The Karo…na staycation!

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

the spinach bed needs to be cleared soon

Spinach and lettuce

lots of tomatoes

Abundance of tomatoes

asking for a lot of work

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

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

red and green amaranth

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Minimum daily work-

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

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

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

4. Watering all sides of the garden- three sides

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

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

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The front yard

Biweekly tasks

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

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

Planting new seeds/plants

Removing old plants and reworking the soil for next season

Writing (research) articles

Working on the next project

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

New musical compositions for teaching

Bathing dogs as per schedule

Counseling clients as and when they take appointments, usually online

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

I can do with longer days or more energy

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

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

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

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

Not just another doggy tail or passage

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

 

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

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

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This is the kind of basket she was crouched in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raga- 23rd October 2017 (the youngest)

Nikki- 8th June 2018 (utterly unexpectedly)

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

and finally Ginger – 29th January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

A decade of ‘recovery’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rhythm the dachshund

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

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

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

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

A special year, ending…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The publications that appeared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Must leave with this beautiful, utterly beautiful piece of music

Dash departs

When a beloved companion suddenly departs, it only has one effect- a stunning blow one doesn’t know how to respond to. A day of not eating, a day of listless breathing which I attributed to flatulence or anything (not that he ever suffered from that) does not really prepare anyone, until all the signs do not become a writing on the wall. But that one day gave me all the warning and prepared me- to the extent I was ready for it, for all the signs were slowly appearing. Towards the evening I even got a big hole dug in the garden, for I knew it would be anytime now!

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Dash: 19th Dec 2004- 28th June 2019

 

When you love and live through so much together, your companions more so the canine ones, become such an invisible yet constant part of life one does not even look at them. What am I saying?! Of course this is not true. I looked out for him every single moment, more him than anyone else– because I could see his growing vulnerability, especially with the young dachshunds around growing stronger and bolder. I would ensure he was in the room with me wherever I went, especially with the heat now so intolerable. He would wait outside the door for fear of the younger dogs and I would just get up every time or usher him in before closing the door (i never fully close my doors even with the airconditioning). But this was only in the last year, and progressed as the youngsters grew older.

How long we go back

Dash had a long history with me. There are many dogs I adopted in life but having adopted a dachshund earlier, when I had an opportunity to get another home I did not think a moment about it, and promptly got him home. I still remember the long drive from Gurgaon to Faridabad; where I got him from a family who wanted to give him up due to some of their problems for that time. He was born in that home- his both parents were there too. On the day I went to get him he barked at me initially and I shook for a second thinking how would I take him back if he were to show an attitude? But he had a weakness for drives, and he promptly jumped into my car when I held his leash. And we drove away.

After awhile I think he figured that the drive got too long; it was almost 35 kms. And once he did and seeing a stranger at the wheel, he started howling! Now this was a lonely road and not much happening around, except for random people in their cars and bikes. But I felt embarrased seeing the people looking at the dog howling in the car. And this continued for at least ten kms, until we reached home. Once we reached home, the other three girls- Ginger, Nikki and Raga were waiting for me. They heard my car and started barking excitedly. Now Mr. Dash forgot all about his past life and decided that he had to deal with the adversaries at hand. All the howling stopped and here we were…starting a new life. I brought a small male dog into a home with three adult females- golden retriver, labrador and german shephard. He was four years old and by far the oldest for all my girls were younger to him.

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All the dogs in one shot

It was a short process of befriending the retrievers and a little longer with Raga- but in time we all became a happy family. But happy families have to do things, manage stuff and when the family is dominated by canine members, then the human usually ends up doing a lot of stuff!

And so i did- managing a home with four dogs taught me everything about life, everything that I needed to know about humans, relationships, discipline, the value of timeliness, routine and so much more- remaining organized, remaining unwavering, not questioning the work that needs to be done, not making too much noise when suffering, because I saw how placidly animals accepted their suffering, whatever it be.

A Goan adventure

But happy families with an adventurous human also treat life like an adventure- which it is meant to be! And we all experienced the crazy adventure of the Goan holiday where we lived in a village and a city- one year each, soaked ourselves in the Goan country and then happily returned home. But not before we captured some of our experiences on this blog, which of course is now defunct, but which still holds in place some of our fondest memories from Goa. And in this one you can see how Dash would strategically place himself and seek Nikki’s comforting companionship.

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Tolerating Dash, as he seeks the comfort of her company (Faridabad)

One can see the silent exchanges Nikki and Dash were having- they were quite a pair really.

Raga was the first of my girls to go, even though she was the youngest. That was in October 2017, then it was Nikki’s turn on 8th June 2018. And now it was Dash- 28th June 2019. In three consecutive years three of my babies have departed. Dash has shaken me just like Nikki, for there was no illness, no warning- perhaps another sagely demise like Nikki. One day of not eating, not showing much response – a certain delirium, and gone the next morning.

He was having some hiccups and coughing and everytime he did, he expelled either from his mouth or his bowels/bladdar. I kept him clean till the end, made sure his sheets were changed, bed was clean, the towel under his head, to prop him up to ease his breath, was clean too. That was the most I could do at this stage I felt.  My heart was very disturbed and I even postponed one of my music classes to the next morning, of the three I had, because I did not want to be away from him that long. I taught the other two classes because by then my sister was here, and she was by his side while I taught. By the time I came up from the music classes, she told me this was the final countdown.

Living in surrender

Between us we have seen so many dogs, from our earliest years that we can tell. I called someone and got ready for the next stage of life. It is a strange eerie thing that while someone you love still lives, you get ready for their burial. But I now think that this is the greatest acceptance of the inevitability of the circle of life’s circularity, that what is…will pass out of being, into non-being. If we were to only accept this wisdom and live in awareness of our short time, no matter how long it appears today, perhaps we would develop some insight into what we do, how we think, how we worry/fret/suffer or whatever else it be.

So these were the dogs because of who I chose to not go to the US for my PhD, and I am so glad I chose not to. The exact feeling in my heart was that my dogs were ageing and at a time when they were ageing and needing my tending to, could I just leave them with anyone and hand over my responsibility to another? Would I not suffer to remember them at a time when they would be ill and they would be dying? As though prophetic, this is exactly what happened. While the PhD still goes on, the dogs passed away- one in each year, as I mentioned earlier. In July this year, 2019, I complete three years of PhD research and three of my dogs have departed. It was them, my greatest companions because of who I am doing this PhD…and I think at least today I have the comfort that I kept my vows to them. If they have been faithful and loving to me, so have I tried, in learning from them the greatest of my life lessons, imbibing the values of dedication, commitment and contentment, regardless of what/who you have, or do not.

Now here is a collage of photos with Dash in each of them, the rest may or may not be there. I am unlikely to be there in most as I would be the one behind the camera, capturing vignettes of my life, my loved ones, my adventures.

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But I do not write this note in despair…neither should anyone who reads it construe it thus. It is meant in honor, in love and in gratitude for lives shared and loved deeply, for companions who endure every season of life and for the circle that continues as younger dogs live on a reminder that even when we will go there will be others holding fort…so let us do the best we can, while we can.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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

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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

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Ginger in 2012, while Dash passes by

As 2018 slips away into eternity

Yeah right! Eternity. No matter what, we will never be able to return back to it- unless of course we choose to return to the experiences, the people encountered along the way, the knowledge gathered and the friendships forged.

Couple of days ago I wrote a little blog post about my research and writing in 2018- it has been a year of gaining tremendous clarity about many many issues, in and around mental health mostly. And then in the same vein I could say that my networks expanded in mental health in almost a 360-degree way. From social scientists doing fantastic work in Sociology, to therapists doing phenomenal work in recovery in mental illness and of course the work done by people who have lived through mental illness and now work in the scholarly/activist domains- these become three sets of practically unconnected people, though there are minor overlaps there. What I am saying is that I got to know people, in person all over the globe in these three domains- social sciences, therapy and the survivor/emancipatory network. 

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Photo by Louis. K on Unsplash 

Now I think about it, its a BOOM moment, when suddenly sparks flew in all directions and lit them up- illuminating pathways which must have been there all along, but suddenly became visible. All in mental ‘health’. It is amazing that so many people are working in mental health in such contrasting and different ways- it is a miracle I got to see and experience so many sides of it. I have to thank my Phd work in a small way, though these things are not really linked to my research. It is all in the wider field of mental ‘illness’; a great expansion of perspective/s! In that sense, it’s been a great year.

Perhaps in most other ways, another year, like the rest of them. Some losses, the most significant being Nikki, my labrador- there won’t be another like her. My utter-est sweetheart!

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Wondering what to do

I am quite thrilled about the forthcoming publications and the progresses I am making in the dissertation. I am not thrilled about the dissertation necessarily, but the fact that it is moving at all 😦

And since this year has been a very introverted year, with limited mobility outside of home, most work has happened within the four walls only, except for the visit to Greece. I am not writing any further for now, but I hope to in the new year, for this year is already over and what has to be done in the next one, should be spelled out or chronicled then. Adieu 2018.

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Each of these people is working in mental health, except the Finnish, young woman in front of me- who was finishing off her Phd in Education. This is a predominantly Finnish group, barring one lady each from Paraguay, and Australia, and another young person, whose face is hidden who is Greek. As of course me- Indian!