The style pages of the first Sunday of every new year are usually earmarked to discuss upcoming fashion trends. But this year, the blitz of the pandemic undid the game, promoting a broad shift in consumer aspirations and shopping habits, but also nudging designers and creators, with the canniest business instinct, to pivot on the side of personal well-being and reconfigure their priorities. And that is the positive opening story of 2021: to take happiness seriously.
Sabyasachi MukherjeeI've been waking up each day to my mother's query: 'So, what's for lunch today?' She is my greatest critic; she has never worn a Sabyasachi outfit. That changed when I started cooking lunch and dinner for my parents and work assistants during the lockdown. After all my achievements, I feel I have finally arrived for them! It's wonderful and makes me happy. Before the pandemic, I practically lived at my factory. I admit I couldn't do so much as boil an egg. I got interested in cooking last year, specially making my blend of gentle, earthy spice masalas from scratch on the sill batta. The magic lies in the spices. Now I am addicted. I extract comfort from making old, forgotten recipes, cooking on charcoal fire. I sit down in front of my laptop for a few hours in the morning and browse YouTube for new recipes. There's an entire online universe of Indian housewife gastronomists making the most incredible food.
Anavila MisraI don't care much for carefully cultivated and beautifully pruned flowers but wild flowers make me happy. To encounter an unexpected burst of flower-rich meadows growing unencumbered in quirky variations and unusual colours along the countryside is a joy. In a fickle world, vibrant pasturelands symbolise hope.
Amit AggarwalOn occasions when I feel overwhelmed by my own emotions, I quickly jot them down; it could be in the form of a poem or just a bunch of thoughts. I tuck them into corners of the house or smuggle them inside my partner's studio and hide them inside his favourite books. When you re-read them, they bear traces of a journey of the place and feeling where they were written, a souvenir of a felt emotion. Memories are like that—they make storytellers of us all.
Shyma Shetty, HuemnThis past year, I've lived and worked out of a glass-encased high-rise apartment in Ho Chi Minh City that overlooks a zoo and the Saigon river. The breathtaking panorama of the city apart, the best view hands-down is the baby giraffe at the zoo. She puts a smile on my face right away. It's one of those bittersweet emotions because I'm not a fan of animals in captivity. But, through a pair of binoculars, across my work desk, I have spent time following her routine inside the generously laid out green plot, cheering her on quietly as she cranes her neck to browse and reach the leaves. I ended up visiting the zoo once to meet her, and came away feeling like a voyeur who knew her too well. She didn't know me at all.
Pic courtesy/Mark Hanauer
Manish MalhotraI was always an early riser but it is during the lockdown that I got into a discipline of waking up at 5 am. It's my feel-good time of the day, which is only mine. I also discovered walking; it's meditative and instantly puts me in a happy space. Following these two routines has helped give me a fresh perspective on life; we do everything to be part of this mad rat race when, in fact, we really don't need much to live a good life.
Rahul MishraTo me, home is a feeling. To wake up early in the morning and visit two shiuli (parijat) shrubs in the front yard of my Noida home and spend almost an hour collecting heavenly-scented flowers, then running inside the home, asking everyone from Divya, my wife, to my daughter and parents to take in the fragrance. I usually arrange the flowers in bowls around my home. My family thinks I waste too much time each morning. It's happiness that money can't buy. I follow this morning routine later with the raat ki rani (night-blooming jasmine), picking up blooms and positioning them meticulously next to everyone's bedside tables. The gorgeous sweet, sensuous scent instantly puts you in a different mood; beating scented candles hands down.
Masaba GuptaI have found unexpected solace in the quiet, to shut up and just sit. My mind has never been so perfectly blank in years. And I don't believe it has to do with 'recharging'. I used to believe that I gave up easily, constantly changing the game but during the pandemic, the simple act of getting up and going became my saving grace. We get too caught up in negativity, when in fact, you can take control and make your own choices and understand the hidden powers of resilience. It's pointless to chase the next best experience when the moment is now.
Gautam Sinha, Nappa DoriThat first sip of coffee in any new city is the most thrilling. My love affair with coffee is no secret. Every time I travel, I search for the best coffee experience. I also collect coffee bean bags; I love the artwork on them. I can't do without my shot of espresso. I enjoy the pleasure of making my morning cup of coffee, which I am late for today, in my coffee makers (I own three) and grind my own beans.
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For most of us right now, sex couldn't be further from our minds. Courtesy the COVID-19 lockdown, our usual routines have turned upside down. "A loveless world is a dead world. The plague makes us crave more for love and the arms of our loved ones," said French philosopher in the 1947 novel, La Peste (The Plague). But, a Mumbai-based duo asks—what if we viewed this time as an opportunity to either reset or refresh our sexual and mental health?
Friends Aashish Mehrotra and Tanisha Rao had been talking about wanting to create better awareness around sexual and mental well-being for over a year. "We realised that the pandemic was a good time, especially for an online initiative that can easily be accessed by anyone who has a smartphone and reads English," says Rao, 26.
And so, on June 21, 2020, they launched the Sangya Project on Instagram. That Rao is a sex educator, who has done a course on Comprehensive Sexuality Education for Educators by TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health), came in handy. "Sexuality isn't just about specific sexual acts, it's also about your ability to understand your body and establish boundaries in personal and professional spaces to protect yourself, and learning to respect those that others set for themselves. We are social creatures, and it's a shame we don't talk to people about their sexuality and safety with the same ease that we discuss nutrition and physical fitness. By bowing to stigma, we're making people more vulnerable," explains Rao, who has been out of the closet as bisexual for 10 years.
Mumbai-based friends Tanisha Rao and Aashish Mehrotra felt the lockdown was a good opportunity to spread online awareness around sexual and mental health. Pic/Suresh Karkera
And so, Sangya Project offers comprehensive sexuality education across ages, genders and socioeconomic groups. Within just a few months, the page has totalled nearly 5,000 followers. Mehrotra, who identifies as a bisexual, polyamorous, cis-gendered male, works as a chief video officer for an integrated communications company. The 35-year-old is also a writer, producer, director and visual creative lead, and so, plays a major role in the creativity the page is now synonymous with. "Tanisha and I pitch ideas to each other and get into a discussion about what should be posted. I try to think about the various questions I had in my head when I was in the closet, and the only place I could turn to was incognito mode on my parent's computer," says Mehrotra, who came out well into his 30s, when he was financially independent.
The two like to think of every post as a love letter to someone out there, whether it's younger versions of themselves—people who don't have the right information yet—or someone who is just looking for acceptance and validation. "We're mindful of the fact that a lot of misinformation around sex and sexuality is backed by faults within the academic community as well. How can we make grand claims about the full spectrum of human sexual behaviour, when so many of the studies used to make those claims only contain data extracted from a small target group in the US or Europe? So, every paper we read, every statistic we notice, has to be taken with a pinch of salt," says Rao.
Their post on flavoured condoms gained the most traction and positive feedback. "Did you know that it is not safe to use flavoured condoms for penetrative sex? They are coated with sugars and substances that should not be introduced to internal genitalia. The ingredients can throw off the natural, protective pH of the vulva/vagina and lead to skin irritation and even yeast infections. We received feedback from so many people who said they didn't know this fact," Mehrotra quips.The duo also receives unusual inquiries and confessions from followers. "They just want to know if they are okay the way they are, if they are healthy, if they can show their partners more love and support; it's so moving. People think sex education is about teaching people how to have sex, but most people just want to hear that they're not alone and are as normal as everyone else," Rao says.
This writer's favourite post was captioned: Karezza. It is an Italian word for caress and is a sexual practice that prioritises touch, sensations, intimacy and connection over orgasm. When asked about their most favourite work online, there is disunion. Rao clarifies, "I think my favourites are Misconceptions on Penis Size and Is Sexuality Fluid? Nearly all of our posts are based on personal anxieties and fears or ones that loved ones have shared with us, so it's difficult not to get emotionally attached to the writing." Mehrotra adds, "My favourite is the one on Period Sex. It's dehumanising to still think of people as different or inferior because of menstrual blood. We shouldn't be talking about being open to 'period' sex; it's just sex."
5,000No. of followers the page has gathered in six months
Follow @sangyaproject, Instagram; Get in touch email@example.com
Tanish Shah, 30, influencer-video production professionalIt feels different to say that I have a resolution that's not about losing weight and finding love. Last year was obviously difficult for everyone, but staying at home has made me realise how important it is to be happy. While everyone was picking up a hobby, I entered the kitchen—which in typical Indian culture is considered 'not a place for a man to be'. Over time, I had ignored my interest in cooking to keep up with a 9 to 5 job. This year, I have promised to experiment in the kitchen for two weekends a month, and share the results on my Instagram page.
Sanhita Paradkar, 37, artistI have always been the one running after things, never taking rest. So, 2020 put a pause on that. At the end of 2019, I wanted to be healthy, and the lockdown helped me with it. This year, I have decided to set only three goals, and not get into doing too much. There is enough time to do as many things as I want. It's time to simplify, and declutter.
Shivangi Chaturvedi, 28, media marketing professionalI usually draft my resolutions by early December, so I have a head start. When I was younger, they had to do with simple things like not littering. For this year, I'm going to work on aspects of my personality that confine me. It will be hard to change, but that's the challenge. For starters, I am going to reconcile with people who I thought I would never talk to. The last year taught me that anything can happen, and we don't have infinite time. I will confront my feelings and those individuals. It will help me overcome my fear in facing them.
Khushboo Balwani Rawal, 36, writer and entrepreneurLast year taught me to take one day at a time. I don't wish to wait for something to happen. If it's raining and I can't go to the gym, I will work out at home. For a control freak, who wants everything to work out the way she imagined it, it's tough to go with the flow. I will take one day at a time, because I have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow. Today is all I have.
Pemiya Gandhi, 25, PR professionalI have always been plan-oriented; it has given me direction. Usually, on the last day of the year, I assess the months gone by and jot down plans for the future, divided into professional, personal and family. But in 2020, it all went awry. Things like health, which I have never thought of, became important. I realised that change is constant, and though planning is good, what's better is adapting. I have decided to make a resolution at the start of every month. For January, it's to maintain a work-life balance.
Last year, Masha had decided to be a part of beach clean-ups, and she plans to keep at it
Masha Arabi, 28, social media professionalFor the last two years, I've made an annual goal list, and a small-task list. The big goals included learning self-defence, and small ones would be to watch a stand up comedy show. It helped me stay both, motivated, and find something interesting to do with my time in Mumbai. This year I'm going to work on my inner self. I am impulsive by nature and find it hard to control my reactions. I'm going to try a technique like laughter therapy for it.
After Dalgona coffee and sourdough, holidaying in the Maldives became the most flaunted social media activity last year. But, as we discovered, it doesn't need to be limited to super-expensive luxury holidays, which most of us can't afford. Much like Goa and Sri Lanka, these islands are now wooing all kinds of holiday-goers. Four pandemic vacationers tell you how to enjoy it in a variety of ways and budgets.
Who: Riaan George, 38, lifestyle blogger
Where: Soneva Fushi
How did it feel: What they are trying to do at Soneva is promote sustainable luxury—or as they call it 'barefoot luxury'. The policy is 'no news, no shoes'.
So, the whole time you are there, you don't wear any footwear, and it sort of makes you feel connected to the earth. There is no plastic on the island, and no beef is served, as the carbon imprint of beef is high. Everything you use in your room—right from the pen at your bedside—is naturally made, with either tree bark or coconut shell. It's also a mask-free environment, so it was liberating. The water bungalows are super luxurious, and the roof opens up so you can sleep under the stars.
COVID safety metre: You are whisked away to your villa as soon as you arrive, and the resort doctor conducts a test. Only when they get a negative report, you are allowed to roam the grounds.
Cost: Rs 4-5 lakh per nightLog on to: soneva.com
Who: Karan Jhaveri, 30, music director
How did it feel: We got certified for diving in Andaman last year, and my fiancé and I wanted to repeat that experience. We had heard that the Maldives has a great under-sea life, so we picked it. We did the 'liveaboard' experience—where you stay on a boat the entire time. It goes to different diving spots, and you can get off at some ports. Our boat's name was Sachika, owned by an Italian girl, who has done over 5,000 dives. Every day, we experienced a different dive. We swam with a whale shark, and travelled to the bottom of the ocean. On the last day, we saw manta rays. We were all vegetarians, so they made vegetarian meals for us on the boat.
COVID safety meter: We got a test done before we came to the island, and before we returned to India. Masks are not mandatory outside, but one must wear them all the time when indoors.
Cost: Rs 1.7 lakh for 7 days (stay, diving and food)Log on to: liveaboard.com
Who: Devika Patel and Neil Chowdhury, 28; 34, brand-business strategist; producer
Where: Varu by Atmosphere
How did it feel: We chose this property as it was close to the airport, and offered good value for money as it included everything. We were there for a week, and we couldn't get enough of the place. We felt connected to nature and ended up appreciating the world around us. We were inside the water most of the times. It's perfect if you enjoy swimming or snorkelling. It took us two days to get over how blue the water was.
COVID safety metre: We had been infected a few months ago. We consulted with our doctor, who said we were clear to travel as our anti-body count was high. Many people we met had also had COVID-19 in the past. We were still very careful, and tested ourselves a couple of times while there. Since most properties have stringent internal protocols, it's safe.
Cost: Rs 50,000 onwards (includes food and activities)Log on to: varu-atmosphere.com
Who: Rohini Ramanathan, 37, RJ and emcee
Where: Oblu Sangeli
How did it feel: Many people come to the Maldives and get upset because they realise it doesn't look like the way it does on social media. Do your research. Check with your resort if your room has a pool, jacuzzi. Does it open out to the beach? Is it a water villa? I would also recommend that you split the cost of the room with a friend or partner to make it affordable. It's a couple-heavy destination, so remember that before you come here. It has great food, so forget about looking good in a bikini and enjoy the cuisine.
COVID safety metre: "You forget that a pandemic is raging when you are here. It's a mask-free environment, and most resorts conduct their own tests. It's also easy to social distance here, and most activities are only meant for two people at a time, and there are partitions everywhere." Cost: Rs 50,000 onwards per nightLog on to: oblu-sangeli.com
. All tourists must have a confirmed hotel reservation for their entire stay in one hotel (no change of address allowed). Proof of this will need to be submitted at immigration.
. Passengers must complete and submit a Traveller Health Declaration 24 hours before arrival at https://imuga.immigration.gov.mv/
. It is advisable to download the Maldives contact tracing app, TraceEkee, before travelling.
. Those travelling for tourism must have an RT-PCR negative certificate for COVID in English issued no more than 72 hours before departure.
All major airlines, including domestic carriers like Indigo and Go Air, run flights to Malé. Fares start at Rs 10,000, and it takes around four hours to get there. Most resorts offer private transfers to and from the airport.
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In 2019, Bengaluru resident Roopa Hariharan switched from a diesel car to an electric alternative, and powered her home with solar energy. "For over two decades, I have seen the steady deterioration of water bodies in my home state. Bengaluru's largest water body-the Bellandur Lake-often froths so high with waste that its smelly, toxin-laden foam flies to residential areas around. It became clear to me that leading an environment-friendly life was not a choice but a necessity." After attending a session at the World Economic Forum the same year, Hariharan made significant changes to her household. What started as a small experiment, gradually became a conscious effort of mobilising resources that led to constant research in house cleaning.
The result is her new venture, PureCult-a brand of eco-friendly home-cleaning products that she says are cleaner alternatives to chemical-laden stuff, for which she partnered with entrepreneur Sumit Anand. "Home cleaning products are big contributors to water pollution. They leave our homes clean, but you're degrading the ecosystem." From kitchen cleaners and fabric care to surface disinfectants, Hariharan has a range (R299 onwards) that contains natural antimicrobial agents and essential oils.
Anand says that the criteria for ingredient selection was that they should be biodegradable and safe, perform well in hard water, and work well in low dosages. "Finding effective but eco-friendly solutions to counter the havoc of hard water on bathroom fittings and laundry was challenging," he adds. Their mission is to build a line-up of 'zero-heroes' that cause zero harm to the environment. A part of the profits are also being used to sponsor India's otter conservation programme conducted by the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS). The products are being shipped across the country.
Face the natural factsOne thing that this writer looks forward to is the weekend skin-regime, applying a simple DIY home-made face mask. The experiments have ranged from turmeric-honey-milk paste to aloe vera, and multani mitti. So, when we stumbled upon the new set of face masks from Nourish Mantra by Ritika Jayaswa, we were curious. It offers three packs-holy basil and neem vardaan, and exotic black turmeric mud masks (Rs 1,695), and orange and saffron Ananda glow mask (Rs 1,895). You can either buy them separately, or try the mini trio pack (12 gm each/Rs 750). The black turmeric mask, which they claim improves skin elasticity, is the one we preferred-light on the skin, it doesn't itch , burn or crack like most mud masks. The basil and neem vardaan has a very natural astringent-like quality; so, it stings slightly. But, for someone with acne, it could help in the long run. The skin did feel hydrated and clean in the first application. The downside-the pricing is steep.https://nourishmantra.com/
Zero waste in 30 daysIf there was one over-arching meme for 2020, it would be the one in which humans were sent to their rooms to think about what they have done. We have been thinking, but decades of a consumption-led existence means that going zero-waste is not an easy, overnight solution. Thankfully, the team at Bare Necessities understands that. They have created a 30-day course that leads you over 10 modules, through how to ensure that no landfill-headed waste is generated from your home, not just in the kitchen but also in personal care routines, at home, while travelling, or at work.
The concept of zero-waste also aims to ensure that fewer items need to be recycled. Among the experts on board are CB Ramkumar, sustainability entrepreneur, and Amarpreet Singh, from Daily Dump-a 14-year-old waste management company that has revolutionised home and community composting.www.barenecessities learning.in/p/zero-waste-in-30
Who runs the world? Girls!Being the daughter of a sex worker means battling social stigma and police brutality. Jayashree Patil, 20, says she grew up thinking sex work was illegal. "I had internalised the cruelty the world showed me and my mother. It's only after I came to Kranti that I found pride in my identity," she says of the NGO that works with girls from red light areas, to make them agents of social change. Patil has been living at the NGO's hostel for nine years, and is now ready to share her life story In Global Girl Project's book, More Than One Voice (R1,715). The anthology of stories from girls around the world has a chapter by Patil called Mighty like Mummy (Mummy Ki Tarah Taqatvar). "My father died when I was 10 years old. He died in the morning, and that same day, in the evening, my mother brought a new man home and said, 'He's your new father.'" Domestic abuse became a reality for mother-daughter, but Patil says she respects her mother for trying to do the best she could to keep her safe. At Kranti, she found a community to call her own, and honed her love for singing and drama, says the member of Kranti's theatre group Lal Batti Express. "It has been the most wonderful and life changing experience, learning and living at Kranti," says Patil, who is pursuing a graduation degree from from Krea University. She dreams of opening a school-cum-centre for girls from red light districts, because Kranti can't accommodate everyone". Last year, her work with Apni Khoj in Punjab's Bajwa Kalan village saw her use theatre to discuss menstrual health and sexual abuse. "I continue to seek therapy to deal with my own traumas, but collaborating for the marginalised gives my life purpose."https://www.globalgirlproject.org
Bakhtawar Master and S Venkatraman
Ishq-Vishk desi styleLast year, when a jewellery ad was called out for propagating "love jihad," journalists Samar Halarnkar, Priya Ramani and Niloufer Venkatraman got together for an Instagram project that turned out to be a reality check, for many naysayers who seemed oblivious about India's long history with inter-faith and inter-caste marriages. Launched on October 28, with the story of Niloufer's parents Bakhtawar Master and S Venkatraman, the new series, which we are totally loving, is bittersweet, honest and authentic. For a couple in love, negotiating the thin line of religion and caste, amplified by the rejection from family, is not easy. There are a few, however, for whom it has been smooth sailing. Like Tanvir Aeijaz says about his marriage to Vineeta Sharma: "That our Hindu-Muslim marriage can be a role model of secularism seems to belie people's expectations. They're almost disappointed that our love would have to be called love, and not love jihad." Read it like tiny love stories, or just as a quick primer on love that has broken many walls and boundaries. Either way, you are bound to feel warm and fuzzy.@indialoveproject, Instagram
Test DriveThe surface cleaner helped clean windows, doors, knobs, and glass effectively without leaving smear marks and a small amount was sufficient. Because this writer has three cats at home, who tend to run, lick, and play on the floor, clean floors are essential at all times. We used the floor cleaner, with the fragrance of lavender and geranium, which Hariharan says kills microbes, including viruses and bacteria. The aromatic properties were pleasantly soothing and the fragance lingered after we were done.www.purecult.in; @joinpurecult, Instagram
Curated by Jane Borges, Gitanjali Chandrasekharan and Prithvi Vatsalya
When psychotherapists Lima James and Rutuja Kaushik launched Beyond Conditions, a mental health page on Instagram, earlier this year, the idea was to create a safe, non-judgemental space to have difficult, yet healthy conversations around mental health. James, who is currently volunteering for iCall, TISS, a dedicated COVID-19 helpline, says that there's an incredible amount of resource available online for therapy seekers. Here, the mental health professional suggests four Instagram accounts that they find helpful.
Rahat SanghviThe pandemic sucks. Period. Clinical psychologist Rahat Sanghvi's Instagram handle, launched a few weeks into the Coronavirus outbreak, spells out the problems many of us have been experiencing through the lockdown, providing us tools to cope effectively. Sanghvi who employs a neuropsychotherapeutic approach-a practice that understands how the brain-body system is impacted by social, political, economic and cultural structures-shares ways to process the current situation, this includes how we engage with news, reaching out to safe people and creating a routine. Apart from this, she discusses activities one can engage in when their anxiety isn't at its peak, avoiding self-criticism, and tackling addictions.To follow: www.instagram.com/rahatsanghvi_therapist
Therapize IndiaFor those constantly pondering over whether they need therapy or not, Therapize India, started by researcher Anushka Kelkar and mental health advocate Aviva Bhansali, has some answers. Having been therapy seekers themselves, the duo has experienced first-hand "how confusing, complicated and frustrating finding a qualified therapist in India can be". From offering tips to choosing the right therapist, to helpline initiatives that offer free or low-cost mental health service, and how to talk to family about mental health, this Instagram handle is for everyone negotiating the complex world of mental well-being.To follow: www.instagram.com/therapize.india
The Healing StrategyThis page is most useful for therapists, especially those navigating the world of social media. Started by Josie Rosario, a New York-based licensed relationship therapist, the handle is aimed at providing therapists the "foundational marketing knowledge they need to be online, connect with therapy-seekers". She discusses mistakes therapists make on Instagram, and how the boundaries online should mimic those in the therapy room, things your online content should achieve and how not to post for the heck of it, among other things.To follow: www.instagram.com/thehealingstrategy
The Depression ProjectOne of the most significant and useful mental health platforms on social media, The Depression Project is both for those dealing with conditions and for those, who aren't, but need to understand how they can become more empathetic towards others. The page offers a variety of guides-warning signs when someone is in survival mode, tips for dating someone with depression, worst things to say to people with depression, signs of OCD and gaslighting, types of overthinking, and simple ways of making someone feel loved. This is a wonderful primer, and will equip people with tools to create a safer environment for everyone.To follow: www.instagram.com/realdepressionproject
The first thought as we drove closer to the newly-opened IKEA store in Navi Mumbai, spread across 5,30,000 square feet, was whether it was one of the largest we had seen. The excitement was short-lived, however, since we were denied entry into the facility despite holding a pre-booked slot. Many phone calls and explanations later, we were allowed to enter, albeit for a 30-minute only visit, which is neither enough to see this large store nor worth a two-hour drive from South Mumbai.
The experience inside, however, was a pleasant one. The attention to detail synonymous with the brand was intact: sprawling parking lots, 7,000 well-designed, functional and affordable home furnishing products. The store is spread across two floors—the lower housing products and furniture organised according to sections in a home, and the upper floor of themed rooms for inspiration, a planning hub, and their largest kids area globally—Småland. But, what caught our eye was the 1,000-seater restaurant offering a menu of Indian and Swedish meals at affordable prices.
While you will be tempted to browse through isle-after-isle of products in the warehouse below, we’d recommend going through the rooms styled in the floor above. That’s 50 sets of rooms, six homes and 10 vignette spaces to echo life and design in a quintessential Indian home. The most impressive takeaway was the numerous solutions on display for small spaces, with storage and organisation. If you are not quite sure where to start, head to the planning hub which promises the perfect design for a home renovation from scratch. However, if you are buying larger furniture that needs to be assembled at home, have a look at their FIXA range of tools, first, to see the additional screws and drivers you’ll need for the entire set up.
JONAXEL frame with mesh basketsChildren, while diminutive in size, come with a heap of toys and belongings that need ample storage. And, if you want to create more independent thinking and discipline at an early age—these mesh baskets fitted like drawers stand at the perfect height for children to grab and store their things without the help of an adult. Price: Rs 2,400
GRILLA grill panThis well-sized non-stick grill pan is the best example of a utilitarian, thoughtfully-designed IKEA product. Besides a cooking utensil for the perfect toast or charring vegetable and meats, it’s also easy to store with a handle that flips into the pan’s body once you’re done using it. Price: Rs 999
VIMLE chaise loungePerfect to lounge on, but also for clever storage under. The empty space across the entire length of the sofa can be used to store extra cushions, a throw and other linen. Price: Rs 37,200
HEMNES shoe cabinetThis shoe cabinet (available in sizes) not only serves as a concealing piece of furniture that clears the entryway, but also doubles as a mantle piece to place a mirror, flowers or candles. Price: Rs 7,990 onwards
LAUTERS floor lampThis minimally designed floor light can be adjusted at various heights. Place it closer while reading a book or use for mood lighting.Price: Rs 5,990
What: IKEAWhere: Plot 15, 15 A, 15 B, 15 C, Turbhe and Pawana TTC Industrial area, Thane-Belapur Road, Navi MumbaiWhen: 11 am to 7 pm
In 2015, while on a road trip to Shirdi with his family, an automobile engineer Sagar Joshi found himself in a tight spot when the car broke down. It was in the wee hours, and he had neither any repair tools at hand nor access to an authorised service centre. "I phoned the centre and they said no mechanic was available as it was beyond their stipulated work hours. I received no help." The incident, however, set him thinking. Having worked at some of the top automobile companies in the country, he began collating data of various local garages and mechanics from fringe areas of Mumbai. "But then, I thought, why stop at local garages and mechanics? So, I gathered data from all across the country." He aggregated 18,000 unorganised workshops and mechanics.
The result is AUTO i CARE, a specially curated mobile app for end-to-end roadside assistance. The app provides real-time tracking of the inbound support vehicle—similar to popular ride-hailing apps—with an estimated time of arrival, automated SMS status updates, and tow driver contact information. The bootstrapped startup promises to address roadside assistance concerns within 20 to 30 minutes and provide 24x7 vehicle breakdown assistance nationally. Currently, 48,000 local garages across India are registered with them. Operating the app is fairly simple. After you install it and fill in basic information, you can opt for the services you want, such as planned car service, towing facilities, tyre replacement or fuel addition. If you are on the highway and your vehicle breaks down, the app shows you the nearest garages in the area.
The team sought a special letter from the state and central governments which enabled them to provide the service without any restriction during the lockdown
Incidentally, the global market size of roadside assistance is expected to reach $29 billion by 2026 and is growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 3.8 per cent.
All through the lockdown, Joshi and his team were inundated with phone calls and SOSes. "We didn't take a single day off since essential services vehicles such as ambulances, police vans and cars, vehicles of doctors required immediate car repair service." Due to the nature of their service, they even sought a special letter from the state and central governments, which enabled them to continue providing this facility without restriction. In March alone, they addressed nearly 1,200 complaints from various parts of the country. "Once, the fan belt of a police van, which was patrolling a red zone in Dombivli, broke down and the cops were stranded.
The app has tied up with 48,000 garages across 238 National Highways, from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari
The police called us from the app and we were able to get it fixed. Another time, there was a surgeon who had to reach hospital for an emergency surgery and her car wouldn't start. This was actually on the first day of the lockdown. We helped her with the battery in the car and she could reach the hospital in time."
The team had a particularly harrowing time when Maharashtra and southern states were hit by storms this year. He says getting assistance to stranded vehicles in flooded areas wasn't easy. Another major issue was the language barrier, especially in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. "Initially, it was very hard to understand the problem, as the complainants could not speak or understand Hindi." The team is trying plans to bring on board South Indian language speakers to address this issue.
According to Joshi, highways are the most accident-prone spots. In Maharashtra, common accident spots are Lonavala-Khalapur toll, Sion-Panvel Highway, Virar-Vasai Highway, Talegaon-Kolhapur Highway. The reason for accidents range from losing control over the vehicle and tyre burst, to avoiding hitting an animal or another vehicle. On the Christmas weekend, they received around 5,500 calls for various issues, including battery jumpstart, tyre puncture repair and towing.
Joshi says he's happy that every day through the app at least 100 to 125 local garages get job opportunities in various parts of the country. "These are unorganised units, so we want to bring them on board and give them legitimacy." Next up, they are planning to launch dedicated services for bikes and heavy vehicles.
5,500 Number of calls the app got on the Christmas weekend for issues ranging from battery jumpstart to tyre puncture repair and towing
Sustainability may be a good word post-pandemic, but for Aditya and Raghav Gupta, it's been a mainstay of their professional ethics for long. Rug Republic, their homegrown label for handmade rugs, poufs and accessories, began to explore recycled materials for production six years ago. "If growth is not sustainable, it's meaningless," says Raghav, sharing that a large area of their workshop in Delhi is powered by solar electricity. His aim: to be carbon-neutral in 10 years.
With an eye on this goal, the pair has introduced a collection of rugs and poufs made entirely from recycled materials, whether used denims, cotton or leather. "Usually, design is the most challenging aspect of our work, but in this case, we had to spend more energy in research and development. Months have gone into figuring out how to treat denims in a way that it looks good but can be appropriate for foot traffic; techniques to sanitise recycled fabric, and of course, price it competitively while maintaining standards," he adds.
The materials are sourced from across the world, including the US and UK. According to Raghav, denim is the most durable and can handle stains and foot traffic. However, since the pieces are handmade, he advises against machine wash or treatment with harsh brushes. Home vacuum on a light setting works best. "If it's is a stubborn stain, you first blot it; never wipe. If it doesn't go, we suggest a professional dry clean."
The business, launched in 1983 as a small garage set-up in Meerut, now has takers across 80 countries. Apart from fabrics, the duo says they have also begun to bicycle tubes, PET yarn extracted from recycled water bottles, to make carpets.
FROM FABRIC ROPE: The Gunray rug uses recycled fabrics that are first made into ropes, later sewn onto a canvas base. The concentric pattern and splash of colours makes this a happy choice.
RECYCLED SILK, HEMP: The Sarah rug is a tightly woven pit loom rug made with recycled silk and hemp. Its canvas backing makes it long lasting.
What: Upcycled rugsWhere: www.therugre public.inCost: Rs 9,000 onwards
When Olympian hockey player Devindar Walmiki noticed sportsmen, mostly cricketers, drinking a black liquid instead of regular water, on-field and off, he grew curious. After asking a few experts on the field who drew a long list of benefits, Walmiki decided to order a pack of Evocus beverage. The alkaline water claims to be enriched with more than 70 natural minerals and having a pH of 8+. It has no carbs, or sugar, or caffeine—just water, bettered for health, especially for athletes and those into rigorous exercises. Walmiki, who has been drinking it for three months, says he is noticing the benefits. "During practice sessions, due to its high mineral content and pH levels, it hydrates me faster and for longer duration. It also flushes out the toxins from the body. Just two bottles a day have been enough for me so far, even when I am on the field."
For the last few years, the global market for functional water and drinks has seen an upswing. Despite just a handful of brands in the Indian market, the premium water and beverage market in the country is at a growth of 20 per cent CAGR since 2015. In 2017, Vadodara-based start-up entrepreneur Aakash Vaghela entered the market with a natural, effective, multifunctional nutrient water with a shelf life of 12 months. He incorporated the company, AV Organics LLP, in February 2018 and the subsequent months were spent in setting up the plant, fine-tuning the formulations and processes, team training, market research, creating a distribution network and getting the right channel partners. The product, Evocus, was launched in Pune in June 2019 and is available online and through premium food chains.
Malaki Beverages, known for its real gold flake infused water, entered the market in 2018 after a two-year research. Its co-founder Mohit Bhatia says, "Our body is made up of almost 70 per cent water and thus, what water we drink impacts us significantly. While most focus on food diets, a lot of consumers are now looking at enhanced waters not just as a commodity, but a lifestyle product in order to lead a healthier lifestyle." His partner Ashish Bhatia says it was during a trip to the UK that their co-founder and yoga practitioner Prerna Bhatia came across alkaline beverages. "Internationally, the market was growing significantly which prompted us to further dwell into this sector. We have seen a month-on-month growth of 15 per cent since inception," says Bhatia.
Gaurav Nainani, founder of G7 Beverages, makers of Alkalen, a water-based electrolyte drink, puts it into perspective when he says that "India is among the top antacid consuming countries, which is alarming. This prompted us to begin researching natural alternatives. Alkaline water was accepted abroad, but a new concept for India in 2017 when we launched. However, we have grown at 40 per cent year-on-year."
Akash Bhatia and Mohit Bhatia
Along with bottled alkaline beverages, there are alkaline hydrogen ionisers that have entered the market, with sales and service centres cropping up all over the city. Fitness expert and founder of Body Art, Nawaz Modi Singhania, whose parents are cancer survivors, was advised to switch to alkaline water more than a decade ago. "Back in 2009, when my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, one of my greatest learnings was that cancer breeds in acidic environments. Our bodies are acidic for many reasons and it is important, therefore, to make sure that the environment, especially of the water we drink is converted into alkaline state. While you can do it with food and water both, the problem with food is that, if you start looking at lists of what is alkaline and what is acidic, it drives you insane. It varies with body types and combination of ingredients while cooking. A better way to do it is to target water. Plus, our body is more than 70 per cent water; it is like capturing a larger piece of the pie."
When Singhania had made the switch, there were no alkalinised water filters available in the country and she had to get one from the US. "Now there are quite a few trusted brands," she says, adding that the lifestyle change has a method. The filters come in varying degrees of staging—you start with the first degree, stick to it for a while, then go to stage two. If you take it up to the last stage directly, your body won't get used to it. You may feel queasy in the stomach and get the runs. The body must get used to it in steps and stages. "If you don't have an alkalinised water filter, a quick remedy is to squeeze lemon in a glass of water and drink it up first thing in the morning to help you make the body alkaline."
Nawaz Modi Singhania shifted to drinking alkaline water a decade ago while adopting a lifestyle suited to her cancer heredity
Ashish Bhatia believes storing regular water in copper containers does the trick too.
On the other hand, Nainani thinks it is not possible to have large amounts of lime water every few hours. "It is sour and can affect your teeth drastically, if consumed regularly. Alkaline water, on the other hand, has no after-effects." Vaghela also pokes holes in the lime water as alternative theory, explaining that with a pH of less than 3, lime juice is highly acidic. When you drink it, the body releases alkalinity to counter the acidic intake. Alkaline water on the other hand, doesn't need to trigger the body to release alkalinity.
Luke Coutinho, Holistic lifestyle coach and Gaurav Nainani, Founder of G7 Beverages
Holistic lifestyle coach at Integrative Medicine, Luke Coutinho warns that anything in extremes is harmful, including alkalinity. He dismisses it as a fad. "Most alkaline machines dispense water that has a pH of 8.5 or more. We don't require such high pH levels; it can affect stomach acids. The digestive track needs to be acidic in order to digest proteins and kill harmful bacteria," he argues.
He says the body is able to maintain its own natural balance, which we best not abuse. If needed, simple, cheap measures like including lime, cucumber, coriander, bottle gourd juice, fresh fruit and vegetables, deep breathing, and getting rid of habits like smoking, drinking alcohol and aerated beverages, and staying away from processed foods, can be embraced.
Karishma Chawla, Nutritionist"People have alcohol, aerated drinks and the wrong foods. They think by then drinking alkaline water, things will work for them. It won't. It's like expecting to build a strong building without reliable cement. If your base is not good; it is not going to help. Alkaline water or lime water helps because the more acidic environment in your body, the more the chances of you feeling tired, building ground for diseases. The idea is to first clean up your system. Do this by drinking lots of water, water infused with mint, basil and fruits and vegetables which are alkaline in nature. After you reach a certain fitness level, then you can consider adding alkaline water and see if it benefits you at all."
In May 2020, Hashim Midha (name changed on request) and his friends in Singhbhum district of Jharkhand trudged towards their home in Berhampore, West Bengal. The penniless group decided to take an arduous path, snaking through the hilly region. The distance was too long, and the ration too meagre. They walked for days, occasionally stopping at villages. Until one day, they crossed path with the police force. "We were sent back to Jharkhand and were locked up in a quarantine centre," remembers Midha, 35, as he begins sharing his story from India's largest exodus since Partition. "We were fed horrible meals; most of us chose to remain hungry. The sheer mistreatment towards us was appalling. I sat on an anshan [hunger strike]."
Ten days on, the authorities still refused to pay heed to Midha's demand of providing them decent food. The protest resonated with the others who had been holed in there before him. Finally, the police intervened and arranged for buses to send Midha and his friends back home. "But, even on our journey to Bengal, there were no arrangements made for food," Midha's voice chokes over a phone call with this writer.
It is stories like Midha's that have inspired the Migrant Workers Solidarity Network (MWSN) to document a unique report titled, Citizens and the Sovereign: Stories from the largest human exodus in contemporary Indian history. MWSN consists of activists who have been part of workers' movements, and workers' organisations from across the country. The pandemic forced them to streamline themselves into a nationwide network to address the plight of stranded migrant workers. They came in direct contact with 45,000 workers stranded in different locations through a helpline in 10 different languages. "The fact that they [migrant workers] are rightful citizens of this country, their worth, contribution, and how the 'growth' story in India, in the past few decades, is being written through sweat and exploitation of these workers, was largely unspoken in public discourse. This report is an attempt to throw light on these aspects," explains Shreya Ghosh, member, MWSN.
Alok Kumar, 31, a student of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), who had been a part of active relief work, was stopping migrant workers from crossing the Mohali and Chandigarh borders. "When the lockdown started, the government had not made any announcement on what would happen to these people, who were now out of jobs and homes. A few weeks later in April last year, at a park in Mohali's Sector 66, provisions were made for some ration including rice, dal and cooking oil. Serpentine queues were seen the next day. However, packets were only enough to feed 100 stomachs. The queue saw about a 1,000 labourers standing. How is this fair?" Kumar asks.
Those who missed their chance on the first day, were seen lined up overnight. "Some of them had six members in the family. They had no source of income; the only hope was this ration provided by the government." So, when the government finally announced buses and Shramik trains to take them home, Kumar was against the idea. "How would they go on so many days without food? I, along with other volunteers, began convincing them to stay back till a legitimate train ticket was bought to send them home. Not many, however, listened to us. I don't blame them. They were desperate to reunite with their families. But some lost their lives on the way," Kumar rues.
Construction workers without labour cards were exploited the most. "Big contractors identify youth in smaller villages and offer them a total of Rs 10,000 for their labour. They bring these migrant workers to Mohali and make them work for six months. They are promised labour cards in return, which will ensure they will get definite pay. But, it is never fulfilled. During the lockdown, when some construction sites were still operating, these labourers were made to toil every day without being paid," Kumar adds.
Along with Kumar's observations, Chennai-based lawyer and activist Shreela Manohar's interview has also made it to the MWSN report. Manohar feels that Tamil Nadu performed better in handling the effects of lockdown compared to other states in India. "Within three to four weeks of the lockdown, the state government announced some schemes that benefitted not only the local working population, but also the migrant workers. This shows that the state took immediate cognisance of their plight." A state-run scheme in Tamil Nadu includes subsidised canteen, which proved to be a major source of relief during the pandemic. "For almost three to four months, this subsidised food was offered free of cost to everyone. That said, I feel there were some loopholes that could have been addressed at the time," she adds.
While on paper the plans looked great, they were not implemented in totality. "For instance, if there were associations with some states like Rajasthan, then those connections would tend to lobby the bureaucracy and the departments that were taking care of the canteen operations. So basically some of the people from these states ended up having easy access to food. Others couldn't beat the queue and had to wait for their turn. They would have gotten their share of ration on time had there been transparency in the entire process of canteen food," Manohar adds.
One distinguishing factor that she noticed between protests in Tamil Nadu and other states was that there were no protests related to the quality of the food provided in relief centres or the conditions of the shelters themselves in Tamil Nadu. The protests here were mostly targeted at employers around the principal demand of letting the workers travel back to their native places. Many were targeted at multinational construction companies or manufacturing companies which forced labourers to stay back and work.
Manohar explains, "From the time the central government announced the start of Shramik trains till the date the first train left, there was not a single word from the state government to the migrant workers. There was no concrete answer as to where the train is headed and when. Migrants were forced to be held captive by their employers. This revealed the nexus between the state government and these big companies."
The report also highlights aspects linked to migration such as caste, gender and environment. "We have recorded stories of a group of girls who fought hard to return to their village in Assam during the lockdown only to find it burning, ravaged by the Baghjan oil spill," Ghosh adds.
The MWSN report aims to also highlight the systemic nature of their exploitation, which has been going on since long before the lockdown. "And, it will go on even after if we do not bring some significant changes in our economic and political reality of the country. For instance, most migrant workers do not have any significant workplace rights, or housing rights in the cities they migrate to, and most do not vote regularly since there is no postal ballot for migrant workers. Most do not have any pension or health insurance in cities they migrate to, etc. Hence, the question we wanted to ask through the report, published on the completion of six months of the lockdown, was—Will migrant lives still [continue to] matter or are we to again forget them and throw them into invisibility as the new normalcy gradually sets in?" Ghosh concludes.
If you were to browse through your feed on Instagram, you are sure to notice a few posts dedicated to desserts made with an unassuming biscuit, which, at first glance, looks like Parle-G. With its salty caramel flavour, the Belgian spiced shortbread Lotus Biscoff biscuits (natively called speculaas) have been featured in everything from cheesecakes to ice creams and even sweet lasagne.
As a portmanteau between biscuit and coffee, the Biscoff brand founded its bakery in Lembeke, Belgium, in 1932, to lift spirits after World War II with its speculaas, which are traditionally associated with the Christmas season. The brand continues to remain headquartered in the small town and is run by the same family, producing its curiously flavoured cookies for the rest of the world. Here's where to enjoy desserts made with the biscuit in Mumbai.
Artisanal gelato: By Simran AdvaniAfter studying about homemade gelato in Bologna, Italy, Simran Advani opened her first gelateria-Nova Artisan Gelato-in The Shamilar Hotel in February this year, to churn artisanal gelato with natural ingredients in a small batch of curated flavours. "Before I had eaten Lotus Biscoff, I had tasted speculaas biscuits and fell in love with the mix of flavours-the addition of the spices balanced out the caramel notes perfectly. It's not overtly sweet. We like to rotate our flavours, and since caramel is always popular, we decided to include Lotus Biscoff," she explains. Advani advises incorporating the biscuit into desserts you can make at home, including cheesecakes, pairing it with a cup of tea or coffee, or even eating it plain as a sweet snack. "Since it pairs well with chocolate, as well as zesty flavours, we love thinking of new ways to incorporate the biscuit in our gelato-it's one of our most popular flavours at the moment." Order: On SwiggyPrice: 500ml tub for Rs 636
Ice cream: By Samira BachooaliWhen Samira Bachooali found her family putting their creative skills to use in the kitchen during the lockdown, she decided to join them, and pulled out two jars of the Belgian treat she had lying in her pantry. What started as an experimental recipe that she quickly whipped up for her daughter's birthday has turned into a artisanal brand. The Crème Co. makes small batches of handmade Lotus Biscoff ice cream. "With the consumption of comfort food rising during this pandemic, I've noticed that each trend rides on a broader notion of happy triggers.
With its natural caramel tones and hint of spice, I think Lotus Biscoff transports us to the first flavours we experienced, which are now sweet memories of childhood-from toffee to mithai," Bachooali thinks. Each jar of her made-to-Order: ice cream is rich and creamy with a generous topping of the Biscoff and swirls of cookie spread. And, the cravings for the flavour of the season hasn't stopped just yet. "I have customers driving in from Lonavala-and some even flying down from Dubai-placing their Order:s to be ready for them the moment they arrive or to pack and take back home with them."Order: 9821014450. Price: Rs 430 ml jar for Rs 750
Delicacie: By Bunty MahajanAs one of the city's favourite bakers, Bunty Mahajan of Delicacie noticed the growing curiosity in Lotus Biscoff and decided to include it in her menu. "This biscuit has been around for a while, but the awareness is catching up lately. While it is delicious, it is also a completely new flavour-so it works as a unique option for anyone who would like to try something that doesn't include chocolate, but is sweet nevertheless," explains Mahajan, adding that it is also a sturdy ingredient to work with, especially when creating customised desserts or larger cakes with fondant icing. "You could even try making a quick Biscoff brownie at home."
While it is definitely a fad at the moment, Mahajan feels it's one that's here to stay, as caramel is always a popular flavour and the Lotus Biscoff cookies add new texture and flavour to a dessert. And, the fact that it is now easily and readily available in India, seals its place in the landscape of Indian sweets. Mahajan's Biscoff cheesecake has delicate creaminess paired with dollops of Biscoff sauce, and the Biscoff gateau is a rich option for the foodie with a sweet tooth.Order: s.delcakes.inPrice: The Biscoff Gateau and Biscoff Cheesecake at Rs 430 onwards
Make it yourself"Looking to make your own Biscoff dessert? Choose between the Lotus Biscoff biscuits (available on Amazon, Rs 149 for 124 grams) or the irresistible spread (Rs 688 for 400 grams)," says Bunty Mahajan, creative director, Deliciae.