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October 24, 2008

Ananya, A Hope for the Flowers

I visited Ananya last October for a run. This was Team Asha's first year in Bangalore and we wanted to organize a run at a school. Also last October, Doc was doing his 'Run October Run' which was basically a half marathon every day of the month. He was open to running in different places and with different groups of people to raise awareness about running. Asha had supported Ananya in the past and Sanjeev got in touch with them to organize a run there. Shashi, the coordinator of Ananya, and others were very enthusiastic about this, which was very nice. Running is part of the activities the kids do there. Also, Ananya had supporters running to raise awareness for them in the Mumbai marathon. So Team Asha, running with the kids - none of this needed any explanation. A bunch of runners that included Team Asha, Doc, RFL reached Ananya early in the morning. The kids were all up and ready for the run too! We started soon and it was a blast. People were running, walking, jogging and there were a good number of us on the road. The route, near Bellandur, was very beautiful. Post run we all had breakfast at the school. It was a wonderful experience and we are plan to organize another run with Ananya this year too.

Right now the children are on a tour, visiting places across the country. They start with Goa, then get to Rajasthan, Delhi and Mussoorie. They are also staging a play in many of these places/schools they are visiting. Its an adaptation of a book by Trina Paulus called 'Hope for the Flowers'. A wonderful, very quick read. I highly recommend it. You can find a version online here

In their adaptation, this is what they are talking about:
"fighting the Diploma Disease, not joining the mindless majority who are a part of the rat-race and oblivious to their goals in life. It is about each one of us identifying our latent qualities and using them rather than following the herd in the quest for something unknown. It talks about transforming our lives in our own unique ways, not by competition but by co-operation."

I am joining them during their Mussoorie trip, where they will be staying at SIDH. A four day workshop has been organized for the children there and then we will all be trekking to nearby schools that SIDH works with. More on this when am back, which is just before the Bangalore Ultra on Nov 16!

October 09, 2008

Vipassana: Seeing things as they are

It's been three months since we attended the Vipassana course - a 10-day silent meditative camp. I have found the technique useful and felt that this was a good time to talk about the experience.
The group that hosts the camp is called 'dhamma' and has a pretty informative website regarding these camps. If you want to decide whether to go to such a camp or not I would encourage reading the information regarding rules, facilities, program, etc to decide whether they want to go to a camp or not (and not this blog!). This blog is an account of my experience which would not be the same as yours.
We arrived at the center on Tumkur road (Bangalore) passing the Jindal Naturopathy Campus. On arriving on day "zero" we gave up our cellphones, etc for safekeeping and cut of all communication with the external world. Turns out there were no international emergencies over the 10 day period for which I had to be called out. We had a evening snack of upma and slept early.
Day 1 started with a bell at 0400 hrs. The first session for the day would start at 0430 hrs. I was pretty excited since this was the first time I was attending a camp like this and was up by 0350 hrs and took a bath in cold water (oh, hot water is available at 0630 hrs break in case you are wondering). This became a routine for the 10 days there, to be done and leave the bathrooms free for others when they got up at 0400 hrs. Actually, I have been trying to kick the habit of needing hot water for a bath (carbon footprint and all) and now I often take a bath in cold water.
The 'noble' silence had started the previous evening. The 'noble' is a suggestion to keep your eyes low and avoid any eye contact apart from not talking. I didn't really know anyone in the men's hostel so this wasn't much of an issue. In the course of the course I realized that this was a great idea and perhaps helped me in my concentration. I didn't see much of Ani till the end of the course though we shared the same hall for much of the day. Recently, Ani and I tried the noble silence at home from Sat afternoon to Sun morning, and it was broadly effective, apart from a phone call from a friend, etc :).
Vipassana is not so much a technique of meditation than a technique of concentration on what is here and now. The first three days were what is called Aana-Paana which is just concentrating on your breath in and out. The technique then builds on it making the zone of concentration narrower...but, that was later.
The tougher thing for me was the physical aspect of sitting on the floor (actually, on a cushion on the floor). Padmasan has not been a position for me, never been flexible and not been used to it. I had difficulty sitting for more than 5 mins without stretching. Even this was not enough and the first few days I walked a lot in the breaks to keep my circulation going and help my legs get used to the stretch. BTW, the area for walking (and no jogging or running is allowed) is limited, but was sufficient for this purpose.
As far as monitoring breath in and out is concerned, how much easier can it get for a kid who has grown up in the defense! So the first day was spent in 1-2-1-2... In the evening we have about an hr lecture by the main teacher Goenka where he talks about what you did, why you did it and what you would be doing next. (The technique is taught using his audio tapes and video lectures. The people sitting in the sessions are assistant teachers who help you when you have difficulties). Anyway, he talked about why the technique does not use a symbol e.g. idols, visual pictures to focus on and instead on something that is real and existing like breath (yes, naturally) and the reason why we don't use mantras (yeah, yeah) or counting (hey! wait a minute!). The reason again being that you end up controlling your breath rather than observing your natural breath...Ah well! Day 1 wasted and to top it all my legs hurt worse than after a marathon.
Day 2 was extremely difficult, with the counting out, I was trying to focus on observing my breath. This was very hard. The technique had built on the last day and added a step of concentrating on where the air from the breath touches the nostrils which felt like something more concrete to focus on. But, I realized very soon how difficult it was to keep the mind centered in the here and now. From reruns of LOTR, Matrix, conversations from last week to incidents in my life I ended up doing everything else but observe my breath.
I found myself trying to tell 'me' (my mind if you wish) to focus on my breath, but by the time I was done with 'my' instruction 'I' had already drifted. Slowly over the day and partly the next I could tell that I had drifted and just needed to mentally say 'I have drifted into a different time and space' and find myself back again. This was starting to work (nice!) till I started wondering who the 'I' was who was telling 'me' what to do. Was there really an observer and observed? Wasn't the observer the observed as well in this case? This also raised the question that as soon as I would start observing my breath it would change, so it was not my natural breath that I was observing... Talk about mind games! Suffice to say that these thoughts kept me pretty occupied and messed any chance of meditation in the last session on the third day.
Day 4, I had arrived at a 'practical' solution. I would focus on my breath and any residual 'I' can do whatever it wanted to and join me if it liked. I'm not sure how, but this worked.
Mid-day of day 4 we started Vipassana. The session felt a bit of a let down then after all the hype that had been created about the technique by the assistant teachers and the main one. Rather straightforward to understand and implementable with just a bit of difficulty. It had slowly become easy to focus on an area of the body and scan for sensations and move to the next. In some body areas e.g. the head were very difficult to feel any sensations on the other hand the nose area which we had focused so much on was the easiest. In the more difficult areas I was grappling at straws, we had moved to a smaller and more cramped room and perspiration was what I felt and would look for.
It was 5 days since I had spoke a word and concentration became a lot easier, everything seemed to have become quite and calm. Sitting on the floor was still not working out. I was only able to manage 10 min in pseudo-padmasan 15 mins held up with my hands like a ball and that day we were asked to start sitting in adisthanam - i.e. in one position for an hour for three sessions a day (excuse me). This is where I decided to stand up for my rights! I was supposed to be meditating not contemplating pain. I went up to the teacher and told him (you are allowed to talk to the assistant teachers - about the technique and to organizers - about the arrangements), I tried to speak- no voice came out - I tried again and in a croaking voice managed to say 'you see I have tried this sitting on the floor business and can perhaps manage 10-15 mins, but with this one hr business I think I'll need a chair'. He let me know there was no reason to take the main teacher's word for it, that I could just sit for as long as I could and try to reduce the number of positions I was shifting between over the days. Secretly, I was really hoping to get the chair, a wall or something. Ah well, I went back to the pillow.
Day 6, something thrilling happened, as I concentrated on my nose-lip area it started to throb. Whao! what's going on here. This thing was really throbbing and as I 'moved my gaze' the area under attention started to buzz. I briefly visualized cyclops (x-men, eyes guy) and was pretty thrilled with the buzzing. I could feel sensations in all parts of my body. I kept buzzing all morning! I was eager to tell the assistant teacher about the buzzing, but I didn't get a chance till much later. The buzzing continued in the session after breakfast. I felt all ready for the hour long session that I felt I would be able to last with this feeling dominating over the body pain of setting in one position.
Before the session I spoke to the assistant teacher. He told me that this is a little early, but it was probably my good Karma. Hmm...I wondered if I was better off continuing my silence...then he settled down and told me things that seemed useful. He said what I was feeling was free-flow, this instantly seemed like a good name for it. He also told me not to worry and that it would go away! This seemed a little under the belt, here I was finally 'getting it' and he told me not to worry AND that it would go away. Needless to say in the very next session when we had to actually sit for an hour in one position the buzzing disappeared.
That perhaps was the most miserable hour of meditation, like a super hero trying to retrieve his power, but failing. I felt miserable. I wondered why? I didn't even know about this response before today. I settled down and got back to what I was doing the previous day. A few sessions later it was back and a session later it was gone. I got used to it being there and not. We had been warned about this aspect of having conditioned our sub-conscious to dislike some sensations (leading to aversion) and like some sensations (leading to attachment).
I finally started to grasp the two fundamentals of Vipassana, that it's not just about being able to feel sensations, but about recognizing their impermanence and staying steady - referred to as 'awareness' and 'equanimity' at the course. I had heard of these, but understood from my experience then.
The following three days I practiced what I understood of Vipassana on the 6th day. On the 8th day in adisthanam pain also reminded of incidents in my life that would have perturbed me and brought forth much emotion. Some of these incidents I had intellectually accepted a long time back and the amount of attached emotions were surprising. Interesting, I was able I stay equanimous and just observe the sensation come and go away. Three months later if I recall these incidents they don't disturb me. It's just there and I can just watch it like watching a movie.
This is an aspect in Vipassana I liked, although a pseudo world setting e.g. a lab instead of the real world (where you react) - you can fundamentally change how you have conditioned yourself and how sub-consciously you respond to a situation. You observe your sensations, not meaning to change them, but just as a practice. But, having seen so many there is the acceptance that they come and go. It appears that instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you can act on them with a certain calm. This means you don't need to stay in the lab and retract from life but actively participate in life with (emotional) 'freedom'.
I have dabbled in 'spiritual' teachings in text, but this was my introduction to a practical meditation technique that I could use and learn directly from my own experience.

September 30, 2008

Hridoye chile jege

Hridoye chile jege
dekhi aaj shoroto meghe

Kaymone aaj ke bhore
galo go galo shore
tomar oyi aanchol khani
shishirer choan lege

Keeje gaan gahite chaay
bani mor khoonje na paay

Sheje oyi shivli dole
chodalo kanon tole
sheje oyi khonik dharay
ude jaay bayu bege

You were always alive in my heart but its only today that I see you clearly among the bright autumn clouds.
This autumn morning, by the touch of the dewdrops, I see you unveiled.
I want to sing to you about how I feel but I can't find the right words.
It is as if all my words are sprinkled in the garden like flowers and are whisked away by the breeze.

September 27, 2008


Janu and the monk

Janu and the monk

Janu, a 10 year old girl, lived with her parents and three brothers in an old house right across the beach. They had a huge garden, which with its trees, plants and open space was a playground for the children. Janu’s three brothers went to school but she did not. Her parents were growing old and they needed help with the household chores. So little Janu would help around the house, though she really wanted to study like her brothers. She would help cook, fetch water, wash the clothes and utensils, and take care of her sisters’ children who used to visit regularly.
One day a monk moved close to their house. He started Sunday classes for children. Janu and her brothers would go every Sunday. He would show them some short movies, sing songs with them, and give them books to read. There were many other children there too. It was so much fun. Janu loved the books in the monk’s library. Some of them had such lovely pictures. She would spend a lot of time looking at the pictures. The monk noticed how she loved books and he soon was puzzled. The girl just seemed to be looking at the pictures, not reading anything.
He asked her if she could read and she told him no. She did not go to school, though she did want to, and so she could not read. The monk was very sad and asked her brothers why only their sister did not go to school. They didn’t know why. This is how it had been. He then asked if they could help their sister read and write. One of them said he could and he started teaching her the alphabet.
Janu was thrilled! She was finally getting a chance to study. She would quickly finish the household chores and spend her time learning the alphabet. She was soon quite comfortable with it. Her brother was also happy that she was learning enthusiastically and well. And the monk was happy seeing the young girl learning what she wanted to.

Aaji Jhoder Rate Tomar Obhishaar

Aaji jhoder rate tomar obhishaar
poranshakha bondhu he aamar

Aakash kande hotash shamo
nayi je ghoom noyone momo
duvar khuli he priyotomo
chayi je barebar

Bahire kichu dekhite nahi paayi
tomar potho kothay bhabhi tay

Shudoor kon nadir pare
gohon kon boner dhare
gobheer kon ondhokare
hotecho tumi paar

On this stormy night, my beloved friend, you seem to be seeking company.

I await you, opening the door in expectation and looking out every now and then, unable to sleep. But I cannot see you. I wonder where you are...Even the skies are weeping at this hopeless situation.

Maybe you are far off - crossing a river, a dense forest, deep darkness. You are still on your way...

It was a pleasant surprise to hear this song at the end of the movie 'The Last Lear'. I felt it was fitting, this rendering at the end.

Tagore's translation in Gitanjali:

Art thou abroad on this stormy night
on thy journey of love, my friend?
The sky groans like one in despair.

I have no sleep tonight.
Ever and again I open my door and look out on
the darkness, my friend!

I can see nothing before me.
I wonder where lies thy path!

By what dim shore of the ink-black river,
by what far edge of the frowning forest,
through what mazy depth of gloom art thou threading
thy course to come to me, my friend?

July 21, 2008

George Carlin Dead

For a moment I thought of calling the blog 'George Carlin Lives On' and realized that this just would not be right. This title on the other hand is simple, honest - tells the story - something he stood for.

I guess that should be it, nonetheless, I decided to dedicate a small space in the internet for a man who made me laugh at the silliness of taking myself seriously and question many of even my 'liberal/progressive' ideas.

Some of his classics 'Golf courses for the homeless', 'Education and owners of America','Classes in America','Saving the planet!','Making large holes in other people's country' will continue to raise questions. His other comic takes on language - 'shell-shock (40's) to post-traumatic stress disorder (70s)' and 'language used in airlines doesn't seem line English to me' while not being thought provoking are quite entertaining.

He will of course be a class apart from other comedians for his bold takes on religion and other authority figures.

If you haven't seen much of him try to get 'Jamming in NY' which is probably his best show.

March 07, 2008

Story telling workshop - a story

We attended an interesting workshop at Sita school recently. (I was only able to stay 1 of 3 days). The workshop was about story telling.

It was quite interesting, each of us started with an object, spending a half-hour with the object so it can tell us it's story. Jyoti had kept an assortment of things - shells, stones, thread, etc on the carpet in some bowls that create the psychedelic environment. I decided to pick up the lit candle next to these :).

Turned out that my candle was very laconic and all I could eke out from it was a couple of sentences and had to build a story around it:

It is said that when you decide to find yourself the entire universe conspires to help you (kinda the theme of Paulo Coelho's - Alchemist). So there is a young man (perhaps an engineer) who is not so sure he believes it. He travels to a Zen master and asks him this question.
The Zen master told him that he had travelled a long distance and should rest the night, such questions don't go anywhere and it can be discussed the next morning. The Zen master then hands him a candle and shows him his quarters for the night, but before leaving warns the young man to be careful of a snake that has been seen in the quarters sometimes.
Thanks to the last comment the young man does not get much sleep and stays up looking around with the candle, slowly he gets tired and just starts staring at the candle. In the darkness the man feels that the candle is talking to him. 'Why do you burn my dear candle' asks the young man, 'so you can see' answers the candle. Watching the wax melt around the flame the young man asks 'and why do you weep, dear candle', the candle answers 'because you still can't'.

The stories people told were interesting and we concluded with Jane sharing a version of 'The Magic Brocade (Puppet Show)'. In the afternoon we did the opposite of what we did in the morning - we used the story that Jane told and picked up something we liked and made object/objects out of clay. I liked the puzzles that were thrown to the young man as part of his adventures. One of the puzzles was 'how does water get into wood', asked by the ice sprit to let the boy pass, the answer he choose was a wooden bucket that the wise women was using when she sent him on the journey. Again there were different interpretations and interesting discussion around them.

A year in India

It's been a little more than a year since we moved to India and our plan of exploring what we can do/want to do.

A few things did change from what was planned, but what is life without change. About a month into our travel plans I rejoined the company I was working for (which had been acquired by NXP), but since I had no plans of moving back to Austin I was given the opportunity to join the Bangalore design center instead. This is where I am presently working. We live really close to work so I don't need to deal with the commute though it makes travel for Ani a little difficult in the things she has picked up to do.

Apart from the Thulir experience the most interesting experience was organizing the asha-fellows conference. It was not only great to learn about the many development efforts, but also wonderful to get to know the people; now my friends. The other interesting happening is that we've managed to buy a house for mom. The house is in Bangalore near my sisters place. It will be a little difficult for mom to leave Chennai and having to stop volunteering for Seva Chakkara, but I hope she will be comfortable.

I was also able to visit a few places (though only for short times) Timbaktu, Navadarshanam, Sita School, Bharati Trust Resource Center, Valley School and also got into the habit of reading (a lot) after I move to India. We also attended the learning network conference organized at Deenabandhu Ashram in Chamarajnagar.

At Bangalore we spent some time building an asha runner group and attending the meetings. We also took out the kids from the government schools we work with to Bannerghaeta zoo.