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

Open the path…here comes the peace

Open the path

For here the armies come

The armies of the SAVIOR

Me at its helm…the swan, the song and the songstress

But for today, I leave you with songs of others.

Wishing you calm yuletide bliss and tranquil joyous tides

The way I experience it from moonlit Goan Raia.

This wonderment for you from some difficult sources…full of youthful verve and verse. Love the energy. May it spread.

This by a friend by amateur Indians from Dubai…just to share that calm is all we seek, and all we are. So let us look at the soul, not the body.

Last post…

This is a last post of sorts…

May be it is the last post for November, or may be for this year- though likely by the end of this year, I will surely come back again to take a bird’s eye view of how the year went by, and what all transpired in an aggregate way.

I will be in Delhi for a fortnight now and it would not be possible to write a new blog post from there. Once you leave home for that long a time, then all the things that pile up in your absence, do not really permit much blogging at the end of a trip.

I have some important paperwork to finish this visit- the governmental sort of work of course- always painful in India. It is about transferring my car papers to the current location where I live- so no shortcuts, but going all the way to my erstwhile home state of Haryana…blah, blah, blah

But as I look at this last part of the year, some of the ideas that are bobbing up in my head for the last few months are as follows, and they make a befitting prelude to the final post I will write, later this year

I have been brooding over the pathetic state of affairs, viz. on the issue of philosophy of education. Until a group of people identify the goals of education, it is a whimsical manner in which education progresses. In poorer countries, education has never been central to anyone’s conceptualization of social upliftment. As a result all resources that ought to have been devoted for mass education were devoted to all other areas-in all countries which have been colonized anywhere, at the cost of long term investments in human capital, which cannot but be taken care of by anything but education.

Education has often been confused with skill building in newly independent countries ( I wonder how long they will continue to remain ‘newly independent’) and the philosophical orientation, or critical thinking that education ought to have imparted people with is condemned to oblivion. Rather a slavish subservience and non-questioning attitude is what the education systems have been trying to hammer into the heads of learners, burdening them with the feudal practices of a colonial past.

Apart from this the issues of secrecy of science that I also shared as part of the last blog post have been playing in my mind- i am thinking that I need to work on that more seriously. In such a scenario, the thought of art education and what role it ought to play can only be philosophical and not necessarily on the ground- it is extremely painful to see the sort of musical experiences children and adults engage in and what they could be doing, had options been created- for an aesthetic development of the mind via artistic pursuits.

World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review

That also brings me to the journal issue, in which my last article was published. I have been slow to go over the articles, naturally enough. Most articles are written by researchers and psychiatrists of course. It is quite a strange platform for me- as a person with a past of bipolar disorder to be writing about her own recovery! That brings to mind the fact that when I had got the comments from the peer- reviewers, these were their words- which will always echo in my ears, reminding me of the significance of writing this article, irrespective of how many read it. Mine is the only article in the journal, which actually maps full scale recovery of a person. In no other article has recovery been documented. This is where I stand apart from the world, which I stand as part of- with a new light, which remains quite hidden or obscure at present.

This is what the first reviewer said-

I think this paper is just great, there is only one issue, the use of the word psychotic delirium, delirium is an organic state and so is misleading, I would say psychotic confusion or perplexity. It also needs a close proof read , minor typos and grammatical errors and bear in mind this is for international English speaking audience, so keep it plain as possible.

The second reviewer said this-

The connection between art, creativity and major mental illness is a subject extremely interesting to Cultural Psychiatry, and the report from an artist diagnosed with mental disorder does represent a substantial contribution.

The choice of an anthropological instrument seems valid and challenging, but the ethnography must be framed within a scientifically well established and validated methodology, which in turn must be described in the text.

Furthermore, instead of quoting verbatim sentences from many authors in the ethnographical section, it would be more appropriate review them in the Discussion, possibly along with an analysis of more controversial points raised in the paper, i.e. why and in which cases music becomes therapeutical.

Study limitations must be explained, in terms of generalization, as well as the risks of relying exclusively on individual elements /resources, such as creativity or inner world, especially when we address a pathological condition where help seeking is extremely discontinuous throughout lifespan and life-threatening events can be frequent. Maybe in this research the ethnography has been collected properly and scientifically, but there is no trace of this throughout the manuscript. It is therefore most suggested to make a major revision in order to bring this contribution at a scientific level more adequate to the journal to which it has been submitted.

So this is the sort of comments which actually contribute towards making an article a long term contribution in a field. It is a pity that few would read it! Anyways, i did the most I could and I know not many people will doubt that- with no training in research or anything else…I have come a long way indeed.

So while I still stand on the first level of this cartoon… I am generally thrilled to dig mid the debris of civilization’s hogwash and try finding solutions to problems, in a meaningful manner, rather than for a degree (though who knows how close that could be too!)

 

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Towards new knowledge

These days I am quite concerned about writing and writing better. I am not writing- to say the least…just musing about it, reading other people’s writing and thinking of ways to make my own better, crisp and more accessible. Of course one of the reasons that has caused this shift in approach to understanding human communication is rooted in my newly deepening interest in linguistics- the science of language. For the last few years, not recent.

The next bit of research that I intend working on is the interpretation of psychosis in terms of psychiatry, and law on the one hand and how from mid psychotic breakdowns also recoveries are happening, yet marginalized. It is a critical gap, if one can see it, yet all researchers believe that whatever is their current obsession will indeed contribute to knowledge in some meaningful way. So I am no exception to that rule of a researcher- an obsessive dreamer who wants to contribute a minuscule fragment of knowledge to the overall pool of human knowledge.

Of course this is not my research question but one of the significant issues that I intend delving into. I am keen to understand how linguistically psychiatric nomenclature of psychosis is interpreted in law and why people are institutionalized- what is the philosophical position taken by law and enforcement agencies in deciding who needs to be institutionalized. This is all a matter of how the science of psychiatry is interpreted in legal terms- in other words does law have a mechanism, linguistically to decide what psychiatry is saying or is something getting lost in a transfer of information from one medium to another.

Last night I was reading an article called Transparency in Public Science. The author raises some critical questions and also in some manner reflects some of my own concerns about the politics of knowledge sharing. I think for the current research this lady, Sheila Jasanoff will remain an important person to follow, for my own referencing, even though her writing is largely in the American context. But being of Indian origin, I may run into other issues, and who knows at a later point even discuss them with her.

Since linguistics is all about interpretation, the various stages of interpretation of a person’s account of their suffering, which involves- expression openly and its interpretation in a specialized knowledge of psychiatry led interventions and thereafter other social welfare outcomes are all matters of interpretation. So my interest in linguistics is not just here to stay, but grow and grow deeper and deeper.

I have to deeply acknowledge the role played by Ramakant-ji in this awareness. He is one person who has always consistently been happy in my success, maintained a very generous and supportive stance and actually taken pride in my little accomplishments. When I got to know him in January 2011, he was already retired from the university, as the founding head of the department of Linguistics in Delhi University, but despite that he continues to steer people, in very gentle ways towards the significance of language. I feel unfortunate that I could not meet him earlier in my younger years or possibly I would have thought of studying with him, but better late than never.

He has sent me some introductory articles on linguistics and now today told me some three books to read up. So I hope to do that before I can sit with him in the near future to discuss the role of language in the context of mental health. Of course one big strand of language has come into my consciousness already due to social constructionism and its emphasis on language, so the remaining gaps whatever they are will be taken care of by this inquiry- hopefully.

So coming back to where I started and my never ending concern with writing better. I encountered this talk by Steven Pinker, that I think could be saved here, for future reference, because some of the ideas he mentions are indeed valuable. It is another matter that I also agree in parts about the issue of Strunk and White’s book that i found so tedious and archaic myself when I read it, that I could not finish it. Nobody who is into writing can stop their efforts at trying to get better at it- so I am no exception to it. But reading more of those, whose writing you really admire, is somethign we can never afford to ignore. And if I have to think blindly who are those people, I know I would count Bertrand Russell, Kenneth Gergen, Richard Dawkins first of all. Then of course when one starts thinking deeper many more names emerge. But I think the next in that league is going to be Sheila Jasanoff. Oh yes, I do really like the writing of Carolyn Ellis- of course I am only ending up mentioning researchers here I think. But this is not the entire list, I must admit. To write better and more succinctly, I really need to imbibe a lot more precision and clarity- which I hope, is happening all the time.

Tuning into the wisdom of people- for their recoveries

I am relieved, or partially so.

The website is up, or will be completed soon.

So all the eggs (err.r..r.mental health resources) have come into one basket.

The basket is called Antardhwanee- the inner sound. I am happy I picked up this name, for it resonates so nicely with Hamsadhwani, both of them rooted in ‘sound’ (dhwani/dhwanee). The sound of music and the sound of a human mind are both sounds only, after all. So Antardhwanee, my new venture, or rather the old packaged as new and distinctly so, now stand apart from the musical side- Hamsadhwani. I like the website, it is interesting. I wonder if anyone else also likes the neat design, which says everything in a compact manner.

The good thing is that I am working in therapeutic dialogues more effectively, or if I say it fatalistically, more people are looking for ways out of mental illnesses. When I invited some who I have counseled or currently do, to write some testimonials down, that I could share publicly. By reading them,  I realized that my work had meaningful outcomes all along the way. I always like to keep evaluating myself, so I am satisfied that lives are slowly transforming. I have this immense faith in the wisdom of people, if only they can be tweaked into trusting themselves, in newer ways. After all, if I did not have the wisdom, how would I have changed my own story?

Many things have been happening along these past few days. Some of them nice ones, some of them painful ones (my lower spine and its radiating pain, giving early warning of sciatica again), and some sad ones. The latter is more of the human rights violations that happen in homes, in the name of psychiatric interventions. I just wrote a post about that on another blog, to tell someone where they were going wrong, in handling their family member, who has been given a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Earlier in the day, a young man had called me up, to talk about his schizophrenia and related issues. I asked him if he had declared in his place of work about his ‘condition’. Fortunately, he declined. Nobody should ever talk about their mental health issues, becaDSCN1155use people love to label others. I told him to work on a recovery paradigm, which would be interesting to watch. I know for sure that people can recover and go off medications.

But that can only happen if they hold the hand of someone who can steer them. They most definitely have to use their own strength to get out of the marsh…but never underestimate the steering role. Had I had such a person, to clearly guide me, may be I would not have taken medication for 18 years!!

Ah, lest I forget the special issue of the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review will be released later this week in Mexico. The special volume has stories of art based therapies in mental health from all around the world. It is open access, anyone can read, download anything they like. My article is called Musical Progressions. It is by far the best article I have written about myself- it is very thorough, futuristic and is intended as a road map for more to follow, if they can discern the message in it.

They also have an exhibition happening there in Mexico. I have sent some of my poetry and two CDs for display/listening.  In the next post, I will share the poems that I have sent to Mexico, for display on my behalf. But this that follows is already published as part of my article.

O poets what wilt thee leave behind
For mankind, that mere words can build?
Will thee merely, blacken sheets of paper
With the dark imaginings of thine turbid brains,
‘N leave them behind, in the name of poesy?

O thee have not schools, nor universities to build!
Neither homes of hope, institutions of charity
Hospitals, big dams, or bridges or laboratories…

So add a drop o’ life
To this smoldering ocean that chokes
‘N fumes b’neath the staggering burden of humankind
O poets, leave not that which shall tease those to come

Leave babbling brooks, replete with rays of a new hope
O poets dream the impossible dreams and weave
Them into a necklace of words such
That thine dreams, become the dreams of a world torn asunder
Leave not weeping sagas, of thine own (personal pain)
For many a soul in such a one languishes –
Hold their hands, fire their hearts, leave behind, if you can,
A ray of sun, after the tearing rain.
(13th July 1999, unpublished poetry)

Antardhwanee- hearing the inaudible

Life beginning on wasteland

Life beginning on wasteland- the main picture on my new website

Antardhwanee is the name of my new venture, or rather the venture in mental health which I have separated from the musical Hamsadhwani. I did not know someone had even made a raga out of it- how tedious. For them anything they do is the done thing. The reality of inner sound it is that it belongs to the realm of the unheard or that which is un-hear-able- I am not trying to construct a new word here. It is a sookshm (subtle) nada (sound). But who can say that to Indian musicians, who think they are the last word on philosophy and music!

Antardhwanee means the sound within or inner melody. I thought it was a befitting title for my mental health work, because it is the inner suffering that goes unheard, which precipitates into breakdowns, and mental illnesses. So when I started looking for a domain name to register the website I figured I could not do so, at least by the title I was looking for as it had been ‘taken’ already. So I chose the next best option- which made the name go with a double ‘e’ instead of ‘i’. I mean I was looking for Antardhwani, which made sense because the parent is Hamsadhwani. But then I had to pick up Antardhwanee.

My whole aim is to take counseling to the point where recoveries start happening people start reclaiming their lives from the stranglehold of psychiatric nomenclature. Whether more do it or not, I know for sure the ones who counsel with me understand a whole lot of issues about their lives and become empowered. Yesterday I also discussed it with a professor friend, that I come and teach in his university and he seemed quite enthusiastic about it. I am quite serious and committed to teaching the new form of counseling that I am working with and getting meaningful outcomes.

Since learning is on in parallel, my knowledge sometimes undergoes a sudden change and qualitatively so. It is a very exciting phase of research, writing and now putting it out in the public domain. I am also happy that people are beginning to understand that if need be to communicate long distance, one must seek recourse to that rather than not communicate. I have not come across a single recovery oriented professional in India till now- and this is after nearly 23 years of engagement with mental health. It is a very telling comment on the state of affairs, where the only way people think of, in cases of mental suffering is to medicate people for the rest of their lives. It is tragic, unethical and utterly wrong that without providing people due education, you keep on medicating them without an end. But how will people learn better? I cannot educate them- or anyone like me or any activist, until that need is their own inner need- the need for emancipation.

Here is the facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/antardhwanee/