THE CHEQUERED KITCHEN

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The gulmohar tree outside my kitchen window seems to be growing parallel to my life. It’s a prime witness to my escapades in the pantry – the triumphs and failures, the sweat and the tears. When I moved into my current home seven years ago and started doing it up, my prime focus was the kitchen. Food is important to me; not just what I set out on the table, but the entire process of putting it together. I’m quite the forager at heart and you would know if you observe how much I love wandering around the marketplace. My daughter is greatly amused by my excitement for fresh, beautiful produce. The sight of blood red tomatoes, bright orange carrots, and fresh leafy greens is something I can’t resist. My insane love of veggies can be traced back to my Grandpa’s backyard vegetable patch. The taste of those eggplants, climbing spinach and ivy gourds came from pure love.

The reason I’m talking about vegetables and kitchens here and the connection it has with my minimalism theme is pretty clear. Simple food equates a simple life. Fresh foods inspire fresh thoughts. When the body is detoxified, so is the mind. We are what we eat. At least, that’s the philosophy of a sattvic or yoga diet.

Glamorous or simple, food is food. In the midst of all the Instagram and Facebook uploads of exotic and sometimes mysterious foods, I’m also happy to find food enthusiasts who promote simple, clean eats. They make you want to eat broccoli and spinach like it was manna from heaven (which it is). They are the ones I look out for. Simple meals are not passé. And fresh food is healing. As an Indian, nothing beats steaming rice topped with aromatic lentils and some veggies on the side for me. Or just-off-the griddle rotis (Indian flatbread) dunked in thick matar-paneer gravy (that’s green peas and cottage cheese). The taste of homemade food is always the best. And it’s good for you.

Recently, my house-help, Chanda taught me how to make jowar rotis (sorghum flatbread). These rotis dipped in a hot curry is a marriage made in heaven. Chanda must be around 60, but looks strong and healthy. Apparently, she hasn’t seen a doctor in years and doesn’t know what stomach gas feels like. Her diet is pretty straightforward and frugal, consisting mainly of whole grains and vegetables. She’s the kind of diet guru I’d like to follow.

For my birthday last month, my mother-in-law made me a traditional Mangalorean dessert. It was her birthday gift to me. I was absolutely stoked. To express my appreciation, I made her a nice curry of some fresh river fish and a side of veggies the next day. It’s wonderful how food became an expression of love and gratitude for us.

So food, to me, is not just about eating. It’s about enjoying the preliminaries and feeling the emotions. It’s about feeding the people I love. That’s why the kitchen is important to me. It’s where the soul of your home resides. Chopping with gusto, churning with passion, seasoning with love…these are great ways to put your focus in the moment and find pleasure in little things. Cooking is about nourishment, healing, creativity and art.  The best thing about this art… you can eat what you create!

© Renica Rego

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STAINS ON MY HEART

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It was around early May. A light breeze caressed the countryside and the day was fragrant with the sweet smell of summer bounties. We decided to explore the moorland and took the most twisted path there was. I was about 12 at the time, a city-bred child, but carrying around a rural soul. My young aunt led the way through thorny bushes and slippery trails. A couple of the neighbourhood kids, whom I’d befriended, followed us regaling me with stories from here and there. We reached the top an hour later, panting for breath, hungry and thirsty.

For a while then, we flopped on the yellowing grass, a steady banter making us break into breathless giggles every now and then. When we were all fagged out, we just lay there, silence covering us like a blanket. And just like that, I looked up at the sky and my soul stilled. I cannot really describe what went through my juvenile heart, but I was completely riveted. I lost all sense of time and can’t recall how long I stayed there; but to this day, I rate that as my most sacrosanct moment.

Later, we had devoured freshly picked wild mangoes, the juice running down our hands, creating almost permanent stains on our clothes. But looking back, the stains of memory left on my heart were clearly much more permanent. I wanted to stay up there longer, but the sun was dipping westwards and my aunt was afraid we wouldn’t make it home before dark.  So we hurried back. Even as I stumbled along behind the others, my mind was still in a trance.

Sometime during February of this year, when I was grappling with one of my dark days, the above incident popped into my head. I closed my eyes, trying to relive the peace I had felt on that hilltop. And sure enough, I felt it.  From that day onwards, I have been looking for and finding joy and sanctity in the most inconceivable places. It’s funny how we get caught up in the drama of daily life and overlook the central theme completely. If we look hard enough though, we always find what we need.

Last week, when I was visiting mom for a couple of days, I made the most of the lovely parks in her neighbourhood. I pretended I was 12 again, lay down on the grass and gazed at the sky, taking in the vastness and beauty of the heavens. It was beautiful. In moments like these, the mind empties itself of the clutter we carry around needlessly and all that’s left is peace and gratitude.

Some wild mangoes afterwards would have been perfect, but the store bought ones did just fine. : )

© Renica Rego

 

AMMA’S CHARMING STORIES

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On balmy summer nights, when there is a rare and empty silence, I look up at the moonlit sky and miss Amma.  My childhood ruminations can never be complete without a mention of her. Those were the days of ‘no agenda in life’, no right or wrong, just living in the moment.   Most nights after dinner, the neighbourhood kids would gather around Amma. We would spread out mats under the drumstick tree and make ourselves comfortable, our eyes lustrous with expectation. Amma was an avid storyteller. Her stories were alluring, laced with drama and intrigue. We hung on to her every word, totally enraptured. Our mothers usually huddled around in a separate group, but at times a hush would fall on their gossip and we knew they were as drawn to the tales as we were.

Amma was an elderly woman who lived with her grandson.  They were poor and occupied a shabby, ramshackle house in the quarter. At one time, she had been nanny to a now famous Bollywood actress. But she never bragged about it.  What defined her was her incredible storytelling, her simplicity and her warmth.

The other night, at about 1.30 a.m., we were awakened by a power cut. It was unbearably hot.  For the first one hour, we tried to cover our discomfort with jokes and conversation.  I fanned myself with a newspaper until my arm threatened to fall off. When we could take it no more, we went down and sat in our car with the air-conditioner on. In the eerie silence of that night, dotted just by the hum of the air-conditioner and an owl screeching in the distance, I closed my eyes and imagined I was back under the spangled skies of my simple childhood. I could hear Amma’s lulling voice and the camaraderie of the neighbourhood, and like a serenade, it soothed my soul.

Life was never meant to be a struggle.  It was meant to be simple; to unfold effortlessly.  Like Amma’s charming stories.

A LITTLE RANDOMNESS

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When I recently wrote about my rule of learning one new thing every year (you can read about that here: http://m.speakingtree.in/spiritual-articles/lifestyle/hey-aren-t-you-bored), a lot of people responded saying it inspired them to question their priorities and think about how they could do the same. It proves that we all have the desire to go beyond the mundane and experience our creative side. That’s where the passion lies.

Working hard and being ambitious is a good thing. But a little randomness is critical to your personal growth. Say hello to yourself every now and then. Go a little retrospective on yourself. When you are in touch with your inner self, you will gravitate towards things that interest you naturally. If something appeals to you, dig a little deeper. If it fascinates you enough, go ahead and try it.

Believe me, I was clueless myself.  Like most people, I did not even know what I wanted until much later in life.  Even when I did, I procrastinated. But one fine day, I woke up and decided that I did not want to feel like that anymore, or ever again. When I acknowledged who I was and what I was meant to do, it all fell together like a jigsaw puzzle.  The picture on the box was already there, all I had to do was pick up the pieces and fix them together. No one is going to fix you; you have to do it yourself. Sometimes one little step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.  It doesn’t really matter if you’re going at snail’s pace, as long as you don’t stop. There is so much beauty and creativity out there. It’s crazy not to enjoy it.

This whole minimalism and mind declutter idea too is just a way to make sure that the inspiration has enough room to settle in.  All I’m doing is giving it a shot. Try and do the same.  See what touches your soul.  Feed your creativity. You will be surprised where it takes you. You put yourself out there, you explore the outer world, and slowly but surely you end up discovering your inner world.  That is where you are supposed to be. That is your destination. That is where you will feel alive!  Let things play out the way they’re meant to be.

Recently I was rummaging through some old books and found an old, dog-eared copy of ‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCollough.  That book had mesmerized me when I first read it. I leafed through the yellowed pages and it was like living the tale all over again. That’s how I feel about life.  I want to pick it up, brush off the dust, iron out the ends and recreate the magic.

UBUNTU

It is said that the poor are the most generous.  I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but generosity does seem more profound when you have little and yet give. I was raised in a modest neighbourhood.  We were probably the most well-to-do family as compared with the rest, and believe me we weren’t doing that great.  My next door neighbours were a family of six – mother, father and four sons.  They had a meagre income and were always struggling to make ends meet.  Even then, I remember bowls of steaming food arriving for us before they had eaten themselves.  I especially looked forward to the festivals.  That was when the best food was served.  There was not a single festival when they ate without sending us food first.  The other neighbours were big-hearted too; so open-handedness and simplicity was a staple we grew up on.

Now when I’m getting attracted to the concept of minimalism, it’s probably me going back to my roots.  If you have experienced the beauty of a simple life and simple emotions you will understand this better.  If you haven’t, you’d probably want to know what the fuss is about.  At the end of the day, all we ever want is peace, happiness and good health.

My friend just forwarded me this very beautiful story.  An anthropologist proposed a game to a bunch of African tribal kids.  He placed a basket of fruit under a tree and asked them to stand about 100 metres away from it.  Then he announced that whoever got to the basket first could have all the fruits.  As soon as he said, “Ready, steady, go!” guess what the kids did.  They held on to each other’s hands and ran towards the tree together.  They then divided the fruit amongst themselves and happily relished the meal.  When asked why they did so, they replied in unison, “Ubuntu”.  Ubuntu in their language means: ‘I am, because we are!’

When I imbibe this philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’ fully and honestly, I would have crossed an important milestone in my journey towards minimalism.

© Renica Rego