Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Cute "Little Fraud"

My younger sister is the perfect example of someone who can think well on her feet. I affectionately call her a little "fraud' because she listens apparently without interest to anything that I have to say about religion, philosophy, healing etc. and at times will even inform me that I'm boring the hell out of her and should just keep the information to myself...but sooner or later informs me, with a mischievous grin and giggle, that she said the same things at an opportune moment to elicit a great deal of praise and appreciation from her listeners. :)

Today was an instance of this quaint phenomenon which I find very endearing. I was in my university, struggling to remain patient as I proceeded along some ridiculous form-submission line with a speed that sedated snails would be able to overcome, when my cell-phone rang and I saw her name flashing on the screen. When I answered the call, her voice, filled with amusement told me that she had just come out of some group activity conducted by her teachers, for her and her classmates. Apparently, the task was to stand up and give the name of something that best describes what you are. When her turn came, her response was "Sugar". When she was asked to qualify this, she gave the following story that I had told her when we saw a particular picture in a Parsi restaurant, about a year ago:

When the Parsis initially came to India, fleeing from their persecution in their land of origin, their boats drew ashore on the coasts of Gujarat. The head priest led a delegation to the King of Gujarat, seeking his permission for them to live in his land. In response the King showed them a bowl of milk, filled to the brim, as a demonstration of his argument that there was no place for them on his land and that adding more people to the population would disturb matters, just as adding more milk to the bowl would cause spillage. In response, the head priest, took the bowl of milk and very carefully added a handful of sugar to it, so that no milk spilled over the edges of the bowl. What he meant to say, was that just as the sugar did not upset the bowl of milk, but in fact sweetened it, so too would the Parsis add to the quality and richness of the Gujarati culture, without disrupting it in any way. As an Indian, I feel proud to say that till today, this holds true of the Parsis, no matter which part of India they are in.

When my sister narrated this tale to explain why she had named sugar as the object that best represented her, the reaction was vibrant appreciation and acknowledgement that she does indeed vest her environment with the same qualities. My 'lil fraud' is so cute!...Hope you like the story.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


What must it be like to live in a world of complete darkness or where the only light you can see is a vague walking in a dense fog with only ghostly shapes and almost bodiless voices all around you? This is what I thought about when I initially looked at the audience, which consisted of mostly completely blind and a few partially sighted people?

My class recently hosted a full-day programme for the inmates of the National Association for the Blind Workshop, Mumbai. As part of this programme there were several songs that we sang for them [I even gave a small recital in Raag Yaman :) ... I'm still very happy about the response I got! ]. In between the skits and songs that we had prepared for them, they also came up to the stage and absolutely amazed us with their repertoire of geets, ghazals, shers, jokes and comments.

Last night when I was thinking about this, what struck me most was the way in which they responded to music. If you had seen their faces when someone was singing or observed the extent of their sensitivity of the various aspects of any song, I can guarantee you that it would have been a humbling experience. They say that when one of the senses fails to operate, the other senses become sharper in order to compensate for its loss...nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of visual impairment. The hearing of these individuals was amazingly sophisticated...their praise (short comments like "wah", "kya bat hai", "aha") came exactly when the performer did something exceptionally good or when he/she faltered a little and needed some encouragement). They remembered the voice of each performer and congratulated him/her individually after the programme was over. They smiled more genuinely and laughed more freely at any joke that was recited.

In a way, these people were freer, more uninhibited and many of us sighted individuals. I've seen people who are afraid of smiling because they don't like their teeth, people who are scared of walking into a room full of strangers because they are not sure how they look...people who are scared to speak because they can see how others look at them. Not one of them knew what his/her face looked like...and frankly, I don't think any of them cared about it. They were the most open-hearted and enthusiastic group that I had ever had the privilege of being in touch with. I left that day, with a whole new perspective...

I'm so thankful for being able to see the wonders of nature, to know what the smiles of my family members look like and to have memories of all the people and places I've seen...and I'm equally thankful that I have music in my life, that I can hear laughter and feel someone's smile in his/her voice...

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I once saw a swimming instructor grab a trembling little boy by his arm and fling the squirming, screaming and obviously terrified little fellow straight into the deep side of a swimming pool. I was outraged, to say the least. I am quite confident, that given the same amount of time, I can teach a child the basics of swimming to a child, in a way that is far less traumatic, and in fact more effective.
As a student of Counselling Psychology, my course involves a lot of work with the physically disabled...or the "differently abled" (which is the more appropriate term these days). For several days my fellow students and I worked in a vocational rehabilitation centre, where our work was mostly with hearing impaired, speech impaired and orthopaedically disabled people. Recently, we've started working on group-based interventions for the visually impaired individuals.

When I had to start preparing for these tasks, I had to prepare myself in no small measure. How would I communicate with someone who wouldn't be able to hear what I had to say, or someone who wouldn't be able to see my expressions, gestures etc.? Would I be able to react to a person with a badly twisted body with the same acceptance and unconditional positive regard that I've learnt to incorporate in my interactions with 'normal' people?...these were just a few of the little doubts that I had gnawing at me. In spite of all that my teachers did to prepare us for the actual work, all I could do was feel a little more nervous each time they said that they were confident that we would be fine.

Finally, on the day we had to start working in the vocational rehab centre, I walked through the doors of the institution with much the same feeling that I think a child must have, when he falls closer to the surface of the deep end of a swimming pool, having been tossed unceremoniously in that direction, by a swimming instructor who doesn't know much about child psychology (my thoughts on such instructors will be discussed later). Mercifully, like the child who just allows his instincts to take over and bobs to the surface, I also soon found myself breathing easily...and in fact enjoying myself this point I can't help but be reminded of a sms that my mother sent me this said "It isn't what you know that counts, it's what you think of in time." I think this was exactly the lesson that was imprinted deep in my mind after my experiences there...which turned out to be some of the most informative and enjoyable learning experiences that I have had till date.

Somewhere along the line, the fundamental skills of counselling have found their way into my mind, with the blessings that come from dedicated and persevering teachers/mentors. When I started work there, it was almost like I could not remember all the theoretical knowledge that I had learned for the last 3 years!!! But when I looked nervously at my client - a 30 year old man whose leg was badly damaged by childhood polio - limping by my side as we walked towards the counselling centre, it dawned on me that the counselling needs of this man would not be different from those of any other was just that one cause of his counselling requirement was highly obvious. The second this hit me, I was fine. It all slowly drifted back to me...the knowledge, the skills, the preparation. By the time we had seated ourselves and begun the session, I was well rooted in the certainty that I would be just fine with this person...and that is what happened. What followed was a deeply enriching series of sessions in which we worked on his self esteem, his emotional inhibitions and his career plans, among other things.

Another client that I interacted with was a hearing impaired as well as speech impaired fellow, of the same age as me. Getting to know about him was a challenging task to say the least...for the first time I had to learn to communicate without words and without sound. Sure, we did the occasional dumb charades in class and mimed silly things to each other when the prof was looking elsewhere during a lecture, but holding a prolonged and informative conversation was something else! There I was, without a clue about sign language, seated opposite a patient, bright eyed boy who only knew how to communicate in gestures. And so it started...initially, most of the communication happened with us writing hastily scribbled questions and answers on pieces of paper...but soon we both lost patience. I discarded my caution, perforce and started making up signs, expressions and gestures, with the observations that I had made of this boy in his interactions with other people like himself. I was flabbergasted at the progress this made...within a short while, he had told me about this childhood, his brothers, his passion for swimming, his hopes to get married and start his own trade...all this was conveyed through vibrant expressions, his hand gestures and the occasional strangled, broken sounds that emerged from his throat...sounds that even he could not hear.

I learned some invaluable things from my time spent in the company of such people. First, communication is really what you make of it...we can do so much without speaking...and words are only a small part of what it takes to communicate even such complex emotions as caring, compassion and interest. Secondly...I learned to truly be grateful for the fact that I have all my senses intact and all my faculties functioning optimally...while we are children we are always told to be happy with whatever we have, but I don't think we really learn that lesson until we see people like this. People who are thriving in worlds of absolute silence or people who will never know what it is like to walk upright. When we see them surviving well and proudly holding their own despite a thousand societal problems that they have to bear, that extra pound you just can't stop thinking about losing, the ugly little mole on your face that you always think people are talking about etc...they just seem so silly...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Man Ke Chane

Someone I know told me this quaint took a while to realise what it meant because it was narrated in pure Hindi...and I mean pure, because there was no hint of the several common Urdu words that have seeped into Hindi over the years.

It so happened that a (sort of wise man - Mr. A) was decided to go to the beach for a stroll. It was in the early evening (when the sun is nearing the horizon and although there is adequate light, there is almost no heat...the breeze becomes cooler and more refreshing). After stretching his legs sufficiently he found a comfortable spot on the sad and sat down to stare at the waves for a long while.

Somewhere towards the end this lengthy period spent watching the waves and letting one's thoughts relax and wander, Mr. A's attention was caught by another man sitting nearby. When he had initially settled down on the sand, Mr. A had noticed that this man cupped something in his left hand and frequently use the fingers of his right hand to take a pinch of something from there and put it in his mouth. This had gone on for quite a long time and Mr. A could not understand what the other could be holding in just one cupped palm, that could take so long to eat, even when eaten so rapidly.

He looked about the man for signs of some bag of food but there was none. Curious to know what the matter was, he rose from his set and walked over to the other man's spot, very casually so as to not appear obvious and yet to allow him to observe that there was no container of food anywhere near the man which could serve as a store from which he replenished the contents of his left palm. Further, this odd fellow, did not even have any pockets on his kurta.

Mr. A's curiosity got the better of him and he approached the other chap, (let's call him Mr. B) and he asked him what he was eating and explained his reasons for asking so. Upon this Mr. B smirked and said "Man mein chane khaa rahaa hoon" (I'm eating imaginary ground nuts) - as far as I'm concerned, this chap was an attention seeking smart alec! I think Mr. A developed a similar opinion of the chap because his instant response was a hearty laugh followed by "Arre bhai, agar man mein hi khaanaa hai to sirph chane kyon, pakode khaao, rasgulle khaao...maamooli chane ko intni der tak kyon khaa rahe ho? Itni der mein tum bilkul mahaaraajaaon ka naasthaa khaa lete!" (My friend, if you really have to eat imaginary things, why eat mere nuts for such a long time?...Eat pakodas, eat rasgullas! In such a long time, you could have enjoyed an evening feast fit for a king!). Needless to say, Mr. B looked a little sheepish.

Although I am inclined to think that somewhere Mr. A was being a little nosy and that Mr. B is entitled to eat whichever imaginary food he desires and for as long as he desires, the moral of the story is "let your imagination have no boundaries...dream of great things...aim high..."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Wonder of a Used Bus Ticket

I have a friend and fellow student by the name of Avinash. On each day that we attend classes together, he does something that I take as a reminder of the fact that there is inherent goodness in all people and it comes out in many small but sparkling ways.

You see, BEST apparently has a scheme according to which, if someone collects 5000 bus tickets and submits them at a bus depot, BEST sponsors the education of an orphan for one year. In our entire class, it was only Avinash who was aware of this scheme. A few months ago I realised that he meticulously preserves all his bus tickets and arranges them neatly in bunches of one hundred. It was the least I could do to hand over my bus tickets to him when we met each day. Soon, I found myself saving the tickets of the days that we did not meet in class and I also noticed that almost everyone else in class, including (the occasional) lecturer(s), was handing in their bus tickets to him. Avinash now has more than 3000 tickets in his collection and the number grows steadily.

Is it something easy to do? Not really...the task involves collecting often badly crumpled tickets, smoothing them out carefully so as to avoid tearing them, taking them home and keeping a proper count of how many there are, then arranging them into neat piles secured with clips, bands etc. He spends time on this which could easily be given to a dozen other things that a postgraduate student has to do...yet he chooses to do this. Why? Because this is the way that the divinity that is within him chooses to express itself. I am certain of the fact that every person on this planet has such divinity and it manifests in different ways, whether he/she is aware of it or not.

Another related example is our driver, Gopal Bhaiya. About a month ago, during a long drive we started chatting about everything from driving practices to religion. Somewhere in between I mentioned this little ritual that Avinash engages in. It received an appreciative nod and a few queries before we launched into another discussion.

Today, just before he returned the car keys (before going home), he came to meet me and put a bunch of bus tickets in my hand. I was dazed for a moment and then I looked at him and saw him smile...there was a very happy twinkle in his eye. I didn't really have words at that point, so I just returned the smile and said a heartfelt 'thank-you'.

My point is, Gopal Bhaiya did not have to do this many others, the final destination reached by his bus ticket, at the end of each day, was some garbage can, if not the nearest pavement or drain. But ever since he had heard of Avinash, something had stirred the inner goodness within himself and it had spurred him to collect quite a lot of tickets.

Somewhere, there is an orphan who deserves to be educated. People like Avinash and Gopal Bhaiya will be responsible for taking this bit of light into his/her life...people that he/she might never meet, never know.

I thank the Universe for every such person out there...god bless you all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wake Up

Living in a city like Mumbai keeps reminding me of the fact that we are slipping away from nature. Just the other day, while driving back home late at night, I was dozing peacefully in the backseat when a close relative nudged me awake and asked me to chuck an empty mineral water bottle out of the car. In my semi-conscious state, I obeyed automatically, but the moment the plastic left my fingers, I was struck with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach...I had done something which I am strictly against...I had thrown something non-biodegradable into an environment that is already struggling to breathe.

For several years now I have been trying my level best to avoid littering, especially with things like candy wrappers, bus tickets, anything plastic, fruit peels etc. It's because this is one of the things that my schooling (Whether it was in CIS, AVS or TSRS) really drilled into my mind...we have to respect nature and our environment before it is too late. The way in which my teachers taught this lesson - by means of setting an example of their own, nature-friendly behaviour in and outside the school - is something that has stayed with me. It is what made me feel guilty when I threw that bottle out of the window and it is what stops me from throwing away anything unless there is a litter basket or a garbage chute close at hand. I prefer carrying an ice-cream cup back home to throw it in the kitchen bin, to dropping it on the's much better than imagining the angry face of my old school teacher!!!

Being conscious of such things probably does not make a huge difference to the amount of trash that people choke nature with, but it's the least I can do...and it makes me happy when I see my little cousins learning from my example. The funny thing is, I've noticed that even without saying anything, we've been able to stop other from littering (adults as well as children)...just by refusing to throw any trash irresponsibly. What we really did is change ourselves, and it's made others change a little least when we're around, anyway!

Something I'd like to ask the regular fast-moving Mumbaikar is, when was the last time that he or she paused to think about the number of trees that grow in his or her neighbourhood? Has he/she noticed the beauty in a bird as small as the sparrow, admired a flowering tree or shrub or looked for shapes in the clouds in the last week? Has he/she realised that the roads we are driving on were once lush forests that housed thousands of living things that were not rehabilitated just because they weren't human (it's another matter that we don't effectively rehabilitate even humans!). When was the last time that he/she breathed actual pure air (not the kind that coats our nostrils with soot, just after a walk in the marketplace!)? I honestly don't think that many people would be able to give a spontaneous and honest reply to these questions.

We're falling away from nature and we're losing respect for the elements. Our streams are choked with filth that we could really avoid tossing into them, the ocean regurgitates heaps of our plastic every monsoon, it's getting a lot hotter because the trees are vanishing and urban builders are doing very little to replenish what they are destroying.

Without perhaps being very conscious of it, we're maiming nature...

And she's getting angry...

The way I see it, the last few months have had a very disturbing frequency of natural disasters. The terrible floods in Mumbai (and the South), the hurricanes (and now a tornado) in the USA, the earthquake in Pakistan are all warnings to which we must pay heed. Goodness knows how many other such things there have been in other parts of the world that we don't know about.

Let's try and wake up...just each of us individually. We don't have to go about shouting slogans, taking out parades etc. if we're uncomfortable with all that. Let's just try to change ourselves. A little by little, let's try to do something that shows a little respect and appreciation for nature. Apart from watching where we dispose our wastes, the tiniest thing like looking after some houseplants, looking out for rare bits of natural beauty in our concrete jungles and stopping even for a moment to truly appreciate them CAN make a difference...and a positive one at that. Let's try and wake up...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two Poems

A couple of poems...the first was written to express a part of what it feels like to channel Reiki and the second is about the Raaga Malkauns, which is the second Raaga that I my Guru taught me (it's a pentatonic melody of midnight and is noted for it's serious and majestic flavour)'s always been one of my favourites.

Alone with the Universe

Holding you thus, I wonder...often...anew...,
What chance was it that brought you to me?
Or was it me to you...I can never tell...

Coursing through me, dancing with my heartbeat,
You are a raging river; the gentle zephyr,
The laughter in birdsong; the sages’ silence...

Where did you come from? Were you always here?
They say it is all an will all fade...
But if it does, you will still be here...always...

It seems strange to me, in these few moments,
To know of no other emotion than bliss...bliss unending…
Is this much joy really possible?…and I know this to be but a drop!

Why do I always ask the questions?
I think it is only to see you smile the answers at me…
Holding you thus, I wonder no more…I realize…I know


Midnight sways at your command and the very skies pay obeisance,
The ocean lulls herself into a gentle accompaniment of your song,
And the restless wind calms himself, wary of disturbing your thoughts.

Kailasa, the eternal, stirs at your touch, full of devotion,
And Shiva, your father awakens to your call, O Malkauns, monarch of songs.


Let me start my blogging with a story...a story about a friend... my friend Shiv, who is presently an investment banker somewhere in New York.

I'm writing about something that happened about six years ago, when my family moved to Delhi. I was 17 years old at the time.

It was the first time I was in Delhi, having spent all my life till then, in the East of India, namely Calcutta and (a few years) in Assam. The North, was anything but what I could have expected. I had to deal with extreme weather (the blistering summer and the near freezing winter and not so much as a sign of rains anywhere in between), very unfamiliar North Indian culture and a school environment where I almost always felt I was a misfit (a first for me). Over the 3 odd years that I remained in there, my life was rather uneventful on the whole, but there were some welcome oases that I encountered, mostly in the form of a few good and lasting friendships. The very first of these was Shiv.

We were poles apart to say the least (physically, in our interests in music, our opinions on many matters etc.), but there was something that clicked and we were (and are) good friends. It was something that was very important to me because I felt that there was someone who wanted to speak to me and cared to listen to what I had to it happened we tended to like/dislike the same people and for by and large the same reasons!

The greatest gesture that a friend has ever made for me came one day when, in an idle conversation I mentioned a little hesitantly, that I didn't know how to ride a bicycle. I waited for a roar of laughter (actually, in his case, chuckling...I've never heard him guffaw) and endless teasing...and I wouldn't have blamed him because it wouldn't have been the first time that I'd have been mocked for not being able to ride a bike at 17 years of age. What I actually got was a surprised, even quizzical look and a few questions on whether I was sure that I didn't know how to ride a bike and how this had happened. Frankly, I was a little taken aback and managed to speak a little about somehow never getting the chance or lacking the motivation when I got the chance and about being afraid of falling, etc. He heard all this rather patiently, and all along I did not find a single hint of judgement on his face and I can swear to this day, that the only person who tells this story, is me.

Once my explanation was over, he just thought very briefly and simply announced that he was going to teach me how to ride a bike. My amazement did not quite allow me to digest the vastness of this gesture at the time, but over the next 10 days, it settled in permanently. Each day, after coming home from school, I would go downstairs in the evening and find Shiv waiting patiently with his bike (we lived near each other). Another hour or so would be spent with me huffing and struggling to remain balanced and the poor chap holding the bike from behind, letting me know repeatedly that he would not allow me to fall. It must have been very difficult to hold on to that bike because I was and am much heavier than him...and he never let me go home until I had struggled along the length of a long road several times. This went on for about 10 days, after which I finally learned to ride a bike unassisted and felt for the very first time the associated thrill that most kids experience when they are much younger! Shiv insists till today that I would have mastered the skill a lot faster if I had allowed myself to take a few falls (for which purpose he even made me practice in grassy parks) but my fear or falling was my better in that respect!

However, I'm glad it took that long, because in those days I learned about the unconditional aspect of true friendship. Shiv did not have to help me at all, but he just could not live with the fact that I had not enjoyed a bicycle ride in 17 years of life. He took it upon himself to invest a lot of his time and effort in helping someone he had only known for a couple of months and never asked for a thing in return. When I got my own bike a short while afterwards and we started going on long evening rides all over the neighbourhood, he was happier than anyone.

Till today, whenever someone asks me what friendship means to me, the first picture that comes to mind is of 2 kids cycling down a long path, chatting... laughing...

Welcome to LifeStrings, my first attempt at blogging. Those who know me well are pretty certain that I'm not exactly tech-savvy, so they won't be surprised when they read that I've only just discovered what a Blog is, thanks to my uncle Arunav, who, despite 'advancing age' (no offence! :D) and a very busy schedule, is probably one of the most well informed people I know. He told me about this very interesting concept, so here goes!

Why LifeStrings? The idea for the name occurred to me when I saw my tanpura (a 4 stringed, lute-like instrument used to provide the drone while singing Hindustani Classical Music). Each string of the tanpura is plucked in a sequence to establish the perfect scale and atmosphere for the singer. The most basic kind has 4 strings, but artistes add more strings to the instrument according to their needs. The result is always a beautiful and almost hypnotic sound. What attracts me to this instrument is that each string is essential and related to the others...rather like my life. With time and God's grace, several facets of my life have developed a relatedness that I am deeply appreciative of. These are my LifeStrings...the elements that create the music in my life. I could list them all, but that would take far too let me just mention a few favourites : Music, Spirituality and alternative healing, Psychology and my family/friends. Each is a profound source of learning for me, and this Blog will be my way of sharing this learning with anyone who cares to read it.

If you're interested, look out for more posts on these subjects and more. I'd love to hear from you.