HER WORLD Sunday, November 3, 2002, Chandigarh, India
 

Heart to heart
Small things that add up to a big celebration
Aruti Nayar
WHAT are you doing to make the festival season special for your family? It was a seemingly innocuous question but the response was vehement: "I am so busy trying to cope with my day-to-day routine and do the balancing act between my work and home that I can barely get my breath back. It is like being hurled from one chore to another, one situation to another... to even mention a special meal and make an effort to do a bit extra is enough to raise my hackles as well as blood pressure." This is what a friend had to say in response to my query.

Nurturing the festive spirit in children gives them memories to cherish
Nurturing the festive spirit in children gives them memories to cherish

Woollen weaves
Jyotin Keer
"W
OW! what a lovely painting," I exclaim as I gaze awestruck at the large colourful frame adorning the wall. Then a sudden doubt makes me amend my remark. "Thatís cross-stitch embroidery, isnít it?" I ask my hostess hesitantly. Puja Bhakoo, smiling amusedly , says," Youíre granted another guess. Take a closer dekko."

A spicy treat for bland palates
Nivedita Sharma
S
OBIA Khan left her home town, Nagpur, in 1992 and descended on Mumbai with a zest to expand her creative horizons. Merely 22 years old at the time, Sobia faced, and came out tops, many a challenge in the big bad city. Today, her quaint little restaurant, Hyderabad Blues, in a quiet corner of suburban Bandra, has spiced up the lives of many an enthusiast.

Sobia Khan gave up medicine to open her restaurant Hyderabad Blues
Sobia Khan gave up medicine to open her restaurant Hyderabad Blues

Tackling teens
Forge bonds that transcend teen tantrums
Rajshree Sarda
T
EENAGERS are a puzzle to themselves, their friends and their parents. Because of the fact that they are going through cataclysmic changes, they often do not understand their own thoughts and feelings. One such class 12 student came to me and said, "Do you know who I am? I am a comma." I said that I did not understand what she meant by that.

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Heart to heart
Small things that add up to a big celebration

Aruti Nayar

Women transmit traditions and rituals to the family
Women transmit traditions and rituals to the family

WHAT are you doing to make the festival season special for your family? It was a seemingly innocuous question but the response was vehement: "I am so busy trying to cope with my day-to-day routine and do the balancing act between my work and home that I can barely get my breath back. It is like being hurled from one chore to another, one situation to another... to even mention a special meal and make an effort to do a bit extra is enough to raise my hackles as well as blood pressure." This is what a friend had to say in response to my query.

One can understand her impatience with any effort to suggest that she should inconvenience herself. How that festival becomes special for the family is something that only a womanís touch can guarantee. And in this rat race, while we can have more money, goods and fancy gadgets and gizmos but what about that personal touch that can make a festival memorable and give children something to cherish long after?

Why must it be celebrated like goods off a conveyor belt by the same blaring Punjabi pop and the same kind of rich food? Forever on a short fuse, meeting expectations and performing varied chores, with the shortage of time comes the homemakerís incredibly short temper. Trying to fulfill her duties and meet the more mundane needs, a woman even forgets that others, especially the children, are looking to her for fulfillment of their emotional needs.

In fact, we are so busy being achievers that the nurturers within us have taken a back-seat. No wonder there is impatience with even a bit of extra work, resentment even at the thought of entertaining guests. All thoughts of going that extra mile to make a special meal are bound to go flying out of the window. Fast foods and takeaways make the lifestyle as plastic as the money we wield. It is the women who transmit traditions and customs and pass them on to the children. No wonder the sounds, aroma and tastes associated with each festival linger in the recesses of the mind.

But itís well worth trying to practice stepping out of what one is required to do and do something as a pleasurable activity. Wait as you see the magic of the nurturing touch!

"I tried to make an effort to cook something special when I heard my daughter wistfully mention how her friend was lucky to have a mom who, despite the fact that she was a busy doctor made a special meal once a fortnight because that was her way of saying, "I care for you."

Another neighbour revealed how a cranky, rebel-without-a-pause, teenager actually became amiable and even mumbled greetings, something that was a rarity, when his mother decided to treat the entire gang of friends, before Divali, to aloo-puri made with her own hands. "I would always sit in judgement on him and berate him for wasting his time by hanging out aimlessly with his good-for-nothing cronies. Once they all came over home and I really looked after them, they didnít seem half as rowdy. Besides, the change in his behaviour was so dramatic that I happily go ahead and entertain them more often. Itís well worth it."

It is this lack of nurturing that is reflected in the hostility, aggression and rising levels of dissonant behaviour, feels an elderly family friend. It does not need a sociologist or a psychologist to tell us that lack of a personal touch creates behavioural problems. Where is the time to apply the healing touch and reach out only through actions? It is just a matter of prioritising time. Do we not take time out for the formal do with the boss? It is just that children are not so intrusive as to demand that we involve them in our routine and actually pay attention to their emotional needs. It is never too late for actions that are symbolic of the love and which, when they transmit that love, bring about a warm glow around the heart.

Why is it that we rely so much on goods and goodies off the shelf? Would it not be better, on the contrary, to pour a part of oneself into what we gift or do for our friends and family. Why is it that we might buy the best from the market and pay through our noses for things that we feel might bring happiness to our friends and children? We buy the best but do not give of ourselves. Sometimes, it pays more to give a little of yourselves in a memorable gesture.

I remember the hand-knit sweaters gifted to children by a family friend or the walnut cake baked by a doting aunt. How these gifts won hands down over more expensive, custom- made, off-the-conveyor-belt gifts! Why? Because there are many like the ones bought from the shop whereas, the one you make yourself or with your own hands bears the stamp of uniqueness and individuality, that is, you give a part of yourself and send out the signal that you have actually taken time off and made a special effort to put that person first and actually do something for him/her. And who doesnít like being given priority or to come first? The reason that children are hooked on to the soaps that celebrate the rituals and traditional modes of performing various social occasions is due to the fact that they love the family bonhomie, customs and colour that is a contrast to the rather sedate lives that they lead with both parents running against time.

Even if yours is a nuclear family, it is never to late to make the festival memorable for your family by taking special care to go that extra mile.

How to make the festival special

Start an activity that is unique to your family and do it year after year. You can make a dish along with your spouse or kids or decorate the house etc. Slot something for each festival.

  • Do take some time out to explain the rituals associated with each festival to the children. Make it come alive for them by narrating interesting stories from myths, folktales, scriptures and legends.

  • Festivals are not only about buying gifts, clothes and commodities, they are also occasions to give charity and inculcate the spirit of fellowship. Make it a point to teach children to give with their own hands to all those who work for youóthe domestic help, gardner, dhobhi, cook etc. especially their children. Let them learn to see all children are as fortunate and have the same kind of opportunities as they are lucky to have. Some sensitisation is important to see that they do not have a cocooned existence.

  • Involve the children in painting diyas, making cards or rangoli or even paper lamps. snack, with your hands.

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Woollen weaves
Jyotin Keer

Puja Bhakoo "WOW! what a lovely painting," I exclaim as I gaze awestruck at the large colourful frame adorning the wall. Then a sudden doubt makes me amend my remark. "Thatís cross-stitch embroidery, isnít it?" I ask my hostess hesitantly. Puja Bhakoo, smiling amusedly , says," Youíre granted another guess. Take a closer dekko."

And sure enough, a closer scrutiny of the picture of a pretty village lass that I was gushing over revealed that it was in fact a canvass tastefully embroidered with wool instead of the usual threads or paints.

Painting of Puja Bhakoo in wool titled "Gurukul"
Painting of Puja Bhakoo in wool titled ďGurukulĒ

Curious to know more, I settle down for a cosy tete-a-tete with this talented creative director of Today Advertisers. as far as her vocation goes, she has to her credit some prestigious ad campaigns like those of Maruti and Godrej, to name a few. Hearing her talk about her work, I am tempted to ask, "Arenít weaving magic with wool, on the one hand, and creating advertising punch lines for corporate giants, on the other hand, poles apart?" Puja admits that both things come to her naturally. She has a flair for knitting though she has not received any formal training in making paintings out of wool. Creativity obviously is a common thread in both areas of her interest.

But how did her art happen? Puja regales me with an interesting tale. Being good with the knitting needle, she had been supplying home-made woollen wear to top garment stores like Childcare, Inter-Shoppe and Cosmic. But her real affair with those balls of wool took off only after she moved to Chandigarh, where she also continued supplying knitwear to leading local showrooms. A casual visit to her tailor one day brought her face to face with heaps of multi-hued wool that had been discarded after knitting. Finding her tailor at his witís end in knowing what to do with the wool leftovers, Puja bought the entire stock from him.

And what better use she could have put those odd bits and pieces of wool strings than to weave them into magnificent pieces of art! Thereby started her romance with the canvas.

Initially, she started by copying patterns of fruits and vegetables on a canvas and then embroidering them with wool. Slowly and steadily, as myriad colours filled in the empty spaces, the frames came to life. These fruit and vegetable motifs blended well with the decor of her dining room. One of her paintings is thus aptly titled "Fruitsie."

But this art required a lot of patience and perseverance. Informs Puja, "Each floral pattern took at least six to eight months to be embroidered." "Though," she adds, "doing cross-stitch embroidery with wool certainly takes less time than that done with thread."

Slowly, she graduated to more intricate and tougher themes like making portraits of Rajasthani people and others. part of her collection is a woollen portrait of painter M. F. Husain, pictures of two traditionally clad rajasthani men titled "Lagaan" and that of a turbaned man called "Pathos" and another titled "Pride".

These portraits required subtle shading and just the right interplay of light and dark. Many have been the times when sheís had to rip off patches of woven wool just because the facial expressions of her subject werenít turning out fine. In fact ,while making portraits with wool she first embroiders the portions that require the maximum shading.

And in this endeavour she has got whole-hearted support from her husband, son and daughter. Her husband, who owns their advertising firm, in fact, was the one who kept egging her on to give shape to her skill with wool so that her creative juices didnít dry up. And though Puja took up wool painting as a hobby, she is now toying with the idea of going commercial, but only if there is a potential market for her art here. "For the time being, Iím thinking of holding an exhibition in Delhi," says the artist.

With such unique objects dí art being churned out in her home, it is but natural that all the creativity that is being nurtured within the four walls should find a pride of place on those very walls. Each room reflects the warmth of those cosy reams of wool that have been strung together in a definite form or shape. These embroidered canvases lend such distinctness to her decor that one gets the feeling of thumbing through the pages of a glossy on interiors.
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A spicy treat for bland palates
Nivedita Sharma

SOBIA Khan left her home town, Nagpur, in 1992 and descended on Mumbai with a zest to expand her creative horizons. Merely 22 years old at the time, Sobia faced, and came out tops, many a challenge in the big bad city.

Today, her quaint little restaurant, Hyderabad Blues, in a quiet corner of suburban Bandra, has spiced up the lives of many an enthusiast. Over a tasteful conversation this mistress of Hyderabadi spices reveals what a little potli masala (little bag of spices) can do to everyday meals. Sobia's light-eyed and smiling face belies the businesswoman in her.

Perhaps Sobia is better described as an entrepreneur; her father used to tell her elder brother "you can learn a thing or two from her"! "My mother's family lived in Nagpur for ages," says Sobia, "and my mother has been famous for her 'delectable dawaats' (feasts)." Incidentally, her mother excelled in sports too; she played hockey way back in the 1950s. And Sobia's grandfather amply clarified the family's unorthodox views: "Too bad if some wanted to watch her legs and not her talent on the field!"

However, her passion for cooking won over dribbling the ball on the field. And daughter Sobia walked into her mother's traditional kitchen at the age of eight. In her family, as with many others, there were secret recipes that weren't passed on to all the daughters. Such recipes were shared only with those trusted to carry on the tradition. As Sobia says, "I went through an initiation ceremony before any secrets were revealed to me." The initiate had to make sheera (a sweet preparation) for an auspicious beginning into the world of art cooking.

Although she studied medicine at the Government Medical College, Nagpur, Sobia decided she preferred to experiment and create in the kitchen. For some time, she joined her brother in setting up and managing canteens in West Bengal and Orissa. Finally, Sobia decided she wanted to be in the city of opportunities - Mumbai. "What I like about Mumbai is that it offers a spirit of encouragement. It allows you to establish your credentials rather than asking who you are." Sobia found "a freedom of expression," and she made friends while she did some merchandising with the help of a few cousins. Fortunately, her family did not worry about her. "I have been allowed my space and my family supports anything I do. They knew I could make it anywhere with my skills." Did she ever face problems? "Yes I did struggle, tried all sorts of things. I even got into exports at one time." A maverick by nature, Sobia continued to experiment with various things till she realised her forte was in her culinary talents. Friends often requested her to cook this dish today or that one tomorrow. So she felt she could weave her gift at cooking with her inborn "commercial sense". The result was a restaurant. Along with her partner, Bobby, she chose a Hyderabadi menu, something that was not easily available in the city. "We are basically from the Hyderabad lineage. And the name 'Hyderabad Blues' seemed catchy. But it is the menu, selected with great care, which is responsible for the restaurant's repeat value," says Sobia.

The erstwhile Maharaja of Bhavnagar has dined here with his wife; gourmet Siddarth Kak and his wife Geeta also loved the food. And the eatery is popular with several television stars looking for authentic Hyderabadi cuisine. Sobia trained five chefs over a period of five months before starting the restaurant. "Most people think Hyderabadi food is mostly non-vegetarian.

But my menu includes plenty of choice for vegetarians as well."

Isn't the food very rich and aren't people more health conscious nowadays? "I kept that in mind and reduced the oil without making other changes in the recipes. One cannot eat rich food every day; but once in a while one can indulge in good food." Hyderabadi cuisine is quite different from the Lakhnavi cuisine even though both originated and developed during the time of the Mughals in India. In the South, people tended to incorporate a lot of local flavour in their food. The household of the Nizam of Hyderabad experimented with local spices too; it made the food more hot, more sour and tangy compared to its northern counterpart. While traditional Lakhnavi food uses more dry fruit paste as a base for masalas, it is also richer and closer to Mughalai cooking. Hyderabadi cuisine uses coconut and poppy seeds (khus khus), and sometimes groundnut paste. Sobia, however, does not "believe in any fusion. They spoil the taste. Even when I make any thing Arabic or Lebanese I make sure I don't tamper with the original recipe." Some of her most popular dishes include Mirch Ka Saalan, Bhagare Baingan, Haleem, Ande Ka Halwa, Lukani Kabab and Badam Ke Lauz. Hyderabad Blues offers very reasonably priced meals.

Sobia speaks of a rare potli ka masala she couldn't find in Mumbai. She looked for it in Hyderabad and almost despaired. "Until, in an old galli (narrow lane) I found two women who still made it!" Tied in soft cotton, the spices in the potli are a secret Sobia will simply not divulge. "You have to believe in what you can do and what you want to do," declares Sobia. According to her, success can't be achieved overnight whether you are a man or woman. "Sometimes men think women are meant for certain jobs only. Then you put them in their place by proving your credentials."

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Tackling teens
Forge bonds that transcend teen tantrums

Rajshree Sarda

Teens may not mean double trouble if you are cautious
Teens may not mean double trouble if you are cautious

TEENAGERS are a puzzle to themselves, their friends and their parents. Because of the fact that they are going through cataclysmic changes, they often do not understand their own thoughts and feelings.

One such class 12 student came to me and said, "Do you know who I am? I am a comma." I said that I did not understand what she meant by that. Her retort was: "Well whenever I talk to my father, he stops talking but when I am finished, he starts right up again as if I hadnít said a thing. I am just a comma in the middle of his speeches."

If teenagers can pour out their hearts to a counsellor it is because they perceive that they are not going to be condemned for having problems. A counsellor is also not likely to give them quick easy advise that does not work in the real world.

Many of these children will pour out their hearts to their parents too, if only they were assured their parents would listen. Most parents make the mistake of telling first and listening second (if at all). Almost often, the case with teens is that they only want to see if their parents love them enough to listen to them and value their opinions. Parents often complain that their children do not tell them about their dreams and desires. The reason teenagers are silent and uncommunicative with their parents is due to the fact that the parents over-react to whatever they share with the former. Therefore, it is important for the parents not to instantly condemn or correct. Realise that the adolescentís openness is a clear statement of trust and do not violate that trust.

A teenager determines things such as his value, abilities and worth as a person by his parentsí attitudes and actions towards him. If parents are loving and kind, then they are very good mirrors of a childís worth. Generally children in these homes grow up with a healthy sense of identity. But like Ďcarnival mirrors Ď parental mirrors too can be distorted. The more distorted the mirror, the more distorted the image.

If the child perceives a reflection of being unsafe, unloved, he begins to develop problems with his identity as well with his/her relationships. Remember if some one has only one distorted mirror to look in to everyday, he may believe that it is himself not the mirror which is distorted. In the adolescent tears, teens change mirrors. They no longer look to their parents for their identity. Instead, they look to their peers. The choice of peers in this period of their lives is more important than almost any other choice. Therefore conflict is not a surprising facet of the relationship between parents and teenagers.

I remember a specific conflict I used to have with my mother on a weekly basis. I was the fun-loving, active teenager who struggled with the idea of cleanliness, especially when the cleaning lady would come to clean our house. I never grasped the concept of why I had to clean the house before the cleaning person arrived.

This made no logical sense to me as a teenager and week after week, my mother and I would battle over me having to clean the house. You see in my mind, somewhat typical of most teenagers, I did not think she was the cleaning lady. To me, she was the judge. She was the lady who went from house to house awarding families with the Ďcleanest house award.í I hated myself or my house to be judged and so I resented it that time. I couldnít care much and neither would my mother understand that.

A couple visited me a while ago along with their teenage daughter who was seething with anger. I noticed their uneasy faces as I asked them to sit in my counselling hall. I sensed the beginning of a highly energised fighting bout, so I asked them to chose separate corners of my working place. After presenting the problem, the mother asked a very common question: "Is this normal?." The majority of people I see in counselling situations often feel that they are the only ones struggling with these issues. It is reassuring when I tell them, "You are not the first ones to struggle with this conflict". Tears flowed down the cheek of their daughter. Broken and ashamed of her life at just 19, she shared openly of her troubles. The poor grades, punishment, relationships were all part of her monthly routine. She had lost the innocence of childhood because of poor choices and even poorer parenting. I will never forget what she told me once near the end of her session "If they just cared about the little things", she said, looking away to avoid eye contact with me.

ĎThe little thingsí are what matter. It was not a small, but a powerful statement.

We both realised through the course of therapy that her pain and problems did not start at the point they were now. Her parents had allowed the normal, more easily manageable, conflicts to slip through their fingers and remain unresolved. Very soon these seemingly minor problems turned into bigger, more painful issues.

That is why an effort to resolve these simple-looking conflicts is very important when it comes to parenting before they turn in to life-altering events.

Some of these simple-looking conflicts centre around:

Areas of conflict

Viewing TV/ playing CD games.

Talking on the phone.

Taking care of family property.

Setting limits, enforcing rules. Being too lenient.

Spending time with the family.

Ignorance of how a teenager feels and thinks

The manner in which your child speaks to you.

You are not alone with the difficulties you might be facing at this very moment with your teenager. This list contains everyday struggles of living in a family. It shows the effort of a family to strive towards intimacy, acceptance, understanding and validation. It is within these conflicts that the game of parenting is won. It is when the parents lose the sight of the ordinary, every-day conflicts that families suffer the toughest consequences of parent and teenager friction.

Remember some of the best advice out for parents is from parents, especially from those parents who have travelled down the road of raising adolescents and survived. Hoping that parents accept part responsibility of the problems, here are a few pointers for them:

As a parent of a teenager, you should:

Accept the individuality of your teenager.

Understand their needs and aspirations.

Do not use your teenager as a punching bag for your inadequacies.

Be close to your child and keep the communication channels open.

Set boundaries before you give freedom.

Be vigilant without being oppressive

When your child makes a mistake, be supportive.

Loving your teenagers for their vulnerability is what they really want. When they spend more time with their friends than with their parents, they are likely to drift away once in a while. A strong and heeding teenager emerges when he/she has a strong family background with good family bonding as an anchor.
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