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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

His name is (Shah Rukh) Khan

And he is entitled to have a conversation about what it means to be Muslim in India without having his patriotism questioned

By now I am sure all of you are au fait with the latest controversy to erupt around the Badshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. But for those of you inhabiting a parallel universe, here are the bare bones. Khan gave an interview to an international publication called Outlook Turning Points in which, among other things, he discussed being a Muslim in a post 9/11 world.

It was in this context that he made his now-infamous statement. “I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India...There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring country rather than my own country – this even though I am an Indian, whose father fought for the freedom of India. Rallies have been held where leaders have exhorted me to leave and return to what they refer to as my original homeland.”

No sooner had this interview hit the stands than Hafiz Saeed, no slouch when it comes to self-promotion, issued a statement inviting Shah Rukh Khan to come live in Pakistan if he felt unsafe in India. The Pakistani terror mastermind added generously that Khan could stay in Pakistan as long as he liked.

Cue, shock, horror and outrage in the Indian media, best summed up by the headline Firstpost gave to its comment piece on the controversy. “King of Victimhood,” it screamed, “Shah Rukh Khan bites the hand that fed him.” After much fulminating about how Shah Rukh didn’t really deserve the adulation of the Indian masses – who worshipped him without worrying about his religion – the writer went to exhort Khan to “grow up” and “take it on the chin like a man” and not provide space for “low-life terrorists like Hafiz Saeed to take pot-shots at India”.

Okay, now that you’re all up to speed, let’s just see what happened there.

Shah Rukh Khan’s jibe at some political leaders who targeted him was clearly a reference to the late Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, with whom he has had a troubled history. Has the Shiv Sena doubted Shah Rukh Khan’s patriotism on occasion? Yes, it has. Has it accused him of being a Pakistani sympathiser? Yes, it has. Has it held demonstrations during which Khan was asked to go ‘home’ to Pakistan? Yes, it has.

So far, so true.

Now that we have cleared up what Khan said, here’s a quick summary of what Shah Rukh did NOT say. Did he say that he had been targeted by the people of India because of his religion or his surname? No, he did not. Did he complain about how his film career had suffered because he was a Muslim? No, he did not. Did he accuse film-goers of being biased against him because of whom and how he worshipped? No, he did not.

In other words, he did not bite the millions of hands that had fed him. He did not spit in the face of the fans who have made him what he is. So why attack him on completely spurious grounds? I can understand taking on a man for what he said. But targeting him for something he did not say? That is just plain stupid.

Is it Khan’s fault that Hafiz Saeed pounced on this interview to extend an invitation to him to come live in Pakistan? No, it isn’t. And it would be the ultimate triumph of the two-nation theory if we can’t even have a conversation about what it means to be a Muslim in India without getting all defensive about Pakistan.

Which of us can deny that it isn’t always easy having a Muslim surname in India? Never mind the festering wounds inflicted by the shameful riots of Gujarat, everyday life comes with its own set of challenges. Just finding someone willing to rent you a house becomes a Herculean task. Negotiating a job interview can be a minefield. Getting a passport is a veritable nightmare. (And when you do, racial profiling follows you to every immigration counter in the world.)

And yet, such is the inherent strength and strange beauty of India’s secularism that the three biggest stars in the Bollywood firmament – Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh – can rejoice in the name of Khan. Surely that is something to celebrate in a world that is increasingly fractious and divided?

We should take pride in the fact that it doesn’t matter how much political leaders try and divide us on the basis of religion. At the end of the day, the people of India worship who they want to, irrespective of which God they – or the objects of their devotion – worship.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Attention, please!

In this age of hyper-connectivity, have we lost the ability to live in the moment?

Last week in Chennai I had my first experience of an A.R. Rahman concert. Given that I am a huge fan, I was looking forward to seeing him perform live along with his troupe of super-talented musicians. And Rahman did not disappoint, playing all his biggest hits and then some, with Hariharan and Sukhvinder coming on to do their bits.

What intrigued me, though, were the people sitting around me. Instead of immersing themselves in the music, clapping in rhythm or even singing along – as keen concert-goers should do – they were all busy on their phones. Some were holding them aloft to take grainy pictures; others were recording (even grainier) videos; some were updating their BBM status to tell their extended social circle that they were watching Rahman LIVE; others were doing much the same on Facebook.

None of them were doing what they had presumably come here for: to listen to Rahman and his band play. They were so busy recording the event or telling other people that they were at it, that they had lost sight of the essential purpose of why they were here: to listen to a live performance.

Many musicians have complained about this cell-phone nuisance, where people are more engaged with their mobiles than the music during a performance. And some have even said that this new practice of everyone ‘recording’ what it is going on actually takes away from the energy of the show. And given my own experiences of live music events, I have to agree.

But more than that, I can’t help but wonder if this is not just another indicator of how we have lost the ability to live in the moment.

We can no longer just listen to a singer belting out his greatest hits. We are not content to hum along, clap in time, or even dance. No, even the event unfolds before us, we feel this compelling need to record it and then share it on social media to prove what interesting, fulfilling, fun-filled lives we lead. I can bet that none of the people recording the Rahman performance on their mobile devices will ever look (or hear) that clip again. The only time they will whip it out is when they need to tell someone else about how they were at this ‘awesome’ concert.

And it’s not just music concerts alone. Even in movie theatres, people seem unable to succumb to a willing suspension of disbelief for a couple of hours. No, they must post their thoughts and mini-reviews on Twitter or Facebook even as the action unfolds; or at the very least, BBM or IM their friends to tell them how it’s going. Thankfully, it is illegal to record a movie on a mobile device or else we would have to contend with the mobile-held-aloft syndrome in cinema halls as well.

But it is on holidays that our inability to live in the moment becomes most obvious. Instead of enjoying the sight of a riveting sunset, we are busy adjusting camera settings so that the redness of the sky can be faithfully captured for the family album. Rather than feast our eyes on the majesty of a tiger in the wild, we are struggling to frame him perfectly against that clump of trees. Instead of feeling the sea breeze in our hair, the warmth of sunshine on our backs, or the flakes of snow as they waft past our faces, and just enjoying the moment, we are so focused on recording it that we destroy its essential magic. In making sure we remember the moment, we fail to actually savour it.

Focussing on even the simplest thing seems to beyond us these days. We cannot watch a TV debate without venting our outrage on Twitter. We cannot read a book without stopping to check the newsfeed on our phone. We cannot try a new recipe in the kitchen without posting a picture on our blog so that everyone can exclaim over it. We cannot eat in a restaurant without taking pictures of every dish so that we can share it on social media.

Oh well, you get the picture.

The only problem is that we don’t. Or at least we don’t see it for what it is. Instead, we are deluded enough to tell ourselves that all this flitting between stuff is a good thing. We pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we are really great at ‘multitasking’. Oh look, how clever I am! I can watch a TV show, check the latest news headlines on my laptop and tweet on the phone AT THE SAME TIME! Isn’t that AMAZING?

Well, since you ask, it is anything but amazing. It is, in fact, a bit shaming that we cannot bring ourselves to commit to any one thing at any one time. It is, in fact, a sign of our ever-decreasing attention spans, a sad corollary of our frenetic lives in the age of hyper-connectivity. And it doesn’t look as if it’s going to get better any time soon.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When winter comes...

It’s the gastronomic delights of the season that I love the most

The most annoying thing about winter in India is that it ends no sooner than it has begun. Just as you’re beginning to enjoy the cool winds, the balmy afternoons and the chilly, occasionally misty nights, the weather turns on you. The sweaters start to feel a bit scratchy, the feet begin to sweat in those heavy-duty boots, and the trench looks like overkill rather than a dashing fashion statement.

But it’s not the lack of opportunity to show off my winter wardrobe that annoys me the most about the transience of the season. No, it’s the fact that I never get a chance to indulge in winter gluttony as I would like to, having fantasised about it for the entire year.

Truth be told, what I love most about the Indian winter is the gastronomic opportunities it presents. So much so that (and yes, I know it makes me sound pathetic) I often while away hot summer afternoons, thinking of all the gourmet delights that the cold weather will bring.

I guess we all have our favourite seasons when it comes to food. There are some people who live for the summer and its gift of ripe, golden, juicy mangoes (though I would rather gorge on lychees instead). And then, there are people like me who count the days down to the winter, to feast on the goodies it brings.

So, here, in no particular order of importance, are all the things that exemplify the taste of winter to me.

# Sarson da saag: What can I say? I am a Punjabi and for me winter never truly begins until the first batch of sarson da saag has been cooked up in the kitchen. Needless to say, it is made in industrial quantities because it always tastes better a day or so later. All you need to do to refresh it is re-heat with a generous blob of white butter added. Spoon it up with a softly-crisp makki di roti, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bliss!

# Makki di roti: Yes, if sarson da saag has made an entry into the kitchen, then the makki di roti cannot be far behind. This is a match made in gastronomic heaven. The golden hue of the roti is a perfect counterpart to the deep green of the saag, feeding your eyes as well as your taste-buds. I always grate a bit of gobhi into the makki atta while kneading it. The moisture left by the gobhi makes the roti just a wee bit softer and sweeter, to balance out the slightly bitter taste of the saag.

# Methi: There is nothing to match the taste and smell of the winter’s first methi. The leaves are green and tender, wilting quickly under heat, and releasing the most heavenly aroma that perfumes the whole house. This is a versatile leaf, which can be used as a vegetable, an herb, or even a condiment. I like it best as a subzi, sauteed quickly with par-boiled potatoes but you can experiment with it as you will. Add it to theplas or parathas and it adds an extra dimension of freshness to the dish. And if you love it as much as I do, buy up loads while it is still in season, air-dry and store in jars to use through the year. It is guaranteed to bring a whiff of winter to the hottest of summer days.

# Oranges: There is something so meditative about peeling an orange, isn’t it? Especially when you take care to peel it slowly and carefully so that it comes off in one long whirl, curling and curving seductively as it reveals the inner core of the fruit. Then, you remove the long fibres still clinging to every segment so that just the quivering sliver of pulp is left. Plop into your mouth and let the flavours explode on your tongue. That sweetly acidic attack? That’s the taste of winter for me.

# Peanuts: The first sign of winter in the north of India is when the rehriwallahs start doing the rounds of the streets, their carts laden with mounds of unshelled peanuts. When you buy some, they heat up the moongphali on the spot, on a small fire that stays burning amidst the piles of nuts, and hand it to you in a paper bag. If you have any sense, head straight for the nearest spot of sun, settle down with a good book, crack open the shells and pop the warm peanuts into your mouth, one at a time. It really doesn’t get better than this.

# Paranthas: Yes, I know you can have them all the year round. But why would you want to eat them in the sweltering heat of summer or the cloying humidity of the monsoon? Winter is when parathas really come into their own. You can stuff them with the winter vegetable of your choice: mooli or gobhi. Or you can stick to the tried-and-test aloo version. But whatever the stuffing, you can’t go wrong with white butter, full-fat dahi and loads of achaar (try the winter combination of gobhi, shalgam and gajar; it’s brilliant!).

# Gajar ka halwa: It must have taken a genius to think of transforming the boring carrot into a delicious dessert with the judicious addition of sugar and milk (and many, many hours of cooking). Whoever she was, God bless her soul. And while the winter lasts, bon app├ętit to you all!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


There’s plenty of advice out there for how women should stay safe; here are a few handy pointers for the men as well

Over the last month or so, Indian women have been inundated with gratuitous advice on how we should conduct themselves in public so as to keep themselves safe from sexual harassment and violence. Politicians, religious heads, media commentators, women’s rights activists, and well, pretty much anyone with a voice to be heard, has come up with new and innovative ways to keep the women in our society ‘safe’ from sexual crimes.

Right off the top of my head, these are some of the suggestions that have been offered in all seriousness. Women should not be allowed access to mobile phones. Co-education should be banned. Girls should be married off the moment they reach puberty to keep them safe from predators. Schoolgirls should wear overcoats over their uniforms to save them from the gaze of perverts. Teachers should wear lab coats to prevent male students leching at them. Working women should not be so adventurous as to travel back home alone from work late at night. Women should not wear skirts or other ‘revealing’ outfits because that just excites the men and provokes them into attacking them sexually. And certainly, women should not complain about being ‘raped’ if they willingly go out with men, because honestly, what were they expecting?

That is, by no means, an exhaustive list. But I guess you get the general drift. The message is clear and simple: stay covered up; stay at home; stay silent; and if you’re lucky, you may stay safe.

So it is in the same spirit that I now offer my own two bits of gratuitous advice to men as to how they should live their lives.

·  * First off, don’t ever venture out into the night alone. And most certainly, don’t head out with a group of male friends. If you are seen prowling the streets late at night, we will assume that you are up to no good. That you are, in fact, ‘asking’ to rape someone. So, be a dear and get home by 9 pm. If you do have to venture out after this ‘curfew’, then ask a woman – your wife, sister, mother, aunt, any other female relative – to accompany you. If you fail to do that, then be prepared to face the consequences. If you are out late at night and ‘cross’ that ‘Lakshman Rekha’ we will assume that you are Ravana and treat you accordingly.

·  * Be warned. If you dress in an ‘immodest’ manner, we’ll be judging you. Put away those shorts you wear to the beach/mall/gym to show off those hairy legs. Don’t wear those tight, crotch-hugging jeans. And button up that shirt while you’re at it; nobody wants to see that provocative expanse of chest. What kind of message are you sending anyway by flashing all that flesh? Cover up already. Don’t you know how to stay within your ‘maryada’?

·  * When it comes to socialising or making friends, stick to your own sex. It’s much safer that way. If you hang out with girls; go to the movies with them; party with them; or, God forbid, drink and dance with them, things will get tricky very quickly. So, don’t risk going out with a girl unless she is your sister or you intend to marry her (not if she is your sister, of course). If you do, then we will know just how dodgy your ‘morals’ are. And that may well destroy your marriage prospects. Nobody wants to get hitched to ‘that kind of guy’, you know.

·  * While we are on the subject of marriage, do try and enter the holy state of matrimony as early as possible. It’s best if you are hitched by 21 but we will allow you some leeway till around 25. If you hit the age of 30 without acquiring a wife then we will assume that there is something seriously wrong with you. And if you are still single at 35, or worse still, at 40, it will be taken as a given that you are either sexually depraved or morally deviant.

·  * Don’t rock the boat. If someone passes a snide comment, makes a personal remark, invades your personal space, touches you inappropriately, makes unwanted sexual advances, just ignore it. If the harassment persists, submit meekly. Don’t make a scene. Don’t raise your voice. Stay silent and pray that it goes away. But never – no matter what the provocation – retaliate or even react. Just go with the flow. Because if you stand up for yourself, there is every likelihood that you will be ground into the dust.

Okay then, that’s my five-point ‘advisory’ to all men. And now here’s a question for all the men who have persisted in reading thus far: how offended are you by all the ‘suggestions’ listed above? Very offended indeed, I’m guessing.

Good. Now you know how every woman feels when she hears people holding forth on how she needs to do a, b, and c (and avoid e, f, and g) to keep herself ‘safe’. And maybe that will teach all of you ‘experts’ out there to shut the hell up.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hell on heels

There is nothing quite as comforting – and comfortable – as embracing the world of flats

I don’t know any little girl who doesn’t do it. Keep a look-out until Mummy is safely out of sight, and then quickly step into her high heels and totter around the house, balancing precariously on them. Needless to say, this doesn’t ever end well. Either she gets too ambitious, picks up speed, and lands right on her butt (or worse, face) or Mummy catches her in the act (yet again!) and gives her a right royal bollocking. Either way, it ends in tears.

But that early frisson of excitement, the thrill of trying something forbidden, of getting a taste of the adult world, never really leaves us, does it? It hides deep within our psyche and makes a pair of high heels seem like the most desirable thing ever. They become a totem of adulthood, a symbol of sophistication, an emblem of elegance, a sign of being all grown up.

So, it’s not surprising that as we grow up, there’s nothing we want more than our own pair of high heels. There’s something so ineffably adult about them that we just know that slipping them on will make us feel in command. But every time we go shopping with our moms and head inexorably for the high-heel shoes, we are herded off in the direction of sensible flats. And with each such episode, the longing within us just grows and grows.

But no matter how much we beg, plead, cry or cajole, those high-heel shoes remain tantalisingly out of grasp. We will get them when we grow up, we are told sternly, and not a moment sooner. Little girls simply do not get to wear high heels with shoes – and that is that. (Unless, of course you are Tom Cruise’s pampered princess, Suri, and even then it sets off an avalanche of angry comments in the media.)

Which is why slipping on your very first pair of high heel shoes is both a matter of joy and a rite of passage. I am pretty sure every woman remembers her first pair of high heels: where she bought them; how they looked; what she paired them with; how they made her feel.

I certainly do. My first pair was bought after an exhaustive trawl through all the shoes shops of Calcutta’s New Market. In black patent leather, accessorised with a little bow, they came with a very modest two-inch heel. They were bought for a family wedding but over the next couple of years I wore them to death, abandoning them only when they quite literally fell apart.

Since then, I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for high-heel shoes, stocking up on stilettos, wedges, kitten heels, platforms and whichever other heel-style was in fashion. Such was the intensity of my love affair with heels that I don’t think I possessed a pair of flats in my entire twenties, if you exclude the sneakers that were bought as a token nod to the need to exercise (one of these days, I kept promising myself).

So, I get the appeal of high heels all right. I agree with all those shoe designers who claim that heels don’t just make you stand taller, they also improve your posture, and give you a sexy wiggle for good measure. And yes, I see the point when women claim that they feel more confident, sexy, elegant and put together in heels.

But, I ask you ladies, at what cost? I can’t be the only one who suffers excruciating backaches after I’ve spent the day teetering on high heels. And I certainly can’t be alone in having my knees give up on me after decades of balancing four – or even five – inches above the ground.

Which is why – unlike those of my sex who choose style over comfort and are willing to painfully mince through life rather than give up their high-heel addiction – I have decided to vote with my feet and embrace the world of flats.

But though my love affair with heels is now over, I still have an entire closet of shoes to remind me of my past passion. Some of the more hellish ones have been given away to those with a higher pain threshold than mine but some still live on the back of my wardrobe, skulking darkly like ghosts of painful evenings past.

And every now and then, when I look at them, I wonder: what on earth was I thinking?

There’s the Christian Louboutin pair in blue velvet with silver sequins that I have worn maybe three times in my life (and only when I was sure I would be sitting down for the most part). There are the black stilettos from Jimmy Choo that I bought in a moment of madness and wore only once (slipping them off at the end of the evening to hobble across the 500 yards to my hotel room). The sky-high boots from Ferragamo which have me sobbing in pain every time I walk in them. (I could howl with rage when I think what I could have done with all that money spent on those lovely but utterly useless shoes!)

But I am happy to report that my days as a fashion victim are behind me. Now, I am no longer willing to buy any shoes that don’t work for the purpose for which they were designed: walking. I refuse to put on a pair that turns me into a helpless creature who can’t even negotiate a staircase, let alone a cobbled road. I am damned if I will wear a pair that doesn’t allow me to kick ass, or even haul ass at the first sight of trouble. I refuse to allow high heels to infantalise me, to turn me into a helpless, near-immobilised creature who can at best take baby steps.

It helps, of course, that the world of fashion has embraced the flat shoe as well. These days, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing comfortable, no-heel shoes. Ballet shoes are all the rage, and you can choose from every label of note, from the trendy Repetto to the more workmanlike Marks and Spencer. Loafers are perfect for a day on the run, and every label is churning them out. And if you want to go all ethnic, there is always the humble Kohlapuri or the leather jooti. (Though, I’m afraid fit-flops simply don’t do it for me.)

Now that flat shoes have finally found their moment in the fashion sun, what does it mean? Does it prove that women are finally growing up? That we are no longer naive enough or suggestible enough to fall victim to the fashion conspiracy that tries to sell us shoes that we can’t walk – let alone run – in? And more importantly, does it mean that we are finally refusing to seek validation from men on how we look? (Show me a man who says he prefers a woman in flats rather than high heels, and I will show you a liar.)

Going by the sheer number of women tottering about in high heels, that day is probably still some distance in the future. But I can’t help feeling that we are finally moving in the right direction – and some of us are even doing it in sensible flats.


My favourite flats

* Knee-high black boots from Furla: Bought in a punishing New York blizzard, they have done me proud every winter, with their easy mix of elegance and comfort.

Salmon pink loafers from Tods: Okay, they were a bit pricey but given that they are neutral enough to go with everything they have more than paid for themselves.  

* Leopard-print suede ballet pumps from L.K. Bennet: Anybody who thinks flats can never be sexy, should get a load of these. They rock!

Ho, Ho, Ho

What I would like Santa to get me for Christmas...

Sometimes I wonder just how stupid we were as kids to actually believe in Santa Claus. Wasn’t it obvious that the fat Indian man (who looked suspiciously like Uncle Chatterjee from next door) with the fake white beard couldn’t possibly have travelled down from the North Pole in his reindeer-driven sleigh? Did we ever stop to think why every shop we visited while Christmas shopping had a Santa Claus who looked completely different from the one before? Or did we just wilfully ignore all these alarm bells because we needed to live in a world where Santa came around annually bearing gifts that we had longed for the entire year.

I like to think it was the latter. And so, in the same child-like spirit, I decided to compile a list of all the things that I would like Santa to bring me this year. So here it is: my own Christmas wish list (in no particular order of importance)

* A longer attention span. I’d like to revert to the days when I could watch a movie without feeling tempted to tweet my views about it half an hour into the show. I’d like to read a book with stopping to dip into Facebook to see what my friends are up to. And I’d really like to be able to finish my writing without breaking off every 15 minutes to ‘research’ something on the Net.

* An internet connection that times out automatically. I often wonder how people procrastinated in the days before the Internet was invented. How did they waste time before the Google search engine came along? And by ‘people’, of course, I mean myself. I have lost count of the number of hours I have wasted on news sites, on following threads that lead me into the darker corners of the Net, and looking through picture albums of people I barely know. And given my complete and utter lack of self-discipline, the only thing that will free me is a net connection that turns itself off when I am unable to do so. 

* High heels that I can walk in without throwing out my back, crippling my knees, and mutilating my feet. Yes, I know every woman always insists that her stilettos are comfortable enough to run in; but believe me, she lies. The pair of high heels – and I mean really high heels – that both look and feel good are yet to be invented. Which is why I am pinning my hopes on Santa.

* A machine that exercises all my muscle groups for me. Come on, admit it. You’d like one too. Just imagine the joy of lying supine, reading a book or listening to music, strapped to a contraption that stretches your hamstrings, tones up your abdomen, tightens your bum, and elongates your legs, without your ever having to make any effort whatsoever. Bliss!

* A new neck: Yes, this one has given me great service for many decades but truth be told, it is beginning to look a bit tired now. So tired, that it can barely keep my double chins in place. (And if I am wishing for things, how about a brand-new jaw-line as well, all taut and jowl-free? And all the hair I have lost since my 20s, in its original black colour.)

* A magic carpet that whisks me away to Venice every January. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Why January? Isn’t it cold as hell? And raining? And flooding, thanks to the acqua alta? Yes, right on all counts. And yet, that is the month that Venice appears most magical to me. There are no hordes of tourists jostling you aside in Piazza San Marco. The streets are deserted so that you can actually gaze on undisturbed at the many architectural gems carelessly displayed on them. And the hotel rates are, relatively at least, affordable.

* A device that wipes my memory clean of all my favourite books so that I can discover them anew. I can still remember the joy I felt when I read my first Elizabeth George or Donna Leon. I had to restrain myself from calling up all my friends late at night and sharing my discovery with them. It’s been a long time since I felt that way about a book (the last time was when I devoured Hilary Mantel’s marvellous Wolf Hall in one big gulp) and I miss that slow burn of excitement that comes with stumbling upon a bright new literary star.

* A time machine to whisk me back to my college classroom. All those great writers and poets I read then in my English literature course – William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, John Donne, T.S. Eliot – would make so much more sense to me now that I have lived a little.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy New Year

In case you haven’t made your list of resolutions as yet; here, for easy reference, are some of mine

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when we chalk up a long list of resolutions, all the stuff that we absolutely must (or must not) do in the spanking New Year that stretches out before us. Odds are the list will be abandoned by the time February rolls around, but for what it’s worth, here’s my own list of New Year resolutions, in no particular order of importance.

De-cluttering my life:
This starts from the very basics. The closets bursting with clothes that I will never wear (i.e. fit into) again. The shelves groaning under books that I barely got through the first time and will never re-read. The CDs I never listen to now that all the tracks have been downloaded on to my Ipod. The magazines that lie piled up in a corner (and are still untouched after several months). The shoes that have been retired from active duty now that my back (and increasingly, my knees) has given up on me. The solitary bottle of barbeque sauce that lies forlorn and ignored on the back shelf of my larder. The ficus plant that stubbornly refuses to flourish on my balcony. All junk must go.

Trimming my friend list:
Over the years, we all end up adding friends to our extended circle. There are those we bump into at parties; those we discover through the social media; those we meet in the new neighbourhood we move to; those we acquire by marriage; and those that acquire us. But as social research indicates, it is really not possible to keep up with more than a 100-odd people (especially if some of them are very odd indeed). So, maybe this is as good a time as any to get rid of all those who add nothing to my life; those who are unremittingly negative; those who take a particular pride in running everyone else down; and those who are legends in their own lunchtime. (FYI, if you need to ask, “Don’t you know I’m famous?’ you’re probably not.)

Making time for those who matter:
Once I’ve got rid of the flotsam and jetsam of my world, it will be that much easier to work on my next resolution: spending time with those people who really matter to me. Long conversations on Skype with old school friends I haven’t seen in years. Making time for a cousin who has flown into town for a couple of days. Touching base with extended family. Long, lazy lunches with my girl gang. Bonding over boozy dinners with my favourite Smug Marrieds. Ah well, you get the picture.

Swearing off all diets:
Yes, yes, I know you’ve got this absolutely fantabulous diet. And yes, I can see that you have oodles of weight on it. But you know what? I don’t want to hear about it. Yes, you got that right. I. Don’t. Want. To. Hear. About. It. I don’t want to know how carbs mustn’t be mixed with proteins. I don’t want to be lectured about how I need to finish dinner by 7 pm at the latest. And I certainly have no interest in the glycemic index of various food items. So, be a dear, and shut up about your diet already. (Because, in any case, I can’t hear you above the siren call of that chocolate fondant.)

Rationing my time on the Internet:
Sadly, my search for a Net connection that automatically times out when it senses I am wasting time has come to naught. So, I guess I will have to do this the old-fashioned way: by exercising some self-control. That means not spending more than an hour on the Net every day, no matter how tempting the cyber trail that leads me away from the topic I type into the Google search box. And, of course, resisting the temptation to refresh my Twitter timeline every half hour.

Finishing my book:
If I can stick to the resolution listed above, this one will be so much easier to fulfil. If I could just check which Tube line went from Westbourne Grove to Camden Town; read an article on the Lashkar-e-Taiba network in Bradford; research the new Beretta models on the market; and get right back to my writing, I would have finished my first draft by now. Instead, I go flying off on a tangent, clicking link after link until I’ve clean forgotten what I was searching for. Well, no more procrastination, starting right now. It’s full steam ahead with the writing.

Staying positive:
I am tired of indulging the prophets of doom and gloom in the world. I no longer want to be told that a, b, c is impossible to achieve – well, at least not in our lifetime. I don’t need that kind of negative energy in my life. So, I am going to say nay to the naysayers. This year, as far as I am concerned, nothing is impossible. Or better still, my motto is going to be: The impossible? There’s nothing to it.