Our first visit was over. We – our family of four – had seen the place, and taken a call. This was to be my Himalayan adventure, the home in the hills I always dreamt of. I did have reservations and goosebumps about its remote location and how very back of beyond the place seemed to be, almost suspended in those really high ridges. But these same features also made it the perfect project for my romantic notion of a getaway. And so I took on the project, with zero idea of how I would go about it, what was going to be needed in terms of resources of money, time, learning, and anything else. All I knew was that for me this was a labor of love, a creative journey that engaged my mind, soul, heart and body in so many ways.
The official paper work was carried out over the next few months, the registry signed and the deal sealed. And thus I became a ‘khashtakar’ or rural land owning farmer in an interior village of Uttarkhand. This was all across the years 2007-2008.
Things have a way of working out so different from what you plan, as far as the details go. For the past few years we had scoured Kumaon, agreed to big ticket deals there, and then not been able to seal the deal for some reason or other. Then out of the blue, without our looking for it, without our even being aware of its existence or location, an offer of land sale in a remote, unknown location came our way and some curious adventurer gene in us made us go check it out. And so it all fell in place. From my childhood dream of a mountain cottage to an official government land deed for a pretty little parcel of Himalayan soil in my name.
Then came the actual work on the ground, before which there was all the exciting brainstorming, learning, ideating and creating – a vision for the cottage in our minds and on paper. We went from working with lego to woodblocks to line drawing to drawing layers and layers on site photographs….trying to get that one perfect fit with our thoughts, our dreams…..then fitting it all with the practical situation on the ground, the size of the plot, the cut of the terraces, the direction of the sun, wind and the snow views.
We read, we looked at pictures, we sketched our thoughts, our fantasies, we visited a couple of other city folks’ dream cottages to see how we felt about them, and what the owners felt and had learnt over time living with their dreams, and delved deep into what inspired us. It was an exciting, creative, alive few months, so full of promise and discovery and possibilities. It was also a time of intense learning, of condensing, of choosing, of prioritizing, of letting go.
By the end of it all , when we had the printed layouts in hand, almost another year had passed and we were in early 2010. The project was coming into shape slowly and along with it, many new ideas and thoughts were stirring in my mind….
Today a friend said to me that she is convinced her life is a journey, because more and more she notices that it feels like this – that she is on a train where she has many people coming in and sitting next to her, and then moving on. The recent awareness she has also picked up about this coming and going, she said, is that she is now totally accepting of, and at ease with the changes. The new connections made, the old ones lost, some broken in pain, some forged deeper with love. She knows that whoever comes to her comes with a reason, and that particular interaction is meant to be, would lead to something. And therefore she is now more happily open to anything and everything coming her way. To letting go, to letting be, to being.
Isn’t that such an apt story for what our lives too, in essence are really like?
So also is travel. And not just the wander lust type, the great journey of my life type of travel. Even deliberate, conscious planned travel. The journeys we are sent on by the office. Or the sudden trip made to handle a family emergency. Or the fun family holiday trip gone wrong due to weather or airline mess up. Any and all travel. We may have a start date and place, and a itinerary, and a schedule of stops and destinations and a return date. Or we may leave it all open and free flowing. But then the journey and the road take over, and the more we are willing and open to this flow of the journey, the more fun we have on our travels. We don’t always know who we will meet, what we will encounter, whether we will see what we set out to, and sometimes, even, where or when we will reach.
And if we start to be rigid and inflexible, fixated and unbending on the move, we will miss out on so much, and end up uncomfortable, on edge, fearful, anxious and miserable, and thoroughly dislike the journey and the sights and encounters enroute and never be happy with the destination, which will not seem worth it after all.
I say this from my own experience as well as that of friends, and I feel the fun of a journey, as that of living a fulfilled, happy life comes from unshackling one’s heart and mind, the giving up of the need to be in control, to judge, to classify and categorize. It comes from a willingness to be, free and unbound in your heart, in your soul, in your essence.
Then the external, temporal ups and downs are just that, highs and dips of the road, a part of the journey, no more, no less.Passing features of the terrain, to be watched, and watched out for, to be dealt with, to be overcome, to be left behind…not the things that hold the ebb and flow of my life in their hands. I am much more than the parts of my journey.
The story finally began to come together on the internet, the way so many stories actually do these days. This is a photo essay of that journey from the first site visit in September 2007 till the dream took shape and stood firm in front of us in the summer of 2012.
I was obsessed with a home in the hills since early childhood, and in 2006-7, having finally moved back to live in North India it felt high time to action this dream. So there were trips to hill stations to find out about land or homes for sale, there were enquiries and show of interest from people connected to the hills, but nothing seemed to be working out. Then on the online travel forum I came across a thread about buying plots in the hills. The people in the conversation were all talking about places where we had already tried and failed to get a good deal. But there was just this one girl, now living abroad, who said these areas were getting crowded and would we care to look at her native village, far away and remote, pristine and pure, within touching distance of the mighty Nanda Devi? Well, why not, I wondered, and got talking to her. One thing led to another and within a few months of first touching base, we were off to check out the tiny remote, unheard of and off the map village of Guniyala Khal, in Chamoli Dist. of the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.
Reaching Guniyala and seeing the little plot for sale for the first time proved to an adventure in itself. We were caught in torrential rains, the last outpouring of a retreating monsoon, in full blast. The drive from the foothills of the Himalayas at Rishikesh 200 kms up to the high ridges of the Central Himalayas around Guniyala was an interestingly gripping one to say the least! Dense clouds that blocked all vision, hairpin bends, raging river gorges, crumbling landslides and washed away roads were just some of the adventurous encounters we faced. The overwhelming feeling after about an hour into the over 6 hours drive (supposedly) was one of utter remoteness and being in the back of beyond, in an unknown, lost corner of the world! It was a thrilling, exciting and sometimes bewildering time.
With myriad breaks, change of transport modes, and the massive patience of explorers on an unknown journey we finally made it to our destination just as the sun was setting, as against the estimated arrival at noon. A warm welcome by the owner of the property next to the plot on sale, and the beautiful, lush green serene surroundings refreshed us a fair bit and we were soon tucking into delicious home cooked rustic fare and feeling warm and rested.
Next morning we woke up with the tinkling of cowbells to a crisp, clear day as the cattle were led out to the forests to graze by the village herders. Walking out we surveyed the plot of terraced fields for sale, marvelled at the prettiness all around, and our good luck, and said a quick yes to the deal. And that is how we came to create our own little slice of personalised bliss.
My head reeled and my stomach cramped as I sunk into a huge sense of frustration and helplessness. I could not believe this had happened! OMG… We were on our Holi-Easter break, driving uphill with some friends to our home in the hills, and had just come to a midway halt on the journey. As the car engine switched off, my husband casually remarked, “You have got the keys to the cottage, of course?”…And the realization hit me that I had Not ! I had not even thought of the keys during the preparations for the journey, leave alone bringing them with me .
So what were we to do? Apart from feeling like an utter fool who had goofed up big time, I just couldn’t think what was to be done. Did I rush back to Gurgaon (220 kms away) right then to get the keys, or did I call someone from there to rush out to us with the keys? Or did we take our chances and carry on and hope to find a way to get the lock opened or broken? In those early days, I did not have a regular caretaker on site and no one local at the cottage’s location – totally off the tourist map, remote and rural- had the keys to the cottage. Like I said, my head reeled …
Luckily for me, the others didn’t seem to think that any major problem had occurred. They were more amused than worried, and kept telling me to chill, and that this was all no big deal and we would find a way. Back in the city I would have acted and felt exactly like them. But not when we were heading to a tiny village, off the main road networks, in the interiors of a reserved forest range in deep Himalaya. And that too during a festival when it is considered just fine to be drunk stiff and off from work for a few days at a stretch.
I worried that the tiny remote Himalayan village where the cottage is located would have no key makers/ locksmiths to help us. The markets would be shut and locksmiths would be off work. I worried that we would have to break the lock open with brute force, damaging the brand new construction. I worried about the travel time we would take next day to get to Birdsong and that there would be no place for us to find shelter if we didn’t get the house open before nightfall. But with everyone around me making light of the situation, after a bit even I started feeling that a simple way would be found out of the situation. I even started smiling shakily when others joked about the adventure we would have camping out under the stars at night if nothing worked to open the door before nightfall.
Next morning we started on our ride to the cottage from the camp, some 160 kms away, in high spirits, intending to look out for a locksmith on the way in the little towns we would be crossing, and to ask him to come along with us to our destination. At about 100 kms along the NH 58 we were at the junction town of Rudraprayag, a nondescript place made infamous nearly a century ago by its man eating leopard and his nemesis, Jim Corbett. All we found noteworthy here was the turbulent confluence of the Mandakini and the Alaknanda as they rush down from their source glaciers to meet more sister rivers, to ultimately form the Ganga.
This was our last main town on the route, after which we would drive 50 or so kms through thick forests and high mountains and mind-blowing views of endless ranges, snow peaks and deepest, widest valleys but not even the smallest of towns. So this had to be our best chance for a key maker, and we hoped to find one and take him home with us.
So we started asking at the market place, and the first few shopkeepers said there was no one like that in town. The little mountain town was was still somnolent after Holi. When we saw some police constables we thought ourselves lucky- they would surely know of a locksmith! So we asked them, and yes, they did know of one!! “Yes, there is a Sardarji (Sikh) chabiwala (key maker) and he roams the market on his bicycle. But I haven’t seen him around today. He generally also sits under that huge Pipal tree “.
We went up and down on that market lane, turning our car with great difficulty on that narrow one-way road, with permission of the policeman, and while many other shopkeepers confirmed the existence of said Sardarji, there seemed to be no sign of him that day. Then one shopkeeper mentioned that he actually was an itinerant, and had a room booked for him at a local lodge, where he stayed when he was in town. So off we went to look for the lodge, and traced this elusive man’s phone number from the lodge guest register. We rang up the number, and the man picked up our call, confirming that yes, he was the key maker, Gurmeet Singh and while he could certainly help us had he been around, he was right now home away in Dehradun a 100 kms away, and not coming back for another couple of days. When he did return to his work in Rudraprayag, he would call us to check if we still needed his services. And meanwhile, he helpfully suggested, if it was just a simple door, could we not try just forcing the locks with the help of a few basic tools? The villagers did it all the time, didn’t we know that?
I was now even more than ever worried. What would we do? My heart could not accept breaking the lock of the newly made dream home. And what would we do after breaking the lock? Spend the night in a remote forest area without a decent bolt to keep the door in place? When we have all sorts of wild animals prowling around and their night calls audible to our ears? I would mange it, having spent nights in a tent in the same area, but what of my very urban, city slicker guests?
In desperation, I called a neighbor in the village, and explained my predicament to him. He sounded nonchalant and said he would take care of things. We reached the cottage and all seemed quiet. No caretaker, no neighbor. No sign that anyone had tried doing anything to get the door opened. Our guests ooh-ed and aah-ed about how pretty everything was. And then they wanted to use the wash room. And there was no way to get in. I held the handle of the door helplessly and moved the lever down, expecting resistance. Instead, the handle moved down and the door swung in and opened. We all gasped in surprise, and with perfect timing, while we were still confused, our caretaker and neighbor walked in. It seems on hearing of the problem, my neighbor had called the caretaker and between them, they had fabricated a makeshift key. Somehow they had managed to open the lock without damaging the door. And then had gone off to have a cup of tea. And that is how we found an open and undamaged home. The door even shut properly and could be bolted for the night.
They know too well the importance of a safe door that shuts properly at night in these parts. For reasons quite different from those we lock ourselves into our homes, back in the city, even in broad daylight.
My guests of course only felt more sure that I was a worrier. That I had made a fuss when there was no issue at all. They held fast to their stand even when that same night they actually heard the leopard. I wonder if they would have felt differently when the main door was swinging open in the night wind and the leopard was heard growling in the forest cluster on the hillside across the cottage? But I am so glad we didn’t have to find out.
A reflection on our writing expression workshop. From Debosmita Nandy, a participant who is an award winning, published author of short stories now working on her first novel.
I stared at the Facebook notification that said I have been invited to a day-long writing workshop at Zorba the Buddha by Kiran Chaturvedi.
I was flummoxed. I knew nothing about the venue and the person inviting me.
I was also a little worried. Do I now need writing workshops? I was pretty sure writing came naturally to me. I quickly looked up my blog for reassurance. I had written so many fiction, a few poetry, won some contests – I was momentarily happy.
Then I checked the dates of my last few posts with a sinking heart. I also knew that I have been trying to take forward my novel beyond just the first chapter for the last many many months.
I also wanted to explore a new place and meet new people. So I clicked on the “Going” option.
On 12 July 2014, last Saturday, I arrived at…
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As we drive down the forest road at dusk, my co-passengers in the jeep talk of animal sightings and sundowners by a bonfire that await us back home. It is a cool, damp-after-a-thunderstorm evening, with a freshly mixed misty mauve sky. The snow peaks around us glow with an orange hue from the setting sun, as they flirt with massive, fluffy, white clouds. A stillness is settling in as the day winds down in this remote part of the Garhwal Himalayas.
We are driving back to our vacation home , after a walk in a Protected Forest Zone. It had been a walk of many discoveries, with views to make you stop and stand and stare into eternity.
I feel happy at my good fortune to be here, living out my dreams. The word ‘Leopard’ uttered in the flow of the conversation, just then, does not strike me as connoting anything besides another name on the laundry list of sighting possible…until I hear specifics of color, size and shape – and look up to see the front seat passengers excitedly pointing to the edge of the road! It seems they had seen the leopard! It was standing still and staring at the car as it slowly approached him, then jauntily flicked its tail, turned and disappeared down the wild rose laden slopes.
Now, a leopard roaming the hillside, without harming the humans around, is good news really, scary though it seems to some. It means he is able to hunt some wild game there. Which in turn means the wild game had enough greens to eat. Which further means the forest is doing well, despite being literally cheek by jowl to a fair sized human settlement- a Tehsil town no less! Reason enough to feel gratitude, and awe for the work being done by the simple, unsung staff of the forest Range office at Nagnath – Pokhri. Staff that include a young Rekha Negi, the 22 year old lone lady forest guard we had just met.
Rekha Negi had taken us around on a guided walk through ‘her’ range, talking to us about how she joined the force four years ago, just after high school by clearing a competitive exam. About how she studied and worked hard to learn all the botany and zoology and firearms work and legal stuff the job required her to know. And how she now roamed the forest alone at times, on her rounds, armed with her government issued gun, fear and duty lodged firmly in her heart, spurring her on to do her job well. And how she lived on the forest range office premise with the rest of the range staff, in the government quarters and cooked all her meals and ate them alone. About how she and her family were determined she stand on her own feet, earn an independent income and be someone in her own right.
Even if doing so meant she was miles away from home, working on a high risk job, living on campus with men and women she had no previous connection with, and making a definite break with custom and forging a completely new path. Even if, in doing so there were times of extreme sadness, longing and loneliness.
As Rekha spoke and walked us through her work area, I noticed the glow of pride on her face and the ring of accomplishment in her voice. How excited she was when she walked us through the new oak and deodar forest they have planted in a degraded and denuded patch of hillside near their office. How she took us to each young tree like a proud new mother, and described the sorry state of the slope before the new saplings were planted. Before the work they were doing started making a difference to the better health of the local ecology.
The image of Rekha was still playing in my mind when we reached home and walked by a freshly lit bonfire in the yard. I caught a glimpse of our neighbor, getting out of her cowshed and walking into her kitchen to start the evening meal. A lady who was so shy to speak with me just 5 years ago, barely raising her eyes to meet mine, head demurely covered with the pallu of her sari and bowed down. Today she is a changed woman. As the elected ‘Nagar Panchayat Adyakshaa’, the local councillor for a group of 6 villages!
It is a ‘reserved for women’ seat, so she is rubber stamp candidate of sorts, as her husband is the real power behind the throne. And yet, the changes in her are real. As they are around her too. In the better local roads, the public utilities like a new bus stand in the market, and most striking and significant of all, the public toilets for women near the bus stand. It is clear when I meet her now, that she herself is a changed person too, aware of the shifts of power and perception, as is her husband. And it is almost magical, the transformation of their equation.
Where earlier she would not even look at him directly, now she talks freely and loudly in front of him. He speaks to her far more respectfully, and considers her opinion in many matters unlike before.
She walks with her head held high, her clothes worn better, her hair always groomed, her skin and eyes glistening. She talks more confidently, even approaching my father and my husband on her own, in my absence and carrying on a full conversation with them.
Barely literate herself, it is her school and college going kids who help her write and rehearse her official notes and speeches. She now chairs meetings where IAS officers and other govt. bureaucrats share space, ideas and time with her. For which, she tells me, she needs stylish cotton handloom saris from Delhi- Can I get her some the next time I visit, please?
She is aware now how the scales have shifted, how she is now someone with some heft beyond the usual role of the village farmstead housewife.
A tale of two once obscure women in the remote, unexplored part of the country. Treading new paths, making a difference to all those whose lives they touch. Bringing about change. Inspiring others.
Note: This piece was first published on the BizDivas India blog, http://bizdivas.in/road-travelled
While it is its easy to be drawn to reflections about family ties in the festive season, my thoughts have been a lot about family ties almost all of the year and more. 2013 was my 20th wedding anniversary year, and it was also the year when I built up my experiential travel business. Anniversaries have been important to me this year in my personal life, and through my work, where I saw beautiful expressions of family landmarks being honored by some clients.
Thinking of these events, I wonder what is family to me, and what sort of a family legacy have I inherited, and can create. And I conclude that the value of family, for me, lies ultimately in the effortless sense of belonging and identity it bestows. It is about being in a web of natural, organic, given connections. But the making of these connections and the nurturing of them is a whole lot of work of intention, commitment and leadership. Which will make for some other blog posts, or a whole book, even, at some point. For now, it is the cosy easy embrace of familiarity I want to talk about.
Family is the first and everlasting bond we humans know and feel in this earthly existence. From the day we are born to the day we pass on, it is a family that welcomes us and bids us farewell. We may grow up, grow out and grow apart from our families, but the bond once born into can never be really torn asunder. Even renunciates do know who their original family are, and have to go through a very symbolic and intense rite of passage to renounce their earthly ties of blood and heart.
Of all the family stories of bonding I could narrate, to drive home my point about the easy, comforting embrace of family, the immediate and strongest memory that comes to me is infact about rather distant relatives and not the immediate nuclear family. My paternal uncle – twice removed – acted as my ‘local guardian’ when I was a teen, in hostel away from my own home. I had not met him for perhaps 5 years, and yet, going home to his home and immediate family for the weekend or a celebration felt like the most natural thing in the world. There was a sense of familiarity with them, going back to generations before either of us. While we personally may not have seen each other for years, I had heard about them and of two generations before them almost continuously as part of my own story, as part of the story of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives. Also uncle had lived with us in our home for a year when he had first started working, when I was a very small girl of 4 or 5 years. So I had a hazy sort of real time memory of him as well.
One foggy winter evening in Delhi when Dad was in town on some work, we all met up at the cousins’ home. My father and his cousin and I reminisced over drinks, and we talked and listened and learnt about scandals, fights, past dangers, escapades and achievements of so many relatives. I also shared a few tentative dreams and ideas of my own…
There was endless tasty food cooked lovingly and with pride by many family members, with stories connected to each dish, and the evening just went on and on in a cosy glow of oneness. It was not that we agreed on anything- rather, mostly we were in disagreement on practically every story or topic that would come up! And yet, the ease of sitting there , as if by some divine entitlement and saying freely how one felt, what one thought and what one had been through and dreamt of, was a most precious feeling . It was about having a context and a backdrop. That feeling of connection, which then leads me into an ever widening circle of life, is for me the ultimate gift of family.
The ‘just right’ context I felt then may have been first set by biology, then buttressed by social norms and culture, but just the force of biology/ marital bonds/obligations and culture would not be enough to hold it all together. We are all too familiar with family gatherings and even individual families where people can’t get along, fight a whole lot, and are very miserable with each other. So what makes for happy, well bonded family ties then? Why was the evening at my uncle’s home so memorable despite the differences?
I guess what made it meaningful was that it could hold us all connected, by letting us be, by complete acceptance into its fold, and sharing a collective story that could touch our core. In a beautiful, subtle, simple yet powerful way, that evening was all about family love, without the word being enunciated even once.
I have come to see the acknowledging, accepting and ‘letting-be’ as a sort of model of creating conscious relationships. It is about being aware, – rather, about choosing to be aware – that family and love is what we make of it.
I would also describe this as an open acknowledgment of and respect for the contribution of each one to the family or a relationship backdrop, by just being what they are, and doing what they do. Each link in the chain matters here. Not just the shiny bits. And finally, the consciousness, the awareness, the choice, is made by each one of us for ourselves.
Families are given to us and we are born into them, but what we make of our family life is a matter of our choice. So while family is about connections, context and backdrop, that context and backdrop is going to be the strong wind beneath my wings only when I am aware of it, and able to ride it, being one with it.
In the traditional Indian culture we have rituals and acts of marking attention, awareness and bringing to the conscious realm values such as respect and obedience to parents and elders, and unconditional care and indulgence of little children. Today, many such rituals and symbols are being discarded- partly for practical reasons, and partly with the many winds of change we face. The ‘home’ in the ‘native place’ of our childhood is rarer and rarer now, and the steady stream of family functions or get togethers occasioned by births, deaths, coming of age, engagement, marriage, childbirth and so much else, are now fast vanishing as real rites of conscious connections, becoming clones of any other kind of a party anywhere.
And so I come to thinking of what all can play the role of getting attention back in family relationships? Getting families to experience the PRESENCE of members, and to feel the connections, and not just be consumers of events, gifts and entertainment? What are your stories of family ties and connections? How do you experience, express and pass on the LOVE and ATTENTION in the family? Would be great to hear more stories from others on this.
A recent very positive Facebook post by me about of Krya, the organic, plant based clothes-wash & dish-wash that I have been a regular user of, had a reader react about the futility of going organic for economic and ecological reasons. His argument was that the cost of organic goods was often so much more than the regular stuff that average income people and lower income earners could hardly consider them. And that given the low uptake of organic goods then, their impact on the overall ecology was going to be negligible, and also that the non organic stuff like detergents hardly added to about 2% of pollutants to the waterbodies.
So I want to take on this issue and look at it from my perspective, and how I have made my choice. And I have to say, the choice is finally not an economic one. Because you know what, how much of the rest of your acts are going to matter in a statistical sense? do we even think of things that way for most life decisions? No, na?
Choices are not made like that t a deep , instinctive level. It is about liking something or not. In the light of what we know and how we feel. About a value system, of thus choosing sustainability over short term expense calculations. Of course, a packet of regular, non premium detergent costs about 1/4th the price of the organic alternative. So on the surface yes, the cost is a big deterrent. BUT lets dig deeper.
Actually, because of the little amount needed per wash, compared to a synthetic detergent, the organic wash is cheaper overall, calculating the per wash load cost! Then, the water discharged is harmless to my plants or to any waterbody. No phosphates whatsoever discharged ! Someone points out scientific research studies to show that the polluting phosphates in regular dishwash and detergents are actually making a negligible impact on quality of water bodies, as the total amount discharged in India is so less. Well, the amount is only increasing everyday, as consumption of mass made mass marketed good goes up and people aspire to more modern, convenient lifestyles, which include clothes and more washing. And it is not just detergent run off that goes into the water- so does the dish-wash, the sewage, the industrial pollutants, the waste of every sort. So it is also about an overall eco friendly, earth caring attitude in every walk of life. And if we only focus on the economics of the price point on the pack, we will never get out of the mess we are in and a mess it surely is – look at any water body in any city or village and ask yourself if you are willing to take a good wallow in it, as we all have done just few decades ago as children? I am at least willing to not add to the mess.
Going further, its not even just about the post use discharge – its the whole lifecycle of producing the goods, right from the raw material sourced, transported, and processed. Its about embodied energy that was used up in the process of getting it from raw state to the consumers’ hands. Its the use of water and energy at every stage, its sourcing, the type of packaging and its disposal, the transport, the printing, the whole process, and not just the effluents left out at the end use stage. There are effluents produced at the manufacturing stage, which even if treated for pollution control are using up a lot of scarce non renewable energy /fuel. So my point is that if I add up all of this, then the cost on the packet is just a number that does not tell me the whole story. Whereas with my organic, earth friendly detergent, I know the whole story- for e.g was grown on wastelands that now are healthy and alive because of the agro-forestry on them, the water used to irrigate the crops of native growing soap berries was rain harvested and there was natural mulching and bio mass fertilizers alone used on the crop. So it is totally natural in its process of production, and also earth friendly and beneficial. The people employed in making it suffer no health hazards and production risks, and are working with the natural rhythms of growth and flowering and fruiting. There is only sun-drying of the final product, so hardly any non renewable energy source is involved, and the packaging is all from recycled materials and recyclable. Even the printing is limited to monochrome colors so that too much of synthetic inks do not get used or released into the biosphere. There are no artificial fragrances used, no additives, keeping the purity and naturalness of the end product very high. That also makes it very very non toxic and safe to use for all. Also when I think about product, design, systems and lifestyle trends globally, I have to ask- having gone full circle on mass industrial synthetic production, why are the developed countries now coming back to a more holistic, earth friendly approach?
To my mind, the industrial mechanized mass production of synthetic goods served the economic- political ends of the leading industrial and colonial powers of the time. India had a far more diverse eco system of goods production and holistic sustainable lifestyles which were crushed and superimposed by these synthetic systems in the march of colonisation, industrialisation, modernisation and then globalisation. Now that even the pioneers are realizing the shortcomings of those systems, we who have a rich heritage of holistic, earth friendly lifestyles and culture can surely pause and re-look a bit at our choices. So at the end of the day, product choices for me are about much more than economics, they are about affirming values. It is about being willing to pay some more cash to preserve and grow the abundant beneficial resources of the planet. It is also about thought leadership and being a role model and an inspiration. It is about aligning my actions with my love for and belief in living with nature’s rhythms and being respectful to the earth.
And of course, it is also about being pragmatic abut where is it right now best value for me to go organic- but not to throw the baby out with the bath water. It is also about basically overall following the de-clutter, recycle, reuse, reduce philosophy. On a very practical note, here are a few things I feel nearly everyone can do to start their organic journey in a cost effective and healthy way. To me, every drop counts, and no effort is too small as it is but the first baby step on a journey of sustainable, earth connected living:
1. Try to replace a few staples with organic alternatives if not all – e.g just change your main cereal to organic, and maybe your sugar, and maybe 2 lentils? So its not a big hit at once on the budget. There are many many choices in the market today.
2. Go back to the traditional foods of your Grandmother – eat more whole grains, more varieties of traditional foods like raagi, jowaar, bajraa- at least get some of them home once a month! And use for breakfast chilla, or poha, or khidchi. Replace at least one serving of processed foods with old style organic home made snacks once a week. Go back to using fresh chutneys – dhania, pudina chutney, narial chutney, imli chutney, sesame paste…instead of packaged mayo and sandwich spreads. Join an Ayurvedic cooking course run by the ART OF LIVING foundation to get back to the basics of cooking healthy, wholesome dishes with least processing.
3. Make your own Compsot at home – Simple, rewarding way to learn about and participate in the circle of life 3. Start your own kitchen garden, and keep a few indoor and outdoor plants, even if all you have is a window ledge. Start with herbs, tomatoes, cucumber, palak, saag, methis, dhania. chilly, tulsi, basil, lemongrass – all easily grown and once you see the output you will be able to move on to bigger things. It is possible , with some practice and over a one year period, to actually supply more than half of a nuclear family’s vegetable needs from a small terrace kitchen garden.
4. Change to natural products for washing, cleaning, disinfecting, pest control – and if cost is an issue, go for buying non branded stuff. It is easy in the old wholesale markets of all Indian towns to still get reetha, baking soda, white vinegar, essential oils like neem and eucalyptus. And old style cake soaps, which are far more earth friendly than some costlier brands. Stop using Colin for window glass cleaning – plain water with a drop of vinegar does just as well. Burn pure camphor for air freshening and disinfection. As also lemongrass and citronella leaves. Notice that apat from reducing toxicity of synthetic chemicals you also reduce the packaging and manufacturing energy that goes into the creating the final ready chemical products . These are the few easy basics for a natural home care kit:- Few drops of neem/ nilgiri oil in the poncha bucket will keep flies and mosquitos away, and a lingering perfume as well that is non toxic. Few spoons of baking soda scrub on the sinks and non marble hard surfaces will keep them clean. White vinegar and water mix half and half is good for all purpose cleaning, deodorising and disinfecting. Toilets can also be cleaned with a cup full of white vinegar left poured in for at least half an hour then brushed and frushed. Lemon & Vinegar will give your dishes such a sparkle, and can also be used in the washing machine for a brightening and softening effect on clothes. Salt is also a good cleanser and scrub, for removing caked up food and other cooked food marks on stoves. Many detailed tips are to be found in magazines and online on these. This is a really big area of cost reduction while going natural and sustainable!
5. Think about how you can reduce the use of the petrol/ diesel vehicles- can you walk to the local market, can you cycle, can you take the rickshaw? Can you car pool? Can you take the Metro? Again its not just what you as one person do, its about creating a mood and spreading it, its about being the change ! Also, once you get these into a regular lifestyle, you will notice much better health for everyone- less allergies, less skin irritations, headaches- basically all the side effects of toxic pollutans in the home air are removed. So now think of the costs – which is the easier cost to bear ?
It is ironic that today we prefer synthetic goods with harmful side effects (which most consumers are blind to , actually ) over natural, beneficial goods for our daily basic needs like food, cleanliness, clothing, and healthcare. Organic food, cleansers, medicines, anything in fact, was how nature meant us to use those things in the first place. But as society grew in numbers and in complexity, we super specialised our work and lives, we moved further and further away from the source of things that sustain us and make us thrive. We have almost come to see money, our professions, our possessions, our consumption patterns as all that makes us who we are, and forgotten that it is the unchained flow of breath, of water, of wind, the sunshine, the rain, of food sprouting out of the earth, that in fact is our lifeblood, and not the stuff of life we have created, like brands and packaged goods . So for me to come back to the organic lifestyle, is in a way about coming back to connect with the flow of life, with the very source of our origins. It is about honoring our oneness with the circle of life and being a part of it once more. It is about standing apart and away from a synthetic lifestyle that is slowly but surely making the earth toxic.
Man invented mecahnised power, and it has served him in many ways. But today it appears that the power is what drives man, and man has become just a spoke in the wheel, ‘another brick in the wall’. Going organic to me is not about saying all of technology is bad, or all of industrial production is harmful, or that I am against using any packaged, mass marketed goods. Going back to nature for me is about reclaiming one’s humanity and power of choice. In simple day to day terms it is about enjoying the smell of the essential oils used in my home, rejoicing in the fresh earth feel and smmell of the products of my compost bin , reveling in the color and feel and smell of my home garden, and about being more involved in the selection and preparation of the food in my home. So the underlying arguement for going back to organic living for me personally is not really economic, not till the economics of production are what they are now. It is rather a human, even a spiritual one, and I am blessed and privileged to have that choice. And for that, I am paying a cost in money terms, and doing so deliberately.
As put across so touchingly by Professor Guttorn Floisad, an ideologue of the Slow Movement , “people need to get off the ever accelerating treadmill of life. ..the basic human needs remain unchanged. The need to be seen and appreciated…the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love. ” It is still these basic needs that consumerism feeds on, panders to and builds on, and never fully fulfills, leaving humans ever more in the quest for harmony, love and connection. The paradox is that they are driven to seek it in a synthetic, unsustainable lifestyle.
Now that the list of the World’s Most Honest Places is out, and Mumbai ranked an admirable No. 2 in it, of course a debate has ensued as to whether other places in India can ever share the same glory as Mumbai.
The list makers tell us that the results were arrived at after carrying out the ‘”Wallet Test” to see how often a dropped wallet was returned/ attempted to be returned to its owner. While I am happy for all those ‘lost and found wallets’ and for Mumbai, I do know that I once lost a bunch of very important office papers on the suburban train in Mumbai and never got them back 😦 Wish they were doing these lists then- perhaps my papers would have been treated with more respect. Anyway, that is besides the point, really, and not the reason for writing this piece at all. Its the idea of returning things to their owners – connecting them back, as it were, that touches a chord with me, as I am sure it does with eveyone, including the folks who designed the survey that got us this list.
So today I want to share two stories of honest to goodness kindness of near strangers to me, because of which I too was re-united with things I had lost or left behind by mistake.
In December 2006, just about a year after buying the plot of land where Birdsong & Beyond now stands, we went on a road trip through north Garhwal, touring in a sort of circle around the Birdsong location as its sort of centre. We had another friend and his family with us , and it was a great long trip with lots of lesser explored places to visit. The vehicle we rode was new, the route largely unexplored, the drives long and full of discoveries at every turn. The cold crisp air, the clear sharp winter sun and the morning mists all added to the enjoyment and thrill of the journey.
One of the early stops was the Mandakini Magpie Birding Camp, a timely discovery on the banks of the Madakini river in a one tea shop village named Kakragaad. This is a place just about a couple of hours downstream from the base point of the trek to Kedarnath shrine, and there is a birding camp there run by an expert local birder, Shri Yashpal Negi (Negi Ji to all). I had found references to him on the Delhi Bird pages on the net and was excited and curious to explore what he was doing, as birding was a budding passion I was engaging with, and Negi Ji happened to be located practically in our backyard.
Negi Ji turned out to be an absolute find, and we had the most thrilling explorations with him. He is an excellent birder and guide with an immense range of knowledge and an uncanny knack to spot and identify birds out of thin air or dense foliage as the case may be. He is also very much the storyteller, sharing captivating nuggets on the local natural history, and local heritage. It was all a unique experience , more so perhaps because we had no idea what we were in for.
We had anticipated that the place and arrangements would be simple and minimalistic, and we had overcompensated to an extreme degree- having packed every possible supply into the car ! Sleeping bags, towels, flasks for hot water, food supplies…we were an army on the move. However, things were not so dire on the ground and we did get warm clean quilts and fluffy white towels to use. And while the washrooms were draughty and cold, the food was warm, fresh and somewhat exotic in being rather different to our usual fare. To accomodate more guests in the peak birding times, Negi Ji had put up two tents on the grounds and the younger children in our party decided to make a tent their sleeping place, and use our sleeping bags rather than the beds laid out, to make the experience even more camp like.
From Negi Ji’s place we went on to Chopta Meadows, and attempted the Tunganath temple climb on New Year’s eve. The shepherds who graze their sheep and goats here on the lush spring and summer grass were all gone, leaving behind their ancient stacked stone shelters available for interepid trekkers to camp around. There were parties of locals here and there, with their mobile kitchens and rations trailing into the forests and wilderness all through the day, all around Chopta Meadows and in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary’s surrounding areas.
Anyway, to move on, in a few more days we we were on the return leg of the trip, from Auli to Rishikesh. While counting the luggage in the boot at Auli, it semd to us there was something missing, since the boot just looked so much more spacious than before. A quick review revealed that 3 sleeping bags were missing! A rushed check of the hotel room showed up nothing, and then it hit us that the sleeping bags were last used at Negi ji’s place only. There being no signal on the mobile phones, and the hotel phones being down due to a snow storm in the making, we drove off, and called Negi Ji from the first PCO we came to and asked about the sleeping bags. Negi Ji said he had been desperate to hear from us… He had found the sleping bags in the tent after he went to ready them for other guests once we left, and had been so worried as he could not get us on the phone. He was thinking of getting hold of someone going down to Delhi and sending the bags with them to our address as a last resort, but it was difficult to find people travelling to Delhi in those parts!
So now that he had spoken to us and knew our plans, he offered a most generous and kind suggestion to get the bags to us. Our route to Rishikesh would bring us to Rudraprayag on the National Highway, from where the road to Kakraagad branched off. He would meet us there and give us our stuff. This meeting point was more than an hour’s journey by local bus from his home, and he offered to do it just so simply for us! His logic for not letting us take the detour and come pick the bags was that it would add hours to our travel time.
Needless to say we were totally floored by this wise, pragmatic and kind gesture of his. In hindsight, I realise how important it is in those areas to stick to tavel time estimates, keep mindful of the weather and to drive within daylight hours as far as possible. By offering to bring the stuff to us, he was not only returning our things to us, but also ensuring our journey stayed safe and as short as necessary.
A lot has changed in those hills since 2007 and I have been travelling there every few months in the last 3 years. I am very familiar and at home in these mountains and know a lot more of the locals. The Birdsong Cottage is now a reality and in in April 3013 we again had a wonderful trip up there with friends, combined with an overnite camp and trek to Deoariyatal lake. Located in the mountains just opposite the Chopta and Tunganath slopes, just off the Kedarnath- Gopeshwar highway that runs through the Kedarnath Musk Dear Sanctuary, this is an alpine lake in the middle of a forest, where the forest gives way to gently sloping alpine meadows that end into a bowl like depression on a mountain top, and in this depression sits the mirror lake. It is a sight that simply takes your breath away, leaving you grappling, a bit dazed, to take in all the beauty and the stillness around you .
There is no settlement here or buildings save two forest officials’ cabins there, and alpine camping tents are the only accomodation for the night. Its an amazingly well managed, clean and well protected site, with stunning snow views, teeming wildlife and birds and flowering trees of every hue. At Deaoriyatal I found myself wanting to be for ever outdoors, connecting with the tremendous presence of the universe every single moment. Even taking a break to eat or drink or go to the wahroom was a tough call to take – its that hard to break away from the spell of nature’s majestic and magical presence there.
Anyway, we could not linger in this Shangri La forever as we had a time bound plan….so off we were again by mid morning, trekking back downhill to the base point at Saari, in the glare of a noon day sun of the high altitudes. On the way down from our trek, at the base point, I felt a bit dehydrated and dizzy so took a time out from the group while they had tea at a local dhabha point and then went off settling the children and the luggage in the car. Meanwhile I took a 5 minute shut eye and a long drink of ice cold water, and then went off to wash my face. When I returned the car engine was running and the others were waiting for me to join them. I got in to the car and we started the drive back to Birdsong.
It was afternoon already and we had delayed so much at the lake, mesmerized by its beauty and peace, that we had totally ignored the the day’s timetable. Changing the planned lunch at Birdsong to dinner was no big deal in comparison, just a matter of a phone call back home. So we made our way down hill and reached the Kedarnath highway along the Mandakini river. By now all of us were pretty much starving and looking for a lunch break. The GMVN rest-house on the banks of the river at Syalsaur was our halt for a late late lunch and as soon as I started to step put of the car my head reeled again – this time not with dehydration but with the knowledge that in my confusion at Saari, I had forgotten to pick up my camera bag, and personal bag with my wallet etc…and nor had I asked the others to, and nor had they thought of it!!!
I was in a panic now, thinking of my cash heavy wallet, all my IDs and credit cards, ATM cards, and my precious precious camera gone for ever …or at least in grave danger of being lost to me….when calmer sense prevailed and I called our trek guide Raghubir. He was not at the tea shop where we had stopped but promised to go check immediately and call back. Soon he was back on the phone to us, saying the tea shop owner had noticed the bags and kept them aside safely. Now he was watching over them for us and where were we and was it possible for us to come take them, and when would be reach the place?
We told him our location, about 50 kms downhill of Saari and said we would start immediately, but if there was someone he knew in the village coming down was it possible to send the stuff with them? When Raghubir realized where we were, he immediately told us not to make the trip to Saari, telling us that he would find a way out and call us back. Within 5 minutes he was back, informing us that he had found a relative’s motorbike and was coming down with a friend to personally hand over our valuables to us! We were just dumbstruck. These guys would ride down 50 kms and then ride back 50 kms to prevent us from doing the same, as it was safer and more practical for them to do it than for us!!! And within less than an hour, Raghubir was there, at the rest-house, handing over my things to me and being so gracious and sweet and kind….. And on top of that, he refused to let us pay for the fuel , saying it was no big deal, anyone would have done the same and so on. And mind you, these are people who do not really have decent sums of cash to even meet their daily needs, leave alone spare cash to run uncalled for errands of kindness for strangers.
So when I read about the “Wallet Test” and the honest places ranking, my mind goes back to those panicked moments when I realized we had left our stuff behind and then the sense of enormous relief and gratitude toward the men who personally made sure they came and returned our things to us, wherever we were.
Linking this blog post to an artice of mine, published in The Alternative.
First, I am reposting this, as some friends told me they are not able to get the link on my earlier FB posts. So here we go again….
The title of my blog today is taken from the metaphysical poet John Donne’s work. I encountered these lines first while reading Hemingway, and they have made a lasting, haunting impression on me. It is telling that Donne used them in a series of writings while he was himself recovering from a near fatal illness- as meditations and prayers, actually- on health, pain, and sickness. These were published in 1624 as Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Here I am copying from Wikepedia, with the original spellings, as printed by them. BOLD highlight by me.
- “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
What is it that would make more and more of us think as Donne felt? When will we realise that the bell tolls for all of us ? This thought comes to me repeatedly these days, in many different contexts. What would it take to connect peoples’ hearts at a deep, abiding level, and make our world reverberate with one universal beat, at least for a bit?
The aftermath of the floods and devastation in some regions of Uttarakhand has been disturbing me at a very deep level, and I am still coming to grips with the incredible enormity of what has happened. Maybe soon I will write on that, as a separate blog post. Today I am just touching upon some instances of nasty human indifference, or worse that showed up in the crisis. There have been wonderful stories of help and support too, but then should not those be the norm, and anything else an aberration? When will we realise we are but One, ‘no man is an island…every death diminishes me”?
Looting the fragile hillsides, raping and gouging them out for short term greed and monetary gains, without thinking of the risk to others, to the earth itself- how disconnected can we be? Refusing to listen to science, refusing to use better technology, refusing to admit to mistakes and correct them- why this disconnect?
Looting helpless lost people – obviously, some very very deep disconnect with humanity. In this havoc there are hardy and helpful people, taking great risks to go out and organise relief for others, and to help re-build lives. And then, we hear from the ground, of others, who are hampering their work, rather than joining them. There are those complaining of having only kicchdi to eat for 4 days, when there are those who are forgoing their rations to feed others, and some are with no food or water for days on end. There is shouting and shoving to get to the rescue chopper first, and then fights and arguments with the army guys. The same army guys who are risking their lives to save others, who have already lost colleagues in this operation. Are we so out of touch with our oneness as bits of the same, unified creation? Why? Why do we not rally around and work as one?
Then, why the huge disconnect from our own responsibility to ourselves, to our families, to take charge of our own safety? To know if we are fit enough for an arduous trip to a difficult region? Why no attempts to educate one self about where I plan to go, rather than be herded like some subjugated domestic animal?
What of the disconnect from roles and responsibility of the officials, who allow the yatras to be so unregulated- why no connect between the numbers of visitors and the region’s carrying capacity? Why no connect between what will be a safe and low impact tourism infrastructure suitable for the locations? Why no connection was made between the terrible, ravaging rain of over 2 days and its likely consequences in a region of glacial lakes and debris dams and landslide?
Closer to home, why do I have more than 5 scores of people applauding my efforts at organic living, at community waste management, and barely a handful of them actually doing any of what they so solidly cheer me on for? What does my being an ‘Inspiration’ mean to them, if it does not bind them in common, similar action to the source of that ‘inspiration’? What is this disconnect between their words and their deeds?
Why do we get so much blame and counter blame in any crisis situation rather than a resolve to team up as one and actually handle the situation, to find ways to overcome? Why be divided forever, like debating teams, rather than be connected like links in a chain? Team work, anyone? Common purpose? Common values? A common sense of humanity? What is the journey that takes us there?
Certainly I don’t see connectedness of any authentic, lasting, deep kind emerging from the most commonly made journeys. Not in the journey that gets the migrant hill dweller to the plains for a better and regular income . Not in the journey made home every few months to look in at the family and / or farms/ homes left behind, or festival to mark back in the native place. Soon, the journeys grow fewer, the ties become weaker. Those left behind also look for when they can escape. And soon the only connection binding the place that was home and the place that will be the saviour is that of cash.
Certainly connections also do not bloom on the journey made in package tours by groups of friends , family, cocooned in their sameness and familiarity even when in an unfamiliar geography and culture. There is a sensory pleasure in the novel sights and foods, and crafts, there is shopping and picture taking, and a sense of ‘I too have been here, I too have seen the world’ . But I doubt if seeing the world is the same as really having an experience of what is the connect between a new and different place and its people with any one of us, beyond the differences? The connect in such journeys is with one’s ego, with one’s vanities perhaps, and with a sense of consumption. It is only when one stops seeking to consume, and lingers to absorb that a deep and authentic experience of a place can come to us.
I take your leave now, with a powerful positive intention that my words have connected with your deepest essence, and your journey of connected oneness, and mine, will be stronger.
Bhoomi Pujan. The prayer before very first strike of the workman’s tools on the ground to make a building. In our part of the world no home or workplace or any building would ever be deemed ‘sanctioned’ to exist by the forces of nature and by something even beyond nature without the Bhumi Pujan. I had always found this to be a bit of an empty robotic ritual, disconnected from its essence in practice, though it is a strong and inescapable part of life all around me. Even foreigners who work in India have presided over ot at least been to one Bhumi Pujan, no matter how they personally felt about it.
When work started on site for Birdsong, my local Gurgaon civil contractor was sent to manage the local labor. The first thing the crew asked him about was when and how was the Bhumi Pujan to be performed. He asked me for directions. I told him to arrange for it locally, with the village priest. Interestingly, the site supervisor is originally a Bihari Muslim. He and the locals got together to have the ceremony carried out.
So, yes, we did have a Bhumi Pujan, conducted by a local priest. But this was done more for the peace of mind of the crew working the land. But preparing for the ceremony made me think of performing my own ritual too, a rite of passage for my dream taking material shape in mud and stone and wood and mortar. I wanted to signify this step with something that would speak of my underlying intentions and hopes with this home. I wondered how to put my feeling and wishes into action within the structure of a conventional, traditional Bhumi Pujan ceremony .
One of my friends suggested I speak to our common friend and mentor-guide. I called Nithya in Pune. He well understood my dilemma, and asked me to hold clear in my mind my vision and hopes for the home, and then helped me further crystallise my intentions. Thus I was able to work out a vision for what this home in the hills was all about, what it represented to me, why I wished to create it and what I saw as its future and our relationship with it, and its relationship to the place,the local life and people, to the people who I hoped would visit there. These were the ideas to be affirmed, set as intentions, and celebrated in our Bhumi Pujan Ceremony. If one wished, Nithya suggested, one could further relate them to specific attributes of specific deities, and bring in invocations to those deities in the priest’s traditional prayers. I asked the priest if he would invoke the deities as per our choice and he said yes, he would even invoke the special thoughts we wished to invoke. So we did go ahead with the Bhumi Pujan, done our way with a syncretic, quirky and personal twist.
To give you a simplified sense of what I mean, we expressed the intention of a rich, abundant life at Birdsong and around it through the invocation to Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity and plenty. A wish for it to be a place of learning, discovery, exploration, self knowledge and connection was symbolized through invoking the Saraswati, and so on.
Rites of passage are a familiar part of village life. Everybody understands their meaning and is deeply connected to them. Come to think of it, most situations in these areas are rites of passage, some cyclical and patterned, others bit less certain and fraught with tension. Having familiar, understood rituals to see you through them make the transitions that much smoother. What it also may lead to, of course, is a difficult time when it comes to innovation and adapting to a fast changing world that is now definitely approaching these remote areas at a fast pace. Customising my own rites of Bhumi Pujan gave me a chance to appreciate the value of ritual as well as the need to allow for a change in its expression.
Meanwhile, the ceremony was over and the priest symbolically hit the first blow on the field, after which the workers took over. Digging started for the retaining walls, to bolster the edge of the plot. The old retaining wall was demolished, and a new reinforced stone wall started coming up in its place. Those were heady and exciting days for me, and for my little site team. Everyday we would catch up on the progress- how many feet were dug, how was the pace of work, how was the weather, what were the ground conditions, how many more days….the hardworking and tough digging crew from Nepal was efficient and fast and we were pretty soon ready for the next big thing, the foundation of the cottage.
Its been a long time since I wrote here, and for many reasons. The main one being that I was away at Birdsong without my laptop.
The biggest discovery for me these last 2 weeks has been the large number of responses evoked by a call for summer internship at Birdsong & Beyond. I asked friends in the field of Architecture and Planning to help spread the word, and within days the applications and Resumes started pouring in. Facebook and the good old College Notice Board had a big role to play, as also the personal influence of the friends who spread the word originally. Finally we had 3 students staying in the village for over 2 months, and we all ended up making new connections and discoveries along the way. About old pilgrim routes, lost recipes, local animals and plants, house building styles, geology, ourselves, village folks and so much more.
Another encounter and discovery centres around the beautiful bride pictured above. It is an encounter which typifies what big city folks will find to be a ‘lack of privacy’ and disregard of ‘personal space’. What it really comes from is a rather distinct sense of ‘being at home and familiar’ with all around them that Indian villagers live with, when they live in their village. Where community is clearer and stronger, and intertwined with every aspect of life.
A nearby homestead was hosting a son’s wedding and we were invited of course, with a band of village boys delivering the card and asking us to definitely come for the ‘baraat ‘and other ceremonies. The day after a night of song, dance, revelry and rituals, to our surprise we discovered that the bride, with her old and new relatives, was at our door! She and her entourage had come by to meet the city folks who had opted to live amongst the villagers. The bride was a friendly girl, and she happily posed for pictures with her camera wielding relatives in all our rooms, and with us, and our guests, who were still semi asleep and not at all prepared for wedding album pictures.
The visits didn’t end with the bridal procession. A local school teacher brought his 2 colleagues from nearby schools and colleges to show them the cottage. They had always seen our place from far, from the road on the downhill side of the valley and wondered about it.
So far, all was good and friendly, but there was something not so pleasant too. A wandering sadhu sauntered in to our verandah one morning. His persistent knocking was unwelcome as was he, but I opened the door and went to deal with him. The usual exchange of blessings and demands for alms followed, after which whatever I offered was deemed too unworthy by him- to be exact, worse than human refuse, literally. Disgusted by him, I unleashed some tough words of my own to send him off and I am sure glad he scuttled off when he did. Both for his sake and mine.
Then there were the various village youngsters who came to just talk, about their life, their families, their hopes and challenges. And the lack of opportunities in front of them. Apart from the lack of career choices and windows to the world, which we do acknowledge and know of, it is specially on the personal front that the lack of growth and exposure was a discovery to me. Caught in the crossroads of tradition and modernity and a whole lot of change that they can’t control, the young are restless and hungry for a chance at a bright future.
In terms of social mixing as youngsters, boys and girls find themselves on Facebook, a magical, exciting world without known signposts to negotiate. Messages from far-off media make them feel helpless and hopeful at the same time. Neither the old certainties hold true or deliver well, and neither the new freedoms and ideas lead to the promised happy endings.
Most are just confused and frustrated and have little by way of a sounding board, understanding or guidance. They are all rather friendly and warm hearted and open to learning, open to knowing, but also hemmed in by tradition, by taboos and fears of the unknown. There is a sense of helplessness, of being in a lost and forgotten world, of not being important in the scheme of things of the wider world. What would it take to open a window to the wider world for them that permits an easy movement between their world as it is, and the wider world out there? I am sure this question will be part of the driver for our future work in the region.
There are winds of change of a more progressive kind too, and this ‘off the map’ place is also getting embedded in the political map of Local Self Governance as I type this. The cluster of villages around us has just been formed into a “Nagar Panchayat” or rural council, and the first Chairperson elected. She happens to be our neighbor and it’s amazing to see the transformation this development has brought to the entire family.
Though the lady herself is a more of a figurehead or rubber stamp office bearer, who had to be nominated for the ‘reserved for women only’ seat, she is making efforts on various fronts to fit into the role. The kids are teaching her how to say her speeches, the husband wants me to teach her some social graces, she herself is looking to buy nice, formal cotton sarees to wear to office where she has to sit with officials of the government and so on…she also now says all the farm and animal work is too much to handle, how can she do all this and be expected to use her head to learn new stuff for the office.
Today I am going to share with my readers a different side of travel – the not so pleasant aspect of motion sickness on a road journey. And for those of us who love the mountains, and also suffer from road sickness, this can be quite a deep cut, as most hilly regions of India are ill served by good roads, leave alone comfortable trains and regular, reliable flights.
As a child I would be given a tablet of Avomine by my parents the night before a long road journey in the hills. In the plains they would hope for the best and leave things to chance, and mostly I managed to complete plains road journeys alright. It was the constant zig zagging and curves uphill and downhill that got my stomach all twisted and apt to throw up its contents every now and then. Eating anything was a torture as it would come up sooner than it went down and I was perpetually left with a bad taste in my mouth. The other option, of not eating would make me nauseous with hunger. So it was a no win either way. The Avomine though, would work at times, putting me into deep slumber and not let me enjoy the experience of the journey or the place being visited.
As I child I never really thought about this much, or tried doing something to get over the condition- I guess thats just how kids deal with stuff. Now I wonder what made me such a stoic about the condition. Was I aware somewhere in my subconscious that with a lifetime commitment to the hills, I just would find a way sooner than later to deal with this? I don’t know, but what I do know is that sometime in my early adult life I started to actively look at ways to deal with travel sickness when I realised that Avomine induced sleep robbed me of a lot of the experience of travel and kept me groggy long after I reached my destination too.
So a search for other ways to cope began, and carried on for years. Homeopathy was tried, with quite effective results, as was just mind control – NLP of a self taught, self invented sort, and driving simulation – meaning, you pretend you are actually driving the vehicle- because as everyone has surely noticed, the person driving the vehicle never ever gets motion sickness! All sorts of churans, pachaks and sour lozenges for keeping nausea at bay….and so on. With time I moved closer to many more healing modalities in alternate / traditional health systems, and tried yoga, accupressure and Bach Flower remedies for the control and eventual wiping out of this tendency for me to be road sick. All in all,there is a clear shift now, a mild one initially which has grown stronger and stronger to the point where now I am not car sick at all in long mountain drives, unless the vehicle is really ramshackle and jolts too much or the sun blazes right into my eyes.
So I hope all of you who do have a case of road sickness take heart from my story and keep trying your coping methods till you come to the right mix. Do not stop being on the road though, just because your body does not keep comfortable pace as of now with the quick moves of a mechanized, fast moving, sharp turning turbo fueled super-machine on wheels.
Here are the few tips, tricks and tools that I have felt are at the core of overcoming this roadsickness phenomenon
1. The driver’s seat is the best place to sit. Two, next to driver is the second best place. Then come the other seats.
2. Eyes always on the road straight ahead is another key learning.You have to really look straight ahead, being one with the road, with each and every curve and turn embedded in the software of balance and motion in our brains that we are trying to enhance. No looking back, leaning sideways and forward to catch snacks, water or chats to share or such like ….
3. Singing loud and clear. Yes, singing ! Always makes the arising giddiness or nausea just vanish 🙂
4. Eating dry and light. Slow and small munching on dry toast, roast namkeen, and pulped up bananas. Tea and coffee don’t help. Lemon drinks do help. Saunf and churan help too. Eating light and at short intervals also works better.
5. The accupressure routine that works instant miracles is this – press deep and sharp on the inner wrist at a point two finger breadth away from your inner wrist and palm joining line, and keep pressing hard for 2 full minutes. Do a two minute routine with both arms and then repeat till you are totally symptom free.
6. Another amazing tool is tapping, as propagated by the system of EFT healing- the Emotional Freedom Technique, to elaborate. This is a modified accupressure practice, with tapping on ‘energy points’ releasing blocked ‘energy channels’, along with some positive validations, acknowledgements and affirmations. Have had amazing outcomes for myself and for friends and family too.
Don’t know the scientific reasons for how any of this works and is effective, but these are the coping ways I learnt and this is how I have overcome my chronic motion sickness. And now I share my coping tricks with all my friends, and anyone else who is looking for some way to cope. I was on the other side and having made it across I know what it feels like when you can’t see, experience and enjoy the best that the journey has to offer. Happy travelling and many joyful road trips to all .
While driving to the bank a couple of days ago, I saw a familiar figure on the curbside, walking by with a very leisurely, ambling sort of demeanor. I felt pretty sure it was my architect friend Sanjay Prakash, who I had not met for a rather long time. This person seemed leaner, and very relaxed. I had passed him in a hurry so I thought of calling Sanjay to ask him if indeed it was him I had seen, and where was he headed to. I was so glad I called him, because not only was it really him that I had seen, and now I had got a chance to catch up with him after a fir bit on phone, it also turned out that reason he was there on the roadside was that he was now a Car Free person by choice.
It seems when his last car got too worn out to be road worthy any more, he decided not to go for another car at all. It was a thought he had toyed with often, over the years, having been a keen cycle commuter in his younger days (he is now past 50) and now at last he felt he was ready to put this thoughts into practice again.
So now Sanjay commutes partly by foot, partly by public transport and partly by the occasional car-lift courtesy friends, clients and relatives. It is a potentially high impact lifestyle choice and one I highly respect and endorse. It has been 5 months since Sanjay has gone Car Free, and he has many insights to share. He is happy and enjoying this change, just as he enjoyed being a cyclist commuter early in his career. Those days, his commute was short one, and he was the proud owner of 2 rather snazzy cycles. Then came a couple of close brushes with the DTC buses, and marriage, and he chose to keep a car instead. Then the commuting also got longer, and for many years Sanjay was like the rest of us, driving to work, thinking perhaps some day maybe the traffic mess will be better and like some of us, also thinking, maybe he would give up his car…and so on.
These days, Sanjay tells me, he feels quite independent and empowered, being Car Free again. He is realizing he can cope with his commuting need quite well, minus car ownership and he is benefiting financially and health wise too . On the other hand, the physical challenges for a walker in the city of Gurgaon, or Delhi or most Indian cities are seriously serious. The lack of suitable footpaths, and the utter disregard to the needs of walkers in road design and management of traffic flow are the top drawbacks. This leads to rather a hard time for a walker to safely and comfortably manage their commute. Sanjay for example finds that the road dividers are made like fort walls to be breached, being rather too high. But then, he reasons, they have been made too high to ensure that motorists stay on the right side, by not just by the presence of a divider as a sign, but by their presence as a physical barrier, that can’t be breached !
As of now Sanjay plans to carry through with his plans through summer too, with the help of a big thick umbrella. His asthma and wheezing have not been affected for the worse, and he feels his resistance and adjustment to the pollution is also better. He was also told by another friend that certain medical studies have shown that the cardio-vascular benefits of walking like this overall tend to nearly cancel out the ill-effects on one’s system of the pollution etc faced on the roads. As for going back to cycling, that is not on the agenda, since the infrastructure support for cyclists is even worse than for walkers. The safety aspect for cycling is a big deterrent and unless addressed speedily in all earnest, even the most ardent cyclists, sustainability supporters, and green living enthusiasts will not be able to really take it on much here even if they wish to.
It was an amazing piece of co-incidence that after speaking to Sanjay I came home and found a link in my email to a talk by Anvita Arora, Transport Design specialist. She heads a venture for promoting cycle friendly transport systems and road infrastructure in our cities, and works on a lot of projects to make public transport systems more user friendly right from the planning stage. And when I called Sanjay again for something I came to know that when I had seen him walking, he was in fact going for a meeting with Anvita! A walker architect on his way to meet a transport designer, all working together to make a difference. Power to them, and may their tribe increase !!
“I write for you and me and for a gentler, more just world.”
Catharsis is a word I avoid using in any context. Even when friends, well-wishers and experts offer it as an explanation for what they see happening with me. Or suggest it as a necessary step to deal with an issue. It is not because I don’t like the word or don’t believe in the process. Just the opposite, in fact. I treat catharsis as a sacred precious gift; the word carries so much value for me that I don’t want it made trite in the world of easy sound bytes and trending catch phrases.
So it is with a lot of thought that I call Natasha Badhwar’s debut book a cathartic read. My Daughters’ Mum is an extraordinary book in its candour. The author writes with such self-reflexive vulnerability that you forget you are reading another person’s writing. You feel your heart spill out on the page. Through tears and smiles, and heaving and sinking heart the book embraces the reader, cleansing many heartaches and allowing one to celebrate unspoken joys. You recognise memories you had dumped away, you reclaim parts you had been too ashamed to include in your narrative of self. You examine what you have known; you let yourself be drawn into speculating on the unknown.
The theme of coming home to a place in this world, and a place inside yourself is the big story of this marvellously loving collection of deeply personal essays. The theme holds together carefully curated sections from Natasha’s long running Mint Lounge column. As a regular reader, it makes me happy that the stories of the column, with their message of love, hope, inclusion and the vision of a different, kinder world now have another home with an even wider accessibility. The editor and writer have skilfully structured the collection in a way that feels like a seamless narration of an ongoing conversation.
Part memoir, part essay, part record of our times, there is nothing the book does not touch. Birth family, mothers and daughters, parents, nation, others, love, work, interfaith marriage, friends, grief, death, births, self-love, identity, nationality, changing times, family, in-laws, maids, working from home, road trips, childhood, college, siblings – it is all there, in Natasha’s warm and smart prose. No motherhoods preached, no rules that are claimed as fail proof. Just brave and honest sharing of personal experiences, insights and revelations.
Sample this, on parenting:
“I had never really felt so lonely. Clearly, I had spread myself too thin; the urban myth of the supermom had trapped me. I looked good, but I felt terrible.
All at once, parenting proved to be a test of loyalty. Was I willing to be loyal to myself? I didn’t have much practice in this area. It had always been much easier to be loyal to friends, trends and gadgets.
I had to come to terms with a few grand truths. For one, I would be able to raise our kids well only if I first raised myself well…I had also to learn to pamper the child in me – love her, appreciate her, make her happy.”
In the chapter titled A Technology Chowkidar At Home, Natasha takes head on the issue many young and not so young parents mention all too often as an obstacle to stay away from negative media.
“Despite my intense love for gadgets…I am the self-appointed watchman who moderates access to technology in family spaces. …We barely listen to each other. We are often way behind in keeping track of each other’s creative milestones…we all need some time to share our experiences with each other So we do things that may seem odd to other families. …I do not want us to be a family of Western-consumerist-culture-addicted-Anglophones. We do not want to find ourselves scavenging for comfort amid the clutter of shallow, raucous media content with limited shelf life. I want variety in our lives. Slowness. Pauses. Daydreaming and imaginary friends. I don’t want to prepare our children for the ‘real world’. I want us and them to have the confidence that we can create the world we want to live in. We don’t have to fit into pre-fabricated moulds. We are free to discover and relate to our inner and outer worlds at our own pace. We can pick and chose. This is real life.”
Natasha’s writing is always crisp, the chapters short and sentences light. Such nimble handling of weighty and gut wrenchingly loaded topics is a feat this slim book achieves with élan. I have a feeling that the author’s experience as a TV newsperson and filmmaker, and then coach has definitely helped her create the light as air feel for this warm as pashmina coziness of a book.
If like me, you are a dreamer who wants to persist on this path despite an often broken heart and habitually weary feet, go get yourself this dose of solidarity and encouragement. Keep the tissues on hand, and start reading. You will go on a journey of your life, I promise you. In Natasha’s words reflecting on the wreckage of a riot she watched as a young girl, “Our heart breaks and somehow we keep working. Lives are wrecked and people get back to building homes again. We lose hope and then we find a way to believe once more. We often despair that we are too cynical but we are all constantly creating, restoring, healing, trying to reassemble broken pieces. ” I like to believe she speaks for a lot of us
My piece about the chawl themed new branch of the cafe and bar and co-working hub, Social, atCyber hub , Gurgaon. About design and its inspiration. About imitation and appropriation. About a mockery of others.
Cyber Hub is a multi-outlet development in Gurgaon, with offices, bakeries, pubs, fine dining and shops spread surrounding a central avenue, along some very spacious spokes that lead like tentacles from the main hub. On the rare breezy day of monsoon and the more pleasant days of winter, it is a pleasure to be among the crowds in this postmodern version of a Milanese piazza. The cross-pollination of art, music, food, politics, thought, architecture and more has always been a sign of cosmopolitan urbanism, but the corporate globalisation of Gurgaon has little time for such organic development. It is a market of flash and newness, with establishments and ideas emerging every day, powering the “happening” factor and keeping the transplanted citizens proud and smug, and fairly insular.
Walking down the cemented promenade at Cyber Hub, my friends and I recently came across the bright façade of the newest outlet of the popular cafe and bar, Social. I had seen it on an earlier visit, and been bemused by its kitschy attempt to appropriate the film-poster-and-truck-painting idiom.
This time, upon closer inspection, it became clear that the design team had decided to be inspired by the idea of a Mumbai chawl as the icon for “Social” bonhomie. I suppose the intention was to be droll and edgy. To many of my friends and I, however, it looked like a poor case of misappropriation. The symbolic misplacement of bits of a city’s built history without any understanding of the context. Chawls are an icon of Mumbai’s past and present, and not for salutary reasons alone. None of that nuance or meaning is even remotely acknowledged or explained in the sanitised re-rendering at Social. Instead, we have a rootless hothouse romanticisation of the chawl as a symbol of socialising and community. A chawl is about so much more than being social.
We stared at the façade for a bit, and then brought ourselves to go inside. We were uncomfortably curious to see more. The design had achieved one of its key objectives – footfall. Once inside, the theme continued to make us feel conflicted. A board listed tenant resident names in Hindi. A cement-plastered wall was covered with a collection of old-style electric meters nailed haphazardly with trailing wires.
The wall paint peeled delicately on the exterior, but there were no riverine cracks on the interior walls. The lighting was dim but tastefully planned, and the flooring patchwork didn’t make us trip. The air-conditioning was perfect, unlike anything I have ever experienced inside a chawl. As was the silence, and the air-freshener suffused a scent of affluence. Of course, there was no damp.
Nation in a chawl?
In a nation that grapples with overcrowded poor quality housing in its cities, is this the best creative manifestation of the “social” that trained design professionals could come up with? How ironic that chawls – the built form that arose as a reluctant solution to the despair of homeless mill workers – a design that the renowned urban planner Patrick Geddes called “not housing but warehousing of humans” is the theme for a place dedicated to leisure, to the recreation of moneyed urban professionals?
Is the design meant to be an urban satire? Is the joke on us? Or were the designers and their client just plain ignorant, if not intentionally disdainful?
Besides being an eatery and a bar, Social serves that latest trend in the gig economy – co-working spaces. Small rooms with chawl-style barred windows and flaky doors lined the passage – like the gala of a chawl, leading out from the lobby.
These co-working spaces can be rented by the hour, by office-less workers. So this is what the chawl idea was all about, we concluded. Except, again the symbolism is false. There was a modish, edgy charm to those little cocoons of private solitude and focus. The type of privacy and solitude, and facilities with worktables and food and drink on call that no chawl in history could ever offer. Not even the fairy tale version of the chawl in the Sai Paranjape film Katha, where there is no messy laundry hanging in corridors and the paint and varnish is all perfect.
And certainly never in the more realistic ones, as seen in other movies and books. If only Jaya Bhaduri’s character in the ’70s Barjatya superhit Piya Ka Ghar had found these cute cubicles of Social – with their shut doors and silencer walls – she could have saved her marriage some serious turmoil. But I guess all this referencing of history, books and movies is not the brief designers who work on projects in Gurgaon get. Nor do their clients presumably care.
Sitting inside the Chawl-themed Social
We moved to the area beyond the co-working space and the chawl theme suddenly dropped out in favour of the blast-from-the-past English-Parsi hybrid home décor. In the actual social arena of the dining and bar area, we were out of chawl territory and into the genteel sensibilities of another sort. The dance floor did have a festive bunting spangled courtyard look to it, which I found perfectly fitting for a common celebratory space. And there is nothing typically chawl about that. It is something the chawls too borrowed from the wider repertoire of celebratory symbols.
We came out and sat across from the establishment, on the lush grass-covered open amphitheatre of sorts – the sort of place a chawl resident would crave and not find across a real chawl courtyard.
While we waited for the clouds to make up their mind about raining, my friends and I examined our response to what we had just walked out of.
One of my friends was visiting from Canada, and has never been to Mumbai or anywhere near a real chawl. The other friend is from Maharashtra and familiar with the original model, which supposedly inspired the design team at Social.
I have lived long years in Mumbai, visited chawls and studied them too. We all agreed that we felt disturbed at the sort of disconnected insensitivity this design theme signalled to us. Kitsch does not offend my friends or me, though we may not be fans.
One of them is a clothes designer and sources handloom and crafts from all over the country to mix and match them in her creations. Borrowing idioms is, like I said, what makes for cultural cosmopolitanism. But Social’s channelling of the chawl theme is another level of blindness. Chawls seem to be treated by Social as something alien, and out of the realm of understanding and connection. And thus, an easy fit for misappropriation. They are another world, inhabited by others – in much the same way Hindi cinema depicted tribal women in ’70s Eastman colour films, like we joke about the “others” who we deign to be so different from us, who are hardly granted courtesy or dignity of respect. These others are so different that we cannot imagine any relation except of a voyeur and a taker with them.
My friend wondered how a real chawl resident would feel when faced with this Social. She felt offended. We know people who live in chawls or have family there, or those who once lived in chawls. Would they agree that Social had appropriately conveyed a sense of community and connectedness?
Or would they feel uncomfortable? In exoticising the chawl, we felt, the designers had robbed real life and real people of the dignity their homes deserve despite the despair, disrepair and dilapidation they cave under.
We asked ourselves, would we bring the chawl’s (as shown above) appearance or its way of managing limited space, its majboori ka jugaad, into our far more spacious homes?
Given a choice even a chawl resident would want to upgrade to a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen set-up at least. Even when he is not keen on shifting from the convenient location, he is all for the repair and betterment or redevelopment of the chawl into a block of modern flats with more privacy and status, while being attached to the community features and social benefits.
Nostalgia or living space?
Is the chawl a piece of nostalgia for a majority of those who left it or for anyone else? What comprises that nostalgia, if at all it exists? Memories of the people who lived there, of the interactions and the bonds formed? Certainly so, as is also true for all neighbourhoods, and all social networks that help us belong – those that support us.
Is there also an element of charm and beauty in its built form itself? Going by personal experience, scholarly research and documentation and films on the chawls of Mumbai, I think not. The chawl was by necessity a crowded housing solution for teeming middle and lower middle class workers and traders who needed to be housed near the markets or mills they powered with their hard work.
It was a functional response to a logistics problem, and while there are definite social benefits for residents, they are not symbolised by the clothes hanging outside or the lack of maintenance of the buildings themselves. Nor would there be any nostalgia for the rats, the roaches, the community toilets and the lines at the community water tap.
Remember the 1984 art house film Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho about hapless chawl tenants, their internal politics, the games of rapacious promoters, landlords and lawyers? In chawls then and now, community living and conviviality happened as much because of the form as a function of other factors, like a shared place of origin, caste, workplaces, shared commercial interests and links forged as neighbours bound by similar circumstances.
And much like the rest of community life, social conviviality and “we are one big family” ideas are under stress everywhere, including in chawls, due to wider social, cultural, technological, political and economic forces coming from beyond the chawl. When one built form is being used as a theme to “inspire” another built form, one cannot stop at transplanting just the idea of social solidarity (forced, at that) as the only or the primary association with a chawl.
When dhabas and Warhol can be chic, why not chawls?
I emphasise on nostalgia and the quality of material culture because one might wonder if I doth protest too much. What about adorning our homes with mirror work from Kutch?
What about truck art inspired décor and navaar ka manji-s at Punjabi dhaba-themed restaurants? What about hanging phulkari duppatta as curtains in my plush duplex apartment?
What about Andy Warhol and the Campbell Soup posters?
And there lies the pointer to our ignorance, insularity and insensitiveness and false equivalence. There is a difference between cultural diffusion that happens naturally, and deliberately designed misappropriation, even when it is only an attempt at inspired imitation.
A phulkari duppatta is a textile craft artifact that has always been that, and using it as a curtain rather than as a duppatta is hardly an act of disruptive or disingenuous appropriation.
A dhaba is a robust part of the road transport network economy in the countryside, and most of us English magazine readers do not have any qualms about stopping and eating at a dhaba. Most of us also have rural homes of grandparents or of uncles and extended family where manji-s are a way of life.
It is a way of life that may have been left behind or was only occasionally encountered, but it is not something that was a mark of our majboori. Havelis and peasant homes all had manji-s, though the haveli would also have additional hardwood takhats. A dhaba is associated with a certain earthy purity because of the way it began and operates even today.
Just like Andy Warhol’s posters of Campbell Soup tap into the feelings of home and nurturance, and also call out consumerism and mass marketing, dhaba food spells the taste of the countryside, and also signals the travel-light quality of truckers’ lives.
Similarly, the manji-s we sprawl on are relics of a more leisurely time, of afternoons spent chucking mangoes under the courtyard tree and of things made by hand, by local artisans. The staple of all dhaba food, the ubiquitous ma ki daal – also found in all gurudwara-s, Punjabi homes and the five-stars and every north Indian eatery across the world – is something that has travelled well outside its home because it offers much to meet many real needs and serves practical functions.
What similar features can we say we aspire to or are happy to adopt from chawls – those chawl residents themselves would like to hawk to the world outside? Nothing that is distinctly chawl, I am afraid.
The equivalence of chawl living with the ultimate in social interaction is also lost on me. The chawl style of living was an adaptation to adversity. Are visitors to Social celebrating that? Or, to take a long flight of fancy, is it perhaps about je suis chawlwala? I just don’t know!
When a girl from a chawl topped the CA exam in recent years, it was big enough news for India Today to carry a photo feature. Nowhere was it anybody’s contention that she achieved this because she lived in a chawl. Rather it was noted that she achieved this in spite of being a chawl dweller. Do we hear of chawls being recommended as the ultimate aspirational residential product on the market because of her achievement? Is it anybody’s claim that Social is celebrating and acknowledging in its new theme the lives of its patrons who actually come from chawl kind of homes? That would indeed be about inclusive design and being an inclusive community that acknowledged all forms of social solidarity, as created by different built forms. But of course that is not how things are.
A chawl as home is loved, as every home is, by its residents. All homes deserve respect in real time, not a caricature like Social, Gurgaon. How many of us can honestly admit that anything remotely connected to a chawl is an aspiration or a tradition for most of us who visit places like Social?
If you had a colleague who lived in a chawl and he called you home for a drink, would you go? What then is the imagery and nostalgia and material culture of a chawl that the Social design team has tried to imitate? Is it anybody’s contention that clothes hanging out to dry overhead as you sip expensive imported wine on a cast iron chair in the balcony at Social is a new aesthetic turn?
What is the point of the names board? Is it not a mockery then to use the chawl theme to denote community and the spirit of convivial socialising?
Andy Warhol wanted to make the public go with that “Mmm Mmm Good” feeling on seeing his Campbell Soup posters. What feeling is Social wanting to evoke? If it really was inspiration and admiration or even nostalgia – why only the façade and entrance area are done in that way? Why is the main eating and socialising area all done up with crystal decanters in teak-and-glass cupboard and off-white lampshades diffusing pools of yellow light, and plush sofas and soft curtains?
Never seen those in a chawl, have you? Oh, but then I forget, you have in all likelihood never been inside one. Borrowing existing elements and reappropriating them in new forms is a part of art, and human existence.
This how we retell old truths as new stories. But not all borrowings are beautiful or meaningful. Some are horrendous abominations, and to me the new Social design theme is one such miscegenation.
And what do we have to hold on to?
A journalist murdered, a child murdered in a school, rain havoc in Bangalore, climate change causing widespread natural devastation…everywhere one looks, it feels like things are breaking down. And then the politics of it and politicians step in and just do us all in. From mayor to minister to Chief Minister/Prime Minister…everyone is part of the same rot. Anyone speaks up, do away with them…attack them verbally, ideologically but with personal insults, plant evidence and use official power networks – they ALL do it, all parties, power seems to irreversibly corrupt people even as they continue to mouth platitudes and quote Mahatma Gandhi! Poor man, if only he could have seen the state of his country, something he laid his life down for in this state!
I can’t talk anymore of the negative stuff happening – every fiery speech blaming someone…
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Don’t Listen To Those Who Say Travelling With Kids Is Stressful – Mindful Travelling
Unhotel Guest Blogger Kiran Chaturvedi is a trained sociologist and worked as a market research professional with the WPP Group for many years. She now organizes creative writing workshops and runs a mountain home-stay in Garhwal . She writes on social and cultural topics, places, as well as occasional fiction and poetry. She is a nature enthusiast and is active in initiatives for sustainable, holistic and greener living. In this blog piece, she affirms the need for Mindful Travelling for Kids.
Time was, that travel was undertaken mainly as a necessity, fortunate or unfortunate.A lot of family travel for most of us now is a lifestyle choice. Children know the names of distant and once exotic locations as holiday destinations of their last or forthcoming vacation. Fridge magnets, maps and globe models have no charm when all the world is a click or a plane ticket away.
Our children have hundreds of pictures and loads of shopping to prove how thoroughly we ‘did’ a destination. But at the end of all these wanderings, do our kids feel a sense of connection and belonging, of being at home anywhere in the world? Do they feel they have grown as explorers of their interior self and of what is around them? Mindless rushing around, ticking places off a list and clocking miles to keep up with the Joneses is one way of travel. The other way is the path of mindful travel, and staying awake to a sense of wonder.
It starts with us – the parents
Mindful travel for children starts with the parents, of course. We set the example, at every step by how we plan, and how we act. Mindful travel is about fully feeling the journey and the destination, as a series of one complete moment after another. Being fully present to what arises, we drop a load of expectations and agendas. We hold space for experiences to arrive and settle into us, and for us to have the receptivity to absorb what each new moment brings. When we watch snow peaks dazzle before us, we do not rattle off figures of height and distance, but let the awe of the moment settle on us and into us. We let arise what comes as a natural expression of our sense of that encounter, and not rush in to impose given frames of reference. We listen to new stories and refrain from counter arguments and rebuttals and showing off our ‘superior’ knowledge gleaned from other sources. We focus on experience.
Be Present to Connect
We keep the phone out of it as much as we can. We look at each other, and around us, and within us, rather than at the screen and at through the viewfinder all the time. At Hongkong harbour on a New Year’s eve when no one wished each other a happy new year nor exchanged any smiles is when I had my own mindfulness epiphany about travel. I seek connection when I travel, and not of the virtual kind. Else why move out of my couch in my own home and city? We can work out the rules of social media time before we travel, and stick to them. We of course need to lead by example, as always.
Soak up the Local
When we travel mindfully, less is more. No rushing through six countries in six days, please. At least we cut down on the number of things to do each day in each place. Stop by the wayside of something looks interesting. Don’t be fixated on rigid plans. Pay attention to the journey, not being only intent on arriving at a point in the shortest time possible. It can lead to some interesting results.We stopped by to watch jaggery making at a sugarcane farm once,and my children decided they would never again eat gud ( jaggery), seeing how many bees fell into the boiling sugarcane juice ☺ and then when the sugar factory stink hit their noses later, they changed their mind deciding that anything which smelt so bad being made had to be worse than bee contaminated gud. We also discovered the church of Lady Sumro, and got to eat fresh tart ambis from mango orchards. Keep extra time in hand. Do not run a tight ship with every minute dictated by the clock.
Involve the kids
Involve the children in the planning. If we are going to Paris, and have two days in hand, give one day fully to their choice and cover it slowly. If it is Disneyland, can we do lesser number of rides and maybe repeat a favorite ride and fully enjoy that rather than rush through ten rides with a FOMO dread lying heavy over the day? Years later, what our children will remember is the quality of the experience and not the number of rides they had. If your daughter wants to pose with Disney cartoon characters, can we let her linger with her favorite for as long as she can, rather than rushing her to pose with all the cartoons she can spot? Ask the kids how the ride makes them feel, and why they pick some as their favorites. Let it be their own story rather than the one sold to the world in brochures and films. Take the rides the kid want, even if they are not the most popular or your own favorites. Let them talk freely without interruption about what they felt. Be mindful towards them. I recall standing in the humongous line to get up to Eiffel Tower right after landing in Paris, and losing my temper over my son’s constant ‘are we there yet’. Did we really need to rush to do the most iconic (and most underwhelming) feature? Certainly not! We could have also just as well lounged on the wonderful grounds at the base of the monument and watched the crowds and had a picnic.
Ideate and choose destinations with the kids
We can start picking places off the tourist grid to travel, at least for some holidays. Ask the children about the kind of experiences they dream of, not about destinations or specific places. Then start to ideate on where to go, what to see, basis what they wish to experience. Keep it open ended and free wheeling, with the flexibility to change. Every place has stories to give us, memories to imprint. We just have to have an open heart. Go for agenda less walk in the neighborhood of your vacation stay. Talk to the locals. Get invited to a local home and listen rather than ask all the questions. Let impromptu plans develop. Accept meal invitations from strangers. Be the source of the curiosity rather than casting a surveyor’s eye on all.
Get more, go slow
Travel also can turn more mindful when we go slow. See if you can break the journey. Can you drive rather than fly to places, and walk instead of taking the car once at your destination? Once arrived at a place, can you linger? Can you make time to stand and stare? Once, we had camped overnight at Devariyatal Lake after trekking up to it in the afternoon. The next morning we were to move to the meadows at Chopta and attempt climbing up to Tunganath. The morning had broken clearer than pure crystal. The peaks of Chaukhamba and Gangotri Glacier were vanilla scoops waiting for us to dig into them. Some of us were eager to reach Chopta and catch the views from the higher altitude there. Some others refused to budge. The previous evening had been cloudy and cold, and this sun soaked morning was a thing of utter bliss. It would be a shame to walk away. On the other hand, we would not be able to claim we ‘covered’ the trek to Tunganath we had all set our eyes on. Finally we all stayed back. The moment was here and now. Rushing off to catch the same view from another location or to count one more climb on a list would only make us lose what we already had and give us a very short window of time with the new location. We caught every change of light over the snow, and every changing shade of water in the mirror lake. We had an impromptu yoga session, and an extended round of breakfast and tea. Endless stories were shared at one and only dhaba wala in the vicinity. We caught shepherds going up the meadow and local women gathering grass. We lazed around and rolled down the grassy slopes. We dropped our agenda and stayed mindfully aligned to what was present, instead of chasing a list. We slowed down and soaked up so much more.
Watch that breath
Then there are the micro practices of mindfulness that are such a boon to help us and the children find a calm centre during travel. Have you noticed how clenched and tight our bodies are, at any given time? On your holiday, let go the habit of holding our breath. Sit on a bench and focus on your breath. Slowly watch the air flow in from the nostrils and then leave after replenishing our bodies. Children love this sense of connection to their bodies. Cultivate the practice of mindful immersion in experiences. Encourage children to pay attention to the local flavors. How about picking produce at the local markets? Let children touch, smell, feel the fruits and vegetables and local produce. Let them try cooking a local recipe. Let them get familiar with the aroma, and develop their own understanding of the local flora and fauna. Encourage a mindful practice when you are away from the rush of your daily routine, and it will travel back home with you.
Engage, Involve and Immerse with the kids
Children will pick up the art of mindful observation and mindful immersion when they see you practice it. Encourage your children to see, hear, think, with complete immersion. This is the natural way a child engages with the world, but our discipline and structured school education eats away at this childlike ability to connect with the moment. Help your children find themselves again, away from the influence of school syllabus and rigid daily routine. This means not engaging in judgements, labelling or sorting and ordering their experience. Do not be eager to feed them with the facts about a place at one go, or to constantly evaluate what is being seen and ‘learnt’. Rather, let them engage with where they are and what is going on, and their curiosity will bring up questions. Allow them to explore the answers. What they learn and conclude will surprise you. A thirteen year old I know came up with the idea of breast milk banks in hospitals watching farm animals feeding calves that were not their own. She asked a few questions to the local farmhands and arrived at her own solution for human babies lacking access to mother’s breast milk. A young boy watched miles of farms in arid Madhya Pradesh being tended to by aerial application of crop protection. Months later, that sight inspired him to come up with a model of a quick landing-short runway air taxi service for urban areas. When the clamor of learnt ways of looking at the world can be silenced, a path opens up for fresh creative perspective to emerge. For something new to rise up, the mind needs to be a blank slate. We can provide the time and slow pace for children to do this, by putting aside our own preconceived ways of looking at things.
At its heart, mindful travel is about how you see rather than how much. It asks you to slow down. To absorb. To create connection rather than consume pre-packaged experience. Childhood is a great time to get introduced to the practice of mindfulness, and travel is a great opportunity for its practice.
*All pictures are personal pictures of Kira
(All resemblance to anyone living and to any place you may be familiar with is completely coincidental).
A group of boys were playing football on a cordoned off lawn, where new extra top soil has been laid and fresh grass planted. Huge potted plants were spread over the place to prevent the space being walked over and being used as a playground. In addition, there was the fencing with wooden stakes and rope. The boys had felled the stakes and walked over the rope. They had toppled some pots out of the way and were busy kicking the ball and running up and down across the field.
In our country it is common for the law to be ignored, bypassed, subverted. not just by the overtly and obviously lawless outlaws. Seemingly/ self-styled law-abiding folks can be seen sidestepping the law smoothly, with a lightness of easy entitlement ever so often. We all know this, we have lived it and pass on that habit in our families. The rich and poor can all suddenly turn into a mobs of different shades and shapes, but all with the intent to impose their demands and wills over and in contravention of the stated rules and laws. Like when their leader- political or religious or cultural icon is ‘insulted’/ mis-represented/jailed/ convicted of a crime/killed/ dead. When their religion is the butt of a joke or a satire or scholarly study seems contrary to their opinion. When disagreements over parking space are settled by gunshots rather than by negotiations or by working at solving the parking space crunch through systemic change using the institution of community local self government or neighbourly co-operation. When gated enclaves on government land seek to cordon off themselves from the neighborhood problems by erecting iron fences and locking up public roads from all but a few.
Our country is a democracy, with a written constitution and an an alive and active (often also activist) judiciary. And yet, a sense of constitutional citizenship is sadly a low priority for most Indians across the economic spectrum, in my personal experience. Why is that most of us seems to have not bought into the idea of an equal citizenship, or given up on its early promise at a some point?
To go back to the evening of the football trespass. I happened to arrive at the scene a little after the footballers. I asked the security staff stationed nearby why the boys were on the field at all, when clearly the cordon and the placing of guards and the huge pots meant they were not allowed there. Additionally, there were also placards hung on the cordon that said ‘Kindly Keep Off The Grass”. The guards said the children refused to listen to them, and got abusive and aggressive if the guards insisted on applying the restrictions on ball play.
Ours is one of the nicest and better managed apartments I know of in this town. I have been a part of the RWA of the colony in the past. I also volunteer on various committees that help run the affairs of our little community. I started the composting project here long before Swachh Bharat became a PR business opportunity. I have seen very closely the abysmal level of resident participation in running the affairs of the colony, and the oppositional attitude many completely tuned out residents often have towards rules of community living.
The lawn usage issue has been contentious for the past couple of years. One the one hand are a minority of parents and children who insist on having a dedicated area for serious football practice. On the other side is the majority of residents who want a diverse land use policy for the open green space in the centre of the colony. To arrive at some sort of balance of claims, a resolution was passed in an AGM last year restricting ball play on the common greens- certain hours on certain days, subject to use of certain gear only. The rules have not been followed fully or even substantially. The common greens have become degraded and are unsafe for the general janta. Overstepping and subverting the rules seems to be the de facto way for them. I wonder what makes them behave so? Local self government in small communities like the RWAs is supposedly meant to be the training ground for democratic citizenship. What can we hope for, seeing how a simple matter of sharing open public space can turn so contentious, and children learn to flout community agreements thus.
Can we stop being cruel to kids?
Can we admit we have been guilty, without giving an excuse, and decide to never do it again? Can we please apologise unconditionally? Because it ends with us, if we decide to stop. With every child no more subjected to parental violence, with every parental cruelty accepted and apologised for, we make space for more grace and love, and allow something better in the world.
Can we also talk about this to our family and friends and at a public forum like this? Can we help someone shift out from being trapped in a cycle of cruelty?
This post is triggered by a Fb thread about that horrible whatsapp of the little girl pleading with folded hands to be taught ‘pyaar se’, while being scolded, shouted at and hit on the face for mixing up her number recognition, 1 to 5. She complains of a headache, she weeps and yet the teacher/parent is relentless in testing her and unforgiving for any slip ups.
A lot of us have been somewhere similar. As kids maybe. As parents, sadly , too. I also know many who really have been saved from this unfortunate misery.
I have slapped my kids, I have ranted at them violently. It does not matter how often, or for what reason. They were small, powerless and depended on me. Despite any frustration or lack of coping skills, I did have far greater power than them. With that great power should have come greater responsibility for self awareness and self-management. Sometimes, that did not happen. I have had to work hard at learning to cope, to skill myself to be the kind of parent I wish to be. It did not come automatically.
If you have also raised your voice or hand on your child, I guess you know what it is like. For the child, and for you. I know you want it to b different. You want to be different.
I’d like you to be able to stop. I’d like to say to you, it is possible to change the script. It does not, need not be this way. Acknowledging the deed is half of it. Do not try to make excuses for what happened. Just let it be a fact. It need not become all of who you are. Accept that you did hurt those you love. Apologise unconditionally, without any ‘but’ or ‘however it must be said’.
Let us be the change we want to see in this world. I am assuming we want to see a less hurting world.
I mostly made acquaintances and not friends in my 20s and 30s. On the matter of friends I was settled for life, I thought. I didn’t need new friends. Not the real, know you inside out type, at least. Deep intense friendships from high school and college were enough. Who had ever heard of grown ups making new friends anyway, back then? With the old friends we had wondered at the world and its puzzling, often scary ways. We had shared dreams and fears. We had been vulnerable and strong together. Now was the time to make something of ourselves in the grown up world.
Most of my friends were not geographically close anymore, and I missed their constant unplanned presence in my life outside campus. I had moved homes and jobs. That made it harder to not miss my circle of close buddies. I did hang out with new people. There was the office gang, and a fun boss with whom I discovered so much of Delhi’s cultural heritage. There were the old college friends and new colleagues I went travelling impromptu with.
But something was shifting. The new connections had an adult formality to them. I made friends in the new neighborhood too. They were girls who had nothing in common with me in background or education. But we liked each other. With them it was all about learning to fit in and not stand out. It was nice to not be always alone but it was not fulfilling at all.
I call it the year of my anomie. It was horrible.
I was buried deep in books, preparing for the civil services exam. And commuting hours daily in a chartered bus across New Delhi to another new job. I remember sharing my sense of missing the constancy of close friends with my best buddy from university. She had also been my co-worker at our first job. Now we worked in different places. She told me it was childish of me to hanker after old friends. I should focus more on making a career and not yearn for friends, she said, with some irritated puzzlement. In today’s parlance I guess she meant I had a lot of adulting to do. She herself was busy with a new job, an old boyfriend and an impending marriage and had no time for reflections on the lost rhythm of old friendships.
On a visit to an out of town college friend I met her new circle of colleagues and friends. Finally, after two years, here was the atmosphere I craved. The collegiate camaraderie. The company of people like us. The sense of home-coming was strong and seductive. And of course, delusional. But I had fallen in love. Suddenly it didn’t matter that all my friends were far away. Romance has that way of filling you up. The web of your connectedness feels expansive like the ever-stretching universe, complete with its own black-holes of no return. A misunderstanding around the new developments pulled a common friend down the vortex of non-friendship. New constellations were formed. Possibilities loomed.
I married and moved to another town after a tumultuous year of courtship. The only friends there were his work colleagues and their collective (mostly new) friends. The work of adopting them as my/ our friends began. From a very individualistic, one on one friend maker I tried to become good at being a part of a gang. Letters and then email and then mobile phone calls became a lifeline back to the ‘real’ friendships of a simpler more innocent time. For the first time I started holding back from sharing with my old friends, even while staying in touch. I guess I was hiding from myself in a way. A wifely loyalty and mother’s guilt fought to censor friendship’s candour.
Over time, across the world, I kept making up and and breaking up with more new friends. The ones who knew me only in the avatar of wife, mother, home-maker and corporate worker. For years, through my 30s I honed the art of making and keeping ‘situational’ friends. One of those bonds has lasted for over twenty years. But most served to fit in a specific sphere and time of my life.
In my 40s I reconnected with a lot of old college and high school friends. I found it was like we had not moved away at all. The years in between and all the highs and lows of life we had faced seem to make us like each other more. The acceptance seems to have turned more authentic, the trust stronger, the wish to stand by and for each other even more spontaneous. Even black-holes yield to the pull of friendships formed in one’s youth. After more than twenty years, friendship has triumphed over misunderstandings, strongly rejecting lies and meanness. Censorship has been put aside. Candour rules. You don’t fake it and you don’t make time or space for the fake-ness of others.
In my late 40s I have come full circle about friendship. I have begun to make new friends just like I did in my high school and college days. By being just me, sans roles, sans reserve, sans censor. The most active churning of friends in my life is happening now. I am also finally my own best friend, which makes it so much more fun to be friends with others.
The kerfuffle about the Period Leave announcement by Culture Machine Media Ltd. makes me wonder if we are even clear on WHAT is being offered and if there is anything to clap about?
If we are to be anything more than pawns in a marketing communication led consumerist world, we had better learn due diligence.
A little information is always a dangerous thing.
What are the rules of the new Period Leave policy? No one is saying. I tried getting this out of them and all I have since a day is a blank.
In the video on Blush Channel (run by Culture Machine) the women employees of the company are asked about how awful it is when they have to work with their period. It is a visible relief to them be able to say publicly that periods suck.
I get that. Such conversation is welcome. It helps make taboos dissolve.It also help build up the brand as such a friend of women. And why not. All very legit and fine.
Then there is a grand revelation. The Period Leave Announcement.Of course the women on camera are incredulously joyous.Win win, isn’t it?Or is it, when the claims being made for PL are not quite honest?
The PL remains a vague and unformed notion in the video. We never get to really see or know its full contours. Yet, in gushing declarations it is made into a grand and great gesture that the women swoon over. Without knowing what it is. Blind Tinder?
Why launch the PL idea in such vague terms and make it sound like more of a benefit than it is? Because maybe only a conversation and a fit to facts announcement does not quite have so much eye ball catching viral trending push to make the brand stick with the target women audience. Other brands are also doing ‘conversation’. You need to do more. You need to create a stir with something novel and out of the box. Tra-la…then, launch the Period Leave policy while never saying just what it is!
So while Culture Machine stays silent on my queries, here is what a deep dive with google pulled up. PL/ ML is all about making honest talking-truth-to-power employees out of us scheming lying workers, it would seem.
Honesty at the work place is laudable, any which way you look at it. Particualrly from the employees. The employers though can fudge their words and claim it is employee welfare? Like in these examples?
- About the PL at Co Exist, Bristol , a UK company. Turns out ito be not quite the real deal. ( Not that I want the ‘real’ deal!) :
“Right now, these women try to work through their symptoms, and as Baxter said, suffer in silence. ….they’ll lie about stomach pains, food poisoning or flu. All that official period leave will do is ensure these women can tell their employers the truth.”
- Another clarification from another employer in UK :
“Employees would be expected to make up time taken off for period pain, but they could stay at home while they were suffering without having to produce a sick note. ”
- And this how a Hyderabad based strategic consultancy puts it across:
“… “ML Request” …need to inform when they shall be compensating the leaves in the ‘succeeding consecutive weekends to complete the pending work. If the MLs are not compensated within the fortnight, they will be considered as paid or unpaid leave depending on the leave balance of the employee.’
As for the unsubstantiated urban legend. “Nike includes this type of leave in their code of conduct worldwide, since 2007, making it the only major company to do so.” , there is no mention of periods on the Nike website or their Code of Conduct. All it says under the heading of “Health” in the Code of Conduct is :
“…The contractor provides a safe, hygienic and healthy workplace setting and takes necessary steps to prevent accidents and injury arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of work or as a result of the operation of contractor’s facilities. The contractor has systems to detect, avoid and respond to potential risks to the safety and health of all employees”
A leave that is not really an additional benefit is being pitched to us as though it is some grand revolution. And we are gulping down the grand distortion. Without a pause to question the intentions.
Click Bait was never looked so enticingly benevolent.
By all means, let us hope for and demand workplaces and employer policies to be equitable, fair and just to the interests of all workers. Let us also hope for and demand better coping tools for the pain and drain of periods, which might include justifiably a real change in HR policies, and not mere tokenism. And let us not be fooled by gimmicks that have their own agenda. They are not always harmless, and have side effects we can well do without.
The most thorough review of The Ministry Of Utmost happiness that I have found useful. Besides the one written by Jerry Pinto. One which is as compassionate in tone as the writer of the book.
“The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies are now firmly the preserve of the fake-news expert, not the novelist.”
Till you can actually read the book, this is as good an introduction as any.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Penguin Random House
(A shorter version of this review is published in the Business Standard.)
In the same week that I began reading Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, published twenty years after her first, I came across an old interview between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Paris Review.
He says, “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”
The challenge faced by the novelist who inhabits a clamorous country going through interesting times: how do you make up a world that can compete with the truth? One way is to lie outright, become a fabulist – but lies…
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If my son had expressed the slightest reservation, this would not be a public matter. I could only be so open standing on his shoulders! What a rock, that young man.
What an ADHD assessment for my son has meant to me. My piece in Daily O today.
My April Review. Kind of late, but still within my target of the month. Triggered by some things read recently about the abused wife of an Indian-born Techie CEO in USA.
“Why did she not leave him?”
“Why do you stay on?”
“If you take it, you deserve it.”
We have seen statements like those above. In the media. We have heard them from friends and in the family. We may have made them ourselves.
Judgments. Opinions. Rarely based on personal experience or insight. Rarely made with any degree of compassion. Often, a one up-manship. Or, a satisfied smugness, born of a safe place. Or, a resentment, born of denial.
Colleen Hoover is a New York Times best selling author who writes entertaining, contemporary novels about a certain kind of people in a certain milieu. ‘It Ends With Us’ though, is a very different kind of book from her; a work of fiction that derives directly from her own life. It has a message and a life lesson woven into the plot. With this book her avowed goal is to help people see things in a different light, and possibly find a way out.
This was not a book I had particularly wanted to read. It happened to be the selection of my book club group for March, and then they changed their mind. I already had a copy, and had started reading it when the change happened. So I carried it with me on my solo holiday to Kerala, not really intending to read it, but to give it away to a friend I would be meeting there.
And then, one night while it was raining and a rough high tide rolled up on the beach across my room window, I picked it up with a vague idea of studying the author’s plotting technique. I had a notebook and pencil ready.
I ended up reading the book over the next few days, carrying it with me to a fisherman’s home, to a beachside diner and around the hotel grounds. While Colleen Hoover plots smoothly and writes in a breezy, witty, chatty, easy to read style, those are not the reasons I kept reading this book. To me, the book is worth reading and worth reviewing for the compelling story it tells about the pernicious cocktail of love and abuse. And it is told with sensitivity, insight and honesty, coming from the author having lived that life, and her generous and kind decision to come out in public with it.
In her twenties, Lily bloom is trying to find her place in the word as an independent professional adult. She has come a long way from a childhood spent watching her mother being abused at home. The story starts right after the funeral of her father, whom she hated. She has refused to say anything in his praise at the funeral. It pains her that her mother never had strength to leave her abusive husband. She has her own past sorrows, and a journal where she has recorded her teenage turmoil in letters (never sent) to TV host Ellen. She is sure her life will be different from her mother’s.
Lily comes to live in Boston, works hard, falls in love, dreams of marriage. She is a girl with spunk, and a sensitive and kind heart. She is a girl who once sheltered and fed and fell in love with a homeless teenage squatter. She sticks to her ideals and values herself and is a loyal friend. Life seems to be finally offering her all her wishes on a platter- her dream of owning a florist shop comes true, the handsome, rich and brilliant neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid agrees to ditch his aversion of a committed relationship to get engaged to her. She can start to put her difficult childhood behind her.
Typical to a bestseller’s arch, and maybe real life, this is all too good to be true. There are horrible things that start to happen. Shadows emerge. Past secrets get exposed. Trust is broken and fears have to be faced. The present seems to resemble a forgotten nightmare. Love is put to cruel tests. There is a price to be paid, sacrifices to be made. What will you stay true to – to the one you love, though they hurt you, and let the cycle of abuse and indignity continue? Who has to take responsibility to heal themselves? Does being in love mean giving up responsibility for your own integrity? Does being in love also allow for boundaries? When do you know it is time to back out? How do you deal with the fear of losing all you craved for and have found?
The author takes you through the tortured back and forth of a relationship that stumbles from extremes of passion and commitment to jealous rage, mistrust, violence and regret. Lily starts to find a new understanding of her mother, once she finds herself in the same shoes. She can relate to what, as a child had seemed sheer cowardice and a shameful lack of spine. She can understand why her mother had stayed on. And she has to ask herself- can she be the person who will be different? Can she muster what it will take?
The author does a commendable job of presenting both sides of the picture, when it comes to the perpetrators and victims of abuse in loving relationships. There are no pure black as sin villains, no pure white as driven snow victims. Just real people with real problems, real hopes, real personalities, who are making the best they can of the cards dealt to them. People who decide they have a choice, to change the way they play those cards. Or not. And we are made to feel like we can see why each of them does what they do.
Lily comes into her own finally with her brave choice. And for that, she is willing to pay the biggest price. Because, somethings cannot be allowed to continue, no matter how much you love what they bring to you, and how much it pains to let them go. Therefore, the title, It Ends With Us.
Colleen’s skill is in making a story about the most painful choices in life seems like a feel good read. There is no shying away from the gore, and yet, there is a happy ending. The only issue I have with the way the book is the way the story ends. Lily’s bravery and her difficult choice seems less of a stand-alone act of strength with the twist at the end. In the novel the author has clearly tried to make things seem easier and rosier for her fictional characters than it was in the real life inspiration for this book. Most people in such difficult situations stay on because they fear the unknown outside the walls of the known hell. They keep hoping the better moments will prevail more often. They cling to every kind word, every positive thing that happens. They cannot imagine being on the other side, which looks like an even darker void. I wish the author had not gone for a neat tying up of all lose ends, and left Lily unclear about the shape of her future, yet firm and clear about the choice she made for the present.
Except for this one cop out at the end, I still think It Ends With Us makes a very important point. That we are the only ones who can chose to break legacies of abuse – as the ones who heap it on others, or as the ones who are its targets. It is never our job to be another’s punching bag, or to keep hoping against hope that their ‘better nature’ will prevail in the face of all proof to the contrary. And while making this point about taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions, the book also shows us why so many of us caught in situations of abuse in intimate relationships are helpless to break out of the cycle of enmeshment. It shows how difficult it is to gather back a sense of self, when enmeshed in toxic love. It lays bare in beautiful excruciating detail the guts and self-discipline required to honor one’s own dignity, the fears to be dealt with on the way. It brings a lot of insight and wisdom and empathy of a survivor to a topic laden with much judgment and prejudice. By sharing her own life story as the starting point for this novel, Colleen Hoover offers redemptive hope for all who dream of a better tomorrow in their intimate relationships.
I hope this book makes many more people feel brave enough to decide that It Ends With Us. It must.
Its has been said about me, in various shades of approval, praise, judgment, criticism or condemnation that I make too many friends, and too easily. I can only see this is a blessing. Friends have been my go to for too much for too long. Friends across all spectrums of age, interests, personality and life situations have played a big role in all I am.
Friends come in all types, and friendships come in all shades. Some last for a few fleeting encounters. Some are seasonal. Some come unbidden, and leave of their whim. Some seep into you like breath. While I like and enjoy all connections, I cherish most those bonds of fondness that last beyond situational exigencies and fleeting personal tastes and trends. Friendship that can hold its centre when time and circumstance make past certainties unfamiliar, is an elixir.
I have been told forever that I am an introvert. I live a lot of my life in my mind. I do not belong easily to groups. I am not a party person, certainly cannot be a social butterfly. But when I meet with an old gang of familiars, it is not just another social formality to structured around small talk. A shared past breeds comfort. It reaffirms acceptance. There is support offered, trust treasured, help given and help taken, fears faced and courage acknowledged. Co-travellers on this journey of life, we look out for each other. We walk different paths but we seek similar destinations. It is a bond that holds tighter with time, even while it uses no ties at all. In its maturing mutuality we each find recognition and a reflection.
Almost all the good things I learnt outside of what was taught to me by family, books, school and college, have come to me via friends – gardening, cooking, health support, alternate healing, investment advice, even business help, mentoring and networking. But the maturing of old friendships has brought the biggest treasure of all. The gift of acceptance.
So this is my salaam to all old friends. For looking out for me, listening to me, sharing your lives with me, and holding me in your acceptance. Yes, you are a blessing.
This time we are having a reading workshop. Yes. One has to know how to read, in order to write well. To read not for entertainment, not for getting to know a story or a load of information. But to study the craft. The structure. To connect with the aesthetics of someone’s creation.
It takes some doing, and we are offering to get you started on this practice over a weekend. As always, a great time is promised, with lots of intense intimate interactions, learning, insights and reading and writing.
Register and book a spot soon. Thanks for being with us.
Dear lady speaker on Women’s Day program, and those multitudes who wondered ‘how could she’, when she came on the scene,
This is in reaction to statements made by the first, in public, on the occasion of a media event to mark International Working Women’s Day. Statements which I feel owe something to the said lady being once picked on quite publicly for her choices on personal matters.
I wonder lady speaker, what made the media geniuses invite you to be a speaker? What are your credentials as a Working Women? Or is being a woman enough? Or being a privileged homemaker, wife and mother of a few months? Or being a star wife? I guess the point of it was to have you speak about …women, I suppose? How women must be themselves and do their own things… like, maybe, reach for their dreams, and so on? Only, I do not see you being yourself. I see you mouthing platitudes unthinkingly, unless you have really given careful thought to what are the ideals and tradition you speak up for. At age 20, seriously? You are wiser than most humans then, I suppose. I know, I am being so ageist, no?
I still wonder what makes you a speaker to dole out opinions on IWWD.
It befuddles me.
Maybe the media felt they had to balance the act, after printing all sorts of things that were not always complimentary to your decision to opt for an early arranged marriage? That was stupid of the multitudes who said ‘how dare she’. Why? Because it is her life, her choice, people. It was none of your business to get at her in public, whatever you may think of her choices personally. It is a tough world out there, and we all need to support and wish each other well. Even those who might not easily understand what we do, and in their narrow minded self-absorption, not realise the gaps in their views.
Celebrity bashing, and paparazzi interest in their weddings and babies and so on…it doesn’t catch my interest, much. I ignore it. I felt bad for you, but I put it down to the down side of being a star-wife.
But pronouncements to run down serious socio-political causes on a public forum from a celebrity does become a big deal. People listen. It has impact, so it is important to hold it to high standards of examination.
Is it really your reasoned choice, lady speaker, to decide and declaim publicly that unless a mother can be there full time with her baby she’d be better off with a puppy? Does every working mother have the luxury to stay at home? Does every stay at home mother want to? Not everyone’s dreams are the same, just as their reality is different, as are the options available.
I know about the life and times and work of the feminists who gave us this Day as a marker, and what they did, and stood for, makes sense on every count of humanity, justice and peace. I am sure you would say you believe in these values, and perhaps wanted to use the opportunity your privilege gives you, to speak and share your views. Many young and not so young, impressionable and not so impressionable women listen to such messages, and many of them do actually try to take meaning out of them, and use those words and claims as lights of direction in their own life. It is a huge responsibility to use a public voice. I wish you had used it to say what might not cause harm or reinforce self-defeating cultural indoctrination.
I have some more questions for you, lady speaker.
Did you ever consider reading up, understanding the issue of IWWD before agreeing to be a public speaker on this occasion? Did you read up anything on the term Feminazi before using it? Did you mean to be abusive? Or does you privilege just make you blind and insensitive to others’ reality?
Do you have any idea at all why 8th March is important to the women’s empowerment issue? Do you even have a clue about women empowerment? Were you told to play by a script?
Imagine a scenario, in your own life, which is not entirely about you. Imagine your cleaning maid had a baby. Imagine your cooking lady too had a baby around the same time. Imagine how much you wanted them back at work. They both delivered human babies. Not Puppies. Yet they come back to work after two months of un-paid leave which you generously gave them. How could they do this? Why did they have the babies at all, if only to leave them to come to work? What are they chances they will not have their jobs for long if they keep taking days off? Not all women can afford to stay at home when they have babies. It s not only dog mothers who need to get food home.
To defend your personal choice of, and bliss about marriage and being a homemaker and mother at a young age, in the face of some misguided judgement, will you abuse a just cause? Why not stick to speaking up for your choice, and telling the critics to mind their own business, or engage them in a debate, to call out their unfairness as you see it? A fair fight, won’t you say? Why throw out the baby of feminism with the bathwater of judgement you were washed with, as it were?
Imagine another scenario. Nothing to do with you at all. Another girl your age gets a job with a multinational company after working very hard through her college course. Her parents are lower middle class people. She does well in her job. She gets posted abroad. She helps take care of her parents. She buys a home for herself. She marries. She has kids. She manages both roles with the help of her parents, and her company HR policies on maternity leave, paternity leave, child care leave, day care facilities and health care and health insurance. You know what made a lot of these things a part of the organized sector? Feminism. The education and employment opportunity she had access too. Even the right to buy property. The right to take care of her parents. All of that.
Ask this girl, though, Mrs. Smug Star Wife, why did she have the baby. Why didn’t she wait till her ‘responsibilities ‘ were taken care of , to build a career? What responsibilities were you referring to , when you said once you are done with them, you have your whole future open? The responsibility of bringing up a baby with all kinds of support and facilities? Not everyone has that luxury and privilege. A lot is needed before many more women can talk so comfortably as you of being able to prioritise things so glibly and smoothly. It is feminism that called out the change needed, and showed the way to that change. Just because you happen to be safely up the ladder, as you think you are, is no reason to kick the ladder and make it useless for others.
How much time do you think Karan Johar, as a single working father, will be able to devote to his new born twins ? Are Roohi and Yash puppies or what?
What the Puppy mother will have to say to this, is another matter. Or any puppy pet-owner.
70,000 babies are born everyday on average in India. You know how many of those mothers can afford to just sit around with a baby, take selfies and look cute, and talk about having their future ahead of them, wide open? Are they Feminazis, out to wreak destruction on this world order?
Most women have hard working lives, whether in the home, on the farm, on a road-work or construction site or an office or anywhere else. You know how many of them want a better deal? MOST.
Ask yourself, what would make their lives better? Try to see who speaks for them. Yesterday, our Parliament approved a bill to raise the benefit of maternity leave to six months from three. You realize it is years of slog by feminism that leads to changes like this? And that this is still just a tiny blip, because the majority of women and men who suffer because of unjust systems are not working in the organized sector where these rules apply. So there is still along long way to go, and a lot of work to be done. Statements of ignorance like yours are harmful, biased and abusive.
I am happy for you, that you get to bask in the warmth of newly wedded bliss and motherhood, which must be even more wonderful when it comes with the trappings of wealth, luxury, glamour and privilege. Such as yours. Maybe you do feel humbled and thank your lucky stars. Maybe you take it for granted. You know, people will say all sorts of thing to individuals, for their luck, their choices, for whatever happens or does not happen. But to take personal criticism to heart, and then to attack a critical and vital human rights movement is short-sighted and narrow minded.
You are lucky. Why stretch your luck by being judgy about others who make choices different from yours? Or those who have no choice?
Why do women with all the privilege like you fear the F-word so much? Do you know the term you used – likening a feminist to someone who supported the mass murder of millions because of their identity, is a slur of the worst kind? Why would you want to use such a term, and then speak of it in a warped context? Do you realize you owe your own relatively ‘safe’ position as a wife and mother without a job or the qualifications for one, to the hard work feminists have put in for women’s rights in marriage and annulment of marriage? Feminism is the reason those like you can still hope for a fair settlement in case your marital bubble bursts with infidelity or abuse or worse.
So please, dear young blessed girl with stars in your eyes, go use the reading and comprehension and thinking skills that your very elite education and background might have instilled in you, and study these topics. Understand that you made a choice and so do others and there are valid reasons on both sides of the fence, and that defending your choice does not have to be at the cost of dissing the very very vital forces that in fact help keep you safe and empowered. The personal, after all, is also political. We live in social systems. What goes on around us comes home to roost.
Respecting diversity of choice is a foundational belief of feminism and of any call for equality. And choices can only be made by the powerful. And power has to fought for, earned, built up, when the starting point of the game is highly skewed towards one party. As is the case with those who speak up as feminists. Someone has to speak up, fight the good fight. You may not want to, and that is fine. But you will enjoy its fruits. So know that the warriors, the radicals, they all work for your rights too, and you would have not much without them. When the status quo of power is shaken, there is always backlash, and some of it takes the forms of abuse. Terms like Feminazi come up, and are mistakenly adopted by some who have not cared to learn any better.
Grow wise, be informed. And then maybe you will not let derogatory slurs pass your pouty lips so casually. Do not demonize a struggle for basic human dignity. It is denied to too many. Please do not let your youthful lack of perspective and good fortune make you gloat. Do not look down on what you have not much idea of. Do not abuse. Be Woke. Go look that up, because you have no idea what it means, I am sure.
And those multitudes, can you leave people’s personal lives alone?
How beautifully and simply Pullman puts this need for art in life.
“It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives… Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.
But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before…Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; … it almost breaks their heart. … welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience …they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.
That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. “
Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.
But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.
It’s true that some people grow up never encountering…
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