Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Utta's Journal Entry 2 - Summer 2004

 Utta’s Journal entry 2 – Summer 2004


It's funny how some friendships are not based on time or space.  Such is my friendship with her.  I come every two years, and even though I come so infrequently to the Mandaveli house, when she is around, it always feels so natural to just pick up where we left off.  Now this time we only spoke at length twice, but it felt so spontaneous. I find it difficult to understand why people make so many demands off her - basically to sub for her older sister, who has broken her leg.  Over and above work at other houses, she comes to work at our house for two hours on top of doing her BA.  It all seems so unfair.  What kind of life is that?  She makes Rs. 400 a month.  Recently thathappa decided to keep attendance and I confronted him about that. This seemed mean since she does not get paid enough.  After that day he doesn't do it anymore.  Perhaps he listened to me. Here she comes now sweeping the floor.  Oh my, we collect so much dirt. I like the way she goes about her work, sweeping the floor, using Sabina to wash dishes and neatly washing clothes and rolling out the wet clothes in such a way as to make it easy to dry.  I almost feel tempted to do the work, watching her do it.  Of course, I know it will not be so much fun if it was a job.  When she was younger she would accompany her mom and sister, who did all the work, and we would play hopscotch and this other game where we tried to pick up as many stones as we could as our palm hit the ground.  I remember her teaching me Tamil and I tried teaching her English.  We also played pallankuzhi upstairs in the dark. I remember her calling Rohan "Loganth" and him hating it.  When the cat had kittens we would all carry them.  Such good times - now looking back.  I wouldn't trade them. I hope she doesn't leave us for a better job as selfish as that sounds, I promised to go to her home again this year, as I used to in past years.  I remember people being so fascinated with me.  They offered me chilled water, which I didn't drink, but it was a nice gesture. Now, the truth is I was self- conscious, but I will say yes the next time.

Visitors and guests

Just now, a man came to our door and said he was going to Tirupati and wanted some money.   Jayamma gave him about two to three rupees but he wanted more. She shouted at him telling him he was ungrateful, and then he nodded and left.  Just now another man came and asked if he could pick some flowers.  I initially misunderstood thinking he was here for our upstairs tenants and then called Jayamma.  She sent him on his way.  It is amazing how many people come by asking for something.   Pretty soon this old man will come in to ask for food.  I want to give because I've been given so much in this world, but I don't know how much of this I would be able to take. I complain sometimes that my grandparents are cheap, not the most philanthropic sort, unless it has to do with us, but the truth is they are much more giving than any of us, the way they have taken care of Rajam athai.  Even though they scold her sometimes, they are so patient considering she has been with them for the last 10 years.  She is now 98.  Also they deal with these people that come to our house every day. It is great, really.  Jayamma often talks a lot about her problems.  How she has been serving her family members ever since she was 16 and how she has taken care of sick and some sickly people all her life.  Some don't feel sorry for her because she's constantly voicing it.


Music and miscellany

And for the last time, I don't want to go to your neurotherapy class, Jayamma!  Today I have to sing for Dhanalakshmi mami. She's very nice and it is a tradition that I go and see her on every trip. She has been living alone for years now. I haven't practiced  my music in a year and I'm not optimistic about the outcome.   Jayamma reasons with me saying, I can sing. But how does she know?!  It's going to really suck.

I'm in Mandaveli once again and I am bored.  Why do I stay here, this long?  Guilt? Some guilt and just to spend time with the grandparents, even though there is nothing (literally) to do.   Today I sang for the first time. Jayamma busted out the tape player of course  and give me pointers, as usual, which I mostly ignored. However, given that I haven't practiced for a year, I was good.  Damn good.  Thathappa even said so. They want me to come here for a year to learn music.  Hell no. Haha, I can imagine the boredom already. I can also imagine no friends, parents, TV, internet.  Man, that would be painful!

So, I'm in an irritable mood right now, I just came home from the parlour.  Thankfully alive, all the hair pulled out of my arms and legs, eyebrows and upper lip.  And the most painful was waxing my underarms -  which I rec

My friend - an extraordinary woman (I tell her story with her consent so you can also be inspired)

On Dec 2017, I visited a young six year old at SickKids, one of the world’s foremost children’s hospitals. His mother had just received news that her child had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The doctors gave him 11 months. I could not believe how graceful and poised she was. When we had a moment alone, she asked me in a calm voice, not laden with self pity or “why me” sentiment, if she had been bestowed this as punishment for not being the best she could be in her treatment of others. She then said she was blessed that she had had six good years of amazing memories, no matter what the future held. I held her tightly, to my chest, tears streaming down my eyes and said in response the following. “I believe in karma and since I have known you to be a deeply spiritual and poised human, over the 20 years I have known you, I can only say that you are exhausting any negative karma you have accumulated over lifetimes. I have no doubt you will experience the highest truth and the fullness of your true being right here. Your child was born in a sacred womb to exhaust his. I know of no other way to explain this”. I realize that her poise is testament to her being present and accepting everything in the most open way without resistance or the clutter of emotional reactions. This is giving her the clarity to do everything right by everyone in the here and now. This is evident in her manner which is infused with boundless compassion and respect for all, even at a time when she could get away with being her most self indulgent and self absorbed self. For eg, she asked after my husband and kid!
Fast forward to the present. Her child has defied all odds and has survived to this day. She has made every day count filling it with marvellous experiences through sun and snow. She wakes up every day at 4 am and after 2 hours of self care, meditation, exercise (so she has strength to carry him and tend to him) and makeup, she tackles the day. She usually has an elaborate plan and takes public transport everywhere. She makes a day out of every trip to the hospital. He has just had a stroke and undergone 12 rounds of radiation for the third time. He cannot walk anymore and so she pushes him around in his wagon, while she holds her daughter with her other hand. She is joyful and present filling his life with laughter and fun. I have never met anyone like her. She is my role model and inspiration. When we ask her if she wants any help, she just says “Thank you, but I think I will just wear my big girl panties and get it done and, don’t worry, if I really need help I will ask!”. She never does. I cannot even begin to recount the tragedies in her early life..a terminal father who died when she was a teenager, a sibling with mental health struggles, a mother with health challenges and her own health issues. She just picks herself up, never complains and gets things done. She teaches me how to live. Whatever the outcome, I know she will scale this challenge also in a most exemplary way! Here she is at Toronto’s Harbourfront with her kids after a radiation sit, making a picnic out of it.
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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Utta Journal Entry - Part 1

Utta's Journal Entry – Part 1 

2004 Summer 

Alas, it is the start of the last week I will be in Madras and I have not yet obliged my mother by writing in this journal. So I will now. 

Being less of a burden… 

Quite possibly the longest month of my life and I don't say this in vain. It is simply a fact. When you wake up every day at 6 am, and have absolutely no agenda, the day seems like it will never end. Right now it is 3:10pm. I feel like it is seven pm. Oh well. Lesson number one. When you have nothing to do the best thing is to observe. It gives you a way to have a nice stay with family and friends and to pick up on the simple things which are actually humorous (maybe not!). 

This journal will not be a conventional daily account of my life rather be about that, which I feel like ranting and raving this year. I came to India with a different mindset than previous years, mainly because I'm 18, attending university and I should start acting that way. Believe me it's difficult. Self sufficiency is thrown out the window. According to grandparents I will always be 10. My goal was to be as less a burden as possible to my grandparents, by washing after myself, my plate, not complaining about the food which is given to me and basically not asking for anything, save this notebook. Also their not having to nag me to wake me up in the morning. However, the plan backfires because I haven't taken into account what to say when I DON'T WANT ANYTHING. See in India, when a day is planned around meals, refusing to eat something is not tolerated. Jayamma and paati don't understand that when I don't want something, I also don't want any of the 10 alternatives there are. For example, if I don't want tea and don't ask for something else, then that also means no coffee, Horlicks, Milo or any other drink they may have! If you don't eat you make them feel exhausted, as if they simply can't help you -when you don't need any help?!! 

Tamil Serials and Seniors 

This present moment? Right now, I'm sitting in Mandaveli in the main room. It is 8:40 and I'm in my nightie. I'm in the corner, where athai paati used to sit, but she does less now since my previous visit. A Tamil serial is playing on Raj TV.  Jayamma and Nagalakshmi mami are commenting on how I don't sing. I decline to make a comment. Thathappa peers to see the notebook. I pull it away not indulging his curiosity. Oh now things are so different here. I observe so many differences. The retired community does not (and wishes not to) change with the times. I see Jayamma and NM flinching when they see a scantily clad woman on TV exclaiming, "asingam". (However, I do share Jayamma's hatred for the Tamil actor Vijay. . He's so nasty. Why do girls have such bad taste. First Sivaji, then this man. But anyhow, I don't fancy Indian actors except Arjun Rampal, Rahul Khanna and perhaps Aamir Khan. The first just for pure looks of course, as his repertoire is not much at all). But let me proceed on the topic of Tamil serials. Believe me, I have tried to accept these and watch but I simply can't. They suck, for lack of a better word. Be it Ahalya, Anandham, Sorgam, Metti Oli, Annamalai, Kolangal, they are all the same boring domestic issues. Someone is broke, bad marriages, sympathetic, good, yet naive old people, nonstop crying, love birds, marriage confirmations - so old, so beaten to death. Every five minutes, someone is eating or drinking something. What makes it all worse is that the same people act in five different serials about the same subject matter, but in different roles. This is not the movies people, this is a show!! Whatever their logic watching these, confuses the hell out of me. However, the popularity of these serials here cannot go unnoticed. Senior citizens, especially live on this stuff- as like on a drug. TV serials and meals, that's all they care about. At any house you go to at 7pm, Kolangal will be playing no matter where you are. Mind you, Tamilnadu has more people than the whole of Canada! It is a craze and I just can't understand it. Call me - every other outsider! I continue to write as the mosquitoes bite the hell out of me. Time to pull out the odomos. Tonight we had tomato soup for dinner. It was some of the best soup we ever had. Jayamma makes the most awesome croutons. 

My Tamil! 

Lately this month. I've been struggling with my Tamil. Words don't come out as fluidly and smoothly as I would wish. I understand the language completely and read well, but I will explain why this speech deficiency is a real problem for me. Just as any family member, my grandparents do get on my nerves sometimes. Their possessiveness, overprotectiveness and Jayamma's advice about various matters. I consciously decide not to hold back this time. However, it is so difficult to express oneself here. They don't understand my English and not only do I have to speak slower, I have to modify how I speak. I'am also not good at assertive Tamil, to express and convey what I would like to. Finally, after all that trouble, I'm the one who sounds stupid, so I must stay quiet, because I don't convey what I want to say. 

Today is a different day. I sit here at about, 9:30am in Besant Nagar and am relaxed. I have already had my one hour morning walk with thatha, had my glass of chilled water, then sathukudijuice, lay down for half an hour finishing my book "The Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri, surfed the net, showered and now I sit here. If I had been in Canada I wouldn't have gotten up yet. But things are changing, and I am becoming more disciplined. It will be the same, when I get back as well. Similar routine, less doting than I get here. 

Set Up Box

When I came to India this year, the one thing that frustrated me is that all the English channels are now unavailable! So a set up box had to be purchased for Rs. 7000. And then on top of that, a monthly fee to be made. After much complaint on my part we decided to rent it for a month in Besant Nagar. But the rental scheme no longer exists. So, Suja, with a contact, helped us fix it illegally, four days after I landed. Yes, I could watch the last two games of the French Open with thatha. This year, the consensus was that the French Open sucked. But it was fun to watch it with thatha because we would both shout at the screen when we were frustrated because of an unforced error or a double fault. As always paati picked Myksina to win and thatha Dementeva. But for the first time, I sided with thatha. For the Sampras Agassi finals, I had sided with paati and against thatha. Too bad this wasn't that exciting. The men's was a little more interesting with the unseated Gaudio coming out of a two set loss to win in five sets, but the game lacked flare. Me and thatha couldn't stop shouting at the TV, haha. Finally, Gaudio pulled it off, 8/6 because of a fifth set tie break. Poor Coria.  Paati kept saying Coria's wife looked like she was going to divorce him. Thatha thought she was pretty. 

Something me and paati both enjoyed watching was the National Spelling Bee. We were both so happy that the white boy won. Paati reasoned it as follows. The Indian was moody, and his brother won two years ago. Also because his Indian parents probably forced it on him and coached him. The white boy had three siblings, and had to learn in the midst of all the commotion. Paati was also impressed by the compassion of the mother, as she had adopted a Chinese girl. She kept telling Suja this.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Utta's Journal - Morning walks with thatha

Out of all the things I enjoy here, a memory to cherish would be the morning walks with my thatha. Ever since I have been coming here as a child thatha has been going for these walks, but I have often been too lazy to join him. I made a resolution this year to go for the exercise yes, but that was merely a bonus. It was my time to spend bonding with thatha, especially because I don't know if I'm coming back next year or not. In the beginning, waking up was easy because of jet lag. I would be awake by 5:45. However, as the days have passed, and I stayed up later to watch CSI or some movie it became more and more difficult. (Just as I write paati has arrived with a bowl of cut vegetables and a banana, as is the routine at about this time, minus the banana). She does so much. Back on track. There are always those five to 10 minutes thatha gives me to wake up. After that, for 5 minutes, I seriously contemplate skipping the walk for the day. But I have always ended up going to give thatha company. We go to the Besant Nagar beach and walk up and down the boardwalk. Twice thatha showed me different walking routes, but he has since realized that the beach is what I like best. The sun's rays peaking through the water, deep blue mini waves crashing through, people playing volleyball horribly (I could play better), people stretching, thinking that they are working out when they are not, people doing yoga and the senior citizens of Besant Nagar, simply sitting on the ledge, chatting. There are locals staring at you, and many walkers wearing large t-shirts, which say USC, University of Michigan Mom/Dad, and talking about going to America. It's wonderful. There is nothing like it. Our walks are one hour, no less no more. Thatha is very particular about that. If we are three minutes early at the end of the walk, thatha would insist we go up and down a nearby street till we make up the time. Today we were three minutes over and the other day we went to the auditors before starting our walk. Thatha insisted on 1 hour of continuous walking saying the time before we took our detour did not count! It’s actually very funny walking with him. Also, he always reminds me to stay clear of the road and traffic and always walks against the traffic. He says, "in this place, you never know where these two wheelers will come from. They come from all directions. So you have to take care". He tells me this daily. He also grabs my arm, when a car approaches, whether it's traveling at 30 km/hour or 3 km/hour. He insists on walking along the sandy part of the boardwalk and not the paved part, because there is less traffic. He walks perfectly well, but has a cane. I ask him why and he says it's for comfort and to shoo stray dogs that come near. Before setting out, he counts 7 items in Tamil ...onru, rendu...ezhu. This so he remembers to take everything. Glasses, keys, kerchief, cane, watch, purse and so on. And every time when we come back, he reminds me not to ring the doorbell because he has the keys. I anticipate that today and say, "I will not ring the doorbell". And he laughs saying, "I was just thinking yesterday that you must think, what is this guy telling me the same thing over and over". Haha. I love our walks. If a stranger followed us, he/she would find it interesting. It is funny walking with thatha because he can only hear well from one ear. Whenever we make a turn, I have to keep switching sides so I speak into his good ear. Or else he will make me do so. I'm usually quiet during our walks partly because I'm half asleep until we hit the beach and partly because I have nothing of importance to say, and saying anything is difficult, because it must be said in words that thatha understands. These people are different. You see, just today thatha told me he didn't know what ASAP was until very recently. However, the silence is an easy one. It is a very pleasant one - calming, making it easy for me to speak at any time. Thatha usually has a story of his own, in the beginning. He always first checks with me if it will bore me or not. It never does. I love listening. On the first walk he went through our family tree mapping out his brothers and sisters, their families and kids, and what they are all up to. Now occasionally he asks me questions about them, almost as if it were a quiz, to keep me engaged. Our talks then evolved. We have now been talking about the letters he has been writing to the Hindu on issues that have affected him dearly, such as the high water bill for companies, no matter what their size, the fact that our representative in Parliament for Tamil Nadu doesn't necessarily have to be there because he does nothing. He's very thorough, opinionated and interesting. My favorite topic is tennis and how there are no more star players and how over the past 10 years, it has lost it flare. I will always remember these walks and I'm glad I went on them with thatha.

Updated - My thoughts on Meditation blog

My thoughts on Meditation

We all hear about the benefits of meditation. I thought I would share my own lived experience practicing for several years.

Let me start with what the common myths regarding meditation are.

Meditation is concentration
Meditation is thought control
Meditation is to be done in a certain posture and for hours
Meditation running away from problems
Meditation is a religious practice

a) But is meditation any of the above? Nor really. If not, then what is it, why should we meditate and what are its benefits?

While growing up in India, I had a lot of anxiety and a preoccupation with thoughts about death. It became more intense into my twenties after my daughter was born. I did not have a name for it then. Postpartum depression maybe? Or just the enormity of having responsibility for a baby at 23 years? To cope, I read the few self-help books I could lay my hands on, and they all said “there is no greater fear than fear itself”. I could not understand what this meant then. All I knew was that my fear was a direct result of my thoughts. And this fear was interfering with my ability to be happy. I was always going from one moment of anxiety to another. I could not appreciate anything in my life and enjoy it. I was anxious what the next moment would bring and in that state I had breathlessness and palpitations, I was spiraling downwards and out of control because I was anxious about being anxious. A book, “Why fear?” by the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, offered me the panacea. I read there that I should observe my thoughts. Not try to shut them out. Not try to escape from them. Not try to dull the mind with medication such as anti-depressants or numb it with prayers, mantras and chants. I had been praying desperately and every-time I stopped, the anxiety would return with even greater vengeance. Desperate, I decided to heed his advice and to observe my thoughts. It was very hard to face my fear producing thoughts every minute. My throat became dry and I had unpleasant sensations throughout my body. But I persisted through it with tremendous discipline. It was the instinct to survive that kept me going.

Slowly and miraculously over just a year, my anxiety producing thoughts began receding and my reaction to them did not include excruciatingly painful sensations. Not just that. I had mastered a technique and had an experiential understanding that I was not my thoughts. Without even knowing it I had begun to practice mindfulness. Many years later, I found out that this was the very essence of meditation.

As my mind became quieter I grew more interested in yoga and meditation and these became part of my daily routine. When I moved to Canada I experienced a lot of struggles as a newcomer. My practice helped me cope, and gave me the clarity of mind and confidence to complete law school and to pursue a professional career.

So coming back to mindfulness… If that is what meditation is, then what is it? Meditation is simply being in the present moment and observing everything as it is without interpretation. A recent study done by Harvard University found that on average, a human’s mind wanders 47% of the time. This amounts to half our waking lives. So if we are not present then where are we? We are thinking about the past or about the future. We are not focused on where we are and what we are engaged in at any given time? This means that we are attached to something that has happened or is about to happen. This attachment influences how we react to our present. We do not see the present for what it is and therefore do not react to life’s happenings with an open mind and heart and without judgement.

Let me give you an example. If I was worried about something that happened at work today and my husband asked me a simple question “did you remember to buy milk”? If I am lingering in the past I may snap back with “No I did not. Do you know what a terrible day I had at work? For a change you could have bought it etc”. This would have escalated the issue and resulted in an unwanted argument bringing him and me additional stress. If on the other hand, I was present, I would not be influenced by thoughts about the day’s events or interpret his question as being interrogatory, and would have just responded with a simple — “I did not. I forgot.”

So meditation is about living every moment present to our thoughts and to everyone around us without judgement. With attention to the present, we become intensely aware of our conditioned responses, in the form of our conduct, the changes to our breathing and our bodily sensations, as we encounter life’s situations.

b. So what are some of meditation’s benefits?

We all take care of our body, our clothes, our hair, our appearance. And yet we do not care enough for that part of us that helps us do everything. Our mind helps us learn, express emotions and manage every aspect of our lives. Every day we allow our mind to be bombarded with thoughts. Our cluttered mind inhibits us from thinking clearly and from solving problems in an open and honest way. Why? Thoughts give expression to our insecurities and selfish desires. These in turn trigger emotions that cloud our judgement and prevent us from seeing the impact of our behaviour on others, which in turn triggers their reaction to our conduct and so on. We are entangled in a vicious cycle.

When we meditate as a practice, besides living each moment mindfully, as in setting aside a few minutes to practice silence and observation we allow the agitation to settle so the mind is still and clear. We allow it to find some peace and quiet. Soon something miraculous begins to happen. We start breaking free of our conscious and unconscious habit patterns. Slowly, we respond to all experiences with a freshness of perspective and equanimity. Since we no longer crave pleasure and avoid pain, we are much more spontaneous. Our decisions are more enlightened without the barrier and fog of our habit patterns dictated by our insecurities and desires. We have greater control over our mind and emotions. All this comes about because we recognize that we are not our egos and that our desires are temporal and will pass.

Meditation helps us cope with stress. However, that makes it sound like a cure for stress. But let us look at this another way? What would happen if we meditated for just 15 minutes every day? Take it from me, our experience of stress will be much less. With fewer thoughts we will not feel rushed. We will not feel a loss of control. We will have all the time to respond in a way that is not reactive. So meditation actually prevents stress. A daily yoga practice that is done mindfully will do the same. Ultimately though, meditation and its benefits are best experienced than explained.

c) Where and how do I start?

There are many meditation courses offered by numerous teachers and several of them are now available online. I will tell you about one practice that I learnt about twelve years ago. Vipassana, is the practice of meditation brought to us by Gautama Buddha. I was searching for a structured practice that would commit me to a routine and would offer me opportunities to reinvigorate myself every year. Briefly, Vipassana is meditation as practised by the Buddha that involves observing the breath and bodily sensations in complete silence. I had to go to a 10 day silent retreat to be initiated to it. Its impact on me has been dramatic. This 10 day residential course is offered completely free of charge through centres located all over the world. The closest centre to Toronto is in Alliston. Due to Covid the centres are currently closed but will reopen as soon as it is safe.

Following are three significant changes that I have noticed in me with my Vipassana practice.

i. First change, I react less

Reaction is when we respond without thinking — usually with emotion. When someone says something that is critical of us, we tend to take it personally and say something that is hurtful. For eg, when my daughter says “mom stop telling me how to live my life” I experience a sharp emotional pain which usually manifests as a physical reaction in the body. With Vipassana, I find that I am able to see the source of the pain as not being her, but as being my own reaction. The more I see that the more I am able to have an open and honest relationship with my daughter. So rather than act defensive and say “I am not” or “I am your mother I have every right”, I find myself staying curious and asking “Why do you think/say that? What would you have me do differently?”

ii. Second change, I embrace change more easily

I too find change painful. But as I observe, without judgement, the painful sensations that any prospect of change produces, I also notice that it passes and that everything in life is in a constant state of flux. This makes me bounce back much faster from painful sensations brought on by change. I am more creative and welcoming of new opportunities. When I resist change, wanting to control how things turn out, I am limited, unimaginative, repeating habit patterns and causing myself and others pain.

ii. Third change, I am authentic

We all create an image of who we are for the world and constantly try to live up to it. When I started to be present to my sensations through my practice, it became really important to remain true and authentic. So I stopped trying to do things just because they made me look good and instead began to do things because they were truthful, right and selfless rather than selfish.

I would be delighted to hear about your meditation or yoga practice or about any other techniques that you use to quieten your mind.

To find out more about Vipassana, please go to www.dhamma.org

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A quiet mind

Q. My mind keeps racing, I feel overwhelmed, unproductive

This is the trick that the mind tends to play with endless chatter about how we should always be in a state of “doing” and, alternatively, with doomsday scenarios

Newsflash - we are our most productive with an uncluttered, quiet mind.

So what do we do then? It’s easier said than done to quieten the mind.

Mindfulness is constantly observing thoughts to separate the mental chatter from the actual situation. For eg, the hardship brought on by covid could be the fact, and the doomsday scenario we conjure up, the commentary aka chatter. By observing and separating the two we can actually be in the now, our most uncluttered and productive space.

Notwithstanding an attempt to constantly notice and observe, and due to our lack of trust in the above actually helping us to get to inner silence, we get reactive and frustrated.

When this happens, 5 things help.

1. Vigorous exercise - a brisk walk or run. This brings on endorphins which are natural analgesics since they activate the opiate receptors in the brain. They ease feelings of discomfort that are triggered by an agitated mind.

2. Another helpful technique, when the mind is running amok, is to bring attention to the breath and to take a few quiet long deep breaths. This helps break the downward trajectory of the spiralling thoughts.

3. A third is giving ourselves permission to completely relax the body - by sitting on a comfortable couch or seat, or even lying down and allowing ourselves to doze off.

4. A fourth - when we feel overwhelmed by our thoughts is to make a hot cup of tea and then slowly and mindfully take sips of it.

5. And maybe best of all is a structured routine where we do all of the above and also set aside time for some meditation and yoga.

This may sound counter intuitive - but those who have the most to show for themselves have a quiet mind and those the least have busy, cluttered ones!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Why do we experience stress?

I talked about this in our morning yoga practice and thought I would share. This is wisdom from our Gurus and sages and by no means original. Stress is nothing but the body going off balance and losing homeostasis. It is primarily caused by the following four factors, all of which are interconnected but can also be viewed separately

Our intense likes and dislikes where we crave what we like and wish to constantly repeat experiences, based on an image or idea, that comes up short the second time and yet we persist; and we resist that which we dislike, based on conditioning, lack of openness and/or fear.

Uncontrollable desires, as when we binge eat, sleep, and indulge in sensual pleasures without discernment; these experiences are invariably followed by remorse and therefore stress

Our preoccupation with the past or the future
without the awareness that these are mental projections and thoughts which have no substantive truth but are selective and generally based on our survival instinct to project worst case scenarios

Our attachment to people, places and things as “my” home, “my” family; our ego identification with these results in feelings of pain and hurt when these are threatened in any way

In our current lockdown situation we find some folks managing much better than others. This is simply based on how much the external situation determines each one’s mental state. Obviously, the solution is not to “get rid” but to just notice. The getting rid off process is also “thinking” and is tantamount to a rejection of how we are at present based on a projection of how we should be. In other words we are placed in a state of conflict.

The solution is to strengthen our awareness of thoughts pertaining to all of the above as they arise, noticing them and letting them pass. This requires us to embrace presence, where we separate the mental chatter from the actual situation we are in, for eg the lockdown, and constantly remain in that space of non judgement, an impartial witness to everything that is arising. The importance of yoga, meditation and living mindfully cannot be overstated. Scientific studies have proven visible changes in our physiology that helps us along this path. I quote from Forbes about one such study here:

“In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well.”

So here's to embracing presence and practising meditation, yoga or any activity that keeps us in the here and now.

Overall credit for above teaching: Swami Parthasarathy- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Parthasarathy

Saturday, February 22, 2020

For the love of two grandmas

Uttara spent time with grandparents all through her childhood. We wanted her to learn Tamil and know her roots. We also were both working full time and thought it a better option to have her spend her summer holidays in India than at day camps here. She was not always happy to go, but once there was always sad to leave. Her trips to India helped her bond with folks who were less fortunate and in some ways got her to become a little more humane. She always shared what she was given with my mother in law’s maid’s daughter who was her age and they were each others’ confidant. Their worlds were so far apart that the gap was somewhat insurmountable to amount to a greater friendship as they grew older. However, even now they pick up where they left off.

She was lucky to have both sets of grandparents dote on her all through her childhood. They would vie with each other to nourish her body and nurture her soul. Grandmas would cook her favourite foods and grandpas would read to her edifying books and regale her with stories from mythology. They were all wonderful role models and for that we are very grateful.

Every time she left India she would be showered gifts all of which she has still kept, however small. Old coins, jewellery, crafts and cards. She in turn would write them each a note expressing in child like language her gratitude and emotions of sadness to leave them. She would also include a drawing.

Now, all grown up, she visits surviving grandmas every year for about a week. She talks often to them, on the phone. She always spends her time exclusively with them and they appreciate it. Her Tamil improves and she is thrilled with that. This time, adult like, she took them out for lunch.

On this trip, her paternal grandmother gave her a project which she took seriously and completed. She transformed a faded Krishna sculpture into a lively one, with vibrant colours. On his bidding, she also drew a picture of Krishna with a cow for said grandmother’s brother. But nothing for my my mother who may have expressed her disappointment, saying “you did not have time to do anything for me”. It must have bothered Uttara that she had neglected to please my mother. However the eve of her trip had arrived. The Krishna had taken all evening to complete and by the time she got to Amma’s it was 9 pm. Then the last of her packing. Next day, she had to leave the house at 4:30 am for her 7:30 flight. However, when my mother woke up early to make her coffee before her flight, she saw a hand drawn Ganesha on her side table. Her eyes welling up with tears of joy and gratitude she saw her grand daughter off at the airport, bestowing her a hundred kisses. Utta had stayed up late to leave something for this grandma as well!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

An Uber experience

We had just consumed a sumptuous lunch at the wedding we attended in Chennai and were eager to get home and rest before the evening reception. Both my sister and I got out our phones, but finally she ended up finding us an Uber ride. We made our elderly mom walk the distance to the gate since traffic was heavy and it was not clear how long the driver would take to pick us up from the driveway. When we got in his car outside the gate, he was full of remorse for having made an elderly woman walk and asked us why we had not insisted he pick us up closer to the Wedding hall. I liked him for his display of care and concern. He dropped us off without incident.

Next morning I could not find my phone. I called it and a man’s voice answered. I hung up confused. After a few moments, I was convinced it had fallen into the wrong hands. I called the number again. This time I enquired, in an accusing tone, how he had ended up with my phone. He immediately expressed relief for having found me. “I did not know how to contact you”, he said. “You were in my Uber and late yesterday afternoon somebody riding in my car found the phone and gave it to me. I had no clue who had dropped it and was hoping you would call before I took it to the Uber “lost and found”!”. Flustered, the words tumbling from his mouth, he continued, not letting me get a word in, “I did not want to give myself or Uber a bad name”. We then talked about how I would get my phone back. The address for his residence was very far as was the Uber “lost and found”. He then offered to drop it off at my mother’s (where he had dropped us the previous day), when he had a ride that brought him in the vicinity of her home. Then came the clincher. I asked him for his name and number. He said he went by Rajasekar although his name was Mohamed Riyaz. I knew instinctively why as an Uber driver he had chosen to go by a Hindu name. That also explained why he was particularly sensitive to not being thought off as dishonest. Over the next couple of days he called a few times to reassure us that my phone was on his mind and that he would try his best to return it. He acted as if it was his fault, when it clearly was mine. When he did come, I was changing and he dropped the phone with my mother and took off in a flash. I clumsily wrapped my saree, rushed out to catch him before he got in his car. I thanked him and pressed a note in his hand. He was clearly surprised and refused initially, but did take it, upon my insistance. I know that he was more grateful that I thought well of him than for the Rs.500 I gave him for his troubles. And it mattered, I think, given the present climate of polarization based on religious differences.

Everywhere I went, I sensed a certain insecurity among Muslim vendors and wherever I could I went all out to patronize their business, over others. Everywhere they made an effort to find common ground in their conversations with me and I responded by making an effort to normalize their experiences as Muslims in India, asking where they said namaz and also enquiring whether they experienced greater discrimination now more than before. None of them openly admitted to it, either because they were fearful, in denial, or did not know me well enough to trust me.

Diverse communities which have cohabited in relative harmony are being pitted against each other for political gain and I could not help feeling a sense of unease over the tensions that are simmering. I fear for the irreparable harm it will continue to cause to the composite but fragile and beautiful tapestry that is India today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A beautiful home, a solemn realization

Anish was uncharacteristically quiet. A precocious 8 year old he loves all things electronic. So when he quickly lost interest in my iPhone I was surprised. We were there 2 days after the house warming of their new home. Anish’s dad Ezhil, despite his humble earnings as a driver, had gathered up his savings, availed of government housing loan programs and borrowed from well wishers to build a 1000 square feet independent home with a terrace and front yard. About 2 hours by car from Chennai, the house overlooks acres of green fields as far as the eye can see, in a lush village in Tamil Nadu. Since he wanted my moms (mother, mother’s sister and mother in law), my sister and me to “grace” his new home, we rented a car and drove down. It was a balmy day and the drive along the shores of the Bay of Bengal, lined with palm trees, was magical. Midway we stopped for coffee and then quickly reached a point where Ezhil met us on his bike to lead us through to his village, set 8 km in-shore. It is a beautiful part of the country and I could see why Ezhil rode his bike every weekend from Chennai, to this paradise on earth. As we neared the home, we noticed a large group comforting a wailing woman. Her profound sorrow was palpable. There was a manic quality to her tone and demeanour as though she had lost her mind. She was not conscious of her surroundings. There, in the middle of the road, surrounded by what appeared to be a helpless crowd she stood screaming out in pain. My immediate thought was that this was a domestic situation gone wrong. She had been abandoned or worse yet, abused. My instinct told me to reach out to this woman in distress. However, since she had several people around her, we decided not intrude unless we were asked to help.

Two minutes later, we reached Ezhil’s home which was just down the lane. We were impressed by the vision and care with which he had built it. Windows all around streaming in natural light, a high ceiling, a large hall, kitchen and pantry and 1 bedroom with attached bathroom, it appeared bigger than it was, all shiny with wall to wall marble design tiles, multi coloured walls, kitchen with granite counter top and an impressive back splash with a generous sprinkling of pineapples for a bountiful aura. The fully tiled bathroom had a western commode and shower. The steps and stainless steel railing leading up to the open terrace overlooking the fields were both solid and strong. Ezhil who has no formal education is in his late 30s. He came to work for my sister over 10 years ago. He was then newly married. Now he has two bright young boys Anish and Nishant. We educate his boys, take care of the family’s healthcare needs and generally relate to them as family members. He in turn has reciprocated as driver, elder escort, carer, and handyman.

Largely because of the respect and care with which my sister’s family and mother treat him, he has grown in confidence to aim higher than the rest of his family. Evidence the thought, detail and effort he has put into his charming home. He has browsed the internet and scoured stores for ideas and deals, personally done all the electrical work, and supervised closely every aspect of the construction, as much as his free time would permit.

When we arrived, Ezhil, his wife and kids ran outside to greet us. But they were a bit subdued as though in a stupor. Everything appeared to move in slow motion. A couple of relatives came in to meet us, but not the stream we had expected. They offered us juice, some tender coconut and sweets. A young relative who has a photo studio came to take our pictures. Ezhil had made plans for this day and it appeared not to be panning out as he had hoped. Anish was moping. I immediately assumed it was because I had shown attention to a young cousin of his, over him. I hugged him close and asked him what the matter was. “Was it something someone had said?” He just refused to say. We spent about an hour and left laden with tender coconuts and some plants that he had given us as return gifts. They did not urge us to stay longer or eat - usually South Indian hospitality is such that they will ply you with food and drink.

Something definitely was off, but we could not put our finger on it. As we neared Chennai, Ezhil called us on the phone. His wife’s young first cousin, all of 17 had been in the house earlier, playing with his boys. He had then left to play cricket in a local league. The first ball from the batsman had got him on the left side of the chest, while he was fielding, and he had dropped dead. They had just rushed him to the hospital with a faint hope of reviving him, minutes before we reached. Those were the boy’s relatives we had seen on our way in. That night it was all over the news since the tournaments had been organized in connection with annual the birthday celebrations of late Prime Minister, Jayalalitha.

The loss of this boy under these circumstances was tragic. However, what was stunning was the reaction of Ezhil’s family towards all of us. They did not want to “spoil” our experience and so had demonstrated stoicism in the extreme. It symbolized for me how inequality manifests in Indian society. That even such grave tragedies of the poor must be kept private so they do not interfere with the enjoyment of the wealthier class. Even Anish who had been very close to the boy and had known what had happened, had been socialized into believing this. My heart broke when I realized that all of them, including Anish, had demonstrated such great restraint and resilience and had not to let their emotions show!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A trip down memory lane in Chennai

Appa and I had a special bond especially when it came to all matters spiritual. Throughout his life I sensed a desire in him to be meditative and self aware. He came from a family of atheists and so did not observe any rituals associated with his faith. His dad and brother were lawyers, rationalists and intellectuals who lived a lot in their minds. However, they were all humanists. They treated people of all creeds with respect and, for the most part, women as equal partners.

Though gregarious and fun loving, my dad had a melancholic streak in him. I could relate well to this. From very early on I wondered if this was all there was to life! Later in my teen years my brother formally introduced me to Vedanta through “The message of the Upanishads” by Atmananda. But my first experience of the mystical happened in my early teens. My father took me to listen to lectures by one J.Krishnamurthy (JK) delivered under a banyan tree in the open air ambience of Vasant Vihar, the Chennai home of the Krishnamurthy Foundation. I was his chosen one, to go on these jaunts. .
The wonderful dad that he was, he must have sensed that I would need these talks more than most, to get me through my choppy 20s.

I cannot say I experientially understood anything JK said. However, I was drawn to the idea of shedding my conditioned existence. I was also fascinated by his ethereal quality, his apparition like frame, white hair neatly combed over to cover the frontal bald spot, pale skin and pristine white clothes, his reference to himself as “the speaker” and the impatient tone he used when he admonished his audience with “are you able to see the truth behind what the speaker is saying, sirs?” He was advanced in years, so he spoke with effort and his hands shook as he wiped the drool off the sides of his mouth with his handkerchief. But his earnestness in trying to make one see through the shallow ego state we called life touched a deep chord. Even then I could see he had no agenda other than to make everyone see the folly of living as automatons, in thought projections, and as creatures of habit.

I remember hanging on his every word, etching the experience in my memory even though he wanted me to do the exact opposite. He wanted me to undo my conditioning and told me that meditation had to be the whole of my life - in every thought, activity and feeling, what I now understand as “presence”. But the phrase that stuck and that would bring about the most profound transformation and growth in me, a few years later, when I experienced my lowest point, was “the thought is not the thing described”. So simple and yet so profound.

Over the years JK has been my guiding light. He has helped me see what true meditation is. It was therefore fitting that I paid homage
to him on his 125th anniversary. I found myself in India and found out through a dear friend about the exhibition and musical tribute on the grounds of Vasant Vihar. It was an enchanted evening of mystical music. And his speeches were projected from under the banyan tree with a sign that said “Voice”. When I closed my eyes, I had the eerie experience of being transported back in time. His message is still relevant today since we all ride the treadmill of a conditioned life, afraid to jump off.

JK did not identify with the body mind mechanism or the ego self. He would have been amused by this deification of his physical presence. So even though it was a magical evening, tremendously pleasing to my senses, the irony of this commemoration was not lost on me!

Monday, February 3, 2020

First morning in Chennai

I always feel completely at home in India. Chennai, with all its so called modernity still has old world peace and charm. It is a city that has arrived at the present era kicking and screaming. There is a quiet feeling of timelessness underneath the chaos of traffic, which is not even that awful. The sky is still a nice blue and there is greenery all around. The buildings are shabby, the people unremarkable, not exactly preoccupied with the fashion of the day. The streets are not clean by any stretch, with leaves and debris strewn all over. There are stray dogs everywhere and there is dust and grime even in the glossiest of glass covered exteriors. And yet, it has a healthy aspect to it what with the moist ocean air, the bright sun, the lush greenery and a silence only broken by sounds of cawing birds and, in the distance, traffic horns and ocean winds.

When I woke up early this morning and sat to meditate, aware that the ocean was 100 yards away and the crematorium 50 yards over on the other side and I heard the cawing of the crows, I had a strange sense of oneness with something deep and primeval. There was a timeless quality to my breath as an expression of consciousness, and the spirit of my father appeared to be just in another realm in the multiverse. Everyone and everything appeared to co-exist in a suspended state, with no beginning or end. Alas my consciousness was still in the realm of the uni-verse but something in me felt part of all those other forms of existence! This place gives me access to the deepest recesses of my soul and I have dreams that feel so real the emotions from them linger and the tangible reality lends a psychedelic quality to my sensations that burst over to the brim. On my morning walk, I witnessed the beautiful sunrise on the beach and once again found my individuality completely subsumed in the larger drama of the universe that goes through its motions, as witnessed through the lens of my mind conditioned by time and space, but which otherwise has nothing to be calibrated against, and so, just is.

Etihad experiences

Dec and Feb

Experience flying Etihad

Best to arrive at the airport early. There are no kiosks for boarding passes and baggage tags and so it is a long and endless line. There were two lines, one for check in and the other for baggage drop. When the latter did not move, we switched to the former which appeared to move a little faster. After that it was a cinch. The carry on had a 7 kg limit so I had to take some stuff out for Suku to bring with him.

Boarding was at C35 which was a trek. However the lounges were in C33 just above it. And there were both KLM AirFrance and Priority lounges (2 of them - one was closed and the end there bifurcated to Bus Class and First Class). I went to the PL and to the Bus Class side though no one was noticing really.

The flight was alright. 33C was only 7 rows behind Premium Economy. The seats had leg room. Dinner was served after we boarded at 10. (Bindi masala, paneer, rice, cheese and crackers, bread and butter, kitkat, chocolate mousse). Then there was a snack (cream cheese sandwich after 5 hours). They came around for coffee and tea. Then there was ice cream. Before landing, dinner again (daal makhni, Gobi masala, roti and rice with fruit, bread and butter). Again drinks - at all times with coffee, tea options. Water was constantly served,

The entertainment was awesome with a wide selection. I watched - documentaries- Jane, the 250 million dollar cure, the Netscape story; movie based on the story of Tolkien and TV shows called The Good Doctor and Big Little Lies.

When I got off, I had go through security to Terminal 3, 44, which was a trek. I passed the lounges in a Terminal headed straight to my gate. There was just enough time. I had an hour and a half by the time I boarded.

The flight to India was unremarkable. It was in an old plane with no in-flight entertainment. I slept, having eaten in the lounge. My bags arrived very fast and I was out within half hour of landing.

For the last leg of my journey to Toronto, I was invited to bid for a seat in Business Class. I put in the minimum bid of $1130 and won. It was meant as an experiment. Given the length of the flight, I am quite thrilled I won! I boarded the flight ✈️ n Terminal 3. Business Class is a different experience. They have a separate entrance, guys who will help you load your luggage on to a cart outside and whisk you in. There are a number of counters and so you are issued a baggage tag with no delay. There are liveried helpers, once again, to load your bags on to the scales. Then there are the E-gates and security goes by in a jiffy! Once again, the security channels are exclusive and things go by in bare minutes. From there, it’s a 10 minute walk to the business class lounge / which is humongous. Poor features, just four toilets for such a large lounge. Offering you all the indulgences of the East, there is a spa and several breakfast stations, besides breakfast on demand. It was all very overindulgent. I tried a little bit of almost everything- a lingering case of FOMO. Fresh cheese omelette, toast and butter, croissant and jam, pita with hummus, labneh, belcher granola. Then fruit and half of my second granola parfait. I noticed the coffee station guy serve the white woman her flat white, before he served me my latte even though I had gotten there first - still a colonial hangover?! Maybe! Or maybe flat whites are less elaborate than my floral topped latte!

Boarding was easy. There was champagne, hot towels, magazines and then before take off, orders for post take off drinks. I mistakenly and greedily took the champagne, which I returned since it was cold and I knew it would not suit my sore throat. I ordered a Morroccan mint tea and settled down to write this journal.

I watched a wonderful British 3 part true crime series (itv). Had the Asian vegetarian meal which was pretty crappy - beetroot mince, broccoli, coconut rice, Kala chAna made like a puli kozhambu, a potato patty, besides bread and butter. I had camomile tea before the meal and black tea after. A few hours later had a latte which was served with cookies and then at 8 pm dinner consisting of kale soup, masala dosa, Kancheepuram idli and Vada served with just gotsu. It was pretty bad - I ate the dosa, a little vada and a tiny portion of the chutney but ate all of the raspberry mousse dessert they served after. Drank about 4 bottles of water. Watched 7 episodes of Big little lies. Drank a glass of red wine and slept a total of 4 hours.

It’s a long flight and business class eases it greatly. However, meals are at your own whim, which means you have to ask for it. They are responsive but you don’t want to appear demanding or greedy and you wonder if they are gritting their teeth behind their forced smile for having been given the unfortunate task of serving you. And with my voice still hoarse my assertiveness flagged a little - how odd! So when I woke up from my sleep I could have ordered a coffee, but did not! Was business class worth it?! Maybe.

Feb 1, 2020
So this time it was marked with adventure. What with the corona virus looming large as a threat for global travellers. My flight was delayed by a day. The next day at 9 I received an email that the departure time had been fixed as 7:45 pm. The crowd at the airport was horrible with passengers from our flight and a later one trying to board. Etihad at the best of times is extremely disorganized at the boarding end (for economy passengers). The difference flying business starts right there, making it worthwhile! We stood 2 hours in the line up to drop bags off. I got boarding passes for both flights (unlike some others). It was eerily quiet in the rest of the airport. Security was a breeze and there were 5 people in the KLM lounge. The flight itself was alright - unremarkable- but ok. I ate some dinner and slept. Then watched a couple of movies, listened to my audiobook and the time went by. I ate my chutney sandwich and croissant with coffee (great idea) as well as the bowl of pomegranate. I had packed some Murrukku as well which I nibbled on. I passed up on all other offerings and stayed clear of the sweets. On arriving in AUH I made for security which was straight out of a sci-fi movie - vast masses transiting through, mainly getting out of the Far East for fear of contracting this new monster virus. I felt suffocated and a tad vulnerable. This is not a pleasant time if you look Chinese and are wearing a mask. They have a look which says “ please don’t blame me or hold me responsible”. Even I felt self conscious when coughing to ease an itchy throat. Strange times. I sought refuge in the Terminal 1 Al Dhabi lounge - there was lots to eat and drink and there were comfortable seats, besides plenty of bottled water. I dialed down feasting on spinach soup, fresh hummus shaped like a small crater which was filled to the brim with the choicest olive oil, delicious fatoush salad, a spoonful of vegetable biryani with cucumber mint raita and some pesto pasta with sun dried tomatoes. No alcohol, no sweets and lots of water. I toddled out at about 1, bought some candy at the duty free and got to the Gate at 2 pm just in time to board. My audio book kept me company. I tasted a small piece of masala dosa and some pongal gotsu on the plane, tucked away the croissant and yoghurt to give to Ezhil our driver who would pick me up and slept till landing time. The knees were feeling the strain of long hours of sitting. I called Ezhil’s phone and Amma picked up. They were making their way to the airport. I mistakenly stood in the foreign passports line instead of OCI and so was delayed a bit. My bags were already off the belt and waiting for me and an hour after landing I found myself winding my way along the path with crowds of awaiting relatives, flanking both sides to reach Amma and Ezhil.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The virus in our minds

I do my bit to contribute to the globe’s environmental pollution. I fly a lot. Every year, a few trips across the pond to see the offspring and at least two to India to see the moms and other aging relatives. Other than that business trips, as needed. This time I am on an unscheduled trip to India. But I picked a day when all airlines were in a tizzy with the spectre of the coronavirus looming large. A co-worker returned to Canada last night with vivid accounts of the mass exodus of travellers from China. He said people had bookings on multiple airlines to guarantee a safe extraction! On his flight, Air Marshals hovered over passengers to bark at them if their face masks came off, except while eating. So I could not have picked a more inopportune date for travel - what with airlines bailing out on flights to China precisely from January 31, 2020.

However, the real story is not the virus itself but the anxiety it has stoked in the populace at large. Last night our flight was grounded owing to a “technical snag” ( read - the domino effect of the “virus” resulting in overworked staff and overwhelmed airline). Today, we are flying but, other than the super resilient Indian crowd at the Etihad line, the airport is eerily empty. There was no one when I passed through security, the duty free shops looked like abandoned relics of a past era and the lounge I was in had 5 people in all. I was armed with masks, having bought in to the paranoia but decided not to wear one since I did not want to set off any alarmed looks.

Hollywood could not have dreamed up a more devious plot to entertain and sizzle. A virus from eating bats triggers a global health emergency - sounds oddly familiar?? Is this the case of the tail wagging the dog? Another distraction story perpetrated by the Americans? A ploy to destroy the Chinese economy or to boost real estate prices in Canada, as this will no doubt trigger some serious emigration out of China? All these are of course figments of my overactive and agitated mind. I am a product of my time, that lives off social media fodder. We have gone loopy. Our problems are more imagined than real. JK says it best even though he lived and died before whatsapp and facebook took over our lives!


Truck de India - a review

Rajat is a young IIT grad who chose not to be recruited by the Googles of the world. Instead he hitch- hiked on trucks throughout the length and breadth of of India to write his debut account. He took me along on an engrossing journey. I met truck drivers like Jora and Jagdish whose hearts are large and who fight private demons, bhukki (opiate) and loneliness, on long hauls. I learnt the jargon of police corruption, with the use of words like “mechanical” to charge penalties, and the power of the dalals (middlemen). I learnt about politics and distribution of power, state sanctioned communalism and discrimination based on religion and its manifestation in the poor infrastructure that folks in the targeted regions experienced. I ate dhaba food, witnessed sandstorms, suffered the heat and the excruciating long waits from bureaucratic delays.

Truck drivers emerge as heroes everywhere, but especially in India where they risk their lives everyday, working under impossible conditions hauling food, staples and cement in overloaded vehicles, so we can all indulge in all-season foods and live decadent lives with nary a thought or appreciation for how we get to live the way we do. He makes the point that truck drivers, who are vulnerable to abuse by many masters, disproportionately bear the burden for our indulgent lives! It’s a highly intelligent, thought provoking read with great insights about the fabric of Indian society woven from its feudal and colonial past to the entrenched unjust, social structures of today. The writing could be a bit more polished (sentence structures etc) but that does not take much away.