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.

flying-white-doves-isolated-on-blue

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 .

DSC01102

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)

Why gardening heals and other reflections at the end of first quarter, 2019

This year is super- busy, and despite wanting to I have not been able to take time out to write a single blog post on this blog. But foreseeing the months ahead, and in all likelihood I would not be able to come back here again I want to wind off the winter, and welcome the year ahead with reflections, rounding off open loops and coming into the zone where a lot of work is getting nicely aligned, in a serene manner. I cannot hasten anything, because it is all seamlessly connected- whether the manner an article is written, dogs’ food is cooked, thesis takes a step further or a child learns a new bandish.

The whole winter, starting Nov 2018, almost till mid-March 2019, there has been a lot of gardening activity. For someone like me, who has no time to step out of my home, partially because I am so invested in what I do, and partly because the whole world comes to me right here- via the internet, the metro and whatnot, gardening is really the thing that brings me back into a zone of deep serenity. Add to it the gentle, loving presence of dogs- the world becomes loving and capable of sending echoes back. But of course it all asks for tremendous efforts– animals, gardens or anything else. Equally as much as effort, one requires resilience- else when plants will die, wither away, perish, not sprout or get infested, one will lose heart and give up. Mother Nature does not relent- there is no mercy in nature. Something is weak, it will be killed- it is as brutal as that. So either you protect the weak or you discard the weak- no point breaking your heart over something you have no control over.

So first of all this bit about the gardening, which took in a lot of investment this year, and I thought it was important for my soul, for my inner equilibrium to step out on all sides of my home and be surrounded by greenery, bird songs, sight of birds, flowers, trees and everything I can create in the arid dryness of this really harsh place, a dusty industrial uppity town, where people ooze attitude and arrogance- starting right from my neighbourhood. Fortunately it has happened, and will continue with the effort we have put in- me and Ram Rattan.

It is not just the financial effort from me, but also the ideas, the arrangements, the planning, the failures and the bouncing back. So many of my seeds did not sprout at all, I told Ram to simply go and buy the plants as saplings after bearing the losses and seeing the failures. the losses were of Larkspurs, poppies, nasturtium (due to hailstorm a full standing bed was finished), dog flowers and possibly more. So it was a matter of tightening my belts and instead of weeping over the loss, plan the next move before the end of the season. So these are the outcomes of that double effort. Like they say, there is more to it than meets the eye- and this is the full picture now- the huge efforts must be shared, and the spirit of those involved, so that one can see that every little thing carries a whole trail of stories behind it, it is not as simple as it looks.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I have kept busy with my dissertation, research papers, singing classes, counseling and managing this little house-  a lot of balancing for certain, and being on my toes constantly- fairly tired at times. But this much work is only possible if one builds in certain elements of  discipline. But thanks to the sheer volume of the work, that has also happened.

DSC00962

I have also managed to start walking the dogs regularly now- it is a great relief personally and better for everyone; though i really want to train them as well, knowing how sweet and responsive they are, as well as intelligent in general. Rhythm is sitting in this picture with papa watching her. I sometimes tether her, because she straightaway jumps into the flower beds and starts digging quickly, true to her breed instinct. This is the only time papa visited this entire season. I think he was very happy to see the garden and the profusion of flowers around.

And now in this collage ahead, i share the vegetables I grew this year- which is certainly a lot more than last year and hopefully I will do more of the same in the months ahead

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

A bit about the dogs- Ginger is really suffering with her skin issues, but I have done everything possible under the sun for her and she is eating fine, sleeping a lot more naturally due to her age, and always by my side. Dash is older than her, but fortunately a little better than her, possibly because he did not start as a weak pup, like she did. The deepest lessons come from my animals and the plants around- just because my beautiful girl Ginger is so frail, and in poor health, I can only love her more, respond to her barks for demanding food whenever she does and make sure she is comfortable, her ears (which ooze pus out, due to blockage of ear canals) cleaned regularly, and her hair also kept trim (bought a trimmer for that recently). This is the best I can do, in addition to all the omega three oils, food, vit.B (to both seniors) and whatever else is possible in their food, including curd, milk – for whoever wants whatever.

senior citizen

Dash, the senior most among the dogs, now into his 15th year

If a dog’s love doesn’t diminish for me when s/he is old, how can mine? Similarly my parents, similarly all the other people in my life- seasons change, but that does not change how you feel about the ones you love. This is the eternal flow of life and we are all crisscrossing across time and leaving one another richer for the experiences, if we choose to see it that way. Else we all have the freedom to feel cheated, feel betrayed, wronged, or whatever…there is no end. The river of life goes on, regardless of our response to it, for this is a great cosmic game, and we are so little- we can only bow in wonderment, wipe our tears of joy, of sadness- gather ourselves and smile back to the universe in gratitude. Thank you Mother Earth for all this love

DSC00909

Ginger, March 2019. I don’t have a chain around her, this was only because I bathed her that moment and let her dry for a few minutes in the sun

15022012014

Ginger in 2012, while Dash passes by

New ideas I picked up in 2017

The foremost is the knowledge about the Global Mental Health Movement (GMHM). But the rest is saved here from the main articles I got them from. There is no particular order really.

The Root of Cruelty

This is a very important issue and in every aspect of society there is an element of cruelty there, coming from prejudice and ‘othering’. This article from the New Yorker is an exhaustive explanation about it. An excerpt follows-

‘Early psychological research on dehumanization looked at what made the Nazis different from the rest of us. But psychologists now talk about the ubiquity of dehumanization. Nick Haslam, at the University of Melbourne, and Steve Loughnan, at the University of Edinburgh, provide a list of examples, including some painfully mundane ones: “Outraged members of the public call sex offenders animals. Psychopaths treat victims merely as means to their vicious ends. The poor are mocked as libidinous dolts. Passersby look through homeless people as if they were transparent obstacles. Dementia sufferers are represented in the media as shuffling zombies.”

Having children is …immoral

Believe it or not, this is one of the most important articles that I have read and in a philosophical way I now understand my own indifference to having any. An excerpt follows-

‘But even if life isn’t pure suffering, coming into existence can still be sufficiently harmful to render procreation wrong. Life is simply much worse than most people think, and there are powerful drives to affirm life even when life is terrible. People might be living lives that were actually not worth starting without recognising that this is the case.

The suggestion that life is worse than most people think is often met with indignation. How dare I tell you how poor the quality of your life is! Surely the quality of your life is as good as it seems to you? Put another way, if your life feels as though it has more good than bad, how could you possibly be mistaken?’

Rivers, Forests- as health tonics

Studies showed that just three days and two nights in a wooded place increase the immune system functions that boost feelings of wellbeing for up to seven days. The same amount of time in a built environment has no such effect. Human response includes increased awe, greater relaxation, restored attention, and boosted vitality. Health outcomes on the receiving end of the pathway are astounding: enhanced immunity, including reduced cardiovascular disease, fewer migraines, and lowered anxiety, to name but a few.

The main article is here.

To treat back pain, look at the brain!

The article is here

Happy Chord?

New research published in the journal Royal Society Open Science attempts to tackle this issue by investigating the links between the emotions of lyrics and the musical elements they are set to. While the methods used are sophisticatedly statistical, the conclusions are extremely dry. The finding that a single chord type is most associated with positive lyrics is a huge simplification of the way that music works, highlighting the sheer scale of the challenge of creating a machine that could understand and compose music like a human can.

The full article lies here

The Universe is too vast- thank god

Just how large the Universe actually is never fails to boggle the mind. We say that the observable Universe extends for tens of billions of light years, but the only way to really comprehend this, as humans, is to break matters down into a series of steps, starting with our visceral understanding of the size of the Earth. A non-stop flight from Dubai to San Francisco covers a distance of about 8,000 miles – roughly equal to the diameter of the Earth. The Sun is much bigger; its diameter is just over 100 times Earth’s. And the distance between the Earth and the Sun is about 100 times larger than that, close to 100 million miles. This distance, the radius of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, is a fundamental measure in astronomy; the Astronomical Unit, or AU.

Here is the full article

An option called ‘Love’

Today as I sat down to sing a Raga that I had not sung in a long time, by learning a new bandish with my guru (the raga being Madhukauns), I just started to weep by the end of the new composition, because its words were such- ja ja re pathikwa (go away you traveler) . I just thought the recent traveler who moved out of my life, and the tears began streaming out.

Then I thought, is this the way I am going to live now? I love Raga, not loved – the love remains in my heart, there is no change. I did everything I could to make her life’s journey and our companionship joyful. I tended to her, loved her, kept her comfortable, kept her utterly clean (she didn’t have a bath in the past six months, since April) and she even smelled fragrant! I did not allow any secondary infections to develop in her, I carried her around to let her experience every part of our home and our lives, so she would not languish in one room while the others were all over the house, I never left her out of anything- ever. Even when her body stiffened to the extent that she could not even sit up any more (which was for the last three weeks or thereabout), I did not forget to carry her around. My own spinal pain has been a constant part of my life for years now, and yet there could not be any compromise or exclusion when it came to Raga.

When she could not pee any longer, because of a progressed stage of her illness, I just learned to tease her bladder and help her empty it out. She would just lie on one of her sides and I would press her sides, enabling the urine to come out. I washed her feet if any drops fell on them, and kept her eyes clean by wiping the discharge that came out. I picked up her stools and made sure she was defecating by changing her diet if need be, to ensure some bowel movements. I never let her lie in any of her discharges. When she stopped eating the food that all other dogs ate, I just checked and tested other things that would interest her and even if it was a little expensive started feeding her mutton (which i pretty much cannot eat with any regularity myself).

I have left no stone un-turned for Raga’s sake- neither physically, nor financially, or my own efforts. This is the most I could have done. I did not want to have any regrets later, and I know that when I go down this dog would be one dog that will remain in my heart until then, or perhaps they all will. But she was my youngest in this pack of four, and she left first! That was the sad part for me.

Dec 2010, Delhi-Goa 008

Getting ready to drive out- some time in 2011/12

So coming back to the tale of where I sat with tears streaming down my eyes and the emptiness of Raga’s physical presence, which was by my side these past ten years and more. It is also ten years ago that I had moved to this house in Faridabad (barring the over two that we were in Goa).

Upon an impulse I decided that new life is needed. I came to the computer and checked to see if I could get a Dachshund somehow…and then guess what…within a few hours this little duo was on its way …

I thought to myself, love cannot

IMG_20171025_185220048

Checking out my table!

diminish because the one that you love is gone- that love is eternal. I will always love my Raga, but that does not mean that there is no more love in my heart. This heart needs to love because it is its nature to love, it must embrace new life and new journeys, because it is the nature of life to love, to grow. It is my ancient nature- the nature of my species.

IMG_20171025_185149475

Sitting on our mummy’s music notebook that she wept singing a song from, just this morning 🙂

Then recalling the ancient wisdom of the flow I decided to give it a go and here are the newcomers in my life…Floe and Rhythm.

My sister upon hearing that I was planning to get a pup home, decided to throw her weight into the deal as well- got one herself, a very beautiful black labrador, whose name is now Masha. So here we are, less than 48 hours of Raga’s passage, embracing new bundles of joy and loving the ones we already have and the ones who have left us, for that is a choice nobody can take away from us.

cropped-img_20170405_084422586-1

She sat closest to me when I sat for riyaaz. In this picture, taken earlier this year in the summer, she dragged herself to be close to me…one of the last occasions to do so.

Managing different kettles!

These days the tea is boiling in many kettles- many, many in fact. And diverse, non-overlapping ones as well. Yesterday I started one major part of the work in data collection for the phd research- so that is a big enterprise by itself. And getting people to talk to, who are willing to share their stories of mental suffering is one of the most anxiety producing situations. No, let me rephrase it.

DSC00803

From March 2014- April 2015 this was my kitchen in a small village, in South Goa- from where many a guest has been served a wholesome meal and many a cup of tea shared with loved ones.

Finding people who are willing to share their lives with you is one of the most anxiety producing things for any researcher. I was just discussing this with Ramakant-ji, and he told me about his experiences, in the 1970’s, of doing research with Punjabi children in England, and how he was often shown the door by people suspecting him to a be a spy, trying to interview them to send them back to India!

So on the one hand, one meets one person and then the one person backs off. Then you meet another, through whatever means you may have- and they say, we will think it over. You approach one non profit; they say we will come back to you- someone comes back, someone leaves you wondering for months. By then you know they have no intention to come back.

Start of Data Collection

Nevertheless, I started the process yesterday- interviewed the first person, who happens to not live faraway. There is another meeting with another person on Friday- she too, like the first person, has agreed to come down and meet me in my home. It is a great relief really, because with my broken back, going anywhere is a huge challenge for me personally. I also decided to NOT record any interviews (and go through the needless hassle of transcribing the interviews and collecting mounds of data). So I have taken the equally difficult path of writing the interview down with hand! I wrote almost 11 pages yesterday. Later I realized that there are some themes that I want to discuss again or with a different perspective. Fortunately since this person is also a Phd herself, she understands the process of data collection and in any case I still have to meet someone from her family.

Yesterday I sent off a letter to a friend who once headed an NGO working in mental health, requesting him to help me find people who would be willing to talk about their lives. So now I am waiting to see, if anyone would be willing. I spoke with someone more today- who first declined fearing exposure, but when I assured him of anonymity he was okay with it. But I think I will still write a letter to him.

Musical melodies flow on all counts

On the other hand something completely different in brewing on the musical front. I started some beautiful new compositions in Raga Durga with my guru. I have learnt Durga earlier as well, and it is one of my valued Ragas.

On the other hand, I am looking for poetry for children and creating newer compositions for my students. Just last week I composed a khyal in Ektaal for one girl in Raga Bhairav. Today there is a possibility of a boy (of 22 years) starting anew with me- he learnt much earlier, many years ago. [We decided to offer scholarships to those who cannot afford music education- so three students are full fee-paying, whatever be their fee amount and three are completely subsidized, to paying a small token money (which is less than or equal to 10% of the actual fee)]. At least it is my hope that money should not be a deterrent in receiving quality music education. I hope we will be able to sustain the venture. In two months we have six students enrolled and another two expected. I do not expect to grow very quickly in this location anyways.

Apart from these, the house has its own very fixed rhythm- three women report for work at 6:30 in the morning and then another man comes an hour later to get the daily supply of milk, the garbage collector comes to take the garbage away and then the last boy in the morning comes to clean the car and wash the clothes whenever they have to be! Oh I forgot the dusting lady, who spends  between 30-40 minutes dusting around the house- the doors, windows, books, tables, computers etc. In the evening one or two, depending upon my need for then, of these morning ladies come and do some more household chores and then comes the gardener on three days a week. the remaining four days I have to water the garden on three sides of the house myself. Till so long as these people are around the house, I cannot begin my own riyaaz- living alone means managing a lot of sides actually. Of course there are the outside dogs too, that have to be fed- nearly six come everyday, but there are eight also at times!

So imaging a day with learning with my guru, to teaching my students music and working in phd research in psychosis, cooking, watering the garden, feeding the dogs, feeding the birds, tending to Raga and cleaning her up as per requirement, is a lot to balance in a day. What to talk of days when I have to go out (for shopping for groceries or paying some bill, or bank etc)- life is brimming with ideas, activities and tasks I enjoy. Of course there are other tasks which vary- bathing the dogs, cleaning the yard after them, changing their beds- laundry issues, and so much much more!

Goa 2014 266The long and the short of it is that the tea is boiling in many kettles and my day is a dance of the creating some semblance of this and that. Meanwhile whenever I lie down with acute pain, which is a 24-hour companion anyways, I have these books to read nowadays. I was reading a recently acquired book called Our most troubling madness, and then there was Mad Matters from Canada. I feel so grateful that I have the resources to buy these books that are published in the West, all thanks to my brother.

The last of the things that seems to be cropping up is a course in counseling that I wanted to offer to young people, who are interested in looking at counseling from a non-medical perspective. One young woman recently (in April) approached me but I postponed it. But now another one did- two days back. then I the time has coming or is nearly there- to offer a course in collaborative counseling in the Indian milieu.

Life is not bad after all, so what if the body remains in pain and I don’t feel like waking up on any morning- the birds, the dogs, and the daylight manage it everyday 🙂

18556271_10210346797719515_2401334130308584981_n

These new crop of puppies are the new morning guests to our home these days- they are all lying in wait in the bamboo shoots outside, and the moment the gate opens they all come running. Adorable foursome

 

With Raga, mid ragas and the inevitability of change

It’s difficult to accept, no matter what evidence life brings in front, that you will soon lose a beloved companion. With Raga the evidence is mounting every single day- her earlier mobility with the two front legs has become even less so. Perhaps it is even a notch worse. Now she is unable to turn sides pretty much and I check to see if she is sitting on one side for too long- then I help her switch sides.

IMG_20170405_084422586 (1)

But I wonder if all the others have not got a little ignored because of her needs taking center on a day to day basis. Of course she is not the first one to get fed, because Dash always accompanies me to the kitchen and Nikki is sitting at the base of the kitchen stairs, watching me from below and wagging her tail joyfully at the prospect of what could be coming next. But yesterday, Nikki also gave me a jolt. she refused to budge. I saw her lying for long hours on one side, and then not moving at all- not even to ease her bowels and bladdar. I coaxed her, forced her and finally slid Raga’s loop around her body to help her move. Now Nikki is very heave as compared to Raga- it is not easy to move her using the same method I have been using with Raga for the last several months.

In the picture above Raga takes her favourite position close to me as I hold my tanpura for my practice and she listens, watches over and in general keeps all others at an arm’s length. But of course this picture was taken a few weeks back. I am not holding the tanpura with any regularity these days. She is more feeble, and several times a day I have to clean up when she pees inside the house or wherever – it is no longer predictable. I never thought I would ever come to such a point- because when you have seen dogs all your life, and never really faced disabling situations, you are just not ready for what can happen. However, I feel grateful that I can manage her despite my own spinal pains, and more so, that we returned back to our home in Faridabad, from Goa. I shudder to think what could have happened had we remained in Goa!

The time between the last and this blog post has seen the birth of my little venture of teaching classical music to children. After years of deliberating upon who should be the one one addresses in imparting musical knowledge, I come to the point of teaching children, because it is in them only that we can actually drop the seeds of knowledge with a long term perspective. By the time they are older it is career goals and other aspirations that take over. The venture, a sub domain of the non profit Hansadhwani Foundation, is called SwarGanga- music workshop.

Does workshop sound tentative?

Workshop seems to suggest a short span of engagement ordinarily. To me in fact the word represents movement, motion and churning. A music school becomes a dead place where the same sort of music is taught year after year to batches of students, in a fixed format. That is why I titled this venture workshop, because the process of churning represents motion, and I am personally constantly researching, innovating, creating and composing new musical ideas in response to the needs of learners I am with.

Of course large parts of my work are a direct dialogue with those I work with and a response to what they can imbibe. The work becomes challenging to say the least and that is where the fun lies- to be seriously creative.

We started in the first week of April. So technically, we are a month old into SwarGanga. In the months ahead I will have to make a website of it and get things up, for I realized that there are a lot of music schools going around in this neighbourhood. The only way to distinguish ourselves from this would be to put it on a website what we are all about and how we specialize in the areas we work in, which are quite a few- mostly in music psychology of course.

Cockatiels

IMG_20170425_064855495

April is my birth month. I turned 45 this once. A lot of water under every conceivable bridge. So the new element that entered into my life this summer are the birds. It was a great moral and ethical dilemma whether to keep birds in captivity. I thought for many years and felt it was improper to keep them thus.

Of course my garden has many visiting birds the whole year through and it is a great feeling to keep hearing bird songs, and see them eating away the grains I scatter for them. But as I silently moped over Raga’s onward journey, I saw a new flash of light right here. She became very interested in the birds. Of all the dogs in the house she is the only one, who has any interest in them. To the extent that when I IMG_20170423_070457072bring up the birds’ trolley anywhere close or towards the back lawn she would get up from her supine posture and chase them on the trolley, by inching forward step by step.

I wonder if she objects to the birds around. I cannot say for sure, but she is certainly animated and I am glad that at least some dog has shown some response to the new creatures in our life. The other dogs could not care less. They go about unperturbed.

The birds are also relatively indifferent to Raga’s proximity and while she tries snapping at them behind the wire mesh of the cage, they don’t even bother to move away. This is the only time when she sits up. The back lawn is quite barren unlike the winter when the flowers were abundant. But thanks to the birds, Raga sits in the back area peacefully instead of trailing after me helplessly.

There is the inevitable prospect of change staring at me with all dogs showing some of the other infirmity. I try finding comfort in the thought that they have had a good life with me and I am doing the most I can, while we still have time. New life is springing around me- in new birds, new students coming, new people seeking counseling help, newer connections on intellectual and artistic journeys. If there is a deep sadness it is taken care of by the routine of managing so many sides of life- which do not allow much time to brood anyways.

I am reading some excellent books along the way, in mental health related issues. The areas of MH are extremely vexing and sad. I have also started a new blog to document my reading, writing and work related to mental health, with particular focus on recovery from all types of mental illness. This is my commitment to people to help them recover from their shattered selves and create beautiful, peaceful, serene lives for themselves and their families. I hope someday to offer my counseling for free- but for now I do not have the means to support that work in this manner.

I am only just beginning, and like mother says, just subtract the twenty years of ‘illness’ from your life and think yourself to be 20 years younger. Yes I love the spirit, wish I could. with all the pains in my body, it does not let me forget how old I am- but I do feel this is just the beginning this way or that way.

The long and short of it is that…

  • SwarGanga is born as the school of music
  • Raga is happy about the new birds in her vicinity
  • I am happy doing what I am in many domains
  • Life goes on and … Andre keeps coming, as do the rest of family
  • Nikki is looking fine now
  • Another blog (!!!) is born, exclusively reserved for my research in mental illness, recovery, my counseling on lay forums like quora, research articles and books I read and of course other media such as YouTube videos which I want to share and so forth.

‘N then came the flowers, and reconciliation

I moved into this home of mine in the October 2007, with three dogs- Ginger, Nikki and Raga. In October this year it will be a decade- except for the quarter of this time that we all lived in Goa. I remember when we came first how dry, desolate and barren it all seemed. If I only had a record of things I would have shared- but at least the mental record is still intact. We lived here till March 2014 and pushed off to Goa…letting the house come to a similar state as when we had first come. I was certain about selling off this house.

Life has its own mysteries,which we can never foresee. Little did I know in verdant Goa that my heart would not find the peace I had already found in my little home here. So the heart pushed me back to the comfort of my own space and familiarity of a city that I knew. I did not grow up in Faridabad, so it did not have the association or fascination we tend to establish with places we feel connected to. It is also people and places. Living alone in a town, you do not really get to meet or connect with many as the act of survival itself becomes a challenge- negotiating all the roles of family that one person has to play themselves, with naturally enough no work sharing. In India one is not really accustomed to that- for living in family is the done thing.

But I suppose we all have to rise up to the challenge, as the mysteries of life are only to be unraveled to be lived- if you know everything already, what is the mystery and where lies the charm? Upon our (me and the dogs) return I was very sad in truth, and determined to go back as soon as I could. Of course it is part of my temperament- that adjustment takes me some time usually, even in a known space.

However, there was no comfort or time allotted to me to adjust. It was one thing after another. I fell ill, followed by extremely debilitating body aches, then Raga became disabled, and that became a responsibility to be taken care of in new ways. The Phd work started midst an extremely non-supportive university scenario, the book on music got stalled…it all seems so negative in general.

But the little pleasures of living- come not from our official or professional engagements always, they can also come from family dsc00210 occasionally dropping by (notwithstanding what they make of your home), the birds that come to accept what you offer and the flowers that come alive in every season.

This year was a beginner’s year once again as I had to revive the home and garden from the beginning, more of the latter naturally. From the time I returned in early July until October I had to change the gardener at least three times. If it was four I cannot recall now. Finally I settled with the known devil, who also works in the next but one neighbour’s; and has worked with me briefly in the past as well. His labour, my imagination, our discussions, my efforts at watering the garden in the cold winter, keeping an eye on everything, as also the money that went in finally started producing outcomes towards the end of November.

No, but wait, this first outcome of the chrysanthemums dsc00193 was not his effort or mine- but that of Kaushal gardener, who had worked here in my absence.

In this picture Andre is sitting with Ginger and Dash, and there is a whole bed of yellow and white chrysanthemums growing behind him. They were very beautiful when they came. But by December it was time for them to bid goodbye!

I was a little unhappy with their short stint but we decided to throw them out, as the plants had grown very old and bring in new plants next season; while we utilized the same bed for another set of flowers, whose photographs I am not sure I have here. These were daisies. I saw them for the first time this year in the nursery and instantly decided to grow them. I did- some 20 plants in all, and the whole bed was covered, but the flowers were a little disappointing, or may be I grew them at a late stage when their vegetative growth was all over, and only the flowers remained to come. The plant is small and flowers are beautiful, but it does not flower profusely. It was a learning.

Daisies and the little birds

Daisies

So now it is March and the gardens on three sides of the house is blooming. There have been some losses, some gains, lot of learning, and new experiments- successful and otherwise. But everyday I feel the satisfaction of my labour and efforts, and it is great to wake up to such beauty and colour, chirping of birds and barking of dogs. Life is not altogether bad, and one derives courage from the simpler joys of one’s labour of  the past.

Out here are a few picture of the back lawn. first of all- the petunias outside my bedroom door, where in this dsc00268picture my sister is standing with her son, and papa is sitting reading a book. They were all visiting yesterday, while we all clicked photos of flowers and people.

The back lawn is behind all these folks. I am sharing two pictures of two extremes of it- one is the Northern side and one the southern. The grass in this lawn is very sparse and over time I have a mind to make this purely a kitchen garden. But before that I must write about our kitchen gardening, which happened all in the back lawn only.

This year on an experimental level we grew a few things to eat. This is not the first time though- I have had a bigger crop of lettuce in the past, but this time we grew many things together. The picture is from December or late November. In two rows of leafy greens here, where the naughty Dachschund is looking for garden lizards or other suitable prey one can see a profusion of lettuce and sdsc00241pinach leaves in two beds above one another.

I had a lot of lettuce here- and many rounds of spinach. I was just thinking of cutting it now for some pakoras, but decided against it. Overall we made a good amount of palak paneer, pakoras twice or thrice and palak chicken as well. I was toying with making spinach soup but then let it be out of laziness.

The lettuce has been a treat not only to see for its beauty but equally as much to eat- just pluck a bit of it to make a fresh, crisp, beautiful salad. Tony commented upon eating one such salad, I feel like I am eating oxygen- it is so refreshing. Coriander also grew in the same bed as spinach on one side of it, but it is not showing in the picture here. Of course my satisfaction at learning that lettuce was selling at Rs.160/kg at Spencer’s only heightened my respect and valuation of lettuce even more so!

The same corner in which I had the lettuce/spinach growing in the back lawn is looking like this now. The tiny plantdsc00275s that look like grasses in the lowest row, on the step lower than where Dash is standing in the above picture, is now having these purple, red and magenta Verbena flowers.

The hedge below that has been outgrown by the dog flowers that are growing in stalks of white, pink, yellow and purple colours. From somewhere, two tomato plants have sprung up. I do not think any of us put any seeds. I am not expecting to reap any real harvest from them, because likely the monkeys will spot them before we do. In this photograph above, one can see four varieties of flowers- Verbena, dog flowers (scientific description here), Clerodendrum creeper (also called Flaming glorybower) and Salvia in red colour. I have not counted bougainvilla here, and another purple flowering creeper.

The other side of the garden is looking like this at present, minus the human beings of course. On the sides we have marigold as hedge plant and the petunias of the single variety. At the far end, where mummy is standing in this picture- there is a bed of Cinereria.

dsc00272

In this picture Raga, the German Shepherd propels herself on her front legs- her adjustment to her disabled condition

All my life until now, at the time of writing this post, I did not know at least a few of these plant names properly and spoke them the way gardeners do- colloquially. Only due to this writing I have checked for their proper and often scientific names and figured out the proper sounds now! ha ha ha- what a joke.

The front lawn is another view altogether, and several plants there are growing for the first time in this house. Of course the first among that were the daisies, whose photos I do not have. There is phlox- which I had never seen until this year as well as double petunias, variegated petunias and multicoloured petunia flowers. In fact come to think of it I have at least six-eight different colours of petunia flowers growing at the moment.

dsc00285

I know I am making a strange face in the photo above, but don’t bother about me- look at the petunias instead- single ones in deep pink and multicoloured red ones, and the double variety has light pink and white ones. These are growing in five big pots- three or four plants per pot.

All in all, when I counted yesterday I have/had about 20 different kinds of flowers in my garden this winter. These are chrysanthemums, dahlia (fared very poorly indeed), daisies, Petunias, Alyssum, Calendula, Dianthus, bishops candles, Cinereria, Phlox, Verbena, Chlerodendrum creeper which flowers only in December-January, marigold in two varieties, sweet williams, Gazania (I have no pictures of this though it is still growing), pansies, Salvia, Geraniums, dog flowers also called snapdragons, ice plant. I cannot recall one name, of the red permanent plant, which grows throughout the year yet flowers only now.

What I did really miss this time was poppy flowers, which when I saw them later growing abundantly everywhere, I felt a great loss of! Greedy me. And then of course my favourite Nasturtium, which I repeatedly kept telling the gardener to plant, but he shied away for some unknown reason. So these two may be next year. I do hope to have a bigger component of hanging baskets next year- this year there were none, at least not flowering ones.

So the long and short of it is that this is my garden, this year. This garden is a homecoming for me and I am now at peace about Faridabad- for this is home, and this is where the world flowers for me, my labour bears fruit, and my garden blooms in its multihued variety, profusion and colours. I have finally reconciled about life in Faridabad- a place which never felt like home, now feels as though there cannot be another home!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.