Hindi Word of the Week

Tin [three]- The number of roti that will bring bad luck if served on my plate for dinner..

Friday, November 15, 2013

4 Easy Grocery Switches To Save Your Health

Finding out where to source healthy cooking ingredients is a challenge shared  by expats and locals alike. While supermarkets are diversifying their range of healthy and organic product alternatives, white and refined varieties still dominate the shelves as well as home cooking habits, with the assumption that the healthier options will compromise on taste. 

However, poor health choices are contributing to so many health issues in this country and its unnecessary because healthier alternatives are available. After being hospitalised for kidney infection in 2012, I found out that my immunity and overall health had hit a new low and discovered how easy it is to source healthier alternatives. 

Here are my four switches in staple cooking ingredients that didn't compromise taste or cost but made a big difference to the health factor of my diet.  

1. From Vegetable/Olive Oil to Rice Bran Oil: Rice Bran Oil is now a mainstream item on shelves. The oil is extracted from the inner husk of rice and is thought to improve blood cholesterol with its various antioxidants and vitamins. An added bonus is that it costs the same as vegetable oil, leaving no reason not to make the switch.

Think twice if you think Olive Oil is better still for your body. Some types of Olive Oil have a low smoke point, meaning that it breaks down when heated and becomes a host for all sorts of bad things. However, Rice Bran Oil has a very high smoke point, so I keep olive oil for salads and use rice bran oil for daily cooking.

2. From Plain Atta to 7 Grains Atta: Atta is the flour used in roti and other Indian bread dishes so if you are eating local cuisine you will be consuming a lot of it. Some brands of atta add grains to help meet our nutritional needs, which for me is worth the little extra you pay compared to no grains varieties. I use Pillsbury's 7 Natural Grains MultiGrain Atta, which is available at my local grocery store. It mixes in wheat, soy, oats, maise, ragi [millet], chana dal [chick pea] and barley into the flour without compromising the softness of rotis.

3. From White Sugar/Brown Sugar to Organic Sugar: Demerara sugar is a 'raw' sugar that is readily available in shops and is not to be confused with Brown Sugar. Brown Sugar is actually highly-refined white sugar which they then add molasses to. Instead, opt for the large-grained, crunchy demerara sugar. It has a natural caramel flavour that I personally preferred in my hot drinks and cooking, and is thought to retain some more of the natural 'impurities' that are processed out of white sugar.

Even better than Demera Sugar is Organic Sugar, however its only just becoming available on the shelves. 24 Mantra Organic is India's pioneer organic foods brand that is slowly making its way into local shops and hypermarkets alike. Their brand of organic sugar is slightly refined, yet as an organic alternative remains completely free from the negative health effects of any herbicides or pesticides that are usually used to grow cane sugar. 

4. From White Rice to Brown Rice: While this is the most difficult switch of the four, brown rice has proven to be much more favorable for human consumption. It is higher in fibre, contains magnesium,  iron, manganese and zinc and the only form of rice to contain vitamin E. A switch to brown rice means slower glucose metabolism, improved arterial health, and most importantly a reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. While brown rice can be a little more difficult to source, it is worth considering a switch for those who prefer rice over roti for their daily meals.

What about Brown Bread? I have not recommended a switch from white to brown bread in India after hearing that the readily available loaves of brown bread are actually white bread with brown colouring! If you know of a healthy and easy-to-find bread loaf alternative please do share!

These four food switches to my diet have been so easy to make I don't miss my former choices at all. On the contrary, I get a kick out of looking after my body a little better. For less than 200 rupees extra on my monthly shopping bill I am ensuring a healthy alternative for my four staple food products and still eat delicious meals. It really is a no-brainer to make these switches.

What easy food switches have you made that you can recommend to others? 

I'm so grateful for this journey and wish you all the very best with yours!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Star Child

Some may have noticed that I haven't posted anything in a while. I started a full-time job in February. It's an exciting job. I'm part of a team that gives advice and services to celebrities and corporates in their charity/CSR work. It's also a very challenging job. There is a lot of opportunity to grow, but new learning and adjustments has meant that I have not felt like writing at the end of a long day or week. 

In fact, I've been low in general, with last week being a real killer. I pushed myself too far into exhaustion and realised that I had been neglected my happiness for no good reason.

This is the first weekend since returning to India where I put my foot down, cancelled all plans, and gave myself a break. And what do you know, here I am to share something special that I stumbled upon yesterday 

Each time I return to visit Australia, I take a chunk of my old life back with me in my bags. This last trip, I grabbed all of my old journals. I hadn't felt the sort of exhaustion I felt this week since I was dealing with an eating disorder. I remembered how I used to love the feeling, because it was the only excuse I would give myself to have a break. I started flicking through old journals and came across the only poem I have ever written outside of school. I wrote it soon after recovery, after being moved by a beautiful photo of a dancing child in a photo magazine.

I'm no poet, but it is a beautiful thing when we allow ourselves the form of expression that resonates with us in the moment.


The little girl is dancing
floating whimsically
through the dusk's humble warmth
swaying in between
a spill of notes that
coil around her like fireflies
entering and lifting her spirit
allowing her mind to wander
and wonder. And take flight

A line of shadow puppet trees
filter the day's dying glow;
in the distance
a solitary thought
escapes past the trees,
and rests, gently, at the core
of her mind

After a noble pause
it travels into the depths of her soul;
filling each solitary waltz
with new life.
it rests on the nape of her neck;
takes one final bow, and shoots upwards

And thrusting her head back
She sees the stars.

I'm grateful for this journey and wish you all the very best with yours ox

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Green Panacea: Pudin Hara

It is all too common in India that someone returns from the doctors with a bag-full of medicines for an upset stomach, effectively bombing their system with treatment overload. But I have joined the bandwagon of believers in a herbal panacea for a range of stomach issues - and I am delighted to share with you too.

The remedy is called Pudin Hara ['green mint'] and it is a herbal medicine that comes in the form of  smooth, green pearls. Ask any local and they would have heard of it. And for good reasons. It truly is a god-send for rumbling, quezy, achey and bloated stomachs (an unfortunate part of life for many expats in India!) and has provided me almost instant relief from digestive discomfort.

The pearls are made from a blend of mint oils [pudina satva] with carminative and digestive properties and there are no side-effects from taking them. At first I was quite skeptical that a mild-sounding mix of oils could cure my violent cramps and bloating, which led me to suffer unnecessarily for several months before giving them a try. Soon after I take one, I feel a cooling effect in the stomach, a signal that they are beginning to work their magic. Within ten minutes, I am usually sitting upright and ready to do cartwheels around the room. And since discovering how wonderful they are I've been hearing similar stories from many local and expat friends who have also come to swear by them.

At less than 30 rp for 12 pearls, this amazing herbal remedy also happens to be super cheap so I highly recommend you try popping a couple of green pills before heading to the doctor for any stomach upsets.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rags to Riches: Vaghri and Second-hand Clothes Exchange

(Kamrul Hasan)

In Australia, second-hand commodity exchange brings to mind thrift-shops, garage sales and hard rubbish days. In India, there are hundreds of local recycling processes operating as part of a well-oiled commodity system. Items are reused within family networks, resold to the poor, remade for wealthier classes, and transformed into new exports. 

I became interested in one such process after Ratnesh's mum asked us to send our unwanted clothes to her in Delhi, where she exchanges them for iron kitchen utensils through the bartanwales,  'those who deal with utensils'.

Bartanwales are a Gujurati group called the Vaghri, (or Bagri) and old clothes exchange is a profession for one group of Vaghris within one of their subgroups. That's not to say that the practice is small-scale. In Delhi alone, there are over fourty-thousand Waghri clothes exchangers. Their community in Raghubir Nagar is a thriving area with its own market, temple, panchayat [local council] and support networks. A decent number of Vaghri have even migrated into Mumbai, where they take the last name, Waghri. So next time you score a bunch of fanciful, second-hand clothes and fabrics at Chor Bazar, you can thank a Vaghri for it.

Where do you find the bartanwales to exchange with? You may be familiar with those long, lingering street calls that wake you up in the early hours of the morning? Take a listen next time. One of them may be saying, Kapre de dooooo... bartan le looooo! [Give clothes, take utensils!]. That's a vaghri roaming your area, waiting for you to shout back in response to their pheri call for door-to-door exchange. 

And when those utensils start to break? You can always take them to the local waste-paper man who gladly pays to take them off your hands..and so the cycle continues..

I am grateful for this journey and wish you all the very best with yours xxoo

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

"The fifth stage occurs when you return to your home country. You may find that things have changed (you'll also have changed) and that you feel like a foreigner in your own country. If you've been away for a long time and have become comfortable with the habits and customs of a new lifestyle, you may find that you no longer feel at ease in your homeland. Reverse culture shock can be difficult to deal with and some people find it impossible to re-adapt to their home country after living abroad for a number of years"

Reverse Culture Shock - Culture Wise India by Noel Gama

After reading up on reverse culture shock before leaving for India in 2010 I quite looked forward to the excitement of returning with clarity about my own personal values, separate from those ingrained in cultural norms. 

Yet, after two years of living in India, I experienced reverse culture shock as a confusing misalignment with my culture - there was more cloudiness than clarity.

While browsing through second-hand shops towards the end of my trip, a heavy sadness settled in my stomach. My dream of creating a cute little cottage-style house, which my Aussie friends could do with ease, would be quite the feat in India, a country devoid of thrift shops or the same appreciation for old-style decor. Come lunchtime, I was sobbing over a $25 cafe lunch, quite literally over the menu sheet. My emotions seemed out-of-character because I knew I could have afforded the meal and would happily live without weekly thrift shop outings. Something else had been going on.

Mundane features stuck out for being unimaginable in India. An unguarded, hole-in-the-wall cash machine. A street of scantly-dressed summer lovers. A next-door neighbor walking her pet sheep - along a smooth, vacant  footpath. Free connector bus services, train rides and even bottles of water for commuters to compensate for the temporary closing of a central railway station. Hard to believe!

Some things unsettled me like never before. My heart sank when dinner was served only for people to disappear into their respective rooms. Silence, once mandatory for a good night's sleep, was now a little unsettling and kept me up. And despite being surrounded by English, I felt as if people were speaking a different language. It took some days before I rediscovered old rhythms of communication.

Two years of living India has increased my tolerance for hectic environments - in India. In Australia though, it hurt to realise that my dreams of quieter, greener grass on the other side were being shattered. I was disturbed to see sour-sob fields, as I remembered them, now converted into over-crowded housing developments. I even found myself balancing out loud banter between friends with minimal talking, with necessary input being communicated using my 'soft voice'.

I also possessed a new skepticism towards the intentions and capabilities of society at large. Is man really capable of building a gigantic, fully-functioning, car-park at Adelaide Airport in only one year? Can it be true that random strangers exchange deep and meaningfuls on a public railway platform without any ulterior motives? And surely my friend is being extremely careless to walk into a shopping centre holding her cash-loaded purse loosely in-hand? While she said it was completely safe, I knew better than to make the life of a snatcher any easier and proceeded to stuff my wallet into the very depths of my bag.

On the streets a rainbow of accents, skin tones, and clothing stuck out like a sore thumb and I could no longer look past two attitudes towards non-Caucasian Australians that were indicated through the media and passing conversations. The first attitude was to ignore differences in skin tones, religion, or even accents, as if stating the obvious was an offence in itself unless accompanied by a positive remark. This hyper-sensitivity seemed to over-compensate for those who decided to hold one group of people responsible for all of  the trends they found undesireable in Australia. 

One of the hardest aspects of reverse culture shock (as mentioned by Vagabondish ) is that people 'back home' don't get it. A happy moment was when someone tried to relate to what I might be feeling, "its like the silence and serenity of Australia becomes eery and uncomfortable" - Bingo! Exactly! But for the most part, I was comparing my experience to a context that no one else understood. I tried not to share my comparisons unless they were somewhat relatable, but this proved difficult because I could no longer relate to 'Australia'  like I used to. A sense of loneliness in my own confusion about my homeland was what ultimately brought me to tears.

Some words of advice for others who are preparing for a trip to your home (or former home) country:

  • Reading up on reverse culture shock will not prevent it. People experience reverse culture shock differently and at a different time. You cannot imagine ahead of time which circumstances will shock you so there is no use trying to reason your way out of experiencing it. Expect to be surprised at how your perspective has changed, and accept any emotions that arise out of everyday experiences.
  • Accept the unexpected. It is natural to return with an idea about your relationships and lifestyle based on how things were when you left. However, your circumstances and the circumstances of loved ones has changed. My daily mantra was accept the unexpected and it did help me on several occasions, where relationships felt different, where my opinions differed from the majority, or where I no longer tolerated behaviors that I once ignored. Change is natural and healthy.
  • Connect with others who can relate: Whether it be speaking to friends within an expat community or talking things through with someone from the other culture, talking through the experience can help to ease the confusion and loneliness associated with reverse culture shock.
  • Its not all bad. There are positive shocks too! Despite reverse culture shock, my trip was full of precious times with loved ones. I had lots of fun noticing the peculiarities of my own culture and  my own head-wobbling habit. And while its true that I felt confused at times,  I guess I did find some clarity on other occasions. Being betwixt and between two cultures meant that I was faced with a conscious choice to do things like an "Australian", or an "Indian", which sometimes helped to act according to my own set of values. 

I am grateful for this journey and wish you all the very best with yours xxoo

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Henna and Mehndi Explained

'Henna' is something that is commonly associated with Indian culture so it is ironic that I have received henna body art three times in Australia but not once in India!

My dear friend Brighde is a professional artist who has built a name for her henna body art designs in Adelaide, where she is called for everything from weddings to 21sts and Bollywood-themed functions. She has even observed a growing trend for henna baby bumps and henna hens nights over the last year.

Brighde suggested a henna session for our catch up while I was in Australia. After noticing so many intricate patterns adorning the hands and feet of Indian women, I was very excited and curious to hear what friends in India might think of her chosen design and positioning across my upper back.

I even attempted my own design around Brighde's ankle.. 

My first try at Henna

There is more to henna-based artwork than pretty patterns at Indian weddings. Let me share with you six lesser-known facts about henna that you may not know and might want to know before getting it done:

It is called Mehndi, not Henna. Henna is popularly used with reference to the temporary body artwork that adorns women's bodies but the word actually refers to any dye preparation deriving from the henna tree. Mehndi is the correct word to describe the process and product of decorating the skin with henna paste patterns. In India, henna has been used for mehndi, folk medicine and hair dying for thousands of years. 

Mehndi is not just a desi or Hindu thing. While it is commonly believed that mehndi originated in ancient India as a ceremonial art form, the Henna Sourcebook places its origins in Africa between 7500-3500 BC and Ancient Egyptians were staining the fingers and toes of Pharaohs prior to mummification. Today, Mehndi is a part of religious and cultural traditions of love, luck and fertility around the globe. Bridal Mehndi is performed by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, Roma and Zoroastrians throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Asia, Indonesia, Kuwait, UAE and North Africa. A Middle-Eastern style consists of large, floral patterns, finer-lined floral and paisley patterns signify Indian and Pakistani patterns and Southern Asian styles are somewhere in-between. North African designs stand out for bold and sharp, geometrical designs.

At Indian weddings, the grooms initials will be hidden within a bride's mehndi for him to find on the wedding night.

Black henna is dangerous - If you want a more permanent-looking, black design, get a permanent tattoo. Do NOT go for black mehndi . Mehndi is brown and temporary for a reason. Lawsone is the red-orange dye molecule naturally found in henna leaves, which has the ability to stain kerotine, the protein in our hair and nails, as well as deter fungal infections. Some henna artists cash in on the market for a darker paste by using black henna, a paste containing a nasty chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which is toxic and has left many tourist with a horrible, permanent chemical skin burn. Check the colour and odour before agreeing to get mehndi done. Black henna is jet black and odourless. Natural henna is dark brown with an 'organic', spinach-like smell. 

Black henna gone wrong
Brown henna is cooling. Brown henna is made from natural ingredients including sugar, lemon juice, tea, essential oils and is not at all harmful. In fact, applying henna to the soles of a person's feet can create a cooling effect and has also been used to relieve headaches, making it a common practice among India's desert populations to cool down their body temperatures.

Camel Henna at the Jaisalmer Desert Festival

A good henna recipe is guarded. "Asking a woman for her henna recipe is like asking a woman for her age." If you want to try your luck doing mehndi , don't expect to get a straight answer on the henna paste recipe. Perfecting henna paste for optimum colour, consistency and longevity is an ongoing process for artists and winning combinations are a well-guarded secret. 

Henna is dispensed through tubes that can be prepared and stored in the freezer for several months
The life and stain varies between body parts. A henna stain darkens over the first 48 hours as the skin's kerotin proteins come in contact with the henna mixture. After that, the life of mehndi depends on its positioning on the body: 10-12 days for shoulders, upper back, upper arm and top of hands, 15 days for knuckles, fingers and ankles, and 4-6 weeks on the palms and feet, where henna molecules penetrate deeper into the skin, allowing stains to remain for the longest amount of time. 

Happy Henna Hunting!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Recipe: Easy Arhar Dal

My favourite dal recipe for its taste and simplicity. Arhar/toovar (yellow split pea) dal is commonly used in Gujurati cooking and produces a smooth, gelatinous consistency once cooked. Combining arhar dal with ghee and dash of red chilli makes for a creamy, comforting dish.

Easy Arhar Dal

Arhar Dal [yellow lentils], 4 handfuls, soaked 3 hours

Pani [water]

1/2 tsp Haldi [turmeric]

1 tbspn ghee

1/2 tsp lal mirch [red chilli powder]

Red Chillis {optional) 

Namak [salt], to taste 

Add same parts dal and water with turmeric and salt to a pressure cooker or saucepan. Cook covered, until dal is soft through (test by pressing some against the pot with a spoon). Place ghee in a metal soup spoon and melt over a raw flame. Once hot, add red chilli powder directly to the ghee and continue to heat for approx. 10 seconds. Add the ghee mixture to the dal and stir through.  Garma garam paroso! [Serve hot].. and enjoy!
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