Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Unexpected Joy

The other day, I chanced upon Atreya's to-do list that he must have made before he left for Taiwan. Among several must do items like getting specs fixed and mailing universities was this- Play board games with Aloka. This 19-year old young man thinks of and plans for spending time with his little sister even when busy with hundred things.

Yesterday, Aloka came to me and said she was feeling very sad because when Atreya had made her a drawing, she had said she did not like it. Atreya left for Taiwan last week, so this incident must have happened at least a week ago. I don't know what triggered the memory, but my little girl looked really pained by how she had behaved with her brother and wanted to say sorry to him. The fact that he is unreachable by phone for another three days made her feel worse.

The love between this brother and sister is strange and unique and ever evolving. It fills my heart with unexpected joy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Daimoku is key!

Went for morning gongyo and prayed on this 47th birthday of mine for the power that comes from pure faith, for that spark that has dimmed, and determined firmly to get it back.

On my way out, met Yvonne, my young NDP participant from 2009, who has been battling colon cancer for some time. I had visited her house a few months ago and chanted with a group of people for her health. Her two young boys were playing noisily amidst the loud chanting, while Aloka napped on the sofa. Yvonne had looked pale, drawn and scared that day and my heart broke just looking at her.

When she saw me today, she gave me a bright smile and said "Have you heard my news? I am cancer free! Never stop chanting. Daimoku is most important. Daimoku is key!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Lasagna

One of our weekend staples. I cook lasagna at least once a month. It is one of the dishes that requires little skill, but LOTS of effort, especially since I make the sauce from scratch.

The first few times I made lasagna, I messed up a lot. Many times, I overcooked the dish in the oven- believe me dried out lasagna is heartbreaking after all the effort you have put in it. Even quantity was an issue- sometimes I would have too little sauce, sometimes too much. Over the last year, I have nearly perfected it by eliminating one problem after another. Now I get it right almost every time.

Tomato, onions, leek, capsicum, carrots, and minced meat sauce- I cooked this one for over 40 minutes to get the right texture and taste-should be almost velvety and the veges should be soft

Bechamel sauce: butter, flour, milk, salt, cheese

Lasagna sheets

Started with meat sauce at the base

Top with lasagna sheets 

Generous helping of bechamel sauce for this layer to avoid drying out

Top with lasagna sheet and lots of meat sauce on top of it

After a couple of more alternate red and white layers, finally, the top layer with bechamel sauce and cheese

This is my new trick- I cook with the foil on top to prevent the top sheet from drying out. I cook for 20 minutes at 180  degrees, then take the foil off and cook at 200 degrees for 10 minutes or until the color looks right. 

The most delicious looking lasagna

Well cooked and not dried out

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mastering the Mix

A few years ago, I was describing my then team to a potential customer/business partner. I took pains to highlight that the team consisted of veterans in ID and graphics design and as a result, we avoided the common pitfalls and gained on productivity. To me, this differentiated our company from other larger competitors in India. The customer/partner didn't look impressed at all and remarked that his company only hired fresh talent because they were so much more creative. Honestly, for a moment I felt dowdy.

The business partnership never took off, but his remark stayed with me for a long time. Over the years, I figured out something about e-learning development teams- for a team to flourish, you need a bit of this and a bit of that.

You need the experienced folks because you don't want to reinvent the wheel each time. If developing training for, say, a software application, there are only so many ways to do it effectively. If a person who has never done it before creates it, the output is wasteful and never as good as it should be, however creative that person may be. That single person's creativity across one project just can't compete with ideas implemented and fine-tuned over years by thousands of people. I have seen this first hand 10 years ago and then again recently.

Experienced people usually have a repository of tools and templates to fall back on. But there's a problem even here. They are quick to jump to conclusions and solutions, without looking at a particular situation deeply. For this reason, you also need rookies who are not yet molded into a set style. Rookies, who lack these tools, struggle a lot more, but are more likely to experiment and try out new ideas. They see things with a fresh pair of eyes. The end result is likewise refreshing. I have experienced this first hand too a few times, most recently when I worked with a creative young designer on a module teaching voice commands to cadets.

Sounds simplistic and obvious no? On paper yes, but in reality, the challenge in building and sustaining such a mixed team is in the dynamics of the team on the ground. Are they able to work together, contributing the best they have, or are they busy putting each other down? Are rookies learning from the past experiences where needed or repeating the mistakes arrogantly? Are the experienced folks allowing the rookies to experiment and valuing their new insights? Or are they busy trying to mold them into the  familiar?

It is precisely because it is so hard to make such a team work effectively that organizations tend to be of one or the other type. But when you master the mix, magic is possible.

(Image from: http://www.vectorfree.com/paint-explosion)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Perfect Baked Potatoes

This is so simple to make and so tasty. No special ingredients needed either. Point to note: you may have eaten baked potatoes at restaurants where they came wrapped in tin foil. That's more like steamed potatoes, not baked. Baked potatoes are baked directly in an oven.

  • Select even sized potatoes. Recipes talk of russet potatoes, but honestly I buy what I get and for this one, I used whatever I had at home. 
  • Wash and clean the potatoes very thoroughly. You will be eating the skin, so it had better be super clean. 
  • Make 3-4 gashes in each potato. I went quite deep. Don't forget to do this, else the potatoes will burst. 
  • Coat them with olive oil and salt. 
  • Preheat oven at the highest (mine goes up to 240 degrees C)
  • Place the potatoes on the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Note: No tin foil please. 
  • Place a tray (or something) below the rack to catch the juices that might drip from the potatoes. 
  • Set the timer to 50 minutes and go do something else.
  • Around 20 minutes into the roasting, the potaoes will still look the same. Turn them over to cook them evenly. 
  • At around 40 minutes, the skin will look a little wrinkly. Perhaps a deeper color too. 
  • Use your tongs to feel the potatoes. If the feel soft, they may be done. I took a knife and put it through the potatoes to check them. Mine were done at 50 minutes.

Place the potatoes on a plate. Cut them in half. Add some butter or cream (or both), and salt and pepper. Enjoy!
My little girl loved them so much she won't let anyone else eat them.

Recipe from: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/PotatoBaking.htm

Saturday, October 6, 2012


As I get set to make my move, I find myself thinking about the meaning of modernism. Is modernism about disconnecting people from the land? Is it's goal to make each village a city? Is that the only way forward? Is progress linked to consumerism? Is seeking a simple life regression? Is poverty inherent in a simple life? Can a simple life be prosperous? What does prosperity mean for a village? 

My Eyes Are Universe

(Written in 1996)

My eyes are Universe
All truths laid bare,
So don't call them secrets
The things I couldn't talk about.

My heart is Universe
Source of infinite emotions,
Don't call me insensitive
If my eyes are dry, and my smiles guarded.

My dreams are Universe
They join me with you in impossible unions
So don't believe I am indifferent
Just because I won't look in your eyes with abandon.

My love is Universe
Fills my cells with its bitter sweetness
Don't doubt its existence
If it remains unproclaimed and unacknowledged. 

I wasn't betrayed!

(An old poem- written in 1990)

Go there
Where the sound of your laughter
doesn't reach my ears.
Where, even if you don't call
I can say
He called, but I couldn't hear
He called
He called!

Go there
Where, my tears dry
well before they are sighted
by your cruel eyes.
Where I can find my way
Without you holding my hand
If only I could live
If only I could live!

Go there
Where I can live
without your thought
or your longing
Where, even in the face of such treachery
I can say he was faithful
I wasn't betrayed
I wasn't betrayed! 

The Messed up Messiah

Leave me to myself
My faults, my mistakes, my ingratitude
The door once open is now closed
So now when you enter, you intrude.

I have spoken long and loud
All but what you want to hear
"Save me, elevate me, give me a hand...
I am the fallen one, and thou my savior!"

How hard you try, I appreciate
To see this sinner's confessions made
Now it's time to play the Messiah
The lesser roles having all been played.

But see, how young I still am
To falter and fall is yet my right
I have what you long exhausted
Youth and hope are on my side.

And listen, I would have surely bowed in reverence
and followed you in faith that is blind
If you were half the God that I perceive
If you were half as good, or half as kind. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Evanescent Heaven

Three of us lying in bed. Atreya on my side of the bed. Aloka on her side playing with her play dough. My head resting on a pillow placed on Atreya's feet. Talking about a hundred things ranging from the Brunei jungle episodes, to my future plans in DS, RS's house, family, food and Buddhism, with Aloka piping in every now and then with her school-related stories.

This is what life is. This is why life is. This is worth everything that comes with it. I am so grateful for these blessings, and so sorry for not remembering them when I am busy stressing over some minor issue.