time it, but then, I’m a pretty slow cook.

Anyway, I did tweak the recipe a bit and I wasn’t sure of some of the measurements, but the cake did turn out pretty darn good!

Here’s the recipe (from ovenhaven )

50g dark chocolate – I threw in 2 9.5gm bars of Dairy Milk, some bitter German chocolate and 4 squares of Giraldini dark chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon – I used 1 heaped tsp of Fabindia’s cinnamon sugar; next time I’ll keep it level
3 tablespoons sugar – I used 2.5, but next time I’ll probably use just 1 ’cause I like my cake to be a bit on the bitter side
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler. Set aside to cool.

Add flour, ground cinnamon and sugar to a small mixing bowl, and mix well.

Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and mix well. Add the melted chocolate and mix again.

Pour the mixture into a large microwavable coffee mug.

(Since I wasn’t sure if I had got the quantity of chocolate correct, I threw in a few blocks of dark chocolate into the mug and gave it a quick stir before popping the mug into the microwave.)

Microwave for 2 minutes on medium, 1 minute on high. It should be cooked (skewer test comes out with moist crumbs), but still a lil moist. Remember, it will continue to cook while standing.

Allow to cool a little and dig in!!

The cake came out quite moist, with pools of melted chocolate in between. Next time, though, I’ll probably reduce the amount of cinnamon sugar I used.

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Reflections in the rain

I enjoy monsoons. There’s something about the rain that brings hope — it’s a time of regeneration and joy; growth and introspection.

An impressionist painting

While driving to work today, the sunny skies suddenly turned dark and the rain started pouring down. Caught up in traffic, I turned the car wipers off. As the rain sluiced over my windscreen, the world outside turned into an Impressionist painting — blurred and beautiful. It took the chaotic traffic and huge puddles out of focus, prompting me to reflect on the parallels that we can draw between this moment and life.

When standing in a jam, turn the wipers off and enjoy a moving Impressionist painting. In life, stop and smell the flowers! How many self-help books say this…and yet, how many of us actually take the time to do it? Try it. Just 5 minutes of being present in the moment will give you a high unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

When you’re stuck in traffic with nowhere to go, turn up the music and groove to the beats. In life, when you feel like things are going on on auto pilot, it may be just the time to stop “doing” and to think about what you can change or how you can shake up your routine.

When you’re driving through a downpour, it’s best to go slow. In life, when there’s a lot that’s coming your way and you feel overwhlemed, it’s best to take out some time for yourself. Even if it’s just 15 minutes to meditate or destress. You’ll feel relaxed and will be able to tackle things more effectively.

When storm clouds gather, turn on the headlights! In life, when you’re confused, bogged down by your thoughts, shine the light of reflection on yourself. Try using mind mapping or brainstorming techniques to work through your problems and come up with creative solutions.

When day turned into night

It’s amazing how you can draw parallels from situations around you! Are there any other parallels you can think of? Do leave a comment, I’d love to hear them!

(Images © Modern Gypsy)

North Korean team humiliated

North Korea team

The North Korea team made history when it entered into the 2010 FIFA World Cup after a gap of around 66 years. At the time, the government felicitated the coach, saying he was a miracle worker.

North Korea couldn’t make it past the group stage, but the fact that they were competing was commendable.

Now that the team is back home, they have been subject to public humiliation. The team was lectured in public on their failure and “betrayal” of Kim Kong- un, son and heir of the great leader Kim Jong-il.

Coach Kim Jong-hun

The coach, Kim Jong-hun has been sacked as team coach and forced to work as a construction worker without pay. Now, he fears for his life – he believes that he might be executed.

The team fought hard against Brazil. Though the score line was 2-1 for Brazil, North Korea struck the first goal. They went on to lose 3-0 to Ivory Coast and 7-0 to Portugal. Remember, this young, untested team, was placed in the dreaded Group of Death.

The problem was that football hasn’t ever been broadcast live in North Korea, as the broadcast of live games had been banned to avoid national embarrassment. When the team played Brazil they were not under too much pressure, as they knew the game would not be telecast live and were able to play freely. After the spirited 2-1 defeat to Brazil, however, state television made the Portugal game its first live sports broadcast ever.

Dejected team members walk off the field

This historical match put the team under pressure, as they faced a formidable team in Portugal, they knew their every move would be watched back home, they felt pressured and their game disintegrated. They had no answers for the Portugese defense. They were young and inexperienced. And for this, they are being crucified.

According to media in South Korea, though, players got off lightly by North Korean standards. Historically, it was straight to the prison camps for athletes and coaches who performed badly.

Shameful.

FIFA should ban the country from participating in football matches if defeat means that the coach could be executed and the team subject to public humiliation.

Rediscovering one another

As the rain comes pouring down and the roads get flooded, I know that I’m going to spend most of Saturday at home. The husband will also be housebound, as he can’t go teach tennis in the rain now, can he? But as I try to plan the day ahead, I realize that our plans always always involve going out somewhere — be it to catch a movie, shopping, or dinner. We seem to have forgotten the art of staying at home as a couple and doing things together.

So today, as we may not have any other alternatives, we plan to sit together and rediscover the art of spending quality time at home as a couple. Wish us luck!

Caught in a culture trap

In better times: MK Kaushik with the Indian women's hockey team

Controversy is raging around the Indian women’s hockey team, as its chief coach MK Kaushik resigned after Ranjita Devi from Manipur leveled allegations of sexual harassment against him. Reading about this led me on to thinking about the many other reports we have read in recent times about Northeastern women complaining about sexual harassment.

I experienced quite a culture shock when I moved from Mumbai to Delhi about 7 years ago. Delhities came across as being much more brash, nosier and definitely more close minded that those in Mumbai; the men are creepy; and it was the first time I felt afraid because I am a woman.

As I extrapolate those feelings to Northeastern women, I can’t help but feel enraged at the injustice that is meted out to them every day. Just because they enjoy partying and sex isn’t taboo for them the way it is for Delhites — due to which they are labeled “fast” — they are the target of unwanted male attention. Where does it say that just because a woman enjoys partying she’s lose; or if sex before marriage is no big deal for her, it’s an open invitation for men to paw her?

Freedom Jam in Manipur

There is a huge cultural difference between North India and Northeastern India — where the former is close-minded and largely patriarchal, the latter is more open and more, if I may generalize, Westernized. It’s common for girls to be out late, for youngsters spend the evening jamming together or to put up rock shows. When they come to Delhi, they find that their normal sources of entertainment are non-existent. So they do the next best thing — they go partying. For them, it’s natural. But for the close-minded North Indian men, it comes as an open invitation to be lustful. D-I-S-G-U-T-I-N-G.

When the issue got heated a couple of years ago, the police commissioner actually issued guidelines to Northeastern girlst telling them that they must dress “conservatively” and refrain from wearing skirts. What were you trying to say Mr. Top Cop? That men can’t control their urges, or that you can do nothing to protect women? That was a huge controversy at its time, just as the allegations leveled against MK Kaushik are creating an uproar now. That the lid has been blown off by a Manipuri girl just goes to show how deep rooted the prejudices are against Northeastern women.

Exploring the land of the Dalai Lama: 3 days in Dharamsala (part 2)

<— Read part 1 here

View of the town nestled in the hills

The main anchors of the central square of McLeod Ganj are Mcllo Restaurant (totally avoidable – lousy food, so-so ambience) and the oldest shop in the city – Nowrojee and Son, which was founded in 1860. From there, streets radiate in about 5 different directions. We picked a street at random and set out in search of lunch. Of course, along the way we were distracted by a beautiful red and gold monastery and all the shops lining the street. But, before we could do any sight-seeing or shopping, our tummies were crying out for food. We eventually found our way to the Tourist Information office, got directions to Jogiwara Road (where a lot of the amazing eateries are located) and elected to eat at Carpe Diem (I loved the name! Seize the day [or whatever was left of it] was just what we intended to do next!)

McLeod Ganj

Once we had our fill of some excellent grub, we headed out to explore the town — but were distracted before we had taken 10 steps by this really amazing store called Jewels of Asia, and then again by a store selling thankas, and then by yet another store…so yes, as you can guess, we spent the rest of the day exploring the shops in tiny Dharamsala.

Buddha statue at the monastery

We reserved sight-seeing for the next day, and even then, all that we really saw was the main monastery. It was a bit disappointing, as it didn’t look anything like the pictures we saw online. But the statues at the temple were awe-inspiring. The central Buddha image towers over visitors, encrusted with colored stones, with the silence and sanctity that can only come from years of prayer, surrounded by paintings depicting the Buddha lifecycle, Wheel of Life, and various other mandalas. There are also some really beautiful statues of Tara and the Tibetan protector Goddess at the temple that are gorgeous. The Goddess looks serene and calm and yet stern, all at the same time; that, in my opinion, is artistry at its height.

Monks making a mandala

We ended up spending quite a bit of time at the monastery, ‘cause it started raining pretty heavily. While we were there, we saw two monks making a mandala with chalk colors. They were just starting out, but the precision and concentration with which they were making the mandala was like meditation in motion. I spent a lot of time hanging around there clicking pictures, and their concentration just didn’t waver, even when people came over asking them what they were doing — they answered their questions and went on with their task — totally zen. I really wish I could have stayed and watch them complete the mandala, or come again later to see the completed image, but alas! That was not meant to be.

Prayer bells

By the time the weather cleared it was lunch time, so we decided to head over to Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen for lunch (good Italian food, though a bit over-salted; to-die-for chocolate mousse!). Along the way we did some window shopping at the stalls (most of the goods on offer were over-priced and the owners were pretty rude!), though I did pick up a pair of yak bone earrings and some CDs.

Lunch over, we decided it was time to hit the stores! Where there are women, shopping can’t be far behind, eh? Normally, I would have wanted to go do more sight seeing, but since I had already decided that I would return to Dharamsala, this time for longer, I figured it would be OK to choose shopping over sightseeing, especially since this was our last full day in town.

Sign near the monastery

I won’t bore you with details, but by the end of the day, the husbands were hanging around at the main square while the three of us were off stuffing our bags with all our purchases!

Shopping done, feet tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. It was bye-bye McLeod Ganj! We were planning to spend the next day just relaxing at the hotel and exploring the institute.

Two quotes on which I could base my life

We talk a lot about the values that shape us as individuals, but have you ever thought about basing your life on quotes? If a quote or two were to define you as a person, what would they be, and what would they say about you? The question at Plinky prompts was “What is your favorite quote and why?” Instead of just listing my favorite quote, I did a little soul searching and came up with two that really define me…

“There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” — Bern Williams 

This quote has been my rock during all my dark times.  There is a certain sense of faith in these words — just like day follows night so hope follows a problem; how can it be anything else? 

There have been many times when I’ve repeated this quote over and over again to myself like a mantra…and it has always calmed me down and helped me to hope.

The other quote I absolutely love is:

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO – what a ride!" — unknown

What a pleasant departure this one is from the current fad of starving yourself to look thin, the race to become a size zero, of a negative body image and a denial of the sensuous pleasure in food. What happened to enjoying life, to living each moment fully? Instead we run around trapped in a negative body image forced upon us by fashion magazines, forgetting that it’s important to be fit not size zero (yes, there is a difference!); that we have one chance at life, and it’s a short one; that every pleasure denied is a pleasure wasted. 

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Exploring the land of the Dalai Lama: 3 days in Dharamsala (part 1)

Norling Guest House, Norbulingka Institute

After a spate of particularly nasty fights with the darling husband, I got together with my girlfriends to plan a weekend away from the madness of marriage. And what better place to calm the spirits than the spiritual land of the Dalai Lama?

Thus began the frantic search for the perfect place to stay — one that wouldn’t burn a hole in our collective pockets, and yet would be calming and beautiful. And as usual, yours truly lived up to the challenge! The Norling Guest House at the Norbulinka Institute. Search for the guesthouse over, we started thinking logistics. That’s when my girlfriends — miss details and miss happening — realized I was dead serious about going for this holiday without the husband. And that’s when I guess their conspiracy theory started.

Miss H asked her husband to join us on the trip, and Miss D, our single, fancy-free friend, convinced me that I should also ask the husband to come along. “Who knows, by then your fight might be over and you might regret not calling him along,” she said.

The cafe at the guest house

So, bowing down to their conniving ways, I bit the bullet and asked the husband, secretly knowing he’d never agree to come. But, surprise, surprise! He agreed immediately! Miracles never cease, do they? So, a little peeved (oh ok, mighty peeved!), I accepted the fact that he would be tagging along with me, though what do you know, by the time the month passed and it was trip time, our fight was over, and all was well with the world!

Landscaped tranquility at the garden

When D-day finally arrived, the husband was muttering about all the stress involved in going for a holiday (imagine that!), Miss D came with tales of working until the last minute and Miss H came with all guns (read camera) blazing! But finally, after a month of planning and waiting, we were off to Dharamsala!

An overnight bus journey later, tired and slightly edgy, we reached the hotel…and were transported into tranquility. The guesthouse is set within a monastery and institute complex that was set up by the Dalai Lama to give Tibetans fleeing from persecution in Tibet a place to gather together to preserve their art, culture and traditions. The rooms are beautifully appointed with Tibetan-style furnishings, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and exude an aura of peace, with the song of birds and crickets in the background. Bliss. I could see myself just lazing around, soaking in the atmosphere there for a while…

But first, McLeod Ganj waited!
—> Read part two

La Furia Roja conquers the world!

Sunday’s World Cup final was bound to create history — one way or another. But this clash of two two like-minded footballing cultures looked more like foulball than football. The Dutch set a new record for yellow cards in a World Cup final (12, compared to the previous record of 6), with Heitinga getting sent off with his second yellow card for the evening in the 110th minute of the game. The night, however, belonged to Spain, which prevailed despite the hounding and hammering they received from the Dutchmen.

“I simply made a small contribution in a match that was very tough, very rough,” said Andres Iniesta, the Spanish hero who sent his team to World Cup glory. “All sorts of things were happening on the pitch.”

The match was rough and tumble; the Spanish weren’t able to play their free-flowing football; and despite the number of scoring chances, there was very little of the quality football that these two teams are known for. The sport’s showpiece event was hardly a showcase for the beautiful game, and that was the Netherlands’ doing. Refree Howard Webb showed the first yellow card of the evening to Van Persie in the 15th minute when he brought down Joan Capdevila. Spain’s Carles Puyol reacted to a foul on a Spanish player a minute later and was shown a yellow card of his own, but the spoilers were definately the Dutch.

Though the tactics slowed down La Roja, they still maintained the upper hand in terms of possession (60/40), and delivered where it mattered most — in the goalkeepers net! As Iniesta took off his shirt and ran to the sidelines to celeberate on one end of the field, on the other end Iker Casillas, standing inside his goal post, had tears streaming down his face. That goal ended nearly 80 years of angst for a nation that has produced so many great players but has not once lifted the World Cup trophy.

With this win Spain enters the history books not only because this is the first time the nation has won the World Cup, but also because no country has ever lost its opening match and gone on to win the final! Spain is also only the second country to have won the Euro Cup and gone on to win the World Cup two years later.