My Slice of Life column for the May 2nd weekend from Mail Today by India Today.
Bonds of Joy
Happiness comes when you have worked hard for something, when you are closer to your goals, and when you feel that you have arrived at a worthy place. Happiness always involves victory for the self. It is all about one’s accomplishments.
Joy involves the transcending of yourself, when your heart is invested in another. Joy can come from years of changing diapers, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen while cooking, or even just sitting with a friend or loved one quietly and watching television. Joy is a gift that life gives you when you give away all your other gifts.
If happiness is good, joy is better still. It is smart to enjoy happiness, but smarter to live mindfully and appreciate the enjoyment of joy.
Joy comes when you over-invest in friendships. Old wisdom tells us the difference between love and friendship. Love is two people standing face-to-face, staring into each other’s eyes; friendship is two people standing side by side, staring not at one another, but at the things they care about. Love is blind, but the affection friends have for each other is the opposite of blind. It is ferociously attentive. When you stop, a friend waits for you. When you falter, a friend forgives. When you weep, a friend weeps with you. When you are quiet, a friend listens to you. When you stumble, a friend holds out a hand to help you up.
Transparency is the fuel driving friendships. In this insta-world we inhabit today, it is very easy to create flash and fake identities and personas. We can live life as a performance. Afraid of rejection or hurt or being taken advantage of, we never show honest emotions.
But with a friend one never need worry about living a lie. We can be vulnerable and show our cracks. We can expose our weaknesses, trusting a friend will not weaponize them and use them against us. It is the only way to build an honest relationship. And honest relationships that are friendships and not emotional attachments are the only way we can ever experience joy.
There are things we do because our biology demands it. Some things we do out of chemistry, some out of habit. But nothing biological, chemical, or habitual can explain what drives a friendship. Friendship is about our soul singing when we watch another encounter good.
When you have those moments—when you are happy for a friend, when their happiness, success, promotion, beauty, celebration, makes you happy, it is then that you realize there is magic in friendship. We cannot make that magic happen. We can only strive to catch it when it does. At the deepest and most affectionate level, it combusts within us, without us preparing for it. It is a blaze of joy.
True friends see each other through the arcs of their lives. They share memorable moments, they smile together, cry together, support one another in the best and worst of times. They are there when the other is lost madly in love; they are there when the relationship ends, the bubble bursts, and a good friend is again the need of the hour. They are there when tragedy strikes and hope seems lost; and there again when the long, dark tunnel ends and hope is renewed. That is a friendship for life.
These are bonds that share joy and not just love between them. Love—happiness—lasts while two people fill certain roles, perform certain tasks, and share a certain connection. Friendships begin where love ends, and joy stays with us the rest of our lives.
My niece Tara Doraiswamy shares below what her twin sister Tishya and she have been up to during lockdown in New Delhi. They have been cooking from my books. My mother’s French toast is one of their favorites. That recipe is shared for you to make as well.
The period between April and August is, for the batch of 2020 graduating from school, the first in several years—and possibly the last time—we find ourselves free of any obligations. With no classes to study for, college decisions for many of us finalized, we planned to meet as often as possible and have time together before we all parted ways.
Covid-19, however, has evidently made other plans for us. And while that no doubt leaves us disappointed, let’s be optimistic for a moment and think of what we now have. We have all the time in the world to discover new things, we have the privilege of being able to survive in comfort, we have the power of connectivity to feel like our friends are right there with us.
And in my case, I have a twin sister going through the exact same thing, a twin sister to share these new discoveries with.
So, what have we been doing?
The last two years of our lives have been filled with exams, school, extracurricular activities and college work, and in that flurry of activity, I think we often forgot what it is like to simply relax. I once was an avid reader, but in the last few years, haven’t been able to complete even a single book. And so, that’s what my sister and I did. We read Ben Elton’s riveting plots, so suspenseful that I forced her to go to the kitchen with me at night (joining forces would help us scare off any serial killer). We read Murakami, admiring his simple but wonderful writing and stories.
And, like every other friend of ours, we’ve taken to the kitchen to while away the time. We began with helping our mother when she was experimenting with new recipes but soon got inspired to try some out ourselves. We’ve spent numerous late nights in the kitchen preparing desserts for the family to wake up to. Having each other as company as we’ve begun to dabble in cooking has made the experience even more enjoyable.
We often get bored, but it’s easy to get out of a slump when you have a sibling. All you need to do is annoy them till they agree to do something fun with you!
Mom’s French Toast
Serves 6 to 8
I use vanilla paste in this recipe as I feel it provides a gentler, richer vanilla flavor than vanilla extract. For an extra special touch, pulse some sugar cubes with lemon zest in your food processor and sprinkle over the French Toast before serving.
12 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 loaf day-old brioche or challah bread sliced 3/4-inch thick (about 8 to 10 slices)
3/4 cup demerara sugar
Whisk the eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla bean paste or extract, cardamom and salt together in a large bowl.
Pool a little melted butter onto serving platter or plates (the melted butter prevents the caramelized sugar from sticking to the plates) and set aside. Heat a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Submerge one slice of bread in egg mixture, turning the bread over to coat, and letting it get to the same softness as that of a wet sponge. Drizzle a little melted butter on the griddle, turn heat down to medium and place soaked bread on griddle. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar in an even layer on top of bread. Once bottom side is browned, flip over and sprinkle 2 teaspoons sugar over top. Once bottom is browned, flip again and wait until the sugar is browned, before transferring to a platter or individual plate. Repeat with remaining bread slices and serve.