When do you stop arguing?

This post could be considered a follow-up to my previous post on Making Sense of all the Madness that you see/hear around you. This one is called “When do you stop arguing?”

Let me put this in context. I have three friends on Facebook who are so-called Youth Wing Leaders in the BJP. Another friend is an active member of the RSS and a few other right-wing organizations. I don’t have anything against them – in fact, one of these people is a really good friend of mine and a very nice person. I myself don’t know yet what my political stance is, but I try to educate myself by reading everything I can get my hands on.

But here’s what happens (and increasingly, what’s been happening frequently!) My friends frequently post messages in support of their political ideologies and leaders. I think that is totally fine – everyone is entitled to their own political views and to express them. I don’t have anything against this per se, but sometimes it is so blatantly communal that I find my blood boiling. Sample this, from a recent post. “Beef-eaters are telling us we shouldn’t burst crackers that hurt animals. Beef-eaters are preventing us from celebrating our majority festival – Diwali”. So I left him a comment saying this: “No one is preventing anyone from celebrating Diwali. A comment by someone saying ‘don’t burst crackers that hurt animals’, while they themselves eat animals, is at the most, a hypocritical thing to say. People find it easier to sympathize with dogs and cats that they keep as household pets, as compared to chicken/beef/port that is processed in a factory far away from you. That’s it. Please don’t turn everything into a communal issue. ”

As I expected, it went from here into a completely illogical argument saying that Hindus are being targeted in India by the “sikulars and Adarsh liberals”. At this point, I gave up, wished him good luck and withdrew from the conversation.

Another thing that happens is posting of these photo-shopped images. In my head, I imagine thousands of bhakts across the country hunched over computers, carefully editing images and writing stories to go with them. And before we know it, it has gone viral and you have a bunch of people believing all kinds of things. Read this link for some laughs. And I’m not kidding when I say at least two of these images have popped up on my newsfeed.

Another friend is notorious for posting patriachal jokes, or simply stuff that is so degrading to women. Every time I see a “joke” being “liked” by 20-something people, it makes my blood boil. A recent joke doing the rounds was of Shahid Kapoor being so lucky because he married a girl so much younger than him. I don’t understand that at all – wouldn’t you be more compatible with someone of the same/close age and maturity? (At least in most cases) But, whatever, apparently I’m not getting the joke.

So here’s the question. Where do you draw the line? I’m not aggressive at all on social media, but lately, I feel like it takes all my energy to not say something. A part of me thinks it is important to speak up because it is essential to tell people that what they said is offensive or that another viewpoint exists. The other side of me wonders, why argue with someone who is so brainwashed?

Have you experienced this? What do you do?

Related Posts:

Making sense of all the madness

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Making sense of all the madness

Every time I log onto Facebook, I feel like there’s yet another cause that I agree with. There’s so many things wrong with the world, how do you make a choice?

Let me give you an example.

I grew up vegetarian, and I continue to remain so. I suppose it was originally a religious requirement – people from my community don’t eat meat so I was not introduced to it as a child. For a brief period of about a year or two, I ate chicken. I don’t remember how it happened, or who introduced me to it, but I tried it and ate it for a few years. I was about 8-9 years old at the time (or maybe slightly older). At that time I didn’t really have a conception as to what “eating chicken” really meant. A few years later, I realized that it involved actual birds and that’s when I stopped altogether. Since then I’ve never gone back and I don’t see myself doing so in the future.

I used to light lots of fire-crackers during Deepavali as a kid, but growing up, I realized what a toll they cause on the environment, as well as the conditions that children who manufacture them live in. Its been quite a few years since I lit crackers. These days, Deepavali is spent by lighting up the house with diyas and drawing kolams.

But… I’m not vegan. I use leather products as well as dairy. I don’t really like the idea of fashioning animal skin into products, but it is difficult to get over the convenience of it. Living in frigid Boston, I own half a dozen woolen sweaters and coats. I presume alternatives are available but I’ve never tried them. Down jackets are extremely popular in cold weather conditions here – these are jackets made of polyester, where the inside is filled with duck/goose feathers. Recently an article about the torture involved in obtaining the feathers was detailed, with so many people swearing off wearing down jackets and buying down quilts. Last week, I watched a video about the torture that cows in the dairy industry go through. The video ends requesting people to stop consuming dairy products.

This is really driving me crazy. There are so many things that I disagree with, so many products whose manufacturing process I don’t like, but where do you draw the line? If I were to stop using woolen sweaters/jackets, presumably I would have to purchase something made of synthetic materials- but what about the harm that these products cause to the environment? Not to mention that they are not biodegradable and we’re just filling the world’s landfills. What about products that are manufactured without causing anyone harm? Is there even such a thing? Take rice, for example. Presumably grown without causing harm to any animal. But what about the laborers who work on these fields, those who are paid peanuts for a long day’s work? What of the farmer who committed suicide because he couldn’t pay his debts. What if the wheat that you consume came from his farm?

Just thinking about it makes my head spin and makes me believe that human beings are such evil characters. I would love to change so many things, but so much of it is inconvenient (and in some cases, so expensive). I will freely admit that I don’t believe I am either disciplined or principled enough to give up so many of the things I disagree with.  My highest respects to those who do manage to live up to these ideals!

In a perfect world, wool and milk (and other animal by-products) would be obtained without hurting the animal. Produce would be grown and products manufactured in environmentally safe and sustainable methods, with all persons involved in the process treated fairly. But until we get to such a point (assuming that we even do), I’m going to pick a couple of things I agree with and that I can implement, and go with those.  Because worrying about all the things wrong with the world will drive me crazy.

Coping

I read this post by the Mad Momma, and it really struck a chord.

Before my marriage, I had never lived away from my parents. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I’m incredibly grateful I had 24 years of living under the same roof. But that meant that when I did move away from him, it hit me hard. Not being able to see them everyday, missing the daily hugs, kisses and conversations, missing being around them for special occasions. I come from a big noisy family. Most of the family is based in Madras, so there’s always something happening. One cousin would be getting married, while another would be having a baby. The babies would be growing up and hitting all their milestones while I live so far away. My mother recently turned 50 and my parents celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary the same year. I celebrated both occasions by video chatting with them. Considering we have limited vacation time every year and the cost of air tickets, it is obviously not possible to fly back to Madras on a whim.

I would love for my parents to visit me for long durations. But the more I think about it, the more it strikes me how unfair such an expectation is. My parents both have active careers, and active social lives. They have a huge circle of friends and family, with plenty of events to attend through the year. Having lived in Madras their entire lives, they’ve turned into what I call “pillars of the community” and they’re always busy doing something or helping someone out. And recently when only my mother came on a short trip, I realized how much my dad missed her. It isn’t fair to tear them away from their lives.

Every now and then, I would lapse into self-pity where I feel incredibly bad for myself for missing everyone so much. Until recently, when I had a moment to myself. I realized I was only making myself miserable by going over the things that I miss over and over again. Moving to the United States was entirely my choice. My husband and I made this decision together. Having made this decision, there’s no point being miserable with the consequences.

The only way I can keep my sanity would be by not-thinking about it. So, that’s what I do. I try not to think about all the things that I’m missing. I try to come up with ideas to make up for them, without letting myself wallow in self-pity. I spend at least a couple of days a week chatting with them, simply because I have to see their faces at least that many times a week. I send them snippets and pictures of our life here. I’ve also been trying to focus more about the things that I love about my life now.

Sometimes I think about how my life would be if I didn’t share such a close relationship with my parents. If I were the kind of person who was content to chat with them once a week, see them once in a couple of years, and generally not deal with the daily pain of missing someone you love so much. It would certainly be easier. But would I trade the closeness for the peace of mind that would come with a little distance? No, not for anything in the world.

 

Related posts:

My parents are growing up!

Redefining Happiness

Of new beginnings

Cabbage Upma

Have you ever had one of those days when you don’t feel like cooking up an elaborate meal but you still feel like having something new? Yesterday was one of those days for me. I usually resort to searching through food blogs and looking for new recipes but yesterday something struck me just as I was reviewing the ingredients I had. So I came up with this. A simple and refreshing twist on the traditional upma 🙂

Just like a usual upma recipe, this was quick to make and requires minimal ingredients. Everything that I added is almost entirely optional and you can easily substitute it with something else that compliments cabbage. I made it entirely with ingredients I had at home and half a head of cabbage that I had leftover.

Here’s what you need:

Roasted Rava – 1/2 cup

Finely chopped cabbage – 2 and a 1/2 cups

Finely chopped onions – 1/2 cup

Finely chopped capsicum/green peppers – 1 /2 cup

Mustard – 1 tsp

Jeera/cumin seeds – 1 tsp

Perungayam/Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp

Turmeric – 1/4 tsp

Red Chili powder – 1 tsp (you can reduce the amount but cabbage is quite bland so 1 tsp doesn’t make it too spicy at all)

Kasturi methi/dried fenugreek leaves – 2 tbsps

Crushed peanuts/peanut butter – 1 tbsp

Salt to taste

Oil – 2 tbsps

Roughly 4 cups of water

Here’s what I did:

Heat a kadai/wok and add 2 tbsps of oil. Once the oil is heated, add the mustard and jeera. When it starts spluttering, add the asafoetida and finely chopped onions and saute until it turns soft and translucent. Add the turmeric powder, red chili powder, kasuri methi and toss for a few minutes until it loses the raw smell. Add the finely chopped cabbage and capsicum.

At this point, I had a bottle of peanut butter that was almost over. So I just poured a few spoons of water in it and swirled it around to catch the leftovers on the side of the bottle. I then poured it into the kadai and mixed it in well with the cabbage. Add salt, stir and leave it alone for a few minutes for the cabbage to cook.

While all of this is getting done, put a pot of water on to boil.

Once the cabbage feels like its almost cooked, add half a cup of roasted rava and give everything a good stir. Wait for the water to come to a simmer, and add enough water to cover everything by about an inch. Keep stirring until the hot water completely incorporates the rava/cabbage mixture and leave it on a low heat until the rava is completely cooked and it reaches the consistency that you like.

Take it off the heat and serve it with a tangy pickle or chutney. We had it with my Patti’s Indian gooseberry (kadaaranga) pickle for dinner. But today, I just a couple of spoons left over so I made some dosais and had it as a side-dish. It tasted great both ways! 🙂

Couple of notes:

I wanted the cabbage to be crunchy so I added the rava once it was almost cooked. It cooked along with the rava to a nice crunchy consistency. Soft cooked rava + slightly crunchy cabbage was a nice contrast in texture. I think if you cook until it becomes soft and then add the rava, you might end up with a much softer texture overall.

I also buy the ready-roasted rava these days. Saves the time that you take to roast plain rava. I also made my life even easier by tossing the vegetables into the food processor. It took just a few minutes to break it down into a fine dice.

Another thing that I’ve figured out is to use peanut butter as a substitute for fresh peanuts. I need to run to the Indian store each time I need fresh peanuts and they don’t even stay crispy that long. Peanut butter on the other hand is so easily available here and can be stored for a longer time. Since its just roasted pureed peanuts, it gives the same nutty taste (minus the crunch, of course!)

The entire meal took about 20-25 minutes to put together. I forgot to take pictures when we had dinner mostly because we were too hungry 😛 But I did take a picture today! Here’s what it looks like – served with dosai and molaga podi (chili powder) on the side.


Happy cooking and happy eating!

Book Review: No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

The last time I wrote a book review, I was ten years old. It was a school assignment and we were required to review any one of three books. I remember choosing Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I enjoyed the book but I don’t remember how well that assignment turned out. And for some reason, since my adult years I have had this irrational fear of writing book reviews. In my opinion, writing a book review is one of the most difficult and “delicate” forms of writing. How much of the story line should you discuss? At what point do you need to include a spoiler alert? How do you talk about what you liked and what you didn’t like without fleshing out the story?

Lately I’ve been inspired by reading so many great book reviews in the blogging world. If you like to read, look up TGND and Smitha – both of them write fantastic reviews. Since I’m trying to get rid of this silly fear and improve my writing skills, I decided to give writing a book review another shot. Comments and criticism are most welcome! 🙂

NO MORE MULBERRIES 

Mary Smith

No more mulberries

No more mulberries is the story of Miriam, born as Margaret in Scotland. The story starts with Miriam’s life with her husband, Iqbal, an Afghan doctor and her two children Farid (from a previous marriage) and Ruckshana. A midwife herself with her own consulting clinic in Afghanistan, Miriam is delighted when she is invited to act as an interpreter at a medical teaching camp. Trouble ensues when Iqbal refuses to let her go, believing it inappropriate for a woman to travel alone without her husband. Miriam goes anyway, believing that some time apart will do them good and hoping that Iqbal will shed his patriarchal ideas and become the man that she thought she fell in love with.

The trip is a professional success and gives the reader a sense of the poor medical conditions that existed in rural Afghanistan at the time, as well as the efforts made by the international medical community to dispel superstitious beliefs and medical practices. During the course of the trip, Miriam spends time introspecting about her marriage and is forced to face the ghosts of her previous marriage. The rest of the story revolves around whether her marriage to Iqbal survives or whether the memories of her past love are too overwhelming.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Afghanistan, but I thought this book did an excellent job of bringing alive the Afghani landscape through the various seasons. The richly descriptive narrative of Miriam’s home, the food she cooks, the village she lives in, and the mountains that surround them transported me to rural Afghanistan. The writer weaves in some other solid characters with Miriam’s women friends and neighbors, her support system in a foreign land, as well as the doctors she works with.

Perhaps the only real criticism I had with this book was that it doesn’t explain how Scottish-born Margaret turns into Miriam, an Afghani wife. The author mentions a few times that “Miriam never felt at home in Scotland and feels more at home in Afghanistan” without really explaining why. Apart from briefly mentioning her parents, the story contains nothing of her former life. Neither does the author explain why Miriam chose to convert to Islam, aside from a paragraph where she surprises her husband by telling him she has decided to embrace Islam. The author uses several Afghani words through the narrative, which I managed to understand with my limited knowledge of Hindi. But for a reader in the western part of the world, a glossary of terms would be helpful.

These issues aside, I thought it was an excellent read. I remember putting the book down and looking around me thinking I was still in Afghanistan. I think it is a mark of an excellent writer when she manages to transport a reader to the place where the story is set. I loved the sedate book cover and thought it complemented the story. I would rate this 4/5 and would definitely recommend it.

On a side note:

If you like to read, please look up this resource – Bookbub. I have always enjoyed reading physical books but ever since I discovered this website, I have been devouring e-books off my kindle. You can sign up for free and they send you great deals on books in categories you like. Makes me feel less guilty buying books, not to mention that it saves a ton of storage space!

Disconnecting

The husband and I recently took a holiday to a national park here in the U.S. Before we set out, I decided that this would be a holiday without any social network distractions. My husband doesn’t care much for social networks and isn’t on any, so it was pretty much my decision to make.

We left early on Saturday morning. I messaged my parents and sister to tell them that we’d left, and that I’d let them know when we reached our destination, but otherwise I was turning all notifications on my phone off.

All was well on the drive. Good conversation, good music, and some scenic landscapes to drive through – I didn’t feel the urge to pick up my phone. We checked into our hotel, left our bags and went out to explore the area. Except for looking at restaurant reviews on yelp and taking photographs, I managed to keep away from the phone.

We returned back to the hotel after a long day of hiking. The husband went to get changed and I found myself automatically reaching for my phone to scroll through Facebook. I reminded myself this was going to be a holiday without any Facebook. I left the phone on the bed and walked over to the balcony to distract myself from looking at it. Our balcony looked over the ocean in the distance and directly overlooked the hotel pool. I sat down and spent 20 minutes watching 3 kids playing in the pool and listening to their happy voices. But constantly, I felt a nagging distraction. It felt like my phone was a magnet and I was a piece of iron, and it was trying to pull me towards it.

I got my first smartphone when I was 20-something years old. That means I spent a good 20 years without constant access to social media. I grew up in an age when human beings were not subjected to this endless onslaught of information. My childhood summers were spent either playing outside with my cousins or coloring indoors in the middle of the hot day. We didn’t have any video games at home. Much much simpler times.

I think to myself and wonder why I feel so distracted and restless without my phone. I am far from a social media junkie. But then I realize, it has been so so long since I just let myself be. Since I spent a few mindless minutes gazing into nothing or just thinking quietly. It has become such a habit to reach for my phone every time I am bored. And before I know it, I’ve spent 30 minutes scrolling through Facebook, catching snippets of the lives of people I may not even care so much about.

This isn’t a social media bashing post. I do love Facebook for how it keeps me connected to my family and friends, and how it makes me feel like I know what’s happening in their lives. I do love WordPress for the friendships that exist here and for the different perspectives that you can read about. For the simple beauty of the written word. But… I have come to realize that I spend far too long browsing. Time that could be spent doing something much more useful, or even doing nothing at all. How long has it been since I just sat by myself quietly without a phone in hand and just observed the world around me?

I’m both shocked and terrified by how dependent I am on this piece of equipment. I sometimes feel like it almost controls me. So today, I’ve decided to take my life back. I’m going to log onto my social media apps a maximum of 3 times a day. I think that’s ambitious but let’s see how it goes. Do let me know if you’ve tried something similar.

My parents are growing up!

I was chatting with my parents today and mentioned that the husband and I recently had some really good pizza. Appa immediately asked Amma, “Shall we get pizza today? It has been a very long time since we had pizza.” Amma agreed. I heard Appa pick up the landline and call Justdial asking for the phone number of the nearest Pizza Hut. A few minutes later, he was confirming with Amma on what toppings to put on the pizza.

I was still on the line with Amma and I said “Not bad ma, Appa has ordered the pizza”. She laughed and said, “With you kids not around, we have to figure out how to do these things ourselves.”

Suddenly, I was overcome by a feeling of nostalgia. It was during my teenage years that ordering for home delivery became popular. And somehow, right from the beginning, this was my responsibility. Right from convincing Appa to let us order food from outside, to deciding where to order and what to order, to calling and giving the order – I was always the one to do it. The same thing happened when the call center concept came up. Neither of my parents had the patience to call and punch a hundred numbers before you could speak to an actual human being. Without any of us intending it, I started making these calls. Calling call centers about credit card charges, calling the Tata sky guys about setting up cable connections… all of these jobs became “my thing to do”. I’m not complaining at all – I loved it. I loved that I was considered responsible enough to handle these things and I loved being able to help my parents out with the million other things they already had to do.

But when I got married and knew I was going to move away from home, a part of me wondered how my parents would manage. Who would take up the responsibility of calling these call centers? Would my parents continue to get the occasional home delivery or would they lose interest in eating out all together? Was there any way I could handle this from where I live in the U.S.? So many things were on my mind.

But, happily, we all learn to adapt. Now, when my parents go out for an unfamiliar cuisine, they text me and the sister telling us their plans. One or the both of us look up the restaurant menu online and give them suggestions on food that we know they would like. Appa calls a call center to place a complaint, with Amma giving him the information he needs to make the call. Appa occasionally still grumbles and complains that he doesn’t like doing these things himself, and that he isn’t interested in shopping or trying new restaurants without his girls around. But most of the time, we are okay. I take a deep breath and smile. My parents are growing up! 🙂