70 years of Independence but no freedom for women

India completed 70 years of independence on 15th August, 2017. But so many of her women are still confined to home and hearth - rarely given a choice or opportunity to grow any wings beyond being 24/7 housekeepers, cooks and cleaners. And yet, so few raise a voice. So few protest. Most are content to let the status quo continue, under the garb of 'tradition' and 'culture'. Let me say it out aloud - Indian culture, you've had your time in the sun. Now, please make way for the egalitarian and free society that women here truly deserve.

I used to think that the country has changed; that my life would be no different from a man's. After all, our ancestors sacrificed their sweat and blood to wrest control from the English. And the best freedom fighters weren't just men - women, children and the elderly; everyone joined the fray. Everyone believed it was a cause worth dying for. And look where we are today. Many women in smaller towns and villages still don't study beyond school and even if they do, their degrees collect dust on ornate shelves while they don saris, jewellery and sindoor, sacrificing their lives to nurturing their husbands, children and in-laws. Maybe that aunt who makes perfect rotis could also draw up fool-proof building plans. Who knows if that sweet sister-in-law has skills beyond laundering and pressing her family's clothes? Developed countries have compromised with ready-to-cook meals, modern gadgets and the aide of other agencies wherever required. It's not like women there don't care for their families or have children. It's just that they do a lot more than that - they do what makes them happy and brings them professional satisfaction too. But we Indians remain loyal to our home-cooked food and maa ka pyaar. And guess whose dreams, abilities and potential remain crushed under mortar and pestle? All the women in our families - able, sensitive human beings who have committed no crime other than to be born with a different set of reproductive organs.

To men, please stop expecting perfect, elaborate and lavish meals thrice a day. It's all right to take shortcuts as long as you're eating healthy in the long run. Please recognise that you are no better or worse than the women in your life and you both deserve to be equally happy, whatever the route to that may be.

To women, please stop pulling each other down. Be nice to your daughters-in-law and don't groom your daughters to be perfect wives. Groom them to be great human beings and to contribute to their families and society at large in whatever way they deem best.

To everyone, freedom means little if we don't have it in our own homes. All change is not bad. And we don't have to adhere to traditional gender roles. Women can lift heavy bags too. And men can also learn to cook. Exchanging skills and sharing in responsibilities will NOT lead to the breakdown of households. And happiness means more than order or perfection. In fact, it means everything.

Here's hoping that the current generation fosters a fairer India.

A taste of Thai at Sofitel Mumbai BKC

The chef in conversation with the staff

Thai food is my favourite among international cuisines (though I do love the Japanese sushi, Cantonese and Mediterranean dishes as well). Coconut-based gravies, a tendency to steam rather than fry (except when it comes to snacks) and the wonderful flavours of lemongrass and galangal have always endeared Thai dishes to my hungry soul. Last month, I was lucky enough to sample some great vegetarian Thai at 'Taste of Thailand', a food festival at Pondichery Cafe, Sofitel Mumbai BKC. Pondichery Cafe routinely hosts thematic culinary events that allow diners to experience the best of regional and international cuisine. So be sure to inquire whenever you have a free Friday evening!

Sweet and sour papaya salad

The menu featuring delicacies like Larb Chicken, Lamb Shank Massaamun, Panang Salmon with Red Curry and Vegetarian Pad Thai had been curated by Chefs  Sorataj and Teepanon, flown down for the purpose of the festival from So Bangkok - Sofitel. Chef Teepanon was manning the papaya salad counter and at my behest, he agreed to tone down the traditionally spicy version and prepare a sweet and sour salad instead. It was one of the best papaya salads I've ever had and the peanuts added just the right amount of crunchiness.

Bubble iced tea

I feasted primarily on the Thai green curry and steamed rice - a meal that for me, is as soothing and satisfying as dal chawal (actually maybe more). The kind of vegetables used in green curry, such as baby corn, zucchini and bamboo shoots, have always appealed to my taste buds. But I made room for a bowl of coconut soup, the salad and sticky rice with milk as well. My husband, who loves his staple Indian food, tried the Indian dishes and they did not disappoint. The buffet spread at Pondichery Cafe always features an Indian counter, salad bar and desserts counter irrespective of the on-going festival. However, when there are festivals, there is always an interesting live counter. And for the Thai food festival, we were able to taste bubble tea prepared from condensed milk. It was supremely delicious and we went back for seconds.

Chocolate fudge cake
Lastly, the desserts at Pondichery Cafe are exceptional. So there was no way I wasn't going to make a beeline for the chocolate fudge cake and other heavenly delights even though I was stuffed with my hearty meal. However, I saw something healthier - fresh fruit juices in cute, small portions sitting pretty inside a refrigerator on the way. Well of course, then I had to have both. I've written so much about Sofitel and Pondichery Cafe in the past but for those not in the know, Sofitel is a luxurious five-star hotel in the heart of BKC with a variety of fine dining options. Click here for more.

Growing up is too hard

If all you had to do was cook and clean and wash and dust
Then why were you born?
Why did the Rain Gods whisper in your seven-year old ears
Of great times to come?
Why those goosebumps at mountain tops and that feeling
Breathless -
Of one day being drenched in the light of the Universe?
Why did the books and novels let you dream
Why did they let you hope
That your life would mean something?
All those hours spent soul-searching
And admiring the colouring of little barbets
They hang framed, in the hallowed halls of your memory
Sweeter times of the past
For now you must work.
You must work.
There's always more work.
You were so sure, that you'd amount to something
But growing up has been much too hard
And much too hollow.

Maybe in another life

I remember your face
As freshly as if
I outlined it just yesterday.

We missed the bus each time
Sometimes it was you
And sometimes it was my own folly
And yet, for no reason or rhyme
I still hope
We might be the only ones
Under a starry sky
On a moonlit night
And I'd know again
What your presence felt like.