How growing up in the 90s killed romance for me

The cultural backdrop of the 90s didn’t quite set the stage for a healthy relationship with romance. Classroom games included Kiss-Kill-Marry-Burn. Throwing stones at the window of a lover was considered dreamy. Complete song sequences were made where the girl finally gives in to the guy’s relentless pursuit after her refusals fall on deaf ears. It was a time of iffy social norms and even weirder dating scenarios.

These 4 moments stand out when I think how the 90s scarred my already ambiguous idea of romance:

1. Baazigar:

I was born in the 90s. Which means the very first movie I saw in the theatre was Baazigar. As most people my age or older may remember- Shah Rukh plays a suave, smooth-talking charmer, out to avenge the death of his father and sister. It was 1993 and I was all of three years old. But this– this lopsided, psychotic, contact-lens-changing, sadistic smiling hero was my first brush with the word ‘romance’.

2. PotterMania:

I was eleven and convinced that I’d be getting my appointment letter into Hogwarts anytime soon. I believe I even wrote Harry Potter in ‘My Favorite Person’, ‘Would like to go on a date with’ and ‘Want to grow up and be like’ columns in Slam Books, complete with doodled lightning bolts, for five years straight. But even you would agree that a self-conscious, pre-pubescent boy with a half-giant for a godfather made for awkward romantic hero material. After half-baked attempts to gain the attention of his secret crush Cho, he settled for his best friend’s sister in a sort of anti-climaxish way. Romance is totes not Rowling’s thing.

3. Mills & Boon:

Cut to 2003. A school friend suggests I read Mills & Boon, which she assures me is all the rage, and hands me my first (and only ever) M&B titled ‘A Married Woman?’.  The protagonist- a tall, dark, handsome and brooding millionaire tycoon (but of course) is a man named Saul Rainer. Ah Saul Rainer! Every word out of his mouth is fine chocolate and every action makes the heavens rejoice. His tantalizing ways and blatant displays of romance is the stuff women’s bestsellers are made of. Looking back, I realize these novels are the reason why girls have sky high standards and simultaneous trust issues. I will never understand the selection of reading material in middle school libraries.

4. Twilight:

Next came the Twilight phase, in my history of twisted romantic plots. About an oddly unemotional schoolgirl who gets lured into a bloodsucking vampire’s fantasy world of age-defiance and werewolf-rivalry; Twilight is the literary nail-in-the-vampire-coffin about shaping the idea of romance on young impressionable minds. Bella drops her entire future in the human world, abandoning her parents and career plans, to raise a vampire child and propagate vegetarianism to their eco-system. Ironically, it went on to become ‘Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Book of 2005’.

That being said, the 90s did pave the way for the Digital Age of romance. Today’s equivalent of the Kiss, Kill, Marry, Burn is probably Swipe Right, Report Abuse, FaceTime, Block. But more on that later.

Also, Happy Valentine’s Day guys! Maybe I’ll curl up with a chocolate mousse and the Goblet of Fire (for the 11th time). What about you?

My Grudge Against Plus Size Clothing

I’m not your average jeans and T-shirt girl.

That’s because I have a love-hate relationship with my denims. I remember numerous times having had to sit cross-legged on the floor (dance rehearsals, general Indian ritual stuff) cringing at the thought of the inevitable: Back Gape. With a pear-shaped body and ‘handles’ that have seen some love, I’m sure I’m not being overly dramatic when I say the perfect pair of jeans do not exist for me.

However, my battle with booty has little to do with plus size clothing. Having a pear-shaped body does involve an extra effort while shopping, since your top and bottom halves are a number of sizes apart. But a recent trip to Debenhams got me thinking about all the size 12+ women (considered ‘plus size’ by the fashion industry) and their ordeal in finding something to wear out of the limited options available.

All the brassiere styles stocked in DD onwards were…. White.  And a few Black, thrown in as an act of kindness. Oh, maybe half a style in Nude because hey, even a big girl needs variety.

This triggered me to come up with my new favorite hashtag, (at the end of the article) and the following rant below:

1.     The Terminology Itself

Fashion has enough exclusions already to hamper any self-esteem. When all a girl really wants is a chance to fawn over the new Spring Summer collection with her girlfriends, and complain about the exorbitant prices, she is shunted all the way back into ‘Plus’, right next to ‘Maternity’. These classifications are so ingrained in retail culture that few seem to realize their datedness and misogyny .

Writes Katelyn Lilly in The Odyssey, “The support and intent is there really, {by girlfriends} but it doesn’t make it any less demeaning. Making women separate to shop for clothing forces an invisible wedge between us, one that promotes an incredibly damaging internal monologue of shame over the differences that make us who we are.”

2.     The Options

Elastic waistbands. Tent tops. Rinse. Repeat.

If a woman were to define her style she might say minimal, or vintage, bright, or even sophisticated. But with a few basic options in limited colours, it becomes a Herculean task for a plus woman to find enough options to wear, let alone find her taste. “I don’t even know what it’s like to walk into a store to pick what I want instead of just what’s going to fit.”, says Katie Sturino, fashion blogger at The 12ish Style. Why put all of them in a one-style-fits-all-shapes box?

3.     The Campaigns

Normal-sized, able-bodied, airbrushed glamorous women grace the beautiful plus-size campaign for Simply Be UK. The problem?

“Accepting a size 12 [fashion] model doesn’t help a size 28 woman find a pair of jeans. A lot of people are saying, ‘Why aren’t you happy there are more options?’ And I’m happy there are, but it’d be great if you featured a model who’s size 28, too.”

Mango launched its plus size line recently in India, and I honestly had to read the fine script (gasp!) and watch the campaign videos to understand that it was meant to cater to larger women. Misrepresentation of the full spectrum of plus sizes implies inconsideration to the rest of the audience and is another blow to their fragile self-esteem.

4.     The Sizing

India is a country of as diverse sizing issues as is the geographical terrain. “It is particularly perplexing in our country, where average body sizes in Mizoram, for instance, are totally different from those in Kashmir. A standardized sizing chart is a gradation of body measurements in the range of extra small to extra large based on averages derived after measuring the body diversities of a population. These are peculiar to a country, race and region. For instance, neither do a small-sized Indian woman and a small-sized German look similar, nor can they wear the same-sized garments. Similarly, a large-sized man from Haryana and a large-sized man from Nagaland won’t fit into the same “large” shirt.” ran an article in LiveMint.

Instead, brands try to fit everyone in the same frustrating S-M-L box. Why can’t catering to an extensive sizing chart be seen as at least a business opportunity if not anything else?

5.     The Neglect

UK-based blogger Callie Thorpe feels that plus-size shoppers are ‘fat-taxed’. “The last time I visited [Regent], the plus size section was on the lower ground and felt hidden away in a corner, nothing really caught my attention because, it all kind of blended together. I wasn’t inspired or drawn to anything which is really kind of rubbish and often leaves you feeling rather deflated when surrounded by great items on other floors that are bright, and innovative.”, she wrote in a post “Why Are Brands Not Promoting Their Plus Size Lines.”

Either the marketing strategy is too lazy or big retailers who stock plus-size options never want to advertise those sizes. It’s like the brands are saying ‘You’re welcome’, to the plus consumer.

6.     The Prejudice

The Fashionista ran an article, ‘Are Plus Size Women the Problem with Plus Size Fashion?’ in which plus-size blogger and retail consultant Sarah Conley made a pertinent point, “As much as we think we want to see people who look like us, it’s not really showing through in customer behavior, which is really unfortunate. I think that people who say they want to see a more diverse group of women, whether it’s body shape or size, they’re not always following those wishes and demands with their credit cards.” This observation was made when companies conducted tests to decide their models, and found that the same dress sold better on a size 8 than a size 14 model, every time.

7.     The Indian effect

Anyone who has a clue about the Indian ‘arranged marriage’ scene knows that ‘slim’ is right up there next to ‘fair, tall, beautiful and homely’. To put it plainly, being plus size in India can be as painful as thigh-chafe. Other than having to put up with judgmental  auntie’s who will assure you that you will never get married, you will also be offered shapeless squares that pass off as plus size ‘kurtis’; because showing bulge is a public offence. There are brands like Mustard and Alta Moda out there doing a good job, but ‘plus size’ is nowhere near becoming a mainstream category anytime soon.  Moreover, the representation of plus people on Indian media is as rare as a sensible matrimonial ad. Comedian Bharti Singh is one name which comes to mind, but her jokes are also mostly reserved to a self-deprecating, almost apologetic brand of humour, and her journey to fame has most certainly not been an easy one.

8.     The Upside

Yes, we have come a long way from that 1920s Lane Bryant ad of ‘Slenderizing Fashions for Stout Women’. Today, there are great blogs, campaigns and generally a lot of noise from the plus-size community which has brought brands- both mid-market and luxury, up to speed with the desires and needs of these customers. ‘Curvy’ is now an accepted shape in fashion circles, and is almost synonymous with sexy.  Stereotypes are laughable, feels Mary Alderete, CMO of online women’s retailer ModCloth. “Want to know what our number-one selling dress is this week? The rainbow dress, and it’s sold out in all of the extended sizes already!” she says, referring to sizes large through 4X. The dress is boldly colored and covered in chevron stripes.

Talk about body-positivity has been doing the rounds for sometime now (hello Beyonce!) and Instagram has been lapping it up. Gone are the days of ugly tiered-skirt or high-waist skin-colored plus-size swimwear. The future, though still fairly distant, certainly seems bright.

Closer home, in the land of the voluptuous Khajuraho sculptures, we have also taken leaps and bounds as far as body image issues are concerned. Lakme Fashion Week recently featured plus women on the Indian ramp for the first time, in collaboration with the plus-size brand aLL. Nepali illustrator Kripa Joshi made waves with her endearing comic strip, Miss Moti. Less typically feminine bodies, those of gym instructors and yoga teachers, have been featured in a cover shoot in Elle magazine.

But we still have miles to go. Maybe we should go back to our mythology books and architecture for inspiration? After all, #CurvyNotACrime.

The Robot Wears Prada: Future of the Fashion Industry

My phone flashes. It’s time for my store appointment. I unlock my screen and my personal fashion assistant, greets me with a smile. “Welcome, Romita. Your calendar tells us you have a future book launch (bucket list, people) and I’ve put together ten ensembles for you to choose from.  We’ve generated a color palette matched to your skin tone and picked out the most flattering fits according to your measurements, keeping the weather predictions in mind.” She walks me through my customized wardrobe. “Might I also suggest the new model of our mini-tote bag in our special stem-cell leather; of course it charges your gadgets, flashes in case you leave any belongings behind and reminds you of appointments, but it also looks great in the four different ways it can be carried. Meanwhile, you can try on your dresses on the Simulator while I get your green tea fixed for you. Ilana, your style psychologist is in today for a consultancy. Once your session is over, you’ll be taken through our new collection in store. Made in our hybrid tech-enabled fabric, no robots were harmed in the manufacturing process. Happy shopping!”

Farfetched? Wake up to 2030. The Jetsons Age is here to stay- and the fashion industry, currently estimated at a whopping $2.4 trillion globally, is not far behind. The integration of fashion with tech is the obvious way forward, and it’s definitely more promising than LED t-shirts.

This along with the burning issues of environmental concerns, population control and alternate resource development form the basis of a few prophecies that you don’t need Nostradamus to make.

1. Convenience: ‘Store to door- delivered hot and fresh’

It’s no surprise that e-commerce will only expand; a report by Shopify reveals that the fashion and accessories sector is estimated to grow from $223 billion at the end of 2016 to $355 billion by 2020. But a look into the crystal ball shows that convenience will be a major competitive edge for e-retailers. Fit, the biggest post-sale killer for any online brand- with a return rate as high as 30%; is a prime area of scrutiny. Virtual fitting rooms are already providing a glimpse into the future, and will soon become the new normal. SenseMi has one of the more advanced smart mirrors today, equipped with cool features like Kinect cameras, 360 degree base movement, face recognition and Cloud database technology. Estonian startup Fits.Me has partnered with British shirt retailer Thomas Pink for a cutting-edge bio-robotic fitting room to help customers find the perfect shirt. In layman speak? These mirrors show us a human size ‘avatar’ of ourselves in real time statistics, with pre-programmed fabrics, portraying the delicate nuances of fabric fall, stretch and drape; helping both retailers and customers avoid repeated returns and trials.

2. Experience: ‘Shopping in Wonderland’

For Christmas shoppers in 2016, Google came up with the concept of Window Wonderland. Focusing on 19 prominent retailers of New York such as Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany and Louis Vuitton, it walks you through the spinning gold elves and crystal trees of their iconic holiday windows, in a series of high-res imagery shot from a 3-d perspective. This allowed people to experience the displays from their personal devices, anywhere in the world, as if they were walking on 5th Avenue.

Another futuristic example of tracking Christmas shopping anxiety is eBay, which created an emotionally powered pop-up store in time for Giving Tuesday last year. Using bio-analytic technology and facial coding, the store removed outside stresses of the customers so they could ‘peacefully’ browse the ‘Giving’ catalogue of their items.  The technology then let the customer know which items they connected to the most emotionally.These tech-integrated consumer ‘experiences’ are the early specimens of what is to come in the next few years.

3. Seamlessness: ‘Clicks to Bricks and back’

The divide between online and offline will diminish. Stores will ‘pop-up’ in places less expected. “One thing I expect we’ll see relatively soon is retail integrated into unconventional places, like Ubers or Airbnbs,” says Matthias Metternich, founder and CEO of COCODUNE, a new direct-to-consumer swimwear line. Brick and mortar stores will play a major role in customer engagement, building relations and brand recall. Soon we will carry passwords on our own person, transforming into a cashless society. “By 2025 every person will become a walking ATM… Indians are moving payments, use of biometrics at a very fast pace.”, says Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant.

4. Personalisation: ‘Extra tall blue-striped pearl button decaf’

Custom is key to novelty in the future. Artificial intelligence makes room for personalizing products and experiences for shoppers, without the hassle of logistics. Google’s Project Jacquard which made headlines in the fashion world for weaving conductive yarns into fabric with bespoke touch and gesture sensitivity; collaborated with Levi’s on their Commuter campaign. The Trucker Jacket “allows wearers to control their mobile experience and connect to a variety of services, such as music or maps, directly from the jacket. This is especially useful when it might be difficult to use the smart phone, like when you are riding on your bike.”

Another last decade breakthrough is the much talked about trend of conversational commerce, or chatbots. Similar to Whatsapp, it is personalized message-based interaction that can guide users at every step of the buying cycle. So when you ask the bot to find you a top with vertical blue stripes, it steps in as your stylist, and gives you options based on visual intelligence and personal requirements, all in a two-way dialog format we know so well.

5. Materials: ‘Science meets Planet’

Wearable tech, simply called wearables will focus not just on functionality but also sustainability. Case in point: Brooklyn-based company Modern Meadow has developed a technology to create leather from the stem cell of a single cow. Its genetic makeup can also be altered, to produce variations in the texture, color and transparency, as required. This technology, if made feasible can revolutionize the accessories industry. BioCouture, is a UK-based initiative whose ‘ultimate goal is to literally grow a dress in a vat of liquid.’ This liquid, consisting of sweetened tea, yeast and bacteria sprouts cellulosic fibres molded into dresses and blouses. Whether these materials can rival commercial viability or not only time will tell; but research on similar green projects is a clear indicator of the future.

6. Data: ‘Magic Fortune-Tellers’

You know the crucial tasks in the everyday life of a fashion house? Pricing items correctly, regulating quantities, stocking enough of the right styles, colors, fabrics and sizes, ensuring stores are well-supplied and functioning smoothly. All this and more is made possible by data analytics. Sentiment analysis, an important ingredient in gauging customer experience, is done by data crunching the likes, comments, shares and re-tweets on social media platforms. This is not a new practice, although the sources of data have changed over time. In the form of text, audio, images and YouTube videos, data mining in the new age is almost an imitation of the human brain process; hence known as – Cognitive Computing. This means faster insight on trends. Says Keith Mercier, retail industry leader for global cognitive business solutions for IBM, “If we can give a retailer a two-week jump on trend prediction, [then] two weeks of selling time in stores is golden in this highly competitive industry.”

7. Careers: ‘Techie versus Fashionista’

3D printing has been a breakthrough innovation in the past few years and many fashion houses have been experimenting with this technology. If commercialized, it can not only make manufacturing quicker, cheaper and easier; but can also disrupt the traditional supply chain of fibre to garment. This is why Business of Fashion has listed ‘3D Printing Engineer’ as a top emerging career of the future. Another natural progression of future retail demand will be that of understanding the behavioral psyche of the human consumer. This is even more relevant in today’s time of rapidly changing preferences, trends, technology and aspirations; and cannot be replaced by a bot or computer. “If you understand how human perception works on a neuro-scientific level and how people choose clothing based on their psychological makeup, you can create an incredibly effective strategy, ultimately enhancing the overall customer experience and the bottom line,” says Kate Nightingale, founder of Style Psychology. Dubbed the sexiest job of the 21st century by the Harvard Business Review is that of a data scientist; another crucial skill required in years to come. The increasing number of online classes and TED talks about the wonders of data indicate that this is a hot upcoming job description.

Now if all this talk is bordering on ‘science geek’ to you or you’re thinking “It’s not like my department store shopping is changing anytime soon”, think again. How much of the change is for the sake of innovation and how much will actually make our lives better; is yet to be seen. But the change is real. Till then, here’s a glossary:

NFC: Near Field Communication. It allows two electronic devices brought within 4 cm of each other to establish contact with each other.

Connected (objects/stores etc.) :  A smart device with wireless connectivity (bluetooth, NFC etc.) which can operate independently.

Chatbot: A computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

Wristable: Wearables worn on the wrist such as Fitbit, AmazFit etc.

Words Gen Z Should Stop Using: The Defunct dictionary of 2017

Now let me get this out- I don’t know what the cool kids are saying. Leave me with a bunch of Drake-listening, fidget-spinning teens who say things like ‘You’re from the 90s, right?’; and I would be ‘lost boots’ in a maze of ‘lits’ and ‘turnts’.

This is because Gen Z has a real gift- a gift for churning out new words or utterances, their nature akin to their hectic lifestyles. There’s a new word on the block faster than you can say emoji.  Exhibit A:  ‘Bae’ was probably made up by a time-crunched teenager who had to make the tough decision between texting his girlfriend and writing a college application. Snap Trap.

But this list isn’t about the new slang dictionary. Or words which have made it to a real dictionary. (‘Yaass’, Oxford, really?!) That is a whole other article. This is a list of seemingly mainstream words used in print journalism, beauty blogs, conversations, travel posts and yes, Instagram captions. These are words that  I (may be) equally guilty of using, cringe every time I hear it or are just so dated they need an emergency replacement.

1.     Routine

Reason for replacement: Because most of us don’t have a ten-step Korean skin care routine or our makeup routine consists of kajal and lipbalm which doesn’t even count as a routine. And don’t even get me started on my fitness routine.

See also: regime, regimen

2.     Hack

Reason for replacement: Unless you’re talking about the verb used to detach someone’s head with a saw à la Game of Thrones or the reason why Adrian Lamo went to prison, this word has reached its saturation point. The internet seems to be passing off everyday tidbits of instruction as life hacks. It gets worse when you have to watch a twelve minute Facebook video of a liquid soap dispenser being inserted into a lemon to spray juice. I’d much rather just squeeze the lemon, thank you.

3.     Goals

Reason for replacement: You already know the grass is greener on the other side of your Instagram screen, in fact that is exactly what exhibitionist social media pictures are all about. These #couplegoals, #makeupgoals are not something you’re actually going to achieve, so who needs that kind of blow to one’s self-esteem?

4.     Basically

Reason for replacement: Indians are all about the ‘basically’. “I live in Mumbai but basically I’m from Lucknow.” It comes off as if you’re trying to dumb it down for the other person. Also the usage is incorrect.

5.     Adulting

Reason for replacement: “I made myself breakfast today that wasn’t Cheerios. #adulting”

“I’m adulting today so I need two more coffees.”

“I didn’t repeat underwear two days in a row. #adulting”

Annoying yet?  Thought so. Unless you’re filing taxes. Then you’re alright.

6.     Mood

Reason for replacement: A picture of a watermelon wearing sunglasses is not a mood. Neither is the moon filter. Or a picture of yourself on a yacht. Because you can’t be in the mood for that, you already are on it. See? Elementary.

7.     Influencer

Reason for replacement: Because the whole point of being an ‘influencer’ is that you don’t have to call yourself one. And because it sounds like one of those cocktails on the menu which pubs use to put in their cheap alcohol.

8.     Literally

Reason for replacement: Because this is so two decades ago.  You did not ‘literally die shopping’. That does not make literal sense.

9.     Awesomesauce

Reason for replacement: You know the feeling of hair standing at the back of your neck when someone scratches their nails on a blackboard? Feels the same way.

See also: amazeballs

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Culture over Concierge: 5 reasons you MUST Airbnb your next holiday

If I had to take one of those ‘What’s Your Travel Personality?’ Tests, (there’s got to be one) my result would be Culture Vulture. From researching nearby opera performances to trying out supermarket instant-noodle brands, I’m all about the ‘authentic experience’. This is why AirBnb’s ‘Live There’ motto spoke to me. It sounded like an exciting thought; to have a place you can call ‘home’ in a new city, if even for a few days, and to live it up like a local. However, as with all things new, I was also a slight skeptical. After all, who doesn’t love a good hotel, with their breakfast buffets and not having to worry about locking yourself out of your room?

This summer we took a family trip to Europe and decided to give sharing economy a whirl. Our itinerary: Vienna-Wachau-Salzburg-Innsbruck-Munich-Prague. 14 days. 6 stops. 5 AirBnbs.

The rules to the game of having a good experience are pretty simple. Research thoroughly, read the reviews, check basic amenities/ security/accessibility, communicate regularly with the host, voice concerns and requirements if any. Personally, we couldn’t have been more grateful that we did.

Every home came with its own distinct character. Some were Pinterest-friendly modern pads and some bordered on the whimsical. Some told compelling stories of migration, of owners who had left familiar shores for greener pastures. Like a certain Henrietta from the charming village of Emmersdorf. But more on that later.

Here are 5 experiences I would have missed out on had I not stayed in AirBnb and why I would recommend it to all travelers.

1. Breathtaking Locations: Where hotels shouldn’t be an option

There is a 300 year-old house in unbelievably picturesque Emmersdorf of Wachau Valley Austria, with the most magnificent view of the Danube River a few meters from the bedroom window. Come dusk, the view escalates to a magical experience, worthy of inspiring its own ‘Starry Nights’. The window looks down into an adorable bougainvillea garden, its winding creepers on the stone walls. This nondescript village is yet to be put on the global tourist map, although being straight out of a Hobbit fairytale dream. In walks Henrietta, who opens the doors to her home (underground wine cellar included) and allows us to partake in this delicious strip of heaven; all the while munching on her garden strawberries.

2. Local flavor: Accessing communities otherwise unavailable

Staying in someone’s home feels like living a day in the life of the inhabitants: making breakfast and having it on the patio, watching people going about their daily chores, kids skateboarding and cafes opening shutters. Watching the neighborhood come alive is best witnessed while living in the midst of it. We were even visited by the neighbor’s cat in Innsbruck to whom I offered some Camembert expecting him to like it (he didn’t). Our home in Prague had local wines and beer to offer, and graciously let us enjoy the minibar ‘on the house’. The owner in Munich, an amateur chef, let us privy to his concoctions of preserves and spice jars, allowing us to play a game of ‘sniff to guess the ingredients’.

3. Slice of Life: Glimpse into hobbies and home décor

Ever seen a Viking Buddha? A bed which lights up like in a sci-fi movie? Eerie black-and-white photographs of children adorning a mantelpiece?  Some people have funky interior decoration and some interesting pastimes. Our home owner in Munich had an impressive wine gallery, which we later realized was a bottle collection since they were mostly empty. He also left a ton of post-it messages around, and the bathroom revealed some sort of shampoo fetish.Homes let on more than we realize, and it’s always fun to look for hints people leave around, displaying their personalities in a unique way.

4. Sharing stories: The ‘What Brings you here?’ question

Navneet, our home owner in Vienna, moved there from Delhi during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, after the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi. The riots saw over a thousand Sikh families migrate back to Punjab and outside the country. Now, more than three decades later, he lives with his parents in Vienna, and is visited by his sister’s family in Amsterdam. We were invited to an impromptu family reunion on our first day there, but had to politely decline since we were exhausted from our travels. Henrietta and her husband, of aforementioned fame, who live in the centuries-old house in Wachau Valley, are migrants from Hungary, and speak a smattering of English and German. On the pretext of borrowing an onion, I followed her into her house (a part of it is let out to AirBnb) and entered Alice’s rabbit hole into Wonderland. Among lace curtains, tea-cozies and tapestry, she asked me about India, what I do, and whether I plan to get married or not. I guess us women are the same everywhere.

5. Supermarket dinners: For the holiday chef in you

Whether you’re one of those who don’t understand the concept of cooking on holiday, or one who comes back with local sauces and spices in your suitcase, you would know that supermarkets provide the ultimate culture trip. Since walking down aisles of wines, cheeses, breads and dips give me the immense recreational pleasure I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m among the crazy few to fall in the latter category. Exploring neighborhood supermarkets became a custom for each of our stays; and making at least one meal in our kitchen, wine glass in hand, assembling whatever local tidbits we had managed to pick up during the day, became one of our more memorable suppers, if not just economical.

But most importantly, AirBnb allows us to open up to strangers in a foreign land, trust each other a little more and cooperate with one another for a great experience. It adds that personal touch to a holiday, that though admittedly may be a gamble, will give you something to reminisce about long after. So once in a while, ditch the infinity pool and the hot towels, and find yourself that perfect home, for an authentic experience.

The Curious case of the Millennial and the Buckwheat Idli

Not really about idlis in particular or food in general, but with ample food references nevertheless.

“I’m making buckwheat idlis for dinner.” my friend in Delhi told me over the phone. “They’re gluten-free. Yesterday I made oat idlis. They’re simple to make, really. I just buy the stuff from Nature’s Basket and pop it in the steamer.”

“Are you allergic to gluten?” I asked.

“Well, no… but gluten makes you bloat, na? I don’t know, I feel better after having buckwheat.” she said.

“Yes, but you could just have regular idlis made from.. well, rice. Rice is gluten-free.”

*Pause on the other end.*

“Of course, kuttu works just fine too.” I quickly continued. “So does nachni, or ragi which is easily available at any ration store this side of the country. Again gluten-free.”

“Ohh yea”, goes my friend, “I’ve heard of kuttu. My mom often eats it while fasting.”

“Sweetie, kuttu is buckwheat.”

“Riiight.”

Why am I relaying the flippant tidbits of my telephonic exchange here? To drive a point, or two, of course.

First being that Indian millennials, like other millennials, (myself included) though quick to adapt to global food fads, might tend to use a ‘superfood’ as an easy alternative to a balanced diet or exercise. More importantly, as is often the danger with little knowledge; in not comprehending the fad in its entirety, may cause anguish to said millennial wallet or gut.

Which leads me to my next point- and in enters the creative license, one of the few glories of this pseudo world of penmanship – so hear me out.

I believe that we millennials are akin to that buckwheat idli.

What in the world does that mean, you ask? Why is a generation of future CEOs being compared to fermented, steamed and savory UFOs which happen to be *insert buzzword* gluten-free; the artist formerly known in non-Michelin circles as the ‘idli’?

You might think it’s because I’m calling millennials pretentious. Look, we love our non-fat Frappuccinos with extra whipped cream but that doesn’t mean… okay so maybe we are pretentious, just a little bit. But come on, after fashion and fitness it was but natural progression for food to be the next ‘it’ thing.

Am I labeling this generation as one that apes the West?  Well again, and I say this often, one can’t ape what one grew up with. We watched Cartoon Network fervently till we were dragged to bed, even when we didn’t quite get who Boogie Man was or how Johnny Bravo worked his charm on women. We celebrated the first McDonalds opening and cuddled Happy Meal toys to sleep. We followed Gossip Girl, making sense of prom nights and first dates; traditions alien to our cultural norms. America had taken over our childhood like the MSG in our instant noodles: we didn’t even realize it was there.

Or am I saying we are an unpatriotic lot? Now that’s an interesting question. Most would believe that this cohort of ‘Netflix-and-chill-and-struggling-with-bills’ has little concern with society, let alone the country. But are we really nation agnostic? The slow but steady return of NRIs for reasons ranging from family and food to jobs and social service would beg to disagree. But to truly understand patriotic emotions one should turn to a destination the millennial loves most of all; the unlimited bhel puri of buffets that is the internet. From Modi memes to AIB videos on lavish desi weddings and perverted flight passengers, it’s our unique way of professing love to our nation. Embracing the weird, wacky and nostalgic that is India somehow celebrates us in totality while justifying the imperfections we hang onto so dearly. And it’s so much easier than actually waking up to watch the R-Day parade.

I guess what I’m saying is that the buckwheat idli (not kuttu, mind you, buckwheat) has been born in a different time, a time of low attention spans and an even lower tolerance for mistakes. It is an updated edition, one that works hard to stay fit and relevant but at the same time need to stay true to itself. It values authenticity above all else, albeit in a time where a whatsapp birthday wish is acceptable but FOMO is not. It is well aware of its heritage, even if the Independence struggle stories passed down are as secondhand as Ron Weasley’s dress robes.

But being another ‘idli’ in the crowd is not going to cut it. It has to keep up with this mind-boggling, neck-breaking, gluten-intolerant supernova that is the 21st century. Even if it means coming off as pretentious once in a while.

I guess what I’m saying is that the buckwheat idli is just a regular idli trying to be the best version of itself.

You got ALL this from a phone conversation, you say? Okay, so maybe I take my creative license seriously. As for us millennials, cut us some sambar… err slack. And make it a grande non-fat gluten-free.

In memory of Tarla Dalal, here’s the recipe.

Dear Writer: An Open Letter by an Open Letter

Dear Open Letter Writer,

Last week when you offered condolences on Twitter, it got me thinking. Is there a reason you reserve your unique brand of activism to an archaic mode of communication: i.e. me? Surely, there are more advanced forums out there to get your point/rant/ hashtags across?

But then it all made sense to me, Open Letter Writer. Because an open letter is after all your very own Twitter page, without a character limit. Even better, it reaches out to the world beyond your followers. And isn’t that the stuff Post-Demonetization Era dreams are made of?

Come to think of it, the formula is foolproof. Pick a topic that’s trending (easy peasy) and make it clear in the first sentence. Some bestsellers listed in order of controversy are: the meaning of feminism, working mother guilt, the current sentiment in Kashmir, misuse of celebrity status, nepotism (this one’s gold), and the occasional furor over uncovering hidden politician wealth. {The aforementioned are subject to change caused by political agendas, the Illuminati, or Saturn’s transit through the zodiacs.}

Address it to a celebrity, politician or even a remotely prominent authoritative body and compare the stark disparity of their privileged world to the commoner’s plight; and lo and behold, you have an open letter blockbuster.

Speaking of politics, dear Writer, I often moonlight in politico mailboxes. This, of course, is destiny. You see, there is no politician worth his salt who hasn’t received the dreaded open letter. They attract each other like bees to honey. This is because the open letter is really not ‘open’ to feedback, comments or rebuttals of any kind. Behind the comfortable security of a pseudonym, it has all the joys of trolling without the backlash. Such is its impeccable design.

You don’t even have to over think the body (that’s the part that comes after the salutation), you already sound smart! Or you must be, if readers get past the point where you go full disclosure on details of your personal journey and why it’s relevant to your debate. See what I mean? If this isn’t truly a gift to mankind, then I don’t know what is.

Moreover, dear Writer, the open letter magically bestows on the sender the title of Good Samaritan. So what if the bone of contention is an anti-national celebrity offspring name or the brusque tone of conversation taken on by primetime news show hosts? It’s all in the nature of goodwill. After all, if the common man won’t take it upon himself to revolutionize society one baby name at a time, who will?

You see, Open Letter Writer, I have been around for a long time. I was there when Martin Luther King Jr. urged non-violent resistance to racism from a prison cell. I carried news of the discovery of unexpected uses of uranium from Einstein to erstwhile president Roosevelt. I bore witness to the plea Gandhi wrote to Hitler on behalf of peace-loving citizens around the world.

But what writers of yesteryears didn’t cash in on is the pure marketing and publicity marvel that is the open letter. Theirs was a different call-to-action, in a world grappling the clutches of obsolete societal conventions; in no way relevant to our modern times. What’s more, it denied the taxpayer his rightful fifteen seconds of blink-and-miss fame.

So go knock yourself out, dear Open Letter Writer, for the world is your literary oyster. May you go viral like no one has before. And remember, #AlwaysEndWithThatHashtag.

Sincerely your friend and well-wisher,

The Open Letter.

Different Booze Different Buzz Is Vodka my ‘Safe’ Drink

I’ve come to the conclusion that vodka is my ‘safe’ drink. Well atleast for (the fag end of) my 20s. And before you feel sorry for my liver or my seemingly pathetic attempt to ‘live it up’ before I turn the dreaded 3-0, think again. Or don’t.

I’ve always felt I’ve had distinct reactions to different alcohol. I behave distinctly apart when I have rum to when I have vodka. It’s as if the different personalities within me take shape depending upon my choice of liquor. No, these aren’t just voices in my head, they’re fully fleshed-out alter-egos that have nothing to do with the fact that I’m Gemini, as some friends have pointed out. And yes, maybe it has something to do with the all-encompassing excuse of the ‘time of the month’, but aren’t hormones just another heady cocktail which hit you when you’re at your lowest?

For example, Old Monk, makes me want to tell people about how my life is basically The Hunger Games, or how even Deepak Chopra doesn’t know enough about the mysterious nuances of the universe. Beer makes me feel bloated and sleepy, but I have this theory that it makes my face glow the next day? Enough said. Whiskey I’m not a huge fan of (judge all you want) but who am I kidding, I just have the really good stuff when someone’s paying.

My wine alter-ego is the most distinct of the lot. I refer to herrrr in third person ‘cause I mean, I don’t even wanna know what she’s been upto, am I right? Simply put, snatch the phone (and the bottle) away from my hand when I’m ‘under the influence’. Clear the room of any XX chromosomes and any sappy references of ‘stargazing’ or ‘listening to the sound of the waves while holding hands’ or ‘getting lost in the forest together’ or… you get the drift. If you’re anything like ‘her’, delete Tinder off your phone. I mean it. Also, she might think she’s Marion Cotillard waiting for a train, a train that will take her far away, but we all know what happens when she jumps off that ledge.

Which brings me to vodka. I’m surprisingly in control when I have vodka. I know you’re thinking that that’s the most absurd thing you’ve heard, but don’t get me wrong. It’s not like vodka doesn’t get me tipsy. Or gut-wrenchingly smashed. It just doesn’t have the reaction it used to. Like when in college we would head out; all 8 girls stuffed in a grimy auto, off to a questionable nightclub wearing even more questionable makeup, proceeding to conveniently blank out on details of last night’s questionable behaviour. Or when we were down to our bottom rupee and would have to make do with that disgusting green apple-flavoured stuff with a highly underrated gem of a discovery, this sugar-overloaded sweet called Mysore Pak, to kick in the buzz. Again, don’t judge. Desperate times, desperate measures.

No, vodka, which I now have with soda thanks to the weakening pace of my metabolism, brings out the balance within me. I’m fun but not too fun. I’m philosophical but not too philosophical. I’m introspective but not too much. I’m confident but not in a cocky way. Also, vodka brings out my drunken superpowers (dance-off anyone?). And while these superpowers might be less Peter Parker and more Neville Longbottom, who’s complaining? I get unflinchingly sound sleep and wake up fresh as a tipsy-daisy.

Research however, (yes, I’ve researched this and yes, I need to get a grip) busts the myth. The Conversation says, “The liver can process only a limited amount of alcohol at a time so any excess remains in the blood and travels to other organs, including your brain where mood is regulated. There’s no evidence that different types of alcohol cause different mood states. People aren’t even very good at recognising their mood states when they have been drinking.”

Then why do so many people (including friends over on Instagram who took my survey on the same) recount experiences of different booze giving them different buzz? The answer is apparently in the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ of it. “One possible explanation: mixers. Lots of people shoot tequila straight, whereas rum is commonly taken in tandem with something else – cola, for example. If you’re combining gin with tonic, or vodka with something super-caffeinated like Red Bull, who’s to say the drunk you’re experiencing is due to the alcohol, and not because of what you’re drinking with it?” says Gizmodo.

But there’s a psychosocial explanation. We ‘expect’ alcohol to affect us differently. “Consider for example that even when test subjects are given a standardized dose of ethanol and attain the same blood alcohol level as other study participants, their reactions tend to vary dramatically. Some act utterly sloshed, while others barely bat an eye.”

It does perhaps explain why I feel fancy when I’m holding a wine glass in my hand and feel the need to use words like ‘sanguine’. I will, one day, when I figure out what it means and how to use it in a sentence. Or when I see Homer Simpson in the mirror just after downing one mug of beer. Whatever may be the case, I’m sticking to my safe drink. Atleast until I ‘grow out’ of it, or until my body becomes three parts vodka, making me immune to its charm. In which case, maybe say hello to a new alter-ego, and pray she’s not lecherous, clingy, over-dramatic, boring, or more importantly, too safe.