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?

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‘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.

Shivmat Bhairav

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PhD does not budge

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

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

Without combing my hair

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

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NALSAR University of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now two years

Its two years now that we moved to Goa- me and the four dogs. It was on 16th March 2014, that we came in, four days of driving from the north of the country to the south-west. What a crazy trip it was and it took me awhile after that, to get my act together and chronicle the drive of 2000 kilometers, via this blog post on another blog.

Life is always progressive if you choose to keep adjusting the center of your existence. Goa has been a mixed experience, but so is life- never the same, even in the same place. By choosing to move to this part of the country, away from the hustle bustle of Delhi life, I took a step back in time. First of course was the country experience, which was another extreme, considering where we all came from. Then I moved my center a bit and changed home the next year.

On the whole, there is a lot of water under the bridge and a whole lot of new people have come into my life- not just because of this shift of location, but also because of increasing networks in work, research and so on. Of course I got my first book contract and gained admission in doctoral research, something which I had completely written off from doing in India. But it had to happen and it did. Now its time to shift the house again and I am a bit troubled, because a new house to the specifications I have is not an easy thing to find. I want a house which is independent, mostly ground floor and has at least three bedroom- I use two for myself- one each as a bedroom and as a study, and I need another as a guest room. So the hunt is on. Oh yes, clients for counseling started showing up, even without me going and advertizing about it anywhere as yet. I started learning once again, after a long gap with Madhuri aunty.

We all grew older of course- I came in the grips of huge amounts of pain, and they are quite undiminished still. The dogs grew older by two years each. Dash is showing a lot of dirt in the eyes, I am also seeing Raga showing a hint of grey hair around her ears, Ginger is showing skin issues in a very serious manner, and for now it is Nikki who is quite stable, though I know her weight can become an issue anyday. Andre is also a bit weak still as of now, though his house is in order.

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My four rascals in our home in Faridabad. Actually this was a rented home that my sister lived in. This photograph must be from 2012. They are all looking at a single Marie biscuit!!!

In less than a month I would be starting the phd research. I am excited and nervous. Excited because this is the area where I have been working in for the last so many years, so doing a university based organized research makes it an interesting proposition. However, considering the area is law, I am quite at sea about it.

The progress with the book that I am working on, whose subject area is music, is slow and steady. I lost two months in the recent breakdown that I had, which promised to go full scale but I was saved just in the nick of time. Therefore I requested for a two month extension from the publisher too. Currently I am interviewing a whole lot of people for it- including university academics, music producers on radio, musicologists, music teachers and of course students and lay music lovers, who have no occupational engagement with music.  It is always taxing how to organize your research, though this is not the sort of research one does for a university degree or even writing a journal article. The biggest decision for me was how to organize my book- and with the span of time I have spent thinking of the issue, I have a fairly clear picture.

I want to look at music in a holistic manner- not as a therapeutic tool or as subject of education. So from an analytical and synthesizing perspective I am trying to integrate various aspects of my life and work, bringing in stories and excerpts from other lives and research. I did a very interesting interview with someone who is a great fan of Ustad Amir Khan saheb- it is amazing how deeply people think about his music, and not just those of us who have trained in his tradition. It is quite remarkable.

I wistfully remember my guru, Amarjeet didi and how she had told me once that she sees me worthy of carrying on the baton of the gharana. It was tragic that due to a psychotic breakdown, which she could not comprehend, nor show any compassion towards, we parted ways. In the end it was a loss for both of us- she lost a disciple and a possible torch bearer of the tradition, while I lost the path on which I was slowly inching forward artistically, spiritually and aesthetically. I am still trying to cover the path, albeit without her guidance, and within the scope of another gharana.

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The companions of my research journey

my success, not mine in the least

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This picture below is from the Nalsar Campus, in Hyderabad

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Who knows where the road takes you from here