World mental health day and Hyderabadi biryani

The world mental health day is an uncanny day this time for me, as for the first time I will be outside my home. At the time of writing this, I am very much on my own computer and have an article to share as part of this writing, which has just come down today for the final approval. But I have butterflies in the stomach- due to other reasons.

The road of life

The road of life- yet again

So while the world will observe the world mental health day I will be sitting in Hyderabad, at Nalsar, cooking my concoction of Hyderabadi Biryani- just kidding. I will be discussing ideas with the school of management people at the university, about my entrepreneurial venture, among other things. Some very interesting new developments have happened, in the past few days which are helping me focus on the idea of music education more than anything else. Why worry about mental health,when music itself contributes to mental health in significant ways? If I keep my focus in the domain of music, it is a much better thing than getting it distributed between music and hardcore mental health, via counseling and all that cycle. It also comes into direct conflict with many who work in mental health from clinical orientations, that are derived largely from academic frameworks and not the radical lived perspectives of those who live and recover from mental illnesses.

Okay, the article that I am sharing as part of this writing is called Musical Progressions and you can directly click on its title, which is highlighted. It will take you to an external link on the academia site, from where it can be downloaded. This article is soon to be published in the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, which is bringing out a special edition on the Arts, Media and Mental health. Perhaps I am the sole entry from India to contribute to this issue of the journal, of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry. It gives me quivers in my stomach to think that I have come so far- imagine me…my years of doomed dejection and hopelessness, months and months of unending fog in the mind and a ball of anxiety in my heart. I cannot even begin to call it an anxiety disorder, for that seems so small in comparison. Huge mountains of uncertainty loomed so large…has it all come to pass? And how utterly lonely! Especially those years when I finally chose to live alone. To think of that today- that leap into the uncertain future, cutting all bonds from family in a physical way, proved the key to unlock the future, no matter if it were not even visible then for years ahead.

I find it so difficult to believe that I have indeed left it behind, and today I have the courage to revisit those fearsome, blind alleys, where I languished in insurmountable creeks, where life simply could not survive. Perhaps the only reason to write such articles is the memory of those ruins so deeply etched in the mind, that I dare not forget the suffering of another. And nay, that suffering is not due to mental illness alone, of a so-called biochemical nature alone.

That suffering is spattered all across human civilization now, clothed in myriad shades, and textures, due to which people cannot recognize that we are all part of the same suffering- the eternal human suffering, whose genesis lies in one man’s greed and insatiable lust to control, dominate and lead another. This instinct for power is so deeply rooted in the human psyche that all of civilization’s suffering can actually be reduced to this one game- the power play between people, nations, communities, genders, races, groups, nationalities and you name it. It is all a power play.

Few will gain the clarity to see the picture like outsiders. But if they did, they would be able to bring all divergent ideas to one convergent hub- the greed of man and a lust for power. In the end, I am reminded that I did a master’s in political science and from that position, if I remember what the English philosopher Hobbes said, he foretold the nasty, brutish and shorte nature of man and how in nature everyone is in conflict with everyone, in a war of power!!! How tragic, and yet isn’t it true?!

Tomorrow I will be off to Hyderabad again, though this is only for two days and am back on Sunday afternoon. Before I wind off this post, I must share why this article is the most important article from my perspective and what it brings to a lay reader, who may possibly be suffering herself or have a loved one who suffers. In this article I have brought many sides of evidences, (for peer reviewed journals do not work without evidence) to say how I used


Serious creativity, and

Writing -including poetry, research. (For the first time, there is an actual poem in a writing by me)

And searched- which constitutes research in a serious way to find a way out of mental illness. In music also I worked in not one, but three genres or musical form. For the first time via this writing, I talked about ghazal as well- though in a shorter version, in another article I did share that as part of another post. Ghazal was a great venting mechanism for my personal suffering, which would not find a way out through bhakti poetry. It was only after the ghazal, that I moved into the more serious khayal, as my chosen mechanism for self expression.

Today I have left all forms behind and primarily all my musical expression lies within the domain of khayal and now I am also thinking of how to take that khayal further- via teaching diverse sorts of people via educational, therapeutic and other ventures. Everything begins with an idea- a thought or what is called in Urdu, khayal. For me this whole world is a khayal, and any artist’s imagination for a new world, a new face of civilization is essentially a khayal first. Only from the khayal, you construct an image, and from there comes a plan.

Currently my khayal is about my new enterprise and of course about further research, which will no longer be about me mapping my own story. Phew! that was tough.

(In another few days, I will be posting my poetry that I have sent to the conference of the WACP in Mexico. But since I posted the above photo and called it the Road of Life, which is also a poem’s title, I will share it right here. It also carries the date)

Me watching the sunset in Udaipur

Me watching the sunset 

A March on the Road of Life, and the Path Unknown

22nd September 1999

A march on the road of life, and the path unknown

The road rugged, the road rough’n a rude road-

Mostly a companionless road, I traverse

Hard pressed-

Unexpected corners’n blouders make it feel impossible

To take another step

In anger welling…wishing the heart would stop

Or p’raps a friend, companion, wayfarer around the next turn;

Kicking pebbles, circumventing potholes

Occasionally falling, but never really so-

The road leads the way, and the path unknown’n

I press on regardless.


Narratives that shape our lives

I just encountered this beautiful mp3, that I want to preserve for myself and also to share with anyone who is interested in Narratives. It also has the voice of Michael White, whose book Maps of Narrative Practice is what I am currently reading. Thanks to Michael Watson for the introduction.

A difficult sigh to heave

That is a sigh of relief, which I am trying to heave for the last few days but it is not always a successful act. The event merits perhaps a little celebration, so one can imagine that if I find it difficult even to heave in relief, how much the pain would have been.

In many a posts on this blog I have referred to my research (‘big’ research that I started in 2012), and which has been like an onion peel- the tearing of every layer has made me shed tears. In 2013 I wound up the research, and submitted the work to a major social science publisher, at the recommendation of a senior academic. After that I got down to a few things, the biggest of them being shifting home from the north of the country to the south, and bringing my four dogs by road the entire distance.

With great difficulty a year passed. Every few weeks I would talk to the commissioning editor of the publishing house and he would assure me things were in progress. Subsequently he told me to change many things, including the subtitle of the book and several chapter titles. I did. I was not egoistically attached to the titles in any case. I thought if a different title made more sense, then why cling on to an older one? In any case, with all my writing work I always maintain a great deal of humility, in particular the attitude of a novice- for it keeps the gradient of knowledge flow in my direction, than the opposite.

After a year of much change, both in the manuscript and my personal life, the publisher’s commissioning editor wrote the following mail on 15th Sep 2014

Dear Prateeksha,


 We have completed the final stage evaluation of your project, where we presented the project/manuscript to the senior editorial and management board here.Unfortunately, the board members, especially our sales representatives from across the regions, are not very encouraged about the positioning of the book and whether they will be able to push it in the market. They have expressed their inability to sell the content in the required market segment. In light of this, we regret to say that we are unable to take it forward for publication. This is unfortunate for me also as I was involved in the project since its beginning and we have worked together to bring the project this far. However, I hope in the long run this decision will fare well for the book and you will find a suitable publisher who will be able do more justice to your work.

 Wishing you all the best!

My response to him was- (on 15/9/2014)

Dear S
Am grateful for the end of this uncertainty, and thanks for your support, whatever and at whichever stage it was there- I value it.
and on second thought, I wrote this on 16th Sept, 2014
The final decision about my book from [name of publisher] is really NOT the final decision about my work- so I will urge you to reconsider your language when you send out such rejection slips to authors in future S . Additionally, the time taken to come to this decision was unduly long. I hope you will remember that for everyone who you choose to engage with. Nobody is disappointed with rejection, but the way it happens!
Of course I was extremely hurt- stunned beyond words and it felt that a big stone had been hung around my neck and it was saying- go and drown. I just sat quietly for sometime, and did not convey this to anyone. But that is another story.
The nightmare was not yet over- the book got many a rejection slip and not because of the content was but I suspect because of who the author was. The author was a person who had recovered from mental illness. But instead of writing a story of recovery or about her own triumph the way people are accustomed to, when they overcome something of any significance in their lives, my research was about the recovery and illness narratives of others! Without having the trappings of university frameworks to guide me, I forged an independent path of inquiry, because I wanted to see how others negotiated with mental suffering and if it ever lead to recovery. I could not be the only person who recovered successfully.
It was a difficult path to say the least. I had no training in research methods, no access to libraries, no one to guide me, no one to talk to- except in parts my sister who had a foreign phd, who had but a little patience with me due to her own work. The only person I would hesitantly communicate with was Prof. Misra- that too on the phone, which never exceeded more than half and hour, not more than six times in the course of the entire writing. Later I got to meet Prof. Ajit Dalal who was extremely generous with his time on the phone. I developed high blood pressure during the process, among other losses to health. I also lost all the friends and this is not a hyperbole- or let me put it this way, I just figured out who the friends were, if there were any. They were all remote facebook people, not people I could share my fears and uncertainties with, who would feel for me or let me hold their hand if I wept. For that there were the dogs- who let me weep in front of them and did not abandon me in the least, at the sight of my anguish.
I could write a book about writing this book- for this was the first real act that I was creating, after my recovery from bipolar. My ability to work had emerged and it was flowing, even if nobody was offering a passage, there were innumerable roadblocks on all sides (still are). Little affirmations that came from journals accepting my scholarship were the sole pegs that kept egging me on, apart from the courage mummy offered all through. Others also chipped in half-heartedly, possibly just to egg me on, so that my spirit does not break. Andre of course stayed the course too- so between my mother, Andre and my sister the burden of emotional venting rested – mostly the former two in fact. I had no courage to tell the research informants or anyone that my book was getting rejected repeatedly. Neither could I tell anyone that my book was finished for a long time or anything about what stage it was in. I maintained silence for a few years- a painful silence for me personally, for my nerves remained so frayed all the time.
I had no courage left in me. A friend whose book in military history had faced an identical music, tried to encourage me by saying I ought to revise my resume and my publications a bit and then customize them according to the publisher. Every publisher has a different requirement.

Just before another rejection

I had only faced rejection all this while. I do not think it is a good idea to think of numbers at this stage.  I have a document in my folder of the book, which lists the publishers who have rejected the book– at least six-seven of them, someone even within a day or two. One was such that he kept telling me he would come back to me, every few days (for at least six months) and then started not responding to my phone. He could simply have said no, instead of promising me that he would read my chapters and come back. He assured me that at least six-eight times!

Just before my heart would break completely I encountered another publishing house, recommended by someone known – a feminist publisher. But hey! I never thought I was working within that domain. I have never called myself one at least. I have always preferred the tag of humanist- though I am certain the feminists are also that.

They were interested from the first email- what a change. I was still tense. The publisher herself was travelling to Goa, in the week after my first email exchange and she proposed we met- we did, and within the first meeting itself she was ready to publish. I could not believe my ears.

I still thought I would wait further. Earlier in one of my moments of anxiety I had been talking to Prof. Dalal who had suggested to me that I go and meet some publishers personally when I went to Delhi, which was due for ten days in March end. Could it be that Delhi was coming to Goa to meet me? The publisher was in Goa from Delhi and she said we meet! Wow! it is difficult even to believe.

Anyways, I met her again in Delhi- and handed over the manuscript as hardcopy. I wanted someone (a professor of law) who I recently met to write the foreword, and she agreed with the one who I suggested. So that is it!

My book has been accepted for publication- my first book, struck in my throat for the last three years…such difficult years that even though this passage has come, I am still unable to heave the sigh that I want to. Extremely heart breaking years of uncertainty- my universities.

There are good things and there are bad things about everything. The bad thing is that in the waiting for this book to go through, I could not muster the courage to write another book or even start any significant project successfully. I did turn the ignition on, for many a venture- but my heart would just not pluck the courage.

The good thing is that having written the book, I discovered that if I have to do any further research, I would just be wise and fund my own study, because I would not have anyone to support me. I am not here on a psychiatry-backed enterprise to help selling more pharma products. I am here to tell people that they can recover from mental illnesses and not just offering myself as testimony but several others too! And so I founded the enterprise- my enterprise, to help others recover like me! Here is the website, currently getting ready. In not helping, they all helped me get up and straighten my bent back- thank you all, for never stopping to reject.

On a last note, I must record here that the Faiz CD that I recorded happened during the course of writing this book and I had a mind to mention that in the book itself- but the experience turned out to be so bad and sour that I would refrain from any such allusion for all times to come.

Time marches on, another year gone

Time to put another calender year behind- not sure if this is a good or a bad thing to happen. Oh like every year, this year has been full of heartaches and heart burns. But the one good thing that has happened as a result is that I have arrived at an inner location which says heart burns can be dealt with as we grow wiser and more centered.

The Pen refused to write

Anyhow, this year I did a lot of writing in the last quarter- after whiling away the better part of the year- waiting for some new thing to happen on the subject of my book. I realize, like many others who have worked on the margins of life and society, that the position you choose to work from, or where you land up thanks to having no choice in the matter, determines everything. Whether you will be heard or not, is contingent upon where you are standing and saying it. If you are offering or analyzing something from a critical position, you are already ahead of the times you live in- because people do not want to either criticize nor face criticism. They prefer living lives of comfort, comfort zones and no challenges to the status quo. That is also why a whole lot also keep taking a lot of abuse, till the point where it becomes intolerable.

So writing a book about mental illness, having recovered from one was not the easiest of fires to tend to. It is only an imaginary thing that senior academics mentor me, it is really not the case. They are kind enough to pick up my phone when I call up and that is all- the sort of guidance and mentoring that they would be offering to their own students would not reach me by miles. And foolishly enough I keep toiling- I cannot understand my own reasons. This must be the real madness about me!

2014 013 (2)

Though it is a woodpecker, in reality it is ME- for like a woodpecker I have been pecking at issues that bother me or touch me, in ways that I keep at it persistently- just like a woodpecker pecking for worms. I am not trying to look for food but fodder for my soul, to solve some issues that I with my skills, in whatever dimension they be, can resolve.

After I finished writing the book last year, someone told me, “Great now you have something tangible in hand. But remember not many will read it.!” Coming as it did from a senior academic, it was a great device to puncture the spirit…particularly because the spirit has only been punctured forever and never really encouraged or egged on- barring the family. As it is till September I could not muster any heart, waiting as I was for a word from the publisher- it came a whole year later with a rejection! Of course they made it sound like a regret- that oh, our marketing team could not think of how to market it, though the editorial was ready for it. I do not know whether to believe it. So after the setback settled in, it was time to move on- refurbish, tighten belts, look out for other publishers and talk to seniors again. Still wading through that.

Oh yes, the article I sent to the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review came back with appreciation from the reviewers, with of course recommendations, which I duly incorporated and sent back. So possibly one may get to see it in print next year. Then I wrote another one for a journal in medical humanities- a short story! I realize that reading about mental health is so boring for most, so what is the point of telling things in complex disciplinary frameworks? Why not simplify them? So here was one attempt to share my writing in a more public way- via a newspaper! This of course encouraged me to attempt more, which I intend doing soon.

Just last week I sent off another article (for translation) about the Arts and Self help in mental illnesses, for a book that is going to be translated from its original into Marathi. Now since the original will not be read by anyone, I thought might as well send it to someone else- for now I am thinking of cutting it short and sending it to a newspaper, and to another journal of pure music. For that I have to make it a music based thing, not a general arts based thing. And just before the end came, and while I was in Delhi (mid Dec) I got a letter saying a group that is meeting on the subject of mental health wants me to contribute something, as also come for a conference. I agreed to do both, as it is important to be heard and know and be known. So that is for Feb 2015- but i have to send in the piece by the next few days. Am through with more than half of it already.

While all this happens I am still agonizing about my book- which is such a difficult effort that I have made and overcome so many obstacles to write. Then being in Delhi I met someone who wants me to write on the subject of music as therapy for a journal of doctors, and of course I had to agree. If you do not educate the doctors and health professionals first of all, how will they carry the message forward and how will the knowledge grow?

But by far one of the really exciting things that happened was that I am now planning, for the first time, to write in the area of pure music- i mean music pedagogy, a subject that has always been close to my heart and I am really thrilled at the prospect of doing that work now. For now I just have to write an abstract and …but even if it does not get accepted, the fact that I would have formulated my ideas in a certain framework will give me a structure to write the full article and who knows, it may become a part of my own book someday. This abstract is in the context of critical perspectives viz a viz music, education and religion.

New Home

This was an unusual year in many ways, because I also moved home- by approx.2000 kms- to Goa; and that was something that I wanted to do for a long time- move to a village. Life was never really easy and coming to the village I only made it more difficult for myself by another few degrees. But that was mid March when I came and by now many months have gone by and I have made some contacts around and hopefully am feeling more entrenched emotionally here, though we Indians are so biased that it is never easy to settle in a new place, without being periodically reminded about being an ‘outsider’. By now the dogs have also settled in and we are so relieved that we do not have to face the harsh variation of Delhi’s climate.

Seeds for future action

But some of the key changes that happened in the last quarter were that I became a little more interested in writing, having failed to start-up my new enterprise the way I had visualized it. And that brought me to the idea of starting the counseling teaching program- the one meant for those who have lived experiences to refer back to. The idea of the applied musicology center is very much on the anvil and am just bidding my time before I start its work. So this has to happen before that- one thing at a time.

Musical Notes

My own music took leaps and bounds this year- thanks to being back with a regular learning schedule with my guru and some really complex tangles, where I was getting struck got resolved. A whole sea of ragas entered back with a huge velocity. I learnt this year for the first time- Nat Bhairav, Jogkauns, Lalit (my god, how could i ever live without this)  and learnt to have a better view of Bilaskhani Todi, Madhuvanti, Maru Bihag, Kedar, Mian Malhar (again) Gujri Todi, Des, Bairagi (never seem to get over with this), as of course Yaman, Shankara (!!!) and on the last days today and tomorrow- Chandrakauns. Wow! that is a huge lot.

I learnt a minimum of two or three bandishes in each of them. In each of these I already had a big lot of compositions from the past. The only three that I almost learnt from the barest scratch were the first three. I have not yet got the hang of Jogkauns (makes my heart sink for I find no room to play musical ideas in its tight structure of notes yet) and Bilaskhani Todi (perhaps when I knew it little, I could sing it better!!)


When I moved to Goa, I tried setting it up here again- not that I had it going in any significant way even in Delhi, but thinking that may be in a new place, it would be a different story. The different story cannot really emerge until I move things. So though I hired a house to work out of and a whole lot of employees- that was what. They were just employees and nothing else- no heart in the work!

Then I thought the best thing is to do the work myself and see how far it can go. Now I am conceptualizing it again and like I said earlier, keeping it focused within the domain of counseling for now, which I will make an international affair. I mean since I work via the skype/phone geography is not a constraint for me any longer and I can pretty much counsel in any part of the world. I have already started with this, having someone in England talking to me, as well as people from other parts of India as well, since nobody can come and meet me at home. I intend sharing this model further, as of course the counseling training.

I am not sure with what expression of mind to view the new year, but I think the most befitting thing in my case, possibly like everyone else, is to have an attitude of curiosity and hope- and the tenacity to bear it, no matter what. What option does anyone have apart from that? Only to crumble!

Going up in smoke

Going up in smoke

Attitude toward research

Dear Mrs Sharma,

I am not used to write to autors of papers, but I just finished the reading of your article and I feeled I had to tell you how much I enjoyed it. 
I am a Ph.D. student in psychology in Montréal. I am very glad to see that research is not only a cold and competitve domain but that it can also be something human and humble. I was very touched by your writing and I found it very inspiring. I personally work on stigmatization of mental illness and I see your paper as a very interesting way to go beyond the stigma that is attached to bipolar disorder (as modern psychiatry name it!) in a creative process. 
I hope you all the best,
Candidate au doctorat en psychologie (Psy.D./Ph.D.)
Université du Québec à Montréal
Boursière FQRSC
Today morning, I got this when I checked my mail. This made me want to write on something that I have always wanted to talk about in the context of research- who should be the ‘subject’ of one’s study. And this is where I feel that autoethnography is such a superior or perhaps the highest in terms of complexity that any researcher can choose, for they are then willing to put themselves through the complex process of analyzing their own actions and minds. 
Of course it is another matter that one can easily choose such a domain where you do not reveal much about your own life to people. For instance, most of the autoethnographies that i have come across are about someone’s experience of adjusting in a new culture, about sports injury, about race and ethnicity, about pressures/choices at work. But putting yourself under the scanner or opening up hidden dimensions of yourself for public scrutiny is another story altogether and I found that nobody ever had the sort of courage, Carolyn Ellis exhibits in Revision. Taking her as a benchmark for setting my standards, I have done a good amount of autoethnographic writing (some still pending review). But of course despite the encouragement offered by Prof Misra I have no courage to write my whole story of recovery down as autoethnography, for it has the potential to stir many difficult aspects of life, including memories of psychosis. Had it had any more value than publication in a research journal, i may have thought about it. But to write something so that 200 people can read it, does not appeal any more.
Anyways, coming back to the subject of what could be a desirable attitude toward research, I am pondering about the comment of this email to me…’I am very glad to see that research is not only a cold and competitve domain but that it can also be something human and humble.’ reaffirms the words of Alridge about when we choose certain questions to research, that itself is a bias- the choice of question itself is a bias! So if someone is choosing themselves as a subject- is that a bias? Or is the object of the study- the process of recovery and whether it merits being a research question, become the bias. 

I can imagine that studying about someone else is not such a difficult thing, for then one is only studying, analyzing someone outside of oneself- the classic way all normative inquiry works. By definition itself when you pitch someone against a social ideal or idea of what one is measured against, coldness comes into being in the research process. How contrasted this is in comparison with Ellis’ writing somewhere, that she calls ‘Heartfelt autoethnograpy’ the voice. 
Not only is there a world of difference in qualitative and quantitative research, I think the people who do them are also different, though I guess it would be easier for the ones doing qualitative to do quantitative as well, but not the vice versa. I may be wrong, but my suspicion is that those who look at humans as numbers or categories are certainly a step removed away, even from the beginning while those who look at humans in their eyes, replete with their subjectivities and their milieu are already more tuned to a more humane reality. And that I think, determines whether people end up doing research which is socially meaningful or simply something to advance their career goals by garnering degrees and publications.

Recovery story of one means that recovery of another is also possible

The companions of my research journey

The companions of my research journey

A few days back I wrote the following, for a public forum. I write with the idea that since we acquire all our knowledge in a social domain, we can also take ideas from the lives of others. When I was seriously ill, I had no one whose story could inspire me to get well, or even think that wellness was a possibility. But encountering the writing of Kay Jamison Redfield changed that perception. But considering that she was a big professor and I was a very small fry put me in no small anguish. That is why to write about the ordinariness of living a humble life, full of suffering and no real accomplishments, I hope would offer some milestones to others. Of course music is a unique part of my life and work, especially its contribution to my wellness.

Anyhow, this is the piece that was meant to be shared on that site, and it sheds a little light on how to read the story of one person’s successful recovery from a potentially disabling condition and why it is NOT a person’s story alone, but a cultural success for all humans, for we can see how within the resources that we have we can also create new outcomes for our suffering. This is my hope too. So while this is another link to my main paper (directly download from here), the other article follows here-

Recovery Stories foreshadow other recoveries

(This little writing is a prelude to my longer publication, which I ought to have offered to everyone who read the main paper. However since I did not think of it earlier, it does not absolve me of the responsibility of doing so at a later date. By writing this piece I hope to simplify the reading of my publication and to invite many other dialogic and creative possibilities using the arts, or music for that matter, toward therapeutic outcomes)

I do NOT want this to be read as a personal victory, for in that case I need not document it, by going over the laborious task of research writing and publication, which took a year and a half to be finally seen by others! The reason for me to work in research like several others, post our recoveries, is that we wish to see the patterns of disabling conditions at hindsight, enriched by our lived perspectives. Research always begins with a subjective agenda, but also has its own criteria. We cannot be telling our stories just to seek attention toward ourselves, but definitely there is an element of attention seeking involved here- yet not toward the person but the question of the research.

The question that I wish to address via this writing is that Recovery is (often/always) possible in serious mental illness, and that this paper shares the process of one such- the evidence of such a recovery. This is also a little background of why I head an arts based non-profit, a research organization of recent origins, whose agenda is to create synergies in health and education via the arts, and to create possibilities where more of such recoveries happen via the interfaces that such an immersion can bring about.

Auto-ethnography is NOT self advocacy

I often use autoethnography as the method to write about myself and it is not to be confused with self-advocacy. The purpose of the two is quite different. While we work in research we sometimes work in situations where we do not have access to others or our  stories are so unique that they, by themselves, carry enough seeds of ideas. This is more so in survivor- research (though my own preferred usage now is emancipatory research). The other situation in research is that once we get out of the tunnel ourselves we have seen the inner dimensions of it so well (which often I am afraid even the best professionals would have no access to, unless they are fearless like Stanislav Grof, who experimented with LSD, to understand various aspects of consciousness, the root of all that happens in psychosis or other serious troubles)

I vaguely try to distinguish between autoethnography (a/e)and self- advocacy thus:

  1. A/e is a legitimate qualitative research method, self advocacy is a PR tool.
  2. The purpose of a/e is documentation in a framework which can be used by researchers and lay people alike (if they want to read it), whereas the purpose of self-advocacy is to draw attention to the recovery of one person in the hope that they would inspire others.
  3. Purpose of a/e is to draw attention to the phenomenon, while in self advocacy the person is the phenomenon.
  4. A/e is never written for popularity but with a commitment that we offer our stories for the world, as a reflecting surface in which they can see their own stories, in particular those who face similar crises. Self advocacy is a way to draw attention toward oneself and sometimes to show the injustice one has faced. Likely every person in this unjust world faces a lot of injustice, as autoethnographers we just choose to respond to that injustice in a different manner-as compassionate warriors, not simply passionate ones.
  5. In doing a/e we go through a lot of heartburn for we have to write our stories ourselves and then bring in research evidence from various dimensions to show that they are valid, whereas in self advocacy mostly there is no writing involved of that academic nature. People have already bought your concept and you just have to go and talk about it- there is a market and there is a product. Who does not want to listen to the story of suffering of another and then pat their back? But how many have the courage to say, that listen, I am not suffering now, but I did in the past, so may be if we could just look at it together there could be something lying in my recovery that you can use.

Having said that, without wanting to be patronizing and self-righteous, with due respect for all those who work in self advocacy, I still want to say that we are all on the same side of the fence- teammates of the same team, though our methods differ, in accordance with our trainings, inclinations and abilities. It takes all sorts to wage a war, and people of varying abilities need to bring their abilities together to deal with the enemy that we all deal with- the enemy of human suffering. Let the generals come from all ranks, and those ranks not be determined by the dominant voices of a certain sort only.

There are of course scores of things that can be written here, also on the subject of why autoethnography and NOT autobiography. I will write about that separately on my blog that you can follow, if you like, here


Musical recovery of a musician is not the same as that of a non-musician

You will read ahead that I work in many aspects of music- including in research in  areas of pedagogy on one side, therapy another and also want to see the role of music in its interaction with identity. Even some of my published research in music is within the folds of psychology among other disciplines. I am not a musician whose work is all focused on performance, though that is among the many things I do on rare occasions.

Music Education or Music therapy? 

These are two close issues that need to be seen on a continuum. Music education involves an engagement with music directly, whereas music therapy is engagement with music mediated by another person, who is treated as the expert.

For a musician like me since engagement with music is at so many levels it is actually an occupational thing, not therapeutic- unless the musician herself is so incapacitated that there is no connection of that person to the outside world as a musician (which happened in my case), and the only connection you have with music is a means of venting out your emotional-spiritual chaos. But yes, it also provided me with a means to redefining my identity and not just view myself as ‘poor girl’. In later writing I hope to share the role of my dogs, who have been one of the key pillars and closest companions of my recovery, the role of my mother, and other members of my family, the homeopath and the chance encounter with him, via my sister and one or two close friends…and that is still not the end of the list. An 18 year long illness cannot be summarized in a few journal articles- it is slow, laborious and excruciating to visit it again and again, and I do not know when I would run out of steam.

In another paper of a bigger dimension (currently under review) in which I write about the overall work I do, in the creative dimensions, I have explored the role of music in a multimodal sort of a way toward my recovery, for the first time writing about my poetic side too, as well as weaving all these with what I do in research as well. On the one side I analyze about whether the work should be seen as serious creativity, on the other I contrast it with the death of another musician by suicide, to bring together evidence that music is not always therapeutic- even for musicians.

All my research is in fact an advocacy for music/art pedagogy, which in due course can have other outcomes too. If we see in the larger context it serves the purpose of my advocacy for art-education, for I believe that the arts ought to be a part of every child and adult’s life, not only in the process of education, but also as a means to expressing the emotional and spiritual fluctuations of being alive and resolving inner dilemmas in socially legitimate ways. I also believe this about other things, like connecting with nature, gardening, sports etc- but this is as far as what I can personally contribute via my (non-funded) research and its agenda.

How would music therapy work for the non musicians or those who are not interested in music at all?

I would like to treat these as two separate issues. I am not just referring to music (or a particular kind of music) but music as a form of art. So if some people do not respond to music, they may respond to other art forms. There ought not be to a forcible reduction of everyone to using music alone.

Everyone whether they know it or not, has a musical self, which is part of their larger personality. Many are aware of their musical abilities and inclinations but some are not. So we do not focus our energy on the method but the person and whatever they respond to, is what should be offered as their therapeutic medium. If we work in coercive ways, then we would force everyone in one way only and sadly this is what happens with modern medicine, but if medicine knew its limits or that it need not be hierarchical or dominant but collaborative, people would become the center of everyone’s work and I think that no problem would be above a solution then.

I have often worked with people who seem to have no music in them, which to my mind is unthinkable. But in saying this I show a bias within myself, for am I not then stereotyping them? I once worked with a group of school teachers who I could select out of 90, into three groups of ten each- I said I would only work with 30, as a pilot. There was  a group that just did not respond to musical notes, and I brought them all quietly together, without telling them what the common ground for connecting them was.

Then I started working with them using rhythm, not melody! They were all so thrilled firstly that they had not been excluded for they all had a very poor self image viz a viz their musical abilities, and then they were more keen to prove themselves worthy! I accomplished many things I thought with this little exercise- building self esteem, letting people identify their musical abilities and not be dominated by the view that they were tone deaf (which in fact they were!) and create new possibilities even for them. If we can turn around teachers we can turn around most things in the world. This is my philosophy.

With this introduction I invite you to read this article , as an offering in creating new possibilities in health via the arts. I would be happy to answer any further questions via this blog so that more people can also read them.

Discovering emancipatory research

Last year (2013), when i was working on the bigger research that i worked upon, and was almost closing it, I encountered the perspective of emancipatory research. As it is, I had been very uneasy with the idea of survivor-research as a paradigm, because it necessarily means that one is a survivor. This linguistic framework itself is a problem as far as I am concerned- as though it is  the holocast that you are referring to, that you have survived. If I am not wrong, perhaps that was the genesis of the word too.

For me researching in an area whose contours and nuances you understand well, from multiple positions- from experiencing the suffering of the soul to reaching that objectivity of a researcher, that you can also examine your own story like an outsider (no matter how much courage it takes to write it down) takes a lot of heart. And of course I derived that heart from reading the writing of Carolyn Ellis, for nothing except the honesty with which she wrote, and that which I can never expect from the writing of a fellow Indian, because we do not share our personal stories in public- at least not to that extent. Her book, ReVision, became such a benchmark for my own writing that once I wrote my big research I had that as a model to go with. I wrote to her, and shared what I felt about her book, and would she be kind enough to look at my research and possibly write a foreword for it! She almost agreed, though I could not finish my own writing in time, to send for her comments (still doing it actually!)

Anyhow, coming back to the subject of emancipatory perspectives, the first thing that appealed to me about it was the linguistic appeal- as I was as it is somewhat uncomfortable with the ‘survivor’ tag. Then secondly I find it more empowering than feeling like a loser- the sense I get from the word ‘survivor’ (may be a whim, but certainly that is how I feel). Plus I also feel I am not a survivor to the extent that I have survived something- I have been able to reinterpret suffering in the context of psychosis- depression as well as seen the continuum of human emotions as they go from one extreme to another. This is an attitude of inquiry, not necessarily passive observation. I am not just letting the waters pass over me, I am letting myself be transformed from an observer to someone who is interacting with the material that the waves are bringing. And that of course started happening in the context of other people also, when I moved from my personal autoethnography to a more social version of it (my bigger research).

I was at the end of my research, when I encountered, thanks to the academia network the writing of Noah De Lissovoy, and others…had a little correspondence with him and he shared with me further ideas about emancipatory perspectives. My journal paper to the Canadian Journal of Music therapy had already been submitted and now I was reading about emancipatory perspectives!!! When I got a feedback from the reviewers, I actually brought in the perspectives! what a thing to do- I changed the conclusion, and I suddenly felt as though the chips had fallen in place.

Perhaps the most important thing about the emancipatory approach is that it does not consider the university as a privileged place for the construction of knowledge– and that is truly liberating. For someone like me, whose college education formally stopped with the onset of what was called psychosis, in 3rd year college (notwithstanding the later degrees I accumulated), to come to a point where my research could be contributing something to the overall construction of knowledge is a great leap for me personally. I do not feel anything except humbled by it, for the colossus of human suffering is so huge that if we can only offer our little stories as offerings of hope to other fellow human beings, in a bid that they can see their own sufferings with newer lenses, that is real emancipation for all of us. There is no point in doing autoethnography for me, except the desire to hold the hands of everyone who is touched by my voice- physically, musically and spiritually.

In fact this perhaps is the greatest victory of my research too- for most people who were research informants with me, at any stage, upon meeting me and seeing my various degrees of engagement, ‘accomplishment’ (as if there is anything) feel inspired- and THAT is the hope they all needed.Now most are better off than before, one even got married- after long discussions in which I may have also contributed. I think in general the work i am doing is quite satisfactory and of a nature that inspires others, who are in the throes of suffering.

Perhaps if I had been in another country, the whole society would have valued my knowledge- but India is a different sort of place. Though we call ourselves a great collective civilization, we are in fact very individualistic- for in the accomplishment of nobody we truly feel happy or as though they are good or worthy of encouragement or celebrations. Fools have other fools falling over them on every pretext and universities are full of jokes going on in the name of research. But I feel relieved that I have discovered the perspective of emancipatory research, for I no longer need to yoke of a university department to ratify my findings…the world will be my testimony. So what if an Indian university could not open its doors for me- many signs will come from around the world to say that my research is truly useful, and not just another jugaad.

Of course I cannot thank Prof Misra enough for always egging me on, even till date- even after becoming a vice chancellor- wanting me to write my bigger autoethnography. Am not sharing the contributions of Prof Dalal here, because it merits a longer writing. But I feel that more than writing my story, there is a need to help others reinvent their stories and accordingly, in addition to working in research, I am donning the new mantle of Recovery Consultant in mental illness. I have been there, and know what it takes- and nobody can challenge me on that- not even ‘professionals’, for their knowledge comes from a theoretical perspective alone and that too guided by criteria set in foreign countries, whereas my knowledge comes from experiential perspectives honed by theoretical engagements- and that is truly emancipation for me, from ignorance. My college had its motto as sa vidya ya vimuktayethat alone in knowledge which liberates. And I know when I go down in this life, I will go with the satisfaction, that whatever two penny bit I learned, I was true to it enough that it proved to be my liberation- from aeons of darkness that surrounded my soul. So now holding other hands is my destiny, also via music.

Last bit, so I recently wrote to Noah sharing with him how discovering emancipatory research, thanks to his paper, somewhere changed the course of my own thought, though sadly I could not write the bigger research within that framework. Just got a response from him saying-

Hi Prateeksha,

Thank you for your message. I am very glad to hear that my work has been useful to you. Congratulations on the publication of your article, which sounds great. Best wishes going forward.


Yes…going forward now.