Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Till we meet again...

The last two days of the year. There will be time to reflect on all that only when I get back from my trip to Neredu 2, Goa etc. where I am headed on Thursday. It has been one jolly merry go round the last several weeks and I am looking forward to a longish spell of not having to think too much.

All the best guys, for the coming year and see you when I am back in Bombay, which is around 21st January 2006.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

It’s the season of good will, time for cheerful thoughts, we’re turning the corner, a brand new year awaits us, we are going to be walking a brand new road in life. Indeed. The municipality along with the state government, police department and various other bodies involved, have just offloaded their Christmas gifts on us: giant STONES.

The entire length of pavement in front of my grandma’s house has been dug up - for what purpose god alone knows, but it is currently filled with HUGE stone slabs and towering piles of rubble and garbage. There is not ONE INCH left there for you to navigate your way through. You HAVE to step on to the road to be able to get anywhere at all. When you do finally step onto the road you are assaulted by cars screeching at you from all directions and skidding to a halt as you shudder and tremble your way to your destination. Wherever that might be.

Maybe the Bombay Brihanmrihangrihandadoomda what have you (unpronounceable name for the Mumbai municipality) thinks that life is too easy for us folk living on Warden Road and decided to gift us some excitement and dig up the pavements which they are going to leave that way for the next nine months. After which they will dig up the other side – unless they think of doing that in the next few days itself. It will be soooo exciting to land up in hospital with a broken leg/broken arm/broken hip/broken head….Merry Xmas guys!

So anyway, here we are one evening, trying to edge our way out of the compound onto the main road in the car, but the way is blocked because the traffic lights are presumably not working, there is no policeman around to regulate the flow and not a single car bothers to stop and let someone waiting on the side, get out. My mom’s at the wheel and dad and I are sitting patiently - that is patiently twiddling our thumbs. De dum de dah. De dum de doo.

I am personally reconciled to waiting where I am for the next eight months but long before the eight months are up, this bloke strolling down the street with his wife, sees us struggling in the wings, and decides to help us. He stops walking, holds up a hand firmly, and blocks the oncoming stream of cars which, faced with such supreme poise and confidence in a human being – that too, one without a uniform! - come to an uncomplaining halt. Then this guy, politely waves us through while his wife smiles at us benignly.

Nice guy, heart warming act. Great Xmas Gift. Merry Xmas again to all of you!!!


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Monster: Self Pity

Several days ago I accidentally came across yet another review of my book (this time, on the Amazon site) which was somewhat mixed in tone. On the plus side, the reviewer said he found the book “easy reading.” (Goes down “easy as beer on a Sunday afternoon”, he says, although on second thoughts I don’t know if I am meant to take that as a compliment!) On the minus side he felt there was “not enough information about India” and that the attitude I displayed towards “Sarla” (the cook) was one of pity rather than understanding etc. (Don’t know how he could have thought that, since apart from being the cook, “Sarla” happens to be one of my best friends, and one really does not pity a friend!) Anyway, the reviewer had given the book three stars out of a possible five star rating.

The reason I introduced this bit of information, was not to defend myself or the book but to discuss quite another topic – that of feeling sorry for oneself. As usual the criticism made me feel a bit gloomy but less than an hour after I read it, a client arrived for a session. We spoke about a lot of things which surfaced in his sharing. Funnily, it was all about “feedback”, and the way we are so intolerant about what others say about us Ironically, talking to this guy made me see my own reaction to feedback as well.

During the discussion Satish began to realise how aversion to feedback or critical opinion restricted one, because it often led one to withdraw from whoever happened to have said “rude” or “mean” things. What one lost in the process quite often, was not only a relationship, but also an opportunity to transform oneself.

When the session ended I sat down with my folks on the balcony. Over a drink, I suddenly became aware of the fact that the slight pit in my stomach created by the critical review I had come across earlier, had not only faded altogether but had been replaced by a feeling of joy, bordering on elation. I had not even thought about that review in the last hour and a half! Not for the first time I became aware of the fact that so much of our suffering arises from a sort of self centredness, a feeling of self importance. Which means that every time our sense of importance is threatened or damaged we feel depressed or angry. There is absolutely nothing new in this bit of wisdom, except, I notice, that when any insight comes from your own experience it becomes so much more meaningful than when you read about it in a book.

How to stop being self centred? Yes, well, it doesn’t help to tell oneself not to be that way and to force oneself to be artificially interested in other people. Doesn’t work. What works for me, is to become intensely aware at any given point, of my own selfishness and ego. Being truly conscious of egoistic feelings when they do arise, helps you to see the results of such feelings and seems to somehow also help to dissolve them.

The difficulty is that most of us don’t want to do that. We don’t like to see ourselves as we are and even less, the way others see us. We have these images of ourselves in our minds of being “beyond all that” maybe. We feel it is other people who are mean or egoistic. Mean? Nasty? Who me???

(I am reminded of Alfed E.Nuemann grinning at the reader in his moronic fashion at this point. Mad Magazine readers get it?)

“Greedy? Egoistic? I live for other people, I do everything I can for my kids, my parents, my mother-in-law, for society.”

Ha ha.

I have often seen people wallowing in self pity because they imagine they are doing such good work and not getting any recognition for it. In fact people who suffer most from this disease are the very ones who imagine they are doing their best for the world, and not getting any pats on the back. Maybe it is time to wake up to the fact that self pity is the worst form of indulgence. As far as I’m concerned it’s a lot worse than smoking, drinking, manic depression, bad breath etc. etc.

If I show any signs of it, people go ahead and smack me! I will try really hard, not to smack you back.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Thursday, December 15, 2005

City Life

City life can drain you. There is something incredibly hard and frenetic about the energy of so-called thriving cities like Bombay, where I live. To be honest I would call it the energy of madness. It has the quality of arrows, pins, needles and all kinds of sharp objects darting out all over the place and striking you, and each other as well, randomly and so fast that you are just not able to keep pace with them or make sense of their movements.

I am lucky enough to be living in a place from where a view of the open sea and sky is framed by the swaying branches of palm trees outside my window and I am spared the hustle bustle on a daily basis. But the down side of it is that I am slowly turning into a hermit of sorts. I almost can’t bear to step out of the house to face not only broken down pavements waiting to trip me up and chuckle over a twisted ankle or broken bone, but the throngs of people who are likely to crush you as they blindly race across the streets and narrow sidewalks.

Cars screech, taxis honk, people dart impudently across the road just where they are NOT supposed to be crossing. Drivers curse because you are going too slow/too fast/you turned when they didn’t expect you to/ some kid ran across the street and they had to brake all of a sudden.

I curse myself that in all these years I never took up some truly relaaaaxing hobby like pottery or knitting to combat the stress. On the contrary when I did have the chance to do some of that, way back in about the fourth or fifth class in school, I would give my sewing and knitting assignments to other pals to finish for me, and return their favours with a piece of chocolate or some other item from my lunch box. Talk about bribery and corruption! You could say in India, it starts early.

Well I am glad that at the end of this month I shall be able to trade the city hulchul for a couple of weeks when a few of us take off for Bangalore  to visit Lallu's project and later on to the beaches of Goa. And meantime to ensure that I stay sane while in the city I must remember to enroll for some classes in knitting when I get back.

Group Website: www.basicindia.net

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Learning Process

There is always scope to get wiser. I thought that at the age of 55 I had reached as far as I’m going to get in this lifetime (lots left over for the next life of course!) but what I have discovered in the past few days is, that I’ve become even more mature than I thought I could possibly get! This became apparent to me when I realised out of the blue, that I don’t get excited any more (polite word for hysterical) when faced with an electronic crisis.

I had put together a special MP3 CD for my meditation session yesterday evening which a couple of new people were going to attend. New people means potential nail biters, guys with nervous twinges, individuals who are busy hypnotising themselves silently or aloud with the slogan “I CAN’T MEDITATE” before they've even bothered to find out what the heck meditation is, and are all set to prove to you that meditation doesn’t really work.

So I go through all this trouble to organize a collection of music for the newcomers and when the CD is ready I put it in my MP3 walkman to test it out and guess what. The walkman tells me there is no disc inside. So I take the CD out and put it in again and this time the player tells me, after an even longer interval than the first time that there is no disc. So now I take out the CD lens cleaner and give the inside a good drubbing and put in the new CD a third time. Now the player shows nothing. It is blank. After repeated attempts to get it to play I give up. But in the middle of these attempts I notice something puzzling. For once I am actually feeling quite cool - not merely thinking I am being cool. (You know the difference?!) I'm not even vaguely angry. Not the slightest bit of irritation in me. I just tell myself I will have to get a new walkman and since I cannot do it today, well, I’ll just have to use something else for the meditation and I get out the minidisk player with some of the old stuff on it and forego the choice music I’d lined up.

The meditation went well except that right in the middle of it the cat started yowling. Yowling like she was being murdered or as if she herself was getting ready to murder somebody. This is not an unusual thing to happen. Our cat for some mysterious reason has started reacting very strangely to meditations. I just have to get a handful of people together to listen quietly to music in the house and after about twenty minutes she starts going “Meeeeaaaaaaow! Mrrreeeeaaaaowwwwrrrrgh! MRRRREEEEEOOOOOWWWGGGHHHH!” and so on and so forth. This is incidentally a much worse habit as far as I’m concerned, than turning over the dustbin to look for chicken bones.

A couple of people (luckily not the newcomers, but the old timers) told me after the session, that the sounds had terrified them and they had prepared themselves to deal with a lunatic feline jumping onto their chest while they were deep in the land of bliss. Eventually it seems they had decided to take it all in their stride – a major learning for them on keeping their cool in the here and now. As for me, I did wish the old cat (she is almost 18) would shut up and quietly go away but my irritation was nowhere near its usual explosive level and on the whole the session was a success.

Yup. It feels like I’ve grown about an inch taller since yesterday, in the spiritual sense. Nice surprise!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Friday, December 09, 2005

Will the Real Bag Lady Please Stand Up?

Well okay, I have to confess it. If there was one thing I really “identified with” or one label that people have given me which I think is at least sort of true, it is that of “bag lady”. I am the original bag lady, no doubt about it. But every time I say that, my friend Sushama from Delhi contests it, saying she is the original bag lady, because she is far more crazy about bags than I am.

What being a “bag lady” means in effect, is that every time I go shopping for anything – and I mean anything - clothes, stationary, food, CD’s - I somehow end up buying bags. Small bags, big bags, pouches, haversacks, party bags, one-strap bags, wallets. You name it. Sometimes I buy the other things I need, as well. Most often I end up buying two or three bags each time I shop for bread or soft drinks or things like that, which over the years has amounted to an entire cupboard full of bags, some of which I use, most of which I don’t use but none of which I want to throw away.

The other day Sushama, who is visiting from Delhi, came over and we went to Flora Fountain on a shopping spree. I actually wanted to buy a sleeping bag and Sushama didn’t want to buy any bags. We hunted high and low for this shop which we had been to about a year back, amidst dozens of similar hole in the wall shops and not being able to spot it at all, were on the verge of giving up, thinking they had folded up or moved house or something when Sushama suddenly went "There it is!"

We tumbled out of the car and headed straight for the little den crammed with backpacks, purses, shoulder bags, all kinds of bags. The shopkeeper’s son, a guy called Ali served us and in minutes was able to give me what I was looking for. A neat, light weight, cheap sleeping bag to take with me on my trip down south in January. This time, I have to confess I was satisfied with buying a sleeping bag, though Sushama who had not wanted to buy any bags hung around and looked and looked and sifted through immense piles of haversacks and cabin luggage and vanity cases and at the end of an hour, had collected four items which she ended up buying. Ali was so moved by her interest and her propensity for spending so much money in his shop that he got hold of a huge sack full of the latest small bags he had picked up from China and said we could each pick up one for free.

Well, we fell on it like a pack of starving wolves and each of us came out of this treasure hunt clutching three pieces and fixing Ali with entreating looks – which made him squirm a bit, because after all he had meant like ONE piece – but eventually we settled for two free bags each. I got a waist pouch for my mother and a small mobile pouch for my dad. Ali was happy, we were happy and I conceded Sushama first place. She is indeed the original bag lady. I come a poor second in comparison.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Centre of the Universe

“When they discover the centre of the universe many people will be disappointed to discover they are not it.”

I found that quote in the Sunday Times here and thought it described most people so well, I tried to find out more about this intelligent guy behind it. Bernard Bailey was the name but there was no further information, so I went to Google for help. Well I didn’t get too far because the Google search threw up about twenty Bernard Baileys some of whom were authors, one of whom was a cartoonist and one of whom was a Beagle. So now I am sure it was the Beagle who thought up that clever line. I can just imagine Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse with his diary, those silly birds twittering around him, while he glares at Lucy busy poking her nose into everything. And this brilliant line floats into his mind.

Well Lucy, in the Charlie Brown comic strip is so real it isn’t funny. We all know at least half a dozen like her I’m sure, if not more. Maybe we all have a bit of Lucy in us. Self centered, bossy, know it all attitude. I catch myself in that phase sometimes but get out of it soon enough these days. (I hope I’m seeing myself right!) But I guess in a more serious fashion I identify with Charlie Brown. Old Klutz, bumbling, shy, getting it mostly wrong. The only good thing about that is I have more hair than Charlie Brown. At least at the moment!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Visiting Cards!

Reshma, my latest client (whose name I have obviously changed) has been going on at me to get visiting cards made. Visiting cards! The last time I had any made I wasn't even a psychotherapist. I was a photojournalist. Several moons have waxed and waned since then and my hair has grown a whole lot more grey and my visiting cards have almost sprouted a beard.

This particular bunch of cards (they are still sitting on my shelf) have a neat logo, designed by the son of a friend of mine who happened to be venturing out as a printer and whose first client I think I was. It has a camera materialising out of nowhere, from out of whose lens like a larva, emerges the long fat nib of a pen. The first couple of friends I handed it to actually sniggered because they claimed it looked rather like something it wasn’t supposed to look like! Don’t ask me what or why because it isn’t me that has a devious mind.

I was happy enough with those cards but the same way that I have a couple of exotic perfumes sitting on my dresser which I keep forgetting to dab on after a shower or even when I go out, I forget to give out my visiting cards. They have been collecting dust for the last ten years and meanwhile whatever telephone numbers they mention are outdated and we’ve been given new ones. (Telephone numbers in Bombay seem to be constantly on the move. We’ve had ours change at least six times in the seventeen years we’ve lived in this flat.) And now Reshma says. “What about visiting cards?” Her husband has been asking her to bring one home. Maybe he doesn’t quite believe I’m professional enough although Reshma who has taken to therapy like a duck to water, now wants to bring her whole family along for sessions.

Why did I bring all this up? I believe because what I’m actually thinking about is the labels that people find so necessary to give themselves and other people. Reshma confessed that she was both puzzled and even upset that there was no nice plaque on the door calling out “Dr. Uma” to the world to confirm that here was a lady with the credentials required to treat people who were "emotionally sick". (I told her I do have them but don’t need to advertise them).

Labels have been the bane of my life. A couple of days back I spoke about how much I dislike using the phone and now I have to say if there is anything I dislike even more than the phone it is labels. I have always been allergic to being thought of as any particular “thing.” (Brown skinned/Hindu/Feminist/Liberal/Disabled/Writer/Teacher of the deaf/Psychotherapist etc etc etc ad nauseum).

Do we really need those labels for our identity? Isn’t it enough somehow to know that you’re a human being? That like others you have possibly picked up skills along the way in a certain field which people might find useful, and that is that. Isn’t it possible to work towards an equitable society without having a whole lot of labels fixed to one’s name like a long tail?

Well, I am going to make those visiting cards made anyway. I don’t feel particularly defiant about any of this, only questioning. And of course maybe they will serve a purpose after all. Apart from my name and address and my “designation in life” and telephone numbers they will carry my website address and maybe some other info. I’ll be looking out for a nice logo as well. And I guess that along the way it will make Reshma and her husband happy.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yikes! There Goes The Phone!!

I hate chatting on the phone. I have an almost pathological distaste for it which friends or acquaintances don’t seem to quie believe, deep down. So they keep calling at the most unfavourable times, and then wonder why I sound distant or a bit absent, not knowing perhaps that at the very moment they have buzzed me to fill me in on their life history I am surfing the net or writing something or talking to someone else or even just plain meditating on the sea and sky which my bedroom window looks on to.

Once a guy trying to relieve the tedium of his own life happened to call when my computer engineer was busy explaining to me how to synchronise my palmtop with the desktop and was miffed when I actually forgot that he was on the line and even forgot to make the rudimentary “uh-huh, uh-huh” noises on the phone you usually indulge in, to persuade the person at the other end of the line that you are listening with great interest though you are most likely falling asleep and trying not to snore.

It wasn’t always like that of course. There was a time when I used to be obsessed with the phone and was known (much to my mother's disgust) to chat for ages, at least with a handful of bosom pals with whom I never seemed to run out of conversation. One night I broke my own record by yapping on the phone for over two hours until my ear actually began to hurt from prolongued contact with the receiver. Those were the times of course, when regardless for how long you spoke you were charged for just one call. Now I sometimes ask myself if I’m the same person.

Something possibly changed in me the day the phone rang and I rushed to get it. That was incidentally over twenty years ago. I had just come out of the shower, my feet were wet and before I reached the shrieking instrument and before I knew it I’d landed on my ass and cracked my tail bone. Four weeks in bed cured me of any fondness for phones in general.

I love meeting people and I like mailing them or writing to them. Generally I enjoy being in contact with human beings. But NOT ON THE PHONE. Which I use strictly for information purposes. To confirm appointments, to cancel appointments, to communicate good tidings, to communicate bad news and so on, to plan something or other

This, I believe is what a telephone was originally intended for, in the old days. So in those good old fashioned days is no doubt where I still belong!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Monday, November 28, 2005

Time, Space and a little Beer

If you're lucky, the ride from central Bombay to Marve (one of the dirty beaches around the city) takes a little over an hour. Rush hour prolongues your travel time by a good hour. Vijay and I, who drove down on Friday evening itself, to get the place ready for the workshop participants who were to arrive on Saturday morning, had average luck. We took a little over an hour and a half to get there, not counting the stops to pick up nourishment for the weekend ranging from bread and tomatoes to tea, sugar, milk and beer.

The best part of the evenings is of course sitting down to watch the night sky, sipping cold beer. As luck would have it the first bottle was flat and we had to pour it down the sink. The second bottle, since we had not stuck it in the freezer, was not cold enough but what the hell. Once we started on it, it drew us into our favourite topics - time, space, reality and the universe.

Away from the cacophony of city life, under a clear black sky filled with stars it becomes easier to plunge into the depths. We talked about how weird it felt to have known each other for ten years. Sometimes it felt like a hundred years and sometimes it felt like we had met yesterday. So what is time, really! And what is reality? And do we really know anything at all about life really, or is it that our need to feel secure persuades us that we have everything in control?

At some point V and I decided that life was a total mystery. All one could do was sit and watch it unfolding. The trick is, that to do that, one needs to feel at least materially and physically secure. One needs a roof over one's head. One' s stomach needs to be be filled. Otherwise, one's attention is concentrated on these basics rather than on anything else. So it is to help each other go deeper into the process of life, that we need to support each other, to take care of each other, to ensure an environment that will make it possible for each of us to enjoy the miracle of life.

The beer helped. The stillness helped. Our understanding and acceptance of each other helped, to bring us a mite closer to something quite indefinable that you could only sense, if you happened to be in a state of alertness. It was one of those moments when I had the feeling: so this is what friendship is really about! Simply, this being together, this watching of life together, this implicit support of each other

Group website: http://basicindia.typepad.com/basicindia/

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Winters Day in Bombay

View of Haji Ali from my bedroom

In terms of the weather Bombay is generally one of the most pleasant places I have lived in. Except for a few weeks in May preceding the monsoon and a few weeks in October following it, it is neither too hot nor too cold. (Of course some people might say that that is so because we live right on the sea and not inland!)

Just now is of course the best time of year as we are getting into “winter” – friends from Europe crack up when I use this word to describe the climate here in the months from December to February. The temperatures drop to a really pleasant 20-25 degrees C and as I sit here at my desk, there is this heavenly breeze blowing in through the window. For a city this is as quiet as it can get, just the purr of a car rolling into or out of the compound and the distant sound of voices.

The sound of the palms swaying in the breeze. The Haji Ali mosque, which my window looks on to, stands bright and clear in the sunshine, like an ornate slab of wedding cake surrounded by sea and grey black rocks. It is one of those times you forget about the city racket, the chaos, the aggression and allow yourself to be almost lulled to sleep by the idyllic temperature and mood of the environment.

The next couple of days I am most likely to be away conducting a workshop for a friend and former colleague. Back Sunday night. Till then adios.

Group website: http://basicindia.typepad.com/basicindia/

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Exotic foods

It was probably natural that Devika and I should end up watching the TV programme we did after dinner last night. Devika is my friend Jyotsna’s daughter (and my goddaughter – I must be the worst godmother in the history of godmothers!) She happens to be spending a few days with us in Bombay to attend a course in Eurythmics. (If you want to know more about that you’ll have to ask her!)

Well all through the meal Devika was describing these mindboggling ice creams and all kinds of exotic food one can get these days in Bombay. I am a glutton for info like this since I rarely eat out except for those age old colonial clubs where everything mostly tastes like socks stewed in mothball gravy. Anyway throughout dinner we discussed things like “chocolate avalanche” and “chilli ice cream” (“It’s cold but also really hot as it goes down your throat” says Devika) and “pepper chocolate” and the next thing I know is we’re sprawled in front of the TV watching National Geographic reveal the delights of peppery insect curries and other outlandish fare.

There was one scrumptious looking dish, with veggies and noodles and fried onions – that is, it looked scrumptious except for one thing – a something sticking out like a cherry on top of the heap of goodies. It looked like a cockroach. It WAS a cockroach. It was meant to be a Thai delicacy as far as I remember. I can’t remember too well because my brain froze at the very sight, at the very moment that a woman sitting next to the man in the TV show, happened to SCREAM with disgust as her husband bit into and crunched up the roach.

This was one of the funnier or you could call it more wacky aspects of food. There was stuff that was truly shocking. And that is the way creatures are treated before they are killed. How snakes (cobras) are hung up with their mouths tied up. How lambs are slaughtered. And the next part – after the break – was supposed to be on roast dog.

“I DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT!” screeched Devika. I agreed with her and we decided to switch to another channel. It is not for nothing I suppose that in the last few years I have been on a slow journey to vegetarianism much as I miss the taste of a variety of mouth watering meats.

For group website check out: http://basicindia.typepad.com/basicindia/

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ooops my hand slipped

I don’t know if anyone else has this problem – but my handwriting is a bit chameleon like. That means, it tends to vary according to my mood, the time of day, what I want to say etc. In a way I guess it is not unusual, I’ve heard that to some extent it happens to everybody. (Stardust, you mentioned something about having forty pen pals! Each of whom gets a handwritten letter from you. Wow!)

The varying slant or whatever is not the problem. What gets you into a soup is when the bank refuses to recognise your signature! Recently, a cheque which I had written to the travel agency which managed our Goa trip, bounced. Now that means paying a Five Hundred Rupee fine! If I get fined every time the bank thinks my own signature is forged, I’ll soon go broke. My dad says maybe I should stop signing and switch to giving thumb impressions.

I haven’t yet been struck by Alzheimers (though if I were I suppose I wouldn’t know it!) or palsy or anything like that. It is just that my writing is terribly quirky and I can never get it to behave. Any solutions?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Goa Holiday

A view of the palms

Rodrigues" Bungalow

“John’s Seagull” is where you will probably find me most evenings, when I am in Goa. The restaurant is right on the beach and sitting at one of the open air tables under an inky blue sky, you watch the frothy phosphorescent waves come and go, all through the garlic chilly squid which you invariably end up ordering, no matter what else you are having as a main course. It’s not only a great view but also good food, the fish being the main attraction.


I wouldn’t say Bogmalo had one of the best beaches in Goa – the beach itself is rather small and tends to be a bit crowded in the evenings - but what I like about the place is its village atmosphere and the fact that it is a lot less commercial than the beaches around Candolim in the north or Palolem down south, where every other night is disco night and your ears are blasted out by techno nonsense. (When I was twenty I never imagined I’d be saying things like this but now mid way through my fifties here I am acting like an ancient Auntie!)

After Bombay, Goa seems so incredibly restful! You wake up to the sound of cocks crowing and a multitude of birds whistling and tweeting away in the trees outside your window. All day long squirrels run up and down the trees chattering to themselves. The Rodrigues’ bungalow where I normally stay (this time my friend Jyotsna and cousin Shiv were there too) overlooks the main road, beyond which lies an expansive grove of palm trees bordering the sea.

At the back is a thicket, where a movie is usually in progress, the main roles being taken up by pigs, dogs, chickens and cats who sleep, play, or quarrel with each other. Once Shiv and I actually saw something like an animal conference take place and I’m not joking. There were a dog, a cat, two pigs, and a goat all sitting together solemnly in a kind of semi circle in the neighbour’s compound. After a round of silent communication they got up and each went his own way. The cutest though, are the piglets which scamper, squealing all day long after their mamas.

Early mornings and late evenings you see toddy tappers shin up the towering palm trees to collect the sap that will eventually be distilled into Feni, which is drunk with limejuice and sometimes with soda with a pinch of salt. Except for the music which occasionally blares from the neighbour’s stereo, or the horrendously noisy air exercises undertaken by the naval establishment in Bogmalo (how I wish they would go and do their stuff elsewhere!) Bogmalo is peaceful. I was amazed at the fact that I hardly thought about Bombay or about work or anything for that matter.

That was a real holiday and now that I’m back I can’t wait to pack my bags and set off for Goa again!

Uma and Jyotsna at John's

Group website: www.basicindia.net


I used to often think of airports as having an exotic atmosphere, as being a door to the mysterious, the unknown. A single step into that great silvery bird known as a plane would transport you thousands of miles away into strange and wonderful lands you had never even dreamt of.

I think differently now and am beginning to be aware of how very dull and soulless an airport can be. On our way to Goa for example, I watch the people around me in the departure lounge. There is something earthshakingly blank about their expressions. Men and women slump back in upholstered chairs, reading, listlessly playing with their mobiles. I watch a couple - he taking big bites out of a dry looking (typical airport) hamburger, she tucking into a packet of potato chips while their two kids run around the lounge, involved in some sort of chasing game.

A man holds a monologue on his cell phone, another out of sheer boredom toys with his. A foreign woman frowning over a magazine, nibbles at a chocolate bar while her friend, peers over her shoulder and tries to read alongside. An Indian woman deep into a novel by Jeffrey Archer smiles as she reads. An elderly woman, in a blue sari, crinkly white hair and a sensible looking face (whom Jyotsna and I both think looks familiar), settles down on the chair opposite mine, fishes out a paperback from her capacious and sensible looking bag and pores over it. The kids tearing around are the only ones to show any signs of life.

The two foreign women turn out to be German. One of them takes out a couple of foreign looking bottles of some orange drink from her rucksack and they both sip at it. Jyotsna says to me, “Doesn't she (the one on the right) look horrid?” Well I don’t know. I tell Jyotsna that she just looks terribly disapproving and at the same time foxed by her surroundings, as indeed many visitors from abroad tend to do.


As usual there is a stampede to get on and off the aircraft. As if the plane might take off the way a bus does, the moment it is full. Seconds after the aircraft has landed the aisle is crammed with passengers reaching for their bags on the overhead racks and twisting and turning their heads to see if they can spot the quickest way out. The man next to me seeing me lean back impassively in my seat waiting for the rest of the passengers to clear off, impatiently taps his fingers on the back of his seat as if telling me to get off my ass and get going. I continue to sit and watch the rest of the crowd and just wait.

Finally we’re at the baggage section, we collect our luggage and it is a relief to step into the open and to recognise the office driver who has come to meet us, who goes and fetches the car as soon as he sees us trundling our trolley full of bags down the ramp. Our holiday is about to begin!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bogmalo Days

Hi Guys,

Greetings from Bogmalo, where we are busy tucking into fish and cheese garlic naan and all the specialities of John's restaurant by the sea, in Bogmalo. Too much into relaxing to write more than this but for some details about our stay here look up www.thecookscottage.typepad.com

More later!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

“1984” has maybe not quite arrived but we’re getting there. George Orwell’s vision of Big Brother watching the world is a bit off the mark in terms of time, but the idea seems eerily true. I’m still thinking about all those goings on in the suburban cyber cafes. About modern technology. About web cams and the invasiveness of all this junk in our lives.

When web cams first made an appearance I felt the first uneasy nibbles of discomfort just to think of the manner in which they might be used. It looks like those fears were justified. Today it is not hard to see the uses to which modern technology can be put, to simply spy on others, to control the people in our lives, our neighbours, people at work.

A computer specialist I know, who is helping the police to set up new systems, proudly tells me that with the latest device - some kind of extra terrestrial mobile from the sound of it - you can listen to what people are saying within some hundred metres of where you’re sitting. This is supposed to be especially useful in your place of work. How horrible. What all this is leading to, is that you can’t speak, you can’t do anything and soon you wont be able to even think without everyone knowing what is in your mind and exactly what you have been up to.

Sometimes I think, maybe this is what we are meant to learn from the horrors of technology – even if in a rather grotesque fashion. To be more open to each other, to understand each other, not to judge, not to ridicule or control. In short, not to be afraid. In fact to aim for a society in which it wont matter terribly what other people think of us, because we will be able to say what we want to, to anyone, which will make “spying” redundant. If we could live like that, openly and with deep affection for each other there would be nothing to hide, and we would live the truth. We would live in the light of our connectedness, in the light of oneness. We would live, knowing that everything we do and say, has an impact on every other thing - not as we do now, in our own separate boxes in which you simply dont care what happens to anyone outside your box.

If some (or even none!) of this is making sense, maybe it is because a discussion on a subject like this can't be one sided (well a "discussion" by its very nature needs more than one person!!) and anyway, the topic itself can't be adequately dealt with, in a few sentences. There has to be a general sharing of insights and opinions – not of opinions arising from anger and indignation but rather of opinions resulting from really wanting the best for us all. After all, it is only possible to say this much and not more in a short post on a blog.

And now bye for the time being, I am off to Goa for a week with Jyotsna and we are going to be enjoying the sea, sun, and fish there. Not to mention beer and just plain chilling out! If I can get an internet connection I might be able to put in a few words now and then.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Cyber love space

This morning’s papers carried a report on a new trend in cyber cafes in suburban Bombay: to offer “private rooms” to teenagers or young adults who lacked the space to be on their own. These rooms are apparently fitted out with tiny cameras, which record all the goings on in the cubicle (where a couple go ostensibly to surf the net but in fact for “other reasons”). The upshot is, that if you’ve been indulging in any kind of lovemaking or sexual activities it is all recorded, the various shots are put together on a CD and the CD is then circulated among or sold to customers of the cyber café or friends of the café owner, for approximately Rs. 100.

Yes it is shocking. No doubt about that. Infringement of human rights and all that. Translating into a loss of respect for the clients who happen to have had the misfortune of hiring the booth for an hour, or couple of hours. Totally damaging to one’s ego. Loss of face. I would personally not like to be in that position. Aaaarrrrrgggggh!

But then I forced myself to look at the whole thing at a deeper level and this is what I also saw. That one of the reasons that this kind of thing even takes place is that human beings in most parts of the world make such a big deal about sex. Such a big deal about a perfectly human activity, which makes anything to do with sex seem criminal or ridiculous or both. What this story further shows up is the totally screwed up usage of space in cities. The fact that young people who do need privacy don’t get it. What the hell are they supposed to do when nature whistles and hormones start to gush out in an unmanageable fashion!

Also if we could start looking at the whole topic of sex a bit more rationally, a bit more sanely, if the subject began to shake off its current red flag status and to be accepted for what it is, people would generally lose their interest in the kind of voyeurism in which they tend to indulge today. Porn would lose its significance. Maybe you have never noticed this or not thought about it. But men and women who lead genuinely fulfilling sexual lives (you perhaps?) are really not interested any more in the kind cheap thrills that today’s newspaper reported on the front page. I am not suggesting free sex. I am not suggesting the kind of mindless sexual culture which brings with it, its own hard morality and lack of sensitivity and its own pressures which are not much less difficult to cope with than the pressures of a Victorian mentality.

All I think, is that the kind of incident reported in today's papers, gets its shock value from the narrow mindedness of the society we live in. And this in turn suggests that we take the topic of sex from out of the closet and give it a good airing, to begin with! Once that happens each individual will find it easier to decide what he/she wants or is good for him/ herself. We need to rope young people and old people, rich and poor and just about everyone into a really honest dialogue on sex. Because ultimately it is a question that concerns all of society and not just a few “westernised” or “forward” folk.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Diary of a laidback Rebel

New Wine in Old Bottle

We’re a family of wine drinkers. Anyone who really knows us, and the fact that we are absolutely not corruptible (ahem!) will also know that at a pinch, they might be able to bribe us with a good red wine. So when guests come in from abroad among the other things they stagger in with, is the usual quota of bottles - without which they are afraid they might not be accommodated in the Ranganathan household. Like vultures we fall on the bounty but then unlike vultures and more like squirrels, we proceed to hoard it, and hoard it and hoard it and once in a while (actually in the “winter” months) we decide to open a bottle and enjoy it sitting on the balcony, watching the sea.

Yesterday was one of those days. My mother decided it was “time” so she brought out this bottle of French wine from our stock which looked so good you would be forgiven for ending up with a shirt front soaking with dribble. So then dad gets out the bottle opener and sticks it into the cork and twists the handle and twists and twists and twists and ... nothing happens. (If you’re getting the feeling by now that this is the story of my life, you might be forgiven – the phrase just seems to describe me and my life so well).

So Dad twists the handle of the bottle opener some more and I watch him with bated breath and cross my fingers and continue to watch and ... nothing happens. He twists some more, some more, some more and ... the cork begins to crumble.

Disaster! A French wine about to go down the drain before our eyes? I scold my dad for using the Rs. 25 bottle opener he bought in Goa, on an expensive bottle of imported wine. “You should have used a proper French bottle opener,” I tell him crossly.

Dad says sadly, “There are two lying in the drawer.” But it is too late. Anyway, Dad is so used to my furious glares, he has learnt to cope with them in an expert fashion (the same way he does with my mother’s constant reprimands about his untidiness, his absent mindedness, his inability to listen and about 687 other major faults) by choosing to ignore it all.

To get back to the bottle. Mum assures us that there is nothing wrong with the Goan bottle opener, she used it on a bottle of Indian red wine recently and it worked just fine. So yes, in fact we do notice now, that the problem has to do with the cork - and conclude that even seemingly good French wines can occasionally be plugged with rotten corks.

By now half the cork is lying in little bits on the table and the rest of it is slowly crumbling into the bottle. It seems most unlikely that we will be able to pull this one out at all, at least not with the conventional method. We are finally forced to somehow wrench out the opener and to use a sharp knife to get at the remnants of the cork. You can guess the rest. The moth-eaten bit of cork which remains in the neck of the bottle quietly disintegrates and sinks in ... And we do the only thing that is possible for us to do. Strain the wine through a square of muslin and store it in an empty bottle of “Old Monk.”

Dad fills up our glasses and a few minutes after this heart rending struggle has come to an end, we sit on the balcony with our wine and take a sip. And we sip on contentedly. Don’t know if it is just that we are tired from our efforts. But the wine tastes good!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Memoirs of a laidback Rebel

Friday, November 04, 2005

Another story about technology

I’ve said this before and I don’t mind saying it again. There are times when I am convinced that technology, which is supposed to help us put our lives in order, confuses us far more than it straightens out our crooked little minds.

I became aware of this for the millionth time yesterday when my computer engineer came over to help me synchronise a new gadget with my desktop. (A hand held PC). He took one look at the mess of wires sticking out from behind the computer table and offered to straighten it all out for me. I thought why not, it wont take more than about fifteen minutes. Believe me, the clean up operation took Jamshed more than one and a half hours and Jamshed is QUICK and organised, himself!

When he pulled out the work table and I actually SAW the tangle of black wires I almost fainted. You know how it is. There is what they call the CPU, and various things like the mother board (why not father or Uncle board, actually?) and there is the monitor, and the UPS and the modem and the stereo speakers and and and ... Each of those separate objects comes with its own heap of wires which get tangled up in each other so in the end you have no clue as to where one begins and the other ends, and it all somehow looks like the messed up thoughts in a giant messed up human head.

Well J. began sorting out the wires very patiently, to do which he had to unplug each device, one by one. While he was doing this, I had the eerie and totally mad fantasy (hello paranoia!) of the bloke taking advantage of my dazed status and blinking eyes to quietly and smilingly walk away with the whole damn equipment, leaving me feeling like Dr. Livingstone being caught and dragged off to its den, by a stately lion (though, Dr. L. did manage to shake himself free from the beast’s mouth and crawl off to safety.) I imagined my entire computer and the associated paraphernalia being walked out like an obedient dog, and me sitting there sucking my thumb and robbed of the source of my primary addiction.

Then I went on to more practical things and asked myself the inevitable question – which I have asked myself at least a thousand times before: if something like this impossible scenario were to really unfold, if my comp and all that was associated with it were to disappear overnight due to whatever ... earthquake, floods, theft, what would happen? The answer was – nothing. Nothing would happen. Or then again, left without ANY source of diversion (I have given up the usual people associated diversions for a long time now) maybe I would become truly enlightened.

Well, I didn’t get enlightened yesterday evening. J. finished his work like a good boy and three hours after he had arrived, packed his bag and got ready to go, leaving my work table looking spic and span. Not before wishing me Happy Diwali with a firm handshake, though, and offering to bring me home cooked Biryani in the coming week when his family would be celebrating Id.

Group Website: www.basicindia.net

For those with slightly offbeat views on life check out: Bombay to Eternity, Memoirs of a laidback Rebel

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Why do I write this blog

Keeping this blog has been an interesting experience. At times it feels pretty much like talking to yourself because there is so little response from anyone. So of course one has no clue as to whether others are reading what you write or you are the only one reading your blog (I mean really reading, let's not go by the number of "hits") and finally you get the whole point of keeping the journal. You do it for yourself. Primarily that is. But also with the barely perceptible hope of making contact with “someone out there” in outer space perhaps, who will both, benefit from what you communicate and also help enrich the communication, in whatever way. You write a bit, with the feeling of some extra terrestrial creature looking for its soul mates on a bizarre planet where nobody is listening to anybody else.

So I was glad to see Suresh’s comment on the last piece and I got the feeling that if there is even one person around to look at (not necessarily to agree with or appreciate) what I express, I’m happy. And I guess Suresh must be feeling the same about his blog. (Golden Boy).

It sometimes saddens me to see people so little interested in truly communicating with each other. We get bored very fast with things. Maybe, again, it has to do with the culture we live in, the fast paced “throw away” lives we lead. In a sense, in the same way that we keep throwing away everything - our phones and fax machines and stereos at the drop of a hat - we seem to throw away our lives. People so often talk about “re-making” or “re-inventing” themselves, making a human life sound like some designer product. Like come, let’s get Manish Malhotra to design our spare time a bit. Or decide what frills to put in, into those fifteen minutes we have between meeting Mr. Blab and Ms. Blah.

But finally you get the point. A human life is not about how many other people appreciate what you are doing or how you look. It is about whether you have the intelligence and energy to do what is right for you to do. Regardless of who’s looking and who turns away.

Every now and then (like at this moment) I sit up with a start, with the sober realisation (which invariably hits me like a jet of cold but fresh water). I am the only one responsible for the way I lead my life and for all that I say. That goes for this blog!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What does noise communicate?

November 2005. Diwali is a bit more silent than usual this year. Maybe it is those explosions that rocked Delhi three days back. Maybe it is the bomb threats that so many of our public places and temples and mosques have been receiving from a lot of crazy terrorist organisations.

A friend who dropped by on Sunday evening, remarked how at the Siddhi Vinayak temple, there were more policemen around than devotees. Policemen presumably with rifles and sten guns and all the rest. Of course, this lady told us, (we are not temple goers so all this information is interesting for us) that even under normal circumstances, a visit to a temple like Siddhi Vinayak where the main shrine is down some steep steps, is quite an adventure. If there are no policemen to give you a sense of thrill there are always aggressive bulky women in the queue to push you aside, who in their attempt to advance forward themselves, almost succeed in knocking you down the stairs – presumably all the way to heaven.

Or maybe Diwali is more quiet this year because people no longer want to splurge on fireworks. I don’t know. I certainly DO NOT find the thought of the bomb threats very pleasant - but the thought of a quiet Diwali is soooo welcoming. Is this the price one pays for a quiet celebration?

Festivals and celebrations seem to have lost their significance altogether, in the past decades. Ganesh Chaturti, Dassehra or Diwali. They seem to give rise to a certain frequency of madness which you have to tune into yourself, in order to even vaguely enjoy the celebration, whatever it might be, even something as simple as a birthday party.

Noise. Why are Indians so fond of it? Or is it the world? I hate parties for this very reason. Most parties make me feel the madness of our world very intensely. The music (when there is music) is so deafening that all I manage to see the whole evening is the way in which human beings cover up their basic loneliness. Not being able to genuinely face one another, not being able to communicate. And so, having nothing to say to each other, we hide the fact with deafening sounds that blare from huge loudspeakers. And that is supposed to be fun. Ok. It is only my opinion, that this is NOT fun. Maybe plenty of others who have succeeded in tuning in to the general spirit of fun (my euphemism for madness) will tell me at this point how enjoyable such noisy evenings are, and I will keep my mouth shut. Because as I said in my last post, I don’t wish to argue any more!

But if there is anyone apart from me – anyone who appreciates a little silence and wants to, and is able to communicate without the aid of loudspeakers or inane chatter, please please get in touch! Let’s see what comes of our acquaintance!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Sunday, October 30, 2005

some disjointed thoughts on the last comments

Here’s a somewhat disjointed string of thoughts on the last couple of comments:

I will call it a sense of “social cleanliness” to distinguish it from personal cleanliness. As Sharat says, in his comment on the previous post, it is no secret that Indians are extremely clean people – when it comes to their own homes. When it comes to the outside, well, I guess most of us feel that what is outside our homes does not concern us and so it doesn’t matter how our environment looks or smells. This has nothing to do with whether you are rich or poor, because rich or poor alike, in India we seem to be quite unmindful of how we treat our surroundings. Which is why it seemed to me to be some kind of cultural trait. And yes, of course, as Suresh says, it would be good to look at how to set things right rather than to just crib about it or get sarcastic.


On the other hand, Suresh’s reaction cant help make me think about yet another pronounced tendency among us Indians - to take offence at just about everything. (Of course before Suresh says something about this I will say it meself and that is, the Americans are at times far worse!) But on the whole, we dislike being criticised, are ever ready to give in to feelings of hatred rather than to look at why we need so much to “hate” and we look for the earliest opportunity to pick a quarrel with any person with whom we disagree even a mite.

The truth is that as long as we are human each of us is bound to sometimes feel irritated, angry, or disappointed. To express these feelings from time to time is natural. (Waaaah! Sometimes I just want to be allowed to be a bit sarcastic without being subjected to a long diatribe about it. The sarcasm itself doesn’t mean too much. It’s just me airing a bit of my true feelings at a particular moment, I guess ... which I thought was the whole point of a blog ... and honestly, once I’ve done a bit of that I find myself much more clear headed and in a better mood than before).

It seems to me a pity that we don’t give ourselves - or each other - enough space to simply let off a bit of steam now and then. What would happen if we did?! When irritation is spontaneous and not some huge carry over from the past, it tends to settle down as quickly as it arises. And that brings me to another point. I have had this experience, that long after a particular event has taken place and loooong after I have forgotten all about it, someone or other who has been harbouring a mountain of resentment against me, will tell me (sometimes years later) how hurt they were, or how upset etc. by what I said and by the time they bring it up it is rrrreaaally hard for me to figure out what the hell they are talking about.

So ... okay, what was I trying to say? Oh yes. At least as far as I’m concerned, I try not to react to other people’s tantrums or shows of temper when it happens. I tell myself, poor guy's having a bad day. Don’t always succeed of course. But when I do, I notice that people cool down soon enough. Things get back to normal. The discussion goes on. That’s how life is. True tolerance is also the readiness to accept the other person’s flaws and not to make a big deal of it. Maybe that is why, these days I just say what I feel and am reluctant to get into long winded arguments with people, regardless of the theme!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Glorious Indian Culture

Do people still throw things out of the windows? Here it was a New Year's Eve custom to throw out all the old stuff before letting the new year in. There was a woman near here once, who used to throw all her rubbish out the window and when somebody complained she said, what else am I supposed to do with it?”

Sounds like India? No that was a remark from Julia who lives in Savonna, in Italy. Julia had just read the first chapter of “Memoirs of a laidback Rebel” and figured out that Indian customs were similar to those in Italy.

Well, I looked out of the window yesterday afternoon and these are the things I saw lying scattered in the compound: a pile of chipped tiles, a large marble something or other (from where I was I couldn’t quite tell if it was a tub or the top of a table or what). An untidy pile of black gravel. Some untidy weeds sprouting in the gravel. Cardboard boxes. Piles of stones. It’s all been there for days. People in Bombay are constantly having their flats renovated and of course the entire mess lies outside the house, for the whole world to see. Inside it’s marble and parquet flooring etc. but the same people obviously DO NOT CARE A FUCK how the outside looks. I have actually seen people sitting in the back seat of a Mercedez Benz and spitting out of the window. Maybe the very idea of cleanliness is a Western import.

The other day, sitting out on the balcony of my grandmother’s house, which overlooks the sea, we were assaulted by a foul smell. It seemed to be burning rubber or something. The next evening a neighbour who dropped by informed us that the building secretary had attempted to keep the premises clean by organising a huge bin for the hutment dwellers who have taken up residence just outside the garden walls, on the seashore. To start with, he himself, together with a few people collected fifty big bags of rubbish from the shore and put it into the bin. That was probably the only time the rubbish was collected and thrown into the bin. To get to the bin people had to walk about fifty meters. That's too much of a walk of course. Thereafter rubbish has been collecting again on the rocks – paper, plastic bags, rubber tyres, boxes, you name it – and all this is periodically burned so as to be got rid off.

Well, I tell myself it is all part of our great Indian culture. Maybe to even suggest we clean up, that we put an end to this burning of garbage as and when, and wherever we feel like, to suggest that we stop spitting or pissing around the place would be an infringement of public rights. And of course we want to be faithful to this centuries old culture and not inhibit our people in any way.

Jai Hind.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Morning Conversations

Me, after my morning massage

Thursday morning. Massage hour. Uma Mary chimes her way into my bedroom at five minutes to seven in the morning. “Good maaarning Tai!”

Mostly she is full of news about what is happening in her life. Today she fires me with a dozen questions. So as she massages my back and my limbs I have to answer such stuff as, am I going to Charmayne’s party on Saturday evening. (Yes).

Uma Mary: Tai, do you dye your hair?
Me: If I did the white wouldn’t show now, would it.
U.M.: giggle giggle giggle
Me: I don’t suppose you need to dye your hair?
U.M.: Not really. There are a couple of strands of grey but they’re well hidden.

UM looks like she could be in her late thirties or at the most, early forties, though she has a grown up daughter whom she got married off about a year ago.)

U.M.: And if the white did start to show, I wouldn’t want to dye my hair.
Me: Why not?
U.M.: I’d feel ashamed to.
Me: Why!
U.M.: giggles. There is no explanation. My mother-in-law dyes her hair. Jet black. She hates to be called “old”. And my husband always teases her and calls her “Buddi.”
Me: And then?
U.M.: Oh she calls him “Budda” back. It makes her furious.


Well now, massage and breakfast over, I’m waiting for some dimwit who made an appointment with me for this morning at 9 and has failed to show up and not even bothered to call and inform me that he wont be coming. Am not being rude in calling him a dimwit. People who don’t show respect for other people’s time, seem to me to lack intelligence and sensitivity.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Being busy, being still

Time and again I discover this for myself. I hate being busy. But then again, when there is nothing to do, I feel the extent of the empty space and think to myself how useless I am. Then at some point, life “peps” up again, I get going, and what do you know, I once again long for the space to sit down and relax, listen to music and “do nothing.”

In yesterday’s music meditation one of the women participating spoke about how difficult it was for her to lie down and just listen to the music. She kept thinking she ought to be “doing something.” Well, I guess she and I represent two extremes, in a sense, although I must say I have learnt in the last years that doing nothing also has its down side. It does get weary and boring in the long run.

How to maintain a happy balance, between action and doing nothing? Samuel says the trick is in being still. Out of stillness comes the right impulse. You know exactly when to act, when to sit, when to sleep and so on. But because most of us are not able to be still, we end up either being too busy or doing nothing. And one way or another it leads to a feeling of dissatisfaction.

So now just as I am signing off before the next client arrives… I am going to spend five minutes looking out of the window!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Monday, October 24, 2005

Zzzzzzooooooom! Here comes the beautiful monster

I never really understood why horror movies were so popular with the general public – or how anyone could actually pay to go and watch monsters and grotesque stuff happening onscreen, until I started to watch ZOOM TV. Well, for those of you who have not yet seen Zoom or don’t know what it is about, it is the equivalent of “page three” in the press.

Zoom TV has to do with all the so-called beautiful people - beauty being in the eyes of the beholder of course. I personally don’t find anything appealing in what I see there. People filled with self importance, people with money and “position” and Zoom shows these guys partying and dancing and showing off their clothing (GROTESQUE… most of it!) and filling the screen with plastic-as-hell smiles. I mean … Ugh!

And yet, isn’t it strange, during all the channel hopping I indulge in, I do find myself flicking back, every now and then to Zoom, and watching all the goings on, goggle eyed as any genuine fan. I begin to see how the grotesque has something appealing about it. It is what gets people to actually pay to watch two headed babies at fairs, and to gawk at pinheads or people with extra limbs or funny shaped bodies.

In some sense Zoom has something almost mediaeval about it as far as I’m concerned. When you think of all the viewers it attracts. Like hungry people in ancient times gaping with admiration at royalty. But again, that’s just my opinion. And if you think differently feel free to contradict me.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Jutta visits

The last day or two, I’ve been getting to know Jutta, who has just flown in from Germany. Jutta lives in Aachen, (on the border of Germany and Holland I think). She works as a midwife and also partly, in the same area that I do, that is the “music meditation for awareness” stuff. She works together with Stephan whom I also know and like a lot.

It has been great talking to her. We had met earlier this year at one of Samuel’s workshops in Switzerland and although we had not been able to spend much time with each other during the seminar itself, we somehow knew that if we did do that, we would really enjoy being together. Before the workshop came to an end, she told me she was going to come to India in October and I suggested she spend a few days with me in Bombay before making her way to the south and whichever other places she wants to visit. And now that she is here, I am amazed at the kind of knowledge that we human beings have within us, this intuition which tells us with whom we are likely to vibe, to hit it off.

We have been chatting about many things, especially about conducting groups, about the problems that group leaders and psychotherapists have with their clients (known as “authority problems” or transference problems or projections or whatever). As a psychotherapist one is accused of everything by a whole lot of people - from being selfish, to “not listening”, to being unsympathetic. Of course, it might be that the client is even right! So the only sensible thing to do, is to just not react to any of it, to be still and wait. When both client and therapist are genuinely interested in exploring something together, the truth comes out, one way or another, and it always feels good to recognise it. Sometimes however, the client, not being able to stomach his bad feelings drops out of therapy and thus the door to communication is shut.

Sometimes the client returns, after recognising his or her own part in the game. Sometimes he/she stays away for good. It is difficult to say in advance how a particular relationship will develop.

Jutta and I have been chatting about all this through breakfast and now she is on her way to visit Charmayne who will take her for a bit of shopping and a bit of sight-seeing around Bombay. And I will get down to a spot of work.

Group website:

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A very normal day in Bombay

Saw this movie yesterday – "Dance with me," starring Richard Gere and J-Lo. A sweet, sentimental, light hearted entertainer if ever there was one. The dance scenes and the ballroom music made me feel so nostalgic and even a bit teary. Sniff sniff. And Richard Gere. If ever one could fall in love with a movie star, well this would be the one for me I guess.

The movie was shown at the club (of which my dad is a member and has been for the past fifty years). They normally screen one every month on a Wednesday, in the “cabbage patch,” the bit of lawn behind the main lawn. There are these huge noisy projectors at the back, whirring away, and it is best not to sit anywhere near them. On the side tables they have snacks and drinks (colas and beer) which you can fetch during the interval.

The club has been given all kinds of names by visitors, mostly uncomplimentary. One young fellow I took there for dinner a few years back, said to me, “Ever seen that movie, Dance of the Vampires?” And he grinned. “Well,” he says, “it looks like we’re in the middle of the sets here.” Other people refer to it as the Dowagers Club because there are so many ancient looking members around, mostly women. My mother (who is herself, 75) looked around yesterday and said somewhat amused, that nobody on the lawn seemed to be under about eighty years old, with the exception of maybe two or three people who could have been fifty.

In front of us was sitting this elegant old lady in a black and white salwaar kameez, with flowers in her hair. She had a bundle of knitting in her hand. (Don’t know what she was knitting, it seemed to be still in the early stages). She was followed by an elderly gentleman who gallantly held up the ball of wool for her each time she decided to take a few steps ( a kind of variation on Sir Walter Raleigh). When they settled down eventually she tried (a bit unsuccessfully) to make conversation with him.

“So are you also going to the U.S.?” she asked him. He smiled at her.

She repeated her question a bit louder. “Are you going to the U.S. to visit your daughter?”

He continued to smile benignly at her. Finally he ventures hesitantly, “Which one?”


Finally he gets it and says in a disgusted manner. “Oh No. I don’t want to go to American. Those children never have time for anyone.”


Jutta was arriving from Germany last night and I had promised to meet her at the airport. Her flight was to come in a little past midnight. So before I leave the house I call up this number in the Tata Yellow pages, meant especially for Airline info. As soon as I get on the line this robotic voice tells me I... am ... second ... (long pause) in line and it will take ... (long pause) vun minute and ... twenty three seconds before my call is answered. I tell you I was so impressed with this exact bit of information, that too in India, I couldn’t wait to tell everybody about it.

After holding on for a minute and a half, the voice comes on again. “You are... second in line,” it says “and you have to wait approximately ... vun minute and ... Twenty three seconds.” ??????? What? I thought I had just done that. Never mind.

Give them a chance, I tell myself. I hold on. After another minute the voice says, guess what ... NO prizes for the right answer. “You are ... second in line and the waiting time is ... vun minute and ... twenty three seconds.” Out of cussedness I actually hold on because I can’t wait to see how this story will end.

After another minute I am told, “You are number one in the line and you have to wait approximately ... forty nine seconds.” I heave a sigh of relief. Something seems to be moving after all.

After a minute and a half, the robot confides in me, that I am number one in the line and the waiting time is ... hold your breath ... forty nine seconds. Well, I had been holding on at least 10 minutes by then, and it was getting to be time to leave for the airport so, sorry guys I can’t tell you what would have happened if I had held on to the bitter end. I had to disconnect after which I contacted the 8888 number and got the info I needed about the flight arrival in about ten seconds. (It was on time)

That’s it for today. Ciao.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How to get the better of modern technology

Just yesterday evening, Sanju and I were chatting about the vagaries of modern technology. (Sanju is the son of good friends, with whom I used to occasionally work in the past.) He'd wanted to hang out for a while and in the hour or so that we were together, we covered a whole lot of ground from music to relationships, to computers. Sanj sounded morose about his laptop which had conked out and been gone for repairs for a while. Confessed how lost he was feeling without it etc etc. Well there I was sitting back grandly and holding forth on the need for us to learn how to write once again – you know, write as in hold a pen in your hand and move it across a sheet of paper and what would happen if the entire system, dependent on modern technology collapsed and so on and so forth.

This morning it happened. The system collapsed. Not the world over, but my computer refused to boot and for me, the comp is my world! The laptop too, refused to connect and there I was biting my fingernails and inwardly jumping around in frenzy though outwardly pretty calm. The IT specialist in the office was tied up with someone else and I couldn’t get through to him for quite a while, (to ask if there was anything I could do, any keys I could tap or some part of the machine I could kick or thump or spit on to get it back in shape.)

Finally I got through to the bloke in the office. I switched on the computer while he was talking to me on the phone, so he could guide me through a labyrinth of complicated steps and guess what. The old comp booted perfectly, the screen appeared the way it always did, the desktop was in place and I felt … I felt, well, just a wee bit foolish to say the least.

This is the effect that technology finally has on me, I realised. It makes me feel a bit silly at the end of the day. Sometimes I can imagine what a person must experience who is totally dependent for example, on alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or a particular individual. (Hey, calling all you hopeless addicts out there!) Your inner system seems to undergo a tiny breakdown when that cigarette or shot of whisky (or person) is out of reach. You feel like tearing out your hair, jumping up and down and babbling a lot of oaths at everybody and nobody in particular.

Well, at least I became super conscious (for the umpteenth time) this morning, of my dependency on the computer and this time round I am definitely going to do something about it. I am going to fill up that fountain pen I bought in Germany fifteen years ago, which I used with such joy till about the time the keyboard took over completely. Then I will go and get me a sheet of fine white paper. And write one hundred times on it: I WILL STOP BEING DEPENDENT ON THIS SHIT TECHNOLOGY.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Am I being paranoid?

Talk about paranoia! Why should one look askance at the so called pathological cases in psychiatric institutions, the guys who think they are being persecuted because they are Jesus Christ, or that the police are after them, or that the world in general is out to get rid of them. Yesterday when Blogspot began to act up and my page refused to show on my screen, I actually found myself wondering if Blogspot was out to get me. I even thought it might be because I mentioned the pope in an irreverent context.

Later, when I visited another site at which I have been occasionally stopping and which belongs to a would be author, who is almost through with writing a book in science fiction. ( http://misadventuresinwriting.blogspot.com/ ) I discovered that I couldn’t get any comments through on it! Even the ones I had previously left were wiped out. At least I couldn’t see them on my screen any more. At this point I had the feeling that the whole world was out to get me. All because I made a little fun of the pope. Until Suresh suggested I try refreshing my page and at first I thought what the heck? How’s that going to help! But at least I did trust him a bit and to my surprise and bewilderment, when I refreshed the page, I discovered that everything I had written was still there and finally concluded that the world of HTML was too alien for me to digest. OK the paranoia has disappeared. I can see clearly. I don’t think the world is out to get me any more.

But these kind of experiences if you bother to look at them more closely, do help you to understand how a person who happens to be a bit more wobbly in the head could easily tip over into insanity and end up in a mental asylum.

There are times of course when you begin to wonder if the world isn’t some kind of mental asylum in which everybody is mad, including the doctors and nurses supposed to be looking after the inmates. Paranoia of a certain sort seems to be built in to our society today. There are very few people around you trust. We seem to mostly work on the principle that people ARE untrustworthy until they prove themselves worthy of our trust. (Which goes a bit against the constitution, according to which a man is innocent until proved guilty).

The question really does surface from time to time in my mind, as to how healthy or even feasible it is in the long run, to live in a society where trust is so limited. But I think that is a subject for another post.

Monday, October 17, 2005

another short test

Yep, it seems to have got going again. Suresh if you're reading this, well thanks. I did try the refresher test and it seemed to work. The stuff began to show up on my browser again. More tomorrow, hopefully. Right now I'm brain dead with wondering what went wrong with this blog!!!

A test

Just testing to see if blogger is working for me again. Was having a bit of a run in with it this morning and Suresh suggested various things which I am not sure worked. For some reason even comments I posted on another site have been knocked off. It's as if I'm having a popularity problem with this website!

The Pope visits the laidback Rebel

Very strange things happen when you take it on yourself, to mail anything to Italy from India. Recently my friend Julia asked me to mail her a copy of my book. This is an almost (though not quite) verbatim transcript of the mails we exchanged about it:

Julia: Uma, I would really love to read your book. I suppose I could order it out here but I wonder if you can send me a copy from India, which you can sign for me. If it’s a problem don’t bother. I am sure I can manage to order it from the net.

Me: Julia it’s no problem. I’ll send you a copy of the book.

Julia: If you give me your address I’ll mail you the money.

Uma: That’s fine Julia. Here is my address….

Julia: Thanks. I just sent you twenty euros. The note is in a sealed envelope between two post cards. Let me know when you get it. You can mail me the book after you get the money.

Uma: I will. I’ll write as soon as it arrives. I’m sure twenty euros will cover the expense though I really don’t know what it costs to airmail a book to Italy.

Julia: I think I’ll mail you another ten to be on the safe side.

Almost three weeks later:

Uma: The money hasn’t yet arrived but what the hell. The post is reasonably good out here. I’m sure your letter will arrive at some point. Am mailing you the book today.

Julia: Thanks – that’s nice of you. Am really looking forward to reading it.

Two days later an envelope arrives from Italy. Sure enough it is from Julia. Uma is excited at getting mail from Italy. She has almost forgotten what it is like to receive “proper”mail from anywhere which she can actually touch and feel and if she wants even chew.

Uma: Julia, your envelope has arrived. Thanks for the post cards. Very nice. Did you say you were sending the money with the PC’s or is it in another envelope?

Julia: Uma, the money should have been in between the post cards.

Uma: Julia, in between the post cards there was no money. There was only a picture of the pope.

Julia: The pope! For goodness sake, why would I send you a picture of the pope?!

Uma: I don’t know, I thought perhaps you respected the Pope and as a mark of your respect wanted me to have this picture.

Julia: Well I may have said I have a leaning towards the Catholic faith but there's plenty I can't find my way to agree with and anyway what about dear Osho etc. I have lots of books on him but only one in English and I'm going to send it to you unless you tell me expressly not to.

Uma: I guess we’ve been had! It seems to have happened on the Italian side but whoever did it seemed to have had a sense of humour!

Julia: Yes I guess it must have happened in Italy. I can’t imagine a postman in India slipping in a picture of the Pope in place of the twenty euros!

Uma: It’s no problem. When I come to Italy you can treat me to lunch.

Julia: I would love to do that! And meanwhile I’m going to send you that book by Osho.

Moral of the story:

If you must gyp someone do it with humour. It hurts the victim less when you make him/her laugh while swiping their money.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A cock crows in Bombay...

Was having a bath this morning when I heard, of all things … a cock crowing. I actually stopped scrubbing myself and listened to it - those few seconds that it spoke to the world, and it felt so good and homely to hear that kakra kraaaa kraaaa kraaaa. Been a long time since I heard that sound and it was very welcome. (While I’m about it let me explain at this point, that in the age of the modern shower, I still mostly stick to my “bucket bath” – which I find more economical in terms of water usage and also more comfortable somehow.)

Back to the countryside sounds I started describing - these are not unknown even in a big city like Bombay. When Samuel visited us a few years ago, he mentioned that in some ways Bombay was like a village. Sometimes you look out of the window and you see a couple of goats prancing on the rocks or chickens wandering about the compound and of course any number of stray dogs jumping and running around, playing with each other.

The other day, looking out of the window I saw two creatures that from far off looked like seals, swimming in the sea. I thought to myself, seals? Where did they come from? I kept watching them and when they swam up ashore it turned out they were two black dogs enjoying an evening dip. They turned right round and swam back into the sea, and then once again paddled towards the shore. They were having SUCH a good time going back and forth!!

So yes, in many ways, Bombay retains that village atmosphere. We have supermarkets and side by side, those little grocers from whom you buy bread, snacks and soft drinks. Your local chemist/ bhaji walla/ beer store owner knows you by name and is always willing to send up medicines or vegetables or beer if you’re not in a mood to go fetch it yourself. There are parts of the city which retain that laidback atmosphere which almost lull you to sleep.

But there is the other side too. The chaos and madness and traffic and pollution. I become so aware of “the other side” when I sit down at the computer, mailing friends half way across the globe, marvelling at the role that technology plays in this transatlantic communication. I wonder though, if I had to give up one or other aspect of life completely, if I were asked to “choose” (Ok theoretical question, but nonetheless it occurred to me this morning) what would I give up? And I think I am clear about it. The part to do with technology. For what it’s worth I’d retain the roosters and goats and dogs swimming in the sea, and the grocer down the road. Life anyway wouldn’t be worth much without the down to earth feel of it all.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Friday, October 14, 2005

Some cheerful topics to talk about

Mahrouk dropped in around lunch time yesterday. After a post lunch nap and over a couple of cups of strong ginger tea which I made for us both, we chatted about all sorts of things. Mainly about earthquakes and Tsunamis and the New Orleans flood and other cheerful topics. After which we went on to discuss the exploitative tendencies of holy people.

Mahrouk is very sold on the CIA theory and attributes most bad things to them. So I waited with bated breath to learn about how the CIA might have caused the New Orlean floods and was disappointed to learn that actually they played no part in the flood itself but what they did was to prevent food and help reaching people in the affected area. M. believes most holy ashrams which exude an air of wealth are fronts for the CIA. That could even be true. I mean why shouldn’t they be.

Uma Mary, my massage lady also loves to ply me with disaster news and when she turned up at 7 in the morning, asked me if I had read the papers the previous day. If so, she reckoned, I would have heard that in November, Bombay would find itself under twenty five feet of water. “Another Tsunami?” I asked her. She meant yes, sounding quite cheerful about it while she rubbed me down with coconut oil.

In the evening, sitting on the balcony at my grandmother’s, overlooking the sea and sky I thought about how it might be if there really were a Tsunami. Imagine waves thirty feet high lashing your home. And we’re right there, where they would break. On top of our heads. Imagine the force of those waves!!! Even if we were warned ahead what would people in Bombay do? Where would we go? What would I take with me at such short notice? It reminded me of those essays we had to write in school: if you were marooned on a desert island what three things would you take with you? I still don’t know. I will think about it. November is not too far away.

Group website: www.basicindia.net