Thursday, January 22, 2015

When in doubt, gojju!

We Kannadigas are ardent "gojju" experts. 
"Gojju" is a difficult word to translate because it's actually an entire universe where hundreds of recipes have lived and flourished for centuries and the only thing in common between them is a spicy, usually sour thick gravy. (Some linguistics suggest that this word existed over 2 milleniums ago and then it meant a "mess of boiled fruit". Well, in Karnataka, we make a delicious, I mean gojju of even pineapple!)
 Of all the gojjus that regularly appear in the Rajaiah dining table, this sweet and sour one made with karela (bitter gourd in English, haggalkai in Kannada) is an all time favourite. Roasting the karela before making it into the gojju gives it a very subtle but very delicious smokiness.
Karela - along with many other healthy-but-yucky vegetables like lauki, tinda etc - is much reviled. But cooked right, it can be unusually delicious. 
Did anyone ask - how healthy? Well, the bitter gourd is bitter for a very good reason – it is signal of the presence of phytochemicals, a very important group of disease-fighting plant chemicals currently hailed by an ecstatic nutrition-medical community in the West as the supernovas of healthy eating because of the immense arsenal that they pack to both prevent and fight against an awesome gamut of diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several common cancers.

It is also used by many ancient systems of medicine - including Ayurveda - to help treat diabetes.  

So, onwards karela gojju! Enjoy!

¼ kg karela (remove centre of seeds etc thoroughly and diced into small pieces)
Tamarind, the size of a small lemon (soak in hot water for about 10 mins n extract thick juice)
½ cup jaggery (adjust to taste)
2-3 spoonfuls of sambar powder
Salt to taste

The quantities of tamarind and the jaggery given above are approximations because it all depends on how bitter the karela, how sour the tamarind and how sweet or sour you like your gojju . So, as they say on MasterChef - taste, taste, taste and adjust!)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 dried red chili broken
¾ teaspoon mustard seeds
Few pinches of asafetida
7-10 curry leaves

Roast the karela pieces in a heavy-bottomed pan over a slow fire till the pieces r soft n have a roasted char at the edges. In a separate pan, heat the oil, add mustard seeds n red chili. When the seeds start spluttering, add the asafetida, curry leaves. Now add the karela pieces and sauté for a few minutes. Then add about ½ a cup of water, bring to boil n then simmer till the karela is almost cooked. Now add salt, ¾ of the tamarind extract and the jaggery.  Simmer till the jaggery has completely melted, then taste and adjust for salt sweet and sour. Now simmer some more till the gravy gets a thick, glossy texture (You can add more water if you like.) The longer you simmer, the better the taste. Now taste again and adjust.

Remove from heat and serve with rice/chapatti, even bread. I often use it as a sauce, adding it to puffed rice, chiwda or just to a bowl of curd and using that as a dip with poppadoms or chips!

This gojju keeps in the fridge for about 5-6 days if you store it in a clean jar after it is thoroughly cooled.

Forbidden fruit.....

One of my clearest childhood memories was travelling by bus to my maternal grandmother's home in Karkala in Dakshin Karnataka. As we negotiated the Western ghats and neared "home", at every halt, the hawkers would be buzzing all over the windows like flies. Selling all kinds of forbidden - and now almost extinct - things like goli soda, but especially golden-yellow, juicy slabs of a fruit in grubby glass jars

"Ananas! Ananas!"

More familiarly known as pineapple. 
Like I said,  this was forbidden territory for my hyper-hygiene conscious father and so I never got to eat those sticky-delicious-dripping slabs of fruit, but my Doddamma's (Mom's elder sister) backyard had them growing all over the place.

In other words, the pineapple is a popular fruit in Karnataka.

But the curious thing is that the word "Ananas" (which up until now I thought was a Tulu or Kannada word!) is also part of the botanical name for the fruit - Ananas comosus. And it comes from the word nananas, which Tupi, a set of over 70 South American languages, means "excellent fruit".

So, you guessed right. The pineapple originated in South America, somewhere between Brazil and Peru. And how did it get to India, so far back in time that its name has been integrated into the Tulu language? 
Well, apparently Columbus encountered it in the Caribbean, then brought it to Europe and ultimately, the Portuguese brought it India.

Voila. A much travelled fruit, that.
And naturally, like most fruit, a great source of nutrients, especially vitamin C and some minerals like manganese.

But, here in Karnataka, we eat this fruit in a very unique (some would say strange) way.
We make a gojju out of it. (When in doubt, gojju, is what we Kannadigas say)

Now, now, now. Don't turn your nose up at that as you disdainfully sip your pina colada.
This is actually - and strangely, i\I will have to admit - delicious. Especially when eaten with that other staple Dakshin Karnataka staple - red rice kanji!!

So, here. Try it

1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored, cleaned of all the ‘eyes’ and diced into ½ in pieces

Marble-sized ball of tamarind, soaked and then juice extracted

About 3/4 cup of fresh coconut pieces

¾ teaspoon turmeric powder

2 tablespoons grated jaggery (the quantity of jaggery is completely dependent on how sweet you want your gojju, how sweet the pineapple is etc., etc. So I suggest you add about 75% first, taste, then add the rest if necessary, even increase if you like…)
1 tablespoon roasted gram (this is basically for thickening so you could add besan flour if you don’t have the gram)

Salt to taste

For the gravy:
Roast -  I find it best to roast each of these ingredients separately as each requires different roasting time n heat.
1 tablespoon each of  coriander seeds, urad dal, channa dal (roast till light  brown and you get a roasted aroma)
1 teaspoon each of jeera, sesame, methi seeds (roast till light  brown and you get the roasted aroma)
3-4 dried red chilies - roast till the chilies begin to char black and you get a roasted aroma. (This results in a fairly mild taste, so you can increase the number if you like a 'hotter" taste)

For tempering:
1 -1 ½ tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
7-10 curry leaves
1 dried red chili, broken into pieces
Few pinches of asafetida

 Grind together these roasted ingredients along the coconut, roasted gram n turmeric powder to a chutney-like consistency

Heat oil, add red chili pieces, mustard seeds and asafetida. When the seeds begin to splutter, add the curry leaves. When they begin to crisp up n brown at the edges, add the pineapple pieces. Saute for about a minute, then add about a cup of water, bring to boil, then simmer. Since it is fruit, you can cook it to how soft you want it. (I like to keep it slightly crunchy). Then add the tamarind juice, salt and jiggery. Simmer for another minute r so.
Now add the ground masala paste. Be sure to stir all the time and keep the heat low otherwise, the bottom of the curry will ‘catch” and burn. Cook, for about another 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly. Taste and adjust.
Serve with hot rice or chapatti

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Pulse of Health!

There are two varieties of Bengal gram. The one developed in the Indian subcontinent is smaller in size with wrinkled black skin. The other, larger with pale brown skin, is developed in the Mediterranean and known as chickpea or garbanzo bean. In India, this variety is popularly called kabuli channa.

The name "Bengal gram" was given by the British because they first made its acquaintance in Bengal. But this pulse is of far greater antiquity. It has been found in several archaeological sites, two of the oldest being Çayonu, a Neolithic settlement in southern Turkey which existed from 7200 to 6600 BC, and Hacilar in south-western Turkey, dating back to 7040 BC. In India, it has been found in excavations at the Harappan site of Kalibangan in Rajasthan (3500 BC).

Like the rest of the family of pulses to which it belongs, the Bengal gram is an excellent source of both carbohydrate and protein, which are respectively the fuel and building blocks of the human body. But it is also packed with so many other healthful goodies that it can almost be a complete meal by itself. Moreover, the Bengal gram is the highest source of dietary fibre amongst all the commonly eaten foods in India, including cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables, with one cup of boiled Bengal gram providing as much as 60 per cent of the daily requirement.

(Read more about this nutritious pulse in my book "How the Banana Went to Heaven)

My mum makes a very simple but very delicious dish with this channa (the firangis call it chickpeas or garbanzo peas)
Recipe -
1. Soak 2 cups kabuli channa overnight in water
2. Boil till cooked to a beautiful buttery softness.
3. Add juice from marble-sized ball of tamarind soaked in warm water for about 10-15 minutes
3. Add about a cup of water (adjust depending on how much "soup" you want, salt, 2-3 chopped, green chilies, 4-5 cloves of garlic
4. Simmer for about 2-3 mintues
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil, add 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/2 broken red chili. When mustard starts to splutter, add pinch of hing (asefoetida) and 5-7 curry leaves.
6. After a few seconds, remove from heat and add to the kabuli channa soup. Add a tablespoon or so finely chopped fresh coriander, simmer for another few seconds

Serve piping hot with plain steamed rice or chappati or hot buttered toast

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goddess Gourd

You wouldn’t think that a food that is more than 96 per cent water (another one of the white pumpkin’s Sanskrit names is kumbhaphala, meaning ‘waterpot fruit’!) would be able to pack in much in the way of nutrition. But like many other members of the gourd family (cucumber, watermelon, bottle gourd, etcetera) to which it belongs, the white pumpkin is loaded with nutrients. It is an excellent source of thiamine (vitamin B1) and a good source of niacin (B3) and Vitamin C. It also has good amounts of many minerals like calcium and potassium. And the fact that it has almost no calories makes it both the nutritionist’s and the dietician’s dream.

(For more detials, see my book )

This is simple, delicious curry that goes well both with plain steamed rice, roti or even bread.

White Pumpkin Curry

1/2 kg white pumpkin, deseeded, peeled and cut into 1/2 in cubes

For the masala

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon urad dal (black gram)

1 teaspoon cumin (jeera)

3 dried red chilies

3/4 cup fresh coconut

1/2 inch piece of tamarind

1/2 tablespoon of grated jaggery (adjust to taste or skip altogether)

salt to taste

For seasoning

1 tablespoon oil

3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 dried red chilli, broken into pieces

Pinch of asafoetida

7-8 curry leaves


Boil the pumpkin pieces in about half a cup of water till cooked. Roast the coriander seeds, urad dal, cumin and red chillies till you get a roasted smell and the coriander seeds and urad dal darken in colour. Grind into chutney consistency with the coconut and tamarind.

Add to the cooked pumpkin pieces along with salt, grated jaggery and a little water to make a curry and simmer over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Heat the oil, add the red chilli pieces and mustard. When the seeds start to splutter, add the asafoetida. When the stop spluttering, add the curry leaves. Remove from heat after a few seconds and add to the curry.

Remove from heat and serve with plain steamed rice

Friday, November 12, 2010

What’s in your child’s tiffin box?


The inspiration to write this piece came from a recent chat with my friendly neighbourhood grocer. I was asking him about the rapid proliferation of piles of ‘bakery items’ on his shop counter. Bread, buns, biscuits etc., - the sweeter, the better. He explained that he was only catering to market forces because increasingly the standard fare inside kids’ school tiffin boxes went something like this. White bread slathered with butter and a ghastly, maroon-coloured gooey substance that is euphemistically marketed as mixed fruit jam. (Hah!) And in case the whole thing isn’t sweet enough for your little darling, sugar is also sprinkled liberally inside!  The World Health Organization politely describes such hideous concoctions as ‘energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, (which) combined with reduced physical activity have led to obesity rates that have risen three-fold or more since 1980’. My less polite definition is “junk food”.

Or even more appropriately “poison”.

Childhood obesity is no longer something that we can look at fat American kids and sneer about. It’s a monster that is making itself very, very comfortable on the drawing sofa right next to your kids as they sit glued watching Cartoon Network or even worse, a saas-bahu serial. And in case you aren’t worried as yet, this should do the trick.
One in every 10 children in urban India is overweight. Recent studies at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have confirmed that childhood obesity leads to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver and gall bladder diseases and reproductive disorders, only to name a few. And as much as we’d like to blame it on all those “kurkure” ads needling our kids as to whether they’re “hungry, kya?” or peer pressure (“if Arjun’s mom can put chips in his tiffin box, why can’t you?”), the fault, my dear mummies and daddies lies squarely with us. For example, many times have you taken the easy way out and filled your kid’s school tiffin box  that jam sandwich or other such 2-minute nutritional horrors ? How much time do you spend getting your kids to eat healthy compared to what you spend on their  homework? Okay, don’t answer the question but  consider these facts.
1. A fat kid is a fat adult and an unhealthy adult.
What your kids eat today will determine what they will eat as adults because dietary habits and food preferences - which naturally determine nutrition - are generally developed in early childhood and particularly during adolescence.  80% of fat kids end up as adult fatties.
2. Kids have small stomachs…..
Look at your kid’s stomach. Just to remind yourself that they need to eat more often than you do. So snacks and school tiffin boxes are very important sources of nutrition
3. …..but big nutritional needs
It’s common sense, really. Growth needs extra nourishment. So children need extra of all nutrients but especially extra helpings of energy, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins A, B, C and folate. 
4. Malnutritioned children aren’t necessarily poor and thin.
A study found that approximately 50% middle-income school children suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiency. So more important than how much your kids eat is what they eat.
Starting August 1st is World Breastfeeding Week - to impress upon us that this very first act of a mother is so important for the child that a recent New York Times article (‘Breast Feed or else… ‘)quoted a US Health department spokesperson as saying that just like it's risky to smoke during pregnancy, it's risky not to breast-feed afterwards! Because children who are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their life grow up to be smarter, happier, healthier adults, protected not only from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers but also obesity.
But what does breastfeeding have to do with my our kids’ tiffin boxes? Well, for one thing, the words  ‘nutritious’, ‘nutrition’ etc., all have the same etymological mother which is the Latin word nutrire which means ‘to suckle’ or breast feed.  So, nourishment is the very first gift that we give our children. And what Nature begins so beautifully in breast milk, we must continue. Into each mealtime. And into every lunch and tiffin box. Because what we feed our children will determine their future as much as what kind of education we give them. And it is really quite simple. Nature has already done most of the work for us by providing us a limitless cornucopia of wonderfully nutritious and delicious foods. We just need to stir in a few teaspoons of imagination, simmer gently in a few cups of love and garnish with a few pinches of cunning to make good health go down.
So today, I present 2 simple recipes for kids’ tiffin boxes. They are simple, delicious and keep in mind that school day mornings are always a crazy rush, that it often ain’t easy making palak and milk go down…
Bon Appetit !

Scrambled Paneer Rolls
Calcium is a very important nutrient for children, especially for teenagers and girls because it builds healthy teeth and bones. Did you know that about 45% of the adult skeleton is formed during adolescence? Green leafy vegetables, potaoes, lentils like mung and channa dal and sesame seeds are excellent sources….and of course milk. Now, many kids hate milk, so milk products are good alternatives. Like paneer. Nutritious, delicious and very versatile – works as stuffing inside anything from parathas to sandwiches, as bhaji or curry or if you make the paneer at home from skimmed cow’s milk, just by itself, dipped in sauce or chutney. The bonus? Kids love it!
To make 4 rolls
4 thin rotis (you can use leftover ones)
1 cup of fresh paneer (aboiout 200gms) crumbled coarsely
1 small onion diced finely
Pinch of turmeric
Pinch of aesfotida
1 green chili (optional), finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
¼ piece of ginger finely diced
1 tablespoon oil
Salt to taste
Heat the oil and fry onions, ginger, chili, turmeric, salt till onions are just transparent and crunchy. Add panner and fry for another 30 seconds or so till the paneer turns slightly soft. Add corainder, stir and take off heat. Allow to cool. Warm the rotis slightly, apply a little butter. Place about a tablespoon of the scrambled paneer in the centre. Carefully make into rolls, tucking in both ends well so that the filling doesn’t fall out. Serve with tomato sauce or pudina chutney.

Popeye Dosas
Green leafy vegetables. Perhaps the only things as nutritious as fruits and excellent sources of antioxidants and micronutrients – especialy iron. Which kids need for healthy blood and muscle development and did you know that almost two-thirds of Indian children suffer from iron deficiency ? the way to get kids to eat them is to combine with other foods – add to dals, chapati dough, other vegetables like carrot, potato etc. Or then as these lickety-split quick and delicious dosas
To make 6-8 dosas
½ cup each of rice, wheat, chickpea and ragi flour
1 small bunch palak, wsahed cleaned and finely chopped
1 green chili finely chopped (optional)
Pinch of aesfotida
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
¼ piece of ginger finely diced
Salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients with water to make dosa batter. Make dosas. Delicious with just butter or tomato sauce or coconut chutney

Top 5 snacking habits to develop in your kids

1. Fruit – if you can get your kids to love fruit, more than half your battle is won. They are perhaps the most nutritious foods on earth. And it doesn’t have to be apples to keep the doctor away – mango, banana, papaya, pomegranates all do equally well.
2. Nuts – raw or just lightly roasted (peanuts)and without salt. Great sources of protein, the B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
3. Curds – a great home snack. One of the best sources of calcium, potassium and phosphorus, many of the vitamins B. But most of all, curd is a probiotic food which means lots of good, friendly bacteria to keep your little darlings’ digestive system happy and healthy! Jazz it up with mashed banana, boiled potato or even cornflakes or puffed rice and a dash of chat masala or pudina chutney. Or then, just serve plain…
4. Idlis, dhoklas and other such fermented and steamed snacks. Also probiotic food, but the cereal and lentil content make them excellent sources of protein, carbohydrates and micronutrients like the B vitamins, folate, calcium copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc etc
5. Buttermilk – fruit juices are great but cumbersome to make and often expensive. Buttermilk on the other hand is cheap,easy to whip up and like curd, fabulously nutritious.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Magical Oil Bath!

You’d think that the prerequisite for an “oil bath” would be…well, oil, right? Well, that too, but the way it was in my maternal grandfather’s house, oil (lots of it, naturally) was only one of the ingredients. Indispensable were also at least one able-bodied minion with strong, sure hands and lots of stamina, gallons and gallons of hot water bubbling away in a copper cauldron a little smaller than an average Mumbai flat and chickpea flour (besan ka atta). More about the chickpea flour later. First the oil bath…
There were so many members in the joint family that lived in our ancestral home (my mother says at least about 30-35) of which my grandfather was yajamana (head) that the weekly oil bath had to happen in batches. Naturally, the women were in a separate batch and the men and the chilte-pilte (Kannada slang for bunch of kids) were in the privileged lot. Which meant that other than taking their clothes off (the men retained just a skimpy cotton langoti), everything else was done by the minions. Naturally, as the yajamana, my grandfather went first. My mother says that he made an impressive sight. He was a short, bald man and but stripped down to his almost-altogether, what hit the eye was the gold – in his ears, around his neck, circling his wrists and on his fingers and even around his rather substantial belly.
But even the gold had to step aside for the oil….
It was a magnum opus that lasted at least an hour. First, his entire body was vigorously massaged with warm oil. Of course the only thing that my grandfather did was to occasionally proffer a limb or make a body part more accessible. The actual massaging was done by the minion. Who, I’ll have you know, was often a woman called Monti! Yeah, I gasped too when my mother told me this but at the time, nobody thought that it was the slightest bit “odd”, just the most natural thing. Anyway, once the oil massage was done to everyone’s satisfaction (my grandfather’s and the minion’s), it was time for that chickpea flour. Yup, no new fangled stuff like soap to take the oil off. It had to be lashings of chickpea flour, which was rubbed – naturally by the minion – into the skin almost as vigorously and lavishly as the oil. Remember, these were days when probably the word “face scrub” and “exfoliate” hadn’t even entered the average Western beautician’s dictionary but in my grandfather’s house, they knew a thing or two about skincare. Because when the whole enchilada was finally washed off with the almost boiling hot water from the copper cauldron, the skin emerged beautifully soft, moist and tender as a baby’s bottom, glowing and ever so slightly flushed and tingling, wearing the faintest, gentlest patina of oil that lingered the whole day like a sweet memory. Which was, you could say, also roughly the state of the mind.
So what’s the big deal about these “oil baths” and why do the Southies get so glassy-eyed with ecstasy about it? Well, technically the term is a misnomer and only a dye-in-blood South Indian will understand what it means. Namely that we don’t bath in oil, as the term might suggest to the uninitiated (and how sorry I feel for them!). But that we first anoint, slather, soak and massage every known body part accessible within the bounds of decency with warm oil, mostly in full public view in a sort of Sunday morning family event. When we can lug ourselves out of the euphoric, dreamy haze that it induces, we wash it all off with oceans of hot water and then often totter off to a hot lunch, finished off by cool buttermilk only slightly less in quantity than the hot water that we bathed in. Finally, to a crescendo of gutsy, blissful sighs, we finally sink into a Kumbhakarna siesta from which we awake ready to face anything. World War 3 or a Rakhi Sawant video.

But please don’t be misled by my jocular tone because an oil bath is actually some very serious business of therapy and healing. You see, it all goes back to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. And Ayurveda, like yoga, is not just a system of medicine but a way of life. So, it prescribes not only for the sick to heal, but also for the healthy to stay healthy. In Ayurveda, health is a state where the body is in harmony not only with its own nature but also with the nature outside. And since everything including life itself is constantly changing, this is considered as a dynamic state of being, a balancing act where you have to constantly adjust and fine tune your body not just by its doshas, not just by the season but even on a daily basis. So dinacharya is the daily morning ritual that Ayurveda prescribes that readies you both in body and spirit to face the day. And an “oil bath” or rather massaging yourself with oil before your bath is the integral part of it. So, once upon a time, an “oil bath” was a daily event. With time, it became a weekly thing and now, it’s almost a forgotten thing, remembered perhaps once a year on Diwali day, when a little oil is ritualistically applied on the head.
So why is this “oil bath” so important and what does it do, therapeutically speaking? Naturally it all begins with the skin, the body’s largest organ and the main organ of our sense of touch. Touch has been used since time immemorial as an important method of healing, especially in the world’s two most ancient systems of medicine, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine and massage or abhyanaga is one of them. When the body is massaged, the very first thing that happens is almost instant and complete relaxation. because the human skin is loaded with nerve endings, the receptors that receive and transmit all sensation to the brain. There are roughly 350 such nerve endings in each square millimeter of human skin, the hands being supersensitive with each fingertip having more than 3,000 touch receptors.
So, in an oil massage, skin first meets skin, introduced by warm, silky oil. It has been said that the effects of an oil massage are similar to being intensely loved. And love it has to be because in Ayurveda, oil is called sneha, which also means love. So skin begins to love skin, one surrendering and allowing the fingertips to caress and press, rub and probe gently, even gently pinch; the palms to knead and press and smooth. According to Ayurveda, for the sneha – and we could well be referring both oil and love! - to reach the deepest layers, it must be massaged for 800 matras or roughly 5 minutes. Naturally because as we all know, you can’t hurry love. And thus loved and pampered, the blissed out skin begins to send a flood of messages to the brain to relax, wind down, let go. Now these messages get stored forever in the memory of the skin so that with every repetition of a massage, the skin remembers and the relaxation is quicker and easier. Massaging also generates body heat, which stimulates the millions of blood vessels located just below the surface of the skin. The act of rubbing the skin’s surface with oil also knocks off the build of layers of dead skin cells, leaving your skin soft and glowing. Incidentally, did you know that the skin sheds 500 million dead cells every day?!.
Okay, so that’s the obvious stuff. But what if I tell you that the daily oil massage also stimulates almost every critical body part or system - the muscles, the nervous system, even the respiratory system because as the body relaxes, your breathing slows and calms down, improving the oxygenation of the cells. It kick starts vital organs and gets the prana energy flowing, all of which results in a general feeling of being rejuvenated and energized. It’s like waking up the inside of you just the way you do every morning!
And we’ve only just begun.
Because the oil massage is also a great way to detoxify. Toxins accumulate in the body for a lot of reasons – stress, food, environmental pollution, lack of exercise, the effect of seasons and according Ayurveda, the imbalance of our own doshas, etc., etc. Their accumulation is the cause of much that ails us; in fact Ayurveda considers this the root of all disease – from arthritis to diabetes to urinary disorders. So, the act of massaging activates the body to start getting rid of its waste and toxins in different ways. By making you sweat gently. By getting that circulation up and running and most importantly, by waking up sluggish intestines and bowels!
Last but most importantly, an oil massage is a bit like your TV remote control. There is a sloka in Ayurveda which says,
“Shirah shravana padeshu
Tam visheshena sheelayet.“
Roughly translated it means that 3 areas of the body must be massaged are the head, the ears and the feet. Because you see, with these 3 areas, we can access the deepest interiors of our body to almost every organ and gland to retune and reset them. You’re thinking, the head makes sense because that’s where the brain as well important endocrine glands like the pituitary and the pineal glands are located. But the feet? And even curiouser, the ears? Ah, according to Ayurveda, these two areas (along with others like the hands) are considered vital junction boxes connected to the entire body. For example, points all over the outer ear or the visible portion of the ear are considered connected to almost all the major organs and glands in the body including heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys, liver, pancreas, gall bladder reproductive organs, the thyroid, prostrate and pituitary glands. The ear lobes are connected to the eyes and teeth.
The feet are no less important. The big toe gives us access the brain and helps vision. The index toe releases energy into the lungs. The third toe gets us access to the intestines, the fourth to the kidney and the little toe to …..believe it or not, the heart. And on the sole of each foot are 4 of the 107 marma points, vital points of the body, so vital that hitting them can grievously injure, even kill - as is done in Kerala’s ancient art of Kalaripayyat.
And these are only some of the physical benefits of an “oil bath”. Did I mention that it also helps improve vitality, strength, stamina, concentration, flexibility, youthfulness, makes you sleep like a baby, feel good about yourself …..oh, what the heck, let me just quote the wise sage Charaka himself,
"The body of one who uses oil massage regularly is affected much even if subjected to injury or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age." Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
Isn’t it breathtaking how exquisitely simple it all is? How far just a few cupfuls of warm, sweet sneha and a pair of sure, loving hands can take you down the happy road to health and well being? I have this sneaking suspicion that my passionate and life long affair with music began because as a baby, every morning before a bath, my ayah would give me an oil massage so thorough and so delightful that like my grandfather’s elder sister-in-law, I’d fall into a deep, ecstatic exhausted slumber afterwards. While massaging me, she’d sing a song. It was concieved when Guru Dutt and Johnny Walker went to Calcutta and one morning watched a local maalish-wala show off his talents. Guru Dutt asked Johnny Walker to remember the scene. He did and it appeared as this song in the classic 1957 film Pyaasa and became so famous that a song with Johnny Walker became mandatory in the formula Hindi film box office hit. The lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi puts it a little differently but is as eloquent as the sage Charaka on the benefits of an oil massage…..
Sar jo tera chakraaye, ya dil dooba jaaye
Aaja pyaare paas hamaare, kaahe ghabraaye.. kaahe ghabraaye
Sun sun sun, are beta sun, is champi mein bade bade gun
Laakh dukhon ki ek dava hai kyoon na aazmaaye
Kaahe ghabraaye, kaahe ghabraaye

(In consultation with Dr. C. S. Anil Kumar – B.A.M.S., M.D., (Ay) D.N.Y., Physician Consultant in Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy and Professor at JSS Ayurvedic Medical College, Mysore.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Mother's Blessing For Life

A Mother’s Blessing for Life

We were "celebrating" Breast Feeding week from August 1 till yesterday....and India

“A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three." - Dr. Grantly Dick-Read

The word mammal is from the Latin “mammālis”, meaning “of the breast” and so a mammal – which includes us humans - is characterized by milk-producing mammary glands in the female for nourishing its young. You’re thinking – is this really the place for a piece on breastfeeding? I’m saying – in a country a baby is born almost every 2 seconds, everybody is either having a baby or knows someone who is about to. So, getting your breastfeeding primer updated is going to come handy, one way or another.
Now we all have a vague idea that breastfeeding is somehow good for the baby. But UNICEF is a tad more specific about it. “ If every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth for 6 months, an estimated 1.5 million lives would be saved each year. Not just saved but enhanced, because breast milk is the perfect food for a baby"s first 6 months of life - no manufactured product can equal it.”
Really? Nothing but breast milk for the first six months of a baby’s life?

Mummy knows best…
This is how all other mammals rear their young and so why should we humans be any different. And to underscore that point, the experts recommend that breastfeeding should start within the first hour of the baby being born, preferably in the first 30 minutes. Mainly because in the first 2-3 days after birth, the mother’s breast produces colostrum, Nature’s most wonderful gift to the life that’s just begun. Colostrum is the perfect first food for the newborn, low in fat, and high in carbohydrates, protein and easy to digest. Besides, it has a laxative effect, helping the baby to pass early stools and excrete excess bilirubin which can cause jaundice. Colostrum is also the baby"s first immunization because it is loaded with leukocytes, disease fighting protective white cells and IgA, a major antibody. Finally, it protects the baby’s extremely fragile and vulnerable digestive tract, “painting” it with a barrier that seals it against infections.
No wonder then that doctors insist that nothing should be given before that all-important first breastfeed.
And till the baby is 6 months old, breast milk is the perfect and only food that the baby needs. For many reasons.
Nutritionally, breast milk is the perfect formula - the right kind of proteins, fats, lactose, vitamins, minerals, water and all other nutrients in the right mix.
Breast milk is Nature’s ready-to-eat food – available whenever the baby wants it. And you don’t even have to “heat and serve because the temperature is perfect for the baby’s delicate mouth. The IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) poster promoting breastfeeding in Canada shows a pair of beautiful breasts with the slogan “Fast food outlets”!
Breast milk is not just free; it’s also free from any kind of contamination.
Breastfeeding protects the child against several childhood infections, many of them life-threatening. In the first 2 months of life, an infant who is not exclusively breastfed is up to 25 times more likely to die from diarrhoea and 4 times more likely to die from pneumonia than a breastfed baby.
Breastfeeding ensures a better immune system, making the baby respond better to vaccination
Most of all, breast milk is more than just baby food. It is also that other immeasurably wonderful nutrient – mother’s love. There is nothing more tender and loving than the act of a mother gently cuddling her baby to her warm, soft body. And the baby cannot but respond. So, a breastfed baby is not only a healthy baby but a blissfully happy one too!

“But what if Mummy doesn’t have enough?”
"Breastfeeding is an unsentimental metaphor for how love works, in a way. You don"t decide how much and how deeply to love--you respond to the beloved, and give with joy exactly as much as they want." - Marni Jackson, columnist and author of The Mother Zone
This the most prevalent and unfortunate myth about breast feeding and the constant worry is that maybe the baby is not getting enough milk when it is breast fed. And even more unfortunately, one of the single biggest stumbling block to the adequate production of breast milk is the mother’s own anxiety that she is not producing enough milk for her baby. And that is the ultimate irony. Because, breast feeding itself promotes the production of breast milk. It is the sucking action of the baby’s mouth that causes the production of the hormone prolactin which in turn produces the milk. So, the more a baby suckles, the more milk is produced. Which is the other reason why experts insist that the baby should be breast fed within 30-60 minutes of being born. This is when the baby"s suckling reflex is strongest, and the baby is more alert.
Now about “enough”. Barring conditions like severe maternal malnutrition and anemia, too many pregnancies, almost every mother can exclusively breast feed. And there are 2 very simple and easy indicators to show that your baby is well fed. First, if it urinates at least 7-10 in 24 hrs. And second, if it is putting on weight - at the rate of an average of ½ kg per month in the first 6-7 months.
Oh, there is no other thing that inhibits the production of breast milk – the use of pacifiers or bottles. The sucking action required for these is very different from suckling at the breast. So, the baby gets confused, doesn’t suckle the breast properly causing the mother to produce less breastmilk.
If that hasn’t already answered that often asked question of why not combine breast feeding with bottle feeding, let me elaborate…..
Hitting the bottle
We humans are a strange bunch. We throw away what is natural and free and healthy and pay money for unhealthy substitutes. The global annual sales baby food amounts to 16.5 billion dollars. (Coke and associated brands sell 15 billion dollars annually) The negative effects of bottle feeding and/or feeding a baby anything other than breast milk (including malnutrition and exposure to life-threatening infections) for the first 6 months of its life are so many and so serious that the World Health Assembly passed the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981. The attempt was to stop the damage to breastfeeding through the promotion of substitute products. The Indian government passed the Infant Milk Substitute Act in 1992 and further amended it in 2003 so that it prohibits the marketing of all kinds of foods for babies younger than 2 years of age.
Now you know why I said, “hitting the bottle…”
Blessed for life
The blessings that we always seek and crave for is that of our mother’s – unconditional, pure, complete and lifelong. Like breast milk. Because its effects are life long. Research now shows that children who have been breastfed grow up to be adults that:
Are Smarter – The longer you breast feed, the more it increases your child’s IQ, reading comprehension, mathematical ability, and scholastic ability – a result of the special “fatty acids" in breast milk. Remember, by age 6, which is when children generally start school, most of the brain"s neural connections are already made
Can see better – again, it’s those special “fatty acids" that make the eyes bright, the eyesight sharp.
Are healthier - Children who are breastfed for 1 year or longer have 50% less risk of being diabetic compared to children fed less than one year. Breast fed children also have significantly lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers in adult life
Are thinner Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of adult obesity.

We are politely called a “developing” country. Put in harsher language, many of us are poor, some barely managing two proper meals in a day and never you mind what they are saying about our GDP being the 3rd largest in the world. With poverty comes disease and deprivation. And the most cruelly affected are little children - 50% of Indian children under the age of 3 are malnourished and of the 27 million children born every year, 16 % will die before they are 5. But, as long as a mother can breast feed, developing country or not, she can never be poor, capable of showering her feed her child the wealth of love and health that will last a lifetime. (Valued at the cost of fresh animal milk (Rs. 15 per liter), annual market value of realistic production of breastmilk in India would be about Rs 5916 crores or roughly the 2005-2006 budget allocation for Agriculture!)
But sadly, today, 54.2% of Indian mothers exclusively breast feed their babies till the age of 3 months and that figure drops to 19.4 % for babies aged 4-6 months.
Breastfeeding is an ancient tradition in our land. It’s time we went back to it. To protect our greatest, most precious and yet most vulnerable national treasure – our children.

(Grateful thanks to Dr. Shobha Banapurmath who not only sugge0sted the idea for this article and provided support and material. She is a pediatrician, representing BPNI or the Breast Promotion Network of India, “a national network of organizations and individuals dedicated to promote mother and child health through protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.”


Breast feeding primer

* Till your baby is 6 months old, ONLY breast feed. No other food or drink, not even water, is usually needed during this period
* Breastfeed immediately after birth preferably within 30-60 of birth to give your baby the all-important colostrum. Nothing should be given before the first breastfeed
* Breastfeed unrestrictedly and on demand.
* There is no substitute to breast milk
* Bottle-feeding is unnecessary and even harmful, being the leading cause of loose stools in babies
* Pacifiers and bottle confuse the baby’s sucking action and reduce the production of breastmilk.
* Continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond, introducing solid foods only after 6 months of age.
* Homemade, family food is the best solid food for your baby.

And Mummy is happier and healthier too….
If breastfeeding makes healthy, happy babies, it isn’t too bad for the mummies either. It

* Reduces post-delivery bleeding and chances of maternal anemia.
* Obesity is less common among breastfeeding mothers.
* Has a contraceptive effect.
* Lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
* Builds bone strength and protects against osteoporosis

Did you know?

* That malnutrition amongst children happens in the first two years of life and is virtually IRREVERSIBLE after that?
* That a baby’s crying can make breast milk flow? A hormone called oxytocin causes the "let-down" reflex – when the mother hears the baby cry, milk is “let down” or ejected.
* That anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler estimates that if culture did not tell us to do otherwise, we would breast feed our children somewhere till between 2.5 and 7 years of age

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ode to a Well

Can't help it but i have water on my mind these days..

Ode to a Well

Imagine trying to break open an orange with a sledgehammer.
Ridiculous idea?
Of course it is. But that is how we treat Nature. We battle with it, savage and plunder it for things that it will yield so readily and generously – if we ask the right way.
Look at water, for example. There is so much talk about scarcity of water when in actual fact there is all the water that we need and more but we have forgotten how to catch, store and manage it. And that’s because we don’t understand Nature anymore. For example, did you know 75% of the earth’s freshwater lies frozen in polar regions? Of the rest, only 10% is surface water in rivers, lakes etc. The balance 90% lies underground in innumerable caches called aquifers. And not so very long ago, if you dug the right spot, water would gush out to become the thing whose cool, sweet waters sustained the life of every Indian. A well.

Ancient wells of wisdom
Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals. Emperor Ashoka’s rock inscription at Girnar

You mean those holes in the ground from which people once laboriously lugged up water? What good are those in this age of hydrogeology and taps? Ah, but we underestimate these wells, which is quite in contrast to our ancestors.

Mohenjodaro alone had 700 wells and one of the most remarkable thing about the Harappan civilization was its water management. You see, our ancients understood that managing water was key not just to the future of civilization but to survival itself. And so water was sacred, precious. Our rivers were goddesses that they didn’t just pray to, but also revered by not using them as garbage dumps and sewers.

They also figured that rain is something you save not for but on a rainy day! So, rainwater harvesting may be today’s latest buzzword, but water harvesting systems figure in Kautilya’s Arthasatra, written in 3rd century B.C. And Koopa Shastram (koopa is well in Sanskrit) is the ancient science of constructing wells.

Kuans, kuis, baavis, surangams, baolis, baoris, vavs, virdas. All over the country, our ancestors dug wells – as varied as India’s people, the most innovative and the greatest variety found in the most water starved areas like Thar desert!
Little wells just 15-20 feet deep.
Massive wells, the vision of wise rulers, plunging a 100 feet into the ground; where entire communities not just drew water but also chatted, rested and generally cooled off.
12 centuries ago, the kings of Rajasthan and Gujarat began the tradition of the famed, fabulous step-wells of which the most spectacular is Rani ki Vav or Queen’s Step Well in Patan, Gujarat. Five storeys into the ground and 90 feet wide, decorated with over 800 stone sculptures in the Khujarao style, built by Udayamati, consort of the 11th century Chalukiya king, Bhimadeva.
And since water was sacred, our temples had wells too. The famous Rameswaram temple complex has 22 wells, each with different tasting water, each dedicated to a different deity. Bathing in the waters of these wells is supposed to have such beneficial effects that they are called theerthams (holy waters)!

Wells of sweetness

So, why were these wells so important? First of all, for centuries, (in India they go back 9000 years or more) they have been a perennial source of the sweetest, coolest, freshest water. You see, as rainwater slowly seeps through the earth, the porous layers of rock, limestone, sand etc., act as filters, filtering out the impurities and cooling the water. In fact, well water was once considered pure enough not only to drink but also the only water used for puja.
Alas, today, in many parts of India, it’s a different story and the fault is entirely ours. Well water is getting contaminated and unfit for drinking because we are what conservationists call “fouling the nest”; a bit like using our kitchens as toilets. So our waste waters go where they shouldn’t, the soil is dumped full of chemicals and pesticides…it’s a familiar, sorry tale.

But even in such conditions, these wells survive. In Bangladesh, where arsenic poisoning of wells became a worrying trend, studies showed that while the water from tube wells had high amounts of arsenic, nearby traditional open wells had very low levels. One theory suggests that the open wells allowed the air to oxidize the arsenic into harmless compounds and rainwater to regularly flush out the arsenic. Which is exactly how they are rescuing contaminated wells in Kerala – by feeding in harvested rainwater.
But, even when the water isn’t potable, wells are powerful tools of social empowerment, making communities, especially women self-sufficient and independent. How? Very simple. A well in the backyard, provides all water you need, all year round - totally free! For the average Indian who spends much of his/her day, even nights, shackled to mulishly dry taps and never-ending, irate water queques, this is the ultimate freedom. Provided of course, there is water in the well…..

Recharging India’s batteries…..

Which is only possible if there is enough groundwater to feed it.
Today, India’s water woes are largely because its groundwater lies most grievously plundered. According to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist magazine, 50 years ago in northern Gujarat, you could get water from open wells just 10 metres deep. Today tube wells run dry even 400 metres down. It’s the same story everywhere. Water tables under Punjab and Haryana fall by a metre every year and half the hand-dug wells in western India, two-thirds in Tamil Nadu have run dry.
But the amazing thing is that these very same wells, dried up and abandoned, are now becoming one of the most important methods of rainwater harvesting, of recharging our plundered groundwater. It’s a people’s movement spreading slowly but surely all over the country, especially in the most parched regions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. And even in those water guzzlers, the metropolises,. Bangalore already has 300 recharge wells. In Delhi, there is a call to marshal its 26 ancient baolis, some dating to Iltutmish and Timur Lane, to recharge Delhi’s groundwater, which provides 30-40% of the city’s water!
That so serious a problem could have so simple a solution is staggering. Just channeling rainwater back into a single well has seen to cause the waters to rise in neighbouring wells and turn undrinkable saline or brackish water into fresh water. And so, the old-fashioned well has become one of the most effective weapons in the armoury of the countless “Jal Yodhas” who are crusading to give us back our birthright of water. It’s like making a patchwork quilt. You start with one tiny scrap of cloth. Or one little well. Then you add another, then another till finally, all over India, millions of open wells like millions of brave little batteries will recharge our country’s most precious resource – water

A fish called Madanji

Which makes it time for me to tell you about a fish called Madanji. Not really his (her?) name but the local Tulu name of this particular species of fish in coastal South Karnataka. When my maternal grandfather built his house there more than 80 years ago, naturally he also built a well. And he put in Madanji into it. Because according to local wisdom, these fish are specialists in keeping the water clean by feeding on all organic matter that would otherwise pollute it, especially mosquito larvae!

Apparently Madanji did a great job because the water from that well was the sweetest, freshest water that I have ever tasted and all my grandmother did was to strain it through a clean cloth. And Madanji-watching was a favourite pastime of the kids. Sometimes, he’d lie low, meditating in the well’s dark, cool depths. Other times, he’d swim up in slightly frantic but always elegant circles, snapping up the morsels that we dropped.
And as far as my mother can remember, even as a little child, there was always madandji in her father’s well…...

And there will always be wells in India. Open, generous and filled with sweetness. To remind us that our relationship with Nature should be like recurring deposit schemes. Feed only off the interest and every now and then, add back to the capital. Otherwise the deposit will lapse. And that wells are like knowledge. They remain fresh and of value only when we constantly use them.
So, if you know of an abandoned well, adopt it. Or better still, even dig a new one…

Grateful thanks to Mr. Sree Padre, Mr. S. Vishwanath of and Dr. V Sankaran Nair, Kampan Foundation For Oriental Studies, Trivandrum

Palakkad and wells

How did water diviners of yore know the presence of water? In Karnataka and Kerala, they’d look for a plant called Pala. And Palakkad (Palghat) in Kerala gets its name from “pala” “kaddu” meaning a forest of pala trees. No wonder then that Kerala has the highest density of wells in the world – 250 open wells per square km or one well for every 3 persons!