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:
www.basicindia.net

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?”

So she practically screams. “I SAID ARE YOU GOING TO AMERICA TO VISIT YOUR DAUGHTER?”

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Beauty Queens


Saw this little kid in the elevator last night, preening at herself in the mirror. It was kind of sweet and I had to smile too, when I saw her making eyes at herself, quite unconscious about being watched. I briefly wondered if she were living some fantasy or other in her head inspired by a toothpaste ad or ad for whitening cream or fancy lipstick or make up? Kids are amazingly grown up these days and much more clued in to aspects of beauty which we hardly gave a thought to when we were growing up. All I know is that I was well into my teens before I even became aware that I needed to be aware of how I looked!

Till I was about thirteen or fourteen, I had been eating and eating and GAINING WEIGHT. Then one fine day I wake up to the fact that it is really important for me to look good too – and in this case, looking good means being thin and fair-skinned - and when I see myself in the mirror, I go into a state of shock. Heck, what I am, is fat, ugly and black! I even took to using some brand of whitening cream for a few days until my mother caught me at it and gave me such a verbal hiding that I never felt even remotely tempted, ever again, to buy any skin whitening cream. That cream, she screamed at me, WOULD NOT make me any more fair than I was. It would just make my skin break out in horrible patches. Of course I threw away the tube (she made me) and started immediately, on a weight reduction programme. Now, that was something my mother really approved of.

All said and done, I am not against kids taking an interest in their looks. It is natural at a certain stage to start wanting to look good and maybe some of us are aware of our looks earlier and others later (and others still, maybe never!) What I do wonder about sometimes, is the almost pathological need to look good among young people these days, to the extent of getting their faces fixed and girls of sixteen and eighteen going in for Botox treatments. (The papers are full of these stories).

Where does one draw the line? I mean I don’t want to adopt the role of a moral policewoman. (I leave that to Ms. Kiran Bedi. She does it so well, none of us need to bother to say what we think). But I do see a difference between a natural desire to look good and an unnatural craving to aspire to the crazy ideals of a crazy society.

Going back to that kid in the elevator. Something about her smile was so sweet, I feel she’s heading in the right direction. Hope she never thinks about a Botox treatment - ever!

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bhabheeeee!



Why are people so snooty about soap operas? I find them sometimes more fun to watch than a Laurel and Hardy movie! They are so ridiculous they can really uplift your spirits on a rainy day. (Am referring to the inner climate).

Watched more of the Hindi soap “Bhabhi” some days ago. Ooooohhhhhh myyyyyyy. Bhabhi outdid herself in the hysterics game. In this particular episode her daughter’s baby is aborted. Bhabhi stands at the side of dottie’s bed and you think to yourself, oh oh, just as dottie’s pregnancy is being terminated, Mummy’s eyeballs are going to bounce right out of her head. And I picture them doing this little jig there on the floor accompanied by Scottish bagpipe music.

Everybody cried copiously in the episode (is there an episode when nobody cries? Correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think so). I wondered how much Vaseline Suhana (Bhabhi’s daughter) had to apply to her eyelids to get the waterworks going. Or how many onions they had to slice and smell to launch it. Waaaaaaaaaaaaah waaaaaaaaaah waaaaaaaaaaah!!!

Then this character, who has been falsely accused of sleeping with Bhabi’s daughter and was beaten up by the bridegroom (who has now rejected her on account of his belief that she was unfaithful) walks around with gobs of dark pink goo on his face, supposed to be blood from wounds, from being beaten up by Suhana’s enraged fiancĂ©.

At some point the falsely accused character walks right up to the ex fiancĂ©, with a sneer on his face and mutters in his ear that the baby which is already DEAD is HIS (the bridegroom’s) baby. Sneer sneer sneer.

Don’t follow what I am saying? Don’t even try to. I have yet to find anyone who watches this particular serial let alone anyone who watches, who understands it. (You will catch it on Star Plus at 1:30 pm Mondays to Thursdays – which makes it just the right time for me to watch for about 10 or 15 minutes, after lunch and before retiring for a snooze.) Like I said, it is good for the spirits.

Couldn’t watch the last third of the show because we were at my grandmother’s place and my parents wanted to go home. So did I.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Monday, October 10, 2005

Earthquake



Would like you guys to read the write up on the basicindia site and send me your views - if you have any!

www.basicindia.net

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Another Art and Music session

Yesterday’s group session with Mahendra’s students was fun. We had it in the living room in my grandmother’s flat because it is so much bigger than our own drawing room. At first only two guys turned up (apart from Mahendra and Chandran) and we thought this is it. Mahendra felt it was because of Dassehra and people were scared to get caught in the mob at the Mahalaxmi temple. But by 6.15 about 10 students had shown up which was a good number.

Last time M. had made us draw a banana. This time the exercise was to crumple up a sheet of paper and to then sketch it. (Boy, the topics Mahendra comes up with!) So like the last time the students sat and sketched for a while before I conducted the meditation. About four of the boys and girls said they felt verrry relaxed (one girl said she felt she was flying through the air during the music part!) and one or two said it was difficult for them to get rid of the thoughts in their head. But we all agreed that it was precisely this “noise” which made it difficult for us to observe anything and so the first thing was to try and quieten it down. Almost everyone said that regardless of how they experienced the meditation, they were able to concentrate much better on the subject after the spell of lying down.

+++

The fair on the Mahalaxmi temple grounds was unceremoniously dismantled a couple of days back. Bomb threat! Now the grounds are quite empty, except for a few guys sitting with their baskets of channa and plastic bags of puffed rice and mounds of crystallized sugar. According to Tukaram, three temples in Bombay have received threats from some extremist party: the Mahalaxmi temple, the Siddi Vinnayak and one more which I have forgotten. So now it is a pleasure to be able to walk or drive unhindered down the road again. But the main road itself is a disaster. The traffic jam is not funny. And the bomb threat has not put off the devoted millions, who continue to shuffle along the pavements to their destination to lay garlands and fruit and other offerings at the goddess’s shrine. The men seem to appear en masse in the evenings (probably after work) though during the day the queues are made up almost entirely of women.

Volunteers stand guard every few feet of the way, to keep the masses in check and to shove them on - mainly women, dressed in white saris and black blouses with a black sash and spiffy black waist pouches. Some of them wear yellow and black peaked caps too, against the sun. Along the way are water sellers, standing in front of their metal containers balanced on wooden carts and women squatting on the pavement in front of baskets full of marigolds which they thread into garlands for you to take along to the temple. The tuneless rendition of Om Jai Jagdish seems to have mysteriously stopped. In its place are ear splitting announcements on the loudspeakers about lost children and the like. Poor kids. How traumatic to be separated from Mommy and Daddy and to find yourself in the midst of a mammoth crowd of strangers which literally engulfs you.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

maybe our last meditation at the hospital


Plasticene Ganeshas made by the group participants

Akbar gave me the sweetest smile ever at the end of yesterday morning’s group work and shook my hand as we left the room together at the end. Akbar is this thirty-ish guy, a patient at the hospital where Meher and I have been conducting our music meditations every week. He is small made, has a beard, and constantly makes faces at nobody in particular. The counsellor (”Doctor S.”) informed me that the whole lot of them are schizophrenic and Akbar, besides being schizo is also retarded.

When he started attending the meditation three weeks back he couldn’t sit still for two minutes. The first time in fact, he was so uncomfortable that before the session even began, he insisted on leaving, saying he wanted to go back to his room. Last time he was already much more amenable and today he was positively friendly towards Meher and me and eager to participate in the activity. During the meditation he was so relaxed he even went to sleep!!

There were about seven others including two newcomers one of whom is a young college student, who asked me if a particular piece I played for them was by Richard Clayderman. It wasn’t. It was actually one of Chopin’s nocturnes played by the “Beijing Orchestra as far as I know. We discovered that many of the “regulars” had been discharged this last week. Apparently the wards are overflowing so they only have room for those who are seriously ill. Meher did some craft work with them, getting them to make Ganesh’s out of plasticene, after she got one of the group members to relate the story of the elephant god. At the end of the session we caught up with “Doctor” Counsellor who was up in the main ward, dressed today in a green salwaar kameez with a green dupatta pulled over her little head.

D.C. (who insists on calling me “Umaji”) had apparently told Meher as soon as we arrived, that we ought not to have come this morning because the patients were “busy making Diwali lamps.” M. was understandably pissed off because we had not been informed earlier. I guess it’s the usual Indian disrespect for other people’s time and energy, the same thing I keep going on about, when people who sign up for groups don’t come or “come when they feel like”. (There should be freedom, is their argument. As if a self awareness group were like a fast food joint which you go to, when you want to eat a samosa or a hamburger.)

D.C. came across to me this morning like the quintessential Hindi movie vixen. Being in her presence is like suddenly entering the old convent school atmosphere of sly meanness and veiled comments, which you commonly experience in missionary and convent run institutions. Sugar coated cookies with a heart of strychnine. I told her that we didn’t really need to conduct sessions at the hospital if it was a problem for them, and added that I was there only on Meher’s request. Madam looked at me very sweetly and said, “But your meditations are soooo…ooo helpful. They mean a lot to us.” HAH. I bet.

Then she went on to explain how there was some problem with the staff so they were being forced to discharge many of the almost-recovered patients and the ones who were seriously ill were not in any shape to come for the meditations. She proposed we conduct our groups once a fortnight for that reason, instead of once a week. Which didn’t really make sense to me so I said to her, that we didn’t have to do it at all. I finally left it to her to phone me if and when she felt the need for it.

Don’t quite know what it is. Do people like her feel threatened by outsiders? Are they not interested at all? Do they not like it because a little bit of time and effort is needed on their side to organise the basics for a group session – like getting the group room cleaned and seeing that the participants are brought down at the right time?

Oh well that’s life.

By the way for those following Raju's story: he's arrived safely in his gaon. Met at the station by his cousin, with whom I spoke yesterday evening. He wanted to know if I would like to speak with Raju but since he was sleeping I didnt want to disturb him. The cousin agrees that he is mentally quite disturbed and they are going to take him to the hospital this morning.

group website: www.basicindia.net

Meher standing outside the group room

Friday, October 07, 2005

A little about bad moods

Mother in a downright bad mood yesterday evening. Nothing unusual in that of course. We’re all sitting around the living room, Dad, me and her, with our pre-dinner drinks (Dad with his whisky soda and me and Mother with our shots of Feni, mixed with soda). Something crops up about my brother having been given power of attorney before he left India in '77 and how the forms he signed almost thirty years are now slowly disintegrating. So I said, since brother was headed for India next February he could maybe sign a fresh set of forms. But you know how it is when people are in a bad mood and nothing is right, so of course Vish would never be able to do that because he was in Bombay for just two days and they would be tired and blah blah blah. (What! Too tired to sign a form?!!! I mean….!!!)

OK so to change the topic dad said something about wanting to eat that parsi chutney fish some day and muzzer says. “WHERE DO WE GET THE FISH? AND WHO GETS IT?”

I said maybe Asha could bring it on her way to work. Mom: “LAST TIME SHE GOT SOME CHICKEN AND IT WAS TERRIBLE. IT WAS TOO TOUGH!”

I said, then lets try and get that frozen stuff from the club. Mozzer: Heck the club never has anything worthwhile these days. The frozen food there is no good.

Ho hum. OK so when it gets like that one learns to just keep quiet and to keep sipping one’s drink. I was playing some light jazz and looking out of the window at the reflection of the lights dancing in the water. I guess Mother feels she does all the work – the housework, the administration, she’s also financial manager and according to her my dad and I do nothing except sit around and collect useless objects, (among them books) and discuss things to have for lunch which SHE then has to organise. I can quite see it from her point of view. But it is a vicious cycle. As long as she keeps working like a maniac nobody is going to feel even vaguely tempted to take over from her because she is so formidably efficient at everything she does. And as long as we continue to sit on our ass she will have to continue doing stuff. No. seriously, one of these days I plan to CHANGE. I PLAN TO GET OFF MY ASS. I MEAN IT.

Have started already, by cleaning out and re-organising my bookshelf with Tukaram’s help. Getting rid of books I haven’t read in a while and putting the remaining books in order. Dwight ought to have been here to help me catalogue them!

+++

Raju will reach his village in Kerala this morning. Am off to the hospital with Meher for another round of music meditation. Shall check with his brother when I get back.

+++

Just checked out the maternal temperatures. Pretty normal this morning. Good thing Mum is a computer illiterate and probably wont get to read this. Ha ha. Of course if she did and if she were in a good mood she might even be able to laugh at it. That’s life.

Group blog: www.basicindia.net

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Knotted up lives


I have spent a lot of time these past twenty four hours, thinking about Raju, our driver. He’s just upped and vanished. Well that is a bit of an exaggeration, he sent word with Tukaram – our Man Friday - this morning, to send him Rs. 2000 so that he could buy a ticket to Kerala. Tuks comes in every day for a couple of hours, to help out with odds and ends and since he lives in Raju’s neighbourhood Raju probably figured it was a convenient way of getting his money. I sent word back saying if he wanted the money he should come and get it himself and tell me a bit about why he wanted to suddenly return to Kerala.

The next I heard from Raju, he was already at the station and about to leave Bombay. In fact he had got a friend to call me on his behalf. When I insisted on speaking with Raju himself, Raju did come on the line for a moment. He just broke down and started to cry and the friend was back on the line. I still can’t make out much about what is going on. It is clear that Raju is in bad shape mentally. But is it something in him - like is he paranoid - (he often seems to think people are “after him”) or just having a nervous breakdown, and if so, is the mental suffering being caused by someone or something real? Anyway the “friend” who spoke to me on the phone, told me he is accompanying him all the way to Kerala. I was asked to phone Raju’s brother to inform him of his imminent arrival and to meet him at the station, which of course I did right away.

I asked Tukaram what he thought about the whole business and he says his own feeling is that it is something to do with money. Like maybe Raju has borrowed money from someone and is not able to pay it back and has to run away. Meanwhile he is genuinely afraid for his life.

When you can’t quite put your finger on things at times, your mind drives you crazy. And now I am referring to myself! I mean, Raju has often borrowed money from us in the past. About two years back it was ostensibly for his “daughter’s wedding” (which never took place, so instead he spent the money on starting work on a new house). That time it was 30,000 Rs. Then a year later he started again getting a kind of panic attack and said he needed Rs. 20,000 immediately because some corrupt bloke in his village wanted a kick back from him, and the only way to avoid that was for him to finish building his house within three (or maybe it was six) months time.

Anyway it was such a complicated story, and India is such a strange country in many ways that even those of us born and bred here don’t understand half of what is going on. We gave up trying to understand, felt sorry for him and just gave him the money and things were fine after that for about a year. Now I am inclined to believe T.’s opinion that he has got himself into some kind of racket from which he finds it difficult to extricate himself.

Raju refuses to tell anybody what his problem is. Of course if he is really mentally ill and his illness doesn’t have to do with anybody else, it could be part of the sickness – his not wanting to communicate what he is feeling and why. There is no way of telling.

One thing that does somehow explodes into my consciousness once more, is how there is something terribly wrong with the way we all live. The isolation of so many people living in the city, the fact that Raju is alone here and that the rest of his family including his wife, live in Kerala. (He visits them only once a year or so). Maybe being so alone tempts people to get into "bad ways" - gambling, moneylending, god knows what other awful things. One would so gladly try to help him but then again, sweet guy though he is, in his own way, and very efficient at his work, Raju is also very distant and not all that good at communicating what he thinks or feels.

How to bridge the gap? How to live together in a fashion that is more “human”? How to build trust in our relationships with each other? So that when we need help, those who are prepared to give it are able do so? These are some of the questions coming to the fore for me today. Would be glad to know what some of you others think.

Group website: www.basicindia.net

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dassehra is here again! OH NO!


Dassehra. Navratri. Festival of Joy etc. Not for us though – that is, anyone living in the vicinity of the Mahalaxmi Temple in Bombay. All temples are probably downright bad at festival times. During Dassehra the roads outside our house are packed with throngs of devotees to the temple shuffling forward slowly with unimaginable patience in the blistering afternoon heat.

Saw them yesterday afternoon, on their way to receive blessings from the goddess of wealth. Mostly women. In shiny saris, red, parrot green, rainbow coloured silk. Old and young, purse in hand, or handbag slung over their shoulders, some with mobile phones glued to their ears, staring at other people in the queue, looking blank, talking to each other. The loudspeakers blared an utterly tuneless rendition of Om Jai Jagdish, at an unbearable volume. It was being sung so flat, and it was so LOUD it wasn’t funny. Like listening to the villain in the pink panther movies when he is outsmarted by Detective Clouseau and going “Aaaaargh” and scratching the blackboard with his fingernails.

In the grounds next to our building the fair is in progress and by this evening millions will have gathered there to enjoy the ferris wheels and merry go rounds and countless games and dubious looking snacks and kulfi being sold at the booths all over the place. Children sit on their father’s shoulders, lovers snuggle together in the boxes of the giant wheel, kids pop balloons with a toy gun in the hope of winning some tawdry prize or the other.

Have come to the conclusion that the only place Indian festivals look and feel good and evoke a sense of joy is in the photographs in National Geographic magazine. Most of the time they are a nuisance for anybody wanting to get on with their lives. Luckily the people who would call me unpatriotic, a wet blanket etc. and disagree with me violently are unlikely to be reading this blog. Ha ha. (If anyone disagrees just say so!)

Have had to suspend the meditation groups in the evening because the crowds will make it impossible for anyone to bring their cars into the compound. Mishi our cat in fact started off the noisy proceedings during yesterday’s session, groaning and wailing so disgustingly loud that we had to finally shut the door during the sharing, in order to be heard! It was downright embarrassing for me. I realised I had forgotten to feed her. I mean she wasn’t hungry, but on days when I don’t need her to make a drama I fill her up with beef so that she can’t do much more than waddle off to sleep in the guest room for several hours.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Haylooooo!



In June I had launched “Uma’s Journey” primarily to keep friends posted on my travels in Europe in the summer of ’05. When I returned home in August I somehow decided to continue with the blog. What the heck, even if no one was going to read it any more I figured it was a neat way for me to keep track of the goings on in my life. My thoughts, the happenings, people I meet and odd stuff. Who knows I might even come up with a new book for critics to get their teeth into!

Recently though, I felt the need to wrap up the old blog and start afresh. I decided to use part of the title of my book (“Bombay to Eternity – Memoirs of a laidback Rebel”) for two reasons. First of all I feel that "laidback rebel" describes the way I really am.

Secondly, re-reading the book yesterday evening I had the feeling that, well, hmmm, it’s not as bad as I thought it was! A couple of critics who soon after its launch, had mauled it, had suggested I should stop writing altogether. (I felt even then, and my opinion is now confirmed, that they were too dim-witted to have understood the contents. It is just that then I thought that maybe the rest of the population was equally dimwitted and that being so, of course the book may well have been a waste of time for me to write). A handful of my friends still refuse to read it. (If they secretly have, well they’re not letting on what they think of it. They probably hate it and are too embarrassed to say so. Okay. No sweat guys, I am pretty critical myself of other people’s writing and your not liking what I write is not going to make me feel less friendly towards you. Accepting the fact that friends sometimes want to kill each other. Ha ha).

But then, there is a brighter side to the story, see. There were some reviewers and a whole lot of friends who actually liked the book and I thought, isn’t it typical that one should be affected more by the negative rather than the positive things that happen to one in life! What really helped me out of the defeatist mindset I think, were some mails I got from people I didn’t know at all, saying they had read “Bombay to Eternity” and loved it. Now, a year after the book appeared, I get the feeling I can hold up my head again and it doesn’t depend on how many copies the book has sold or not sold. (It’s not yet a best seller for sure!) In the final analysis it is always the personal touch that counts. If my book helps me to make just one more friend in my life, a real friend that is; if it helps just one more person to see their own life in perspective, it will have been worth writing it. I guess this has happened already.

Well, I decided to call this blog “Diary of a laidback Rebel” because I got the idea I would like to carry on from where I stopped in the book, in a way. I guess what I am going to share here with you are my thoughts and experiences and fantasies and insights into life and relationships, and a bit of my madness and foolishness as well, among other things. Maybe I will sometimes share with you stuff that other friends write to me. I am going to let myself be surprised. Hope you will be too!

The Laidback Rebel opens up



Hi guys,

I am moving on from the previous blog which was "Uma's Journey." Just kicking off my new blog and in my next post I shall say a little bit about my need to start afresh.

See you soon!