◊ What Doing?


Dear mom,

You’re probably the busiest jobless person I know.  Mah Jong, volunteering, attending dinners, blogging (!), entertaining…

Thank you too for the glimpse into your life. It’s comforting to know that the intensity with which you approached your career is consistent in your daily tasks, and I loved the pics! Cups of coffee in the living room with you and dad… so tempting!

But… like…  what are you doing?

It’s not a nice question, sorry. It’s just that right now I too am running, running and at the end of a breathless day, I wonder what it was about.

Last time I was in Bhuj, living in a local fishbowl, I’d wake up to early morning pounding and find Heeran, my 12 year old neighbor, standing at my window. He’d sing, “Hi Simmy… What doing?”

“Heeran, get lost,” I’d sing back.

Now that I’m back in the Bhuj, the song is on repeat, heightening my anxiety with each play:  Simmy… what doing?

And then I read your letter. Oy vey. While you’re taking pride in my “accomplishments” (ha!), I’m trying to make sense of it all. Don’t be fooled: I’m just as scared as you are.

Simmy… What doing?  

I’m scared, scared, scared that I don’t have an answer.


I tell myself:

I’m curious about craft production as a catalyst of social and economic empowerment of women worldwide. India is the world’s hub for handcraft, and I’m here to explore the craft sector.

Sometimes I admit that I’m here just because I missed it when I was in DC. But when people ask me what I missed, I panic. I rattle lame answers: the people… you’re so kind; the food… pani puri!; the colors are brighter in your country…?

Those aren’t answers either.


The past few days, I’ve been visiting Ismail Khatri – India’s Ajrak guru and Kutch’s natural dye expert – and playing with his family’s carved wooden blocks in Ajrakpur, a blockprinting village about 40 km away.


Sometimes it takes me 45 minutes to get there – sometimes it takes over 2 sweaty, bumpy, angry hours.

Yesterday, I went to Ajrakpur and cooked Gajar (Carrot) Halwa with Ismail’s daughter in law, Hameeda. We shaved carrots until my triceps shook, and I thought about my food processor at home. Ismail brought wheat stalks from his family’s farm to his wife who shucked their grains to be pulverized in a stone grinder. One of the sisters skimmed cream from fresh curd to make ghee.


IMG_4771When we were finished, Sufiyan, Ismail’s son, asked if I wanted chai.


Goat milk or buffalo milk?


Do you want to milk the goat?


It was a whole day.

What doing?


I’m playing.

Playing frisbee in the white desert

Playing frisbee in the white desert

Why India?

I’m here because I like me here.

At home, I try hard to connect to processes, but catch myself hoarding joy only in final outcomes. Here, processes consume my life, so I’m forced to pay attention to how they make me feel. If I were to count on final products to fulfill me, I’d rip my hair out.

Indigo obsession

Indigo obsession

In India, I can’t shove veggies into a Vitamix or get into a taxi with confidence about where I’ll end up or know that my stomach will absorb my lunch or recognize whether my words/hand motions will translate into their intended purposes.

So… paying attention to my feelings… while I’m playing…  is what I’m doing?

I scream at rickshaw walas. I bounce strangers’ babies on my lap. I get too excited about vegetable colors in markets and in vats  ready to swallow printed fabric. I get really, really bored.  I sweat. I smell, I touch, I taste. I feel.

The good news for you is that I can do these things anywhere. I just have to learn. And I’m here to learn.

Love you and I miss you too.

Gajar (Carrot) Halwa


It’s so so easy… I’m imagining only 5 minutes with a food processor.

In India, it’s tradition to serve Halwa to guests. Each region has its own ingredients and variations, but Gajar (Carrot) Halwa is my fav. It’s auspicious to serve this indulgent, nutritious and special gift to guests upon their arrival. It could also be perfect on your Passover dessert table or as a dressing for Matzoh Brei with cottage cheese. I have a feeling dad will love it over ice cream.


  • halwa6 cups peeled and finely grated carrot
  • 3 cups full fat milk
  • 1/4 cup cream or half and half
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped cashews or pistachios
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tbs grated unsweetened coconut
  • 5 fresh cardamom pods, peeled and crushed


Serves 12 – 20 guests, depending on how many other sweets are on the table.


Wash and finely grate the carrots.

Heat ghee or butter in a heavy pan over a low flame. Add the carrots to the ghee and stir continuously for 5 minutes. Add milk and cream and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots and milk thicken – stir occasionally for about 15 minutes. After mixture has thickened, add sugar, nuts and raisins, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add cardamom and stir. Serve warm over ice cream or on its own. It’s also tasty cold!




For the sake of our readers, I’ve adjusted this recipe to be a bit more healthy than what is typically served here. In India, many people use Mawa in place of milk (Mawa is milk and sugar cooked down to a crumbly solid) and add much more ghee than I’ve suggested. Many Indians living in the US substitute ricotta cheese for Mawa for a Halwa that’s more familiar. You can also substitute a 1/3 c condensed milk for 1/3 regular milk for a sweeter, creamier version. Semolina, sweet potato, chick pea flour or mung bean flour can easily replace carrots for a heartier version of this recipe. The semolina version is a great breakfast, but you’ll have to wait til after Passover!

gallons of gajar and roasted semolina Halwa being cooked on the street

gallons of gajar and roasted semolina Halwa cooked, served and eaten on the street

Last week, I stayed at a friend’s family’s house in Udaipur. They served me Halwa upon arrival and stuffed me with Rajasthani dishes. Here in Bhuj, I’ve eaten Halwa made from mung beans, chick pea flour, “white carrot” (white sweet potato) and semolina. My stomach is expanding with each home visit, but to deny gooey, sweet Halwa would be like rejecting potato knishes from Bubbe – an offense that I can’t even imagine!

PS. See more of what I’ve been doing:


Frisbee in the Rann. It’s salt, not snow.


The Khatris have generously allowed me to print some of my own items… dangerous. I did socks, a tank and a long sleeve shirt. You know how I struggle when you take me to get my nails done, selecting at least 10 colors, narrowing it down to five and ending with each nail a different color? By the time I sit down for my manicure, everyone else is already under the dryer. It’s how block printing went too. I selected over 25 blocks, laid them out, changed my mind again and again at the last minute ended up combining a bunch of miss-matched “border” pieces. The process of elimination doesn’t work when I select a new block each time I put one back.  And then came the agony of deciding which dyes I wanted to use. All of them!


Milking a goat for afternoon chai.


Making Chai.


I know.

photo jaipur

Got my portrait taken on the street with a camera from the 1860s. The whole thing was done right there on the street – magic. I found the photographer, Tikam, in Jaipur after reading Heidi’s Pumpkin and Rice Soup Recipe. When can I get my own mini dark room?


Never knew sugar could come in so many shapes!


Rajasthani sweet shop – LADOOOOO!


Pickle wala. Omg. Need to find a good recipe for Gujarati mango pickle. My dinner for the past week has been mango pickle + curd + veggies + sprouted dals. Perfect.

5 thoughts on “◊ What Doing?

  1. hello Shaina : )
    i completely understand your “i like ME here”. Enjoy your return to India. They say that we should never go back to where we were happy once, but i dont believe in this. Give the Khatris my best and hopefully in this year i will return too. Until when are you there?
    * MJ

  2. Pingback: ◊ Really? | cross counter exchange

  3. Pingback: Passover Ideas From Both of Us | cross counter exchange

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