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.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

January 5, 2011

I don’t know what my parents were thinking when they gave me my nickname. Poupee, apparently, means doll. Whoever would want to go through life being called “doll” by all and sundry? Especially when one doesn’t have an even remotely “doll-ish” personality? If you go to see an old-fashioned Hollywood flick, it would be ok to have an adult female character called “Doll” only provided that character was a blond bimbette (the bimbette part being at least as important as the blond part; although my spellchecker says there’s no such word as bimbette) who was coquettish, obviously sexy, and completely empty-headed. Ideally this would also be a character that ended up dead halfway through the movie. Obviously, I do not resemble this prototypical doll from any angle. And apart from such a character, I can’t think of any adult who could do justice to the name “doll” – in any language.

Doll? You think?

Thankfully, most people who know my nickname don’t know what it means – it only means that in French. And come to think of it, how pseud is that? To nickname your daughter in French? Ugh!

What’s even worse, as my friend Supriya kindly pointed out to me when we were only just barely acquainted, is that various abbreviations of Poupee – “poo”, “poop”, and even the homonym “poopie” are all indicative of a certain form of excrement in colloquial English.

All the same, Poupee is what I was called at home and it became the name I called myself. Of course I have a formal name: Anamika. And again, I wonder what on earth my parents were thinking. It means: one without a name. But then, these are the same parents who wanted to nickname my sister “Pennycandy”. Shudder. My mother must have had a weird sense of humour when she was younger. (Not that it’s much better now…) Luckily for my sister, she escaped that fate and wound up without a nickname. Her friends supplied various dreadful ones to fill the gap during her school years, but I doubt they were as bad as “Pennycandy”.

As for me, I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to convince people that Anamika, apart from meaning “nameless one” is also the name of the ring finger. Thankfully, nobody has yet been so lacking in civility as to ask why anyone would want to call their daughter by the name of the third finger.

Since Poupee was what all the people close to me called me, I liked the name. (Back then, I hadn’t found out what it meant.) I liked people I liked to call me Poupee. Family friends, family members, and friends of my sister called me Poupee. Anamika was for school. Over the first couple of decades of my life, those few school friends who bridged the divide between school and home switched to calling me Poupee. Amit called me Poupee from day one. “Anamika” became my formal, outdoors persona, while “Poupee” was me.

It was only when I started working that I really became Anamika. My early writings as a journalist were published under that name, and for the first time, I felt “Anamika” begin to develop into a real person – as opposed to just being an external wrapping for Poupee.

In 2001, I joined a workplace that already had an Anamika. It was too difficult to have two Anamikas in a six-person team, so I got to pick a name. I didn’t want to be Poupee in my workplace, and the other Anamika was also sometimes called Ana, so I had little choice but to settle for Mika. And actually, I somehow liked it. I liked the oddity of it being the second part of my name, instead of the first. I liked the pointy sound of the ‘i’ sandwiched between the ‘M’ and the ‘k’. I even liked that it reminded me of Mika Hakkinnen, the only other Mika I’d ever heard of.

It turned out to be a very good idea, too. In that organization, I worked with people from various parts of the world, and you wouldn’t believe the number of different and horrible ways that the name Anamika can be spoken. There’s only one right way to say it, which is music to my ears. Any other way, and you run the risk of being silently but terribly cursed by me. And while I try to make allowances for different accents and different interpretations of the written symbols, my patience really runs out when even Indians who have stayed abroad for a bit make a mess out of my name. Mika was much less likely to cause me to burst a blood vessel – it’s just two syllables, four uncontroversial letters, consonants and vowels alternating. How difficult can that be. (Of course, my then manager managed to turn it into Mikka, but she had a lot of far greater crimes to her credit, so it’s hardly even worth mentioning that.)

A few of my friends still call me Anamika. Several call me Mika, including some who didn’t work with me at that organization but got to know the name either through this blog or through common friends. A few – typically those who know me through Amit – call me Poupee. One eccentric creature calls me Poops (which is ok coming from her, but nobody else had better dare try it). My paternal grandmother, who didn’t get on with my mother (obviously), called me Pupu until I became old enough to make it clear that that was unacceptable even from a grandmother.

And I? In this multitude of names, what do I call myself? Which name do I like the most? What do I want people I like to call me? Strangely enough, I just don’t know any more. Or maybe, it doesn’t matter anymore. After all, as the Bard said, what’s in a name? That which we call Anamika, by any other name would still be me!

The Stay-at-Home Holiday

January 3, 2011

If anyone had told me that I’d take a nine-day vacation someday to just stay at home and relax… and that I’d enjoy it… I’d have said they were completely off their rocker.

But that’s what we did – and I did enjoy it. Totally!

The first few days of the holidays, my parents were here, so that was fun, of course. After they left on Tuesday, we still had the better part of a week to relax, unwind, and catch up on all the little bits of life that get left out the rest of the year. When we’d planned this stay-at-home holiday (or rather, when we’d realized that we hadn’t planned to go away anywhere), I had put together a long list of things I wanted to do during this time.

  1. I have 3 issues of the National Geographic magazine to catch up on
  2. I haven’t filed, sorted, and uploaded photos since May
  3. I haven’t read the book on Hadrian’s Villa that I bought in Italy; or any book, come to that, apart from Archaeology text books that are so successful in putting me to sleep
  4. I have to run down a couple of cheque payments that went astray and now require the whole stamp-paper-indemnity-letter runaround
  5. I haven’t been for a movie since I don’t know when; it would also be nice to get away for a meal or two with Amit without the kids
  6. I would love to have more time to play tennis
  7. I want to take the kids swimming – they have been asking for the longest time, but there’s never enough time!
  8. I could really use a sleep holiday – when I get to sleep right up till the time I wake up naturally

Of these, I achieved only 1 (partially – one issue is still left untouched, and no, that’s not the January issue, I haven’t got that yet), 2 (in the last few hours of the last day of the holiday), and 8. And I read one book. One. (Henning Mankell – heard of him? I hadn’t.) Agenda items 4, 6, and 7 were non-starters. As for 5, we did manage a couple of meals out together by packing the kids off to daycare, but the only movie we saw was Hidalgo, on TV – and that too, on New Year’s Eve, no less.

I’d hoped to at least catch up with many friends in the long break, but we didn’t even manage to do that. In fact, between the day before Christmas and the day after New Year, we didn’t have a single social get-together. This, at precisely that time of year when everyone is meeting up with everyone else and partying like there’s no tomorrow. All I wanted to do was stay home, relax, drink some more beer and/or wine, cook something simple and not too unhealthy, and go to sleep early. So that’s what we did and it was really nice!

I honestly don’t know where the rest of the time went. There were days at a stretch when I didn’t so much as turn on my laptop, even though it was sitting there on the desk and looking at me dolefully. It was most refreshing. I don’t think I’d want to do this again in a hurry, but it was definitely been a happy experience. Who’d ever have thought that staying at home could be just as enjoyable a holiday as going out somewhere?

Photos and a Video of the Twins

January 3, 2011

There are a few new photos of the twins up on Flickr.

And there’s this brief video of their Christmas dance show:

Mrini is the second from the right. Tara, poor thing, is completely hidden because she was put in the back row. The big, tall chap in front is the dance master.

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