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!

 

How My Mother Gave Us An Education

Once again she was there at 8 a.m., outside the principal’s office. The principal, a Jesuit father, walked in at 8:15 a.m. She waited for 15 mins, giving him a chance to settle down, and then, with a gentle knock on the swinging panes of the door – “May I come in Father?”

This is the way it was, almost every day, for two months. Again and again she was there, first thing in the morning, even before the principal arrived. Again and again, the same cordial conversation ensued —

“Good morning Father. My son needs admission in your school. Please admit him.”

“Why do you keep coming here? This is the middle of the term. We have no vacancies.”

“This is the only good school for boys I know of father. My brother studied here. My husband studied here. My son too was studying at St. Xavier’s Jaipur. We have come to Calcutta in the middle of the academic term. Only you can continue his education. This is the only school I know of.”

Sometimes she would add, “I have come again to check in case any vacancy has opened up. In case any boy’s father got transferred…”

Finally, after two months of my mother’s persistence, my eldest brother got admission in Class 5, in St. Xavier’s Calcutta. Had a vacancy opened up? Did the school squeeze one more boy onto its rolls? We don’t know. Yes, my mother’s persistence to be there every morning paid off. This was in 1975.

My father, a self-made man, was totally immersed in establishing his fledgling practice as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court. Often he would return home at 11 p.m. after attending conferences at his senior’s chamber. My mother would wash the one white terri-cotton trousers and shirt he owned, and hang it to dry. The next day in the morning she would iron it and my father would be ready for the gruel of another day. Those days my parents did not know whether they would earn enough to pay the rent at the end of the month. Somehow, month after month, things kept falling in place.

Naturally, it fell on my mother to attend to everything else — home, food, the health and education of the children, errands to the bank, and much else. With her eldest son now in St. Xavier’s, her second son got admission there easily. So that was done.

The initial years of my second brother’s education posed a different kind of challenge for my mother. He had got infantile jaundice a couple of times and had a weak constitution. Thus, he missed long stretches of school. Often, he would be unable to keep pace with what the class was learning. Long before the techniques of Montessori came into the country, my mother had to find organic ways so that he learned how to read Hindi without committing the alphabets to memory, and understood basic arithmetic operations like subtraction that flummoxed him for some time in cute and amusing ways. “Look! I brought back so much money today!” he had said one day on returning from school. He had gone to school with only one note as pocket money, but had returned triumphant with so many coins that the toffee vendor had given him.

With me, her daughter, Mom once again found herself going through the same ordeal — of securing a good education in the middle of the academic year. Only this time, the reason was different, and the duration of the ordeal was longer. Her determination was just the same.

For some reason, even after several months, I was not comfortable in the school I was going to. I used to cry every day. Suddenly one day she took me out of that school — not due to my crying though — it was the school bus and how the school authorities managed it. Many times they dropped me home rather late in the evening. That day things went too far for her comfort, or for any parents’ for that matter. Apparently there was some tiff going on between the bus drivers and the school management. The drivers refused to drive. It was a stalemate situation. The children kept waiting around. Matters kept hanging, the school filled with listless children.

Finally Mom came looking for me. It must have been six or even seven in the evening by now. She had not received any call from the school, and repeated attempts to contact them had failed. All their phones were busy. It was the age of only landlines. No mobiles. No WhatsApp broadcasts. After waiting several hours for the school bus to arrive with her daughter, after having been visited by all the distressing thoughts she could have been visited by, finally the only option was to catch a taxi and come to the school in person.

Fortunately she found me sitting on the curb in the school premises, not too distraught. Clearly she could not have sent her daughter to this place again.

So half-way enlightened through Class 1, I was school-less. Thus began a new spate of visits to school principals of every girls school in the city, my mother dragging me behind her, entreating each principal in as cordial a manner as she could, and the harrowed and over-worked principal shooing her away, sometimes even insulting her.

I do not remember my childhood vividly, but as snapshots. The remaining impressions of childhood have been reconstructed in my mind by the free conversations and sharing-as-friends that happen with my mother now. That scene is from my own childhood recollections — knee-high-to-a-grasshopper, I could see only their saarees as they stood talking, and the cutting tone of a principal’s voice shooing my mother away, that I distinctly remember.

My father’s friend told us about a school in Park Street that we did not know of. Mom thought, “Fine, let’s try this one too,” and so we went. It was a breeze. I got admission. The principal and my mom decided that I might as well start attending classes right away, so I did. Was it after fifteen minute, or two hours, I don’t know – the next thing I remember, my mother suddenly pulled me out of the class angrily and took me back home.

Turns out, as mom now tells me, she had decided to wait in the school itself and take me back home. While she was waiting, she suddenly saw two teachers fighting bitterly, flinging insults at each other. She got up immediately, walked into my classroom, and pulled me out of the place – for she would not have her daughter study in a place where the teachers behaved with each other in this manner.

It hardly mattered to me, whether I sat in the class or not, whether I went to any school or not. I didn’t know I was missing out on being educated. I was not tormented. I was perfectly at peace. The torment, mental and physical, was my mother’s alone. Despite the challenges, her standards did not flag. She knew well enough what kind of an environment she wished me to be in.

Finally my mother decided to enlist her partner into the project. “She is your daughter too. This time you take her,” Mom said to Dad one day. A small advertisement had come in the personal column of the newspaper that La Martiniere for Girls is conducting exams for a few vacancies in Class 2. So there we were, standing in yet another school corridor – only, this time it was my Dad and me. It is another distinct childhood snapshot – standing beside his legs, I look up and see his belly. His face, like the apex of a tree seen from the roots, is further up, and I am wondering, “Does he even know what is to be done in a school?” As far as I could see, my father had no experience in such matters.

I sat in a room with many other girls, answering simple questions on cyclostyled sheets with pictures beside them. I got admission. That was the beginning of a wonderful ten years of primary school education that has played a crucial role in making me what I am today. My mother continued to be with me every step of the way – not interfering much with my studies, but keeping herself informed about each exam, attending each parent-teacher’s meeting, and, best of all, learning all the teenage girls’ slang and speaking our lingo. My friends would say, “Your mother is so cool!”

She sure is.

Cherishing The Year As It Closes

I like the year-end time. There are no festivities at home, and one is granted a holiday by the world or society at large. This gives the opportunity for some year-end stock taking with an easy mindspace. Or if I choose to do absolutely nothing about the year coming to a close, that is absolutely fine too. 31st December is no special day at all at our place.

This year has been special for me. This year I committed to myself that I shall post regularly on this blog, because I have found writing to be an extremely effective way to connect to a quiet wisdom within — and you have come along with me on this journey. For this, for your companionship, I am truly grateful. Thank you.

Even though I write primarily only about myself, because that is the topic I know best, I do try to write such that it may be of some worth to you as a reader. Going by the responses that I receive from you at times, I happily deduce that I do succeed in some measure. As I write this, and look back on the year, there is only gratitude in my heart – for specific reasons, general reasons, and because right now, at this moment, I am connecting with you.

This year has been especially satisfying for me creatively, due to two projects – the video series Kanupriya Mukhrit Huee (use this link if you prefer the English version) and the 12 Drops of Silence book. Additionally, keeping consistent companionship with creativity (and thereby beauty), in Kaavyaalaya, this blog and Geet Gatiroop, has helped rebuild stamina and self-confidence.

The other highlight of this year has been health challenges, intimately linked with family challenges. In this, I am glad that each time the challenge has raised its head I have told myself — now, I will not run away from the family anymore. This has helped me see how I am being gifted terra-firma even despite the challenges, and that terra-firma enables to do whatever I do manage to do. I also no longer bother about “Am I contributing to the family in any meaningful way?”. I know now that I contribute to the family, or wherever I am, including the whole world, simply by being myself — and that, irrespective of the magnitude, is pretty darned meaningful and significant. I am glad to be learning about love and relationships in deeper ways generally peddled shoulds.

Health has been an almost regular see-saw since the last six months, two days functional and then two days not, but the spirit is intact — one, due to the terra-firma granted by the family and two, because despite many dreams, desires and plans I now have my bare-minimum aspiration well-defined — sharing two drops of beauty, two poems on Kaavyaalaya per month — nothing more.

That is so much about me, me, me. Well that is how I know how to write and I might as well not pretend to be anything else. If you wish to write to me about yourself, your year, or anything else that you may fancy, please do. I will love to read what you have to say for connection is the one fundamental thing of value in our wondrous, vulnerable and sublime lives.

With best wishes for all your moments

Vani

Served Breakfast By The Universe

It happened one morning in Manipal that I was served breakfast by the universe. That morning still lives in me.

I sat down on the floor with my glass of sattu, almonds and fruits ― and then this thought stream started ―

Thank you Papa for buying this sattu again and again, thank you Mummy for packing and sending it to me. Thanks to you my day starts comfortably.

Sattu is roasted chanaa, powdered. I have it as a drink in water every morning, with lemon, jeera (cumin) powder and salt. It is available in eastern India ― eastern U.P., Bihar and Bengal. When it comes to cooking, I have always been rather lazy. So my parents would regularly send packets of sattu to me when I was living alone in south-west India, so that my day could start with something substantial and energy-giving.

Then, with the food still untouched, the thought stream continued ―
Thank you to the man down the road who stocks these fruits that I am eating. Thank you to the man who transports the fruits in the mini truck to this shop. One by one my mindheart automagically stepped from one stone of gratitude and acknowledgement to the next like a quiet child in a beautiful garden.

Thank you to the people who manufactured this truck, on which the fruits came ― the people on the factory floor and the people who managed the people. Thank you to all the people who manufactured the raw material for the truck ― the metal and the rubber tyres… Thank you to all the people near and far, in space and time, who designed the vehicle in layers and layers of innovation and refinement, starting from generations back to when a wheel and a cart were made.

Thank you to the ones who have grown this fruit, the farmers who tend to the plants each and every day. Thank you dear earth and all the natural process by which fruit grows and makes metal malleable that it can be used in truck.

Thank you to the people who feed and have fed my parents that they could send me the sattu for this morning, to the people who have fed the man in the shop down the road, the man who drives the truck, the people who feed and have fed the ones who manufactured and designed the truck, the ones who grew the fruit…

Thank you to the ones who have fed them not just food, but education, love, companionship ― to all the moments and people who touched and connected to bring this food here.

And as I sat on the floor about to eat, imperceptibly but significantly feeling myself to be pure, innocent as a child, it seemed as though all of humanity, past, present, *and future*, and indeed through them, all of the Universe is standing before me.

They placed the plate before me, and with hands gently stretched out, said a single word, “पाईये” (receive).

A Morning In The Nilgiris

Here I am right at the edge of Mudumalai forest in the Gudalur Cosmopolitan Club infused with new energy and hope, recharged by the utterly pristine cool air, tweets of real birds, and abundant greenery. My hand is moving so smoothly and easily on paper, like it had never become sluggish and weak.

My phone sits limp beside the notebook, depleted. I do not have a spoon to feed it. I left the charger with my friend. But I have been fed well — not just by the fresh air and quiet, but by the the sun itself, that came to me as the jostling yolk of two poached eggs.

“You are not a body,” they say.

That may be so, but let me tell you, a hand which moves freely while writing, feels good. It feels good to not struggle, and to be at ease, and still be able to do something with my time.

“You need do nothing,” they say, and it is reassuring to hear, but it feels good to be able to do something.

Thank you, God, for this moment. Yes, the memory of screaming voices is there, the thought is there that I have to learn to hear the screaming voices like the tweet of birds, but thank you God, for this moment. This suspended long moment of silence.

Thank you.

Tennis court at Gudalur Cosmopolitan Club with the forest and the higher hills behind.
Tennis court at Gudalur Cosmopolitan Club with the forest and the higher hills behind.

Dear Forest, I know it is not peaceful, hunky dory and easy in your bosom. Each animal, insect, and human living in your lap has as many struggles as those living in the heart of the city. Even then, thank you for receiving me.

Dear Trees, and each leaf that emerges, lives, and falls down dry — is it a struggle for you too? You seem at ease. What about your friends in the city? Are you in touch with them? Do you all ever exchange letters — via the same mighty sky where we have planted satellites? Do your friends and relatives feel trapped in the city? There is a lot that humans get in the city. We get food, shelter, companionship — and internet connection — much more easily than we would in the forest (except that the wifi here at the Gudalur Cosmopolitan Club is good). That is why we live in the city, even while we complain. But dear trees, what about your few daring friends and relatives, the City Trees? Does city life give them anything?

Aaah… bloom where you are planted, huh?

Give. Giving and receiving are one huh?

You trees are the real yogis. You trees are my guru.

I love it that you have no scriptures. I love it that you teach nothing about what is wise, what is not — and yet, I feel as though I am learning from you.

In your presence, I simply am.

The road right outside Gudalur Cosmopolitan Club, the Ooty-Mysore highway leading me back to where I have been planted.
The road right outside Gudalur Cosmopolitan Club, the Ooty-Mysore highway leading me back to where I have been planted.

Top picture: A river dividing a plantation in Gudalur from the elephant camp at the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Thank you Albert

I finished reading Writing As A Path To Awakening by Albert Flynn DeSilver yesterday night. Even while reading it I had felt driven to contact the author and thank him – and so I did. He requested me to post a review on Amazon. So I sat down today morning to keep my word. This is what I wrote (or in his terms, freewrote). It is not quite a review, but the book is quite a book.

If writing is of interest to you to any extent, I recommend it highly. If you love reading, then too I recommend it to you. I think every person who loves reading has a writer lurking inside. This book will kickstart that writer in you. At the very least it will give you further confidence on your unique journey of self-expression.

This is the non-review I wrote today morning.


Thank you Albert.

If you could hear the heavy, solemn sound of my voice, born of sincerity – if you could see my eyes right now, filled with a soft, deep, vast gratitude – if you could enter into my chest and mindheart, then I would have to say just these three words in response to your book that is now mine –
Thank you Albert.

Now that this book is mine, not made by me but by a power divine, I can gush at its utter beauty the way I gushed with fascination at my new born niece, a fresh package of divinity.

See, this is what your book has done to me. I don’t want to write a well thought out, erudite, balanced review. The only thing I want to do, without having done any of the meditations and writing exercises yet, is to talk to you directly – to bring my true, natural, beautiful self to you as effortlessly as I can, and simply say –
Thank you Albert.

I could tell you that I have finished journeying through the twelve months you created within a few days, riding on the wings of your words so filled with grace that they took me to the sky I love, they took me to the sky within. I could tell you that I collected so many jewels on this journey as I kept highlighting lines to revisit, that at times it seemed I will turn the whole page and book orange. I could tell you that I intend to embark on this journey with you once again, to do at least some of the writing exercises – for sure the ones on editing, on death and sanctuary, on the elements and senses – but all this telling is immaterial.

The only thing material is gratitude – and being One.


Dear reader,

I recognize that this might not function as a very useful book review. All I have to say right now, as you may have gathered from the effusive outpouring above, is that I highly recommend it. If you resonate with the act of writing as a way of delving into yourself, irrespective of whether you want to make something concrete with it or not, get yourself a copy of this book.

Blank Pages Shall Remain

Whatever and however much
I may write
Blank pages shall remain –
For the sky is never-ending

This is a boon
Given to me
By the universe itself –
The story will not ever end

For the sky is never-ending


मैं जितना भी जो कुछ भी लिखूँ
रिक्त कागज़ रहेंगे
क्योंकि अनन्त आकाश है

यह वरदान है सृष्टि का मुझे
समाप्ति कभी होगी नहीं
क्योंकि अनन्त आकाश है

The Lotus Cannot Be Condescending

Lotuses are found in white and pink colors in general and they grow in shallow and murky waters. ~ theflowerexpert.com

The lotus cannot have a condescending attitude towards the waters it grows in. If it does that, it will not be able to grow and bloom. It won’t be any fun either.

Lotus – called by many names in Hindi/Sanskrit is considered to be kind of an ideal to aspire to. One of the words for the lotus is “pankaj” – that which is born of muck. Pank means keechad, muck. The “j” in pankaj means “born of”. That which can grow, bloom, be beautiful even in the midst of murky waters, that whose leaves are such that the water rolls off it without wetting the leaves (i.e., it does not absorb stuff from this world) – sure, sounds like a nice ideal.

But the lotus, the pankaj, cannot look upon its murky waters as muck. If the lotus is feeling happy (which, going by the fact that it is blooming and smiling with the wind, it must be feeling) it must be feeling only gratitude towards the waters it is growing in – it cannot look at it as muck. It must be surely realizing and acknowledging that the water and muck is holding it in place, giving it a place to grow, bloom and share its beauty with the world.

It is aware that it draws crucial nourishment from the murky waters to feed its stem, leaves, petals. It is aware that a lot beyond the murky waters also sustains it. The winds, the sun, the night and that which powers all of this, powers the lotus too. Even then, even though its true source is something more than the minerals from the murky waters, it can only feel gratitude towards the waters it grows in.

It cannot be a Lotus and be condescending of, nor contemptuous of where it grows.


P.S.: Blue and purple lotuses exist too. Our world is beautiful and wondrous.

neelkamal-3

I had saved the white lotus pic as a wallpaper from the internet many days back. The purple/blue lotus is thanks to a friend, from his visit to Thailand.

That’s All “It” Asks

how will you
garland the wind,
touch the feet of sunshine?
is there any need to?

turn your face
to the wind
the sunshine and the moonlight
immerse in the dark night
listen to its gurgling flow
wet your fingers
in the water…

i hug god with my heart

that’s all “It” asks
if anything

which will you choose?
the wise or the joyous
the smart or the joyous
the right or the joyous

success or joy
say, fear or joy
which do you choose?

who is your god?

~ vani murarka