Thursday, July 27, 2017

For a friend...

About ten years ago I met and made a wonderful friend. She worked at the Children’s Aid Society and we were about to bid on a contract with them. I met her for lunch just to understand the inner workings of the organisation making full disclosure of my reason for our meeting. She impressed me with her professionalism and shared with me insights about her work, so I could write a well-rounded proposal. She was scrupulous about not compromising the bid process in any way and yet was flexible enough to meet me so we could give them the best possible solution. We talked about many things including her work as a volunteer Crisis Counsellor with an organisation that supports victims of crime.

When I met her she was fifty and had decided to hang up her shingle and pursue her calling, mental health counselling. She was well qualified. She was a registered social worker and had obtained the credentials to work as a Psychotherapist. But above all she had an abiding curiosity in the human condition. She was widely read and had a profound understanding of various spiritual texts, which in turn had led her to an experiential understanding of mindfulness as an important solution to resolving our existential crises. Her approach to therapy therefore came from a place of deep insight. But what made her unique was her very practical approach to addressing mental health issues. She met her clients were they were in the continuum, did an extensive assessment, developed with them a plan for their treatment and then gave them homework exercises so they could practice the coping strategies that she had helped them develop. On the day we met, she sketched out her approach with a hypothetical example on a napkin. I took it home with me to study the exquisite framework her brilliant mind had developed right there over lunch.

She got very busy after that and signed up with Warren Sheppell an EAP provider which took her on as an Independent Consultant. We met for coffee occasionally and discussed meditation and philosophy. I listened more than talked always mesmerised by her ability to narrate so eloquently, while quoting from various sources. She has a prodigious memory for memorable quotes and an ability to be utterly precise and accurate with details. I find it a rare quality and have encountered few people who possess it. For me it is a testament to her competence and her rigorous discipline doing everything she did.

She chose to be single, looking after her mother, who died three years ago of breast cancer well into her eighties. She exercised, ate well, meditated, went for a massage every month and traveled to a different country every year. She read a lot, always keeping up with advances in her profession and also spiritual texts and biographies. She kept a beautitful house with a perfectly tended lawn, indulged all her nephews and nieces and enjoyed the occassional Scotch! All in all - a well balanced life.

A few months ago, I spoke to her when I was desperate to find help for a friend. She immediately obliged and was her usual gracious self. My friend was thrilled with after just two sessions, telling me she now had techniques to deal with her anxiety and depression. In late April, she wrote to my friend telling her she was taking a leave of absence. I called her up to ask if everything was ok, but I did not hear back. I assumed she was just slowing down. I did not suspect that she was fighting stage 4 cancer. This week on Tuesday I heard she was in hospital and palliative. I rushed to see her. She had told no one other than her sisters. She had not wanted to dampen anyone's spirit. There she lay a shadow of herself, her breath noisy, her mouth open in a comatose state. This was not my friend, but an apparition and I would never have her back. After her mother died we had promised each other to meet over lunch or dinner and had cancelled and rescheduled a few times. I blame myself for not making it happen. I went to look for remnants of her in her website, Linkedin and FB and found nothing there. She had so meticulously planned her exit. A common friend told me she had even told her to fix the deck in her home for the post funeral greeting of people. She had gone through all her stuff and shredded anything that would have been a burden for anyone else. So much clarity and detachment even in those last days, almost as she used to plan her trips to far off lands by herself.

As she lays in hospital with just hours to live, I share what she sent us a few years ago. I believe she did not suffer because of her complete understanding of what it says here:
“I am reading the book “I Am That,” a modern spiritual classic…talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj who is enlightened. On page 5 of the book, Sri Maharaj responds to a questioner who asked, “What do you see?” Maharaj responds:
“I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your existence. See how you function, with the motives and the results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself, by inadvertence. By knowing what you are not, you come to know your self.

The way back to your self is through refusal and rejection. One thing is certain: the real is not imaginary; it is not a product of the mind. Even the sense “I am” is not continuous, though it is a useful pointer; it shows where to seek, but not what to seek. Just have a good look at it. Once you are convinced that you cannot say truthfully about your self anything except, “I am”, and that nothing that can be pointed at, can be your real self, the need for “I am” is over—you are no longer intent in verbalizing what you are.

All definitions apply to your body only and to its expressions. Once this obsession with the body goes, you will revert to your natural state, spontaneously and effortlessly. The only difference between us is that I am aware of my natural state, while you are bemused. Just like gold made into ornaments has no advantage over gold dust, except when the mind makes it so, so are we one in being—we differ only in appearance. We discover it by being earnest, by searching, enquiring, questioning daily and hourly, by giving one’s life to this discovery.
Note: “I am” was the mantra given to Maharaj by his guru.”

I leave you with one of her favourite songs influenced by Sufi music, which she loved:

She is a private person and so I have withheld her name, but I think she will appreciate the fact that her life has meant something to me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Boy did I deserve that!

Yesterday I got a strange call from a woman. "Are you Tara's mom?", she asked and launched into a monologue without allowing me to get a word in edgewise. I had brought this upon myself. A few years ago, rather overzealously I had posted Uttara's profile on an Indian matrimonial site. It was a social experiment of sorts which was not amusing to her. I did not think much of it. Soon my mailbox began to fill up with emails from folks expressing interest or with suggestions of suitable matches. Initially, I actually looked upon these as a source of entertainment. I was taken aback and somewhat at a loss when these folks began corresponding with me. Soon I found myself giving relationship advice to one! Why not my daughter he would insist and I had to coyly admit she was not party to this shtick, so I could not broach it with her. I knew this was all "wrong" on so many levels. But harmless?! Well a few years passed. I forgot all about the profile. I did not look at the emails, the expressions of interest or matches. My daughter did her own thing. And all was well. Then suddenly, out of the blue, this call!

The lady spoke with the air and sophistication of someone who was well educated and moved in elite company. I was curious. She told me she was a lawyer and her husband a judge and she was calling about her son, a paediatric heart surgeon in the UK, for my daughter. They were visiting London to attend a milestone cricket match at the Oval for which they had booked tickets months in advance and thought they should look up Tara! She did not stop to ask me if I was interested, let alone Tara. She just assumed we were. I let her go on, willing myself not to hang up on her polished accent. Who knows, she may know someone who knows me and word gets around fast. I had to come up with a polite way to do this. Then suddenly, she asked me if I was from a certain caste and I said "yes but we are not interested in going this route". She chose not to believe the second half of what I said and without giving me a chance to speak went on to tell me about her extraordinary progeny. Then without warning came her next question? "Does your daughter know Tamil?", I could not resist a " Oh yes she can speak as well as read since she learnt Carnatic music." That just sent her into raptures waxing prolific over her son's musical accomplishments and extolling her own past glory, as a classical dancer. In the process she named several Sabhas in Chennai of which she was a patron, adding, "my son wants someone who is cultured and knows her roots." She wanted to know nothing more about my daughter it seemed and, in her mind, appeared to have decided she was the one. She had all she needed to know. I had to cut this short - but how? Short of being rude? And then she gave me an out. I asked her how old her son was? She said xx and I said "he is 6 years older. That won't work. ". That got her hot under the collar "do you know Jackie was 12 years younger than Kennedy and Saira Banu 22 years younger than Dilip Kumar and they were happily married? Do you know why? Because both women looked much younger than their husbands? Before I could question the veracity of that assumption, she continued in the same reactive vein, "Whereas if your daughter marries someone her age she will look like his mother soon?" This was just too much. "My daughter is not interested in going this route?" I insisted, willing her to process this important piece of information. She exploded "Are you saying you posted her profile without her consent? You should be ashamed of yourself?" And with that, she had the last word and hung up! I was stunned.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Buying a place in London - July 2017

April 2017

I am in London, UK during the first week to help Uttara buy a place. Here, buying a home in the coveted zones 1 and 2, is a high art and science. Also you can be blindsided by many curveballs that come at you. Some of them knock you out senseless. So the whole process, which leaves you emotionally drained and shell shocked, starts on All properties for sale are eventually listed there. I say, eventually, because many get sold as soon as they are listed and even before they get on Rightmove. So much the demand, and so scarce the supply of good properties.

This was an educational week involving some high drama. The back story is two deals had fallen through prior to this and we were cautioned - until the deed is transferred and money exchanged anything can happen. Until then, the only thing that holds the buyer and seller together is a tenuous sale deed and good intentions. No deposit. Nothing. If the buyer or seller changes their mind or has cold feet they can withdraw. As simple as that! So it calls for the equanimity of a Buddha, the strategic wits of a grand master in chess and an acute sixth sense to identify the stench of foul play mixed in with other intangibles such as if the agent and seller trust you and want to do a deal with you. Unlike in North America, in this place bullshit walks in the form of very polite talk. So what did it take for this deal to go through?! Well, you will find out soon.

So back to the search! The Rightmove site is quite good in that you can identify the postal codes to search by and outline the area. You can then search within that area based on several other criteria - freehold/leasehold, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, flat or house etc. Once you narrow your search down, you start the painstaking process of going through the link for each one. On the site, every house looks like the inside of Lakshmi Mittal's mansion near Kensington High Street. The size, the light, the works. But when you actually see the place you know the photographs were a magician's illusion.

We saw three properties the day I landed. They were pretty poky by North American standards, had bad odour, the layout was off and there was a rattle every time a train passed by one of them. Some were damp needing a lot of work. Pretty depressing. If the area was nicer, by postal code, the properties were awful for the price. That initial orientation to the property scene had the desired effect of considerably lowering my expectations.

We soldiered on knowing we were in the quest for a unicorn. I crammed in as many viewings as I could during my week long sojourn. Things got even worse as I ventured out on my own. One property was up eight flights of stairs. The flat was immaculate but I was not training for a marathon and my lungs were quite nice - thank you very much. I thanked the agent for the workout and beat a hasty retreat as soon as I had a vision of me hauling suitcases up those flights of stairs, every-time I visited. Another place was behind a busy alley in front of warehouses where at prescribed times there was pandemonium as wares were uploaded and offloaded. And mind you this shock to the nerves, at least twice a day for a couple of hours each time, did not come at a cheap price tag. And neither did the three story dungeon, which passed off as a house, justify its cost. The agent suggested that the property would appreciate when the warehouses were redeveloped into residential properties. When? In 20 years?!

In the next one, the layout was decent. It was quirky with the inside space flowing into a 3 feet by 3 feet solarium. However, the kitchen was pretty informal, almost an afterthought- with room enough just for a toy fridge. When I pointed this to the agent, he countered, without missing a beat, that there is room for a little freezer beside it. And he actually appeared serious. Years of practice dealing with people who cannot suspend their disbelief.

And then as though to prove there was a God, we were pointed in the direction of The House. It was a bit over her budget but by now, after all the excuses that passed off as viable properties, this seemed like a steal. We liked it. We made an offer. We held our breath for a whole day and a half, waiting for the other shoe to drop! Aha you have been pranked! But no, our offer was accepted. We could not believe it, actually. It was just too good to be true. Someone up there was mocking us with this cruel trick. And that thought almost came to pass with what happened the next day. Early in the morning, we went in to see the house once again, this time with another agent. She saw how much we wanted it. That piece of information is significant for what was to come next! That afternoon, not knowing what lay in store, quite smug and secure, we boarded a train for a weekend getaway in the beautiful English countryside where our friend's gorgeous country home beckoned. It was Friday afternoon. As soon we were comfortably seated, we got a call from the agent we had met that day. The network was shitty. We pieced together the dreaded words, "another offer is coming through and we are legally obligated to consider it." No!! Also, she would not tell us anything other than the amount was above our offer. This could not be happening! We felt like the bottom had dropped out and we were about to be swallowed into a sink hole, namely the dark abyss of a new search. I knew my nerves could not take that. So we upped our offer by a fair bit- after all it was just words, we could walk away. She said she would call us back with the final verdict in an hour. We rode the train in suspense, missing the beautiful views the magnificent English countryside had on offer, just staring at our phones, waiting for that ring. We reached in a couple of hours and and still no call. I then made the dreaded call. The other offer had come in at the same price she said, but the seller preferred to go with us. Which part of all this was true we will never know. But we had to now decide if we really wanted it at the new price. After a cost benefit analysis that took 30 seconds we decided to stick with it. After all we needed to do our part to act in good faith, even if others did not? How would commercial transactions ever take place otherwise?!

After April

Next came the protracted delays with the legal work. Everyone marched to their own drummer and timeline. There was no deposit and there were no requisition or closing dates as in Canada. We had to stay very Zen putting out intentions for the deal to go through smoothly and quickly. We truly had no control over outcomes only to our reactions to them. When we asked our lawyer if she could commit the seller to timelines she said it all depended on the seller’s purchase of his property and whether the people selling to him were buying and so on in an endless chain. With all these evasive responses, we were not convinced our purchase would be completed this year! Not only did everything move at the pace of molasses it all appeared very disjointed. For instance, the agents did not bother removing the "for sale" sign for over 2 weeks and only after we repeatedly questioned its dubious presence. Then the seller’s lawyer took off on vacation, soon to be followed by the seller. The Borough did not help matters taking its own sweet time with searches. Added to this was the complexity of the due diligence delays of the sellers' purchase of his property. Not just stars but whole universes had to align, it seemed. With no money exchanged between parties the only two parties interested in hastening the deal were our unencumbered daughter who was hard pressed to give notice to her landlord on her rental, and the mortgagor. Weeks went by excruciatingly slowly and major world events made London the cynosure of all eyes. Terrorist attacks and national elections to name just a couple. Such significant events had not occurred so close to each other in that city since the world wars! It felt to my selfish mind like the deal was being pressure tested every which way. Soon we gave each other high fives if one piece moved in one week. In the meantime we did not want any delays from our end and she hastily transferred money to the lawyers trust account, where it languished, earning interest for some unknown entity when it should have been building equity for us. I even resumed by meditation practice to maintain my composure!

During this time my husband and I travelled across continents always staying close to our computers to review documents and offer input. And then just like that one day, without too much notice, the contracts were exchanged on a Friday. Ironically our daughter was on a business trip that week and could not be reached by her lawyer precisely when her consent was needed! Then on the Monday, the deal was completed and she had the keys. In the end it all felt a little anticlimactic. All that anxiety through the three month long wait was for nothing? Was the drama all imagined? Truth is, the system did not inspire trust. Anyway, soon this much coveted house will be so taken for granted and become the new normal for our daughter who will go on to tackle and scale the next frontier.