A playlist for peace


One of the strongest memories of my childhood is that of AM Radio. It would begin playing on the ancient transistor even before I woke up. Sanskrit mantras recited by M.S. Subbulakshmi, followed by the railway timetable, and finally, news in Sanskrit that would end with a few beeps. The last of the beeps would be longer than the first few — the clock had struck 7 AM.

I’m not sure if the order of the programs is right. There’s no way for me to verify either. We don’t listen to radio anymore, unless we’re in a car — and even in a car, it’s FM, or a USB stick, or internet radio that’s streaming from a smartphone — not AM.

Back then, on Sundays, the radio played Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram — the thousand names of Lord Vishnu. Towards the end of the half-hour long recitation, is a conversation between Goddess Parvati and Lord Vishnu. The Goddess asks, dear Lord, what might a lay person do, in order to pray to you. Not everyone can possibly recite all the thousand names every day. Is there a shortcut to this? And the Lord obliges. He says, repeat this one verse three times, and it is equivalent to reciting all the names. I am paraphrasing, of course.

I learnt this one specific verse very early in my life — long before I learnt about its significance. I learnt it because every single Sunday, at precisely the moment that this verse was recited, I would wake up. One could say, I learnt it by accident, or divine intervention, or coincidence — I leave it to you, to decide, which of these is more accurate.

I don’t think I am very religious — certainly not to the extent my parents or grandparents are. I don’t perform the elaborate pujas that my mother performs. Nor can I recite any of the Sahasranamams the way my grandparents can. But religion does interest me.

True to the stereotypes of TamBrahms, as children, our summer vacations were spent touring temples. We were taught Sanskrit shlokas (couplets / verses), that I can still recall. I was also taught how to perform a basic neyvedyam (sacred offering). I pride myself in knowing what little I do. And I wish to learn the proper neyvedyam that my mom performs on special occasions. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to perform one of those with the camphor flame… But I digress.

What I am trying to say is, I am religious enough to take the shortcut of reciting one verse three times, as opposed to 108 verses.


Over the past few years, I have realised that being religious and being spiritual are not the same thing. Religion, is the path towards spirituality. And spirituality, is the path towards peace of mind. I came to this realisation when, a year into our marriage, Atul began playing a playlist of bhajans.

Knowing him for as long as I did — he who who wasn’t particularly interested in going to temples or explicitly praying — he was playing bhajans.

He wasn’t listening to the lyrics of these songs, he said. The melody just made him feel relaxed. It gave him the peace of mind that is so essential in today’s rage-infused society.

This inclination towards peace of mind, came up again, when he insisted that we visit the temple I frequented. It wasn’t that he did not like visiting temples at all, he said; he just had not found such peace of mind in the ones he had visited before.

Atul is not an atheist. He is spiritual. I began appreciating his world-view, when he said this: I don’t need to go to a temple, or speak a certain language, to speak with my God. And that was also the essence of the verse in Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram — you don’t have to say all the 108 verses. Just one, repeated thrice, was enough. The Lord himself, was giving a shortcut.


Over the past few months, I have begun my own morning ritual — somewhat similar to what my parents did back then. What used to play as clock-work, every morning on AM radio, now plays on an online streaming service, as soon as I wake up (let’s just say, the morning is a spectrum).

As one wise man said to me, language and form shouldn’t come in the way of spirituality and peace of mind. Hence, I will not share my morning invocation playlist with you.

What I will share, though, is another feel-good playlist that focuses on spirituality and peace. Here it goes:

1. Ma Rewa

Band: Indian Ocean
Album: Kandisa
Year: 2000
Language: Local dialect of Hindi

It was during last year’s Indian Ocean Concert (in picture) that I first heard Ma Rewa. I swayed and clapped and danced on this number. It was only later, that I saw the lyrics.

Rewa is another name for the river Narmada. And life-sustaining, as all rivers are, Rewa is called Ma – mother. This song praises the holy river, and apparently, was used as a protest song by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (save the river Narmada). There is enough feminism and rebellion in this to become my week-day alarm.

2. Krishna

Band: Colonial Cousins
Album: Colonial Cousins
Year: 1996
Language: Kannada, English, Hindi

Growing up, this song, and all the songs by the duo (Leslie Lewis and Hariharan) hit the sweet spot for us, bringing together classical music and English pop. We were such big fans, our parents bought two cassettes(!) of their albums — the only band accorded that multi-cassette honour.

3. Kandisa

Band: Indian Ocean
Album: Kandisa
Year: 2000
Language: Aramaic-East Syriac

This song is familiar. I’ve heard this, yes… Alam Alam Alam… I fished out my memories. “It’s Kandisa,” said Eeshta. And just like that, I rediscovered Indian Ocean. There’s a chance you’ve heard it before too. You can thank me later. Also, this my week-end alarm.

4. Madho

Band: Faridkot
Album: Ek
Year: 2011
Language: Local dialect of Hindi

“You now owe me some songs!” This was the message Sunaina sent, after sharing the album by Faridkot. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have known about this beautiful album.

From where I sat in the office, I was within earshot of everyone in the office (and yes, I could see folks, before they could see me). I’d asked her for the songs after hearing them on her work-station — on loop. Haal-e-dil and Banjaare were her favourites, I think. I liked them too. Eventually, though, my favourite became, Madho. The song is about a devotee, who wants Krishna to come and help her cross the river on her boat.

5. Tajdar-e-Haram

Singer: Atif Aslam
Album: Coke Studio Season 8
Year: 2015
Language: Urdu

Because no playlist of melodious music can be complete without Coke Studio. I’ll admit, I am no fan of Atif Aslam’s music (based on the songs sung for Hindi Cinema / Bollywood). But this one is an absolute gem!

6. Gurus of Peace

Singers: A.R. Rahman, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Album: Vande Mataram
Year: 1997
Language: Hindi, Urdu, English

The stage is set at the school assembly ground. On the left side of the ground is the administrative block. On the right are classrooms for primary students. Connecting these two blocks are two bridges on the first and second floor levels, running behind the centre stage. The music begins playing, and the performers enter. As they begin performing their choreographed moves in perfect sync, more dancers enter in front, and below the main stage. Others stream in from behind the audience. And more fill in the bridges above the stage. This was the first block-buster musical I had seen — long before Kingdom of Dreams was even dreamt of.

The song, Gurus of Peace; the dancers, students handpicked from the primary, middle and senior secondary classes; the occasion, the school annual day; and the audience, an awe-struck set of students, and some very proud parents.

7. Bulla Ki Jaana Mai Kaun

Singer: Rabbi Shergill
Album: Rabbi
Year: 2004
Language: Punjabi

I was in school when this song was released, and it became an instant hit. Perhaps, because it cut across all faiths and cultures; or maybe, because it shattered stereotypes of Sikh musicians, the topics that rock music could cover and the format in which Sufi could be performed; or maybe, just maybe, it resonated with teenagers trying to figure out their identity. “Bulla, ki jaana, mai kaun hoon” (Bulla! I know not, who I am).

It is fitting, that this is the only song that I could not locate on the music-streaming site Gaana. Because this is one of very few songs that I remember seeing. Apart from its deep philosophy, what has endured through all these years is the visualisation of the song.

There are a number of versions of this song on YouTube. The official version is live in concert. There is another version with better audio quality and lyrics. But I’d rather show you the original music video (you can check out the better audio later).

For the rest of the songs, check out the playlist on Gaana here: Playlist for Peace

PS: I know there are only male singers in the playlist. I’d love to hear more female voices in this space — if you know any, I’d love to listen to them. In the meanwhile, I have my morning invocation, dominated by M.S…

PPS: Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Here’s wishing for a peaceful dinner, and world 🙂

Featured Image: The stage for Indian Ocean’s concert on 23 November 2018. Here’s the story about that concert: Behind the Sounds.

The ‘unrefined’ cake


For over three years now, we’ve tried to keep certain items out of our kitchen — refined flour and refined sugar. Refined flour was easy to keep out. Sugar, is a different matter — because we occasionally make sweet dishes, and guests shouldn’t be forced to drink sugarless tea or coffee. And so, we buy sugar, in the least possible quantity at such times, letting the stock remain in the kitchen cupboard.

A little over a year ago, we added another item to the no-stock list — refined oil. And I’m happy to report, I haven’t missed it at all. We now have a range of oils — mustard, sesame and coconut — to add richness to different dishes. And yes, there is white unsalted butter and homemade ghee.

Now, I love cake. And it seemed difficult to make cake without these three ingredients. I also didn’t have an oven, or a cake tin. My pressure cooker wasn’t big enough for a decent size bowl.

So, I did what everyone these days does — ask the internet. I found some makeshift alternatives for the baking apparatus and tried out a wholewheat recipe for my mother’s 60th birthday. It turned out decent.

There has been a pattern to some of my Instagram food posts — with friends asking for the recipe. And so, going forward, I’m going to start posting some recipes that I’ve tried out — for my friends, and my own future reference — with due credit to the original chefs, of course.

The credit roll

A big part of this recipe is borrowed from a recipe on YouTube by Piya’s Kitchen. I replaced some ingredients and the result was not so bad! I recommend going through the video for the original recipe.

Step 1: Going nuts

  • Chopped dry fruits of your choice (I used cashew, almonds, pecans, raisins and assorted berries)
  • 1/2 tbsp wheat flour

Coat the dry fruits lightly with flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom and keep aside.

Step 2: Just beat it

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup jaggery (I used honey — turns out, it gives the cake a richer colour)
  • 1/4 cup curd

Beat the ingredients till they form a smooth mixture and keep aside.

Step 3: Shaken, not stirred

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder (or cardamom powder) for flavouring (skip this if using vanilla)

Sieve the dry ingredients together two times to ensure there are no lumps and they are nicely mixed.

Step 4: All mixed up

  • 1/2 cup milk

Fold the dry (step 3) and wet mixture (step 2) and add half of the milk.

If you’re using vanilla for flavouring, add 1 tsp in at this stage.

Add the chopped nut mixture (step 1) and the remaining milk.

Note: When mixing, make sure you stick with one direction; clock-wise or anti-clockwise, your pick — don’t ask me why.

Step 5: Time to bake!

Pre-heat the baking apparatus of your choice as you would normally do for any other cake: oven / pressure cooker / heavy-bottomed pan with lid. I heated a tawa on high flame for ten minutes.

Grease the baking tin (in my case, a saucepan) with butter and dust the greased tin with a little flour.

Pour the batter and tap gently to level the cake.

Garnish with more more nuts.

Place in baking apparatus (I placed the saucepan on the tawa and covered it with a glass lid so that I could see what was going on; and cooked it on low flame)

Cook for 45-50 minutes (or till you get the sweet scent of heaven)

Check if it’s done by inserting toothpick / knife – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.

Patience, my friend — let it cool.

Transfer to a plate, and then, dig in!

A ‘date’ with a cake


Baking fascinates me — especially when the aroma of fresh cookies and cakes fills up the home.

Growing up, birthdays were made extra special with home-baked cake. I’d eagerly wait for my mother to whip up the cake batter. When she transferred the batter to the greased cake tin, I’d grow impatient. ‘Why are you being so thorough! Let me have the joy of cleaning that up!” As soon as the mixing bowl left her hands, I’d dip my finger to scrape out every last drop!

Unlike my mother, I have zero knowledge of what goes into baking. It’s the end result that truly matters (and the batter, yes!).

I find it hard to remember the chemicals involved in the process — is that baking soda or cooking powder — what proportion are they to be used and when should they be added, most importantly, what are the chances that the mixture will explode?

Most recipes are handed down generations, and when in doubt, I simply pick up the phone and ask, either my mother, or my mother-in-law; sometimes asking the same questions over and over. Thanks to the internet, I now also have advisors who don’t mind my asking the same questions repeatedly.

With the help of the food blogging community, I have got answers to some questions, such as, “what if I want to bake a cake without eggs… and without refined flour?” and “what if I don’t have an oven, and what if I’m off refined sugar too?” And I think to myself, how did people remember recipes before the internet?

I posted a few pictures of my experiments with different types of cake and some friends asked me for the recipes. This gave me an opportunity to document my own scribbled notes for future reference.

But first, the credit roll

The original recipe for this cake is by the food blogger / YouTuber ‘Hebbar’s Kitchen’. I replaced some of the ingredients with what was available with me, and it worked out just fine!

If you’d like to see a detailed step-by-step process, I recommend visiting the website, or better yet, check out the YouTube video.


And now, here’s my version:

Step 1: Soak ’em up

  • 2 cups of dates, without the seeds
  • 1 cup hot milk

Soak the dates in hot milk for half an hour. In the meanwhile, read ahead, gather up the rest of the ingredients and then soak yourself up under the winter sun.

After half an hour, blend the soaked dates and milk into a fine paste.

Step 2: Going nuts

  • Handful of your favourite dry fruits
  • 1/2 tbsp wheat flour

Coat the dry fruits lightly with flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter

Step 3: Just beat it

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup curd

Beat the ingredients till they form a smooth mixture

Combine with the date paste from step 1 and mix well

Step 4: Shaken, not stirred

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cooking / baking soda
  • 1 pinch salt

Sieve all the dry ingredients together

Step 5: All mixed up

  • 1/2 cup milk

Mix the date paste (step 3) with the flour mixture (step 4)

Add milk, mix well

Add the chopped dry fruits (step 2) and mix lightly

Step 6: Time to bake!

  • Pre-heat the baking apparatus of your choice as you would normally do for any other cake for ten minutes.
  • Grease the baking tin with butter and dust the greased tin with a little flour.
  • Pour the batter and tap gently to level the cake.
  • Garnish with more more nuts, as per taste.
  • Place in baking apparatus.
  • Cook for 45-50 minutes (or till you get the sweet scent of heaven).
  • Check if it’s done by inserting toothpick / knife – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.
  • Patience, my friend – let it cool.
  • Transfer to a plate, and then, dig in!

Coming up in the next post, the very first cake I baked, without an oven or pressure cooker.