“But this is not my tiffin…”

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“But this is not my tiffin…” I often hear these words around dinnertime. You must wonder if I order my dinner from the dabbawalas. Well, I am not so unfortunate. On the contrary, I am blessed to have delicious home-cooked food everyday.

The novelty I enjoy is that in one single week, I eat dinner in four different homes. Surprised, are you? If know about my family, I don’t think you would be taken aback but if you have not heard my dinner tales, then here I go…

I reside in a cosmopolitan city of India with my mother and daughter. And I am blessed to have my mamajis (uncles) reside on the other two floors of this building. It is the biggest boon one can have in a city where more than a million people reside and yet everybody is lonely. My nanaji (grandfather) was from a small town. He was a firm believer in the ancient system of joint family and thus kept the family together with his unconditional love, devotion and constant support. Later, my mamaji took a vow to continue this tradition here, in this city, though with a few alterations to suit everyone’s needs.

Ma shifted to this city after my father’s demise. It began with a simple ritual of only four members from two households having dinner together. My mamaji ensured they had dinner with Ma so that she didn’t feel lonely and also, to exchange notes about the day’s happenings. If they had not initiated this ritual, they would probably have not met each other for days at a stretch inspite of staying in the same building. Isn’t that what happens with everyone in the metropolitan cities?

And it happened with us too. After I was diagnosed with COVID, a few other members too tested positive, one after the other. We decided to stop the common dinner in the best interest of everyone. Hum bhi iss sahar ki bheed mein bhi akele ho gaye the!! Yes, without the dinner ritual, we started feeling lonely too. And that’s when I realised the true importance of this daily custom. I missed my hour of good cheer and the emotional support system.

The dinnertime ritual had started with four members but over the years, others shifted here, me and Aamya, being two of them. We slowly grew in numbers. My mosi (aunt) and my cousin took a conscious decision to reside in the same colony so that they could benefit from this setup. We did question if we could accommodate more members and my mamaji’s stance was always positive. It is his unwavering faith in the ideology that has brought us so far. From four members of two families, we have grown to 13 members across four families and with Zoie as the latest member, the count has gone to 14! All the 14 members have different taste buds. So, the food might not be necessarily to the liking of every member across three generations but we dine together happily. Zoie is the only member who splurges on anything and everything she gets to eat. All the food is to her liking!! And she is loved by every member of the family.

Everyday, we come out of our comfort zones to go to one-of-the-four-houses to have dinner. The work timings are different and some of us do get late. We’ve had cousins/relatives/family friends staying over for few days/months. Though it’s not been easy but it was not impossible to work-out this setup. The best way is to keep it simple. It is neither a pot-luck dinner nor an elaborate meal. And that’s what has kept it workable. The one who hosts the dinner does all the cooking except when we have additional people staying over.

This precious time is not only about having dinner together. It is also about strengthening our bonds and nurturing them. Undeniably, it is about respecting our differences and learning to adjust with the others. It also means that we have ensured that none of us feel lonely in the chaos of this city. I give the credit to my mamaji to start this practice but at the same time I also give equal credit to the ladies of these four homes who have sustained it day after day. Here, a special mention of ma and my mamiji(aunt). Both of them have gone an extra mile to make it work.

Over the years, each one of us has made a conscious effort to meet at 8 pm to have dinner…together. Whenever one of the member falters and persistently gets late, mamaji reiterates the reason for having this dinnertime ritual, “Yeh dinner hum ek saath kyon karte hai? Sirf kahana nahi khaana hota hai. Ek saath samay bhi bitana hota hai”. I totally agree that this ritual is not merely to have dinner. The idea is to have dinner together and spend quality time with one another.

Check, check…I guess, I got carried away with the saga of the dinnertime ritual and forgot all about the ‘tiffins’!! As a reader, you too must have got engrossed to know more about the dinner ritual or were you would still wondering about the tiffins? I personally believe that you were with me. You were inquisitive about the ‘dinnertime ritual’…you wanted to know more about it, isn’t it? Well, there is so much more to share about this unique-workable-heartwarming idea but before we go further let’s give some importance to the title of my blog and figure out the story of the ‘tiffins’…!!

Even though we know the importance of having dinner together and make a conscious effort to be there at 8 pm, lest we get reprimanded but sometimes the work schedules, ill health or sheer laziness doesn’t let us follow the regime. In such a case the tiffin boxes are packed and carried for the said individual(s). Generally, it takes days to return the tiffins/containers to the rightful owner.

And when these boxes are brought back during dinnertime, the ladies try to identify their own and we often hear words like, “you have my orange box…”, “na, na, not this round tiffin, I had given the square one”, “woh ek plastic wala tha na…?“, “but this is not my tiffin…”!! It’s a hilarious scene for the onlooker but a matter of serious concern for the owner. The containers generally reach their rightful owners. If not then the ladies have to let go off their boxes! Yes, ‘let go’ – this is yet another mantra we have imbibed through our dinnertime ritual.

Hmm…now you know all about the tiffins and also the dinnertime ritual! Though the actual ritual takes just about an hour and a half but it nurtures us 24 x 7!! It is much more potent than a prayer! It is a blessing in disguise…and a celebration of life!!

Ram Ram India by Alex Thomson

Ram Ram India…the words are so delectable; delightful indeed! This was one main reason to choose the book. And the other reason is that I have embarked on a journey to know more about my country. Sadly, we Indians, rarely document about our experiences, our journeys or our findings. So, we have to turn foreign writers who spend time to know about India and later write about it.

Ram Ram India documents the bicycle tour of Alex Thomson and Nick Rossitier, two BBC correspondents; the journey is undertaken to raise money for Oxfam. They started their journey soon after Indira Gandhi was assassinated and riots had gripped Delhi and Punjab. The British Embassy tried to dissuade them but they were relentless. And that’s the kind of spirit required to take on a bicycle journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in the inhospitable climate across the vast land of India.

The two Brits travelled light and stayed mostly in ‘dak bungalows’. Alex writes about their varied experiences with the chowkidars of these places. Most of them denied accommodation. He writes about large switch boards, huge bathrooms and the presence of cockroaches there. It took me back to my days living a carefree life as a fauji brat. We lived in the Mess at different stations and devoured the food that tasted almost the same everywhere. The descriptions of their journey through the countryside brought back memories of my own; we mostly lived in Cantts, far away from the city life. I was hooked, I wanted to know more about their experiences and yet I didn’t want the book to end.

Both the Brits get undue attention because of their skin colour and sometimes they became irritated with the frankness of Indians. There were Indians who wanted to leech them of their money and on the other hand many locales helped them in the true spirit of “Atithi Devo Bhava”!

There are times when they have portrayed India and Indians in a poor light and I felt disgusted but to be honest, they have portrayed the true picture of India. The places are dirty, dusty. The officials are difficult and corrupt. This is how we are! And they give the credit where it is due…

“Meanwhile, Charand’s mechanic has fixed the wheel and we put it back on. I’m certain he’s never seen a wheel like mine before, let alone a ten-speed bicycle, but it hardly matters and the wheel is true once again. It seems to me that this facility of getting something fixed, made or patched up is the essence of Indian streets, lined with tiny workshops often not much bigger than an allotment hut. How often do you see anything actually being repaired or made in England? And again it’s very unusual here to get the ‘oh, we don’t do that here’, or the ‘That will take two weeks’, which is a way of life at home.”

The book is exorbitantly priced at Rs. 1000. Don’t be too impressed with my review and order the book on a whim. The book is worth a read so, try to grab a secondhand copy instead or borrow it from a library.

Wabi Sabi: The Wisdom of Imperfection by Nobuo Suzuki

The perfectionist that’s ‘me’, now seeks solace in Wabi Sabi – the wisdom of imperfection. Oh yes, I am tired of being a perfectionist. I love craft work, stitching and (nowdays) writing. Unfortunately most of my projects do not see the light of the day because I am scared of making mistakes…I am self-demanding and self unforgiving when I do start the project but it isn’t ‘PERFECT’.

So, when the book was reviewed in one of the reading clubs, I instantly added it to my ‘To Be Read’ list! I have fallen in love with this philosophy which has three principles:

  • Nothing is perfect
  • Nothing is finished
  • Nothing lasts forever.

All the three principles are explained with examples from real life. But my fascination was for the first tenet. The book celebrates imperfection. The author goes to the extent of saying that perfection and beauty are western concepts which create stress in our life. Who can better understand this than me? I am well acquianted with the other two tenets because they are inspired from Buddhism and Zen.

The author writes about Wabi Sabi as a way of life, in art and the philosophy. He motivates the reader to live by its principles to simplfy life, be present in the moment and living in tune with Nature. He advocates life of ‘minnimalism’; something I could relate to because I have already started traversing on this path.

The tables to enlist ‘Antithesis of wabi sabi philosophy’ and ‘Wabi Sabi philiosophy’ help to get a clear comparison of the two concepts. On one side is the life we are living and on the other side is the life we aspire to live. But change in life doesn’t come so easily. It has to be studied in depth and this is where the book lacks. The author quotes excellent examples but to ask people to set out on this path would require a little more…motivation!

As for me, this book has set me off on a new journey. I will read more about it, take some notes and more than that I would put the philosophy into practice so that I can celebrate imperfection.

“Be the best imperfect person you can be!”

Wabi Sabi philosophy

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

I picked up this book for two reasons: firstly, the previous book by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, had left me awestruck with his exclusive writing style and storyline, it became an instant favourite. Secondly, this book too was highly recommended in the book clubs. I am happy I read this heart warming book.

The novel picks the pace from the very beginning. The 576 pages whizz past in no time at all. It is the story of two brothers who set out for California; each for their own reason. The younger one – Billy, wants to look for his mother who abandoned him when he was just 6 months. She sends them postcards on her way to begin a new life with her boyfriend but after that there is ‘silence’!

The other brother Emmett, an 18 year old, who just stepped out of the juvenile work farm, wants to go to California because he doesn’t want to break his brother’s heart and he is sure to find work and start a new life. After all what other option do the brothers have. Their mother is long gone, their father recently deceased, and their farm in Nebraska foreclosed by the bank.

Even before they begin their journey to California, the story takes a different turn. Emmett discovers that his two friends from the juvenile farm had sneaked into their house. The friends insist they accompany the brothers but just few hours into the journey, his friend Duchess runs away with Emmett’s car and they are left stranded. At every step the brothers face challenges and their life is in peril.

While reading the book, on numerous occasions I put away the book because I was scared…scared for the boys. Whenever they came face to face with danger, I kept the book away lest I have to read through to know about the evil befallen upon them. I know it is hilarious; putting away the book wouldn’t change the story! But I did not have the heart to read on…and within minutes the curiosity would get the better of me and I would pick up the novel…again!! But the beauty of Amor Towles is that he sees the brighter side of life. So any amount of challenges faced by Billy and Emmett did not leave them bitter nor could adversity touch them.

Though the story is gripping and kept me hooked but it wasn’t as magical or exclusive as ‘The Gentleman in Moscow’! So, I a little disappointed too!

Chasing the Rainbow: The Growing Up in an Indian Village by Manoj Das

It is a book of short stories. They are light hearted and give a vivd description of the village life. The author paints an enchanting canvas of the sea and the village through this writings. He takes you alongwith him to the places he explores in his village Sankhari, District Balasore, bordering Medinpur districts in Bengal. Or the time spent at his uncles home in Koraput, bordering Andhra.

The author recounts amusing tales from his childhood. Most of the stories are from the time before India won freedom. The author claims that he lived in a village in Odisha, which was untouched from the stirrings of freedom struggle of the nation. A ‘gora’ had never set foot in the village and neither did they witness a vehicle being driven. The village administration was headed by the President, a person appointed by the British to govern twenty villages. And the author had the privilege of being the President’s son.

Even though his father was appointed as a President, they lived a humble life and the author wandered to every nook and cranny either alone or with his friends. Each stories narrates the escapades with charm and delight a child experiences while discovering new places and encountering new challenges.

“The sun was setting. Outlined on the opposite horizon was a range of hills. Over it had flashed a rainbow. A year ago, another rainbow spanning the eastern horizon in my own village had tempted me to try catch its end hidden behind a row of trees though it had eluded me rather treacherously. But who knew if the rainbows in this region were not more friendly.” What an innocent description of a rainbow! I have always been awestruck with a rainbow but never did I try to catch it but after reading this account, I am waiting for the rainbow to appearing so that I can be a child once again and look for its tail end!

All of the stories are also a homage to the rural life which has almost disappeared and with its disappearance it has taken away the innocence of the humble souls residing in them.

The book has 28 stories in 160 pages. You can read all of them together or pick this book while you read another one. A good read indeed! Go for it!

How To Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh or ‘Thay’ as he is lovingly known, spread Zen Buddhism far and wide. All through his life, Thay practiced ‘mindfulness’ and preached the same to his disciples to resolve internal and external conflicts.

In this short book, he reiterates the tenets of Zen Buddhism – compassion, mindfulness and self-reflection. Though most of the concepts were known to me but it is always refreshing to read and practice them. In our busy world, we tend to forget to concentrate on our ‘breathing’! It is the easiest and basic way to reslove conflicts, both internal and external. So, such a short book reminds of the technique of mindfulness and doesn’t seem overwhelming. The beautiful and heartwarming illustrations added to the charm of the book.

“When you feel upset or angry, it’s important not to do or say anything. We need to calm down first. Don’t speak or act with energy of anger in you. Just come back to your body and your breathing. Breathe in and out mindfully, releasing the tension in your body and mind, or go for a walk until you are calm enough.”

“Any peace talks should begin with making peace with ourselves. First we need to recognise our anger, embrace it, and make peace with it. You don’t fight your anger, because your anger is you. Your anger is the wounded child in you. Why should you fight your anger? The method is entirely non-violent: awareness, mindfulness, and tenderly holding your anger within you. Like this, your anger will transform naturally.”

Though it was a short book but I took over a month to read it because I wanted to make the most of it. As I read along, I highlighted few lines and jotted down a few more. Afterall, these books are not only to be read; they have to be put into practice. Thay’s books have been transformative for me and this one is equally good.

The only shortcoming I felt was that the title ‘How To Fight’ should have been connected to the writings either by Shantum Seth in the foreword or by Thay himself in the book. The books talks about peace, anger, self-reflection, argument, etc. but nowhere does it mention…How To Fight!!

Nonetheless, it is a delightful read packed with wisdom!

Awareness of Sorrow

Breathing mindfully, you generate the energy of mindfulness that you can use to recognise and embrace your pain and sorrow. This brings relief and joy, diminishes pain, and transforms suffering. We do not try to run away from our difficult feelings and emotions. Breathing mindfully, we embrace them. Mindful breathing calms and purifies body and mind. It helps us let go of any tension in the body, and of any worries we may have about the past or the future. Mindful breathing helps us see reality as it is, and helps us let go of our wrong views and afflictions. Breathing mindfully relieves suffering and restores balance and happiness. The practice of mindful breathing can bring well-being, solidity, and freedom.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The People in The Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Here’s one book which is captivating, disturbing and yet enticing. I am a slow reader or rather a very slow reader. It takes me days to read a novel but I could not put down this book till I completed it. 

A marvellous book about a lost tribe!

This is the story of Norton Perina, a Nobel Prize winning scientist. The author writes flawlessly about his parents, brother and the kind of upbringing he had. It was always glum. The complete story of his life was glum but it is narrated in a way that the reader is immersed in the life of Norton Perina.

In 1950, he embarks on an expedition to a remote Micronesian Island, Ivu’ivu, as part of a team to search for a lost tribe.  The author gives vivid accounts of the expedition into the tropical jungle. I have been fascinated with the descriptions of these jungles written by Gerald Durrell in his books but this novel had a different allure to it. She (the author) describes the journey initially as enchanting; giving details of the flora-fauna  and the feelings of awe that erupt while in a land covered with different hues of green. And later about the boredom that sets in while traversing the same scenery day-after-day. Similarly, the author beautifully describes the emotions of the characters associated with every event and that’s what made it an interesting read.

Another remarkable thing about this novel were the ‘footnotes’. The story is presented in the form of Norton’s memoir which he writes from the the prison and is edited by his friend and fellow scientist, Dr. Kubodera; who adds these well researched footnotes, which make the script more realistic and engaging.

Though this book reeks of superiority of the fair race, colonialism, abuse , the justification of ruining a tribe and an island but the way the author presents it, they are befitting for the story. 

The Daily Mail claims this novel to be ‘Impossible to resist…brilliantly told’, and I fully agree to the verdict!

I am going to be purposely vague, because although I could quite easily make it definite, it is not my intention to do so. Because once you define a thing it becomes dead. If you make a thing definite you are trying to give an interpretation which in the minds of others will take a definite form and hence they will be bound by that form from which they will have to liberate themselves

J Krishnamurti
May be an image of belladonna lily and nature

“I am going to be purposely vague, because although I could quite easily make it definite, it is not my intention to do so. Because once you define a thing it becomes dead. If you make a thing definite you are trying to give an interpretation which in the minds of others will take a definite form and hence they will be bound by that form from which they will have to liberate themselves”

J Krishnamurti

Talking things over together as two friends..

In a few days we are going to have discussions, and we can start those discussions this morning. But if you assert and I assert, if you stick to your opinion, to your dogma, to your experience, to your knowledge, and I stick to mine, then there can be no real discussion because neither of us is free to inquire. To discuss is not to share our experiences with each other. There is no sharing at all; there is only the beauty of truth, which neither you nor I can possess. It is simply there.

To discuss intelligently, there must also be a quality not only of affection but of hesitation. You know, unless you hesitate, you can’t inquire. Inquiry means hesitating, finding out for yourself, discovering step by step; and when you do that, then you need not follow anybody, you need not ask for correction or for confirmation of your discovery. But all this demands a great deal of intelligence and sensitivity.

~~J Krishnamurti

Let's talk things over...
Let’s talk things over…