Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Disappeared


To the ones who lost loved ones, and to the ones who saved lives, in the summer of 2021

Decades ago, I remember reading a poem about a man sitting in front of his house, waiting for the crows to come eat the rice balls kept on a plantain leaf - as part of the Shraaddha ritual for his father's death ceremony. He is devastated by the loss of the person he was closest to. But outside the gate he sees children in uniforms going to school, chatting, laughing, care-free - it is just an ordinary day for everyone else. And he wonders whether the most painful part of grief is how private it is, how intensely lonely.

But should it be? 

It is exactly one year since thousands of Indians lost close family members or friends in the horrific  Covid wave of Apr-June 2021. We even lost perfectly healthy people, fitness enthusiasts, and thousands of our young working population. And thousands nearly lost loved ones, went through long traumatic waiting periods of not knowing, not being able to even see the person who was struggling alone.

The world has moved on. As it must. This summer people have been partying, getting together, making up for lost time. Even as the possibility of yet another wave looms large. But for the ones who suffered the immediate losses, and the rest of us who were impacted by it, this is a horrific anniversary.

It is important to move on. That is part of being resilient. But the brutality of that summer. How does one get over it? What lessons did we learn from it? 

We have never seen a disaster of such proportions, cutting across class and caste. 

We have never in our lives seen our vast medical system collapse to such an extent. Thousands of people died waiting outside hospitals for oxygen and beds. 

We have never been in a situation where thousands had to die without seeing their families. Where families were not given the bodies of their loved ones. 

And the millions who lost their livelihoods, their bread winners, and have never recovered their old lives.

And the doctors and the hospital staff who worked tirelessly across months, without sleep, putting their own lives at risk.

And the ones who went on to suffer long Covid, or died of sudden heart attacks well after recovery.

And the ones who went on to suffer PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and never fully recovered.

And through it all, the thousands of amazing volunteer groups that formed within days across the country, working across cities and villages, forming task forces, war rooms, desperately trying to get oxygen, beds, and medicines for strangers, supplementing what the government struggled to do. So many of us are alive, so many of our family or friends are still around, because someone somewhere struggled day and night and got us help at the right time. 

We saw our worst, but we also saw our best, the incredible amount of compassion and drive there is in this country. 


In Akira Kurosawa's movie "Dreams", there is this amazing scene where  a stranger comes upon a funeral procession in a village. He is astounded to see that everyone is singing and dancing. When he asks why, they say - "We are glad that we got so many years with this amazing man, we are celebrating that!" 😀

It always reminds me of this evening in Toronto, 2006. 

"On a San Juan city side walk, outside the Rawson neighbourhood bike shop, one shoe and a pair of glasses got left behind. Last traces of you."

So read the lines next to one of the numerous photographs at the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil Street, Toronto, that cold evening. The Argentinian immigrants in the city had a week-long program in memory of the 30, 000 people who "disappeared" during the military coup of 1976, that ushered in a dark period of 7 years where countless people were taken away and killed, so many of them so young.

It was a lovely evening of remembrances, music, and dance. An evening to honour the ones we lost so they are not forgotten, and also to remember to be happy and move on despite our crushing losses. An evening of solidarity with those who lost loved ones, and still suffer.  

I remembered that evening today. It was such a befitting celebration, understated but warm and joyous. An affirmation that we are all connected, and we need not allow others to suffer sad anniversaries alone.  

What could we do to honour the thousands who disappeared last summer? 

What could we do to remember the strangers to whom so many owe their lives? 

What could we do for those who are re-living the nightmare on the first death anniversary of their loved ones? 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Heroes of our Time: Malvikaa Solanki


I must have met Malvikaa only once, briefly. It was so worth keeping in touch to see her amazing journey in the mountains of Bandipur. On a really bad day, watching any of her videos just lifts up my spirits. 

Malvikaa Solanki is one of the heroes of our time - reviving not just the land, but also our tradition of working together as a community for the common good. We forget so easily that we are all interconnected. The video is just 5.53 minutes long. I promise you it will change your day. 

Transforming landscapes through Agroforestry Systems


The 1000 Tree Project: 



To know more about her and her work, watch these short videos:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtZ4G30RUyQrUqrYnZtvnGw

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swayyam/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/swayyam_permaculture/

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

I felt in need of a great pilgrimage


There must be better ways of spending your mornings than sitting under your favourite Hongai tree and listening to the small flowers falling, like the first drops of approaching rain. But thankfully you don't know of any of them. :) 

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

In the evenings, if you sit and wait patiently in your city balcony, you get to see the changing of the guard at sunset. The kites circle lower and lower and then come down to roost on the huge trees in the West. And once the kites have cleared the golden-gray evening sky, the bats come flying in from the darkening East, wave after wave, hundreds of them. Without fail. Day in, day out.

A change of guard that is so easy to miss, because it happens in total silence. When you sit quietly, the world is a different place.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

I felt in need of a great pilgrimage.

So I sat still for three days
and God came to me.

Kabir, in 'Love Poems from God, Twelve Sacred Voices form the East and West'

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

What kind of car would you like?

"What kind of car would you like?"

"A small one covered in Hongai leaves would be perfect. 😍😍

All year I'll park it under different trees shedding leaves or flowers. 

I'll mostly be walking. So a cheap car will do."


An Update from the Keeper of Seasons

Every January the Rain trees lose their leaves completely. To reveal the exquisite shape of their branches, flowing like water into the sky. They have saved my life, many times. The Mahogany leaves fall and their winged seeds twirl down to form beautiful patterns on the ground. The fragrant Mango blossoms arrive, with promises of luscious fruit in March and April, the pride of our summers.

Every February the Hongai trees lose their leaves. And are quickly covered in the most beautiful fresh translucent oily leaves I have ever seen. Each small tree, a temple of shining light you must stop at because you cannot take your eyes away. I wait for this all year. In the meanwhile, the yellow Tabebuia Argentea starts bursting into bloom in our streets, slowly, little by little, until all the leaves fall and there is only a bright yellow tree left. And the Rain trees now cover themselves in lush thick canopies, getting ready for the summer. The delicate pink needle-like flowers start falling down and browning on their massive trunks and branches like soft down. 

Every March, as the temperature rises, the Hongai flowers form carpets of white and pink and purple on our streets. Early in the morning, when all is still, you can hear the Honge flowers falling, like the first drops of approaching rain. And the pink Tabebuia Rosea lines our streets, the flowers falling like snow and covering entire avenues, until the most hardened of hearts will catch their breath. Every year I stand at this particular line of tall trees on the main road, and cry. Like Sudama, returning from visiting Krishna and seeing his hut turned into a palace. 

Sometimes we ask nothing, and are given everything.

With every passing year there are more flowers in our city. Because more trees have now grown into maturity, and have started flowering. We sometimes fail to notice things that get better, because we are only tuned into Doom station. 

This year the rain tree leaf-falling was delayed, maybe because the rains lasted well into December. And the Tabebuia Rosea is early, and the Argentea slightly late. 

You take what you are given. With gratitude. In really dark times, the quiet abundance of trees can convince some to not leave. They save lives. By just being, doing their thing, resurrecting every year, coming back to life amidst so many odds. Sometimes they are all you have. But that in itself is so much. 


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Fun and Learning with the Wise!

Do you have an elderly person in your family/neighbourhood who is extremely knowledgeable in any specific area, which could be of interest to others? For example, traditional Indian recipes, medicinal herbs, the history of a particular place, events from a particular era, or an interesting craft or skill that few people have. Or are they great story tellers, of old traditional Indian stories and folk tales that have not been documented?

Would they be happy to speak about it to a general audience, on a Zoom call? Can they speak reasonably well in English? If yes, would love to hear from you. 😃

What is this about?

 A bunch of us ex-colleagues got together virtually during the lockdown to do something around Mental Well-being in the Elderly.  

We are partnering with Silver Talkies to launch a series of sessions where elderly people will share knowledge in a live virtual session for the young and old alike, and interact with them. Our senior citizens have a wealth of knowledge! 

Being mentally engaged and feeling valued go a long way in keeping them happy and alert, and it delays cognitive decline. So this is a small attempt to help with that. 

We did 2 trial sessions with 2 friends' mothers speaking about traditional regional recipes, customized to their families' tastes. It was a great success! And both of them were super-excited though initially nervous. 😊 Their children/grandkids introduced them and made it feel like we are listening in on a family conversation - it was a beautiful experience!

So now we are trying to launch this with Silver Talkies providing the platform.

  • The person should be able to speak reasonable English. Later on we would like to do this in vernacular languages too, but trying to get this off the ground for now, following Silver Talkies guidelines.
  • Would need a family member/friend with them who can help them get on  to the Zoom call that Silver Talkies will set up, keep them company, ask questions, explain questions if needed etc. And if it is in the form of a conversation with the old person, they will also feel more comfortable. 
  • It will be a 1-hour session. Open to anyone. You could forward the Zoom invite to all your family and friends. This is free of charge. 
Please let us know in the comments below if you know of someone. Or mail/message me or one of the people below if you know us personally. 

Asha. For the group (Adarsh, Lekha, Manoj, Prabha)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Who will you call today?

"When the lockdown started, all of us from the old college batch made a promise that we will dig up the phone numbers of our teachers from 20 years ago, make a list, and sign up to call and check on each one of them. They were incredibly moved. And so happy to hear from us. Some of them were in tears.

After that we now call up at least two people every week to check on them. People whom we haven't spoken to in years, old friends, distant relatives. Just call. Ask how they are. Connect. Spend at least 20 minutes on a conversation where you are really listening.

And every Saturday we have a quick catch-up with the college batch to share how moved we have been by these calls. How we received more than we gave. It has been life-changing. And it totally raises our spirits amidst all the gloom and disaster all around, the best distraction ever."

We heard this incredibly beautiful story because an old friend and I set up this Zoom call in our apartment complex, on Mental Well-being. She works for the Live Love Laugh Foundation, which is doing incredible service at a time when we are having a Mental Health crisis the world over. 

Of course it was uncomfortable. We don't speak about Mental Well-being in public in India, do we? 😊 But what do we have to lose? Covid has brought mental health to the forefront, ironically. The few people who dialed in completely agreed that we need to talk about this subject now. 

And what a hugely inspiring story we got as a reward! I have been trying to practice this myself. 

What does it entail?
  1. Make a list of people you haven't spoken to in ages. Old friends, classmates, teachers, neighbours, acquaintances, distant family members, ex-colleagues. People whom you like or respect, but haven't connected to in ages because you have just been too busy with your own life.
  2. Get their numbers if you don't have them.
  3. Call at least 2 people from this list every week, when you and they are not in a hurry. Or just 1 if you can't make the time. 
  4. Spend a good 20 minutes at least catching up. Listen. Ask the real questions. Get to know what they are going through. How they have also smiled and wept and walked through the fire while you were busy with your own journey. Share how you have done the same. Look beyond and really see the human being behind the words.
I won't spoil it for you by telling you how you will feel at the end. 

Discover it for yourself. 😃 And tell me about it. 

Background to this Post: Walking the Thin Line