Oil Bath – A Deepavali Tradition

Next weekend is Diwali (or Deepavali as it is called in South India). Popularly known outside India as the festival of lights, Diwali has many traditions associated with it; thorough cleaning of homes, decorating homes with oil lamps, wearing new clothes, buying gold, lighting fireworks, making and distributing sweets and savouries ….

The diwali diyas at Diwali Celebrations at Ban...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, Deepavali celebrations begin on Naraka Chaturdashi. This is the day Lord Krishna slew a demon called Narakaasura. Celebrations begin before dawn with the ritualistic oil bath. While taking an oil bath is a Deepavali tradition, it is by no means restricted to just this festival. In most South Indian homes, an abbreviated version of this elaborate ritual is (or should I say was) a weekly affair.

Here is how we take an oil bath at home.

For the body, you need:

  1. Besan, Senaga Pindi, or Green Gram Flour – 1 Cup
  2. Rice Flour – 1/3 Cup + 1/2 Cup
  3. Chandan or Sandalwood Powder – 1 tbsp
  4. Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  5. Milk – 1/2 Cup (Reduce to 1/4 Cup if you have oily skin)
  6. Milk Cream or Malai – 1 tbsp (Optional – Omit if you have oily skin)
  7. Sesame Oil – 3 tbsp

Preparation of the Bathing Paste/Scrub

  1. Set aside the sesame oil and 1/2 cup rice flour.
  2. Mix all the other ingredients together with a little water to form a smooth paste that just drops off the spoon.

For the head, you need:

  1. Coconut Oil – 1 tbsp
  2. Soap Nuts or Reetha – 12

Preparation Required to Use Reetha

  1. Soak reetha overnight in 2 cups of water. (Ideally, in an iron vessel)
  2. The next day morning, boil the soaked reetha.
  3. Once the water begins to boil, turn down the heat and let the liquid simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and let it cool.
  5. Use your hands and squeeze the soap nuts/reetha well.
  6. Discard the reetha skin and seeds.

How to Take an Oil Bath

  1. Ensure that the bathroom is as dry as possible.
  2. Ensure that your person is dry.
  3. Apply the coconut oil to the scalp and the length of the hair.
  4. Apply the sesame oil all over the body.
  5. Massage in the oil gently till it is absorbed.
  6. Wait for 5 minutes.
  7. Now apply a thin layer of the besan paste all over the body.
  8. Stand still while it dries. Takes about 10 minutes.
  9. Gently rub the besan so that it drops off the body.
  10. If the besan is not coming off easily, then dust your body with some of the remaining rice flour and then rub.
  11. Continue the process till all the besan if off your body.
  12. Before you do anything else, clean the besan off bathroom floor.
  13. Wash off the rest of the oil and besan using just warm/hot water. Do not use soap or body wash.

How to Wash your Hair

You could use Shampoo and Conditioner.

  1. After you have completed the bath, pour small amounts of the reetha water onto your scalp and hair.
  2. Rub vigorously.
  3. Wash off with warm water.
  4. Repeat the process, if required.
  5. Dry off as usual.


  • The bathroom must be dry, otherwise you will have a messy floor.
  • Your person must be dry, otherwise you won’t be able to oil yourself.
  • Clean the bathroom before you use any water, otherwise, cleaning the bathroom is a messy affair.
  • Avoid using soap/body wash on your skin and shampoo on the hair. If you do, you will lose many of the benefits of the oil bath.

Advantages of Oil Bath

  1. An oil bath and the associated scrub helps in removing the dead skin cells and leaves your skin glowing.
  2. The scrub increases blood supply and invigorates the skin.
  3. If you follow a regimen of a weekly oil bath, you will notice a greatly improved skin texture and reduce body hair.

Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Musings, Traditions


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Early days as an entrepreneur….

Very many years ago, in 1995, we started TASC; one of India’s first technical writing and training companies.

We started not in the proverbial garage, but in a beauty parlour that belonged to a close family close friend of my business partner. We were given the place on a “pay when you have the money” basis, no questions asked. The only condition was that we had to use the place “as is, where is.” So here we were, in pink sandblasted 200 square feet room with mirrors on the walls and the classic parlour countertops. It took some ingenuity and a few curtains (yes, curtains) to camouflage the surroundings. Visitors, the few that we had, were very mystified by our “office”! 🙂

And oh! there was the cat that we inherited. For the first few weeks, it was a ghostly presence that left behind a dead rodent as a tribute at least once a week! **Shudder** We soon discovered how it got in and put an end to that.

The location of our office was also very unique. Bang opposite us was St. Michael’s Church (Mahim Church), one of Mumbai’s most famous churches and a few meters down from there was the famous Mahim Dargah.

We were also cheek-by-jowl with a “dance bar” and a few doors down on the other side was a small traditional eatery. Being an all girls team, we were persona non-grata at both the eateries that were within reach. That was a problem because we often worked till 11 PM and stayed over ever so often (the parlour had cubicles at the back with benches on which we could sleep).

We tried, once and once only, to get a takeout from the traditional eatery, but our very presence at the door was uncomfortable to the owner and patrons. An old “chacha” who worked at the place realised our plight, and took our order and sent us packing back to the office. He personally delivered the food, and since then would drop in ever so often through the day to see if we needed anything. I will always remember the roti-dal fry, egg bhurji, and chai-bun-maska we lived on in those days. And bread pudding, Mava cakes, and assorted “puffs” from the nearby Crown Bakery.

On a day we needed a treat, we used to take a taxi down to Shobha, the Udipi Restaurant on LJ Road aka Cadell Road or get Biryani from one of the local eateries.

The bar would start its day at about 1 PM with a thorough cleaning accompanied by the melodious voice of MS Subbulakshmi. They played the most divine selection of music till about 6 PM, when regular business hours started. That was the time I learnt several stotrams and popular dance numbers all in the space of a few months. And we could do without our watches because of them! When the storams started, have lunch and when the dance music started, go home.

Though I did not know it then, I was the unwitting subject of classical conditioning. 🙂

But the bouncers and waiters at the bar were ever so considerate of our finer feelings and protective of us girls. They would ensure that the bar’s patrons did not disturb us, call us cabs, …. So typical of Mumbai!

But boy, did we work hard those days. Our first contract was to develop documentation for a RDBMS developed in India. We had to write 11 huge manuals in about 7 months, with one DTP operator for support. We had to shuttle between Mumbai and Gandhi Nagar, where the development team was based.

In the middle of all this, we were also training individuals on Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Office 95, PowerBuilder, C, and C++. You see, we were a technical writing and training company. Do note the “and training.” In those days, very few in India had heard of technical writing as a profession. Our task began with educating the companies we visited on what technical writing was all about, how we could add value to them, and more specifically they had to pay us to “just” write. It was tough going, but fun!

I have lost count of the number of times people asked my parents, “Okay, your daughter writes. But what does she DO (aka what is her JOB?)?”

My abiding memory of those days the tremendous support we got from people around us; family, friends, and complete strangers. And everyone had tremendous faith in us and our abilities, as other instalments of this saga will show.


Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Musings, Technical Writing


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Our First Office

Many of the early TASC team members have fond memories of our Santacruz office. Some of the reasons they talk about include:

  • It was cozy and homely. That it was, because it was so small. 🙂
  • It had some very nice food places around; Kandoi Haribhai Damodar, Yoko’s Sizzlers, Rama’s Sweets, the Pani Puri-walla round the corner, the moong bhajjiya walla at Santacruz station, …
  • It was very accessible from Santacruz railway station.
  • and and and…

While the team enjoyed the space afforded to them by the Andheri office that we moved into later, every now and then they get very nostalgic about the Santacruz office.

We had some great times there! What say, Swapna and Seema? 🙂

The Santacruz office was our first “official” office. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we began operations in a makeshift beauty-parlour-converted-to-office. We were there for about 6 months, before we began searching for an office.

The first step was to find an estate agent. So we looked up the newspaper classifieds and met a few. The one we finally worked with (and the one we continue to rely on for office space even now) is Mani Chabbra of Horizon Consultants. He and his partner Rakesh Singh were unfazed by the very specific requirements we had or by our limited budget.

When we explored many a commercial real-estate option but none would meet our requirements; most of the time because of the exorbitant rents as well as rent escalations that the landlords were requesting over the tenure of the lease agreement.

This was at the height of the dot-com boom and office rentals in Mumbai, among the highest in the world, were at new highs.

Initially, there was no sense of urgency about the search. We saw about an office a week, then I fell ill for about 6 weeks and my business partner went about the search alone, then we were busy finishing up our first technical writing contract and did not have the time, and and and…

However, at the same time we were negotiating for our first training contract and then there was a sudden sense of urgency. We needed an office space to conduct the training you see. 🙂

By this time, Mani had started to think out of the box and was showing us large garages or apartments that had been/could be converted to offices. Garages wouldn’t do (they were too small) and so we settled on looking at apartments. The one we liked was a spacious one-bedroom apartment in Khira Nagar, Santacruz.

The first meeting to discuss terms and conditions involved the patriarch of the family that owned the flat, his wife, his son & daughter-in-law, and his daughter & son-in-law. One our side were me, Suvarna, and Mani. What was to be a 30-minute meeting went on for a couple of hours, but we could not reach an agreement. 😦 But Mani worked his magic the next day and we got the office we wanted.

We got possession of the place within 15 days and started converting it to an office; complete with a kitchenette, training room, a cabin for us business partners, and a nook for the receptionist-cum-accountant-cum-office-manager.

Seema should have fond memories of this nook. She spent several years in that nook. 🙂

We had just about 6 weeks to complete the renovation before the training started. But our trusted team of Bablu Bhaiyya, the general contractor; Shindeji, the electrician; and Mevalalji, the painter; had it ready in 4 weeks. As soon as they finished, in came the team from Ark Computers led by Rizwan Khan and Navid Zakaria to set up the networking and computing infrastructure in a day.

All these people and their teams remain partners in our success to this day!

We were in that office for about a decade and it was the site of many a success. 🙂


Posted by on April 2, 2013 in Musings



Gulmohur, Royal Poinciana, Flamboyant, Peacock...

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus shot at chala...

Coo-ooo, Coo-ooo, Coo-ooo……..Coo, Coo, Coo, Coo, Coo!!!!

That was the sound I woke up to today. It was a blessed Koel, generations of whose family have made a home in the Gulmohur tree that grows just outside my bedroom window.

As you can see from the opening lines, my years of association with the Koel’s family have helped me master the cadence and the crescendo of its coo-ing. 🙂

This year the Koel was late, and I realised this only when I woke up to its coo-ing today. Normally, it starts its coo-ing as early as March, this year it made an appearance late in April.

One thing that has not changed is the time it starts coo-ing; a bright and early 4 AM!

Koel and its coo-ing is not the only thing I love about summer.

There are the lovely flowers that bloom all around. Yes, even in a concrete jungle like Mumbai, there are hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs. My favourite flower of all time is malli (jasmine). The lovely fragrance of jasmine always draws me to the flower vendors in the market. I simply have to buy fresh flowers all the time.

 I do have a Jasmine plant growing in a flower-pot at home. I get a few dozen flowers from it every few days. 🙂

Aaaaaaaapooooooooos! Aaaaaaaapooooooooos!

Unfortunately, this is not a call one hears anymore. 😦

It is the call of the itinerant mango vendors who showed up in summer, carrying petis of Alphonso mangoes. Straight from Ratnagiri, if you believed them.

As children, we would wait for this call as it meant crates of mangoes at home soon. We ate mango for breakfast, mango for lunch, mango for dinner, and at all times in between; unadulterated (no milkshakes and aamras for us, no, no!).

Our home used to be redolent with the aroma of ripening mangoes all through summer. If I close my eyes, I can picture how we used to carefully part the layers of hay to get to golden-yellow-with-a-pink-blush mangoes, all warm from being so carefully cocooned.

Now-a-days, I get a few mangoes at a time, in a plastic bag, from the local fruit vendor’s stall. No fun… 😦

Then there are the raw mangoes. I remember my mother and aunts gathering at my maternal grandmother’s home and making all those delicious pickles. Avakai, maagai, thokkudu pachadi, vadu manga, chundo,….

How can I forget the appadaalu (papads) and vadiyalu? We kids were strictly forbidden from straying onto the terrace where all the goodies were dried. But then, who was to stop us? Eating half-dried vadiyalu and mango pieces had its own charm. Yummmmm!

And of course, the cool and delicious malai kulfi….

The best part about summer vacations is that I could stay at home, and read all day long. My mother’s work place had a fantastic library run by the employee’s welfare association. As summer approached, I would beg Amma to collect library cards of all those going on vacation or those who were not going to use them. That is how I got multiple books to read in a week.

The other ploy was to scour the second-hand booksellers looking for great books.

Buying second-hand books meant more books for the bucks I got as pocket money!

Today, I can buy all the books my heart desires, but I have so little time to read.

Oh, for those simpler days…..


Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Musings


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Musings from My Morning Walks

This blog post was triggered by my walk this morning. Contrary to normal practice, I was not listening to my iPod today and was also a walking a little later in the morning than is usual. Today was a public holiday here in Mumbai and so I did not have to rush through my morning routine.

As can be expected from me, I was walking along at a chugging pace, deep in thought.

Some of my friends complain that when I walk or drive, unless they jump in front of me and I collide with them, I will not notice them. And even then, just may be! Ashamed Smiley

Portrait of a North Indian Lady
Raja Ravi Varma – Portrait of a Lady

About 5 minutes into my walk, I suddenly stopped short because an auto-rickshaw pulled up right in front of me. I was really annoyed at the “stopping on a dime” trick and looked up to see a little girl, may be 7 or 8 years old, alight from the auto.

She was all dressed up as a traditional Maharashtrian lady, in a nav-vari saree, nath (nose ring), veni (woven flowers) in her hair, and a pooja thali in hand. She could have just as well stepped out of a Raja Ravi Varma painting.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

She was followed by a young boy, perhaps 10 years old, carrying a red flag and dressed in a suit with a wig of flowing white hair and a cotton beard. And then came a middle-aged lady dressed “normally”!

It was a surreal moment before I realised that today was May 1; both Labour Day and Maharashtra Day, and that I was walking past a school. And the little boy was Karl Marx. 🙂

It reminded me of another morning walk on another public holiday, a few months ago; again involving schools and school students. As usual, I was walking at a brisk pace and it was about 7 AM when I suddenly noticed my fellow walkers coming to a halt and standing still; where they were.

The Mumbaikar that I am, my first thought was that there is some sort of trouble ahead. But the fact that people were just standing still and not turning back did not gel with this thought. Just as I was puzzling over things came the first notes of Jana Gana Mana, India’s National Anthem, wafting through the air. It was January 26, India’s Republic Day, and we were passing by a school. The school children were in, bright and early, for the traditional flag hoisting and were now singing the National Anthem.

Animated flag of India.

Flag of India.

What touched me was that the man (and woman) on the street stopped to pay respects when Jana Gana Mana was sung in a school that they were passing by. And everyone (including early morning cooks and workers at a nearby famous eatery, milk men, newspaper boys; just about everyone) stood still till the National Anthem ended. And then joined the school children in a resounding Jai Hind!

Jai Hind! indeed, and Jai Maharashtra! Mumbai is one of the few places where you could see and experience such things!


Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Musings


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More About Our First Training Contract

In an earlier post, I had written about our first training contract. One of the many things that I remember about this assignment was the commitment our client had towards the success of the program.

  • The client was a financial services company and for them using Microsoft Excel for detailed analyses and forecasts was very important. Before the training started, the client’s team taught us the calculations and analyses that they did on a regular basis as also those that they wished they could do.

That was some learning for us! We learnt how to use Microsoft Excel for all kinds of advanced data analyses. That helped us a great deal in running our company. 🙂

  • The client’s team worked with us to define various groups of users and helped us understand each group’s nature of work. We then worked out a custom course outline for each group.
  • The HR and IT teams were very meticulous while putting together batches. They would ensure that all participants in a group were of the same profile, even if it meant sending a person or two less in a batch.
  • Before each batch, we had a brief call with the HR team to learn about the role and responsibilities of each participant.
  • Most participants came prepared with sample documents, worksheets, presentations, and data. They were very specific about what they wanted to learn.
  • Many of the participants went back and shared their knowledge with team members who had not yet attended the training. As a result, many participants of later batches had already learnt and applied the basics, and they came with other, more challenging problems.

We would never know what we would be asked and had to have our wits about us!

  • No one was exempt from the training. Even the CEOs had to travel to our office and had to attend the 3-day training. The HR told us that no participants can leave the course midway citing a work emergency. We had to check with HR before allowing the person to leave!

I remember only one senior management person (a VP) leaving the course midway to attend an emergency. The HR was not happy! 😦

  • After each batch, we had to submit a detailed feedback of each participant’s strengths and weaknesses (even CEOs), and we received detailed feedback from the participants.

One the lighter side:

  • Our very first batch started on a tense note. We thought the batch was to start at 9 AM and were in office since 7:30 AM. However, no one turned up till 9:30 AM. In addition, we could not get in touch with the client’s HR team. Smiley Sweating We had just assumed that the training was cancelled when the first participant walked in at 9:35 AM. Apparently the participants were told that batch started at 10 AM. Phew! 🙂
  • We were so relieved to see the first participant that we set about “doing our job” with enthusiasm and set up about interrogating him (I cannot think of a more suitable term). What were his roles and responsibilities, his expectations from the course, blah, blah, blah…. He was so nice and down-to-earth and answered all our queries patiently. It did not occur to us to ask him his designation or look up the participant’s list. It was, later, during the introductions at the start of the course that we realised he was an Associate Vice President heading a major business line. Ashamed Smiley

Those days Vice Presidents were a rare species.

  • We had to reschedule one batch to start at 1 PM because there was an India-Pakistan cricket match.
  • We served pre-packed lunch to the participants and this lunch was delivered from a restaurant a few kilometers away. One day, there was a flash transport strike and the lunch was delivered at about 2:30 PM. We manfully laboured on with the training till the food arrived. 🙂
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Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Musings


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Our First Training Contract

As I mentioned earlier, we established TASC as a technical writing and training company in 1995. As technical writing was relatively unknown in India, a lot of our early work was centered around training. The contract that got TASC up and running was our first technical writing contract. However, the assignment that really established us was a contract for training the employees of one of India’s largest and most respected non-banking financial companies.

The year was 1996 and the exciting world of graphical user interface was just opening up to PC users. Indian corporates were slowly warming up to the idea of using Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95. There was a great demand for training on these applications, especially from corporates.

Our break into this lucrative training market came in the form of a call from Louis, a great friend, who told us a large corporate was looking for training in Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95. “World we be interested?,” he asked. What a silly question! Of course, we were!

And we were a bit apprehensive too! What do they expect from the course?  How long should it be? How much should we charge? Questions, questions, questions….

We spent a great deal of time drawing up detailed course outlines for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And off we went to meet the company!

Our first meeting was with the human resources team, who grilled us about who we were, what we had done so far, how would we conduct the course, why they should choose us…. They went through the course outlines with a fine tooth comb.

It was only later we realised that they did not know a thing about either Microsoft Windows 95 or Microsoft Office 95. They were simply seeing if it matched the course outlines they had from others and covered what was said in the online help! 

At the end of the meeting, I was very confused. So many things were discussed that I just got the feeling we talked too much! Anyway, the meeting was a success because we immediately got a call to meet the Associate Vice President (AVP) the next day. That was a meeting more along the lines of what we expected, focused on the course contents and delivery. At the end of the meeting, we were to train 2 batches of 10 people each. Each batch was to last 3 days. We were disappointed that the small number, but we took it on with full enthusiasm.

And the training was such a success, that we were then given 5 batches of 10 people each, and finally the contract to train the company staff across the country!  A total of about 700+ people, starting from the receptionist to the CEO, I exaggerate not!

What a journey it was…. our experiences of executing the contract are the subject of other blog posts. So read on!


Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Musings


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