Monday, March 7, 2022

Happy Women's Day!

Swapna Soundarya - The Beauty of Dreams


New Delhi: My Home - the Agarwal Mansion

I looked down from above, while she worked.  The table was fully laid.  Swapna, our domestic help, ran around, placing a plate here, a fork there.  She looked up suddenly and smiled at me.

“Didi,” she said, “come down. Breakfast is ready.  I’ve made a new kind of pickle for gobhi paratha.  You’re going to love it.”  She flashed her smile again and disappeared into the kitchen.  My mother was yelling there.

“Why don’t you just do your work?  Jabbering away when there’s so much to be done!  Because of you, I’ll be delayed again.”

Swapna said, “I’m sorry! No aunty; you won’t be delayed.  Everything’s done.”

Fifteen minutes later, we were all seated around the table.  Super delicious parathas, spicy chutneys, Swapna’s special tangy pickle, perfectly flavored yogurt, hot beverages, cold fruit juice; everything was being relished by my family of 10.  Swapna fussed around, refilling the glasses, and serving the parathas. 

All of us were in a hurry to rush to schools, colleges, offices. There was hardly any conversation until my dad spoke.  “Swapna, when are your results due?”

“Tomorrow uncle.”

“How have you fared? “

“I will get above 60%, I’m sure of that,” she declared triumphantly!

My cousins and I looked up in surprise.  Here we were, slogging to score 10 GPAs and maximum percentile, while this girl seemed to be jumping for joy, for her 60 marks!  She could not enroll in any college! How would she manage?

But Swapna wasn’t worried.   Her neighbor ran a DTP Centre, where she had been promised a job.   His only condition was that she scored a 60% aggregate. 


She came over, a fortnight later, laden with a red cardboard box filled with bright yellow laddoos; because she had scored an unbelievable 67% in her exams! She smiled broadly and went around coaxing everyone, to pick up a laddoo. My people balked at the idea of touching the gooey laddoos, but Swapna hardly realized it.  It was the most expensive treat her parents could afford and had sent over a huge box of it, just for my family. 

Later, while I sat on the rosewood swing in our patio, she sat at my feet and told me about her dreams...

The neighbor would be paying her 6000 rupees a month, to work as his assistant in the DTP center. Her eyes shone as she ticked off the wonderful things she would be doing with all that money.    It would take care of her brother’s school fees, help her dad in running the house and enable her to set aside a nest egg for some awesome jewelry she’d seen at the goldsmith’s shop near her one-room apartment...

I was dumbstruck.  Here I was, grumpy that my new party wear wasn’t classy enough (it had cost a little over one lakh rupees); and there was Swapna, so happy with so little!

Was it time for a reality check? I didn’t know. And I didn’t have the time to ponder about it, because, right then, there was a shout.  “Hey! C’mon! We are waiting. You don’t want to miss the beginning!” My cousin Roshan called from the car.

I hurriedly patted Swapna on her back and dashed out to join him and a dozen other friends and cousins; we were off to a movie and later, dinner at the newly opened snazzy restaurant nearby...  Swapna was forgotten.


Five years later...

I had got busy with my studies and was hardly in the country. I had come home for a holiday, before going back for my Master’s.  I needed to buy gifts for my classmates, Kundan jewelry, Bandhini stoles, Lucknowi Chikan apparel, and other such ethnic stuff.  I had accompanied my mother to the nearby mall and was busy digging into a shelf of colorful scarves when someone tapped my shoulder. 

For a second I couldn’t recognize her.  Then I realized it was my former maid, Swapna.    She was plumper; and she wore more ornaments, including a nose-stud.  The unmistakable black bead necklace indicated she was married.  Her hair was held in a knot encircled with jasmines.  She looked all prim and matronly in a starched cotton sari.

“Didi!” she said delightedly, when did you come back?  How is America?” I wanted to tell her that I was studying in Switzerland, but restrained myself.  For Swapna, probably, anyone going out of the country meant ‘going to America’.  

“It's fine,” I said and asked, “tell me, how are you? When did you get married?”

Instead of replying, she walked up to my mother; she seemed to be asking for something; entreating in fact, and pointing in my direction.  My mother smiled and nodded.  Swapna hurried back to me and said, “Aunty said yes! Please come. Come home! I stay very close by. Come and have a cup of coffee.”

I hesitated.  She said in a soft voice, “My daughter’s name is Latika!”  I stared at her, astonished. She had named her daughter after me! Why would she ever do that?!?

She held my hand and hurried along the aisles.  She walked up to the cash counter and spoke rapidly, to the girl on duty there.  The girl smiled, nodded, looked at me, and smiled again. She said “Hi!” shyly to me.  I said “Hi!” too. Whoever was she? Some relative of Swapna? Did I know her?

As we stepped out into the bright sunshine, she said, “I’ve got to get back in 45 minutes.  Vani, my friend back there, will stay on a little extra time if I’m late.”

“How does she know me?” I asked curiously.

“All my friends know about you, Didi! I have told them.”

I hadn’t given a thought to this girl, since I had last seen her five years ago; and she not only remembered me - her friends knew me too!

Her Home

We walked into a narrow by-lane that led to a narrower by-lane. Little children scampered in and out of houses.  Stray dogs rushed around, barking intermittently, women squatted on stone slabs, outside their homes and washed clothes piled in tubs, while others washed pots and pans.

Soapy water flowed onto the road and I gingerly walked ahead, careful to avoid getting my feet dirty.  Suddenly, an apartment complex loomed up and we were soon climbing up the steps.

Dust and grime adorned walls that badly needed a coat of paint; plaster seemed to be peeling off everywhere...  The aroma of spicy, pungent food, shouts of children, raised voices of adults, and the cacophony of TV channels, emanating from the tiny flats, made me nauseous. 

“Third floor,” announced Swapna, “we don’t have elevators here.” Her voice was embarrassed.

“That’s okay,” I said smiling at her.

She rang the bell of her flat.  A tall, slim man opened the door saying, “Hey, you are early!” and smiled.  Swapna giggled and said, “No, I have to go back. Madam’s daughter has come. She is Latika!” 

The man seemed awestruck.  He folded his hands and said, “Madame, so glad to meet you. Swapna admires you so much.  We named our daughter Latika, hoping she would grow up to be like you.”

I was speechless! What did Swapna see in me?  I looked around...

A tiny, squeaky clean apartment - the drawing-room was hardly a 9-foot square.  Cane furniture crowded the area. Prettily embroidered covers and table cloths could be seen all around, making the room appear bright and cheerful.  Yellow curtains with huge blue flowers covered the pelmet-less windows.  On a tiny table in the corner, were several framed pictures; but holding the pride of place was a group photo of my family, taken five years ago.  Swapna was in the picture too, standing slightly apart from all of us, hands behind her back and smiling, as always.

Swapna looked expectantly at me. Evidently, she was proud of her lovely home.

“Nice!” I said and meant it. 

“This is my husband, Raghu,” she introduced the man who hurried away to the kitchen. “The factory, in which he was working, closed down.  He’s looking for another job.  He’s quite optimistic that he will get one soon; within a month, in fact! Thank God for that! Anyway, we are able to manage because I earn reasonably well.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially, “I get 15000 rupees! And until he starts working again, he has taken over the housework.”

 She winked at me and said, “What a relief for me!” 

Swapna raised her voice, “Latika come here!”

A chubby three-year-old walked out of the microscopic bedroom. “Say hello to Latika aunty.  You must be like her. Study well. Go to America and be a good girl.” 

The kid looked up at me. She kept staring, two fingers in her mouth.  Then she walked into the kitchen, completely ignoring me.  Raghu, by the time, had prepared a cup of steaming, hot coffee, just the way I liked it, and brought it along with a plate of glucose biscuits. 

For the next 20 minutes, both of them treated me as their guest of honor. Though it was uncomfortably warm in the ill-ventilated room, I hardly noticed it - with the attention and adulation that was being showered on me! When it was time to leave, Swapna led me to her kitchen. 

On the left was a high shelf, crowded with pictures of every god and goddess.  A small steel box contained vermillion powder. 

She dipped her ring finger in the powder and placed a spot on my forehead, saying, “I am extremely grateful that you agreed to come home. May you be as happy as I am!”

While we walked back to the mall, where my mother was waiting, I stole a glance at Swapna.  She was humming a little tune to herself, as she walked.  When I bid her farewell she said, “Please let me know when you come to India, next time.  We can go to the park with Latika Junior and have lots of fun!”

I nodded, smiled and impulsively hugged her, and said “Thank you!” before joining my mother.

I guess Swapna could not figure out why I thanked her.  It was not for the coffee and biscuits.                                         


What did she see in me that I didn’t? What was so special about me? Yes; wonderful offers were waiting for me, as I had been a consistent topper. My dreams were big - multinational companies, prestigious appointments around the globe, and eventually, a CEO position... I had the drive, I had the guts.

But those dreams suddenly seemed to be disintegrating after meeting Swapna again.  I felt strangely empty.  Here was a woman, so happy with what life threw at her. Her optimism was infectious. 

All of a sudden, I knew exactly what I wanted to do...

I no longer wanted to travel the world, nor hobnob with the who’s who of the international management scene, nor shop at the trendiest outlets...

I just wanted to create more Swapnas. I wanted to create opportunities for women, here, in India - in my own country - for my own people...  I wanted them to come up in life, I wanted them to send their children to schools, good schools, and I wanted them to realize their dreams...

I felt exhilarated. I did the required research, discussed my ideas with my slightly skeptical, but nevertheless supportive family... And that was how the concept of ‘Swapna Soundarya’, the areca plate-making unit, was conceptualized...

It’s been three years, now, since I started this unit.


Hexagonal, rectangular, circular, triangular, small, medium, large - the areca leaf plates were arranged according to shapes and sizes. The orders had been completed on time. I was relieved. The workers had been paid and were leaving the factory. 

I locked the premises and walked out into the late afternoon sunshine.

“Didi!” I heard a familiar voice.

I turned to see Swapna standing behind me.  When did she come here? She hadn’t informed me about her visit. She hugged me warmly and said, “I knew it, Didi, I knew it!  You are so special. And today the world knows it too.”

Whatever was she talking about, I wondered. She saw my bemused expression and said, “Oh! You haven’t heard yet! I’m sure your phone was switched off, while you were working. Oh my goodness! Didi, you have won the ‘Woman of the Year Award!! I took a bus as soon as I heard the news; wanted to congratulate you in person.”

I was stunned! This was so unexpected. 

Yes, I had given a couple of interviews; I’d explained about the alarming levels of poverty and illiteracy, the lack of basic amenities, the absence of a good school - all of which had convinced me to choose this village for my small-scale unit.

After my master's degree, I’d got plum offers, from around the world; I had turned them all down and had opted to come down to this village, to do what I felt compelled to do - much to the amazement of my family. I must have succeeded to an extent; going by the award that had just come my way.

I sent a silent prayer up to God, feeling grateful for the peculiar circumstances that had brought me here. A few years ago, it was unimaginable that I would be working in India, and that too in a remote village!

Yes, ten years ago, if you’d told me that I would be running a non-profit organization to help underprivileged women in the most backward of villages, I would’ve scoffed at the very thought of it.  But here I was, doing just that. 

I realize today, the undeniable truth - The most unexpected challenges come your way and how you accept them - that’s what Life is all about. Unexpected circumstances tend to rock you out of complacence and yet, you realize eventually, that it’s all for the best!

 ‘Swapna Soundarya’ - The Beauty of Dreams (in Sanskrit) - an apt name, I felt, for my dream project! Every new day brings new hope for someone out there and I am blessed to be a part of a movement that makes life more beautiful for so many women.

And it is the nondescript Swapna who somehow made it happen... She, however, has no inkling about that. There she stands, so happy for me, so proud of me...As always...


(Extract from "The Statuette and Seven More Stories" by Radha Deep)

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Never Say Die Club

 To feel good you've got to think good! A positive upbeat happy outlook goes a long way to rejuvenate you not just emotionally, but also alters your demeanor, your makes you 10 times more attractive!   And the never say die attitude is one of the strongest premises to build on your emotional strength!  

here's a poem I penned a few months ago that tells you what I mean in a better way...

A little seed carried away

Flying - flying... at the mercy of strong winds

And here she was dropped in a verdant forest

Trees everywhere...trees towering into the sky...

Their thick trunks so huge... nothing to see beyond...

Grass so green and tall you couldn’t see the wet black slippery ground below

 Why are you here? ...The trees asked. Why are you here?

Neither will you grow...

Nor will you flower...

And no fruits in you, that taste sweet and luscious

We have them! We are manna of the forest

You... a diminutive seed...Hah!!!

Go sit in clay pots that decorate people’s houses...

This forest is for us... monarchs of flora...

The seed was sad

She cried

Silent tears rolled down her smooth raindrop shape and moistened the ground...

At night, the eerie winds scared her... the animals hurt her...

There she lay forgotten, neglected, trampled by animals, ridiculed by towering flowering shrubs...

She was powerless and unprotected by the very forces that had flung her there...

But one fine day in her sleep, a gentle breeze seemed to whisper in her ears... “Stay, I will come for you!”

The first raindrop of monsoon bathed her and crooned, “Little one, live on!”

A tiny ray of happiness flickered from her very soul... It permeated her being...

She suddenly felt stronger, she suddenly felt hopeful;

She looked up as the gentle drops of rain splattered her

And then it happened!

A shiny green shoot leaped out of her being in search of sunlight... and the little seed settled firmly into the soft moist earth...

And from that day on she feared none... the big plants laughed, she laughed too

The trees scoffed, she didn’t mind them too

And the days rolled into weeks... the leaves spread out... taller...taller

And the weeks rolled into months... the plant became stronger ... stronger

And today here she stands, her huge yellow flowers flirting with sunlight... their gentle swish... a dance to catch the glistening sunrays

The trees stared in awe... The seed had stayed on...

Now she lived on... a pretty yellow diversion,  

The Sunflower Queen in the green!  

I would like you to suggest a name for my poem!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Anger Ages!!

Paul yelled at the top of his voice, “Are you totally deaf?” He flung the cup he held, spilling coffee on the carpet.

Paul actually was caring, generous, full of fun and ever so helpful. But anger, he could not control. His children loved to spend time with him, but were wary of what they spoke lest they provoked him. Laura, his wife avoided discussions with Paul for the same reason.

Life was a see-saw of emotions for the whole family, pivoted on Paul’s disposition. Besides creating unpleasantness all around, the emotion which engulfs an angry Paul, and thousands like him, rings scores of warning bells.

What happens you get angry? You stand at a higher risk to develop symptoms of
  1. Hypertension 
  2. Cardiac problems Acidity and heartburn 
  3. Damage to the lungs 
  4. Eczema 

 There are other concerns too. If you don’t do something about anger, it is likely you will fell prey to problems like

  1. Eating disorders 
  2. Depression leading to actions of self destruction 
  3. Substance abuse 

 With these and many more issues to tackle, you will start aging prematurely. Yes, that’s what anger does. The intensely negative influence of anger ages you irreversibly.

 The physiological stress that results from chronic anger will speed up physical deterioration. Wrinkles appear before they ought to, there is a likelihood of hair loss, your health parameters take a beating -

In short, you start growing old much earlier than you really ought to.

So how do you manage anger before it gets the better of you.  Here are 10 simple steps for successful anger management
1)   The much written about, quite clichΓ©d advice is truly the most practical one! Yes! Count till 10 before you react in anger
2)  Breathe in and breathe out slowly, while counting
3) Identify the parameters that make you angry. Learn to manage them. If you are angry because of your failure to complete a task, then plan on how you should react when you face failure again
4)  Indulge in actions/activities that help you calm down and make you feel more relaxed  and less angry
5)  Look out for physiological indicators which indicate that you will soon lose your temper.  It may be quickening of breath, or it may be a faster heartbeat - 
6) Controlling the outburst by keeping the feelings locked inside your mind leads to stress too – sometimes this causes more harm; you can take up a rigorous physical activity like cycling, trekking and so on to take your mind away from anger. The adrenaline flowing through your body will quell the negativity and make you feel good!
7)  Eat healthy! Include generous portions of fresh fruits and vegetables in your meals and snack.
8) Own up responsibility for your outburst. Be genuinely repentant and reach out to those who have been affected by your anger.
9) Assure them and yourself that you are working on your problem and will definitely conquer it soon
10)  Get professional help if required 

Friday, April 3, 2015

8 Ways in which Sleep aids Anti-aging

 (And 8 Tricks to Help you Sleep Better)

The Dalai Lama accords a lot of importance by saying, “Sleeping is the best meditation”.  Anti-aging never had a better ally than a healthy sleeping habit! Sleep creates an automatic shield against skin aging and strengthens your immune system in several ways.  Want to know how?
Good sleeping habits help in giving you

1.      Skin rejuvenation by keeping at bay
a)      Puffy eyelids
b)      Wrinkles and fine lines
c)      Dark circles around the eyes
d)      Acne
2.      A glowing complexion
3.      Alert, calm and refreshed on waking
4.      Less mood swings, more optimism and enthusiasm
5.      Motor skills and memory improved
6.      Cellular regeneration that helps in keeping you looking good and feeling good
7.      Inflammation, if any, is reduced
8.      Increased life span due to improved
    a)      Endocrine levels and glucose tolerance
    b)      Immune system
    c)      Blood pressure levels
    d)      Memory power, alertness and performance
    e)      Body fat levels

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Wondrous Lemon - Keeping you Young and Fit!

There are umpteen ways, in which you can look and feel younger.  A huge array of cosmetic aids (ranging from rejuvenating creams to botox shots to sophisticated microdermabrasion procedures) can chip away years from your appearance . . . 
Yet, from time immemorial, there have been some simple, ingenious practices that, people claim, have helped maintain both their glowing complexions and general good health…,
The simple lemon is nature’s gift to humanity.  Its health and beauty enhancing properties are countless and invaluable.
Here are two simple daily routine practices that can make you look and feel good.  Include these in your daily health/beauty regimen.
The pre-bath face lotion

In a dish containing a tablespoon of very hot milk, squeeze in drops of fresh lime juice.  Keep adding drops of lime juice until the milk curdles. Allow the curdled milk to cool.  Now dip fingertips into the milk and apply it all over your face and neck. 
After fifteen minutes wash your face with lukewarm water and pat dry. Within a week or two your complexion will acquire a glow.
Why is this good?
Lemon and milk are both rich in alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) in its natural form.  AHA is good for your skin because it can help
·        Exfoliation: removing the outermost layer of dead skin cells
·        Makes skin smoother and even, and reduces wrinkles
·        Stimulates collagen and elastin (Collagen makes your skin firm while elastin keeps it taut) content in your skin structure

Drink water as soon as you wake up
Add freshly squeezed lime to a cup of warm water and drink it first thing in the morning, before that refreshing cuppa.  You can have up to three glasses of this lime water. 
Why should you?
There are a dozen or more invaluable benefits of this simple ritual. Warm lime water
·        Acts as a diuretic and in the process of cleansing, removes the toxins from your body
·        Stimulates the digestive organs to produce the right juices that aid better digestion
·        Acidity affecting digestive system is reduced and the right pH levels maintained
·        Helps in weight loss due to presence of the enzyme pectin
·    Antioxidants present in lime juice help firm the skin, give it a natural glow and keep wrinkles in

·        Reduces the risk of kidney stones
·        Immune system gets a booster dose of nutrients that helps
1.      Resistance to cold and other respiratory ailments
2.      Improved nerve functioning
3.      Control blood pressure at optimum level
4.      Increased absorption of iron by your body
5.      Act as an anti-inflammatory agent
6.      Replace lost fluids in lymph system and hydrates whole body optimally
So, next time you visit this page, it will be a healthier, younger looking you!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dance, Dance, Dance your way to Fitness!

Millions of people have resolved to lose weight and remain trim this year. The resolutions come and go but do you manage to maintain your ideal weight.

Does it not become too cumbersome to follow strict schedules day after day in order to keep away that flab? Well here’s what you can do to bid adieu to the worrisome exercise regime.

Dancing is a fun way to lose weight. And here is how you can reach your ideal weight and maintain it- - - - - by dancing. Make sure you set aside some time for dancing at least five times a week

  • If you lead a very busy life and can hardly spare more than three days for the dance, then set aside only three days – there is no point in making schedules that cannot be adhered to
  • Pick a time that is convenient for you, preferably when you are alone at home so that you have the privacy to dance freely without feeling self conscious or inhibited
  • Make a list of your favorite numbers – those peppy, racy tunes that compel you to start dancing spontaneously
  • Only choose those numbers that have a nice upbeat sound to it; for variety, you can team up with a friend and make the session even more enjoyable
  • Try to dance continuously for twenty minutes
  • If it is not possible the first time, start with a five minute session and then gradually increase it to 20 minutes
  • Your song selection should be such that you enjoy every second of the music and alleviate the boredom of repetitive exercises
  • When you dance, you should be wearing comfortable clothing that allow you the freedom of movement
  • If there is always someone at home, then you can dance in the privacy of your room, wearing headphones so that other sounds do not distract you
  • Dance just as fast as you can so that you can talk without losing your breath while dancing
  • Remember not to dance too hard as you may harm or hurt yourself and get tired before you start burning the calories
  • If you want professionals to guide you, you can always join a dance class that specializes in helping you lose weight

 The benefits

  • You can lose calories by dancing, just as you would lose them by walking, swimming or cycling
  • Dancing automatically tones your muscles
  • It keeps them taut and reduces flabbiness
  • You can stay away from those dubious wonder pills that claim to help you lose weight without lifting a finger; wonder pills may often turn out to be quite harmful and lead to adverse side effects that cannot be reverted
  • Do not forget to drink lots of water everyday tomake up for the toxins flushed out effectively every day

 There are many resources on the Internet that can take the tedium out of weight-loss programs. And here is something that will put a smile on your face and help you look fab without the flab...  Check out  
Lose Weight by Dancing

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tips and Techniques for Great Looking Skin

The skin is the first part of the body that physically changes to show age, wear and tear. The choices we make in our early life are the choices our skin will reflect later in life.

Don’t you want to look younger? Let’s try some simple techniques like

If you want to look and feel younger exercising daily can prove to be better for body better that any bottled anti aging products.

Protect your skin from sun as it can cause wrinkles and age spots. So try using sunscreen that is free from toxic chemicals.

Stop smoking as it accelerate the normal aging process of your skin and contribute to wrinkles.

Eat foods rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids such as fruits, vegetables etc.

Get your proper sleep as your body needs to produce human growth hormone an essential ingredient for skin that’s thick and less prone to wrinkle.

Exfoliate your skin a few times a week as it takes off dead skin cells.

Remove your stress by following meditation and yoga. Yoga relaxes the muscles and imparts a natural glow and fairness to the skin.

Drink plenty of water, as it will help to flush out the toxins from your body and cleanse them.

Expose yourself to early morning sun for a short time daily, it is heliotherapy or sun treatment. Sun is the source of power and energy.

Avoid alcohol as this dehydrates the body which is not good for the skin.

Home remedy for anti aging

• Vitamin E is well known home remedy for anti aging. Apply this daily on age spots it will fade away gradually.

• Try getting a proper facial massage as it increases blood circulation which results in tightening of the muscle and tissues and will help in restoring a younger look. Massage should start from neck upwards and end at the forehead.

• For a chemical free cleanser raw milk can be used. It cleans unseen dirt and goes down into your pores.

• Simple yoga practice like pranayama, siddhasana and sarvangasana can improve the blood circulation to your skin and will make you look young.