TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Is being honest difficult?

Ask that question to anyone who appeared in the court of law to be a witness or were fighting a case. (If we lie under oath, that is considered misleading the court and is a punishable offense.)

Ask that question to a kid who ate the ice- cream stored in the refrigerator without seeking permission.

Ask that question to someone who cheated at work or cheated on their partner.

The answer really depends, mostly on two things. One, Is being honest the right thing to do in this situation? Second, Is the person who I am going to talk to can take it? But, there is one more question we always consider before being honest. That is, Am I ready to take the consequences of being honest. If we think we are not ready, we resort to not being honest. Most people choose dishonesty for themselves more than others. This is my take. Whenever I feel someone is not being honest, the very first doubt that comes to my mind is, what is the fear that is binding them?

Few months ago I organized a virtual team event. One of the activities in the event was – “My friend at work”. Everyone in the team were to talk about a friend at work, what qualities in that friend they like the most and what is that one quality in that friend they would want to cultivate/learn as well. There were around 15 people in the call that day and 5 of them took my name as a good friend. All of them expressed the quality they wish they could learn is my ability to say whatever I feel is right, no matter who I am talking to. “The facts are x and y. Whether we like it or not there is nothing we can do about those facts than accepting them. This is what is doable and this is the impact.. When you say it Aastha, you are assertive asking them to take it or leave it. You are completely honest irrespective of how it might make all of us feel. Showing the mirror is not something everyone can do and you do it with ease. That honesty is not what we get to see often. It is rear and you really deliver the truth well. It is not easy to learn, but I would love to be that courageous“, said one of my very good friend.  After that discussion, I kept wondering if the team was trying to tell me that it hurts them. I started to be watchful about my communications.

Few days later to this, we were discussing some concept for our product which would make users life simple. From a user perspective it made complete sense to me. But, technically there is no such technology that is readily available. We spent few days dwelling all over the internet scouting for some answers. My concerns turned out to be true.  We weighed the pros and cons. The cons out numbered the pros by a large amount. Yet, there are some moments when data is not enough to convince the higher management. There are many who fear that being in good books is more important than being honest. Cannot blame them.

There is a regular meeting in which all core members of the team including business leadership meet once a week. This particular user ask came for discussion. By then, we have presented this in various forums hoping someone would understand why we cannot do it. There are specific standards that cannot be met with existing technology. My inner self could not bear wasting any more time on a feature that we know is practically impossible to build using the existing technology. We don’t have the luxury to do some research given our tight schedule. I was the youngest – both in age and rank in that meeting, yet I could not resist saying it out loud that we are wasting precious time hunting for the two birds in the bush, while letting go of the one we have in hand. I exactly used that phrase. The rest of what I said in the meeting is confidential. Two days later to this meeting, that particular feature was called off, which literally changed the direction in which the program was heading. A sigh of relief it was for me, yet, I was concerned if I overstepped. After this announcement, few people from leadership appreciated me for the candid feedback and being brutally honest, including the leader who made this proposal in the first place and strongly believed having that feature is extremely important. I scheduled a 1-1 with that leader seeking feedback. He explained it to me beautifully about how I was not thinking about likeability and solely my interest was in the products’ future. That conversation erased a lot of my worries.

I am definitely a take or leave it kind of person. It is so in both professional and personal life. Does that hurt others? Yes, in some instances. Does it help me? Of course.

I prefer to be honest with my articles as well and if someone asks me to write what I don’t really believe in, no matter how much I try I cannot write such article. Does honesty have repercussions? Oh yes. Honest trees are cut first. Yet, it is only better to be honest sooner or later. It is extremely difficult to explain dishonest choices than to face the aftermath of being honest. It takes lot of courage to be honest. 

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.”
― Shannon L. Alder

THE PARADIGM SHIFT FROM “WORK FOR HOME” TO “WORK FROM HOME”

Being associated with the software industry and remote working experience for a long time, I would like to shell some light on how perspectives changed with the pandemic. 

Prior to the pandemic, I would choose to work from home only if I am sick or just wanted to concentrate on work a little more. During the day, at work there are usually some distractions that could be avoided in an isolated space like home. After a couple of days in a row, it starts to get uncomfortable to request for more days of work from home because there are people around in office who would think that I am working for home than working from home :). That has never been true, but there is no way we can prove the other wise. Apart from these, there are a few stereotypical managers who think folks who are working from home are not working. They would call every hour or deliberately schedule some meeting just to feel good by making sure we are working. I am sure some of you would totally echo the same thoughts as me. I have also seen managers who think people who are sitting for a long time in office are more dedicated. I won’t say all these are myths, but it depends on the person. Some managers totally don’t care about where we work from as long as the deliverables are meeting the timelines. 

One of my colleagues had a baby girl with some medical condition and the baby needed constant care. She requested for working from home for a period of six months and considering her situation that has been granted. It used to be difficult and needed lot of approvals even when a family member is suffering from terminal illness.  Later on she opted only for 50% work as she was unable to concentrate on work. So, this carried on for almost two years, and I heard so many people judging her. Many wondered if she ever works or just wants to keep the job.  As fellow humans we have to be more considerate, but hello! she is getting to work from home for months together and we don’t get to do that even for a couple of days. 

It is indeed convenient at times to work from home if one can,  for a few days when there is a need. If my family needs my presence at  hometown, I want to opt for such adjustments for a week or two.  What has always stopped my manager to agree would be, “what would other people in the team think?. “What if everyone start asking for such adjustments?“. Their main fear is that the productivity would be lost. 

Couple of weeks before the lockdown was announced in India, our company started making arrangements for us to be able to work from home for longer durations. I was dealing with those arrangements starting from remote login to ensuring we have all the required hardware to work from home. After many discussions and approvals, we were almost set before the pandemic lockdown came hard on us. All of a sudden, I saw many leaders/managers thinking differently. Now the thoughts are,” We have to somehow make this work for the business” ” We should not loose time because of logistic issues” “Hope people cope up well with this situation and be able to work normally“. Many employees of our company travelled to their hometowns before the lockdown. We experienced low impact with remote working at least in our team. There will always be some trouble working remotely, but this is where we have to be innovative in finding alternatives. I wonder why it was so difficult to accept these adjustments before the pandemic. Now there is more time for employees also to take care of their health by utilizing the commute time.

In no way, this means work from home is a bed of roses. Despite the challenges we are facing working from home, I think this pandemic has changed some misconceptions. I hope in the new normal, we would have better working relationships and our leaders would trust us if someone says “Working from home” :). Even when the pandemic ends, and we end up spending more time at work, we would have the choice to request for work from home option with head held high. 

Starting to trust and giving employees great autonomy and flexibility allows people to feel independent and empowered

CHEER UP SAID WHO?? BAT MAN

When one has to live life alone in an apartment surrounded by concrete walls, life can get very overwhelming at times. My normal routine in such situations would be to take a walk, binge watch some series or have an ice-cream.

Not always life can be this boring, so, to satisfy my wanderlust, I planned a trip to Australia. A solo trip all by myself in Australia. I was all happy and excited while planning, packing dreaming about my vacation. It was almost a 17 day long trip starting from Melbourne to various other places and my last halt was Sydney. 

When I started my trip at Melbourne, the first few days went fine. Even though one doesn’t want to notice, as Australia is a popular destination for tourists, there were umpteen number people in all the beaches I visited, food plazas and even national parks. With so many people around, I still felt alone. During the first week itself, I felt alone many times, even more than when I just stick to my mundane routine of work and home. 

In addition to that, after a few days my sim card stopped working. So, I lost connectivity during the day and only when I was back at the hotel I could talk or chat with anyone. On the first day the sim hadn’t worked, I was so eager to be back at the hotel so that I could check my WhatsApp for any messages. I don’t know if that is just me,  somehow my connection with people is mostly through messages. I was kind of addicted to checking Whatsapp quite a few times back then. To my surprise, there was not a single message. I lived without sim card for almost 5 days, and each passing day my interest for checking my phone has reduced. At first, there was no signal, eventually, I realized no one messages me unless I do. Wait, what? Is this really true? It was a moment of shock than realization. 

For the very first time, I felt like throwing my phone away. May be, I felt helpless and weak. I could not stop the tears rolling down my eyes. Who stands at the iconic Sydney Opera house to cry? I don’t know. At that point I didn’t even care who was watching me crying. There were thousands of people that day,  as many plays were planned through out the day. By evening, more and more people gathered. I think the night life of Sydney is spectacular near the Darling Harbor, so many people spend their evening roaming around in that area. There I was crying, wondering why I should be the only one alone? 

I can’t remember how much time it took to regather myself. I took my camera and headed to take some pictures. This was a distraction from the thoughts that were bothering me. While I was busy with my forced distraction strategy, a small head popped in front of my camera  lens He posed for a picture. then made a gesture to me to show his picture. It was a little boy, could be 5 year old dressed like a batman. He gave me so many poses, smiling and asking to take more and more pictures. He asked me to show those pictures and and every time he had a large smile on his face with enlarged eyes. 

I don’t know who that boy is or where he is now. At that time he was no less than angel. I have heard many times, it gets easier during tough times if there is some to lend a shoulder or talk with. Our friends and family mostly do the job of cheering us up when we are feeling low. In that instance, I realized how powerful a smile is and it can come even from a stranger. What’s more pure than a kid’s smile. Nothing. There is nothing that could have made that moment better. I won’t ask for anything more either. Even today, when I feel low, I browse through those pictures which brings an instant smile. I feel some connection with that boy which makes me feel less lonely. He left a lasting impact which cheers me up every time I think about him.

What are the five best up’s in life? Buckle up, Start up, Keep it up, Don’t give up, Cheer up.”
―  Vikrmn

FROM BEING RESTRICTED TO RESTRICTING MYSELF…

As every other girl child who grew up in an Indian house hold, I had to adhere to quite a lot of restrictions. Starting from what to wear, to whom to talk, to what to talk, to when not to talk, how many friends I could have so on and so forth. When I was a teenager, all these restrictions definitely made me very uncomfortable. I wondered many times, if these many restrictions are really necessary. Why can’t people just be self disciplined? I understand, it is easier said than done.

After I moved to a new city for job, I had very less time apart from work. One thing, that I was new to software world, and second thing was that if I decide to take up something I tend to give my 100% to make that work. I had very long work hours including weekends. No one has asked me to do so much work or take up challenges. It is just who I am. I hardly used to get time to spend with family or friends and I justified this saying, “I have so much of work”. We actually weave a new story around it leaving aside what the real problem is.

An year or so ago, I asked myself why do I actually work this crazy? The returns are not going to increase financially. If the effort I put into work, I could channelize on to some other interest, it would not only serve as a stress reliever but also results in new learning and maybe new beginnings. I have self imposed a restriction that I won’t give more than 10 hours a day to work. There would definitely be days when I might have to spend more time at work, and that is acceptable as long as it does not interfere with life otherwise. Trust me, doing this was hard. I literally had alarms to getup from my seat to head home. Even mornings, I restricted myself from opening my laptop until a certain time. I slowly started realizing I have more time in fact.

I strictly don’t consume sugary foods, ice-creams or soda any more. There was a time when I used to drink close to 40 ounces of soda a day. Now I restrict myself to only consume water even when I go out for lunch. I have completely cut down on consuming white rice to one small portion a day. All of these small changes made life so much easier.

There are some self imposed restrictions that can work wonders like avoiding procrastination by sticking to a schedule, avoiding carbs and fatty foods if we weigh more than what we should be, taking stairs instead of lift, ensuring 8 -9 hours of sleep etc. It takes dedication and discipline. Somehow it is easier to follow the restrictions/limits we have set for ourselves, than imposed by others. The internal dilemma of why the restriction exists in the first place is no more there. The restriction came into existence for a reason we strongly believe in. Some of these restrictions shape us into better version of ourselves. It could be rewarding to cross the bridge knowing we aren’t on an easy path. So, one should try to impose meaningful and justified restrictions 

The counter side of it are those self imposed limits which restrict us from evolving, to not realize our full potential. We should be careful to not fall into such traps. Only one word of caution, don’t be too hard on yourself. 

“In a world of infinite choices, choosing one thing is the revolutionary act. Imposing that restriction is actually liberating.”
― Priya Parker 

SPONGY AND SOFT COTTON LIKE BALLS – THE YUMMY ROSHOGOLLAS

From when I was a teenage girl, I had a keen interest in roshogollas. I am not a Bengali or had Bengali friends, then how do I know about roshogollas? The sweet shops in our hometown had a special section for Bengali sweets. Not all the sweet shops but the famous ones did. I believe most of the Bengali sweets are made from milk. Amongst those sweets, there was a large white ball floating in sugar syrup. It is interesting and intriguing at the same time. I have seen something similar, but a brown ball, yeah,, the Gulab Jamun. I inquired the shopkeeper for the price one day, and I realized I cannot afford to buy one. In our home we don’t buy or order sweets from outside, so I cannot ask my parents to buy it for me. That was a deadlock. I wonder how many times I would have stopped by the sweet shop only to see those roshogollas.

I love the spongy Bengali Rosogolla, though Oriya people also have their own version of it. There is quite a bit of technique and science involved in making those airy sponge balls that swell up in sugar syrup like balls of cotton. There is a certain amount of joy to squeeze some of the sugar syrup out, holding with two fingers and simultaneously checking out the sponginess of each Rosogolla before popping them into the mouth! These days, foodies have come up with hundreds of different flavors of Rosogolla made of fruit and vegetable flavors, and I learned that some of the flavors are mind-blowing. They also lose their quintessential white color when mixed with other flavors. However, nothing can beat the classic Rosogolla. For Bengalis, it is pure happiness.

As I grew up and started working, I could have lunch at the office. Typical south or north Indian thali it was for me until one day I saw roshogolla being served as sweet in one of those thalis. My mouth was salivating at the glance of that bowl of sweet in the display, and I couldn’t wait to keep it in my mouth. Ah, my first roshogolla tasting. It was yummy!!! I had roshogollas many times only in the office. Another time I saw a roshogolla that was too big, of almost 10 cms in diameter during pujo, and I wondered how they would have made it. I came home and started browsing for videos of roshogolla making. You see, that is called craving. I wanted to try making roshogollas. Made them, fed some others with my experiments. The process is a little tricky is what I thought at first, but I am a reasonably good cook with few failures. All you need are only three ingredients to make roshogollas and one flavoring agent. Traditionally cardamom is used as a flavoring, but you may choose to use any other artificial flavoring. I don’t use any flavoring, as I love the flavor of milk itself. 

Ingredients:

Milk – 2L (Cow or buffalo milk. I tried using both, and they were fine)

Vinegar – 2-3 tsp as needed 

Sugar – 4 cups

There are two essential parts of making roshogollas. Making the chenna balls and boiling them in sugar syrup.

Making the chenna balls:

  1. To make the chenna, boil the milk. Once the milk comes to a boil, simmer the flame and add vinegar little by little (Note: you can use lemon juice or citric acid as well) Keep stirring with ladle slowly. The milk starts to curdle. After 5 mins, you can remove the vessel off the flame and strain the liquid using a muslin cloth. 
  2. Add cold water to the milk solids. These milk solids are called chenna. Wash the chenna 3 -4 times under running tap water, tie the muslin cloth, and hang the chenna for 3 hours. After three hours, you would notice that the water in the chenna is drained, but it would still be moist.
  3. Take the chenna in a smooth plate to start kneading. Use the palm of your hand for kneading. Do not mix it like a dough. Remember, you should do this step at least for 10 mins. By the end of 10 mins, the chenna would become smooth to form a like a dough.  (Tip: Some people also add 2 -3 spoons of maida(refined flour) while kneading the chenna, this helps the roshogollas to maintain their shape. This makes life easy if you are doubtful of roshogollas holding their shape. I never used maida, but mine turned out just fine)
  4. Make small rounds of this dough. The balls are going to enlarge more than double their size once you cook them in sugar syrup. So, considering this keep the size appropriate. 

Boiling in sugar syrup:

I normally use a 1:6 ratio of sugar and water. I am not a sweet tooth person, but if you love sweets, you can go up to 1:3. 

  1. Add the sugar and water to a container. Ensure the container has enough space for the balls to swell and move around easily. Bring the sugar and water mixture to a boil and reduce the flame to medium. 
  2. Remove the scum, if any, from the surface of the syrup. (If you are using flavoring, add it now to the syrup)
  3. Gently add the chenna balls to the sugary syrup. Keep it on a high flame for the first 15 min. Then lower the flame to medium for the next 25 min.
  4. Cover with a lid (preferably a glass one so you could see). Note: Lid must be on all the time except for when adding water as in the next step
  5. Once in awhile sprinkle some water and roll the roshogollas with a ladle. Remember to be quick but gentle not to break the balls. Roshogollas don’t like change in temperature, so if you keep the lid off a long time, there is a higher chance for them not to have proper texture. Do this 3 -4 times in the whole course.
  6. After  40 mins on a medium flame, you would notice that the roshogollas double in their size.

The roshogollas are ready!!! After they cool down, you can enjoy them. I bet you cannot stop at one 😀 

I have made them 4-5 times till now and always in 2-liter batches, which produce around 40 roshogollas. You can store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. A couple of Bengalis tasted my roshogollas and found them to be similar to the ones they make back home. I recently tasted the authentic roshogolla made in Bengal, the last December I think, and yes, mine are really very close. I hope you also enjoy making these delicious spongy balls at home. 

 

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COOKING IS MY LEGACY

I was always a foodie, even now and will be forever.

So food was not something I stayed away from. I loved being in the kitchen, be it for cooking or for eating. I always enjoyed making things, even if it might not be perfect. I enjoyed watching my mom cook. My love for cooking comes from the way my mom cooked and served everyone, I believe.  I have always seen her making everything we all loved eating and even if she never gets a bite to eat, she served everyone, enough to fill their tummies and even their heart.

The ease with which she met our demands, was tremendous, in spite of being a working mom. Even when I was mocked for being fat, my mom was never reluctant to cook and make me eat. Every time any guest came to our house, our dining table was filled with dishes. She was never tired of trying new styles, which is why I and my brother were extreme foodies.

When I was a kid, I used to dream about food always. One of the ads which were my favorite was one of those oil advertisements.

Being foodies is not a crime. 😛

I would say, that was the only reason, I never enjoyed my hostel food as such.

In the first half of my life, I would say I spent eating rather than cooking. The rest a few years went into helping my mom and even making dosa for my brother, who was too small to cook. I remember even making, sandwiches, sausages, etc. for everyone when I was in my 6th or 7nth standard. Whenever my mom was unwell, I tried my best to cook. I always felt it was magical to make all those continuous circles on dosa, making it look so adorable.

Image result for making dosa

The early morning black tea was something, I enjoyed making. The wonderful aroma of it, kick starts my day.

Ever since I got married (when I was 20+), I began all my experiments with cooking. With multiple failures, I enjoyed cooking on my own, serving my guests, my colleagues and even my family who comes to visit us. Their encouraging words were boosting my skills too.

My greatest critic is my husband though. He ensured I was informed well, that I cooked disastrous and when nice, he kept silent, but I could observe it from the way he had food.

Again being mom, changes all your tastes, rather than eating, you prefer feeding everyone. Many even thought that me being a foodie, would never share anything from my plate but little did they realize that now after being mom, I have changed.

I would try cooking, baking, grilling and much more just for my kids. As a mom, I would want to feed them the very healthy food. So I included all kinds of foods on my daily menu. Cutlets, soups, noodles, all kinds of parathas, paneer (being my daughter’s favorite) and much more.

Cooking is much more fun when you just don’t all the ingredients but a pinch of love to it. And I realized you need not be a good cook always, but someone who loves to share a piece of what they have always. The added flavor of my cooking -is love, which made everyone happy and filled.

And I still continue my legacy, that I  carry from my mom. And she is still my mentor who is teaching me much more.

The joy of cooking comes from the joy expressed while serving it with the one who is in need of food. — SoulRecitals

DIWALI IN HOSPITAL

It was the morning of Diwali of 2016. It had been 3 days of us visiting emergency room of Columbia Asia every 4-6 hours. My son was 1.5 years old and was suffering with high fever and wheezing since a few days. Unfortunately, Diwali was a long weekend and doctors weren’t regular – OPD’s were closed. So, we had to go to Emergency ward even when it wasn’t an emergency. 

Doctors had said that he needs nebulization every 4 hours to start with and since his saturation level was too low, it had to be checked with every nebulization. That meant we couldn’t nebulize him at home, we had to go to the hospital every 4 hours – day or night. 

On the day of Diwali, we realized that his health is only getting worse. His fever wasn’t coming down in spite of all the strong meds that he was being given. To add to the problem, he was not eating. He had spent 3 days only on a couple of biscuits and water. He refused to take milk or any solids and puked when fed forcibly. So, that evening we raised our concern AGAIN to the doctors. This time he was advised a chest X-Ray and blood work. We came back home and my son slept off. 

It was the first Diwali after my Brother in law got married which meant it ideally was supposed to be a big celebration. I was in no mood to do anything for Diwali at all, but we still had relatives over for dinner. I hardly prepared anything and my Mother in law did all the work. I was totally disconnected. Soon after we finished dinner – my son started screaming really bad. He had fever greater than 103 degree. It was a panicky moment for us. Kapil (my husband) was in the hospital to collect his reports. Me and my in laws were quick in sponging him and managed to get his temperature under control. Meanwhile, the reports confirmed that he had lung infection – a typical case of pneumonia. 

We were keen to admit him right away after looking at his condition but hospital refused. To my surprise, the reason was that all medical staff is busy attending the Diwali emergency cases. My husband explained what he had witnessed – emergency ward of that hospital was crowded with cases where people were burnt while burning crackers. And that was just one hospital – doctors mentioned that it is same case in all hospitals every year on Diwali night. It was very disheartening to hear this. In spite of being disturbed with my son’s health, I felt extremely sad about what all pain people go through in the name of celebration. Also felt horrible for all the medical staff that is busy attending the patients on the Diwali night. 

Next day morning, my son was admitted. He was very scared and so was I. He was sleeping on my lap in the Emergency room when the doctors came in to put his IV. I was made to step away so that doctors could deal with him and curtains were drawn so that me and my son were blocked from each other. I remember my palms hurting because I had my hands clenched so tight when he started to scream. To make things worse, he started saying – “Sorry mumma, I will be a good boy!” and many things like that. In his cries, he even started reciting his favorite nursery rhymes. I was in tears standing just outside the curtains. I realized that I should never tell him that doctors give injections to bad children. I am sure he was smart enough to think that he was being given the injection (and pain) as a punishment. That moment was very difficult to go through. 

Once we moved to his ward, things started to improve. Within 24 hours, he became almost normal. The only reason that meds were not working was because he wasn’t eating. 2 units of glucose did the magic and his infection was reduced by 80% by the end of 24 hours. At the end of 36 hours, we walked out of the hospital hoping that we never have to experience something similar again. 

However, we again landed in the same state 1.5 years later after his 3rd birthday. He got lung infection again at the same spot. Well, that hospital visit is yet another story that I will write about some other time. As of now, he is 4.5 years old and the infections did not recur since last 1.5 years. Fingers crossed! Doctors suspected weak lungs by birth and I hope (pray) that this isn’t the case.

Hospital visits aren’t delightful for sure. The only time I was elated in a hospital was when my son was born and I saw him for the first time. 

Diwali is just round the corner – I really hope and pray that hospital emergency wards are not full like we saw that years.