Monday 1 December 2014

Thoughts when I was in the hospital.

I always boasted that I never get bitten by mosquitoes. People around me would be clapping their hands and hitting themselves and scratching while I sat unaffected by the dreaded insect. But all that changed. A fortnight ago, I was diagnosed with dengue and later hospitalized for 5 days. Dengue is known to be fatal in some cases, and in my case, while there were moments when I thought "Is this the end?" Well, these are a few thoughts that crossed my mind lying in the ICU. Even before I went to the hospital the high fever, nausea and extreme chills had battered my body. Somehow I did not pray to God to cure me. I did ask healer friends to send me healing energy and when I couldn't take the pain and bodily distress, I just prayed for help to cope with the pain. I was admitted to the ICU because my blood platelet count had gone dangerously low and a transfusion had to be done 5 times. Somehow when the body is completely worn out, I realized there is amazing clarity of thought. And there was little else to do apart from thinking lying with tubes fit all over your body.

The doctors were worried that there may be an internal haemorrhage because I was vomiting blood and there was bleeding in the gums. Again the thought came to my mind "Am I going to die?". Surprisingly there was no fear of death. Although the conditioned behavior would be to plead to God to help and save you, I did not feel like praying for that. I asked myself why am I not praying to God to save me. I got 2 answers. The first one was that for the last 2 and half years I've lived life passionately. I infused everything I did with passion on a day to day basis. I loved, ate, traveled (well, that could have been more), painted, read,  spent time doing everything I loved. I also cried, fought, hated, sulked, but so what? All these are part of my human experience. I had no regrets because I was fully aware of what I was doing. Even if I lazed around I did that passionately and fully aware of it and loved it. Another thought that occurred to me while at the hospital was that since the last 3 yrs or so I had chosen to interact and spend time with people who nourish me energetically rather than drain and deplete my energy, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. And that I was happy about.  

The second reason why I did not ask God to save me was that I've read extensively on life after physical death and I knew it would be a continuation of life. So there was no fear. I was thinking if I asked God to save me and if He does, would I then call him the merciful God or the Kind God, and if he does not save me would I then label him as the merciless one? Is not life and death part of life as whole? Then why should I plead for life or label God depending on whether he extends my life. I decided I would just be an observer and see what happens to me. But one thing I had resolved in the ICU. And that is if I lived I would take the passion quotient a few notches higher and live life more fully. All that matters is the zest for life and to live each day as if it is your last. I also resolved to focus more on things that matter rather than fretting over petty things.

I'm really thankful to people who came to donate blood in the middle of the night, who visited me at the hospital and even now. Thankfully, I'm recuperating well and people who have been visiting me at home say that they did not expect me to look so healthy. One thing I realized is no matter how weak the body, the spirit within is invincible and that makes all the difference. Here I am, writing the thoughts that crossed my mind in the hospital and totally loving every bit of life..:-) 

Friday 14 November 2014

Buying from Tribal Artists.

Recently I attended an Art fair where artisans from all over the country had assembled to display their art and handicraft. Most of these artisans were from remote tribal areas which are so rich in Art that it is a way of their life. These included Gond artists from Madhya Pradesh, Madhubani from Bihar, metal workers from Bhuj, Dhokra from Chattisgarh, etc. 

I was at a stall buying some Dhokra neck pieces. Now for people who don't know about Dhokra art, there are intricately made metal pieces where molten brass is poured into moulds and then baked and polished. It is quite a lengthy procedure. There was this other lady too who had picked up some pieces. The cost of each neck piece was Rs 160. Now, anyone would agree that it is really cheap. I saw this lady bargaining with this tribal artist. I politely intervened and told her that considering he has come all the way from a remote village in Chattisgarh and factoring in all the overhead expenses, it is very little that would get and Rs 160 is indeed very cheap. She immediately got the point and bought it at the actual price.

Now why am I writing   this? I realized that not many people would know the effort that goes into hand crafting a piece of art. Ever since I've started creating and selling hand crafted items, I'm even more appreciative of other artists especially the tribal  ones. They are so unassuming about their art. They live in difficult conditions and still create astounding pieces of art.

So if I may make 2 requests here. One is avoid bargaining with artists, because by experience I know it is very difficult to price your own creations and for many that may be the only source of sustenance. May be one could just ask politely if they can reduce the price just once if you really can't afford it. But haggling over the piece of art makes the artist very uncomfortable. Secondly, try to buy directly from artists as far as possible. From my own experience of selling through various stores, most of which charge a commission of 40%, I feel really happy when people directly buy from me. I'm able to sell things at a discounted price and yet able to make a decent profit. 

And I'm sure it's the same with other artists too. Most people would not know this. Please do not mistake this as an indirect hint to buy from me. I'm talking about artists in general. Most artists would bless people who buy their art which transforms the energy of the place. I surely do. So please be more kind and considerate towards artists. Art brings smiles to faces and delights the heart. Let's help spread that..:-)

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Happiness!- From the Simplest of Things!

My husband and I were driving down a road when we stopped at a signal. To our right at a little distance there was some construction work going on with a few labourers working and a few of their children playing nearby.  There was a large blue plastic sheet spread on the road, probably used in construction (not sure!). Four laborers came and held each corner of the plastic sheet and lifted it probably to shake off the dust or dry it. This caused a kind of rippling wave like effect on the sheet. Seeing this, the labourers' children jumped up and down clapping their hands and laughing happily. I thought to myself that these children probably have been out the whole day in mud and cement at the construction site, probably wouldn't have eaten stomach full, yet just the sight of the plastic sheet going up and down saw them dancing in delight. That's a wonderful lesson that dawned on me. Happiness can be found in everything, in the smallest of things, only if I allow myself to be open to it, to discover and delight in the magic that everything is! 

Wednesday 16 April 2014

My Tryst with Pollinating Vanilla Flowers.

Last year in April, I was scouting for places to volunteer for coffee (berry) picking, but I was told that coffee harvesting ends by February and that in would be time for vanilla pollination in March and April. Well, I just read vanilla and screamed 'yes' over email. Out of the 10 odd places I had enquired for volunteering, only Sujata Goel from The Rainforest Retreat responded promptly. She had looked up the links on my signature in the email and asked me if I could do some art work in any of the cottages and that was like the icing on the cake for me :-) 
Me pollinating a vanilla flower
But now about vanilla pollination. Vanilla is native to South America and the pollinators for the flower are humming birds. In India, somehow the conditions have not been conducive to humming birds and plantation owners have not been successful in rearing them. So humans have to hand pollinate the flowers. I was really excited and looking forward to playing the role of the humming bird and imagining that beautiful vanilla beans would break out from the flowers that I would pollinate. 
Vanilla flower before it is pollinated

The glorious vanilla creeper
On the first day, Ravi, an amazing soul and staff, at the Retreat took me to the area where vanilla creepers grew. He handed me a toothpick and demonstrated how it is done. So, to explain it simply, there is a little hood like thing inside the vanilla flower which needs to be ripped with the toothpick, the flap of which needs to be moved upward dexterously with one's thumb, and there's a distinguishable stalk called the anther which needs to be pushed against the stigma (inside of the hood) with the toothpick and then pressed down again with one's thumb. All this gets over in maybe 3 seconds and one needs a steady hand for this. For the first 2 flowers my hands were shaky because the flowers are so fragile and I had to be really sure what I was poking the toothpick into. 

Every morning I would spend around an hour looking for flowers that have bloomed and must be pollinated. The flowers last only for a day and must be pollinated in that window, preferably before noon. They also do not smell anything like vanilla. They are rather odourless. If they are successfully pollinated they wither on the stalk, or else they just drop to the ground. 

Vanilla beans.
It can take upto 3 years for a vanilla creeper to bear flowers. Once the flowers wither after successful pollination, it transforms into a vanilla pod. It is these green pods which are plucked and subject to a lengthy 3 month process before it becomes what we are familiar with in our kitchens. 

So happy I got this opportunity to be a Nature fairy to the vanilla creepers..:-) 

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Metaphysics to Physics.

A friend had visited us and while we were discussing various topics my husband said that the mobile phone, internet etc; was invented because there is an innate need in each one of us to be connected or reach out to others. That set me thinking further. Some of us who have read about the Atlantis civilization would know that there was a time when telepathy, clairvoyance, and the other abilities like teleportation and psycho-kinesis, which are now considered as 'super powers', came very naturally to people. Everyone was born with these abilities and they were not considered as extraordinary. 

However, people then, respected the privacy of others. This meant that though they could read others thoughts, they wouldn't because they respected the privacy of others and though they could travel astrally, they wouldn't go sneaking and peeping into other people's lives just for the heck of it. 
But then there came a time when people starting abusing these powers and that contributed to the fall of the Atlantis civilization. Fast forward to the present. Sometimes when I think about it, in our age, internet, mobile phones, bluetooth ad other technology have been invented to compensate for the lack of those powers which we lost long ago. 

They are an external manifestation of what was internal to us. What was metaphysical has now become physical. As they say history repeats itself. And we have people using these very gifts of technology to do harm in some way or other: read spyware, micro cameras, email phishing, etc. Wonder how this will end? ! 

Thursday 8 August 2013

Born to Travel!

No..this is not about me! :-) But I'd love to belong to this category by traveling more and as much as I'd love to! This is about some people, some of whom have become friends, whom I met during the Spiti trip. 

One is a gentleman who left his job in 2004 to follow his passion for travel. He has traveled and explored innumerable places in the country and spends most of the year in the Himalayas trekking from one village to another. He spoke of a time when he was in the city for some work for more than a few weeks, and got so uneasy that he had to go back to the Himalayas where he belongs! I listened in awe as he narrated fascinating travel stories. He spoke of a Swiss man whotravels overland in his camping car from Switzerland to Goa and also takesother travelers with him for a fee, a group of travelers who do the length andbreadth of any country only by train, without stopping in any city, a solocyclist from Mumbai who has toured Asia and Europe on his cycle and many more tales!

Another is a 65 year old gentleman who makes at least 4-5 trips to the Himalayas in a year and left his job 16 yrs back to pursue his passion for travel and photography. He said he has a 35 yr old son who is specially abled, but that does not make him wallow in sadness not does in deter him to travel. He puts up exhibitions of his photographs in Mumbai annually and he showed me some of the pictures he had taken and needless to say they were stunning. 

I also met a friendly and helpful Israeli couple who were in India for a 3 month trip. They mentioned some places in India they had traveled and I'm ashamed to say I had not even heard about those places! :-( One thing the lady said left a mark. She said others of her age (25 yrs) had a house, a car and other things, but what she has is unmatched, a back pack and loads of first hand travel experiences! 

And all these people have been traveling to remote, relatively unexplored places and living the life of locals, dining and participating in their celebrations. I couldn't help but recall what a former colleague had told me once. She and her husband had been to Kerala for a vacation and she said that they spent the entire day in the swimming pool! But to each his own. 
Cheers to those born to travel! 

Friday 12 July 2013

Spiti: Travelogue- Part 1

It all started around 2 and half months ago when I had made the illustration on “Meditation is Inner Space Exploration’, a message which I had got during meditation. A few days later another idea occurred to me. Why not construct a sort of matrix around exploration in the physical world and manifest the same ideas there? I had read a bit about Spiti, not much, but just the fact that it’s like Tibet, probably had registered in my sub-conscious. So again a couple of days later, I woke up and declared to my husband that I’m going on a solo trip to Spiti. “What…Sticky??” he asked. Later I realized that not many people (in my circle) had heard about this place.
I wanted to have a unique vacation, so after some googling, I decided I would volunteer as well travel in Spiti. My tickets were booked and confirmed and details were sorted out but there were times I felt that I’d taken an impulsive decision about traveling solo to a place few had visited (none that I personally knew) and that too for 16 days. There were days, especially when I read about the rape case in Manali (where I was to stop for a day), when fear would seize me and I would ask my husband if he wants to come with me. But Dj being Dj would tell me that I SHOULD go solo and it’s going to be a learning experience for me. And I’m glad I didn’t back out.
Then just a week before I was to leave, the rains were creating havoc in the North with landslides, cloud bursts and flooded roads and airport. Friends and well wishers who knew about my trip stared calling me, some asking me to reconsider, others asking me to cancel. I was utterly confused. Are these signs that I should cancel my trip?, I asked. Just one day before I was to leave, I decided that I would resort to meditation to see how I feel about the whole thing.
I sat down to meditate and surprisingly went very deep within a few moments. I don’t know why but I invoked the Spirits of the Himalayas, Spiti and Rains to guide me. Since childhood I’ve inherently believed in the sentience of everything. In that deep state a got a message: “You are most welcome to come and visit us. We will take care of you. You will be safe”. I opened my eyes and there was this quiet inner confidence that regardless of what I hear in the news or weather forecasts, I will be taken care of. I had been taking daily updates from my travel coordinator in Spiti and he had told me that the road from Manali to Kaza was not yet open because of snow fall and rains and wasn’t sure when it would open. I told him that I would anyways come to Manali and then take a call.
I left on 19th June and reached Delhi. The Delhi airport which had been flooded till the previous day was dry and clean. There was no rain that day too. I was hoping that I would get a nice co-passenger in the bus to Manali and that came in the form of a cute little school girl.
In Manali, I ditched the tourist spots and instead chose to go to Van Vihar- a forest full of tall cedar trees. I carried a book and my favorite music and sat watching the play of sunlight on different shades of green with the sound of a distant river in the background.

In Manali with giant trees.
On 21st morning I was scheduled to leave from Manali and till 8 pm the previous day I had no confirmation about whether the roads were open. The driver of the share taxi said he would call me at 2.30 in the middle of the night to confirm and if it was open we would leave at 3 am.
On 21st the driver did confirm that the road was open and that we would leave at 3 am. I remembered the message I got during meditation that I will be taken care of. Later the travel coordinator too was surprised that while most travelers had canceled their trip, I, a solo woman traveler, had stuck to mine, also told him that I felt that somehow my trip would be smooth, and to top it all, not a day sooner nor later, but the day I was scheduled to travel did the Manali-Kaza route open!!
In hindsight I feel this trip was meaningful to me at many different levels. Largely one of them was about looking fear in the eye and converting the same to love and trusting. At 3 am, in the middle of the night, I had to go to the taxi stand, that too with 2 heavy bags (I hate to carry luggage but love packing a lot of things!!) I had no choice but to ask the hotel manager to help me and accompany me. To be honest, I could feel the fear rising, but I took a deep breath, and sent out love towards the man and the situation and decided to just Trust. I was also apprehensive about who would sit next to me in a share taxi (next to the driver).  Even that was taken care of in the form of a lady Army officer who was traveling to Spiti with her boyfriend.

Entering Spiti
There were many opportunities for me to convert fear into love. On the treacherous roads where, an inch here or there would have sent us tumbling hundreds of feet below, I instinctively invoked the Spirits and guardians of the roads and adjoining mountains, sent them love, and knew I would be taken care of. When I had an opted for yak safari, I was told these were wild yaks and there were no stirrups or leash to hold on to. I patted the yak and gave it a lot of love, but somewhere on the way, the yak gave a shudder and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. Luckily I landed on my bum so damage was minimal! Instead of fearing the yak, I chose to love it and proceed.
The innocent yak which threw me off its back..
I was allotted a guide for 5 days. Spiti is sparsely populated and villages are situated with an hour or 2 (minimum) walking distance from each other. We trekked and traveled from one mountain to another with not another human soul in sight. But I felt no fear, nor did I even remotely feel threatened or uncomfortable with the guide. Altitude sickness hit me in a bad way and left me puking with a severe headache the day I landed in Kaza. Though these symptoms subsided after medication, one that persisted throughout my 16 day trip was sleeplessness. Oh my God, I’d never experienced insomnia and often boast that I can sleep anywhere, any place. Night after night, as I lay awake, in complete darkness and the eerie silence, listening to the amplified sound of my own heart beat, there were times I felt fearful and wished desperately that time should compress itself that the sun should rise soon. But I asked myself that if this is happening, how can I make the best of it? So I lay listening to my own breath and heart beat, sometimes chanting, sometimes carrying on imaginary conversations with the night fairies, and sometimes trying to read a book in torchlight! That is how I would spend 5-6 hrs each night!!. 

During these times as well as others, especially in the village I volunteered, time moved real slow. In Spiti, electricity is a luxury. In the 12 days I spend in Spiti, there was just one day when they had power, that too for a couple of hours. I was told that during winter, which lasts for 8 months under a blanket of snow, there is no electricity and now even during summer months, it had been a month since they had any. There is no phone connection in the villages and no running tap water. And strangely there is no concept of bathroom. Even during summer, the days were sunny but cold and nights were freezing. I was tempted to ask, when and where do people bathe, but refrained from doing so. Luckily in the home-stay I volunteered, there was a green house and I was asked to shower there. The toilets are dry compost.  That means no water to be used. I must say it did take a while getting used to coming out of the toilet without hearing the sound of the flush.
At Langza ....admiring the scenery

On that one day when there was electricity for some time, the TV was on and I was amused to see how all activity had stopped in the house and all members were staring at the screen with mouths open and wide-eyed. The TV was belting out some crass reality show with some cheap Bollywood music and slap-stick humor (sorry, I’m biased!!) And I remember thinking “Oh God! These pure innocent people are getting corrupt watching this”. But then that was their only source of entertainment and only connection to the outside world.
The people of Spiti deserve a special mention. One must go there to believe that such simple hearted people still exist on Earth. As I mentioned, on my first day in Kaza, I was severely ill with altitude sickness. I had puked 5 times and thought my head would explode. And there was no one to attend to me. But I decided to take one moment at a time and opened the door for some fresh air. And a man staying in the adjacent room asked me if I needed some help looking at my red face. He told the guest house owner who brought medicines for me. Though the guest house didn’t serve food, he still made some dal-rice because I was too ill to go out and eat. The food came but I couldn’t get myself to eat more than 2 morsels. When I was to check out 2 days later I asked him for the bill and noticed that he had not included the amount for dinner. I was surprised when he said that he had waived off that amount because I had not eaten more than 2 spoons. I insisted that I pay him but he just refused to tell me. I of course tipped him an approximate amount, but here was a man who had not taken into consideration the effort he had put in to cook a meal and whatever xyz costs business demands!!. Later I was to discover that all Spitians are too simple-hearted, almost unbelievably so. 
The lady who invited me for breakfast as I was simply passing by.

Wherever I went  people would greet me with a genuine smile and say ‘Julay’ (hello). From a group of little girls who invited me to join them when they realized I was traveling alone, to women who invited me to come and eat in their homes when I greeted them while passing by their homes, or several others (monks, nuns, shamans, medicine men) who took time out to meet me and talk to me, all of them won my heart.
I noticed that everybody in the villages knows everybody else. I saw children from other homes come and have tea or breakfast. Even when we went out to work on the fields the doors were never locked. Everywhere I went, be in homes or monasteries, I was welcomed with copious amounts of tea. I saw the lady of my home-stay carry extra tea and breakfast/lunch and give it to other villagers working in their fields on the way to her own. I thought to myself, that probably this is how life was meant to be lived on Earth. But somewhere down the way, we have terribly messed everything up.

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