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