Recovery Oriented Blog for Mental Illness

I have recently started a new blog, because I felt that I needed to strictly focus on recovery in serious mental illness, as a theme by itself and calling it any other name would not do justice to my commitment, engagement and research. I have, in the past, tried writing on this blog about mental illness related encounters I have had. However the purpose of the new blog is slightly different.

The new blog is committed to one single theme. All my mental ‘illness’ oriented work would go on that blog as it is also my desire to share with the lay intelligent reader whatever knowledge I interact with, in the course of my phd research. Since a researcher by definition tends to be looking into a vaster expanse of information, data, analysis and study than someone who is not a researcher, for reasons of social good and making research accessible, people could routinely offer small chunks of that knowledge to the wider audience. This is my attempt in that direction.cropped-website-hope-image

However research is not an easy journey to make, for it is largely solitary and a tough act of balancing one’s financial needs, professional goals, study commitments, family responsibilities, domestic routines and you name it. I cannot say I am in any enviable position except that to reduce the monotony of my work, I have started teaching classical music to a few youngsters- it is a breath of air for me. Of course I continue learning with my own guru also- another breather!

This blog post is basically to re-direct anyone who is connected to me for the above reason, to redirect their gaze in a more appropriate corner. You can well imagine that I am likely to post little on this blog, while my focus lies in recovery. However peace is close to my heart and at the heart of all my efforts. If one can help even a single person come into their own center, attain a little peace- they will gradually create their own peace and spread it further as well. I call the new blog- recovering self, because only in re-covering ground that people lose due to setbacks which are called mental illness, do we become our WHOLE SELF again- the self that we were intended by Mother Nature to be. The recovery blog is only meant to be a little offering in wholeness, a testimony to the work I am doing as well as a knowledge sharing blog- diminishing stereotypes about mental illness, challenging convention and offering alternatives.

Hope it accomplishes the intention of its birth.

Juveniles, justice and anguish: roots of mental suffering

As October ends, two new beginnings have been made- both among populations of people in ‘prisons’. I am saying that though technically juveniles are not seen as criminals and neither is the facility where they are housed called a prison. It is called an ‘observation home’. My reading of it tells me it is nothing short of a prison

As part of laying the foundations down for the non-profit, Hansadhwani we are currently activating its mental health arm (Antardhwanee) in multiple domains- one of them of course is the counseling work done in private. But the other two ventures, viz counseling of juveniles and counseling of prison inmates is more in the public domain. In other words, we are moving forward on a social turf now.

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Both facilities are government operated and in both, sadly enough I found the same problem- a large number of innocent people, forced inside in a system which defies logic and perhaps where the head fits the noose, the head is pulled in, irrespective of whose it is!

The boys’ home

In the home for the boys, I have till now interacted with two individuals in a longer talk and with a group of nearly 20, together. Barring the first two, who I met on a separate day, I met the group and spent nearly two hours with them this past Monday (24th October 2016). All of them had a charge of attempted rape, Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Before I met them I thought I was going to see a big group of sex starved teenagers, who had been cruel and sadistic, committing crimes against known or unknown girls and women. But life is such a learning.

I heard the stories of all of them individually, after a long interactive discussion with them, in full view of the authorities of the ‘home’. Of course nobody talked to me within earshot of another, and yet i found in all just children who wanted to be heard and given justice. There was NOT A SINGLE RAPIST over there- that became clear. I do not think they could have made up the stories. Whether or not they had wronged another, they had been wronged by a system which empowers society and families to charge anyone with a crime of rape, and then the burden of proof lies with the accused. He has to prove he is innocent. What can he prove? He does not know anything!

Most boys were school going youngsters. One (17 years) had eloped with a girl his age and lived with her for a month and upon returning home the girl had been forcibly married to someone and he condemned to the jail. There were a couple of other cases like that. But they were love tangles with few, but extortion rackets with most.In a majority of cases the accusers (girls or their families) were demanding money from the boys and their families to drop the rape charges. Money to the tune of a couple of lakhs in the least.

I kept thinking in what manner I could do anything for them, for these were not boys who were in a correctional facility for they needed correction. They are just caught on the wrong side of the law and someone has framed them. They cannot get bails, because their families are often too poor, and lawyers egg the women/accusers to extract the money, to teach them a lesson! In a few cases the girls wanted to marry the boys, by framing them first! Often

My only concern was that the system should not make them into more hardened criminals and that is the hope I go in, that by talking to them as human beings and respecting the truth of their stories, I will at least acknowledge their reality at my level. I cannot see how a person in their situation would not be mentally disturbed, and yet I can see their dreams, hopes and prayers- that someday they would be bailed out and go home free, and never look back at the prison again. I also felt very deeply that instead of psychological or emotional support, at this juncture they needed legal aid, and people who would stand up for them.

Though that does not mean that we would stop going there, but one hopes that considering these are not children facing the easiest of life’s challenges (trial for a crime not committed), the system would not end making permanent and hardened criminals out of them. Perhaps keeping their sanity and humanity alive in the abysmal conditions of their life (which are truly dehumanizing) we would jointly keep burning the flame of inspiration which all humans carry and need to remember during adversities.

The innocent are caught and the guilty go scot free- this is the reality of modern civilization where it is money, connections and lies all the way. I am sure nobody forgets that in India, especially with the likes of…

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Vijay Mallaya still in our midst and whose steam never cools, and the law or police too feeble to get his hand/head in the noose, where it deserves to be!

The Piano Teacher

Earlier this week, I called up Hem, who identifies himself as a creative film maker/ recordist (!!) After discussing my recording requirements, which are mostly classical music based stuff, I was generally talking to him about a few other things.

Hem is a south Indian, and lives near my parents’ home in Delhi, a place called Kalkaji. He is trying to set up a studio of his own, which I think finally he has found a place for. When I was here in December from Goa, he and another person, who we will call as R, came to meet me. R has been known to me for the last nearly two decades or possibly a little less than that. I have known him to be a musician of a small order, who has not learnt music thoroughly from anyone, yet by learning to play by himself and by dabbling with his keyboards.

He has often come to me for learning music, but more with the intention of ‘getting things out’ rather than really learning classical music. Surprisingly enough we have never clicked as a teacher-student. He always came, once in a couple of years, bowed at my feet (whcih I always resisted and told me not to) and talked about musical ideas and compositions. He never had it in him to learn music with anyone- he was always in a hurry to ‘encash’ things- quickly learn a raga and show if off to others. Even when I invited him to play with me, as I sang, I did not find him competent enough to, because he would be too restless to hear and start playing as I would start singing.

There are many I know like him- who keep playing tunes on the keyboards and then they figure out full melodies and they become musicians. Nothing wrong with that. They are doing things which they wanted to, by dint of sheer persistence.

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So willy nilly, moving in our conversation, Hem informed me that R is ‘out of the market’. I heard him and did not pay heed. He repeated it for me again. I thought ‘what a strange thing to say’. So I asked him what he meant. He repeated himself and said that R was in jail, for the next ten years at that. Oh! I thought, now what was that about.

And then it struck me that I had read about it in the Hindu paper, that  a piano teacher being caught abusing his student in Kalkaji. I asked Hem if he was talking of that incident. At that moment when I read about it, I thought of R- what a coincidence. I of course was not thinking of him as an abuser, but I just thought that he was the only piano teacher that I knew of in Kalkaji. But then I consoled myself thinking that hopefully there would be others, and it is not him. Now what Hem was telling me confirmed that indeed it was R!

It is sad. The world of Hindustani music is rife with teacher-student abuse, which has stifled many a career and many a relationship. ( There have been instances when teachers have married their students, but that is not an instance of abuse) But a man in his forties abusing or exploiting a child. I do not know how quickly the prosecution worked but they gave him ten years in jail. I thought for a moment, what would happen to him after those ten years and what about his family?

And then what about the child who suffered? What would be the consequences of this on her? And what if there would be more children, who could not raise their voices against him? Would there be someone to support her traumatic experience? I am sure it would have taken a lot for her to express her suffering.

The sad thing is that when people known to you do anything, your faith in humanity is shaken for a moemnt and then the whole anger which each of us has against the systemic abuse- finds a target. I feel no sympathy for R. In fact, I feel more for his wife and family. What a suffering they would have to go through socially. Like we always say, letting go of every abuser only emboldens them further- it is about time some were punished. Even if those some be people of our own associations and families. It is about time.

Here is a related post about the same incident, on another blog.

 

Mr. Rail Minister-acche din dooor hain

Dear Rail Minister of India, Mr Suresh Prabhu. Namaskar

I sent a parcel from Delhi (PRR number 4000377207) NZM station to Madgaon, in Goa on the 10th June, 2016. The parcel was loaded by a young man who works in our domestic enterprise, his name being Pundalik Zalmi.

Pundalik Zalmi (Gokul) is a simple village boy, who by dint of sheer labour and tenacity has worked his way into being the right hand man of the owner of the enterprise, my spouse. In his family he is the only one who has come so far- economically or socially. He was on his maiden trip to Delhi- to assist me with something. He took the parcel and landed up on the Nizammuddin Station. First of all, he encountered a coolie, who demanded Rs.1200/- to help him reach the parcel to its destination, which was the parcel office of the Indian Rail. When someone intervened the coolie agreed to do the job for Rs.700/-

In the ensuing pell-mell that happened somehow the coolie rushed him into the train, having booked his parcel allegedly on the same Rajdhani Express that Gokul was taking- train number 22414, NZM-MAO. When he got down the next day at Madgaon, the parcel had not reached with him- he went and checked in the luggage van too. He was confused, for it was the first time he was doing such a job.

Next day, and for several days after that he kept going to Madgaon Station every single day, a distance of eight/nine kilometers from our home, asking around for the parcel and then talking to whoever concerned at the station. Several times this was done by another of his colleagues Pravin Shirodkar, who is the driver in the enterprise.

After a few days, there was no sign of the parcel and everyday we were going up and down. Then I spoke with someone in the railway, who suggested I send a twitter message to report the misplacing of my parcel. I was anxious- I had just returned from Delhi myself, the day before and seven days after Gokul but the parcel was still not to be found. I needed the contents of the parcel for my next travel, which is due on the 1st July 2016- I have to return to Delhi with my two dogs, by Jet Airways. My parcel contained doggy crates- PVC containers meant for carrying small animals  by plane.

Upon the suggestion I sent the following tweet

PRR no.4000377207 sent HNzm to MAO_ Goa, 10Jun,16, not received till date. Plz help urgently. Load train 22414, PNR2765467844

This was followed by a daily round of tweeting to scores of people, who linked me to one another. The entire conversation can be seen here-

 https://twitter.com/HansadhwaniP/with_replies

Into the dialogue were roped the Konkan Railway, the Madgaon station people, the NZM station people, the freight people in New Delhi and of course the rail ministry in India. IN the medley, I saw many a bad egg and a few good apples too. This open message to you, Mr. Prabhu is written to bring to your notice one practice, which is perhaps going on regularly in the railways and is routinely unreported or brushed under the carpet.

After my first tweet of 18th, the following week, on Tuesday, 21st June after trying desperately to get hold of some information about the parcel we finally got in touch with one Superintendent at the NZM station called Mr. Meena. He told us that the parcel had been loaded on the train, as per the details here ( i noted them from the website myself)

Parcel/Luggage/VP Details
PRR No./PWB No. 4000377207 Scale Booking Date
From Station HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Destination Station MAO-MADGOAN JN.
Consignee Name and Address – – – Consignor Name and Address – – –
Item Description Total No. Status
PVC GOODS 1
Last Loading Train No. 22414 Last Loading Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Last Loading Date 10-Jun-2016 11:24
Status Loaded on train Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Status Date 10-Jun-2016 11:25
Last Unoading Train No. Last Unoading Stn. Last Unoading Date

He repeated the same message to everyone concerned.

Now Sir, just make a note of the following- The time of departure of the Madgaon Rajdhani is 10:55 am. IF the train left at 10:55, can any parcel be loaded in it at 11:24 logically?

In several conversations, Mr. Meena (mobile number 09717- 999425) had with both me and my husband he repeated the same information. In the final dialogue we had with him, he even told me that the parcel had been sent to Panvel, instead of Madgoan (perhaps to get rid of our persistent queries?).

Since I was in touch with a gentleman called Upendra Shindye from the Konkan Railways, who had been kind enough to call me on his own, in response to my twitter message to Konkan Railway Corp, I requested Mr. Shindye to make inquiries at his end. He did- I think he even sent someone to Panvel, from Mumbai, though I am not sure about it.

We were already more than ten days from the time the parcel had been loaded. I was worried for a lot hinges on it for me in the present moment for me. Mr. Shindye promised to update me by the evening. The date being 22nd June-12 days later. Meanwhile our rounds to the Madgaon Station were in vain everyday- but we still went. Either Gokul went or Pravin.

Finally my husband went on 22nd- we were all worried, and he met someone there, who promised to help him, then did not call. Later a gentleman called up Gokul and spoke with my husband too. He identified himself as one Mr. Murli (mobile +91 9004476083)- who said he was investigating the case of the missing parcel. My husband proposed to him that he probe into one angle- that the parcel had never left from Delhi in this whole span of time.

Lo and behold…Mr. Murli called and confirmed the suspicion, and said that the parcel would be leaving on the 22nd June 2016, by Goa Express and reach Madgaon on 24th. Later Mr. Shindye of Konkan railways also confirmed the same. IN other words, in this whole span of 12 days when we were all tearing our hair, Mr. Meena kept misleading every single person- saying the parcel had been loaded on the train, whose details are there on the website.

Who is updating the website?

My query and concern to you, Honorable Minister is this-

  1. If the parcel was not loaded on the train, how did it start reflecting on the website?
  2. What sort of a fraud is happening here – in which people’s parcels are getting lost? I at least had access to internet and even twitter, but what about those who cannot use these new technologies? Do you think every Indian who is using the railways for sending parcels is having a twitter account- to knock at your doors for lost goods?
  3. I am told that people are compensated @50/- per kilo of the weight of their parcels. what sort of a way is this to ascribe value to goods people are sending? (My parcel was carrying goods worth at least Rs.50,000/-, though its weight was a mere 25 kgs)
  4. There is a deep flaw in the way parcels are tracked– and there is no verification happening. IF a man can tell us that the parcel has left the station, while it is very much lying on the station, what do you think is happening in this department? How can the website be uploaded and scores of people mislead?
  5. Can you please initiate an inquiry about how goods are getting lost in the Indian rail parcel service and start fixing responsibility for the same?

Can we think of simple village folks like Pundalik Zalmi who come from their villages and lose their belongings on trains, never to have any voice in the whole din and cacophony of the Indian Rail?

Is size of the Indian Rail so big that we do not now care about the common Indian people who use it day and night, putting their hard earned money into goods they transport by trains everyday?

Would a Pundalik Zalmi, not backed by his employers who were English speaking, twitter familiar people, have found his parcel? Would he have the resources to keep going to the station, everyday, leaving his work behind, without losing his job? What employer would have allowed him the leave and not believed that he was lying about the loss of the parcel? 

Today is 24th June, 2016, and true to the word given by Mr. Murli and Mr. Shindye, the parcel reached Madgaon and we duly got a call at 7am confirming that. We of course have to pay a price of Rs.2880/- as the rent of one of them, for we were being charged @ 180/day for the same. The parcel that would have come on 11th, would have meant only four days of rental, instead of the 16 it has become.

But that is not the point, Mr. Minister. The point I am trying to make is would the average Indian have managed to stir so much action? Are we really empowering our people by giving them redressal mechanism via the twitter and other social media?

I am grateful that the twitter action works, but how many Indians have access to it and they use the Indian Rail? Please stop by at any station, Sir, and take a look at the India that travels by train- maybe you would think of other ways to touch their lives and save their hard earned belongings.

(i wish there was a way to measure the quantum of suffering this experience has caused us, starting from the encounter with the coolie- a great shame I assure you)

The power play in university departments

I ought to have written this blog post longer ago, but spinal pain did not permit me to sit at the computer, to last as long as a blog post (naturally the priority is always the emails first of all)

I want to share my dismay at the sheer play of power that I got wind of from a recent dialogue with a graduate student pursuing a masters’ course in psychology in a prominent university in India. As part of the course they are also being offered a six-monthly exposure to counseling (I pray to god, they don’t become counselors after that- it would be a great disaster). As part of that course, they are also invited to undergo their own analysis for the briefest possible span of time. I asked the student how much the time was and who was doing the ‘analysis’.

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I was told that one of their professors, (who is known to me as an academic and not a therapist) listens to their dreams and interprets them. So what follows is the memory of my dialogue with the young scholar, that left me troubled and anguished for many days afterwards, but I will share the reasons of that after the dialogue that I quote. I represent me as M and the student as S.

M: So your teacher went through a dream analysis session with you? And what was the outcome of that?

S: The outcome was nothing specific, he gave me an explanation based on symbols, which he said were universal symbols, and which were part of his repertoire.

M: By talking to him, did some clarity emerge in the picture or put is differently, did you benefit from his dream analysis?

S: Yes mam, I gained some clarity in some respects about the dream?

M: What does that mean? Did it leave some unexplained things as well?

S: Actually it opened up some unexpected parts, which were left unattended to.

M: Really?! But there was no further dialogue with the teacher on them?

I was angered, because an academic who is not an analyst is not supposed to interpret dreams out of context for a student. Just because they have the power to demand from students a certain accountability does not mean they can pry open the lives of their students.

Unfortunately, Indian students are very vulnerable and docile by temperament, more so women. They would never think of raising their voice against this sort of an intrusion, which has no accountability. How can a university professor demand that his students tell him their dreams in a sporadic manner and then leave the dreams with whatever interpretation he knows best? There is nothing universal in dreams, except for the imagery. A dream has to make sense and have relevance for the person who sees the dream.

I remember in years of my own analysis with my therapist, we barely discussed dreams on more than two three occasions. It was never the centrality of our dialogues- if I had a dream that I wanted to talk about we did. There was never a nudge from her to share dreams. But whenever I did, the explanations that emerged were very deep and meaningful. I always felt it had been worthwhile to talk it out with her.

But look at this blatant misuse of a teacher’s power in the classroom. Of course he did not publicly hear the student out, but nevertheless when he was not an analyst, did not know what all it takes to unearth the symbolism inherent in a dream, by simply interpreting it in some universal way, he just showed for once again the patriarchal nature of our education system…where the souls of students can be cut open without due regard to their humanity and suffering, without a qualm or a guilt as to what pandora’s box you are opening up for them. SHAME ON HIGHER EDUCATION in India. Will we ever become sensitive towards our fellow human beings?

Of ‘higher’ castes and lower minds

Imagine burning two little children alive, while they sleep at home with their parents. By what stretch of imagination can this be called the act of a sane mind, let alone the mind of a so-imagined ‘higher’ caste?

The continued myth of higher castes needs to be shunned at all levels in society and its oppression on the ‘lower’ castes needs to be dealt with utmost severity. But who will wield that firm stance? Those who themselves are pillars of this social menace and who have stood to gain in the name of caste and birth, generation after generation?

Just look at their faces here. Do they look like children who are any different from any children anywhere in the world? What is the meaning of Dalit or caste to these little children or other children of their age? But what have they lost their innocent lives to? To an imaginary social hierarchy created by adults centuries ago, that they had no role in creating or perpetuating, but simply becoming victims of it, without having any part to play, other than being born.

We are a failed human society. Sorry to say that, but there is no other truth that justifies this shocking, unthinkable, most condemnable act of mob violence. There can be no further words than that. Forget about civilization, when adults can go and burn children to death in a barbaric, brutal fashion…it does not show any progress, culture, education or development. It just shows that the lower mind is doing its brutal, barbaric, naked dance and it will crush anything now…unless crushed with equal force. And that force is has to be organized social action, not individual or another caste based solution.

These ‘higher’ caste men who really think that caste is their entitlement are so illiterate that they do not realize that the basis of caste system was a division of labour and at a philosophical level the four varnas were depicted within the human body itself, where the mind or intellect represents the brahmin, the arms that do work and labour are kshatriyas!! The feet that do the walking and carry the burden of the body are the lower castes. Can you see the lower caste in your own self? It is what you cannot survive without.

There is no lower caste outside of you- it is all within. So stop this brutal, barbaric, primitive dance of your savagery, you idiots. You are not higher in any sense of the word, those whose actions are governed by your lower minds. Conquor the Ravana within, and not burn laughable effigies outside.

Shift in West Asia Policy- not mine

Perhaps governments do not expect ordinary citizen like me to even have a thought about Palestine- Israel crisis, for have we not been fooled and befuddled by the extremes that we experience in our daily struggles to remain alive? Not to talk of remaining ‘sane’. We of course have the Vyapam scam raging live midst us right now and idiotic filmstar weddings to dazzle our senses and more nonsensical news of filmstars (not to forget the FTII furore over Gajendra Chauhan!!) to hoodwink us and believe they are more significant than the rest of the country, including little children. (I must add as an aside that left to their own means, and without scripts, these film actors are really the MOST IDIOTIC characters going around ).

Just to bring the context in, recently the Indian government (GoI) has shown a shift away from Palestine, towards Israel, in a historically unprecedented move. All these years, we as a newly independent nation were supportive of the claims of the people of Palestine to their home in the West Bank and Gaza. Yassar Arafat, when he was alive and active, would have always known India to be a fraternal nation, supportive of its struggle against Israeli control and in asserting its independent status.

In my personal capacity, not that it amounts to anything, I am absolutely unhappy about this shift towards Israel- not because of any innate anti-Semitic streak running in me, but because I see it as a weakness of spirit and solidarity towards the Palestinians who have always been dear to Indians.  I see this as a larger ploy to keep West Asia in continued conflict, (not that India can actually have a decidedly significant role in this),  to inflict unthinkable amount of violence on thousands of people without a remorse and to openly flex its military and financial might, by trying to rope in all parties who are willing to believe its story. Sadly, now we in India also also supposed to believe that Israel is correct in its senseless pounding in Gaza.

This is a thought in the spirit of peace and non-violence that I have in me and possibly my desire to work/aspire towards personal and universal peace at every level. I am vehemently against militarization of anything- whether it be a country, a region of a country, a piece of land/ocean or mountain or you name it. I do not think the world, if we dream of world peace, should ever indulge in the manufacture of arms and their sales. It is one thing to talk about peace (which all politicians do, as part of their job) and another to act in its creation. You cannot create peace if you manufacture, buy, create or sell arms – to anyone. And if one buys arms, then another will most certainly as well.

All sensible people, are dismayed at this shift of a non-aligned country, (of course the non aligned movement is long dead, no thanks to the end of the Soviet Union) towards Israel, a rogue nation in West Asia- which impudently crushes the rights of millions of people for decades.

As someone who struggles in this small world of mine, which is laced with musical notations, writing in mental health, counseling and supporting others and myself, I find it shameful that a government in my name (a govt always represents its people, not its own self only) is going back on the promise of fraternity that we once showed towards a greatly oppressed people. Is it because the government is really not tuned to the views of the people or is it because after all it is a government that enjoys the mandate of only a small percentage of its own population (33%). I am ashamed of this move and I stand by Palestine. If India is bending towards Israel, I am not a part of it.

The Incongruity of ‘Yoga Day’

Yasmin gyaate sarvamidam gyatam bhavati nishchitam[1]

Tasmin parishramah kaaryah kimnyat shastrabhashitam II 18 II

‘When by knowing this (Yoga-sastra) all others are clearly known, of what profit can it be to labour and find out what the other sastras say?- 18’

From younger days I have been exposed to yoga at an emotional and spiritual level, as a practice that integrates and unifies the human organism. I never believed it to be anything but an allowance for developing an inner discipline. That is the most significant thing about it- inner discipline; not an outer enforced discipline which comes due to the authority of another and not from self motivation.

Even though I was exposed to yogasana early in life, I never took to it easily, because of plain laziness. But I always remained interested in the other sides of yoga apart from asana, in particular to understand pranayama, and other aspects that signified withdrawal of senses and becoming more still. It was a difficult road considering the extremely difficult mental states I traversed. However, it never took me away from the theoretical interest.

In 2010-11, while staying in Faridabad, I came in contact with Subbarao-ji, who had been a great yoga adept and taught generations of students at the NSD, in Delhi- both yogasana and voice culture. He took me under his wing and decided to teach me. For the first time, I formally learnt yoga under the direct one-on-one supervision of a learned person. Soon thereafter he moved to Hyderabad, and my contact with him terminated. By then I had consolidated all the knowledge of yogasana I had from younger years and he added a whole array of breathing exercises as well as other exercises for voice culture etc.

Over decades of my life, by assimilating ideas from many convergent direction, if there is one thing that I have learnt about yoga, it is humility that must accompany it. In fact the very word yoga is such a big idea that it carries with it deep philosophical connotations, which are lost on most who keep using the words yogasana and yoga interchangeably. They are not interchangeable. They can never be. Yogasana is the mere start of the journey of yoga, especially if we see the eight-fold path. Asana or physical exercise is done for  one’s own wellbeing and  the purpose of one’s  body is not conquest of others. It is about cultivating a disciplined, principled stance towards life, society and the world at large. If we do not care about our body, how will we take care of anything else?

But equally significantly, yoga is not about showing-off or about marking days in the calendar year, to signify the presence of yoga as a form of knowledge, which is Indian or belongs to a particular part of the globe. All knowledge is universal and belongs to the human race- and any part of the human race can be the place of its origin. A place of birth does not hold proprietary claims, but in fact becomes responsible to take the knowledge wider- to the whole world, as an offering to the human race.

I feel amused at the efforts at the noise and the self-congratulatory back-patting in the recent media reports about the acceptance of 21st June as the World Yoga Day by the United Nations. Crores of rupees are spent in meaningless exercises by official government machinery in planning and creating events to mark it. School children and government employees are being roped in huge numbers, across the country to come, participate in yoga day exercises and displays. Why, why, why?

I cannot but see the futility of it. Instead of creating a school system in which health is a natural concern of the child, giving them ample room to play and discipline the body through various forms of exercise while at school, the government decides to institute a day to mark its commitment to public health. Why not increase the area allotted to schools and let them build spaces within them where indoor auditoriums can be built, or more public parks be created in which there would be spaces for exercising, running, playing, doing any form of physical exercises? Will one day take care of their need for the rest of the year, or be enough to inculcate a habit on a long term basis?

Does anyone remember how people live in inner city spaces in any city in India? Do you know that children have never entered a public park on ten consecutive days in their lives? Millions live in jhuggis and slums where it is not possible for ten people to stand side-by-side and exercise in any manner, where children go to open spaces and garbage heaps to defecate and they are chased by dogs, pigs and vultures? There is no question of women exercising anywhere- millions of women. I am not referring to the ones who can go to gyms, jogger’s parks, and privileged spaces demarcated from the rest of the population. I am talking of humble, hardworking, toiling girls and women, who walk out of Muslim ghettoes, of Hindu slums, of Catholic vaddos, and who only know the joy of their body when they come to dress it up for festivities and weddings. Would they ever find the space to do yoga, where their lives are so saddled with disproportionate work and responsibility?

Some might say, oh, why get cynical, this is only a start- more will be embraced by this wave. More people will start exercising and doing yogasana- in future surely.

Right, I get it, World Yoga Day is only meant for those who can  afford to take the time off or be forced into it by authority figures in their vicinity to partake of a government program. Yoga is not meant for the man on the street, because being the man of the street he still has to live off the street. So he cannot give up his occupation and join the yoga crowd, because who will tend to his teashop, bookshop, kiosk, fast food shop, or any shop on the street? Who will tend to your home if the domestic help decided to do yogasana? Okay one day is fine, but what if she gets serious and starts it everyday?

I  get it: we do not need more public spaces where people can do yoga, because as long as they know the significance of yoga, they will do it anywhere, including in their jhuggis which have garbage accumulated close by, or open drains, crisscrossing their paths, making pranayama difficult no doubt, but possible nevertheless. As long as the government can spend crores of rupees on advertizing about it and then feeling proud that a day has been marked in honor of the yoga day, we all have reasons to be proud of something which, in any case, is a part of our lives, even without this governmental effort. How we embrace it and whether it changes anything that now there is a World Yoga Day is something I am not even going to ponder about. It does not. 

It does not change anything. Oh yes, the taxpayer had been made a little proud that his/her hard earned money, is being expended in ventures where they did not have a say, without any public goods being created by way of parks, spaces, jogging tracks, conversion of lands from wastelands to green parks or anything, or even spending the money to pay yoga instructors, who would go into community centers and such public spaces and teach people yogasana for free. At least it would have created more employment!

The institution of the yoga day is actually a repudiating of the very spirit of yoga, which is not about yogasana alone, nor about dominance of yogasana over other any other path of living. The word yoga, signifies union- meant to be a union of the opposites within a person, the evolution of an integrated self, by overcoming through diligent hard work the duality, we are all torn by and emergence of a unified being. It is not meant to be a dominance of any religious belief system over another, in a bid to make them look lesser, or insignificant.

Yoga is about overcoming one’s own lower nature by letting the divine aspect within express by conquering the lower mind, instincts and tendencies. This is the attitude with which I have followed the path of yoga in its different forms, and tried to comprehend the diverse streams of bhakti and karma yoga. To feel the need for a World Yoga Day is the sign of mind having an egoistic attachment to fame and need for adulation, in which we want to drive home the point of our knowledge to other countries, instead of trying to offer it to our own people in ways that they can access it easily, safely and joyfully.

If only more people remembered that Hindi song from the film Guddi-

Hum ko mann ki shakti dena, mann vijay karein; doosron ki jay se pehle khud ko jay karein.

‘Grant me the courage, that before seeking to conquer another, I conquer my own (divided) self’            -the real essence of yoga will come alive for a whole civilization.

It is reasonably doubtful whether 21st June will accomplish the same. India does not need to ‘sell’ yoga further, but become a land of real knowledge seekers, who live the spirit, not mere salesmen, alienated from the soul of what they stand in the market as their wares. It is a world market, let us sell something else now. Any ideas?

(It seems India repeatedly needs to  project its ‘soft-appeal’. Now from a land of snake charmers, holy men and elephants, we are the official salesmen of yoga. Thank you baba Ramdev- but you only came in the line of scores of gurus, before you, nothing special. I remember in my childhood watching Dhirendra Bramhachari. You have sold yoga well, starting from the Astha Channel. But what was your contribution to it, which others did not make? You only came in a time of the media boom, that is all!)

[1] Ghosh, Shyam (1980). The Original Yoga. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. p.6

Accepting violence, as part of ‘love’

Dear H

I have been thinking on the subject of routine violence of women’s lives and how they condone, accept or even justify it. A few days ago, Haseena, the young woman, mother of three, who works as my home assistant (I prefer this term, instead of ‘domestic help’, because I feel she assists me in my home in diverse ways, and is a part of my home, just like a member of the household) came with face that was not exactly chirpy and bright the way she does every morning. I asked her if everything was fine. She responded that her husband had hit her, because she had screamed at him, due to his parents’ calls to him, which she objected to. His father is disabled and possibly bedridden. Naturally his parents require money, even though the mother herself earns from domestic work in the homes of others.

However, when the son could not send money immediately, as his wife (Haseena) was out of work for several months before starting work with me, they grew frantic. On the other hand Haseena was also upset that they could not hold on patiently, because though she had started in her new employment she could only get money at the end of the month- not in the middle of it. So she ‘screamed’ at them! She needn’t have- but this is the circle of poverty and this is the circle of dependence, which makes and keeps people insecure.

So I asked her again, what was the response of her two young girls to the fact that her husband had hit her. She said that the children were very troubled and became anxious, fearless and tearful. What can one expect?

Yesterday those two children came to me, for I invited them to come meet me. I wanted to see her children and in general I am always concerned about children who are first generation learners, for I wish to be in their little journeys and assist them, if I can, in understanding life in different ways. I know, coming as I did from a family of college teachers, how differently we grew up- these children would never know a house full of books and parents studying. For them their father works in a scrapyard and mother works in someone home.

When I saw them and interacted with them, I saw they were no different from any children. The two girls were actually quite beautiful- and the older one expressed her desire to write stories and the younger one said she wants to be a doctor, though she is also fond of drawing. I thought it would be good if they met me with some regularity and tell me about their lives and I tell them about other things. I invited them to bring their friends as well, so that the group can have a maximum of ten children- girls and boys or only girls. And they can always bring one adult with them, since they have to walk a long way to reach my home. So i hope to add some little things in the lives of these little children in my vicinity, which opens up alternative ideas in their minds and not just the violent realities of their lives, homes and discrimination of daily living, being Muslims. It remains to be seen whether they would take up the option or how seriously.

Perhaps for Haseena, her husband slapping her in the presence of her children was not a big act, for she condoned it saying, “It is okay if he hits me, because he has a right to, but I do not think he can see how wrong his parents have been to him always.” To her mind a man hitting his wife is a right that he has earned by virtue of being husband, to my mind it is a violence perpetrated not only on her, but on the three children, who were unconsciously taught the rules of patriarchy- a man can hit a woman- both the girls saw it, the boy saw it too…and this way the circles will continue. Unless we bring these little children into new worlds of ideas where hitting anyone is not the done thing, no body in a position of power will exercise their powers in ways that can demean another human being. But we have to begin early.

So you would say, why in the world am I telling you this? Just imagine how far you are from these people in every possible way, living a world apart in the heart of developed Europe, whether women have fought and earned their rights in significant ways and routine violence is just not acceptable any longer, it is NOT the done thing, just because you are a man or anyone in a position of power. What about the fact that your university education and the fact that you hail from South Asia- how far you are from this world, where hitting a woman, because she loves you, is the done thing among men.

So what happens when a man who is a part of your life, by your choice, chooses to behave with you, the manner Haseena’s husband did? In what way is your response different from Haseena’s condoning of her husband? She has accepted the fact that being a woman she is liable to get hit- are you also? And why is that? Just because you loved someone? So what is the purpose of so much education, if it could not instill a sense of self worth? What is the value of your independent spirit, if you could choose to live alone, in a house of your own, yet be exposed to routine verbal or physical violence and take it with an attitude of submission?

The reality of education is that no matter what women are studying in universities about gender, violence, equality or any ideas- the homes that they go back to, beat them back into submission, clip their wings, abort their dreams and bring them back into the same cycle of daily abuse, which has been heaped upon women from times immemorial, because women who challenge patriarchy are best outside of their own homes. Parents and in-laws only want submissive, silent women, who will take anything because they have to carry the responsibility of their family pride, honor and social respect.

On the other hand when women who are educated, do not have the support, mentoring and guidance of other women who are independent, strong and clear thinking, they lose their ways in the labyrinth of emotional submission because they think that no matter what they study in their universities and classrooms, they cannot deal with the same ideas in their day-to-day lives. They have to accept day-to-day patriarchy, because otherwise they will be alone, single and unloved. The reality is that in seeking love from those men who have a power-oriented conception of relationships, women also enter into negotiating around power. That struggle enters into diverse domains- of money, sexuality, behaviours, interactions, social displays and so forth.

Relationships based on power

If you remember, Hobbes (the philosopher) had said that the essential nature of man is nasty and brutish. I do not remember what he said further, but one of the goals of education could easily be to overcome this nastiness as an endowment of birth, by appropriate socialization, in which people overcome their habitual bad manners, spiritual ugliness and shortcomings by comprehending the benefits of mutual respect, altruism and the benefits of collaboration, over dominance, submission, cruelty and misbehaviour.  In any relationship which is based on power, there will be an interplay of power, at least in the mind of one partner, the other may be completely ignorant. The one who has money may think that they hold the key to the relationship. Usually this struggle is such that all resources are vested in the hands of men, more so in marriages.

However, in your case, this is not the situation. You are not dependent on any man to pay for your bills, your home is in your name, you live in Europe far removed from the values of what women in South Asia face on a daily basis. Then why cling on to ideas of this part of the world, my girl? Your parents had enough money to take you from here and offer you the scope for this life, where you could make choices of your own and be responsible for them. I do feel that a mentoring that was required could not be offered to you, but that does not mean that the very values they wanted to shield you from your life, should dominate your mind, no matter what milieu you live in, on the outside.

Diaspora is more entrenched in old values than people within their home countries

I felt this for a long time actually- that Indians who lived in the West were less liberal and more feudal, navel gazing and parochial than Indians living in India. Their only real connection with India is very watered down, and largely defined by ideas that they have imbibed from cinema, and the cultural icons exported out of here. They do not live the dynamic life that Indians live in India, a hotbed of ideas, struggles, debates and whatnot. Diaspora lives a cocoon – neither a part of the progressive ideas of the subcontinent nor progressive ideas of the West, as though all currents of progressiveness just pass them by!

They are quite consumeristic, fond of razzle-dazzle and empty in their minds. I am especially referring to those who are born in the West. The ones who have gone from here in search for higher education, especially in the social/human sciences are doing some very wonderful work and contributing to scholarship. The ones who have gone in search of jobs are seeking escapes out of the poverty and socio-economic backwardness of our society. Anyways, this is not meant to be a critique of them, (for they merit a longer post or article) but a reminder that when they left South Asia it was decades ago. Their ideas stopped growing organically, because they had no exposure to the ideas that were developing in this society. They were on a foreign soil and they had to protect their ideas, values, culture and tradition in a foreign land- often they took the most rigid, dead ideas of the past and continued them in the name of tradition; the sort of ideas we would never accept in our own lives here.

I see you there!

And this is the underlying reason for this post- to remind you to not cut yourself from the reality of your life, but embrace it more fully. Women’s liberation or feminism is not about antagonism towards men, only the militant versions may be. The truth about women’s liberation is that it has to be a liberation from the day-to-day oppression in the lives of women, and even men need to be liberated from that oppression, which they are also victims of. Women liberation is a struggle for dignity of every person on the planet and not just women- for women are the wiser of the species (a fact proven by the animal kingdom too), and they have no need to dominate, murder, kill and maim people- they just need to be more empowered to recognize their strength, their wisdom and their abilities.

Unless women do it themselves and stronger women, mentor weaker women, old women nurture younger women into more empowering roles and positions, women will continue to get tortured in every private space- in homes, offices, relationships and you name it. Women will continue believing that it is okay to be hit in their homes and it is okay to be violated in their jobs, because they are women and this is the price they have to pay for womanhood. They just need to be reminded that women need to connect with their masculine sides, their inner man, and not be with an outer man who needs to subdue her to prove his masculinity.

This is my hope too, in writing this note to you- that you do not need a man whose need it is to abuse you or any woman in any way. You do not need a man who clings on to you because he sees you as a symbol of power, yet wants to crumble your spirit by regularly violating it with words, abuse your family, doubt your character or your friends, demand money from you and wants to escape the drudgery of his wretched existence back home, by escaping to Europe, yet not learn the liberal values of the West, that you have grown up internalizing.

I may need to write another post on how sexuality needs to be seen by the modern woman, but I will reserve that for a later date.

Your’s in concern

PS