Lots of Happiness, Healing, and Love, from Miss J

My previous post was on the journey of Jhelum Biswas Bose. In the interview, she’d told me how she’d thought of using the title, “Miss J” to name her brand – a tribute to her nickname amongst colleagues at Harper’s Bazaar. “It was my way of giving back to the company that taught me so much,” she says, “but, I stuck to Jhelum Loves because I felt the masses would relate to it better.”

Well. I personally think the nickname packs a real punch, as do the good things in small packages that Jhelum loves (now you get it); and wants others to benefit from as well.

What Jhelum Loves – for what Thinking Totty Needs.

There’s a reason why I call myself a ‘thinking totty’ – I think, which is fabulous, I think too deeply, which can be understandable. But then, my deep thinking becomes overthinking, when the intensity of the thinking is totally out of context. As a result, I tend to tie myself up in knots, beat myself up about things out of my control; and consequently upset myself. I poured my heart out to Jhelum, condensing an autobiographical monologue as much as I could to fit the duration of our meeting.

Like a kindly fairy godmother, Jhelum separated my wants from my needs, and made the necessary additions to the products I now consider indispensible to my regime.

The Jhelum Loves Purifier (Facewash)

This contains pure honey, lemon essential oil and crab apple Bach Flower Remedy (BFR). It has a gel-like consistency, and you can see beads of tea-tree oil floating in the bottle. Honey and lemon are great as antibacterial cleansing agents, having an effective impact on acne and acne scars; in conjunction with the tea-tree. The crab apple BFR is for invasive feelings of negativity  and diminished feelings of self-love/pride, which in turn increase reactivity to surrounding situations, I was told.

To complement this, and based on my heart-to-heart with Jhelum, my face wash has walnut BFR, for serenity during and protection from tumultuous effects of change – be they controllable or uncontrollable ones. There’s also olive BFR, for relief from exhaustion, and star of Bethlehem BFR, for allieviation from distress and an increased sense of comfort.

I recall I texted Jhelum immediately after using it for the first time. As soon as I’d applied the face wash, I felt like someone had rested a comforting hand on my forehead and pulled my face in for a hug. I even exclaimed with an, “Aaaaaaaah!” so loud, it alarmed my husband and my feisty Shih-Tzu on the other side of the bathroom door.

The facewash foams well, and leaves a squeaky-clean radiance on the face. If your daily routine causes dust, dirt, grime, or sweat to accumulate on your face, this Purifier will leave you asking for more. Don’t get too over-excited chasing that squeaky-clean feeling though. As much as I love the sensation myself, I’ve found it increases the propensity for sensitivity and redness.

One month in, I notice a dramatic change in the general cleanliness, smoothness, and illumination on my face. In fact, people were complimenting me, even when I’d only used it for a week. You don’t need more than a squeeze of the bottle per application, so even this tiny bottle goes a long way – and is worth every penny of the INR 475/- I paid.

The Jhelum Loves Rejuvenator (Face Oil)

Out of the products I tried, this one was my absolute favourite! And this is coming from someone squeamish about using face oils. To say that I’m obsessed with it would be an understatement, and I’ve to fight off the temptation to apply this more than twice a day. The oil comes in a cute dropper-style bottle, which ensures you don’t squeeze out more oil than you need. A drop is enough, really. I use it primarily at night, right before bed-time. In the past month though, I’ve been carrying it around in my bag to keep at bay the inevitable dryness London weather induces, with its oscillating nature. Still, stick to night-time application.

It’s a lifesaver. The general sense of wellbeing it imparts, not to mention the radiance again (possibly because of the geranium essential oil) is unbelievable. The odour is pleasant, and it’s not a heavy/greasy/sticky oil at all. The holly BFR is to help revive feelings of self-love, and make the mind and soul more inviting for Divine Love. Mine also has cypress, for its skin tightening properties. This is a great option to try if you’re looking for something effective to replace that super-expensive serum you’re using right now; although I’m sure that has its own benefits, of course. I’m a face oil convert, and at INR 775/-, a very happy customer.

The Jhelum Loves Soothsayer (Face Mist)

Fellow Rosacea victims, and all ye of the generally high-strung disposition – when told to calm down, use this! The lavender essential oil in it makes for an instant hit of soothing freshness. The hornbeam BFR will work for you, if you’re struggling to cope with daily pressures and feel you need a boost of mental, if not physical energy. Spray on, and crack on. This handy travel companion costs INR 475/-.

The Jhelum Loves Divinity (Face Cream)

Jhelum’s pamphlet uses words like “creme brûlée,” and “custard” to describe this cream. I agree! It’s light, has a softly decadent fragrance, and is cooling on application. The aloe gel, saffron, rose, and vanilla essential oils work in perfect tandem, resulting in a very obviously clear, glowing, well moisturised, and almost translucent complexion, with daily, diligent use. Like the other products, it comes in a small tub, but at INR 950/- it works faster and better than the bigger, fancier bottles you’re picking up at your local drugstore, for the same price.

In addition to these, and moreso as a conclusion to my personal conversation with Jhelum, I was recommended two more products by her:

  • A specially customised Massage Oil, aimed at dissolving blockages in my Heart and Throat chakra a.
  • A Tonic-Style Remedy, a few drops of which I take in a cool glass of water daily. Besides the crab apple, olive, and holly BFRs, it has cherry plum BFR to help me control emotional outbursts and an occasionally volcanic temper; and white chestnut to calm the precipitating worrying thoughts. There’s also vervain BFR, to prevent self-combustion at the hands  of my own passionate demenaour. Totally relate to this one.

I massage the chakra oil as instructed by Jhelum. I muse definitely be a vervain personality, for this remedy serves as an instant  pick-me-up. Since I take ACV and Ayurvedic concoctions when I wake up, I save this for late morning/early afternoon. I’ve gotten used to a general heaviness on my temples, which I didn’t realise until this remedy took care of it.

It could be the massage oil, or it could be me getting old, but I’m generally more placid and physically ‘settled’ on a daily basis; as opposed to the panic-stricken Energiser Bunny I was, until not too long ago. I also feel the need to justify myself less, and internally, there’s no urgency to do so either. This is an astounding and a rather quick, if not sudden development.

Here’s a picture of me, after using these products for a little over a month, taken in direct sunlight. If you’ve been following my beauty posts, bear in mind I’d forgotten to pack my daily arsenal of ACV and honey on my London trip; nor did I feel the need to buy any there, thanks to these products.

I’ve always been a brisk, happy person, inspite of people and circumstances. For a while now, I’ve struggled to revert to that original state of mind. I have to say, meeting Jhelum was no coincidence.

Thanks to her, it feels good to be back.

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(Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)

“Beauty has been associated with profanity and flippancy for too long. You can’t have an opinion, because so many people do…… I put in a prayer when I’m making a product for someone, I only want that they should be happy; and smile more.”

One of the most beautiful people I’ve come across in a long time. The kindred spirit and beauty lover that is Jhelum Biswas Bose, founder of the Jhelum Loves range of beauty and grooming products; created by blending 3 wellness philosophies -Bach Flower Remedies (BFR), Aromatherapy and Chakra healing.

The morning I meet Jhelum, I’m upset, exhausted, and mentally singed, because I feel I’m screwing up the balance of my professional and domestic responsibilities, something I usually handle with my chin up. I walk out of our meeting a different person; soothed by Jhelum’s amiable aura and her near-hypnotic, yet non-judgemental eyes. “So Buddha-like,” I think, and  I’m  not surprised to learn that she practices the faith. A month after using some Jhelum Loves products, customised to my wellness needs, I’ve  shed layers of imagined and actual mental dead weight.

Jhelum is a miracle worker silently and meticulously revolutionising the way the Beauty and Wellness industries are blending.

This post is a conversation with Jhelum, about her life-story. The second post will be on brief reviews of some of her products; with which I’m obsessed. I can’t do without them.

Beauty in her blood.

“I’ve always been in the beauty industry, even as a child,” shares Jhelum. “My mother owns a salon in Calcutta, I practically grew up there. I did my homework on the facial bed, observing my mother going about her work daily. I didn’t realise it back then, but her approach influenced my understanding of the psychological power that beauty has over women – over all of us. She would go beyond every client’s requirement for a treatment, cream, or hairdo, and patiently hear them out on issues they felt were troubling their perceptions of themselves.”

Coming full circle, via the written word.

Jhelum wanted to be a teacher all her life. She chose to pursue English Literature, coming to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for her Masters and M.Phil degrees. “I began teaching whilst I was taking my M.Phil degree. But, I realised I was too arrogant to be a teacher, I felt the graduate students I was teaching weren’t good enough for me… (Smiles.) I guess it’s student mentality to take a Pass Course paper lightly, so I decided I’d rather invest my energies in a field where my audience would have some levels of interest. I began writing, in a freelance capacity, which led me to Good Housekeeping. The editor, Manjira (Dutta) gave me articles to write on beauty, which brought to the surface everything I’d been consciously and unconsciously registering since I was a little girl. Over time, I became Beauty Editor of Good Housekeeping.”

The first move, with friends and mentors along the way.

I believe it’s characteristic of a certain breed of creative and intelligent people to get bored of what they’re doing every few years. Jhelum confides, rather comfortably, that she tends to get bored of what she’s doing every 3 years or so; distracted by a persistent need to reinvent herself. This is how she arrived at Harper’s Bazaar when it came to India.

“I spoke to Manjira about wanting to make this move. I was interviewed like every other candidate, and was lucky to be selected for the role of Beauty Editor. I loved my job, but didn’t have much exposure to fashion. I couldn’t understand how someone could spend an hour talking about a Dior bag, but I could go on for hours on end myself, talking about a perfume from the same brand.”  “Such passion!” I declare, and Jhelum disarms me with her brutal honesty. “Or remnants of that same old ego,” she says, with one of her placid Buddha-smiles. I urge her to continue.

“Sujata (Assomull), the then-editor at Harper’s, and I built a very positive relationship over time. She had a big role to play in grooming me, honing my communication skills, and constantly reminding me what I’m capable of. In terms of my career, she made me dream, and made me dream big.”

That first ‘3 year’ mark.

“By the time I was 3.5 years in at Bazaar, I’d experienced Sephora (Dubai and Singapore.) So, when I heard it was coming to India, I wanted to join it, no matter what. I put in my application. When I was called for the interview, I honestly told them I had no retail experience, but simply loved the brand. I was ready to sweep the floors even, as long as I got to work for Sephora. I did get a job, but as a Marketing Head!”

From there, Jhelum moved to Marketing roles at Crabtree & Evelyn and Satya Paul. Since she loves sarees, Jhelum was at home with  Satya Paul, though she felt they were steering away from their signature core-competence at the time.  I’m sensitive to ‘out-of-element’ phenomena when I’m writing myself, so I completely get it when Jhelum says she felt like she had to go back on every line she wrote, to make sure it felt correct. “As a writer, this makes you feel very bad. I developed health complications because I felt this way. The asthma that set in wouldn’t let me sleep at night. People suggested that my throat chakra was blocked, because of which I was struggling with self-expression, but this didn’t make sense to me at the time…”

That decisive bend in the road – and more friends and mentors.

“I decided to give my career a break. Taking a sabbatical for 2 months, I spent time healing myself first; and then figuring out what I wanted to do. I needed to keep working because I’m the sort of person who would drive everyone around me crazy if a day came when I had nothing to do. Nonita (Kalra) at Harper’s was someone I hadn’t worked with, but who I looked up to since my initial days in journalism. I’ve often spoken to her though, taking advice from her. She encouraged me to start a venture of my own, as she believed I had it in me to do so. This meant a lot to me, coming from  someone like her, who has seen so much of the world. Nonita and Nishat (Fatima) both helped me frame my vision for the future. My parents served as the perfect sounding boards, cheering me on to do whatever I wanted – so as long as I was careful,” Jhelum says, more expressively, but  softly.

“As I emerged from this healing period, I was lucky to land work with Harper’s almost immediately. I took charge of helping them establish their social media for a year. I also got good work with Essenza di Wills (ITC), Good Housekeeping again; –  the India Today group were generally very positive about welcoming a child back into the fold. In the midst of it all, Nishat asked me why I hadn’t thought of starting a blog. That got me thinking. I wondered at the number of people who’d like reading what I liked – again, the issue of an interested audience!

So, I sat with a web developer and conceptualised a proper website, instead of just a blog. I didn’t know the technicals, what I did know was the layout of a magazine. I used that as inspiration for my  website, Beauty Beats.” 

I ask what the dot in her logo symbolises. “A bindi, or a polka-dot. Something classic, or something contemporary, depending on your perception of what’s beautiful.” Here it comes again, another of Jhelum’s Buddha-smiles. “It’s also a tip of the hat to my Bengali heritage. And I’ve called it Beauty Beats because beauty actually beats in my soul.”

Buddha-smile.

The switch to alternative medicine – Bach Flower Remedies (BFRs)

Jhelum describes further how she’d been taking antibiotics for a long time, to alleviate  a cold and cough that plagued her every month. “Throat chakra issues?” I chip in, and am rewarded with another Jhelum-Buddha smile. She continues, “From homeopathy, I moved onto BFRs. These helped me so much,  I decided to do a course  from London (2014.) I followed up the first level, back in Mumbai, where courses were being organised in conjunction with the Bach Centre, U.K. The idea that 38 essences had the potential to heal every possible illness and change lives, touched my soul. I felt more confident and in control of things.”

Developed by Dr. Edward Bach in the 1920s-30s, these remedies are a system of 38 flower essences which have equal and opposite effects on human emotional states. When paired with their opposite condition, they induce a balancing effect on human well-being, curbing and eventually eliminating the effects of illnesses.

“Again, I’ve always loved fragrances, and aromatherapy has been an integral part of my exposure to beauty as a field,” says Jhelum. “In addition to BFR, I learned Aromatherapy from Dr Ravi Ratan and his wife Dr Minoo, in Mumbai. He taught me to apply Aromatherapy with chakra healing, beginning with myself. It was under his tutelage that I learned how my sacral and heart chakras were blocked, how to open them, and how to express myself better without ruffling feathers. I think you need the same,” she concludes, reading my mind with an empathetic version of her Buddha-smile, of which I couldn’t get enough by this point.

“BFRs can also be categorised into 7 groups, that align with the 7 chakras of the human body. I was able to see a synergy between these distinct fields, which resonated with my personal practice of Buddhism and its central tenet, of simple self-healing,” explains Jhelum.

Delving into the subject of production, she tells me how the actual experience of making  face washes and creams was nothing short of serendipitous. If everything Jhelum was already doing/had done wasn’t enough, she’d decided to learn soap-making. Jhelum applied the knowledge to gifting ideas for friends and family. With the help of soap base, some essential oils and BFRs, the 10-12 kgs of honey given to her by her gardener were transformed into the first batch of  Jhelum Loves products; that are now gathering an increasing band of loyal followers. The brand is young, considering that this first batch of face washes were gifted during Christmas 2015. Jhelum completed her Aromatherapy and Chakra healing course in February this year, and has been taking one-on-one consultations since April.

She asserts, “Eventually I will diversify further, but I want to maintain this level of personal interaction for as long as possible. I insist on atleast a phone conversation, if not an actual meeting, before I administer a product to someone. The personal connect goes a long way; and it may seem odd in today’s day and age, but I put in a prayer when I’m making a product for someone. I only want that they should be happy; and smile more. Beauty has been associated with profanity and flippancy for too long. You can’t have an opinion, because so many people do. My products are simple and fuss-free, but I still love my makeup products. I’ve a right to. I’ve fought for the freedom to exercise personal choice all along. If we become a little intolerant towards the intolerance in the world, things will be much better.”

As a parting shot, I ask Jhelum if her products are aimed at healing those who are getting hurt in their attempts to secure their own rights to exercise personal choice.

“I won’t even go so far as to call myself a healer. My life has taught me that you are your own healer. So, I’m here for you as a friend and helper.”

Buddha-smile.

You can reach Jhelum on jhelum@beautybeats.in or on 011-46061760.

Coming up: How I felt using the following products!

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 (Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)

Be a Child of Nature

Be a child of nature.
Pick up the humming in the earth’s womb, as you sink your feet into grains of sand.

Train your eyes to see in the dark, should you swim down into the watery deep.

Dance to the sound of raindrops on leaves.

Fear not whistling storms or growling thunder, instead be patient (let them have their moment).

Squint at the sun, stare at the moon.

Caress a dying rose, giggle at a fat gourd on its vine.

Cheer animals, send wishes and prayers with the birds.

Embellish your melancholia with the glitter of stars.

Be a child of nature.

Go back to where you came from.

(Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)

Summer Pampering for a Knotted up Back and Bare, Hippy-Feet: My Experience at Blossom Kochhar’s Spalon, Hauz Khas Village

I’ve visited Blossom Kochhar’s quaint Shop, Spalon (Spa + Salon) and Tea Room often, but mostly to purchase products, or for an express hair wash/blowdry in between errands if desperately needed. Yesterday, I succumbed to the dastardly heat and some pent-up burnout from writing assignments; and took appointments for a solid pedicure and what they call a ‘backacial,’ or a facial for the back. The Spalon is tucked in a corner of the constantly bustling Hauz Khas Village, so I was looking forward to a few hours of hibernation away from noise, work and the summer heat.

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Why these two particular services?

  • I have an incurable habit of walking barefeet; accompanied by a strange tendency to walk with my entire body weight on my forefeet, with my ankles sometimes freakishly high up in the air. Never noticed, never uncomfortable, but can’t stop it. So, my feet are always tired, hardened and constantly in need of pedicures.
  • We think we pay attention to our backs, but we don’t really. Prepping it for a summer holiday on the beach just days before doesn’t cut it either, because there can be problems on the surface and inside that we aren’t aware of, or are ignoring. Also, my work involved me being rooted to a chair for hours on end, typing and/or reading. I develop muscular knots with alarming frequency.

The Blossom Kochhar Spa’s ‘Backacial’

I was so relaxed and light after this, I was least interested in getting up and facing life! After I’d settled into the spa bed, the backacial carried on as follows:

  • My back was prepped with an antiseptic ‘rinse,’ made from a few drops of the Blossom Kochhar Aromamagic tea-tree oil in water.
  • After a swift cleansing, an exfoliating and anti-tanning scrub was applied and left on for a few minutes.
  • The extremely warm and knowledgeable lady conducting this for me studied the condition of my back gently and meticulously. I expected her to tell me it was sensitive and prone to redness, which she did. What I didn’t know – and therefore didn’t expect – was to be told that I had whiteheads. On my back!? Noooooooooooo! Apparently, it has to do with a greater number of sebaceous glands present on the upper back, where most of mine were present.
  • The mineral scrub in the pack helped set the stage for some systematic whitehead removal. The procedure was nothing complicated and not painful. Besides, I was constantly asked if I was comfortable at every step of the experience, and there was no reaction, or redness afterwards, or any today. So, reading this shouldn’t alarm you.
  •  Now, to close the pores: The Aromamagic ‘fairy’ oil was applied – a blend of jojoba, tea tree, spearmint, witch hazel and juniper, which combat inflammation, acne and the pesky white/black heads. This was followed by the most HEAVENLY back massage, focussed on the knots between my shoulders and the sides of my back, as well as the taut pain on my lower back. I think I may have scared the poor lady with requests for stronger pressure, but she delivered, very well, and very intuitively. I didn’t have to tell her where to concentrate her energies, it was like she’d understood my anatomy from the first touch. Vegetable oil was used for the massage, and yes, it was odourless. Back to Indian basics, people.
  • A lightening pack, comfortably cooling on application was then spread on my back and left on for 7-10 minutes.
  • A steamy, warm towel was the cherry on the cake.

When I emerged, I felt as though layers of grime had been lifted off my back, and my muscles felt untwisted, my bone structure ‘opened out.’ A great way to spend a Monday!

The Blossom Kochhar Foot Bar’s ‘Stilletos’ Pedicure – for tired feet.

  • The pleasure of soaking feet in steamed hot milk; and massaged in a warm ginger and sugar scrub is best felt, not described!
  • Tea tree and neroli oils were mixed in the water, for a combined antibacterial and softening/relaxing effect.
  • For the purposes of cuticle softening, cleaning and buffing, my feet were bathed in the fragrant Blossom Kochhar Aromamagic Orange Blossom Body wash. (*mental note to try when current body wash finishes*!!)
  • The gentleman who was doing the pedicure for me was as knowledgeable and understanding as his colleague. He observed the tendency of my feet to get too dry too quickly; and used the Blossom Kochhar Aromamagic honey and Shea butter lotion (*mental note to try. Good lord, I have no control on my fetish*!!)
  • I handed him my personal nailpolish to apply finally (Tom Ford’s Bitter Bitch. Don’t ask.)
  • The application was quick, but very uniform, smooth, and very, very neat.
  • As a parting shot, he recommended I try the Blossom Kochhar Aromamagic camphor ice foot cream, to help solve the problem of rapid dryness. (*Mental note.* Justified! He said it!)

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The Spalon has the loveliest tea-room where you can relax with a cup of your favourite tea and maybe some sandwiches. As a freelancer I’m always looking for ‘hideouts’ where I can write in undisturbed peace. I’ve found one where I can also reward myself with some beautification after all the hard work!

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Thank you Blossom Kochhar Shop, Spalon, and Tea Room. I congratulate you on being a personification of your brand ethos – simple, straight from the heart, authentic.

Here’s a little something I saw on the wall, which resonates so well with what I think makes all Thinking Totties special. You’ll find heartening quotes like this one everywhere in the Spalon.

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I’ll be back for more, and certainly more than once for that back massage!

(Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)

How Lazy Women Destroy Hardworking Men

Absolutely NO idea what inspired this, at this time of night; when I’m winding down with my chamomile tea, and my Wolverine-claws are receding with a slow shhhhwwwick.

There’s a lot out there about the-gem-of-a-women-stuck-with-the-useless guy. Like a few other posts on this blog, this one’s dedicated to the boys again. I want to talk about a lazy woman dulls a hardworking man’s shine:

  • Too much complacency: 

Whether one’s a working woman or not, into some high maintenance, “I like to look after myself” or not; there’s no excuse for not having something to do with one’s day. For a genuinely hardworking man, it’s important that a woman links her mindset, or rationale behind daily living, with some kind of purpose. Lack of purpose implies lack of intent; lack of which is lacklustre for a man of his word and deed.

  • Superficial support:

If a woman is unable to understand a man’s ambition or add value to his vision, her support will always be half-baked. Sooner or later, this will make itself evident. The more often it does so, especially in public, the quicker a hardworking man’s morale will plummet.

  • Manipulation over Motivation:

With few constructive activities to fill her day, a lazy woman has enough time and energy to overthink, overrate, overreact. When a hardworking partner turns to such a woman at the end of his day, her conversational content and finesse are aimed at inspiring control over everything and everyone else, as opposed to improving/progressing further his, and their combined life.

  • Selfishness and disrespect:

It takes a hardworking woman to understand what constitutes a hardworking man’s day; and how it influences relationships and plans outside of work. Sometimes in an unforseen manner. Therefore, a lazy woman will resort to self-serving attention seeking tactics. She will put the man on a guilt trip about everything – no quality time together, no help around the house, no energy to indulge her likes, or no socialising with people who matter to her. In the case of some women, complaints of this nature are justifiable, somewhere. A lazy woman, on the other hand, will focus only on blaming. She will never be able to get her man to see reciprocity, because; (that’s right) she hasn’t done anything to reciprocate!

You’ll often find lazy women getting their men to compensate with their money – The “If you can’t make me happy, give me something that’ll make me happy,” variety. It’s worth noting that approaching the subject of a man’s wealth with a sense of entitlement is also a sign of disrespect. It displays a gross ignorance about the amount of backbending that goes into earning every penny.

  • Escapism and excuses:

Be it a task she’s set for herself, or one set for her by her man/family/friends, a lazy woman will find a way to deflect it onto someone else, or put it off for another day. And another. Till doing that work has no significance, or till someone else’s inability to successfully jump in can come under the spotlight. Such a tendency upsets and irritates a man, not to mention the trust issues that crop up eventually.

  • “You’re not doing enough.”

This is the  stiletto heel digging into the core of the heart, and twisting it in for good measure. Being hardworking involves being a ‘giver’ to the job at hand. It does mean you can ‘give’ back to loved ones, but it also means ‘taking’ away from them in many ways. There’s more sacrifice involved than meets the eye, especially sin every a hardworking man’s journey is replete with ups and downs.

It takes a patient and compassionate woman who’s made some sacrifice in life, of some kind, to see the bigger picture. A lazy woman is only a ‘taker,’ so she only focusses on ‘what’s in it’ for her.

Unapologetically lazy men exist. But the ones who are hardworking, decide to be so for certain reasons. The most genuine of these reasons are often held closely to their hearts, unvoiced. They’re better understood than explained. And such men deserve women who can understand this expectation.

(Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)

Book Review: “For people who have suffered….their resilience and lack of bitterness, towards people and life, in general, is difficult to articulate.”

Afghanistan intrigues people. Inspite of everything, people want to know. The deafening bomb blasts, the sear on human skin caused by the harsh snow and sun, the sear on human hearts caused by guns – how much has all this taken away from the collective spirit of Aghanistan and its people?

Like everyone else, I wanted to know too. So, when I came across the book, Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan (2016) by Anita Anand, I wanted to get my hands on it. Especially when I read that the author isn’t just a development and multimedia communications specialist, but also a watercolour artist.

Why? Because I knew that the professional chronicles would make for very insightful reading. They did. Media and Gender project evaluations, training journalists in a country like Afghanistan to write from a gender perspective, field trips with a reproductive health class, study tours and strategy planning sessions, to address violence against women – all this, with the language barrier? This wasn’t a job, it was a journey.

But, I knew it were the artistic impressions, that were going to hit home for me. I was hoping to visualise, through the pages, canvas after canvas of character sketches, relationships, and daily routines of a country, a life, and a people, I’m probably never going to experience first hand.

My hopes were more than fulfilled. Every day, bamboozled by my new avatar as a married woman and stressed by how it distracts me from my freelance work, I would look forward to diving into my bed with a cup of chamomile tea and this heartwarming, endearing book. I’m an old soul, and I like books that take me away from the time I’m born in.

Here, a mention of calico curtains in a newly done-up room. There, a description of the baking process in a naan shop. A picnic in Shamali, a valley nestled strategically between the Hindu Kush and Kabul City. The Bagh-e-Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, the final resting place of the founding Mughal emperor. A Jagjit Singh concert (which planet did you think Afghanistan was on)?

The simple pleasure of decadent grapes and apricots. A gift of muskmelons by a grateful student. A song of appreciation read out and signed by all as a farewell gift to their Indian Ustad (teacher). I was delighted by every line dedicated to kilims, lapis lazulis, and cushion covers in Rubia, a traditional Uzbeki design. Like the author, even I was particularly taken by the pottery of Istalif, a hill town 45 kms north of Kabul.

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The house with the calico curtains! (Karte seh area of Kabul, south of the centre)
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Anita Anand, with students from the “first day of the first course.” (2006)
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Reproductive health/journalism field trip, 2006
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Freshly baked naans, early in the morning.
Istalif pottery bowl
Istalif pottery water jug with cover
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A poppy motif in Rubia embroidery

Just when I was getting used to absorbing information on government activities and stastical excerpts, realising I knew much less than I thought; along came Najiba, the 21-year old assistant gender and human rights trainer.

I was sad, reading about the sprightly Najiba. Even in a city like London, I was once Najiba to another Anita-jan, vehemently declaring I had no time for marriage. Najiba did get married in the end, and I recall my Anita-jan struggling to hide her disappointment too. The minute I came to the line where Najiba is remembered as pacing up and down on the phone, distracted and irritable; I skipped the paragraph, my own ears and cheeks hot.

We think our women don’t suffer the same predicaments as Afghani women. We’re wrong.

Like in any other country of the world, people of different nationalities have settled in Afghanistan. I’m aware of the ill-fated Bamiyan Buddhas, but if it wasn’t for this book, I would never have known about Hiromi, the Japanese journalist who runs the successful Silk Road Hotel there, with her Afghan husband.

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Anita Anand with Hiromi

You know you’re reading a great book, when certain parts come so close to your own life. Everytime I came across “a dinner under the stars” hosted by the author for her expat friends, I sorely miss my typically Anglo-Indian mother’s typically Anglo-Indian parties. On that subject, if you like to cook, there are some excellent and simple recipes in the book, that you would be tempted to try at home. The appalling cook that I am, I’m proud to announce that I did well with the rice, yoghurt sauce and stir-fried spinach. It’s a start!

If at this juncture you’re confused as to whether this is a book review relating to Afghanistan or not, you shouldn’t be. You should realise that if you’ve forgotten it’s about that cruelly ravaged, sadly poetic country, it means that it truly isn’t that different from where you live.

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“Bahar” (Spring) and “Zamestan” (Winter) in Afghanistan

Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan is available on http://www.amazon.com

Reviving an Artistic & Cultural Meeting Ground – Pratibha: A Spectrum of Art

Yesterday, I visited Pearey Lal Bhawan (New Delhi) to witness the inauguration ceremony and opening of Pratibha: A Spectrum of Art. Eminent artist, sculptor/muralist, poet/writer, Shri Satish Gupta Ji was Chief Guest.

This is a Pearey Lal Bhawan/Artizen Art Gallery initiative to provide young/budding artists – and experienced ones too – a platform to showcase their talent and range of work.

Partnering with Miss Suhavini Singh’s India Cultural Hub, a youth-oriented interactive platform curating cultural developments and trends in the city; the Art Fair is also a networking opportunity for art lovers in the general public, curators, collectors and galleries to learn more about new (and experienced) artists, whose work they may have hitherto been unaware of.

Firstly, the history behind the Bhawan is nothing short of endearing.

Late Shri Pearey Lal Ji, social worker, philanthropist, firm advocate of female education and empowerment, was also an ardent follower of Gandhian ideals. Though deeply involved in Congress activities since 1925 himself, Lalaji’s son, Shri Raghunandan Saran was passed the baton; and he guided the freedom struggle in Delhi as President of the Provincial Congress Committee.

Along with his two sons, (Sarvshri Raghubir Saran and Raghunandan Saran), Lalaji dreamt of erecting a suitable memorial in dedication to Mahatma Gandhi, which couldn’t materialise during his lifetime.

However, with the completion of the Gandhi Memorial Hall in the Silver Jubilee Year of Independence, Lalaji’s family have breathed life into his dream. It was inaugurated in 1973 by Smt. Indira Gandhi, with the idea of serving as a convention centre and melting pot for intellectual and socio-cultural ideas.

Pratibha: A Spectrum of Art is the brainchild of Miss Raakhi Agarwal, fifth generation descendant of Shri Pearey Lal Ji. “Undoubtedly, there is no dearth of quality cultural hubs developing across the city, with out-of-the-box twists to them. But my vision is to revive Pearey Lal Bhawan, and the heritage purpose for which it was established; so that people can remember  the age-old objective that art and culture serve: bringing different ideas, styles and perspectives together, in a way that everyone can find something to call their own,” she explained.

Raakhi with Shri Satish Gupta Ji
Raakhi with Shri Satish Gupta Ji

Two experiences stood out for me yesterday, which I can call my own.

One, was speaking to the youngest participant at the Fair, Miss Ahaana Makkar. When I asked her why she likes to draw/paint, she smiled coyly and answered, “I don’t know, I just like to.” I hope nothing tarnishes Ahaana’s pure intent as she grows in experience as an artist and refines her skills-set! Here’s one of her pieces of artwork:

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The other, was speaking to Mr. Atul Todi about his ‘Finding Buddha’ series. He spoke to me about how ‘finding your Buddha’ is about finding something that makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be something huge, it could be a small, daily action, or the memory of a moment you like to replicate. This resonated with me, because I find aspiring to make a dent in the world is futile, atleast in comparison to doing small things that make big waves.

A personal favourite:

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Pratibha: A Spectrum of Art is on till 9 PM IST tomorrow! (22nd May 2016)

Live Graffiti Wall and quirky umbrella decorations
Live Graffiti Wall and quirky umbrella decorations
Art work by various participants
Art work by various participants

(Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)