Saturday, January 2, 2016

Anand Anna


Our friend in Thiruvannamalai, Gita Gayatri, introduced us to Anand Anna about eight months ago. "He'll help you find your house. He's not really a broker, but he can help you. He's really a Karma Yogi." True to her words, Anand Anna did find us the lovely house we live in, and also another lovely space where we host community events. 

Soon, Anand Anna became a big part of our life in Thiruvannamalai. A cheerful and content person who was ever-willing to help and share what he knew and had without the expectation of anything in return. A Srilankan by origin, who first moved to Thirunelveli and worked in the Vivekananda Kendra, and later moved to Thiruvannamalai.

He tended to a small nursery, which was his source of livelihood. We got a lot of the plants and pots for our new home garden from him. He was very happy to see my deep interest in organic gardening and knowledge about medicinal plants, and liked to share things with me. A great believer in the power of gift culture, many times he would just give things away to us. Grafting our flowering plants, dropping off vermicompost and plant cuttings on his way, bringing over the electrician, carpenter, plumber whenever needed and overseeing the works... Not a day passed by without seeing or exchanging a word of greeting with Anand anna. He came home almost every other day for something or the other. 

He worked with the local Siddha Vaidya by collecting herbs for his preparations and himself knew many remedies for common ailments. I was learning so much about herbs, wild edible plants and plant care from him. 

He had a lovely bunch of medicinal plants in his garden, and some very exotic plants which he said he could never imagine selling howmuchever people offered to pay for them, because they had become a part of him. I once asked him if I could help by promoting his nursery plants in my network to get him a better income, to which he replied "God has blessed me with such a fulfilling life with all these amazing beings (plants), good health and three meals a day. To ask for anything more would be not honoring what has been given to me. I have abundance of everything, but thank you for the offer." He really wore torn shirts, cycled around the neighbourhood helping people, living in a small room nearby all by himself.  

Suddenly, two weeks ago, down with fever and wheasing for a whole week, he started complaining of stomach ache. In just two days after it was diagnosed as 'cancerous', Anand anna decided to pass on. Another being lost to the disease that modernity has unleashed on life. Without much suffering, thankfully.

I can hardly believe he can't be seen around in the same form anymore. But the deep-red layered hibiscus carefully planted by him in our garden blooms as an everyday embodiment of his energy. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Shammi Nanda

Shammi started his journey as a student in the Pune Film Institute. As a film maker, he was making documentaries and conducting film-making workshops. Issues and themes that drew him were 'natural learning', 'natural birthing', etc. He was associated with Shikshantar in Udaipur, which is when I met him some ten years ago. At that time, Shammi was really into healthy eating and natural healing. My introduction to Shammi was in a kitchen, learning to make peanut butter and interesting salad dressings using til, peanut powder and lemon juice!

Attempting to heal from chronic asthma (partly from years of smoking), Shammi had embarked on a journey to heal himself through diet and fasting, phasing out inhalers. Alongside, he was also learning-doing-sharing urban gardening and crafting (coconut shells and seed jewelry, paper mache toys, upcycled lanterns, ...). As this honeymoon phase matured, some of his intimate and promising relationships started facing crises. Shammi felt very pained to see people who really meant well, who were passionate about creating a different world filled with love and care, fight and fall apart. Within himself, he met the 'Self-righteous Critique' who was harshly going around critiquing the world that was 'in a mess', that was 'ignorant', etc. and  not really liking that person!

Just when he was having sleepless nights about why people (including himself) weren't able to speak and listen with love in their hearts, he stumbled upon Marshall Rosenberg's 'Nonviolent Communication’(NVC). Initially, he thought that this was going to be a short detour (to heal himself and his immediate relationships) from his journey which was otherwise going to be about gardens, food and films. Little did he realise what was in store. The more he applied what he learnt in his own life, the deeper he wanted to explore it. He started participating in and co-facilitating as many workshops as he could. He then came across 'Restorative Circles', a process that helps communities and organisations see conflicts as gifts that enable healing and co-evolution. And then 'Sociocracy', a process that helps communities and organisations make decisions distributing power equally. What started as a short detour has now become his main work. "There are many people to grow gardens, prepare food and make films. People and communities wanting to heal the world need to first heal themselves." is what he says. Shammi gets invited by organisations and communities to host the following workshops.

* Compassionate Communication / Nonviolent Communication (NVC): A process to help individuals learn how to speak and listen courageously and compassionately; expressing one's own and listening to others' needs fearlessly.

* Parenting and NVC: A process to help create a healthy partnership with healthy boundaries with our children.

* Restorative Circle: A process to help communities listen to, acknowledge and work with emerging conflicts, so that they can heal together and live more authentically.

* Sociocracy: A process to help organisations make decisions, in a way that everyone's opinion is heard, and in a way that it is not painfully long drawn.

Being a dreamer of a world where certificates and institutions will be replaced by trust and community, Shammi chooses to remain a 'Community Certified Facilitator'. You are free to choose how you want to support Shammi. You can hear the voice of your heart to decide what you want to offer him. He is putting his energy into sharing NVC and other modalities of peace-building and power-sharing with organising systems in our communities. Your contribution will go to further his dreams including creating community  spaces for deepening this work. He offers his learnings in the spirit of gift inviting people to choose ways of offering their support to him in ways that work for them. To know more about some of his dreams and what he wants to do with the money and other gifts that are offered to him see this link here.

Shammi's website is www.courageouscommunication.wordpress.com 

He can be contacted at shamminanda@gmail.com

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lesson in Grieving

Hundreds of people know Preethi and Srini through their soulful Krya products, posts and presentations. Some know them more closely as friends. I'm one of them.

Many people know them through their very personal stories they share on their FB wall. They tell stories about growing their enterprise, questions and struggles, successes and celebrations, new formulations, journeys with their factory staff, care for their well-being, interactions with their customers, who really soon become their friends at some level. They don't tell stories to entertain their readers. They tell them to generously give of themselves, share of their lives. This makes their stories moving and inspiring. Detailed, descriptive, honest and unexaggerated stories. I open and read their stories whenever I feel like I have the mental space to absorb and stay with them for some time. They always carry something to think about.


 

Everyone knows how much Preethi and Srini loved their daughter Maya, whose health condition was a severe one that they did their every bit to work through. But one day last month, Maya decided to pass on quite unexpectedly, in fact just as she was getting so much better, just three weeks before her fourth birthday.

It was barely a couple of weeks after this devastating experience of their lives that the floods hit Chennai. And this couple got down to very focused, coordinated action, making themselves available, accessible and accountable to everyone who contributed relief material. And their work continues in many realms including this one. Everyone who knew this couple was inspired and shocked! How could they have moved on so quickly? Not just to do their 'little bit' but to give of themselves so fully to such involved work? There is a lesson that I learnt from their experience which answered this for me. It is about Grieving.

I kept following how deeply they grieved their loss. They wrote post after post, with beautiful pictures of Maya, right from the day of her passing on. They expressed their difficulty in accepting what had happened, and yet praying for strength for acceptance. They fondly recalled wonderful memories celebrating their angel, and recalled how she was loved by her grandparents, aunts and uncles. They wept aloud. They spoke to her asking her to come back. There was never any blame, not even on fate. Only forgiveness. When they didn't have the strength to forgive, they prayed for strength. They expressed gratitude through writing and in person, to all the people, like the doctors at Sanjeevani, who were with them through their very challenging times; gratitude to the 'infinitely kind universe' for having given them such a beautiful experience of being with Maya; gratitude to all the people supporting them through their grief. Gratitude filled so many of their posts. As vegans, they shared their repentance as they chose to give Maya aattukkaal soup and cow's milk everyday, asking for forgiveness from the mother cow and the goat. They replied to every single person who wrote to them. They announced with an apology, every time they could not be available.

I, along with hundreds others, read their posts day after day, like someone wrote 'either wiping a tear or clearing a lump in the throat'. Though occasionally Preethi apologised for grieving publicly, she was assured by all her friends and readers that they really valued her sharing and requested her to keep writing. 

Many times, in the name of 'moving on', we don't allow ourselves or others to fully mourn and grieve loss. We are told to 'not cry', 'to remain strong'. Our culture tries to distract anyone who is in grief, although our tradition does offer us opportunities like the ten-day long ceremony for this reason. In one of her posts, Preethi talks about how a friend invited them to Bangalore to take a break and take their minds off this loss, and that they did consider it. But soon, they realised that it was important for them to not distract themselves from what they were going through and stay with it right here.

Many times, in the process of grieving, we blame ourselves, someone else, a situation, God, fate or whatever. We can fool ourselves that we have "briefly moved on" but we have only locked ourselves up energetically with our experience of loss, sinking deeper in suffering. Forgiving and expressing gratitude is a big part of grieving. 

Thank you Srini and Preethi for giving us all such a powerful communal grieving experience through your sharing over the ten days. I learnt that truly grieving is about loving deeply, opening up, being vulnerable, forgiving, celebrating, sharing, expressing gratitude, being human, accepting, uninhibitedly crying, praying when it is hard to do all of these, so one can really heal, look forward to what lies ahead and move on. Grieving can be very beautiful in all its pain. I'm very sure that something significant has shifted in every one of us who followed your posts. Thank you for making all your posts 'public'. That says a lot about the space you both shared from.

Nov 16***

Just a month ago, I wrote something on my blog asking 'Are we grieving enough?' In that I wrote, 
If we don't celebrate life, we can't really connect to pain and sadness and don't have much to grieve about. 
If we don't grieve, we can't truly celebrate. 
There can't be one without the other.” 

After going through this powerful experience with Preethi and Srini, I feel so much stronger about this!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Shadow Work


Dear Victim,
Thank you for protecting my fragile self from the harshness and the injustices of the 'outside' world; harshness that could have potentially left me damaged.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of hurt.
I seem to have better practice at feeling pain without suffering it.
You may now return to Mother Earth, and send me the Healer.

Dear Guardian, 
Thank you for all your hard work building those strong walls around me to protect me from the dangers of the 'outside world' that could have potentially left me assaulted.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of being attacked.
I seem to have better practice at defending and striking knowing exactly why, when and how to do it.
You may now return to Grand Aunt Light, and send me the Warrior.

Dear Judge, 
Thank you for taking me to task every time I didn't live up to your standards, and protecting me from all the mediocrity around.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of failure..
I seem to have better practice in discernment, in being firm with myself when there is a real need to.
You may now return to Grandmother Mountain and send me the Wise Woman.

Dear Beckoner,
Thank you for constantly keeping me tempted and excited to explore the new, and keeping boredom away from me.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of stagnation.
I seem to have better practice in staying with the old where I need to and recognising and creating the more 'conscious new', also called the truly radical.
You may now return to Aunt Wind and send me the Seeker.

Dear Friend,
Thank you for being so easy on me, and protecting me from the oppression of my own judge.
I now feel ready to carry forth the wisdom from and not the fear of rejection.
I seem to have better practice in accepting myself where I am in the present moment; better practise in self love and self care.
You may now return to Sister River and send me the Lover.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Are we grieving enough?

I am an optimist. I see possibilities and miracles everywhere all the time. Where there is a garbage dump, I can actually see a community permaculture garden. I needed to proclaim this upfront in order to avoid any kind of misinterpretation of my post.

A few weeks ago, I read this article about all the 'extraordinary things happening in the world' that went viral. I see it all too – the economy crumbling, an explosion of people wanting to quit their jobs, return to small scale farming, pull their kids out of school, taking active responsibility for their own healing - body and mind, individual and collective – which is what I call spirituality. More than just seeing all this, I am very involved in this work myself and am actively witnessing this day in and day out. Calls from people who want to see, support and be involved in 'Change' keep pouring in everyday.

In spite of all this, I felt that something was sorely missing in the article. I strongly feel that we are underestimating the momentum with which the old story is still gripping our lives – our thinking, our daily living, our behaviours and our habits; limiting and colouring our dreams and imaginations too. I strongly feel that the new content is still being written over old templates. Organic exports, organic monocultures, expensive organic supermarkets, excessively packaged (in plastic) organic fastfoods is one example. Unschoolers still looking to somehow join the 'mainstream' is another. 'Natural' and 'Ayurvedic' cosmetics flooding our markets today having so much toxins in them is yet another. Wendell Berry's 'In Distrust of Movements' elaborates this idea quite well. The language of the New is being co-opted by the Old.

I am writing this feeling a sense of urgency because talking only about what is changing could give a false hope that there is going to be some kind of a smooth transition into the New World. Cancer, parkinson and autism rates are going to rise phenomenally because of the toxins we are still pumping into the world in billions of gallons, many of them being persistent. What are we going to do with the plastic gyres and the nuclear wastes? Human race has wiped out 50% of all life on the planet over the past 40 years alone. The Climate Change ball has been set rolling and can't be really stopped by any kind of logical and planned action.

I absolutely believe that the New World, or the More Beautiful World, is emerging. I can totally see it with my eyes every day. I love to and I do celebrate that everyday. But there is a huge precondition to this 'Celebration'. And that is 'Grieving'.

We cannot truly and fully celebrate if we don't truly and fully grieve. Alongside recognising the New as it is emerging, are we also mourning the death of so much life and beauty everyday? Alongside recognising all the structures and the institutions and the attitudes that are causing this destruction, are we also seeing the same drama going on within ourselves? Are we accessing and staying with our pain enough? Are we having enough sleepless nights about all the violence and loss? Are we shedding enough tears?

I am extremely grateful for my PMS (the time just before I bleed) every month. It is the time when my soul connects to the World Soul. It somehow feels like I connect to some other larger being that is being assaulted. It is increasingly becoming a sacred time when I allow myself to grieve and embrace the experience as much as I can. When I am actually going through it, it is not easy for me to retain so much perspective. I feel like 'Damn, what is this horrible thing? Why do I need to go through this stuff?' I'm getting better and better at holding my awareness and perspective as I go through it. Slowly. Very slowly. But I'm grateful for this experience for I feel that the intensity with which I grieve is directly corelated to the intensity with which I am able to celebrate. I must say that the lesson actually came from my daughter.

Those of you who have been with Isha must have seen her cry intensely and grieve about an unmet need of hers. And in the next moment, even before her tears have dried, she can roll in laughter. I have seen many people witnessing this call it drama. “She is pretending. How is it possible to cry and laugh like that in the very next moment?” Once, a couple of years ago during my PMS, I got surrounded by, what I call the black clouds or the dementors, sucking all the happiness out of me. The inside and the outside worlds looked overwhelmingly dark. (This happens to me at that time of almost every month.) Rajeev, Isha and I walked down to the beach we used to live close to. I excused myself from the two and said I wanted to sit by the waves for some time. It was a weekday and a little after sun down. The beach was empty. I was going to try this out. I held my gut and gave out a loud cry. I wept uninhibitedly, trying to hold my awareness of my weeping as much as I could; not indulging in the victim story in my head, as much as I could. After just 30 minutes of doing this, the dementors had left. I ran up to the two, played and laughed the rest of the time there. That powerful experience gave me a new understanding about how intricately 'grief' and 'celebration' were connected.

There can't be one without the other. If we don't celebrate life, we can't really connect to pain and sadness and don't have much to grieve about. If we don't grieve, we can't truly celebrate.

As part of our celebrations, how about we also come together to create communal grief rituals?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Healing with Harikambodhi

Until 20 years ago, music had been a big part of my life. During my school years, apart from home and school, my music class was the only place I regularly went to, soaking up varnams and kritis. Even in school, I remember spending more time in the music room, in inter-school music competitions and school functions when I'd have to sing the invocation songs. I think I survived my schooling hugely because music was my refuge away from the classroom.

When very young, I learnt from several teachers, whose names I hardly remember now. Brinda Tyagarajan (daughter of the late Maharajapuram Santhanam) was one. Later, I learnt from B.V.Lakshmanan Sir.


For years (I don't remember how many!), when he had stopped teaching because of severe asthma, I was one of his very last students. Lakshmanan Sir would use his inhaler several times during our classes, going breathless from time to time. I suggested to him many times that he stop his teaching, to which he would say “No, you're my only student. I really want to teach you.” Lakshmanan Sir was a very involved guru. He would painstakingly write, with his own hands, every kriti and varnam that he taught. I really enjoyed his classes, and his sense of humor. 

I took a short break from singing due to my permanent braces, because of which, I could not pronounce sahityam properly. Briefly after this, disgusted by brahminism, feeling shamed about being part of an oppressive community, I shunned many things that were associated with it. One of them was Carnatic music. I felt very uncool singing it. Thankfully, I didn't take much time to recover from this. But by then, Lakshmanan Sir had passed away and I was already deep into my mission to 'save the world'. I perceived my pursuit of music as selfish. In hindsight, I think this also comes from being praised for good singing and being told that I would “shine” and “become famous”, and I somehow never connected to any of this. The more I came to learn about the world crisis, the more my pursuit of music seemed like nothing but indulgence.

Over time, as my understanding of the kind of healing the world needed, the importance of arts, and the meaning I gave it deepened, I was once again ready to resume my music. During pregnancy, since I anyways withdrew from active work, I created a lot of space in my life for it. I actually started spending a few hours singing every day. For some reason that is still unknown to me, right from when she was a month old, Isha felt distressed whenever I sang. A few years passed, without my even humming a song for months together! 

Not singing has clearly blocked my prana at many levels. My being was definitely much lighter when I used to sing regularly. This was so long ago that I only have a vague memory of it. I knew that my healing was closely connected to resuming my singing, among many things I'm slowly making space for in my life.

I was in search of a teacher who won't just teach me compositions, but would also connect to my inner journey; a kindered spirit who I could travel with. My search led me to Prarthana, a mother I know through the homeschooling network.

This Vijayadasami, I spent time invoking the blessings of my earlier Gurus, especially of Lakshmanan Sir, who I learnt the most from. I took out my old music notebook with pages so brown and brittle that they needed to be held very carefully. I sang his most favourite composition in Ananda Bhairavi. And started classes with Prarthana on skype. A wonderful teacher and human being. I love her neat and soulful music, her smile, her teaching style and her questions in life.


Beginning my new music phase with a very bhaava-filled ragam, Harikambodhi. Slowly preparing myself to share my gift for collective healing, embracing the journey ahead. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Marudam

Marudam is a community that strives towards sustainable, aligned and holistic living, with a farm to grow most of its food, and with an organisation called The Forest Way to
Children up a tree-house that they
helped build
undertake outreach and nature conservation work. Such a community ALSO anchors a school, as a way to engage with children; and through that engagement, be inspired by and learn from them as well. 'School' is not its exclusive identity.
This space has up to 70 children, really living like a huge joint-family. All the (mostly) young people (called teachers) have arrived there for a love of nature, of community, of children and a love of what they are there to offer – like music, art, tending to a nursery, or working on the farm and forest. The parents of children come from diverse backgrounds. There are farmers, cooks, yoga teachers, sculptors, jewellery makers, entrepreneurs, painters, writers, theatre artistes and more. They enjoy sharing their skills and knowledge with everyone.

Art, craft and free-play are a central part of everyday at Marudam. I haven't seen any hierarchy of activities. Swimming and tree climbing are valued equally with Maths. Crocheting is valued equally with language. The adults in the space join in learning basic skills like mountain climbing, sewing, crocheting, weaving, 
Silambam class in progress
kalamkari printing, swimming and martial arts like silambam. I am yet to meet any older child or adult who does not know crocheting, clay modeling or swimming! Everyone goes for a whole half-day trek up the hill through the forest once a week learning about birds, animals, rocks, trees and the art of climbing. In fact, they decided to call mountain-climbing 'academics', in order to change the popular mindset that somehow it was not as important!

Indoor and outdoor sports is also a central activity here. This is probably the only place where I've seen girls enthusiastically take to playing cricket and kabbadi, and boys take to embroidery and crafting!
Little ones harvesting peanuts. What fun!


Both Tamil and English are given equal importance. There is great diversity among the children, teachers and volunteers - from urban middle and upper middle class, local villages to foreign countries. All the children are involved in sowing, weeding, harvesting rice, millets, fruits and 35 different varieties of vegetables grown on the farm itself. A wide variety of tasty and healthful foods - ragi koozhu (porridge), pulao, millet rices, pastas, thai curry, salads, payasam, puttu, firewood-oven baked bun, cakes, cookies, etc. are some that I’ve seen over the past few months.

Marudam and the community around
I see a sense of generous sharing of resources, knowledge and skill with the extended
Learning to weave a mat during the 'Craft Week'
community into the village without any sense of patronization. The thing I most love about this place is that the kids of most people who work here also come here. This includes the annas and akkas who do the cooking, cleaning, painting, driving and farming. Isha's many lovely friends are these kids. In my interactions with the parents of these children, it is evident how much they learn from and contribute to the space. Friday afternoons are opened up for anyone (child or adult) to offer workshops on any skill that they'd like to share with others. Marudam also opens itself up to children from other schools to participate in forest walks, and learning craft and other life skills.
Children from another school learn rock-climbing
at Marudam

There is a whole week every year that is dedicated to craft. During this 'Craft Week', basket weavers, stone sculptors, wood workers, bamboo workers, painters, printers and weavers come from the villages around to teach the young and old. It is opened up to children from other schools around them as well. It culminates in a mela.

Cost of Education
The cost of education that covers practically everything (food, craft materials, transportation, books, etc.) per year per child is Rs. 35,000. The number has been arrived at in order to maintain the fine balance between keeping the number of children small and being affordable to families from all economic backgrounds. Half the number of children come here paying either zero or partial fees, the rest of which is covered through donations. There are people who regularly visit Marudam to volunteer, sharing what they know or have: their skills, knowledge, resources or labour.
The weekly walk up the Arunachala hill

Marudam shares my dream of co-creating more communities where education happens in rich contexts and more organically. It is growing into a hub where families and individuals interested in this dream are drawn to.

Given all of these awesome things here, the 'school structure' at Marudam, which I am not in resonance with, becomes a mere detail to me. But I've also opened up to learning what it has to offer that I'm not seeing yet. In any case, what is most important to me is the consciousness with which the adults anchor the space. Whether it is a school, a home-school, or an un-school then becomes secondary!

Lots of pictures in the Photo Gallery here.

A video of the Craft Week here.