Living the ‘wait’

My name translates to ‘waiting’ – a verb to the average Hindi-knowing person, because prateeksha means that. To someone more poetic it may mean something else, like hope or ‘looking forward to something’, but the common person is largely prosaic, not poetic. Waiting can be painful unless made otherwise by meaningful investment in one’s time and abilities.

And yet we are all obliged to wait because such is the nature of life, such is how everything unfolds – in its own time, its unique gestation, its inner rhythm which nobody knows for sure about. At every point in time we are caught in a multitude of waiting-s. One cannot even rate them properly, each is uniquely agonizing in its peculiar way. An embryo grows in waiting, an exam result is awaited, a loved one coming from afar is waited for, any activity which is underway is awaiting completion. But then there was can massive seasons of waiting, when so much goes on in every domain of life and so much is awaited. Currently I am going through that mega-waiting.

Laying the thesis to bed

The PhD thesis was submitted on 6th July 2020, and from what I know, it was sent onward to examiners a week thence. Soon it would be two months and agony of the waiting is quite palpable. The next big thing to unfold was a room for me upstairs, as part of a more ‘ambitious’ plan to have a terrace garden. Both these things had one thing in common- a desire to chase the sun in winter. So that activity also rolled out from the 11th July 2020, and is going to be two months soon! Right now there are nearly ten people working upstairs- masons, labourers, carpenter, welders, and others coming in and out. The house is noisy, dusty in parts and doing anything with hammers blowing on top of your head is not exactly easy- neither writing, nor singing.

The pandemic has had another set of setbacks on various counts. The relief I was hoping to experience, post submission is simply not there. It is just one thing after another. Doing a PhD at 48 is not the easiest thing for anyone, especially when there has been nearly NO support, guidance or supervision from most quarters except for a few people to occasionally talk to. Only towards the end my supervisor appeared on a distant horizon but still quite aloof and watching from afar, not really participating. But yes, one colleague or peer, if I may use that word, appeared whose communication was a source of much support in the last two months, especially after I made my pre-PhD presentation on 13th April.

The presentation –

Just as an aside, the (pre-PhD) presentation went extremely well- something I had not prepared much for, because what can one ‘prepare’ more than what one has done in the PhD- it was quite spontaneous and done at ease. My PhD work is something I am finally proud of, it takes me long to appreciate myself mostly. That day was the first time when I really heard the echoes to my work from the academic community and felt a sense of accomplishment and relief, that I was being heard and understood.

The Vice Chancellor of the university congratulated me and said he had not heard such a good presentation in a very long time, (or did he say it was the best he had ever heard? I forget). I am not one who remembers praise easily! My supervisor also became extremely proud of me thereafter because she knew my work by then and was willing to stick her neck out for it. Our relationship never came out of the freezer though as I could not pick up the spirit to walk back to her and befriend her after the hurt of silence I suffered for most part of my four years of the PhD journey.

The satisfaction I gained

I have many sources of satisfaction from the work I have done- the publications only one among them, then the time I took (a few weeks short of four years) to submit the full thesis, but MOST significantly perhaps developing the ability to understand and critique law. When this year began, I was absolutely terrified of law, legal ideas, legal language and whatnot. And I had to write a full chapter about the mental health law of India from my perspective. This was by-far the most difficult writing I have done until today. It took me nearly eight-nine iterations from March 2020 till June 2020 before my supervisor sent the following comment- ” As far as I am concerned, you have earned the doctorate Prateeksha”. Coming from her it was a big thing, for she is known to be economical with her praise/appreciation.

But in general I have heard from Chandramati (the peer who appeared) and also another person about the good word going around about my work/me (?) at the university. So now I am being ‘owned’ by others, whilst all this while I fumbled and staggered alone in the labyrinth. It seems the heroine would have to go through her labours alone and when the baby is about to be born the whole world will start getting ready for the event! Chalo I suppose this is how everyone’s doctoral research is, except that everyone has different set of challenges to deal with and mine were among the toughest. I have finally dealt with at least some of the challenges and emerged, victory will soon follow ( I imagine).

Gardening is another exercise that has taught me the value of persevering and, of course, waiting! How can one not wait after having done the needful. This year I made many blunders but also reaped many a fruit (read vegetable) from my garden. the most successful ones were the tomatoes earlier and now it is the sponge gourd (tori), brinjals (whose saplings show in one picture above) and amaranth (chaulai). I am excited and nervous about the terrace that is being cleared up for the gardening activity ahead and I think it would require a lot of money as well, but let’s see. Will write a blog post soon to note about the outcomes of all these efforts…as I am now ‘in waiting’ ūüôā

The arrow of the ‘Bani’

The late nineties were a period of intense suffering for me. There was the suffering of the bipolar, which had made me a social outcast, and there was the suffering rather search for myself, via my musical self; which had to appear much later in life, at a philosophical and experiential level. One of the sources of this suffering was an uncertainty about the musical ‘knowledge’ (if I may use this word about it) I had. It felt, and was inadequate, half-baked, shallow, hazy and botched up, to say the least. The need for a guru, to lead me out of this darkness, was acute- rather desperate.

It was not the internet age. One did not know how to find a guru, the world was not so seamlessly connected and neither was one exposed to a lot of musicians in an average Indian, Punjabi household more so.

1998, saw me at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya (GMV) in Delhi- taking the bus, walking the long sunny path, hiding behind the shadows of the UGC building at ITO, taking the footpath from the bus-stop till the school, climbing the stairs to enter the classroom, of hopeful ladies wanting to learn classical music from a reluctant-to-teach guruji (who in fact was more keen to get private students from the public ‘pool’).

Six months in the 7th year (Master’s) class there and I was done with it! The search began all over again- this time it brought me to two teachers together- two men, with different worldviews, but both saying the same thing- they would not charge me for teaching anything, once they were certain I was the right ‘disciple’! Both had different roots and different methods. With one I lasted but a few months, and found him to be one of the most rotten encounters of my life. The other was¬†A guru who molded my mind, and raised my musical consciousness- the first among the wise teachers who would teach me.

Dasgupta-ji was unlike any music teacher one would ever meet. You entered into his small living room, where there was a high diwaan and two chairs on the side, and an adjacent kitchen. My parents had accidentally met him in the house of a common friend, and had offered to drop him home, as they were all coming back in the same direction. Upon discovering that he was a music teacher, they got curious as they had a musically curious and eligible student in the form of their own daughter (me) as a point of reference. On the way back home, the music teacher shared all about his musical pedigree and the parents were sufficiently convinced that this was someone who their daughter should be sent to.

At the same time, the daughter-me, had encountered the other musician- Hari Charan Verma, who was very gifted as an artist, introduced by the tabla- accompanist of the GMV 7th year class. I was taken in by his singing and knew that I had found my guru. It was a tussle for awhile…but I paid heed to my parents in a few months and decided to meet Dasgupta-ji.

The Guru with a Quirk

Imagine meeting a music teacher who has the following conditions-

  1. I will not take any money for teaching you;
  2. You have to learn with me three days a week!
  3. It will be the way I want it- and possibly over two hours at a time!

Perhaps the average music student would be thrilled with such a prospect. So was I! what better than a guru so generous…until one really got down to it.

So the training began- two and a half hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the week. The first half hour was devoted to singing the pancham- by the clock too. Guruji would put his wrist watch on the harmonium in front and we would both get down to singing the ‘Pa’. The next hour hour was devoted to ga-ma-pa-dha; also by the clock. I do not remember what would happen after the first hour…but I do recall that I would be looking forward to the Marie biscuits and tea that aunty would bring forward, somewhere along the course of this. That was the sole bright spot of the whole singing- the Green Label Tea with its light aroma, and always the same taste- which I love till date.

But what a thing. Hours of singing and no musical ragas, no compositions, no fast paced actions, nothing- all at a century old pace, a leisurely dip in one note at a time for a youth (I was 25) who was so restless (thanks to psychotropic drugs), anecdotes from the lives of his gurus- Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan and Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain Khan, comments on the popular musicians of the day- which I hardly bothered about, and musical ideas that his gurus had handed down to him. I would be angry at times at the rebuff- he would stop me from singing so many times, and insist I slow down, I sing more precisely, more accurately. I was 15 years of a trained student, not a novice, and this was nothing but an insult for me. But I kept taking it- because he was never mean about it. He would explain to me, the significance of the ‘shuddh bani’. For the first time I heard it from him and understood the meaning of bani- and then I understood there were other ‘banis’ also going around- Dagar bani, Khandhar bani and one more (whose name I forget).

He would repeatedly tell me, ” Just learn the shuddh bani from me, and then sing whatever you want to sing. Sing classical, bhajan, ghazal or anything- but sing it in shuddh bani. Your voice will never become hoarse- you will sing the same into your old age, you will never go off-key.” Half the time, as i stood on the bus-stop later to take the never-to-appear bus home, I would tell myself I am not going to come back here again. But two days later I would still come back.

My stint with him did not last long- only for about a year or a little over. But it was enough to drop the seed in my head- the seed of the shuddh bani and then began my search, which would take me to many a guru and style, until I would come within and integrate them all.

When I would press him to know which musicians sang the Shuddh bani that he advocated so much, he would only name Mehdi Hassan and possibly Lata Mangeshkar. Among the classical musicians he was not willing to name any! It is not proper to name all the musicians he could find faults with- for this is a public medium and in India we hold musicians so ‘sacred’. But the fact of the matter is that, forget about Raga interpretation, even on the count of ‘swara’ musicians could find faults with one another. I have a lot of memories in my head about the family of Ustad Mushtaq Hussain that guruji shared with me- in particular how Khan sa’ab was so dismissive about most of his family and extended relatives. The only person guruji told me, who had any merit among Khan Sa’ab’s sons after Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain was Ghulam Taqi- but I think he also died early.

There were two people who I went to meet with guruji, on two separate occasions. One was Smt. Sumati Mutatkar- who was then into her eighties and the other was Ghulam Hussain, possibly a son of Khan sa’ab, or his son in law (I forget). The former lived in the Asiad Village and the latter in Zakir Nagar, Okhla. She had retired as the Dean of the Music Faculty, of the Delhi University, while he was a radio artist if I can recall correctly. And later guruji would have told me how Khan saheb had refused to teach either of them! But that is life.

When a tree becomes big, many can see it and reach out to it, to touch it and take cover under its umbrella and claim it to be a relationship, just because they have been close to the tree- regardless of whether the tree acknowledges that or not. In India, the musical learning tradition has no clear-cut pathways and anyone can claim to be anyone’s disciple (the way a certain big musician claims to be the disciple of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, without even meeting him!). Delhi was full of musicians once upon a time who wanted to learn with Ustad Mushtaq Hussain, and Khan sa’ab would shoo everyone away or just while their time away, because he could see an ardent disciple from the ones who just came after his name.

He had after all seen Dasgupta-ji’s passion for a long time and tested him out, before taking me on as a student, but not before he himself had turned 93!

Mummy also stepped in

My mother has a strange relationship with some of my ‘people’- friends, teachers and gurus. With Dasgupta-ji also this happened- may be because mummy and papa had first met him, and not me. But mom got both guruji and his wife, a senior citizen’s pension, because she knew the local counselor of Kalkaji, who gave them the status of senior citizens. Guruji’s wife was very happy as for the first time in her life, she got money in her own name.

I learnt with guruji not more than a year, I think- but he got the pension from the government till the end of his life. I may not have paid him directly, but my mother ensured them some money for the rest of their lives. I feel proud of my mother for this, as also gratitude that she would do such things for people who had little connection with her in a direct way.

Today I remember Guruji, with gratitude that he raised my musical consciousness to that level where I could understand the different aspects of rendition and what makes a music touching as opposed to a musical wrestling, jostling or ‘smartness’. A deeper musician does not need to be smart at all, you just need to be simple and your music will speak to the heart of another directly- you don’t have to worry about impressions at all!

Last week brought a surprise…

A few days ago, a former student of Dasgupta-ji connected with me, thanks to the intricate web of the internet from somewhere in the US, and we got ‘talking’ (on email) about so many things- largely about our guru in common. But the uncanny thing was, that he said that he wanted to make a donation in the memory of our common guru, to Hansadhwani Foundation as a support for the work we are doing.

I am just thinking> money has a strange way of going around and coming around! This universe is so full of mystery, that it baffles me what all can happen. I am touched and humbled at the same time. The mysteries continue to unravel. Is this a blessing from guruji, by any chance? Is this an acknowledgement from the universe that I am on the right path- where without even me asking anyone someone is stepping forward to offer support? Is this a mystery or is it logical?

Kindness that leaves one speechless

On 25th June, I wrote a post on this blog,  in which I mentioned about Deepak Raja and his new book- Raga-ness of Ragas. Since he had invited me for a promotional lecture about the book, via a WhatsApp message, I thanked him and promised to give it an honest effort. (now of course with the changed situation of my spine, which is getting better and I am gaining in confidence, due to the treatment, I may be able to go) But just to be on the safer side, I kept my doors open, and I told him so. Also the traffic situation in Delhi is quite tedious in the evenings- I have stopped going out at all in the evenings! But that is also characteristic of me- for I prefer my own home, my writing, books, music and reading over mingling with people in the evenings, or on some occasions riyaaz as well.

So anyhow, out of curiosity I thought I would take a look at the contents of the book, since I would not want to remain totally ignorant of what is happening in the world around. So when I opened the publisher’s link I found many interesting things, and this was my response to Deepak-ji at that point.

Prateeksha Sharma

25 Jun (8 days ago)

to Deepak
Dear Deepak-ji
Coming from you, this is heartening to say the least. But alas ghazal is not the genre I dabble in these days- only khayal. Since I never made any recordings of my khyal music, this was the only thing I though of sharing upon a whim.
If you read this piece of writing, which has my music also embedded in it, it may give you insights as to how the ghazal came about in the first place. But of course reading may be a little tedious considering you must be reading so much else as well.
Just out of curiosity I looked at the index of the new book and I am feeling very keen to buy it, though it is so steeply priced. These days a lot of my expenditure is in the direction of my phd books. But lo and behold I find another compelling reason here- you are doing a point by point analysis of bandishes and taans and whatnot. 
Just last week I was working very ‘profusely’ in Durga. I worked on a bandish whose lyrics came from Bhatkhande’ s book, yet music was my own. then I worked out a song for little children (between 5-8 years) and then on another tarana, all in Durga. Concomitantly, I learnt three or four bandishes with my own guru. I am still learning, as my learning has never been continuous thanks for a very unpredictable life. Anyhow, things are much more settled now and therefore this gush of musical compositions, in this or that raga.
I think it is only a matter of time that I will buy the book- am hoping they would come out with a paperback as well.
warmest regards
In response came this mail from Deepak ji (26th June 2017)
Dear Prateeksha:
I am sending herewith the manuscript of my book on Raga-ness. I hope you find it interesting. 
Regards. Deepak 
And lo and behold, the book manuscript comes into my computer!!!
The gentleman took 15 years to write the book or however we see it…and I cannot imagine his generosity and kindness in simply sending the manuscript to me- just because I said I cannot buy it immediately. But of course i have to buy the book, there is no option to that, not even for a moment, in my mind.
My response to him-  (26th June 2017)
Dear Deepak-ji
This is extremely kind of you. I am honored and so touched by the gesture. 
I will make do with the manuscript for now ( I have no words to express my elation). It is only a matter of time that I will buy it, because reading a hard copy has no substitute, as of course the sense of seeing the book in print and holding it in your hand. I value books immensely and therefore buying one that I deeply value is only a matter of time for me, and juggling a bit of resources- but I usually get what I want. 
I also value the fact that you took a long time to write the book, so if I take a little time to buy it, there is no loss. In the interim I have the manuscript to refer back to. I have many books that I want in both versions, because each form has its own place in our hearts and our reference systems. This is one of those precious ones.
Someday I will get my copy of the book autographed by you. I will read the book and come back to you slowly, because there is so much to learn in every direction. I am just planning a research article for a journal, which has recently accepted my abstract for a forthcoming special issue.
I wish you more books and scholarship ahead, and may the world be enriched by your knowledge.
In gratitude
And this is the letter I received in response-

Deepak Raja

26 Jun (7 days ago)

to me
You are welcome. Prateeksha. 
A reader of your caliber is a privilege.
Regards. Deepak
In my life I have seen and interacted with many a person and musician. The only thing that comes to mind from my interaction with Deepak-ji is that here is a musician who is a human being first. It is not easy to find humans among musicians– they are musicians first and last and their musical egos live on giant mountains. To interact with a person who has a great acuity of ideas, in addition to musical knowledge, language and expression is a matter of great fortune, nothing short of it. I know in my lifetime I would have met some fine minds and I am grateful for it.
The book is a real treasure for a person like me, and having seen it in the manuscript form I am only too excited to order and get my copy as soon as I can.

Feedback that gladdens your core

Of course every feedback is valuable to an artist, but some is more so. The ‘more So’ happens when it comes from seniors who are significant in their own right. Yesterday, by chance, upon listening to one of my ghazals (while sharing it with another dear friend who is equally fond of my music) I thought of sending a ghazal to a senior musicologist, who I got to know last year in the course of writing my (in progress) book. This senior musicologist is Sh.Deepak Raja, who also writes very insightful books (now four) and blogs.

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Deepak Raja, with his guru, Pt. Arvind Parikh- and the former’s fourth book, whose promotional lecture is on 14th July 2017

Books have strange and mysterious lives- they can grow and wane at a whimsical pace. That music book of mine has taken a backseat for now and in the course of it my contract with the publisher (a very prominent one in India) came to an automatic termination, as my health (spine) would not permit me any time on the computer. Nevertheless I have put in a lot of thought, labour and effort in it to whatever extent I have managed it so far, and for now I have laid it to rest and got busy in setting up the school of music and other related pedagological issues. Naturally enough at this juncture other things have taken precedence- possibly my Phd research most of it (it better), and my musical research not far behind (all in the compositional domain though).  Dogs have also contributed to this shift in some significant manner.

So coming back to the issue of the feedback, I sent a ghazal of mine to Deepak-ji, as I had had a WhatsApp interaction with him earlier in the day, for he invited me to a lecture of his to happen in the near future (14th July 2017) in Delhi. The day seems fine to me, being a Friday and I have no teaching classes that day. He will be talking about his book, Raga-ness of Ragas. I may or may not be able to go, but I think I would seriously give it a try. This was the first time I shared my music with him, despite communicating with him on scores of occasions- on email and phone, never in person as yet.

Earlier this morning, I received this email back from him-

Deepak Raja <deepak.raja@ >
to: Prateeksha Sharma < .com>
date: 25 June 2017 at 09:19
Dear Prateeksha,
You are an excellent singer. I am glad you sent me this link. Not an intrusion at all. I will now also hear other recordings. 
Thank you again. 
Warmest regards. Deepak 
Coming from such a heavy weight, it sure is a great honor, and I feel the need to write a post on my blog for I am so touched by his words.

As also that of my friend, who I just call here Ali- a professor of Linguistics in an American University, and a Pakistani by birth, and a  philosophical, deep and insightful individual . Upon hearing the same ghazal, he said this to me-

Thanks for singing the Urdu Ghazal, the way it should. The accompanist: baja, violen and Tabla jelled with the beautiful rendition filled with powerful musical expressions
The best is that singer kept the swaras and lyrics in a beautiful combination
(I have copied his words from my facebook chat with him)
Every appreciation is valuable, as I said earlier- but some are more so. These are two such.

Pains, plans, and gains

I never thought chikungunya was something to worry about till I got it. And today after more than a month of contracting it, I went online to check what it is all about. What I read and figured was not comforting in the least. So that leaves me with the lurking suspicion that this nuisance is here to stay. My joints are in utter pain and I am quite low on energy. By joints I meant ALL joints in my arms and legs, including the multiple joints on my fingers and the wrists and shoulders and you name it! I cannot lift my arm if I try- so I have to hold my right hand with my left one to lift the arm! Wow- never thought life could come to that. Naturally enough I cannot drive- so I have hired a driver. But wasting money on driving seems like a luxury.

HansFon Logo

So while I was (NO, am) dealing with the pains without respite (and crying out in the night due to an excess of it) and all my writing/research is completely stalled, I thought let me be a bit useful and go offer my counseling services- let health catch up. Of course one of the reasons for return from Goa was to get the non profit (Hansadhwani) off its feet, now that we are both around for long enough. So the first thing which I have been building on is the counseling or mental health arm of it.

To concretise the work further I decided to work with juveniles in observation homes and women who have faced violent crimes or in general are experiencing some domestic issues that they need resolution for. I went and met the two people who head these two different organizations- one was the superintendent of the home for the boys and the other was a police inspector at the women’s police station, in Faridabad. Among women I hope to focus on trauma, in particular rape victims and among boys there would be all sorts of issues. On the first day of meeting the two people, they pushed me to counsel two sets of people each in their respective facilities- one in the boys’ home and the police station. How much work is needed in society- if only we step out of our little cocoons we will know. For every little thing one can offer, there are so many takers. So last week I ended up talking to four different sets of people, and what a glimpse of life it was- from murder charges, to elopement, marital conflict and petty crimes.

The best way to take one’s mind off one’s own suffering is to look at the struggles of others. It offers us courage to bear our own. Of course bodily pain is a different thing than a crime- whether you are a victim or perpetrator. But the common factor lies in the suffering that is an outcome in every case. So I hope that by listening to the stories of others I would also broaden my horizons further and who knows what outcomes emerge with the dialogues that I facilitate- am certain there would be a social value addition, even if no reduction of personal anguish. But then the personal will always kill us, while the social will give us meaning. That is my hope always.

The abuser, teacher

Just this morning, I wrote a post about a piano teacher (click link). It could have been a happy case of writing about a musician and how wonderful it is to interact with young minds and impart them newer ideas about playing music, but this is not such a post. It is about an abusive teacher. The dilemma about knowing abusers is multifold. But the story about teachers abusing power only changes- it does not end, it does not create new outcomes and definitely in an unregulated environment, it can create some dangerous outcomes.

There was a recent incident, which I read about in the newspapers, just yesterday, about students stabbing a teacher. It takes a lot of anger to stab a person and that too when it is a teacher – who is traditionally assigned greater power socially than students. First of all, this itself is a¬†critical issue. Why should teachers have more power than students? Is the students’ ‘work’ of student-hood any less significant than a teacher’s? Can teachers become teachers without having students? Can teachers become better teachers by teaching the same thing again and again, year after year, without any change, if students do not question them?

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I do not personally think that students would stab a teacher upon a little provocation. To come to a point of stabbing a person, unmindful of its consequences is sign of accumulated anger- which for sure does not happen in a day. I have seen school teachers, particularly in government schools treating their students like despicable vermin. There was a well-feared school principal who was known to hit his students with big bamboo sticks, and not thin ones at that. I always carried the image that government school boys are ‘goondas’ or ruffians till I did not grow up and learn to understand the politics of knowledge, and how one class is ensuring the perpetration of ignorance of another class, by not even wanting to educate them- which the oppressed classes are seeing as the sole route to their emancipation and social upliftment.

Misplaced Hierarchies

Personally I believe that teachers being ascribed more power than students is itself a sign of a decadent, patriarchal value system in which the elements that constitute the system are not recognized as partners but viewed as a hierarchy. Patriarchy is also based on the idea of hierarchy and dominance. Of course it takes more  complex forms, about ownership of wealth/decision making ability in a family, society or institutionally. But the underlying idea is dominance. The whole Indian system of the guru-shisya parampara, which is carried down historical times until now is a continuation of the same hierarchical, decadent system, which carries on, with teacher-worshiping and unquestioning submission to the teacher (irrespective of their intelligence, kindness and knowledge). It is no wonder that our education is not producing the sort of social outcomes, growth, development and critical thinking that knowledge is supposed to inculcate. With unquestioning submission, nobody dares to question and nobody cares to answer, if someone questions.

Higher you go, lonelier it gets…in education

In the same context I would like to share here that recently I was having a telephonic dialogue with a young woman who is entering into a clinical psychology program, in a premier institution in India- someone who did a masters’ in psychology from a major university. I had read some of her articles and told her that I could see a research potential in her, though I did not see her academic articles to be thorough or methodologically significant. She said that nobody in their department (her teachers) helps any students! They (the professors) have so much on their plates already that it is not possible for them to pay heed to the needs of their students. I thought it was a great irony, since professors are paid to impart knowledge explicitly to those students only. They ought to at least guide their students and steer them in directions which bring their ideas to fruition or at least a clarity. Though as a student she was trying to condone her teachers’ lack of kindness/ethics/participation in the lives of students, as a student and a researcher myself I find it unpardonable. She further said that she has been told already that M.Phil that she is entering for, is all about finding your own way through the world- of ideas, patients, counseling methods and so forth.

Is it any surprise that when students come out of these departments with vacuous degrees they actually have no skills to offer to the world? They are just exposed to people, without given the wisdom and knowledge how to interpret the exposure. Everyone can have an apple fall on them, but only a Newton will think about it to arrive at the idea of gravity. Hundreds of people would have been hit by something falling from above- do they end up finding new ideas, new solutions or new perspectives? Then how to we create new knowledge? By just tossing about old ideas, in old vessels and older ways of looking at life, which are not even created in our own country, but the West?

So…coming back

Anyhow after these thoughts about education in India, as it goes, I need to come back to the main subject that triggered off these thoughts- about the piano player.

I have known him for at least 15 years- from a distance, the sort of knowing when you know a person’s name, their work (not having heard it) and knowing that he is a go-getter. The trouble with India is that a lot of us are gogetters. We will do anything to get what we want- even deviously, following no inner or social morals, because our conscience permits us to do everything, by hook or by crook.

Since I have already written the post about him, in this one I am not going to repeat my words written there. My concern here is the underlying philosophical, ethical, moral and social responsibility which we end up shirking when we abuse our own students. The other concern is that a whole lot of people are in the teaching market, in an unregulated manner, where their knowledge is not measured, nobody questions them about their methods and parents are largely ignorant about anything- from general education to art education. In such a grey scenario, the ones who know even a little are able to masquerade as knowledgeable and get jobs and private classes..

As human beings we all love to direct our emotional expressions at someone we can identify. Today I see that I can identify in that man, the piano teacher, an abuser- a convenient scapegoat for my angst. However more than my anger he provokes my sadness and my dejection- at the emptiness of everything people do. What is the significance of music if it does not deepen your own inner gaze and make you think about life, creation, philosophy, society and your own responsibility in a meaningful way? Is everything only about our bread and butter? Isn’t it a great shame really and we think and believe we belong to a great nation? So where is that greatness supposed to be, if we are not able to muster it in our daily life and day-to-day behaviours with our fellow human beings? A greatness of the past means no greatness at all– for the past is only a matter of the eyes that interpret it and History is only about interpretation- not about the truth. We do not need to glorify a past where a majority was oppressed and deprived of their dignity. What else was the guru shisya parampara if not exclusion of a majority of people from the possibility of achieving knowledge, which would only be imparted to a select few?

Teachers need to get out of their guru-hoods and embrace their journeys as inquirers and responsible citizens, who can only hold a candle, akin to an indicator/sign of the path of knowledge. The path is not owned by them, nor created by them. They are journeying on the path as co-voyagers of their students, colleagues and several others. If they cannot understand that, they do not deserve to be teachers and today I can say that a majority of teachers in India do not deserve to be teachers. The minority wherever it is, is worthy of salutation and to them I bow as the upholders of a value system, in which it is not the ego of the teacher that is supreme, but the process of collaboration that learning and teaching is supposed to be- the co-creation of knowledge.

Shivmat Bhairav

From the start this has been a difficult year in terms of health. First it was the ‘breakdown’, then came the Phd admission, then the spinal problems and now the chikungunya. Wow! talking of living in a ‘poor’ country, one cannot but worry about how the average person lives here. Everyone seems to be sick in the city of Delhi/Faridabad. The government is giving out its own statistics, but the reality of life seems so different. In every family I am fiDSC00940nding people having fever, and body aches. I myself was suffering from immense body ache at present, and it seems as though the body has been hollowed out- without life in it.

Notwithstanding that I have been chipping away at my writing- the book on music, that is, and today I also plucked the courage to  start singing once again with my guru- Madhuriji. It must have been in March or April I did some learning with her. And after that long a gap- now. It always takes awhile to pick up a new raga with aunty, because she dislikes certain and then does not think all ragas need to be sung elaborately. I wanted to pick up either Anand Bhairava or Jogiya. But she said Anand Bhairava was only sung by Jitendra Abhisheki and nobody else! and Jogiya is a a raga for thumri, nothing else! So that made my choices somewhat limited. In any case eliminating made choosing easier as well. So between a number of ragas, since I wanted to learn something new, we settled for Shivmat Bhairav.  It belongs to the Bhairav family, having both gandhar , both nishad notes. It resembles Jogkauns somewhat. (That reminds me that I have to go over Jogkauns all over again as my illness seems to have obliterated the memory of that raga in my mind for now).

The world of Hindustani ragas is so vast and colourful it seems endless- there is so much to learn, to teach, to share, to write about, to create and whatnot. And here I am grappling with chikungunya- sleeping with body ache and lifelessly so- in my bed. The book is going around in my mind at most times. Yesterday I was writing about the folk songs of women of Garhwal and thinking about the role of folk music in the life of people. It is so deeply entrenched, yet so overshadowed by the popular reign of film music and other forms of music from the cities. There is a reason to be worried. I am writing this down in the book, because if a country does not preserve its folk art and music, it is sure to be lose its voice and identity.

What is diversity if not difference from the dominant prevalent culture which is handed down by civilizational leaders? Currently the leadership comes from the West to the rest. That leadership permeates every field- including artistic and musical traditions. Foolishly enough people in third world countries think they can and ought to follow the trail of the (Western) leaders because they are markers of civilization, advancement and development. In that self doubt and self conscious assessment, they marginalize their indigenous knowledge and traditions. It is happening all over the world and India is no exception. Even Indian music is not immune to such self conscious assessment. In part one has to hold the planning around art and culture responsible for this lack of self confidence and need to be accepted by the Westerner before we can accept ourselves.

And though I am delving into the deeper end of the current, in search of newer ragas and compositions, my heart is in pain to think of how the average person is so far removed from the immensity of experience that our music brings. In talking to many people for the writing, many points of view emerged- especially on the issue of whether our classical music is our real music or should it be some folk form of music. Ramakant-ji told me that this is a classical tussle in all traditional forms of knowledge, particularly in language and mathematics. So I do not have to dig the well again, but understand the work done by linguistics and mathematicians in the realm of finding a compromise between folk and classical traditions, rather than depriving the average child in the country of both!

The book is half way done. I mean I have written just over 20k words and I need to write equally as many. It is not the easiest of books to write, though when I had sent the proposal it did not look so confounding. It is a great learning and covers a big range of topics, yet the learning has come from most unexpected quarters for me- the fact that writing a book proposal is so different from executing it! Sometimes it is so easy to nail down a broad outline, but try filling up the outline and you know what a tough challenge it can be. I have only learnt this now. Of course writing the first book was a different sort of challenge- something that I am about to embark on once again! Of course, nobody needs to do that if you find a publisher at the outset. But since I want to change the entire book, it is asking me for that sort of effort.

The PhD does not budge

If anyone asks me how my phd research is going, I feel annoyed, because honestly speaking what are they thinking? Do they think it can get over in a day? The truth is that apart from reading and outlining a few preliminary articles, I have not really embarked upon the road in any earnest manner. Shifting home 2000 kilometers, setting up a new home, falling sick and all sorts of adjustment issues that I have had to deal with these past few months do not make research the easiest things to start. SO I am staggering under the various burdens- but slowly gravitating towards an equilibrium- one part of which includes counseling with my clients.

So life goes on thus…(will write later as someone is at the door)

Dog crates and the Indian Rail

I am going through a distressing fortnight these days, ever since I sent two dog crates from Delhi to Margao, Goa. I had taken two dogs from Goa to Delhi and sent the crates back from there with the view that the other two dogs would come back a fortnight later, in the same crates- by plane, the way the first two (Nikki and Ginger) went.Dog crate fastning

However, even though the crates were loaded on the train on 10th June 2016, and had to reach by 11th June here, they have still to. I made them into a big parcel, having three dog crates this time- one was a hired one, from the pet shop next door for which we are paying Rs. 180/- a day as rent and the remaining two were my own. The idea was to return the petshop one, clear its rent and take our two crates and the two dogs back.

Now we have not received the crates and everyday we are running up and down to the Margao/Madgaon station in trying to see if they have come. From Saturday, we are also in a whole lot of twitter dialogue with a number of people in the Indian Railways. It is extremely disappointing to see how the Indian Railways are not handling freight with the earlier precision with which I had sent things two years ago to Goa from Delhi.

But there is more at stake here. I have cleared up my dues with my landlord and told him I would be leaving, there are plane tickets booked, and the packers and movers have been engaged to move my home goods. However, without the dogs moving out with me, I cannot move. I cannot keep incurring the expenditure of buying crates and with the railway authorities everything seems to be going round in circles.

I am worried about¬†something that need NOT have bothered me at all, and anguished what to say. My whole day is spent in the concern of ‘what if’s’…so this is the joy of living in India, where every part of our lives is complicated for all the wrong reasons. Talk about mental suffering. Moving home is a very taxing and resource heavy exercise as it is- and the least anyone requires is the additional burden of misplaced goods. I am suffering a huge lot- not the sort of post I am accustomed to writing on this blog. I had thought that this last week of me being in Goa would be a pleasurable one, but that seems not be be the case. I suppose this amounts to a social construction of how our little joys are so easily compromised, and what need not be a source of trouble becomes a great one.

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Without combing my hair

On 28th January this year, when I reached the guest house of Nalsar University and checked into the guest house I had an uncanny feeling that I had missed something. Later upon rummaging through my bag, I figured it was a comb- for the first time in my life, I was travelling out of my home, with no mechanism to comb my hair. It never happened like this ever. I was mildly nervous, had been unwell for many of the preceding weeks, or rather, had straightaway come from a long spell of illness. Mom had come in from Delhi to be with me and give me company during the course of my illness, and she was very much at home in Goa, whilst I flew to Hyderabad.

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NALSAR University of Law

I went to the interview next morning, at the appointed time of 10:30 am. There were many hopefuls like me, all sitting outside the Vice Chancellor’s office. I am not sure how people perceive one another when they encounter each other, without having any connection of the past, yet thrown in the same waters of uncertainty. I realized I was the last on the list of the candidates- so even if the interviews started at 10:30 I would not get an opportunity in a hurry.

Then the next thing happened. I was told to show my original degrees and certificates. Perhaps nobody could be in the same boat at me. I had lost all of them! When I think about it, I feel as though I am the least likely of someone to pursue a doctoral degree program. So here I had to go and talk to the assistant registrar, show him the document that said that I had lost my degrees and had applied for them, so I be allowed to take the interview on the assumption that I would share the originals with the university at a later date someday. Fortunately, the gentleman accepted my version and took photocopies of my documents and kept them with him.

By the time my turn came for the interview, I had witnessed how every single candidate had been received by the board of interviewers. Many came out fuming, some perplexed and some crestfallen. Nobody came out with self assurance. I was unsure how I would be dealt with considering all these were people of law, and here I was having no inkling of law, but wanting to do a phd in a law university.

Everyone had brought a powerpoint presentation to share how their research was intended. But nobody got a chance to run it through and the single person who managed to have a go at it, said he had too many slides and did not have enough time to present them. When my turn came, I went in and saw a somber group of some six seven senior professors sitting around the round table in the seminar room and looking at me grimly.

I said, good afternoon (it was past one o’clock in the afternoon) in a loud and clear voice. I was nervous, for I was not sure how this serious looking group would question me, would I have enough ideas to convince them?

Amita Dhanda said to me, Prateeksha you have ten minutes. Tell us what you would like to say.

I quickly got my presentation out, for that was the most concise way of going about things and started to talk. I was talking about psychosis and recovery, and its legal ramifications. I talked about emancipatory perspectives and how I intend my research to have outcomes for the future of society and inform policy. I had naturally planned it all out that way only. Later when I was sitting in the evening and chatting with one of my former students, I got a message from Prof. Dhanda to come and meet her. I hurriedly went, and she informed me that the board of interviewers had unanimously agreed for my candidature.

I heaved a sigh of relief, for this was the moment that I had waited for a near ten years- and now the green signal had been given. A full 24 years after being given a diagnosis of Bipolar in disorder, I would be going back to university as a student, to study about the same thing- and to see in what manner more people can recover and reclaim their lives from the tentacles of mental illness. Life has come a full circle- at least from the point where I had a break in ‘sanity’ or that which others see as sanity.

My uncombed head of hair had got me into a doctoral research at last and it has been a very hard won battle. But paradoxically, entering into phd is only the start of the real battle! So here I come with another round of research, but hopefully a lot more organized than in the past this time around. Phew…uncombed hair are not all that bad after all.

So tomorrow (13th April, a week before my 44th birthday) I am going back to Hyderabad once again, for my research methodology classes and I am excited this time- though the heat is doing a little act of pulling the spirits down. Plus the timing of the classes at 9:30 in the peak of summer seems very absurd, especially if one is waking up at 5:15 or 5:30 in the morning! I am hoping to manage it well, despite the lumbar spondylosis and osteophytosis that are bothering me for now, though they are not supposed to bother all the time. Loaded with scores of medicines for the nerves, the heat, and the bones- and a fresh set of ideas about exercise, here I am ready for the start of my phd program, a full 24 years on. Whoever could have thought this possible!

my success, not mine in the least

I should have written a new post…the new year is 31 days old after all. But this was a difficult year in the beginning- it started with me having a burnout!! of all things. Due to what? Nothing but a deep cough.

A cough brought in all the symptoms of mania (psychosis) and I had to go through the difficult passage of a shamanic renewal. All my auditory sensations returned, I could hear things from far, I would hyper react to small stimuli. So what was it finally I thought?

I am certainly not suffering from any mental illness or so-called mental illness. So how to explain this sudden tsunami of the consciousness? Anyways, what I have been writing about the spiritual basis of existence is true once again and I went through the cosmological cycle of birth and awakening, meeting with the ancestors, healers and ancients in this span of time.

When the clock turned for christmas I knew nothing, nor when the new year came. But my family was all around and when they thought I had another breakdown, and may be need to consult with a psychiatrist all over again, I said no…this is not psychosis. But the ‘symptoms’ would be the same. What you are depends upon who is seeing it. If you have a cough, the cardiologist would have a different view of it than a guava seller. Everyone has a point of view. So whose view should you refer to?

Fortunately in my case my own views on spiritual awakenings are very well entrenched in multiple domains of knowledge and this time I knew for sure it was a shamanic renewal- there was so much memory of mythology and I was back again into the domain of Gaia, Sumerian civilization, Egyptian mythology and Hindu gods, goddesses and the whole of the Indus civilizational motifs- it filled my mind with stories ad infinitum. My family was certain, it was a breakdown.

But I called it a burnout, as though the boundaries of consciousness had blurred and there was a large scale bombardment from all sides- whether the personal kept merging into the universal back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And on the personal front a lot of fires were lit, friends lost, neighbours charred and whatnot- the usual upheaval that accompanies an intense experience of such cataclysmic changes.

At the back of all this, one thing was gently unfolding- I had cleared the phd entrance exam in Nalsar, Law University and I had sent my research proposal- in recovery, what else. I had to face an interview, right on the heels of a burnout! Date- 29th January 2016. It had to be made into the form of a presentation.

I asked Ramakant-ji how to. It is one thing to write a research paper, but one thing to write a phd proposal in 1000 words. He told me to narrow the focus down from the entire spectrum of mental illness to one thing. I chose psychosis. Then he told me to think what could be done in psychosis and how it would fit into the law mode. But that I also discussed with others.

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Anyways, I wanted to talk to him just before going for the interview. I was very weak, and had not studied. It was not possible to study, I could barely sit up! But I was worried. I thought hearing his voice I would feel better. When I rang his phone his wife picked up, which is quite irregular. But she informed me that he was unwell, and will talk later.

Few days later I got a message, rather a one-liner-25th January- “Improving very SLOWLY. will talk after a few days..”

I wrote- “You are in my prayers n best wishes always. My Phd interview, 29th, Hyde.Plz bless me that I clear the last hurdle. Wish u stable recovery. Gnite” (this is an sms that I quote)

His response, 26th January 2016- ‘YOU SHALL. if they don’t take you, the loss is theirs AND ours.’

On 29th January, I was sitting in the guest house with one of my former, (one course) student who is like a godchild to me. At that time I got a call from the head to go and meet her. I went immediately and she told me that the interview board had unanimously voted in my favour- and condoned the marks that I had lacked in the past- 20 years ago, i had scored a 52.6% in MA Political Science, whereas the minimum qualifying marks for phd anywhere in India are 55%. No university was willing to condone this criteria for me, notwithstanding my research record,my publications for who would support my candidature.

Finally it took an Amita Dhandha, a disability department and NALSAR- the national academy of legal sciences and research, Hyderabad to open it doors to me cautiously, by checking me at every step.

While being driven back to the airport, I called up Srivastsan to share the news. He did not pick up his phone. But when I was entering the airport he called back and I was showing my ticket etc at the door. We were busily chatting away. I told him and he was very happy. I also told him that he was responsible for my success, because if he had not invited me to the conference of the medico friend circle group, in Pune, in February 2015, I would never have met Amita Dhandha, who would never have invited me to teach at Nalsar and I would not have been there to fill in the Phd form with a fraction of time left for closing it on the last day of accepting forms (that would be another story).

There are stories galore in this one little story, but I have to hold one thread and I hold the one which has Ramakant-ji in it.

On 29th evening, having spoken with my family, I felt I must tell Ramakant-ji about it. And sending a message to him was the best thing. I wrote, ‘With your blessings, I have made it thru the Phd interview. The board unanimously agreed in my favour. Thank you so much. I hope you are steadily recovering.’

Next morning, while in my sleep I heard the phone beep. Later when I saw the message, which was sent at 4:53 am, it said, ‘The most welcome news of the new year. So much on the horizons for you to achieve. Best and regards to you mother, brave as always.’

My success, at anything whether overcoming psychosis or making through the phd passage, where the obstacles were nearly insurmountable, has never been a personal or individualistic journey. I owe my everything to others and no wonder my research will now be into how more people can recover and what sort of things can be done in the country to make India honor its commitment to the UNCRPD. I have entered the portals of law, legality and jurisprudence. WOW! life is so full of surprises.

And yet, I am not going to forget the knowledge which has flowed from Ramakant-ji- who opened my mind to the possibilities that lurk within language in how we construct our own and other people’s realities> Linguistics is going to be an intimate part of my work ahead.

I salute all my guides and mentors. My new year begins with that salutation.

I am back into university study after 23 years of studying from HOME!!!

This picture below is from the Nalsar Campus, in Hyderabad

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Who knows where the road takes you from here