Peace as daily practice (for me)

In a world filled with millions of reasons for dejection, anger, helplessness, loss, suffering and other such oddments the practice of peace cannot but be a mindful endeavour. We cannot just say ‘peace’ and not engage with it at a behavioural or action level. Only words are mere rhetoric- they mean nothing because they change as the day changes. But cultivating a practice is a difficult task, which requires us to watch each of our actions on a constant, non-judgemental, detached manner, and also change it whether it is out of sync with an inner compass of peace.

I accidentally stumbled upon the fact that today is the World Peace Day. And of course we all associate the dove with peace outwardly.  But how to cultivate such kindness and non-violence is a challenge we have to constantly remind ourselves of. It was good that I learnt of the day early in the morning and I chose to remain aware of my actions for the whole day. This was a practice of wakefulness by itself.

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I happened to have a mixed day- there was a new client for counseling and an old one that I wanted to review things with. There were students of music and there was the big water issue on the domestic front that I have been struggling with for a few days now- which necessitated me to buy water for the first time yesterday and keep calling plumbers every single day- paying money everytime not knowing whether the issue is resolved or not! It is a pain to deal with so much domestic stuff, especially when it jeopardizes the work one is engaged with at the moment.  This is the last phase of my doctoral dissertation- yeah, this time also had to dawn finally. There is considerable work done and more planned ahead. I kept thinking of the idea of peace and whether everyone is really working towards that in their life, or whether it can be achieved in un-awareness.

And these are the thoughts I thought about my actions, of late. The academic work I do is towards searching for a solution in mental illness. In a world full of mental suffering perhaps the way ahead is to help people deal with their suffering and enable them to look at suffering in a different manner, or assist with changing the frame of perception. Well, that is what one can do in cousenling, but in the doctoral research my goals are somewhat different. And I think considering the violence I have faced from my university, the fact that I could still cultivate reasonably good habits, and not plunge into any depression was itself the outcome of a deep inner calmness that I have identified and learned to engage with or recede into frequently. And of course, also to recognize my triggers for anything- whether anger or hurt or pain or whatever else. I cannot say these emotions have not visited me in the three years and more I have been doing this work now. As a matter of fact, they have been frequent and regular companions…yet never could they overwhelm me or derail me to any significant measure.

Peace is not a thought for me any longer, or an aspiration– but a daily habit which needs to be practiced at every level. I cannot shove disturbance in a corner and think about attending to it when I have the time. This produces stress, and a majority of people do that- push the uncomfortable stuff out of sight so that it does not bother them for the moment. Actually it only recedes from sight, but not the mind- creating stress and pressures slowly on the mind and then body.

This is what leads to all health issues as we grow older- the violence we create for ourselves in our day-to-day life, the lies and the deceptions. And people do not even know they are deceiving themselves, at least not on the face of it. Deep down there may be an awareness- in the depth of their heart. But then, most do not listen to their heart at all! So naturally they are tuned out of themselves and their actions tuned out of any sense of propriety, peace, decency and morality.

How to cultivate peace

I cannot say that I have an answer to it already, but certainly it is a quest, how to deal with the daily violence of living in a world full of self-promoting, self-serving and self-loving individuals and not become one like them, at least all the time? Perhaps the only answer lies in awareness. The greater the awareness about every single action we perform, the greater is the likelihood that the action will be performed in awareness that it should not violate anything- neither in thought, speech or action. The greater then is the likelihood of being non-violent. But non-violence should not be confused with inaction- not performing any action, for that is sloth then!

Equally important is the way we spend our time. If we spend our time in killing time (watching TV for instance) and not producing something worthwhile for the world, which contributes in making the world more peaceful and beautiful we are shirking our responsibility. For instance as a researcher if I do not love what I do and I do it because it gives me a degree (which a majority of people in India do research for), and not the absolute love for knowledge, or making a worthwhile contribution to society- then the only love I have is for MYSELF- because I want to embellish myself with the most I can. And since my values are attached to a certain respectability that a degree gets … every act, even of research, is only self loving and not knowledge loving, not love for society or anyone else either. It is only to secure a job or get a promotion or ensure continuity in the job- and that makes the work laboured and insipid!

I feel grateful to my parents who inculcated in us a value for knowledge. At that time they did not know how deep the roots of that love were being sown. Today I feel a deep sense of inquiry and a wish to look at myriad problems with a view to finding ways out, also a great deal via research, or sharing my findings via research in the three areas I work in.

Gardening and peace

Gardening is the closest we can be in nature close to urban living, without considerable effort, and I think gardening is really an activity that  connects us to ourselves, to mother earth and to life in its enormity. Seeing the birth of plants and the completion of their life cycles season after season also tends to impart a certain acceptance of the inevitability of life and death, which makes it appear like a continuum and an endless cycle of rejuvenation, which is not such a calamity after all. Of course, the role played by my little animals is completely without parallel in this domain.

Earlier today, while talking to the new client, he happened to share with me the death of a certain person in his younger years and how it affected him. I remembered how my aunt’s death affected me at 18, and how it slowly built into a huge depression and spiralled into becoming bipolar by the time I was 20. Today I am five months over 47, and there is so much water under the bridge- and such a change of perspective, vision and philosophy. Without philosophy we are doomed, that is clear to me now.

Gardening is definitely a philosophical practice, for in an ethical, sensitive and respectful engagement with plants and what all they attract- birds, squirrels, butterflies, bettles, insects and so forth, we increase our scope to observe and meditate on the motions of life, birth/death, childhood & ageing. I remember suddenly now, how I used to sit on my porch in the village home I lived in, in Goa, and be in reverie and the feeling I had was I was watching enternity .

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birds flocked on many sides too

And I would just listen to the sounds of the birds. It was serene, green and tranquil- a sudden chirp, twitter or crackle would disturb the silence and then go silent again. Sitting amid greenery and nature one sees the eternity of life, like a witness and then we realize that these things were always there- from primordial times, from the time the earth was born and life on it appeared. Only we came much later and our awareness of it came even more late. So now cultivating that awareness towards the eternal and the ephemeral makes us see how limited our time and therefore how gently, how peacefully, how carefully we ought to spend it.

It is Mother Nature which is eternal and the Earth, we are ephemeral and our time limited. So making the most of that time means bringing into awareness our actions, our efforts and our engagements with other people, and forms of life. Am I in any act of mine wounding another or showing my power over them- in speech thought or action? It could be someone who works around my home, a student I teach, a person I meet on the street, a client I engage with in counseling, a member of my family, and even the animals around my home. The choices to be violent and nasty are present at every juncture, hundred times a day. It is only by awareness of another’s humanity and our own, remaining humble not arrogant no matter what knowledge, what money or what power comes to us can we remain peaceful.

Without being at peace within we cannot spread peace around. In that case peace is only a rhetoric which is not followed by ethical practice, best epitomized by politicians (in India) whose every act is steeped in stupidity, rhetoric and self-love, so tuned out of themselves they cannot see how they violate life, civilization and the progress made by millions of humans until now.

Peace is not for  those who are ignorant, because the ignorant cannot reflect on their own actions, filled as they are with deep narcissism. To reflect on ourselves we need to cultivate peace, an aware peace in which we dare to question all our actions, without needing the scrutiny of another. That is what makes an ethical individual, an ethical researcher, an ethical human and a just society. To create a just society is the effort every reasonable, conscientious person would venture into. The rest can go on in pursuits of their little appetites, creating their mental messes that all    else have to deal with! Yet in spite of that we need to remember that even the ignorant seek peace, no matter how erroneous their ways, how short-sighted or self serving. To truly cultivate peace we have to embrace the entire world (vasudhaiva kutumbakam consciousness) and recognize each being’s quest for peace- and that is the quest that unites us with everything in the universe. As the Dalai Lama wisely says that each being wants to be free from suffering, and that is what unites us all. And that is another way to say the same thing. A beautiful reminder of our cosmic connectedness with everyone we choose to embrace in our quest for peace.

(Perharaceps had it not been for this topic I would not have been able to write a blog post at this juncture. So the next time I write another one, it would perhaps be after the completion of my dissertation- insha’allah)

11 years today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing different kettles!

These days the tea is boiling in many kettles- many, many in fact. And diverse, non-overlapping ones as well. Yesterday I started one major part of the work in data collection for the phd research- so that is a big enterprise by itself. And getting people to talk to, who are willing to share their stories of mental suffering is one of the most anxiety producing situations. No, let me rephrase it.

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From March 2014- April 2015 this was my kitchen in a small village, in South Goa- from where many a guest has been served a wholesome meal and many a cup of tea shared with loved ones.

Finding people who are willing to share their lives with you is one of the most anxiety producing things for any researcher. I was just discussing this with Ramakant-ji, and he told me about his experiences, in the 1970’s, of doing research with Punjabi children in England, and how he was often shown the door by people suspecting him to a be a spy, trying to interview them to send them back to India!

So on the one hand, one meets one person and then the one person backs off. Then you meet another, through whatever means you may have- and they say, we will think it over. You approach one non profit; they say we will come back to you- someone comes back, someone leaves you wondering for months. By then you know they have no intention to come back.

Start of Data Collection

Nevertheless, I started the process yesterday- interviewed the first person, who happens to not live faraway. There is another meeting with another person on Friday- she too, like the first person, has agreed to come down and meet me in my home. It is a great relief really, because with my broken back, going anywhere is a huge challenge for me personally. I also decided to NOT record any interviews (and go through the needless hassle of transcribing the interviews and collecting mounds of data). So I have taken the equally difficult path of writing the interview down with hand! I wrote almost 11 pages yesterday. Later I realized that there are some themes that I want to discuss again or with a different perspective. Fortunately since this person is also a Phd herself, she understands the process of data collection and in any case I still have to meet someone from her family.

Yesterday I sent off a letter to a friend who once headed an NGO working in mental health, requesting him to help me find people who would be willing to talk about their lives. So now I am waiting to see, if anyone would be willing. I spoke with someone more today- who first declined fearing exposure, but when I assured him of anonymity he was okay with it. But I think I will still write a letter to him.

Musical melodies flow on all counts

On the other hand something completely different in brewing on the musical front. I started some beautiful new compositions in Raga Durga with my guru. I have learnt Durga earlier as well, and it is one of my valued Ragas.

On the other hand, I am looking for poetry for children and creating newer compositions for my students. Just last week I composed a khyal in Ektaal for one girl in Raga Bhairav. Today there is a possibility of a boy (of 22 years) starting anew with me- he learnt much earlier, many years ago. [We decided to offer scholarships to those who cannot afford music education- so three students are full fee-paying, whatever be their fee amount and three are completely subsidized, to paying a small token money (which is less than or equal to 10% of the actual fee)]. At least it is my hope that money should not be a deterrent in receiving quality music education. I hope we will be able to sustain the venture. In two months we have six students enrolled and another two expected. I do not expect to grow very quickly in this location anyways.

Apart from these, the house has its own very fixed rhythm- three women report for work at 6:30 in the morning and then another man comes an hour later to get the daily supply of milk, the garbage collector comes to take the garbage away and then the last boy in the morning comes to clean the car and wash the clothes whenever they have to be! Oh I forgot the dusting lady, who spends  between 30-40 minutes dusting around the house- the doors, windows, books, tables, computers etc. In the evening one or two, depending upon my need for then, of these morning ladies come and do some more household chores and then comes the gardener on three days a week. the remaining four days I have to water the garden on three sides of the house myself. Till so long as these people are around the house, I cannot begin my own riyaaz- living alone means managing a lot of sides actually. Of course there are the outside dogs too, that have to be fed- nearly six come everyday, but there are eight also at times!

So imaging a day with learning with my guru, to teaching my students music and working in phd research in psychosis, cooking, watering the garden, feeding the dogs, feeding the birds, tending to Raga and cleaning her up as per requirement, is a lot to balance in a day. What to talk of days when I have to go out (for shopping for groceries or paying some bill, or bank etc)- life is brimming with ideas, activities and tasks I enjoy. Of course there are other tasks which vary- bathing the dogs, cleaning the yard after them, changing their beds- laundry issues, and so much much more!

Goa 2014 266The long and the short of it is that the tea is boiling in many kettles and my day is a dance of the creating some semblance of this and that. Meanwhile whenever I lie down with acute pain, which is a 24-hour companion anyways, I have these books to read nowadays. I was reading a recently acquired book called Our most troubling madness, and then there was Mad Matters from Canada. I feel so grateful that I have the resources to buy these books that are published in the West, all thanks to my brother.

The last of the things that seems to be cropping up is a course in counseling that I wanted to offer to young people, who are interested in looking at counseling from a non-medical perspective. One young woman recently (in April) approached me but I postponed it. But now another one did- two days back. then I the time has coming or is nearly there- to offer a course in collaborative counseling in the Indian milieu.

Life is not bad after all, so what if the body remains in pain and I don’t feel like waking up on any morning- the birds, the dogs, and the daylight manage it everyday 🙂

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These new crop of puppies are the new morning guests to our home these days- they are all lying in wait in the bamboo shoots outside, and the moment the gate opens they all come running. Adorable foursome

 

The abuser, teacher

Just this morning, I wrote a post about a piano teacher (click link). It could have been a happy case of writing about a musician and how wonderful it is to interact with young minds and impart them newer ideas about playing music, but this is not such a post. It is about an abusive teacher. The dilemma about knowing abusers is multifold. But the story about teachers abusing power only changes- it does not end, it does not create new outcomes and definitely in an unregulated environment, it can create some dangerous outcomes.

There was a recent incident, which I read about in the newspapers, just yesterday, about students stabbing a teacher. It takes a lot of anger to stab a person and that too when it is a teacher – who is traditionally assigned greater power socially than students. First of all, this itself is a critical issue. Why should teachers have more power than students? Is the students’ ‘work’ of student-hood any less significant than a teacher’s? Can teachers become teachers without having students? Can teachers become better teachers by teaching the same thing again and again, year after year, without any change, if students do not question them?

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I do not personally think that students would stab a teacher upon a little provocation. To come to a point of stabbing a person, unmindful of its consequences is sign of accumulated anger- which for sure does not happen in a day. I have seen school teachers, particularly in government schools treating their students like despicable vermin. There was a well-feared school principal who was known to hit his students with big bamboo sticks, and not thin ones at that. I always carried the image that government school boys are ‘goondas’ or ruffians till I did not grow up and learn to understand the politics of knowledge, and how one class is ensuring the perpetration of ignorance of another class, by not even wanting to educate them- which the oppressed classes are seeing as the sole route to their emancipation and social upliftment.

Misplaced Hierarchies

Personally I believe that teachers being ascribed more power than students is itself a sign of a decadent, patriarchal value system in which the elements that constitute the system are not recognized as partners but viewed as a hierarchy. Patriarchy is also based on the idea of hierarchy and dominance. Of course it takes more  complex forms, about ownership of wealth/decision making ability in a family, society or institutionally. But the underlying idea is dominance. The whole Indian system of the guru-shisya parampara, which is carried down historical times until now is a continuation of the same hierarchical, decadent system, which carries on, with teacher-worshiping and unquestioning submission to the teacher (irrespective of their intelligence, kindness and knowledge). It is no wonder that our education is not producing the sort of social outcomes, growth, development and critical thinking that knowledge is supposed to inculcate. With unquestioning submission, nobody dares to question and nobody cares to answer, if someone questions.

Higher you go, lonelier it gets…in education

In the same context I would like to share here that recently I was having a telephonic dialogue with a young woman who is entering into a clinical psychology program, in a premier institution in India- someone who did a masters’ in psychology from a major university. I had read some of her articles and told her that I could see a research potential in her, though I did not see her academic articles to be thorough or methodologically significant. She said that nobody in their department (her teachers) helps any students! They (the professors) have so much on their plates already that it is not possible for them to pay heed to the needs of their students. I thought it was a great irony, since professors are paid to impart knowledge explicitly to those students only. They ought to at least guide their students and steer them in directions which bring their ideas to fruition or at least a clarity. Though as a student she was trying to condone her teachers’ lack of kindness/ethics/participation in the lives of students, as a student and a researcher myself I find it unpardonable. She further said that she has been told already that M.Phil that she is entering for, is all about finding your own way through the world- of ideas, patients, counseling methods and so forth.

Is it any surprise that when students come out of these departments with vacuous degrees they actually have no skills to offer to the world? They are just exposed to people, without given the wisdom and knowledge how to interpret the exposure. Everyone can have an apple fall on them, but only a Newton will think about it to arrive at the idea of gravity. Hundreds of people would have been hit by something falling from above- do they end up finding new ideas, new solutions or new perspectives? Then how to we create new knowledge? By just tossing about old ideas, in old vessels and older ways of looking at life, which are not even created in our own country, but the West?

So…coming back

Anyhow after these thoughts about education in India, as it goes, I need to come back to the main subject that triggered off these thoughts- about the piano player.

I have known him for at least 15 years- from a distance, the sort of knowing when you know a person’s name, their work (not having heard it) and knowing that he is a go-getter. The trouble with India is that a lot of us are gogetters. We will do anything to get what we want- even deviously, following no inner or social morals, because our conscience permits us to do everything, by hook or by crook.

Since I have already written the post about him, in this one I am not going to repeat my words written there. My concern here is the underlying philosophical, ethical, moral and social responsibility which we end up shirking when we abuse our own students. The other concern is that a whole lot of people are in the teaching market, in an unregulated manner, where their knowledge is not measured, nobody questions them about their methods and parents are largely ignorant about anything- from general education to art education. In such a grey scenario, the ones who know even a little are able to masquerade as knowledgeable and get jobs and private classes..

As human beings we all love to direct our emotional expressions at someone we can identify. Today I see that I can identify in that man, the piano teacher, an abuser- a convenient scapegoat for my angst. However more than my anger he provokes my sadness and my dejection- at the emptiness of everything people do. What is the significance of music if it does not deepen your own inner gaze and make you think about life, creation, philosophy, society and your own responsibility in a meaningful way? Is everything only about our bread and butter? Isn’t it a great shame really and we think and believe we belong to a great nation? So where is that greatness supposed to be, if we are not able to muster it in our daily life and day-to-day behaviours with our fellow human beings? A greatness of the past means no greatness at all– for the past is only a matter of the eyes that interpret it and History is only about interpretation- not about the truth. We do not need to glorify a past where a majority was oppressed and deprived of their dignity. What else was the guru shisya parampara if not exclusion of a majority of people from the possibility of achieving knowledge, which would only be imparted to a select few?

Teachers need to get out of their guru-hoods and embrace their journeys as inquirers and responsible citizens, who can only hold a candle, akin to an indicator/sign of the path of knowledge. The path is not owned by them, nor created by them. They are journeying on the path as co-voyagers of their students, colleagues and several others. If they cannot understand that, they do not deserve to be teachers and today I can say that a majority of teachers in India do not deserve to be teachers. The minority wherever it is, is worthy of salutation and to them I bow as the upholders of a value system, in which it is not the ego of the teacher that is supreme, but the process of collaboration that learning and teaching is supposed to be- the co-creation of knowledge.

No matter what

No matter what goes on in the body, life has to go on. I am very feeble thanks to that ridiculous flu which has flattened everyone, called chikungunya. I feel like there is no life inside the body- so am mostly sleeping.

But when I muster the courage to open my eyes, I either invest it in reading, writing, or singing. Since the arms also feel weak at times, I turn on the kindle device to read. I am fiddling between several kinds of books, depending upon which side of the bed I lie on! This book called Deadly Psychiatry, Organized Denial is a book that shakes you to the core, in case you have not already been shaken by Mad Science and The Myth of Mental Illness. I feel like memorizing every single paragraph of the book- it is so significant and thorough.

Side by side, I can see on my bedside- Two Men and Music, which I have read in parts with great interest. Then I can see a book by Vidushi Prabha Atre (an extremely tedious book), and by Martin Seligman -about positive emotions or positive psychology or may be optimism. It details about how the experiments were conducted in the initial years of the birth of the positive psychology studies.

The writing of the book on music-health is going on slowly, very slowly to be sure. There is so much to do and the body is simply not permitting me- what to say. Anyhow what I find myself very enthused about is that there is a lot to read, as always and lot of dots to join- expectedly so, why would I be a researcher if I could not see anything new? There is one field of inquiry that I soon want to delve in- critical discourse analysis. Fortunately I have a friend who is willing to walk me through the process by at least sending me the necessary material to manage this bit. He teaches at a university in the US.

A couple of days ago, or yesterday, I forget I was writing about community singing which is so prevalent in India. Though I write that it is quite prevalent, but I do not see it around me immediately, though in my years of growing up I have seen a lot more of it. Is it that I am cut off from others therefore or is it that the absolute quantum of it has gone down significantly? I need to investigate that. Part of the inaudibility of the phenomenon may be contributed by the fact that where i live there is no communal life. And the rest part of it comes from the fact that I am an exceedingly introverted person, who also lives alone these days. So one way or another everything reinforces the other.

Even though I have written my book only nearly half way through, I find it to be reading fairly well. I am behind schedule no doubt, but not lacking in quality (or so I think. How to eliminate this self serving bias?)

I am actually very keen to wind off the book and begin my phd work in earnest, because the truth of the matter is that I am extremely fond of ideas that I want to work with and they push me a lot- even at times when I am not working at them assiduously.

Being ill and alone is not a good experience, but then neither is it good being ill and having too many people around you- because it does not let you rest and recuperate. Life is a bundle of contradictions I suppose. What we want, we do not really want , all the time. What we are charmed by is not something that can enamour us for long or always. So what is the middle path? TO have a bit of everything i suppose. That way we value everything and yet do not become dependent on anything.

Without combing my hair

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

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NALSAR University of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my success, not mine in the least

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This picture below is from the Nalsar Campus, in Hyderabad

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Who knows where the road takes you from here