Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Turning a new leaf...

       I never expected to write my next blog post during spare time at office. I never thought I would be working so soon either after submitting my PhD and after becoming a new mom. Still wondering whether I can write regularly as mental and physical energy is at such a premium.

       After re-reading my last post on death today, I found it a tad preachy even though it wasn’t intentioned to be that way while I was writing it. The incidence of death I talked about in that post was of my aunt and I was inadvertently suggesting ways of coping with the loss to her daughters.  It might have been relatively easier for me to sound that way at that time. What followed after that post was the unexpected death of a second aunt and that of my father. Life got thrown out of gear for me and I still cannot claim that I have recovered fully from that shock, a degree and a baby, two years later. 

       Although I do feel in a position to really appreciate my mother's support, her strength and her wisdom during those times of 'trial by fire'. For instance, there was a time when a few months before my final thesis submission (by 'that time' I am referring to extremely high pressure and work-load), I suddenly lost my father to last-stage cancer and simultaneously entered the first trimester of an unplanned pregnancy... Everything happened at the same time so I did not know whether to grieve the loss of my father or to celebrate the baby and the final submission of a seven-year PhD project. In a nutshell, at that time, I got no mental space to process or internalise any of these events until recently. My husband stood by me and cared for me all this while so that I just managed to scrape through it all, although he insists that I did better than 'just scraping through'.

    This blog post on the first day of this blessed New Year is about attempting to move on. It is about appreciating the present reality that is quite different from the recent past. My work life is positive and promising to say the least. My colleagues are good, like-minded people. Now that I am at it, I must mention this here. I was allowed to attend a residential health camp within three days of joining because my seniors at the Department agreed that health is indeed wealth and should be given priority. Besides, I love the possibilities of creative expression in teaching the course allocated to me.  I am reading for pleasure again, which is different from reading under pressure or due to lack of choice, like during exams. So everything seems to be looking up work-wise. On the personal front also, I have good news. My brother is getting married soon, and the girl of his dreams is quite a sweetheart so we are all looking forward to their alliance.

      What I want to emphasize to myself at the beginning of this year is that nothing stays the same forever, no matter how depressing or unending it might seem. Just like seasons change so do phases of life. What I also really appreciate is that during this time of intense reflection and hopefully positive transformation, I have stumbled upon the Thai interpretation of Vipassana, which is different from the Burmese tradition that I had been following for the longest time. This development has validated my past experiences and observations regarding meditation and the accompanying challenges. The Thai tradition gives due impetus to the value of reflection, a general sense of mindfulness, reading Budddha vani in the suttas and chanting for inspirational and devotional purposes. Fortunately for me, the vibrations of a new sangha have given my quests a spiritually reflexive dimension.

      However, the biggest surprise of 2017 was the re-entry of Sonya Srivastava into my life. She was my best friend from school and we had drifted apart in every conceivable way over the last two decades. An engineer by training, she had moved over to the US and had settled down there. On her last trip to India, she fished out my number (I am not on FB!) and called me a day before my birthday. That was the best birthday gift, ever. 

     On that note, I want to look at 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the eye, thank them and bless them for being my uncompromising teachers, and, wave my goodbyes

Source: https://www.istockphoto.com/in/photo/sunflowers-gm484960082-71646679 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Random thoughts and lots of tea

Photograph from http://www.vintagetouch.co.uk/

On death and letting go
We are never really introduced to a very useful concept of life, and death. The concept of letting go. Letting go of a painful past, sadness, fear, failure and most importantly, letting go of someone you love by choice or no choice, as happened in this case. For most people I know, the importance of letting go and more significantly, 'ways of letting go gracefully' was never broached as a subject worth deliberation at any point, not even while growing up. 

Another concept that often evades active discussion is that of death itself and the associated experience of intense fear and despair in the context of fearing one’s own death or that of a loved one. Generally, people avoid mentioning death in a conversation as it is stereotypically understood as a bit of a ‘mood-spoiler’ when there are other, more positive and fun things to talk about instead. So people don’t prefer to talk about it unless they are forced to by circumstances. This does point towards one thing though: a high level of denial towards death even though it would certainly come, sooner or later. We all know that breath is not a permanent thing. It stops one day for each one of us who is reading this (or not). Our denial or acceptance of it will not change that fact.  

This article touches upon both these concepts in a random way, without trying to tie loose ends or join the dots. The intention is to be able to contemplate constructively. 
An alternative view regarding physical death, which is not so escapist in nature, is that if we understood final death (of the body) differently, and if we knew how to let go gracefully by not making a great deal out of the ‘going away’ part, as everyone alive is pretty much on the same way out. We existed fine before we checked-in (into the body) and we will be just fine after checking-out. This is something we need to start cultivating trust in. That way, we would probably be more at peace with ourselves and the world, and we wouldn't feel the need to feel extremely bad or ‘unfortunate’ about the experience of loss that death brings along. That physical part of us from where we are feeling this loss is also in a constant process of dissolving you see! With this insight in the background, it is possible to see the final physical death as the other side of the coin of life, not as an experience to be avoided or postponed at any cost, that too in vain!

Once we accept that, we would be more focused on the quality of life we live, the meaning and purpose we give it and ways we can optimize all the good things life has to offer, as long as it lasts.

Acknowledging death
Experiencing death of a family member is a reality we all go through at one point or another in life. I have experienced the same recently and that is what has prompted me to write about it, perhaps for sharing of some of the experiences, a cathartic process by itself. The death I am referring to was most unexpected as everything was fine one day and then, suddenly, out of the blue, there was the diagnosis of an illness at its last stage, pretty much beyond the scope of medical science. Technically, there was a cure and it was even applied in time, but there was no cure to the side-effects of the cure!

Soon enough, the inevitable happened. Friends and relatives queued up at hospital first and then at home to pay their last respects. ‘God is to blame for this,’ someone else tried to explain the occurrence nobody was ready to acknowledge initially, so high was the level of disbelief. Then slowly, reality began to sink in as there was nothing more left to do to change the situation we were all finally heading towards. Overall, for one long month, relentless efforts were made for revival and recovery of the concerned person: the best doctors, the most expensive procedures, but nothing was enough to postpone what cannot be postponed endlessly anyway.  

While modern medicine does provide immediate relief to patients but there is one thing for which it should be squarely critiqued. Allopathic procedures overwhelmingly overlook the quality of life of the person whose time for transition has come, and the doctors know it too. Still, they pierce and cut as often as needed, assuming the patient has no consciousness at any level. They penetrate the patients’ body with tubes, pipes and injections; apply bandages on eyes that probably still want to see, make incisions, draw blood, leave the bones broken (after CPR for instance), utterly imposing themselves over the patient’s probable last-minute felt-need…

Maybe the patient would have wanted solitude, hear a prayer, hold hands of loved ones, or go through transition in a spiritually reassuring environment. Maybe the patient didn't prefer living through the panic and chaos of doctors (and other strangers), which is far from reassuring during his or her last moments. Of course family members make that (expensive) choice on the patient’s behalf. It is not an easy choice for them either: whether to let go now or hope for a miracle of modern medicine, later. In most cases of patients in the ICU, the last-minute aggressive medical interventions get prioritized and they take away from the quality of one of the most important and inevitable experiences of life, i.e. death, making it more painful, fearful, shocking and seemingly out-of-place for everyone involved.

Celebrating life
The alternative way of looking at death, as mentioned before, would mean that a funeral would look more like a celebration of a long life lived instead of mourning of a sudden death (usually the latter happens since we never prepare ourselves or contemplate carefully about the subject). It is all about where we focus our energies now, as in, how we choose to remember the departed person: in joy, celebration, fondness and from a state of gratitude and blessing or in morbid, depressing ways that further break us down.

Humanists, as I found out online, conceptualize funeral as an occasion to talk about the good qualities of the person who moved on while sharing wonderful, comforting memories through narrating anecdotes about that person. It is an occasion for group-healing for people who loved that person. This is quite in contrast to what generally happens in our traditional Hindu family system in cities. 

Every new relative who walks in mourns with passion, some do it loudly, some times giving a dramatic performance of sorrow in front of an 'audience'. The words they say to the bereaved family members may or may not be carefully chosen. So disconnected are such mourners from the person or the occasion, they can even be expected to indulge in gossip or sharing 'good news' at the venue itself, instead of praying or introspecting spiritually. With such people crowding around, funeral then tends to become more of a superficial group-mourning exercise instead of a group-healing one. 

Looking back, looking forward
Many times, after someone close to us moves on, following are the kind of questions that tend to grip us: What if I never get a chance to see those I love again? What if I don’t get a chance to say how much I loved them or simply thank them? What if I get bed-ridden and dependent on a nurse? What if I get a horrible and incurable disease out-of-the-blue? What if I lose my senses and never get to speak? What if I never get to say good-bye? All this forms part of the fear and insecurity that death brings along for the people who get left behind, well, at least for the moment. And then, there are these nagging questions about the new location of the departed soul. Where is the ‘person’ now? Is s/he at peace? Is s/he happy? Will I ever get to meet him/her in any other life? When will that be and so on?

Possessed by fear and insecurity till the depression lasts depending upon how close one was to the person, we tend to put all our energies towards mourning the death of the loved one, missing the person sorely. We cry ourselves to sleep or till our eyes swell, or till our voice becomes from hoarse to silent altogether. We look pale and feel frightened as we are not getting answers that sufficiently explain the event that no one ever wanted to happen or was unprepared to face in the first place. We sometimes feel hollowed out and empty, but still continue looking for ways in which it would hurt less.    

Reflecting a little bit more on what happened, God or medical science, none has ever claimed that human beings are immortal, still we try so hard to escape death. Medical science does try to create a false hope or a temporary relief that death can indeed be endlessly postponed. But we know it can’t be done right?

Approaching this question of life and death in terms of what our own last preferred actions would be like, hypothetically, I think it would all be about expressing as much love and gratitude as possible. Speaking for most of us I know, we were never trained to express love and gratitude to our loved ones right through childhood and adolescence. However, we can learn to do it now as there is no rocket science behind it. All we have to do is simply say ‘I love you mummy or I thank you papa’ and mean it every time we say it. Likewise for all the people we love and respect. The idea is to communicate a good word or feeling the moment it arises instead of piling it on inside. Let the other know. Don’t hesitate or fear looking stupid and unnecessarily emotional. The only stupid and unnecessary part is to let life pass us by without sharing love and gratitude with all the beings around.

While the idea of living in a state of gratitude is completely missing in popular culture, ‘love’ also seems to have acquired a rather superficial connotation as we don’t tend to see beyond the media-driven crassness around it. To make it worse, we make the choice of internalizing it. That certainly is our un-wisdom, if you know what I mean.

It is one thing to get exposed to something and it is quite another to start crafting your own life and actions around the superficiality of it, in this case, the way ‘love’ is narrowed down to generally mean temporary physical gratification and a complete non-expression of a more compassionate and fulfilling version of it. Most of us tend to get caught up with the narrowed down, convenient version of love, at best, the one limited to a partner. We forget to live in a state of gratitude for all the love we have received and continue to receive from so many obvious and un-obvious sources.

The oxygen we breathe, the soothing touch of the grass we walk on, the reassuring sight and fragrance of a bright flower when we are down and out, the comforting shade of a tree (exactly where we want to park our car!), the sing-songs of birds if we stop to listen, the beautiful star-lit night-sky, heart-warming sunshine on a freezing winter day, water drops for thirsty souls during monsoon… All these are gifts from nature that we take for granted. The fact that we have our limbs and five senses intact; the fact that we can see well, touch, smell, taste, hear and utilize our feet and arms fully tends to mean the world to those who cannot.

Coming to the ‘good things’ that happen to us in life without any apparent logic, what we often refer to as ‘luck’ or the ‘by chance’ events? There is nothing ‘by chance’ in life. These so-called lucky occurrences are nothing but materialization of wishes and blessings from people who have loved and blessed us for the good (even not-so good) things we did in the past! That is the reason we should try to check our actions at all times and should continue to generate love and wishes for others since they come back to us multiplied manifold, just like a seed blossoms into a full-grown tree that bears fruit, each containing more seeds that will multiply again. 

In Vipassana meditation courses we often hear the following example: a neem seed will bear a bitter neem tree with more neem seeds of the same kind. A mango seed on the other hand will give rise to sweet mangoes, and thus more mango seeds of the same kind. This should explain something about the quality of seeds we should use our heart to sow.

The truth is that we are blissfully ignorant about our own state of mind most of the time. We are very caught up in the chains of action and reaction with our egoistic self making most decisions for us. In all the confusion and suffering mind creates, we forget to express love and compassion towards all other living beings, pretending that we are separate from everything and everyone. The wise ones have long before said that the opposite is the real truth. According to them, a person who cultivates compassion for all instead of a self-centred ego lives a calm and connected life, as opposed to a confused and a lost one. 

We should try and cultivate compassion towards one and all as a matter of daily routine and not as a temporary ritual that we are made to perform after the death of someone close. For instance, this continuous feeling of gratitude and humility comes when we perform more and more sewa or anonymous selfless service say in a Gurudwara (temple) every weekend to begin with. We should try and volunteer to do as much social work as possible, without expecting anything in return, including recognition. As many would testify, this is a matter of practice, not empty talking. 

Quality of life
In the words of a spiritual Master, quality of a person’s life can be adequately summed up as “the moments spent joyously giving away whatever you think you possess! The more you give away, the higher is the quality of your life. The higher the quality of life, even better would be the quality of death!”

This idea would sound ridiculous to rationalists as they believe that one lives to work hard and party harder. That one goes to office with the purpose of getting a handsome salary and a superior designation, better than what was offered in the last job. A person aspires for eventual promotion while simultaneously craving and accumulating all kinds of worldly assets like homes, gold, cars, gizmos & gadgets, clothes, shoes, cosmetics… the list is endless. But where does one stop, or 'draw the line'? Well, initially it is wherever the neighbor or relative draws it (!) but later on, consuming more than our needs becomes a habit or another addiction without which we cannot do.

So ‘purchasing’, ‘shopping’, ‘buying’, ‘indulging’, ‘consuming’, 'competing' become keywords that define life choices during present times. Giving away some of whatever  you think ‘you possess forever’, is not something one does unless forced to do so through bills, fines, credit card interest, EMIs and so on. No one wants to give away in his or her right mind. Everyone wants to accumulate more and more, over and above what is needed for leading a dignified life. 

Bravely resisting the temptation of accumulating more and more, if a person slowly and steadily cultivates the ‘art of giving away’ instead, while s/he is still alive (after detaching from the act itself), one ends up receiving a lot of good will and blessings, yes, by default. Such acts of kindness and 'selfless' generosity induce a strange calmness and a deep satisfaction inside, many times beyond the scope of the very limited logical mind.

Try it. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Press release on 'bal sunwai' (public hearing by children) on Right to Education Act on 26 December 2013

More than 500 underprivileged children from various parts of the city gathered at D Block, New Seemapuri today to articulate their grievances against MCD schools and schools run by the Delhi government in a first-of-its-kind ‘bal sunwai’ (public hearing conducted by children). The theme of the sunwai was improper implementation of the Right to Education Act 2009 (RTE) that promises compulsory quality education to children between the age-group of 6-14 years that too free of cost, without any need of documents at the time admission along with provision of school uniform and  books from the side of the government.

In a thickly attended three-hour session, children brought out the difficulties faced by them at school and how helpless their situation gets when it comes to asking for their rights from authority figures, both in and outside school. Children came from places as far as Bawana, Kalkaji, Govindpuri, Kalyanpuri, Badli, Old Seemapuri, New Seemapuri, Rangpur Pahadi, Zafarabad and Sunder Nagari for the sunwai, many of them escorted by their parents.

Shahrukh, a resident of New Seemapuri, complained about how he became unconscious for a few hours and got temporary hearing loss when his teacher, who is a habituated to beating children with a stick, hit him for no reason. He is from the Government Boys Senior Secondary School, J & K Block, Dilshad Garden. Another student complained about how his teachers constantly spoke on mobile phones or just chit-chatted in the staff room instead of taking classes. “When we approach them and demand them to teach us, they shoe us away by saying that netagiri mat karo, chup chap class main baitho,” said Sohail. Teachers showering children with the choicest abuses at the slightest of pretext is another very common experience as shared by many students.

Another boy Sajid complained about his teacher, who prefers to get drunk and sit in the staff room instead of teaching. He is from Government Boys Senior Secondary School, New Seemapuri.  Arun from Government Boys Senior Secondary School Nand Nagari protested, “When we speak up and complain about poor infrastructure in writing, teachers discourage us by threatening us and our parents with cancelling our admission or reducing our grades, so what option do we have other than quietly embracing all the ill-treatment and deprivation of our rights?” 
Kanchan from Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, New Seemapuri, was angry about safety of girl students. “When we are travelling back from school, boys, who should be inside classrooms in the second shift, stand outside and tease us daily. When we complained to the principal about it, she brushed it aside as if it was a non-issue,” she said.

Chandni, another student from the same school, complained how the teacher made them run around for locating darris to sit on, many times for two periods out of eight! “We try to make arrangements for our own seating instead of studying at school. We have to sit on floor whether in cold winters, hot summers or wet monsoons. How many children can tolerate these hardships continuously?” she questioned. Shehzadi from Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, E Block, Nand Nagari exposed the level of difficulty faced by children at school when she shared how her teacher asked her to pick a broom and clean the toilets if she felt they were smelly and unusable.

Regarding admission-related issues, Samina, a parent, shared how she ran around for about two years to get her child admitted to school. “We are illiterate and don’t know our rights so the school takes advantage of that and makes unnecessary demands from us to find excuses to refuse our children education,” she said. Shahana, another parent, recollected how only one of her five children got admission to the government school after she ran from pillar to post, that too in class one when her daughter should have been in class five. Her admission was based on a relative’s residence proof despite RTE stipulating that no such documents were required for admission to any child before the age of 14 years.

Another boy Sohail from Bawana complained about how he was forced to dirty water from the school water cooler by his teacher that gave him typhoid. Another student shared how girls in her class have a harrowing time dealing with their teachers, who pull their hair routinely and call them ‘characterless’ based on their own mood swings. “It depresses us no end,” she said. 

In the case of children from New Seemapuri resettlement colony, which is the only minority district of Delhi, there are only four government schools they can approach, two schools under the MCD and two under the Delhi Government. This implies that on an average, 100-125 children get stifled into one classroom. “There is a very disproportionate distribution of resources in such a densely populated area. More schools must be provided along with basic infrastructural facilities like clean toilets, clean drinking water, classrooms that have desks and chairs and a committed teaching staff to fulfill the promise of quality education under the RTE,” said Ritu Mehra, co-founder of Pardarshita.
The sunwai was attended by Chairperson of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Wajahat Habibullah, member of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) Mamta Sahai, former advisor of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and founder of Artha-Astha Radhika Alkazi, Convener of National Right to Education Forum Amrish Rai and many other NGO representatives working on the issue of child rights.

In the opinion of Sahai, since DCPCR is a quasi-judicial body with restricted powers, probably a PIL would make authorities more responsible and accountable while discharging their duties towards children. “If children give us their complaints in writing, we would do everything we can to resolve them,” she promised. Rajiv, founder Pardarshita, however exclaimed that till the time a mechanism for time-bound case disposal at DCPCR is evolved, children’s right to education can never be ensured as precious time gets wasted in paper-work stretching for months, sometimes years.

Shri Habibullah, however sounded more positive. He said that Commissions do have powers of a civil court so cases regarding discrimination of specific communities including violation of their RTE should be brought to their notice and they would certainly take cognizance of the same.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Silent peace march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar

Yesterday was an eventful day in many ways. It started with a meeting with a yoga and naturopathy doctor at the close-by government-run yoga and natural cure centre. On our way back home, news spread about the loss of the gang rape victim in Singapore. So the day ended with thoughts about the girl and how different people responded to her journey to death. Some even believe she had passed away much earlier and that a scared government was trying to evade from telling the truth in a timely way.

Anyway, what was equally meaningful for me was how my brother responded to the whole situation. My brother is a software engineer by training, who is thankfully less of a 'professional activist' than what JNU is infamous for producing (irregardless of political affiliation). So i tend to give merit to his opinion because i know that his head is less cloudy than mine. He is more directly connected with his inner voice as there is no obvious reason why he should 'sound in a particular way' to meet his own pre-set agendas. His job is to create software and he does a decent job out of it while choosing where to involve himself whereas i over-react many times (let me accept it), cry hoarse and take to heart  almost each and every event that happens in my immediate surrounding. If you think further, as if there is nothing better to do :), there is 'good' and 'bad' in both life choices, anyway.

So, he volunteered to drive me to the peace march yesterday, and expressed his willingness to participate in the march, his first, despite having a forever-in-protest-mode sister like me. 

Photos credit Rahul
Due to  lack of parking space, and my eager, bony a.. just dying to jump out of the moving vehicle in solidarity with the peacefully marching crowd on the other side of the road, we decided to drop me off right there. (Had been a while since i participated in any protest march so was itching to step on familiar ground. Was 'bed-bound' earlier in hospital or was physically removed to an Ashram in Meerut for subsequent therapy post typhoid). My brother was supposed to meet me at any point during the march after parking his car. So his much anticipated participation depended upon availability of parking space! How silly...?!

Two of my centre seniors welcomed me in the long queue on the left side of the road. So i walked with the crowd, without any banner or shouting any slogan, just in a quiet, silent way, the way it was meant to be perhaps. There was mild tension among people carrying cameras, who were trying to click photographs of every moment while themselves sidestepping it (!). They were desperately trying to capture every small movement to encash the 'best shot' later. Talk about competitive photography or media coverage at such events. Some one can very rightly point out that i have done a lot of this too so should drop the righteous face, well i am trying to :). After all, that is the reason why i can easily sense the anxiety behind the constant clicking of shutterbugs, the agendas behind various angles, what gets clicked and what gets cut out of the frame. Most of us know that a photograph first gets clicked in the head just like an article first gets conceptualised in the mind.

While we walked through the traffic exchanging brief updates about recent whereabouts interrupting our own silence, to our embarrassment, a differently-abled lady became a constant centre of attraction for most with cameras. It was as if that lady 'should have' been doing something else, considering her 'condition' BUT, she is so brave or has an extraordinary heart that she came out in protest on her battery-run wheelchair. We don't know what it is to get photographed like that but we did continue getting embarrassed for the lady till quite some time. For all we know she may have been enjoying the extra attention or would be so used to it by now! Her level of comfort in that environment suggested that she too was most likely a 'professional', a rehearsed activist in all probability, who most likely knew her way  around better than others.

In the mean time, my brother had reached Jantar Mantar and was thrown in the midst of a typical  activist environment, with people carrying banners on both sides, police battalions ready for some ugly play in anticipation. When our group was beginning to converge with the larger group present there, i called him to know his location. He just told me how he was wondering why he came there at all! What were some of the activists doing there, competing with each other in terms of who shouted the 'most appropriate' slogan, how many times, whether s/he was followed by an adequate number in rehearsed chorus and at what decibel level? Was that the reason why people do 'peaceful' activism, especially in memory of someone who had to face such a tragic end, my brother wondered. Of course i figured this out by interpreting the pauses and intonations he offered as he disappointingly spoke.

All four of us decided to be on the 'left' side of the group and sat down quietly on the road to offer silent condolences and to absorb the vibration of the place. Unfortunately and frequently, we were disturbed by what we saw or was it our own mind that created the way we viewed unfolding scenarios. Even in supposed moments of mourning, there was constant restlessness among many as they jostled for visibility in front of TV crew or journalists. Not naming names (there is no point in doing that), but one knows workings of familiar faces from organisations and one can't help but observe the often repeated drama. After playing this role in the field, there is competition about who circulates photographs first or writes an e-note about the event first. As expected, before i reached home, news had already started flooding my inbox. Of course i relate to all this because i have been there and done that too. 

My point is to say that yesterday, other than remembering to pray several times for the gang rape victim, i could see more clearly the spaces people choose to occupy publicly. One could pray silently and generate love and goodwill for the departed soul at home, or one could also partially or fully indulge in calculating how to take mileage out of 'the event'. Anyway, to each his own. 

Well, writing this blog post is not any better than what the 'professionals' were doing at Jantar Mantar. Signing off on that note.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Angels all the way!

A lot has happened with Angels of 'My Angels Academy' between May-December 2012. Here's a pictorial update of what all these kids have been up to. Apologies for the delay in posting.

On 13th May 2012, Angels won a championship for the first time by defeating six elite football academies in the under-15 category! Two Angels-Sonu and Anand-were named 'best players' of the tournament.  UK's Manchester United Soccer Club had organised and sponsored this tournament making this victory a historical moment for Angels. Some photos from the tournament.

Angels' story got included in a tea-table book as part of the 'India Awakened' Series 2012, an initiative of the Hindustan Times and Tata Tea. The book comprises real-life stories of heroes who have fought odds to follow their dreams. It was launched by Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh at Taj Hotel on 4th June 2012. Some photos from the event.

...Sylvester with social activist Aruna Roy.


Angels participating in a three-day Tap (ideal dietary system)-Seva (sharing)-Sumiran (meditation) residential camp at Badari Narayan Sevagram, Meerut from 23-25 December 2012. Some moments. 

(Photo credit: Pravin)
Please also visit Google plus link by Vikas: https://plus.google.com/photos/107992309307021017349/albums/5826971031704432449?sqi&sqsi

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pyar ka parantha

In the last week of May 2012, I was diagnosed with typhoid fever. For one whole month, I was heavily relying on antibiotics, was even admitted to hospital twice, once to cure typhoid and once to deal with subsequently acquired acid peptic disease (later became a form of Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) leading to dramatic weight-loss). Simply put, by the end of July 2012, I had acute constipation, heartburn, a lot of acidity, insomnia, and gradually my food pipe had swollen. Due to all this, even lying down and resting had become challenging. Often, stomach acid would get refluxed into the food pipe (instead of naturally flowing downwards) as the digestive and excretory systems had become weak at the base.

It had been two months since I had been running from one allopathic doctor to another, adding on Ayurvedic medicine to the list of all that I was taking. Even tried homeopathy and naturopathy briefly. Overall, we ended up spending about Rs 50,000/= on my treatment (could be more) besides slowly piling on hopelessness inside. To deal with the latter part, I (fortunately) invested heavily in spiritual literature too, thanks to ready references given by Dr. Subhash Sethi, who is an avid reader and a wonderful person to say the least. A medical doctor by training and a Vipassana meditation (www.dhamma.org) teacher by calling, he continues to be one of the most shining guiding lights for me. (God bless you Sir!)

Dr. Sethi distributes ‘Jeevani Shakti Kaise Jagaye’ free of cost to people in need. He also gave me a copy of the Hindi book. Desperate for something to work out and considering my trust in Dr. Sethi and the common Vipassana connection, I took to reading it, however unenthusiastically.

‘Food is not the source of energy’ was one of the first weird statements I came across. Here I was panic-stricken and fearing for the worst along with my family, as all I was taking were a few glasses of fruit juice daily. That was when I had to be hospitalized for positive ketones in the urine. (Medically, ‘positive ketones’ denote starvation of the body that appears only after a long fast. It is a trade mark of ‘professional’ activists ;), who sit for dharnas at the drop of a hat.)

Fortunately for me, Dr. Sethi helped me in making a raw food diet chart (mostly fruit-based) for the coming months, but for some reason, taking regular enema alongside wasn't an important consideration back then. July, August and September went in building trust in the new diet regime prescribed in the book but with apprehensions and fears regarding its success-rate. Allopathic and Ayurvedic medicines continued simultaneously till a realisation of uselessness of what i was consuming prompted me to quit all of them one fine day. I had had enough of 'foreign and chemical things' being forcibly added to my body that seemed to reject these superficial interventions at various levels.

I finally came to Badari Narayan Sevagram i.e. the Meerut Ashram of International Association for Scientific Spiritualism (IASS) in October first week, few days before their famous biannual navratra fasting camp. (They had published the book I was trying to follow since two-three months.) I was convinced of changing base because the atmosphere at home had become quite tense and depressing (for understandable reasons) and chances of recovery there seemed bleak as everyone seemed short of treatment options.

The one thing that was causing most fear in our collective consciousness was that despite best efforts of so many people, including the best, most expensive and experienced medical professionals, I kept losing weight progressively. I had reduced to 44.9 kgs at a height of 5 feet, 2.5 inches while last year, I was plump and pink at about 60 kgs. At that time, being plump was still a mark of being healthy and fit as opposed to being thin, but full of energy and vigour.

So here at the Ashram, Dr. Gopal Shastri gave me the most unusual prescription and allowed me to stay and understand what they term as ‘eashwariya chikitsa’ (divine cure) through the principles of tap (ideal dietary system), seva (cultivating habit of sharing with others whatever one possesses materially) and sumiran (meditation). Once I was mentally prepared to give it a shot, the next challenge was to send my parents home peacefully because obviously, they didn't want to leave me alone at a new place. Dr. Shastri, btw, is another spiritual, straightforward person, who deserves a lot of goodwill and blessings from all the beings he has generously helped. He has a knack for calling a spade a spade, which was the most important input at least for my healing. For instance, when we met, he immediately recognized where I was stuck at the mental level and advised accordingly.  His message was that 98 percent of our body is actually made up of the mind, so I should quit worrying about the remaining two percent! His constant courage and honest feedback about my progress gave me courage, pushing me forward consistently. His fearlessness and trust in 'God' ('Universe' for me, call it anything!) is from where I could generate mine, from where my parents derived some peace of mind too. God bless you! 

Having sent parents home and after finally finding my own space at the Ashram, the first thing to do was to eat regularly (no tea, coffee and sugar) within the prescribed schedule in the mess. That was quite daunting at first as doctors had well induced the fear of eating the ‘wrong’ kind of food post typhoid and GERD. Anyhow, as per the Ashram schedule, I got down to practicing ‘tap’ (the first principle comprising gradual rational fasting) by hardly eating anything till noon other than soaked dry fruits, green-leaf juice and vegetable soup during late morning. The first solid meal was fruits and vegetable salad (seasonal, always along with sprouted moong) by 1 pm followed by a small snack and herbal tea (comprises saunf, mulethi, elaichi, tulsi, ginger, milk etc.; it’s pink in colour and the powder is produced locally) at about 4 pm. Dinner was served at 8:30 pm where one could eat as much roti, sabji, dal and chawal.

You won’t believe the kind of things I ate here during this time. For evening snacks, I have had everything from samosa, bread pakora, vegetable patteez, to suji halwa and dhokla to besan ka cheela, pakode, kheer, poha, and kala chana. Guddu and Mohan bhaiya made all the dishes so well. By ‘well’, I mean they added oil and masala copiously so that the taste of whatever they were cooking would never get compromised :). So, any medical doctor would pull his hair out if he were told about the kind of things I was beginning to taste and slowly consume liberally post the kind of illness I was coming from. For the mainstream doctors, I must be crazy to leave all medicine, and start eating everything I have been told to stay away from! Of course within the raw-during-day and cooked-food-in-the-evening/night kind of dietary system, there was space for everything 'eatable'.

I only had the usual discomfort in the throat and at any time I would eat something, it was followed by some time spent sitting erect in meditation, watching the discomfort as much as possible. Was sleeping only once at night and for the rest of the day, was busily following activities according to the Ashram schedule.

There were regular morning-evening sittings in the meditation hall where audio-video discourse about Bhagwad Gita and Sri Ramcharitmanas was played towards the end, after sessions of meditation, daily prayer-recitation and reading texts from spiritual literature. Coming from the Vipassana tradition, I was of course selectively participating in whichever activity that I liked despite active attendance. For instance, I was not doing nam jap, mantra chanting or was singing bhajans, (bhakti yog I presume) not that anything is wrong with them! The good thing was that no one made me do anything either since they knew of my spiritual leaning from before. Interestingly, I find no clash between what Krishna or Shiv or Gautama Buddha preached :). It's all a question of interpretation I guess.

Anyway, apart from spending time chopping vegetables in the community kitchen, doing some work for their English magazine (called ‘Tap-Sewa-Sumiran’; website: http://www.tap-seva-sumiran.com/), knitting a blue pair of socks almost by myself and planning (later executing) a general all-Ashram children meeting, I really don’t know how all this time got spent.

My low blood pressure is almost normal, I feel more energetic now despite body weight that has stabalised around 45 kgs. Imagine, as part of my treatment, Dr. Gopal insisted that I learn to exert the body and mop and clean my room, which I started doing, of course gradually. Even beginning to iron my clothes on my own was a big deal. From being someone who sat confused, fearful and crippled on the bed at home, waiting for mummy to do all the chores for me to slowly growing into someone who is nearly self-sufficient, even blogging, it has certainly been a long, worthy journey.

It is tough to put into words the kind of things one saw and experienced here. Not only my fear vis-à-vis ‘the right food’ got largely dealt with, I started eating the normal-for-others-but-prohibited-for-me-kind of food as well. Doctors had instructed me to have boiled water daily after typhoid but here, I drink the regular ‘taaza pani’, straight from the tap, without using even a basic Aquaguard! Sometimes I wonder how much fear one gets used to living with…

This ‘vacation’ is going to end shortly, probably after the three-day children camp that concludes on Christmas. My six-month sick-leave period also ends in late December. Then I will be going back to college-life, picking up threads of PhD field-work from where I had left it in May, albeit slowly. I have learnt that hurrying to do anything is a very bad idea and trying to control life by desperately clinging to it (namely, our action and then its ‘planned’ outcome) is the worst, most-uncalled-for human tendency. Trying to slow down and trying to gradually cultivate trust in the Universe’s wisdom is a great way to experiencing one’s actions, and the gift of life, fully.

So much in between has changed, some things forever, fortunately. For instance, my relationship with those I love and value has developed positively is to say the least.

In terms of tasty food, what I am going to remember very fondly is the post-Satsang prasad (moong dal barfi, peda, tilbugga, gurh-til gachak; never tasted some of these before), Malti Ma’s warm gurh-shakarkandi, Shyama didi’s ‘world-famous’ doodh kulfi-treat (as per Ashram protocol, everyone is called either didi or bhaiya), Radha didi’s ghar ka bana saunth gurh and twin bread mithais, one dipped in gulab jamun chashni and the other called 'shahi toast' with condensed milk and coconut topping (unexpectedly yummy!), Shashi didi’s suji cheela and moong daal (she has given me many kaddu and locky-based food recipes yay!), Meera didi's specially prepared saunf gurh, Leelawati didi's tasty tulsi-adrak evening kadha/herbal chai, Kiran didi’s bathua-aloo parantha, mithi puri, atta and til-gurh laddoo and besan-coconut-til-barfi (she also taught me how to knit woolen socks :) ), Gudia didi’s stuffed idli, pakodi, and muli-saag parantha (we also spent time together working on the magazine), Harbhajan aunty’s aloo-gobi ki sabji and matar-wadi, and the ever-willing-to-help Durgesh didi’s hare pyaaz ki sabzi, aloo and gobi parantha. It is your love, patience and goodwill all through these three months that have got me so far, and of course, the blessed food of the Ashram.

Lots of love and wishes for you all. Have a great New Year!

(Photos:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/113164685386219491475/albums/5803586938464049201).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

An experiment to eradicate corruption

Zaki Ahmad, a 42-year-old resident of New Seemapuri had the will to shake an overwhelming corrupt system in his locality by merely hanging a banner condemning the practice of corruption (see photo). All the people who were thinking of extracting money from Ahmad were motivated to skip their daily dose.
Banner outside Ahmad's home at New Seemapuri prevented policemen from approaching him for a bribe. Banner reads: 'Giving or taking bribe is a crime, so kindly don't ask for it!'
 Ahmad wanted to re-structure his one-room home by constructing two new floors above it but feared that he would have to pay a minimum bribe of Rs. 60,000 (i.e. Rs. 20,000 per floor) to local policemen, infamous for demanding money at the drop of a hat. Not willing to bribe anyone or subject his own family members to extortion threats by them, Ahmad shared his dilemma with Rajiv Kumar of Pardarshita.

With a history of years of filing RTIs against corrupt government officials, Kumar suggested that Ahmad display a big banner outside his house condemning the act of giving or taking bribe to demote the idea amongst policemen and discourage their usual practice. “I just wanted to see how an ordinary man, who chooses to be honest, beats a heavily corrupt system around him, and Ahmad did it. It was so easy. He only had to take the first few step and the rest happened on its own,” said Kumar.
As word spread slowly, ‘Zaki ka makaan’ (Zaki’s house) has now acquired iconic status in Seemapuri. Hope many people are taking inspiration from him.