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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Holi terror

Let me count the many, many reasons why I absolutely loathe this festival

I think it is fair to say that I am a sucker for a good festival. I dance around the Lohri bonfire; I go bonkers with diyas on Diwali; I love getting into the Yuletide spirit around Christmas; and I treat Eid as an occasion to OD on biryani and seviyan.

But there is one festival that I simply can't get behind. And that is Holi. I can see those of you who embrace the Holi madness every year shaking your heads sadly, and wondering what on earth is wrong with me.

Well, take a good look in the mirror. You see the remnants of the red colour you were dunked in all over your arms, legs and face? You see the hair that has turned a virulent green because of the colours dumped on it? And you see, don't you, that it will take at least a week before you can revert to your normal self? I rest my case.

But quite apart from all the damage the excesses of Holi inflict on your skin and hair, there really is nothing to love about this festival. Okay, I can probably get behind the consumption of industrial quantities of gujiya and the mainlining of bhaang, but not if it comes with the other, less savoury, parts of this festival.

I guess you get the drift by now. I hate Holi. I loathe it with a passion. I detest it intensely. Let me count the many reasons why:

* Street hooliganism: You can tell that Holi is approaching when walking or driving down the streets becomes an active hazard. You can't stroll through the neighbourhood without some pesky kids chucking water balloons on you from some balcony or terrace (and if you've ever felt the full impact of this, you know they hurt like crazy). There is no getting away from people who think throwing indelible paint on your car is some kind of joke (oh, how we laughed!). Or from those sickos who think this festival gives them license for a good old grope.

* Peer pressure: No matter how loud and hard you protest that you are not playing Holi this year (or any year, really), your family/friends/neighbours will refuse to take you seriously. Think you can lock yourself into your house and get away with it? No chance. A bunch of inebriated, over-excited folks will show up on your doorstep and refuse to take no for an answer. They will create such a ruckus that you will emerge reluctantly, if only to prevent them from breaking down the door and trashing your house. And then, it will be open season, as you are hosed down with pichkaris and doused in psychedelic paints.

* Playing dirty: It doesn't matter how often your friends swear that they are keeping Holi 'low key' and 'organic' this year ("just some abeer and gulal, I swear, we won't use a drop of water"). There is always one member of the party (you know who you are) who will play dirty. He (and it is invariably a he) will start off by introducing water -- the colder, the better -- into the mix. He will then throw in hard colours (it is no point telling him that you have an important presentation tomorrow; he is beyond reason by now). And then, depending on how many glasses of bhaang he has tucked away, he will use mud, tomatoes, eggs, just about anything really, to smear your face and body. Sigh!

* Looking like a mess: No matter how hard you try, you will never really look like Rekha and Amitabh Bachchan in that iconic Holi scene in Silsila. You remember it, don't you? The lovers dressed in pristine white kurta-pyjamas, which gradually take on the colour of the gulal being sprinkled liberally all around, while their cheeks glow radiant with abeer. Sadly, real life is never like that. No matter how hard you try, you will never ever succeed in looking quite so photogenic while playing Holi. What you will look like is a red hot mess; and worse, a mess that will take a week to clear.

* Sexual harassment: It starts about a week before Holi, building up to a crescendo on the day of the festival itself. In the run-up to the day, there will be office 'Holi parties' where the resident perverts will feel up all the women on the pretext of getting colour on them. There will be 'Holi milans' in the neighbourhood where the creepy uncles will let their hands roam free. And the day itself will be a nightmare of grasping hands, unwanted embraces, and roughhousing with a sexual edge that is hard to miss.

Given all this, are you surprised that I loathe this festival? Frankly, I am surprised that there aren't more people who feel this way. Or maybe they do, but are forced to grin and bear it for fear of being seen as spoilsports or stick in the muds.

Well, I have no problem in taking unpopular stands. So, I am saying no to Holi; this year and ever after. No more forced dunkings in chilly vats of coloured water. No more being groped and pulled about by men who are three sheets to the wind.

Next year, I am packing my gujiya and bhaang and taking off for some beach nearby. The only colours I intend to play with are the gold of the sands, the turquoise of the sea and the sapphire of the cloudless sky. Don't you wish you could do the same?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wedded bliss

How to celebrate through the wedding season and live to tell the tale

If you have a large extended family, the chances are that you are currently neck-deep into the excesses of the Big Fat Indian wedding. And even if you don't, you have probably been inveigled into attending the nuptials of your office colleagues, neighbours, business associates, old college friends and the like.

We all know what that involves, right? Yes, an endless round of parties, much drinking and dancing, and a succession of outfits, each blingier than the next.

And then, there's the food. The buffet spreads take in everything from Thai to Chinese to Indian food, the canapés are an endless stream of deep-fried delights, and the desserts are best described as a heart attack on a plate.

So no, it is not easy surviving the Indian wedding season, with either your bank account or your digestive system intact. But I am here to tell you that it can be done, with some handy tips dredged from my own experiences in the trenches.

* Pick and choose your outings with care. Just because someone is celebrating their wedding with a dozen parties doesn't mean you have to attend each one of them (unless it's your best friend or immediate family, in which case, of course you do). Choose a couple of events to mark your presence, preferably those with a smaller guest list so that you can be noticed among the crowd. So, choose a mehendi, which is a more intimate gathering over a reception in which the guest list could run into thousands.

* If you do choose the reception, negotiate it on  the revolving-door principle. Enter the party, head straight for the queue leading up to the stage where the newly-weds are ensconced, get your picture taken with them to mark your presence, climb down from the stage and head for the exit. Nobody will be any the wiser that you were there for a grand total of 15 minutes. No, not even your gentle hosts.

* Don't bankrupt yourself in the process of finding the perfect new outfit for each occasion. Instead, try recycling some of last season's wedding wardrobe by adding a new dupatta or a different kurta. Though frankly, you can also get away with recycling the old outfits. Trust me, no one else remembers what you wore to Pappu's sangeet or Sweety's mehendi. No, seriously, they don't. Consider this. Do you remember what your cousin wore for your neice's wedding? No, I didn't think so.

* In case you are loath to do that because your friends and family are insanely vigilant, you could try the outfit swap. You will need a close friend, a cousin or a neighbour of a similar size. If you have one, you can exchange outfits for the wedding season, effectively getting four for the price of two. My cousin and her sister in law once managed to go through an entire wedding season with four outfits apiece which they swapped -- along with matching jewellery -- for functions hosted by their respective families.

* Get a workout in during the course of the day. It doesn't have to be an intensive session in the gym. It could even be a short run on the treadmill or a brisk walk in the park. But do get at least half an hour of aerobic exercise in. It will compensate for your dietary excesses later in the day.

* One good thing about Indian weddings is that they provide enough opportunities for a workout in the course of the festivities. You can dance off those glasses of champagne at the sangeet by boogying late into the night on the dance floor. You can burn off a few hundred calories by dancing in the baarat procession. Seize these opportunities when they present themselves. Your waist line will thank you for it.

* Stop stuffing your face compulsively. Just because the tray of mutton kebabs passes by you every five minutes doesn't mean you have to help yourself every time. Turn down the canapés and save room for dinner instead. Alternate every alcoholic drink with a Diet Coke or a glass of water. Your liver will thank you for it, as will your head the morning after.

* You can go completely over the top where your outfits are concerned. But remember to wear comfortable shoes. Flats are ideal. But if you feel you need a boost of a few inches, opt for wedges or platform heels rather than stilettos. Even kitten heels will do at a stretch, so long as they allow you to stand comfortably for long periods of time. Of course, once the music kicks in, you can always kick off the shoes, and burn up the dance floor. You do have that dal makhani to work off, after all. And that chocolate cake is not going to eat itself.

So, as the saying definitely does not go: eat, drink and make marry. You can always diet another day!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring cleaning

There is no better time than now to de-clutter your mind and space

It is a word that we now use throughout the year when we embark on a thorough cleaning up of our homes or offices. Spring cleaning, we call it, even if we are cleaning up in autumn or even winter

But there is a reason why the word has 'spring' attached to it. And there is a long and hallowed tradition behind it in more cultures than one.

The practice can be traced back to the ancient Jewish custom of thoroughly cleansing the house before Passover. The community prepares for the holiday by throwing out all items made with yeast (which they are not supposed to consume during this period) even conducting a ritual candle-lit search the night before to ensure that no leavened food product is hiding away in some corner.

The practice of spring cleaning continued with the Early Christians, who would conduct it between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Even today, it is customary in Greece and other Orthodox nations to embark on a great cleanse either before or during the first week of Lent.

Some trace the origins of spring cleaning to the Iranian New Year festival of Norouz -- more familiar to us in India as the Parsi Navroze -- which marks the first day of spring and is marked by 'Khooneh Tekouni'. This translates, quite literally, as 'shaking the house' and involves a top-to-bottom cleaning of the home, taking in everything from the furniture to the furnishings.

In India, Hindus would embark on this kind of deep cleanse before Diwali. But somehow there is a symbolic logic in undertaking such an enterprise when the cold recedes and makes way for warmer days. The grass grows greener, the flowers bloom, and it is as if the entire earth is being renewed. So, what better time can there be to blow away the cobwebs -- both literal and metaphorical -- cluttering your world, and emerge as a cleaner, newer you?

Just on the off chance that you are up for it, here are a few tips to get that spring cleaning going:

* Start with yourself. If there are any old habits or ancient hang-ups holding you back, make an honest effort to banish them from your mind. If there are people around you infecting your life with negative energy, make a resolution to slowly phase them out (or, at the very least, pay no attention to them). If you are stuck in a rut -- in either your personal and professional life -- acknowledge that truth to yourself. Only once you accept that reality can you begin to change it.

* Work on your immediate environment. A cluttered space often begets a cluttered mind. So, if you are striving for clarity of both thought and purpose, then start de-cluttering. Your beside table should never have more than two books that you are currently reading (all those that you have given up half-way or finished should go back on the shelves) and maybe a small notebook and pen in case inspiration strikes late at night. Your nights creams and lotions belong on the dressing table. And your phone and tablet should ideally not be in the bedroom at all, or else you'll just keep obsessively checking them late into the night. And that will clutter up your head even further.

Then start with your home. Keep one principle in mind when you begin spring cleaning. Every single thing in your house should bring you joy. If it doesn't, then it doesn't belong in your home. Those books you bought at some airport, which turned out to be complete duds: chuck them out. Don't keep that ugly vase just because your mom-in-law gave it to you. (Don't worry, you can always lie and tell her it broke; God will understand completely.) Those DVDs you are never going to watch again? Give them away. And be honest, does that couch really need those many cushions?

* The office is the logical next step. I am not a great believer in littering your work space with pictures of your family, paintings made by your kids/grandkids, mementos from your travels, or even novelty mugs to drink that awful canteen coffee from. Keep your desk clear. Keep the walls (if you are lucky enough to have them) bare of personal memorabilia. And give yourself the mind space to think, to reflect, and to come up with new ideas.

* And then, it is time to spring clean your life itself. Discard all the time-wasting techniques that you have honed over years. So, no aimless surfing of the web. Restrict your social media time to a couple of hours (and no cheating, please!). And no vegging in front of the television, watching cheesy soaps that will turn your brain into mush. Jettison all those people from your contact list with whom you haven't had contact for over a year. And most important of all, reboot your life to create space for new experiences, new people and new adventures. You won't regret it.