14 Aug 2012

The purpose of chance

I have been meaning to write this series for a long time. It is about those individuals, in no particular order, who have come into my life by chance, left an indelible impression in my heart, touched my soul and, by god, did I thank my stars that they did. 

I rewind my memories to my days as a senior registrar at the leading cancer hospital in Mumbai. It was one of those hectic days in the operating rooms and I was shuttling from one case to the other. Sometimes, as strange as it may sound, we never get introduced to new recruits in the department until we bump into them inside an operating room. I was called in to assist at an anesthesia procedure. And there was this petite lady helping me through the process. At first glance she looked to be a fresher who has just finished her exams. And I was showing her the ropes! The case completed successfully and patient wheeled into recovery. In the ladies changing room, we met again. This time, she was dashing out the door so that she could reach her home in Colaba to spend time with her daughter. My jaws dropped when this simple and petite woman disclosed to me in that fleeting moment that she was a mother of a teenage daughter!

The next day, I walked back into the operating theatre and we chatted a bit. She had graduated out of Chennai too. That gave us some common ground as we discussed Chennai. She told me that she has been moving places every 3-4 years since her husband worked for the Armed Forces. And this is how life had brought her to Mumbai.  Experiencing cultures, cities and, generally, taking life as it comes had become her way of life, she informed me.  

Soon our meetings moved from the busy operating room to lunch time breaks with our own tiffin boxes in the ladies common room. It brought me back to childhood and school days when one is always eager to eat out of  a friends dabba (slang for tiffin box).Somehow, those dabba friends always remained so close to one's heart! Of course, the conversation quickly moved to Indian politics, helpers at home, Mumbai monsoons, her daughters yachting experiences, difficult cases we encountered during surgery and intensive care and life! This was a far cry from school days when we used to talk about our teachers and other friends. Since I studied in an all girls school, boys in the neighbourhood always were discussed !!

My friend and, by now, soul sister was also always up to date with most of the fascinating events happening around in the city. Music, dance, book exhibitions and theatre. One day she brought me a book to read. She insisted that I start reading it the very same day  as soon as I reach home. The book was titled "It's not about the bike" by Lance Armstrong. 

It was at this very moment, without any realization, I embarked on a beautiful journey. 'Running' had entered my life. The very next day, I stepped out of my home, dusted off and laced my sports shoes to take the first baby steps in running. 

She also registered me to run the dream run (7 kms) in Mumbai while she went about training for her first half marathon. By now, our discussions during lunch time was completely about training, shoes, nutrition and fitness.

As in life, time rolled by. And, in a blink, years had passed. She had completed a hospital management program. I had completed my postgraduate degree and worked as a consultant at the hospital. One day, we moved places and parted ways. 

It was almost 4 years since we communicated. One quiet winter afternoon as I was watching my first ever snowfall outside the windows, I fondly remembered my good friend and sent her an email. However, the email failed to deliver. Many subsequent attempts to reach her failed and I thought that I had lost her forever? 

As luck would have it, I chanced upon her husbands email due to his deputation  for work at the Indian embassy in foreign lands. I took a chance and sent him an email, telling him that I was hoping to reconnect with a long lost soul sister and good friend. The very next day, I received an answer from her. And we swore then that we will stay connected. We started from where we had left off last - chatting about good times.

There are many days when I remember the fun times we have had. Distance does make the heart grow fonder. This, I guess, is true of any relationship. Especially those with  very close friends. Now, when we meet up on my annual visits to India, over a cup of coffee, we still pick up from where we left. And this is such a beautiful feeling.

She has trekked the arduous Mt Kailash Manasarovar and shared a lot about the awakening of her soul amidst the Himalayan ranges and living the moment. She also talked to me about a non profit organisation called Isha Foundation http://www.ishafoundation.org/ that she volunteers for. She also shared a thing or two about "Inner Engineering". Like always, I continue to listen with an eager ear.

Today is more richer for me because Shanthi continues to be a close friend that she is. To quote her words to me one day "Life is beautiful because of the experiences that our friends bring in to our lives". All that I can say is I am blessed that she walked into mine.

Who is your Shanthi ?

12 Aug 2012

Recipe 2: Quinoa PowerPuff - My experiments with pots and pans

For a vegetarian, I have always wondered whether I get enough protein in my food to help repair and restore my muscles after  intense workouts, especially long distance running. This quest for a healthy, nutritious and complete protein diet got me searching for various grains, which I chanced upon in an health food and organic store in Hong Kong. 

Here I discovered many products like Quinoa, Amaranth, Buckwheat, Millets and wholewheat couscous to name a few. I followed this up with a quick search on its nutritional benefits. And voila! most of them were high fibre (good for those on weight loss goals and to keep unhealthy fat at bay!) and a great package of essential amino acids (the things from which protein is synthesised) and minerals like magnesium (which helps ease muscle cramps). 

Obviously. I added them to my grocery list. I was also tempted to make my own version of these grains to tickle my Indian taste buds, rather than just follow international recipes. Chef Priya's recipes also mean it is about quick cooking with least effort. No grinding, no pastes, just throwing in some spices and curry powder. 

Here is my own version of Quinoa with lentils and vegetables. This is best served with mint/ corriander yogurt chutney! I call it Quinoa PowerPuff. My personal experience - Its fingerlickicious and a power food! 


Quinoa PowerPuff

Ingredients

GRAIN AND PULSES
Quinoa - 100mg

Brown Lentils - Half can of Westbrae Natural Organic (useful as it is precooked and canned). Alternatively, use one from your local grocer (200gms) washed well, soaked and steamed!


VEGETABLES
Garlic - 2 small pods chopped fine
Ginger - Small piece chopped fine
Onion - 1 large red, chopped fine
Tomato - 1 big red, chopped fine
Mixed vegetables (green peas, carrots, corn) - 100 gms
Green chilli - 1 chopped fine

SEASONING AND CONDIMENTS
Extra virgin olive oil - 2 teaspoon
Cumin seeds - 1 teaspoon
Coriander leaves - For garnish, chopped fine
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tablespoon
Dry mango powder (Amchur powder) - 1 teaspoon
Chana masala or Rajma masala powder - 2 teaspoon (less if you prefer less spicy)
Salt- 1/2 teaspoon. Remember that  precooked canned lentils already contains some sea salt so its always better to add less, taste and then add, if required!


Procedure


Quinoa - Wash quinoa well using a strainer (tip - I use a tea strainer for this). Read here on why it is important to wash quinoa well. Add 2 cups (200ml) water and cook on stove with uncovered lid. Stir intermittently. After 10 minutes when the quinoa boils up, turn off the stove and just cover with a lid. Quinoa absorbs water and swells and become fluffy. Quite delightful to see!

Lentils in vegetables mixture - In a pan (kadhai), add 2 teaspoon extra virgin Olive Oil and throw in the cumin seeds. When they splatter, add chopped garlic, ginger, chillies, onions and sautee till they turn brown (I love this aroma). 

Then add the diced tomato, mixed vegetables, and cooked lentils, turmeric powder, amchur powder and chana masala powder and salt, in no particular order. Simmer on low heat till well cooked by adding a bit of water (not too much water, or else it will become soupy).  

Once done, add the fluffy quinoa and stir well. Garnish with  fresh green corriander.

Mint and coriander yogurt chutney - Fresh mint leaves cleaned and destalked (a handful), fresh coriander leaves (a handful), 2 green chillies (small), a small piece of chopped ginger, salt (to taste), raw cane sugar (1 teaspoon). Grind all of the above in a mixer and add fresh low fat yogurt to the above. You can add a bit more salt later once mixed if needed.

Nutrition

Quinoa - In a nutshell, Quinoa is a powerhouse of fibre, protein and essential  vitamins,minerals. More on its goodness read here http://www.livestrong.com/article/385384-quinoa-nutrition-analysis/

Lentils - High in Fiber, Cholesterol and Fat Free Food and a Good Source of Iron

2 Aug 2012

Hitting rock bottom, the glorious resuscitation and my life along the way.....

“It's not how many times you get knocked down that counts, it's how many times you get back up.” George A Custer

Today I have decided to pen about my comeback and rediscovering the 'joy' of Running.  

As quietly as running breezed into my day to day life bringing along  with it a new beginning and a freshness, so did it one day in  June of 2006  breeze out of my life too. Alongside running, there was a lot happening for me professionally and personally. I went to Canada for a year to pursue my fellowship dream. A long distance marriage sprinkled with adaptation to a new life /culture/work environment threw my running completely out of focus. I had fallen off the wagon and out of track. Whenever I found some time in the midst of daily hustle and bustle, I would hit the gym in my building for some cross training. Forget races, there was no serious running for almost more than a year and a half!!


After I returned back to Mumbai at the end of 2007, I was again surrounded by news and discussions about the marathon. This made me decide that it was time to revive and transplant that vital organ which was chopped off my body. It was time to pick all the pieces and put it together and rebuild it all back. 


I enrolled for the Mumbai half marathon. This time, I attached a purpose to it, running for "Bombay Psychiatric Society", thanks to a good friend at my workplace. I always felt that attaching a meaning to this madness of running (as many call it)  will make the pounding of the tracks and the training well worth it!


To cut a long story short, I successfully completed the Mumbai half marathon. 


But, yet again, life took a different course. We moved to SE asia. Another new beginnings in Hong Kong and again running was out of my radar for almost 2 years until late 2009! There are moments of quiet and solitude in life when one gets a lot of time to tap their "inner self". Such a moment happened to me while sipping a cup of tea watching the sunset one day. I was walking down memory lane, all by myself, lost in my thoughts when suddenly my eyes lit and I sprang up with joy! 


Anyone who had seen my face light up at that moment would have thought, it resembles a little girl who had just discovered something  she had loved so much and lost. I remembered in my head all the joyous moments of pounding the pavements of Mumbai and those "me" times feeling the breeze in my hair and just "being" there. I frantically started searching for various running groups, buddies, places to run and races to register around this new place we had just made our home.

It was bloody tough, let me tell you, restarting everything from scratch. I had gained almost twelve kilos of extra body weight and every single step was a killer.  Carol Welch once famously put it very simply, yet beautifully "Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional and mental states". 


I decided consciously to link up with people who have overcome mental barriers and successfully accomplished endurance tasks they set out for themselves. I surrounded myself with people who sowed seeds of positivity every single day. And this helped me pluck out the negative weeds from within. 


Every day was competition within myself and the best part about running was, I did not have to compete with anybody else. I decided to adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating right and getting on a regular fitness routine. I also enrolled in as many races that I could only to instill a sense of disciplined training. 

On each morning run, I cleared many cobwebs out of my mind and dug deep within my own soul for answers to many complicated questions. Running was also a wonderful platform to build and nurture lifelong camaraderie. 

I also connected with various running groups like Dailymile, Runner Girls India, Comrades India group, HK runners, Running and Living Gurgaon, Bangalore runners,Mumbai runners, Visually impaired runners in Hong Kong to name a handful. The internet is such a wonderful tool to stay connected with such achievers. As they say, there are no such thing as strangers only friends,I felt blessed to connect with many friends in the virtual world and even nicer to meet many of them face to face in the real world at the races. 


Around this time, along with my sister Indu, we started a school based running program called "Striding Flamingos". We started this initiative in Hyderabad to assist pre- teen girls discover themselves and run a 5K at the end of the 8week program. It was a roaring success. 


Slowly but steadily, one step at a time, I successfully saw the finish lines of 3 full marathons across Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong. I ran them for various charitable causes. For me all that mattered about these races was as always the "Journey". I did not care about finish times. I just wanted to be there in the very moment, soak in all the experience, the sheer thrill, joy and the ecstasy of fulfilling something which, at some point in time felt like climbing Mt Everest! 


A special mention to my family particularly my soul mate, parents, elder sister and multitude of friends who stood by me every step of the way. I had embarked once again on the beautiful path and I know surely and with utmost conviction that from now on I will stay on this path for a lifetime!

To sum it all up as Federico Fellini once said " There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life”!

1 Aug 2012

Diva's Kitchen - Experiments with pots and pans

In my quest for nutritious meals within 30 minutes, I have been experimenting lately with various grains like millets, amaranth, quinoa, barley, oats and cooking them Indian style! At around the same time, I was also inspired to take up this adventure by "Runner girl in the kitchen" our culinary expert at Runner Girls India.


Today, I am sharing a simple recipe with a fancy name "Millets Pilaf". It has become quite a hit at our dining table.


Millets Pilaf for two people 


Ingredients


Hulled millets - 1 cup (75gms) I use Bobs Red Mill brand since it doesn't need much soaking.  
Extra virgin olive oil - 2 teaspoons  
Cumin seeds - 1/2 teaspoon 
Onions - finely chopped  ( half a big red one)
Green chillies finely chopped ( 1-2 depending on their size and how spicy one may want :-))
Garlic ( 2 pods ) finely chopped
Ginger ( half teaspoon finely chopped)
Tomato (one finely chopped)
Yellow or red bell pepper ( one finely chopped)
Zuchinni ( one finely chopped)
Chick peas - precooked (100 gms)
Salt - one teaspoon
Turmeric powder - one teaspoon
MTR rajma masala powder- one teaspoon


Optional - According to your tastes, you can also add 100 grams of any mixed vegetable of your liking - green peas, corn, carrots


Method


Soak the hulled millets in one small cup (about 100 ml) of water for 5 minutes. Add another 100 ml of water to it and boil in a pot without a lid for around 15 minutes low to medium flame. Take care to stir them occasionally so that they do not coagulate and cake up. After 15 minutes, turn off the flame and cover with a lid for 5 minutes. Millets soak the water to swell up and become fluffy.


Separately, in a heated pan (Kadai), add olive oil and cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds splutter and become  deep brown, add the onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies. 


When the onion turns golden brown, add the tomatoes, bell peppers, zuchinni and precooked chick peas, mixed vegetables and sautee them. Add turmeric powder, rajma masala powder and salt.


To the above sauteed veggies, mix the fluffy cooked millets and stir nicely. Garnish with finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with mint coriander low fat yogurt chutney or plain low fat yogurt.


Serve with lots of love.


Preparation time: Approximately 30 minutes


Nutritional value:  Millets are gluten free, whole grains high in fibre and nutrition. For knowing about the goodness of this grain, you can read more here. Overall, Millets Pilaf is a good blend of protein, complex carbohydrate and minerals, and the fantastic bonus - it is low on calories (approx. 300 calories per meal)


Keep coming back here to read about more such adventures. Till the next time, ciao.

9 Feb 2012

A full marathon since transitioning to barefeet/minimalistic footwear in "Monkey Feet"- Vibram Five Fingers

Successfully completed what is labelled as the toughest marathon in Asia, the Hong Kong Standard Chartered full marathon on february 5, 2012. The new and tougher route was introduced since 2010.The main race started off from Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui at 7:15 am. As runners we passed through some of Hong Kong's iconic infrastructure, including the West Kowloon Expressway, Stonecutters Bridge, Tsing Ma Bridge, Ting Kau Bridge and Western Harbour Tunnel, before finishing at Victoria Park. The 3 suspension bridges  with steep inclines(stonecutters, Tsing Ma and Ting Kau one after the other until almost the halfway mark!)  and followed by 2 major tunnels ( Cheung Tsing and the Western Harbour) with steep ascent at around 25 kms and 33 kms mark.After exiting the tunnel,  I cramped badly( just wanted to quit!!). The only positive was we crossed freely both the tunnels without paying toll :).This was soon followed by 2 flyovers towards the finish ( connaught road and admiralty). Boy oh boy! this sure was a killer! The organisation was very good with drink station (water and isotonic) at every 5 kms and then bananas and chocolates after 25 kms which was almost exhausted by some fast FM runners(however my friend managed to get hold of one chocolate bar and kept it with her and surprised me when we finished our journey and this was one of the sweetest cadbury dairy milk I have till date tasted!). Medical aid stations had abundant sprays and ointments for cramps and also ambulance ready to handle any untoward emergencies. What was lacking was crowd cheer and support to lift our spirits and pull us through along the way, especially at those claustrophobic tunnels when one is desperately looking for the ray of light!. We limped and walked through the whole course of the almost 4 kms long Western Harbour tunnel.Many of my "guide runner" friends who were running with visually impaired runners provided the most needed inspiration all through the darkest point in the course and we followed them one step at a time. It was clearly a victory of mind over body here! and a wonderful feeling to enjoy and successfully complete another beautiful and tough journey and see the finish line hand in hand with my soul/sole sis Deepa Natarajan and even happier when a volunteer put the medal around our neck ( like we had won a battle ;-)). As for the time I know it will only get better in future from 5hrs and 37 minutes!!. Both of us ran for the first time a FM course with minimalistic footwear ( VFFs), since one year of transitioning to run minimalistic/barefeet.I ran this for the cause of "seeing is believing" an organisation which tackles avoidable blindness.  Will I recommend this marathon to my running friends? Yes, only if you are a serious runner and very well trained. Not the best for a first timer. For those who are looking forward to more challenging ones? Yes, this is it!

Did I see light at the end of a tunnel or around me?

Volunteering as a guide runner for the visually impaired runners at the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association

In february 2010, I attempted my first full marathon at standard chartered Hong Kong. I did not know why I wanted to do it? Maybe a comeback from a long hiatus of not running ? Or did I just want to challenge my innerself?  Or would this be a life defining moment? As they say there are many instances during the 42.195 kms long journey when the tug of war between mind and body occurs. My run buddy Deepa and me had trained well, but what we were unprepared for was the intensity of the hills along the way. The course in 2010 had changed to what was recorded as the toughest route with major bridges ( stonecutters, Tsing Ma, Ting Kau) tunnels (Nam Wan , Cheung Tsing and the killer Western Harbour )  and flyovers (Connaught Road West , Marsh Road ). When we entered the notorious Western harbour tunnel, both of us hit “the wall” at around 32-33kms!. This tunnel is very long and lack of natural light and a feeling of claustrophobia set in – I asked myself, why am I doing this? My legs became heavy. Each movement of my limbs was painful, I had developed severe side stitches on my abdomen.Many runners had stopped, some were cramping badly, some had thrown up and lay on the sides, there was no water station along the tunnel and I had just sipped the last drop from my bottle- blissful, sweet and divine nectar tasted heavenly at that point! the bus to pick up the slow runners was just lingering along behind us.I immediately got into a run walk routine and looked right ahead and was hoping to see the light soon at the end!

Suddenly I noticed a few runners tagged on to a co-runner and charging along the course…they were saying “ Kai Ho! Kai Ho!”(  in Cantonese which meant- "keep going"). I noticed that they were visually impaired and were being guided by another runner with a tag and they were running really fast. Here I was searching for light at the end of that tunnel when the positive vibrations were all around me, encouraging and helped me finish that difficult stretch very strongly.It was such a humbling experience, words fail to express the emotions which I experienced at that point and how thankful I was to each them. The race finished. I got back into my routine. A year had passed. One fine day 3 months ago, through my friend, I was introduced to this awesome group of people. I volunteer with the group now as a guide runner on Tuesdays and Thursday evening at a local sports ground. Such a wonderful bunch of inspiring, dedicated and fun people to be around with .I enjoy participating in races with them.I learn a lot about putting others before self .I am happy and blessed to be a member of this beautiful family and thank god everyday for bringing them into my life.Its always nice to run for a cause and for someone else. It makes the "running" so much more worth it!

As I said before and I again repeat it “Some people come into your life by chance and for a reason, and then you thank god that they did”. The first full marathon was indeed a life changing experience for me personally.