The Karo…na staycation!

o now we are all on a forced vacation– at least I can call mine that! (Karo…na is a parodied version of Corona, in Hindi which means, do it not). But since the government has put us under this forced vacation, it has indeed put us there!

Why?

Because I recently got over with the writing of the doctoral thesis, so it is a much needed break…utter break that I am taking after July 2016. I never took such a break, or any real breakthere was always so much to do academically (while there is still more to do now as well). So I was hoping to go around, meet friends, be with my parents, eat out a bit, drive around Delhi- Noida etc, meet a few neighbours that I had been promising to before plunging another time into the deep end of writing, more writing and riyaaz (and more in music research).

Yet, one good thing happened last year- that I watched a lot of gardening videos (in my last blog post my friend Vishu said I may be taking another degree in gardening as well, alas! this much is enough. But thank you the idea is interesting Vishu) strange as it may sound, while I was writing the thesis, I was also learning about growing vegetables, about cooking food (I am a reasonably good cook, but learning more things) and more gardening videos, not to mention all about politics (globally). Have been reading a lot of research in social sciences and medical sciences for several years…so the mental activity has been humongous. And I was really looking forward to applying my gardening ideas to the garden, where else. It was planning to grow vegetables… been planning from last year August how to expand the gardening space. Naturally one can only do so much when it comes to horizontal space, which means going vertical. So I also watched myriad options of how to create that vertical space- over months and budgeting for it, slowly adding one little thing at a time.

Anyways, the long and short of it is that now that the time came to implement those ideas has arrived…it seems I really have to implement them with my own hands! The gardener has stopped coming; he is anyways always too happy not to! And here I am saddled with all the seeds, manure, coco peat and whatnotDSC00150

…and of course the space, which is asking for lot of work because the plants are overgrown with weeds and asking for work, beds are asking to be cleared among other things. I was just outside clicking a few pictures for this post and I saw a huge amount of tomatoes growing, and I have only recently learned the mistakes I have made with growing tomatoes, for not having put the support they require. Nevertheless one always learns from mistakes and so am I. Especially when your gardener is not proud of his farming roots and he wants to do the little dainty flower gardens and not hard core vegetable patches then one is left to one’s own means to figure it out.

Among the gardening videos there are several channels I follow. One of them is this person who speaks in a very funny manner but his ideas are very good and at least a couple of them have been tested by me. And as one outcome I have got these results exactly by the method he told me seedlings of bottle gourd

If I take you on a tour of the garden just for a moment, you would know how much work is needed here!

the spinach bed needs to be cleared soon

Spinach and lettuce

lots of tomatoes

Abundance of tomatoes

asking for a lot of work

These beds have tomatoes, nasturtiums, radish, green onions, lettuce, coriander all growing together. This corner is asking for a lot of effort among other locations around the house

After these issues there is more work, I mean planting more seeds, or make seedlings first and then planting them. there are scores of things here in packets and let me first get them up and going before talking about them. Already some seeds have sprouted, as I showed above- bottle gourd and now these- amaranth (chaulai- very rich source of iron etc). Right now these seedlings are very small and they are at the seedling stage only. But since this photo is taken from a height it is not easy to make that out.

red and green amaranth

But this is not all that is required to be done in this house, manned by one  academic- musician, but also two dogs, and cockateils, fish etc

There is a huge amount of work just to keep this house in order, and working. I cannot claim I can do so much work- which includes cleaning, cooking, dusting, the plants, the birds, the fish, the yard, which I am just about to show here-

 

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This is the amount of work required, and this does not include the basement which I will keep closed and the guest room ditto, until the household staff returns. In addition to keeping this space reasonably clean on a priority basis, the first being the kitchen and the dining area

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Ginger under the dining table. Just see how her underbelly is all red with the itch and scratching, though she sleeps here peacefully

This above photo is from the time when Ginger was still with us…so this is a nutshell of the space that needs to be kept clean in addition to the washrooms!

So while there may be people who are wondering what to do in this staycation, I have no dearth of work thanks to the 360 degree life I live! So these areas are as follows, just by way of summing up

Minimum daily work-

  1. Bath, exercise and riyaaz (first thing in the morning)
  2. Kitchen- cooking for self and dogs (separate meals obviously), this also means the two outside dogs, + doing the dishes and organizing in their separate locations, which are many and cleaning the kitchen!
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kitchen

2. Birds– cleaning the bird cage and giving them fresh food/water- both the inside birds and outside birds. Also putting the birds out in the morning and bring them back when it warms up

3. Fish– food twice a day and aquarium cleaning once a week

4. Watering all sides of the garden- three sides

5. Cleaning the front yard– I mean by washing it and drying with wiper

This is the minimum work required to be done daily, whether or not I can do anything after that.

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The front yard

Biweekly tasks

  1. Cleaning bathroom/s
  2. Teaching music classes online- every student twice a week online (two students in-person)
  3. Learning music – once/twice a week with my own teachers
  4. Going to the market for grocery shopping since there is nobody getting milk etc for me!
  5. Washing my clothes and doggy linen

Optional work that needs to be done as per discretion/requirement

Planting new seeds/plants

Removing old plants and reworking the soil for next season

Writing (research) articles

Working on the next project

Reading research- in mental health and now Covid-19!

New musical compositions for teaching

Bathing dogs as per schedule

Counseling clients as and when they take appointments, usually online

As anyone who reads this can comprehend, this leaves little time to watch TV or anything else. So at most I may watch news on the phone and of course also turn on the TV occasionally. There is hardly any time for the phone, barring sporadic messages- which are more often than not work related. And after this if any time left check social media (facebook, linkedin, quora etc).

I can do with longer days or more energy

Oh! I forgot walking the dogs and now Rhythm just came to nudge me to remind me that I have missed it, just in case! (also time to take them out). It is a 20-30 minutes walk at least.

Now that my whole day is in front of everyone who is curious how I am spending my quarantine period, I think you have a clear picture how much there is to do here! So if I am unable to come online and answer some queries, you would understand.

OMG! this is really a lot of work, let me not read it again lest it overwhelm me 🙂

Another addendum: in all likelihood my ‘home-manager’ is likely to report tomorrow because she is also bored sitting at home. So let us keep the fingers crossed.  Possibly I would be able to focus on my whole specialized tasks than managing the chores as well, god bless her!

Delights of winter gardens in North India

Gardens always carry a potential to bring delight, peace, centering and a scope for developing calmness, reflexivity and a philosophical approach to life. I am not going to delve into these issues here though, because this is only meant to be a little blog-post, chronicling musings that emerge from watching things develop from beginning to end and seeing them go down again- life coming a full circle again and again. Or perhaps nothing at all of that nature also- only a simple documentation of what grew and what it looked like 🙂

One can classify things in diverse ways, I am thinking of my flowers here, or should it be flowers and non-flowers? Or should it be edible versus inedible plants? Plants distinguished on the basis of the colours of their flowers or those that are creepers, shrubs and herbs? I was thinking for a long time (not continuously of course) of how to classify the flowers, and finally for this season I am thinking of doing it by colour! Or may be not! So let’s see what emerges from looking at the (photographic) data- yeah! now being a researcher soon to get a degree confirming that (hopefully somewhere in the near future) I can begin to appreciate the fact that even photographs are data 🙂

So how about I begin by the first photograph from this morning, for this is the most updated version of my garden. Tomorrow is a different day and everything will be different tomorrow, as gardens can change quickly. But today or just now, things look thus, with of course variations in light.

I have been keen to write things down because as always many things emerged in the garden for the first time this year and I am quite thrilled about them. One of them is what I would call-

Free blossoms

I mean of course if we can call anything that! So let me share a collage of those that appeared, from seeds that fell from last year, sprouted in due course on their own. These are the best presents that came to me from Mother Nature- free blossoms that I spread around the garden once the saplings were strong enough. No, I mean three varieties sprouted- poppy, nasturtium and larkspur. It was only nasturtium I spread around the garden- these are very delicate plants and do not withstand much transplanting. But first here are the poppies, that grew on their own, much to my delight and surprise. And more so they sprouted all over the house- backyard, front lawn, flower pots around in several locations.

Next I am posting here are the nasturtiums- which I managed to spread around the garden though they were initially located in two locations alone. Since there is a profusion of different flowers , for those who do not know which one I am referring to, these are orange coloured, having round leaves, like the lotus though much smaller in size than lotus leaves. In one of these photos it is very clear indeed. For the first time these year I was ready to support the plant climb, as earlier, I was not so attentive. This is one of the two creepers (the other one is sweet pea that I have never grown). So this plant has grown to considerable heights this year in many locations, which is quite a thing to see. It has climbed trees- including the curry leaf tree on side side, the harsingar tree on another side, and few other locations on sticks that I planted for support.

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I have very few larkspur plants that are around, and they are only flowering now, so I am not going to post their pictures. Instead I will take a photo from last year’s larkspurs only. That also brings another beautiful memory of my darling Dash who passed away, last year in June. These multi-coloured larkspur flowers were more profuse last year.

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So all these above are the free blossoms that came out of the earth- I did not plant them at all this year, because either I had forgotten to buy them (all of them grow from seeds, not saplings that can be brought from nurseries). Naturally enough this was a tough year and I hardly stepped out to go to any nursery, though I did venture out one! (incorrigible that I am). From here I go over to the double blossoms…let me clarify after I post the pictures first.

Two blossoms in the same location, one after another

 I need to say something here about the angles of the pictures- one picture is taken from standing along the line of the colourful chrysanthemums from one end of the garden, while the other has been taken from the opposite end. By double blossoms I mean the same bed was used to grow both these set of flowers- the first set on the left was sown in August and it bloomed by late Nov, December and early January. By mid-Jan they were all gone and we cut the plants, removed the dead flowers (though we have left the plants in the earth itself). While these flowers were beginning to blossom, we had planted the Salvia saplings in three batches. Now they are all flowering- one lot is the regular Salvia which is posted above, one lot I grew from the seed stage and a third set is from saplings which came in saplings that are called hybrids- bigger saplings which one is certain they would grow. Let me see if there is a photo of these

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In this picture one can see Salvia plants which are much smaller than the ones that are flowering in front of them. These are barely as tall as the dachshund here, whereas those others are as tall as my shoulder.

Vegetables this year

I am very keen to grow more and more of my food, so this year has really seen a lot of them at least being attempted, not all successfully so. But trying is the first step to succeeding and that is important for its own reasons.

I grew many things this year, more than last and hopefully less than the next. I did get to eat a huge amount of lettuce, spinach and a decent amount of radish (actually very small). And I grew methi (ate only once!), coriander, garlic, onions and ONE beetroot if you please (the birds ate the rest 🙂 ). I also gave lettuce and radish to others, principally my mother, and why wouldn’t I? I hope to give more and more away in the times ahead. I shared saplings also much earlier so that others would grow them as well- especially lettuce.

Dahlias and geraniums

This year I have had the best dahlias until now, the biggest dahlias to ever grow in my home. These were three-four  – the biggest were the white ones, and the smallest were the variegated red ones. The other colours were orange and purple ones. I absolutely loved all of them and I now realize that Dahlias are best grown in the pots, not earth, because the earth ones go out of reach, where they cannot be given fertilizer which is their due.

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Geraniums were entirely grown in pots, while dahlias were planted both in the earth and in pots. Geraniums have grown in big bunches in three locations around the house and I am posting a few pictures. I have not been able to click the biggest dahlias as it is not always possible for one tends to forget doing so much work, and clicking photos is certainly no priority. Despite that I manage to click many and none of these pictures are taken with my mobile phone which is much easier (because I do not know how to upload mobile pictures on my computer!)

Then I must note here about the solitary packet of seeds that flooded the house on all sides, amazingly…the allysums

The packet of Rs 20!

This was one packet that I sowed myself, I mean not me but the gardener, so we sowed them in one long planter, and lo and behold, in a short span of time there were so many saplings that I not only gave them to one neighbour but also spread it profusely around the house- and the results were so wonderful that every time I looked around, it was a source of joy, and smiles

And then are the other beautiful beings,

Pansies, phlox, antirrhinum, etc>>>

And of course the utterly beautiful cineraria, which is another delightful sight to the eyes. Here is a set of cineraria plants, which are growing in many locations around the house. The colours are blue, white, and purple with a few shades.

And here is a mixed lot of all the above flowers- which are phlox, antirrhinums- which grow only in one location yet have gladdened my heart every time I have looked at them, not to mention verbena, with its multicoloured hues…purple, red, pink, magenta, white etc.DSC00091

This brings me to the end of this post and I leave with one last set of pictures of the flowers mentioned here and not yet inserted into the text .

But this is not to mean that one is not going to mention about the planning which is underway, for the summer in fact the life ahead, because I have invested a lot of money for these structures, having thought about it for the last few months. DSC00069

These are three stands of iron …created to house more plants, and planters constructed especially to fit them, by order. These gray coloured trays as are visible here for now have seedlings growing for the summer ahead. And the plan is to grow whatever can be in the house, by making mistakes as usual, learning as I go along. But then someday in the future I would be eating what I grow, minus the grains of course!

So here is the last set-

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‘Coming home’ in 2020

I mean, I changed the header image 🙂

I changed the header image after a long time, because when I put any picture on my header I believe it represents me in a significant manner. For the first time I have put a picture of my front lawn that I took earlier this morning. It shows the peaceful early morning hues that I wake up to everyday. Of course the hues, colours and light keeps changing the whole day and depends entirely on the season. And the garden that is there on all sides of my house remains a testimony of how Mother Nature is responding to my efforts in honoring her presence in my life.

Earlier this winter the same lawn looked this way, especially the front row which now has a long line of red Salvia growing, it was full of chrysanthemums. The lower photograph is the spring look of the same bed where Chrysanthemums grew in the early parts of winter.

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A full bed of chrysanthemums from this morning, 24th Dec 2019

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My front lawn on 22nd March 2020

Not just another doggy tail or passage

Some dogs are so special, such important parts of your life that one thinks l…o…n…g before writing those words of goodbye that one must, to acknowledge that indeed the hands of time have moved, and life gathered your beloved pet, companion and soulmate into the folds of its long gown and slithered away. It is a week in calendar terms today, and it has taken me considerable effort to sit down now (8:15 am) on my computer to make these jottings.

 

It is not to say that Ginger alone was special, but Ginger was the one who came first and left last, and that made her special in her own kind of way. I cannot but go back in time, time and again and how the images of her entering into my life flit past in quick succession- the first encounter on the service road of a big highway (Mathura Road) and the vet who had brought her along to palm off a sick puppy to me, without telling me so She was, so to say, my first official dog- not that there wasn’t another before her, but she was the one that I alone brought home, taking a quiet decision about it and dealt with the whole thing from the beginning. She imparted me with a great sense of responsibility and a little, sick puppy who came coughing (she had pneumonia then) became the harbinger of all that was to change in my world, soon after.

She was very ill, and the vet who had palmed her off just wanted to get rid of her and make his money. She was an outcome of a breeder’s farm and the runt of the litter– nobody had wanted to take her. That is how I got her, because I could not have paid what it took to get a Golden Retriever- I was a poor, dependent, ‘mentally ill’ person myself, with no job, having no life of her own, and not sure whether there was anything to live for. The year was 2006, I was 34. Today when I look back at that life of deep

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This is the kind of basket she was crouched in

solitude, suffering and uncertainty and think of the young people who struggle with labels of ‘mental illness’ I feel they are much more empowered than I was then. There was no social media, or if it was there I was far from that world. Not to say that social media ever proved to be good for me in any real manner.

Anyhow, going back to Ginger- the day she came it was Diwali, so it is easy today to look up and find the date, am just about to do it! Oh, so google tells me that Diwali was on October 21st in 2006! So well, that is the day she entered into my life, my world and my home- that sick, coughing, terrified pup,  so lanky at four months (born on 6th June as she was) that the man who had brought her had put her in a vegetable basket, the sort in the picture above! My maternal grandfather was also sick at the same time, and he was coughing away with pneumonia  or bronchitis in his last days then. And then came a sick pup doing likewise. My mother was aghast to see this, for she had just met her father coughing and here her daughter had brought a coughing sick pup home 😦 Nobody can say she was pleased.

Yet, I was besides myself with joy, and immediately wanted to name her ‘Lakshmi’ as it was Diwali, but my grandmother was adamant- for how could I name my dog after a Hindu deity! And it took a bit of humming and hawing before I would settle down for a name like Ginger- who nevertheless soon had to be started on steroids and antibiotics, for she was really very ill . The vet I had known in Noida (Rappai) came to my rescue and for many other situations I have referred back to him for long since and before. But that was Ginger then- in a manner of speaking rescued, and ‘restored’ in time. The images fall in front of eyes like droplets of rain and can I ever capture them on a blog-post? Seems unlikely and neither I wish to attempt such a big thing here. It is not a small time I am sitting here to chronicle, but a relationship of nearly 14 years. In fact had Ginger lived, she would have been 14 this year in June (6th June 2020).

Seeing or sensing that perhaps another dog would do us good, or may be I thought that she was lonely (was I projecting myself on her?) I decided to get another and that was to be Nikki- the most adorable, sweet, loving animal anyone would ever ever get to know. I remember the day I drove down- to Noida once again, to get Nikki- also from a breeder! But that lady was not into breeding Labradors, only Cocker Spaniels. Yet for some reason she had this particular labrador. But this is not about Nikki- but how Ginger encountered Nikki when they met. Nikki was over-joyed on meeting me and I thought it seems this pup has a past life connection with me (how silly!) that she recognizes me from some other time, seeing her recognition and joy at meeting me. She was going bonkers around me, flapping her little tail as though she had only been waiting for me. So even though, I had only gone to ‘check out’ the pup (though cautious enough to carry the little money I had) leaving such a doting pup there, made little sense.

So I quickly bundled her up into the Zen car I drove those days. Me, Ginger and Nikki- both pups in the backseat. I also gave them a chew-bone each to munch while we covered the distance back home. But Ginger was so upset with this new situation in her life, while Nikki was least concerned. For her having a family and another sibling with something to munch on seemed like a safe enough proposition to start a new life. By the time we returned to our home, she had not only eaten both the chew-sticks but also defecated in the car! So that was the start of our new life with the second pup. Naming her was another story, but I wouldn’t get into that here.

So life kept on its quirky road, with a person as quirky as I could be- then came Raga, the German Shepherd and life was never the same –

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These were the dimensions of their size once upon a time- Ginger and Raga , and small wonder Ginger would never accept Raga’s dominance for all times ahead, no matter what the consequence

In October 2007, a year after Ginger entered my world, I moved to Faridabad- with my three girls: Ginger, Nikki, Raga (GNR), and the year after in 2008- December came Dash, adopted from a family in Gurgaon.

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Today all these are just words, and memories– so many memories, so many people, encounters, neighbourhoods we lived in, a village in South Goa, cities- Delhi, Faridabad and Margao … Ginger held on as all dogs went down – my brave little angel. It was not in vain though- she held on until I had written the first draft of the PhD thesis. And perhaps this PhD would not have happened at all! In 2015 I was in conversation with two universities in the US for a doctoral research. In Stony Brook they were very kind and welcoming. In fact the lady I was in conversation with also put one of her doctoral researchers in touch with me and we had an email exchange and then a Skype chat as well. She was intrigued that I had published so much already- she was also working in mental health, an American woman, a little older to me. As these conversations unfolded I was living in Goa- the time was July 2015 or thereabouts.

While they showed interest in my possible application to the university I was uneasy about the fact that I was in Goa and I had these four  dogs around me. Finally I had to move one way or another- I wrote an email to the young academic and bowed out, admitting that since my animals were all ageing it was not possible for me to leave them and study in the US. I had internally imagined the scenario that they would be old, requiring care and would I be happy doing the PhD in cold New York? That lady was kind enough to understand my reasons and that was it- no more PhD for me!! At least that dream was shattered… Until (surprisingly enough) providence brought another opportunity in September 2015 soon after, which indeed is what I pursued and bring to completion now.

So the reasons that I began this PhD- my geriatric canine family proved the case that I was indeed right  in not taking up the opportunity of a foreign degree, while they lovingly watched over me  struggle with the PhD year after year- each of them leaving me, gently changing their own course…one year after the other or a few months apart…

Raga- 23rd October 2017 (the youngest)

Nikki- 8th June 2018 (utterly unexpectedly)

Dash- 28th June 2019 (just a day of being ill, really has not made sense until today)

and finally Ginger – 29th January 2020

It has taken me a week to write this, not only because Ginger left or that it was sudden, because this is a huge shift in my life- a demographic shift, a change in situation that I had not put at the forefront at any time, thinking they all had more time. Dash’s demise was certainly very shocking and Ginger’s- plain unexpected. This is not to say she was strong, or well. She was fading, getting weak, yet until the very end, barring the last one week moving around, demanding food, engaging with everything. Then her eyesight completely began to fade and I realized she was falling into the plants and I decided to guide her on a leash.

The last three days were  heartbreaking, the sort of time you really wish it would end. She was crying out in pain throughout the night. I could not put any medicines in her mouth because I knew it would not matter now- the same that I would want for myself. If I would pet her she would calm down- but I could not for the whole night and my arm would be frozen outside the blanket, though I did for several hours. I mostly managed to sleep for one or two hours at most. But in the day she would sleep peacefully  – while I could not sleep to that extent. She did not eat for full five days and that was a sign to me that this was it!

None of my dogs had such a painful demise as Ginger. I wonder if it was due to the fact that she was such a strong-willed, tenacious girl, who held on despite the pain or was it something else? She had not given up much earlier as well, even when she was considerably weakened by this very deep mange issue that I treated for her, but her immunity being compromised since young did not help the matter. We tried scores of oils, baths, treatments, antibiotics, anti-fungal treatments – oral or topical, you name it sort of thing. Then in the early parts of the winter she also had another case of aural hematoma . I did not do much about it this time because in the earlier case when she had developed this in Goa I had a surgery performed and was so unhappy with that experience that I figured that if this can heal on its own in a few months (as I read and figured it out) I would just leave it for now. And my poor darling resigned to her fate- quietly let the hematoma, the mange and age get to her slowly, as I poured in the CBD oil and everything else to make it comfortable for her , to whatever extent feasible.

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This winter has been biting cold for us and I kept Ginger especially protected because her condition did not permit me to cover her with any garments, unlike the other two. At least the cold did not get her, she was safe, secure and warm- until the end. It was other things.

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Ginger under the dining table. Just see how her underbelly is all red with the itch and scratching, though she sleeps here peacefully

It is not just Ginger who is gone- it is that big loop, which started with the entry of my dogs, and that was to change me forever, coming a full circle. I have no grief, only a deep sense of loss and tears that I find unexpectedly welling into my eyes- sometimes while looking at something, lying in bed or reading something. The home is the same, the dachshunds are sweet and playful- yet the passage of an age cannot but be acknowledged and accepted. It was not just another dog- it was a companion who came to change every possible formation on the chessboard of my life. As I write this down, tears that have frozen in my eyes finally find an outlet and this is a sign that yes, I have come to terms with it at least in some measure- I have taken seven days to muster the courage today to write these words down. All my darlings, no longer in front of me, yet forever with my soul who have merged.

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There was something beautiful and auspicious about her, a little different from all others too. Imagine her coming in on Diwali day and my whole gloom and loneliness was replaced by a small, sickly pup. Similarly the day she passed away was Basant Panchami– a day I am very fond of, amidst all other days in the year. She passed away on a day that means a lot to me- another harbinger of change of seasons, celebrated, special day. Her passage was a relief for the end was very painful, especially the long time of throwing up and diarrhea – which I cleaned innumerably. It was tricky to keep cleaning from both sides, and I could not believe she could throw up so many times, for she had not eaten in so many days.

 

 

I have no words more to say for now but that my sweetheart, my darling is gone and gone is that part of my life where my dogs made me what I am today. I owe it entirely to them to become what life was to make of me, finally.

Friends, blog-readers and family, who would like to leave a word of remembrance or any other comments are kindly requested to post them at the bottom of the post itself and not on any social media platform, which would be lost forever. Hope this is not a trouble for anyone

A decade of ‘recovery’

2010-2019 gets over in a few hours now. An eventful decade, full of recoveries, adventures, love, friends in all parts of the world, flowers, homes, family, books, research and more. Phew! woof! what a decade it has been. Not easy to capture in a blog post, so it would be foolish to attempt it. Instead I will focus on the word ‘recovery’- silly though it may seem.
But then this was a decade which began with my ‘recovery’ – a non-drug dependent recovery from bipolar, in 2010. I did not know then when it all started that I would someday be studying my own recovery, through the lens of a researcher. So this was the decade in which I was slowly morphing from a psychiatric patient, overwhelmed by her bipolar diagnosis, to a self-trained researcher. The testimonies of that started coming in the previous decade when I had peer- reviewed publications, though I had not yet turned the researcher’s lens on my personal story.  Moving out of psychiatric medication also brought about that change. And then came those early attempts at documenting the ‘recovery’ from how I understood it then- three journal publications in 2011, 2014, 2015.

2014 was another year of adventure when I moved with the four dogs I had to live in a village in Goa, and meeting with the Goan countryside was an experience I will remember for long, perhaps until the end of my life. I often think of my landlord Hyginus as the only person in Goa who was really fond of me from the bottom of my heart. Little did I know how attached he became to me and my dogs, and so emotionally dependent upon us that once I left his house after a year of being there, within two months he passed away. Not that I was in any way responsible for it, but his loneliness and sense of abandonment was so acute that it ate into his very soul and killed him. A simple man constantly misunderstood and rejected his whole life, a single child of parents who were extremely poor, who by dint of his labour and traveling on ships for a living gathered a lot of wealth, building four houses for himself and his family- all throughout rejected by his wife and sons, due to his deep dark complexion.

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My Raga stands in Hyginus’s side of the house and on the inner side of the gate was where I lived myself, while he lived on the other> The gate was put here to confine the dogs to my side of the house.

Life can be unfair. Seeing Hyginus and his heart, or how people treated him or how they perceived him, how he struggled to keep up his dignity, living in a small part of the house he had created and letting out the bigger one to one tenant after another got him an income and possibly some company, though not all tenants were like me. There had been an American lady who perhaps stayed there six years and another English couple whose length of stay I cannot recall.

There were many others I met and befriended in Goa, but there was no substitute for Hyginus. However another person who is a dear friend until now is Mina- who interestingly I met at a vegetable vendor’s, in Fatorda, Margao. So we are the best of WhatsApp friends nowadays as I have kept busy with research and writing, keeping away from all friends, for want of my ability to manage time. I remember seeing a very exquisite part of Goa once with Mina, we both drove down in my car, though I forget the name of the place now. Having a car with me in Goa was a great blessing for it gave me tremendous mobility and freedom, without of course the ability to figure out where to go! Google maps were not such a rage then, as they now are and that curtailed me somewhat. Not that I knew anyone anywhere to go visiting them anyways. The Goan adventure was just over two years, which enriched me yet brought me to a place of peril- which became a turning point for me to return back the same 2000 kms I had gone. It was a heartbreak to return and build all broken fences/bridges.

But it was also facilitated by the fact that I had gained entry into a doctoral research, by a sheer dint of fortune (how else to justify it). So at least this was the time when my acumen as a researcher got established as a certainty and I entered university with nearly eight peer-reviewed publications in tow, perhaps the highest a researcher entering into a doctoral program would be having in most parts of the world.

May be there is a time when a person needs to morph from being a producer of research articles to a producer of books :). With the completion of the PhD research I hope to complete that part of the journey of my life. This (doctoral) research has been a very interesting, yet difficult journey of research, replete with spinal issues and another attempt at recovery – of my bone health this time, recovering my lost self from the abysmal darkness of mental ‘illness’ and then diving down at the deep edge to understand recovery more fully, thoroughly and minutely. A few days back I wound up my first draft thesis and sent it to the supervisor, who has finally shown some interest in my work and has understood that I am doing something quite interesting. Otherwise all this while half the time she did not even respond to my emails. Until now we have only had a brief ten minute phone talk once in 2018 I think- which was so useless that I decided never to talk to her again until I reached the very end. Having finished the first draft of course meant that now the time had come to get back to her and share the work I had done.

Coming back to Faridabad has also meant recovering my life from all the lost years, nay decades of life, rebuilding the life of a musician by first setting up the music school (that I intend growing in the new year), and then starting out my counseling practice, from both of which I have so much experience now that it merits another scholarly endeavour of writing!

And this decade has also meant losing Raga, Nikki and Dash and welcoming Rhythm and Floe into our lives. I do not know now whether it is fair or ethical to mourn the ones who are gone, which also includes my grandmother in 2013 or celebrate the new arrivals (which means all the children of my brother and sister as well)  but in keeping with the infinite flow of life we can only bow to the passage of life, and accept the inevitability of this motion. What is here today will be gone tomorrow and the circle will go on unceasing. It is comforting yet not when you lose someone you love. I still ache in my heart about my dogs.

Making friends with wonderful people all around the world has been another enriching experience and I have begun to value the nature of these friendships which bring people together for ideas, rather than other selfish needs or fear of loneliness. And the range of people is big- from scholars, academics, to artists and therapists, students and whatnot. Students have a special pride of place in my heart- not only because of the bond of a teacher-student  but how we enrich one another on a fairly regular basis. It continues thusly.

Andre keeps busy and his & my lives are interwoven in a deep, yet distant manner- My Phd years have been tough on him and us- for I have not had the mental space to accommodate him/us, overwhelmed and forever tired as I largely have remained, for most parts. So this is where things have brought me at the end of the year or decade. Steeped in work I do, passionate about the work, in deep meaningful connections around the world, full of ideas, musical compositions and ideas, always on the move with research and doing all the latter without any financial support from other than family resources. It has been quite a venture really- but well worth it I suppose.

And with this goldmine of knowledge I move into a new decade, whose numbers also look so musical, especially because I am born on the 20th of a month. There is rhythm in this year ahead and there is Rhythm in my home…and dogs go on with their doggy lives, chasing rodents and up with their playful barking as researchers like me turn grey in their locks.

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Rhythm the dachshund

A decade of recovering my lost self, gaining myself back from the suffering of mental illness and a decade which brings me to my emancipatory road of taking this knowledge into the wider world around, with this doctoral research as I now begin to wind off. I hope this earnest labour of years spent alone racking my brains, interspersed with the doggy lives, and music classes will be well worth in the year ahead.

And I hope that anyone who drops by to read this post will also be enriched in their lives further and possibly this post will bring a sliver of hope to some that they can also overcome their suffering no matter how daunting it appears at the moment. It is still meant to be overcome for this is the destiny we are all born with. So here comes a decade of taking the knowledge of recovery wider and catalyzing more people’s recoveries via the counseling work I do.

Thank you friends for reading and for your interest. I wish you a beautiful time ahead and hope that the change of the calendar will weed out the useless and bring in the goodness. May it be so- may there be flowers in your gardens and may all your earnest hard work bring you all the blossoms you have earned.

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A full bed of chrysanthemums  in December 2019, and the dogs and birds on the far side of the photo

A special year, ending…

Yesterday was a special day, or may be this whole week is. I am tired, relieved, at rest, trying to be at rest and in general very relieved. Naturally enough, a long stint comes a full circle. But I think this illustration says it even more succinctly…

 

Ha…but say whatever one can, finishing the dissertation is a big deal for everyone. And that is where I am today, since yesterday. So officially the full dissertation was sent to the supervisor yesterday, 23rd Dec. Three years, five months is what it has taken to get to this point. Oh yes, I must admit the trajectory was something like this

But that is how life is always, yes? So why expect anything different from the Ph.D process. But anyways, the less one talks about it the better it is.

I am so relaxed and deeply tired that I am not even able to savour these moments!! Oh no, nothing of the sort 🙂. Paradoxically I am not tired at all- I was wondering what the matter is. And then I remembered how seamlessly I have woven the idea of peace and joy into daily living, notwithstanding physical troubles, whatever anyone can have with reduced physical activity. In this blog post I intend looking back at 2019, and to the gains I made, the people I met, the work I accomplished, the writing I managed and the plans I now have. No I am not putting the plans down in the post, but in a general sort of a way, just laying a little road map down for me.

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A new unusual lily flowered this year after over two years of just having leaves. This grows in my backyard

All through the thesis writing process I have been itching to write scores of journal articles and quickly get down to working on a book about the work I have done in the Ph.D., document the counseling successes I have been having in these years, the musical ideas that are constantly churning in my heart. It has been a very torturous yet extremely, extremely enriching experience. And the biggest enrichment is the fact that I have done this work sitting at home, surrounding by my loving/taxing family- principally animals, birds, my students of music coming in/out of my home/life, my counseling clients likewise and my family, my partner, and the changing contours of my dog-pack. The dachshunds are extremely young and active, vivacious and full of beans.

The publications that appeared

This year started with a first publication in the EPW. It was an impromptu piece, written as a reaction to something that had garnered a lot of eyeballs then. There is an Indian politician calling another politician unfit to be in politics due to her past of mental illness. Both are well known, and it raked up unnecessary controversy, the way the gentleman Subramanian Swamy is accustomed to! I have shared a copy of the same. It was a piece I wrote in the shortest time in my life, about a few hours. It took a couple of weeks to publish as I had first sent it to The Hindu newspaper, but perhaps I did not send it to a proper email!

Then the editor of EPW invited me to write an article on the occasion of the general elections in India, and I grabbed the opportunity, which was around the 15th of March, and I had a deadline of a fortnight. I managed to meet the same. But just in this March (on the 2nd in fact) my Ph.D. supervisor told me to submit the thesis by November-December. Technically my time with the university is till 28th July 2021, and I was hoping to submit by Feb 2020. But her words made me focus on it like looking at an arrowhead (without looking left or right). But one of the key reasons I bit the bullet (about writing the article above) was that it was an opportunity to question the goal of psychiatric treatment- and talk about ‘recovery’ as a concept, in short advocacy. Anyways by the end of the dissertation I now know how contentious the idea is and why my friends from the West are so appalled at the idea of recovery in psychiatric literature. I have come up with a new sort of formulation, though it is not new at all. It is an extension , or rather mirrors the evidence that began appearing in the US in 1970’s.

The third article was in fact a first I had submitted to the EPW- it was sent in October 2018, though getting to see the light of day in June 2019. I questioned the co-option of peer workers by psychiatry, in some new ‘innovative’ work they are doing in Gujarat! Sadly June was the month when I unexpectedly lost Dash my baby. He would have been 15 this month, but nay his life was suddenly cut short. In a way one could be happy that he did not suffer the way he could have, had he an illness, yet the suddenness does not let me reconcile even till now!

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Here is Dash, another winter, by the spinach and lettuce beds in the backyard

And then came the last, the first in fact, a journal article which first brought me in touch with Canadian academics. An exacting and thorough process that also,surprisingly, gave me a lot of clarity about my whole research, or at least the methodology part of my work. This article had begun in 2017, the usual life of a peer reviewed article. In fact it was April 2017 that I proposed an abstract for it, which was accepted and I had to submit a first draft by August 2017. So finally that article published in July 2019, a true blue journal article after all 🙂

Dash’s loss has been a big one, and Ginger continues to decline steadily. In June she also turned 13. Right now her hind legs are giving way. She was the first pup I brought home and she is with me longest- it is amazing.DSC01275

She is old, fragile, frail and quite dependent- even to pick up her rotis. Flow the little rascal has figured he can steal her food as she cannot run after him and he does manage it if I am not watching sometimes. In other words, I not only have to cordon her off after giving her a roti, but also make sure he is not locked in with her! The baby/dog gates I have around the house are very useful for these little adjustments, especially when you have little rascals doing all sort of thieving around! If you see in this picture I have to keep her hair very short, due to the severe skin condition she suffers from. And naturally she cannot be covered with any clothing. But since she is so senior, she remains in her bed mostly and I on my part make sure she remains covered with one or more blanket or whatever else is required. I have also had to muzzle her at times for otherwise she ends up nibbling on her body a lot. We are also working with her using CBD oil which the younger sibling is ‘supplying’ nowadays. Of course her innovations are going great guns and we are also benefiting in diverse ways. Of late she has also embraced the Chinese Chi-practice and god knows when she would soon be a Zen master as well 🙂

There have been many experiments in the garden and newer adjustments, giving the frugal budget I have had as a researcher, but things are quite interesting. I do not have pictures at the moment but I am growing many new vegetables for me this winter. Currently there is radish, spring onions and garlic growing for the first time, along with the regulars- spinach, lettuce, coriander, and tomatoes. But here I am going to put a gallery of all that grew in the summer and what grows as of today, Christmas eve in the front lawn (not every corner of the house). The creeper that I had grown on the main entrance has also nearly covered the breadth of the gate. The latest changes will show on the next blog, if I write about the winter flowers again or about life in general as it takes off in 2020. So here is a gallery with garden images from around the home until today.

 

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One of the nicer experiences of 2019 has been getting to know like-minded academics from all around. And I am certain I have written about Jasna Russo elsewhere whose work I absolutely admire and love. She recently got her Ph.D from Brunnel University and has taken up a teaching assignment in some German University. But there was another person whose work has been very influential for my work, and that is Canadian sociologist Heidi Rimke. In fact upon reading her and Bruce Cohen from New Zealand I figured that sociology ought to have been my parent discipline. But at the time I was studying I did not know about it and by the time came to know any better I was out of the ‘system’ as an outcast, ‘invalid’ (if I may say so about myself). I find the greatest resonance in Sociology of all the disciplines though I have not worked much in it, or just seen some ideas from a distance and tried incorporating some in my writing. That is why I was even toying with doing a post-doc in sociology of mental health. But I think so much academics will keep me away from working with people directly, something I do not wish to postpone any further- even though consolidating ideas is always interesting to a chronic or, may I say, congenital researcher like me!

I am putting in two more sets of photos, one is of the weaver bird that made a nest in my garden and Andre happened to spot it when he was here and we steered clear of it. I pray to god the babies survived, even though I could not see them. But today when I uploaded the camera photos I realized they were hiding in the nest which was well tucked away from the eyes, woven into the leaves of the chlorodendron creeper.

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One set is of the bird family and in another set I am sharing the animals and birds around this little home of mine.

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So this is a bird’s eye view of all that went around and goes around, leaving little time for boredom and fatigue. When tired I just drop dead like the dogs and then get up to work another cycle of this nutty cycle. There is so much going on in disparate dimensions that one side keeps offsetting another constantly- nothing accumulates, nothing tires me and I hardly ever get bored! And as far as the world is concerned- there is the phone for those close enough as of course the car, and the social media for those who are separated by one degree or several, depending upon the degrees. On the whole it is interesting, colourful, a lot of responsibility and enjoyable.

And even though I have shared a picture of these flowers above, I still insert it once more for this is the latest one from today and even tomorrow morning when I wake up I will see these flowers in my garden. I also wish to share what an email from a friend just said to me. It was such a beautiful message that I want to put it down here, before it is lost in the pile of emails. In response to me sharing that I had finished the first draft of my dissertation she said,

Congratulations, Preeti! This is such wonderful Christmas news. It is symbolic of you as a gift to the world, generously sharing your lived and learned knowledge in this colossal milestone. The first draft is the hardest part, and I look forward to cheering you on as you move to the finish line!
Well done!!

So sweet and kind 🙂 Thank you my dear friend, it is friends like you who have been instrumental in me taking heart to carry onward. for instance had it not been for Ramakant-ji, I would have quit long ago! ON that note I wish everyone a beautiful season filled with love, kindness and sharing. May there be peace and joy to the world.

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Dogs go on with their doggy lives as the cockateils bask in their enclosure, and we all enjoy the sun for whatever it brings to us on a cold winter Christmas eve, while the winter annuals continue their growth in the baskets readying their colorful hues for the soon to come spring.

Meanwhile this is the grim reality of Ph.D life and I cannot say I have been an exception to it-

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Must leave with this beautiful, utterly beautiful piece of music

Peace as daily practice (for me)

In a world filled with millions of reasons for dejection, anger, helplessness, loss, suffering and other such oddments the practice of peace cannot but be a mindful endeavour. We cannot just say ‘peace’ and not engage with it at a behavioural or action level. Only words are mere rhetoric- they mean nothing because they change as the day changes. But cultivating a practice is a difficult task, which requires us to watch each of our actions on a constant, non-judgemental, detached manner, and also change it whether it is out of sync with an inner compass of peace.

I accidentally stumbled upon the fact that today is the World Peace Day. And of course we all associate the dove with peace outwardly.  But how to cultivate such kindness and non-violence is a challenge we have to constantly remind ourselves of. It was good that I learnt of the day early in the morning and I chose to remain aware of my actions for the whole day. This was a practice of wakefulness by itself.

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I happened to have a mixed day- there was a new client for counseling and an old one that I wanted to review things with. There were students of music and there was the big water issue on the domestic front that I have been struggling with for a few days now- which necessitated me to buy water for the first time yesterday and keep calling plumbers every single day- paying money everytime not knowing whether the issue is resolved or not! It is a pain to deal with so much domestic stuff, especially when it jeopardizes the work one is engaged with at the moment.  This is the last phase of my doctoral dissertation- yeah, this time also had to dawn finally. There is considerable work done and more planned ahead. I kept thinking of the idea of peace and whether everyone is really working towards that in their life, or whether it can be achieved in un-awareness.

And these are the thoughts I thought about my actions, of late. The academic work I do is towards searching for a solution in mental illness. In a world full of mental suffering perhaps the way ahead is to help people deal with their suffering and enable them to look at suffering in a different manner, or assist with changing the frame of perception. Well, that is what one can do in cousenling, but in the doctoral research my goals are somewhat different. And I think considering the violence I have faced from my university, the fact that I could still cultivate reasonably good habits, and not plunge into any depression was itself the outcome of a deep inner calmness that I have identified and learned to engage with or recede into frequently. And of course, also to recognize my triggers for anything- whether anger or hurt or pain or whatever else. I cannot say these emotions have not visited me in the three years and more I have been doing this work now. As a matter of fact, they have been frequent and regular companions…yet never could they overwhelm me or derail me to any significant measure.

Peace is not a thought for me any longer, or an aspiration– but a daily habit which needs to be practiced at every level. I cannot shove disturbance in a corner and think about attending to it when I have the time. This produces stress, and a majority of people do that- push the uncomfortable stuff out of sight so that it does not bother them for the moment. Actually it only recedes from sight, but not the mind- creating stress and pressures slowly on the mind and then body.

This is what leads to all health issues as we grow older- the violence we create for ourselves in our day-to-day life, the lies and the deceptions. And people do not even know they are deceiving themselves, at least not on the face of it. Deep down there may be an awareness- in the depth of their heart. But then, most do not listen to their heart at all! So naturally they are tuned out of themselves and their actions tuned out of any sense of propriety, peace, decency and morality.

How to cultivate peace

I cannot say that I have an answer to it already, but certainly it is a quest, how to deal with the daily violence of living in a world full of self-promoting, self-serving and self-loving individuals and not become one like them, at least all the time? Perhaps the only answer lies in awareness. The greater the awareness about every single action we perform, the greater is the likelihood that the action will be performed in awareness that it should not violate anything- neither in thought, speech or action. The greater then is the likelihood of being non-violent. But non-violence should not be confused with inaction- not performing any action, for that is sloth then!

Equally important is the way we spend our time. If we spend our time in killing time (watching TV for instance) and not producing something worthwhile for the world, which contributes in making the world more peaceful and beautiful we are shirking our responsibility. For instance as a researcher if I do not love what I do and I do it because it gives me a degree (which a majority of people in India do research for), and not the absolute love for knowledge, or making a worthwhile contribution to society- then the only love I have is for MYSELF- because I want to embellish myself with the most I can. And since my values are attached to a certain respectability that a degree gets … every act, even of research, is only self loving and not knowledge loving, not love for society or anyone else either. It is only to secure a job or get a promotion or ensure continuity in the job- and that makes the work laboured and insipid!

I feel grateful to my parents who inculcated in us a value for knowledge. At that time they did not know how deep the roots of that love were being sown. Today I feel a deep sense of inquiry and a wish to look at myriad problems with a view to finding ways out, also a great deal via research, or sharing my findings via research in the three areas I work in.

Gardening and peace

Gardening is the closest we can be in nature close to urban living, without considerable effort, and I think gardening is really an activity that  connects us to ourselves, to mother earth and to life in its enormity. Seeing the birth of plants and the completion of their life cycles season after season also tends to impart a certain acceptance of the inevitability of life and death, which makes it appear like a continuum and an endless cycle of rejuvenation, which is not such a calamity after all. Of course, the role played by my little animals is completely without parallel in this domain.

Earlier today, while talking to the new client, he happened to share with me the death of a certain person in his younger years and how it affected him. I remembered how my aunt’s death affected me at 18, and how it slowly built into a huge depression and spiralled into becoming bipolar by the time I was 20. Today I am five months over 47, and there is so much water under the bridge- and such a change of perspective, vision and philosophy. Without philosophy we are doomed, that is clear to me now.

Gardening is definitely a philosophical practice, for in an ethical, sensitive and respectful engagement with plants and what all they attract- birds, squirrels, butterflies, bettles, insects and so forth, we increase our scope to observe and meditate on the motions of life, birth/death, childhood & ageing. I remember suddenly now, how I used to sit on my porch in the village home I lived in, in Goa, and be in reverie and the feeling I had was I was watching enternity .

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birds flocked on many sides too

And I would just listen to the sounds of the birds. It was serene, green and tranquil- a sudden chirp, twitter or crackle would disturb the silence and then go silent again. Sitting amid greenery and nature one sees the eternity of life, like a witness and then we realize that these things were always there- from primordial times, from the time the earth was born and life on it appeared. Only we came much later and our awareness of it came even more late. So now cultivating that awareness towards the eternal and the ephemeral makes us see how limited our time and therefore how gently, how peacefully, how carefully we ought to spend it.

It is Mother Nature which is eternal and the Earth, we are ephemeral and our time limited. So making the most of that time means bringing into awareness our actions, our efforts and our engagements with other people, and forms of life. Am I in any act of mine wounding another or showing my power over them- in speech thought or action? It could be someone who works around my home, a student I teach, a person I meet on the street, a client I engage with in counseling, a member of my family, and even the animals around my home. The choices to be violent and nasty are present at every juncture, hundred times a day. It is only by awareness of another’s humanity and our own, remaining humble not arrogant no matter what knowledge, what money or what power comes to us can we remain peaceful.

Without being at peace within we cannot spread peace around. In that case peace is only a rhetoric which is not followed by ethical practice, best epitomized by politicians (in India) whose every act is steeped in stupidity, rhetoric and self-love, so tuned out of themselves they cannot see how they violate life, civilization and the progress made by millions of humans until now.

Peace is not for  those who are ignorant, because the ignorant cannot reflect on their own actions, filled as they are with deep narcissism. To reflect on ourselves we need to cultivate peace, an aware peace in which we dare to question all our actions, without needing the scrutiny of another. That is what makes an ethical individual, an ethical researcher, an ethical human and a just society. To create a just society is the effort every reasonable, conscientious person would venture into. The rest can go on in pursuits of their little appetites, creating their mental messes that all    else have to deal with! Yet in spite of that we need to remember that even the ignorant seek peace, no matter how erroneous their ways, how short-sighted or self serving. To truly cultivate peace we have to embrace the entire world (vasudhaiva kutumbakam consciousness) and recognize each being’s quest for peace- and that is the quest that unites us with everything in the universe. As the Dalai Lama wisely says that each being wants to be free from suffering, and that is what unites us all. And that is another way to say the same thing. A beautiful reminder of our cosmic connectedness with everyone we choose to embrace in our quest for peace.

(Perharaceps had it not been for this topic I would not have been able to write a blog post at this juncture. So the next time I write another one, it would perhaps be after the completion of my dissertation- insha’allah)