Monday, October 16, 2017

About Giving, Taking and Transactions


For about a year and half since we moved to Tiruvannamalai, I experimented with offering my service (yoga therapy sessions primarily) on a gift economy model, wherein what we offer and receive are gifts and hence without any sort of a predetermination or limitation of how much is offered and received.  This experiment had been a revelation for me in terms of my relationship with money / earning, and my expectations from whom I seek to serve.  I had also felt that this model hinges on a relationship of trust.

I came to a conclusion that every engagement in the world is a transaction, and I don’t mean that in a cynical or negative way. I believed that even a mother wants something from her child; it may not necessarily be in a cut-and-dried way of “I give you this, in return you give me that” however there is an expectation of something.  I may have glimpses of unconditional giving in myself and others now and then, but I question that it is an uninterrupted flow. The ‘I’ does interrupt.  I felt that I could keep this (unconditional giving) as a signpost of growth, act such that at the very least my transactions are not exploitative, practice in this direction.           
   
A recent conversation with a friend lighted up and brought in deeper meaning into this matter of transaction for me.  She was speaking about how difficult it is for her to ‘take’ from others, and some of the ways in which this plays out in her life. I realised that I was looking into a mirror!  While it has manifested differently in my life, I could have said those very same words and it would have been true for me.  As I listened to her and said some things in response to her questions, I felt I was saying those things to myself as well. 

Swami Vivekananda is a personal Hero, and I have known the following aspect of his personality and what he has said about this, for quite long.  However it took this conversation with my friend to truly personalise what he had said. Paraphrasing what he had said in different contexts to different people: that he doesn’t see himself as a ‘giver’, there is a problem in seeing oneself as a giver or receiver. I have no problems receiving gifts from all you people who come to me. In giving, I may receive and in taking, I may give.”  

As I said to her that somehow this is what I am reminded of, it occurred to me that I have always identified myself with ‘giver’ and ‘giving’, with the primary cultural conditioning and assumption being, ‘giving is good’ and a consequent injunction, ‘I should give’ and somehow the automatic negation of ‘taking’.  All that I have perceived as ‘taking’ from others, I have been carrying on me a like a heavy sack of rocks. And every time I ‘take’ without ‘giving’ something, I have put a stamp of ‘exploiter’ on myself.  And if I ‘give’ without taking anything, then I am some great saint or some such!! What a drama.

As I continued walking around the mountain with her and left my drama behind, I remembered the often-discussed idea that every engagement is an exchange of prAna, and in that current exchange of prAna that was happening between my friend and me (as much in silence as during the conversations), I did not (and I feel neither did she) perceive either of us as giver or taker. We were with each other for that period of time for a purpose, which held our complete attention, as much as each other, and the path and what it brought to us. From a point of examination, it could be said that in a gross way, we gave each other many things, and even looking at it more subtly we each took from the other a whole lot. And yet there were no expectations and agendas. There was no give and take.  There actually was no transaction. There are I believe, no residues. Perhaps.  It was a spontaneous, innocent connection / exchange. 

While returning, a few non-transactional processes and exchanges that I have experienced came to mind.  Examining them I find that a non-transactional exchange takes place as a consequence of some spontaneous, empathetic connection. I want to call it love. A deeper sense of losing / reaching across one’s usual boundaries of ‘I’? Maybe.  A space where and when, notions of giver and receiver lose their meaning?  

Yet, one category of people I see who are involved in this kind of a prAna exchange have their role boundaries very clear – my elders. And it struck me that this is something special about how some of my elders love, and seek to serve the people they love.  They are able to hold the transactional and non-transactional together seamlessly without any apparent conflict between the two.  This is what gives me the sense of wonder and joy when I watch them doing what they do. 

My domestic helper transacts with me every day and yet there is an underlying sense of non-transaction about it all.  She and I are much more than each of those transactions that we engage in, and yet it is not just this. There is something else, something more, that is feeding the human process here?  

My great grandfather at 104 does not expect much from the world around him except the vadas that he relishes, to watch his beloved tennis, and someone to bless with a good and prosperous life through a 10 or 50 rupee note, each day. He gives and takes with childlike abandon and yet there is nothing transactional about it. Oh, he was a banker.  

My mother-in-law’s purpose of living seems to be to support everyone in her immediate and extended family.  She also gently and consistently demands role appropriate values and behaviours from her family.  Her every exchange seems to be a transaction and yet absolutely non-transactional at the same time.  Just how is this happening?

I now feel that it is a secondary matter whether I am working with a gift economy model or not.  This would depend on the context and what is necessary.  I stay with my questions, what makes me (us) give and what makes me (us) take, when do I (we) not feel any difference between the two, and so, to look at those times when transactions are taking place and yet the meta process is non-transactional. 
  




x

Friday, September 1, 2017

Living the Question

It lay dormant for many years, ages. in the dark, comfortable, cosy. No water could reach it, and not the sunlight. the passage of time, the revolution of the planet, ushered in some moonlight, Some movement, in the worlds above.

They say faith moves mountains. Have you seen mountains move? now, a teacher’s faith! She brought in fresh air; The ground started breathing, and having conversations.

The sun reached in, and touched the shadows and questions. “Is the individual for society, or society for the individual?”

Water rushed in, ever-loyal to gravity and conversation flowed – “Does name matter? Work is work; water is the form of its container.”

One uncomfortable morning, the ground broke. And the young one peeped out, eyes covered. To discover the forest. Conversations abound nourishing, strengthening, questioning, the sweat and blood of growing up.

Yet another morning, not so uncomfortable, the not-so-young-one found purpose. More conversation, “Can there be an individual purpose? What is a wall? Robert Frost knew the secret.
‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ roots uproot, here in the forest. creepers grow thick as thieves, and create gaps, walls crumble. Even the Berlin one did. and the great China one, is on its way there. Do the tourist, you will see.”

On this morning, fresh after the rains, the smell of beauty rising from the ground;

Fluttering its leaves, dancing with the breeze standing, with friends and family, and community, Here is the neem, There is the tamarind, and the peepal, the banyan, the young ones, the herbs and the flowering, the thorny and the leafy....

the direction seems clear, and yet not so much.

“My shade is for the asking, the fruits will come in season, twigs for firewood grass underneath for cows and goats. And yet, What is it that I am doing? What is just me? Kabir says to his Lord: You, are the bigness in the elephant, and the smallness in the ant,”

Asks the not-young-one,

“What makes the I-ness in the I? Fruits arrive naturally.”

- Priya

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A walk in the clouds

A walk in the clouds. I re-discovered the heartwarming and eye- and mind- opening experience that this can be.  As I wrote in my journal, two kinds of people who would totally and especially get much from such an experience, came to mind. (Obviously, anyone would find a walk in the clouds joyful) Read on to find out more.  

Are you one of those people who can’t seem to discover an iota of interest in getting your limbs to move?  Would you rather grow roots under your couch and have the world delivered there?  Pilates: "What’s that?" Yoga: "Those convoluted positions? No thank you, I’m already happy!" Ok, the gym: (whispering) "Do you know they sweat in those room? What if I get dehydrated?" Would you say, "Look, I am not obese; I love all of me including my body and don't want to change it just because people who love me are telling me to hit the gym. I dont want to do anything just because others are telling me to."  

Alright, what if your body is telling you to? Have you listened to your body lately? Do you feel breathless and weak if you walk up the stairs? Or fatigued if you walk at all? Or does your heart start racing? You heart is also a muscle which needs exercise and so it has to do double work even for a little bit of movement if you have not given it enough (exercise). In a series of studies published in a medical journal a few years back, it said that there are as many deaths in the world because of not exercising as smoking! One of the other important signs is the "heavy cloud inside your head". Do you feel listless and disinclined? Do you feel like a dark cloud has taken residence in your head and heart? There are many ways in which your body talks to you, warns you, coaxes you and even shocks you to get you to truly notice it, but we don't want to wait until the shock, do we? 


Or, are you one of those driven people, who have an ultra-disciplined and regimented day, and you drive yourself at work and at play? You want to give better than your best on the shop floor, at the gym and at home with your family.  You sweat it out with your cardios, push yourself with the weight-training and gorge on salads and low-carb, protein-rich diets. Would you say that you are a go-getter, success is your mantra and one of your non-negotiable goals is to keep yourself healthy and fit? And others call you superwoman or superman? 


It sounds just the thing. However the question here as well is: have you listened to your body lately? What is it trying to tell you? Do you return from the gym sore and weak, and then return the next day for more strength training? Have you been dropping the stretches from your routines to make more time for the cardios and resistance training?  Are you fresh and flexible when you get up in the morning, or stiff and unyieldy? Do you rarely feel that you have accomplished anything, or have had time to spend hanging out with friends?  Do the people closest to you find you hasty and / or irritable? 


For both these types of people on extreme ends, the pendulum needs to swing back to a dynamic balance.  The body and mind cannot hold extreme positions against natural rhythm and gravity for long without showing the wear and tear and ultimately giving up. What you are doing is forcefully holding the pendulum up at its farthest ends, not allowing for its native movement.  


What I recommend to you is a walk in the clouds. By which, I mean a simple, no-strings attached walk. One that doesn't have to go anywhere and do anything. One that doesn't have any goals.  One that is not measured by any parameters. The only thing that could give it a boundary (if you choose) is time.  You simply walk. You see the sky above, a mountain and hills, the crows perched on a window sill, trees and shrubs looking clean, the heavy and hanging clothesline, a line of scurrying ants on the ground that you carefully avoid, puddles, a couple of cycles and motorbikes, a car, and an autorickshaw, school kids returning home and an assortment of adults including vendors.  You smell mud after the rains, dampness, smoke and grease, flowers, urine, and some others that you can't identify. You hear bird calls and particularly crows cawing, children's giggles and chatter, vehicles honking, one of them braking, vendors' shouts, dogs barking somewhere, water splashing in a puddle, the slapping of your slippers once you reach the road. You taste your saliva along with faint coffee just as you swallow.  You feel your slippers very differently on squishy ground, the slippery edges of puddles, on grass and on the road; you feel the wind raising the fine hairs on your arms and touching the skin in-between, the insides of your loose pants when it billows out this way and that from the wind, and a welcome chill after all the heat.  And you feel free. 

With your senses alive and awakened to what you are experiencing, you will find yourself returned to the here and now. Your mind opens up to new possibilities; you may find puzzling situations falling into place, the cloud in your head lifting, gifts worth celebrating, and meaning to life.  You see a whole new canvas, or a different canvas, or your old one from a different angle at the very least.  Your heart may expand with love*.  You wouldn't need further recommendations.  You would find them all within.  At least for now! ;)  Which means that this is also a muscle to be exercised, it would be good for me and the world, to do this now and then. 


Go on, get up and take that walk.  Just concentrate on putting this one leg in front of the other.  I dare you to.  

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* My post is not based on the movie, A Walk in the Clouds.  It is coincidental that I titled this post by the same name. Or perhaps, "There are no accidents"  (Will have to watch the movie again to find out, I dont remember much except that it is a love story) 


Monday, August 8, 2016

A Note about a Master-Teacher

tkv-desikacharI am sure there are a lot of people who would be writing their own dedications to this great teacher.  I also have to add mine; all these and more are due to him.  He had mastered the art and science of teaching.  This is the essence I get from all that his direct students say.  Sri. T.K.V Desikachar, son of Shri. Krishnamacarya, and teacher to many of my seniors and teachers, passed away in the wee hours of the morning today.  I have never met him or learnt from him.  But he looms large in my world and learning just because of the impact he has made on my teachers.  None of them ever fail to mention him or his teaching regularly.  All my teachers and colleagues who studied with him or learnt from him, attribute much to him.  They have one story or the other that they just have to relate.  And I have never heard of students talking of another teacher with so much reverence, and so much love, at the same time.  I have always wondered what it was in him that made him so dear to all his students. 

My first introduction to him was through my teacher, Smt. Lakshmi Ranganathan, when she spoke of him with such regard and gave me the book he had written, “The Heart of Yoga”.  The book touched me and inspired in me such a fire to study more.  It was such a simple book, and yet so comprehensive and thorough as Introductions go.  ‘Much like the teacher himself’, Smt. Jyotsna Narayan, another of his students, and my teacher, would say.  As I wrote this, I realised that each of his students imbibed so much of all that they describe of him.

The teacher who introduced me to asana and pranayama and yoga and laid the unshakeable foundation, Smt. Lakshmi Ranganathan, who holds his knowledge, dignity and thoroughness with work in great love and esteem is filled with all of that herself.  The teacher who introduced and sowed in me a such a love of chanting, and stories, Smt, Jyotsna Narayan, talks much more of his loving nature and his storytelling ability than anything else.  You just have got to spend half an hour with her to be bathed in her loving warmth and her stories.  For another one of my mentors and colleague, Saraswathy Vasudevan, it is his devotion and commitment to teaching itself that is moving.  Anyone who has even a passing association with YogaVahini will tell you that Saras is first and last, an inspiring teacher, holding such a passion for teaching and empowering students and lives.  Typical of her, her response this morning in the Sangha’s whatsapp group when asked whether there would be group classes today (owing to Sir’s demise), was “All classes are on, he taught us to teach.”  I am certain that each student of his would carry something of him. 

This seems to have been a teacher who held numerous roles and angles and all of them with ease and love.  Each one had a perspective of him, which they have taken and become seasoned with it.  I cannot but wonder what strength and depth such a teacher would have come from.  I do and yet cannot regret that I never got to meet with him, because he seems to have left behind so many manifestations of himself whom I have the opportunities to study with. 

In conclusion, I am going to quote here some words of Smt. Jyotsna Narayan from a talk she gave about her beloved ‘Vaathiyaar’:

“… the idea of a shrethrika, farmer.  But he would constantly say, if we plant a seed, then we have to water it, we have to clear things around it, and if it is a mango seed, then you need some water, then unseasonal rains, and if there is frost, then?  And if there is rain in Feb, then there would be no mangoes in May.  Then the goats may come and eat away… and I will be listening to this whole story… then it becomes a big tree, but the fruit is not for you.  It is for everybody.  To me that is the greatest teacher.  He would ask, how much can a farmer eat anyway??  What do you want from your student, beyond this?  You have sown the seed, you have taken care, and that’s all.  Also, a mango seed can only become a mango tree, not an apple tree.  So nurture them in their own nature, don’t try to change people was something also that I learnt from him.”






Sunday, August 7, 2016

Whats New(s)?

Today, the News Reader app in my phone had news about a nuclear scientist executed in Iran because he was suspected of being a spy, along with prospects of Baahubali 2 at the box office versus that of Kabali, followed closely by the unrest in Kashmir (Unrest?!) rubbing edges with a title, “Here’s why some girls friendzone guys” (!U#@&#^@@!!)

Yesterday and the day before that and the day before were no different.  News about Hollywood, and Bollywood and all the deadwoods besides political statements are interspersed with some news about collapsed bridges or buildings and rapes and gang wars and some leftover space for the unrest in Kashmir.  There is of course no mention of farmers now.  A farmer suicide has become commonplace. So what’s new(s)?

Believe me when I say that I tried to customise the app, but it refuses tweaking beyond a control point.  Perhaps if we could ascribe attitudes and emotions to software, then I could call the programme completely insensitive and numb and blind.  However I realise that we (I) are also all of that.  Or we simply make the choice to be that way because we just don’t have it in us to handle the overwhelming deluge otherwise. 

If I lived in a time when information say, even about the death of a relative, could only travel at the speed of foot, or horses or carts, then I would have much lesser choice about the news and kind of news I got.  I would have thus have a lot of time after the actual event in which my reaction can materialise and then some more time before it can reach any targets beyond the immediate neighbourhood.  As a matter of fact, I may be blissfully unaware of things beyond my experience for the most part.  My immediate surroundings would first hold my concern then. My expert comments and opinions then may truly be nearing expertise because my truth and my experience is in the vicinity and definitely similar if not the same.  And my response to news from a far-off place would fall under broader categories of approach and experience.  For instance, I do not have experience of the violence and the kind of struggle that Kashmir is experiencing now.  So if this ‘news’ had come to me at a non-digital, non-speed-travel time, I wonder how would it have come to me (in what form, what story etc) and how I would respond. I wonder whether I would react from such polarised locations as is happening today.  One important factor is that the whole information exchange process would be slower.  There is time and space for some sensitivity. 

But just contemplating a what-if scenario is neither here nor there.  Taking a look at reality: There is so much happening all across the country and beyond, and with the people around me, which I am privy to through all the stories, essays and news.  And I am adding to that about all and sundry.  Every day there is something new or old, to write about and share. 

I am having an internal dialogue around this consumption and churning out process of information and news,



I am as much a participator, perpetrator and initiator of all the news crunching.  But then, do I want to opt out of it? No.  I question myself whether it is a feeling of missing out, when I read or write and put myself through that examination once in a while. 
Who am I writing for?  Yes, I am writing for myself, but then is that enough?
How am I any different from my ‘insensitive’ news app in which all kinds of news jostle for space and attention. 
However, is that judgement true really? We each take our pens, our creative direction and implements towards that which moves us, if done consciously, and / or follow peer / conditioning / popular trends etc. 
But then, news, and creative writing and stories are also responses to triggers, right? That which is moving one to react / respond. What is the problem with that? Are all these triggers 'external' alone, outside of me.  However, it is true that writing as a reaction or response to stories and news maybe a habitual pattern, knee-jerk and lending itself as a trigger for further reactions and this goes on. 
This then means that I am in a healthier (authentic?) location when following my internal triggers rather than react to external ones. (I always have questions about this dichotomy of internal and external). 
However, this point in the conversation takes me back to my initial question, who am I writing for? If I am following my internal triggers, how is it of interest and / or use to another person? Does it help her in some way?  Do I want it to help her in some way and / or do I want to influence her with my opinion of the topic? Why are they reading this piece now?
My pet peeve with the information trappings of these times is that they seem to have bypassed the lessons in sensitivity.  There is something mind numbing about the colossal amount of information available to us without real learning / truth / reflection / wisdom. At the very least, a seeking for the truths of people and situations.    
However am I being and doing the same thing when I write?  One day it is about an environmental crisis, another day it’s a short story and the third day a personal one, as I follow my whimsical muse. 
This makes me put forward the question, why is it that each of us is reading so much, and why is it that we are all writing so much for others to read more?
Even while asking that question, I see that it’s a personal and subjective question, and I will do well replacing the “we” with “I”.  And yet, there is also a collective energy and movement that I perceive.

So I ask these questions, say that I am sitting on an enquiry with these questions, and scoot to the blinking and vibrating news app on my phone! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Story of an Unforgettable Day

We were asked to write and share about the most unforgettable day of our lives in a writing forum.  Not the most, but one of the "most unforgettable days" of my life came to mind.  But then, once it came, no other day seems to surpass it in un-forgettability.  I can’t even think of any other day.  So I am going to take Rumi’s words to heart “Run from what’s comfortable.  Forget safety.  Live where you fear to live.  Destroy your reputation.  Be notorious.” and go forth. 

Remembering this day of my life is a bittersweet experience for me.  Most people would recall their wedding day with joy and nostalgia.  Even those who are separated or divorced may still have fond memories of this particular day and hark back to it with a smile.  I however remember it with huge lumps of regret.  Of course there is much nostalgia around many aspects of it, one being my great grandmother (who is so much a part of me, in me). There is a deeper joy in some sense – this is the ‘sweet’ in the bittersweetness of the experience, which comes out of the present reality and strength of the relationship.  But remembering that particular day is an exercise of pain and regret.

Imagine a young man of 27 years and a young woman of 24 years, in love and about to get married.

Imagine a man, giving and caring, looking out for every need of his partner. He is so taken, that during the Kasi Yatra ceremony, said, “Look, hurry up and take me to the girl, will you? I don’t want to go to Kasi!”  (For the uninitiated, the Kasi Yatra is one of the traditional rituals, especially in a Brahmin wedding ceremony.  The story goes that in the “olden days” Brahmin boys go away to their Guru’s house at a very young age, to stay and study the Vedas and scriptures.  This would typically be in Benares (Kasi).  So the brother of the girl promised to him, would approach the boy and ask him to stay back and marry the girl and they would ‘take care’ of him, and to not go to Kasi now.  Perhaps they undertake to sponsor him, but I am not sure about this part.)  But here was a man, refusing to take the few ritualistic steps in the direction of Kasi in order to be called back to wed.  Instead, he kept turning towards the stage saying “But I don’t want to go to Kasi. Enough already!”

I was recounted this later.  The girl is at this point usually putting on her all her armour and war-paint to welcome her groom and look suitably inviting while doing so.  So imagine a woman now, who refused to wear 99% of the war-paint, refused to put on more than basic wedding gear (definitely no silk which is the traditional thing to do), and said, “I am inviting as I am to my groom. I don’t need any of this.” Imagine her confidence in him.  And it all sounds really noble and courageous, right?  It would to the environmentalists, and the naturalists and the minimalists.  Or they would at the very least, they might say, “Good. That’s the way to go.” 


Oh, Woe! Imagine now, how you would feel if you take down the wedding album to pass a rainy day or show your daughter how it all happened, and the first things that jump out at you is how sweat is pouring down your face and neck, and you look absolutely ragged and nothing like a fresh and glowing bride that you have seen in many wedding albums.  It seems that one’s friends, sister, and miscellaneous well-wishers were right.  It’s the time of eating crow.  “It’s just one day. A few hours.  Wear some make-up, you will be sitting in front of that fire. Some of this gloop will keep your face from pouring out…”  All entreaties were in vain.  And perhaps, you will call me vain to be thinking of my appearance when deeper stuff about the day should be moving me.  I would have called me vain.  At that time.  Not today.  Even if I did momentarily, all I have to do is take a look at the photos, to recognise that appropriateness is the key word that determines many things.  Sigh!

Imagine now, many of the in-laws looking at this girl that their boy has chosen and wanting to get to know her.  Imagine her trepidation at feeling like being evaluated by strangers and having to accept them as family.  And imagine her out-lawing them in all parts of her head.  And this playing out right there.  The sister-in-law (one of them) might or might not remember but the girl remembers, that when the former came forward to help her with an intricate drape of the sari (the 9-yards drape), she was snubbed by the latter.  If first impressions make lasting ones, then Ouch! Especially when now, imagine that it turns out that the sister-in-law is not only actually human but someone to be admired.  For many things including her parenting and her smart ways and her unique idiom.  Imagine that she seems to have gotten over being outlawed initially and comes forward with affection and dignity.  Double Ouch!

Imagine then, a young woman so threatened and so much in guard that there she stood (or sat), swords unsheathed, ready to attack anyone who came near her fort.  Imagine her baring- oops, smiling at unsuspecting guests who came to greet / congratulate the happy couple.  Happy couple?!

Imagine his consternation and concern, and his efforts to right his tilted universe (for she had been that).  Imagine her perceiving a boyfriend as suddenly become a part of an outlaw family completely alien to her, calling her to join the alienness.  Especially when now, there can be no one less alien to her, than him (except herself).  Another Ouch! is in order.

And so the day passed, as all things must, and do.  An unforgettable day of my life, when I made an utter cake of myself. 
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PS – I celebrate my marriage to this boy every single day now, however, another wedding day is very welcome.  With war-paint.  What say you, husband?  (Ummm, maybe minus the war-paint).

Friday, August 5, 2016

Letter To A Friend - A Short Story

She sat at the edge, where the waves rushed in to eat up the sand and wet her ankles.  Wondering where Savita was at this moment and what she was doing.  She missed her desperately.  Perhaps some friendships do fall by the wayside.  No! Not theirs! She couldn’t accept that.  How can that be? A heavy heart returned home to evening chores and a hungry family. 

Her husband asked Geetu for the hundredth time, “Why don’t you talk to Savita? Maybe she wants you to call or write.  Anyone can do it first, no?” No.  Some demon possessed Geetu. 

Days of heaviness stretched to months, and months to years.  Her children grew up to their teens and pursued their passions.  So did Geetu.  She wrote and wrote and wrote.  A gazillion words, and published not one. 

The husband suggested as he had been doing all these years, “Why not email Savita? Get it out of your system.”  He got a stare for his trouble. And persevered.  “Hey, I know what.  Don’t email. Write her a letter. Pen and paper. You don’t have to post it! Just for yourself.”  That got her cautious attention. 

Geetu sat up that night at her favourite spot under the dim lights and started writing.  And couldn’t stop.  Letter after letter after letter poured out of her, speaking of their friendship, and all the memories and the good old days and what went sour.  What did go sour? She had some vague ideas, her own perceptions, but she couldn’t be certain what her friend felt.  She poured her heart out and wrote through the night. 

The next morning, her family sauntered into the living room to find her packed and ready.  She announced that she is going to see Savita.  The man closed his eyes and heaved a sigh of relief. “At last!”  The children protested half-heartedly.  “Ma, Savita aunty and uncle live in ________. 36 hours!” They could now look forward to sandwiches, noodles and some late night TV! Hurray! 

Geetu took a flight and reached her friend’s city in less than 5 hours.  She got a cab to the university that both, Savita and her partner taught and lived in.  She had found all, through their common friends.  She now wondered that they would gossip, as she went searching for the institution area.  It was work time and they might be in the classrooms.  A tumult of thoughts, she signed in the register as a guest and went to the waiting room.  Then unable to sit still, she started wandering and peeking around. 

The bell rang indicating recess, and Savita was glad that she could rest her throat and feet.  She walked into the staff room, and stopped dead!  Her face split into a wide smile even as her eyes filled and she rushed to her friend, as Geetu started towards her.  They hugged and laughed and cried together as the others watched with a mixture of curiosity, amusement and reflected pleasure.  The years seemed to melt away.   Savita’s colleagues milled about them a bit. Then they went away to their work one by one. 

After the storm subsided, Savita said, “Wait, I want to show you something.”  She rooted around in a cupboard and pulled out a book.  The College yearbook.  Savita pointed to the year.  It was dated 6 years earlier.   She then turned the book to a page and pushed it to her friend, “I wrote this piece.”

It was titled, “Letter To A Friend”.  Geetu gulped and read.

Dear beloved friend,
Time and life happen to us.  As we grow through them, we may grow closer or apart.  This is one of those natural phenomena that occur.  But the heart is unable to accept this.  Not our friendship.  Have we grown so apart that we don’t even know how to reach out to each other? There is something that does not want distance.  Is it not sad that I want to write to you, and do not know where to start and what to say.  I do not know what moves you anymore, and I feel that you do not know what moves me.  But there is something that is beyond all this.  That comes out of love.  That comes out of the memories of talking nonstop for hours together, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences.  Memories of making sense of one’s own life and world through sharing it with the other; of walking down the beach as we talked about everything under the sun and above it and beyond; of a time and space with not one whit of judgment.  We grew up together.  Do you remember the time that we were young together and giggling over our crushes? Then there was the time of talking seriously about marriage and responsibility and aspirations.  Then there were the times of tears and catfights and bonding over some movies and smirking at each other over others.  The times of gorging on chaat and Russian salad. If there were times of raucous Word games and earth-shattering political discussions, there were also times of harmonious silences, like while watching that bird or walking around the lake.  Then also came the times of puzzlement and mystery when we hardly understood each other…. …


At this point, Geetu again started laughing and crying maniacally.  Savita could just look on, a little perplexed and concerned, trying to touch her comfortingly.  Her friend then rummaged about in her bag, pulled out a sheaf of papers and shoved it under Savita’s nose. 

She skimmed through the pages lightly at first.  Then, arrested, she started reading a page, eyes getting wider and wider, taking on a sheen.  The words were very nearly the same! Much of what was in those papers mirrored much of what she had said in her piece and what she might have said had she written more!   

Six months later, Savita and Geetu co-authored and published a book, Letters To A Friend.

My friend snapped my notebook shut and shot at me, “What a crappy story! Don’t post it anywhere. If you want to talk to Meenu, just do it na. What’s with all this melodramatic writing.”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Story around Tiruvannamalai's Trees


I am sort of fuzzy about what exactly I am looking or appealing for, or what I found, (missing) that this story emerged.  Am I asking for media and public communication to look for truths / actualities? Am I asking consumers to open their eyes and really look at media what news and how it is fed to them? Is it a politics of inclusion that I want as a native? A little human kindness maybe (from whom however)? Do I want to prescribe everyone a dose (or more) of pantheism?  Or could it be that I want a giant sci-fi lever / button that mutes or extinguishes altogether, all partisan agendas [except mine of course! ;)]?

The Scene
There is a crisis brewing in Tiruvannamalai around the issue of razing down stretches of forest trees to make way for a wider Girivalam road. When this matter first raised its head around a month back, it became known that authorities were simply planning on wiping away a tract of land - trees, insects, worms, birds, snakes, mongooses, civets and all, without any citizens' forums participation, any consultation etc.  Concerned people got together and the information was passed around overnight.  A group of us came together to form a human chain and protest this arbitrary action (although I am certain that each of us had our own agendas of protest - against the arbitrariness or against the actual action or for protecting the ecological and / or spiritual-cultural heritage or plain against the pro-Development attitude of authorities...).

Plot Development
I had been kicked to see that quite some people gathered on that day to form the human chain. There may have been 80 people or so. Perhaps.  A minuscule fragment of the population of Tiruvannamalai, yes, however, that this crowd was possible overnight was heartening for me. Many in the crowd, including me, were taking part in a protest of this sort for the first time.  During the informal eve of the human chain formation, the trees smiled down gently at comradely introductions (but of course, pun intended), information and assumption bullets and bombs, warrior announcements of intent, hesitant appeals, and the like, and some miscellaneous gossip.  Nevertheless, spirits were steady.  The early morning ambience of this town, and the trees, and oh! the mountain, facilitate a steady heartbeat. Or so I like to imagine!

I perceived the usual shrinking violets, the c----e (aspirants?), rebels, the wise ones, dreamers, the organisers, the public speakers, private speakers, and the parents and their children.  Many different types and stereo-types had turned up.  The monkeys and the sadhus were missing.  A sudden bubble call-out from my head with a human chain, complete with Rhesus macaques and the lion-tailed macaques and peacocks along with the humans, gave me a secret thrill.

A couple of the representative voices (leadership qualities and all) gathered the group together in order for individuals to make statements of protest (say their piece basically).  At around this time the media people came in, complete with their weaponry and artillery.  And just like that, the mood of the crowd changed.  Introductions became emphatic identities, announcements of intent became swords of ultimatums, and appeals became demands. Heartbeats quickened. High spirits abound in a matter of minutes.

Then we formed the human chain (complete with the macaques in my bubble). And someone suggested silence. The mountain and the trees and the temple town persist. Or so I like to imagine! Blessed, blissful silence.  For a few minutes.

As we broke apart, still in the stillness, there was a commotion down the road, and many things started happening at once. Some of the organisers were running towards the commotion and some others away from it, and a lone bulldozer was coming down the road and grinding to a halt by the side of the road beside the precious trees, the media people started running to the scene of action / crime.  Of course, high spirits had to take over, town and trees and mountain be damned.

Climax?
What followed can be called ignominy or a mini revolution or achievement / success or disaster averted (for the time being), or a comedy show, or cheap thrills or all of this, depending on how one is looking at it.

Seeing a large crowd advancing towards it, the driver of the bulldozer, the solitary enemy, quickly got down from the large machine and scooted away to some spot where he could be far away from the high spirits and yet close to his responsibility.

High spirits then proceeded to take over the machine, conquered it by sitting on its hood and gathering around it and making fierce and brave statements, and shouting slogans to the camera.  Reassured that he will come to no harm (I dont know how), the driver came back to his machine, and started it.  Spirits got down and stood in front of it, facing the front, and the camera captured a sensational sequence wherein we were saying, "we will not let them take over the trees, our land, our rights" (or some such) and in the background the bulldozer can be seen backing up all the way to the curve in the road at a safe distance.

Spirits descended slowly.  We were all told that we have been able to buy some time.  Some background work had been happening in the meanwhile and a meeting had been fixed further in the day with the Officials to discuss this and appeal for proper proceedings.  A show of hands went up to join this meeting and we started dispersing.

The Real Story according to me
As the morning faded away, I had a conversation in the sidelines with one of the people behind the scenes.  Paraphrasing what this person told a couple of us:  You know, the driver was so sweet. I was talking to him after he ran away there (pointing), and he was telling me, "what can I do, tell me! I was one of the people who planted some of these trees in the periphery and I have seen these trees and this forest all my life.  I don't want to do this.  But this is my job and my responsibility and the sole income for my family.  So I have to do this also.  But it is not my fault, is it?"

Plot Resolution re-titled The Dream | Cynic's Title: Utopia | Working Title: Siddhanta
The yoga practitioner and teacher in me was quietly insisting that all it needed was for us to pause. In between breaths. P A U S E.  And when we start cultivating Pause, we would stop to consider, listen to the other, widen space for conscious choices, perceive the inter-relatedness and connections between people and people, people and nature, between one tree and the other, between the worms and the plants, between children and mud, between human and divine, between you and me, and see one as the other.  Then we would take into account everything that there is to take into account, be alive and awake to the dharmasankatas created therein.  Like the dharmasankata of the driver.  He had to do what he had to do through the internal conflict that he was going through.  What would I have done had I been in his place? What would he have done had he been in my place? Could we have highlighted his story as a way of opening dialogue around this issue (and others)? Can politics expand to include all kinds of developments? Can we pause to look at and listen to those trees that we claim to protect? Can we inhale their energy and learn from them? Is that possible? What are they whispering? Could we include monkeys and sadhus and the local women and their children in the conversation?  How can we remain alive to everyone's truths at the same time?

-------------------------------------------------------

PS - We have a stay order on the cutting of the trees. They are hanging in the air at present.  I also dont mean to offend any individual in my story.  Much of it is in humour with a dollop of sarcasm to spice it up, while asking some questions. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The dynamics of going out on a limb

Image Source: Freqmix.wordpress.com
People fail at staying with challenges all the time. I see myself and others giving up on challenges once we hit an obstacle, or there is a setback.  We either say been-there-done-that all too soon and dust our hands, or we struggle against a thick wall, the kind fortresses have.  I was trying to investigate this staying with a challenge in the context of a couple of recent challenges that I have been facing / have given myself. And wondering, what constitutes staying with the challenge, what constitutes "success" and what constitutes "failure".  For instance, if I have resolved to stick to a particular habit, and I don't do it on the second day itself, does this mean I have failed? And I restart again the next day.  What if I "succeed" now, and keep to the habit for 6 months and then it goes for a toss on my next round of travelling? Different permutations and combinations of successes and failures have happened in this realm by now, and this dichotomous way of working with a challenge fails to move me.  Plus I find that it is very limiting and not useful at all in understanding a situation / a challenge, all the elements of given instance, and oneself, realistically. What I do know is that it is Hard, staying with a challenge.

Staying.  Present continuous.  What if I looked at this as a continuous process, something to be worked upon constantly, and it is constantly changing? A work-in-progress.  There is no arriving at a destination.  There is no one point to be reached.  Looking not at the challenge as a goal to be reached, but at the staying with the challenge as a direction of movement, changes the perspective drastically and opens out many possibilities of working with it.  The shift in perception widened the canvas for me and I started noticing the nuances and details of how challenges manifest, how we define challenges and so on.  

What stands out for me is what I first saw in two very different phenomena, both of which exhibited similar forces at play, in working a challenge.  And then I could stretch my imagination and see the same forces at play everywhere. One phenomenon is the way in which children in general, and in particular reference my daughter, take risks and challenge themselves.  The second is my asana and pranayama practice, and what I have learnt from a couple of my elders, about stretching oneself to attain a posture.  

The forces at play are, one, an anchoring and two, a stretching.  The dance between these two, the balancing act of these forces (if we can manage it) is the dynamics of going out on a limb.  There is something(s) that is constant, the anchor, the grounding.  There are things that are changing, that are exploring, that are new, that are the risks, the new avenues.  I need both forces to stay with a challenge, and keep going out on that limb.  Most of the time we are caught with one force or the other, and do not even know that we need to hold both together.  Our education and our conditioning teaches us to stand polarised and negate the other force.  However, deeper truths can emerge only when we hold both ends together.  

On one end we are so stuck to our comfort zones, so enmeshed in our own complacent worlds, that we don't want to step out at all, We dont want the discomforts of challenges, and dont take risks.  We dont want the discomfort of getting up early in the morning, for instance, or we dont want the discomfort of giving up a pleasing hobby to pursue a passion and let it stagnate. We allow what could be an active, life-giving and nourishing anchor, the ground on which we grow, to become a cesspool, the "dreary desert sand of dead habit" in the words of Rabindranath Tagore. 

On the other end, we are so taken up with the new, that we follow its glitter as it beckons to us and compromise stable ground.  We follow where are feet and eyes take us, and dont pause for conscious choice.  We have such luxury of options today that we no longer know the Ahimsa and the contentment of limited choice.  We can shop for anything we want and explore all that the world has to offer and become compulsive consumers, instead of tapping into the true and deeper seeking / enlivening pursuit that man is capable of, and I believe, is born for.  To go out on a limb and find one's true purpose.  We lose this. 

Children seem to hold these two forces together with such dexterity while playing (but then they also seem to be playing ALL the time! Sigh!).  They take risks, they jump off tables, they walk into crowds and get lost, they take apart things and try to put them back together ruthlessly sometimes.  They are spontaneous, irreverent even and completely un-self-conscious with language, muddling into communication like a bull in a china shop, which however gives them enormous ability to grasp 5-6 languages in the formative years.  This is their seeking force.  While doing all this, they time and again, check back with their primary care takers, their family.  My daughter's trust is implicit, unconditional and absolute, that I or her father will catch her when she jumps off the counter. Her anchor, ground.  When she walks into a crowd, she is sure that I am keeping her in my sight (which every parent would strive to do!).  This is one anchoring for them in their early years.  You can also notice how they form other anchors as they grow.  We are not here talking of mistakes that human anchors may make and so on.  We are here talking of how children hold these two forces together, and for me this is a great learning.  How can I take care of my anchoring, find and nourish my constants in such a way that I can trust these implicitly and absolutely to hold me, when I jump off the cliff, or dive into the ocean.  Such that my anchors do not weigh me down into comfortable habits and yet do not let go off me such that I get carried away by the wind.  

Similarly, in asana and pranayama practice, I will need to stretch and twist and fold down and arch back in order for me to attain new postures, that give me greater strength and flexibility and understanding of my self and allow me to sit longer for meditative practices.   My breath is one of my primary anchors here (there can be others).  And one of my constant quests in my personal practice is to see how I can work with the stretching (the seeking and exploring force) such that it feeds into my constants, like tributaries flowing into the river.  

There is no question of 'failing' at challenges or not being able to go out on a limb, when we can bring into dynamic action, these forces at play.  It is a matter of tapping into these forces inside of us.  And this is a life-long process.  I mean, its not just one limb that you want to go out on, right? ;)  





Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Importance of Role Playing

I started out thinking how important role play is in a child's life. This has been a constant experience and exploration for some time now because my daughter (who is nearly 5 years old now) cannot let an hour go by without engaging in some sort of a role play game / activity. 

She plays "Housing" with her friend, wherein she is the mother, and A, her friend, is the father, and they together make and keep a home, filling it with all the activities that they see their adults do. 


She plays with her dolls, assigning them different characters and enacts stories / scenarios of her own making. (She has a weird variety of soft toys that includes a dinosaur, frog, rat, elephant, dog, reindeer, rabbit, rag dolls, and of course, a couple of teddy bears. None of which we bought!)

She dances to music and at various times, with different kinds of music, assumes different characters and roles. 


She masquerades as a mother, to a little red doll that she carries around.  She feeds it, sometimes from a bottle, or from her hand, sometimes breastfeeds it; plays with it, puts it to bed, scolds it, cuddles it, gives it a bath, combs its hair and is oh-so-protective.  Then suddenly she throws it up in the air, and when I look at her with shock, she says, "Amma, it's a doll, a non-living thing, and I am K! okay?" Oops! Okay. 

She talks to her imaginary friends.  These are sometimes created out of her imagination, are characters from the stories she hears at other times, and at times real-time friends or family or relatives, but who are imagined to be there at that point. 


This list can go on for pages.  Her latest favourite is that she is our dog's wife and she goes about on all fours, woofs at him, howls at the sky, nudges and rubs against him, and then gets up to announce that she is his wife. 


I was seeing, enjoying and experiencing with delight what I have known in theory and seen glimpses of.  That children process so much of their lives, their emotions, their joys and insecurities and so on through their role playing. I was seeing how formative and vital these stories and role play are to her image of herself and the world around her.  She is building stories about herself, about the people around her, about things, and all the emerging relationships.  

What followed this initial delight was also a lot of conflict, guilt many times, much joy of course, and also intense struggle for me.  Sometimes I would pick up a fear that I was sensing, some other time it would be a want or need.  Once she clearly communicated through her mother play that she felt I had no business doing some particular activity.  I felt completely in quandary about what I should do with all this rich data that I was receiving. I would sift through many options and try to see how am I to use what she just expressed , to do the right thing. And I sank deeper and deeper into this quicksand of action. 


And then it all fell into place as I started writing this piece. Role playing is important, not just for a child, for my daughter.  It is as, or more important, for adults, for me.  True that we discover, and develop if allowed to, this art / skill when we are children.  But it is so vital to nourish this and even "use" it perhaps as adults as well, in order for us to process our emotions and gain stable ground. I recognised that along with her, I had also been engaging in all the role playing, until I started analysing it and trying to use it. I had been feeling, experiencing, enacting, myriad things right along with her through the stories and the playing. And much was happening in the play.  So much healing.  So many stories were getting told.  Old ones discarded, new ones born, Old ones re-told.  New understandings. Insights.  Emotions were filling us and then draining away.  Without us getting drained in this process.  It was all happening in the lyrical and mystical language of stories and role playing.  It can continue to do so.  I don't have to "do" anything about it.  I am simply going to sit back and enjoy the ride!