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

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‘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

The difficult month that went…by and by

This was a difficult month, for all of us. But today is the last of the month and a lot of that difficulty is now behind us. Yet I want to scribble here in brief what all happened so that if ever a time like this should come I would remember, we have been there before.

Papa had to undergo a open heart surgery- all of a sudden. That was decided in the first week of the month. The date was set for the 10th. On the 1st of the month it was his angiography which told us about the blockages in his heart- they were four when the surgery was performed.

Around the same time Raga’s tail amputation happened, and while the tail was still recovering she had a bladder issue- she stopped passing urine. the vet said that she has lost sensation of a full bladder- due to paralysis. It was a nightmare after that- every alternate day I would be taking her to the vet for a catherization! As a result in the second week, she developed a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). That coincided with Andre being here- so between him and me, we kept taking her to the vet daily for cleansing her bladder with saline and antibiotics- six days continuously. By the end of this time it was time for Andre to go back, as well as for papa to return from hospital post surgery.

But this was not all, I also got to teach music in a teacher’s training department for three hours at a time- six sessions in all, to over 20 girls per session. Not the easiest of tasks to perform. Tomorrow is the last of them- thank god. Teaching such big numbers is not interesting at all, unless the students are motivated.And that usually does not happen easily in Indian universities. But every effort of this sort is generative to a researcher like me- so I am busy writing about the experience and drawing the outcomes from it, whatever they could have been.

I had to let go of writing an article for a special issue of a journal in mental health, which had earlier accepted my abstract, many months ago- because my mind was very scattered this entire span of time. The sort of peace I require to write was simply not there. Plus Ginger also got a diagnosis of chronic Otitis and a couple of other things. So now, we know all our cards, no more surprises- hopefully the worst is behind us.

After the UTI I learnt to tease Raga’s bladder and now I can manage to press it twice a day in a way to help her empty it out. It is a great relief to see my girl fine, though weak and becoming more and more so. However, I know that I am tending to her the most I can, and keeping her close to me, the most I can…loving her, petting her, cleaning her, hand feeding her, grooming her, putting medicines in her mouth when required. I know this is the last of our moments together, nobody knows when the end comes- I do not want to miss whatever scope life still gives us- the borrowed moments- to love each other and remind ourselves how much we will love one another, even when we would not be able to touch each other. Until then, let me run my fingers on her back, her head, her face…my weak little old yet baby girl- who had once come into my life as a 45 day old puppy. My darlin Raga. The beauty is that while I write this, my baby is still sleeping behind me peacefully.

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The countdown begins >>>

This is the countdown we are all moving towards- some fear it, some dread it, some accept it resignedly, some with equanimity and some with peace. I do not yet know where I stand on this spectrum. Perhaps just somewhere from where all these options seems recognizable. This is the countdown towards reaching the culmination of our earthly journey.

In many a  post, such as this, or this , or that,  in these past few months I have been writing about my dogs, in particular Raga. This post is just a round-up of today and unlike many other days when I write blogposts in the evening or late evening, this is rank afternoon. My computer clock is showing 2:03pm. This is not the time for blogs entries!

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As I write this post Raga is sitting right behind me, and the backyard is behind her

But this is. For today is the day that the final end is staring loud and clear- not that it was not earlier. But I do not want to mourn her passage- i want to write a note to myself for the morrow when she would really not be there, and I would be crying around. To tell myself of the future, how much I loved my baby…i need to write this down, while she is still breathing right behind me.

Last week, I had to take her to a vet in Noida- as she could not pass urine. It got me very worked up, because all these months she is not able to get up on her own as it is and every act of her bowel and bladder involves my role in cleaning up after her or washing her sheets etc. So in two days when I saw no wetness anywhere I just knew it was something serious. She was made to pee through a catheter. She had accumulated 2 and a quarter liters inside her. For a bladder capacity of 150ml that female german shepherds have an accumulation of 2.3 liters is too much. I shudder to think of the toxicity. The doctor was quite expensive and forcibly saddled me with a dog food packet having formulation for urinary issues. I came home lighter with an empty bladder of the girl and my own pocket of Rs.3000/- That is a lot of money for me.

Two days later I had no success and the same point came- she needed another catheterization. I was frantic. Taking her to Noida with my own spine not yet healed and paying an expensive veterinary doctor, notwithstanding how good he may be, is never an easy option. I called up the local chap (who is good enough only for small issues I figured, for he never seems to rise up to the occasion) and he said he was down with fever and at a clinic himself!! His assistant said he would come, only to tell me two hours later that he cannot manage a catheter with a female dog! My two hours had gone, and anxiety was building rapidly. Raga had not peed again in more than 48 hours.

I called another local vet, who is right here in our sector- he turned out to be an a***hole. Refused to deal with the issue, because another vet had already started the treatment! I never thought vets could be lacking in ethics, but having that encounter was an eye-opener for sure.

A blind fluke of a chance and I landed up in sector 19 market, at the reference of a local chemist- who I buy my canine medicines from occasionally. I met this vet for the first time only on Saturday-29th July 2017. He managed the insert the catheter with great difficulty and told me to unfasten her tail…let the wound dry. I did that yesterday. Even in his clinic there was a bladder output of over two liters! Today is the third day…for after coming back day before yesterday, there was no bladder movement again, while the bowel movement continues as normal.

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In the veterinary operation theater today morning

All this while I did not have a diagnosis for Raga. This vet wrote down- quadriplegic and paralyzed. My heart just shuddered to read it- my baby was so severely crippled that I did not even see it so. But of course I faced its outcome everyday…

Her kidneys are filtering yet the nerves that have to send a signal to the brain. The vet used the term degenerative myelopathy. There is nothing to be done, but support the animal till the last stages- however long one can handle that. My baby is so quiet…ever so gentle, still ready to bark at others especially the outside dogs who come into our compound to eat every morning, and on mornings when I have carried her up to the front lawn she can amuse herself by looking at them – eating right under her nose.

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Right in front of her

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The five outsiders eat their morning meal

Life is a great journey, which is so deeply enriched by the presence of animals , so much so that I cannot imagine what it could have been without them.

So today when I took her for another round of catheterization, the vet saw her tail and told me it had gangrene. Already in the morning i had a teary breakdown while talking to Andre, about Raga and to hear the gangrene word…i was jolted. I immediately requested him for surgery. Could it be possible without general anasthesia, the one thing I am so afraid of for Raga, for I fear she will not revive after it. He calmly told me to let him get over with the bladder issue.

While managing that he told me, that her tail can be numbed in two or three different spots and that way the amputation can be handled. the time for the surgery is 8pm. I will teach my students of music and then leave home around 7:30. It is a sigh of relief- though i know it is a sign of the end. My baby is getting ready to go and this, all this, whatever I am doing right now is basically my own preparation- to accept that she must; or else I end up prolonging her misery.

So finally it is all about coming to terms with our losses…our un-fill-able losses. Our animals are parts of our souls, as much as we are their’s. And this is the time for me to get ready to accept that my baby, my littlest one, who came to me as a 45 days old puppy, the daughter of Pepper and Ranger (and I saw them both) will soon be gone. This is my time to love her the most, to hug her what I can- to clean her body with the nice spray I bought for her, because she has not had a bath since April for I find her so weak. She does not smell in the least…and still I want to comb her, wash her nails and toes. My Raga- you were my music and the music must live.

I have tears streaming down as I write these last lines, yet I look back at our lives together- our interwoven tapestry is a beautiful one, and Raga has been through so much of it- thank you life for giving me such beautiful dogs and letting me love them and live for them, till as long as we had to share the road. Perhaps the next post will be my farewell post to her.

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With Raga, mid ragas and the inevitability of change

It’s difficult to accept, no matter what evidence life brings in front, that you will soon lose a beloved companion. With Raga the evidence is mounting every single day- her earlier mobility with the two front legs has become even less so. Perhaps it is even a notch worse. Now she is unable to turn sides pretty much and I check to see if she is sitting on one side for too long- then I help her switch sides.

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But I wonder if all the others have not got a little ignored because of her needs taking center on a day to day basis. Of course she is not the first one to get fed, because Dash always accompanies me to the kitchen and Nikki is sitting at the base of the kitchen stairs, watching me from below and wagging her tail joyfully at the prospect of what could be coming next. But yesterday, Nikki also gave me a jolt. she refused to budge. I saw her lying for long hours on one side, and then not moving at all- not even to ease her bowels and bladdar. I coaxed her, forced her and finally slid Raga’s loop around her body to help her move. Now Nikki is very heave as compared to Raga- it is not easy to move her using the same method I have been using with Raga for the last several months.

In the picture above Raga takes her favourite position close to me as I hold my tanpura for my practice and she listens, watches over and in general keeps all others at an arm’s length. But of course this picture was taken a few weeks back. I am not holding the tanpura with any regularity these days. She is more feeble, and several times a day I have to clean up when she pees inside the house or wherever – it is no longer predictable. I never thought I would ever come to such a point- because when you have seen dogs all your life, and never really faced disabling situations, you are just not ready for what can happen. However, I feel grateful that I can manage her despite my own spinal pains, and more so, that we returned back to our home in Faridabad, from Goa. I shudder to think what could have happened had we remained in Goa!

The time between the last and this blog post has seen the birth of my little venture of teaching classical music to children. After years of deliberating upon who should be the one one addresses in imparting musical knowledge, I come to the point of teaching children, because it is in them only that we can actually drop the seeds of knowledge with a long term perspective. By the time they are older it is career goals and other aspirations that take over. The venture, a sub domain of the non profit Hansadhwani Foundation, is called SwarGanga- music workshop.

Does workshop sound tentative?

Workshop seems to suggest a short span of engagement ordinarily. To me in fact the word represents movement, motion and churning. A music school becomes a dead place where the same sort of music is taught year after year to batches of students, in a fixed format. That is why I titled this venture workshop, because the process of churning represents motion, and I am personally constantly researching, innovating, creating and composing new musical ideas in response to the needs of learners I am with.

Of course large parts of my work are a direct dialogue with those I work with and a response to what they can imbibe. The work becomes challenging to say the least and that is where the fun lies- to be seriously creative.

We started in the first week of April. So technically, we are a month old into SwarGanga. In the months ahead I will have to make a website of it and get things up, for I realized that there are a lot of music schools going around in this neighbourhood. The only way to distinguish ourselves from this would be to put it on a website what we are all about and how we specialize in the areas we work in, which are quite a few- mostly in music psychology of course.

Cockatiels

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April is my birth month. I turned 45 this once. A lot of water under every conceivable bridge. So the new element that entered into my life this summer are the birds. It was a great moral and ethical dilemma whether to keep birds in captivity. I thought for many years and felt it was improper to keep them thus.

Of course my garden has many visiting birds the whole year through and it is a great feeling to keep hearing bird songs, and see them eating away the grains I scatter for them. But as I silently moped over Raga’s onward journey, I saw a new flash of light right here. She became very interested in the birds. Of all the dogs in the house she is the only one, who has any interest in them. To the extent that when I IMG_20170423_070457072bring up the birds’ trolley anywhere close or towards the back lawn she would get up from her supine posture and chase them on the trolley, by inching forward step by step.

I wonder if she objects to the birds around. I cannot say for sure, but she is certainly animated and I am glad that at least some dog has shown some response to the new creatures in our life. The other dogs could not care less. They go about unperturbed.

The birds are also relatively indifferent to Raga’s proximity and while she tries snapping at them behind the wire mesh of the cage, they don’t even bother to move away. This is the only time when she sits up. The back lawn is quite barren unlike the winter when the flowers were abundant. But thanks to the birds, Raga sits in the back area peacefully instead of trailing after me helplessly.

There is the inevitable prospect of change staring at me with all dogs showing some of the other infirmity. I try finding comfort in the thought that they have had a good life with me and I am doing the most I can, while we still have time. New life is springing around me- in new birds, new students coming, new people seeking counseling help, newer connections on intellectual and artistic journeys. If there is a deep sadness it is taken care of by the routine of managing so many sides of life- which do not allow much time to brood anyways.

I am reading some excellent books along the way, in mental health related issues. The areas of MH are extremely vexing and sad. I have also started a new blog to document my reading, writing and work related to mental health, with particular focus on recovery from all types of mental illness. This is my commitment to people to help them recover from their shattered selves and create beautiful, peaceful, serene lives for themselves and their families. I hope someday to offer my counseling for free- but for now I do not have the means to support that work in this manner.

I am only just beginning, and like mother says, just subtract the twenty years of ‘illness’ from your life and think yourself to be 20 years younger. Yes I love the spirit, wish I could. with all the pains in my body, it does not let me forget how old I am- but I do feel this is just the beginning this way or that way.

The long and short of it is that…

  • SwarGanga is born as the school of music
  • Raga is happy about the new birds in her vicinity
  • I am happy doing what I am in many domains
  • Life goes on and … Andre keeps coming, as do the rest of family
  • Nikki is looking fine now
  • Another blog (!!!) is born, exclusively reserved for my research in mental illness, recovery, my counseling on lay forums like quora, research articles and books I read and of course other media such as YouTube videos which I want to share and so forth.