Protected: Around ‘Self-Care’

August 29, 2020 at 9:15 PMAug (Activism, Friends, Letter, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

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Simple Solutions

July 27, 2020 at 9:15 AMJul (Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Couple of years ago a friend told me about a Skills Workbook for those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that she was suggested to refer by her then therapist. “I am benefiting from it, Sam” she said, silently suggesting I too read and use the Workbook for my own betterment. I wished her good and brushed aside the matter for I had become too cynical and skeptical about mental health practices in general and especially books on mental health that promise help!

Few months ago, however, when I also began looking within (along with looking around) and re-evaluating my thoughts around mental health issues & mental health practices, I remembered of the Skills Workbook and thought of putting myself through it. I contacted my friend and asked her for the exact title of the book and the name of the authors. Giving me all the required details, my friend said, “On bad days I find those skills extremely helpful and am grateful to that book. But on brighter days I find that book quite stupid.” I was a bit desperate those days to find a way out and did not care what my friend thought on what days. (I did not mind what she said either.) I wasn’t ready to reverse my decision since I had already convinced myself to go through the book and the techniques it offers. Soon after the conversation with my friend, I decided to place an order for the Skills Workbook. The book was available for buying on an online book buying platform. But it was expensive. Quite expensive for a freelancer like me. But I was tired of my burdened self and was desperately looking for a way out too! I placed the order for the book.

In a few days time the book was delivered at my home address. I was excited.I opened the book hungrily and began to read without any delay. But as I flipped through the pages I found myself becoming angry. The skills and techniques offered and suggested in the book were extremely simple and appeared simplistic to help me and solve the issues which has been bothering me for ages now. “Is the solutions are so simple, why did I have to suffer so much for so long?”- I asked myself. I have been so entangled in my struggle for years that I had come to believe that the way out is difficult and a complicated one too. A solution as simple as the ones offered in the book, felt like being told that the problem also is a simple one! My struggle and the scars gifted by the struggle felt insulted and trivialized by the offering of such simple solutions! Also, what added to my anger was the fact that a book offering such simple solutions was so expensive! But since I had paid such a huge amount to purchase a personal copy of the book, I decided to continue reading.

To my surprise, as I kept following the simple techniques suggested by the book, I realized those simple skills were slowly helping me manage myself, my emotions, and my life, slightly better. I took some time to recognize this, realize this and then acknowledge it. My ego was coming in the way. But when I finally acknowledged it, I realized that usually the answer for even the most complicated things are not just simple but lay in the basics. The solution, I began to realize, is in going back to the basics of life. And the basics are always simple! (Though the way to getting back to the basics of life and the simple solutions is a tough journey to make.)

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Squaring the Circle

June 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMJun (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

While playing with his five-year old nephew visiting India, Dr. Aravinda Bhat (35) is asked by the young boy, “What happened to your eyes?” and Aravinda explains to him: “It is called Retinitis Pigmentosa in medical terms,” and then after elaborately explaining how the eyes function he tells his nephew, “in case of ‘my eyes pigments are formed on the retina which slowly spread. Because of this the vision gets blurred.”

The question is posed as a matter of fact and the answer is delivered as a matter of fact, like any normal conversation.

Remembering pages from the autobiographical book of Stephen Kuusisto, an American author of Finish origin, Aravinda says, “His parents could not accept his blindness and expected him to behave like a normal person,” and goes on to say, “To my luck, my parents never forced me to be or act normal.” He immediately says, “I discard the word ‘normal’ from my lexicon,” and explains his position: “What is considered as ‘normal’ is not a given but is decided by society and imposed on individuals who are expected to either coincide or align with it to be considered ‘normal’.”

Aravinda mentions how his parents brought him up like any child. “My vision was slightly better back in my childhood and I went to a ‘normal’ school, played cricket and also used to ride a bicycle,” he says and adds, “Some of our neighbours had asked my mother back then why would she let me ride a cycle and all she said was: He can so he does. That was phenomenal of her.” Recollecting these he says till he turned eight he hadn’t realized he was different or in the words of the world, ‘disabled’. “I was just myself,” he says.

Going back to the autobiographical writings of Steven Kuusisto whose blindness was not accepted by his parents and who was bullied by his classmates in school, Aravinda says, “I must say I was never bullied and no teacher discriminated against me in school.” But then, as he says, it is not the case with everyone. If the author Steven Kuusisto, whose memoirs Aravinda studied for his Doctoral research, had traumatic experiences in school, a classmate of Aravinda in class one, whose name he cannot remember now had an equally horrible experience. “We had a classmate who was visibly different because of some intellectual disability. All our classmates would bully him. I remember one of our classmates coming and asking me to join them in beating this boy up. Good sense prevailed and I did not join. After a few days his mother came and took him from school. He never returned. My vision, though blurred, was slightly better back then so I could see his mother taking him from his chair. It still plays in my mind like a scene from a film. We all collectively excluded one boy!” says Aravinda before telling the tale of another boy from Kasargod, his ancestral place. “There is a boy who is blind. His parents feared their son being bullied by other students if sent to school. So they never sent him to school,” narrates Aravinda and exclaims, “With no education there is no possibility of him becoming independent, which is such a sad thing!”

Weaving the stories of his own life and the lives with which his lives have intersected Aravinda says, “As far as I am concerned, I must say that I have been privileged,” and adds, “There are many forces acting here,” before explaining his privileges. “My parents are educated. Four generations before me has been educated. I come from an upper middle class, upper caste family. All of this has certainly made a difference,” he explains before adding, “The school where I studied in treated me well because I came from the family of a Doctor. But all of this helped me get foundational education which is such an important thing.”

Stressing on the importance of education Aravinda says, “Within the given system the beginning of positive action can be education. Without education the possibilities of living a full life will be denied to us,” and asserts, “Education is the first need, first step.”

Among educators, Aravinda says, there are two arguments with regard to the education of disabled people. One believes there must be special schools for the disabled, and the other believes the disabled must be made a part of the usual schooling system. Both, he believes, have their own advantages and disadvantages. “Had I gone to a blind school my world would have been limited to blind people. I wouldn’t have learnt the social skills to be around the sighted people,” he says but doesn’t forget to add, “But many blind students suffer a lot in the so called ‘normal’ school because of bullying by fellow students and because of insensitive teachers.” The solution for this, he says, is in education itself. “Teachers during their B.Ed. training must be sensitised to work around disabled students. Textbooks should expose students to stories and poems which speak about disability in a positive light, in a dignified way and not in a comic way or with pity. In this way, children at a young age must be sensitised to disabled people by exposing them to fellow humans who are disabled and be taught to accept differences with respect,” he spells out in detail. He gets back to Steven Kuusisto again and tells how he, after being sent to a ‘normal’ school, faced great difficulty in learning because the school was not equipped with the resources required to teach disabled students. Due to this, he writes in his autobiographical book, he felt that his education was not rounded, not complete. “Everyone’s needs are different and those should be attended to without discrimination or exclusion,” emphasizes Aravinda.

Despite the Right to Education Act we get to hear of schools across the country denying admission to students with bodily differences on flimsy grounds points Aravinda and says in several places the parents of the ‘normal’ students oppose the intake of disabled students. “It is as if disability is contagious,” he remarks.

“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of barriers for us,” states Aravinda. One, he says is structural barriers and the other, he says, is attitudinal barriers.

“Back in the days between 2002 and 2005, I got admitted in a college that is five kilometres away from home. I used to take a bus go to the neighbouring town, get down, cross the road, walk to the college, all by myself. Back then my vision was slightly better than what it is today and the number of vehicles on road was also less. Plus the architecture of the college I went was something I could navigate, though the needs of the disabled were not taken into consideration in constructing the space,” explains Aravinda and adds, “But if someone using a wheelchair had to attend the same college the given space couldn’t have accommodated them.”

Half of the problems of the disabled people will be solved, opines Aravinda, if the environment is made accessible to “us.”

“We are denied opportunities by saying it will be difficult for us to cut through the spaces. Our bodies are blamed and our lives are made to feel limited. Our lives have been termed abnormal because society hasn’t given proper thought to include us,” Arvinda says and announces, “If spaces are built in ways which will take our needs into consideration, our lives won’t become abnormal.”

While Aravinda was doing his M.Phil in EFLU, Hyderabad he had an experience at the Bank which he recollects to point at some of the other kind of structural barriers. Those were the days when he had begun to get stipend which he says was the first time he was having his own money. Once when he went to the bank to withdraw money the bank staff, knowing the visual impairment of Aravinda, mixed the notes of hundred, five hundred, fifty and gave it to him. “We can touch the notes, feel the size of the notes, feel some markers on the note and recognize the value of the note,” explains Aravinda. Before continuing to narrate the bank episode he goes on to say, “Post demonetization, the new notes are all of similar size and the markers are not marked properly which has made it difficult for us. It is quite insensitive and disadvantaging. If notes are made more accessible then we will live a full life financially.” Getting back to the bank episode he says, “Since the notes were mixed, it got a bit confusing that day.” As he was struggling to count the amount he heard all the bank staff laughing aloud. On realizing the notes were mixed just to have fun at his cost, Aravinda got furious and gave a piece of his mind to the staff there. He did not end it there but went on to the Dean of Student Welfare and complained about the bank staff. His complaints were taken seriously and the bank staffs were transferred to another branch.

After having recollected the bank episode entirely Aravinda says, “This is one kind of attitudinal barrier.” To explain it further he quotes a recent example when he had gone to shop clothes with his sister visiting India. As soon as he entered the shop with his sister one of their staff offered him a chair and asked him to sit down till his sister would go see the clothes and purchase them. “It irritated me. I refused to take the chair and told them that I too wanted to see the clothes and be a part of the shopping with my sister,” says Aravinda. “When I went back home I was still angry and recollected the entire thing to my mother,” he says. His mother, he tells, pointed to him that probably some disabled persons feel the need to be treated with some extra care. His mother, he says, told him that people think being sympathetic and showing concern is the way and that has been embedded in their subconscious. “Yes, we want to be treated well and with respect. But people seem to think that to be nice or good to the disabled means to be patronizing,” says Aravinda.

Speaking about the attitudinal barriers Aravinda recollected the story of a friend he made during his time in Hyderabad. This friend, he recollects, was given a job in a bank where the manager told him that he wouldn’t be required to do any work and will be given salary for his attendance. “That is so humiliating,” says Aravinda and the anger in his voice cannot be missed. “He was kept in the office like a wallflower. Why don’t people realize that we can also work if given proper facility?” he asks and declares, “Our needs are different but we are equally human.”

“There are such attitudinal barriers which make it difficult for the world to accept us as different but still as human as everyone else,” says Aravinda and points that one of the most crucial and table turning politics of disability studies is in its claim that, “we inhabit a different world.” With this claim, he says, “We have chucked out the word abnormality.” The politics, he says, is in “accepting disability and incorporating it into our lives.” He remembers his grandmother praying to the Almighty for science and technology to improve soon and enable her grandson to gain sight. “I used to tell her why she was praying for my sight while I am fine the way I am. She couldn’t believe I was okay with my blindness.” While saying this Aravinda remembers a stranger once writing on Facebook something like, ‘Let us donate our eyes to the blind and thus end blindness in some years.’ “Such are the ideas of our ‘normal’ society,” remarks Aravinda and exclaims, “Ridiculous,” before asking why instead people can’t accept difference and work towards building an environment that is accessible to all. Coming back to the conversation he had with his grandmother he says, “But eventually she saw my point of view,” and recollects an exchange that defines his position. “My grandmother once asked me if I believe in God to draw strength and I told her I wasn’t weak in any way to be drawing strength from elsewhere.”

“My attitude towards life and my acceptance of my blindness is a gift I have because of my parents and because of my engagement with disability studies,” says Aravinda.

On asked what he meant while saying, “We inhabit a different world,” Aravinda goes to explain in great detail. “We are not ‘abnormal’ sighted people. There is a world of the blind. We have our own aesthetics,” he says and remembers an incident where a friend and he were eating at a fast food joint in Hyderabad. The cook was making some food item and the way he was stirring the food in the frying pan and beating it with spoon sounded like rhythmic drumbeat, he says. When he mentioned about the rhythmic nature of cooking the friend asked him what he was talking about. “She hadn’t heard it because her world is predominantly visual,” says Aravinda and tells how when he goes for evening walks with his parents he enjoys the grass on which he walks, feels its texture under his feet. He says his experience of the world is different and that is his world. He agrees that he might be missing the visual beauty of flowers but the fragrance of the same flowers, he claims, is more accessed by him than from other sighted people. This makes his world different and that he says is a different world altogether. “Sighted people,” he says, “can access this world with practice but usually they are overwhelmed by the visual world.”

Tom Sullivan who authored ‘If you could see what I hear’, is remembered by Aravinda to further elaborate the world of the blind. He remembers Tom Sullivan writing about his sexual adventures and saying how sex in its essence is actually tactile. “Now thanks to the world of advertisements everything including humans have been made into sex objects and visual objects. As a result, sex has become less sensuous and been reduced to visuals,” says Aravinda. Speaking about how the act of intercourse has evolved he points at how when the human world was young, the male would approach the female from behind while having sex. But they turned around so that the eyes can meet. That is when the act of sex advanced from a mere physical act to an emotional act, he says and asks, “Does that mean we blind people who cannot make eye contact cannot participate in sex completely?” and also answers, “It isn’t so because there are other ways of expressing love. There are languages of touch, taste etc.” and seals it with, “So the aesthetics of love and love making is also different in the world of the blind.”

Aravinda who also practices photography occasionally said he takes a linguistic description of things around and then makes a composition of his own and clicks photographs. He mentions some blind people who take auditory cues like the sound of cycle being peddle and clicking photographs. “The composition of my photographs may be different but still it is a visual art,” he says and adds, “Though I may not be able to enjoy what I click still my art will be embodied in the composition of it.”

Aravinda’s doctoral thesis was broadly an inquiry in the aesthetics of the visually impaired. During the defence of his PhD thesis a faculty asked him why he had objections to political ideologies such as Marxism and Feminism. Aravinda defending his position had answered, “Because none take interest in the issues of the disabled.” Remembering this he says, “I had spelt out my issues with these ideologies very briefly but the faculty was sharp enough to pick it up,” and laughs. But then he goes on to narrate two incidents. “This happened in some college in Delhi if I remember correctly. I had read about it in the newspaper,” begins Aravinda with the first incident. “A visually challenged boy complained about the dogs on campus which were troubling for all kinds of disabled students. Even we faced similar problem in EFLU too. So the college where this boy was studying heard him and decide to make the campus dog free. But immediately PETA objected to the decision of the management. When asked about the safety of people with disabilities PETA said the disabled should be helped by other fellow students,” says Aravinda and asks the pertinent question, “Are we expected to live in the mercy of others always by taking their help for everything? I understand that no animals must be tortured or killed. But if you don’t see the requirement of other humans and take your politics to an extreme of this kind, you end up creating an atmosphere where there is more exclusion and not inclusion.”

“Once a political party called for a protest on our campus,” Aravinda began with the second incident. “It was decided to shut the mess for some reason and food was to be served outside the mess. When a friend of mine said that would cause problem for the disabled, an active member of the party which called for a protest said it was a collateral damage and nothing could be done about it,” recollected Dr. Aravinda and said, “That is when I lost faith in all of these political parties on campuses.” He says he can’t remember one election on campus where any of the parties actively spoke about the issues of the disabled on campus during the electoral debate!

After stressing throughout the conversation on the need to accept disability instead of othering the disabled, Aravinda finally touched upon a very crucial matter. He remembered attending a music concert which was attended by a huge number of people with disabilities. “The singer there made this speech which I found problematic. He said all of us are disabled in one or the other way,” recollected Aravinda and exclaimed, “Untrue,” and went on to say, “Everyone has problems. But calling problems of life as disability and equating any problem to disability is to dilute the matter. We need to recognize and accept disability not trivialize by calling everything disability.”

Postscript: This conversation was held at a restaurant. At the end of the conversation when we got off our place and started walking towards the exit door, Aravinda said, “someone noticed me.” On asked how did he know, he said, “Someone just said, “****” while I was walking past them.” Of course I hadn’t heard it. “This is what I don’t like,” said Aravinda after spelling out, “pity is violence” and recalled a conversation he once had with his mother. On being told by his mother that most of the people responded to disability unconsciously in a way the society has conditioned them and he shouldn’t be angered much by it, Aravinda had replied thus: “It’s not just that I don’t want to be treated this way. But my anger is also because such attitudinal barriers cost many people materially, i.e. by denying them educational and employment opportunities.” Hence, says Aravinda, the attitude of the society must be changed.

(Interview conducted in Jan 2019)

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On Trustfully Submitting

May 8, 2020 at 9:15 AMMay (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

“I din’t understand the intensity of these matters earlier,” he said as we walked towards the parking area. “In fact, I dint even consider these problems as real ones”.

I had recieved a call from him that morning asking to meet “immediately”. There was urgency and anxiety in his voice. I asked him to brief me about the matter of concern and promised to meet him soon. I wanted him to brief me not just because it would unburden his heart slightly, but also because I wanted to be able to think through the matter, in the time between the phone call and us meeting.

A family member of his was going through severe distress, and the psychological stress had begun to impact every other aspect of their life. He felt a clinical intervention was necessary and had called me.

Though not a mental health professional, I have been quite vocal about my own mental health issues, as a personal battle against the stigamtization of mental health matters. For over a decade and a half now, ever since I began to speak of my issues openly in public and social media platforms, I have had people speaking to me about their issues and at times seeking my suggestion. Knowing my limitation in the scheme of things, I have patiently listened to them and guided them to meantal health professionals and tried my level best to be a support to them till they sail through the rough tides.

This time too, like earlier, I listened patiently and then suggested him that his family member be taken to a particular Doctor, who I know, for therapy. He agreed and we went to the hospital to take an appointment. The particulr Doctor wasnt available that day and the Social Worker who was in conversation with us suggested another Doctor. We politely refused because we felt a lady Doctor would be better since the person in distress was a teenage girl, who we assumed would be more comfortable speaking with a lady Doctor. We got an appointmet for the next day and we were walking towards the parking space when he said till couple of years ago he never considered mental health issues as real issues at all.

“Once a classmate of mine spoke to me about she undergoing depression,” he began to recollect an incident from two years ago. The classmate, he said, spoke at length about the way depression fractured her day to day being and living and functioning. Listening to it all he, who was a staunch believer and practicing Muslim, had told his classmate, “It is all because our generation has deviated from the spiritual path,” and went on to say that the psychological issues were unreal and the distress was brought upon oneself by a non-spiritual path of life. Not stopping with that he continued to say, “The solution is in submission to the Almighty”. The classmate lost her cool and gave him a piece of his mind which he now recollected before me laughingly, the laugh being at himself. “Now my perspective has changed and I understand things better,” he told me. I smiled and hugged him before we dispersed.

His words, originally told to his classmate and recollected before me after two years, saying, “The solution is in submission to the Almighty” kept playing in my mind with a small edit. I just couldnt ignore the words, “The solution is in submission.” In a strange way this edited sentence threw light on something important.

It was in the year 2004 that I first walked to a Psychiatrist seeking help. I was a naive teenager back then. From then on till about 2016, when I finally decided never to take any medical/ clinical help, I was consulting psychiatrist regularly and for a long period was also on medication. In 2016 when I finally decided to never take any medical/ clinical help, it was largely because I felt they were all ineffective. I could see in retrospect that over a decade of these interventions had changed nothing significantly for me. Calling medication as “life jackets” which only keep us afloat but do not take to the shore, I decided to “work on myself”. I rejected the “life jacket” hoping to learn how to swim and carry myself to the shore.

Since then I have been discussing this matter with many friends and those concerned with the issue of mental health, and surprisingly have found many people echoing the same: therapy being ineffective. That would drive the discussion into a different direction of how the world order is at fault and the pharmaceutical mafia which believes a patient healed is a customer lost, etc etc. All valid observations and commentaries which strengthened our beliefs and antagonized the system at large, the health care system and its methods too. But in between these I kept seeing some people benift from therapy. Most of them were those who had consulted me and had been guided to a therapist by me. This added to my frustration because I was not finding any healing/ solution while those who I was guiding, were finding a way out and thanking me for helping them. Along with adding to my frustration these made me ask why is it that some were able to benifit from therapy while some of us were not. The question only angered me and frustrated me further. But I could find no answer. In a strange way the words, “The solution is in submission” (minus the last part, “to the Almighty”) made me find an answer or rather see what is at the heart of the problem, or rather what appeared now to me as the heart of the problem.

Be it myself or these other friends and fellow beings who, like me, found therapy ineffective, have all been extremely skeptic in our approach to life. It wouldnt be a coincidence that most of us bred on critical thinking in our humanities education, have had our brains tuned to critique, doubt and counter everything that is presented before us in an almost dismissive manner. If on one side this has enabled us to see things beyond the surface, on the other hand it has divorced us from the ability to arrive at harmony and has created severe trust issues with the world in general. Trained to think critically and dismiss things off, we never were able to invest trust and faith not just in the therapist but also in the process of therapy. To submit, we believed unconsciously, is to become submissive and lose agency. Trained to listen not to understand or comprehend but to find loopholes and tear apart the point made through that loophole, we observed everything uttered by the therapist in suspicion, preparing ourselves with counter-arguments to strike off all that is said. We never let our guards down and allowed ourselves to come in touch with the process of therapy entirely in a healthy manner. To be able to faithfully/ trustfully submit to a process is something that skipped our minds that has been conditioned to take extreme views under the pressure to think critically, which would equate submission to an unequal power structure, hence consider it as something unacceptable. This inability to submit to the process, I would say faithfully/ trustfully submit to the process, is probably what made the  possible effectiveness and success of therapy impossible to a large extent.

While saying this I wouldnt deny the existence of pharmaceutical mafia, poor structure of systems to attend to mental health in this country and extremely narrow approach on the part of practitioners of mental health profession. But it is also true, I have come to believe, that the inability to invest trust has also played a role in the difficulty to outgrow the crisis. To faithfully/ trustfully submit need not mean to blindly submit or submit uncritically. While it is necessary to identify the need of rationality to fight supersition, a point to which blind faith can take us humans, it is also necessary to identify, it appears to me, the limitations or the hurdles that rationality and extreme critical thinking can bring upon our lives.

As much as it is important to be critical, to see through things in a highly hierarchical and profit driven market capitalist world, it is also important to be able to submit, so that we can be touched by a process that could bring us healing or at least enable us to manage things well. The way out, I feel, is in the strange space where there is an interlocking of opposites, where trust and skepticism coexist in a healthy manner and healthy proportion.

When I saw a mind possesed by faith, make way out of it to an extent and embrace a scientific method and process, I felt that may be even the mind obsessed with rationality and skepticism also has to make way out of it and and be able to trust and allow to be touched.

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The Poor Are Also Humans

April 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

April has certainly has been a cruel month this time.

Among the innumerable heartbreaking stories from across the world, the story of Mukesh Mandal in particular refuses to evaporate from my mind, even after weeks.

Mukesh, a migrant labourer stationed in Haryana, ended his life early this month, after having no money to feed his family of six. Before hanging himself, Mukesh, sold his celphone for Rs. 2,500/- and with that money bought some ration for his family, a fan for the house and also repayed the remaining debt he had.

Whether there was any pressure on Mukesh to repay the borrowed money or not remains unknown. Even after his death, the family did not speak of any such pressure on Mukesh. But even when faced with an extreme situation of not being able to feed his family and being pushed to take his life, Mukesh did not disappear into absence without repaying the debt money.

While the poverty, hunger, suffering, helplessness and humiliation of Mukesh are all true, let them not eclipse his dignity, his self-respect, for our looking eyes and percieving minds.

The words of one Brahmaji, a labourer in Hyderabad, reported later in the month, continues to echo in my mind, like the story of Mukesh, for the words of Brahmaji, like the final act of Mukesh, speaks of dignity and self-respect, along with a dire situation his life has been facing. He was reported to have said, “We are not beggars. We came to Hyderabad to work and earn money with self-respect. We feel ashamed in taking donations. I personally feel like committing suicide when donors came to distribute cooked rice and clicked a picture with my family.”

Harsh Mander once narrated his experience of having lived and closely interacted with a migrant labourer family, as a part of a project on understanding labour, poverty and hunger. The family which moved from one city to another, across states of India, for work was asked by Harsh Mander of the place they like the most to visit for work. The family said their second favourite place in India was Punjab because there the people treated them with affection. Their most favourite place was Kashmir for they were treated with not just affection but also respect, they said.

Unfortunately our society has never considered Respect and Affection as ‘basic necessities’ of humans. A connection is never seen between them and survival/ living.

In times when a Supreme Court judge asks why the poor would need to be paid wages when they are being fed for free, in a society where a helping hand is accompanied by a camera lens, it is not just hunger and poverty which needs to be confronted. We also need to confront the poverty of heart among the non-poor, which is us, that fails to recognize that those who put under the category of ‘poor’ are also humans and the poverty fo heart in us which also fails to recognize the existing dignity and self-respect among the poor.

Mukesh, who not just repayed the debt but also bought ration for his family and also a fan just before ending his life, was labelled “mentally unstable” by the police. If the system and mainly the State had a percent of the dignity and self-respect that Mukesh had, and for its people a percent of the love Mukesh’s heart carried for his family, then probably the month of April wouldnt have been this cruel.

The shadows of this April will be cast on several months to come. For sure.

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On Sonia Gandhi and Arnab Goswami

April 25, 2020 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

If at all Sonia Gandhi was the kind to attack those who speak against her or speak rubbish about her, she must have attacked innumerable tom dick and harry in this country from the big actors to the small actors of history. This country has been terribly unfair and unkind to her all through.

In a country which considers people born in this very country as ‘outsiders’ for their identity, what chance did Sonia Gandhi ever have to get any respect or acceptance by the countrymen?

Arnab is just an amplified verbose version of the “common sense” of many in this country. Yeah, his capacity to spread the stupidity cannot be underestimated. We know what was the general opinion average Indians had about Sonia, even before Arnab became a sensation and occupied screen-space.

No matter how much she was hated for no fault of hers or for no reason at all, Sonia Gandhi always conducted herself in a dignified manner.

Let us not dismiss or ignore the flaws and mistakes of and by the Congress, but let us also not forget the contribution Sonia Gandhi made from behind the screens, in the interest of this country and its people. They might not be revolutionary contributions. Yet were significant and despite all their limitations, were still in the interest of the people.

Sonia Gandhi was not motivated to do the work she did by a desire for power. Else why would she refuse to become the PM? Or continue to work even after letting go the chance to become the PM? Twice that too. There is something else that drives her. Call it patriotism or compassion or just a sense of duty, if you wish. The fact that not even once did she move away from taking up responsibility and performing her duty as best understood by her, despite the amount of hatred she received, actually says a lot. To not recognize that is still okay. But to demonize her left right center for no reason; that is unjustifiable.

***

Arnab, I am sorry if someone attacked you. I dont think you deserved it or you invited it. Partially because I dont trust you (because you are not trustworthy and not because I have trust issues) but more importantly because attack of any kind on anyone, I believe, is wrong. Having said that and condemning the “attack” on you, I just request you to pause and think for a while if any of the two is possible for you; to pause or to think. I urge you to pause and think how it feels to be ‘attacked’. If you can pause and think for a while, and through that understanding if you can understand how others who you have attacked and those who feel attacked feel when they feel so, may be you will be able to liberate yourself from yourself. I am sure it is difficult to carry the you that you have become and that would require you to “attack” and destroy any human side to you that breathes within you. Please stop that attack on yourself. Liberate yourself from yourself. Trust me you will feel light and better. And so will the nation.

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When Mother’s Milk Becomes Poison and Kills

April 10, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Few days ago I translated a note written by my friend Kuntady Nitesh about his friend (a Hindu) being asked to vacate the house by the landlord for not participating in the 9 PM 9 Minutes performance, and posted on my Facebook timeline. The purpose was to make the non-Kannada speaking/ reading but English reading fellow humans know of such an inhumane incident. Not surprisingly, when it found circulation on FB, it invited comments from people who are not on my friend’s list too. Most of these comments expressed anger and disgust and for long there came no comment which either dismissed the whole thing or questioned it. Late that night a comment by a girl (a Hindu) was a bit unclear. She typed something on the lines of “Mother asked to shift to rented. What can I say?” and I couldn’t understand what was she trying to say. I asked her what she meant and she in her reply she, even if not in the same words, said, “I refused to participate in this lamp lighting and my mother asked me to look for a rented place. My own mother. What can I tell this man whose landlord has asked him to vacate?” My mind went numb as I read that. My eyes refused to move away from that comment. I took time to type a reply as I was struggling for words. When I finally gathered some words and formed a reply trying to tell her I understood her pain, even if not in the intensity she would be feeling it, and typed it, I couldn’t post the comment. The girl had deleted her comment by then.

Later when I spoke of this to a senior friend she told me that her daughter’s friend faced the same consequence at her place for not participating in the light and sound shows of Sunday!

A 12th century Kannada saint-poet in one of his verses asks, “When mother’s milk becomes poison and kills Who do you complain to…?” Mothers abandoning their children is just a micro image of the motherland abandoning an entire community.

Illustration by the inimitable Mir Suhail

Couple of days ago another senior friend (a Muslim) put up a small note on FB saying her daughter now is convinced that they will all end up in the concentration camp. The note was removed by my friend in a few hours, which I can understand. Few months ago couple of my friends (both practicing and non practicing Muslims) telling me about their family members and relatives having nightmares about concentration camps, which made me feel ashamed as a fellow-human. Fear seeping into the subconscious and erupting as nightmares is one thing but fear gripping your conscious mind is one thing and convincing you that you will be hunted, that too by the state, is another thing. The note by senior friend troubled me quite a lot because theirs is a well educated family and also has members who serve in the judiciary system. If someone from that family has to lose faith in every system and be convinced that they will end up in concentration camp, I don’t know what is left to crumble anymore in this secular democracy.

A tweet by a friend (a skeptic Muslim) couple of days ago, spoke of how she has been fearing death and losing family and friends to Corona and even in the midst of these fears, when she wakes up at night what fills her is with dread are thoughts of how Muslims will be hounded after this is over.

It is heartbreaking to realize that someone is able to imagine the world surviving this pandemic for which there is no vaccine that has been invented yet, but still is not able to imagine a sane society, a secure society, a secular society in the land which takes great pride in saying it is the land which said and apparently believed “vasudaiva kutumbakham,” to mean “the entire world is a family.”

Couple of hours before I began to write this note, a release by the Tahsheeldar of the Krishnarajapete Taluk, Karnataka began circulating over social media. The release speaks of an incident that took place at Tendekere of KR Pete taluk on the 8th of April at 22:45 hrs. Three men were stopped at the check-post and when stopped they have fled after announcing that they “are Muslims and Corona infected,” and threatening to “spread the virus and kill,” in case any attempt is made to catch hold of them. Investigation revealed the three as Mahesh, Abhishekh and Srinivas on whom FIR has been lodged! In the release. the Tahshildar says, “The three lied just to escape the consequences and there was no malicious intention behind it,” after which he says, “In the taluk of KR Pete no Muslim youngsters have arrived to spread the virus,” and adds, “Muslim community is not spreading this disease, it is untrue, hence all are requested to not to get anxious over it.” The release, in its concluding lines appeals the citizens of all religion to live in harmony “like always” and cooperate in fighting Corona.

I am willing to believe that the three men “lied” only to “escape the consequences,” for breaking the rules of lockdown. All of us do lie when we fear consequences. We do not do it consciously but as a reflex. I understand. But I cant square the circle as to why would they say they are Muslims and Corona infected,” and not just “Corona infected,” for escaping consequences. If at all we are to believe that the three did whatever they did just as a reflex action to escape consequences, then it is to be believed that the bias against Muslims, hatred against the entire community has become so internalized that it is now a part of the muscle memory!

If this is the kind of country/ world that we have to live in, what is the point of fighting this pandemic? If we are not able to re-imagine a humanitarian society, re-evaluate ourselves, when being reduced to just biological beings during pandemic with death staring at us, why are we, as a nation, as a society, even fighting for survival?

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A Wounded Heart

March 29, 2020 at 9:15 PMMar (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

When a gesture of kindness, love and compassion is met with spite and despise (whatever the politically correct sounding justification might be) the loving heart is pushed to believe that kindness and compassion is a blasphemy, a crime. It erodes not just the heart’s ability to feel kindness, compassion and love but also shrinks the space for kindness, love and compassion in the world we inhabit. It makes the world a poorer place to exist, for hearts to breathe.

A wound inflicted on a loving heart is a wound inflicted on the whole of humanity.

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Between Death and Hatred

March 22, 2020 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Friends, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In continuation of the battle against CAA-NRC-NPR, we (a group that is united to uphold constitutional values and communal harmony) were planning to have a workshop today in Udupi, a small town in coastal Karnataka. The purpose of the workshop was to train a bunch of trainers in  who could go later meet the communities at the block level and educate them about NPR and also to help strategize on how to resist NPR.

On the 18th when the DC imposed section 144 in the district, to fight the spread of Coronavirus, an emergency meeting was called where the core committee of the group met. Majority of them at the meeting said they believed the imposition of section 144 was to diffuse the protests. So they were all of the opinion that we should go ahead and conduct the workshop as planned, for 100-150 people.

Shocked by this, I raised objection and said the threat of virus spread shouldn’t be taken lightly and we should postpone the workshop for the time being. Some (largely ladies) agreed with me and suggested we cancel the workshop for now. But still a majority felt that as warriors who are out on a mission and have already begun to fight the Government, shouldn’t care for anything and just continue the battle. They began to call legal experts and take opinion on what would be the implications of not bending to the imposition of section 144. I urged all to not consult a legal expert but medical experts. Thankfully the one presiding the meeting felt the need to consult a medical expert and made a call to one medical expert who strictly advised against any gathering for whatever purpose. Though not happy to listen to it, quite a few gave up on insisting that we go ahead with the workshop. Yet not all were convinced. The one presiding over the meeting said, “I dont see the Government going ahead with NPR by putting the lives of teachers at risk for the collection of data.”

At this point one senior Muslim man said, “I realize that there is a serious medical threat. We can take some precautions for that while conducting the workshop. I feel the Government is quite cunning. They will impose 144 and create panic till the day before NPR data collection is to begin and then will go ahead with their own plan and complete the process of NPR. If teachers do not cooperate they might hire the cadres of RSS and do it,” and asked, “if such a thing is to happen, what are we to do?”

I froze. It seemed like this man, heart in heart believes, the Government is more cruel than the pandemic. An interpretative reading of his words make me realize that for him either God or science will come to our rescue if infected by the virus. But there is nothing that can save us from this Government other than our fight against it, however bleak the chances of our protests triumphing in this battle. To stretch it a bit further- even God cant save us from this Government!

Also, his words reflected how his mind could be asking him as to what the point of surviving a pandemic would be if in the end one is to lose their home(land)? Though I continued to argue till the end of the meeting that at this point we should prioritize our safety, I am still feeling guilty about my privileged position which can clearly, whether right or wrong, prioritize safety over security, while people like the senior Muslim man who spoke, cannot make such prioritization. If there is no assurance of a life of dignity and equality, what is the point of such a life? – his words question. Hence he is ready to take a risk with Coronovirus, but is not ready to take any chance with the poisonous Government which is determined to show people like him their place, as per the new vision of the nation revised by the forces behind the Government.

There was a message that kept circulating on whatsapp few days ago which read: samajh mein nahi aa raha, naagarikta bachaaye, khaata bachaaye ya jaan bachaaye!

It certainly is easy to make sense of death than to make sense of hatred.

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“Poetry for him is an Ordinary Mystery.” : Guillermo Rodriguez on A.K. Ramanjuan (Interview)

March 16, 2020 at 9:15 PMMar (Literature, Media, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

Samvartha ‘Sahil’: My first question or rather a request to you is to define the corpus of AK Ramanjuan (AKR) through an image or a metaphor and explain the different dimensions of AKR that get reflected in that image/ metaphor.

Guillermo Rodriguez: There are a series of crucial metaphors in AKR´s life and poetry, and many of them are related to nature, such as the (upside down) tree, the orange (fruit) in the tree, the snake etc. But I would say that (window-)glass is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and powerful images in AKR`s poetry as well as in his aesthetics. He once scribbled in his diary notes, “glass is good, it reflects to the outsider and refracts for insiders”.

Guillermo Rodiruguez

That is, depending on the point of view (where you stand) and how light hits the glass, you may either see yourself in a mirror reflection or see through the window to the external world, to the outsider who in turn may not see you standing behind the glass but see his own reflection. The window-glass is therefore a metaphor of the complexity of the human “self” which is invested with an inner and outer “vision” and composite “relations”. And glass is fragile, as is “the self”; it can break into pieces. Ramanujan´s choice of glass metaphors also testifies to his kaleidoscopic view of the world and to his belief that “truth is only in fragments.” In his poetry there are abundant glass and mirror metaphors. He often plays with perception, view points and optical effects, showing us how an image can be constructed from a concrete visual sense impression and then move beyond the particular in concentric circles, expanding meanings and reflections; thus performing a poetic play of mirrors, as it where. The related concepts of reflexivity and self-reflexivity were also a central to his understanding of Indian literature.

SS: Can you map the ‘becoming’ of AK Ramanjuan, tracing his journey as a writer and thinker? It would be great if you can mark the major milestones and turns/ shifts of this ‘becoming’. I mean evolution of his intellectual and creative self.

GR: There were several crucial moments and milestones in AKR`s life which defined his intellectual evolution and writing career. In 1943, for instance, when he was barely fourteen years old, AKR failed a final exam in history, which made him turn to writing prose and poetry in Kannada. Another decisive moment in his youth was when he threw away his sacred thread, thereby shunning his Brahmin tradition and legacy; instead, he embraced rationalism, existentialism and other philosophies, as well as medieval Kannada Virasaiva bhakti poetry which advocated an anti-brahminical revolutionary stance. Years later as a Professor of English in Belgaum in the early 1950s he was drawn to folklore and collected oral tales and women narratives. This was also a very fruitful period in his life as he began to flourish as a poet in English. In 1958, tired and disappointed with teaching English, he decided to study linguistics in Pune which eventually took him to the USA in 1959 as a Fulbright Scholar. His moving to America, and his constant “in-betweenness,” crisscrossing between disciplines, traditions, cultures, and tensions, moulded his multicultural intellectual profile and fed into his creativity. Linguistics and structuralism as a young researcher and professor in the U.S. in effect became the foundational ground on which his intellectual “toolbox” rested. This, along with his accidental discovery of an anthology of Tamil classical Sangam poetry in the basement of a library at the University of Chicago, marked his scholarship as well as poetic style which stayed with him throughout his career. In the latter phase of his life his structuralist convictions were shaken by post-structuralist theories (the later Barthes, Kristeva, Derrida etc.) which he also absorbed creatively into his own thinking and work as a writer.

SS: Like the title of his essay 300 Ramayanas we can say that there exist 300 Ramanujans, though 300 might sound a bit of an exaggeration. But the Ramanujan as a poet, as a translator from English, as a translator to English, as an essayist, as an anthropologist, as a writer in Kannada, as a writer in English, as a reader in Kannada, reader in English, reader in Tamil, as a researcher. How do these various facets of AKR flow into one another and influence one another? As an interviewer, on behalf of the (imagined) readers I request you to elaborate on this with some examples.

GR: AKR`s life and work was multi-layered. Moving from his native Mysore to Chicago and around the world, wherever he went and worked he continued to enlarge his multidisciplinary outlook both as a scholar and artist. This heterogeneity was further nurtured in his manifold professional engagements at the University of Chicago. He stated in an interview conducted by Chidananda Das Gupta in 1983: “One of the fortunate things of my life is that I have been able to keep the miscellaneousness interests of my youth alive – because I landed up in a place where this was formally recognised. It’s good to feel that these interests are not hobbies I pursue outside my field.” In AKR’s intellectual and artistic “miscellaneousness” there is, however, a continuous dialogue and reflexivity, which were also characteristic principles of Indian literary texts as he stressed in his essays. The multiple traditions, languages (mainly English, Kannada, and Tamil) and disciplines AKR absorbed therefore formed a very creative interaction in his self and in his work encompassing the diverse scholarly interests, the poetry, as well as the translations. In his work as a scholar and translator he imbibed terminology from linguistics, literary theory, classical Tamil and medieval bhakti aesthetics, cultural anthropology and other disciplines which he constantly revised. And his interests remained always in balance between the “higher” arts and disciplines and the popular forms of expression such as traditional oral tales or proverbs. These multiple realities were not independent variables but inter-dependent branches of the self.

SS: Is there a Ramanjuan way of crafting words, inclusive of his pre-verbal thoughts, and what defines it?

GR: The process of writing for AKR is cyclical and open-ended. There is no conclusion in poetry; poems for him, as Valery said, are “only abandoned.” He did not believe in a pre-verbal, original form before it comes to the poet, that is, in the existence of the poem before it is written. As a trained linguist he was very conscious of language and for him only through the process of writing and re-writing and revising did the poem come into being, as “a form emerging like a face in the water.” As he explained, poems often started as a ”stir”, but then they needed to be carefully nurtured and cleaned up until they matured, lest they got “lost” or spoiled. This we learn, for instance, in the poem “Children, Dreams, Theorems.”

SS: Can you elaborate a bit on AKR’s fear, while writing, of not being able to write poetry again? And please throw light on what does this fear speak at large about the writer AKR.

GR: One could say that AKR’s suffered from an acute existential anxiety, and this became almost a chronic state. He was constantly “looking for the centre” and to deal with his recurrent fears and personal depressions he often sought advice in psychology. But writing poetry also became a way of finding himself; poetry could simultaneously be the cure and the site where his existential tensions were creatively expressed. Even a good number of his early poems from The Striders (1966) deal with the anxiety with which all poets look for inspiration and tackle his worst nightmare: the fear of the self-conscious poet whose mind is full of images, phrases and words of other poets, but who is not able to make them his own. This fear, along with his primordial fears (various types of animals, but also sex, death, drowning or falling etc.) haunted AKR throughout his life.

SS: AKR seems to have been fascinated by what we can call ‘ordinary mystery’. Do you see this as an undercurrent across his body of works? How does he arrive at these ‘ordinary mystery’, articulate them and decipher them in his works?

GR: I deal with this interesting issue at length in my book When Mirrors Are Windows. AKR’s poetics is aware of the metaphysical dimension of artistic grace, yet in his poetry he wanted to show how poetry is different from divine inspiration in that it “works” somehow like ordinary life. He developed a pragmatic attitude to art and life. And so his concept of grace does not recognise a superior force; AKR sees art as a special type of event that can happen anytime, it may come as natural “as leaves to a tree, or not at all” (a quote he borrowed from Keats). Poetic inspiration is therefore expressed as a paradox, for him it is an ordinary mystery: “Poetry happens unbidden and has to protect itself,” he said in 1980 in an interview by Murali Venkatesh, “it’s a mystery, but mystery itself is ordinary. Only we make of it something miraculous.”

Even if the right images and words come to the poet, the origin of imagination still remains a mystery to him. So many of the poems, and in particular, the ones he wrote during the last phase of his life and which are collected in “The Black Hen” (published posthumously in 1995), deal with this “mystery” and play with the notion of poetry writing. One only has to read between the lines to see that there is as meta-poetic undercurrent in much of AKR`s oeuvre that attempts to illustrate or perform the “ordinary mystery”.

(Interview conducted via email in March 2018 for Ruthumaana and published on AKR’s birth anniversary – 16 March- in the year 2020)

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