Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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Slow Down, Chennai!

Almost a month has passed since I moved back to Chennai. It hardly feels like the city I grew up in. Madras as I knew it was a laid back metro, unimpressed by the hustle and bustle and night life of Mumbai and other cities. The city went to sleep at 10.00 p.m. like all its residents. No one stressed about traffic and commute and people were quite happy with their filter coffee and idli-sambar.

Over the past decade, fast food and instant coffee has replaced so many iconic landmarks. I remember eating crispy dosa and vanilla ice cream at Dasaprakash and going to Woodlands Drive-in Restaurant. Or browsing at Landmark bookstore, my favorite haunt. All gone without a trace.

The whole city has a different pulse. A hurried pulse if you will. Everybody is in a hurry. On the road, everyone wants to push past you and get to God knows where. They are going to show up late, anyways. So why bother! Three times this week my kids reported that their bus was hit by another vehicle. Every other day we see an accident on the road and know that it could have been prevented. Moms pick up their kids from school, grab a snack from a convenience store and rush them off to tuition classes. Nobody has time for anyone else.

Everyday is a battle to get to work, clock in nine or more hours, rush home, cook, eat, sleep and repeat. Ladies who opt to stay home have their hands full with temperamental maids (who are also in a big rush!), then tackling kids and their mountains of homework and incessant tests. Kids don’t have time to go outside and play.

Recently, while speaking to a recruiter, we complained about the long commute. The recruiter brushed it off saying that it is normal! A study conducted on commuting stress in Quebec says that a commute lasting more than 20 minutes can lead to burnout. Working 14 plus hours is also deemed normal here. Everyone does it, right? The number of youngsters suffering from blood pressure, heart attacks and diabetes is alarming. And yet life goes on. People pop pills and continue abusing their minds and bodies.

If you think I’ve gone soft after staying away from the motherland, think again. I spent 23 years of my life here in Chennai and things were way different then. Some say we don’t have a choice and have to conform to “the way things are”. I want to challenge the status quo and refuse to conform.

So how do we slow down and change the frenetic pace of things? On the road, remember you are not a bull dozer. Slow down, allow people to cross and don’t be in a mad rush to overtake every other vehicle on the road. Don’t cut in front of people waiting in line (if there is no line – form one). Smile and say thank you to people who serve you or hold the door open for you. Work smart so you have time for your family and for relaxation and exercise. Find time to cook simple meals at home. You health and savings account will flourish. Get enough sleep and set aside some time to be by yourself in a quiet space. The noises of the city can drown out that quiet voice of wisdom within you.

When you feel stressed, even if you are at work, go outside for a walk if possible or go to a clean restroom and take deep calming breaths. Stress is something that creeps up on you and builds up till you’re bursting at the seams. It happened to me last week and I found myself yelling at the kids. I had to consciously make a choice to calm down, close my eyes and breathe. This week I’m not waiting for the stress to build up. I am taking time to relax, breathe and center myself. Seems to be working so far. A few days ago the school bus was late but I did not have a panic attack. Life happens and sometimes a good dose of humor helps. Laugh away your cares and move on.

If you want Chennai to slow down, you need to slow down first. Don’t rush through your day. Find time for people and things that matter. You have more than enough time to accomplish everything. So take your time and do the best job you possibly can.

 

 


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Lunch Dabba Debacle

No this is not yet another ode to Maggi noodles, so you can stop groaning. Maggi was in my black list for a while now after I heard about the wax coating on the noodles and that it is difficult to digest. Anyhow over the past several years I have been slowly weaning my family from processed foods, school lunches and fast food. But the backlash triggered by the whole Maggi episode removed an entire food group from my weekly menu – pasta. It cooks in 10 minutes and can be dressed in various sauces to make a quick lunch. With pasta gone and bread largely a breakfast item (in India!) my options kept dwindling. One day I packed some left-over chapattis from dinner with some scrambled eggs for my kids. In the evening the kids announced that the school had a strict vegetarian policy. No meat, poultry, fish or eggs. I mentally scratched out egg fried rice, parathas with eggs and egg salad sandwiches from my lunch dabba list.

Back in the U.S. I had to keep aromatic curries out of the lunch dabba, to spare the sensitive olfactory senses of kids of non-Indian origin. Occasionally, rajma (kidney beans) rice, lemon rice, semiya or idli made it to the lunch box. Naan pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches were easy to whip up in the morning. Sometimes dosa with jam or peanut butter was a quick option.

Now with limited options, I rolled back to my school days. The taste of fried rice, parathas, salad, lemon rice, tomato and cheese sandwiches flooded my brain. How my mom and grandma whipped up all those delicious lunches in such a short time is beyond me. I’m up by 5.30 a.m. and just about manage to pack lunch and get breakfast ready for the kids. It’s funny because I did almost the same thing in the U.S. and yet it never took me this long. Does time go by faster in India? I think so!

For now it is lemon rice, tomato rice, idli, semiya or chapatti with potatoes for the kids. They don’t seem to mind as long as they have something to eat. So I’m trying to stop obsessing about my lack of options. Hopefully, I’ll come up with more options as time goes by and I have a better understanding of how things roll in India.

A dear friend of mine in the U.S. said the other day – If you need anything from here let me know and I will send it across. I told her that we get everything here and that I don’t need anything. Maybe I should ask her to send me a year’s supply of pasta and peanut butter. That way the kids won’t miss out on their weekly Italian lunch and you know how peanut butter goes with everything!

Sometimes I fantasize about having a cook and completely escaping the kitchen which is hotter than hell in the summer. I love to cook, but the heat makes you want to take cool showers, laze around under the fan or eat ice cream and take siestas. I get to do all of those things occasionally (except for the showers which happen twice a day) so I shouldn’t be complaining. Wonder if cooks show up at 5 a.m. to pack lunch dabbas…maybe not.

Food-wise I never dreamed I would miss anything in India. There’s so much variety out here, that it could take a lifetime to explore the different cuisines. And yet I miss things like pasta, something I really never cared for in the U.S. because we had it almost every week. Or is it just human nature to always look for the one thing that is missing and crib about it despite myriad other options. I don’t know about human nature but that pretty much sums up me!

What do you pack for lunch for your kids or for yourself if you work and don’t have a cook? Do share…