Friday, May 11, 2007

No great thoughts whatsoever

There are some minor satisfactions in life -- just day-to-day stuff, which warms the heart in a very nice way. Just overcoming miiiinnnnor obstacles...like when you start making phulkas for the first time(Yeah, I know, YAWN!). It is really difficult to get everything just right; the consistency of the dough, the rolling and panning out and cooking and tossing. Ridiculous skill which a lot of people take for granted. Ha. I kind of mastered it today!

No major moments otherwise today except that Guru, one of Kannan's fav cousins came home for dinner and that was nice. He is an easy guy to be around -- soft and well-behaved, good natured. They don't make them like that these days!

That's it for the day ... inconsequential stuff.;)

Cheers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Talking the Walk

Hmph. Another day of not working out AND a packet of salted peanuts thrown in for good measure! I would like to take this opportunity to blame my genes for my love for food. It is indecent, this love is.

However, no matter how many people tell you that good health means being the right weight or gives um , let me say, further blood pressure-raising advice, the fact is any move towards weight loss MUST come from within. Outside help can only take you so far. Even if outside help (say a motivating relative, friend or parent) takes you to your ideal weight with nagging, pleading, threatening, cajoling and encouragement, you have to STAY there right? Who can handhold you for THAT long? That is, forever?

No one, that's who. "I came into this world alone and I have to go it alone" (except if I were a twin!) Very nice words but what's the bottom line? Bottom line is YOU decide (I read I decide) Also, I say if someone tells you that you have put on weight, ask them to go jump (they might lose a few calories that way!). They ain't bin there and have n't a clue. However, if they have been fat, then hear them out. You never know when you might be listening!

I love JK Rowling for ...not JUST Harry Potter. (although, I do, I do love her for it)She says that she finds this weight and appearance talk to be very superficial and trivial. For example, she says somebody met her after a long time and the first thing she (the person) said to JK Rowling was, "You have lost weight". JKR's point is, "I have written these books, they are made into movies and all she can talk about is my appearance?" Well, this vein from JKR ought not to have surprised me (ARDENT HP fan) because her HP books hit all the right notes emotionally. Mind blowing characters and conversations and expressions; and to think that it is all fiction!

Ok, got sidetracked there with HP...but more on the HP books is BOUND to find its way into my blog. SUCH is my love for them.

Fat is a condition that's all. As with most 'conditions', I hope it is temporary and changes at some point. Hope. What would I do without it?

cheers!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Walking the Talk

Today I FINALLY moved myself to the gym after 2 and a half weeks. Actually, nearly did not go; what with Chennai's fabulously sweaty weather and the fact that slumber comes easy, so easily these days in the afternoons...Went for an aerobics clas but found it lacking lustre as perching myself precariously on a gymball is NOT my idea of working out to lose weight as most of my concentration is on the balance

Another feather in my non-existent cap is that some mag I wrote to has invited me to be part of their team to write as a 'freelancer' -- goodie. Let's see how it goes.

Tara is presently making a huge fuss to drink her milk. So boring -- YAWN. But the mom in me says "shut up and make her drink it" and so I trudge on with the cajoling and threats. Sigh.

Today was a productive day what with cooking, a spot of cleaning (a HUGE effort for me btw -- we messies like our messes!) and aerobics and then a visit to an aunt-in-law's house.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tuesday, 08.05.2007 -- Thinking and Talking

so, my blog seemed so full of my articles that i though I would write about something else. Like what i did today. A LOT of cooking and one paatu class which was severely interrupted by Tara. She was using my lap as a slide (!) during class when i sang Samba shiva (our favourite) and then tried to catch my hand as I attempted to put thaalam. Since she is not even three the whole thing was funny and unfortunately for my pleasant teacher, I got the major giggles inbetween!!

I also got a fantastic compliment from an old family friend who said that she loved my writing so much that had I been her daughter, she would have been sending everyone she knew my writing samples as she would have just burst with pride. naturally, i am aware that i am not SUCH a great writer but the fact that someone so staunchly vouches for my writing makes me puff up a bit!:)

Speaking of puff, any fat people out there who are trying to lose weight? Help! I have n't seen my gym for over 2 weeks (domestic reasons)and while I managed to lose 1 and a half of the 3 kgs i put on (holiday in Goa) WITHOUT working out, I really want go downhill on the weighing scale!!!

But now, I think I must start introspecting on whether I REALLY want to get rid of the excess weight enough to stop enjoying goodies....ahhh the familiar sinking feeling that I don't want the weight off as badly as i want the food in.

I guess 'Old habits die hard' if at all you manage to kill them in the end!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Article - Report - Bridal Bliss Package


Wedding dumb-bells!

Dust, grime, noise, traffic and curious bystanders mar Chennai’s overall “exteriors”. It is quite a relief to turn to a comfortable, indoor environment for exercise. Gyms -- Body-toning machines, physical trainers, diet consultants and air-conditioning even, constitute the fitness revolution we are witnessing in today’s urbanized steely world.

An evergreen option of brisk outdoor walks notwithstanding; the lure of an opportunity to get fit under “expert, luxurious guidance” is what makes gyms big business today. They throw in steam rooms and massages for good measure as value-adds. Despite effective weight-loss and muscle-toning programs being the main factors behind gyms’ growing success in general, there are some entities that walk a few steps further into the limelight. One such is the fitness center – “Fitness One”.

“Fitness One”, a chain of fitness centers across South India currently encompassing Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore, has launched a unique and glamorous “product”. The launch event was held on 08th January, 2007 at The Park hotel between 3 and 6 p.m. Specially designed for the niche audience of brides and grooms-to-be with attractive and useful offers, the product is aptly called “Bridal Bliss”. This bridal bonanza comprises a three-month long membership at Fitness One with tempting frills attached – Kirtilals for jewellery, Naturals for beauty-care, Baywatch for travel and Kaya Skin Clinic are their preferred vendors and have done their part in bringing all this enticement to a bride-to-be’s attention. It was conceptualized by three enterprising ladies -- Meena Anand, Ameeta Agnihotri and Nidhi Mehta, of Fitness One.

The event itself was well punctuated with dances by John Britto’s academy and a fashion show, showcasing popular Sun Music VJs and other models as Indian brides and grooms. The show-stopper was Miss. Linda, of Kabul Express fame who posed as a Christian bride – dressed in white with bouquet in place. The event also had Mehendi, Make-over counters and delicious eats open to the audience – a complete Indian-wedding experience! However, the very creativity of the concept…a bride (or groom) preparing herself for her big day by joining a fitness center, held everybody’s attention in place.

Moreover, two real brides-to-be were catapulted into bliss when they were each gifted this bridal bonanza by Fitness One, thereby officially launching their latest, exciting and innovative product.

Quite apart from being a union for life, weddings are extravaganzas, a time for the bride and groom-in-the making, to look and feel “on top of the world”. Therefore, a time to shed excess weight, whip those bulges into shape, gloss that skin up and toss that mane around with an overall feel-good attitude.

The ultimate relationship – the dream day -- it requires you to set your heart racing and sweat it all out, it seems!

Cheers!

Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Valentine's Day


What’s love got to do with it?

It is that time of the year …for love! Phone calls, giggles and scribbles on cards! Greeting cards and gifts fly back and forth, restaurants are booked to the brim come February 14th and hotels do their fair bit by offering complimentary valentine’s day-goodies for diners and setting up cozy corners galore. Shopping malls approach this day with aplomb – just like they would any another traditional, festive occasion…what with the ballooning red and pink hearts on display and ‘Valentine Day Specials’.

February 14th is celebrated as Valentine’s day. The countdown begins soon after the Pongal festival’s excitement dies down. The Valentine’s Day furore is something to reckon with these days! Few people know or even care about what brought this hype on! As far as most are concerned, it is another special occasion to get cracking on dates, parties and dine-outs. In short, for most youngsters, it serves as a great multi-fold distraction – going out, talking even more about love and romance, and an excuse to spend a tad more money in buying cards and little gifts.

Hype aside, a great deal has been speculated on the supposed origin and history of this day. A widely-accepted story is about a Roman priest named Valentine who went against the then Emperor’s rule -- that no marriages for young, robust men be allowed as the Emperor believed that unmarried and unattached men made better soldiers. The priest saw the injustice in this and began secretly performing marriages for young couples desperately in love. In other words, the legend has it that against all odds, he brought two people in love together and in the process got himself caught, imprisoned and executed.

The story says that whilst in prison, he befriended the jailor’s daughter and just before the execution on February 14th, he wrote this young girl a letter signed “from your Valentine”. This is St. Valentine’s story…

Apparently there are more (or less!) facts and variations to this story / legend but the bottom line in every one of them is Saint Valentine -- a heroic figure who put the welfare of love and romance before his very life.

For us Indians, there is no dearth of romantic heroes from our past either, including mythical heroes and the various Gods and Goddesses. Rare indeed is any story we have heard that is devoid of heroism, romance, lust, infatuation or love. For such a dramatic people, another reason (albeit foreign and in no way relevant) to celebrate love is always welcome! So, what if Valentine’s Day originated in faraway Rome? So what if everybody is woolly about the legitimate history behind it? So what if this whole thing with St. Valentine may just have nothing at all to do with love and romance?

Everybody seems happy celebrating it. For the youth, this is like a once-in-a-“love time” opportunity on a platter – an excuse to walk up to the guy or gal who suits your fancy and declare your feelings…or indeed state the same (even anonymously sometimes), from behind a flowery greeting card. Moreover, let’s face the fact that there are business avenues for a lot of people to make some money out of all this hype.

However, there are many people amidst this hullabaloo, who can be seen with carefully assumed poker faces on 14th of February. They are the ones who think that celebrating days like Mothers’ day, Fathers’ day and Valentine’s Day is hogwash and a complete waste of valuable time and money. To each, his own.

Above all this, there is no clear take on whether this day is celebrated with just romance in mind, or love as such in all its various shades of glory – maternal, paternal, sibling, friendship and so on.

Still, if you love romance, you should not let the skeptics cloud your aura. After all, be you a believer or non-believer that warm glow in your heart can also be rekindled if you receive a Valentine this year!

What is life without a little love?


Cheers!

Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Thailand - Travelogue - Pattaya

Eight to Tango!

We always look forward to vacations, as they are special times in life – a vacation is a big bundle of free time with no cares or worries, deadlines or alarm clocks. There are no rules as to how a holiday is to be spent…or with whom…or indeed, without whom! I used the word “without” because my “galpals” and I went on a holiday without husbands, without kids and without any other family-member. Sounds offbeat? It sure was. It was also a terrific idea for a vacation with just eight women – all friends (in the wide age-range of 25 to 45!). A holiday in Thailand -- two days each in Pattaya and Bangkok …chilling out in the first and shopping in the second. Our priorities were clear and set – relaxation and shopping. It would not allow time for anything else, including sightseeing.

Even the planning was fun – no routines, cooking-cleaning, kid-care, husband-care, parents-care, or inlaws-care. How did we manage it? Admittedly, with a lot of support from our families, especially husbands! If husbands don’t volunteer to baby-sit, there would be no real holiday for the wife/mom/daughter-in-law and we know it!

Baby-sitting taken care of and holiday in progress: - It was fun to travel on an international flight with friends! It brought back nostalgic memories from schooldays of “jostle-filled” rides on tourist buses and second-class train compartments. However, with age comes a certain “degree of fuss” so this holiday to a nearby, foreign destination was the perfect option.

We landed in Bangkok and immediately travelled for two hours by road to Pattaya, a beach town with a variety of hotels and resorts. We checked in to our hotel and then casually explored the sleepy town. Pattaya is not a “morning-town”. We then got down to the business of relaxation…a very soothing and rejuvenating Thai massage. For those not enamoured with the idea of a body massage, the option of a foot massage is available and a “not-to-be-missed” experience! A leisurely lunch followed. Vegetarians, beware of the food – you have to be very clear and succinct if you want to eat pure vegetarian food in Thailand! It was good to be in like-minded-adult-company. No extra bags, no worries about the rest of the family’s needs – just your individual needs and wants for four days…

The early evening saw us spending quality time in the hotel’s swimming pool. Our priorities were indeed different. Nevertheless, for those who would like to have an agenda, there are of course, wonderful options available even in this simple town.

At Pattaya you get to spend a lot of time down at the beach -- “watery-fun”, I call it. At the Boat Service, amongst various options, we settled on the adventurous, banana boat ride. The banana boat is a big, inflatable banana-shaped raft designed for 5 people to sit one behind the other and has a rope tying it to the tug/motor boat. The boat would then head out to sea pulling the banana boat behind it so that the riders of the banana boat would have a fun roller coaster ride in the sea with absolutely no control over direction or speed! Lifejackets are necessary, of course. Who would have thought that in our thirties and forties, we could get away with such fun?!

The next spot of beach activity we engaged ourselves in was parasailing, a very popular adventure-sport in Pattaya. We reached the para-sailing platform out at sea by means of a hired speedboat. For the uninitiated, Para sailing involves the process of donning a life jacket, clasped to a Parachute complete with canopy. A long rope connects you to a Speed Boat on the water. You then take a running jump off a platform and parasail…flying high above the water and are pulled along / navigated by the boat! It is truly a wonderful, exhilarating experience to be flying so. However, all too soon they bring you down to land. I would not recommend this adventure sport to delicate darlings or the weak-hearted, but the “ground crew” we encountered, was impressive in their co-ordination and timing and hence, safety was not a major concern.

Seaside fun aside, Pattaya’s mornings might be lazy, but the evenings are what we nowadays call “rocking”! Pattaya’s nightlife makes it a great holiday destination.

While we were short on time (four days are too few) that we could spend in Thailand, I would recommend at least four days in Pattaya alone, to ensure complete relaxation! Moreover, for us Indians especially, Thailand is a great place for relaxation, sightseeing and shopping, as it is very affordable and logistics-friendly.

We also carefully chose quality hotels to stay in, as the idea behind this whole experience was to enjoy life -- scrimping and saving were simply not part of the plan! Having said that, we got great package deals for both airfare as well as hotel accommodation since we were travelling in a group. You see, more is indeed merrier!

I am not saying, “Take a vacation without family”. What I am saying is …this sort of an “off-beat” holiday might be just the kind of refreshment you need to get that spring back in your step!


Cheers!
Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Report - Tourintalkies.com

New site on the block

Another one bites the net!

“Tour-In Talkies” – a website catering exclusively to Tamil movie buffs, was launched on the 28th of April, 2007 at the Taj Coromandel’s ballroom amidst great fanfare. The site’s managing editor Aparna Pillai, reckons that Tamil film viewers are aplenty and far-flung across the globe. Therefore she infers that a special space on the web where updates on the latest and upcoming Tamil movies as well as yesteryear classics would be very welcome.

The event had a cool ambience thanks to tasteful d├ęcor and the sprinkling of stars, models and a “hip” gathering of people. The website was formally launched by P.M. Amza, the Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka. The glitterati included Trisha, Prashanth, Vijaykumar, Sneha, Srikanth, Simbu, Sibiraj and Shyam. Prashanth gave an encouraging speech –a vote of confidence for this website. Trisha walked away with the limelight even though her speech was brief. She said she owed her presence at the launch to designer Sidney SS whose couture was up for display that evening.

The site professes to steer clear of gossip whilst offering lively, lesser-known facts about favourite stars and interesting tidbits from Tamil cinema. On a more interesting note, the site will also divulge the whereabouts of all those fancy locations and breathtaking sites that feature in song sequences. Usually, they are eye-catching places making you long for a vacation there yourself and you want to fly off there right away but cannot, since you haven’t a clue as to where it is or indeed, or in which country even.

Tour-In Talkies organized a fashion show as the main event of the launch, in which designer Sidney SS show-cased his designs. The show and its presentation came as a pleasant surprise as it turned out to be well organised with attractive outfits on display. This Spring-Summer 2007 collection, began with saris and salwar suits in vibrant, jazzed-up prints and maintained the audience’s interest right through. Trousers and tops came next – lightweight and flyaway was the feeling one got when the models sashayed up and down the ramp. The designer had something for everyone since his designs touched upon various moods: Girlie, womanly, European, mid-eighties and even something just for men! There was also the mind-blowing outfit here and there which you could not ignore.

The jackets, shrugs and skirts all spoke of elegance and fun. Indian-looking prints on the men’s shirts proved thought provoking. However, all the clothes save the saris and salwars seemed internationally acceptable which was heartening. The show ended with a ‘golden touch’ – shades of gold with a dash of silver and ivory made for a classy display on the models who walked the finale. One could hold the impression of brocades and a splattering of crystals and embellishments right through the evening and even after. It looks like Sidney SS in a relatively short span of time, has catapulted himself on the map.

Cocktails and dinner followed the show. The site launch and fashion show blended well together and anticipation runs high as Tour-In Talkies promises to be a one-stop site for the latest information on Tamil cinema.

Log on to www.tourintalkies.com and ‘catch up on what’s hot and what’s not in Kodambakkam’ as their brochure proclaims.

Cheers
Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Driving in Chennai

Drive me Crazy!

Driving …is for just about anyone. Good driving is an Art! Artistic driving aside, reality has people honking unreasonably at you, autos weaving in and out all around you, and heavy vehicles demanding your respect! Where is that dash of driving etiquette that would make roads bearable these days? Speaking of etiquette, is the car-horn used “sparingly” as it is supposed to be? It is in the car for a reason -- However, the signal turns green and all hell breaks loose! Am I given a moment to get going? Blaring horns raise my hackles and in the ensuing noise, my vibrating eardrums block all messages to my brain! It seems more urgent to glare around at everyone in indignation than to get going. Sound familiar?

Being late for appointments is… not unusual. It can happen to the best of us. However, stomping down on the accelerator does not seem worth the strain and effort anymore. Given our road and traffic conditions, I have analysed this -- within the city, speeding up to cover a distance of say ten kilometers, saves only about 2 minutes whilst risking an accident.

Risks notwithstanding, indicators are not on the agenda of any auto-rickshaw driver! I always have that jumpy feeling whenever I have an auto in front of me. It keeps me guessing… usually bringing me to a “sudden-brake” scenario. As for me, even by using indicators and reducing my speed appropriately I find that people have often not even noticed the blinking lights on my car! I have to furtively keep tabs on the guy behind me, to check just how nose-to-bumper he is with me. The “sudden-brake-syndrome” is most risky as not everyone is blessed with the attention span and reflexes required to jam the brakes in time! It used to be that we could cut back on speed by shifting gears smoothly unlike today, where with pell-mell traffic-goers, we keep hitting the brakes. Its like a tap dance between the accelerator and the brakes – if only we could lose some calories that way!!

Overtaking…is quite a stunt these days. Nobody is appreciative of being overtaken suddenly from the left. Moreover, there are those who try to overtake a vehicle that is already in the process of overtaking! Motorbike-riders minus helmets studiously ignore you whilst overtaking any which way they please – and then you observe they are minus helmets. Thoughts of a seemingly “small-fall-turned-fatal-brain-damage” plague me everyday. When are helmets going to become mandatory?

Then there is that “roadrunner” that cuts in front of you into your lane causing you to swerve and brake – my mantra is “just ignore it”…better for my health! No point dashing madly after him for revenge! Today, defensive driving is highly recommended. Why invite unnecessary trouble -- Do we really want to stop and have an argument with a crude-speaking stranger? Speaking of crude, here is a ridiculous habit during a traffic jam -- people rushing to get ahead by infringing into the opposite side against the oncoming traffic just because it seems relatively empty. While executing this completely thoughtless manoeuvre, they coolly avoid eye contact with those waiting patiently in their lanes, superior smirk in place. Superior smirk vanishes when they in turn are soon passed by more of their kind to make further lanes… until it becomes a one-way street preventing all oncoming traffic and a much bigger traffic jam.

And, woe betide anyone who talks incessantly on his cell-phone or fiddles unnecessarily with his car’s stereo! If you ask me, the former category is not being punished enough for the offence! As for the fiddler-on-the-road (not roof!), agreed -- the current choice of radio channels is a super means of entertainment whilst on the road, but don’t even they advocate things like “drive safe and drive with a smile”?

I guess neither smiles nor road rage is the answer – it is time for some serious traffic policing!

Sujata Tarakesan.

“One for the road”: It only takes a split second’s distraction to make you the center of attraction.

Article - Nithari Nightmare

Dissecting the Nithari nightmare…
(Disgrace to mankind)

Two men in the limelight for the worst, unimaginable reasons -- held responsible for the gruesome treatment meted out to more than a dozen children; A successful businessman and his domestic help are the prime accused in the case of sexual assault and serial killings in Noida, UP - a case that appalled the nation with acts of bone-chilling magnitude.

What could possibly instigate a person of indeed any strata of society to indulge in acts of such depravity? What makes him so heartless and remorseless? The human psyche being as complex as it is, there may be more than just one plausible explanation for these grisly acts.

“They are most likely driven by personal motives”, says Dr. N. Rangarajan a prominent psychiatrist based in Chennai. It is as simple as that. However, don’t serial killers operate alone? “Not necessarily,” says Dr. Rangarajan. “In this case, it is probably coincidence, where an ordinary employer-employee relationship developed into a mutually beneficial one. The affluent one with the power and confidence to blatantly express himself, and the other, also with poor scruples and a dark side to match his master’s, and who got the chance to find a dangerous outlet”.

He further added that they may not even be “mentally ill” per se although they have certainly not developed through life in a good, clean, wholesome way. They probably grew up with some dark ideas during their formative years. “Follow the trail back and you will find at least some mild deviations at least, from normal behaviour -- age-appropriate psychopathic behaviour, showing their disregard for society and its values. You will find that some acceptable rules in society have indeed been breached,” he says, which may not even have been, as opposed to popular belief, an outcome of having suffered abuse as children themselves.

Further, as Dr. Rangarajan interestingly put it, all of us have some errant episodes in our behavioural patterns as well – those that prompt us to commit certain one-off deeds like jumping a red traffic signal or even something as simple as speeding onto the wrong side of a one-way street knowing the repercussions fully well. However, when this “erratic behaviour” becomes an enduring pattern, it is time to turn yourself in…for a clean sweep of your mind and psyche!

On a basic level, the relevant issue to contend with here is child abuse. Most of us, especially parents of young children today, are painfully aware of it, but how do we protect our children from these sinister paedophiles? Apparently, it is more complicated than just being wary of the “local” types – shabbily dressed individuals and the like.

What we are looking for is a typical “next-door-neighbour” persona, shockingly enough. Dr. Rangarajan suggests you be wary of anybody who makes extra efforts to worm him or herself into your good books, offering to baby-sit your child or indeed any kindness extended out of the way by anybody. A trusted servant, a relative, well-known benign-looking “uncles” showing any undue interest in your child or bringing special gifts to make good impressions should ring warning bells. Contrary to general belief, both men and women are equally prone to being child abusers.

Nevertheless even in this tainted world, there are indeed people who are genuine with no ulterior motives whatsoever other than a real appreciation and enjoyment of children in all their innocence.

Parents have to be aware and take precautions; that’s it. It is inevitable that the child will travel by vans, autos, buses and even carpools with just the drivers. What you could do is to perhaps never sit the child alone with the driver in the front and conduct random, regular checks on their travel to schools and back, all in an attempt to avoid such situations from arising, as the perpetrator if any will then know people are aware, and watching out for their children.

Teach your children from as young an age as possible, to never talk or interact with strangers, never to leave school or other premises with anyone – even a known person, unless there is proper authorization and the teacher’s permission.

A tough job for parents, because you don’t want to go messing up your children’s innocence and childhood in all this business of teaching them about boundaries and limits.

As for the Nithari killings, it seems impossible that the law will find a punishment strong enough for these monsters …one that is appeasing to the families of the hapless victims and to this outraged nation.

Sujata Tarakesan.

Dr. N. Rangarajan graduated from Madras Medical College (M.B.B.S) and did his PG in Psychiatry from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. He also trained in the UK before returning to Chennai in 1993. He is now Consultant Psychiatrist at Malar Hospitals, Chennai.

Article - Fitness - Childhood Obesity

Puppy fat grows UP!

You might hear this often:“How chubby that child is,…soooo cute!”
Not really.

As a “victim” of childhood obesity, how can I not react to a comment like that? If someone were to ask ‘Will overweight children grow up to be overweight or obese adults', I will jump up and down with my hand up in the air. The answer is “Likely!”

A doctor once asked me: “Tell me, are either of your parents overweight?” – my involuntary response was “HAH!”. But of course, in front of a very senior doctor, one ought not to make such noises,..so I said “both!” quickly and curtly. I did not add “also my sister, my aunt, my cousins”…you get the picture. Yes! Being overweight is often, not always, a family problem.

When Fitness One had a kids’ camp, the kids were asked what their favourite foods were. Responses included “pizza, noodle, pastries,…etc.” Not one of them said “dosa”, “soup” or even, “laddoo”! I was not too surprised to hear this.

It’s not as if children are being encouraged to eat home-cooked, tasty foods. It’s not as if they are all being urged to take up a sport or exercise regularly or go out and play with other children. In all the homes I visit, I see kids in front of the TV or the computer, or curled up with a video game. Thanks to lack of space, they are stuck indoors and unless they attend some class – tennis or cricket etc, where is the chance or motivation for physical activity? This unhealthy lifestyle has to change.

In case anybody is woolly about all this, I did some introspection and hope to put things in perspective through this article. Today, obesity in children is a cause for serious concern because of its long-term health detriments - Premature heart disease, cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, low self-esteem, to name a few. Encouraging healthy lifestyle at a young age is very important, as change is obviously more difficult with age.

Is your child overweight? You need to consult the doctor first. If yes, and ONLY if doctor-recommended, seek help from a qualified dietician. From personal experience, I can tell you that usually, dieting for a child is extraordinarily difficult. I mean, even for an adult, it is so daunting. So how fair is it to expect a child to diet?

Exercise is the best option – whatever physical activity works. Taking up a sport for instance. Diet-wise, providing nutritious, low-fat, tasty snacks and incorporating soups, salads, fruits, juices on a regular basis, etc is important. Start making long-term changes as a family. These are just some “home remedies” to prevent or reduce obesity. You might even think to address teachers and school officials about the school canteen menu! After all, schools have a big say in children’s impression, as so much of their childhood revolves around it!

Sit down at the table as a family at least once a day for a balanced meal. Still more important, teach your child to avoid overeating. Now, as a parent, I can tell you I used to equate “force-feeding-leading-to-plumpness” with being a superior mother. What a ridiculous notion! Another point to note is that food should never be used as a “comfort” factor. I went through all this as a child... please don’t let yours. I have fantastic parents but this is one issue where I have a bone to pick with them!! Also, No rewarding with food/snacks or punishing without. Food is food. When hungry, eat. When comfortable, stop. Children in all their natural innocence, listen to their bodies a lot better than adults. In fact, humans are the only species who over-eat (and this they kindly pass on to their children and even their domestic pets!)

Need I mention the psychological factor that goes with the territory i.e., low self-esteem? Over-eat, grow fat, feel bad, eat more, get fatter, feel worse, so on and on and on. Obesity at any age becomes a vicious circle irrespective of what causes it.

This is one area where prevention is truly better than cure.

Cheers!
Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness -Different Strokes

“Different Strokes”

You don’t ‘take to water’? That’s too bad!

There had better be a good reason for that -- like allergies or health factors, as you are really missing out on something. There is no better way to exercise and relax at the same time. Water offers resistance as you swim and soothes you as well. It suits all body types – old, young, big, small, tall, short… Moreover, there are so many options in swimming – breaststroke, free style, backstroke, butterfly, etc.. Translated, it means low impact, “optimum” impacts and the more aggressive styles. It also offers the perfect solution for those who want to spare their joints some jarring, as swimming is a seamless sport.

Impressively, a little each of yoga, meditation, cardio-vascular, strength building and toning all go into this one single act – swimming. How? Here goes…

Yoga and meditation in swimming – Breathing-control is the essence of being able to swim. An elegant body posture and controlled, rhythmic movements are natural by-products. You reach a form of meditative state as you go up and down the length of a pool repeating the same actions in the water with your arms, shoulders and legs whilst taking controlled breaths.

Cardio-vascular -- The action of propelling yourself to each end of the pool, whether it is by means of the breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle stroke or the butterfly stroke, results in your heart rate pumping up as your limbs knead and tread the water. A completely new experience to panting and sweating it out!

Strength-building and toning – Have you ever “checked out” a swimmer’s physique? It is to die for. Sleek, muscular and strong. No need to lift free weights. Pushing through the water is enough.

Another great thing about swimming…learning to swim is a lifetime investment. You are not ever likely to forget it.

The Posture Point: When you swim, you do not need to mentally nag yourself to tuck your stomach in, squeeze your bottoms, or straighten your shoulders. Once you start swimming, your body and the water surrounding it automatically take care of your posture. There really is no other way to swim or stay afloat.

A sticky-sweaty workout is the norm on land but in the water, you are always refreshed even when tired! Swimming is a two-in-one experience. On the one hand, it offers a constant challenge to your effort and on the other; a balm that soothes your aching muscles. It causes you to lighten up -- both literally and your mood! I know for a scientific fact that I weigh ridiculously less in the water than on land. Weighing less anywhere is wonderful, right?!

After all this, what could still be keeping you from an aquatic workout? Frivolously enough, it is probably the attire! Once you have “decided to take the plunge”, there is no point in making self-conscious small talk: “I will lose some weight in order to look ‘presentable’ in a bathing suit and then start a swimming regime”. It beats me why someone believes he or she has to look like a supermodel in order to enjoy a good swim! Have you observed whales, dolphins and the like? They look big and elegant at the same time, right? Well, I daresay so might we!

Once you have got over all this mumbo-jumbo, you have to just dive right into it -- the swimming pool, I mean!

Cheers!
Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness / Strength of a Woman

Strength of a Woman

Women’s Day was celebrated. You (and I) learnt of events and interviews concerning a few prominent women who have been in the limelight because of a successful business, vocation or, their popularity on the glamour meter. Newspapers and magazines carried their stories and generally, made a lot of ado.

What these women have made of themselves is indeed noteworthy. Still, there are women out there who are the leading ladies of their families. They nurture, nourish, pamper, scold, and take pride in watching their family flourish. The maid who scrubs the floors of more than half a dozen houses daily just to ensure her kids are fed, clothed and educated - why not celebrate her? That is real and true courage.

It used to be that the woman was the symbol of a beautiful home -- Of warmth, comfort, safety and security. Today with advances in lifestyle and in some ways even adversity, she plays the role of the workingwoman in addition to being the ‘heart of home and hearth’.

Keeping the hearth burning is no mean task and everyone, even men, will vouch for it. Just the day-to-day mundane chores, demand interest and dedication from the lady of the house. Daunting indeed it is, to hold down a demanding job while ensuring three meals are on the table, kids’ homework done and then, dealing with pending domestic issues on the weekend which sometimes, is just a Sunday! It all requires commitment of a very different kind …and a regimented life, no doubt.

A woman’s strength is probably not tangible. It is strength of mind, heart and emotions. Today’s woman is seeking to cover the physical aspect too. She is exercising, dieting, weight-lifting and toning her body to gain energy, boost self-esteem and work off her frustration and depression. What a man can do, a woman can probably do better! Today, even the sky is not the limit! Forget that glass ceiling.

Perhaps even before women pondered over their own potential, the great Tamil poet Bharathiar championed the cause of women and reminded his country about the essence of worshipping her as “Shakthi”. With his fiery verses, he brought an awakening on social issues concerning women, their independence and empowerment and lamented the injustice of relegating her to a lower status in society.

‘Shakthi’ denotes strength and energy -- Every woman has her own personal Everest to climb. The average woman has far more on her plate than her male counterpart in terms of responsibilities. No matter how well and how far a woman has come from the kitchen, her place at home has no substitute. For, nobody can love as a woman can, nobody can nurture like a mother can and no home is complete without a woman at its helm. The real woman is not so much the oomph factor as the warmth factor!

Where does she get all this shakthi? What makes a woman tick? Somebody even felt compelled to make a film titled What Women Want. And Sigmund Freud threw up his hands to say “Despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, I have not been able to answer… the great question that has never been answered: what does a woman want?”

“Elementary!” I say. Just a little love and respect will do it -- Bring on the Shakthi, ladies!

Cheers!

Sujata Tarakesan.

A woman is like a tea bag - you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.
- Eleanor Roosevelt.

Article - Fitness / The Miracle of Life

The Miracle of Life!


The birth of a baby is the miracle of life.

“So, what’s new?” you ask.

It seems like an actual miracle today, to conceive and follow through with an uncomplicated pregnancy and childbirth. Blame it on “today’s earth” so to speak -- the water we drink, the foods we have (a lot of it junk), even the air we breathe. Blame it also on our fitness levels -- Not just in terms of lack of cardio-activity but especially the kind of lifestyle we lead, and the kind of work we do for a living.

This sedentary lifestyle combined with “not-that-healthy” diets is a common situation for most of us … this generation. The perfect setting for a metabolic mess-up! However, life goes on. It did for me -- A career and marriage happened naturally enough. Being overweight was incidental and hampered nothing. As far as starting a family was concerned, I imagined that I would just get pregnant at will, have a baby or two and move into middle age the same way in which I had “moved” all along.

Turned out it was only my imagination that was fertile! This was a real challenge with the stork giving me the slip!

There are various expert views on whether or not obesity affects chances of conception and safe pregnancy / childbirth. I personally had two different opinions from two experienced gynaecologists regarding my situation. One said I had to lose weight in order to get pregnant. The other said that if I was predisposed to being overweight, then this alone was not an impediment. Guess which doctor I went with?!! To cut a long story short, even though I went with my “supporting” doc’s opinion, the weight factor nagged.

Wanting babies is one area where usually, women have no patience. When the biological clock starts ticking, it is alarm time! “I must have a baby now!” Prayers notwithstanding, I put myself on a strict diet of healthy foods low in sugar… and an exercise regime of a brisk 45-minute walk. I lost four kilos in one month -- Four was and still is, just a drop in the ocean but at least, it was a start. Amazingly, those four kilos seemed to do the trick. Although still bordering on obese, my hormones kicked in and I found myself pregnant.

Smugly I continued with my regime, fine-tuned it with antenatal classes for stretches, exercises, healthy food, etc. the added incentive always being the mantra “it’s for my baby!”

Then, it was time to gain weight!! Here, even the most figure-conscious woman is anxious to gain weight, as it is a sure sign that the baby within is growing properly. Since I was on my ‘careful schedule’, I managed to control my weight gain during pregnancy and felt encouraged by my fitness levels. However, my past sins caught up with me! Six months into pregnancy, I encountered Gestational Hypertension. It brought prospects of complications and fears about safe delivery …too late to kick myself!

Nevertheless, life was kind – had a normal delivery and healthy baby -- my own little miracle.

Although this seems like an “All’s well that ends well” story, noteworthy is that excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle does more damage than we would like to admit! I actually ‘got away’ with the weight, as do many others. But we cannot fool our hormones nor our bodies. Too much is too much.

Moreover, when you are on the brink of having a family, it is best to introspect on lifestyle and health/fitness levels. After all, you have to make room in your body for at least another 12 to 15 kgs, which would join you in your quest for that little miracle.


Cheers!
Sujata Tarakesan.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Article - Fitness - Too much of a good thing!

Too much of a good thing!

Food-haters are few. Varied tastes and preferences aside, food as a rule, is welcome any time. Herein lies the crux of the matter. A food-lover is ready for food even when not hungry and is a ‘sitting duck’ for a vice like over-eating.

Let me expand (pun intended) on that …

“Foodies”, generally, like eating out and sampling cuisines from around the world. A self-proclaimed connoisseur of food, I have discovered the dark side to this expertise the hard way – giving in to excesses. It is “all in the mind”. Fellow-“foodies” beware of this at restaurants: Perusing the menu card when you have hunger pangs! You then order too much, eat too much and end up coming away with a heavy heart and stomach! Moreover, when that hungry, every action seems justifiable.

Beginning the meal with a soup is the right way to start. Delicious, deep-fried starters are not for weight-watchers but are tough for the ‘average’ food-lover to bypass! Still, the healthier choices of the likes of steamed dumplings are always there. The main course is not as challenging -- Avoid butter, cream, ghee or gravy-based dishes and you are OK! Then, avoiding sinful desserts is doable as long as you slowly and enjoyably expend with the main meal. The brain can then signal the red flag effectively enough! However, if you have a formidable sweet tooth, it is best to remember that moderation is the only option left. You may as well ‘have the cake and eat it too’ by sharing your dessert with your co-diner(s) to simplify matters and avoid a guilt trip!

“Eat to live” as the foregoing suggests, is not my motto. Glum realization: I used to “live to eat”. However, since my Herculean efforts to ‘be active’ and lose weight began last year, I am glad to proclaim that my “excesses”– both physical (weight), as well as mental (craving) have gradually decreased. These days, whenever the urge to over-eat threatens to overcome me, I remind myself of other benefits of exercise…A major boost in confidence level, a lot less moodiness (and consequently) more amiability, better-fitting wardrobe, more discipline, greater scope for positive thinking, etc. I consider these interesting benefits albeit a bit frivolous compared to “good health” and “fitness”!

A stray instance of over-eating does still occur but such instances are far fewer now and less intense than before, thanks to a basic awareness brought on by physical activity. There we have it. It always comes back to this. Exercise. For a food-lover, eating without working out is lethal. Regular exercise gives greater inclination to eat right. Without physical activity, a food-lover’s life can become heavily (!) gloomy…and there is always a jumpy feeling that one day all will be lost. By “all”, I mean any semblance even, of self-control.

All said and done, occasional devil-may-care moments lead to setbacks. Perhaps a Chinese celebration, a Tandoori temptation or sheer Pizza pleasure, even. Damage done…but life is all about give and take. Keep the sanity by giving the body a lot of exercise and taking some treats (more for the mind!) from time to time. An obsession for food is as important an issue as smoking, drinking or drug-abuse. I have refrained from using a strong phrase like “food-abuse” although it best defines over-eating! Exercise is the safety net. If I slip up and eat wrong today, I know I can and must make things right by sweating it out tomorrow.

Abuse or no, energy-giving food is a need. Like most other needs, there is a constant danger of it becoming a want and/or an obsession. Exercising self-control is also more difficult when a “foodie” has a lot of time on hand…it is a necessity to keep oneself busy and mentally stimulated with other things like taking up a challenging job or pursuing pet interests.

When it comes to food, a universal phrase is applicable and should become a mantra: “everything in moderation”. That is what the Gurus prescribe!

Cheers.
Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness - Peer Pleasure

Peer Pleasure

Exercising has its side effects. Unlike medication-related side effects, these are excellent. A happy side effect that’s fitness center-related is…making friends. Since joining the gym and group aerobics classes at Fitness One, my network of friends has grown by leaps and bounds. To single out, my experience in the group aerobics classes saw the development of a special bonhomie that blossomed into a real, enjoyable friendship over a series of night-outs and casual get-togethers. It was from this ‘clique’ that eight of us, all women -- embarked on the enviable task of planning a four-day get-away to Thailand.

This was an unconventional vacation, without husbands or children and it was a super duper extension of our local ‘gal pal’ jaunts. A short-and-sweet holiday in Thailand -- two days each in Pattaya and Bangkok. The plan provided for fun and relaxation in Pattaya and for extensive (!) shopping in Bangkok.

Excited chatting filled the air on the flight and after landing in Bangkok, the good-natured ribbing continued all through the car ride to Pattaya. Chilling out was paramount on the priority list. No sooner did we arrive at our beachside resort than we proceeded to explore the sleepy morning town of Pattaya, which, in fact, is famous for its snazzy nightlife. After immensely enjoying Thai massages at a health club there (even the foot massage was superb), we roamed around the town some more before taking a leisurely swim at the hotel’s opulent pool. Without even planning it and without risking our fun (!), we managed to rope in a spot of gentle exercise –swimming. So much for missing workouts during vacation time!

The next day, we outdid everybody we knew with our enterprising planning that ensured complete merriment! A late morning was followed by a terrific, activity-filled day on the beach. The banana boat ride that five of us took had us whooping with pleasure and apprehension in spite of lifejackets, since we were dumped unceremoniously into the water more than once during that 30-minute roller-coaster water-ride. Day O! I daresay that we were fit enough to handle it all…and more. Moreover, we had other thrills and amusement coming our way as we indulged in a spot of parasailing. This popular adventure-sport has you donning a life jacket, being clasped to a Parachute, while a long rope connects you to a speedboat on the water. You then take a running jump off the parasailing platform and find yourself flying high above the water as the boat far below powers your flight. We each took turns to be on top of the world for a few minutes! The parasailing team on the ground expertly handled the landing, which was a bit tricky. We threw in a couple of high-speed motorboat rides and our ‘beach day‘ was made!

The next two days at Bangkok saw us ‘walk the talk’ with the mantra “shop till you drop”. The calories we burned while walking around and shopping, were only matched by the money spent there, as Bangkok is famous for its reasonably priced bags, footwear, trendy clothes, etc.

One thing we have to say for ourselves on this vacation … No over-indulgence in food or dessert. While we certainly did not deny ourselves any goodies, we did find that it was actually easy to be conscious of our food intake and avoid succumbing to the sweet tooth, as we were a good mix of fitness freaks, dieters and ‘normal souls’. We influenced each other by the sheer strength of our individual presence. This was peer pressure of the best kind!

To meet at a common place like a gym, to workout together everyday, to meet socially now and then and to go abroad on a holiday with a truly decent, likeable lot…it was pure, unadulterated fun indeed -- Call it Group Therapy if you like!

Cheers!

Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness - Prime Time

Prime Time


TRING!! Alarm clock goes off -- Open your bleary eyes and stare at the ceiling. Inhale and reconcile yourself to another working day. Exhale. SIGH! Good Morning!

Stumble out of bed, enter wash area and stare at self in mirror. Note woebegone expression, “curvier” curves and telltale bulges. Nothing a little workout can’t repair. “But how am I going to find the time to exercise?” you ask yourself.

Time. Is there enough of it to go around? All of us are time-bound. Finding time to exercise and stay fit seems an absurdly Herculean task in today’s steely, corporate world. Whom do you blame for your poor fitness levels? Your boss? Aha… an all-time favourite – the blameworthy employer! You could also blame the endless office hours, “family pressures” and lure of heavier pay packets. The bottom line is “I can’t find time to exercise”.

If we stopped to think about it, almost every successful executive or industrialist we might have ever heard of or known, has the kind of daily schedule that could never include time for exercise. Yet ignoring fitness and self-grooming is one thing you could never accuse them of. They do not find time to exercise. They make the time to keep fit and healthy. What could be the use of power and money if you cannot enjoy it? Subconsciously, I bet they have asked themselves this question, which is why we never find them in danger of bursting from their suits!

At the risk of bordering on morbid, a phrase comes to mind – “Death is a great leveler”. Well, so is time. All of us get the same amount of time … 24 hours everyday. Nobody gets more, nobody gets less. Obvious and interesting. Speaking of levels, even those who run countries set aside time for exercise. Surely, we “lesser mortals” can turn our backs on everything else and mosey on to a gym close by for a quick 30- minute workout? We could if we wanted to. Nobody is actually going to miss us for such a brief period!

If you are an early bird, you get the worm…er, I mean exercise, out of the way early in the morning. However, being an avid (!) late riser, I used to think that if you cannot exercise before 7 a.m., you could not exercise at all. After 7 a.m., I would blame the “pressures of life” for coming in the way of exercise. That attitude together with regular, ingenious excuses for late-nights-leading-to-late-mornings was a convenient state of being until the weighing machine showed alarming figures. It actually hurt my eyes to read the figures on display between my toes.

That is when I learned that exercising everyday is important, period. That was the end of my rambling excuses. If I wanted to, I would exercise – late or early or midday even.

Here’s another reason to find time off your busy schedule to ‘shake a leg’: In a world made of steel and stone, impressions mean everything. Intellect is paramount and so are your personality, posture and gait, which exude your confidence and force of impression. While ‘all brawns and no brains’ cannot make headway, it is always impressive to behold someone who is fit and toned (unbidden, the show ”Baywatch” comes to mind!) and so my inference is that an intellectual mind sitting atop a fit body is everybody’s dream.

We would n’t say that it is necessary to have bulging muscles and a concave belly, but we would say that if you exercise your body at least one tenth as much as your brain, you have got it made!


Cheers!
Sujata Tarakesan.

Article - Fitness - Teen Preen

Teen-Preen

In your teens, feeling good means looking good. The great news is that nature does a lot of it for you. Your body is developing, and your mind is on the "soak-it-all-in" mode. It is blossoming-time. You can tweak your teen-time health in the right direction and reap the benefits forever. However, in these formative years, it is so easy to pick up the bad stuff and gloss over the "what's-good-for-you" stuff. Sure, there are too many things happening when you are in your teens – hangouts, late-nights, parties, phone calls, erratic sleeping and eating habits. So how can you get into the "shape of your life" unless you burn all those calories?

Get into the groove of exercising. Exercise is for everyone and is even more "cool" than you think. In today's world of automobiles, escalators, elevators and other mechanisms by which one moves about, it is not easy to keep fit "naturally". Avid walkers are lucky. Regular gym-goers have it made too.

Then, there is another easy option that is available.

A group aerobics class: highly enjoyable. Many people just walk in and join an aerobics class impromptu - they simply go with the flow. Still, nothing like knowing what you are getting into.

What group aerobics classes do for you:
q You are not alone – Misery Loves Company!
q You move to music – It’s like dancing only better, as you are sure to lose calories in the "proper" way.
q There is an instructor hand-holding you throughout.
q It is usually for an hour - Surprisingly, you don't keep watching that clock like a hawk!
q It is usually conducted in a structured manner - Stretches, warm-up, low-impact / high-impact moves, toning exercises, cool-down…it's all in there, ready-made!
q It's a total body workout.
q A variety in aerobic routines keeps boredom away.
q It improves mind-body co-ordination.
q It is very suitable for beginners (first-time "exercisers") as it eases you into the general body movements associated with increasing flexibility, toning and weight loss.
q The whole experience is like a dose of adrenalin for the rest of the day.

A few words of caution, though.

Before joining an aerobics class, check your weight. If you have not exercised in over 3 months or have never exercised at all, there are chances of "acquiring" an injury. Age has nothing to do with this. Sprained muscles, strained hamstrings, sore calf muscles…are just some of the problems that can come your way. To top it all, being overweight and not having exercised before, or in a long time, is a terrible combo!

As for the step-aerobics classes, this may not be for everyone although it is a blast when you are young and have no creaky joints or nagging aches! Now… the prospect of continuously stepping up and down on the double-step platform for 40 minutes can be intimidating to some. However, you can burn at least up to 450+ calories in an hour (high-intensity). As for those non-teens but would-be-preens, please just bear in mind that, anyone with a knee problem or other discomforts should be more careful. It might be safer to experiment with a single step rather than straightaway on the double step that is usually used. Nevertheless, do try it. Those steps can be a lot of fun!

Fun aside, go in a few minutes earlier to chat with the instructor about yourself and get familiar with some basic moves – grapevine, shuffle, heel-dig, touch-out, etc. and learn the low-impact versions as well. Better still: watch a class before you take the plunge. It really is motivating if you like your instructor's body language and style.

A typical aerobics class concentrates on the various parts of the body. You will notice an improvement in your general posture, flexibility and body tone in a few weeks.
To maximize the benefit you get out of aerobics, you need to perform every move with the right posture and technique to avoid injury. For example, flexing, pointing, holding the stomach in, taking conscious, regular breaths and so on.

Aerobics is quite refreshing and wholesome! Soak in the good stuff now!

Sujata Tarakesan.