Month: January 2020

The art of saying it right!

Courtesy sites.psu.edu

Saying what you want to say. Being understood or perceived the way you would like to be. Therein lies the challenge of communication and it’s much more than mere words!

Elated Arjun after winning Draupadi in a Swayamvara returned home to the potter’s cottage where Pandavas were living disguised as Brahmins. Yudhisthir, the eldest brother called out to their mother who was cooking and said, “Mother, see what we have brought today.” Kunti, without looking up replied, “Whatever it is, share it amongst yourself.”

Another instance from Mahabharata, where Guru Dronacharya was wreaking havoc on Pandavas with his divine weapons. Arjuna, the only one who could hold him, refused to fight his Guru. Dronacharya’s only weakness was his son Aswathhama. Wily Krishna asked Bheema to kill an elephant with the same name and then convinced Yudhisthir to twist the truth, “Aswathhama hatha (and then he murmured) iti Narova Kunjarova (don’t know whether it’s man or elephant).”

Courtesy Pinterest

These are fairly well-known instances of miscommunication. While the first one is unintended, the second instance is carefully thought through and deliberated upon. In the first case, Yudhisthir assumed his mother would look up from her cooking before responding, while Kunti assumed it would just be alms or a wild animal that the bothers had hunted down. Thus, Draupadi ended up with five husbands. The second instance led to the victory of Pandavas in the battle of Kurukshetra. History is full of such instances.

Courtesy CartoonStock

In today’s context, where everyone has an opinion thanks to social media, and fake news or misinformation can be spread at the click of a button, communication has become even more challenging. It’s important to understand and be aware that communication is not just about what we say, it’s about how we say and to whom it is said. Expressions, body language, tone – everything forms part of the communication. Basis how the words are said or delivered, the listener or the audience comprehends them. The same words can be understood and interpreted differently by different audience, sometimes the interpretations may be very different from what the speaker or the writer intended it to be. Years ago, in English literature class, while we were critically analyzing Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ our Professor humorously quipped, ‘Keats probably never even imagined that his poem would be open to so many different interpretations.’

Courtesy Frank and Ernest: Miscoomunication Comic Strips

An innocent statement can cause lot of damage if not addressed to the right audience. Remember Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ tweet.  While ‘cattle class’ maybe a common enough jargon in the US, we sensitive Indians found it unacceptable. When you are a public figure or communicating in a public forum it is very important to understand and be aware of these sensitivities and nuances.

Today, technology has changed the whole game of communication. We live on social media where everybody is talking – expressing opinions, knowledge, wisdom or just showing off how cool their lives are. We often forget to listen, we forget the repercussions of the social media, the danger of exposing ourselves too much, of being interpreted in unfavorable manner. And what concerns me more is, while we are talking to everyone, we are forgetting to talk to the person next to us. Walking into a living room or a gathering where each person is focused on his phone or iPad is fairly common nowadays, especially among the younger lot.

I may be old fashioned, but nothing can replace a good chat with a friend over a cup of coffee or a heart to heart chat with a loved one. For it’s not just words, so much is said in between the words or even without. You can say so much just by looking into someone’s eyes or with a smile!!

Food trails & many tales: Intriguing flavours of Bohra Thaal

Food does so much more than just satiating our hunger. From a basic need that nurtures life, what we eat and how we eat has become an integral part of our culture and tradition. As civilizations evolved, and looking for food was no longer an everyday struggle, meals, at least on occasions, transformed into an art reflecting the very essence of a community and a region. Every cuisine is blended with history, values that our forefathers held dear and our own memories. Bohra Thaal or Bohri Thaal that offers an aromatic journey through Arab, Yemen and Africa blended with the spices from India, especially Gujarat, is a case in point. A part of Shiitism of Islam called Dawoodi, Bohras or Bohris in India are an affluent community residing mostly in Gujarat and Mumbai. The community is said to have arrived at the port of Cambay in Gujarat, from Egypt via Yemen. Their cuisine, and way it’s presented, canvases their diverse cultural heritage.

Thaal: image courtesy The Bohri Kitchen

Firm believer in the maxim, “The family that eats together, stays together” Bohras eat out of a thaal – one big platter with several dishes spread out that typically accommodates 8 people. “At one time the whole family would share a meal from one thaal, now it’s only during weddings and special occasions,” says my colleague and friend Dinaz who hails from the community.

Thaal is put on a tarakti (an elevated stand) placed on a square piece of cloth called a safra, laid out on the floor. Thaal should not be left unattended, so during a community meal, food is not served till all eight diners are seated. The portions served are just right for eight. Each dish is placed in the centre of the thaal and every member pulls his or her share. “During weddings we sometimes share a thaal with a complete stranger,” says Dinaz.

Image courtesy Indpaedia

“For us it’s very important to have our heads covered and hands washed both before and after the meal. During any festivities or when guests are invited home, once everyone is seated, the host goes around with a chelamchi lota (basin and jug) and washes the guests’ hands,” adds Dinaz.

While researching about this unique style of sharing meals I came across an interesting blog post by Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom. Hailing thaal as the nucleus of Bohra community the post states that this style of eating traces back to the very origin of Islam, exemplifying human equality. The round shape of the thaal is significant as each person who sits around it, is equidistant from the food that is placed in the centre, that would be difficult to achieve in rectangular or square shape dining table.

Thaal is much more than a meal for the Dawoodi Bohra community. Dawoodi Bohras are believed to be an ethnic blend of Arabic, Persian, Yemeni, Egyptian, African Pakistani and Indian cultures and the cultural diversity is reflected in their exotic cuisines and flavours. “Our food will take you through the streets of Sana’a and Aden and give you an aroma of the Yemeni countryside. It will give you a glimpse of the indigenous rainbow cuisine that colours the streets of Africa, it will walk you through the fragrant Arabic, Persian and Egyptian suqs and snare your palette and back home it will capture the rich spices and tadkas that linger in every corner of India and Pakistan,” states the blog.

There’s something unique about the way Bohra’s serve the food. The meal begins with salt – a taste cleanser that activates all taste buds. “Salt is usually served by the youngest member of group,” says Dinaz. “Interestingly the first course that is served is a dessert, that we call mithaas.” Bohras consider it auspicious to begin their meal with a sweet dish. As they love ice cream it is served first, unless it’s celebration time, when the sodannu (cooked rice with ghee and sugar) comes first. Mithaas is followed by meat preparation called khaaraas or savoury dish.

In Bohra weddings, several courses of kharaas and mithaas are served alternately. On an ordinary day however, one round of starters and two desserts is the norm before the main course, or jaman is served. Jaman can include a meat dish, which is eaten with chapattis or parathas, and a rice dish that could be anything from a biriyani to kaari chaawal to dal chaawal palidu (lentil rice with curry). The usual accompaniment of a raita or soup could also be served with the rice. The jaman ends with another round of dessert. Dry fruits and paan (betel leaves) are a must. Salt is served again at the end of the meal to cleanse their tongues. Bohras believe salt can cure 72 diseases. “The last salt is served by the oldest member of the group,” says Dinaz.

Some signature mithaas are the malida, kharak halwa, thooli to name a few. While khaaraas comprises meat preparations which are fried or roasted rice dishes and more. A good thaal offers a combination of meat and rice.

Popularly served rice dishes are Bohra khichidi, kheema khichidi, Bohra biriyani, and of course dal chawal palidu, that draws on the Bohra’s exposure to Gujarati cuisine. Mughlai dishes like kebabs are also served at Dawoodi Bohra feast.

Bohra Khichda: Image courtesy Pinterest

Bohra khichda, another authentic dish, is a fusion of flavours from the Hyderabad-i halem in which the broken wheat is cooked with meat and lentils. 

Pehli Raat Thaal (New Years’ Eve Feast), served on the first day of Muharram, comes with 28 to 52 dishes. Bohra’s believe this distinctive tradition will ensure abundance in the following year.

Mumbai, home to many Bohras, has restaurants and food joints that have been developed around that concept of Thaal. The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) is the most famous one I am told.  I plan to check out the place when I am in Mumbai next.

For the love of Shawls

Manaswi in a papermache Jamawar

I grew up watching my dida and mom gracefully adorn a shawl in winters. They would just throw the shawl, or shaal as we call it Bengali, around them and it would look so elegant. When I was little, I would sneak into dida’s room, pull out her shawl and try to wrap it around me. The piece of garment would engulf me in it’s warm loving scent of dida. Once I grew up, I was drawn to (considered to be) more fashionable and convenient western winter wears like sweaters & jackets. Though I liked shawls, I found its westernized cousin stole more utilitarian. After all we hardly wear ethnic clothes in winters. If, at all, we wear a sari or lehenga for a winter wedding, it is sure to be teamed with a backless choli or skimpy blouse, no matter how cold.    

My almost forgotten love for shawls was rekindled by my friend and colleague Lovina Gujral and her collection of shawls. Watching her walk into office every day with a beautiful shawl thrown around her is a delight. “Between the three of us – my mom, my sister and I, we have 17 exclusive shawls,” says Lovina. “We have collected these over the years, a few from the time of my mother’s wedding,” she adds.

When I told Lovina I wanted to write on her shawls, she generously lent her best shawls for the shoot and my colleagues Manaswi, Puja & Riti gladly modeled for me 🙂

Puja sashaying a Kaani shawl

Lovina and her family has picked up a lot of shawls from a Kashmiri weaver, Ashraf Buch, who comes to Gurgaon every winter. “He brings with him a huge collection of authentic Kashmiri shawls – pashmina, jamawar, kaani. Depending on the fabric and the embroidery some of these shawls are priced over a lakh.” The shawls that Lovina wears are all hand embroidered, some of them take months to make. “He even has the less expensive shawls that cost a few thousands, but we always go for the authentic stuff,” says Lovina.

Kashmir has always been the home of shawls. The origin of shawls can be traced back to over 700 years. Though the words “shawl” and “pashmina” come from Kashmir, they originated from Hamedan, Iran. When Sayeed Ali Hamadani, the 14th century Sufi poet and scholar from Hamedan came to Ladakh, homeland of pashmina goats he found that the Ladakhi Kashmiri goats produced soft wool. He took some goat wool, made them into socks, which he gifted to the then king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutabdin. Later, Hamadani suggested to the king that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool, thus came into being pashmina shawls. As a government official, Lovina’s father was posted in Kashmir for a while and that’s when the family got acquainted with many Kashmiri weavers and their weaving techniques.

The most expensive shahtoosh shawls of Kashmir are made from the under-fleece of the Tibetan antelope or Chiru. These shawls are so fine that even a very tightly woven shawl can be easily pulled through a small finger ring. “However, since these antelopes are an endangered species, shahtoosh shawls have been banned by the government,” says Lovina.

Riti in a shawl from Kutch, Gujarat

There’s an interesting story on how these intricate embroideries came into being. A certain peasant, Ali Baba once noticed the imprint of a fowl’s feet left on a white sheet. He embroidered the outline with coloured thread to enhance the effect and that is how the embroidered shawls were introduced. Silk and cotton thread are used for embroidery. The workmanship is so intricate and time consuming that some embroidered shawls take 2 to 4 years to complete.

 “An authentic shawl is a family heirloom; it can be passed down for generations. You need to know how to keep your shawls,” says Lovina. “We keep each shawl wrapped in a separate piece of fine cotton with a lot of dried neem leaves and red chillies between the folds. Pashminas and pure fabrics are prone to silver fish and these keep the pests at bay.”

Pursuing priceless passion: In conversation with Saurabh Chawla of Storizen

My first post for 2020 is an interview with Saurabh Chawla, Editor and owner of Storizen Magazine, the only magazine dedicated to the Indian Authors.While Saurabh Chawla is a Business Consultant by profession, he has given shape to his passion  through his personal blog Saurabh’s Lounge and Storizen Magazine. He has always been inclined towards creativity. An avid reader, he loves reading novels specifically the suspense/thriller genre. He shares his creative explorations in his blog.

1. What prompted you to start Storizen?

Storizen started off as a media platform to help the writers in India to have a voice, to promote their opinions and help them reach the potential audience.

It was founded by one of the dearest friends, Mukesh Rijhwani who is passionate about literature and writing. As a team, we are passionate about giving a versatile platform so that the artist of today is not lost!

There were plenty of Magazines out there but none of them were able to cater to the needs of the author today and empower them. This prompted us to start off Storizen!

2.       Tell us a little bit about the magazine. How has the journey been so far?

Storizen is a Magazine aimed towards authors, writers, and the bloggers. We have a vision of empowering the authors so that they can post their voices, their opinions freely!

Storizen is a monthly magazine and every month, we try to bring in new voices, new opinions and upcoming news related to books and literature for our readers.

We re-launched the Magazine in March 2018 and 21 issues later, we are glad that we have been able to reach the 1.5 Million+ impressions and a whooping 50k+ reads digitally!

The journey has been great and is an immense pleasure to say that we have been on the TOP 10 English Magazines in the Celebrity Category and Top 30 English Magazines in the Entertainment category on Magzter!

We would like to thank our readers and Subscribers  to make this a possibility and we look forward to your love and support in growing the Storizen Family.

3.   We live in times when people are taking less and less interest in art/literature/reading. Your views on the same.

I agree with you here and yes, there is an issue dedicated to the fact that Readership is going down with time!

People nowadays have a plethora of options available that they are not giving any attention to a single thing. The distractions, over-demanding jobs, the social media era et al.

If you look closely, you are surrounded by a lot of distractions which can sweep off your attention in a fraction of a second.

The moment you become interested in one thing, a hundred other things are ready to distract you.

The best way, which I feel and do to curb this is to take the things one at a time. When I sit for reading, I focus on reading and keep other things at bay. It is slightly harder to start, but it will be fruitful for you in the long run!

You can read the Storizen Magazine issue highlighting the idea “Death Of A Reader” here – https://issuu.com/storizen/docs/storizen-magazine-may_2018

4.       How do you sustain this venture?

Storizen is a venture that is born out of passion and passion, according to me is priceless. It takes time to be in the market and to sustain the same.

Consistency plays a crucial role here and we thrive to be consistent with our passion. We constantly strive to work and improve with time. The dedication, consistency, and perseverance are the driving force in sustaining Storizen!   

5.       Our passion doesn’t always pay the bills. What would you like to say to people who would like to follow their passion?

The truth is often hard to digest. Being passionate about something is much needed. It gives you a purpose in life, you feel energized as you wake up in the morning and immense satisfaction when you lie your head down to sleep in the night.

Practically speaking, yes the passion can or cannot pay the bills. In the former case, you are lucky enough and keep following your passion.

For the latter, keep your passion alive but also make sure that you are living a life you have envisioned for yourself. For that, you need to work, you need to work a lot!

Go into the market and do your research. Get a job first so that you can sustain both, your passion and your bills too.

Once your passion becomes capable enough to sustain your living, go ahead and grow the same.

6.       Your future plans for Storizen.

Talking about the future, we have had an opportunity to tie up with some of the top brands in the market. We wish to strengthen the bonds and form new relationships.

As per the numbers are concerned, we are focused on increasing the numbers to three folds. We are constantly thriving to learn new things and implement them to grow the Storizen Family!

We are also currently exploring new avenues and will surely look forward to starting off with them soon.

Stay tuned!

7.       Anything else that you may want to add

I would like to add a message from my side in the New Year 2020 –

We all live only once and if you live it right, once is enough. This quote by Mae West has a deep message. We always run behind things which we may or may not like, are temporary obsessions or make infinite resolutions for the New Year and fail to fulfill them.

This year, please make a promise to yourself to keep up and achieve what you envision your life to be. Don’t rush on the things, commit to creating what you really care for in life!

Have a blessed year ahead.

Happy New Year!