Kindling in new times

As much as I love to read, I love buying books in advance more. If I read about a book online (Flavorwire and Buzzfeed), or receive a recommendation from a friend, I end up buying the book for a later read. It reached a point that I had used up all my shelves, racks and cupboard space for books. There were thinly veiled threats from the mother to do something nasty to the overflowing books.

Even after giving away some of my books, I still had many books left. Having read ebooks before, the transition seemed to be the natural conclusion. For a brief amount of time I did use my laptop for it, but long runs made it hard on the eye. It seemed that I would either have to cut down on the books future-me would purchase. A post by The Sister and another by a dear friend, made me smack my head real hard. A Kindle E-reader was the solution to all my woes.

While it was a simple solution, I tried to wait for some time to check if I realllllly wanted to buy one. The want to buy one persisted, but I would find some excuse or another to not end up with one. I even passed through 2 sales on Amazon without a purchase. When the year end was near, and the final sale was on, I couldn’t let the opportunity sleep. 2014 ended with the purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite and a beautiful brown cover

My Kindle Paperwhite
Kindle with cover closed
Kindle with the cover closed

The cover flips open to also become a stand so that I don’t have to hold the kindle when I am reading. The strap goes on the reverse, and gives the option to slide my hand in it and hold should I want to.

Propped up
Propped up

This is going to be so much fun.

Mushroom and Paneer, with a dash of Jeera

I love cooking. If I didn’t have to do the dishes, I would end up cooking every other night. But, my tiredness from when I return from work, and said dislike for doing the dishes lends an air of purpose to my cooking sessions. These are the times when I don’t limit myself to something as simple as pasta or rice. Some of my favorite ingredients to use are mushrooms, tofu, and paneer (Indian cottage cheese). This is about one such time when I ended up with a surprise rendition of paneer.

When I used to share an apartment with the roommate, our joint grocery sessions would always involve generous stocking of the refrigerator with these. A particularly tiring day and a fully stocked refrigerator made me want to try out a spicy paneer and mushroom dish to accompany boiled brown rice. While the rice itself was very plain and easy to make, I went all ahead with the paneer. I took out spices from the racks that I hadn’t used in a while, cut up mushrooms into really thin slices, and used the stems to make stock instead of just throwing them away. The fact that fresh paneer was brought from the dairy instead of the frozen cubes made me warm. It’s not that I don’t like the frozen paneer we so easily get in the supermarkets, they just don’t stand on the same level as soft, fresh paneer straight from the dairy.

Slightly less than hour later, I was at the dining table staring at the dinner spread. A plate of cut vegetables with lemon juice sprinkled upon it, a small pot of starchy steaming hot brown rice, and a pan of the best damn paneer and mushroom gravy that I could have made. I picked the lid off the pan and just stared at it. I confess that it looked beautiful. A thick, brown, liquid broth in which swam tiny pieces of onions and tomatoes, as chunks of soft paneer gently floated to the top, joined by thin slices of button mushrooms. Thin wafts of steam were coming off the surface as a handful of cumin seeds (jeera) stood in abandon.

The cumin seeds were a nice touch. Their presence added more substance to a picture that would have otherwise felt incomplete. I remember to not have planned on using them, but it felt a very happy accident to have them. Something felt different about them though. Not just that I wouldn’t normally use them, they didn’t seem to look like normal cumin seeds. They were missing the multiple ridges that run across their length.

I then realized that I actually did not have cumin in the house, having finished my stock in the previous week. A brought a spoon full of it up to examine, only to realize that they were little beetles. The pests had infested a particular old batch of spice that I hadn’t used for quite some time. My feeling of joy at having made such a wonderful dish, was soon turned to disgust. I had almost ended up having bug broth for dinner. With Gusto.

With a feeling of relief that I had observed it before eating, I threw away the star item of my dinner. I made do with mixing a large spoonful of Chinese sauce with the rice, and a lesson to pay more attention to how I store and handle my spices.

Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

What would you do when the family who you cannot be with anymore, comes back to you? What will you do when their ghosts join you in the garden for a conversation? Will you flee them, or will you think that you need medical attention? The ghosts of Thomas Eapen’s family came to him, and he sat down to have a chat. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob has an interesting premise to say the least.


When Amina’s mother tells her of her father’s conversations with his dead mother, she flies home to Albuquerque to check on him. Life at home is not easy. It’s difficult to convince Thomas, a brain surgeon, that his hallucinations are enough cause to not put the lives of patients in his hands. Her mother Kamala however has better things on her mind, like the long pending marriage of her daughter. However when Thomas begins to become consumed with visions of their dead son Akhil in their garden, even Kamala is forced to make decisions.

Life has not always been easy for the Eapens. When Thomas brought Kamala and Akhil to America for a better future, his polarized his mother and brother. A family visit to India for a vacation leaves sour taste as the differences between them only seem to grow larger with the amount of time spent away from each other. A violent outburst leads to early departure for the Eapens, but comes back to haunt Thomas when a fire razes down the house with the family in it. His last memory of the family is the fight that made him leave mid-vacation.

Akhil is a headstrong teen who cannot come to terms with how things are. He continues to grow emotionally detached from the family, and finds comfort in his girlfriend, who sees the caring heart in him. Good times however are not long lived as an accident takes Akhil away from the family. His death becomes the start of the transformation of the family members.

The story jumps between three different times, with Amina being the constant point of view through them all, a reference through which we can see how the family members change. Amina is however not without demons of her own. A professional photographer, her claim to fame was a perfectly timed picture of a man jumping to his death. Her dealing with this brings back memories of her dealing with Akhil’s death when she had started to learn photography.

The story interweaves the three times intricately. Which is why when the story moves from Thomas and his brother Sunil’s fights in 1970’s to present day hallucinations of Thomas in the 90’s, and back to Akhil’s death because of Narcolepsy in the 80’s; it seems like a natural interweaving of story arcs. A river breaking into different branches, which along its length continue to meet and move away on their paths.

The book is an emotional telling about family. One of the key emotions in the book is that of regret. The regret of not being able to be a brother or son’s keeper, of not being able to pursue something of passion, and even the regret of not being understood. The reader goes through the same emotional turmoil as the characters in the book. A turmoil that takes seed and slowly grows till it begins to throttle them slowly.

The slow descent of Thomas into rejecting medical cure and accepting his hallucinations as a cure to his personal demons is moving. Within itself it is a moving tale of what a straight thinking person is willing to give up, but to look at how his decisions affect those of his family, and peel away the layers to their core, is nothing short of brilliant.

I will leave you with some select quotes from the book:

“We are all we have here. Do you understand? That is it. And we can all talk about old times and Campa Cola and wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back, but none of us ever want to go back. To what? To who? Our own families can’t even stand us for longer than a few days! No, we are home already, like it or not,”

“Weddings are about fantasies—you understand? Your job is to photograph the fantasy, not the reality. Never the reality. If I ever see another picture like that, you’re fired.”

“He’s fine,” Kamala said. “It’s not like that. You’re not listening.” “I am listening! You just told me he’s delusional, and I’m asking—” “I DID NOT SAY HE IS DELUSIONAL. I SAID HE WAS TALKING TO HIS MOTHER.” “Who is dead,” Amina said gently. “Obvious.” “And that’s not delusional?”

Starting to ramble

If I don’t count the 2014 review post, then it’s been more than a month since I posted here. I have had a busy time at work, with certain days involving more than 10 hours at work. Add to this an hour long commute, and I end up as an exhausted mess. I am thankful that most of these days are not back to back. A result of this is that I am now so used to the idea of coming back from work, cooking dinner, and then lying down with my laptop and spending time on Reddit or Buzzfeed. It’s more comforting than I had imagined it at a time to be. It’s also stopped to surprise me that I what do end up reading just before going to sleep, is vastly different from where I had started. It’s not that I do not have things to write about, it’s just that I feel that the posts turn out to be half-assed (like this post). I believe this has come from how comfortable I have become in just plonking my self onto a mattress and read away. Which is why when the sister asked me if I would like to ramble for this month, I said yes. I know that I have a history of taking up blog prompts and not finishing them, but try I will. I will use this prompt, which involves posting ramblings across the days of this month, to try and write all that I want to write. About the books that I read, the movies that I saw, the food that I ate, and maybe even about the dreams that I had.

2014 in review for this blog

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Designing my own planet

Asked to design my own planet, the first thing that came to mind was to design a planet with life that I can control and observe from the outside. It would be something similar to having my own personal aquarium or pet zoo of sorts. As tempting as it were, I thought of designing a planet that I would be able to inhabit with my friends and family when I wanted to. Like a home away from home, a planet away from this planet. This meant that I would have to have a planet that would be able to sustain life in a manner similar to Earth. While it would be fun to have it in a different manner, it wouldn’t be so much more fun to relax entire weekends in a space suit. For this to happen, we would need a planet with a similar atmosphere.

I quickly rubbished the idea that any size of a planet could have an atmosphere. I mean look at the Moon. While not a planet, it is however a body smaller than Earth. It doesn’t have enough gravitational force to hold an atmosphere. A planet can only have an atmosphere if the escape velocity is larger than the atmospheric gasses’ molecules. The escape velocity of Earth is 11.2 km/s, which means that something must be travelling at least that fast to escape the gravitational field.

Now Escape Velocity is calculated by the equation Ve=sqrt (2GM/R)
where G = Gravitational constant, M=Mass, and R=radius of the planet

For a sustainable atmosphere, we would need the Gas Velocity to be less than this Ve.

Gas Velocity Vg=sqrt (3kT/m)
Where k = Boltzmann constant, T is the minimum temperature in Kelvin, and m is the mass of the gas molecule.

Since I want a habitable planet I believe that a difference of ten times would be sufficient.

On comparing 10*Vg=Ve to calculate, we have to unknowns M & R. Since I want to have a planet similar to Earth, I can give a value to M. A quick reminder of high school science: Density = Mass/volume. We know the average density of Earth is 5.52 gm/cm cubed. We also that that the volume of a sphere is (4/3)*Pi*R^3. This gives us a value for M as 23122.12*R^3.

We can now compare Vg and Ve to get an approximate value of 2845 kms. This would mean that my planet would need to be at least of a radius of this size to have a sustainable atmosphere.

Now that I have a lower limit on my planet size, I began to think of a higher limit. If I had a larger radius, I would have more mass. This would mean more gravity. Not only would more gravity make it more difficult to walk and move around, it would affect my future generations should I choose to move to the planet for good. You see, the more gravitational force a planet has, the shorter will be the beings born on it. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, as the heart would have to face lesser resistance against the gravity to pump blood to the top most part of the being. It would cause the great grandkids of my great grand kids (I really don’t know how many generations would have to be born for it to make a noticeable change) to be short and stocky.

Now that the planet size has been finalized. I do want my planet to be different from Earth in one particular way. The days and years on Earth are defined based on Earth’s rotation on its own axis, and its revolution around the sun. Instead of having just one sun, I want two. I would have 1 large sun around which a smaller sun revolves, and my planet would revolve around this smaller sun. Quite like how the Moon revolves around the Earth which revolves around the Sun.

Earth is habitable also on account of its magnetosphere. The molten metal core of the Earth generates a magnetic field that protects us from much of the harmful particles of the Solar wind. Since I will have two suns, the planet would need a magnetic core sufficient to create a protective layer against both. Of course this would need to take into account the size of both the suns, the distance of the smaller sun from the larger, the distance of my planet from both, their orbits, and what is the safest habitable zone for my planet from them.

As much as I did read upon it, I couldn’t calculate these aspects and ended up with a headache. Sigh, my planet design will have to be a work in progress for now.

Written for the “Interplanet Janet” Open Prompt at Project 365.

Thanks to Robert Frost’s answer at Quora for solving the equations, without which I would spend a good five more minutes doing the math. 

Of cakes that fall and rise

It is not a secret that I love eating. Cakes are inclusive to this love of mine. In fact not just me, but so many people love cakes that celebrations are not complete without cakes. Birthdays HAVE to have cakes for everyone most (I do remember a friend from school who used to cut pizzas instead of cakes). When I was younger, I would look at mum with my innocent eyes and ask her to bake a cake for me. Nothing fancy, just a simple vanilla sponge cake would do. To this day she makes a point to tell me that her arms and elbows would ache from all the batter mixing (her method involves mixing it all with hands for at least 20 minutes), and that she would never have enough cream left to make ghee. It would all end up in my weekly share of cake.

A dear friend of mine is a voracious reader, and a magic woman when it comes to cooking. I pity her neighbors who have to put up with the delicious aromas wafting out of her kitchen. Pure torture I tell you. As  good great as she is, she cannot exert divine control upon cakes to turn out how she wants them to. Not yet, at least.

One fine day, when she was busy making lemon cakes (for some Sansa Stark fans I hope), one of the cakes decided to be more than that. After all as Petyr Baelish teaches Sansa, “In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them”. This particular cake came out with a big sunken cavity in the center.

The sunken cake

Not someone who will let food go to waste, she did what another friend suggested to her. Since this was a cake with perfect walls, she emptied out the gooey center and added chocolate to it. Instead of just a lemon cake, it was now a combination cake. Time and again I am reminded how wonders can be made of the accidents that befall us. The cake was soon packed and parceled to yours truly. I am having a bite of the solid lemon walls with a gooey, fudgey chocolate center. Absolute bliss.

Combo taste cake for the win

It is the best cake that I have ever had. I love the fact that it something that happened serendipitously. While it could have been another fallen cake, it rose to one of the first combination cakes to come out of the Weekend Kitchen. So much love for her :D. She is probably going to bonk me on the head for putting in A Song of Ice and Fire reference in this 😛

You can read her post about this cake at her blog here.

Where do you answer Nature’s call?

What do you do when you have to answer Nature’s call? No, you do not wonder how Nature managed to get your number and call you up on the cell. Nature’s call is when you feel the urge go to the toilet. Typically this would mean you going to the toilet to empty yourself, but there are so many people who have no toilet to go to. Which is why they end up urinating and defecating in the open near some roads, fields, or vast open lands.

Based on the joint estimates done by WHO and UNICEF in 2010, 15 percent of the people in the world defecate in the open because they don’t have access to a toilet. Indians make up 60% of these numbers. These are people who are exposed on to unhealthy, and unsanitary conditions on a daily basis. This impacts not just their own health but the health of the babies born in such areas. This impacts the future of our nation.

2.4 million children die under the age of 5 in India every year. 20%-25% of these are on account of diarrhea. The relationship to sanitation however has been made clear. If you look at India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), then Infant Mortality Rate reduced by 4 infants per 1000. This clearly shows that with better sanitation and access to toilets, more children will live to fulfil their lives. Not just that, children who lived the first year of their lives in areas with better sanitation grew taller.

How does poor sanitation and lack of toilets affect health? It is simple. Defecating in the open can cause fecal matter to mix with the river’s water supply. The same water that will be then used in their homes for washing, drinking, and cooking. Not all people go to isolated fields or river banks to defecate. Children in particular are known to defecate near their houses. This causes an influx of flies and other germs in the vicinity of the home. On account on poor sanitation, the same hands that were used to clean or remove fecal matter may not be clean enough to prepare food, or wash clothes, and can lead to transmission of diseases.

This leads to a direct impact on the economy of the nation as well. Due to the lack of proper sanitation India faces a loss of 2.4 trillion INR every year, or a per capita loss of 2180 INR. Out of this, the largest chunk of 1.74 billion INR is spent on health (checkups, treatment, medicines and such). Of this, the poorer families suffer the most. Sometimes they lack the necessary funds to treat the illness of their children, or must suffer wage loss while they do so.

Sanitation and toilets are the basic rights of everyone. It is also something that we take for granted most of the time. Something that is as basic as a toilet or latrine is actually something that is out of reach for a large population of this country. This lack of facilities is not only affecting their daily lives by having them go away from their house to defecate, but also leads to many diseases. The severity is such that many children will not live beyond the age of 5. It cannot be stressed enough that it serves as a fundamental right of all citizens.

For my research on this, I mainly used two papers at the Indian Sanitation Portal and the Water and Sanitation Program.

Domex, HUL’s flagship sanitation brand, currently runs the Domex Toilet Academy (DTA) programme. Domex Toilet Academy was launched on 19th November 2013. It aims to become a sustainable and long-term solution to provide sanitation that benefits the local community and helps stimulate the local economy. The Toilet Academy makes toilets accessible and affordable, while promoting the benefits of clean toilets & good hygiene. Our effort has resulted in bringing the change in the villages of Maharashtra and Orissa and we aim to build 24000 toilets by 2015 in rural areas faced with the problem of open defecation.

You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

Written for the ‘Toilet for Babli’ at Indiblogger. 

30 Days 30 Letters: Apology Note

Dear Readers,

It has been obvious for quite some time now that I have not posted a new entry for the 30 Days 30 Letter prompt. Due to some reasons (that include my own lack of proper planning when it came to this prompt) and conflicts, I was not able to post letters while the original schedule ran. It so happens that now I am not able to bring myself to write more posts for this, even though said conflicts or reasons do not remain. There is a sense of disconnect, and after some deliberation I have decided to that I will not post instead of doing a half ass job of it.

The plan now is that I will write the pending letters and save them in my drafts, to be posted only when I have completed the whole bunch. This is not the first time I have failed at completing a blog prompt, and I do not want to repeat it.

I plan to resume normal posts soon.

Dear Tejaswee

Dear Tejaswee,
One of the few letters that I have been absolutely certain about writing since I read about the challenge, is this one. It is truly sad that we didn’t talk while you were still alive. It’s not that I didn’t know that you existed, I did read bits about on your mother’s blog and that was all of it. I know that there are many of us who would love to have known you from before, and it makes me wonder. Would you like have been different had so many different people been your friends? Would it be different enough, for you to have been here right now, causing me to write this letter to someone else entirely?

I still remember that night when I got the call from Shail Di. I was walking back to my desk from the office canteen when I answered her phone. Something about that call made me feel anxious, and I wondered if something had happened to someone I know. She told me in a very broken tone that you had passed away. Back then, a bunch of us were following your updates on your mom’s Google Buzz. I knew that you had not been well, and were later admitted to the hospital with Dengue. We had hoped that you would recover.

It is after this call that I started reading your blog. There are still times when I find myself reading your blog, knowing that there will be no new posts, but still chuckling at the ones that you had written. One of my fondest posts, is actually from your mom’s blog. She wrote about how you wanted something ‘nice’ to eat which would also be something unhealthy. She tried to offer all sorts of ‘healthy’ stuff like milk instead. Mothers, I know 😛 But you got it right, the unhealthy foods taste so yum. I want to high-five you for that.

Has anyone told you that animals love you? While pets do love their family members, what you shared with Proton and Sher Khan was just marvelous. One look at the lot of you together, and it is obvious that there is a special bond. A part of me is a little bit jealous too, seeing the way Sher Khan bonded with you. Isn’t he such an adorable cat?

The letter that you wrote to your future daughter, is one of the most beautiful pieces that I have ever read. It has such a free flow of emotions to it. I think why this letter is special, is the fact that you wrote it when you were a teenager yourself on the cusp of adulthood yourself. You wrote it in a manner that made one relate to their own life, and what they would like to have from someone older than them at such a point in their life.

You wanted to adopt a girl. It was your one resolution that you knew wouldn’t be broken. Now, a girl has a loving family because of you. A family where she will be loved and cherished as much as you were. Your legacy 🙂


Tejaswee Rao is the daughter of IHM. Fondly called TJ by friends, she died from complications as a result of Dengue. You can read the posts she wrote at her lovely blog. This letter was written as part of the 30 days 30 letters prompt: A letter to A Deceased person you wish you could talk to.