‘Alice in Wonderland’ of FOOD!

Food has always fascinated me (read: to eat). It has been an integral part of the Varma household and for almost all Indian households. It is not just food; it is our culture! But my case was slightly different. In those days, when girls were groomed to be expert housewives, I was exploring a career that was in line with my talent, passion and capability, besides putting me on sound financial footing. This way my struggle was manifold, compounded with the impending role of a homemaker.

It was never a career choice for me and luckily my parents realised this early on. They were confident that I will adapt to it as ‘fish takes to water,’ whenever the situation demands. How I wish, it was true, and I didn’t have to learn it hard way…

Varma ladies: My badi bua, choti bua, Suman bua and Vimal bua (as I addressed them) were expert cooks and cooked every meal with a lot of passion and emotion. When mummy joined the bandwagon, she adapted to the food culture of the Varma family in no time. So, while growing up and gorging on delicious meals and cuisine doled out by Varma ladies (Amma included), I never knew what a stupendous task it was. While remaining sharply focussed on studies and other activities, I never checked what went on in the kitchen as mummy managed it with elan. I just had to tell her how many friends are coming over for dinner or lunch. Rest was taken care of.


My food adventure is unique, till now life was smooth, it was when I joined UP Government Undertaking as a Class I officer in the early 90s and was made part of the hospitality committee, reality check happened. I surprised everybody with my extreme lack of knowledge about cooking. I did not know what was the price of potatoes, tomatoes, bhindi, eggs, mutton, chicken, masalas etc. Forget, how it was all being cooked. As I closely watched mummy cooking and instructing her helps in the kitchen, I picked up in no time…(courtesy: My gene pool of phenomenal cooks). This was the time when Sushri Mayawati Ji was CM and our department was under her Ministry. She loved hosting lunches and dinners to Dignitaries, Officials, NRIs, Press…whatnot. She was very particular about hospitality arrangements including food.

Paani poori

Now we started having regular meetings with the Head Chef of Hotel Clarks Awadh, (Only 5-star then) and my knowledge zoomed after few meetings. For the first time, I came to know that running a kitchen is nothing short of running an enterprise, be it home or five stars. My understanding of food began from the Awadhi food there like what combinations to serve, what spices to use in kebabs, biryani, chole, paneer, pulao, veggies, lentils…list is endless. How much quantity to be taken and how to enhance flavours to be in sync with food of that region.

Impressed by my steady progress, I was made to select the menu for every event. Amidst adventures and misadventures, my love for food progressed. I love to talk about food, write about food, discuss food, review food, taste food and explore the history of every cuisine etc. I was professionally involved with the newly found love of my life – Food.

Lucknow is home to some exotic dishes in the world, I loved exploring these to know more about specialities. This way the “Food Wheel” of knowledge started rolling. 

But managing the kitchen was still a distant dream…

My mummy encapsulated it beautifully, Jaise Jimmy(our pet Pom) nahane se bachti hai, waise hamari beti Kitchen me jaane se bachti hai!

So, what happened when the ‘moment of truth’ arrived, marriage beckoned that too in a Gujarati family, for whom food was nothing short of a religion. I was like ‘Alice in Wonderland.’

I am running an initiative on Instagram with hashtag #quickylunch to help all those home makers who spend countless hours in kitchen, to save for some #MeTime.

Wait for writer’s Part-II of Alice in Wonderland on for her tryst with Gujarati Food

  • Bienu Varma Vaghela


I have a very vivid memory associated with the film, though it would have cost me my job, on the first day of joining itself…

The movie was recently in the news for completing 22 years and its star cast tweeted about memories associated with the film.

I too, have a memory to share as an Indian movie lover.  

Read on to know, how & why?

Circa: 1999, June 21. I joined as Executive Editor for a publishing house in Mumbai, which came with the biggest incentive of being closer home. I was tired of travelling to Nariman Point in my current job. I was in Delhi when things were finalised and I agreed to join on the said day on phone.

Happily, I reached the office at the given time, got introduced to everyone which was followed by a marathon meeting with Editor-in-Chief, in which he kept on talking most of the time. I got down to my work, understanding the publication, work culture, team and brief interaction with the design team, the day started nearing completion.

Suddenly, I noticed some activity in the office, people dressed in corporate attire walked into the office. I was introduced to them and I came to know that they were from Delhi – Regional Office. After exchanging pleasantries, I was in for a bigger surprise, which was nothing short of a shock for them, too.

A strategy meeting was planned at 6 PM in the office with me being the focal point. Nothing surprising till here…

Till now, there was no formal announcement of such a meeting.

Now was the time to move, I walked with my bag on my shoulder to call it a day as I had some urgent work. So, know what transpired?

“Leaving?” asked one of them.

 I said “Yea”.  

The straightforward, innocent soul that I am, I replied:

“I have to leave, as my husband is waiting for me at the theatre for the movie: “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”

Now, there was a weird expression all over, one of them said,

“You are married?” I said ‘yes that’s how I have a husband.’

One of them quipped, “Now don’t tell us you have a child also”?

I said yes, “I do have”

I said, ‘Can we please have an update about my personal life tomorrow as I have to leave now?”  

Now was the time for some strong comment, “This meeting has been convened for you and it’s a monthly strategy meet and we have come especially for that.”

I replied, “But why I was not told earlier about it, now I can’t change my program last moment like this.” Now walked on Editor-in-Chief happily and his right hand updated him about the fate of the meeting. His face dropped. Several expressions like shock, remorse, irritation ran through his expressive face. Somehow, he managed to ask me politely, “Bienu can’t it be changed.”

The expression on the faces was, “Aise to kaam chal chuka sanam’.

I firmly declined the proposal as I was in a great mood to watch this Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie, which was creating waves all over.

Going by the Bollywood buff that I was, there was no question of sacrificing the movie for anything. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, it was such a beautiful movie, which happened in a long time. It had all the ingredients which warmed the cockles of my heart, the story, the dialogues, star cast, music, direction, locales…were just exotic.

So, what happened the next morning? When I reached the office, I came to know that the meeting was rescheduled for that morning. I was in a great mood after watching such a movie.” I profusely thanked the team for this first-day shocker.

To date, I don’t regret my decision of opting movie over a meeting because it was “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.”

Trivia about the film:

Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) is a free-spirited but spoiled rich girl who falls for the half-Italian, half-Indian Sameer (Salman Khan), a young man who moves to her family mansion to study music under her father (Vikram Gokhale), a royal singer. Sameer falls for Nandini, but she is already arranged to be married to lawyer Vanraj (Ajay Devgan). Distraught, Sameer returns to Italy, but the newly married Nandini continues to write to him, intent on reuniting with her lost love. Her husband takes her to Italy to make her unite with her lost love.

 The film stars Salman Khan in lead role along with Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai. It was filmed throughout the Gujarat-Rajasthan border region, in addition to Budapest, Hungary, which was used to represent Italy. The film was premiered in the Indian Panorama section at the 1999 International Film Festival of India. 

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam received a leading 17 nominations at the 45th Filmfare Awards, including Best Actor (Khan and Devgn), winning 7 awards, including Best Film, Best Director (Bhansali), and Best Actress (Rai) and Best Male Playback (Udit Narayan).


#BannaBanni #UPWeddings

Banna Banni are traditional wedding songs sung as a part of the marriage ceremonies in Hindi heartland, UP. Marriages are relatively more elaborate in UP, as celebrations start few days before the wedding, with the Banna Banni evenings by ladies of the family, friends and neighbours. The singing is accompanied by Dholak and maybe harmonium, sometimes, which is mostly sung as a chorus by ladies.

The lyrics are traditional which are inherited by generations and nobody knows who has formally written them. Our grandmothers sang, who learnt from their grandmothers and passed on to the next generation without any significant effort. The seamless transmission of this artform needed no technology.  

Banna Bannis are a way of telling the girl what her marital home would be like, how she has to adapt to that family and live happily ever after with her husband and her new family members. But these are not preachings or teachings, these are teasers that are sung in a particular style so that girls and boys get the message, what would be their life like after marriage.

Mostly, Banna Bannis lyrics are hilarious where in-laws are teased in a lighter vein. Ladies sing these beautiful & meaningful lyrics in their sweet voice joined by other ladies, where not a single sur is out of sync. Dholak never missed a beat! That was the beauty, which meant so much for every family. So much so, that bride and grooms were addressed as Banna Banni during this period and not by their names.    

Starting with “Dholak-ki-thaap” these would end with beautiful dance moves by ladies of the family. Starting every day around 9 PM, these will continue past midnight. All ladies dressed in their jewellery and finery will come prepared and bring along their diary, which they refer to while singing. When one particular group is singing, another group gets prepared for the next. So, there is no gap, it is a constant churning of geets one after another. It is also a great occasion to meet and greet and enjoy with the bride’s or groom’s family members. Piping hot tea, samosas, chips and jalebis add to the fun, particularly in winter marriages. All ladies were handed over a packet of elaichi moti choor laddoos while leaving. 

I remember, banna bannis were an integral part of marriages in UP and as children, we enjoyed these evenings very much. These are not just banna bannis but cultural carriers and part of our heritage, which were passed over from one generation to another.

But with changing times, DJ and Bollywood style ‘Sangeet Ceremonies’ have taken over marriage ceremonies and banna banni nights are losing ground. The young generation of UP wala’s living in Mumbai wouldn’t even know what banna banni is all about. I recently heard some great banna banni’s on renowned folk singer Malini Awasthi Ji’s son’s marriage, which was covered live on FB and I enjoyed these very much.

The onus is on our generation to preserve this dying folk art form and pass it on to our generation so that they are aware of India’s culture of music and dance. I owe my love for this folk art of music to my Suman Bua, who sand banna bannis so melodiously in all our marriages… her sweet voice, great stamina and emotional rendition, made all the marriages in the family truly special. Love you bua for this…

(Unfortunately, she left us too soon). 



I started watching OTT platforms during the last lockdown and I was introduced to this new world of Television, by none other than my daughter who asked me to swipe my credit card for a Netflix subscription. Not knowing much about Netflix, I agreed as she convinced me that you will get to see some amazing documentaries which I love to watch. This way Netflix entered the Vaghela household which was followed by a subscription for Prime Video…this time the factor was that I will get to watch old and retro movies. Another rather funny factor was, that with Prime Video you get free delivery on all orders of Amazon, hence huge savings round the year. So, it looked like a Paisa Vasool deal and the subscription was also reasonable. These were followed by many more…

…So off and on I watched some interesting documentaries on Netflix and as the addiction grew, I started moving on to watching movies, shows, serials …whatever you term these…new-age lingo.

Coming to the content of the serials or movies like Tandav (faced lot of opposition), Sir, His Story, The House Wives, Bandish Bandits, Bombay Begums, Kaagaz, Silence, The Family Man, Jamai 2. Qubool hai, and the list is endless…

…Being a content person, I noticed that undoubtedly content was unique, production values slick, stories unusual, locales exotic, acting great, camera work excellent along with highly advanced technology deployment. Everything was good enough for viewers to remain hooked. After watching many of these, I realised why there were talks of censoring the content shown on OTT platforms. My curiosity grew, and I noticed that these platforms are misusing this platform by taking undue liberties particularly with the choice of subjects. These touched upon many taboo subjects prevalent in society, which are just not suitable for family viewing. And they don’t touch upon these cursorily, they are quite explicit while filming these scenes, use of expletives and overall language etc. So much so that nothing is left for imagination … which is easily avoidable. Imagine, such content has entered our drawing rooms and has caught us unaware of its consequences. Their plea must be: Indian audiences are changing, getting mature by the day. But does maturity imply that audience is served the content which they are unable to watch with the family?

India has a unique culture where children are loved and elders are respected and they stay together. Such taboo subjects are not discussed openly in Indian households. The culture and traditions of the nation and the family are passed through generations in a very unique manner. Children are not being told openly as they learn their way and nowadays the internet is the biggest teacher. The parent’s role in these matters has been compromised.

Serial makers should not serve such stuff explicitly which is an attack on Indian culture, affects the human psyche and tears apart the social fabric. They are taking this freedom for granted, and when censorship comes into force, they will cry foul. Hindi movies were always ahead of their times and made some beautiful movies on these so-called difficult subjects. Even in the closed doors of theatres we were not served with such content.

Yes, it is very difficult to filter shows, which ones to watch and which ones not to watch, but monitoring by a family member is a must. Though you may face resistance here, it is needed. The government needs to come into action to contain this frontal attack on Indian culture and save society from further degeneration.

I hope Government is listening…oops watching!

  • Author, Life: An Existential Cocktail   

Are we languishing?

Oh! You are also not aware of what is languishing?

Never mind! I also came across this term recently – during the second round of lockdown, precisely.

Life teaches things in its unique way, that’s why it is said that ‘You never stop learning.’

Last year (March 2020) when the first lockdown was imposed amidst the thick & fast spread of the Coronavirus, we were shocked, surprised, apprehensive, whether any such thing is possible? There were many questions: Will people stay home 24×7? Will children not go to school? Will husbands or us will not go to offices? Will local trains stop? Will flights suspend? Will malls, theatres, hotels, restaurants etc. remain closed? Impossible!

But it was made possible…we stayed put and voila! in what style and spirit. We thrived online; the internet became our lives’ saviour. Everything swiftly moved Online in no time, mobile became the go-to gadget for everything. We started experimenting with our hobbies as we saved huge travel time and costs. Music & Cookery apps ruled the roost, where we presented ourselves as great singers and even greater chefs. Zoom meetings, Online classes became the norm. As we were getting used to this life, restrictions eased and life looked crawling to normal. Alas, it was so short-lived!

Come March 2021, we were back to square one, the virus was even more ferocious than its first avatar. The situation became scarier. This time young and old passed away in equal measure due to Covid, numbers were constantly moving northwards. I think there is no family which has not faced any casualty. The Mahabharat over Vaccination followed by shortage of Oxygen cylinders and hospitals charging obscene sums provided some great fodder to news channels. They were on a Corona overdrive as if nothing else mattered (in a way true).

In the meantime, media was agog, beds were full, hospitals were stretched, so much so even crematoriums were scarce. What horrible, pathetic and depressing scenario emerged? Oxygen, which I knew till now, we received from plants, became the rarest of the rare commodity. Everybody was gasping for breath. There was positivity galore about Covid and negativity galore about recovery.

This time, our first lockdown’s lifestyle did not excite us…a depression started seeping in. We felt so lost and so uncertain about the future…death looked like the only reality. We got scared of planning the future, self-doubting our own life! The loss of loved ones filled our hearts with regret particularly when we watched them going in want of ambulance, beds, hospitals, Oxygen or medical aid. Life looked impossible.

Now, the excitement of 2021 is waning, with nearly six months down, things are not looking up, the way they should have been. We are still standing in the dark tunnel, unable to figure out what the next morning would bring. We are still not able to move and mingle freely even after vaccination.

All this and more has taken a toll on our mental health. It isn’t boredom, it isn’t depression per se, we are feeling unhappy and uncertain, aimless. We are in a state which is termed languishing – swinging between stagnation and emptiness. This is the predominant emotion of 2021.

Is there a remedy for this alter ego of depression?

Yes, just feel the flow, enjoy the flow, remain calm and composed. Send positive vibes, shun negativity.

I know, it is easier said than done but doable!

Do it! Do it!! Like my fitness trainer says,

 And we: We Just Do it!

  • Author: Life – An Existential Cocktail