This Can’t be Real (But I Really Hope It Is)

January 31, 2011

(Warning: Health-obsessed post coming up)

I wasn’t too sure, when I started this gluten-free diet, whether I really wanted it to work or not. At one level, I felt I’d welcome absolutely anything that could get rid of that bloated feeling. But when I contemplated a gluten-free diet for the rest of my life, I had to wonder whether this was the kind of anything I’d rather not have to welcome.

The gluten-free diet was really tough in the first few days, as I began to discover with horror that all manner of things one would never have suspected of harbouring gluten were now off the cards. As my friend Chris said, regarding me with the horrified pity normally reserved for the terminally ill, I never actually related gluten with anything. Now I began to find that fairly innocuous things like soy sauce and – horror of horrors, the cornerstone of my existence, chocolate – could contain gluten. I mean, here I was going on about beer and cake, never suspecting that the alpha and omega of my diet was just about to be struck off the list. Forever.

As I determinedly ground my teeth and assured myself I was just trying this out for a couple of weeks, I found myself swinging between despair and despair. On the one hand was the despair that the diet was working; on the other hand, despair that it wasn’t.

The websites said that an absolutely gluten-free diet for two weeks would result in a “dramatic” improvement in symptoms. By the end of ten days, I was noticing only an “erratic” improvement in symptoms. And the fact that the bloating and acidity still occasionally returned, albeit in reduced doses, made me feel that the gluten-free aspect was not really working at all. But I stayed the course for two whole weeks and at the end of it, I had to admit that the improvement in symptoms had progressed from “erratic” to “dramatic”.

By this time, I was definitely happy to have found the solution to my problem. I just felt so much better with a light, flat, stomach that seemed to be what I remember as me. I was beginning to think in terms of working around the problem – from attempting homemade gluten-free chocolate, to considering homemade rice-flour-based cake. But I was delighted enough with my recent return to good health not to be tampering with my gluten-free diet even under extreme provocation.

Then, suddenly, something else happened. The needle on the blasted weighing machine started stopping 1 kilo short of where it used to. A few days later, it was stopping 2, then 3 kilos below what had been “normal”. And this morning, it showed me a whole 4 kilos lighter than I was at the beginning of this year. Four!!!!

The whole of last year, and a bit of the year before that, I was mystified by my unexplained weight gain. I thought it was out of proportion to my lifestyle, diet and activity level. But the allopathic doctor found nothing wrong with me, so I put it down – unhappily – to aging. I had noticed, though, that the first time I took the medicines the gastro doctor prescribed, 3 kilos had fallen off just as suddenly as they had piled up. The next time I took the same gastro medicine, though, there was no such miracle effect. I put it down to “unexplainable”.

But now this. I’ve been gluten free for less than three weeks now and that blasted weighing scale, which hasn’t been my friend for almost two years, is showing me as 4 kilos lighter. Can gluten do that to you? I obviously haven’t reduced my calorie intake to the extent that I could have lost 4 kilos in a month – that would be unhealthy – so I can only surmise that being gluten-free has somehow given my metabolism a good kick in the backside. That would also explain why my sister has such a superb figure; she’s been gluten-free for years. (Of course, she also works out a lot, that could have something to do with it.) But could it be that a wheat-rich diet, which is supposed to be good for you from a blood sugar and diabetes perspective was not only causing me to bloat up like a helium balloon, but also causing me to gain weight? There’s irony for you.

Of course, next week that blasted weighing scale might decide to go back to “normal” and put an end to this line of thought; but until then, it’s my best friend. And gluten-free is here to stay. (Though I might cheat on it once in a while – what’s life without a bit of cheating to look forward to, huh?)

Pressing Matters

January 29, 2011

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate doing the ironing. In fact, it is the household task that I least dislike. I won’t go so far as to say that I actually enjoy it, but if any housework were to be bordering the enjoyable, it would be ironing.

But that doesn’t mean that it figured prominently in my dreams. Whenever I dreamt of what exactly it would feel like the day I became a published author; whenever I thought of how excited I would be and how I would celebrate; strangely enough, none of those times did ironing figure in the dreams. But that’s what I spent the evening doing. And as for the champagne I mentioned – it didn’t happen. Not a sip. Not even a whiff. All I got was a couple of bites of fairly foul lactose-free, gluten-free chocolate that I had been driven to spend Republic Day making. Considering I’ve never actually tried to make slab chocolate at home before (why bother, when you can make fudge frosting which is – if possible – even more delicious?), to try making it without one of the key ingredients (icing sugar) was foolish, but that only testifies to the level of desperation one can sink to after two whole weeks on a strictly lactose-free, gluten-free diet which eliminates all forms of commercial chocolate. (And to be told afterwards that icing sugar is gluten safe!)

But I digress. The point remains that, the day my book became available online, which nowadays can be considered to be at least as significant as the day it becomes available in brick and mortar bookshops, I spent the evening not celebrating, but doing ironing.

Why? You may well ask. Not by choice, obviously. But we are having domestic help issues. Our all-in-one domestic help is having marital problems that involve an errant and philandering husband, unscrupulous lawyers, and intractable judges. All of which doesn’t leave her with much time to organize the running of our house. The result is, not only did I spend both Sunday and Republic Day cooking, I spent my turning-author day ironing a vast stack of children’s clothes. With all their favourite clothes waiting to be ironed, I could well have had mutiny on my hands on Friday morning, had I not buckled down and done the deed on Thursday night.

Ok, but one can celebrate on Friday evening instead, can’t one? One could have and indeed, one intended to… but somehow or other that celebration fizzled out and wound up in a small tub of vanilla ice cream. I’m discovering, in fact, that it’s quite difficult to celebrate anything when all you can eat is rice, veggies, and chicken. And no beer.

So most of my celebration has been online, with virtual friends, a virtual book launch, virtual autographing, and a virtual promise of cake. The ironing I did was all real, though.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover…

January 28, 2011

…and definitely don’t judge this book by the cover photograph! I’m not such a bad photographer, but I’m not so good with mobilephone cameras, flat objects, and bad lighting. However, for what it’s worth, here’s the cover (ta-da!):

Worth Every Gasp

Worth Every Gasp

If you like the cover, and especially if you don’t, let me assure you, it gets better once you open it and start reading (there’s a time and a place for false modesty and this is not either).

I still don’t know which bookshops it’s available in, but you can buy it online from It’s on the home page, complete with picture of the cover, so you can’t miss it. And they deliver internationally too, to several countries.

It’s a Book!

January 27, 2011

And I’m an author… at last. In case you didn’t catch it in the comments on my previous post, the title of my book is:

Worth Every Gasp

It’s published by Prakash Books, and the author’s name is… ? Anamika Mukherjee (taking a bow)!

This is the closest thing to a launch that we’re going to get, folks, so go buy your copies and tell me how much you enjoyed it. Yes, you can get it online, on flipkart if you search by author and on (right on the front page now; they have a picture; and they deliver internationally as well).

Autographed copies? Seriously? Well, I suppose I can courier you a copy. Leave me a comment and I’ll contact you over email.

Ok, now I’m off to find a bottle of gluten-free champagne to open.

I blame it on the gluten free diet

January 24, 2011

Obviously. How far can you go without cake and beer? The digestive juices might be getting a break, but the creative juices are definitely drying up. Which, hopefully, explains the paucity of posts since the end of last year.

The good news, though, is that my book has been printed! Yay! Now I’m waiting to find out which bookshops will stock it, so that we can all go out and buy a copy, right? As soon as I find out, I’ll shout it from the rooftops – well, at least on this page, I will. So, as they say, watch this space!

A Happy Confluence

January 18, 2011

Today I feel like a million dollars.

After a long time, the past few sessions of tennis have been good, and – what’s even better – improving. I’ve been swacking the ball and it feels great!

Last year, my game had completely disintegrated. Tennis Sir said I had lost conditioning, and I could see what he meant, I just couldn’t understand why. In September, after I could barely stand after a brief half-hour on the court, I finally decided it was time to see a doctor. He treated me for chronic fatigue syndrome, and I started to bounce back in days. But it’s taken time for my general conditioning level to recover. Now, after really going for the ball for over an hour, I can feel some stiffness in my arm. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened even after two whole hours on the court. But six months ago, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand on the court for that long.

Another thing Tennis Sir has been telling me is that I’m not keeping my wrist firm while hitting the ball. After struggling for months to fix the problem, and almost giving up in despair, late last year I decided I was just going to ignore it and go back to enjoying the game like I used to. Then my parents came to visit and one idle morning, my mother started playing tennis against the wall in our living room, using Mrini’s tiny racket. “Our coach used to tell us to hold the racket tightly,” she said, referring to an event that must have taken place at least 50 years ago. I realized that I should be doing that as well. Strangely enough, it was not something either Amit or Tennis Sir had mentioned, though they are both usually extremely perceptive in identifying the mistakes in my game and suggesting strategies to fix them. Still, in the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing exclusively on holding the racket tightly, and suddenly, my loose wrist problem has improved dramatically!

Then there was that gastro problem that has been plaguing me for a year-and-a-half. I remember exactly when it started – I had decided that I really needed to lose weight (for, of course, the umpteenth time in my life) so I’d started a new diet and exercise regime. When the bloating developed, I thought it was the sprouts and boiled channa I’d taken to nibbling on, so I cut those out of my diet. Then I cut out wheat and milk for a week each. Nothing worked. After some months, I went to a doctor. He tested me for various things and then gave me a list of pills to pop and sent me away. The pills worked, but only to control the symptoms; they didn’t fix the problem. And I didn’t want to be on pills for the rest of my life.

So then, in the winter break, with many reservations and much reluctance, I finally consulted a homeopathic doctor. He gave me more pills to pop and suggested that I avoid wheat. After a few false starts and a few denials and rebuttals, I’ve succeeded in weaning myself off all kinds of wheat and flour for about a week now. It’s much more difficult than I’d thought! When I’d gone “wheat-free” for a week or so the last time around, I hadn’t realized that it also meant no bread, and no beer. I hadn’t thought to check which of the processed foods and restaurant dishes used flour. I’d just cut out the rotis and not seen any difference. This time, I’ve really tried to avoid even microscopic bits of suspected flour. Like, boondi laddoos. They should be made of besan, but unless I make them myself (unlikely!), can I be altogether sure they don’t have some flour added?

The result of all this excessive paranoia and obsession? I’m not ready to bring out the champagne yet (and I’d need to check that it doesn’t have any flour), but my bloating really does seem to have reduced. This morning, I woke up feeling light, flat, and hungry! I haven’t felt that way for months!

According to various sources on the internet, lactose intolerance, wheat sensitivity or gluten intolerance (or, in more extreme cases, celiac disease), tiredness, joint and muscle ache, and possibly even chronic fatigue are all related. Also, wheat/gluten intolerance runs in families. I told the chronic-fatigue GP about my gastro problem, but he ignored it. I told both my allopathic gastro doctor and my homeopathic doctor that my sister has gluten/wheat intolerance, but the allopathic doctor just shrugged it off. If this gluten-free diet that I’ve been struggling to adhere to actually pays off in terms of putting an end to that eternal balloon-like bloating, I’ve got some nasty words in mind for those allopathic doctors. (But then again, according to the Internet, in most cases, gluten intolerance is misdiagnosed for years – so I’m actually ahead of the curve here, thanks to that homeopathic doctor that I didn’t have much faith in.)

So, right now, with my general conditioning, stamina, and strength improving, my tennis looking up, and my bloating showing signs of reducing, I have much to be happy about! Funny how sometimes what it takes is a happy confluence of circumstances. Or maybe it has to do with the alignment of the stars and planet. Whatever it is, I like it.

All Part of the Game

January 12, 2011

The past couple of weeks have been one long blur of tennis. Not me, mind you – it’s the kids I’m talking about. Tara started the weekend after Mrini did. I still think she’s not all that enthusiastic about tennis, but she clearly doesn’t want to watch Mrini playing while she sits out. I would have perhaps dissuaded her from taking on something just because Mrini’s doing it, but Amit was so keen for both of them to be into tennis that I didn’t stand a chance.

Predictably, while Mrini diligently does everything that she’s supposed to be doing, Tara can be found missing her turn in the queue, or facing the wrong way when it comes to her turn to hit the ball. Somehow, she manages to hit as many balls as Mrini does, though.

At home, Mrini has completely lost interest in writing and football. The moment she gets home from daycare, she runs to fetch her tennis racket. She doesn’t bother to wait for Amit and me to play with her, but starts tapping the ball right away. She has learnt to tap on every alternate bounce and can keep it up almost indefinitely (well, at least for about 15 taps). After a bit, she starts playing against the wall. She doesn’t manage to hit it to the wall more than twice in a row, but that doesn’t stop her from trying.

Tara didn’t have a racket. Initially, Amit insisted on getting just one racket for the two of them, and now that Tara had joined tennis class, she had to use a spare racket at the court. At home, she had to share the one racket with Mrini. Since Mrini was more devoted to tennis and since she had started playing at the courts first, their one racket had become “Mrini’s” racket by default. So we ordered a racket for Tara and got it at last just yesterday. I showed it to her in the morning as they were leaving for school. She was delighted, and told me not to open it, she would open it herself in the evening.

Yesterday evening, as soon as we got home, Mrini grabbed her own racket, and Tara got to work unwrapping her racket. A few minutes later, they were standing at opposite ends of the living room, hitting a ball to each other. One of them would play the lead ball; even if it went directly to the other, she would inevitably swing and miss. Then she would run to pick up the ball and start again. It was adorable!

When I was about 13 or so, my parents bought wooden tennis rackets from my sister and me and we went down to the nearby clay courts to play. There was a coach, or perhaps a marker, there, but he wasn’t very interested in coaching. There were a bunch of other girls, who also didn’t know how to play. There was an uneven, low wall to play against, an uneven ground for the ball to bounce on, and a massive, boundary-less field for the ball to get lost in. Whether you played in the court or against the wall, the rally seldom progressed beyond a single shot. Only if you were very lucky, did you get to hit a second or third shot, before walking off in the blazing sun to pick up the ball. (Of course, we used only one tattered ball at a time – balls were frightfully expensive.)

For a thirteen-year-old, it was a frustrating and short-lived experiment. It took almost two decades for me to come back to the game and actually learn how to play.

The twins didn’t seem to mind so much. The ball went all over the living room, but they are already used to running after it and picking it up, and they are especially adept at getting it out from awkward places like behind the TV or from under the steps. So they continued their game until I called them for dinner and hung their rackets up out of reach. Of course, Mrini has perfected the art of pulling up my computer table’s chair and standing on it to reach her racket, so that isn’t very effective anyway.

You never can tell with kids – they might be all enthusiastic about something one day, and then lose interest in it completely and move on to the next exciting activity the next day. I hope tennis is an activity they will continue to enjoy for a long time – it would be nice to be able to play with them as they grow up. And at least they do have a good court with a good coach nearby and they see Amit and me go there every day to play, so hopefully that will inspire them to continue. But even if they lose interest and move on to the next thing – it’s been fun watch them this far.

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