The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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A Friend with Style and Class

I cannot recall when/how I chanced upon To Universe with Love, a personal/lifestyle/fashion/travel blog, penned by Archana Paladugu. I read one post, then another, and kept going. It has now become the blog I check every morning. Archana writes with candor and honesty, sharing her views on sustainability, style, ethical consumption, travel and more. She has a loyal base of readers whose comments generate useful conversations and information. I am real happy that Archana blogs regularly, and in the event that I go to her site AND she has no new post up… I simply go read an old post, then another. There is enough stuff on her site to keep me reading and re-reading.

I asked Archana if she could write a guest post for me, and she agreed.

Popular blogger Joanna Goddard has a series titled Beauty Uniform where she quizzes women on their style philosophy, beauty tips, favorite products, etc. I created a set of questions for Archana that was loosely based on the ones Joanna asks on Beauty Uniform. So here goes…

What is your daily skincare routine? 

I really enjoy the ritual aspect of skincare. Buying products is one thing. But consistency is what makes the most difference for my skin.

AM : I cleanse my face with graham flour. And apply sunscreen.

PM :

Cleanse : graham flour

Serum : SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic or SK-II

Moisturize : May Lindstroms face oil

I was given Retin-A by my dermatologist this December. I usually forget to use it but been meaning to include it somehow. Being aware of all the toxic ingredients in it somehow makes it harder to pen it into my routine.

Do you have a game-changing beauty product?  

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic acid. You should have seen my skin when I lived in Arizona. I was outdoors a lot. My skin was in a terrible condition with sunburns. Once I got religious about using the antioxidant and layering sunscreen on top, it improved tremendously. I have hyper pigmentation from those days which always resurfaces when I don’t use it.

Do you have any non-beauty rituals that help you feel great?  

Inversions. Go for a run. At the end, stretch by touching your toes. The rush of blood to the face and the warmth can be felt. It gives me a glow throughout the day. Wheel pose. Hand stand. Shoulder stand. Head stand. I feel great when I exercise regularly and smartly.

Yoga. I have tried meditation and never could get into the zone. Then tried the moving meditation — Yoga. It’s made a lot of difference in how I feel during the day. I am addicted to it. I try to sneak it in, come what may during the day.

I sip on tea all day long. My tea contains dried herbs, white tea leaves, ginger, lemon and turmeric. I have a desk job and having something to sip on is comforting.

The blueberry green smoothies I drink everyday helps too. I don’t like yogurt or milk products. But I add a spoonful of it to my smoothie. It’s camouflaged by the fruit and I would have gotten my probiotic needs for the day. I try to include some raw food in my diet everyday and it’s convenient to blend it up. My skin gets a visible glow when I am consistent with my smoothies.

Do you have any unexpected physical traits that you love?  

When I exercise regularly, I grow visible muscle. I really like the look of them on me. It’s hard for me to put on muscle and easy to lose it. I have to work hard at it. And love it when I see the results. Does this count as unexpected?

Do you have any stories of regrettable beauty moments or experiments-gone-wrong? 

Not using sunscreen is the biggest. One day, I read some article on how most urban dwellers don’t get enough Vitamin D. I then decided I wouldn’t apply it on my body to “catch some sun.” I used to bike to work and my hands were getting too much sun. I had a dozen sunburns in no time. I tried to cure it in my kitchen by applying yogurt and aloe. I was keen on treating it “holistically.” But it kept getting worse from the regular sun exposure. One day, a coworker saw the scars and asked me about potential domestic violence at home. After that incident, I went to a dermatologist who helped me heal it.

When I first moved to America, I didn’t know how to cook. Neither did I know how to eat when there is no one spoon-feeding me. I was buying zero-fat ingredients and making sandwiches for every meal. I soon “dried” up literally and became very lanky. Good fats are very important for hormonal balance and for proper functioning of organs. I am pro-healthy fats. It wasn’t an intentional experiment but more ignorance on my part about what to eat. I learnt how to cook and feed myself over the years.

What is your bedtime routine?  

This is not exactly a recommendation. But lately, I have been falling asleep listening to a book on Audible. I need to read before bed but I am too tired to these days to read. So I listen.

Have there been any important women in your life who taught you about beauty?  

Not really. Most people I know treat taking care of oneself as vanity and unnecessary waste of money. Every thing I do, I taught myself by trial and error.

How does food play a role in your beauty philosophy? Are there any foods or drinks that help you look and feel your best?  

I grew up in the household of a dermatologist. He has taught me about the skin being a result of four factors: genetics, the general state of health, the surface, and environmental factors.

We eat a lot of home-cooked fresh food. I make it a point to get my dose of probiotics and raw food in my diet everyday. I exercise. I do these for my well-being more than for beauty. I treat it as one of the contributing factors. I would not rely solely on the food to be my skincare. I need the external and internal nourishment.

What do you like most about your look?   

Nothing and everything. I don’t single out facial/body features anymore. Being critical like that only brought me self-confidence issues and I have stopped thinking that way.

Do you have any style inspirations?  

Yes I do. Georgia O Keeffe. Not in the way that I want to buy items of clothing that she wore. But in the way she approached dressing. Our views on aesthetic, art, life, love, modern women, style, clothing, … match.

Last but certainly not least, what’s your overall beauty philosophy?

Find sustainable happiness. Work on something that you love and are proud of. Everything else will fall in place automatically. I don’t want to be remembered for my clothes or appearance. I want a legacy that changes the world in some way. I am most confident and feel beautiful when I am happy.

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Big Feelings

O Kerala, I have Big Feelings for you.

But it is a complex situation. A lot of love, an equal measure of nervousness, a hefty dose of the imposter syndrome, a heart full of pride (misplaced?)… it is all in there.

Let me explain.

I am a born-n-bred Mumbaikar (or Bombayite, as we were called before the city’s name changed). I grew up in this heavily populated behemoth of a city, crazy and gorgeous and polluted and filthy and magnificent and majestic… It is easy to run out of adjectives when you talk about Bombay. The city is maddening and aggravating in all these ways but it only takes a quiet Sunday morning for me to fall in love again. And it leaves me breathless. And like many other Mumbaikars, I also feel that this city is still young, wild and raring to go. And I am the old one here. I, who always thought of myself as the young girl who grew up in Bombay, am now the middle-aged woman. And Bombay is only getting started with her youth and wild days and colorful nights.

Us Mumbai folks speak many languages. Most of us speak Hindi, or some version of it. Either the grammatically correct one (if your family hails from North India) or the Hinglish version (if you liberally mix English in), or a third kind (which has Marathi words thrown in). I am sure there exists a fourth type, and a fifth one too. To put it simply, we (or I) speak a smattering of languages. My apartment building had many families originally from Gujarat, so Gujarati is another language I have a fair understanding of. Then there is the matter of Marathi, spoken by so many of my friends… so yes, I can follow a good bit of Marathi too. Oh, I forgot about Tamil, another language I was exposed to in my childhood.

That leaves Malayalam, my native language, my mother tongue… It is the language spoken in Kerala, the southernmost state in India, known as “God’s own country,” where my family hails from.

As a child, I spoke Malayalam at home. I even learned to read and write it at school (for four years). We watched Malayalam films, visited Kerala every summer vacation, met up with extended family, cousins and friends regularly… All in all, I had a decent grasp of the language, and I was comfortable speaking it (albeit with some English thrown in).

But then it began to change. For one, I married a guy whose family came to Mumbai by way of Gujarat, and they spoke Gujarati. Of course, that proved to be an advantage for me because I follow Gujarati pretty well. But then, my connection to spoken Malayalam suffered. Next, I moved to the United States, and that did not help either.

Like every expatriate, I spent a few semi-frantic years trying to keep the connection alive. I hunted up favorite Malayalam films on Youtube. I got hold of Malayalam books so I could maintain my knowledge of the spoken word (that one remains intact till date). Despite massive apprehension and fear of looking/sounding foolish, I took (and continue to take) every opportunity to speak Malayalam with fellow speakers, even as I am nervous about using the correct tenses and phrases, etc.

All in all, I am unsure and lacking in confidence but I desperately yearn for improvement. I want to be the girl who switches between languages flawlessly. I want to be that effortless individual who can navigate languages and cultures with consummate ease.

The truth is that I am not that individual. I hope to attain that image someday but it isn’t my current reality. I will (forever?) be the girl who speaks/writes/expresses primarily in English.

And all of this may have been perfectly acceptable, if not for the fact that my heart beats loud and proud for Kerala. I take immense pride in the fact that I have roots there. I couldn’t count the many ways I adore God’s own country. Kerala’s sights and sounds, tastes and fragrances bring me home every time. My love for Kerala is probably irrational in many ways (and I think it may be the case with my father too, another hopeless romantic). It is based in nostalgia, family, sensory recollections, language. It is a bit of a strange affliction, not shared by my sister who had a similar upbringing. Is this notion all romantic, and more so, because I live abroad? Perhaps. But I am a romantic, just like Daddy, and that’s probably why both of us are crazily in love with Kerala.

I once wrote an old post where I quoted, “You can take the girl out of Kerala but you cannot take Kerala outta the girl.”

Leaving India has only made the Kerala-shaped corner of my heart beat louder.

As for Malayalam, I will continue my adventures. I may look/sound foolish but I am not lacking in sincerity.

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Attention

I have recently got acquainted with a person, let’s call them M.

M is a dynamic individual, bursting with ideas and optimism. M could be termed an evangelist of sorts, because they want to infect others with their ideas. They genuinely believe in the beauty and efficacy of their plans, how it all makes perfect sense… and that all I need to do is say Yes.

(Do you know this person too?)

You cannot but be charmed by this individual. And that includes me as well.

I thought it was the sheer energy, their boundless enthusiasm and good cheer. Then a less flattering (and more truthful, perhaps?) idea dawned.

Maybe I was gravitating to this person simply because they were paying me attention. And lots of it, undivided and dedicated.

Maybe I craved attention secretly, and then pretended that I couldn’t stand it? Was I a total hypocrite?

Maybe not. These traits play out below the surface, and some kind of training (awareness, introspection) is required before you can even detect their presence. All I can do is pay attention myself to these hidden dynamics, be gentle on myself, breathe out and let go.

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