Saturday, September 6, 2014

How would you deal with grief and injustice?

Life is not always fair. Ferguson is not in my alley, nor the vents there have played out in media here. However, the unfairness of life is not new to me.

Life chugs along at a comfortable pace. The same things every day. Day after day. Wake up, go to work, come back, go to sleep. One could go through life with closed eyes. And many do. 

Then, one day- the sun refuses to rise. The clouds are dark and you know it is a different day. One such day played out a few days ago.

She was smiling. And she could barely walk straight. The grey in her hair far outnumbered the dark. The smile, however, was still that of a child. Starting at the eyes, twinkling and rippling down to the lips in a gentle wave. She often came to the out patient consultation and told the same story. She always got the same treatment- a smile in return and a reassurance all was well in the world. This time, just as she was getting up from the patient chair- she mentioned, just in a matter of keeping the conversation alive, "I must get my husband to you. He has been having this pain in the ear and he just does not listen when I tell him." 

This was unusual. I asked her where she lived and if her husband could come the same day. "No! Today, he is looking after the children- baby sitting, you know!" The smile was amplified. Her eyes drifted to look at something in the air. She continued," Both, my son and daughter-in-law had to go somewhere today. So the grandchildren are having a great time with him." 

This would not have mattered- but about a week later, she came again. This once, the smile was missing. The husband, too was missing. I love this lady. I had to ask her what was wrong. "My son has dengue. My husband is in the hospital, looking after Ajay (Name changed). But his pain is worse. Next time I will drag him here if I have to." 

Three days later- the son, and the couple came in for the long awaited consult. As he opened his mouth... the diagnosis hit me in the gut and knocked me out. It was a cancer- sitting florid and angry in the right tonsil- eating away part of the tongue and ulcers so huge and angry that it was a surprise they had not come earlier. The son was doting on the father. The father was doting on the son. The lady was smiling her usual child like smile. It was a rare family in today's age that was still bonded and whence the bods were visibly holding them all together and high above the mundane world.

I had no words to deliver the verdict. I did not have the heart to be direct. After so many years of being a doctor and care provider, something should or could have hardened me to this possibility. It is not altogether rare in my line of work. But- no. My shoulders sagged visibly. I had to pull myself upright again. And request the gentlemen to wait outside as i talked to the son. 

This boy, who was recovering from Dengue, lost in succession, his smile, his confidence and his composure. Life is a bitch. It is so unfair. Why this family? Why? Never had this man laid hand to alcohol, nor smoked. He was god fearing and prayed with his family each day. His wife obviously still loved him after  so many years of being married. His son loved him, too. They were one. And suddenly the landscape of their life was beginning to lose allots leaves- and stand bare, reaching out to touch and be touched. In pain. And in abject supplication.

He cried. Took his time to run dry. He could not afford to let his father see. This was already too far advanced to do much about. I referred them for palliative radiotherapy and prayed. For the next few days, the sun did not shine. And the rain did not come. The air was heavy and thick. And it was an effort to not think about this wonderful family being treated unfairly by Fate. Left to walk alone. The long road that would not end.

When Ajay came back a week later, his head was shaven, and his eyes had lost that shine. They still glistened, but there was no mirth now. These eyes had seen pain, and agony, and death. 

The father was no more.

They did not want to believe that all this had happened within the span of a month. They could not accept that someone as pious as him could have suffered so at the end of a life- though a life well lived.

How would you deal with the injustice of this life? 

It set me thinking...

If I were to die today- would anyone be touched as I was by this great man's demise? This man who had not been very well known, but was great in the true oxymoronic opposite to the anonymity he lived in. If I were to die today, would anyone miss me? Would anyone feel that life had been unjust? And unfair? Would I be missed? Would my obituary read that I lived my DASH well?

And I quote.

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning... to the end.
He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the "dash" between those years. (1934-1998)
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth...
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little dash is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars... the house... the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard...
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can... still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile..
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy's being read
With your life's actions to rehash...
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
Author Unknown

Friday, September 5, 2014

Can we talk about our differences? Please? Do we need to??

I am a doctor. I work in an ethnically, religiously diverse environment. Nearly 60-70% of my patients belong to Muslim community. And I feel awkward saying these words.

We look different. We talk different. We dress different. But we have the same colour of skin. We even have the same colour of hair. And blood.

In India, we do not very frequently encounter differences like Ferguson. We encounter a very insidious, difficult to touch, often floating in the air kind of bias that clings to our persona. We may try that our education keep us away and safe from these prejudices- this in itself is a huge bias.

And yet- there are pockets in India where the skin colour id also different. Where the way we speak also is different. Where the differences are obvious.

We celebrate these differences as our National Slogan and motto- "Unity in Diversity"

Cliched as it sounds- to a great extent, it is true. We do not fight about these differences. We crack jokes about them. So there are Punjabi jokes, and there are Tamil jokes. There are sick jokes, and Sikh jokes. There are even jokes about specific communities like Baniyas and Guptas; and about ethnicities like Parsees and Goans.

A famous joke doing the rounds goes something like this-

Two people are fighting...
Scene 1- Punjab- they pause, each flashes his cell phone, calls friends and soon there are many people fighting.

Scene 2 - Goa- They fight, their friends join in, they also fight- soon it is sun down and everybody stops, looks at each other, hits the nearest bar- and drink.

Scene 3- Bangalore- they fight, and someone shouts from the balcony- fight if you want to- but don't do it in front of my home. Get lost!!

Scene 4- New Delhi- they fight- then they show each other their social muscle- "you don't know who I am. " And name dropping becomes the replacement of the brawl that was on.

Scene 5- Gujarat- They are fighting, a huge crowd has gathered to witness the fight- and some young guy thinks- great time for business and starts selling hot tea to the crowd..

And so on. The regional and ethnic characters have become a matter of caricature for us in India. And we should be grateful it is so.

It does not take too long for stereotypes to take over thinking n mass and mob. It takes very little for vested interests to incite strife and violence. And that, too happens. We have seen more than our fair share of terrorism, and jihad. We, the people are not Hindu, nor Muslim. We are Indian. But the polity and the clergy know just how to hit and where for emotions and sentiments to run wild.

And quite like the age old poem I read long ago- We, the People forget!

Till we, the people learn to remember- each drop of blood spilled for history to forget- we will fall pray to racial and ethnic violence- whether in Ferguson or Muzzafarnagar.

People are the same everywhere. They seek certainty and familiarity. They do not accept mingling and mixing in the cauldron of Time- to create a better world.

They destroy the Budhas at Bamiyan, They bring down the temples as well as the mosques. They try to assert their religion as the only way to salvation even when they walk off a level playing field of a cricket match.

Where will this end?

Will it??

For this to end- we must go back to Kindergarten and remember the basics we learnt then-

Early to bed and early to rise...
Wash your hands- before and after.
Stay together.
Say sorry and thank you.

Living a good life is not rocket science. Opening our eyes requires us to only lift our lids- and see. And smile. And accept.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Racial violence rears its ugly head everywhere

Ferguson, to us in India could be a name of a person or a place... till Micheal Brown happened. Sad and shocking, no doubt. However, everywhere in the world, racial violence rears its ugly head. Profiling, prejudice and prejudgement are rampant. Halo Effect- they call it. If you are well dressed, you would be unlikely to commit a crime. If you are well groomed, you are unlikely to be a criminal. If you wear a Pathani suit- you could be from Pakistan and if you wear a saree- oh! you are so Indian. And if you wear your hair long on your face- you could be a cleric, if on your head- you could be a devotee.

Where is the personal freedom to be and to do?

Where is the choice to look as I want to, do as i need to, wear what I may- if I stay within my constitutional and legal limits?

It is unfortunate that the mixing and mingling of cultures is not enough to let people have the freedom to be who they are, and live as they may.

We often used to wonder about the rights of women, and those of the poor. But this is not unusual- Simply because you look different, you will also be thought different. And when that happens in a situation where one can harm the other- bodily- suddenly- each side tries to justify itself.

False claims. False projections. Falsified justifications. Irrational rationalisations.

Where will it ever end? When?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Write or speak? Speak or write?

When life begins to hurt... the tongue is not the organ that comes to rescue. It is often the battle between the head and the heart that rages wild and in which it becomes difficult or impossible, even, to pick sides. And you are trapped in the threads you began to play with...

Photo art- Courtesy Simran Anand

What do you do with pieces of a broken heart? Or with the shards of a broken life? Do you go about your days in a haze, wondering if there is light at the end of the tunnel? Or do you begin that difficult journey to heal? Where would you go? How far would you travel to heal?

It is often the people that we love most who we hurt the deepest, too. We know exactly 'that' spot where it hurts, bleeds, and breaks. We know each crackle that announces the break, each drop that dripped and each sore that turned from red, to blue to black and purple before turning a dull brown. But the bruises continue to hurt. Long after.

And suddenly, out of nowhere, the door knob jabs you again- in the gut. Because you were rushing out, and did not see, nor care what or who was in the way. Actually, you could not see- the tears made the vision blurry and the breath short. It knocks the breath out and with a jerky breath, you try again to breathe deeply. Because each breath hurts, too. You are now looking for an escape- may be to another world... Where the hurt does not matter. Where it is fine to let feelings be. And where love (and coffee) conquer all!!

Then- you get tired of being tired. You get sick of being sick. And it is time for a turnaround. And time is an arrow- will go only one way. Why must we stay in the past when we are moving into an unchartered future ash moment? Why must we continue to hurt for days, weeks or even months and years when the initial trauma lasted only a few seconds or minutes? Perhaps we hold on to it? Perhaps, we try to convince ourselves of each victory being worth a celebration and a matter of pride- telling ourselves- YOU did that! imagine!! despite the broken heart, despite the broken life, despite the dripping and the bleeding... we feel a sense of accomplishment at having trained THIS dragon, too.

The untameable. The unbeatable. The dark dragon in the night that got darker and quieter than anything we had witnessed earlier. But fairy tales tell us life is wrath it. They tell us that dragons do exist- they rear their head and spit fire, too. But... and this is what is important- they can be beaten.

And when you have no one you can talk to...

No one who will listen...

Not a soul who would understand the pain...

None to acknowledge your pain and allow it to pass...

Who would you turn to? You would turn to yourself... write, journal, talk to yourself. Look into the mirror and tell yourself that you matter.

And allow the healing to happen- 

Speak up to Heal!

September PROMPTS for NaMoBloPo is Healing... Here goes to launch the HEALING MONTH...

Speechless. No words to describe the depth of despair and the pungent pain that hits one in the gut.

This may be personal hurt or pain because the society and systems do not allow for anything better. And then- it rains. It washes everything away and lets the new emerge. Till that new dawn, everything is crowded, and bare simultaneously. For healing to happen, the hurt needs to be washed away. For the pain to disappear, the pain must be attended to. For vision to be cleared, either we must wear new glasses or clean the ones we were wearing earlier.

The Old, and the hurt, and the pain must be cleared to make way for the new.

Speaking about it- if only to yourself creates the space to clear it. Meditating to heal is more powerful than trying simply to not hurt. Mere absence of pain is not healing. However, for healing to happen, pain must be seen, acknowledged and accepted. In its full force and in its complete glory- if we can call it that!

The rain is grand in its washing away of all the dirt and the grime that might have stuck to the windshield of our life, but even from the other side, we can not deal with it by not running our wipers to clean the blurring by the rain. 

Today, a friend advised me to cut the cords! The cords than bind and suffocate that do not allow hurt to be healed. That also mean cutting connectedness! :-( I was thinking this is not the way to heal. 

To heal is to call upon all forces to help build a better reality. Instead I opted to do a Heart Chakra Reiki session. And felt amazing!! 

Thank you Reiki for being here.

Thank you symbols for being here.

Thank you God for being here.

Thank my Self for being here. 

Then, placing my hand on heart chakra I intentioned for healing to happen. 

I spoke to myself. I spoke to the Universe. I spoke to feel better, not simply to 'not feel hurt'. 

Even Reiki recognises that my SELF needs to be seen and acknowledged as an important agent of healing. Energy must flow from the ebb and create a tidal wave of contentment and peace, where nothing else can matter.  

So speak when you hurt. Speak if you must heal. Speak to those you hold dear. Or speak your own self- and hold that SELF dear. 

Sometimes the violence is so senseless and the egos so strong that the sun must make a extra effort to rise from behind the clouds. 

However, the clouds are momentary- and the sun? Well- the sun is as eternal as we can get! 

Even The Bible says it- "Physician heal thyself!" in Luke 4:23 and places the self foremost. Reconnecting with the source requires us to first connect with ourselves. And then look outward. Like an infant, when we hurt, we look outward to fix a blame and repair the damage. We look to the farthest toy and pine for the good feeling it will give to hold it in our ands. Little do we realise that the closer we focus, the easier it will be to deal with. Sometimes when we must- we should! It is not very easy, but it is quite simple.  To let go of hurt, we need not cut any cords that hold us together- we must simply let go of the chains that tether. 

Letting go is not giving up. It is not holding on. 

Speaking up is not screaming. It is not shouting. 

It is only saying what needs to be said- and let the word heal. 
Where there were trees, there shall be rocks. Where there were rocks, shall sprout new tender greens. Defying death. Completing the circle of Life!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The NEED to be strong!

What is your earliest memory?

All her life she thought being strong would be enough. She had decided this when she was barely two years old. She had decided that she would be strong even before she knew she could decide or that she had decided!

This was one of the earliest memories she had. 

The little girl sitting alone atop a roof without any grills or railings as a safety feature could see the entire world under her. She was perched like a little bird- only she was sure she was not a bird and that she could not fly, even to save herself, were she to fall from that height. As if this was not enough there was a little baby in her lap. And she was to look after this little baby, too.

Had anyone picked her up and pulled her close in a warm, safe hug, that someone would have felt the little heart pounding hard- as if just ready to burst out of the little chest. Her eyes were big, and alert. Her body and mind wound up tight like a tight spring, tension in each fibre was what gave her the ability to keep sitting there, holding her brother tightly in her tiny arms. So tiny was she that her arms barely went across the baby’s body. 

She needed to be sure she was away from the edge. 

Living on the edge could come later. And it would.

All these thoughts could not have been verbalized or even recognized by her pre-lingual mind, pre-verbal brain. She was just about learning the words that would shape the thoughts that even now filled her mind. 

Strangely, however, the thoughts came before the words. In fact, the thoughts became the words! And words could do no more than simply label the thoughts. When words become the driving force- they can even change the thoughts and mould them. The Force field is generated by us- the thoughts we think become the words we use. The words we use, equally, become the thoughts we identify.

She would, in due course need to put the words before the thoughts. She would have to decide the content rather than the name as she grew older. For now,  all that she could sense was that she was somehow different from others, and that this would always shape her life and the way people interacted with her. This could be a problem, but she would get over this, too. 

Just like she would get over the other hurdles in life. 

She was deciding to be strong. And being strong came at a price. 

The price could be the weakness she knew but others may not feel when they interacted with her. 

They would hate her for this strength and not even know why they did. 

The price could be people making it more difficult for her- each step of the way. Simply because she appeared strong. 

It could even be the isolation she would live in- after all, being strong meant she needed no one to help her, or to stand with her, or to be with her. She could do anything on her own. In fact people could, and would, pull her deliberately and actively down. Simply to prove to her that she was not strong enough, and to prove to themselves that they could be stronger. Strange world- stranger the people that inhabit it. 

Even as she grew up, she would always remember those evenings of waiting for her father to bring her mother up on the roof top. Her mother was mortally afraid of heights so she could not be left alone on the roof top. But her father had had complete and total faith in his daughter even from those early days. 

He knew she would be fine. She was strong and great and just needed to find that out. His confidence did not allow any other possibility. 

He also knew that she was different. He knew that she would change the way the world looked at being a human being. 

He had great expectations from her. He was clairvoyant and thought he had heard the gods when she was born. 

She remembered being there- and being alone. She remembered being in charge of her infant brother. She also felt her father’s strength and his confidence in her. It made it difficult to ask for help.

She would remember the feeling of being alone.

And she would remember the need to be strong.

The need. 

The need also meant that she had something that made her feel weak, and scared. The need also implied that there was a deficiency that must be either filled or hidden. It implied that she was less than she should be or could be. But she apparently became so strong that such a feeling could not matter.In fact she became so strong, or pretended to be so strong that even she did not realize just how weak or afraid she felt. Some of the time.

And it would not matter- not until another three decades passed. 

And then, at 32, she would realize just how much that pre-lingual, nonverbal, feeling that she had felt deep inside her gut had shaped the way she lived and the way she pretended to be strong.

Fighting her own inner fears and demons, she had never let on just how weak and fearful  she really felt. Especially when she came across as being overbearingly strong. She was, in fact the weakest, when she appeared to be her strongest. And the most overbearing. 

Inside her head and her heart, she was hiding it even from herself. 

And outside she was struggling to be accepted and to stand on her own. The paradoxes and the contradictions would always be apparent to her and would be the reconciliation her soul sought. This would be a life long quest for her. 

Such was the paradox she lived in. 

Being strong and feeling weak, simultaneously. Being alone and waiting for acceptance. The feeling that she had defined before she even had the words to define it.

And when she knew the words to define her feeling, she could not quite grasp it.

This feeling, this thought- “I have to be strong” was all that was left. That, too, was buried somewhere deep in her subconscious mind. 

So... she went about her life being strong. 

She was not afraid of the dark- but she walked with her back sliding against the wall lest someone come between her and the light switch she needed to flick on. There was no one in the room- her brain knew this for a fact. Her heart, however, knew anything could happen.

She knew, and she knew not she knew, that alternate Universes existed; and that it was possible to travel between them. She knew, and she knew not she knew, that she- of the 6 billion people on Earth- was uniquely gifted to make this journey. All that would come later- much later. 

For now- she must be strong.

For now- she must not be weak.

And if she is strong, she does not need anyone else, does she?

So she goes through life- breathing, blinking, eating, sleeping- alone. Looking for company. Seeking. 

Sometimes, even in her childhood she wondered whether there were others like her. This thought often crossed her mind. 

She wondered whether she was alone- or was she lonely. Another contradiction, and paradox she lived. One that would make her look for a person who would not only love her but accept her and tell her over and over again, “You are not alone. I love you.”

If she was alone, she had to make herself safe- she could not let the world know just how weak she was. So she had to erect walls- very strong, fortress-like walls that could keep everyone else out, unable to hurt her fragile sense of self.

And if she was lonely- she needed to make sure there were no walls, that she stood in the open fields of life. Open. Exposed. Defenseless. And that she could see everyone, and be seen by everyone. 

In the process she might find someone who was a close match. Someone who would understand the paradoxes and contradictions that seemed to steep her life. 

This someone would talk the same language- the language that was primal, and pre-lingual. That someone would know- instinctively the difference between alone, and lonely. That someone would know, instinctively the need to protect and the need to be free. Free of fear, of weakness and of loneliness. Free of the need to be strong. And that someone would know when to be with her and when to set her free. 

These two were very deeply contradictory needs. 

Even her grandmother had gently reminded her one day- “You are not like others. Others will be fascinated by you. They will be intrigued by you. But they will never be able to fathom you. They might love you or hate you, but they will never be able to ignore you or be indifferent to your presence in the room. This will make it very difficult. So be prepared for it. Because you are different. So do not cry, my child. This is your destiny.”

How would she reconcile the contradictions in her soul? Who would help her be loved and be free?

Uhambo had to set out on her own journey- without a roadmap, without a guide; she had to walk, run, breathe and live a life without any known blueprint or plan. Like so many others, she would define a persona and an existence that would, hopefully, make it worthwhile. 

This journey and beyond. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

More to life than speed

  by naturewalker
, a photo by naturewalker on Flickr.

There has to be more to life than adding speed to it. Running to catch our own tail leads us only to be dizzy and move in circles or spirals- no beginning and no end.
The colours are lost and the people blur out of focus. All that is left in the end is a haze and perhaps our attempt to hold the sands of time in our fist. The harder we try, the tighter we grip, the less we are able to hold.
Sometimes, hearts get shattered, and sometimes they endure with a strength they knew not they had.
So what do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?
You gather them, and decide to keep walking on. Gather more speed so you cannot see the broken pieces and feel the sharp pain. It may not become whole again, but it has the chance to give more, and take more. It only requires us to make the choice to do so.
The choice has to be made with complete surrender and total commitment. It may be frightening. And then... we must question ourselves. What is our ability to act in spite of the deep fear, in spite of the discomfort it may bring?
We may confront the Gordian's Knot, and know not how to open it. And then, like Alexander, realise the only way out of the knot is to slice it.
Slow down.
And live the life we are meant to.
No less.