My go-to black tea: Winter frost

Couple of years ago, I cut down my coffee and tea consumption. I didn’t want to quit. I simply wanted to control how many cups I had – largely that meant 2 cups a day.

Since I cut down on quantity, I started focusing on quality. That opened up a world of coffees and teas I would otherwise not have experimented with. One such being the winter frost teas from Nilgiris.

These winter frost teas are plucked in the dew laden early mornings of December, January and February in Nilgiris. The leaves take longer to grow in winter and that allows it more opportunity to absorb the ambient flavours – thereby making it very aromatic and flavourful. Several estates like Chamraj and Havukal make these winter frost teas.

My go-to black these days is the Winter frost from Chamraj estate. Has a floral aroma that is reminiscent of being in the proximity of a jasmine, and an after-taste that is very peach-fruity in a clean manner. Mildly astringent when steeped right (my preference is about 175-190F water for 3-3.5 mins). A good technique to identify right temperature for this is to take water off boil when you notice several small bubbles at the bottom (don’t let the water boil, it will make this tea bitter – it’s better to let it cool off for a minute or so in such cases before pouring it on tea leaves).

This tea is also great for cold brewing. Just add to water and leave it in fridge for 8 hours or so. That’s it.

Best served plain. No sugar, no milk, not even lemon. Doesn’t have the body to accommodate those.

Fixed deposit options

My dad is 80. Not the most financially savvy person I know of.

Last year, when I took a look at my dad’s finances, I noticed deposits in small and cooperative banks.

Why? Because he’s treated like a person there. With higher automation (and hence, more DIY) and retirement of people he knew at the banks, places like SBI are uncomfortable. It has pushed him more into places like the co-op.

Also, the 1-2% higher interest rate is a good bait.

He doesn’t realise the risks:

  • a less reliable, less compliant bank
  • carrying most of his savings

This is for those who have money in such small banks. Not all are bad, not all are mismanaged. But banks are highly leveraged businesses that a few bad mistakes can cause a run on the bank. So, it is better to go with the conservative banks that are also large. Why go through all the pain for just a small incremental gain?

Personally, if I invest for less than 10% returns, I look first for safety – return of capital with absolutely lowest risk. A safe bank at 5% is any day better than a so-so bank offering 8%. Especially if that money is hard to earn back (esp retirees).

Personally, as of today, I’d keep FDs only in these banks – SBI and HDFC. If you still need to diversify, maybe Kotak and ICICI. That’s it.

As for making banking easier for senior citizens… I feel sorry for them. The best I could do for my dad was to enable internet banking and do it on his behalf. Every now and then, he sees that as loss of control over his money, but quickly gets over it. Until the day we squabble, at least 🙂.

EDIT: I am aware of post office schemes such as SCSS and POMIS. They don’t suit his needs – he needs a good place to park funds for liquidity. Should be available immediately when needed for exigencies. For monthly expenses, he uses his pension. The post office term deposit is an option too – but unless the online facilities are good enough, won’t use them. Also, there’s a limit of 15 lakhs on it as of today.

Lockdown tales – 2

Unable to meet in person, kiddo and her friends created a WhatsApp group to interact.

They had a discussion about something – few agreed and few didn’t. One kid left the group in dissent!

When I heard about it, I was surprised for a while… that’s something I had seen only with adults.

Then I realised, it’s a basic human emotion all the same.

When we used to play cricket, the kid with the bat used to control the dynamics. Offend him and he’d walk away with the bat. Unable to handle that, I pestered my parents to buy me a new bat… and I did my fair share of ‘walking away’ as well.

Amidst all that talk about technology changing lives, human emotions are the same.. and will remain so.

PS: I wish my parents had taught me how to deal with a situation like that instead of buying me a new bat.

Lockdown tales – 1

A volunteer joins a team to help people struggling during the lockdown. Identifies a septuagenarian couple and offers them help to procure daily essentials and medicines.

“Thank you, we’re fine,” they say.

Volunteer leaves, but is not convinced. Thinks they are hesitant in taking his help and he should be nicer in his next attempt.

“Very nice of you to ask again. But, no! We’re fine!”

Volunteer is not convinced. Another day, another attempt. Same story.

Now, the volunteer takes it personally. Thoughts run in his head. “What did I do wrong? Maybe they don’t like me. Or I was too pushy!….” He feels mildly rejected and starts avoiding them.

Few days later, the old couple do need help. They are uncomfortable in asking. “We turned him down several times, how can we go to him now? What will he think of us?”

However, the need is such that they decide to ask finally.

The volunteer paused for a moment, felt a wry smile inside his head. “Oh, I’m busy with WFH commitments today. This is the website. You could order there yourself. It’s pretty easy.”

Self-confidence vs self-esteem

As a parent, I feel this is not given enough attention to. Self-esteem. And how it is different from self-confidence.

A lot of people can rank high on self-confidence, yet be deeply insecure inside. They may feel worthy and driven when they achieve. The minute they step out of the treadmill of achieving, they suddenly feel inadequate. 

This behaviour is highest in my entrepreneurs circle, but other performance oriented circles are no less different. Driven, highly ambitious and insecure – that’s the concoction. The insecurity is often seen as a motivator.

Yet, it is that very group of motivated, driven folk that succumbs to depression, suicide (V G Siddhartha of CCD is one example) and self-ruin.

They are all products of an environment blissfully unaware of healthy self-esteem. An environment that is obsessed in measuring in comparison to others, immersed in winning and seeped in the “opinion of others”. 

As a parent, my job is to ditch all that and to accept my kid as she is, with all her imperfections intact. And to teach her to accept herself as she is – without judgments or comparisons.

The masks we wear – 3

“Don’t show your teeth,” was the typical instruction to me as a kid during a photo shoot. I would close my mouth thinking it’s wrong to have protruding teeth.

Combine that with comments from bullying friends & cousins about my teeth, large eyes and small size (I was among the shortest in class), at a very early age, I felt uncomfortable with who I was physically. The inability to fight bullies compounded it leaving me feeling like a weakling.

I thought “something was wrong in me”. I was scared that no one would want to be my friend. I felt compelled to be “someone extra” just to be “acceptable”. I pretended to be this rich guy who would give out his pencils and notebooks to other kids. The guy who knew so much about many topics. The guy who was smart. The one who was self-assured and confident about himself.

By age 10, that defence mechanism was firmly in place – and it was all about covering up the real me and putting up a “fake me” the world would accept.

I was scared of failure because it would expose that I was not as good as I pretended to be. How could I allow the world to see that I wasn’t as smart as I pretended to be? So I pushed myself into areas where I won. At some point, I became too obsessed about winning. Being among the winners was a drug that I enjoyed.

Then in 1997, something happened in my life that exposed me to my insecurities completely. That year being my 12th board exam only compounded my problems. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with it. I didn’t tell anyone. I dropped out.

To come back to school again in 1998, I had to change myself. Unable to cope up, I feigned to be this kid who didn’t really care much about winning because it didn’t matter to him, when in reality, it burned me inside to not win. 1998-2004, I was this “serious, but not serious” kid. Getting into competitive situations opened me up completely to my vulnerabilities – so I maintained low profile and avoided such situations. I never let anyone know about it, and suffered inside.

In 2005, I started facing the reality. I slowly recovered to being the high performer I once was, but I was never able to go back to the pre-1997 mode. I measured myself upto that high performer in me and always felt short, no matter what I did. I turned into a workaholic. I set several goals between 2005 to 2015 – and many of them I achieved. Yet, I felt suffocated and unhappy inside.

In 2016, I set out to exploring why. Things were hardly as clear as you read above. When something is uncomfortable, your brain simply shuts it off and you forget the details. To dig it out is a lot of work and a lot of pain. I wouldn’t recommend doing it until you have built-up some mental immunity to what you will surface.

Initially, I only went in search of reasons why I couldn’t be like this pre-1997 person and why that single year impacted my life so much. Details were easily out there, but my brain would simply refuse to look at it. It took several attempts to connect the dots. Yet, resolution was evasive. Until I found Dr David Burns’ books in 2018.

Suddenly, I could connect dots. Not just back to 1997, but to much earlier.

I was “uncomfortable being the real me” and wanted to be a version the world would accept. That inner fear of rejection was covered up with “reputation” of achieving. That reputation gave me relief from the drudgery of being an inadequate weakling. Whenever that reputation was in danger, like it did in 1997, I choked. I was scared people would find out about me and sneer at me. Or worse, reject me. I was scared of rejection.

Once I knew what was really behind my miseries, I was able to work through it and make peace with myself. It did take time, serious honesty and effort. I’m glad to have done this workout.

Here’s a picture of mine from 1986. And a page from my journal from the week when I first connected all the dots backwards.

PS: Friends ask me why I felt that way because don’t look that bad in those photos. Well, circumstances, the subtle comments, bullying and certain environments can do that to anyone.

The masks we wear – 2

Here’s a personal story to highlight how innocuous incidents shape our lives. How we succumb to our own expectations, unknowingly suppress our inner emotions and create a rift between who we are and who we want to be. Multiplied over a lifetime, it suffocates.

I was 7 years old and at my grandma’s. It was evening and I wanted to go back to our home (those days, taking bus alone was perfectly safe in a town like Ooty).

Right when I stepped out, my aunt, who I loved, picked a fight with a tenant at the gate and it turned pretty vociferous. I was mildly scared and couldn’t bring myself to go through the gate.

I waited for a while, but the fight only worsened and few others joined in. 

My own home was a 1 km walk from the bus stop and post 6pm, would be pretty dark. While alone, I always ensured I hit it before 6pm. That day, it looked like I would be delayed. That scared me more.

I somehow brought courage and managed to walk to the main gate, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone. But managed to bump straight into my aunt. In that moment, without knowing what to talk, I mumbled – “aunty, what is happening here?” 

She told me to go back in and I did. 

After some time, the fight subsided and she came in. By now, I had decided to skip going home and was playing with cousins.

She walked straight to me and said it was **courageous of me** to check if she was okay in the fight. And **she berated** my older cousins for not caring to even come out.

Here I was feeling scared inside, worried about that wooded path to home and yet, the person I admire is **praising me** for something I didn’t mean to do. Not just that, she is berating my cousins for the very same thing I too felt inside.

What did I do? I took credit for it. I wanted her appreciation and I simply couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I too was scared.

That incident didn’t make me feel like I won her appreciation, but it only made me feel like a fraud and a coward. 

I suppressed my true emotion because truth was painful and this was an easier escape. I continued that habit well into adulthood. Of suppressing facing the inner reality and taking the easier path of an outer facade. 

This wasn’t the only incident – there were many.

I knew it all along and chose to sweep it under the carpet for long. Sometime in 2016, I decided to face the inner skeletons. 

I took a look at suffocating emotions and dug out past incidents to release them. In the beginning, I didn’t have the tools to handle it without choking. 

I never went to any counsellor. I turned to books. 

I looked for answers to facing deeply uncomfortable emotions and self-defeating belief patterns. It took time. Thankfully, I did find answers. These books helped me immensely. In taking a look at my relationship with myself. In my relationship with others, esp the closest. And in my relationship with my own body (not in the fitness sense, but in terms of muscle memory of painful events).

2019 has been liberating for me. Not only am I more comfortable being myself, my relationships feel more genuine and I feel safe and comfortable being myself, in my own body. Not only it lets me be more of myself, but I can take a honest look at my own fear of failure, fear of being rejected, or that of why I am a workaholic and so addicted to proving things all the time. 

It feels like air is cleaner these days. It’s still an ongoing journey. There are still more chinks in the closet. At least, I now know they are there and have the tools to handle it head on.

PS: I really really recommend Dr David Burns’ books!!

The masks we wear – 1

I don’t recall when I first read this article. But at some point in 2016, it became important to me. 

I started playing cricket in 1991. The 1992 world cup was a massive event for me – and Martin Crowe was my hero. Sachin too. 

I wanted to be like Martin Crowe. Not necessarily a cricketer, but a high performer. I wanted to be respected and admired. Being competitive wasn’t enough – I had to be at the top. That kind of thinking caused much stress and angst in my life all through.

Fast forward 24 years. Martin opened up about how he struggled to cope up with having to perform all the time. 

He spoke about how stressed he was and how he felt like wearing a pretenders mask. 

By then, I had recognised my own flaws, anxieties and had started working on myself. Everything Martin wrote about, I could relate to. It was a relief to see him open up. I spent the next 3 years working on myself. 

I can say I am much more accepting of myself today, more at peace than ever and more happy just ‘being’ instead of ‘becoming’. It’s still a journey though.

Once I opened up with close friends, many of them have gotten back to me with surprising revelations themselves – that life is no less hard for them too, again largely self-created.

Over the next few days, I’ll share more of my journey and how I coped/am coping with it. My intention is to make it useful for someone going through a similar journey. I don’t need a ‘take care’ message or sympathies. I believe I have done alright inspite of the battles I have created for myself.

For every Dravid or Sachin out there, there’s a Crowe or worse, Vinod Kambli. Oh, you never know until Sachin and Dravid open up too.

Parenting and education

I wonder if parents give a thought to what a school is, what education should be like? What our own role as parents should be?

As a parent, my role (and the school’s) is:
– to help the child learn acceptance of who he/she really is and get comfortable with himself/herself
– to help the child be independent
– to encourage the child to pursue her/his own enthusiasm without corrupting it with our prejudiced ideas
– to encourage effort, not push for results. Work is the reward, result is a by-product.
– to help the child build a sense of inner-worthiness that is not tied to social status, job, money, rank, etc

PS: We are merely facilitators, not enforcers. At the end, much is not in our hands. Learn to let go.