32 Women from 24 Countries, and One Beautifully Researched Book

It is easy to lay our hands on stories from USA, UK and the like – but what about stories from countries such as Chile, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Argentina, Belarus, Tunisia, Eritrea? Did you even know of a country called Eritrea? I did not. But that country and its people also play a crucial role in making our planet what it is.

Recently I had the good fortune of meeting 32 wonderful ladies from 24 countries thanks to a Hindi book Syaahee Kee Gamak (meaning The Fragrance of Ink) by Yadvendra Pandey. This is a collection of 32 short stories by 32 women authors from 24 countries translated into Hindi. These are writings by contemporary women authors who have been significant voices of protest against the status quo in their local societies and our collective global society. These are agents of change that we would not easily hear of for we don’t generally bother about these countries (other than to seek exotic holidays), or such voices. That this is a Hindi book, bringing this wide exposure to a Hindi audience, makes it even more significant and crucial.

As soon as one picks up the book and starts flipping through it, it becomes evident that immense hard work has gone into putting this book together – both in the prior research and finalization of stories and in the actual work of translating the final selection into Hindi. That Yadvendra ji has managed to create a beautiful bouquet of sense and coherence out of the cacophony of the internet and social media makes his work even more commendable. In doing so, he enabled me to connect to the heart-minds of ladies in far-flung countries writing in myriad languages. I am so grateful for that. I felt enriched. I feel that my horizons have expanded, and in doing so, it is not at all surprising to find, yet again, that we are all essentially the same.

Initially, the most rewarding thing about the book for me was the introduction text about each author that precedes each story. Each of them achievers in their societies and chosen fields. Reading about these women from these lands, it felt like I am connecting to them – this pulled me in to continue reading. The stories that have been selected are all excellent too. Most of these are second-order translations – i.e., the original language is not English and Yadvendra ji has translated the English translations into Hindi. Even then, the beauty of the language, structure, thought, plot, expression all shines through. This speaks to the skills of the first-order English translator, the second-order Hindi translator and the art and craft of the original writers.

What guided the selection of these stories? What ties them together? A short poem on the back cover of the book answers that question –

I am talking to you about poetry
and you say
when do we eat.
The worst of it is
I’m hungry too.
~ Alicia Partnoy (Argentina)

That is the thing – a simple message – that there is a lot else that women are also interested in, hungry for, other than food (and sex).

Yadvendra Pandey has, for years, been interested in creatives who protest the status quo – consuming content from literature, plays, film, social media, even spoken poetry and Black rap. What a fascinating change from his previous avatar as Chief Scientist at CBRI Roorkee! As he followed these creatives through various avenues on the internet, he was especially impressed by the thinking, expressiveness, decisiveness of women at a global level. He felt it was important to bring their voices to the Hindi world, especially since, in contrast, he felt that women authors in Hindi were largely restricted to writing only of freedom of the body. This is not the best representation of global female literature, Yadvendra Pandey makes sure he clarifies, just the best out of what he has read – vignettes of what world is, as seen through the eyes of (some) women.

Yes, some of these stories can be labelled as feminist, but they are just matter of fact (yet beautiful) accounts of how things are. They are not screaming out anything in opposition to anyone. I generally cringe from feminist writings because I dislike the chronic wearing of the victimhood cloak. Even then, many of the stories touched me. Then there are several stories which are not about the experience of women per se. There is a story about a man who works in a censors office during the height of political conflict (in Argentina). His initial objective is to make sure a letter that he has written gets through censorship, however, sincerity at work is so intrinsic to his personality that working diligently totally ends up brainwashing him! There is a story about a boy servant from rural Nigeria who has curious ways. When his domestic employer gives him the choice to go out into the world and make a life of his own, this boy chooses to join the army. However, his life steadily rots away, again due to political conflict and regimens making inhuman use of army personnel. His plight unfolds via letters he writes back to his boyhood employer.

One story that I especially liked – The Fear of Ghosts, from Myanmar, by San San Nweh – paints a poetic picture of an evening in a slum. It is hot and humid, there is load shedding, people are sitting out of their tiny dwellings to get some breeze. Children and young boys are playing, and a mother is apprehensive of mishaps via snakes or other dangers in the dark alleys and corners. She tells the children to go play in a newly constructed park nearby. The children refuse to go. Snakes and other dangers in dark alleys do not worry them, but they are petrified of going to that park. It is just round the corner but it is an alien and dangerous world nevertheless, because this park is a part of a more affluent society and they intuitively know that they are not welcome. In fact, they cannot forget a friend who had been killed there. They can still see his ghost near the park that reminds them that they must not go there. That simple, nice, new park of the city is not for them.

But net total, my takeaway from the book was one story – Woman and Cycle, by Bridgette Atkinson from Britain. A woman learns to ride a bicycle. This gives her a new freedom and she loves to go riding. Her husband is uncomfortable about this and follows her discreetly one day. He finds that she goes to a secluded rocky place nearby, very green, with a narrow stream flowing. He is suspicious of his wife. Who is she going to meet? However, he finds that she is dancing – alone, in total joy with herself and nature. Startled by what he sees, he quietly returns home.

One might take the message from this story that yes, see, husbands oppress their wives. Society is so cruel towards women. A simple joy of riding a bicycle is a hard-fought freedom for a woman. But the message I take from the story is that, yes, see, live your joy. The simple act of living your joy can transform people – for surely the man who returned seeing this beautiful, divine facet of his wife, must have gotten transformed. How did that seeing change him, we do not know, but he changed – this is for sure.

Read the book. It is totally worth the time and money to connect to the voices and minds of these ladies from distant lands. If you primarily read Hindi, then surely read it. If you know how to read Hindi, but do not primarily read content in Hindi, then give yourself a gift – visit Hindi once again via this book, for the language is easy. This way or that, it is worth it.

The Rewards and Challenges of Multiple Simultaneous Projects

And so I have been searching, what is that one path that I must walk on…

Ideas keep popping up in the mind. There are multiple projects in progress simultaneously. Everything moves forward slowly, often it feels like nothing is reaching anywhere, and the mind feels overloaded with so much in the RAM.

‘किस पथ से जाऊँ?’ असमंजस में है वह भोलाभाला,
अलग-अलग पथ बतलाते सब पर मैं यह बतलाता हूँ –
‘राह पकड़ तू एक चला चल, पा जाएगा मधुशाला।’।
(हरिवंशराय बच्चन)

And so I have been searching, what is that one path that I must walk on…

Ideas keep popping up in the mind. There are multiple projects in progress simultaneously. Everything moves forward slowly, often it feels like nothing is reaching anywhere, and the mind feels overloaded with so much in the RAM.

To counter this, Marie Forleo suggests that we must commit ourselves to one project at a time. Henry Miller suggests the same. But “they”, as in all the combined wisdom of the universe and all times past, also says we should look inwards for authentic answers.

The more I look inwards the more I find that I can’t work on just one project.

Right now, for 2019, my biggest agenda is the book that Kaavyaalaya is producing. That book is utterly crucial for myriad reasons. It will give me a deep sense of satisfaction when it reaches people’s hands. Even today as soon as I got up every bit of me was planning what the book landing page would contain. And so even though I had planned to devote Saturdays to writing, I thought that my inside is telling me to work on the book landing page today, so that is what I must do.

Then I reached the office, I liked the quiet and peace here, my inside again felt like writing. So here I am, writing instead of working on the book landing page.

Instead of writing or producing a book, this Thursday and Friday were spent doing something else altogether – software development: working on porting the Geet Gatiroop website to Laravel 5.4 – even though I had promised not to think about these things this year. I had promised myself to only focus on the book and sundry matters that are required to keep the show going on.

This book is being produced in collaboration with Dr. Tewary. He is not available right now. This made me tensed – there are so many things to discussed, planned, and executed. Frankly speaking, I am feeling tensed even now. But I have no option, but to wait patiently and trust higher powers.

For a few days, I used the empty time created by Dr. Tewary’s unavailability, to work on a bit of writing and software development. It felt good. It blurred the tension a bit. The sense of fun made an appearance again.

Producing the book with tension is no point at all. Fun during the journey is an integral part of the agenda and I felt having multiple projects of different kinds actually helps. It seems beauty and energy is reinforced by being reflected off of one project onto another.

And see, this is not just about a collaborator not being available. It’s my inside too. I try to be systematic, I plan things, and my inside goes on another trip altogether. I have experienced this again and again. It made me think about the book landing page, and now it is making me write.

However, my inside does not sabotage my intentions. What is to be done, gets done, but the true inner story turns out to be something else. For example, when I had gone to Iowa to study Masters in Computer Science, I got the fun of knowing other aspects of Computer Science that my work experience had not given me. Stuff like Computer Graphics; Embedded programming that powers elevators, microwaves and such; Geographical Information Systems and the unique fun of organizing and computing spatial data into data structures and algorithms; algorithms for Distributed Systems that power chat and messaging systems like Skype – all this the Master’s program gave me. My agenda was fulfilled. But unknown to me there was another agenda at play.

I had been accepted by Singapore and Iowa for the Masters, but I chose Iowa. Thanks to having landed up at Iowa, MS was diagnosed. Some sense was formed of perplexing issues I had been increasingly facing for the past few years. And I also got to know of Terry Wahls, I got to meet her – as an answer to that diagnosis. This seemed to be the hidden agenda my Inner Guide had planned.

One thing is for sure: my Inner Guide is a good sort. I am in safe hands.

So even though I have been typing this, and have been simultaneously thinking, “Stop typing! Work on the book landing page!” –the book is in good hands.

Since I have spent time typing all this, a bit more time will have to be invested to put it on the blog, put it in Mailchimp, put it on Facebook. Well ok, do whatever is to be done, and do it quickly, so you can get back to your main agenda for 2019.

The Meaning of the word Manaskriti

19 January 1998, manaskriti.com was born on the internet – the domain name for my firm Manaskriti Software Solutions. I had no desire to run a business, but things just transpired such. So I had to give a name to the business. I went to Mom for help to coin a name…

19 January 1998, manaskriti.com was born on the internet – the domain name for my firm Manaskriti Software Solutions.

I had no desire to run a business, but things just transpired such. So I had to give a name to the business. I went to Mom for help to coin a name. Those days, Indian software companies preferred names that their European and American customers could comprehend and pronounce. But that doesn’t make the name exotic and exclusive enough. After all, to say “Schlumberger” (the name of an European firm) feels like wine on the tongue. So I wanted a Sanskrit-Hindi name. I used to like “Mindware” – the name of a software firm those days – because indeed, that is what software is: mindware.

Mom, who is the Sanskrit dude of the family, suggested Manaskriti. She coined the name Kaavyaalaya too, by the way.

So it is manaskriti (मनस्कृति), not maanaskriti (मानस्कृति). Here’s how it’s pronounced:

Manaskriti is a combination of two words. Manas ( मनस् ) and kriti ( कृति ).

Manas means mind. Mom’s Sanskrit-English dictionary says this about manas :

मनस् noun.
1. The mind, heart, understanding, perception, intelligence
2. In philosophy: The mind or internal organs of perception and cognition, the instrument by which objects of sense affect the soul; (in Nyaaya philosophy, मनस् is regarded as a Dravya or substance and is distinct from आत्मन् or the soul)
3. Conscience, the faculty of discrimination or judgement
4. Thought, idea, fancy, imagination, conception
5. Design, purpose, intention.
6. Will, wish, desire, inclination
7. Reflection
8. Disposition, temper, mood.
9. Spirit, energy, mettle.
10. Of the lake called Maanas.
मन: कृ to fix the mind upon, direct the thoughts towards

Kriti means a created object. Again, in the Sanskriti-English dictionary, the entry for kriti is:
कृति:
1. Doing, manufacturing, making, performing
2. Action, deed.
3. Creation, work, composition
4. Magic, enchantment
5. Injuring, killing

So yes, Manaskriti is the Sanskrit for Mindware. It means “creation of the mind”, “created by the mind”. But with this expanded meaning of manas, I feel I am not the founder of Manaskriti. Manaskriti chose me. It gives me the message that I must focus my mind and energies — convert this mind’s Brownian motion into a laser beam that “He” can operate. But then, who am I to orchestrate that Brownian-motion-to-laser-beam conversion? That too is His department.

The Pleasures of Back-seat Driving A Cab

Me: The Ola GPS is asking you to turn left, but we will go right

Cab driver: Right? How will we reach your destination by going right?

So I gave him the route we will take, explaining that the traffic is more free flowing on that route, and added: You’ll be able to drive in the 5th gear too.

Me: वह बायाँ दिखा रहा है, आप दाहिना से लीजिएगा
(The Ola GPS is asking you to turn left, but we will go right)

Cab driver: दाहिना से? दाहिना से कैसे जाएँगे?
(Right? How will we reach your destination by going right?)

So I gave him the route we will take, explaining that the traffic is more free-flowing on that route, and added: आप 5th gear में भी चला पाएँगे
(You’ll be able to drive in the 5th gear too)

Cab driver: 5th gear में?

Me: हाँ। 40 के ऊपर जाते ही 5th में डाल लेने का।
(Yes. As soon as the car goes above 40kmph, go into the 5th gear.)

Cab driver: हम लोग 60 के ऊपर जाने से 5th में डालते हैं…
(We take the car into the 5th gear above 60kmph)

Me: नहीं। सामने रस्ता खुला हो तो 40 के ऊपर जाते ही 5th में डाल लेने का। आप देखेंगे महीने में 3-4 लीटर का तो फरक पड़ जाएगा।
(No. If the road is open with no traffic and fewer signals, put the car into 5th gear above 40kmph itself. You’ll find you save at least 3-4 litres per month.)

Then for some time, there was silence. I enjoyed the good feeling of seeing the abundance of trees on that route and of having shared a tiny something I had learned from a salesman in Udupi’s Maruti True Value store. A little something that was later ratified by my Dad because he keeps a tab on his car, कि वह देती कितना है। By then we had reached the Fort William – Red Road crossing.

I added: आप सीधा 3rd से 5th में भी जा सकते हैं। चार में जाने की कोई ज़रूरत ही नहीं है।
(You can go directly from 3rd into 5th. No need to go into the 4th.)

Cab driver: Gear?

Me: हाँ
(Yes)

But I shouldn’t say ‘cab driver’. I should say ‘chauffeur’. After all, a friend had taken me on a chauffeur-driven ride in an autorickshaw once, when Sarjapur Road in Bangalore was a beautiful open drive and I needed that fresh air to recover from a weakness attack.

A Conversation With My Boss

GM.
I’ve been trying to contact you since so long.

I am with you.
This scattered scared mind that you are experiencing – that is also me. There is literally no difference between me and you.
Do not seek me. Experience your self. That is where I am.

GM.
I’ve been trying to contact you since so long.

I am with you.
This scattered scared mind that you are experiencing – that is also me. There is literally no difference between me and you.
Do not seek me. Experience your self. That is where I am.

I experience you as an entity different from myself. Clearly there are some things that I did not do.
You barged into me in Charlotte. That one sentence you spoke in Bangalore out of nowhere – that was not my doing.

All this depends on where you pin the word “I”.

I ≠ Vani Murarka

You ≠ Vani Murarka

Vani Murarka → management construct.

Vani Murarka → does not exist.

When you say you want to merge into me, first and foremost it means you want to be free of this limited fictitious entity “Vani Murarka”.
Second you want to experience I = you.

That is a truth.

I = you.

Only I exists.

That is the final truth.

It is not a small thing that I is written in capital.

You do not seek God.

You seek freedom.

Freedom from limitation.

Freedom from fear.

You shall never be free from your awareness of your self. And your self is not limited to the label assigned to your body.

self = Self

You can experience any corner of the universe that you may wish. Because – there is only one Mind.

Your wish is your command.

That thing you were thinking of yday night regarding Donald Trump –

Yes, he is in pain.

He is in pain if you term it pain. Else it is a dance of energy.

Universal energy.

The terminology you use determines your view of the world and your self.

You are the boss.

You need not protect “Vani Murarka” (or “Kaavyaalaya”). Yes, You do need to live Your truth. And You needn’t worry about how to live Your truth – You cannot not live Your Truth – for only Truth Exists.

Gifts 2018 Brought To Me

Relaxed and grateful — that is a good state of mind to be in, at any time and at the end of the year. This year brought in several gifts for me.

Gifts in the Kaavyaalaya Package

To be more specific, Kaavyaalaya Kutumb. To be even more specific, the Anaamee Utsav at Kaavyaalaya Kutumb in April this year – I am grateful for it. I have struggled with Kaavyaalaya Kutumb for the past several years. Why? That requires a separate article. But this year I was able to receive it with an open heart and organize the Anaamee Utsav with friend and fellow Kutumb member Jaya Prasad. The important thing here is, I did not do it for myself. I did it only for Dr. Tewary and the friends at Kaavyaalaya Kutumb. That was so rewarding. My first substantial experience of how rewarding it is to do something only for the “other”.

Then another friend Pradeep Shukla agreed to walk a few steps with me in the administration of Kaavyaalaya Kutumb. That was, (still is), a gift of 2018. Despite increasing responsibilities at work not only has he contributed to the administration of the forum, he also introduced a beautiful new initiative – Bhaashaa Utsav. Expectedly, this initiative has started on a mellow tone, but it can only ripen and become juicier over time. It essentially encapsulates what Dr. Tewary and I had hoped for in establishing the forum in the first place.

And on Kaavyaalaya this year, we published its first annual report of sorts. That was fulfilling, and I hope we continue doing that in the coming years as long as Kaavyaalaya exists.

A Challenge: When Someone Dear Is Unwell

Speaking of Kaavyaalaya, I might as well talk of Kaavyaalaya’s biggest gift to me — my friend and co-editor at Kaavyaalaya, Dr. Vinod Tewary. He has been dealing with physical challenges. It’s been around for some time now but this year it intensified further. Yes, it feels horrid when someone dear to us is in pain and discomfort. That was a substantial emotional challenge of 2018.

But then, as my grandmother used to say for her son’s physical challenges, “कोई कुछ कर तो सकै कोनि, जी भलेइ घोटाल्यो।” I learnt this year, yes it does hurt when someone we care for is unwell, but that emotional pain is in no way a positive contribution to that person’s challenge. It is a perfectly valid thing to do – to love someone and not get upset by the challenges they are facing.

Our body after all, is like a smartphone. That is a substantial thing I learnt this year. The body is a communication device (A Course in Miracles taught me). I find that it is indeed so. The Geeta uses the analogy of clothes – that the body is like a set of clothes we are wearing. I find the smartphone analogy more effective. We are not trapped in our body, for our mind is free — as free as we want it to be. And our body, it is a communication device that we have — and a pretty cool communication device, with super awesome technology. But its ok if the smartphone gets damaged. We can use it with its cracked screen or low-volume speakers or limited processing or limited storage, and we can get another one.

As for Dr. Tewary… he is timeless. We all are.

Professional Work – Once Again After a Substantial Gap

Another huge gift that 2018 brought to me – professional work via Anup Mahansaria. I am so grateful for this, specially the manner in which Anup has engaged me. When he put the proposal in front of me, I wanted to take it on but I was apprehensive of being able to deliver professional (software consulting) service satisfactorily – what with illness and n. number of stuff constantly happening at home. He said, “Even if you are able to generate a bill for only 2 hours in the first month, let’s give this a try.”

Wow. That is some level of faith! Two hours in a month only?

So I have been working for Anup since February, and it feels so good to be engaged in the professional world again. I am authorised to generate a bill of upto 15hrs per week, but so far I have not been able to hit 10hrs per week consistently yet. That is in large measure due to my other engagements which are also extremely important to me — Kaavyaalaya being the biggest.

In my 20+ years of work in the software world, I have worked with n. number of clients and bosses. The nature of this engagement is out of this world. The reason being, Anup understands my strengths and my challenges (we worked together in Bangalore and spent a lot of time together in Bangalore and USA talking about hazaar things), and this engagement has been tailored around strengths and challenges. As I did not feel confident about meeting short-term deliverables, I am engaged in the “important, not urgent” quadrant of his work. He is trying to introduce a different approach to sales in his employing organization, which involves data gathering and analysis. Over the past 10 months, consistency is now setting in. I am beginning to tune into the domain (Health Insurance) and introduce efficiencies in the data gathering process.

And it is good to earn money after a substantial gap. My relationship with money and what I have learnt over the past 20+ years would make for another mighty interesting article.

Office Space

Another big gift that 2018 brought me – an office space. I was finding it very challenging to work from home, especially in our 10-member joint family setting. I now work from a co-working space (Easy Daftar). It is good to get out of home and connect with the city and another segment of the world. It is good to be able to focus and do a concrete bit of work for the day. Coming back from office, I am able to connect with the family better too. A million thank yous to my friend Seeta for suggesting this arrangement to me.

Two Vacations Rolled Into One

I also got to spend some extended time with Seeta in Delhi this year. She is one heck of a woman and the time spent with her, our long free conversations have been a Godsend. It enabled me to learn things in a manner that I just wasn’t able to learn from other life experiences so far – primarily about being a single woman and a complete human being in myself, but also about, once again, learning to take responsibility for my life, irrespective of the past and the present.

From Delhi I went to Rishikesh – another gift of 2018, delivered by another Kaavyaalaya friend, Maneesh Kothari. Spending time with Maneesh ji and his family, the conversations we had, were all so rewarding. It is totally my honor and privilege that he invited me and that I got to spend time with them. I also asked Maneesh ji to suggest a place in Rishikesh where I could be by myself, and he took me to “Divine Resort”. The place is swanky, and it is good to treat ourselves to luxury once in a while, but the most important thing is that I got to sit peacefully beside the Ganga for extended periods of time. Those moments, totally planned by friend philosopher guide (aka God), are best left wordless now too, as it was then.

Wrapping Up

Now we come closer home. Health is much better. This year presented retakes of a challenge that I and all my family members have been dealing with since years. The good thing is I learnt a tad-bit better how to process that challenge differently and not have it dissipate my energy. In this, a long conversation with my brother really helped. Defining in writing, my personal mission statement, my various roles and responsibilities in life – personal and professional (as suggested in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey), has also given significantly greater self-confidence and clarity of thought.

This is my 2018 story that The Force and I authored together. 2019 is yet another story that we all get to author for ourselves and our world, along with The Force (or whatever we may wish to call It). I close by sharing this snap, a moment from when I was sitting at the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh –

May your Inner Guide always shine bright. May you always flow easy.

Happy New Year!

rishikesh

Me and A Cab Driver

I had booked the Ola using Ola Postpaid. So no cash was due. I only had a Rs. 20 note in my purse. I handed it to him…

“ज़रा एक रुपया दीजिएगा दीदी?” said the cab driver, “बोनी है न दीदी।”

I had booked the Ola using Ola Postpaid. So no cash was due. I only had a Rs. 20 note in my purse. I handed it to him.

He started fishing for change and I told him to let it be. I was feeling so enriched by his frank asking, and the way he asked only for that token 1 Rupee, and I felt a deeper understanding for how deeply important Bonee, the first business of the day is – all of this in a nanosecond or less. Under the influence of that nice feeling, I asked him to let the change be. I also felt a tiny sense of adventure – I will be living the day with absolutely no cash in hand.

But he was a man of principles. He gave me the change. He also apologized, though he needn’t have.

“सॉरी दीदी, क्या करें आप ही से बोनी हुआ है…”

“अरे मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगा, आपने अधिकार से माँगा। यह तो मेरा सौभाग्य है कि मुझसे आपका बोनी हुआ,” I said.

As I stepped out of the cab, I said, “Thank you Bhaiya,” a courtesy I have imbibed from being in USA.

“Thank you Didi,” he said, “फिर मिलेंगे।”

“फिर कैसे मिलेंगे?” I laughed and said, “अच्छा ठीक है, भाग्य से मिलेंगे…” and proceeded to cross the road to office.

Did I say भाग्य से मिलेंगे? Wow. It is the kind of phrase I would have cringed at if I had heard it from a typical elder. But it really doesn’t matter, whether we meet again or not. This one encounter is good enough. I am enriched, he is enriched – what more could we or anyone want?

I was walking out of Walmart in Charlotte one day. My eyes met a fellow shopper’s. We smiled at each other. Mutual smiling with strangers had occurred several times before in Charlotte and Iowa, but that encounter, with that lady, I still cherish. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because in that split second that our eyes met, I received that meeting with more awareness and hence it still lives in me.

Now that I have told you about today morning’s encounter, maybe this will also live in me. Once I say something to you, whether it lives in me or not, it always lives. This I know for sure.

Fiction: From The Hospital To My Garden

I am sitting on the hospital bed. It is a small room, almost triangular. Clean and in its decor, sterile. It is a boring, functional room but being here has helped me relax…

I am doing an online writing course from The Univ. of Iowa. This was written as an assignment submission.


I am sitting on the hospital bed. It is a small room, almost triangular. Clean and in its decor, sterile. White ceramic tiles with a vague blue pattern cover the walls till 4 feet height and the remaining walls are white-washed. Apart from my bed there is a thin bed near the grilled window for someone from the family who might be accompanying the patient. It is a boring, functional room but being here has helped me relax. Now, at least for some days, I need not worry about food and cleaning. The difference, after all, between jail, hospital, and hotel is superficial. Home is another matter though. Home is made of weird intangibles such as laughter, joy, safety, freedom…

Now that my mind is free to wander, I start wishing there were beautiful paintings on the walls. I start wishing for a more aesthetic place. What to do? Beauty energizes me. So though the body is not strong enough to travel yet, I decide to go home.

You see, my home is in my heart. I can go there whenever I want. At home, there is a beautiful garden. And water. Water is so important. And so there is a small fountain. You know, the kind that runs on electricity, with water falling down three bowls at three levels and then the smart intelligent water climbing up again using its friend, the motor, so that it may fall once again. My mother gave it to me. It is quite amazing actually. The gentle sound of the fountain is so similar to my husband’s voice.

In front of the fountain, there is a small wheelbarrow. It is there for a very specific purpose. You see, behind the wheelbarrow, behind the fountain, grows a Haarsingaar tree. Flowers of the Haarsingaar tree fall on the grass at early dawn. They are shaped like small stars, with one small sun-ray attached to the center of each flower. My hubby has a quirky practice with these flowers. He chooses two from those that fall into the wheelbarrow, and places them on my sleeping eyelids every morning. In doing so, again and again, He makes my heart safe and free.

Oh, hey! He is calling. He has another quirky practice. Instead of hollering, He calls using deep silence. So really sorry, gotta go. Thank you for sharing my garden with me.

A River Within and Without

What I experienced on the river was of course soothing and exhilarating at the same time, but what I experienced on the ride back in the van – that was utterly sublime. That in-the-van experience makes that trip so memorable, so precious.

Write about the white-water rafting experience in Charlotte.

It is hard work – one-sided writing where only I am relating. How about you ask me questions (even though you know everything)?

Sure, I’ll like that.

I heard that you went white-water rafting in Charlotte. How did you manage that? You know, with MS and all.

I’d had enough. I’d had enough of being low-stamina. I wanted to live. I had been feeling better than a year back anyways. So I just decided to go for it and I am really glad I went. What I experienced on the river was of course soothing and exhilarating at the same time, but what I experienced on the ride back in the van – that was utterly sublime. That in-the-van experience makes that trip so memorable, so precious. Then the next day it was Sunday. Of course, I was tired. It had been physically strenuous, so I simply rested. There was zero mental agony or emotional frustration. The body needed rest, I gave it rest. Simple.

तुमने तो पूरा trip cover कर लिया – घर भी लौट गई, आराम भी कर लिया. I did not get to know anything about the on-the-river or in-the-van experiences. So now which one will you tell me first?

Let’s start with a bit of context.

Charlotte is a city in North Carolina USA. I was living there as a student at the university. After spending three years in frigid Iowa, it was pleasant being somewhat closer to the equator where the summer evenings are quite similar to Calcutta evenings. The East coast and Myrtle beach on the right is 4 hours drive from Charlotte, and the Appalachian Mountain Range on the left is just 2 hours drive from Charlotte.

A church at Charlotte had organized a white-water rafting trip for university students. Various churches in USA help international students and scholars to settle into the country. They help in crucial practical ways such as giving furniture for free. Also, they organize events in and near town because in coming to a new land many students and scholars do not have much of a friends group and social life.

I am so grateful to the church for having organized this and to Dave Weekly who took us on the trip. There were probably two others too, managing the group and driving other vans (there couldn’t have been only one van), but I only remember Dave as the organizer because I was in the van he was driving, and on the boat that he was navigating.

What was it like on the river?

It was beautiful – the greenery, the crystal clear water, all of nature so alive and pure. Yes, the water was rapid. In one place it was really strong. But despite such rapid waters, there was one man going down the river standing alone on his raft, navigating with a pole. That is the picture I cherish the most from on-the-river. It is so beautiful to be so one with nature as that man on the raft was.

I fell off from the boat once. That was fun. It was fun because it didn’t get serious. I was rescued pretty soon. My friends (fellow university students, boatmates rather, for I didn’t really know anyone much) hauled me back in, pulling me by my life jacket. Whew! That was something! For the few moments that I was in the water, it was quite an experience. The water was so strong. I was totally helpless. The rapids were shoving me under the boat itself and the weight of the boat was further pushing me inside the water. Exhilarating!

white-water-rafting1

Like I said, because I was rescued soon enough. Else, there would have been nothing exhilarating about it. Further down the river, from another boat in our group, a few other students had also fallen into the river. That was a bit more serious and was quite a scare for those students and others in that boat – especially for the trip organizers. Fortunately though, those students were also rescued after that initial scare and tension. It is quite a skill managing the boat in the rapids. At times just remaining seated in the boat becomes a challenge.

The whole thing was physically very strenuous. When we were all done changing and had boarded the vans to head back to the city, everyone was tired. Each muscle in my body was aching. We stopped at a highway deli to parcel food to-go before the long drive back. I went and bought myself a sandwich and came back to the van. Holding the sandwich I tried to haul myself up into the van but fell down – the body was so fatigued.

Now don’t you go about thinking that I keep falling here, there, everywhere. Fell out of the boat, fell down in getting into the van. The former was because the rapids were so strong, the latter because the body was exhausted.

I get it. Both a result of the laws of physics. You never fall down. You never can fall down – for you are forever in my arms.

Thank you. That is very sweet of you. Now let’s get back to the story at hand –

मुझे लगता है तुम्हे कुछ झिझक हो रही है, वह in-the-van अनुभव सुनाने में।

वो तो है। मुझे लगता है कि शब्दों में वह शब्दातीत अनुभव कैसे ढलेगा? उस अनुभव का महत्व और असर पाठक तक कैसे पहुँचेगा?

तुम कहो तो। मैं सब ग्रहण कर लूँगा।

I was worried. How will I drive my car back home, that I had parked in the university campus? Will I have the energy to focus as needed on the driving, will I reach back home in one piece? It seemed quite likely that I might end up crashing the car somewhere. These concerns were simmering on low volume in my mind as I sat on the back-seat of the van. I did not even have the energy to be actively worried.

Everyone in the van, in their tiredness, had dozed off — all the necks drooped in a variety of directions. Dave was driving. He was the only one who had not dozed off. He had been on the river too. He must’ve been dead-tired too – yet he was focused on the road, focused on getting the van and all its trusting passengers safe back to the city. Where did he get the requisite energy? It was all because it was his offering to God. He was doing this because it was the church’s initiative. It was the church’s initiative because it wished to welcome the international students and scholars into the beauty of this land, share a fun activity with them that they might otherwise not be able to organize on their own.

As I sat with my depleted body and the concern about what lay ahead, it occurred to me to meditate on my chakras. Those days I used to meditate on my chakras at home regularly using an audio course called “The Anti-Career Guide – The Inner Path to Finding Your Work in the World, by Rick Jarow”. As I used to meditate on the chakras at home, as the attention rose from the base upwards, that self-alignment did bring faint glimmers of self-empowerment at times. In the van You suggested I do just that, meditate on the chakras, sans Rick’s audio. So I did.

Often during meditation, the mind is fidgety and eager to be free of restriction, eager to be free to gallivant. This time, attention and focus occurred easily. Once I was done moving my attention from the base chakra to the crown chakra, I naturally moved into an immersed state. I do not know how long I was in “that zone”, a few seconds or several minutes. Only when I came out of that state did I realize I was in some kind of an immersed state. It was not the normal sleep, I know – for my neck and head had not drooped into slumber. When I came out of that state, the gnawing tiredness and body ache had gone. I was alert and fresh and enjoyed the peaceful remaining ride back to the city, for everyone else was fast asleep. Only Dave was at the steering wheel in the front of the van — steadfast. On reaching Charlotte I was able to drive back home with no problem at all.

It was amazing, the transformation that had occurred. This experience remains in me as a direct evidence of the immense power that exists within us. I am not able to tune into myself in this manner often, but it is good to know that it is always at hand. Yes, for me personally, at times a moderate amount of physical pain aids meditation. It gives me a physical sensation to focus on that is not as subtle as focusing on the breath. That evening I was so tired that the mind did not have any energy to gallivant. It seems that aided in the tuning-in too. The next day I rested the whole day, peacefully, without any suffering.

This is what happens when

भूल कर कशमकश ज़माने की
मेरी बाहों में आके रह जाती हो


Image credit: Protik Maitra

A Beautiful Mind – Not A Book Review

Last week I finished reading A Beautiful Mind. It is a biography of John Nash written by Sylvia Nasar. John Nash was a mathematician who made fundamental contributions to several fields of mathematics. His work in game theory has had a tremendous impact in economics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994. Thing is, from the age of 31 to 62 he was besieged by schizophrenia and lived a life thoroughly lost to the world.

This is an astounding story of redemption, so very competently crafted into a detailed, thoroughly-researched saga. I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude when I finished reading the book. So I had a tiny exchange with my boss –



You are beautiful. So kind and loving. इतना सुकून महसूस कर रही हूँ after having read John Nash’s biography. Thank You for putting the book in my hands. Thank You for restoring his life. Thank You for making him the way You made him. Thank You for giving him that self-awareness that he learned to say no to his delusional thoughts, thought by thought, each time they occurred. Thank You for mending his relationships — that he finally became a supportive husband and father, with his quirks. That he finally had a good relationship with his sister. Thank You for Alicia. Indeed there is only Your love that blossoms across the universe in different ways. Thank You to Princeton and the whole mathematics community that kept him, let him stay and wander its corridors through all his dark days. Thank You to USA that brought him back when he was insistent on becoming stateless — though I fully understand the purity of that thought, of wanting to become stateless.

Thank You for Sylvia Nasar, for having her write such an excellent biography, with such in-depth research, thorough references, no words minced — all things beautiful and ugly relayed as it happened, no candy-flossing — right down to all the behind-closed-doors drama of the prize decision, showing me how Your hand is there in everything that transpires. Those adjectives, beautiful and ugly, I have inserted them. She related the whole thing almost totally as a true journalist — not just what happened in the outside world, but also the inner dynamics of the brain, how it feels inside for the person dealing with such a condition. All the informational sections of what the research world in USA was like in the 1940s, 50s, the sharing of the mathematics in a manner that laymen may comprehend, how game-theory has impacted economics, including Al Gore’s auctioning of wavelengths right at the time when the Nobel was being awarded were also so valuable and gratifying to read. Thank You for all of that — though I skipped several pages in between.

Thank You for the pointers and takeaways of how I can live a better life. Filter out every thought of warring family members and the sense of being alone (because it is a delusion), and give my mind to You, for Your beauty to flow.

You are most welcome. It is all because I love you.


By the way, John Nash also invented a game called Hex. It is very easy to play. I played with my nephew Dhruv and he beat me at it. Dhruv and I both lost to the computer. See if you want to give it a try.