Not just for frying eggs right or for finding the perfect festive thali, professional help can do wonders for your mental health too.

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Could be an old wives’ tale but my granny had told me that 
having a sunny side up in the morning ensures a bright day, said my
therapist to me once. I cannot agree more. Being of the same wave length
helps so much in therapy I feel.

I am not much one for superstitions but I do fancy my chances in a week which starts with the perfect breakfast. 

I was rather hungry when I woke up at around 9.00 am today. I decided to make breakfast first before sitting down to chant, taking a shower, getting into my session scheduled with my therapist and then writing. It was not to be. 

I had to sort a little ‘family crisis’ before that.

Nimki has not eaten at all. He ran towards the kitchen with me but when I took out the food he sniffed and went away. I can’t even find Baby Loaf.’ Breakfast could wait. My mother in law, Granny P as Gia calls her, has come to stay over. She gets psyched if the boys don’t eat and her plaintive cry on seeing me get up made me change tracks to see what the problem was. K enjoys the fact that her mum’s obsession to make her eat has reduced a bit thanks to the boys, but be it for her daughter or Baby Loaf and little Nimki’s fussy eating, I am the one mummy comes to in frustration. Nothing has changed for me in 20 years!

Kalyan. The boys have not eatennnnnnnnnnnnnn!
Granny P at any point of the day when she visits us.

I quickly figured out what happened. Mummy had opened one of the Applaws chicken cans which Shopahawlic had sent by mistake and which we have been planning to return for a week and are yet to. Little Nimki had completely rejected the chicken wet food can last week. 

He saw me wake up and came running to me. As if to say, ‘Daddy Loaf, save me from Granny P. She wants me to eat chicken. Baby Loaf dada disappears and it all falls on me. I don’t like chicken. No red blooded Bengali or Parsi likes chicken.

Update: Later this evening on Instagram.

Last night Little Nimki and I lay face beside each other’s by the foot of the bed and slept. He usually gets up and goes to the other end when this happens. He prefer to lie by our feet and lately, on K’s tummy. We did not have the option last night. We were boxed in as Baby Loaf had decided to sleep on our bed, which is not his norm, and on my pillow. Little Nimki was snuggled on a folded duvet by the feet on K’s side of the bed. She curled her legs, covered herself with the bed cover with no duvet free and slept without disturbing Nimki. I slept ulta. Head beside Nimki’s with my feet resting in between Baby Loaf and K’s faces. Baby Loaf jumped off a bit later and I went back to my regular sleeping position. 

In the morning I found K’s legs by my face. Baby Loaf apparently tapped her and woke her up at 6.30am. ‘Feed me Mummy Loaf.’ K got up and filled his food bowl. He ate and then jumped on the bed and lay down on K’s pillow and K had to sleep diagonally, head at the opposite end. Which explains why I woke up to her feet by my face and her face by mine. 

As our friend and multiple pet parent Radhika told me when we took Baby Loaf in, ‘cats are the world’s most effective contraceptives.’ 

Later my mom in law told me that Nimki had entered her room at 4.30am. She woke up and saw him perched on the printer looking at her contemplatively. I could imagine this happening even a year back and her jumping and hitting the room, yelling in fear. Over the past few months she has fallen in love with the boys, first with chubby little Baby Loaf and then electric little Nimki.

Us trying to do yoga nidra one afternoon with 
Loaf in between, head squashed against my feet
He knew my back was aching that day.

Going back to this morning, Granny P took the newspaper and went back to her room (my study), with a plate full of parathas from the fridge, Her first breakfast till #KayteeCooks came to work and made her dosa and chutney. I took out the Bellota salmon and tuna jelly pack from the set of new brands I had brought to experiment with the boys. Even little Nimki had reduced his eating recently and we were foxed. He polished it off today. Just as both boys polished off the Matisse salmon mousse last night. I gave some to Baby Loaf but he refused to eat it and went back to sleep. This time under our bed where Granny P found him despite her aching back. She was happy and yet a bit jealous when I told her that I had fed the boys. ‘It’s pure luck,’ I said it to make her feel better and I meant it.

I made my breakfast after this. Fried eggs in olive oil with two eggs. I used the small round pan which is the perfect size for making a fried egg. Cracked one egg into the pan. Then another on top of it. Aiming in a way that ensured that the yolks did not collide. Both yolks held their shape. Right till the end. Which is a miracle. Seasoned it with Himalayan Gooseberry seasoning salt from Bugyaal. Put some finely chopped chillies on the eggs before taking the pan off the gas. I transferred the eggs to my plate with no mishaps on the way. I added a generous dose of the creamy salty feta-like Romanian cheese, that K had got from Bucharest, on the eggs. 

Paired the eggs with wholewheat sourdough toast and a dab of French butter. The bread was from La Folie. Symbolic, given that I got the idea of chilli cheese fried eggs from them when they had a cafe in Bandra and offered it on the menu.

 Life was beautiful and I got into my therapy session with a lovely Columbia Nespresso Espresso by my side. Door locked to the world outside. #kayteecooks was late and yet to come and I left my instructions through a voice note to her. It was time to focus on myself.

When I finally made it to the Durga Pujo on Nabami

Now let me ask you one thing on a completely unrelated note. Do you find the current celebration levels of festivals a bit excessive and overwhelming compared to the past? 

I do and I raised this question in my (online) therapy session.

Yesterday was Lokhi Pujo. The formal end of the Durga Pujo festivities for us Bengalis. To be followed by Kali Pujo during Diwali. I could not make it to the Bandra Pujo for Lokhi Pujo bhog as my back was paining. Plus I have been advised to skip grains at night for now. That would be tough had I gone as khichuri (rice and dal) lies at the centre of the bhog. Lokhi Pujo usually happens at homes too. We would go to didu’s on the occasion as kids. She would cook and feed us khichuri and naru after the pujo. Now she’s 93. Largely bed-bound and alone. She would possibly just do her daily prayer to the Goddess. My brother and my niece visited her yesterday morning. He has gone home for the pujos. Didu must have been so happy. 

I have fond memories of Durga Puja in Kolkata when I was a kid in the city. There was the building complex puja and the sense of belonging that it offered. Exciting memories of going out with friends for pandal hopping when in college. The experience was very personal. Centred around one’s own experiences. Not in comparison to that of others.

When our friend Shaswati came and cooked for
us and hosted a Bijoya dinner for Erika, Gia and
us at our house the night before Lokhi Pujo

When I spoke of being overwhelmed, I referred to the excess of social media posts around the pujas. Not just the quantum of posts, but the content too. There was so much giving gyan on traditions, history, new pujas, old pujas, art, bhog, eating, rituals etc compared to talking of personal experiences. It felt as if I was being a lesser Bengali by not ticking off the boxes. 

I can’t even imagine how it would be for those who live alone or away from home. As it was for me 25 years back during my first year in Mumbai. Thanks to our Bandra pujo I do not face that now and feel very much at home here. However, I only managed to go on Nobomi this year because of back pain and was homebound till then.

I did wonder if my pujo festivities and mood would have been more khaati (authentic) had my partner been Bengali. Reflecting on this made me relaise that having someone who loves and cares for one is what matters and I have that in K. It’s like how she is not into street food and hence I would not take her on my grunge eating adventures. It’s just that the packaging of nostalgia and hyper regionalism around the Pujo this year which messed with my emotions a bit. And the back pain and the passing away of Kaushik da as my therapist pointed out. And the grey weather which she brought down the mood of many in Mumbai. You are ok, she told me. 

I was happy to see my brother and his family have a good time in Kolkata and bring joy to the family in the process.

And coincidentally I spoke to two our friends who belong to two different age groups and have non Bengali spouses. They said that they dress up and come to the Bandra Pujo by themselves or with friends as their hubbies are not so much into. Unity in diversity starts at home.

Breakfast in cafes is our thing as a couple and
that’s us at Perch on Doshomi. I would have gone
to the pujo in the past after this but did not have the
enthu this time. Therapy helped me realise why

It’s not just Durga Puja that has become so bombastic. Every festival seems to be celebrated so much more stridently than ever before. At least on social media (I do not watch satellite TV). Onam, Chetti Chand, Ganesh Chaturthi, Chhaat Puja, Valentine Mata Jayanti (ok I made that) … and once again it is more about the rituals and the norms of the tribe, than about ones personal feelings. Living in Mumbai you are surrounded by almost all festivals being celebrated thanks to the mix of communities. As is one as a food writer. Which is fun no doubt, but at times the need to be festive can get rather tiring. On a side note, I did not want to look at another Onam sadya by the time Onam had started having been sent so many to promote through my blog.

And everyone is celebrating everything these days! My granny tells me that Ganesh Puja is big in Kolkata. I can’t wrap my head around that. I know that sangeet is a part of Bengali weddings now. If you have seen Vicky Donor, you would know that Bengalis do not dance in weddings. Maybe later to their spouse’s tunes! Sangeet would have been deemed as apasanskrati (anti-culture) before. My therapist is from the south of India and spoke about getting a surge of Karva Chouth messages in her whatsapp networks of late. A festival from the north. Sitting in Mumbai and seeing the world through social media, it seems that messers Suraj Barjatya, Bhansali and Karan Johar are the ones redefining our lives. In other words Hindi cinema.

The reasons for this celebration frenzy could be many. One could blame the hyper-regionalism on political forces. The ostentation on consumerism. Targets have to be met you know. 

People like me are part of the problem. We have normalised the act of putting every moment of our lives on social media. Festivals are a part of life. Just as eating is in my case. And our cats.

I am no Uncle Scrooge. I am happy if people feel happy through the celebration of multiple festivals. As long as they do so willingly and not because it is a whirlpool that they are dragged into.

Perhaps this might not even by an issue for Gen Z folks who have grown up in the era of the social network. Perhaps us Gen Xs are a bit more confused having grown up in pre-liberalisation India, now adulting in testosterone packed Resurgent Bharat. I don’t have the answers. 

PS: I realised that it #worldmentalhealth day today after I finished our therapy session and went on to social media. From what I gather there are no special clothes that one has to wear on the occasion, dances one has to dance or food that one has to eat…or not eat… on the day…  hopefully no ’10 recipe reels to help you dance your way through clinical depression this world mental health day’… 

All I can say is that my experience of undergoing therapy and ironing out life’s questions through it…taking medication from doctors when required…  made me realise how important mental health is and how one should take help from professionals for it. Just as one would if one had fever or a tummy ache as the cliche goes. 

Which explains why I immediately messaged ‘happy world mental health day’ to my therapist and to my doctor once I got to know about the occasion. I owe so much to them.

Other things which have helped are yoga which addresses the issue of mental health squarely, my Soka Buddhist practice which focuses on building a resilient life force/ state of mind and most importantly the support of those who care for me. K in particular who has been my rock through everything. Our cats now but none of this can be replace the need for professional help when required. That’s what I have learnt through my own life experiences and what I would like you to mull over too. 

Is it ‘#worldmentalhealthday Jayanti ka shubh kamanay
aap ko,’ asks Baby Loaf. He likes to get his social media
game on point.

Also read:

My mom’s post on our building pujo

My post from when our building pujo turned 25

Post from 2011 Lakshmi Pujo when I found my tribe at Bandra

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