Thursday, August 29, 2013

Do not be afraid, little brother...

And so, unnatural death comes to your family too, finally, the kind you read in the newspapers everyday, the kind that happens to "other people". A 24-year-old cousin brother brought back home, unrecognizable, from the wreck of a car that a truck ran over. 

While you sit on the cold floor next to the case where his body (or whatever remained of it) is kept, listening to his inconsolable parents' loud sorrow that is all that can be allowed to matter now, because it will never end, you remember the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which you had revisited just a few days ago, the film version, narrated in the haunting voice of Leonard Cohen. You find yourself repeating in your mind, 'Do not be afraid, little brother, do not be afraid".
You want to believe that we are but "incipient compost", that this is it, that with the destruction of the material body, everything is over. But for this abruptly terminated young life, this little child, you want to believe that this is not the end. How fickle we are, how weak.
Amongst all deaths, is your own the least painful to imagine, you wonder.
*          *          *          *          *          *          *
In the Himalayan communities where Tibetan Buddhism is followed, when someone dies, the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is read every day, for 49 days. According to this text, the consciousness of the dead person lingers between one life and another for a period of 49 days. During that time he is capable of hearing. The text is read aloud to encourage and guide him.
The Book of the Dead describes how at death, the consciousness is suddenly separated from all the circumstances which made up daily life.
Both life and death, according to the Bardo Thodol, are a continuous flow of uncertain transitions called bardos. In the bardos of death, if mind does not recognize its own nature, it becomes ever more solid, until it enters a new form of life.
The Phowa, a method unique to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, assists the consciousness to release its attachment to the physical body, at the time of death.
The text is read aloud in the room where the dead body is placed.
"O Son of Noble Family, that which is called Death is now arrived. Now for the benefit of all beings, recognize Luminosity, which dances before you. This great blazing massive light is Enlightenment itself. It is the natural mind. It is the essence of your own mind.

Recognition and Liberation are simultaneous."
*          *          *          *          *          *          *

You want to scream, but what does a 24-year-old child know? Will he able to recognize all this, does he have the understanding? Or is his soul already old, and therefore capable of such knowledge?
The sound of the mother's heart-rending wailing is obliterating all belief, wiping out your hard-earned wisdom. Will the knowledge of her son's potential re-birth be of any consolation to her now? Can it possibly make up for the daily phone call, the beloved voice that she will never hear again? You want to be unreasonable, you want to just beat your head against the wall and cry, you want to be a stupid dumb animal that can only collapse completely in the face of such pain.
*          *          *          *          *          *          *

"Polden Tsering, you have died. The light of this world is fading, completely. The light of the next world is not yet appeared. Your body has lost all feeling. This is what death is. Let yourself go.
Now you should think like this: Now I will abandon clinging to this body and to this world. I will go forward. I will abandon fear and terror. And I will recognize that whatever appears is a projection of my own mind."
According to the Bardo Thodol, if the deceased has still failed to recognize his basic nature, and if he has failed to recognize the peaceful deities as projections of his own mind, then they transform into terrifying wrathful ones.
"Polden Tsering, do not be afraid, do not be confused. Recognize them as the projections of your own mind. Do not be afraid for they are your innate wakefulness. If you recognize this, you will be liberated."
Recognition and Liberation are simultaneous."
*          *          *          *          *          *          *

Do not be afraid, little brother, do not be afraid...

July 30, 2011

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We need more hairbonds

There is no such thing as boredom

When you are stuck in a traffic jam, when you are waiting for someone, when you are stranded on a shop verandah during a downpour with a contemplative cow who is not in a mood for conversation, when the power goes off and the dog has just eaten the only matchbox, when you have nothing to do, you could Make Theories instead of pulling out that mobile phone. There is no such thing as boredom, believe me.

For example, this one happened in one of those gaps:

Part 1: Anti-lice shampoo killed more than lice

In the beginning….okay, in the very olden days - the Neanderthals were supposed to have spent a lot of time picking lice off each other. They were very hairy people, so these must have been solid long sessions. Apart from de-lice-ification, this also served the very important purpose of social bonding especially at a time when language was yet to develop. Physical proximity with people whose affection you are sure of, was, and continues to be, the most important calmant, comforter, and de-stresser known to man.

Before anti-lice shampoo was invented, women, up to the modern times, spent a lot of time on these group de-licing sessions, picking out lice from family, neighbours, and children. And people had thick long hair, lots of place for lice to breed. These sessions were also major talk-and-bonding sessions - women complained to each other about their husbands, mothers-in-law, children, ailments, and got free advice, consolation, psychotherapy in the bargain. Plus the amazing comfort of someone's fingers in their hair. Altogether Therapeutic.
(Men also had long hair in the very ancient past, I presume some of these sessions happened in families too, but maybe with only one woman around to do the de-licing.)

With the invention of anti-lice shampoo, this ritual stopped. (Additionally, no modern woman would ever admit to another that she has lice!) And with it was lost these moments of bonding and de-stressing and relaxation. We are much poorer for the same, I believe.

Part 2: We need more hairbonds

The same holds good for oiling, combing, and braiding hair. Bonding Big Time. Hair-time is conversation-time. And since when you are oiling, braiding hair, the oilee/braidee does not have to face the oiler/braider, conversation on difficult-to-talk-about things is also easier. The warm massaging of loving hands on your head/shoulders/back also relaxes you no end. Enough oxytocin would be created in your body to last you a few days. (Oxytocin, the feel-good, immunity-building hormone that is produced in your body during physical closeness, the cuddling hormone as they call it).

With the cutting of hair in both sexes, with the belief in oil massages coming down, with less time, with even perhaps a lessening of such willingness-to-do-something-just-to-make-someone-feel-good, in a more self-centred world, this is another bonding ritual we are losing sadly. A paid massage at the spa/parlour, I do not think, produces the same amount of oxytocin as the hands and presence of someone who loves you.

If people revived these hair-rituals (okay, maybe not really cultivate lice for the purpose, but the oiling, combing, braiding part), I believe we would all have more immunity, and less stress, and therefore the world would be a more smiley-wiley place.We need this all the more today than ever perhaps. (And Kerala would be the next Super Power exporting coconut oil faster than they can produce it. So we'll have oil-sheiks in lungis instead of in djellabas, oh boy.)

And perhaps that is why Buddhist monks shave their heads as the first step to entering monkhood? A voluntary renunciation of human comfort, a loosening of bonds, a decisive acceptance of contemplative, meditative solitude?

End of Hair theory. 2005

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I am walking to the bridge


"The need to belong is so strong, Joiner says, that it sometimes expresses itself even in death. “I’m walking to the bridge,” begins a Golden Gate Bridge suicide note he cites. “If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.”*

Astonishing, the number of people who cannot imagine why someone would want to kill themselves. They have family, close friends, a safety net, a support system. The despair in the eyes of the man on the bridge does not strike them, they have not seen it in the mirror. They have never known loneliness of that kind.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

“On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived."**

Is this the kind of loss an ordinary person has to go through, to finally look out and see the loneliness of others?

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

He used to live alone with his cat, they said, my colleague who recently killed himself. His family back home didn’t seem to care, he had no one in this country. He was bipolar, they said, terribly alone, and he lost the will to fight depression, he had no reason to stay alive.

Another colleague mentions that he was the kindest person in that office. Whenever she went to that office, he was the one who came to her desk the day she landed, without fail, made her feel welcome, and made sure that she did not feel too alone.

It takes that much knowledge of isolation, to see it in others. The kindest people you know are probably the loneliest.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

“I always used to think Facebook was a waste of time, I used to look down on people who spent so much of their time on it. Until my marriage broke up. And I lost my child in the process, and my friends drifted away. Now it is my lifeline.”

A story I have heard more than once, in many forms.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

“I’m walking to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.”


** Wave
Photo: Portrait of 'Jeanne', by Amedeo Modigliani. His wife who killed herself.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tonight, it's raining

The thunderstorm wakes you up from your sick bed. It's raining! You quickly get up, roll up your trouser legs and set out into the rain-drenched darkness, your blue umbrella letting in the lightning, your fatigue left behind with the blanket. Every clean puddle is yours to splash through. The froglings jump across to the safety of the garden plants. You evade the snails, you don't want to hear that crunchy sound. You walk into the street lined by cows standing still in the rain, letting the terrible summer wash away from them. The cows who never go home, who wait all day at the bus stop, for their bus that never comes! :)

You pat one of them in your path. (Lately you have taken to patting cows on your walks. Calming cow-therapy. This must be another step in your downward slide.) You watch the few people, who like you, are not chicken, and don't let a little water stop their routine. The bikes parked on the sides are gleaming in the sodium-vapour lamp-light, their owners sheltering in shop-fronts. The street dogs have all curled up far up on shop verandahs, fast asleep, they are not losing their dirt to any water.

You find your way through traffic jams at the junction, you manage to cross the road, you walk along narrow strips of available footpath, you jump across stones to evade flooded roads. And then into the beautiful tree-lined roads of your morning walk, now plunged in darkness, the occasional car-lights lighting up the red gulmohar petals flattened on the black tar. You walk in joy. You sing. You stop at the park gates, now locked, and look into the temple of dark brooding trees, the sound of the rain different here, falling through thick dense foliage. The God is in there, the sanctum sanctorum, you can feel it, you worshipper of trees. You continue, after a moment's obeisance.

On the way back you see people walking home in the rain, the ones whom the storm surprised on a summer day. You want to offer to walk them home under your big blue umbrella, and return to take more of them home, smiling, welcoming, sharing the warmth you can barely contain. You want to live in a small place where you can do such things, be the umbrella-carrier who takes people back home on unexpected stormy nights, and only asks of them the story of their day in return. Shelter for a Story. You cannot think of a better bargain. You want to be that jobless, and that useful.

At the corner shrine where the small stone Ganesha resides, the peepul tree's leaves shining golden in the lamp-light. Pure gold, from which the drop-lets fall. Such richness, so casually left at the roadside for you to find.

When you get back home, you remember that you have been ill and depressed for days, you are probably dying of undiagnosed things that are waiting to strike you down, who knows.

Well, you’ll die another day. Tonight, it’s raining. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Kuldeep Dantewadia

On a rainy morning in Lal Bagh Botanical gardens, a small group of us sat around in a verandah, listening to this young man speak about his passion. Soon, there is a group of strangers gathered around us, listening to him spell-bound. Meet Kuldeep Dantewadia, the youngest entrepreneur I have personally met, thanks to the Rang De Meet the Changemaker walks. Today is his birthday, he is all of 25 today :)

At 22, Kuldeep started, after having worked for 6 months with a group of friends, to find the best ways of waste management. He teaches young kids in schools how to preserve water and electricity - who in turn go back home and teach their parents. He tells them to empty their water bottles into a barrel at the end of the day - water which is then used to wash the school bus. Things as simple as that. Now they have grown into a consultancy that offers eco-solutions to schools and companies, for energy-optimisation and greening campuses.

A few good souls hold up the world. Those of us who do volunteer work get to meet some of them. On a really bad day, when the world around is sinking into deep negativity and hopelessness, I remember these people.

Reap Benefit
Low cost eco-solutions with tangible results
Waste. Water. Energy. Biodiversity.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Once on an early morning trip back to Calcutta airport, this Bihari cab driver brought us masala tea made by his wife, in a flask, because the previous night we happened to mention how we have to leave so early we would not get tea at the hotel where we were staying. He stopped at the airport, and pulled out nice cups and saucers and served us delicious freshly-made cardamom-flavoured tea his wife had gotten up at 3 AM to prepare for us.

The greatest lessons I have learned come from these truly evolved human beings, lost in the crowd. They help me get my priorities right.

The Better India is a place that introduces me to more such people, who have not forgotten how we are all connected, and are responsible for each other. I am proud to even live in the same country as them.

The Better India: Positive News. Happy Stories. Unsung Heroes:

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The dry leaves have been falling, all over the city, lining the roads, lazily swirling down on you like “snow”. You know what this means. Our brief Spring, and our Summer, are not far behind. The winter will be over in the blink of an eye, its last fog-filled mornings making you shiver.

The trees must know. They must have known since a while. The bare branches will soon stand out in all their glory, letting us see, for once, the water-like flow of their reaching out. The season of the beautiful shadows on the tarred roads, the ones we drive over, will be with us soon. To be a tree, to be beautiful in all seasons. In gain, and in loss.

The tabebuia trees must already feel their impending blossoms stir deep within them. The sap slowly rising to their finger-tips, to burst into a jubilant yellow inflorescence. Yellow, which is the colour of all our Februaries.

Utttaraayan (from the Sanskrit "Uttara" (North) and "aayana" (movement towards)), the six-month period following the winter solstice in December, when the sun starts its journey into the Northern hemisphere, is finally making itself felt. The dry leaves are the first sign. And then the hotter days.

Today is the harvest festival of Makara Sankranti, the day the Sun moves into the house of Capricorn. The official ending of Winter, the beginning of our brief Spring. A time of transition, an auspicious time. The sugarcane, which was in full silver bloom last month, has been harvested, and is lining our city markets and roadsides, all ready for the festival. Auspicious, its sweet freshness jolting us from our winter torpor. Thousands of brilliantly-coloured kites will rise up to the Sun today, celebrating his slow march to his full glory. Intricate kolams brighten up the drab footpaths in front of houses.

And it is the beginning of the Heat. Which many will complain about, but not you. For those of us Sun-worshippers, this is when we wait for our King to ride in, in his blazing chariot, blinding us at the height of his brilliance. He will teach us what it is to burn, burn, burn, what it is to be alive, open, seared to the bone with the honesty we finally allow ourselves, after we discard the protective cloaks of our vulnerable winter selves. He is not the preferred deity of the weak, the fragile, the ones who seek comfort and ease, the ones who shrink from the cleansing through fire. Few will make it to his altar.

While the traffic whizzes past all around you, indifferent, oblivious to this celestial transition, you align yourself to the caravan of the Sun. You will take his gifts, and his blows, the sweet, with the bitter. And you will wait for the yellow of the flowers, that will replace the yellow of these dry leaves. For everything, a season.

Rain trees in January:

Kolam Album: 

Uttaraayan Abum: