A life beautiful, and a death serene

Two months >>>>>>>>>>  Eleven years and eight months

29 October 2006 ——>>> 8th June 2018

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This was not a post whose time had come, neither Nikki’s to leave.

But unexpectedly, after just a day of being unwell, which I attributed to fever, she passed away quietly. Just the night before I had sat up with her from 12 am to 1 am, thinking she is a little unwell- for the whole previous day she had not eaten. And then checking her for some fever I put a wet towel between her inner thighs. She was breathing heavily and uneasily, yet settled down to breathe calmly in awhile. I too slept after that. I turned on the lights to check her once or twice in the course of the night and I could see her breathing.

When I woke up in the morning, I quickly jumped out of bed to see how she was, and she was just immobile, silent, mouth a little open and serenely lying on her side. I touched her inner thigh- it was a little warm, the last of the heat cooling down. But I wanted to believe it was still life, possibly I was mistaken. I shook her stiffened arm a little, gently of course because I could see it was stiff already. Yes, it was stiff for sure. My beautiful girl had passed away- just so quietly, without a word, without letting me know in any way that this may be the end. One day of fasting is not such a big warning after all-dogs do stop eating when they are unwell, unlike us human.

It’s all a flashback now- the day I went to take her from a (ridiculous) breeder, and how me and Ginger had driven those 25-odd kilometers to Noida. How upset Ginger had been to meet a new puppy, she was herself only a pup too. Nikki happily came over to me, as though we had been parted for a long time and she was waiting for me. She eagerly jumped into my car and Ginger- who was already in the car, was terribly upset. To settle the two pups I gave them chew sticks to nibble on, soft ones, while I would manage the drive. But Ginger refused to eat out of protest and Nikki was only too happy to! And by the time we reached home, Nikki had happily messed up in the car- so imagine that I had to hide the pup and take her home and then clean up my car as well 🙂 And I kept her hidden for several days, but that is another story.

And so much more comes back to mind, how Raga came into our lives and the play of the pups, our move to Faridabad, and then Dash joined us after a year. Goodness, we lived a good life- moved to Goa in 2014. All of us, me and the four dogs, went to Goa by road- a four day road trip. What an adventure! And what adventures we had in Goa too- walking in the villages streets, chasing hens and fowl, and pigs! Having the barbeques and the walk to the river next door, by the pond where lotuses grew in the summer.

Oh my goodness, we had a beautiful life and there are beautiful memories. And we even kept a little blog about our life in Goa, brings a smile to my face. Really this is a life worth celebrating and death only the hermits get, as we all say in a calm serene way, without experiencing much suffering- other than what is due to one’s age, without causing much grief.

May I die as peacefully as my Nikki- gently slipping away into the arms of eternity in my sleep as those around me, if there be any, also lie in their dreamy stupors.

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This was the front of our home in Chandor Village, Goa; where Nikki and Dash were in a serious conversation about the state of affairs

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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

‘Senior’, teenager!

By doggy standards, Dash is a senior- after all he is 13 today. But by human ones, he is a teenager- the start of a new phase of life. Both ways- it is the start of a new phase for him, no doubt about that.IMG_20171121_114517196

When you live in a household where dogs outnumber humans, the one that learns more from the other species is not always the dog; it can also be their human. So these are my days as I watch these two pups sweep away the lethargy and ennui of our geriatric household into a younger, buoyant and playful energy. Just look at the senior dorg Dash running in the lawn with Floe and Rhythm, in the picture above or this little brat, sitting on top of aunt Nikki-

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An option called ‘Love’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought to myself, love cannot

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Checking out my table!

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

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

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

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

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

Our Two shepherds and October third week

It is not usual that a family would lose two dogs in a few days- but we did. Lalu, the mixed shepherd passed away on his way to Jim Corbett Park (18th October 2017) and Raga- passed away last night (23rd October 2017).  I had pulled her bed close to mine and decided to go to sleep. But before that I had teased her bladder and helped her empty it out to the extent possible. She was very weak- the whole day she kept breathing with her mouth open ,with eyes fixed in an uncertain gaze.

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Till she could still move, she would sit closest to me as I sat down for my riyaaz. May-June 2017

I could not be with her too much , but many a times I came and sat by her and I kept an eye on her from a distance, to be sure she was breathing. At night, when I knew it was time to sleep I pulled her bed close to mine- to keep an eye on her and ran my hand over her head repeatedly. She looked at me and then settled once again- mouth open, laboured breathing. Then I held her paw in my hand, it was warm- she had fever. I held her for as long as I could without changing my sides. Then I had to change, and I did- while keeping the lights on in the room, for i did not want to lose a sense of time.

I turned sides and dozed off at may be 11:15 or 11:30, i cannot say for sure. At 11:40 I opened my eyes and looked at the clock first and then at her. I noticed she was not breathing. I got up quickly and touched her- there was no life in my baby- she was lying limp there, or was she? I had to find out. I could see the absence of breathing for sure…I was not ready to accept yet.

I went next door to call my sister, who was staying the night over anticipating Raga’s end. She got up quickly and came, and confirmed she was no more. I was not sure how long I would have slept…I could not make out how long she was thus. But the body was still soft and pliable. We had kept a pit two feet deep ready in the garden for her burial. I just wore something on top as it is cool in the night outside. I picked up my baby and the last few drops of urine came out…she was so light weight by now. Her head rolled over to one side on my left arm- the body was still warm. I carried her to the garden…and lowered her into the pit. Then we both put mounds of earth on her and covered up the entire pit.

In these past few months I have been writing about Raga frequently, trying to capture my story with her. And I did a photo montage as well in one of the posts. It has been a great life with Raga- she would have turned eleven in January 2018. But exactly three months short of it, she passed away.

Raga and Lalu died within less than a week of one another. Both of us sisters have lost one dog each- both of them shepherds too. Lalu had come into her life from a shelter in Austin, Texas. When she moved to India in 2008, she brought him and Lucy along. Lalu was over 14, is her estimate. We both feel grateful for the opportunity to love such beautiful dogs

july visit to goa upon Aires' demise (30)

, while they enriched our lives in deep and transformative ways. And yet we are also grateful for the presence of all our other dogs too, who are still with us and who not only are sagely managing the loss of their friends, but also keeping the flame of canine love glowing by their unquestioning presence in our lives today. Thank you Ginger, Nikki, Dash and Lucy. What would the world be without loving a few animals every day? And also thanks to the other street dogs who have adopted us and continue to man our main gate, offering us hope, security and companionship in your funny little ways.

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Street dogs eating inside my home

Re-casting

A lot happens between two blog posts for me. This time, it was (is ongoing) a journal article, a number of musical compositions, a whole lot of reading on at least three different aspects of mental illness research, tending to the dogs, an attack of cough and chest congestion (still on), putting a new garden in place and I don’t know what else.

Its September end, so technically it is autumn here- the heat has subsided and the last two days of rain have actually hastened the pace of the oncoming winter, I fear. I am not too fond of being bundled under layers of clothes and trying to keep myself warm on a chair.

The article that I am currently writing is a direct outcome of my research- especially the data that I am collecting in research. My ‘data’ is basically stories or narratives of people’s brush with psychosis- a lot of things come out when you listen to stories and that of course also depends upon the questions you ask. But the next stage, is going to be the real challenge- the data interpretation one. At present the struggle is to get the data set together before embarking on that journey.

Changing the way things look leads to newer insights, growth and outcomes. What fits ideas also fits with physical spaces. For the last one year I had been thinking that the backyard needs to be remodeled. Low level of sunlight does not augur well for grass and having a lawn where you do not even sit on one day in a year, makes no sense. After much thought and planning I am now changing it. Here are the four stages of the garden just for a reminder to myself, before the past is forever replaced.

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The backyard in the winter

Putting a new garden in place is a lot of thinking first. Especially if the only resources you have are your own mental ones, backed by a little money. I do not like to bring in professionals, though no doubt they would have all the ideas- and a big list of options to choose from. But I feel that for a garden I should just stick to what I can afford and what I want, rather than someone telling me how to do what. I am being frugal and I am letting myself experiment here. How else does one learn? If we keep taking everything from the market itself, because we feel those who are in the market know better (which they may because they have spent years training for the work) the whole world starts looking alike. I want to look like myself- even my home should be like me- relaxed, calm, a sense of joy and a variety of plants, books, etc etc.

Maintaining a lawn is always an issue, and no lawn survives without careful maintenance. It was a big step for me to consider pulling the lawn out completely- mostly a big step in my head first. And then I began to conceptualize what I want instead. So I decided I want flowers and flowers and yes vegetables.

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Stage 1- empty patch

What purpose the lawn serves is going to be much less than what flowers and homegrown vegetables serve me. So there you go- the grass was pulled out and I sat thinking now what is to be done.

I made a few designs and then decided that I need to build that slowly. So I first measured the piece and decided to cut out a few straight beds. The wall side, which is to the left in this picture is where I made a vegetable bed. Also the wall adjacent to it- where there were green vegetables last year as well.

After that all the center is left. So I have cut out more spaces that are independent units in it. I am still watching the play of sun and shade, and this is still autumn. I know that in the winter the patterns will be entirely different. The trees also have to be pruned and trimmed. So on the whole, things are looking different.

At present things have already moved forward from this stage, and the seeds have been bought for everything. There is a whole lot of investment done in plants, manure, earth and bricks etc. More will be needed still- I am still holding it in my mind, like the Rubik Cube.

A change of perspective is usually generative. It made me also somewhere change the idea of the Hansadhani Foundation, which I have been feeling was something dead and difficult at the moment- considering it is such a small thing. SO I decided to put it on a back burner and carry on work independently, as myself. As an entrepreneur. I have already put SwarGanga together and I intend to do more with it. Hopefully Antardhwanee will also come together soon.

In the next blog post that I write, I hope there will be better things. Raga is stable – better than earlier now that I have figured the mix to feed her. She was simply not eating earlier and neither much urinary output, which is a sign that the kidneys are not working well. Adding a little Psyllium Husk to her food has made her bowels stable and changing the food to simply putting mutton instead of chicken has also helped. I know of course she is living on borrowed time- but till as long as she does, it should be nice, easy and comfortable. Naturally I am doing all within my means to ensure that.