How I ended my toxic obsession with food..

I have lived most of my late 20’s being slightly overweight and almost all of my 30’s being obese. In the past two years I have shed almost 40 kgs of extra weight which is more than 40% of body weight I have carried for a long time. Most of my weight loss happened in 2021 through a structured regime and with an expert weight loss coach. No gymming or heavy exercises were involved in this regimented weight loss program, neither were my calories restricted. Someday, I will surely share what my program was like but today I broadly want to tell you that in the crux of it, it was all about changing my relationship with food.

For the longest time I had been living to eat, and not eating to live. It’s a funny saying that “foodies” love to say and I used to do the same. But today I want to open up about the toxic relationship I shared with food that continued for a long time.

At a difficult time, many years ago, I lost a lot of relationships instantly in life that I’d known as a child – my whole maternal and paternal family barring less than a handful of people, left my life. Uncles, aunts, cousins, all but few abandoned me. Dad wasn’t around anyway since he had passed on many years back. The relationships that I was left to count on were barely few weeks old. Work was stressful as I was growing faster in my career than my young age could handle, the expectations from a 25 year old me at a new home as an elder daughter in law were those that are from a 45 year old. Not many had seen my struggles so they didn’t care what my past or my trauma has been like or feels like, for no fault of theirs as their frame of reference couldn’t fathom what I had been through or the cushion I needed. My physical appearance had always been peculiar due to a skin condition and my metabolism was screwed. Back then, I didn’t give myself the option to say to anyone that I am not ok, that I am struggling. As a child I was taught that asking for help means you are weak! I had nowhere to hide, no one to reach for comfort and pampering. I had no friends who would be there for me, just kind acquaintances who helped if and when I asked them to.

I have always been a survivor. I instinctively turn to what will help me stay afloat and good tasting food for one reason or other was easily accessible and affordable in those days. This had come as a blessing after years of not getting tasty food either due to medical treatments or lack of money. After hours of smiling, being at my best behaviour, with no one to talk to about my real feelings, not even a proper ‘my’ home to go back to at the end of the day, or ‘parents house’ to go back to, I turned to food. I could ‘talk’ to good food. I could eat as much as I wanted and the food wouldn’t judge me or stare back at me for over eating it. I could eat whenever I wanted, as many times as I wanted.

Because my coping strategies were next to nil, I couldn’t be an alcoholic or a drug addict, and because my own consumption of food was the only thing in my life that I could control, I embraced food as the only thing I could hold on to. It kept me sane. I’d counterbalance meetings with tough stakeholders or toxic colleagues with a loaded cold coffee with chocolate. I’d soothe myself for the lack of friends or family with mutton biryani. I’d end a rough day at home with six chapatis and rice along with three bowls of rice and sabzi. I’d counter lack of sleep at night by reaching the fridge post midnight to gorge on gulabjamuns or half a can of condensed milk.

I am not berating my past self for doing that as survival is tricky business. Food and consuming it this was has genuinely kept me sane, away from mental breakdowns I just couldn’t afford and dare I say, kept me alive, away from dark thoughts of ending my life many a times.

Food thus became something my soul needed. My emotions became associated with it and that’s how I gave access of my feelings and sanity to food. A good portion of my favourite food could take away the worst of experiences and help me understand and think how to cope with what’s ahead. It could soothe my bruised heart or mind and prepare me for the next days’ grind. I didn’t care if someone told me I am hogging onto it because they didn’t see the reason for my ‘emotional eating’ . So I’d smile, listen to their concern and ridicule it in my mind.

The few years of doing that stunted my metabolism and started putting pressure on my vital organs. Fatty liver, high cholesterol and high sugar levels became normal and by the time I wanted to lose weight, my body became resistant. It got ‘addicted’ to sugar, wanting frequent meals, large portions and sugar rich foods. I’d get ‘hangry’ and despite heavy workouts and killing myself in gyms or on jogs in hot North Indian weather the scale wouldn’t budge. The heavy workouts would make me more tired and hungry and I’d lose it and gorge back into big meals in frustration eventually giving up on diets. I was looking at weight loss as a punishment and deprivation of food and being away from food was making me sad, upset and dejected. As if, someone is taking away the only good thing in my life. The only thing I can control, the only thing that doesnt judge me.

When I met my coach and started my fitness journey last year, the first thing that changed was my relationship with food. The self coaching that I gave to myself to stop looking at food as a channel, outlet or means of solving for emotions was perhaps one of the most important things to happen in years to me. As I educated myself more and more on how excess food is poison and the damage sugar in many forms does to the body, the importance of consuming only what is needed kept becoming clearer.

Today I look at food as medicine and I have no shame in admitting that. I understand what good taste is and indulge in it once in a while, but with a clear knowledge that it is all but an indulgence. The taste of most of the food gets perceived as good because of the sugar content in it (fructose, lactose, maltose etc) and the more food is consumed for taste than need, it ends up harming the body than doing it much good.

Today I understand food must be eaten to survive, thrive and to have energy to think clearly, physically work and have a healthy body. Not eating food or fasting is as important as eating if not more and restraint has a role to play as well in keeping the body healthy.

The reason I opened up about my long toxic relationship with food is to make aware that addiction comes in many forms. Too much of anything is addiction, not just alcohol or drugs or smoking. Too much food, music, phone, whatever be that you link to your brains reward system can become an addiction.

Food is not the solution. Food is barely food. It has a place in life to help get us energy that we need for survival. If you had an addiction to food or cant live without certain food groups, or stress eat or do emotional eating, talk to a coach or a friend who can help you talk through this, solve for this.

There’s a world of health benefits on the other side of food addiction. You can enjoy your occasional meal, and yet live a healthy and fit life physically and emotionally. Just give yourself a chance.

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If Pandemic couldn’t teach us this, what will??

Two years back, in the last week of 2019, the news of a new contagious, dangerous, life threatening virus that was rearing it’s head in China started doing the rounds. Some were in denial, others bemused, most indifferent. The clairvoyant in me said it in a text on a whatsapp group that I have saved till date – “I have a nasty feeling, this will turn into a pandemic.” And so it did. Took away so many golden days of our limited lives and also swept away loved ones from everyone’s lives around the world.

This one is not going to be a particularly long post. My point is very simple. If this pandemic hasnt been able to teach humans the very basic life lesson that we are more similar than different, then there is no hope for us. In 2019 the world was as polarised as it could have been. We all know how the assertion of patriotism, faith, culture and other such boundaries is creating more factions than bringing humanity closer as one would have expected. And in such a time the pandemic hit. It was named the “china virus’ to begin with. I am not going to talk about my point of view on China’s active or passive role in bestowing this virus upon the world. The reality is here we are after two full years with all the consequences and the umpteenth wave and new set of restrictions. Globally.

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How did this virus treat us differently based on our definitions of superiority in terms of race, belief or location? In India, where I live, people were quite sure that with a supposedly “strong immune system” Indians will not get affected. In cold countries, people thought cold will kill the virus. In hot countries, they thought the heat will. When the pandemic hit, did it matter what country one is in? Or what race are they from? Or their gender or faith mattered? Lives were lost everywhere. There were rows of unattended corposes, put to rest without the dignity they would have received if the situation at hand wasnt there.

Turns out through this dark misery, we around the world in our self created differences are not all that different in the way illness, viruses and death treats us! Our bodies respond similary in fighting, winning and losing. Our hearts cry the same when we lose someone. Our helplessness is the same when we can’t get oxygen or hospital beds or basic amenities.

Is there a point then in drawing these boundaries of race and nations and faiths? Another common factor is how daft humanity is to obvious answers that a tragedy couldnt teach it. What could be a bigger tragedy than this. We still want our wars, our supposed superiority, our sense of competition in a world where we all could co exist better with collaboration.

For those who have chosen to learn through the pandemic that we are not all that different. You and the person next to you. Or the one on the other side of the world. Please chose love, acceptance and tolerance as we move into another year.

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Chances are there will be wars. There will be hate. And the crimes. All the millions of lives lost for nothing while the pandemic stll looms large on our heads along with the daftness of hostility that becomes more intense with each passing year and the media propaganda that intensifies it as our necks are bowed down to keep our eyes glued in our mobile phones for longer. In 2120, hundred years from now, if the earth exists by then, there will be another pandemic, going by the pattern of the past. Would humanity have evolved enough by then to learn the lesson that this global tragedy couldnt teach us at large this time around? The one of chosing love over hate? The one of “oneness”?

I lost 30+ kilos in 2021, and gained these five insights

In January of 2021, I found magic which helped me lose 36 kilos or almost 80 pounds of extra body weight in 10 months. My journey still continues as I am on the last mile. In this year I have lost almost 40% of the body weight I was carrying last year. Along with that I have lost prediabetes, high cholestrol levels, high uric acid, high levels of hypothyroidism etc too. My weight loss journey started with a Rheumatoid Arthritis scare as I carry an Autoimmune disorder from the age of 7. It didnt start with the intention of looking a certain way, but to really take any long or short term risks a bit farther away from my present.

There are always few things that are bound to happen on a life altering journey and they did with me to. The sense of achievement and the beautiful looks, compliments and encouragement I got along the way was beautiful. But equally here are five insights that I didnt expect or anticipate but experienced on my journey that I am sharing with you.

February 2021

Sadly, your weight has a bigger impact on your image than you think it does

I have always been confident in my skin and have been lucky to have a partner & family who have loved me fully and devotedly whatever my shape or size or appearance has been like. But I was amazed at how much it matters to the world how you look as my transformation happened. There were people who came and said they revered or even feared (!!) me when I was heavier but now find me less intimidating. Go figure! There’s more men in public spaces who think they can get away with inappropriate touching than before which I of course fight back with equal force. There are people who’d come and tell me they thought I was “really fat” and now I look “much better”. There are people who told me how it’s a shame I have lost my curves and the glow on my face to become a flat chested ugly woman (quite literally, no exaggeration). My learning? 1) Everyone will never like how you look so be happy in your own skin 2) Love your body the way you are. The world is out there to judge you and those who truly love, will love you anyway 3) Lose or gain weight for the right reasons. Not to look a certain way because there is no perfect look.

September 2021

Weight loss is equated to being more sincere, hard working and health conscious. WTF?!

Let me be clear. I have been trying to lose weight for years now. I had given up sugars many years back and also have been eating limited portion size. I have been running and weight training too but things didnt work out for me until I found the right guidance for my body and hormones. People have been complimenting me for “finally” paying attention to my health, not being lazy anymore, not being a glutton and it has just made me sad about how people who struggle with weight are perceived to be lazy, gluttons and many other things while they may just be struggling with underlying issues that have led to weight gain. Many people’s weight gain interestingly is related to stress, trauma, lack of time for self care, slow metabolism that fights weight loss and their situation is the exact opposite of being laid back. As a society, we need to stop judging people without knowing their full reality anyway.But specially related to generally accepted medical advice and fitness advice, there needs to be more awareness and encouragement around self care, mindfulness and being healthy than on weight and body image.

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Everyone is a critic/expert of your fitness program and will have an opinion on it

India is a country of self proclaimed experts on every topic. And most of the well meaning people who I have met on my journey who have been impressed with my results were also great “experts and critics” of why my fitness program isnt a)sustainable b)good for health in long term c)authentic and proven d)safe etc! How a diet or exercise routine that they know of, is more meaningful while I continue on the path of doom. And rather than defending it, I have let people express their opinion and nodded to their request to me to not continue with my fitness regime any longer all the way. I have realised, when something is too tough or overwhelming for most people, they tend to discount it. Those who wanted my results have signed up for it and benefitted as well. Between the few people who picked and seriously pursued the program from me, they’ve collectively lost 20+ kgs in the past few months as well. Lesson learnt – dont discuss everything about your fitness program with everyone. Generously help and guide those who genuinely need guidance – don’t hold back. Dont defend yourself and your path to those who critique it. They are talking to you with time on their hand with nothing to lose while you lose your sanity in a meaningless argument.

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You will disappoint people you love on the journey more than once. And that’s okay!

When you have a different path in terms of what you eat, when you eat and how you eat; it is going to impact your relationships. With family, friends and colleagues. You will be cajoled, blackmailed, threatened and shamed into eating what you shouldn’t because eating is a social activity in humans. My mom and mother in law were sad that I wouldnt ask them for making my favorite dishes anymore or have just one roti or poori at lunch. My partner would feel disappointed that our dates didnt happen at our usual hangouts/food joints and it left me heartbroken too until we discovered new ways to date and spend time. My colleagues and friends would make jokes on what and how little I eat. My son would be exasperated and ask me ‘mama, when will you stop eating salads! why do keep walking all the time!” My family would hate it that when everyone sat together to chat, I put on my shoes to go for a walk. The three magic words that worked for me were patience, stoicism, compassion. I had to be firm in my decision and help those I love manage their emotions around the change I was making in my life. As results started coming through and I remained focused some leaned in. Others didnt but they also learnt I have changed. And that is alright. If a relationship in your life breaks down (unlikely though) because you want to care for yourself, then it wasnt meant to be – it was just looking for a reason to end anyway.

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You are not your weight, dress size or looks

When on a fitness journey, your body starts to look more like a socially accepted image of what fit is, its easy to lose focus. The compliments on how you look beautiful, hot, sexy etc when you havent received them for a while can sway you if you get flattered easily. But it’s important to remember it’s just people’s opinion. Based on what media tells them beautiful is, fit is. Fitness is holistic – its how your body feels whatver its weight, its your mental and emotional health, its your spiritual and social health, its your financial health. And how “Fit” you are is not as important as how “Happy and Grateful” you are. Do not lose focus on your gifts – whether you like to sing, paint, write, travel, blog, read or whatver else. As you excitedly look for new clothes and want to beautify your body, just remember it’s merely a body. It will die. Either it will rot in the ground or burn in ashes in the end. I know this is morbid but we all are mortals. There is more to life than merely obsessing on looks. Your transformation is as temporary as anything else around you. Don’t let it make your spirit and personality shallower or less richer. Retain kindness and keep learning more of what you like.

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Change is never easy. And it throws curved balls one’s way that make the journey insightful. I hope you found my account interesting and amusing. I would love to know your opinion or thoughts on this. I will write more about this interesting year and my journey of fitness when inspiration strikes. After all, this is only the beginning

Self Compassion is more important than Pintarest Perfection

It’s Saturday night, half past eleven. I am wrapping up the day finally in some moments of solitude as I shut the locks, lights, fill up water, clean the pantry et al. My mind and I are in a subconscious performance discussion. As I scan and clean my son’s room I am thinking of how we haven’t spent quality time whole week, what with long workdays, and even on Saturday I was out completing chores. He deserves more of my time and attention with studies and play than what I have given him this week. Specially, since he is been doing online school for 15 months now.. I shut his room, make a mental note for next week in the parent’s tab of my brain, I reach my office to scan some weekend emails and shut the laptop. I am now thinking about how I said no to a couple of meeting requests from colleagues in UK/US who wanted to speak at 7/9 PM my time during a couple of weekdays as I was in the kitchen and how I could have done more work, paid more attention, finished two more meetings this week. I could have been a more productive employee if I gave more time to work. I listen to my own chastising and slightly irritated now, shut the office and see my husband repairing something in one room and my mom watching her favorite TV show in another. I am filled with guilt thinking I need to do more to help my husband around the house and spent more time with ma – she is lonely away from her town, almost homebound at my house for covid safety reasons. She is getting older and she needs my company to counter loneliness. I also think by the way of two relatives, five friends and few acquaintances who I have been wanting to call for days now but haven’t been able to. The kitchen looks like it needs additional attention, it makes me feel like a lousy woman. Overwhelmed now by my own bashing, anxious and troubled, I rush up to sleep, remove my fitness tracker to put it on charge and chide myself with another glare about the walk and exercise I have missed for three days this week because of how hot it has been and also how my grey hair need a recolour that’s been overdue.

Suddenly an epiphany (sort of) strikes, my mind is numb and I sit down on my bed a little shocked. For the past 30 minutes after a long day of chores, I have given a mental assessment to myself about how I have not done enough as a mom, daughter, wife, employee, homemaker and a person. This is my self talk. Am I telling myself I didn’t do enough because I secretly feel I am not enough? And this is when I have a partner, who never stops gushing about how much I try to do in my life, appreciates me, and encourages me constantly. I have cheerleaders in my life and yet in a vulnerable moment my first instinct is to shoot myself for all that I have not picked up. Suddenly all the women’s magazine articles talking about perfect women, Instagram and Pinterest pages, TV shows all come together and I realise the subconscious utopian standards to be perfect at everything I have built for myself, that I am bashing myself for. Do stakeholders in each of these areas also find me as imperfect or sucky as I am telling myself to be? And even if they do, does it matter at the cost of happiness, health and peace?

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Working mothers in a culture like ours are not celebrated enough for the multitasking they need to do. The moment we start talking about it, it needs to be appropriated and balanced with talks about contribution of fathers and grandmothers and homemaker parents for political correctness. But if we just pick up the topic of working mothers at once, as someone has famously said, they are expected to be mothers like they have no job, they are expected to work for office like they haven’t got children. In lockdown, my son’s school has made no mention challenges of working mothers, neither have attempted to shape the curriculum in a way that helps mums who can’t sit with their children while office goes on during school time. And this is an international school. This is a school that assessed whether I am an educated and employed mother while interviewing for admission. By default they do address any communication to mothers because for 100% of my son’s class it is the mothers who are primarily responsible for children’s studies – working at office or home. Despite knowing that children’s education is primarily a mother’s job by default generally, most schools haven’t considered the flexibility or breathing space working mothers need with children’s education during the pandemic.

There are expectations from everywhere and defined standards of perfection. The bar keeps going higher and higher every time. And we don’t make this constant hustling any easier on ourselves. Rewards make us feel guilty, neither do we coach our minds to first pat ourselves on the back for how much we have achieved. Healthy and happy kids at home, safe family, being a friend to our partner, happy team at work – all were achieved this week but all that my mind once let loose, focused on was the have nots. What we women do to ourselves is self criticise, not self forgive. There is a manager and an employee in my head and this self assessment and criticism for not doing enough is a constant battle. There is an immense amount of effort needed to become self forgiving. To become accepting of not being perfect in each area is an art I do believe. As a coach, I am quite sure that some coach somewhere has figured out a mantra to do that and it just needs to be found out.

For now what I am going to do is balance out wanting to make everything perfect and being grateful with also being self loving and appreciating. Every time, I bash myself for what isn’t done, I will consciously thank myself for what IS done. I will thank the woman, mother, wife, daughter, leader, employee, sister, friend et al for remembering to be who they are and putting in all the effort that they could. I will forgive myself for my shortcomings of the week and clink glasses with the mirror for a little TLC. Yes there are people in my life who love and value my contribution, but firstly, I need to do that myself. In thirty years from now, if I am alive, it wouldn’t matter what I did on day to day and what I couldn’t – I need to keep that in mind.

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We need to normalise life in all its reality as being what it is. Move away from the Instagram version of reality and aims of perfection and embrace today, warts and all. This perennial guilt that comes as an occupational hazard of the roles multitasking women play, we need to keep it in check and balance it with self appreciation and self acceptance.

I hope when I am repeating this process next weekend, I’ll be kind to myself. And remember that I do enough. I am enough. I cannot control everything because I am not God, but I can fill the spaces left incomplete at home and at work with love, compassion and kindness. Every time I find myself beat down by anyone for not doing enough, I hope to find my cape of achievements lying around the house – my happy and healthy child and partner, my safe and warm home, my mom and rest of family, my work achievements and happy team, my friends, my pet projects, books, music, dreams of travel and fly high to tune out the noise of negativity. Because I am enough and this imperfect world of mine is perfect for me right now and will do just fine. 🙂

Empowered Women, Empower Women

Its become customary for us middle aged people to go melancholy on special days or anniversaries and decide to share our musings with the world. I am quite the cynic about days dedicated to women in a world when our curses are based on womens genitalia that we spew like caramel in a range of emotions and use surnames of father for children by default while women carry the foetus and go through the tribulations and joys of growing the child inside them. So as a feminist who truly believes women have it tougher, I want to celebrate women’s day, a day when we applaud women for standing up for themselves and others, for making the world a better place.

There is a very common and overused phrase which says women are women’s worst enemies. We are blamed for telling on each other, being jealous, not being trusting of our kind, being judgemental, putting each other down and loathing each other. On a lighter note there is also a saying that if women ran the world, there wont be many wars, just few jealous countries not talking to each other!

How can we change this perception? What can we learn from men that will teach us to be kinder to our own gender? Have and show more camaraderie?

Before we answer this question we need to understand why these perceptions are there in the first place? Why cant women catch a break from other women! I am going to compare this to the colonial conditioning of developing countries and I am going to talk about urban India as an example. Three or four generations have been born in India post independence and there still is a strongly prevailing shame and loathing of our cultural heritage. In urban India, my own friends and colleagues for the longest time have taken pride in not knowing hindi numerals. Hindu friends are ashamed of their religion and hyper critical of even the good parts of their faith. Friends from other religions in India also like fellows of their faith from other countries better than their countrymen. This certainly is not to say we all need to become blind followers of what is being presented but have a rationle and objective view of what is good, be proud of the good things from our heritage and not feel embarased of our identity. But taking example of countries who’ve been on this journey we know it will take a littke while more for this awakening to take place.

Similary, I’d argue women have been hearing inferior remarks on their gender, explicit or not for thousands of years. What they witness as children on roles their female family members play, their place in the household and how they express their own frustrations in homes generally led by a patriarch have lasting impressions and shape their own identities. Many of us have seen aunts and sisters in law coming to our homes as new brides who have a fairytale notion of what a daughter in law is, who are ready to be doormats to be that person who keeps the family together and happy. With time many turn into these vicious and angry monsters that they are capable of potent toxicity that can break families apart and sow hatred. What causes that change? What goes wrong? Their treatment? Inclusion or exclusion from family decisions? Expectation to serve continously with great criticism and not enough reward? Not having a voice, seat at the table and general respect? Theses have been written on the subject but you get the general idea. The same DILs become MILs, the same nieces become aunts and keep the cycle of abuse on. The generational curses just dont break. Funnily enough we see these behaviours getting repeated at workplaces where many women dont want to work with female bosses.

Most of us who are reading this piece, I, who is writing it, how can we be sure we won’t turn into someone who will enforce gender stereotypes when we have a choice to not do so? What can we do today to ensure there is a high possibility we dont do so? Whoever you are, I can give few tips to ensure you play a positive role in lifting women up, uplifting the society thus:-

  • Be a Feminist:- unapologetically so. There is much bad press about feminism that women are embarassed or scared to call themselves feminist with the fear of backlash. Feminism isnt burning bras or putting men down anymore. Its about supporting choices women make, not being judgemental and celebrating women’s successes – be it baking a cake or buying a house, being a mother or being a gypsy, being a homemaker or being a soldier at the front. Or both. Or nothing. Feminism isnt anti men and noone should be shamed for being a feminist
  • Mentor a woman:– whatever your profession, education, society, culture, choices be – there are always girls and women around you who you can help teach something new. Be it a technical or domestic skill or a mindset shift or something new. Find a mentee every year and help them with a skill that will make them better in life. There is no better way to grow and feel fulfilled than teach, guide or mentor someone. Leadership isnt always done from the corner office of an MNC or a seat of parliament, we all can lead this way from we are
  • Do not Retire:- This advice is generic and may not suit those with conditions forcing them to retire but if you have a choice, keep doing something. Keep being useful and meaningful to yourself and society. People who have a purpose in life stay happy and healthy for much longer till they are alive. Life doesnt end at 65, it begins then. Women who keep themselves constructively engaged find lesser reasons to give into their subconscious conditioing of finding it harder to trust fellow women and be unhappy as a result.
  • Love yourself and keep learning:- Give yourself time, make yourself a priority, be your best friend and admirer, keep learning something new, travel and open your mind. When you strive to become the best version of yourself, the process gives you a lot of liberation of mind to love others more than judge them. Unhappiness drives us to create misery. Our inner ha[ppiness doesnt always depend on a prince charming as the social conditioning would have us think. Independent women in fact make better partners than co dependent ones.
  • Keep good company:- The biggest mistake we make is deprioritsing our network to priorities that take overlike home, work, partner, children, family. Keep a good circle and make time for it. We become the average of five people that we spend time with. Find men and women to be friends who are ambitious, kind, well travelled and curious to learn. Talk to people about ideas than other people. Opinions are the lowest form of judgement. Avoid people and friends who’s priorities in life are not the same as yours, who dont want to learn or become better. Speaking ill of others doesnt add anything to your life. People who find it cathartic are fooling themselves. Its so much more invigorating to create, ideate and build than rant. Women are creators through their being. Channelise that energy to create, invent and discover all you can.
  • Celebrate and Praise often and generously:- Give a shout out to fellow women more frequently and be generous with your praise. Women play multiple roles in life and do not get enough praise that they deserve. We need to be each others cheerleaders before we can expect the world to do the same for us. If you praise another woman, you dont become smaller – if anything that raises you more.
  • Community – build and participate:- We all know there is unity in strength. Women need to unite than be divided. We need communities, support groups where women can feel involved, safe and validated. Reach out and build one where there is a need. Participate where you find your calling. Give back to other women in need through your guidance when you rise. Support charities that help women through vounteering and other ways. Let’s build each other up.

Women around the world celebrate this wonderful day today. I dont believe women are better than men or vice versa. Women just need equal opportunities and treatment, fair game and no stereotyping. We can expect, teach and enable the next generation to be better but its also great to watch ourselves. Are we prepping ourselves for a more equal world tomorrow? A question worth asking ourselves. What will you do differently untill the next women’s day?

Using planned leaves for a Lockdown Holiday – Good idea or a mistake?

When we announced right at mid march that employees in our workplace are recommended to work from home looking at covid outbreak starting in India, it didn’t feel real or long term. Like with any change, there was a denial of the changing world and situation and we took time to come to terms with what is the ‘new normal’. Now more than two months later, even if lockdown opens tomorrow and government doesn’t extend it, how willing would you be to go on and about your normal life is an aware and educated person, wherever you are in the world? Like for a lot of us, a big part of denial for me also meant, I cancelled my upcoming holiday for April immediately and like with everyone else, had it in the back of my head to ‘save’ my holidays for later, just because I am working from home. The reality of how intense work is when you are stuck at home and the effort you need to put in to connect with others and make yourself understood hadn’t hit me yet! And because everyone else is working from home, practically tied to their devices with emails, the email loops are neverending – its like playing catch with your colleagues – but virtually from respective homes. Add to that the chores with no helpers around and educating children and keeping them busy as a primary carer and you have a perfect case of third degree, day after day.

As the covid infection situation still keeps getting worse, I was at my breaking point few days back and was having an inner fight of dragging myself from weekend to weekend and pushing the idea of a ‘leave’ at the back of my head. And what were weekends, but a time to catch up on weekly chores and spend time with the family – all very short and over in a breath. Not long or restful enough, for me anyway to be back fresh and ready on a Monday.

And thats when I humbled myself and seriously considered planning that pending holiday and exploring what a holiday stuck at home would look like in lockdown? Will it be a good idea or an utter waste of my accrued paid leave, that I might actually need if the worst happened and I caught the bug? But mental health is important too, and for that reason I started planning what my lockdown holiday might look like

My Ground Rules

I had set few rules in the beginning based on which I planned a relatively shorter break of four days:

  • There will be a tech detox in these days. No office mails or messenger will be on or checked out of temptation. There will be no browsing of social media, news, netflix et al or digital video content consumption of any kind
  • I started prepping my family to understand that a day off on a working day didnt mean, I owe this time to other chores. Other than helping my 5 years old with his tech setup for online class and homework completion, I didn’t assume additional work that wouldnt have been fun. Thankfully my helper was back, who take care of basic cooking and cleaning. Even chores that I picked were what my mind directed me to do – cleaning the closet, rearranging my room etc.
  • I will try to be quiet, listen to my mind and body and act accordingly. If my body or mind asked for sleep, I’ll give as much as needed with no guilt. I ate mindfully – cooked, baked and wrote a lot more. Listened to my favorite soothing music, walked in the garden and read a simple happy book. And I did end up sleeping an awful lot, surprisingly
  • By the end of the holiday, my mind and body felt strangely calmer. I was surprised at how much turmoil and tiredness I had without realising, and it felt cathartic to give myself that break. It was like being in calm waters after weathering a storm.

What I can tell you was that as someone who was having trouble getting up for days together well past the 9 AM mark, I could wake up refreshed early on, ready to take on the days ahead. I’d again stopped getting irritated and annoyed at my child, family and colleagues and could bring more warmth, comfort, understanding and empathy back in my communication. It refreshed me to deal with the days ahead with positivty for a while now. Until the next lockdown holiday I believe.

I can now share with you, that a working day during lockdown and a holiday during a workday/week are two extremely different experiences in the same surrondings, provided the holiday is planned well. One just needs to acknowledge the holiday, and give the attention and care to planning as you would to a holiday where you’d spent money on hotel bookings and travel tickets. Yes, everyone’s surroundings will be different and so would what holiday means to them. But the trick is in opening your mind to what you like to do unwind and chill and create that reality in your current circumstances. For some it may very well mean a movie marathon or warm baths, others might just like wine and cheese, for some it may mean putting headphones on to escape the crowded reality they live in, while for some it may very well mean video calls with family and friends and so on to counter their lonely existence from the past few months. But the three tips I can give you for a successful lockdown holiday is – unplug from what is disturbing and gives you anxiety (news and social media and work, most importantly), spend some calm time just with yourself, and pamper your body and mind with sleep and healthy food.

A lockdown holiday is not just possible, it can soothe you from the pressures that you yourself arent aware, you are dealing with. Good emotional and mental health leads to a good quality of life holistically as well. Do share your own experiences of having taken leaves during lockdown and whether it was a good idea. I’d love to know.

“Sanskrit will be the next Yoga” – Interview with Aneesha Jyoti, Co-Founder – Language Curry

They say every crisis within it carries gifts, if only you look for them. Right when Corona was beginning to dig its fangs in India, I met Aneesha, the Co-founder of Language Curry, a platform for learning Indian languages. It was my gift in Corona times to have met Aneesha and see her drive and capability towards her business. We clicked immediately and I found her to be inspirational, determined, passionate about her platform and app, and in true entrepreneurial fashion dedicated to it 24 by 7. As I got to know her more and developed familiarity and acquaintance leading up to a new friendship, I got to know more about her story -How she was born and brought up in Gujarat and Canada, how her roots called her back to India and how her life in Canada inspired her to start language curry.

I admired few things immediately about her story – that she did challenge and voice out the bias that women entrepreneurs face because of their gender with investors and public.

And that she has the courage to dream, to turn it into reality in a still heavily patriarchal society of India.

And that, from India she is playing a huge part in promoting Indian languages around the world and helping people connect with our country.

If these initiatives and projects don’t deserve support, funding and even government recognition, then I don’t know what does. Such initiatives are such a support to our ‘make in India’ vision, travel sector and others too. The apps are available on android playstore and iOS with good reviews!

Here is a small chat with Aneesha that is sure to inspire you about her dream and pet project Langauage Curry and give you some meaningful insight on the world of entrepreneurship and helpful advice related to it!

Tell us about language curry? How, when and why did you start it?

Language Curry is an app to learn Indian languages and connect to India’s rich culture.

I moved to Canada when I was 17 and lived there for almost 10 years, my parents were very strict about not forgetting our roots, speaking in Hindi at home and not faking an accent. Also during my time in Canada I experienced the need amongst NRI’s to connect with India and the culture. And the starting point to a culture is usually Language. So I believe my personal experiences coupled with the parenting and the innate patriot in me, left me wanting to solve this problem.

Is there an appetite for Indian languages in the west? Why?

Yes for sure, although my inspiration came from NRI’s . We soon realized there are so many reasons why other segments also want to learn Indian languages. Few top ones are: being married to or dating Indians, because 1 in 6 people in the world is an Indian ! Expats who work in India or work with Indians and tourists who want to experience India in a richer way.

Sanskrit unfortunately is no longer a language of conversations. What is driving people to learn Sanskrit and/or teach it?

Launching Sanskrit was purely an instinctive feeling after seeing how Yoga has taken over the world. I always said to my co-founders that Sanskrit would be the next yoga! We have seen an immense take rate amongst Indians to reconnect with Sanskrit to better understand the scriptures. Sanskrit opens doors to so much in our culture – Ayurveda, Vedas, Upanishads, Gita even various scientific and historic scriptures. Internationally as well, Sanskrit is being considered the most scientific and grammatically correct language. We want to bust the myth that Sanskrit is only the Language of Gods, its much more than that and unless we accept it as a conversational language it wouldn’t be learnt and retained in an effective manner.

What is the future of Sanskrit and Indian languages?

India is global point of interest now. The world is looking to us not only as an economic opportunity but also as a soft power. Indians themselves are rising above the colonial complexes and taking pride in their culture. Although English would be the one language that would connect the globe, Hindi, Sanskrit and regional Indian languages would only strengthen the connect within India and for all those who want to connect with Indians.

http://www.languagecurry.com

As a woman entrepreneur what unique advantages and challenges have you faced?

Although qualities for an entrepreneur are pretty gender neutral. But as women especially mothers the abilities of multi tasking and patience really help! Women are great at taking calculated risks, managing teams, dreaming big and being realistic at the same time.

One of the big challenge or bias I faced was of building a company while raising my child. If a father works from home on his start up no one questions his commitment level but for some reason if women work from home there is a bias that she is not giving enough hours to work. When in actuality when you are committed to your dream, trust me , man or woman both will give in more than expected with respect to time and money.

Is there an appetite for Indian languages in India?

Yes for sure. Even we were taken for surprise when we saw the kind of response we got from south Indians wanting to learning Hindi, in fact more than 80% of our Hindi users are south Indians learning for better networking, relationships or even Bollywood!

Similarly Urban Migration and inter region marriages is big factor for someone to learn the local language. Many argue that English works but its so much more fun if you can speak the local language, truly appreciate the culture and gain respect from locals for the effort.

What advice do you have for women wanting to venture in entrepreneurship?

Go for it if you are passionate about an idea and there is something beyond financial gratification that drives you. My advice would be to first build a team who believes in the idea as much if not more. I truly believe for a stable start you need a rock solid team. Secondly, never shy away from asking for help from family, friends, customers, colleagues etc. Many wont help, but the few who will would really be your pillars in good and bad times.

You can find Aneesha Jyoti and the Language Curry page on linkedin http://linkedin.com/in/aneesha-jyoti-99011610 You can also follow language curry on Instagram

MY QUARANTINED FAMILY: Not so different from yours – Guest Blog by Dr Srishti Shrivastava

Dr Srishti Shrivastava is a dentist who has dreamt of being a doctor before she learnt to brush her own teeth! She’s one of the rare few people who’ve had a childhood romance with their profession; who are rooted and yet free – and that’s because she has an innate friendship with books. Srishti is a witty magician with words as you will see below. You can drop a comment or mail me if you’d like to read more from her or give her any feedback – I’ll be sure to pass it on. Read on…

MY QUARANTINED FAMILY: Not so different from yours

‘Quarantine’ and ‘Lockdown’ are just fancy words. Believe me when I tell you we have all been through this when we were rebellious teenagers in a traditional Indian family. Maybe you don’t remember because it was a long time ago. Let me refresh your teen memory. My over-rationalising brain came up with it and I hope you observe the similarities between your family and the current situations as well as I intend them to.

The Honourable Prime Minister, my father, the head of the family:

He holds the primary power, moral authority and social privileges. He expects a great deal from us kids so that we’ll rise to the occasion. When I know that he thinks a lot of me, I respond well and reciprocate. He does not threaten me when I am not cooperating; instead he takes away my dear to heart privileges. He decides the time when I am required to get back home (the recent 7 PM curfew).

The Medical fraternity, My Mom:

We all know it is our mother who we need the most when we feel sick. She is the one who takes care of our family. She constantly makes sure that we are healthy and have a good immunity.  One of her biggest challenges is the fact that there is hardly any lunch break and vacation time. Her main concern is the health and welfare of the family for which she keeps coming up with her own strategies.

The Police Force, my strict brother:

The police force is my brother, standing in the sun to protect me, sometimes scolding me if I don’t follow father’s rules but let’s me go if I tell him I have mother’s permission (health issues). He irritates me because of his overprotective nature but I know it’s for my own good.

The sanitation department is my cleanliness freak sister:

Most of what she does could be described as mundane and repetitive, they are rarely measurable but they matter a lot. It takes 4 hours for her to clean and 4 minutes for me to trash it all. But without her help, Mom’s task will never end and our place would be a great niche for pathogens.

 These are some of the memories I have of my family when I was in my adolescence and I will forever be grateful to them for protecting me at the most vulnerable phase of my life. If it hadn’t been for all those times that they didn’t give into my stubborn wishes, I wouldn’t have been the person I am today. This makes me wonder about all the restrictions put upon us, no matter how frustrating they may seem today, will lead to a better and a safe future. Because this indeed is the most vulnerable phase of our country and the whole world..

‘Family is a circle of strength and love, every crisis faced together makes this circle stronger’

Did the famous deaths of the past two days shock you?

India has witnessed deaths of two much loved and eminent celebrities in the last two days – Irrfan Khan, on April 29th, 2020 and Rishi Kapoor on April 30th.
And it is affecting people emotionally – normal, celebrities, influencers all alike.

In these days of Covid19, when all are locked down with nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to meet – screens take precedence – work laptops, mobile, tablets, TVs et al. Even minor news items are hard to ignore and become hot topics for discussion to fulfil our innate need to socialise, express ourselves and converse with other human beings. Our screens are filled with news items as well as personal sentiments about current situations – such shocking deaths are all, one talks about, reads and hears about. So there is no escaping getting affected by these deaths.

There was a very interesting HBR article that I read on anticipated grief recently – you can read it here (https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief). The storm of emotions inside us all these days, combined with focused news about death and permanent loss of larger than life figures brings about a heightened sense of grief. Simply put, we see the news of them dying, we go to social media to express that sadness or shock on our FB,twitter,insta which is already filled with our people expressing their distress. So there is no escape or outlet in real from the starkness of the reality of these deaths and what it does to our already subconsciously fearful minds. It reminds us of our own impermanence, our own imminent ends and those of our loved ones. 🙂

The biggest mystery, that what happens to us after death, keeps us uncomfortable about facing news and trivia of death all our lives. Death is equal parts mysterious, scary and fascinating. The fear of letting go of all that we have collected, earned, loved all our lives with that one moment taking it all away, keeps us scared. The fear of death and afterlife is what world’s religions and principles of morality are based on. What our belief systems are based on. Our whole life is a series of pre arranged activities meant to survive and avoid death -in humans, these activities have become such refined rituals, that we don’t see their morbidity unabashed on a day to day basis. Death and dying in our carefully constructed society have rituals build around them in a way, that it helps us forget and move on quickly and look forward to next day – get absorbed in the daily. This is done so we remain sane and emotionally healthy – but with that our priorities get diluted as well and we become absorbed in non important things of life.

Now, none of us reading this will escape death. Death is the biggest truth of all our lives- the only one certainly that we were born with – that WE. WILL. DIE. someday..

With this perspective in mind, either we can learn or continue letting ourselves feel unsettled. Keep feeling shocked over why did they both die, die so young – without facing the truth that we will die too and so will those around us – no one knows when, but we all will. So knowing this – what would you do next – grieve, avoid or learn? Here are few questions to you in light of these recent deaths, that I suggest you ask yourselves and literally write the answers somewhere:

  • Knowing that death is imminent and literally any moment away, how will you prioritise your life in large and small moments, thus?
  • Will you still want to keep blaming others for your unhappiness, or take the mantle of creating happiness on your own?
  • What regrets do you not want to die with? What unsaid words do you want to say – apologies, confessions, rants, complaints and get over with them?
  • Who do you want to forgive, ask forgiveness from, tell them you love them and that they are important to you?
  • Are you wishing your life away everyday by dragging yourself through work, life and responsibilities – living from weekend to weekend, wasting a huge chunk of your life in weekdays or choosing and accepting what you do and embracing it?
  • Are you living by others’ rulebook for their validation or approval or making courageous decisions and standing by them?
  • How would you like to remembered? Are you working towards it?
  • Are you prioritising a bully boss, a fake friend, a criticising relative, a narcissistic partner or anyone who generally doesnt care whether you live or die so much that you’ve forgotten that it doesnt matter to them if you die tomorrow? That you are the easiest replacement in their life?
  • Are you working on what you truly want, your bucket list?
  • Does everyone that you love, know enough that you love them?
  • Are you being a good person, a kind soul and leaving the world a better place than you found it? Or are you behaving in a way that people will be relived to see you dead?
  • Are you enjoying each moment, being grateful for all that you’ve been blessed with and cutting your losses every day?
  • In summary, are you living life in a way that truly matters to you, or living by someone else’s standards?

Life is too short for regrets. There is a lot to enjoy and be grateful for. There is a lot to endure too. If today you feel a little uncomfortable and freaked out and morbid about these deaths, don’t let that feeling overpower you. But also don’t let that feeling die. Or try to bury it at the back of your head. A constant realisation of our mortality, of the non-permanence of it all keeps priorities in check. Keeps us honest about what is truly important and motivates us to stay authentic.

Life is going to end one day. For you. And for me. And maybe it is a good thing. Because it is only when we step into the unknown, that new beginnings take shape…

Are you being Kind?

It’s a given that these are times like no other that we have seen in our lives. Who would have thought when this year began, that this is how life will be globally. I wonder how many people had new year resolutions that can still be pursued as life went tipsy turvy. I read somewhere recently that this is not ‘work from home’ – it rather is us ‘attempting to work’ as we try to survive. And as we move further in these uncertain times, I have a question for you

Are you being Kind?

  • To your family, to your coworkers, neighbours, friends, your surroundings?
  • More importantly, are you being kind to yourself?

Whether you are 5 or 85, not many rules of the normal life apply these days. Most of the free world has not seen a government imposed lack of freedom in their lives – I am not saying that is not for the right case right now. But in these unusual times of mental, emotional and perhaps physical stress and fear – are you still measuring yourself and others by the same standards of last year and thus burning out? If yes, perhaps, this is the time to understand what leadership is – and forego the inner need to be a ‘manager’ and ‘administrator’ – you see, before you try to control or even judge others and yourself on what is being achieved or not currently, it is important to understand the changed rules of the game in the current times. Leadership precedes Management in uncertain times. And thus the courage to accept that we are still trying to figure out this ‘new normal’ means you are being honest, being authentic.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself

  • Are you giving yourself breaks, sleep or any other kindness that your body and mind asks for? Are you listening to yourself? Are you forgiving yourself often?
  • Are you reaching out to people important to you, one to one? Listening to them? Sharing how you feel?
  • Are you letting kids and younger ones know that its ok to be scared or grumpy in the current situation? Are you letting them express their emotions?
  • Are you managing your colleagues by objectives and impact? OR wrongly so,policing and monitoring them for hours they spend in front of the laptop replicating their office life at home?

Make no mistake, if you are not kind to yourself, accepting that these are unprecedented circumstances, conscious that many around us will go through the harrowing experience of contracting this disease, children will lose months of education, there will be loss of life – you will keep being cruel to others around you too.

Everyday, try to write down what you are thankful for. Gratitude is powerful and that is a topic for another day, But in simple words – remembering what you have that is important to you will give you motivation to face these unusual days head on. Try to nurture life around you if possible, even if it means you plant a little something at home. Try to do breathing exercises even if for a minute at a time. Do what makes you happy. And some days when the clouds are darker, take a break from all of this. Sleep, allow yourself to feel bad, let your mind tell you its grumpy and then gently decide to come back. If it gets difficult to tackle, seek help. Talk to someone. If you have no one to talk to, drop me a mail. I am here to offer support , help, coaching, dialogue and help you see more clearly.

This too shall pass.. But how you treated yourself, and thus, how you treated others will define who you are – your true character and mettle. What you will remember for the rest of your life is whether you grumpily waited for the ‘Storm to Pass’ or did you ‘Dance in the Rain’?