My thoughts on experiences this far…
Saturday April 29th 2017

Making Mosaics–Media and Tools–Part I

Per my current understanding, India doesn’t have an institute-conducted formal art course on mosaics. The country seems to have many traditional stained glass artists, and some teach as well, but glass mosaic-creation or teaching is still to gain visibility here. What I do see in parts of the country are wall murals in public spaces that are done in hammer-broken ceramic tiles but they seem to be made almost entirely by commercial tile layers, not studio artists. I once BhopalMosaicspotted this huge mural adorning the Railway station walls in the city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and surmised that its idea emerged from a government-supported program surrounding environment conservation for which tile layers specializing in ceramic murals may have been called from elsewhere in the country. In Goa too, many school or hospital walls can be seen with ceramic mosaic murals but they too are done in Opus Palladianum with randomly broken commercial tiles, not with artistically hand or machine cut tiles as studio ceramic mosaicists make them internationally.

Materials for mosaics aren’t simply available in art stores in India. Tools and media have to be sourced from hardware stores that cater to bulk purchases so for a learner or artist interested in creating mosaic objects, it becomes a challenge to source the media. This post therefore aims to demystify sources or types of essential materials and tools necessary to create mosaics by beginners.

Wheeled Mosaic Cutters or Nippers

These circular blade cutters should be the first tool to procure for composing vitreous glass tile mosaics. Per my current information, only one glass tool supplier in New Delhi, Techno Trade Links, is aware of the use of this cutter but stocks it sparingly. It sources the tool and blades from China or Italy. The company couriers the tool and blades to an address in India after receiving their payment but doesn’t always have a ready stock of good quality cutters. Once I learned of their presence, I communicated with them through a series of WhatsApp messages and managed to get hold of Mosaic Cuttersone cutter. A couple more learners like me did the same. On a visit to their office, however, I didn’t find any cutters in stock but managed to find a set of spare blades. I was assured that once they receive a request, they try to arrange the requested tools over 3-4 weeks. Their prices vary based on their purchases and sources.

The guaranteed source of this tool per my experience has been Amazon US (not Amazon India). After buying at least 6 tools from them, I finally know which ones work well and have listed them below in my order of preference. Even for sourcing from Amazon US, there is a problem to counter. Not all suppliers ship the listed merchandize to India. Where they don’t ship to India, I’ve had to have the cutters shipped to a friend in the US closer to their travel time to India. Where they do ship merchandize directly to India, the shipping cost and import fee end up as equal or higher than the product price. But at least this option does exist for emergency purchases of known brands of cutters and it can be exercised if there are no willing US friends to bring you mosaic cutters.

Leponitt – Doesn’t ship to India
Mosaic Mercantile – Ships to India
Gold Blatt – Ships to India

In the image above, the cutters are arranged in the order listed above. Gold Blatt is the heaviest cutter but also very dependable for balanced cuts. If one wants to be really secure about the cutters, I’d advise the purchase of all 3, and a set of spare blades from Mosaic Mercantile. This tool kit will keep the worry of blunt blades off your agenda for a long time. The blue handle cutter is from Techno Trade Links.

Mosaic Picks

While one must stock toothpicks, satay sticks, ear buds (not joking) and more such useful items in one’s mosaic tool kit for various stages of mosaicking, this set of 4 metal picks (also in the image above) from Mosaic Mercantile is a comforting collection in a mosaicist’s kit. Do get hold of them when you order a mosaic cutter from Amazon US.

Alternatively, one might want to hunt out a source for a watch repairman’s tweezers that have pointed and curved tips and buy those. One of the set of 4 picks is just that and it is the most useful one in the set.

 Vitreous Glass Tiles

These are 2×2 cm or 1×1 inch glass tiles that come stuck to brown paper sheets or fibre nets. The main use of these tiles is to create the exterior of swimming pools or bathroom walls to keep them wipe-able, water-resistant and colorful. They come arranged on 1 sq ft sized sheets in boxes of 10 sheets of a single colour. Some sheets may come with a blend of 2 contrasting or similar colours for their intended application in pools or walls. Those available on brown paper sheets have to be kept soaked in water for 5-15 minutes for them to slide off paper sheets. They can be wiped clean of any residual glue and used to create mosaics as whole pieces or VitreousGlassTilescut by mosaic cutters. The ones on nets have to be pulled off tile by tile and used as whole or shaped using mosaic cutters.

If you’re located in Gurgaon, you’re fortunate like me as you can message your requirement of tiles to the mosaicist Kanika Singh and go over to her Studio in Sector 55 to pick up your stock. She takes pains to arrange varied colors for her mosaic teaching workshops and commissioned mosaics, and sells the surplus to practicing mosaicists.

 If you’re in another city of India, you’ve to visit sanitaryware and tile stores and convince them to sell you sheets of tiles in the colours you need. Chances are that the stores would only want to sell them by boxes of 10 sheets of the same colour but you may get lucky and find leftover tiles in small quantities that they have little use for and those may even come at a discount. This you can try at various sanitaryware stores and patronize those who are fast with arranging your orders.

Other than these basic implements and vitreous glass tiles, there is lots more that a mosaicist would aspire for in tools and media that I’ll go over in future posts.

Meanwhile, do tell me if you know of another dependable source of mosaic tools than those included here or know of easy sources of glass tiles used in mosaics.

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Resources:
. Mini Mason Studio: Ms. Kanika Singh, Sector 55, Gurgaon, Haryana, India, Email: kanika at minimason dot in, Website: http://minimason.in
. Techno Trade Links: Mr. Sudhir Arora, B-46, Ansal Chambers-1, 3,Bhikaiji Cama Place, New Delhi – 110066, Mobile: +91-9868124610, Website: http://www.technotradelinks.com

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Mosaic Art and Me

I’ve believed in sharing useful facts and wherewithal on anything I’ve learned with determined efforts, and this new series of posts would reaffirm that compulsion :)  The next few posts will be on learning to mosaic in India from scratch (or the first ‘score’). Folks researching methods and ways of creating mosaics in India should benefit from my explorations for it’s still to gain popularity as a studio art here. Little information or guidance is available on it in India as it’s mostly practiced by glass tile manufacturers or ceramic tile layers for public or commercial spaces. While some stained glass artists gravitate towards mosaics to use the available media and their attained skills of cutting glass, they do not really teach it in workshops to propagate it so the art itself has a low profile and less application here than its capability.

When I think back of its genesis in my life, this is what I recall. About 15 years ago when I’d moved to my present house, I’d got masons working on toilet floors to break some handmade turquoise ceramic tiles with a hammer and arrange them around my garden’s drains. As long as the mosaicked borders were visible, I remember the garden giving me added pleasure to watch and be around. Then, 5 years ago, I saw a mosaic metal table at someone’s sea facing apartment in Goa and was totally charmed by it. My recollection of it is that it had randomly broken coloured ceramic tiles arranged in Opus Palladianum and grouted white—a simple enough mosaic style devoid of any complex cuts or laying. I’d seen broken ceramic tile murals on Goan school or public buildings and been intrigued about them but it was only when I saw the play of hammered ceramic tiles on a functional item that I exclaimed at its beauty. The idea of getting a table mosaicked has stayed with me since then.

About a year ago, around Diwali, I saw a promotional post in a Facebook group by a practicing mosaicist in Gurgaon. She had shown her lovely mosaic coasters and bowls to invite people to buy them as also learn to create them in her orientation workshops at her home. I caught up with her and eventually found myself around her dining table converted to a mosaic work table. I’m, however, embarrassed to admit that in my 2 sessions and 4 hours there, I just moved from one piece of substrate to another (mdf coaster and trivet boards), only felt the bright and shiny vitreous glass tiles over and over in my hands, and just managed to cut some tiles in basic triangle or rectangle cuts. Any pattern I drew on paper to lay tiles ended up as overly ambitious to execute considering my basic tile cutting skills. I bowed out of that format of rushed, hour-based learning. Workshop based learning does work well for many people as they create a usable product and take it home even if they do not invest in creating a studio for future. But I wanted more. I wanted to learn all the techniques there were to know but create products in my own time and space.

A month later, when I found time and renewed resolve to reconnect with mosaics, I made enquiries and heard about another Gurgaon dweller, Kanika Singh who had begun mosaicking a year prior and fallen so much in love with the idea of it that she had chucked her job as a business development manager and moved to creating mosaics…as also teaching what she learned. I didn’t lose any time in connecting with her with a plea to let me into her workspace to assist her. She allowed me that privilege and had me cut hundreds of tiny wedges or trapeziums for a Mughal floral wall art that she was commissioned to make. Then on, 2 weeks of cutting glass for her gave me so much confidence to handle 2×2 cm vitreous glass tiles that before long I tasked myself with fairly intricate flower petals for a 10″x12″ floral composition that I labelled as My Garden (below). I’ve been on my own with cutting, learning and dreaming up designs since then but I’ve constantly returned to Kanika for her inputs to consolidate my mosaic ideas. Those based in NCR and interested in exploring mosaics may want to start by spending time in her studio. Within no time, her spontaneity and fearlessness rubs off on those working with her.

I’ve lots more to share so keep an eye on future My Gardenposts here.

Meanwhile, do write and tell me if you’ve heard of mosaics before or been creating them or have any thoughts on this art.

 

 

 

Positivity = Happiness

Absolutely lots has happened since my last post and much of it has been dismal these 2 years…but I’m grateful in the realization that I still have interest in life, nature, its beings, and in learning new skills. There is much that still fascinates, intrigues or overwhelms me and I pray to God to help me keep that attitude for the rest of this life’s journey. This post is just to meditate on this point :)

Goodbye, Tools

There is so much to say about Atul that I can’t decide the extent to share. He was a friend whom I admired as also avoided.

I loved to hear him sing as singing would soften his voice and show him as a guy with a lot of feeling; to watch him cnbplay guitar and keyboard that he’d do with equal ease; to feed him raajma-chawal or chicken curry-roti as he’d do justice to any quantity on hand; to read his early technology writings as they made it all seem so simple; to show off to him any little tech gyan I’d pick up here and there as he appreciated tech-orientation in women; and, 2 decades ago, I’d impress him with my interest in moderating conversations on our BBS’s forums and he’d happily participate in women or cooking or travel oriented threads…

I found him exasperating as he would be unrelenting about big or small issues. They spanned a wide range of areas. If I’d let him he’d even decide the sort of crockery I should keep in my house. I was happy to see Kishore and him having got together to speak at seminars in the 90s as also relieved when those whirlwind tours finished.

Despite our minimal interaction in the last decade, I’d been waiting for him to introduce something fantastic – a book that would demystify the ongoing trends or a product that would organize human lives further. He was a brilliant guy, he wrote well and spoke a language that made even the non-techies love technology so I wanted him to attain all technological feats he’d meant to achieve. He was temperamental but Shubha had been coping well with that. Anjali had already found her professional drift that did him proud so why he didn’t write more, I couldn’t tell. He’d been functioning well enough despite his eyes giving him trouble that I thought he’d beat this cancer out of his body too. His breakfast pics and tweets showed him to be so positive that I’d hoped that he’d tweak his system into working well till he was done with life by choice. Unless, his early exit has been a final demo to us that no Tools work against death…

 

My gains and losses with the Kindle Paperwhite

I was only mildly curious about the added functionality of the new Kindle Paperwhite as I was happy enough with my Kindle Keyboard, that came encased in a rugged cover with an in-built reading light. The Paperwhite, however, came as a gift from the husband a few weeks ago and–after some weeks of use–removed all doubts about the prudence of owning it.  I’m now ready to share the pros and cons of this upgrade.

My Gains…

+The illuminated screen is very helpful. The Paperwhite is brightly lit IMG_3860up most of the time, allowing me to vary its brightness just by touching a symbol. I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about breaking the cover light of the old Kindle while working it constantly. Reading in the sun too continues to be as comfortable as with the old e-ink Kindle. The light is almost evenly spread on the screen, and I haven’t felt the effect of 4 separate LEDs at the bottom to be a problem as some users have noted.

+Touch screen is wonderfully responsive. The promised capacitive screen is actually sensitive to gentle swipes or simple touches. The 4 page-turning buttons have disappeared and I’m not missing them one bit as just a simple touch of the thumb on the right or left side of the screen turns the page. Highlighting of text is equally easy by dragging the finger from a word through several lines. Most of all though, I love the idea of dictionary becoming easier to use as a simple ‘holding’ of a word invokes its definition. Closing an open window is as easy as touching the screen outside the window.  Altogether, I’d say, the actions required are intuitive and have meant minimum self-training for me.

+The smart cover works smartly. The $10 cover puts the device to sleep on shutting and wakes it up with a minor flash on opening it. No fiddling of small slider switches necessary now, and thanks to the cover, using the device has got closer in experience to that of a physical book.

+Multiple typefaces nice to have. Choosing one of the 6 fonts and varying the text size or spacing is all so easily managed with the tap of a finger that I’ve been changing the look and feel of a book in keeping with its ‘seriousness.’

+Cover view is another plus. The choice of Cover or List views is another thoughtful feature as the art work of books in the Cover view makes them appear more inviting.

+Long enough battery charge. I used the device for a whole month on a single charge on an average use of 2-3 hours/day. As earlier, I used the Wi-Fi only when I had to sync and pick up an emailed book. So it’s confirmed that the lit up screen doesn’t sap the battery as I’d initially feared.

New but do I care…

! Time to read. The new feature of an estimated time left to finish the ongoing chapter/book is still to seem useful to me. I read multiple books at the same time so the suggested estimate is just that, an estimate based on some algorithm but not my actual pace of reading text in general.

! X-ray info. The device is supposed to provide the bare bone details on a book but I still have to test out the importance of such data as for all the books I’ve opened, I’ve found the X-ray feature to be greyed out.

{Update: Found the x-ray feature working on a recent purchase. It gives data on the occurrence of some keywords and character names through the book and separately by chapters.  What may prove to be helpful, when one is researching or reviewing a read, is that on tapping, each keyword gives its background note from Wikipedia and 3 lines of text where it occurs in the book. This is additional reference help that may charm some readers and prove useful in situations of need.}

The insignificant drops…

! Physical keyboard is not needed. Yes, increasingly I find that I continue to highlight loads of text to commit to ‘my clippings’ but I do not type notes very regularly any more. Which is to say that I don’t need to carry the extra weight of a physical keyboard in my hand. The screen based keyboard is easy enough to use for those rare notes.

! Text to speech has gone. Yes, it’s gone and I’m fine with it. Initially, I was highly enamored with the talking Kindle but saw that I hardly enjoyed listening to a digitized voice. Even during a drive, I prefer to think about a book than strain my ear to catch garbled words.

! No speaker means no music. I never did listen to any music on the Kindle. The device has been strictly for reading books.

! 4 GB to 2 GB. Currently, I have 82 books on the Paperwhite, and with Caliber to manage my ebook library and Amazon purchases supposedly intact in the cloud, I’m fine with the reduced space.

Losses to moan about…

Random pictures as screensavers. I used to like the screensavers of author images on the earlier Kindle. So many names became faces to me only through those screensavers. The Paperwhite has non-descript patterns as its screensavers. A loss I’d feel for times to come.

No power adapter. While I have an adapter from the earlier Kindle, for the device to come with just a USB cable isn’t helpful as many old school readers don’t travel with their laptops. They would need to buy a USB adapter separately.

…so altogether many more gains than losses, don’t you agree? :)

Garlic Bread Sticks using an Electric Breadmaker

Ever since we have had an electric breadmaker in our lives, I’ve been diligently baking bread at home and shunning commercial breads most of the time. The breadmaker breads tend to be a little dense but make for nice and chunky tawa-toasts that taste wonderful with toppings of tomato slices, melted gouda cheese and freshly crushed pepper, among more. I’ve been varying the mix of flours and seeds for my breads and enjoying creating breads at home instead of running around harried for branded breads from outside.

An electric breadmaker bread isn’t for everyone though. If you like evenly cut, soft slices of sandwich bread like my son, then you must continue looking towards the Harvest Gold fare. If you’re like my husband, however, who loves the smell of home-baked bread and likes to slice his breakfast bread slice from a big loaf of bread, then go ahead and consider an electric breadmaker… And, if you’re like me who loves to dip her soft chunky bread into a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then you must definitely check out these soft garlic bread sticks that are made with a combo of the electric breadmaker and our convection oven and taste really good.

Here’s the way to make them.

Making and rising of the dough in the Breadmaker:_K2B0684

1. Put the following items in the breadmaker in the order they are listed

. Tepid water – 1 cup
. Olive oil – 3 tbspns
. Brown sugar – 2 tbspns
. Salt – 1 tsp
. Wheat+white flour (maida) in 1:2 ratio – 2-3/4 cups
. Fast action dry yeast – 1 tsp

2.  Use the breadmaker’s setting for making just the dough (the process takes 1-1/2 hours in mine wherein the ingredients are mixed and the yeast helps the dough to rise)

Rolling the dough:

3. Sprinkle some dry flour on the kitchen counter
4. Take out the risen dough from the machine
5. Take out about half of the dough and give it a round shape
6. Roll it into an oval in the size that your oven/baking tray can take
7. Put slits on the rolled dough while leaving its outer rim intact
8. Oil a baking sheet and place the rolled dough on it; it will be about 1 cm fat
9. Brush the dough with a mix of melted butter and olive oil
10. Cover it with a damp cloth and keep it in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise some more

Baking:

11. After about 15 minutes, preheat your convection oven to 200 degrees
12. Uncover the rolled-and-risen dough after 30 minutes and bake it at 200 degrees for 10-12 minutes (I baked for 10 minutes)
13. Take the tray out of the oven, let it cool and work on the garlic glazing

Glazing:

14. Add the following items to a small frying pan in the order they are listed:

. 1 tbspn butter
. 3 tbspns extra virgin olive oil
. 12-15 cloves of chopped garlic
. 1 tsp crushed pepper
. 1 thinly sliced green chilli
. 1 tbspn chopped fresh basil or parsley
. A dash of dried mixed herbs

15. Let it all sizzle over 1 minute

16. Switch off the flame and spoon this mix on the baked sticks

17. Sprinkle some grated cheese

18. Cover the sticks for about 5 minutes for flavours to seep in

19. Then, enjoy these soft sticks with a mix of

. 1 tbspn of extra virgin olive oil
. 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
. Some crushed red chilli flakes
. ¼ tsp of oregano

And do tell me, how you found them.

 

Notes:

1. I used the rest of the dough to bake a large pizza. You can do the same or bake another round of garlic bread sticks.

2. My breadmaker is Lloyd. I’d be keen to know of other brands being used in India to see how different they are.

3. I’ve adapted this recipe from one I found at Flavours of Mumbai and have to agree that Maria’s sticks look much better than mine. All the same, mine taste good too :)

 

In celebration of friendship, love and learning

On this day 25 years ago, Kishore and I’d got married. JKWedIt feels like just the other day that we went out on our first date from our workplace for a pizza…not knowing that pizzas were going to become my favorite date food item for the next 2 years! Then we got married and being foodies, we broadened the scope of what constituted home-cooked food in Indian homes by regularly tweaking food at home as also by frequently eating out. Part of our family has recently presented us with an electric breadmaker to help reinvent our cooking even more in the future…

My marriage of 25 years to Kishore, however, has been much more than making food based discoveries. He came into my work-life as my computer trainer and has remained a mentor through our years together. Being a perpetual learner himself, he’s encouraged me to take my interests forward in absolutely any area of my choice. It was thanks to him that I put aside the idea of making bucks, and went back to classroom learning at the age of 40 and took 16 exams of HRM. Before that, at his prodding, I taught myself graphic designing and enough HTML to design some websites.  I took to oil painting in between and took much pleasure out of playing with colors till playing with our baby son took priority over everything else. Much earlier, when I wanted to simply work for a living using the skills I already had, he encouraged me to find the best workplace I could possibly find and I did just that. Through the years of matrimony, he’s given me gadgets instead of jewelry, so kept me connected with changing technologies and helped broaden my ambit of thinking. He’s also reiterated time and again that I needn’t feel guilty about reading aimlessly as reading should be everyone’s regular occupation. Right now, I’m totally enjoying this occupation in between worries of the world…

I’ve attempted to return the favor in some ways… but then for that we should hear from him directly ;)

Here’s to a couple more decades of friendship, love and more learning.

Online Retail Therapy

I’ve been drawn to online shopping from pre-ecommerce days in India. The experience of buying gadgets from Bhphotovideo or Amazon and seeing them respectfully delivering to US addresses of friends and family, had helped overcome the fear of getting damaged materials or em­pty boxes–as rumored in the VPP delivery phase of my childhood. I’d been longing to see this convenience in the country of my abode so began shopping from Ebay.in and Indiatimes.com as soon as I got to know about them. Ebay.in was the first ecommerce platform to deliver a gadget to me in a ship-shape condition or otherwise I had just bought books or flowers from Indiatimes.  Later, Flipkart’s entry into my world made book shopping so very predictable in a good sort of way that I’ve been using them for books for self-use and gifts without any worries of when? or how?  for a while now.

Presently, I’m even more contented to see the online shopping platform widening in the country. Earlier, we’d hear that customer is the king but saw how bad it was for us in physical stores…we found a limited range of brands or models, saw uncaring shop executives, and had to commute far and beyond to get the brands we wanted. Or, only bought from that small store some place as it’d give us our 10% discount. Now, with ecommerce sites increasing by the month, the range of products to buy is broadening, prices are easier to ascertain and compare, and that without having to stir about much, so now I do experience that king like feeling while shopping online!

Even so, why shop online? Living in a place like Gurgaon, I’ve such a problem getting a price cheaper than MRP for gadgets and appliances that at least for small gadgets like mp3 players or economy model mobile phones, I keep my life simple by going online. Then, I find that economy models of many products go out-of-stock rather rapidly from physical stores, and give me a limited choice of models to choose from. Gurgaon also has a scarcity of brick and mortar handicraft shops for impromptu gift shopping and its parking woes too keep me off its Shopping Malls. For many reasons therefore online shopping seems more pragmatic to me on most days. Beyond Gurgaon, I’m also a part-time dweller of Goa and I’ve seen how harrowing it was to stock my flat with appliances or furniture that in future, I’d just go online for such shopping…that rice-cooker I need in the flat can simply come from Flipkart and at a discounted price than what Panjim or Mapusa shops would charge me. Online shopping sites are beginning to give a wide product range at discounted prices so trawling physical shops is increasingly appearing unnecessary for varying merchandize. Plus, most have an acceptable product return policy that physical stores lack.

Very recently, online shopping has earned itself another brownie point. Much like American Black Fridays or Cyber Mondays, we’re beginning to witness major online sale days that may make shopping this way even more worthwhile. Citibank had its first OMG! Sale 2 days ago for its card holders. I was too busy that day and spent only some time looking through the sponsoring sites but would be sure to look at the next sale more closely. Meanwhile, Google is planning one such Great Online Shopping Festival on December 12 that should be fun to explore.

What is best bought online? Books. DVDs. Branded electronics and peripherals that come with the manufacturer’s service warranty. Branded appliances. Branded wear especially male Tshirts, shirts, sweatshirts and tracksuits. Even unbranded inexpensive female wear such as Indian kurtas, tops or scarves. Sweaters and shawls. Ladies bags and wallets. Some lingerie. Inexpensive jewelry. Furnishing such as branded bedsheets or even handmade coasters, table-covers and more. Stationery. Small furniture items. Crockery. Kitchen containers. Branded toys and games.

With some sites beginning to provide a mix-n-match interface on clothing ensembles and footwear, and thus a more hands-on experience of picking up products, I find myself accepting more and more products for online purchase.

I might add that for gifts, online shopping works out fabulously as items can be shipped directly to the recipient.

What impresses me about online shopping spaces? Initially, the site interface. Then the product range and pricing. Later, their delivery service, frequency of email/mobile updates, language used in their tracking email, and how responsive they are in case of problems of any kind. Importantly too, their feedback process.

Online shopping sites should offer a good experience of browsing, let me wishlist my choices for later shopping and offer a clean payment process. A discount coupon or another benefit would also lure me to the site repeatedly. Most of all though, these sites should build in a solid customer review option. The reviews should be unbiased and authentic. I buy products from Amazon with a high degree of confidence because of the product reviews I manage to read. Flipkart’s products offer customer reviews so enhance one’s confidence but not many sites think of building reviews into product details to educate a new customer. Similarly, on a multi-vendor platform like Ebay.in, it helps to have its vendor rating process in place.

Things I would be wary of buying online. Expensive jewellery. Western wear like trousers, jeans, skirts or dresses. Shoes. Expensive sarees as I’d like to check the fabric texture most of the time. Big furniture items as I’d like to see the wood grain and product finish closely. But increasingly I’d relent, and my need and online pricing may make me buy these items too.

Problems with online shopping. Most of all, it’s spam that keeps me harried. Barring a few, many sites send weekly newsletters announcing their products and that gets to be too much too often. Plus, I don’t quite know what these sites are doing with my personal information! Their sale sops also feel empty on a close look.

I’ve had some usual anticipated problems with my shopping too. A bag turns out to be too large. A digital kitchen scale ends up being smaller than the envisaged size. Earrings feel too large and heavy. An ordered wallet is received twice so I’m forced to deal with a courier agency, provide product declarations for its return and have to endure phone calls and emails to explain my position… And yet, there is more pleasure than pain involved in the whole experience. Being an early adopter of online shopping, I feel that I must persevere in the interest of human advancement ;-)

How to track online merchants?  It’s beginning to get difficult as many players are entering the field. Other than using our own memory aids of browser bookmarking and following the beloved brands on Facebook, using comparison websites like Junglee, Naaptol and Indiabookstore would start making sense to make our shopping decisions. Google too offers a comparison tool from google.in where using a product keyword (say, bag) followed by selecting ‘Shopping’ from ‘More’ options would help know about bags being sold by many online vendors.

As this segment matures, there will definitely be more tracking tools. Till then let’s enjoy the show with the chaos that comes with it.

For now, here’s my collection of online shopping ideas for everyone’s use. Do tell me about fantastic places I’ve missed or any I should try with added caution.

Sites I’ve been shopping from (in the order of preference):

itshandmade – lovely handicraft to browse. More products keep adding. I’ve loved crochet bookmarks, fabric pouches and small trinkets I’ve bought from there.

shopo – wider choice in handicraft than itshandmade but frequent (and taxing) pop-up messages on sellers gone on vacations. Still a delight to browse and shop from. I’ve enjoyed owning stationery, tote bags and inexpensive trinkets bought from there.

Inkfruit – their plain polo Tshirts for men offer a good range of colours at great prices. Sales and discounts actually help save. Most other clothes have a fussy print but youngsters may like them.

Flipkart – fantastic packing and delivery. Wishlist remains online indefinitely. Product range has been increasing. With their awesome service of mp3 downloads through Flyte, single song downloads are instantly possible. Out-of-stock product availability system works well. My first choice for book and toy purchases.

Jabong – Good product range and site interface. Wishlist remains intact. Next day delivery in Gurgaon. Sign up discount didn’t work out. Its widespread customized advertising makes one’s wishlist or purchase history appear on many sites–can be eerie till one gets used to the idea.

Ebay.in – pioneers in the Indian online market and offer a mind-boggling product range. I’ve bought many mp3 players, 1 mobile phone, pendrives, gadget accessories and more such items from them.

Foodmandi – a Gurgaon based fruit, vegetable and organic produce online store. Deliveries happen the next day. About 5% of perishables delivered end up looking forlorn but the rest feels good to work with.

Anandprakash – nice filigree bookmarks in brass. I keep a few handy to give away with books.

Swiss Military — I quite like the idea of browsing and buying adventure gear. Even though Victorinox knives and swisscards are more widely seen in stores, it’s the Swiss Military website that works better than the former for online shopping.

Nethaat — I like only 30-40% of handicraft displayed here. Its interface isn’t as attractive as Itshandmade or Shopo and many items just seem to be there to fill pages. And yet, through Nethaat, I found a small NGO called Charkha in Bikaner and been buying their soft and warm khadi stoles.

Infibeam — I seek them out for books that I don’t spot on Flipkart. Their delivery time is longer but prices a wee bit lower than Flipkart. I still prefer Flipkart’s delivery assurance and interface.

Indiatimes — I’d bought books from them years ago by joining their bookclub that was discontinued by them later. I even sent flowers to people but didn’t hear happy noises in return so I haven’t used them for some time now.

Sites I’m actively seeking: Reliable, reasonably priced but good quality cake and flower delivery sites. There are hundreds of them in this space but none that I can trust with my eyes closed!

I’d also love to see online businesses selling bird-feeders, birdhouses and birdbaths. America is full of such sites but businesses are still to appease bird-lovers in our country.

Sites I must check out before too long (listed in no particular order):

http://styletag.com
http://www.9rasa.com/

http://www.bagittoday.com

http://www.kidzoba.com/

http://www.firstcry.com/

http://www.babyoye.com/

http://vividha.in/
http://www.momandmeshop.in/

http://www.homeshop18.com/

http://www.urbanladder.com/
http://www.inliving.com
http://www.induscraft.com/
http://www.snapdeal.com/

http://www.juvalia.in/

http://www.bluestone.com/

http://zovi.com

http://www.limeroad.com/
http://greedyforgreen.com
http://www.zansaar.com/

http://www.excitinglives.com/
http://www.craftsvilla.com/
http://www.decathlon.in/
http://prettysecrets.com/
http://www.herstyle.in/
http://www.strapsandstrings.com/
http://www.shopimagine.in/
http://www.oyegirl.com/
http://www.yebhi.com/
http://www.bwitch.in/
http://www.myntra.com/
http://mithaimate.com/

3 Spiritual Reads-Autobiography of a Yogi

I was totally committed to finishing this book so somehow it got completed but if I was constantly looking for inspiration in its text, it’d have carried on a couple more weeks in view of its length and language. I should quickly add though that there were many enjoyable elements to the book–the writing style had much humour even if it was highly ornate, many sadhu-performed miracles felt believable and I’ve had some takeaways and accounts to ponder further.

First, the high points of the read. I liked knowing about all the miracles covered in the book. How the amulet given to Mukund disappeared from a sealed box as prophesied; how as a teenager, he made flying kites act per his wishes; how he found the young dead disciple Kashi in his next birth by constantly scanning the atmosphere or higher planes; how he felt forced to move towards Sri Yukteshwar and adopt him as his guru; and then all the experiences his guru made possible for him. I was fascinated by the idea of a deathless sadhu like Babaji who lived in the Himalayas but showed up in flesh and blood through generations to Yogananda, his guru, or the guru’s guru, Sri Lahiri Mahasaya. And then the most profound of all revelations was Sri Yukteshwar’s resurrection and description of life after death. Of how a realized soul like him had directly reached Hiranyalok, even retained his earthly form despite being buried on earth, and was managing other souls going through their karmic cycles. It read unreal and yet very believable to an Indian mind like mine that has been fed the Bhagwad Gita’s message on the soul being deathless. It’s for this chapter (43) alone that I can easily believe readers revisiting the book. In my first read itself, I’ve tried to read through this chapter thrice and would need to revisit it soon to remind myself of various astral planes, their rules and lives lived on them. Is that the truth though? Well, I’ve to make a beginning in believing some life-death accounts so till I learn more, I’d start with this one. Plus, I’d love to know more about Kriya Yoga that Yogananda used to promptly teach anyone showing any interest in spirituality and which can only be taught by a Kriya yogi. I learned that 1000 Kriya practiced in eight hours gives the yogi in one day, the equivalent of 1000 years of natural evolution, and that in 3 years, a Kriya Yogi can accomplish the same result which nature brings to pass in a million years. I’m intrigued enough about Kriya Yoga to want to learn it although I can hardly meditate even at this stage of my life.

Yoganand Paramhansa tries to describe the science behind some miracles and it felt that it was done mostly for the benefit of his western audience so they didn’t label all the spiritual talk as mumbo jumbo. Many times, however, such scientific explanations took away the pleasure out of the knowledge I derived —it could just be me feeling that way though. The fact that Yoganand was enamoured with the west, and America in particular, further trivialized the experience of knowing about his life. He said that he was ‘unusually happy to be conducting a class for English students.’ That his ‘London class members laughed appreciatively; no political turmoils ever disturbed our yoga peace.’ He enjoyed eating, worried about his weight, stayed in luxury hotels on his return from America and thoroughly enjoyed the comforts of carrying his Ford car through sea or land journeys so he could commute easily. Well, I accepted that outlook in the interest of much that he had to do. He was committed to propagating Kriya yoga and spirituality in the US and constructed many Ashrams through local public support.

He passed away at an early age of 59 in 1952 and it’s admirable that he had achieved much recognition by then. However, the autobiography finishes abruptly and doesn’t include his own spiritual discoveries after his return to the US in 1936. He remained busy with his lectures and running of his Ashrams is all one can gather. I found some recordings of one of his American disciples on http://www.kamalasilva.org/music but those I heard didn’t say anything other than the messages covered in the autobiography itself.

The book was long, had sections on some yogis Yogananda met through his life but particularly it was his insistence on keeping the tone discernible to the western reader that took away some pleasure of reading about an Indian yogi.

And yet, other than chapter 43, I’d like to remember these statements from the book:

Attachment is blinding; it lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of desire.

Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.

Pain and pleasure are transitory; endure all dualities with calmness, while trying at the same time to remove their hold. Imagination is the door through which disease as well as healing enters. Disbelieve in the reality of sickness even when you are ill; an unrecognized visitor will flee!

Straightforwardness without civility is like a surgeon’s knife, effective but unpleasant. Candor with courtesy is helpful and admirable.

A child is born on that day and at that hour when the celestial rays are in mathematical harmony with his individual karma.

Every religious or philosophical practice means a psychological discipline, that is, a method of mental hygiene.

The yogic science is based on an empirical consideration of all forms of concentration and meditation exercises. Yoga enables the devotee to switch off or on, at will, life current from the five sense telephones of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Attaining this power of sense-disconnection, the yogi finds it simple to unite his mind at will with divine realms or with the world of matter.

Each man’s intellectual reactions, feelings, moods, and habits are circumscribed by effects of past causes, whether of this or a prior life. Lofty above such influences, however, is his regal soul.

“Remember,” he had said slowly, “that he who discards his worldly duties can justify himself only by assuming some kind of responsibility toward a much larger family.”

Using a secret yoga technique, I broadcasted my love to Kashi’s soul through the microphone of the spiritual eye, the inner point between the eyebrows. With the antenna of upraised hands and fingers, I often turned myself round and round, trying to locate the direction in which he had been reborn as an embryo. I hoped to receive response from him in the concentration-tuned radio of my heart.

Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. If joy were ceaseless here in this world, would man ever seek another?

Only one reason, therefore, can motivate Babaji in maintaining his physical form from century to century: the desire to furnish humanity with a concrete example of its own possibilities.

Physical death is attended by the disappearance of breath and the disintegration of fleshly cells. Astral death consists of the dispersement of lifetrons, those manifest units of energy which constitute the life of astral beings.

Astral desires center around enjoyment in terms of vibration. Astral beings enjoy the ethereal music of the spheres and are entranced by the sight of all creation as exhaustless expressions of changing light. The astral beings also smell, taste, and touch light. Astral desires are thus connected with an astral being’s power to precipitate all objects and experiences as forms of light or as condensed thoughts or dreams.

3 Spiritual Reads-Advice on Dying

I had high expectations from this book. It was going to be the first book to tell me clearly what death was about–whether it brought an absolute end or there was indeed a cycle of birth and death. Do the dead watch over their living relatives or they’re perished forever?

It was an easy read but I still gave it a lot of breaks. Those breaks reduced the fright associated with death. I was able to read through the text in a matter of fact way but found a lot of the initial lessons a reiteration of Bhagwad Gita’s discourse–mainly that life is impermanent so don’t get too attached to your body, possessions or relations… What helped was the author’s repeated advice to meditate on this impermanence, tame the mind as it helps become virtuous, moderates our expectations from the world and helps overcome our fear of death. He repeats through the book that the thought of death being definite shouldn’t be brushed aside as its recognition actually helps us do good and become compassionate. As also ease the process of dying.

What was new knowledge was the 8-phase process of death that the author has described as the appearance of a mirage, then some smoke, fireflies, a flame of a lamp, vivid white sky, vivid red-organge sky, vivid black sky, ending in clear light. This sounded plausible even if not all that reassuring. The author advices that being aware of death helps one practice calmness, pray for the end result–another good life or an end from the cyclic existence–and achieve it because of one’s constant practice or meditation. He also advices against creating disturbance around a person dying. His suggestion is to make that time peaceful and facilitate the process of death. In the first 4 phases, he details how our 4 elements of earth, water, fire and wind dissolve and lead to a closure of the body’s senses and functions. He believes that these phases can occur over months or even in a quick succession.

Most of the book is a description and interpretation of a 17-stanza poem written by the first Panchen Lama that goes over the process of death. While I’ve marked a lot of text to reflect on some more, reading just the Appendix may also be sufficient as it provides a summary of the complete poem.

Something the author could have avoided covering was the political stance of China towards the Dalai Lama and Tibet. A large part of the Foreword and the 2nd chapter is about Panchen Lama’s significance that I found myself least involved in.

Altogether though the book will remain the first for me to have someone’s interpretation of the actual process of death, and it has acted as a reminder that much as we are definitely moving towards our death, we must live a virtuous life to experience a peaceful end.

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