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.


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 🙂


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


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!)



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.

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.

Entering University on a New Platform

It is a funny life finally. For years I have been moping over the fact that I wanted to get into doctoral research and I could not get admission because no university in India would admit me. Why? Because I did not have the mandatory 55% marks in my Master’s course (due to  disabling that psychosis caused). Notwithstanding the fact that I had so many publications in peer-reviewed journals and so much else, no concession could be made for me- ANYWHERE in India. This is how enabling our environment is!

For the last couple of days I have been having these one line communications with a young scholar doing her doctoral research in Delhi University. I did not know until a few days ago who she was and what was her interest in me or my work. Then we had a little exchange, because I sent a request for volunteers to be part of a new research that I am planning on the subject of loneliness. She volunteered to be part of it.

Anyhow, today I figured that she had interest in disability too, because of experiencing something herself. I referred her to my own research site, without telling her what disabling condition I suffered from. One does not know how much is too much to share with unknown people, though both her guides are well known to me. Anyways, in response to my sharing of research with her, she sent this message-

I have read some of your articles as part of our master’s course.
Its my privilege to know you and your great work.
I have heard you in our indian psychology conference also ..

That is the irony of life sometimes. I could not enter the university to study, but my writing is being referred in a course of MDSC00918 (1)aster’s in Psychology. Does anything make sense anywhere? How much more my writing would have benefited the world, if only it could have been published in a better format! I am sad, yet satisfied that at least my writing has left some footprints behind, and someone is still seeing it!

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.

Editor’s words- from the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Since I just received a pdf of the full journal edition, I am very intrigued to see how the editor interprets the whole ideas presented in the journal, and how open they are to pushing the boundary of inquiry in truly democratic and open-minded ways, even if it challenges the views one has held for long. And that is precisely what is holding back our own native cultures which value and salute tradition so much, that anyone who seems to extend anything here is beaten into silence, submission and marginalization. 

These are her words and I copy them down for what is pertinent to the context of my writing in the journal edition. This post is about this only. 

Editorial / Éditorial

Jennifer J. Nicol, PhD, MTA, RDPsych

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA


Are you ready for some provocative reading? Hopefully yes, because

several papers in this issue of the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy aim to

disrupt conventional understandings and challenge implicit beliefs about

music therapy and music therapists, about research, or even about what

constitutes the human being. For example, is music therapy innocent? Sue

Baines reviews Susan Hadley’s new book, Experiencing Race as a Music

Therapist: Personal Narratives, which uses personal stories to suggest that

in fact privilege, marginalization, and the potential for harm permeate all

relationships. Laurel Young notes that Kenneth Aigen’s new book, The Study

of Music Therapy: Current Issues and Concepts, challenges readers to consider

the possibility of music therapy as a stand-alone field of specialization rather

than one that relies on other disciplines (psychology, medicine, education) to

explain and justify itself. What are the implications of this idea? How might

this perspective affect practitioners, educators, and researchers? Prateeksha

Sharma writes about using her own musical skills and culture to heal herself,

without the involvement of a music therapist. Her autoethnographic inquiry

introduces the typically unheard voice of subject-as-researcher, which by

extension raises questions about what is research? What is knowledge? And

who is qualified to contribute to these two enterprises?


Two other papers focus on individuals with dementia and raise

questions about the importance of cognition in terms of establishing

our humanness. Does a person with dementia have the capacity for selfactualization?

Is it possible for this person to have a spiritual life with spiritual

needs? Melissa Jessop provides a poetic rendering of a music therapy group

for adults with dementia by way of recasting music therapy clients as agents

and sentient beings with an alive and valuable life that exists right now in this

present moment, not just in the past. Kevin Kirkland, Mary Catherine Fortuna,

Elizabeth Kelson, and Alison Phinney describe the use of a mapping system

implemented to make visible clients’ responses to spiritual experiences

along with qualitative techniques that all highlight the importance of personcentered

care for people with dementia. Both papers represent an alternate

conceptualization of group music therapy work for adults with dementia.


The flip side of writing research

Today I had an unexpected experience, in fact perhaps the sort that thrilled me. There are two things I must add as background here- one is that I am trying out a new service on google called Hubspot or something like that, which tracks your email, and tells you when someone opens the email sent by you. So in case you have sent the email to 20 people, it will tell you each time they open, though if they are part of a list their names may not show up.

Just the past week I had a somewhat unpleasant exchange in a little group that talks about mental health (not all in the group work in mental health directly) and there were those who raised doubts and called me self pitying and playing the fool, writing my story down as a research, where it did not merit the tag of research!  I was somewhat taken aback that such people whether they understand all sides of research or not, have the courage/audacity to confront you, without verifying details. Anyhow, many people wrote to me privately after that and expressed solidarity, which was a little relief.

As it is, writing about yourself via research is not the easiest and I’ve not yet forgotten how many tears I have shed every time I have written an autoethnography. Then to meet cynics who tell who that your work lacks merit or verifiability is just plain hurtful. Perhaps instead of taking it so personally I could have taken it in the spirit of criticism, but then what is the compensation? First of all your suffer for long years being ill and then you suffer because you have no way to get back into the mainstream of life, and then you suffer because though you offer your wisdom to the world, in ways that can transform the experience of others if they can take a leaf out of your’s, you face more criticism. Where are the people who will really assist those who come out of decades of illness and embrace them and let them just breathe and celebrate their success, for it is not only a personal thing, but something that carries the potential for the universal? Unfortunately those people do not seem to be sitting in India (barring some really senior academics in universities).

But the really interesting thing happened today, which I had really not even imagined could. I am subscribed to a list of research from the McGill University, department of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, from which I almost get weekly updates, of research happening around the world, in mental health. Between this and a few other sites that I am connected to, i am pretty much in the loop about the latest dialogues in mental health research in most disciplines- psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and you name it. Many a time I have written to people directly on this list and asked them for their research papers since I have no access to any university serves, and the beauty is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON i have ever written to has always sent me back their articles. Oh course I can say the same for Professors-  Misra, and Ajit (Dalal) too, for they even gave their personal copies of many a book to me and Girishwarji sent many books to me online. But this is not about comparisons, and there is no scope like that here.

I wrote to Prof Lawrence Kirmayer who is the editor of an important journal apart from being Director of the program in the McGill University, Canada, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, and inquired whether my article of the CJMT could be shared there, and went for a walk with the dogs, and then to feed them, clean the house, do this that, cook, eat etc etc. When I got back to the computer there was a response from him, thanking me and asking me whether he ought to also include my email as part of it, and forward to his list of people. I affirmed that.

Within five minutes of me sending the response to him, I got a letter from the same list, for he had posted to his list, and this was one of those emails that I too get as part of being subscriber to that list. As I am writing this blog post, it is only an hour back and almost 120 people have opened the same email! This is called speed. Am not sure how many people in India did that ever…or even shared with one more person!! Then we lament that good research does not happen in India- what an irony! You do not facilitate sharing of ideas and exchange of views, provide access to those on the margins and then  you expect that great research should happen in India just because we were once such a knowledge oriented society. Indians need to get out of the Halo of the past, because right now we are not only mediocre but less than human mostly. I want to see one professor of psychiatry do this in India! Or any  professor who works in any discipline that can connect with the originality of this work- for it leads in many directions.

But the flip side I am talking about is- that perhaps those who need it most would still not get to read it- and that is my real loss, for they are the driving force that makes me write in the first place- and not university departments or the prospects of any career enhancements- for there are none coming my way in either domain.