Life Without Carbs – Big McDull

Food and I

I have been on a low-carb diet for 3 whole days, and I think I’ve lost more of my sense of humor than weight. 

Gaucomole n Carbs

Gaucomole n Carbs

Procrastination takes a new meaning when you put away exercising for so long, leaving it for the last 5 days before the event that you’re trying to lose weight for and then you know no matter how much you exercise, you’re not going to lose anything but your mind, praying and willing for inches to fall off.

I have severely exceeded my feed limit in the past few weeks, and so I am forced to go off the  item I love most in the food universe – carbohydrates.  Yes, I crave bread like normal people would crave chocolate,   or wine, or cheese.  Today, I went to a café (rookie mistake, why would I go to a café when I can’t eat bread?).  I ordered some wine (some would argue I should be off-wine and not carbs, but I dismiss that on the grounds that wine makes me laugh and laughing is exercise). And then I ordered, ahem, a salad. To avoid seeing other people relish the joy of bread-ing, I selected the scantily populated outdoor seating. That, however, was not enough to keep the occasional whiff of fresh oven-baked bread heaven air from hitting me time and again. Three times of that and there – goodbye happiness.  Life without carbs has been dull, but it’s not just that, I also noticed I’m a lot crankier, slower to catch or throw humor, and disoriented. Essentially then, for me, it seems, food is happiness.  



Anyway, last few days have left me in a hungry daze – intelligent hungry daze because I seem to be intellectualizing everything from self-control to happiness to anxiety (you can see the disorientation). The thing is, in the past few weeks, I’ve been content and happy.  Not that I’m not that usually, but there are certain points in life, when an invisible contentment takes over, hitting you randomly in a car ride, or in the shower or while watering plants.  That slow simmering equilibrium that you notice even more after emerging from some form of unrest or uncertainty. This balance is blissful in that I have worked hard for it, earned it and most importantly,  know how to sustain it to some degree. Don’t worry, there has been no catastrophe, I’m a drama queen more than anything else. But past few months have certainly  tested patience, resilience and the efficacy of personal survival toolkit.  I’m reminded of this today because I read a fellow blogger’s post on how everything eventually passes and becomes okay. Sometimes it takes longer than it should, but then nothing and no one is punctual these days, are they?

The Tom-Yum Day

The Tom-Yum Day

This relates to food, because in the past year I’ve discovered, that food is an important part of my glamorized survival toolkit. Whoever coined the term comfort food knew what (s)he was talking about. No matter what the situation, as long as one is blessed with penny in the pockets and the strong personal characteristic of being a foodie, one has at his or her disposable the most consistent companion of chow.  A hot yummy fresh meal, served right off the oven, boasts of warmth and health for me. Sometimes also of new beginnings, hopes and even memories. I’ve thought plenty of old times, good and bad, while eating familiar meals. But every time I ate and remembered, I smiled at the memory that may have otherwise caused some cringing. When I dig into my steaming hot tom yum noodle soup,  I sense the anxiety of impending elephant tasks, slowly slipping away.  Think about it, when we travel to a new place, its food that first connects us to it, taking away the discomfort of an unknown territory. Maybe that’s why the basics of food, clothing, shelter are designated as basics. As we grow up, we aspire, we desire, and  then perspire to achieve all that (apologies for the limerick, couldn’t stifle it), but as adults, we often forget that all our infant selves needed, was a well-fed tummy to retain those gleeful toothy grins.

Friendly Lobster from Maine

Friendly Lobster from Maine

And so, as I temporarily abstain from carbs, and try to wishfully shrink my waist, I’m happy to make note that as I grow older, make more mistakes, harbor more of  reasonable and some unreasonable fears, step into predictable pitfalls and all that natural wonderful stuff, I am lucky enough to rely on my love for food and  as I like to believe, its love for me, to get me by.  Let food and I continue to be on our honeymoon, and let temporary abstinence only make us fonder and stronger.



No Strings Attached – Falling in Lust or Falling in Love?

I recently watched “No Strings Attached” – the Natalie Portman – Ashton Kutcher starrer-romantic comedy.

This is one of the best sappy movies to be released around Valentine’s Day. For one, it’s good on the eyes – at the cost of being controversial, I’m referring more to Natalie Portman than Ashton Kutcher.  The chemistry between Natalie and Ashton was refreshing, explosive and warm – a good change from the forced cutesy stuff seen in most romantic comedies these days.  The story line was kind of standard – A guy and girl try to keep their relationship strictly physical, but it’s not long before they learn that they want something more.

Standard movie with outstanding performances and an engaging script made it a great V-day weekend watch.

Later, I got to thinking about relationships – – you can guess from the absence of its presence on this blog, that’s my favorite topic 🙂

I wonder…can it really ever be no strings attached? Has the biology of men and women wired them in such a way that falling in lust eventually leads to falling in love? {never mind the times we can’t tell one from the other}

The couple in the movie has great fun till one of them mentions the word love, almost immediately bringing the feelings of fear, restlessness and complication into the mix.

Of course these complications are a new-age phenomena. Today, being in love is not just the wonderful happenstance of the two concerned people falling into it.

After Cupid waves his wand, it takes a few more mini-miracles these days for the magic to work – first, the two people must hopefully be in love with each other and not some third hero/heroine of the story. Second, they have to be in love, with each other, at the same time, not one after or before the other in some string of comedy of errors.  Third, not only do they have to be in love, with each other, at the same time, but also be in the know of the existence of their love concurrently. There are movies made on this long gestation period of realization or epiphanies, not all with happy endings. Fourth, and the most popular one these days, they have to be in love, with each other, at the same time, concurrently, AND be “ready” for a relationship.

The readiness can be defined in various ways – it means one has miraculously gotten rid of old hurts, let go of previous loves, dropped any emotional baggage, and is open and willing to risk all of that stuff all over again. Hence, the current popularity of that rid-let go-drop-willing readiness stage. Too many verbs to work with.

This particular mental state has gained so much institutionalized ground that even Facebook has offered a thoughtful status of  “it’s complicated” for its dear members.

So as the movie attests, it is of no concern whether love comes first or lust. It all really boils down to this readiness. Let me not spoil it for those of you yet to watch it. Let’s just say because of the non-readiness of one of the involved parties, it takes a while for the happily ever after to come around.

It seems then that what our previous generations had and we don’t is an open and clear state of mind and sense of self, not plagued with today’s frustrations, stress, and most of all, choices.

And if that is so, then I’m reminded of something that struck me from the finale episode of Sex and the City – a show that  chronicled the success and failures of love for six years. The last line of the show went something like this, “Relationships can be new and exotic, or ones that are old and familiar…those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

To the fabulous singles, and the fabulous doubles,  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Options>>Delete Cookies – in real life?

All I’ve read recently are my own B-School essays.  As much because of lack of time, as because of a chain of uninspiring reads. I haven’t had much time to travel or watch movies either, and hence the virtual absence since October. I promise to catch up though; I’m working on the top 100 books of all times and evading my own book purchase decisions for a bit by relying on friends’ recommendations (currently reading – Secret Garden by Frances Burnett).

Delete Cookies

That was a mini-defense for preparing to deviate from the theme of this blog; but I really do want to write about my current reads – my application essays. Maybe I’ll post them here once I’m done and lose my entire readership and people will understand what I meant by my initial warning of having a “monkey mind”. But there is a point to this, I promise.  The process for writing these works of art really did get my ruminative juices flowing.  Yes, business school essays got me ruminating.

Have you ever considered the amount of interesting introspection that goes in these applications? I say introspective because questions on your background, choices, accomplishments, strengths/weaknesses etc really make you think hard…and interesting – because this thinking is not for reminiscing, or reflecting or discovering yourself, but for selling yourself.

 Now that changes perspective entirely – all of a sudden you’re not only introspective, you’re retrospective. If I had chosen Math as a joint major, it would make it easier to discuss why I really want to go with microfinance after I graduate. I can and will contribute to the diversity of Class of 2012 given my rich educational record of study in International Relations, but shouldn’t I have then done IR in say, Denmark instead of plain old Boston, USA?

 You get the picture. In all this retrospection, I realized I was constantly looking for a fresh perspective and angles to sell my experience. Unfortunately, once you go through an incoherent first draft, it’s kind of hard to shake out of the incoherence of it and look at the last draft afresh…similar, I would say, to many things in life.

 It makes you wonder, this retrospection thing – wouldn’t it be great if we could just not want to change a thing in retrospect? What is in retrospect anyway, who created this? I think retrospection makes us futureskeptical – skeptical about the future, given how awfully awry some of our choices have finally landed up being. It mars our thinking going forward because no more are choices about the here and now, but about what was and has been that we affectionately term experience.

 Experience is all very good when it augments our future decisions, but it also has a tendency to become a baggage many times in daily life. Can’t we perhaps delete cookies when we want? For instance, I would definitely delete cookies with my first driving experience, which was comedic and horrifying at the same time. I have since never been able to conquer what has now become a monster task for me. I would like to delete that first experience and start over. This is top of mind recall because in a city like Delhi, you absolutely must know driving to get around.

 Let’s see…I severely need deleting cookies at work too. A consistent feedback on my essays – the tone of the content was all business speak, where is the personal, aspirational touch.  To quote one of my wise friends, “Adding value is an ugly industrial term. Do you want to be a faceless value-adding cog in the wheel!”  Somewhere in the midst of “adding value” at work and “communicating impact fully” in sales meetings and “forging mutually beneficial” partnerships, I lost touch with my personal conversational style. Certainly could do with fresh perspective at work.

 But what would life really be without growth from the past? In love, deleting cookies probably means going back to our first relationship – most of us would probably delete the word relationships from our vocabularies if we had to go through that again! If you don’t feel this way, then, you may not enjoy this post. If you do, then think of this as a microcosm representative of deleting cookies in other spheres of life. 

 The truth is deleting cookies is not so attractive when actually applied to life. Think about it, even B-schools rephrase their questions to get to the bottom of your “biggest mistake”, “why a personal goal could not be met”, “what is the one thing you would want to change from your past choices”.  B-school people are busy people. Busy people don’t waste time on questions that don’t mean anything; it seems to be an institutionalized fact that imperfections create stars.

 And of course, retrospection is almost always accompanied by its half-sister – regret. But there is no end to the “what if” cycle of our minds. As someone rightly said “There is no end to regret. You cannot find the beginning of the chain that brought us from there to here. Should u regret the whole chain, and the air in between, or each link separately as if you could uncouple them? Do you regret the beginning which ended so badly or just the ending itself?”

 And so as I thought about it more, I kind of started buying into the whole spiritual idea of keeping the experiences, but letting go of the negativity. Don’t worry, I’m not a fan of Buddha, or rather Buddha is not a fan of me.  I can think about something upsetting that happened years back and still get all red, angry and dramatic about it. But I like to think I’m getting better at deleting cookies in real life.  Not with computerized clicks but with the awesome can-be done-yourself toolkits only humans can boast of: sleep, humor, friends, wine, food…and giant chocolate chip cookies the size of my head.

 **Coming up next, Christmas and New Years specials

Vitamin T: Your Pill for Transport Back in Time..or into the Future

On The Time Traveler’s Wife

by Audrey Niffeneger

The Time Traveler's Wife

I often wonder…what with all the inventions, innovations and the world literally at our fingertips now, why haven’t scientists invented a time machine yet? All limited resources follow the basic norm of economics. But time, the most limited of all resources, defies it – you can’t save it, can’t return it, there is no credit for wasting (read overspending) it.  Hence, making a more compelling case for people to find a way to manipulate it.

Think about how much time we spend thinking about time, either about traveling ahead or turning it back. I wish I could have done this or that, if I could change this, if I just knew this before…

We have medicines to cure the most complicated diseases, reverse the impact of age, even a science to predict future, why not have, say, a Vitamin T for Time? Popping a pill could give one more hours in a day, a 500 mg may even catapult us into the future for some time, or a Slow Release version of the pill that could slow us down and transport us back to the past for a bit. I know I’m getting carried away with this, but did anyone think cloning was possible 50 years back?

That was just some food for thought. In the meanwhile, till someone really manages to make this real, we can continue to feed on sci-fi books and movies. My recent read gave me a lot of fodder for this: The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Debut novel of author Audrey Niffenegger, it is a love story set in an unusual backdrop of time traveling. I have to say, along with the “bestseller” and “major motion picture” labels on the cover, it should also have one that reads “water-works”.

In the book, the protagonist Henry De Tamble suffers from a rare genetic anomaly, called Chrono-Impairment that causes him to involuntarily travel through time, to the future and to the past. His destinations are tied to his subconscious – places and times related to his own history. For instance, he visits his wife multiple times during her childhood, almost accompanying her growth from childhood to adulthood…on the other hand, he also tends to keep going back to the scene of his mother’s car accident in which he lost her to death. It’s not unusual for Henry to run into the other Henry from some other time period and help him out of a jam.

Difficult to comprehend? Yes it is, indeed. But Niffinegger makes this sound so real that at one point I felt compelled to google whether this is a real disease (feel free to laugh at me over this, I felt incredibly stupid for doing so myself).

Grown up Henry traveling back to Clare (6 yrs old)

Henry traveling back to Clare (6 yrs old)

Using the alternating first-person style, the novel narrates the stories of Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. When 20-year-old Clare meets 28-year-old Henry at the Newberry Library in 1991 at the opening of the novel, he has never seen her before, although she has known him most of her life. She has adored him for most of her life because he has been popping in and out of it since she was 6 years old.

This makes it mind bogglingly confusing at times, only to make sense after a coupe of pages or chapters and sometimes not at all. But the riveting he-said, she-said, he thinks – she thinks account makes you feel closer to the characters and keeps the reader engaged. You never notice when the story and the characters creep under your skin.

The book traces the evolution and strength of the love story that is fated to endure the trials and tribulations of Henry hopping around through decades, front and back, disappearing at odd hours with no guarantee of where he will be or when he will return. Sometimes hours, sometimes days (Ahem, does this sound too different from normal men? As a footnote, Niffenegger did write this novel after a series of heartbreaks, we can see the analogy).

The love story is endearing because of its simple, Erich Segal, expression. I don’t pretend to know what love is for everyone. But I do know that knowing everything about that person, especially the faults, but wanting him or her anyway, does define love. The book conjures beautiful images of that definition.

Niffenegger’s depiction of the relationship is romantic and realistic, humorous and intense. Her portrayal of their love reminds me of a parent-child relationship.  No matter what the circumstances, parents don’t have the option of breaking up with their children. Henry and Clare play those roles alternately with and for each other. You can see that when you can’t imagine Henry time traveling without Clare to travel to and from.

Their relationship stands the test of daily frustrations, absences; and despite yourself, the longing and uncertainty crawl out of the pages of the book to sting your eyes with tears.

At some point, I did wonder which aspect I enjoyed more: the love story or the opportunity presented by the book to ponder over the functions time can play in our daily lives.

Time does a lot of things for us – it heals the way logic, reason and medicine cannot. It is our companion, always there in the past, present, future…watching us grow, even facilitating achievements and success. Who ever achieved anything without deadlines?

My favorite moment of the book – Henry’s helplessness at not being able to prevent bad events from happening, despite knowing of them prior to their unfolding.  His explanation reminds you of the most fundamental laws of life: “There is only one free will, when you are in time, in present. In the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there”.

We’ve always been coming to where we are currently since our time began. There is no amount of time travel that could perhaps change that. As much as we may repent/regret/ want to change the past actions, if not those, some other circumstances would have led us to exactly where we are now.

Also, life, in general, is all about timing. As Stacey Charter says, “(with time) the unreachable becomes reachable, unavailable becomes available, unattainable…attainable, and have patience, wait it out. It is all about timing.

So often, I have found myself frustrated at things not going my way. And each time, have also found that those delays were not denials, that what eventually does come your way was worth the wait.

Coincidentally, I purchased the book when I really wanted to hold onto time. I was at a Barnes and Nobles store, in New York on a bright sunny summer day, with a hotdog stall staring straight at me through the glass door. It was perfect.  My flight back to reality was the following day and what I wouldn’t have done for a Vitamin T right then.

Which brings me to the million-dollar question. Henry travels to the past more than the future. Which I thought would be an interesting question to ponder for each one of us. If you could time travel, would you travel in the past or in the future? (Hence the poll below, punch in your preference, this makes for an interesting dipstick)

My guess is this would be a tough one to answer. As you think about this, do read the book, it is certainly an entertaining read… if you are a romantic, definitely. If you enjoy thinking about science fiction stuff and time machines, you may find yourself wondering about the authors’ mechanism for this, but not necessarily find the answers in there.

But most importantly, for those of us, who frequently itch to be in the future or in the past, it provides a good reference to understand that the trajectory of time travel that we are actually used to, of moving one day at a time at the rate of 60 seconds per minute into the future, has a critical function for us. Displacement of this one-way street, backward or forward, might be more distressing than one would think. Vitamin T, like all other pills, could be counter-productive if overdosed.

We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams.”Douglas Adams

Eat Pray Love – if books could be soul mates

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay,  hard one for me. This is probably how actors feel when they act in remakes of their favorite actors’ movies…or singers when they perform on a Beatles number…

But I’m going to take a cue from the book and practice Parla Come Mangi‘ – literally, ‘speak the way you eat”.  It’s a reminder – when you’re making a big deal out of explaining something, searching for the right words – to keep your language as simple and direct, just lay it on the table.

Let me say it right off the bat then, I loved this book from the first page to the last, so this is a biased opinion…in fact, if books could be soul mates, this is it, I can cuddle up to it on a cold night and everything.

If you haven’t heard of it already, this is the Julia Roberts about-to-be big motion picture (with the gorgeous, Javier Bardem as the male protagonist, loud applause for the casting team every body…)

Memoir of author Elizabeth Gilbert, it is a travelogue tracing the year she chose to travel to three countries in her “search for everything”. Italy, where else would you go for pleasure? India, for peace…ok this is seriously debatable…and Indonesia, Bali to find a balance between the two.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what did this woman lose that had her hopping around three countries searching for it. In fact, the plot does sound chic-flicky  – with a divorce and painful love affair leading to her journey into self-discovery. But here is why I think the book was a worldwide bestseller, even with the men (yes, unhhuh, I do know men who have not only read it, but also admitted to have enjoyed it)…

In endurance sports, there is an expression called “hitting the wall”.  A condition in which a runner or cyclist simply runs out of energy to go any further. Sportsmen, who have learnt the art of breaking that wall, survive; others fall by the wayside.

I think in life too, we reach a point when we sometimes simply hit a wall. Eat Pray Love is about learning the art of breaking that wall. My take – when we are born, we learn how to live on the job. We fall, we stand, learn, grudge, complain…we stumble upon life accidentally. But there does come a point, with different circumstances for everyone that makes us stop and just ponder. Is there another way for us to happen to life instead of life happening to us? One that we choose instead of accidentally stumbling upon?

The book helped me recognize that it doesn’t take a tragedy to realize this; as we grow older, we build our inventory of daily disappointments, frustrations and patterns. That inventory needs occasional purging, for the future to truly rush in. But that’s easier said than done.  Sometimes we can’t help but haul our past around for decades even. Gilbert takes an unusual route to purge hers. Not a spiritual one of abstinence, but a meticulously thought through 3-pronged strategy: eating, praying and making love happen.

There are many lessons that struck a chord from her journey and that I love the book for…I discovered that happiness is a consequence of consistent personal effort, about the healing powers of pizza,  accepting embarrassing facts about one-self, that solitude can impact our mind in ways nothing else can, the beauty of doing nothing (this is truly an art btw, from recent personal experience), that you can choose your thoughts (shocking), that eventually, good and bad, both pass… the humor in tragedy…(I have tried to cover all of these in a collection of my favorite quotes from the book. Click here to browse these)

But the one thing, that stands out as a the reason for my love of the book is summarized in the following quote:

“We do spiritual ceremonies to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”

How wonderful, I think that thought is. I’m not sure if I can think of myself as a poet, but somehow I love the idea of being my own plumber. Remodeling and upgrading myself whenever need be, fixing the nuts and bolts, in some cases maybe loosening them a little.

No matter what life deals us, I have come to believe that these self-created rituals sort of become our duty then. To enjoy life, is to let go.  This can be scary. For me, changing residences, cities, relationships, careers, jobs, all become a tad more challenging because I tend to look back for too long. I am a hyper-thinker, examining everything way too much, past, present and future. So when Gilbert sits at lunch and asks God “Look–I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?” I totally get what she means.

But what if we can truly accept, that what happens has to happen. Or let me change that paradigm a little…that what happened was never not going to happen, it changes perspective. When I examined my own life vis-à-vis this, I thought that’s true, I was never not going to be on this  break, never not working where I am, never not dated who I did, never not found friends that I did. That makes you think, if everything, pleasant and unpleasant, was happening anyway, then letting go becomes a lot easier. Does that make sense?

Our own rituals help us accept what was never not going to happen and welcome more of what has to happen. I know people who don’t wait for catastrophic events to indulge in this, they just go annually to Vipasana camps…the intensive meditation yoga camps that put you through rigorous schedule of work and prayer, disallowing any communication or speech for ten days (you can see why this could never be my ritual; I mean, I’m on my first alone-holiday and I decided to start a blog).

Gilbert identified travel across three countries in search of peace as her ritual.  The chapters trace her experience in Italy where she explores the sheer pleasure of food and nothingness. In India, with the guidance of her formal Guru, and informal Guru in a friend, (called Richard from Texas), she creates many other smaller rituals for her personal healing. In Indonesia, amongst other prophesies, she learns how to “smile from her liver” from medicine man Ketut, who teaches her “everything he knows” about life. And finally, yes, discovers love again, this time in a whole different light.

A great entertainer, this one will make you laugh, nod and grudgingly accept that you too may have harbored regrets, disappointments, could-haves and would-haves for too long.  And if you have, there is so much you may have missed out on, so much that couldn’t get in because it was houseful and a lot was yet to get out. So, fun times really…time to find your own ritual…where would you go if you had one year off?

These are my personal comments and ruminations. For a formal review, please visit New York Times Review.

Also I have changed my mind about my next post. I am putting the post on the movie “Up in the Air” as promised in my first post, on hold. I recently discovered the glorious difference between a tourist and a traveller and am itching to share that…till then, do visit This and That, for a collection of Eat Pray Love quotes. Please feel free to share your favorite ones and a completely different view on the book too, particularly look forward to the critics.

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