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

11 years today

On 15th October, 2007 when I was 35 years and a half, I moved to this home in Faridabad, near Delhi the capital of India. It was (and still is) the prime of life and as a single woman I had chosen to live alone with my three girls- Ginger, Nikki and Raga (GnR- yes, guns and roses). It was a sea of uncertainty that I dived into and today that many years later when I look back, I can only see how much I have become the person I wanted to. I even have the confidence to put my website in place which is in my own name, and not any organization’s.

It is not easy to bring everything out in a little piece of writing that can befittingly encapsulate the turning of destiny’s clock for me- yet the change is there for anyone to see, especially someone who has seen me over a span of time. Today, of my initial companions it is Ginger who stands by ; a weak little thing, over 12 years of age and the light in her considerably diminished. But she is a beautiful dog nevertheless and even when I see her weakening form, I cannot but tend to her and love her deeply- remembering all the phases of her life. Right now she is sleeping peacefully, after her meal and walk. Her body is deeply affected by a mange which has become too chronic for treatment I keep up whatever

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support is feasible. This means I give her an oil soak, with four oils combined into one and leave her in the sun and then bathe her. Andre also gave her an epsom salts dip. For years I have been treating her for this mange, but somewhere it could not be eradicated. Then her ears too became infected and the tubes inside fused, so that the ear canals are closed! They are always very vulnerable for pus formation and then the flies come and lay eggs! In the last few months she has had at least two-three episodes of that- maggots and all the rest. Painful to say the least and painful to see her thus- and then taking to the vet and getting the treatments. Ageing dogs break your heart yet give you immense courage for the stoic acceptance of how they handle their suffering. I realize that more than any human being, I am learning from these little beings around me- a peaceful surrender to whatever life brings and lying around gently, eating, sleeping and then moving to the next thing that needs to be done.

This is the time of change of seasons and it also happening in the home -refurbishing and consolidating many existing structures. Today a painter is painting the new fence as well. In this picture one can see  the welders welding and putting it in place.

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The garden is all empty now for this is the interim of planning the winter plants and we are all getting ready in so many dimensions

11 years is a long time and a short time- depending upon who is seeing it, but in this one odd decade everything I completely changed in every conceivable dimension of my life. It is a satisfactory change indeed, but perhaps the wistfulness comes most from the people left behind in the process- who could not remain a part of my life- for what they meant once and what they mean today are again, two polar opposites. And this is especially true for ‘friends’. In a manner of speaking, there is a lot less presence of people posing as friends and in a way there is a relief, because everyone’s size became visible in this span of time and the ones who had to drop off, just did (the well-fed ticks). There is no more time to write this post now, as the writing that I need to work on is calling me to hasten and wind off this little note. IMG_20181012_201209

I do- with a bow to the hands of time that gave me this beautiful house, all thanks to my parents, and the scope, imagination and resources to create a new life for myself. The last picture I share here is the living room – the lights in this picture are a bit weird, which is really not the real lighting here, but it captures the elements- the fish in the aquarium, the cockateils, the dining table, the seating- to imagine that I had an empty house when I came here- bringing this idea of a home into fruition has been a great adventure. And that brings me to the closure of one and the beginning of another adventure. I mean the adventure of having a home for myself in which I could do everything I wanted to has been accomplished. And now from here I begin the building of my dreams, which will unfold further ahead from here.

I came here, an ill, bipolar woman- ridden with anxieties and an uncertain life. 11 years down the road, I am a therapist, a doctoral researcher, a musician, and an entrepreneur- what more could it be?

Four months into the year>>>

From the last time that I wrote on this blog, feeling happy and excited about the new things happening, today I am about to register something of a mixed lot of experiences. And they are all, as one would expect, in my case-

  1. First, Rhythm came into heat- a little over seven months old that she is! I was having a premonition it could be anytime now,  but not so soon (ouch!!!). Couple of times I had broached the subject of spaying with the vet too, but he said, let’s wait until the pups are nine months. So now, they are just a little over seven and here am I- a pup in heat and two male dogs of her size around- certainly no enviable situation for a PhD-er! This Phd is really an eventful one- so much keeps happening with a fair degree of regularity. The boat is always rocked 😦

2. I went and had my first ‘class’/learning session with my new guru- when he was here in Delhi briefly, staying at the India International Center, not the best locations to conduct a class…but at least a beginning was made. When I heard the minute nuances of his voice, my heart just quivered in fear- god, can I even do it, and how will I? Fortunately I will only be meeting him in several months now- which means I have all the time for my own riyaaz and internalizing whatever he showed me that day . But since it is really quite foundational, meaning a significant shift in my singing style, I cannot hurry this up- it will be very slow, the change.

3. A few days later in a phone conversation he told me to drop my Phd and join him on his concert tours. I think it is a great honor to be said this by a senior guru, to a shisya. However, I shared with him that firstly i cannot play the tanpura on stage due to my spine and secondly the Phd is something I want to put behind me, before plunging myself full scale into music- which is really the case. On the other hand, I wish I could just dump the Phd- it is painful, as one would expect it to be, more so in India- where everything is against a Phd-researcher!

4. On another front, quora offered me a (free) subscription to the New York Times as a recognition of the fact that I have been volunteering and helping people who use quora, and made me a ‘top writer’. I never do anything for the sake of recognition, but this was completely unexpected. Not that I have time to read the NYT either, but it is interesting to see that this happened.

5. Students in music are all making progress and yet I had to drop one child from the fold who was taking a lot of breaks, without giving any reason. Often in India parents take the arts lightly (ignorantly?) and most cannot understand that classical music is not like other forms of music, you cannot just begin anywhere and catch up with the group. There is a system one is following and a structure being created here- to think musically and from the ground upward. I had to lay him off in a strange way- it was sad, but a necessary move that had to be planned out. On another front, I am glad and surprised to see the ladies who have joined newly, being so enthusiastic about learning musical notation- it is a great thing  because it inculcates a musical seriousness and discipline. Ok so this is about the students.

6. And last of all, the journal article- which i finally sent with great effort. Responding to the peer review comments this time was very tough, because the field of mental health from an emancipatory and peer perspective is still a new area of study and the intersectionality one has to keep referring back to is quite complex. But simultaneously I am getting to work with many families at present and that makes the whole picture  a representative and well-informed picture at many levels.

Analyzing so much in research makes it relatively easy for me to understand what obstacles people face in their recoveries. How I wish I would have a little more help at home to manage the dogs, so I can just sit down and work on my dissertation. I m somewhat lagging in my commitment that I had made to my university.

The month of May also seems packed with teaching, counseling and of course the ten day break, that hopefully I will be writing the next blog-post about.. In the meanwhile let me just manage to shoo the dogs away from Rhythm, who is confused, as is Flow- about why Dash is interested in Rhythm. Who can explain to Flowie, that Dash is a neutered dog and  you are the real risk to your sister! you donkey!IMG_20180325_211214614

2017 ending…

Wow, its amazing that this year too is coming to an end. Of course every year has to- but the huge amount of changes that have happened in this one, makes it somewhat different in many ways. The change in my family is the foremost thing- I cannot look back at this year, in the times ahead, and not remember who left us all- my darling Raga

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Hello, I am your doggie

– who pulled along all the way until October, though given her condition and the progressive deterioration I saw, I would not have given her this much time myself. The mystery of the human-canine connection runs so deep, and how we connect with our canine beloveds. I cannot still forget the day I got Raga home as a puppy and then to see her entire life-cycle coming a full circle in front of me, brings a deep sadness and equanimity at the same time. This is the eternal law of the universe- matter coming into creation and transformation, and the role of consciousness, its interaction with that matter and the transformation of them both. Matter (me and my dog) both change, our connection with each other changes and we move from one stage of love- the puppy days to the senior days. The nature of care and concern changes significantly. Raga taught me all that. To the extent, that after her passage when Nikki became ill, and was suddenly immobilized for a few weeks, I was totally able to handle her and the effect of that, since she needed so much more care than Raga (being so much heavier than Raga).

If Raga’s passage was a moment of truth for me, it had to be acknowledged at many levels: including that, for me to handle big breeds of dogs in the times ahead, may become tricky if I had the sort of health issues I have been dealing with in 2016-17. Soon after when the decision to bring in the pups was taken, this was very much a part of the decision. In fact long ago I had decided to go for Dachshunds by and large, and Labrador too. But seeing Nikki’s health issues now, I think I would have to reconsider  even that. The small size of the Dachshund is ideally suited for a person like me- who manages her dogs alone.

In 2017, Rhythm and Floe became part of the family, as did the cockatiels- who I call Chintu,

Mintu, Dolly and Molly. Not that they care about their names. But I do, even if I cannot make out one from the other. True to my human nature, and our (foolish)  anthropomorphic sensibility we want to see every form of life with human parameters- names included.

IMG_20170918_161557606_HDRI changed the garden in very major ways, but sadly the back lawn does not get much sun any more thanks to the construction by the next door people! It has robbed me of the joy of setting up a new garden- even though very doggedly I have been planting the winter annuals, every few weeks. Three times I have make the efforts already. It is a big learning to not bring in real small saplings any more. My greens are now beginning to show a little. I have lettuce coming up, and coriander, but the beetroots will not grow here, while the spinach has been planted a second time, tomato plants are also standing up now. Overall, my plans to have a neat little kitchen garden have been thwarted.

The school of music- SwarGanga has been born and is a part of the Hansadhwani- which is not the foundation any longer, but a social enterprise headed by a single entrepreneur. Therefore it has become feasible for me to legitimately bring together the contrasting strands of knowledge into my one head, and even succeeded in putting a website in place. I started in earnest in March and the students came in April. At the time of the year closing, I have eight-nine students in all, with varying levels of payment (including one who learns for free, and three who pay a fraction of the amount of the fee, as paid by their peers). Teaching about eight-nine hours a week of music- most of which is new stuff is interesting and challenging simultaneously. My own learning continues as well, and i am also looking out for a new guru, who if I can get an opportunity to learn with, would be a great blessing.

Academically the going is not bad- i have gathered the data for one part of my work (the narratives) and I am also through with the transcription of a majority of them. One of my papers got selected and has currently gone for peer review in a Ethics based journal and in another domain an international conference has accepted my abstract and has invited me to contribute to its proceedings. So though I am extending the scope into the Global Mental Health agenda a little prematurely, but nevertheless it is a worthwhile venture, because in any case I had to work on that for my Phd too at a later stage.

All in all, on all counts there has been a lot of progress, which I had not foreseen, earlier. I am also invited to lecture in at least two different universities in India itself (none being my own!), my networks are getting to be more meaningful and not ‘friendships’ of school/college or social media alone. I have kept away from the social media in a very concerted effort andIMG_20171123_160908774 (1) I really think it was a great decision. It has been much better to invite people in person and spend time with them- and I have done that wherever there has been a scope for it.

My relationships with the children in my family, of my own generation have got a little better because I suppose the children too have grown up by now and they can make out one aunt from another. In November and December my brother and a cousin have been visiting from the US and Australia respectively and seeing them with their families, including small and big children is a great source of happiness (and relief that I do not have my own!!). Its been a time of ageing and renewal (the small pups and the children being the new blood among us).

On the family front, papa has recovered from a major cardiac surgery, and though weakened somewhat he is still very spirited and active- which is very important I think. Mummy is managing steadily and I find her  frail at times, but all my life I have seen her so strong and active that it is difficult to associate her with the idea of weakness- I always think my mom is young!

I do see a lot more work in 2018- including in research, in music, in other areas too- and I look forward to it. I will turn 46 next April. I am almost into my middle age. And of course ‘the middle’ has also begun to show 🙂 So I think the best option is to embrace the turn of the clock joyfully and be energized by some of the wiser people in the family, who lead long, relatively healthy and balanced lives. even though the sun may vanish I will keep sowing new gardens, for who knows what plant can grow well in the shade 🙂

And as always, Chrysanthemums will come well ahead of other flowers…

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Chrysanthemums- December 2017

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Chrysanthemums- December 2017

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?

‘N then came the flowers, and reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daisies and the little birds

Daisies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.