Five February Favorites

Cherry blossoms in my front yard.

Cherry blossoms in my front yard.

Happy March! It’s been a while since I’ve written. Life got a little crazy, as it does sometimes but I’ve missed writing on my blog. So, I thought I’d get back into the groove by sharing some things I enjoyed last month.

1. Gratitude Practice: I started a gratitude practice with my kids a couple of years ago. At bedtime, we share at least one thing from our day that we’re grateful for. We’ve discovered that some days we’re grateful for the big things (field trips, vacations etc.) and on other days, it’s the little things (a meal we had, a book we read). At the beginning of the year, we tweaked our practice slightly by writing down our “gratefuls” in our journals. If inspired, we draw too. This past month I’ve learned that the very act of writing things down has made me more mindful as I go about my day.

2. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Written by the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, this book is an intimate look at how Rhimes faced her fears over the course of a year and transformed her life in the process. What I like most about this book is that the author is forthcoming about her insecurities, despite being a famous personality. If you’re looking for an inspiring read, I highly recommend this one!

3. Happier podcast. I’m a big Gretchen Rubin fan and discovered this podcast late last year. Gretchen Rubin co-hosts with her sister, who’s a screenwriter and they talk candidly about everything from organizing your closet to parenting dilemmas. In this February episode, Happier listeners shared an app to organize kids’ artwork, which is something I’m definitely going to check out.

4. Paneer Butter Masala recipe. O.M.G. I discovered this little miracle-in-a-packet from Raju tai (who’s a friend and on my brother-in-law’s side of the family). This has been my go-to recipe when entertaining. It’s soooo easy and the curry tastes like it’s been simmering on the stove for hours.

rasoimagic

5. Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black and White perfume duo. I hadn’t heard about layering perfumes until I came across this duo which I wore constantly last month. It made me feel like I was floating two inches above the ground! Although this is a duo (which is how I wear it), these scents can be worn separately too. The White has floral notes while Black is muskier.

So, those are some of the things that I enjoyed in February. What have you been into lately? I’d love to know so please share in the comments.

 

Book Review: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

I picked up A Bollywood Affair in the middle of the week. It had been a long day and I was trying to get through cooking dinner. I downloaded the audio book and was instantly hooked. Over the next few days, I listened while folding laundry, running errands and unloading the dishwasher. Let’s just say the house was in perfect order by the time I finished this book.

Here’s the publisher’s synopsis:
A Bollywood AffairMili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years—not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be—if her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life—cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.

Heartfelt, witty, and thoroughly engaging, Sonali Dev’s debut is both a vivid exploration of modern India and a deeply honest story of love, in all its diversity.

I was pleasantly surprised that this story was as much Mili’s as it was Samir’s. The alternating points of view take us closer to their joys and fears and reveal their biggest struggles – coming to terms with their complicated pasts.

Both Mili and Samir are complex characters – Mili is grounded and honors tradition yet she’s willing to veer from it to follow her heart. Samir is a playboy who works in the glitzy world of Bollywood and yet he can do the right thing, even if it’s not in his best interest.

Although the book tackles the larger themes of child marriage and abandonment, it also has the fuss and frolic of the Big Bollywood Wedding (complete with tsk-tsking aunties and elaborate banquets) and Bollywood scandal (a trouble-making ex-girlfriend). It’s this balance of sugar and spice that make it an interesting read.

Perhaps, the biggest joy for me is the writing. It’s light and airy where it needs to be and dives to the depths of the characters’ emotions at major turning points. And, it held up right through to the last page.

If you’re looking for a fun, well-written Bollywood-style romance, I highly recommend A Bollywood Affair. I can’t wait to read Sonali Dev’s next book, The Bollywood Bride.

Small moments of devotion

Lotus
This year, for the first time, my family celebrated the Ganesh festival at home. Honestly, my heart wasn’t entirely in it. We had just moved into a new house, exhausted from weeks of planning and packing; we were still adjusting to the routine of the new school year and I found out that the startup I was working with, had run out of funding and I had lost a job I loved.

But my husband Ashwin and I had been talking about celebrating this festival at home for a couple of years now. In the past, we went to the temple. My older son participated in dances at community events. But there was something about celebrating at home that would give our kids a rich, cultural experience. So, a couple of days before September 19th when the festival began, I suggested to my husband that we celebrate, even though we weren’t prepared.

In Zambia, where I grew up, I celebrated Ganesh festival as part of a community. An idol of Ganesh was brought all the way from India and placed on a stage in the temple. We attended pujas over the ten days that the festival took place. Oil lamps were lit, hymns or artis were sung and decadent sweet treats were offered to Ganesh, the God of wisdom and the remover of obstacles. Then, on the eleventh day, we took the clay idol of Ganesh and submerged it in a lake where it would disintegrate, to acknowledge the impermanent nature of life.

Because Ashwin grew up in India, his experience was different. Weeks before the festival, the markets would come alive with idols of the elephant-headed God. In Ashwin’s neighborhood, people from all faiths – Christians, Muslims, Sikhs – came together to decorate the platform on which they displayed their Ganesh. Ashwin and his family visited Lalbaug, moving through a crush of devotees to catch a glimpse of the infamous, 12-feet-tall Lalbaughcha Raja. At his uncle’s home, cooks prepared meals from noon until night for the many relatives that gathered.

On the night before the festival, I rummaged through our boxes and found a string of lights my sister had given us as a gift. I placed the Ganesh idol we bought on our last trip to India, on the silver-painted, four-legged chaurang or stool we got in our wedding. To be environmentally conscious, we used a betel nut (often used to symbolize Ganesh) to submerge in water, rather than the idol. We decided to celebrate for one day, rather than ten.

On the day of the festival, we performed a short puja in the morning and made a prasad, an offering, of my boys’ favorite cashew candy, kaju barfi. For the evening prasad, we served a simple dinner on a silver platter. At bedtime, my boys and I read stories from The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha.

brokentuskLooking at my Facebook feed and WhatsApp messages on that day, I was envious. Friends and family had created entire backdrops of silk. Some had made modak, the coconut-filled dumplings that are said to be Lord Ganesh’s favorite. Some had created scenes for their Ganesh, mounting him on a statue of an elephant, adorned with garlands of fresh flowers. I quickly went down the twisted path of guilt and self-reproach.

But then, I thought back to the moment I switched on the lights and our Ganesh idol glowed. I delighted in the fact that my boys gobbled up the barfi and took turns ringing the puja bell while we sang the arti. I giggled with them as we read stories of Ganesh’s large belly and unyielding appetite and his joyful dance that calmed the angry Lord Brahma. I watched how their eyes grew wide when they read about how Ganesh swallowed a demon in one, gigantic gulp.

Sometimes, devotion can be quiet and contemplative and sometimes it can be bold and colorful. Sometimes you come to devotion with a heavy heart and sometimes you bring joy. Either way, there is always peace waiting for you on the other side. Always.

 

On beginnings

The start of the school year always feels like the start of a new year for me: freshly sharpened pencils, notebooks with shiny covers, new backpacks and budding friendships. More than anything, it feels like I’m being given a second chance to do something, to start something. And so, this blog was born.

My word for this year is “experiment”. (Around New Year’s, I usually choose a word to set the tone of my life in the coming year. This helps me re-anchor myself when I’m in a place of doubt or when I feel like I’m going off-track.)

EXPERIMENT.

Experiment, as in:

  • more doing and less thinking.
  • measuring success by the number of times I try something new vs. how well things turn out.
  • being uncomfortable and doing it anyway.

So, this year, I find myself asking “why not” more often than I do, “why”.

In my writing, I’ve taken up a longer project – a novel – rather than shorter pieces of fiction.

I’m writing characters who are questioning more than they are accepting; who are stumbling, falling and then picking themselves up, more than they are standing on the sidelines.

So, that’s what I’ll be sharing with you in this blog – my experiments with storytelling, with motherhood, creativity and everything else I try, in order to live this one, crazy and beautiful life.

A poem by author Neil Gaiman floated through my Facebook feed at the beginning of 2015 that I’m revisiting this season:

neilgaimanquoteImage credit: Neverwear

I hope to surprise myself through the remainder of this year. And I wish the same for you.

Are you starting something this season? I’d love to know.