Closing Argument

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I do not have a closing argument. I saw Mulk two weeks ago and I enjoyed it a lot. It was a nuanced and subtle depiction/analysis of the relationship between religion and terrorism and our perception of the same. What I liked most was that it comes across as a soft handed approach to deliver a message. There are no explosive or aggressive tactics to bring forth a powerful message. One of my favorite scenes is the closing argument delivered by Tapsee Pannu in the end. With that argument she ties the entire story together; she talks about the philosophy of ‘them and us’- that is, when we come to identify with a certain faith/ideology/group of people, we create a mental divide between us and rest of the world (them). No matter how fragile she seems at times during the proceedings, it is impressive how beautifully that argument culminates the series of arguments that we see in the second half and how strongly her argument hits home, you know that you’ve seen this ‘them and us’ unfold before, you know that you’ve done this at some point.

I was reminded of ‘The Good Wife‘. I was reminded of all the episodes where the lawyers prepare an approach to defend their client. The proceedings last for days, the approach sees multiple shifts and ultimately it all comes down to that closing argument where the lawyers highlight the strength of their case, challenge the opposing counsel and milk the sympathy of the jury in their favor. You don’t win with a feeble closing argument.

If you look closely, your family arguments have a closing argument too, that final set of words meant to deliver a turbulent blow and suspend the dialogue. However unlike legal dramas, these closing statements may not be coherent, they just have to bear a strong impact to intimidate the other person. In my opinion, there are a set of classic closing arguments, that I always hear in family arguments. No matter what the subject of the argument be, it always ends in:

  • I am going to stop talking to you completely.
  • If you pursue this any further, our relationship will cease to exist for me.
  • I am going to leave this house.
  • I swear I am not going to do xyz – insert subject of the matter- irrespective of how much you coax me.
  • How many years do I have left now.

Like I said earlier they may not be coherent at all but they have a emotional impact and they all emphasize how vehemently one feels for their side of the argument that they did not shy away from articulating these statements (read, threats). It is like check mate because how do you argue against these statements. You might be tempted to repeat the statement thrown at you but you will only lose ground on doing so because there will be no authenticity to what you say and that will only translate to a lack of conviction.

I am not much of an arguer when I am home. It is not that I am not prone to anger but I do not vocalize it rather I bottle it. I find arguments unsettling and investing energy in fighting that is going to unsettle you rather than the opponent is a futile act. Also, I never win. In the few arguments that I have participated in, nobody takes me seriously because (a) I do not relentlessly pursue my case, I give in mid way and (b) I do not have a closing argument to gain an upper hand.

If I consider arguments 1 to 3 listed above, I can never use them. I am too timid to issue such threats because firstly I do not say such things casually out of spite, anger or irritation. People who argue often tend to say such things because they believe their words will have no value as soon as their anger fizzes out. Secondly no one will believe me if I say any of this because they know I am too much of an emotional fool to act on them. They know that I am too weak for detachment and hence they will not be intimidated. Of course I can bluff, I can try feigning sternness when I say these things. But I am not a good at bluffing either, I do not even bluff in a game of bluff. That is how hopeless I am.

I will be a complete failure at argument number 4 also because it is extremely easy to make me do something- send me on a guilt trip. In fact you do not even have to intervene, I will volunteer myself into guilt. Chances are that in the middle of the argument, I might already be feeling guilty for saying something harsh. After that I will start my mental pep talk to arrive at a compromise. It is in fact comical when I say that I am not doing that particular thing while I have already begun working at that thing even before the last word is out of my mouth.

Using argument number 5 is completely out of question because I believe it is manipulative to use aging in your favor. I can never be comfortable using that one. And then I am 25, average life expectancy rate does not make it an effective argument against my parents.

Since I am not a good arguer, I am the spectator and the mediator in my home – the Hermoine to the arguing Harry and Ron. You have to choose a role in the house and I opted (or imagined in my head) to be the mediator. However like I told you before, I find arguments unsettling and the distaste just keeps growing with time. Over the years I have been asked that if I find the mediation to be so exhausting then why do I engage at all, why not give up on it. Even I have been contemplating on the same lines lately, however the answer hit me last night. At the end of an argument, everyone knows where they stand, which door they are headed towards and what are they going to do then. But I know nothing. In the end they will all head in different directions and I will remain sitting where I am. I am scared that if I do not try, will I have anyone or anything left in the name of family at all.


The image has been sourced from Flickr and licensed here.

 

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Things my parents do not know about me

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When I was in college, I used to go out alone whenever things would overwhelm me just to have a coffee or idly wander window shopping.

Here’s a small trait about me, I enjoy being on my own at times, especially when I am under stress. I cannot pin this down to an exact reason but I like the liberty that I can take with the place that I am going to, the food/beverage that I am going to have or the time that I am going to devote to a place/thing. Maybe it’s because when I go out with company I am constantly worried about their comfort. Then on some days, I like the liberty of not having to take an effort to make conversations. I discovered this during the first year of college so I made it a ritual to go out alone whenever I felt a little under the sun. My safety was a concern to my parents and they did not (fyi, they still do not) understand my need for a secluded outing, so I never told them about that aimless trip to Westside or to the Cafe Coffee Day at Moolchand Metro Station or going to a random book store in Saket or Khan Market.

I put myself under a lot of pressure in the last 4 years of my school life to act in a certain manner so that people would stop talking ill of my personality.

I have written about this earlier in disjointed bits that I do not remember my school fondly. I was 13 when I stumbled upon the popular opinion where my introversion was being branded as arrogance. There were judgments about how I dressed myself, how I would tie my hair, how I spoke, about my body weight. I was too young to simply accept it and let it go. My mother wasn’t a huge fan of my introversion either and she always urged me to talk more or act friendlier even though I felt awkward around people. So like other people, I also began to believe that there was something heinous about my introversion and came to see myself as a misfit. That’s how I dedicated 4 years of my life trying to modify my own personality so as to please other people.

I feel guilty when they spend money on me.

I was 23 when I wrote, “I am 23 and I am not earning”. I was 24 when I wrote, “I am 24 and I am not earning:. Now I am 25 and I am going to write that I am 25 and I am not earning. I do not like my parents having to spend on me. In fact I do not like anybody else spending money on me. I just want to be independent, earn my own money and take care of my expenses. Unfortunately my never ending education keeps on delaying that and sending me on a recurring guilt trip every time my parents spend money on me.

I do a few theist things for their peace of mind.

I am not an atheist. But I am not a conventional theist. I do not like going to temples, the commercialization of temples irks me. I do not like sitting in a pooja or a satsang. I do believe in certain superstitions like women should not go to temples on their period or not eating garlic/onions during navratri or not eating eggs on Tuesday. However I do not challenge my parents on any of the above because it is their discretion what they choose to believe in. I go to temples with them because I see it as time that I am spending with them. I think the more I argue with them on the differences in our beliefs the more I will end up hurting them.

I have weird/twisted/depressing dreams that has aggravated my anxiety over the years.

I am always confused how did the series of my unfortunate dreams begin. Was it my anxiety that translated into anxious dreams or were it my dreams that gave birth to my anxiety. I have strange dreams, five on seven days I am witnessing death or I am in a life threatening situation or I am in captivity or I am running to save my life. The details are unpleasant, so my parents have never been apprised of them.

I gave up on what I wanted to do because I believed that it would hurt them.

I wanted to be a journalist or a script writer or an author. But I gave up on that. I do not think my parents who are quite open minded to be open minded enough to see their daughter not take a conventional career. I did not want them to witness the uncertainty that my choice of career involved. I did not want to go through arguments over arguments with them to validate my choice. I just did not want to put them out of ease.

I do not believe in arranged marriages.

To me arranged marriages are playing poker blind, in fact worse because your life is at stake here. I cannot understand how can one simply walk into a life long relationship without even knowing their better half beyond a few months. In fact the time people invest in planning their weddings is much more than the time they invest in knowing their compatibility with their partner. It appears bizarre to me because the wedding is going to last you for 3 days while the actual marriage is expected to last till your death. But my parents have no clue about my great opinions on marriage. Because they will simply assume that this is a perspective that I have borrowed from my brother which is untrue because this is a perspective that I have built solely on the basis of being surrounded by couples bound by an arranged match throughout my life.

I have terrible cramps on the second day of my period. Sometimes the cramps begin as early as 5 am in the morning and sometimes they last through the night.

We do not have open conversations about periods in my house. I think the approach was to snub the conversation right from the beginning so I never found the comfort to speak about my periods in my house. So I have blinding abdomen pain on the second day of my period that usually lasts 6-7 hours even if I take a pain killer. Earlier there was a pattern at least that the pain would begin at around 1 in the afternoon but now the onset can be sudden and it can extend till the time I fall asleep that night. In addition to that my digestive system goes for a toss and practically everything other than a cup of hot coffee seems unappetizing to me. This has been going in for over ten years now and my parents have no clue about this.

When I was 12, a family friend made a pass at me.

I was headed to a birthday party with our family friend’s daughter. I was waiting for her at their house while she had headed out to buy a gift. Her father was lying down on a couch and watching television. I was sitting on the other couch when while talking to me he proposed that I kiss him on the cheek. I found that request odd, unreasonable, irrational and out of the place. I denied but he continued to plead with me and then he extended his arm to hold me. But I was quick, so I got up and walked out of the front door. I continued waiting outside because I knew he wouldn’t risk making a pass in front of other people. I never spoke about this with my parents. Maybe it was my discomfort in talking about the incident, maybe it was an attempt to not jeopardize my mother’s friendship or maybe I did not want her to be worried.

I am dating a friend of mine.

I am dating a friend of mine who I know for around three years now. We have both been deliberate in sharing with others about our relationship because we just wanted to see how it works out for the both of us. I have found in my boyfriend, a lot of what I wanted in my partner; most importantly he listens to all of my stories- opinions on a book/movie/television shows, mundane details of my day, what subject am I studying, etc. He is there when I need him. I feel guilt over keeping this from my parents. But I cannot say for certain if they will be understanding or not, if they will be prejudiced or keep an open mind, if they will worry about ‘log kya kahenge’ (that is, what will people say) or not. Whatever their reaction be, I do not have the heart to know that right now.

I don’t think my parents know how much I love them.

I believe I don’t vocalize it enough. I care about my parents. Every decision in my life has a filter of how will it impact them. I try to make small adjustments whenever I can so that they will not be inconvenienced. It has been like this from the beginning. But they don’t see it because I appear headstrong on the exterior. And that’s okay with me, so long as they are happy.


This was a small list of things that I have kept from my parents. Why don’t you drop a comment and tell me about one such secret that you haven’t shared with your parents.


The image has been sourced from Flickr licensed here.

About 25

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I turned 25 last Saturday. It’s a big number. Technically, I am half way through life. Almost everyone who wished, inquired how did it feel to be 25; does 25 provoke a worry in my heart that I am growing old. I laughed and said no. Not that worrying would somehow halt the process of growing old. Like with every other complexity in life that you worry about and how worrying does not amount to be of any help, it wasn’t going to help here either. However the fact is that 25 did not worry me at all. Rather, I was excited to have left behind a weird year and it just felt good. As a child, 25 was the age by which I hoped to settle down professionally and I am in fact approaching the end of my master’s. It might sound bizarre to some because I am already behind a lot of my peers who have settled down in their careers for a year or two maybe and some are even getting married. But I like to take things at my own pace and I cannot rush myself into things. So yes, life begins at 25 for me.

There was a day last year when I cam back from office to a flat that I had rented out with two other girls who I did not know from earlier. So I came back at around 6, unlocked the door with minimum possible noise, walked into my room slyly, switched off the lights, bolted the door from inside and pretended that I was not home yet. I continued the pretense till 11 in the night when I believed that my flatmates had retired to their respective rooms calling it a day. I ordered myself dinner, silently walked to the ground floor to collect the food and walk back inside the house and my room slyly so that nobody noticed that I was inside that house. Why did I do that? I had a major fallout with the two of them. That entire month was filled with confrontations and name calling and abusive behavior. Just that morning they had threatened to throw me out of the house that I was paying for. I remember being so exhausted and suffocated that night. There were five more days remaining in that house and I could not fathom seeing past those five days. I simply lied in my bed and wondered where I will find the strength to put up with another confrontation. But as you can see, I did see through those five days albeit with very little self respect left and a life time of savings wiped off behind me. I managed to get out of that house and out of all the negativity it had fostered in my mind. You see, that is the fascinating thing about time that somehow we manage to move on.

This is just one story of the many anxious and worrisome days of 25 years of my existence. Take a minute here and think of all the times when you felt exhausted, when you felt like you’re going to fail, when you actually failed (an exam, a relationship or a situation) and believed that you would never be able to move past the sting of failure, but you did.

I have always been worrisome. Five on seven days, I am worried. Every now and then I find something to feed my anxiety. As a child, any day that I woke up late for school by say, ten minutes I would spend another ten crying as if a catastrophe had befallen my life. I still get worried when I am running late but at least now I don’t cry and on some days I manage to rationalize that the outcomes are not going to be drastic.

As a teenager, I don’t think there was a day when I dressed up for an occasion without thinking that I was ugly. And every time my mother tried to comfort me I would confront her saying that she is not complimenting out of honesty but out of affection. From then to feeling okay with the way I look, that is another lesson that I have learned.

I still remember how I began experiencing sudden bouts of anxiety in 2014. I would get up 3- 4 times in the night to check if the stove has been left on accidentally, sometimes at intervals of two minutes. I would constantly worry about not having the locked the main door before stepping out. At times, I would come back to check on it. I used to sit in the car, imagining all the possible ways of collision. Some days I would worry about dropping my phone unnoticed. A pattern began to forge in my head where every time I felt that I was accountable for something, I would panic that I am going to fail. However, with time I have managed to muster some sense into me to calm down and some spirit to keep fighting my anxiety.

The thing that nobody appreciates about age is that the more the number of years you add to it, the more fertile is your mind and the richer are your experiences. With this post, I am not trying to imply that I have evolved into a perfect/zen individual at 25. I still worry over silly things, I still allow situations to overwhelm me, I still allow judgments to bother me, I still detest failures and I feel miserable every time I fail but every time that happens I convince myself that I can move past this . I have 25 years behind me standing precedent to the fact no matter how terrible that one day, one month or that one year may seem like, our survival instinct sails us through. Life goes on and with every year you learn something be it something as simple as calculating the time value of money or something as complex as designing a currency swap arrangement to benefit two borrowers in different countries.

At 20, when your teacher first talks about ‘beta of a security’ you manage to register nothing of it. But at 24 when you attain the sanity to spend some time with the concept, you understand that beta is the measure of a stock’s sensitivity to market movements. Let’s say you hold a share of Infosys, the beta of which is 1.2. It means that every time the market index moves, your share will move at 0.2 times higher than the market movement. That is a fall in 10% of the market index means a fall of 12% on your share. Since the movements of your share are steeper than the market movements, you are holding a risky share. The good thing about a risky share is that you can demand a higher return for the extra risk you are bearing. So beta in a way compares your share’s risk and return to market variables.

See how simple things become with time and wisdom. So the next time, Pinterest quotes, Monday Motivation posts on Instagram and the productivity listicles do not cut it out for you, take a moment and look back at your own life and all the little battles that you’ve fought and all the little achievements that you’ve accomplished on your own. Remember the bigger the age, the higher the achievements and the higher the motivation.


The image has been sourced from Flickr.

How did I decide to become a CA

For the uninitiated, CA here refers to Chartered Accountant and I am on my way to become one. If you don’t know what a Chartered Accountant is, do not worry; you are not in minority here, even I did not know what a CA does when I made the fateful decision to become one. I must have been very brave back then to have chosen this career without any background research. Because as of now, I don’t even step in for coffee without looking at the ratings of a place now and at 17 I turned the wheels of my life into a completely unknown direction.

16 is the age where most Indian students make a decision as to what stream do they want to study for the last two years of school and possibly beyond school. Fun fact, I am 24 and I still don’t know what I want to do. I really don’t see how could have I known ‘the subject/stream/career’ eight years ago. The only thing I knew back then was that I do not want to be an engineer. I don’t know why and I don’t know how but I was absolutely certain that I am not going to be an engineer. If given a choice, most Indian parents want to see their children becoming Engineers or Doctors and never anything else. The other career options are residuary in nature- that is, first a child is expected to try their hands at science and then switch to another subject only if they foresee no possibility of success at science (read failure to obtain a college seat or failure to obtain a well paying job after college). And if the child has a good academic record, it becomes almost impossible to imagine them not taking up science.

I had a solid academic record. Of all the things, that I could have been born with, God decided to give me a good brain. I say that sadly because in India a good brain limits your choices and mine got limited too. Since engineering was ruled out, my parents automatically assumed that I would be a doctor. I don’t blame them. I delayed my decision till the time it was absolutely necessary to make a choice and I wasn’t very open to them about my discomfort with Physics or complete disinterest in Biology or my aversion to hospitals. If your child averages a score of 96 in every subject that he/she has studied, even you might be tempted to believe that they are going to sail off well in all of them, so why not science. Also, being one of the products of the Indian education system even I fell prey to the same reasoning that Science maybe my golden ticket to success in life.

It took me two weeks in the science class to realize that this may not be the correct choice. It took me arguments and deliberations with my parents to make them see how uncomfortable I am with the idea of permanently being in the vicinity of hospitals, sickness and blood. It took days of coming back from school with displeasure on my face. It took that Physics teacher in school to not even take the initiative of explaining a topic before asking us to solve questions because he assumed that everyone had already learned the topic at a coaching class. Finally, it took the coaching teacher to draw an itemized cost sheet of how much this half-hearted attempt at science would cost me for the first two years. And then, I switched to Commerce.

Since I was a child, I had been good with money and I had been good with numbers. I felt that I could do better at Commerce than I could at Science. Almost everyone who knew me was disappointed or surprised with my decision. My parents didn’t seem thrilled with the idea. Every time they tried accepting my decision, a neighbor, a relative, a friend or an acquaintance would express their dismay over my choice. The general consensus was that if I were truly bright, I would have opted for Science. My parents would probe me about my future after school plans. But I had no concrete answers to give because like I earlier pointed out I was quite undecided on my career.

I used to tell them that in the two years at school, I am going to weigh in on my career options; but mostly I want to become a journalist or write for television. My prime career choices somehow dismayed them a little further. Their grounds were that if I wanted to take a career in an unrelated stream, then I should have simply stuck to science in school and then switched streams later on. Secondly, my career choices seemed easy to them; they were non serious choices unfit for a person with some serious potential. Somewhere around the same time, a distant cousin in the family who had taken commerce had completed her graduation from one of the top colleges at Delhi University and simultaneously completed Chartered Accountancy. Her education trajectory came to be branded as the ‘it’ thing to do if you are doing Commerce. It sounded like a serious choice. And then it automatically came to be seen as an obvious choice for me.

I was 17 and on days I felt guilty of hurting my parents by not taking science. Or maybe I was too tired to validate my choices to my parents, teachers and a lot of other people who were finding faults with it. Or maybe I was accustomed to pleasing my parents. Or maybe I loved them as much to consider giving their choice a chance. I don’t know what exactly it was, but somehow I decided to sideline my journalism/screenwriting plans to make way for Chartered Accountancy in my life. I thought that I would first become a CA, earn some money and then make time for pursuing a career that could make use of my writing skills and my imagination. That was the plan. I did not even know what a CA did, I did not know what auditing meant. But I made that plan, based purely on some cousin’s success and an accounting teacher’s romanticized notions about Chartered Accountancy who incessantly preached that CAs people of great dignity and integrity. I am 24 today and I am still trying to stick to that plan.

I have tried to quit a couple of times, not as much vocally as much mentally. I went to the second best college in the country for my undergraduate studies. And in the final year, there was a good opportunity for me to quit. But my parents did not agree. They thought that I was scared of the effort that CA demanded so they coaxed me to continue and I continued. In the first six months that followed my graduation, I should have definitely quit. But I started feeling incapable, undeserving and most importantly ‘stupid’ to be able to find a way out of this and so I continued.

In the three years of my training mandatory to appear for the final exam, I have never enjoyed working with a CA or have come to respect them barring one person who I worked with in the last year. Earlier this year, my second principal (read boss) insulted me for 3 hours straight and made me feel so small because I asked for a favor from him and in those 3 hours of belittlement all I thought was how long can I allow an irrational decision in the name of career choice to agonize me. I should have quit right there but it was too late till then. I can’t even count how many nights have I cried myself to sleep over not having the liberty to simply switch. There are days when I just feel depressed and anxious. I have little to no confidence left in myself. I second judge all of my decisions. I can’t even foresee myself doing something related to writing because somehow my standard approach to a lot of things in life now is ‘what is the point of this?’.

I have had five years of bottling this agony inside me and now that it is slowly starting to spill in front of my parents, it surprises them, it looks like a phase to them and it even seems unreasonable to them. I think it’s only fair that they think so because after all it was my decision to become a CA; I made the plan based on a flawed hypothesis. It was my drive to make everyone happy that has costed me my own happiness. I made a stupid decision and if you’ve read this far here are a few pointers for you with respect to decision making process:

  • You do not owe your career decision to anybody, not even your parents because the onus of making a life out of that career rests entirely on you.
  • Once you start investing time in a career choice and you can see that it is not working out for you, quit. Do not continue because you believe that all the time and energy invested will come to a waste. Do not continue because you think it’s late because if the feeling resurfaces subsequently it will be even later.
  • Never take a decision to avoid a confrontation because sooner or later, the confrontation does happen and if it happens after you have prioritized someone’s choice over yours, the hurt is phenomenal.
  • Do not take a decision without listing out the pros and cons, thinking that you will make it work for you because there’s a possibility that what the decision demands out of us is much greater than what it is going to yield for us in the future.

This was my story of how a single decision turned around my perspective and approach to life. What about you? Can you think of one such decision?


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We’ve got fat all wrong

First things first, I am fat. Not very fat but definitely a few pounds on the upper side of the scale. I have been fat since I was 11, right at the time when I welcomed puberty in my life. But honestly, hormones or not, I was meant to be fat because I detested any sort of sport or physical activity. As a child, I was selective of what I invested my time in. If anything fell out of my comfort zone or if I was bad at a thing, I would never do that; and any sort of physical exercise always has been my Achilles heel- I couldn’t even run straight and I believe I still can’t. So in order to hide my ineptitude at sports, I decided I would never commit to them. Also almost everything that I enjoyed as a child/teenager required me to sit at a desk like studying (yes, I was the nutcase who enjoyed studying), reading and watching television. I used to dance a lot in my younger years but I gave up on that entirely as I grew up to be too conscious. I was an active child otherwise, like I had no qualms in helping my mother or running an errand or simply working on something. It’s just that nothing that I did was physically challenging. So for the first 11 years or so, my body cooperated and then one day the fat started to show.

I did not see the first signs. I think I have always had the tendency to be in denial of things that can potentially inconvenience me in the future. So when my legs began to look bulgier, I took no note of that. It was only a couple of months later when the winter arrived that I could see that I did not fit in any of my jeans. It was heartbreaking. First, it was the jeans, then it was my priced denim skirt and then a couple of shorts that I loved wearing during summers- clothes continued to not fit and life continued to seem more heart breaking with each passing day. I became more selective in what I wore because I did not want others to take note of my newly acquired fat. But of course those tricks work only in your brain. Almost everyone I knew noticed. My mother did and she tried persuading me into losing it. At some point in the year, there was always that conversation where my fat was brought up- almost during every summer vacation when I was surrounded by my much leaner cousins or when I was reading about celebrity weight loss stories in a magazine that if I can read about it then why can I not do it for myself. The words began to hurt.

Eventually, I started rationing my diet. I have never had a huge appetite. I have always eaten three meals of home cooked food. Even though I enjoyed chips and carbonated drinks my access to them was limited. So out of whatever I was eating, I decided that the safest meal to skip was the breakfast. Gradually, from skipping breakfast I made my way to eating only a meal in a day and 1-2 cups of coffee. I was 55 kg at 17, which is good for a person who is 168 cms tall. But even then I was unsatisfied. I wanted to look thin and 55 wasn’t cutting it out for me.

When I say that we are taking the wrong approach to fat, I am trying to draw your attention to the fact that we want to lose the fat because we want to look thin and not because we want to be healthier. For almost a decade, all the unsolicited fat advice that has made its way to me rooted from the premise of body shaming. My fat seemed undesirable because ‘log kya kahenge’ (what will other people say). Almost everyone around me had me convinced that you work towards weight loss for validation from others. Even if you stand at a healthy weight, you are supposed to work for a leaner body frame because that is what is deemed to be acceptable in our society. And by that standard, I have never been at the acceptable level. I have always felt that push that if I lost a few more pounds, I would look prettier.

I had a weak immune system when I was in school. Every blood test that was taken till the time I was 18 showed that my hemoglobin levels were shy of the normal level. Given how little I ate, the poor blood results were meant to be. At 18, I went to college and things began to change. For the first time in my life, I began to value food- thanks to the scant meals available to me as a paying guest during the first two years in college. I craved my mother’s food and hoarded on it every time I was home. Also, I came to realize that eating less doesn’t guarantee weight loss- because I was eating less in college and my weight did not change at all. When I looked up for information online, it affirmed my doubts that curtailment of meals in fact forces your body to hold on to the existing body fat because the body needs that much energy to keep going. Among a number of things that I stumbled upon was ‘Fitness Blender’ on YouTube.

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Fitness Blender is a fitness channel run by a young couple who upload a number of doable/achievable workout videos on YouTube. If you see their channel or visit their website, you will realize that they have a number of short to long videos catering to different fitness needs with beginner/low impact modifications. The young couple and their channel has been the catalyst in shifting my perspective towards weight loss. They have made me understand that you should not work towards fat loss because fat is stigmatized. In fact, fat is a stigma for all the wrong reasons; it is a stigma because you’re scared that the neighborhood aunties are going to comment on it, because you’re scared that your fat will make you stand out among your group of friends, because you’re scared that when you meet your extended family a year later they will make a quip or two on your weight gain. Rather, fat should be stigmatized because obesity is the home to many long term chronic diseases. We should be mindful of what we eat not because we are trying to aim towards a certain waistline but because our food is responsible for making or breaking our health in the long run.

I have been working out for four years now- on and off. I have no weight loss to back that claim. But I can see how my body has changed. A lot of exercises that I struggled with in the beginning seem doable to me now. I can now last a 50 minute workout. I can lift weights now. My body is much more flexible than it ever was. To a person, who detested any physical activity as a child can do a number of fancy sounding exercises. And even though this has not yielded into a substantial weight loss figure, I find all of this empowering in a way. I have started eating like a normal person and my blood results have improved a lot. I can feel how strong my body feels now and I have come to understand that the thin waistline that I had always aimed for and the means that I had taken to achieve that would have never made my body feel how it feels presently.

Why am I writing about this today is because I have struggled a lot with my body weight and eating habits. Even after a lot of self restraint, I could not stop myself from gaining weight. If only, someone had told me to not rely on the dubious crash diets or crash workouts back then it could have saved me a lot of time, energy and mental peace. So if you see someone around you who is struggling with body weight please do not body shame them, please do not insist them to lose weight for ‘acceptability’; instead help them find them a sustainable way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


On a side note, have you over thought something that you wanted to write about? I have over thought writing this post for a long time now. I still am not sure if I should have written this.

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Maybe George Clooney is right after all

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I watched Up in the Air. Up in the Air is one movie that has been popping up on my recommendations for a long time now. But I never watched it. I am going to tell you a little secret- I am scared of watching bad movies. If I am idle, you will never see me streaming a new movie. It will always be an old favorite. As a family ritual, I watch a new release every weekend with my parents and trust me when I say this, most releases in the year are horrible. Of all the movies that I watched this year, I only liked two. So when I already dedicate time to watching mostly sub par movies, I have no appetite left to risk watching another potentially bad movie during the rest of the week. That’s how I never watched Up in the Air. But two weeks ago, I decided to give it a try.

Up in the Air is based on a man who spends most of his time travelling for work. For a major part of the movie, George Clooney is in the air and if not in the air, then at some location in and outside the airport to be in the air. He has an enviable life, he is always on the move, he gets to travel on his company’s expense, he gets to exploit fancy lounges and hotels at his company’s expense, there is nothing or nobody in terms of belongings or possessions to hold him back and importantly he has a dream that is achievable, that doesn’t depend on anybody else but him. He wants to earn 1 million miles (loyalty points equivalent for an airline). Why? Because he will be the 7th man in the world to do so, he will be a part of an exclusive club, he will get to have a chat with the pilot and simply because this thrills him.

There is a talk that he is shown to give at conferences. In the talk George Clooney asks you to take a backpack and fill it with all your possessions- everything that you own. His idea is simple, that once you lift the backpack and put it across your shoulders you will realize how your possessions weigh you down. And frankly, it does make sense. There are so many things that we buy, some impulsively, some decisively but do we ever contemplate if we need these or not; and they do hinder our mobility. Do not agree with me? Every time you step out, do you not worry, if you have locked the house properly or not? Do you not fear that someone might break in and wipe you off of your assets? Do you not get annoyed with how things keep breaking apart and you have to constantly keep investing in them?

His talk doesn’t end there. He next asks you to take a backpack and fill it with your relationships. He wants you to feel how the weight makes the straps cut across your skin. He wants you to evaluate how this baggage will stop you from going places, from doing what you want to do, from achieving your goals. And strange as it may seem, this did make sense to me. I am not George Clooney’s character in real life, I am far away from that. I value relationships, sometimes above my own desires. So when George Clooney gave the talk, I could feel the straps cutting across my skin. I could see all my abandoned decisions play right before my eyes.

Maybe it’s not about Up in the Air and the talk solely. It’s about this past year and the frequent realization that people do what they want to do. They will do what suits their whim and sometimes it has a negative bearing on your life. However people never extend the same liberty to you. They use their words and their emotions to hold you back. The funny thing is that you let them hold you back, you let them change your decisions, you let them dictate your choices. Why? Because you want to see them happy; because you know that they will not understand/agree with your choices; because you fear that you are going to hurt them through your decisions. The funnier thing is that people never see how you alter your life’s course for them, they never value it and they do not even acknowledge it. So when George Clooney said what he said, it rang a bell. I wanted to see how life looks like at Clooney’s side of the world. I wanted to taste that sense of freedom that lets you go where you want to go without a second thought.

Of course, Clooney is not a happy man either. But that is the beauty of ‘Up in the Air’, it’s an excellent commentary on our world, relationships and solitude- it’s that message that happiness and sadness come in cycles and in fact nobody is constantly happy. If you watch closely, you will see how Clooney gets hurt only when he acts on someone else’s advice and alters his decisions. Pain comes to him when he changes his plans, when he does something for a person and comes to have expectations. He was happy untethered and maybe you and I will be too. The more I think about the movie, the more I come to believe that it’s simpler to have fewer things to my name and to have fewer relationships in my life. It seems simpler to not have to think about how many people get affected with my choices. It seems simpler to be to able to fly for once.


If you have watched Up in the Air, tell me what did you think of the movie. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do, it will certainly make you reconsider a lot of your choices and judgments.


Also, I had decided to participate in Nano Poblano this year but since my November had different plans for me, I was unable to write anything for the past ten days. However since it took me 4 years to participate, I don’t want to lose on this entirely. So I have decided that I will write for the rest of this moth and do a partial Nano Poblano.

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Why I cut my hair?

When I was in school, I wanted to grow up to look beautiful. In my eyes, I wasn’t beautiful as a teenager. I detested sun screen, so I was tanned throughout the year. I was too late to consider threading my eyebrows and as I recall someone told me that my face looked slightly manly. I did not believe in the concept of make up and I still don’t except for eye liner and lip gloss. Importantly, for most part of my school life, I wore a medium/long bob haircut and to me short hair never seemed beautiful. Every woman who I admired back then for her beauty had long hair, so my idea of beauty coincided with long hair. Thus when I decided that I have to look pretty for my school farewell, the obvious initiative on that front was to grow my hair long.

For one year, I did not get my hair cut. I used to massage my hair with hot oil at least once a week. I used to wear two plaits to school every morning. Barring natural conditioners, I did not put anything on my hair. At the end of that year, I had grown my hair to a reasonable length. As I believe, I looked pretty decent for my farewell. That farewell kind of strengthened my idea about beauty and long hair. I decided that I’d keep growing my hair. With time, I grew more apprehensive of salons, haircuts and hair treatments. I remember walking into a salon for a hair trim at the end of my first semester in college where the lady who managed the salon showed me a short hairstyle in a magazine. I got so terrified that she’d inconsiderately chop off my hair that I walked out of there and began reconsidering the hair trim.

Every time, I sat on the chair for a haircut, I insisted that only the dead hair and the split ends be cut and the hair length should not be compromised. If the barber cut them shorter than my expectations, I would mope for an entire week. I was conscious about using a single brand of shampoo and conditioner. Any time I felt that my hair feel rough after a wash, I switched brands. Eventually I grew wary of store bought conditioners, because my hair felt weighed down, so I started looking up DIY conditioners online.

In my final semester, I remember walking out of my hostel room one morning and realizing that the girl who lives two doors next to me has cut her hair. She had gorgeous straight hair, the kind that they show in shampoo ads and now she was wearing a short bob. For that entire day, I could not come to fathom that someone with such lovely hair would commit such an atrocity by chopping them off. The idea felt strange.

I graduated from college and moved back home. That year is not one of my good years. All I remember doing was re-reading Harry Potter. In October that year, I went for a hair trim before some dinner party. After I got ready, my mother told me that my hair look the same no matter what I do. That night, when I looked at myself in the mirror I could see what she saw. I always looked the same. I kept my hair open at most times and at other times I tied them in a pony tail. I could not do those fancy Youtube/Pinterest braids. In spite of being this invested in my hair for 4 years, my hair never grew over a certain length and my hair texture did not improve beyond a point. In fact, my scalp grew oilier with time, forcing me to wash them every alternate day. On some mornings when I woke up, my head felt heavy. That’s how I decided that I have to cut them short.

I first pitched the idea to my mother who out-rightly dismissed it citing my efforts over the years and that my hair are beautiful. Listening to her response, I scrapped my plans but only temporarily. With time, my hair started seeming like a liability to me. No matter what pack I tried, things remained constant. They stopped making me happy and the idea to chop them off kept revisiting me. For six months, I pitched the idea to every person I knew, and the unanimous outcome was that short hair will not complement my face according to popular opinion is broad. I even took a couple of online quizzes on whether I should cut my hair. I believe it is human to seek validation before you act on a decision. I was looking for that validation because I was scared that this might turn out to be an erred decision. I had doubts that I’d look ugly or messy or that I would never be able to grow my hair long again. So, I just wanted one person to nod their head in agreement but no one did.

It was April and I was headed out for lunch with my parents. That day as I was getting ready, I frantically tried to make my hair look less oily and that is when I decided that I have to put an end to this every day struggle. I told my mother in the evening that I am getting my hair cut short. We walked to the salon together. Once my hair were washed, a guy combed my hair and asked me how do I want to get them cut. I gestured with my hand slightly above the shoulder. He looked at me baffled but I told him that I have made my mind. He suggested that I opt for a hair treatment rather than chopping off a good 12-15 inches. I politely declined his suggestion. The woman who manages the salon insisted that my mother should stop me from giving up on such fine hair. But I stayed firm and that is how I managed to walk out with a medium bob.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, the hair cut appeared much more pleasant than what I imagined it to be. It felt light and it made me look young. My mother approved of it, my father said it reminds him of how I looked as a child and my brother-who was sick of my long hair- said that I am never growing them back. I asked my mother to take a picture and shared it with friends and family. I put the picture on Instagram and captioned it, ‘Just like that the tresses are gone’. Almost everyone I shared it with was taken aback at the abruptness of my decision. A cousin called it a wild brutal move where I butchered away my hair without any qualms. I had a friend who exclaimed, ‘But you loved your hair, why would you do this?’. As and when people saw me in person or in pictures, they felt sorry that I let such gorgeous hair let go. Another friend made me promise that I will grow them back.

For days, it felt odd because every time I ran my fingers across my hair, I got to the end too quick. Plus, I had a lot of time cleared up that was previously involved in managing them. Now I just had to brush them once and they were done. I could blow dry them in 5-7 minutes. I felt this strange sense of liberty not only because of the convenience that short hair came with but because I saw through a decision and it made me happy.

What my hair taught me back then was that when you come to attach yourself with something, you continue to invest in it incessantly. But when that thing ceases to satisfy you or make you happy or feels like a liability, then you should stop. I had an unhealthy obsession with my hair because I had nurtured an irrational idea that beauty coincides with long hair. Now that I look at myself and my old pictures, I definitely look better with shorter hair. I have people tell me that I look cute something that I hadn’t heard in years. It makes me look young, it makes me look sorted. For six months, I toyed with the idea in my head only because I was scared. Just imagine, if I wouldn’t have gone through with this, if I would have simply listened to all the warnings that came my way, I would have never realized that short hair appeal my face more. And I would have never been able to save myself the time, effort and dissatisfaction that came with my pursuit of beauty.

I learned three significant lessons from that haircut:

  • there is always a time to stop ploughing into a venture
  • have the heart to act on your decisions independently- it might yield good results and if it doesn’t you can devote your efforts to set things right; either way you will have an anecdote to share
  • beauty should never be standardized, let it be more like, ‘to each one their own’

Who knew haircuts could be this profound? At least I did not.

Also, in case you are curious, these are the before and after pictures.

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Of food that spells home and hope

Poha. I don’t have a count of how many times have I cooked Poha. I don’t even have a count of how many times someone has rolled their eyes over how often I cook Poha. That’s how often I cook it. As a kid, I never enjoyed Poha. Between my brother and me, he was the Poha person and I was the Maggi person. Sometime he would accommodate Maggi in a meal, some days I would accommodate Poha in a meal. After all, that is what siblings do.

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For the uninitiated, Poha is nothing but flattened rice. I grew up in Madhya Pradesh where no matter which city you are in, the streets are flocked with Poha Jalebi stalls. Poha is among the staple forms of breakfast in the state and definitely the healthiest, given that the other options are all deep fried- samosa, kachori, bhedai, to name a few. Not only that, it’s simple to make too, all you do is stir fry mildly soaked Poha in with salt, red chilli powder and turmeric, add onions and roasted peanuts and top it with namkeen, some extra masala and lemon to taste. However, it didn’t seem as simple when I first made them.

I was 12 and my parents weren’t home for a week, which left me, my brother and my grandmother at home. There was a Sunday when I proposed that we would eat Poha for lunch because I was sick of eating all those North Indian takeaways which basically are differently cut cottage cheese in cream gravy. My brother had his reservations because elder brothers always have reservations and because he found the idea- of his favored Poha being subjected to my experimental cooking- quite discomforting. An hour, an errand to the grocer and a couple of arguments later, I served him Poha which he told me was dry, needed a little salt and a lot of lemon. To me, it was Poha which did need salt but it didn’t need the green chilies, coriander, fried potatoes and that dash of lemon and sugar. I couldn’t understand why the recipe needed so many small ingredients and why did the recipe span across so many steps.

Over the years, I have learned to cook Poha. A lot of Sunday breakfasts at my home are made up of Poha. My brother who once eyed my Poha with contempt often favors mine over my mother’s. To him, what I make is the virgin Poha; I stick to the classic recipe without any deviations. And we do have a couple of deviations at our home, one recipe has fried onions over raw onions, one recipe includes peas and tomatoes, one recipe is Poha bordering on lines of Upma. But what I make is the classic Poha, the one that we have grown up eating.

I often joked that if I were to ever go in a Masterchef Audition, I would make Poha for the judges and spin an emotional story on how this stands for my childhood and my first serious step in cooking. My mother would then point out, how my chances of making into the Masterchef were so bleak, given that I didn’t cook at all. I knew how to make a few variations of sandwiches, instant noodles and pulao. Primarily, I was comfortable with a recipe that required salt, black pepper, red chilli powder and turmeric. But beyond that cooking seemed like a different ball game altogether. Why my mother had shelves full of medium to small jars of whole spices, ground spices, mixture of different spices, dried herbs, perplexed me. Every Indian household has a namakdani, a circular container with 9-10 small bowls to keep everyday spices and when I opened ours I couldn’t tell the garam masala and dhaniya powder apart. My mother who is not only a brilliant but a zealous cook occasionally encouraged me to learn a few recipes citing concerns over what will I eat once I move out of the house and what will I cook once I get married. But I never succumbed to her persuasions.

I moved to Bangalore in November last year. For a month, fascinating food made its way to my plate. Like the beetroot at lunch every Wednesday, the Greek salad which had more feta than vegetables to even qualify as salad, bland under cooked lady finger, lady finger cooked in a tomato gravy, pale green scrambled eggs with a hint of salt, under cooked chick peas and kidney beans, fried rice that contained a whole star anise in every second bite and lentils that had no gravy and no taste whatsoever. Thus, what my mother could not achieve in years, Bangalore achieved in a month. I made a call to my mother asking her for the recipe of Dry Urad Dal. That evening, I bought split urad from DMart and marched into the kitchen to make something that spelled ‘home cooked food’.

I put half a bowl of dal in one bowl of water. I added salt, turmeric and baking soda to it and let the water boil on the stove. As my mother had explained it to me, the trick here is to let the dal cook in the water till it is al dente. This prevents the dal from being a mushy mess once it’s finally done. The original recipe requires asafetida and cumin seeds, however I did not have any of them, so I stir fried garlic, onions, green chilli and tomato in that order. I added salt and red chilli powder to the vegetables and tossed the boiled dal in them. I let the dal simmer on the stove. Once it was cooked, I added garam masala and finally like a true Sanjeev Kapoor patron garnished it with coriander. Since one day calls for one experiment, I decided to do away with making dough and chapattis; instead I bought a pack of ready to cook chapattis from a nearby store. At the end of the meal, I felt satisfaction. My dinner reeked of simplicity, flavor and a little bit of home.

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That night and on the nights that followed I sent pictures of my food to my mother. She was surprised at the transformation and so was I. But like they say that necessity is the mother of all inventions and my kitchen experiments were probably a result of my longing for home cooked food. On the night of lohri, I craved the achari aloo that my mother usually makes with the oil and the spices leftover after cooking stuffed karela. I called her for the recipe but maybe she was at the Lohri celebrations and hence did not take the call. Finally, I fried the potatoes and made the masala purely on instinct. I took a bite and felt that though it was close to what my mother cooks, there is something amiss with the taste and the color. My mother always warned me that if you add garam masala during the process of cooking, the final dish will be of a darker color; since I was aiming for dark color with the potatoes, so I added the garam masala and it elevated the color and the taste.

Then one day, I made chhole (chickpeas). Because no matter where I had eaten chhole in Bangalore, they were never cooked through; they always felt slightly undercooked as if they needed another whistle in the pressure cooker. My mother has two variations for chhole as well- the one that we call langar wale chhole because I first ate them in a langar and the one that she makes with bhature. Langar wale chhole are cooked in a gravy of tomatoes, onions, ginger garlic and turmeric. However I am biased towards the latter, because they are both spicy and sour and make for a comprehensive feast for the taste buds. So I made the latter sans the bhature because one experiment at a time. The most cumbersome vegetable that I made was ladyfinger perhaps. The amount of attention it demands in drying, cutting, cooking and keeping it from sticking to the pan is baffling. I mean, if lady fingers were human, their behavior would warrant therapy for being so attention seeking.

Not all days were triumphant in the kitchen. I made over cooked moong dhuli dal. I hate overcooked dal but how do you hate the product of your own hands. If you have made the mistake of keeping dal in the refrigerator and eating it the next day, you will know how lumpy it feels while gulping. That is how my fresh dal tasted. My cousin and I spent two hours trying to make besan ka chilla and we started at 10 in the night. Two hours of our lives were dedicated in getting one chilla whole out of the pan and when we did manage that feat, it tasted dry. We scraped off the scrambled bits from our plates, listing out all the other (read better and viable) things that we could have made for dinner.

I cannot identify the exact stimulus which sustained my interest in cooking over the last few months. Cooking at home is definitely simpler, cheaper, tastier and healthier (read less creamy and oily). I have always enjoyed eating what my mother cooked for us at home over restaurant food. Given a choice, I would never go to a North Indian restaurant because my mother’s food is a very difficult yardstick to match. So maybe I find comfort in the fact that there are a few modest recipes where I can come close to what I have grown up eating.

There was this day when I was making kadhi and I took out 7-8 jars of spices. My cousin laughed and remarked, “Didi ghar par jitney masale hote hain woh sare dalne hote hain kya?”. (Do we have to use all the spices that we have at home?) Remember how I felt about all those small ingredients and steps involved when I first made Poha. Between that day and this day, I have made a huge turnaround. I no longer find the expanse of the spices housed in my mother’s kitchen perplexing; in fact I have a 16 jar spice tower which houses a variation of ground, whole and dried spices. I have seen quite an eventful (read tumultuous) 2017 and if I can come up with even one thing to smile about, I take the time and appreciate it. My transition in the kitchen is undoubtedly one of them. Some things just require a little effort and commitment. Sometimes there are hidden possibilities in what we are inadequate at. I took a chance at trigonometry after 8 years and I understood that; the same topic that led me to believe I’d fail my class 11 final exam. But that is a story for another time. This was about my takeaways from kitchen- an open mind, an honest effort and a little confidence can yield happy surprises.

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What about you? What have been your lessons from cooking so far?


In case you are interested in reading more about food and hope, you should hop on to my previous two part post-

 

How to (not) live a healthy life?

Have you ever resolved to reform your habits to move towards a better life? Have you ever thought of making healthy lifestyle changes after watching that fitness vlog on YouTube? I have and so I decided to compile a small guide to what to expect when you attempt turning a new leaf in terms of health.


  • Decide to wake up early in the morning. Wake up early in the morning to veto against the decision and conveniently sleep for another hour. Nothing like the morning hours to flex those brain muscles, right?

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  • Download Headspace in your phone which has guided ten minute meditation sessions. Meditate for four consecutive days, then get busy with life and forget about your resolution to meditate. Open Headspace after two months with fresh vigor. Revisit the first four sessions because you need to brush the basics for the 5th session. And then again, get busy with life after 4 days. And then again, revisit the first 4 sessions after two months. If this is not the ‘circle of life’, then what is?

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  • Watch close to a hundred online videos on meal prepping for healthy eating. Get high on the idea of bento boxes. Apply the restraint to not invest in a bento box upfront; instead buy a simple lunch box. Make cucumber tomato sandwiches for lunch. Let it sit in your lunch box for hours. Open it to witness what a soggy mess has it become. Be more revolted with the idea of healthy eating.

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  • Find avocados in every YouTube video/Pinterest tutorial you see. Become fascinated with this obscure fruit/vegetable that the clean eating world is going gaga over. Buy two avocados for 38 rupees from Big Basket. Let them sit in the brown paper bag they came in. Take them out after a week to make a spread. Be confronted with a black skinned fruit with fungus growing over it’s body. Throw it away. Maybe some things are meant to remain obscure.

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  • Make a willful decision to include greens in your meals. Put lettuce in every toast that you make. Garnish all your food with parsley/coriander. Even go to the lengths of buying spinach, a vegetable that you’ve deeply abhorred since childhood. Put some of it in scrambled eggs and spend the next one hour puking. Because apparently, not only do you hate the taste of spinach, it gives you acidity as well. Also, don’t even get me started on the rocket science of storing greens to keep them from rotting.

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  • Buy mushrooms. Because all the time lapse recipes on salads and pot meals include mushrooms. What they do not include is the uphill task of cleaning them. Spend the next two hours researching on how to clean your mushrooms- to soak them in water, to clean them with a brush or to clean them with a paper towel. Add to that the debate of clearing the black hairy fiber on the inside of mushroom caps. To be or not to be, could this be any more difficult.

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  • Boil chick peas/garbanzo beans to make hummus. Why? Because you shouldn’t eat normal butter, you hate the taste of peanut butter (I once took 4 hours to finish a toast with peanut butter because I asked for it and did not like the taste of it, but I had been brought up to not waste food, so 4 hours of my life were invested in the act of consuming that godforsaken toast), so what will you use as a spread? Hummus. Let the chick peas sit for a day in the refrigerator. Fail to procure sesame and olive oil for making hummus because the time and economics involved in clean eating purely baffles you. Take the chickpeas and make kulche chhole maskha maar ke (smeared with butter).

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  • Buy yourself a fitness tracker and wear that everyday. Realize that you walk a measly 3000 steps on a usual day because man invented motor vehicles and desk jobs. Take an initiative to walk more steps every day. Fix yourself a target. Fail it on some days. But nevertheless keep walking because consistency is the key my friend. The day that the strap breaks, promise yourself to buy a new strap but do not keep that promise. Toss your tracker in the cupboard and go back to the measly 3000 steps because who walks without a tracker.

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  • Start working out everyday. Tell yourself that you are not concerned about the fat loss but about taking your health seriously. Feel positive about the small changes in your body, about the peaking stamina, about the improved flexibility, about the higher weight that you can lift now. Then one day look at the thunder thighs and witness your resolve melting right in front of your eyes. Why kid yourself, it was all about fat loss.

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  • Drink more water everyday. Take your body to a phase where it forgets what it is like to survive on two glasses of water every day. Just stay hydrated at all times. Then one day, walk to your cubicle, see that the pantry staff has again misplaced your bottles, the ‘supply’ opens at four and that you have to walk to the canteen every time you want to drink water, which is every half an hour. After all, you could not have failed at all fronts pertaining to a healthy life, sometimes your life has to fail you too.

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The Good Wife and The Circle of Life

I started watching ‘The Good Wife‘ in 2014. It is the story of a woman trying to stand on her own feet after her States Attorney husband is convicted of using public office money to solicit sexual favors. She had studied law however never pursued a career in law because she began building a family with Peter. Imagine, where 13 years of family building brought her, cheated at the hands of her husband and at scrutiny of people who couldn’t resist branding her decision- of being a home maker- naivete. Given the economy and the cut throat competition, Alicia is forced to pull some strings. She approaches a friend from law school, ‘Will Gardener’ to give her a chance as an associate at his firm ‘Lockhart and Gardener’.

I remember watching the first few episodes in 2014 and then months later seeing the first episode of season 5 where Alicia makes a move out of the firm to start her own firm. Undoubtedly, her friend Will felt cheated and I, as a viewer felt intrigued. I wanted to know what was it that prompted Alicia to turn her back on her friend. Will hated Alicia for her decision and maybe I did too. However I couldn’t unearth the reason without watching the 88 episodes that fell in between Alicia joining and quitting ‘Lockhart and Gardener’ Yes, I could Wikipedia the plot but I chose not to. So here I am in 2017, finally having discovered Alicia’s motive behind the big move.

Throughout seasons two to four, Lockhart and Gardener is seen to be struggling with finances. They join hands with another firm but decide to separate when their independence to make vital decisions stands threatened. In  season 3, they are declared bankrupt; they are assigned a period of six months to raise an amount of 60 million dollars to pay off their liabilities and a trustee is appointed to oversee their revenue management and discharge of financial obligations. As they head into the final month of the assigned period of six months, they are still short of 29.50 million dollars. They have a few settlements in pipeline but they make a plea for an extension of six months. Before they are granted that extension, Alicia who is now a fourth year associate is given an option to become an equity partner. She has to cough up 600,000 dollars to buy her share in the firm’s equity. Needless to say, Alicia is ecstatic because amidst the economic slowdown, the firm’s bankruptcy, her loyalty to Lockhart Gardener, she has always felt insecure. Insecure that another associate might jeopardize her position at the firm, insecure that her firm’s liquidation might render her jobless again, insecure that she might have to go back to depending on her husband for money. So in a long time, she is shown to be relieved. Even if she declines the offer, given the incumbent threat of liquidation, she might have something substantial to boast about- that she is not simply an associate, that in a short span of four years, she was offered to be an equity partner. As a viewer, we are all happy and though we are skeptic at the timing of the offer, we are relived when Will and Diane assure her that her hard work has brought the offer on the table.

At the end of the episode, we realize that Alicia is not the only one with the offer to become an equity partner. There are four other fourth year associates who have been pitched the same offer and after all the assurances, it is not her hard work but a shrewd attempt by the equity partners to raise 3 million dollar from their own associates. Alicia is stung. Partly because she believed that her efforts deserved to be awarded and partly because given her loyalty she deserved the truth not false assurances. Diane tells Alicia that she was offered partnership only because her boss was accused of sexual harassment and by making Diane partner he wanted to convey to the world that he doesn’t discriminate between men and women. She explains to Alicia that when an opportunity comes knocking at the door, you simply take it; you do not investigate the stimulus behind that.

Alicia acts on her advice and decides to take it, she decides to accept the offer like her other peers. However Lockhart Gardener manages to steer out of bankruptcy, not only that, they earn 113 million dollar surplus at the end of that quarter. In the same meeting, the partners vote against appointment of new partners. They don’t need their money, they don’t need extra hands to share their losses, so why appoint them and share the surplus. When Alicia comes to know about the vote, she is stung again.

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When Will confronts her that she says that after all the hours she has billed and the thousands of dollars she has earned for the firm, she is the injured party here. In a move to get the partners’ attention, the 4th year associates begin talking to the clients they have worked for, asking them if they are happy with the firm. The partners are scared that if these associates walk out of the firm, they may poach their clients. But they can’t succumb to this form of corporate terrorism, so they decide to divide them. Will proposes that they appoint one of them as as an equity partner so that the other four begin to resent that one person. He proposes Alicia’s name for partnership and again when Alicia inquires about his motives, he tells her that it is because of her hard work.

Yes, Will makes her a partner but he never gives her what she deserves- the truth. He gives Alicia what she desires but only when it benefits him and the other partners. In fact, that is one of the central themes in ‘The Good Wife’, that nothing is black or white, it is in the grey. We can never categorize a character and their choices as good or bad. People favor others when it benefits them, people hurt others when it benefits their dear ones. In the same episode, when Alicia is offered the partnership the first time, she is questioned on the stand that the firm is offering her a partnership only to raise some money. Will and Diane expect Alicia to commit a felony, to claim that it is untrue. A felony that can cost her 5-7 years in the prison but as mark of her loyalty she is expected to manipulate her words. She does what is asked of her and in spite of this, what she gets are more lies.

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The question here is why is loyalty a one sided road? If Alicia has to hold the best interests of the firm and their clients at all times, then why isn’t the firm and the partners expected to do the same for her. Why does Will hate Alicia when she quits the firm to start her own? After all, like everyone in the show, she is trying to look out for her own self. Yes, Will extended her a colossal favor when he hired her in the first episode. But hasn’t she repaid all those debts by perjuring under oath, by answering questions on her sexual life during Will’s grand jury trial, by trying to convict an innocent for a murder in order to save their client, by working in close proximity to a woman who had slept with her husband, by representing a philanderer alleged of killing his wife, by representing a drug mafia, by constantly witnessing her attempts at professional progress being belittled by a world who believed that her court room victories are owed to the men in her life – all against her moral fiber only because she was expected to do so by the firm.

No matter which season are we in, there is always that one episode where Alicia is strategically placed in a situation so that the firm can benefit from her status of being married to the current States Attorney and the future Governor of Cook County. Then, there are outsiders who believe that the reason she has been retained for four years is because she is Will’s former love interest and that they slept with each other for a brief period. But how long could Alicia continue to work in such a set up?

Will did a favor for Alicia but throughout the show we can see the firm trying to exploit Alicia’s marital status for their own good. And when you get a favor in return of a favor, your favor becomes a barter. It can be argued that Will always saw Alicia as a friend but friends don’t lie to friends, friends don’t manipulate friends and friends don’t trick their friends to help their own bankruptcy. During the third season, Will is suspended from practicing law for six months because he withdrew money from a client’s account for paying off a gambling debt. Almost everyone including Alicia tries to comfort him by saying that it was 15 years ago and he repaid the money in full. So why is it that nobody comforts Alicia, that it was 4 years ago when Will hired her and she has repaid the debt by being a brilliant litigator for Lockhart and Gardener.

In the third season, a judge asks Diane if she believes in hell? She says no. The judge then tells her that even he did not but then he saw lawyers. What he tries to point out is that a good lawyer does whatever is necessary to work the odds in their favor, a good lawyer manipulates the circumstances without paying heed to the collateral damage. Come to think of it, Alicia just does that. When she believes that she no longer wants to be played by others, she quits. She starts her own firm in a bid to shield her own future and her authority, she takes the associates because she needs them to fight cases and she poaches the clients because she has to think about the revenues. ‘The Good Wife’ shows Alicia’s transformation into a good lawyer, after all is it not what every one at the firm expects Alicia to be. And when she becomes one, all they do is call her move savage. But why? At the end of the day, she is a reflection of their own own compromised principles and actions. At the end of the day, it is just the circle of life, one thing ends and another begins.

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