A decade of ‘recovery’

2010-2019 gets over in a few hours now. An eventful decade, full of recoveries, adventures, love, friends in all parts of the world, flowers, homes, family, books, research and more. Phew! woof! what a decade it has been. Not easy to capture in a blog post, so it would be foolish to attempt it. Instead I will focus on the word ‘recovery’- silly though it may seem.
But then this was a decade which began with my ‘recovery’ – a non-drug dependent recovery from bipolar, in 2010. I did not know then when it all started that I would someday be studying my own recovery, through the lens of a researcher. So this was the decade in which I was slowly morphing from a psychiatric patient, overwhelmed by her bipolar diagnosis, to a self-trained researcher. The testimonies of that started coming in the previous decade when I had peer- reviewed publications, though I had not yet turned the researcher’s lens on my personal story.  Moving out of psychiatric medication also brought about that change. And then came those early attempts at documenting the ‘recovery’ from how I understood it then- three journal publications in 2011, 2014, 2015.

2014 was another year of adventure when I moved with the four dogs I had to live in a village in Goa, and meeting with the Goan countryside was an experience I will remember for long, perhaps until the end of my life. I often think of my landlord Hyginus as the only person in Goa who was really fond of me from the bottom of my heart. Little did I know how attached he became to me and my dogs, and so emotionally dependent upon us that once I left his house after a year of being there, within two months he passed away. Not that I was in any way responsible for it, but his loneliness and sense of abandonment was so acute that it ate into his very soul and killed him. A simple man constantly misunderstood and rejected his whole life, a single child of parents who were extremely poor, who by dint of his labour and traveling on ships for a living gathered a lot of wealth, building four houses for himself and his family- all throughout rejected by his wife and sons, due to his deep dark complexion.

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My Raga stands in Hyginus’s side of the house and on the inner side of the gate was where I lived myself, while he lived on the other> The gate was put here to confine the dogs to my side of the house.

Life can be unfair. Seeing Hyginus and his heart, or how people treated him or how they perceived him, how he struggled to keep up his dignity, living in a small part of the house he had created and letting out the bigger one to one tenant after another got him an income and possibly some company, though not all tenants were like me. There had been an American lady who perhaps stayed there six years and another English couple whose length of stay I cannot recall.

There were many others I met and befriended in Goa, but there was no substitute for Hyginus. However another person who is a dear friend until now is Mina- who interestingly I met at a vegetable vendor’s, in Fatorda, Margao. So we are the best of WhatsApp friends nowadays as I have kept busy with research and writing, keeping away from all friends, for want of my ability to manage time. I remember seeing a very exquisite part of Goa once with Mina, we both drove down in my car, though I forget the name of the place now. Having a car with me in Goa was a great blessing for it gave me tremendous mobility and freedom, without of course the ability to figure out where to go! Google maps were not such a rage then, as they now are and that curtailed me somewhat. Not that I knew anyone anywhere to go visiting them anyways. The Goan adventure was just over two years, which enriched me yet brought me to a place of peril- which became a turning point for me to return back the same 2000 kms I had gone. It was a heartbreak to return and build all broken fences/bridges.

But it was also facilitated by the fact that I had gained entry into a doctoral research, by a sheer dint of fortune (how else to justify it). So at least this was the time when my acumen as a researcher got established as a certainty and I entered university with nearly eight peer-reviewed publications in tow, perhaps the highest a researcher entering into a doctoral program would be having in most parts of the world.

May be there is a time when a person needs to morph from being a producer of research articles to a producer of books :). With the completion of the PhD research I hope to complete that part of the journey of my life. This (doctoral) research has been a very interesting, yet difficult journey of research, replete with spinal issues and another attempt at recovery – of my bone health this time, recovering my lost self from the abysmal darkness of mental ‘illness’ and then diving down at the deep edge to understand recovery more fully, thoroughly and minutely. A few days back I wound up my first draft thesis and sent it to the supervisor, who has finally shown some interest in my work and has understood that I am doing something quite interesting. Otherwise all this while half the time she did not even respond to my emails. Until now we have only had a brief ten minute phone talk once in 2018 I think- which was so useless that I decided never to talk to her again until I reached the very end. Having finished the first draft of course meant that now the time had come to get back to her and share the work I had done.

Coming back to Faridabad has also meant recovering my life from all the lost years, nay decades of life, rebuilding the life of a musician by first setting up the music school (that I intend growing in the new year), and then starting out my counseling practice, from both of which I have so much experience now that it merits another scholarly endeavour of writing!

And this decade has also meant losing Raga, Nikki and Dash and welcoming Rhythm and Floe into our lives. I do not know now whether it is fair or ethical to mourn the ones who are gone, which also includes my grandmother in 2013 or celebrate the new arrivals (which means all the children of my brother and sister as well)  but in keeping with the infinite flow of life we can only bow to the passage of life, and accept the inevitability of this motion. What is here today will be gone tomorrow and the circle will go on unceasing. It is comforting yet not when you lose someone you love. I still ache in my heart about my dogs.

Making friends with wonderful people all around the world has been another enriching experience and I have begun to value the nature of these friendships which bring people together for ideas, rather than other selfish needs or fear of loneliness. And the range of people is big- from scholars, academics, to artists and therapists, students and whatnot. Students have a special pride of place in my heart- not only because of the bond of a teacher-student  but how we enrich one another on a fairly regular basis. It continues thusly.

Andre keeps busy and his & my lives are interwoven in a deep, yet distant manner- My Phd years have been tough on him and us- for I have not had the mental space to accommodate him/us, overwhelmed and forever tired as I largely have remained, for most parts. So this is where things have brought me at the end of the year or decade. Steeped in work I do, passionate about the work, in deep meaningful connections around the world, full of ideas, musical compositions and ideas, always on the move with research and doing all the latter without any financial support from other than family resources. It has been quite a venture really- but well worth it I suppose.

And with this goldmine of knowledge I move into a new decade, whose numbers also look so musical, especially because I am born on the 20th of a month. There is rhythm in this year ahead and there is Rhythm in my home…and dogs go on with their doggy lives, chasing rodents and up with their playful barking as researchers like me turn grey in their locks.

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Rhythm the dachshund

A decade of recovering my lost self, gaining myself back from the suffering of mental illness and a decade which brings me to my emancipatory road of taking this knowledge into the wider world around, with this doctoral research as I now begin to wind off. I hope this earnest labour of years spent alone racking my brains, interspersed with the doggy lives, and music classes will be well worth in the year ahead.

And I hope that anyone who drops by to read this post will also be enriched in their lives further and possibly this post will bring a sliver of hope to some that they can also overcome their suffering no matter how daunting it appears at the moment. It is still meant to be overcome for this is the destiny we are all born with. So here comes a decade of taking the knowledge of recovery wider and catalyzing more people’s recoveries via the counseling work I do.

Thank you friends for reading and for your interest. I wish you a beautiful time ahead and hope that the change of the calendar will weed out the useless and bring in the goodness. May it be so- may there be flowers in your gardens and may all your earnest hard work bring you all the blossoms you have earned.

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A full bed of chrysanthemums  in December 2019, and the dogs and birds on the far side of the photo

A special year, ending…

Yesterday was a special day, or may be this whole week is. I am tired, relieved, at rest, trying to be at rest and in general very relieved. Naturally enough, a long stint comes a full circle. But I think this illustration says it even more succinctly…

 

Ha…but say whatever one can, finishing the dissertation is a big deal for everyone. And that is where I am today, since yesterday. So officially the full dissertation was sent to the supervisor yesterday, 23rd Dec. Three years, five months is what it has taken to get to this point. Oh yes, I must admit the trajectory was something like this

But that is how life is always, yes? So why expect anything different from the Ph.D process. But anyways, the less one talks about it the better it is.

I am so relaxed and deeply tired that I am not even able to savour these moments!! Oh no, nothing of the sort 🙂. Paradoxically I am not tired at all- I was wondering what the matter is. And then I remembered how seamlessly I have woven the idea of peace and joy into daily living, notwithstanding physical troubles, whatever anyone can have with reduced physical activity. In this blog post I intend looking back at 2019, and to the gains I made, the people I met, the work I accomplished, the writing I managed and the plans I now have. No I am not putting the plans down in the post, but in a general sort of a way, just laying a little road map down for me.

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A new unusual lily flowered this year after over two years of just having leaves. This grows in my backyard

All through the thesis writing process I have been itching to write scores of journal articles and quickly get down to working on a book about the work I have done in the Ph.D., document the counseling successes I have been having in these years, the musical ideas that are constantly churning in my heart. It has been a very torturous yet extremely, extremely enriching experience. And the biggest enrichment is the fact that I have done this work sitting at home, surrounding by my loving/taxing family- principally animals, birds, my students of music coming in/out of my home/life, my counseling clients likewise and my family, my partner, and the changing contours of my dog-pack. The dachshunds are extremely young and active, vivacious and full of beans.

The publications that appeared

This year started with a first publication in the EPW. It was an impromptu piece, written as a reaction to something that had garnered a lot of eyeballs then. There is an Indian politician calling another politician unfit to be in politics due to her past of mental illness. Both are well known, and it raked up unnecessary controversy, the way the gentleman Subramanian Swamy is accustomed to! I have shared a copy of the same. It was a piece I wrote in the shortest time in my life, about a few hours. It took a couple of weeks to publish as I had first sent it to The Hindu newspaper, but perhaps I did not send it to a proper email!

Then the editor of EPW invited me to write an article on the occasion of the general elections in India, and I grabbed the opportunity, which was around the 15th of March, and I had a deadline of a fortnight. I managed to meet the same. But just in this March (on the 2nd in fact) my Ph.D. supervisor told me to submit the thesis by November-December. Technically my time with the university is till 28th July 2021, and I was hoping to submit by Feb 2020. But her words made me focus on it like looking at an arrowhead (without looking left or right). But one of the key reasons I bit the bullet (about writing the article above) was that it was an opportunity to question the goal of psychiatric treatment- and talk about ‘recovery’ as a concept, in short advocacy. Anyways by the end of the dissertation I now know how contentious the idea is and why my friends from the West are so appalled at the idea of recovery in psychiatric literature. I have come up with a new sort of formulation, though it is not new at all. It is an extension , or rather mirrors the evidence that began appearing in the US in 1970’s.

The third article was in fact a first I had submitted to the EPW- it was sent in October 2018, though getting to see the light of day in June 2019. I questioned the co-option of peer workers by psychiatry, in some new ‘innovative’ work they are doing in Gujarat! Sadly June was the month when I unexpectedly lost Dash my baby. He would have been 15 this month, but nay his life was suddenly cut short. In a way one could be happy that he did not suffer the way he could have, had he an illness, yet the suddenness does not let me reconcile even till now!

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Here is Dash, another winter, by the spinach and lettuce beds in the backyard

And then came the last, the first in fact, a journal article which first brought me in touch with Canadian academics. An exacting and thorough process that also,surprisingly, gave me a lot of clarity about my whole research, or at least the methodology part of my work. This article had begun in 2017, the usual life of a peer reviewed article. In fact it was April 2017 that I proposed an abstract for it, which was accepted and I had to submit a first draft by August 2017. So finally that article published in July 2019, a true blue journal article after all 🙂

Dash’s loss has been a big one, and Ginger continues to decline steadily. In June she also turned 13. Right now her hind legs are giving way. She was the first pup I brought home and she is with me longest- it is amazing.DSC01275

She is old, fragile, frail and quite dependent- even to pick up her rotis. Flow the little rascal has figured he can steal her food as she cannot run after him and he does manage it if I am not watching sometimes. In other words, I not only have to cordon her off after giving her a roti, but also make sure he is not locked in with her! The baby/dog gates I have around the house are very useful for these little adjustments, especially when you have little rascals doing all sort of thieving around! If you see in this picture I have to keep her hair very short, due to the severe skin condition she suffers from. And naturally she cannot be covered with any clothing. But since she is so senior, she remains in her bed mostly and I on my part make sure she remains covered with one or more blanket or whatever else is required. I have also had to muzzle her at times for otherwise she ends up nibbling on her body a lot. We are also working with her using CBD oil which the younger sibling is ‘supplying’ nowadays. Of course her innovations are going great guns and we are also benefiting in diverse ways. Of late she has also embraced the Chinese Chi-practice and god knows when she would soon be a Zen master as well 🙂

There have been many experiments in the garden and newer adjustments, giving the frugal budget I have had as a researcher, but things are quite interesting. I do not have pictures at the moment but I am growing many new vegetables for me this winter. Currently there is radish, spring onions and garlic growing for the first time, along with the regulars- spinach, lettuce, coriander, and tomatoes. But here I am going to put a gallery of all that grew in the summer and what grows as of today, Christmas eve in the front lawn (not every corner of the house). The creeper that I had grown on the main entrance has also nearly covered the breadth of the gate. The latest changes will show on the next blog, if I write about the winter flowers again or about life in general as it takes off in 2020. So here is a gallery with garden images from around the home until today.

 

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One of the nicer experiences of 2019 has been getting to know like-minded academics from all around. And I am certain I have written about Jasna Russo elsewhere whose work I absolutely admire and love. She recently got her Ph.D from Brunnel University and has taken up a teaching assignment in some German University. But there was another person whose work has been very influential for my work, and that is Canadian sociologist Heidi Rimke. In fact upon reading her and Bruce Cohen from New Zealand I figured that sociology ought to have been my parent discipline. But at the time I was studying I did not know about it and by the time came to know any better I was out of the ‘system’ as an outcast, ‘invalid’ (if I may say so about myself). I find the greatest resonance in Sociology of all the disciplines though I have not worked much in it, or just seen some ideas from a distance and tried incorporating some in my writing. That is why I was even toying with doing a post-doc in sociology of mental health. But I think so much academics will keep me away from working with people directly, something I do not wish to postpone any further- even though consolidating ideas is always interesting to a chronic or, may I say, congenital researcher like me!

I am putting in two more sets of photos, one is of the weaver bird that made a nest in my garden and Andre happened to spot it when he was here and we steered clear of it. I pray to god the babies survived, even though I could not see them. But today when I uploaded the camera photos I realized they were hiding in the nest which was well tucked away from the eyes, woven into the leaves of the chlorodendron creeper.

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One set is of the bird family and in another set I am sharing the animals and birds around this little home of mine.

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So this is a bird’s eye view of all that went around and goes around, leaving little time for boredom and fatigue. When tired I just drop dead like the dogs and then get up to work another cycle of this nutty cycle. There is so much going on in disparate dimensions that one side keeps offsetting another constantly- nothing accumulates, nothing tires me and I hardly ever get bored! And as far as the world is concerned- there is the phone for those close enough as of course the car, and the social media for those who are separated by one degree or several, depending upon the degrees. On the whole it is interesting, colourful, a lot of responsibility and enjoyable.

And even though I have shared a picture of these flowers above, I still insert it once more for this is the latest one from today and even tomorrow morning when I wake up I will see these flowers in my garden. I also wish to share what an email from a friend just said to me. It was such a beautiful message that I want to put it down here, before it is lost in the pile of emails. In response to me sharing that I had finished the first draft of my dissertation she said,

Congratulations, Preeti! This is such wonderful Christmas news. It is symbolic of you as a gift to the world, generously sharing your lived and learned knowledge in this colossal milestone. The first draft is the hardest part, and I look forward to cheering you on as you move to the finish line!
Well done!!

So sweet and kind 🙂 Thank you my dear friend, it is friends like you who have been instrumental in me taking heart to carry onward. for instance had it not been for Ramakant-ji, I would have quit long ago! ON that note I wish everyone a beautiful season filled with love, kindness and sharing. May there be peace and joy to the world.

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Dogs go on with their doggy lives as the cockateils bask in their enclosure, and we all enjoy the sun for whatever it brings to us on a cold winter Christmas eve, while the winter annuals continue their growth in the baskets readying their colorful hues for the soon to come spring.

Meanwhile this is the grim reality of Ph.D life and I cannot say I have been an exception to it-

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Must leave with this beautiful, utterly beautiful piece of music

Peace as daily practice (for me)

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to cultivate peace

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

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

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

Gardening and peace

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

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

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

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birds flocked on many sides too

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

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

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

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

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

Raga, Marwa, and Malkauns

On 31st July, at 20:20, Raga went into her surgery- for a tail amputation. She had developed gangrene and the decision was taken in the morning itself when I had taken her to the vet’s, for a catheterization- to empty her bladder. On a sudden thought I decided to take my electronic tanpura with me, hoping the vet would not mind my intrusion into his surgery!

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I braced myself and asked him, if he would be okay that I played the tanpura to my little girl. He was a little amused that I asked, and asked me, if the dog understands it– I said, yes, I am a musician and this girl whose name is Raga is actually steeped in classical music!

He was amused I am sure and he gave me a nod. But not before asking me, whether I would be staying in the surgery while he performed the amputation. He must have thought this woman is a nutcase! But he was too tired to thrash out anything further, being the fag end of the day for him. In any case I wanted to stay because she was not going to get general anasthesia but a local one and having her in the surgery without me would not have been possible that way.

I played the tanpura and put my arm on her across her neck- two boys held her, and the procedure went ahead. There were three boys to support the vet, and I sang along to my baby. I sang Marwa first- piya more anat des (Amir Khan Sa’ab’s bandish) and then I sang what Khan saheb is singing here-

Obviously I was in no mood to sing the Raga in the sedate way it is supposed to be- my intent was more to keep my girl calm. I was sad, but deeply calm- ditto her. Was she sad? Cannot say, but definitely very quiet and unperturbed.

And then when I felt that things were progressive, and possibly I ran out of ideas of how to do more alap in Marwa, I turned the Madhyam on the tanpura and lo and behold Malkauns popped in front. Jin ke mann ram biraaje, by Khan sa’ab connotes Malkauns to my mind. Another deeply felt bandish, that I sang a great deal once upon a time.

The surgery was over in less than an hour. Raga, me and Imdad bhai returned home- it was a new experience for everyone. My baby was cool enough to come home and have a meal- as I had not fed her earlier as per the vet’s suggestion due to the surgery.

Life and surgeries can go so smoothly with the right melodies…

 

Shivmat Bhairav

From the start this has been a difficult year in terms of health. First it was the ‘breakdown’, then came the Phd admission, then the spinal problems and now the chikungunya. Wow! talking of living in a ‘poor’ country, one cannot but worry about how the average person lives here. Everyone seems to be sick in the city of Delhi/Faridabad. The government is giving out its own statistics, but the reality of life seems so different. In every family I am fiDSC00940nding people having fever, and body aches. I myself was suffering from immense body ache at present, and it seems as though the body has been hollowed out- without life in it.

Notwithstanding that I have been chipping away at my writing- the book on music, that is, and today I also plucked the courage to  start singing once again with my guru- Madhuriji. It must have been in March or April I did some learning with her. And after that long a gap- now. It always takes awhile to pick up a new raga with aunty, because she dislikes certain and then does not think all ragas need to be sung elaborately. I wanted to pick up either Anand Bhairava or Jogiya. But she said Anand Bhairava was only sung by Jitendra Abhisheki and nobody else! and Jogiya is a a raga for thumri, nothing else! So that made my choices somewhat limited. In any case eliminating made choosing easier as well. So between a number of ragas, since I wanted to learn something new, we settled for Shivmat Bhairav.  It belongs to the Bhairav family, having both gandhar , both nishad notes. It resembles Jogkauns somewhat. (That reminds me that I have to go over Jogkauns all over again as my illness seems to have obliterated the memory of that raga in my mind for now).

The world of Hindustani ragas is so vast and colourful it seems endless- there is so much to learn, to teach, to share, to write about, to create and whatnot. And here I am grappling with chikungunya- sleeping with body ache and lifelessly so- in my bed. The book is going around in my mind at most times. Yesterday I was writing about the folk songs of women of Garhwal and thinking about the role of folk music in the life of people. It is so deeply entrenched, yet so overshadowed by the popular reign of film music and other forms of music from the cities. There is a reason to be worried. I am writing this down in the book, because if a country does not preserve its folk art and music, it is sure to be lose its voice and identity.

What is diversity if not difference from the dominant prevalent culture which is handed down by civilizational leaders? Currently the leadership comes from the West to the rest. That leadership permeates every field- including artistic and musical traditions. Foolishly enough people in third world countries think they can and ought to follow the trail of the (Western) leaders because they are markers of civilization, advancement and development. In that self doubt and self conscious assessment, they marginalize their indigenous knowledge and traditions. It is happening all over the world and India is no exception. Even Indian music is not immune to such self conscious assessment. In part one has to hold the planning around art and culture responsible for this lack of self confidence and need to be accepted by the Westerner before we can accept ourselves.

And though I am delving into the deeper end of the current, in search of newer ragas and compositions, my heart is in pain to think of how the average person is so far removed from the immensity of experience that our music brings. In talking to many people for the writing, many points of view emerged- especially on the issue of whether our classical music is our real music or should it be some folk form of music. Ramakant-ji told me that this is a classical tussle in all traditional forms of knowledge, particularly in language and mathematics. So I do not have to dig the well again, but understand the work done by linguistics and mathematicians in the realm of finding a compromise between folk and classical traditions, rather than depriving the average child in the country of both!

The book is half way done. I mean I have written just over 20k words and I need to write equally as many. It is not the easiest of books to write, though when I had sent the proposal it did not look so confounding. It is a great learning and covers a big range of topics, yet the learning has come from most unexpected quarters for me- the fact that writing a book proposal is so different from executing it! Sometimes it is so easy to nail down a broad outline, but try filling up the outline and you know what a tough challenge it can be. I have only learnt this now. Of course writing the first book was a different sort of challenge- something that I am about to embark on once again! Of course, nobody needs to do that if you find a publisher at the outset. But since I want to change the entire book, it is asking me for that sort of effort.

The PhD does not budge

If anyone asks me how my phd research is going, I feel annoyed, because honestly speaking what are they thinking? Do they think it can get over in a day? The truth is that apart from reading and outlining a few preliminary articles, I have not really embarked upon the road in any earnest manner. Shifting home 2000 kilometers, setting up a new home, falling sick and all sorts of adjustment issues that I have had to deal with these past few months do not make research the easiest things to start. SO I am staggering under the various burdens- but slowly gravitating towards an equilibrium- one part of which includes counseling with my clients.

So life goes on thus…(will write later as someone is at the door)

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

Music

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.

Dilly dallying about writing and writing still

I must be a really confused bum at times. Or may be frequently. But I think writing has become a sort of an addiction with me- not that I like it or want to do it! I just do it!!! That sounds quite ridiculous I am sure- what am I to gain by writing when it is not really leading to any career goals being met, since I am not a university based academic or researcher?

Then it occurred to me that writing gives me clarity- in many ways. I recently wrote an article called Power to Label, for a conference, which is due in Feb 2015- since we had to send in our writing early, I did. In fact one of the organizers wrote to me personally to write and I did. I am not so hoity toity that if I have difference of opinions with people I can never mend the fences. That is real small mindedness and refusal to enlarge your perspective. Anyhow, once I wrote the paper – I felt that it was a not a very long piece and perhaps just right for a conference. After writing I sent it to a senior academic who I identify as a friend and a mentor. He approved of the writing and said it was very good for a presentation (in other words it need not have been?!). I sent the paper onward towards submission.

Suddenly then I realized that in a short space of a few thousand words, possibly I had said a lot of things in a very clear and concise manner. I do not know how the clarity came. Or may be I have always carried it inside and now I am also learning to articulate it. The gentleman whose call to write the piece I had responded to called it a formidable piece! So I asked him why he said so. This is what he responded saying, 2010-august-15 017

When I read your paper I was struck by the force of your argument and what seemed to me like the stubborn tenacity with which you would have had to pursue it for years to come to that clarity.  I used the word formidable to suggest that the effort behind it was simply beyond my comprehension in terms of difficulty, especially when I think of the fact that you were struggling with the disturbance produced by your distress on the process of thought.  It also seemed to me that it proposed the alternate way of recovery that seemed (to a lay person, me) like a viable answer to the kind of treatment proposed by the pharma-medico-rational mainstream, and that seemed again like a formidable achievement.

So that brings me to the thought about the next article whose abstract I wrote- it was about music, education and religion and this one I sent to two people to read and offer comments. One is a young professor of History and another a retired one in Linguistics. The latter is also one who I identify as seniors who are like mentors. He told me that it was an extremely well written piece and may be I would want to consider putting it in a leading journal in education. I did not even know about the journal till then- but of course the idea hit the target. So for now I have sent the abstract and then I had written this other article about using the arts (all of them) towards self healing in mental illnesses. I cannot use it anywhere, because the original will be translated into Marathi- but I cannot afford to lose the original and the prospect of reaching it to hundreds of people across the country. So I varied it a bit, dropped the references, made the language more flowing and sent it to a newspaper.

Of course I am not going to count the short story that I sent to a journal in medical humanities, because though it came from experience, it does not qualify as research writing for me. It is an outcome of wanting to write perhaps and say things in simpler formats! (talking of achieving clarity, am sure this is one of those devices).

And just when I was thinking of starting the next article – I thought I would write this blog post. So like it or not, I am writing next an article about the therapeutic potential of music for a journal of doctors and another in medical humanities about how positivism was the basis of psychiatry- I mean the history of psychiatry and how it got transformed from a behaviouristic to a medical paradigm.

Did I not say this year that I would not be doing any journal writings? Am I in my right mind?! What a cry baby I am! Or may be the two headed cat here. But yes, here is one article that I also wanted to save via this article.