Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In the eye of the beholder

Recently, I accompanied my friend, B, to buy a perfume. Now, B is a determined-but-leisurely shopper. Neither snappish salespeople no closing hours can coax her to rush with her shopping. So I didn't immediately brush off the salesgirl who came up to me and asked, 'Madam, are you interested in a free Revlon makeover?'

After confirming that it was indeed free, and seeing that B was not even halfway through the dozen perfumes, I agreed.

The 'free makeover' zone was the teensy space between the counters of two cosmetic brands. The Beauty Advisor (or the politically corrected 'salesgirl') steered me onto the stool and appraised my face. I was sure it resembled a wrung-out towel, since we'd just left office. Her face was impeccably made up of course, to the point of being a little excessive. Violet eye shadow and a matching shade of lipstick tend to stick out a bit.

'We'll start with a Revlon cleanser and a Revlon toner',
she bubbled. A cotton swab with cleanser went over my face, followed by another swab of a melon-scented toner. I could feel my pores tingling.

'Now I'll outline your eyes with the Revlon eyeliner,'
she said. Smart girl, I thought. I used to work on a rival cosmetic brand a few years ago, and we'd always recommended makeovers. Now I was getting to test its efficacy.

'You have nice high cheekbones. Blush-on suits you very well,'
she remarked. The colour on my cheeks was not entirely from the blush.

A lip pencil came next and outlined the contours of my mouth. Meanwhile, B had taken a break from the fragrances and come over to watch me. Her appreciative expression changed when the Beauty Advisor applied a pale lip gloss. I glanced at the mirror quickly. It looked like I'd swallowed a saucer of mercury. No lip gloss, I shook my head. She looked at me thoughtfully and nodded, 'Let's go for a liquid lip colour. Revlon has recently come out with a new product...'

She applied the lip colour and I looked to B for approval. A knot of curious shoppers had gathered and were watching intently.

'Doesn't make up really suit her?' the savvy Advisor asked B.

Another advisor chimed in, 'Your skin is ideal for make up. See how it highlights your eyes.'

One of the shoppers asked, 'Show me the lipstick you've used on her.'

'Not lipstick, this is a liquid lip colour,'
corrected the Advisor.

'Psst.. madam, would you like anything from Maybelline', the advisor who'd chimed in, called out surreptitiously.

I smiled indulgently, seeing right through this whole marketing shtick.

But then I remembered that my eyeliner was almost over. Also, this eye pencil was much better than the one I had at home. And coming to think of it, this bronze liquid eye shadow might come in handy for a dressy evening...

B and I laughed heartily as we exited the store a few minutes later. She was empty handed; I was 700 bucks lighter.

Nothing like a free makeover to perk up an evening.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Help! The teens are taking over

Episode 1: Mind that Doll!

I was flipping through a magazine at work yesterday, waiting for the muse to descend. And that’s when I spotted her.

She looked cool, aloof yet mind-blowing even in a school uniform. Although, if that was a uniform, then the school could only have been, ‘St Lucifer School of Higher Seduction’. The white shirt was missing several vital buttons and the skirt was intriguingly abbreviated. Her pout certainly didn’t convey, ‘Dang! Jasma got more marks than me in History.’

She was Babydoll - the toast of the music video circuit. She was only 18 but her list of achievements was considerably longer than her skirt. She’d bagged a role in an international music video which also featured Beyonce (of Destiny’s Child). But she was to do more than strut her stuff. A trained classical singer, she was to lend vocal talent to the song titled, ‘Simple Things in Life’. Bollywood had been seduced too. She’d signed a film, ‘Daag: Shades of Love’ which was a ‘sensitive love story” in which she had a ‘hardhitting role’.

The part that intrigued me was her reply to the question, ‘What were you doing before your discovery?’

She replied that she was studying Psychology in College and that, ‘Industrial psychology always interested me.’

My eyebrows flew up. Industrial Psychology is about as interesting as watching a remix video featuring Anupam Kher. Of the 6 papers in the BA Psychology, IP was the second most tedious and mind-numbing.

My eyebrows stayed suspended while she explained why Psychology interested her.

‘I think it’s because psychology is all about reading the human mind, it’s about analyzing behaviour. And I’m very judgmental, so I think that’s why I love it.’

Jeez, what was I thinking when I chose to major in Psychology? Ah yes, I thought it would help clear the clutter in my mind…

Episode 2: Hack & Hacker

In the evening, I stopped to browse at the Oxford Book Store. As I walked in, I saw that irksome notice, ‘The Cha Bar will remain closed on account of ….’ I didn’t need to read further. It always meant the same thing – an event featuring a boring, pompous oration by a wannabe author/director/playwright with journos hanging on for trite soundbites.

I hated being deprived of one of the few real indulgences in life – sitting in the Cha Bar, sipping on a Latte and snacking on the armful of books gleaned from the shelves.

I scowled as I passed the agog audience and cast unclean looks at the speaker who was droning about Internet and dotcoms.

I walked off in a huff and as I waited for the guard to hand me my bag, the speaker’s words floated towards my unwilling ears… ‘I want to thank my publishers for speeding up the publicity of the book, when I told them I was returning to the U.S…’

My eyes fell on the notice I’d ignored earlier and my jaw skidded to the floor.

The ‘wannabe author’ was Ankit Fadia, a 19-year old computer hacker who’d just written his third book! Between foiling the attempts of Pakistani hackers to deface Indian websites and tutoring computer experts in the CBI and FBI, he’d sold 80,000 copies of his books. Now, he juggled classes at Stanford University, lectures on corporate network security and book release functions.

Earthlings, needn’t fear a superior alien species taking over the planet. The teens are doing a pretty good job!

Friday, September 10, 2004

The Amazing Tiffin Box: Complete Series

The Amazing Tiffin Box I: Save Our Stomach

The Amazing Tiffin Box II: The Interview

The Amazing Tiffin Box III: Despatches from S.A.S.S

The Amazing Tiffin Box III: Despatches from S.A.S.S*

*Streehitavardhini Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan.

Continued from The Amazing Tiffin Box I: Save Our Stomach and The Amazing Tiffin Box II: The Interview

* Green Tea (with honey, no milk)
* Apple –1
* Sweet Lime - 1
* Grapes – 1 bunch
* Bananas – 2

That was *breakfast* on Day 1 of my newest attempt to beat IBS. Between 6:30 a.m and 12 noon, each time my yet-unsuspecting stomach emitted a ravenous growl, I pulled out a Tupperware container and started munching. But I still felt peculiarly empty. I checked my watch with increasing frequency as lunchtime approached.

Lunch started off with another Tupperware tiffin filled with salad, followed by rice, dal and steamed vegetables. Nuts and dryfruits replaced the canteen teatime snack. And ignoring the tendency to dawdle, I raced home to dinner at 8.

That night, I wrote in my diary, ‘Day 1 – still alive.’


By Day 5, things changed. I wasn’t just alive. I felt good!

Since my attention was focused on co-ordinating all those Tupperware containers, it took a while before I realized that the gripes had eased. The fires of hell burnt less brightly. And my waking thoughts weren’t of gloom and doom.

But two years of trying out iffy remedies unsuccessfully can’t be obliterated. Where allopathy, homoeopathy and ayurveda had proved feeble, how could a crazy diet which contradicted popular beliefs, succeed. And that too, in just a few days?

So I reined in the optimism and continued hauling my mini-army of Tupperware. Contrary to my initial concern that I would find this diet oppressive, I actually began to appreciate the discipline it brought in my life.

Two weeks later, I danced up the stairs of the Health Awareness Centre and almost hugged Pink Lady. I couldn’t wait to tell her how I was a new person – inside out.

She smiled and thrust a 3 page review form in my hand, ‘Fill this form first.’

Later, we talked about my improvement and she suggested minor changes. For instance, she said it was ok to eat white meats but to avoid cereals and meat at the same meal.

Finally, we got around to the tiffin. She said she would start it from the following week. I danced all the way back to the office.


The tiffin arrived… and brought with it our daily dose of lunchtime entertainment.

Work stopped in the department and colleagues pushed their tiffins aside to make way for The Amazing Tiffin Box. The air would be taut with greedy anticipation as I pulled out the wire frame with the four tiffins…

“Beetroot cutlets with mint chutney!!”

“Sprouts in tamarind sauce!”

“Tomatoes stuffed with american corn!”

“Steamed dumplings in peanut sauce!!”

Wasn’t health food supposed to be bland and boring, colleagues drooled enviously. If the creative rendition of ordinary vegetables and cereals whetted everyone’s appetite, the flavour had them in raptures. Quite a feat actually, when you consider the meager use of spices and the complete absence of oil, salt and sugar. (Lemon and tamarind replaced salt, jaggery substituted refined sugar.)

I thought I’d gotten used to their precision and attention to detail. Until they sent me Burmese Khao Suey one day! Now, Khao Suey is essentially noodles in a broth (non-veg mostly), served with a variety of garnishes. The Amazing Tiffin Box turned out the following…

Tiffin 1 - rice noodles
Tiffin 2 – broth(veg, of course)
Tiffin 3 – four different garnishes ranging from crushed peanuts to springs onions
Tiffin 4 – A flyer with a short history of Burmese Khau Suey, how to mix all the ingredients and the nutritional benefits of the meal.

Lunch wasn’t just lunch anymore. It was a culinary adventure! Once in every couple of weeks there’d be a printed leaflet tucked into the tiffin detailing the Centre’s philosophy on different foods - ‘Why Meat is not for us’, ‘Shake the salt habit’, ‘Soft drinks: hard on the body’. There was a detailed explanation too on the ‘water theory’. Since the diet recommended a good amount of juices, fresh fruit and vegetables which have over 70% water content, one didn’t need to drown ones insides with 16 glasses of water. (All of you, who swear by water therapy, take this with a pinch of organic salt substitute.)

I relished the food, of course. But more than that, I was floored by the passion which went into the preparation and presentation of the meal. Now, I could appreciate the song and dance over an interview. Because of the effort required, they couldn’t supply more than 200 tiffins at a time, and quite often there was a ‘waiting list’. (I was surprised at having missed that impediment!)

There was another quirk – no tiffin during the month of May. I’ve heard of two reasons. One, was an annual vacation cum rejuvenation for their entire staff and two, fresh food spoiled easily at the height of summer. From all that I’d come to know of Streehitavardhini Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan (that’s what I wrote on the cheque each month), it just seemed like the thing they’d do to uphold their standards.

The Amazing Tiffin Box satiated, entertained and restored me for over a year and a half. I stopped it six months ago for several reasons, prominent among them being, I didn’t want to get too used to a good thing. IBS has long been history, but I continue to follow the schedule and the broad guidelines.

On some days, when the food at the ‘Less Oily and Spicy’ counter in my office canteen is egregious (‘The sprouts are too hard’… ‘the vegetables are overcooked’… ‘what’s THAT in the rice’…) I think fondly of The Amazing Tiffin Box and wonder what delightful surprises it might have held...

P.S. For all you IBS-afflicted out here, hope you won't go by the info on this post. Try this instead.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Amazing Tiffin Box II: The Interview

Continued from The Amazing Tiffin Box I: Save our Stomach

Look out for the ‘hand’, I was told.

My cab pulled up in front of the Congress office at Dadar, with a large mural of the party symbol. Adjacent to it, was a nondescript two-storey building with a tiny board over the entrance, ‘The Health Awareness Centre’.

I entered a small room, which led to a spiral staircase on the right and opened out into a large kitchen on the left. A dozen or more workers in smocks and caps were filling row after row of shiny tiffins. With anticipation mounting, I climbed the staircase.

The room at the top was bright and airy. There a few low tables and wicker stools arranged around them. Potted plants and wooden bookcases lined the walls. Pithy quotes on health also dotted the room. It didn’t seem like a formidable setting for an ‘interview’.

'Can I help you?',
a petite, bespectacled woman in a pink salwar, asked me.

'I'm here for the interview', I stammered.

She disappeared into another small room and came back with a 6-page form.

"Here fill this first", she said.

Either this was an endurance test or they were trying to dissuade me from getting the tiffin. Whatever the case, I decided they’d have to try harder. I sat down on a wicker stool and started filling the form, detailing my medical, mental and emotional history. A small ball of fear began forming in my afflicted gut. The thoroughness of the investigation made me suspect that I was in for a major overhaul.

I handed over the completed form to her. She looked at the form and then peered at me over her glasses, ‘So tell me, what’s the problem?’

That was my cue to spew. Two years worth of gut-wrenching tales poured out.

She nodded grimly and said, ‘Hmm… I see the problem. But you’ve to be prepared for drastic changes.’

I nodded anxiously.

(A note before I proceed: The following stunts have been performed by an ahem.. expert. Please don’t try them without prior consultation with a nutritionist.)

'You eat a heavy breakfast?’,
she asked

I nodded.

'That's got to stop. Eat only fruits until noon.'

This went quite contrary to the ‘breakfast like a king’ idiom I’d grown up with, but I continued nodding.

'You consume milk and milk products?’, she continued

I nodded.

'That has to stop. Your body doesn’t need it and it interferes with your digestion.’

I’d dismissed lactose intolerance as a new age fad. In fact, I was sold on the ‘Doodh doodh’ commercial on TV. But she gave me a slew of reasons why milk was anathema.

'How much water do you drink?’
she asked

3-4 litres a day, I said, sure that this would earn me merit.

'It's too much. You don’t need more than 2-3 glasses.'

Now, this was too much for me. Everyone concurred when it came to water – that you could never get enough of it. For the first time I was being told it was straining my kidneys.

She systematically eliminated foods from my diet - non-veg, alcohol, sugar, foods with refined flour, oily food, even wheat products. I saw my social life wither with her injunction to eat dinner latest by 7.30.

What CAN I eat, I asked, feeling weak and malnourished.

Plenty, she said enthusiastically. All fruits, all vegetables, sprouts, dry fruits, juices, unpolished grain, green tea…

Whee! I thought cheerlessly.

She gave me a detailed explanation of the body’s functioning and how to maximise energy. She wrote down a chart of what I should eat and when. And she wrote down a long list of donts, underlining the key words, just in case I missed them.

I didn’t mind following this eccentric diet (she made very convincing points and I was too weak to protest.) But what worried me was the logistics of carting all those fruits, vegetables and dryfruit to work.

Suddenly, I remembered the real reason why I was here. The tiffin! I asked her when she’d start me on the tiffin.

She thought for a moment and said, 'Start this routine and I’ll check your improvement in two weeks time. Then, we’ll talk about the tiffin.’

I staggered out of The Health Awareness Centre clutching my diet chart and nutrition primer. Not getting the tiffin was bad enough. But now, all my ideas of nutrition were turned on their head. I didn’t think I could even drink a glass of water now without worrying about my kidneys.

That evening, I went and bought out the neighbourhood grocer. My mother shrieked when she saw the mountain of fruits and vegetable in the fridge. But I was determined.

Two weeks, she said. Let’s try this for two weeks then.

Part III – Despatches from Streehitavardhini Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan