A poem in anger- against open defecation, (and the murder of the two girls in UP recently)

Many months back I had shared a poem from a longer poem, which was in several parts…among my notes here. At that point I could not type it out, neither now. But in the light of the recent rape and murder of the two young girls I am ENRAGED. So before I write about it in other ways, i want to put this poem out, which is parts 4 and 5 of the longer poem (Dawn and the Moving Train- fleeting glimpses, from 11th September 2013)

 

These parts are written at the sight of the morning squatters, who dot both sides of rail tracks, answering the call of nature- and at that point i felt a huge sense of loss, sadness, that we in India could not even provide for toilets for a vast majority. But TODAY, I’m terribly ENRAGED…I never use this word so frequently. In the previous part, No.3, i had talked about an urchin begging at 5:30 in the morning

 

(4)

Not much further, on my side of the track

(for naturally enough I cannot see the other)

The track is spattered with men and women

Squatting to evacuate,

Some have their backs to the train

‘N some face it resignedly 

Though none looks at the passing beast

To see if someone peeps out of the windows

 

I am pained-

In my aloof, middle class educated sort of a way

Or may be in my human dignity- oriented sort

 

I am pained-

(More so) as I see a young girl and by her side a woman

Just a fraction away

One looking down

May be waiting to squat

May be having got up from it

Waiting for the train to roll away

To carry on with their open defaecation

Publicly, openly, with hundreds passing, on a passing train

 

 

(5)

My country alas we failed thee!

Or did we?

Perhaps those who took control

Over a thousand million’s destiny

Do not have clarity

Except for self interest-

They still go on that way

 

While we- the majority, resignedly, helplessly

Our backs broken every single day of our miserable lives

For numerous reasons

Having been reduced to a mental slavery

Of machines, cinema, of the media

Of astrologers, cricketers, actors and politicians

Are now inured by our own reality

Unconcerned about our fellow humans

(What to mention other life forms))

live lives blinkered, chasing dreams

That celluloid advertising sells us,

 

We the idiots, the inhuman slaves of the market

Untouched by the indignity, the suffering

Of our own people, who squat in the open

No matter what season

what part of the nation

For the simple reason

Like us they are also human

Who need to eat and evacuate

Alas! we fail the majority

‘N this NOT THE ONLY way.

 

Copyrights prateeksha sharma 2013

Image

Our girl got 80%+, no longer a diagnosis

What is the optimal level of conflict that a youngster can handle?  In a recent case of counseling of a  16 year old with me,  once again I saw a deeply troubled behavior due to experiences at school. I saw that all the anger and anxiety of her school experience was  being vented out on the parents, who were quite helpless in view of her tantrums and insults that she would target them with. That she had been to a school counselor proved to be not much help as the counselor told her to just lie low and bear it, for it was only a short time that she had anyways, before she passed out from school! Instead of being empowered enough to deal with the situation the counselor just pushed it under the carpet. When she came to me for counseling it was a  complicated enough case, even without the fear of the parents that they did not want to take her to a psychiatrist. But having taken much victimization in her three schools[1] from her classmates the only outcome she had was to victimize others, wherever she could. Being just a teenager she was not ready for any feedback or reflection on herself yet, without which nobody who has a behavioural situation to deal with can hope for any ‘recovery’ or peaceful co-existence with others. She soon abruptly terminated coming for counseling with me too, as it was not ‘convenient’ for her to listen to some of the ideas I threw back at her. My only fear about a youngster like that would be that over time such a person would become more and more complicated, non reconciling, stubborn and have a greater propensity for tantrums in situations where she would not have her way.  To see this is the light of peer victimization, an experience of isolation from peers who she wants to be part of, and to be the butt of everyone’s sarcasm makes a person very angry inside them and it just complicates life of everyone around, as this youngster once again showed me.”

I recovered this from a letter that I had written on 24/06/2013 to the parent of the child who I was discussing about in this email. I sent him this email in the hope that they would understand where she was coming from and what was the source of her suffering, anxiety and anger, which was periodically directed at them.

I had met this youngster a few months earlier, upon urgent request from her father who had somehow found about me, from our mutual doctor, Dr. Mitra in Kolkata. Doctor saab was dealing with her for her moods and tantrums and now she needed to talk to someone like me. They came with great effort a long way, and extremely troubled. We all met on the first day itself- both parents had accompanied the daughter, it was around autumn of 2012. I was thick into research in mental illness at that time.

She was having extremes of moods and great bouts of anger, in which she would run away from home and on a few occasions loitered around in late evenings alone, chasing a certain young man, who she had been friendly with. Yet he was not seeing anything special in the connection while she was deeply attracted/attached to him. She landed up at his house at night one day and perhaps he was not willing to face the consequences of that- her parents were called, they came …her father just said, that he was fine if she wanted to stay with him. (Poor father, what more could he say to quell the heat at that moment). But the young man (who was into his mid-20s) just quailed and backed off. Our little heroine had to come back with her parents, who were so pained and ashamed they did not know what to do.

They started looking for solutions and quickly a psychiatrist came into the picture, who recommended that the next time she tried to run away from home she ought to be brought to hospital and hospitalized. Perhaps he also gave a prescription. But the father was not convinced, and he started looking further out. He landed up at the door of an NGO in Delhi (they guided him to Kolkata, as that NGO head was known to me and I had given him the number of my doctor). That father was determined enough to go and meet Dr. Sa’ab. I have in the course of these many years referred so many to Dr. Mitra but this man was the ONLY PERSON who actually went the distance.

She would meet me now and then and over time even that underwent a transition, including me meet her parents separately and jointly on a few occasions. But whatever else the parents suffered from they kept the suffering of their child as the focus, and avoided to talk about their own conflicts, which any couple has. But both were very doting- though her response to them was different, for which I cannot blame her. Yes, she was sufficiently angry with them to not want to live in the home with them, after passing school. I remember nearly a year ago, when she met me her major concern was how to get out of the city and take admission in a residential institution, just to get out of the home.

Over a span of time I figured that in her home she felt victimized by continuous comparisons with cousins, which her grandmother and aunts made, she was a lonely child at school, and because she had been a victim of severe bullying in one school she had left it after class 10, and joined a residential one. Over there also she became a victim of the same- bullying, this time by girls. She left that school too. Then she joined another school back in Delhi, though she had lost some time in the process and the teachers felt she may not be able to make it up- so they also started pestering her, in addition to she becoming isolated once again in her class of girls, yet again.

There was a pattern I could see distinctly. She was repeatedly becoming a victim by her peers and that instilled fear in her, she would shut herself up in her room and spend long hours on social networks, making communication, or just talking to herself and stalking the profiles of those once known to her and those who wanted to connect with her. She was suffering greatly, and even in the extra classes she took, she was isolated. I was concerned about her and we discussed thing thread-bare, many a time. We discussed a whole lot of issues, including her actions and how she reacted to others around. It was my attempt to bring back her focus on the present and let her articulate her ideas more concretely and then start pursuing them – even if it was something like wanting to get out of the city for further study. Later I figured the reason for her wanting to get out of Delhi had something to do with a bully in school from her younger years. It seems the bully had bad-mouthed her among their common peers, saying she was in pursuit of him, whereas that was not the case, for on an earlier occasion she had spurned his advances. The boy could not take rejection and turned it on her by spreading lies about her, which made her very heart-broken, fearful and mocked at by her classmates. All the earlier running away that she had been doing was an outcome of that fear.(Fortunately I had so much research evidence at that time about school bullying that I could put it to good use with her)

Just before her exams in March, she came to meet me (in February) and we discussed how she had been faring and how things had changed for her, if at all. She had just got a farewell party in school and all her friends had said to her that she was such a kind and supportive person, they were so fond of her and she would be fondly remembered. When I heard that my eyes just brimmed, for this was a child who had been repeatedly ignored, laughed at, joked about, jeered at and how she had wept in front of me. And our conversations…may be they helped her somewhere, did they? I would always ask her when she would be leaving, how she was feeling after talking to me, just to make sure she felt better about herself. Invariably she did. So after the school farewell I remember telling her, “Look my dear, see how far you have come and now everyone is so fond of you- you are a very warm and wise person, and do not forget how much you are a source of strength to others.” I meant it, for she had turned the whole public opinion in her own favour in a few months of being in that school.

A few days back I was in Goa when she called up and we talked again- the same issue of the schoolboy, who had bullied her came up. He had come back into her life and was demanding from her to pay heed to his presence, and she had let him in. Young people take time to learn lessons, and so did our little heroine. We both agreed that letting the chap back and communicating with him was a mistake.

One morning I was in Delhi and I saw a message from her saying she wanted to talk, could she call me up and when? I told her I was in Delhi and then she requested to meet me, which we did. In that meeting her anxiety about the same boy spreading rumours about her was top of the agenda. That fear, which had been planted in her mind in adolescence came back to haunt her, again and again. This time also we talked and sorted things out and brought new ideas into light. She said she was planning to do some summer voluntary work. I was happy to hear that, for she had begun to find her strength and identify that helping others made her happy. This would be a good beginning for her. We agreed once again that we do not have to focus on the negativity that youngman was directing at her, yet I also reminded her that she ought not to let him connect back with her, thinking he would have changed from the last she knew him. There were many others in the world and she must be friends with those who valued her, no matter how much younger or older they be. As I saw her out I wished her the best for her school final results, naturally not knowing what to expect.

Today at 15:15 my mobile rang and she was calling from her mother’s phone. I suddenly remembered that her results may have come- and yes enough! “I have got 80.25%” she beamed, and I could see her that instance, so happy, proud, and confident. My heart expanded and I had no words to say…except… my dear, I am so proud of you. Please convey my greetings to your parents, and congratulations. “Our” child had made it, from a girl she is now stepping into a new threshold of her life, she knows who her friends are, she knows who to trust, she is growing wiser and more confident by the day. What more can be our success that we brought her back together from the fights we all participated in, the tantrums we heard, the failures we analysed , the dreams we all saw together. This was all our collaborative effort, and my hats off to the child and the parents for trusting in the journey, for trusting my word and paying heed to it always. Together we came out with flying colours.

This is a photograph of a group of young people in a college where I was giving a talk on the subject of counseling for young people
This is a photograph of a group of young people in a college where I was giving a talk on the subject of counseling for young people

(I am not offering any analysis for this is a blogpost, not a research article. I do not think that troubles in life end so easily for anyone, but passing out of school, facing bullying, which has been directly linked to mental illness across the world, collaborative dialogues is what I wanted to focus on. If I feel the need for it at a later date, I would do an analysis in a research article, with due evidence. When Dr.Mitra passed away suddenly it was this girl’s father who had called up to confirm it with me. The other equally important thing is that this passage from school is akin to a rite of passage for this young woman, for her suffering was taking her to the extremes of breakdown, but hopefully that has been averted. There are always un-addressed issues and conflicts, which I hope with time and with wisdom their family will once again address.)

Communicating when both hurt

I am writing a dialogue I had with someone this evening.

He- I am very angry with myself and with everyone, for I could have done something or maybe I could have saved my baby.

Me- But what happened to the baby?

He- She suffered burns, as her mother put her in a tub of hot water and did not check the temperature of the water. The baby started to cry, and even I went in to the bathroom to check that she was crying, and instead went into another bathroom.

Me- And so?

He- In a few seconds she came after me saying that the baby had been scalded.

Me- Oh no no!

He- Yes her skin had been scalded in the hot water and she was crying…

We both agreed this was a big mistake as the baby is only an infant and naturally has no vocabulary to express that the water she was being dipped into was really hot. But at the time of meeting me, this episode is already a few days old, and both parents are upset, perhaps blaming themselves or one another and not communicating with one another.

Me- Why are you not communicating with your wife?

He- I am so angry…i feel upset that this should have happened. I did not even want to inform my parents or her parents about it. She is not communicative either- talks in monosyllables and when I ask anything she is evasive, or just averts communication completely.

Me- Do you think she could be hurting?

He- Hurting? Why?

Me- Possibly because her baby is suffering in front of her eyes and she is completely helpless? And that does not make her want to communicative. Or who knows she could be holding herself responsible and thinks that everyone else is also blaming her, but nobody is saying it.

He looks at me thoughtfully. I have always known this young man to be a very sensitive, gifted person, and someone extremely responsive to the environment. Few months back I had seen him anxious at the prospect of fatherhood and now I was seeing a young father agonizing over his child’s suffering, yet unable to connect that both he and his wife were suffering and shutting out one another.

U and Me- Communicating in Moments that Matter by John Stewart (Taos Institute) is a wonderful book and in writing this sentence the title came to mind. Often in marriages and relationships of intimacy when both partners  suffer, they shut themselves behind doors and neither wants to recognize the other’s suffering for they are so overwhelmed by their own. But these are the very moments when communication that was established in moments of love, needs to be remembered. Marriages can suffer, if partners suffer alone. And if both are new parents then their suffering due to the suffering of their child, may not even have a voice yet.

Add to this the woman who is an educated professional, still enmeshed in child rearing and her own career at a standstill due to the baby. Plus possibly due to weight gain, additional loss of self esteem. I bring these issues up to the young man, and he is surprised that I mention them, because obviously he is not focusing on anything apart from his child’s and his own pain, due to its pain.

He- I see no reason why she would be suffering, my wife.

Me- On the other hand, I can think of multiple reasons- possibly one of the reasons she is not able to take up a job is due to how she feels about her body and the weight she gained postpartum.

He nods his head acknowledging the possibility.

From the outside I can see that in these moments that communication which can cement their bond is being ignored and left aside, as both are agonized within and angry at their own helplessness.

I point out this to the young man and invite him to open new dialogue with his wife, and not be angry with himself, for whatever has happened is already over and done with. Now the task at hand is to support his wife, his child and be the father he is capable of being, and the spouse his wife hopes him to be, connect back with them. He, in his own, mood is unable to recognize that his wife is suffering in multiple domains- as a mother, wife, career woman, daughter and daughter-in-law, and possibly as a human too.

I hope by shedding light on the various aspects of their lives, they would engage with one another differently, bearing in mind that nobody is to blame (notwithstanding that someone wants to be responsible for it), everyone can take responsibility and they all have the option of starting a new chapter in their relationship by dealing with this issue as a question they have to jointly solve and not see one another as adversaries. They are co-sufferers and on the same side of the fence.

With this insight I bade him bye bye and hope that with his own kindness and wisdom, with the possibly of a (new) recognition of his wife’s suffering, he would handle the scenario to everyone’s advantage, and create peace in his domestic life.

A colossal cacophony

Ghugghi- a  symbol of peace
One of the greatest symbols of peace

Dialogues for/about peace are not outcomes of an idle mind, that is inundated by ideas about how to market another new commodity or service in the name of peace. This blog is the distillation of years of my study in diverse areas, dialogues with numerous people, writing in mental health and my own writing of diverse forms. Those areas were and are as far removed from one another as International politics, human suffering, medical care, role of language, conflict management, philosophy of art, and education.

There is one lacuna that always glared in my face whatever I did- the lack of communication about peace, except for random thoughts of people whose opinions were published. The only other set of people in whose writing I regularly encountered peace and its centrality were the Buddhists. Among them the one I am most attracted toward is Thich Naht Hahn, for his stories, interpretations and communications are most direct, simple and easy to follow. Dalai Lama with his own version is also someone interesting to read and apply, but there is only so much time that one cannot even go to one person (the former) so to look at, two is just an investment of time I cannot afford.

. There was one another person whose wisdom I sought at that juncture in my own life, when faced with conflict- Pema Chodron and I found her writing also very compassionate.
The lacuna that I was referring to in the above paragraph is the absence of training for a mind for peace- at which stage in life is a person supposed to understand the necessity for peace? Who gives ideas and directions to anyone for peace? Does the school or university prepare students for peace, peaceful living, peaceful coexistence or communicating peacefully with others around? At what time or stage in life will someone start thinking about issues of peace, when it is something that everyone finally wants in life? This has been my concern and worry, if i may say so, for the last several years, though I did not come out and talk about it, except in imperceptible ways.

Peace matters to me – and therefore to try creating peace in every act whether it be speech, thought or action, is something that I have been trying to inculcate within myself mindfully for many years now. How can I talk about peace if my own ego is so fragile that many times a day it gets shaken, threatened or challenged by others around? Peace is not something that people with fragile egos or big self concepts can create, and this world for what it stands today makes everyone believe that they are very special, their place in this existence is something significant and they are constantly worthy of celebration in innumerable ways. We constantly try to create an army of conceited people who say “peace, peace…”only to hide away in inaction when they face a conflict. I have not seen many who can resolve a conflict, no matter how small or big, by throwing down the gauntlet of peace in the center and not hide after that.

Upon facing any measure of conflict or opposition, or when surrounded by those who do not agree with them, most people become aggressive, offensive or defensive. Like they say, offence is the best form of defence. But reality is that an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. We cannot create peace by violence, by constantly feeling threatened by everything in our vicinity, by erecting huge walls around our homes, gated complexes, neighbourhoods and countries.
Where do we stop, for we HAVE TO STOP somewhere. We have to look at what seeds of hatred, prejudice, stereotyping we have sowed and watered over the years in our minds, our families, our children’s minds, our education systems, our national policies and our social lives everywhere. Without that we are just playing a tune which everyone is creating, imagining themselves to be great and creative and no one paying heed to another. So What does it now amount to except a colossal cacophony?
Every little constituent, from a child, adult, animal or life-form, neighbourhood, street, city, town, country or village is now in the grips of that cacophony and the whole noise has become so subtle, certain and omnipresent that it permeates everything, without us even being aware that we breathe a poisoned air.
That is why peace matters, for unless we strive toward creating peace, in our lives, our jobs, our communciations, our negotiations and our behaviour, we are just being dreamers who believe that in inaction we are performing the greatest action. Inaction is nothing but cowardice or apathy, whereas in action we transform. By acting and engaging with one another, not by passively running away or escaping…we create peace.

Peace matters to me and therefore I will write here on every single issue that I want to write about in the context of peace- whether it comes from my collaborative dialog practice in mental suffering, whether it comes from resolving my own inner conflicts, interpersonal conflicts or what I think about conflicts between communities and nations or anything. Peace is the core of my being and I wish to attract everyone to it, not because it amounts to my triumph, but because it amounts to a triumph of the reason for being alive,where no individual finally matters except life on the planet as a whole.

I do not mention about the strands of inquiry that I have been fertilizing my mind with to show-off or showcase what I have been doing in the long years of my invisibility from public spaces, but indicative of how seriously and in what humble a manner I have sought knowledge and attempted to join dots from divergent directions to arrive at certain truths, which of course are not fixed in any sense themselves. Only in humility and with patience, by learning better, one day at a time, one dialogue at a time I have been able to see my picture expand- to the point that it covers a whole humanity now, in a certain way.

I can certainly see the wisdom of the Buddhists now when they say that we are united with all sentient beings finally, for everyone wants to be free of suffering. That is the final truth of life, and in that direction, my every effort, thought and action- whether it be in solitude, in company, in a crowd or a whole world participating in it.

a world full of waiting

It is a long time that Sunil (Gaur) died-perhaps it was 2008, in January. But his words, “you are there in everyone”, remain in my mind fresh still. I even remember the spot in my then home in Faridabad, where I stood and had this communication with him. We were on the phone and it was one of those conversations which we had now and then, to talk about psychology, music, and so forth. He always told me that he envied me for the fact that I could live alone with my animals in a big house, and engage with ragas, ideas, dogs, and greenery around me. 

“You lucky girl, the whole world is in you and you are there in everyone- so why would you have to worry about living like the rest of us. I wish I could be there instead of you.” he said.

I thought he was joking, for what was there in my solitude, and my suffering alone (sometimes) that this professor of psychology would have wanted to trade places with me for? I thought he was in an enviable position that he could interact with so many eager-to-learn young people, who would be lapping up the ideas that their teachers shared with them in undergraduate university classes. I asked for a clarification, and he explained.

“See when a child is born everyone waits for it to grow up and become a little boy or girl. When the child grows they wait for it to go to school, when it goes to school everyone waits till it becomes big enough to pass out of school and then to pass out of college and then to get a job, and then to get married. So when the man or woman is old enough to be married and they marry, they now wait for the next thing, which would be to either have a home of their own or a child of their own. When a couple have children they start looking at the child growing up and also planning for their old age or retirement and so forth. So within one phase of life, there is another phase in-waiting, and everyone is looking at the next phase, in anticipation, hope, fear or whatever. Everyone is waiting…and you are there in everyone.”

Of course he was joking, for he was not referring to me as a person, but the meaning of my name- and I could not but agree. Everyone is waiting, and that set me thinking whether I too was waiting for someone or something. If the whole world is waiting- doing prateeksha (the hindi meaning here) then what is prateeksha (the person I am) supposed to do? Ought I also be waiting or ought I be doing something else? Somewhere perhaps that became the point that gave direction to my thoughts for the future, for my own prateeksha or waiting had ended, and I had nothing else to do, but live (yet not in the cyclical manner of cause and effect, one stage after another).

From that idea, which was planted in my mind by Sunil so many years ago, I derive the name of this blog- ‘in prateeksha’, which translates to ‘prateeksha main’ (hindi meaning), whereas in English it would translate as simply waiting. Assuming that we are all waiting, I hope that we all wait for something good, something just, something which creates goodness for the world in acts and jobs that we do, though of course we all know that not everyone’s work is creating that just, good and peaceful world- else we would have vanquished human suffering collectively by now.

Raga- one of my dogs, who was there when I lived in Faridabad
With the grass being replanted, Raga- my german shepherd taking stock of the situation, holding a newspaper between her paws

my first public blog!

There is a time for everything and this is mine- for creating a blog that i would publish publicly finally. Long overdue or long in hiding I would think, especially for someone who writes in at least over a dozen of them already, which are mostly not shared, as they are like my private notebooks in cyberspace.

The exclamation in the title is a sign of irony because a blog is meant to be public, unlike a private notebook. So why was I not sharing mine all this while? Good question that i ought to ask myself. However instead of answering that for now, i will just focus on the reasons behind this blog, which are as follows-

Peace is an important concern for me- has been for a long time. I believe that a peaceful world, where peace exists for everyone is worth aspiring for and is a worthwhile pursuit for an entire human civilization. In the world however it is strife and suffering that abounds and not peace, not any thought on what could be the direction for it unless we look at religions and spiritual people to guide us on that subject, first among them the Buddhists.

Peace ought to be the central hub of human civilization, for only in peace can everyone prosper. So how can we inculcate peace, how will we find those little islands of accord mid a world of cacophony, discord and unrest? This blog is my little contribution in that direction- one act at a time, one dialogue at a time, one person/group/family at a time, in a public way, and not just confined to conversations that happen in the private domain.

I wish that when I die or when the time comes to leave this world, this is the one thing that I would have directed most of my energies and efforts toward- creating peace in the world. This blog will hold most of my writing on peace together, in one place, no matter where it gets published or what I say on whichever subject.