Saturday, April 29, 2017

My tryst with stuff

Until I was 15, my school books and stationery, a few audio cassettes, some clothes and accessories were all my possessions. After two years of tailoring in my eleventh and twelfth grades, cloth pieces, threads, buttons and stuff started accumulating. After three years of Fine Arts in college, art and craft supplies joined the pile. Starting to volunteer with different NGOs and social movements, diaries and journals filled with to-do-lists, observations and outpourings started gathering. And books, reports and photographs. With my entry into the world of farming and gardening, garden tools, bags of seeds started piling up. With a child into our lives, toys (mostly never bought) and books started gathering. When I stopped buying clothes and starting accepting handed-down ones for all of us in the family, bags of those started filling up our cupboards. And alongside all these, my commitment to not discard used things into trash and upcycle them (I usually throw away literally one small bagful of non-reusable and non-recyclable trash a year!), my burning creativity to execute new ideas that used to be churned out by the minute, led to volumes of junk all over our house. With my experiments in natural dyeing & podi-making over the past year, a whole new collection of podi dabbas, dried peals and leaves, rusted iron pieces (for mordant), etc. started to grow. Well, it's a long list. Basically, I was trying to create a whole 'village' with libraries, workshop spaces, free-stores, studios, kitchens, gardens, play areas, waste centre, etc. all in one single house, managed by one single person. And as someone who does not believe having a helper at home, I'd have all this work with stuff, on top of my share of the housework and everything else I was doing. Madness!!!

Even though I believed myself to be regularly clearing away stuff, in reality, it was only growing in complexity and volume. And with all this stuff, we were shifting our house at least once every year on an average. I would take a few days after our each shift to recover from my shock of how much stuff we had with us, followed by some sort of a depression.

What originally began as my fascination for the material world was beginning to grow in pathology! See this collection of used matchsticks to be used in a mandala craft I had an idea for!



I was spending most of my waking time engaging with all this stuff that had filled my house, and now, my life! Either cleaning and organising them, or searching for things of value that would get buried under some pile of something somewhere.



If you've seen 'The Beautiful Mind', it was like this collection of papers that Nash had put up on his garage wall, about which he had made up a compelling story. Well, not really but almost. My 'beautiful mind' had made up a whole story about how my life was about all this stuff I needed to constantly collect, organise, clean, maintain and use. And declutter.

But my inner voice was persistently disagreeing with it. It kept arguing that I had a much better use of my time than with all this stuff. My real calling was elsewhere. Like spending more time practising stillness, doing body & breath work, singing, serious study and contemplation, writing, engaging and facilitating. Being birthed and Birthing.

Last year, I added two pursuits into my life, Silambam and Music, which didn't go beyond a few classes. My asana pranayama practice was not growing in rigour or showing much progress. My real and palpable fascination for matter was just not allowing me to add any more things into my life. I constantly beat myself up about not being 'organised enough', 'disciplined enough', 'balancing my vata dosha enough' so I could calm down and find that extra time to do all that I wanted to. “One day, I will be so perfectly organised, balanced and coordinated that I can….!” And continued to sew, craft, grow plants, work in my podis-lab, compost, make EM and pack in bottles. Stuff. Stuff everywhere!

Like Nash said running up to his wife in the rain “Marcee never gets old! She can't be real!” it began to dawn on me that this thing was not going to wane on its own. It hadn't all this while! I had to step in to take some serious action.

This past year I have increasingly satiated my appetite for my engagement with stuff. I was feeling a growing sense of fulfillment, of readiness to move on. And also a realisation that waste management is a community responsibility, not mine alone.

Now, the question was 'Where do I begin? How do I get out of this mess, quit literally?' Last year, when I saw people losing all their possessions to the floods excepting those two bags of essentials that they carried with them on the boats, a part of me was distressed, but a part of me watched yearningly to be liberated from the tyranny of all my stuff. I was was desperate about getting out of my entanglement with it!

The past few months was spent going through every single piece of stuff at home and setting it aside for giving away, returning to where it came from, or recycling / composting. And finally with a heavy heart, dumping a few sacks in the landfill. Retaining only what I absolutely valued, cherished and was going to take care of. And most of these are things handcrafted and gifted by close family and friends, naturally dyed, unique and beautiful things that I really valued, which had been submerged under an ocean of unimportant stuff! “I'm going to keep you and take good care of you!” I literally had tears of joy as I did this!

But, old samskArAs don't leave that easily. I sometimes find it hard to simply pass by neatly stacked boxes like these – my fascination for organising stuff. I stood by this pile for a while, staying intensely with my inner struggle, this strong urge to pick them up. I didn't rush past it but stayed there for a while looking intensely at them, and then I was ready to let a deep breath out saying “Bye Bye! Stuff and old samskArAs!”



It's an old belief system that everything can be resolved within. Technically, yes. But I'm someone who believes in taking the help of the collective (sangha) and also moving to an environment which can facilitate inner changes with ease. It so happens that Auroville, where I have moved in, is tremendously helpful in this. This meta-community / city has all the things I was trying to create and accommodate within my house. It has an upcycling studio, a freestore (where people give stuff they don't use and take stuff they need, all in good condition), recycling centres, and possibilities for bulk-buying organic. And I have an excellent partner in this, Isha, who just loves minimal living. “Amma, don't pick that up! We already have plenty of it and don't need any more.” she drags me away from window-shopping bags and other stuff I'm addicted to.

It's been a month living with few things, less than 10% of what I used to think we needed. And it feels like we still have more things than we need. We continue to make bags of stuff to give to the FreeStore each week.

I need to clarify something here. No, I am not very inspired by the Japanese minimalism. Not where I am in my life. That is why I have more to say on this topic. May be for another post / other posts!

My Inspirations
Zen Habits: For inspiring writing
Peace Pilgrim: For her life and her message.
Deepa Preethi Natarajan: For her delightful life where she cherishes and takes great care of the very few exquisite things - organic, natural, handmade - which she creates or buys from conscious stores.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

From mobilisation to movement building



This is an activist's dream come true. How many protests some of us have organised and participated in, hoping that at least a hundred supporters would show up! I visited Marina a few times to see it to believe it.

What just happened right before our eyes indicates a shift of historical significance. I have seen many short-lived, adrenalin-driven, single-issue-focused mobilisations. But this time around there are clear signs of progress towards movement building. Students' overwhelming support to Karthikeyan Sivasenapathy's appeal to grow their support and involvement to address the larger agrarian crisis, is a clear evidence to me in this direction. But the peaceful, self organising, self disciplined protestors now need to get on to some critical self-reflection for the signs to translate into steps.

UNDERSTANDING
Need for nuanced understanding without quickly jumping onto either side
Essays by Nityanand Jayaraman and TM Krishna are a very good starting point. Like them, I too conditionally support the protest and stand by the protestors. But like both point out, for a constructive discourse to be framed, we need people to go beyond simplistic 'pro-' or 'anti-' stand-taking. Both camps need to acknowledge and reflect on the so many nuanced and complex issues involved. Krish Ashok's essay on this is a must read for serious consideration and contemplation.

Need to start connecting the dots and understanding the big picture (to jallikkatu supporters)
I repeatedly heard this line by the campaigners “This is only one of the issues. There are a lot of other issues to fight for. We'll get to them one by one.” The fact is that every one of the issues is connected to each other. We need to start looking at them not as independent threads, but as a tapestry that is actually telling us a story. In order to build a movement, we need to start working towards building a larger life-affirming narrative, which in turn requires a lot of personal and collective groundwork to be done.

Need to learn to continuously enquire
In my years of involvement with social causes, every time I felt like I had arrived at “the final understanding of the problem” and said 'This is it! I finally know!', I was shown that there was more to it than I had seen and understood. A living and growing movement needs to stand on firm ground, but remain open to new narratives, and integrating those that make sense into its own.

DIALOGUING
Learning to dialogue is extremely critical for this endeavor. In all the people's movements and organisations I've been part of over the past two decades, dialogues were practically non-existent. But there are wonderful tools that we now have with us to help us understand “the other” and build bridges, without further antagonising and polarising. We need to learn to use them. Here are a few pointers for now.

Need to take the courage to be more vulnerable and acknowledge our own shadows
I am a strong supporter of the animal rights movement, and my own activist journey began as a member of PFA and PETA way back in the nineties. However, holding on to a narrow single-issue focus taken out of larger socio-cultural and ecological contexts, coupled with their self-righteousness became less and less appealing to me, and eventually became the very reason I moved away from these organisations.

I take pride in my Tamil roots. But what we are left with today in its name is a mix of all sorts of desirable and undesirable beliefs and practices. Practices steeped in casteism and chauvinism are as much a part of Tamil culture as are those inspired by high ideals like respect for nature. The little I have seen of Jallikattu (only on the screen), and given that we are living in times when machismo is highly celebrated by urban and rural male folk alike, I find it almost impossible to imagine them 'embracing their bulls as if they were their lovers', even if this might have been the case centuries, or even decades ago. Read Vinod's open letter to Jallikattu protestors for a larger sampler of our shadows as a culture. 

Now, the life-thwarting belief-systems of both these groups would be the shadows of the groups. Recognising and acknowledging their respective shadows (critically and compassionately at the same time) is an essential step towards creating the condition for movement building for both.

Need for 'invitational activism' (to animal rights activists)
Imposing a ban on a practice within a community we are alien to, is not only not on, but also counterproductive.

A community typically initiates a certain practice in response to a certain specific need located in time and place. This then becomes 'tradition' over a period of time. If as outsiders to these traditions we would like to question them, then we need to first try to understand the cultural context where it originated, acknowledge and integrate that into our critical narrative and then share it, appealing to the members of the community to participate in a dialogue. If there is a sound logic and a heartfelt invitation, then the sincere ones from within the community are likely to accept our invitation. It is then possible to identify allies from among the members who'd agree that there is an issue to be looked at in the first place, along with whom we could try and frame an internal discourse. When this grows in strength, then the people will naturally make amends and reinvent their 'tradition'. This needs to be carried out with a lot of integrity all the way through, without yielding in to the temptation to manipulate processes and outcomes.

Need for co-existence: PETA and Jallikattu supporters
PETA as an organisation has a wider agenda of care for animals, and I conditionally subscribe to it. (If there is clear evidence that they've completely sold their souls to corporate interests, which I am yet to see, I'm open to reconsidering this.) Tamilians need that voice to throw light on their culture's shadows, which I don't see them sufficiently owning up to. Instead of showing PETA the door, the Tamil people need to listen to their deeper concerns, learn to draw clear boundaries with them, and invite them to engage with them more respectfully. PETA needs more education on how to broaden their vision and nuance their contextual understanding of issues and upgrade their modes of engagement and intervention. PETA needs reform too.

Quite contrary to the current dominant belief that it's one or the other, I feel both actually need each other for each other's growth. And for a meaningful advancement of each other's vision.

LOCAL GOVERNANCE & DECISION-MAKING
And finally, and most importantly, why are we limited by the discourse framed by and seeking sanction from the Supreme Court, either for or against? In an immediate sense, we may be bound by these legislative processes. But ideally, decisions such as these need to be enabled at the level of the village. Ideally, every village should be empowered to hold its own Gram Sabha and pass its own verdict on Jallikattu, as for any other issue concerning the community. If we could simultaneously hold this vision and work towards it as well, then we are talking about real empowerment. This is the only way we can build a healthy society where multiple views and experiments are allowed to co-exist respectfully. This will help do two things.
a. Enable diversity which is important for resilience.
b. Have more immediate feedback mechanisms built in for immediate and local self-correction.

When communities feel safe to experiment with what they have locally decided, they are also bound to be more open to be constructively challenged and engaged with.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Natural Learning FAQ: "How does your daughter learn Math at home?"

A brilliant mind and an articulate voice for the new age, Joseph Chilton Pearce (Joe), passed on a few weeks ago (Aug 23rd) at the age of 90. I came to know about Joe through a friend about three years ago. I was fascinated by his writings which were about play, learning, child development, evolution of consciousness, modernity, spirituality all rolled into one.



On Sep 26th this year was Periyasaami Thooran's 108th birth anniversary. I came to know about Thooran about the same time too, and his writings about children were very radical and probably the only ones in Tamil from his times.

                                                

The writings of both these giants were based on observations of children and their processes of learning, backed by serious scientific research. They were far ahead of their times.

I dedicate this little piece of writing to Joseph Pearce and Thooran, both of whom have been in my mind a lot over the past few weeks.

***

People often ask me “So, if Isha does not go to school, how does she learn Math?” Though in one sense, it's a perfectly understandable and valid question to ask, I personally find it rather strange! That people actually think we learnt all the math that we use as adults in our classrooms!! I personally didn't. Here's some scientific explanation to prove it, very much inspired by Joe's writings.

Our brain typically has a hundred billion neurons (brain cells) all connected together. Every connection has a tiny gap called 'synapses'. For us to learn something new, an electrical signal needs to jump across this gap to continue its journey. Learning is all about creating and strengthening pathways through these neurons. The more 'neural pathways' get created, the more complex our understanding becomes. These pathways are supposed to get stronger through repetition. And the stronger they get, the better we become at what we have learnt. Watch this beautiful three-minute video explaining this.


Research also says that we retain the least of what we see, or read, or hear, but the most of what we experience.

Putting the two together confirms what I have independently arrived at: When it comes to learning, nothing can replace REAL EXPERIENCE involving all our senses - smell, taste, touch, sound, sight and emotions.

And guess what activities are so alive for children, that all their senses are the most heightened, and help form super strong neural pathways?

Real work where they feel like they are engaged in something meaningful and purposeful.

Play of different kinds. For infants, it is literal IMITATION of what they see around them. For kids slightly older, it is PRETEND PLAY / IMAGINATION. For older kids, it is GAMES WITH RULES which get more and more complex as they grow.

***

A few instances from our lives where Isha learns Math concepts, without being told or being aware that she is “learning” something, or that it is “mathematics” or a “concept”. She just gets absolutely engrossed in what she does and is completely in the moment. Learning simply happens as a by-product of that experience.

* Idli plates always make idlis in multiples of four. “Amma, let me pour the batter” the little one would come running when she was barely three years old. I'd ask her to find out from everyone at home how many idlis they'd like to have. She'd come back with the numbers. And off we'd go “five for x, three for y, four for z” pouring the batter. Watching five, three and four come together in 'fours'. “There goes an extra one on the second plate for x, and so on. Spilling some batter on the floor. Smearing it and making what some people would call “a mess” was all part of the experience, literally helping her soak it all in!

Image result for idli plates

* Isha and her friend A (another homeschooling child in Chennai) spent a whole day making packets of dry groceries in reStore. As I watched them from a distance, they had a serious discussion about why salt that they had just finished packing needed smaller covers and the roasted needed bigger ones for the same half kg. After a few speculations, they arrived at an explanation that was very close to the one about densities and volume being indirectly proportionate. I have a feeling that with the smell of the roasted gram (which they occasionally popped into their mouths) and the experience of running their fingers through it formed a new neural pathway. You know how sometimes when we think of a concept, or a name, or something abstract like that, it always comes accompanied with the memory of a smell, taste or an emotion?


* "Five rows of four labels here. That makes it 20 labels!" They were discussing as they were engrossed in sorting out and cleaning the labels at reStore.

 

* “Amma, why are there those stick figures instead of numbers?” she asked a few days ago pointing at the roman numerals on our wall-clock. I told her they are numbers too written in a different way. She said “Aah! Wait a minute” and ran inside and brought a think booklet on Tamil alphabets which her grandmother had once gifted her. She had remembered seeing a whole page of these same stick figures. She asked “Isn't this the same?” I nodded yes. And she spent the next 2-3 minutes looking intently at the roman numbers all the way up to 3,000 (MMM). Less than five minutes is all it took for an initial registering of all the letters that made the roman numerals upto 1,000! And she said "Now, you tell me a number and I will guess its letters" and tested herself to make sure she got it ok.

Image result for wall clock roman numerals
* Floor tiles are an excellent way to experience how numbers come together in different ways. I've written about it in my blogpost Amma, what is 2+2+2+2+2?

Image result for square floor tiles toilet

* Spontaneous discoveries and explorations using simple open-toys, materials that are not originally meant to be toys or even if they are, can be interpreted and used in infinite ways. I've written about another exploration of hers where she experimented for a whole half hour with different gradients and how fast the earrings came down when she lowered or raised the tube.


* She has played so much pallankuzhi with her paatti that with just looking at the whole thing, she can quickly guess which pit she should pick up from and where her game would end, and how many seeds she'd get. All in one sight. Bright red colour and smooth texture of the seeds, and the warm connection with her paatti must be an integral part of her learning numbers! (The person in the picture is her friend's paatti she once played with.)


* On a typical day, she gets to play at least one game using the dice. Snake and ladder, ludo and many more. Beginning by counting the dots on the dice, she can now see them and tell the number. And the fascinating different permutations and combinations of numbers and how they add up: 4+5 is 9, and so is 6+3! As we use the dice over and over again, these simple truths about numbers and how they add up become so obvious! Just like how young boys in the olden-day grocery stores used to do their mental math so effortlessly before the age of supermarkets and billing machines. 
Image result for dice
* Monopoly does not quite go with our worldview, and I resisted getting it for quite a long time. Upon Isha's insistence, I got over my hang-up and got one. (Our experiences with this game is for another post.) It's one of her favourite board games and we sometimes round off our rent-paying to the nearest '5' or '10' so that we do away with the 1- and 5-rupee notes. Some other times, we use the 1-rupee and calculate our rents and pay them more accurately. By the way, we've been working on a 'Gift Economy' board game as well. Hope to have it ready soon!

Image result for monopoly money board game          Image result for monopoly money

* "Does this shape actually have a name?" Isha asked pointing at a trapezium, while making a bright and beautiful pattern. A lot of learning about shapes, how they fit or don't fit with one another happens with this activity, which we do because it's engaging and pleasant. Once we ran out of red diamonds before completing a round of it, and Isha spontaneously picked up two red triangles and placed them together "See, now we have a diamond!" And no, we don't talk about 'learning' or 'math' or 'geometry' here.  

 

* Her 7th year birthday gift from us was 'Zoni', a currency we came up with to use in all our shop-keeper games, one of her most favourite games that she could play all day everyday until recently. She almost does not play them anymore. 


* Many times we're experimenting creating our own board games, and she does the numbering within the squares. Pinterest has plenty of ideas for DIY boardgames.

* I've played 5-stones (anju-kal) with ten-year old girls in Marudam school. While the game I've played when I was young used to be as simple as 'when you finish one round, you get one point', theirs was quite complex. It involved a lot of borrowing and passing on between the players, that my mind simply could not keep track of. “Here I give you 14. That makes it 45 for you. You owe her 3, and that'd bring it down to 42.” That sort of a thing for every player to remember. I simply gave up. But the 10-year olds were adding up and subtracting effortlessly! 

Image result for anju kal

* As we were circumambulating the Chidambaram Temple, she stopped at the large wall painting of the Wheel of 'The Universe and its Vegetation'. It had the Tamil months, Sun signs (rasis), Star signs, and the corresponding auspicious trees all in relationship with each other. She stood their asking me to read every single thing written on the board for at least half an hour. To most of her questions, my answer was "I don't know. Let's find out." Even though it had gotten dark, Isha insisted that I take a photo of it so we can really go home and learn all about it.


* Isha has been playing the keyboard and self-teaching some songs like 'Do-a-deer...', with occasional help from me to locate the exact notes. After a whole year of practising and perfecting that one song, she's now on to her second song 'Let it go'. And piano keys are so mathematical themselves: the seven notes repeating themselves in every octave, the half notes, the harmonies, etc. are another world in and of themselves to explore. 

* “Shall we make a garland with these sangupushpam flowers, with these pink arali flowers as the pendant? But wait a minute! Before we begin, let me count them to see if we have equal numbers for both sides. If they're not, then I'd have to go get one more to make them equal.” and off she started placing '1' on the left side, '1' on the right side, '2' on the left, '2' on the right and so on. Will these bright colours and fresh smell and the soft texture become part of her learning about even and odd numbers?

And these are a tiny percentage of all the different explorations that happen, where what we adults call "math learning" happens. I could write similar posts on "science learning", "geography learning", "history learning", "language learning" and so on, for the benefit of those interested in "academics". And no, we don't ever sit down because she needs to learn any of these. 

If observing a single child's learning can be so fascinating, I wonder how rich a children's space for self-designed learning could be with a hundred different things to observe, understand, record and share!

There's more to share. Another day!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Egg-carton Mobile


Used egg carton gives six cups.

Each cup painted with different colours and patterns. 
The sticks are from a local weed (arivaalmanai poondu) growing in plenty here.  

A mobile waiting to be gifted to a baby just born into our community in Tiruvannamalai. :)


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lesson in Vulnerability

                               
I was part of a recent dialogue on facebook among very close friends, some of whom are adoptive mothers. As women many were sharing the pain and limitations of being a mother without much community support. My friends who were adoptive mothers  shared their experience / pain of a 'different kind of pregnancy' which was not only being not celebrated, but was also being undertaken with a lot of struggle with family members who were neither supportive nor understanding. Triggered by this dialogue, one of the mothers, Anita, posted on her blog recalling her story. This took me down my memory lane thinking about the time they adopted and brought home their adorable second daughter, Yukti. 

It was an emotional time for Anita and Satish, as they were doing this amidst other big things going on in their lives; like taking care of Anita's unwell mother, herself going through a long-term treatment for a chronic ailment, preparing for their move to their land, and being available to the larger community around her and her family. I remembered a courageous mail that Anita sent to all of us in the community addressing us as family. Courageous, because it takes a lot of strength, conscious intent to heal, and vulnerability to reach out in the way that she did.

***

Dear family in chennai:

We will soon be bringing our second child home. And I feel like celebrating and making these few days special, a celebration in anticipation of her arrival, in preparation of her arrival, in preparation of myself to be a mother all over again. Although I have no physical signs of the approaching delivery (:-)), I feel emotionally and psychologically very different - a sense of waiting, anticipation, excitement, anxiety, vulnerability, and yet a lot of strength.


So here is an invitation and a request - to celebrate these few days with me and help me celebrate it too - drop by with/for food, eat together, cook together, chat and connect over a cup of herbal tea, a walk to the beach, offer to take care of nidhi for a while, etc etc. I am also going to invite myself over or call you if I feel like. So indulge me a little bit if I do that. :)


Love

Me - An expectant mother awaiting the arrival of my second child.   

***

Reading this mail, I was moved to tears! Until then, I had never thought of reaching out sharing my needs for care and celebration in this explicit way. There was always a feeling of shame associated with it. Shame, since I used to think of 'asking' as a sign of weakness. Accompanied by a feeling of fear "What if no one reaches out to me?" This moving mail from Anita totally shifted that for me. 

We all planned a surprise baby-showers party for the expectant parents and Nidhi in celebration of the child to come into their (and our) lives. It was a celebration which brought us all closer together. 

Thank you Anita for showing us how beautifully one can ask. An act of great vulnerability, which, like Brene Brown says "is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity." 


Ending with a link to Brene Brown's powerful Ted-talk on Vulnerability. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Toothpowder

The recipe for our homemade toothpowder is here to share with everyone. Three generations - my mom, me and Isha - use it regularly. We actually find it helping tooth conditions.

A few years ago, Preethi of Krya shared a recipe that we used to prepare and use on and off. This is Krya's recipe modified. I have removed turmeric, and added Licorice (Athimathuram) powder for sweet, guava leaf powder (supposed to be great for teeth and gums), and citrus peel powder (for whitening).

Guava Leaf Powder – astringent (antibacterial
Sea salt powder – salty (antisceptic, antibacterial)
Neem leaf powder – bitter (antibacterial)
Licorice / Athimathuram powder – sweet
Clove powder – astringent, spicy (antibacterial, wound-healing properties, refreshing)
Cinnamon Powder – astringent, sweet (refreshing, antibacterial)
Fennel / Saunf powder – astringent, sweet (antibacterial, refreshing)
Soapnut Powder – astringent (slight lathering, cleansing, antibacterial)
Citrus Peel Powder - sour (whitening, refreshing)
Star Anise Powder - astringent, spicy (refreshing, antibacterial)
Cardamom - astringent  (refreshing, antibacterial)

Can also add
Turmeric
Amla Powder
Mint (Pudina) Powder
Banyan Tree's aerial roots
Babul (Karuvelam) bark

A few pointers I work with:

* Leaves are best rinsed and shade dried.

* It's ok to not have all the ingredients listed here. Use what you have. Don't let anything come in he way of your getting started.

* Connect with plants around you: Search for the properties of herbs in your farm / neighbourhood – ask your grandma, elders, Siddha doctors, google, etc. And your own intuition.

* Proportions: I use about 3 tsp each of guava leaf powder, sea salt and licorice, and one spoon each of all other powders, and add a little bit more licorice powder to make it taste a tad sweet, the way I like it. Go ahead and experiment with your own proportions. Best to keep soapnut and citrus powder not more than 5% (each) of the recipe.

* Each of these ingredients has a different particle size and some are particularly difficult to grind, like cinnamon sticks. So mix all the powders together and sieve them using a fine sieve so that the final product has the same particle size throughout. If you are grinding the materials yourself, pound them separately in a mortar and pestle before grinding them separately in a coffee grinder or mixie. Remember not to heat/ over grind them too much, especially when using a mixie, and allow the powders to cool before re-grinding.

Experiment. Enjoy. Share.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sundaikkai (Turkey Berry)

A small sudaikkai sapling picked up from the wayside and transplanted into our small home garden quickly grew into a big lush tree, profusely flowering and fruiting. My amma, neighbour Lakshmi and I have been experimenting with sundaikkai recipes. Isha watches on and sometimes participates.

Isha and her paatti separating the fruits from the stalks, while having their conversations. We've been harvesting this much once every to weeks for the past couple of months.  


Sundaikkai Vatthal 
I've grown up seeing sundaikkai vatthal being used every time someone at home had loose motion. It is also supposed to be very effective in eradicating intestinal worms. 


Displaying IMG_20160424_094337733.jpgSundaikkai Vathakkal Displaying IMG_20160424_094337733.jpg
Soak sundaikkai in salt water for 2 days. (This can be refirgerated). When you want to use it, pour sesame oil in kadaai, pour some of the soaked sundaikkai along with some salt water and shallow fry. Great to have with warm rice. 

Sundaikkai Paruppusili
 

Google and find out the recipes. There are a whole bunch of other recipes like kootu and poriyal that you will find too!       

Friday, April 1, 2016

Invitation to the Opposers of AOL

When I sit down closing my eyes and thinking about AOL, Isha Foundation and their leaders, I feel full acceptance of them. I am at peace. They have a right to exist and do the work that they are doing. I don't feel any aversion towards them. In the same right, I feel my strong critique of these institutions can exist too. All of us are needed for our growth.

When I understand that we are all on a learning journey towards the light / truth, then I see a rightful place for these institutions and their leaders. They are merely born out of the needs and aspirations of the large number of people and where they are in their journeys. And this is what I understand of it.

There is this Hero's Journey framework, which is no longer just a theory to me. I have personally verified it through experience multiple times, and it really captures many things for me that used to earlier leave me baffled and confused. When one hits the limits of one's 'Existential Universe / Bhoomi', one is tempted to stay on as long as possible by making small adjustments / improvements. There is a great pull towards leaving that Bhoomi and move in the direction of light / truth. Since the new Bhoomi is an unknown, there is an equally great fear that pulls in the opposite direction to keep one on the same bhoomi for as long as possible. When life becomes unbearable in that Bhoomi, one starts looking around for any means that will be offered to help provide relief / alleviate their suffering where one is. These small improvements actually do the intended work. Let's look at some examples from two angles: spirituality and sustainability.

The growing guilt arising from the fact of contributing to a destructive world becomes so unbearable on the materialistic bhoomi that one starts wanting to become more sustainable: composting, consuming organic food, planting trees, donating money, etc. while still tightly holding on to the corporate world. At this point, one decides to become the typical reStore customer.

The growing fatigue from inhabiting the materialistic bhoomi becomes so unbearable that one starts wanting to learn yoga, pranayama, meditation and listen to discourses on advaita / vedanta for a refreshing experience at the level of both body and spirit. At this point, one becomes the typical AOL follower.

Am I equating reStore and AOL here? Yes. And No.

Why yes, should be obvious from the explanation above. We both offer something to relieve suffering to people who walk in as consumers.

Why no? I have heard from many people who have joined AOL, etc. that they really found something valuable that they were seeking at that point in their journeys and really benefited from it. Real seekers of the truth cannot and will not inhabit these spaces as 'mere consumers' for too long. They will want to move on. As their journeys progressed, their new questions and insights could not be held (or even tolerated) in these spaces. They had to leave. At reStore, as our collective knowledge and journey also deepens, we attempt to open up newer spaces for those who are ready to progress in their journeys, seeking new knowledge: information & ways of being and doing. The BTTL is one such attempt. How effectively we do it, I don't know. But the attempt is sincere.

So, to answer the question: Do organisations like AOL and Isha Foundation actually benefit people? Yes. Sudharshana Kriya, healthy organic diet, pranayama are all immensely helpful in our present day lifestyles to find relief. But it is also limiting. If the Gurus are indeed interested in helping their students shift their bhoomis, they need to also point out the limitation of these relief measures without negating them. I translate their reluctance to do that as either a lack of real understanding or lack of integrity. Either way, I question their enlightenment!

I invite all those who oppose / villify organisations like AOL to their see their place in the larger scheme of things, without the need to either justify or condemn them. They are there for a reason. Enquiring into that reason can bring us more acceptance, peace, clarity and strength.     

Thursday, March 31, 2016

World Cultural Festival, AOL, Ravi Shankar, etc.




I rarely write opinion pieces. But this one in response to an angry comment on my FB wall about an article I shared attacking Art of Living's 'World Cultural Festival' (WCF) had to be written.

I feel saddened by how opportunities such as this end up getting used by attackers to (along with presenting facts) also take digs at individuals, make sarcastic comments and brand them as this or that. And in reaction, the hurt defenders look for and muster all the evidence that they can in adulation of everything these individuals have said or done. I don't see any opening or invitation for an honest dialogue from either side. Please don't misread the force in my post as hatred, which is not what I feel. I feel sad and angry at the state of things, which includes a dialogue (or a lack there of) which is highly polarised.

WCF-defenders might call me anti-Hindu and anti-Spirituality. Much like how if one speaks up against the State these days, one is called anti-National. I am, in fact, motivated to write this because I consider myself pro-Hindu and pro-Spirituality, struggling to reclaim the intended meaning and purpose of these as being to restore life, heal and unify, and not to destroy, hurt and divide.

According to me, the issue of pollution in Yamuna is a detail; an important detail nevertheless. There are reports that claim that the water got polluted and the floodplains compacted, and there are reports that claim that the water was actually left much cleaner and the floodplains were not disturbed. I must admit that I don't know the exact situation there, though I really cannot wrap my mind around the possibility of 35 lakh people landing up on the floodplains of a river and leaving it cleaner and restored!! And I absolutely don't trust any institution's report or certificate in such matters. Much along the lines of not trusting or promoting certified organic products at reStore. Moreover, I have a first-hand experience of NEERI blatantly lying through its report.

About fifteen years ago, I was sitting in a hall full of people from Kattuppalli fishermen's village assembled at the Thiruvallur collectorate for a public hearing about a petro-park proposed to be built there. The NEERI's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) claimed that there was no significant vegetation or faunal life in the proposed site. And then the village leader (supported by civil society and research groups like Exnora and CRINIEO) presented a long list of flora and fauna that they had documented in the same area. It clearly demonstrated that it was a biodiversity hot spot. This lead to a lot of commotion, and eventually, the suspension of the hearing and the project itself.

We can endlessly do research, fact-finding, produce reports and argue over details. I have not much interest or motivation to do that. But I would definitely like to talk about a few things that stand out.

Integrity?
Ravi Shankar (RS) has said in an interview on March 18 “If someone had raised this concern at least three or six months before, we would not have gone to this place at all.” But we have copies of letters dated May '15 and October '15 from DDA denying RS the permission to use the floodplains and requesting him to propose some other site instead. This makes me wonder about his integrity and the strings he might have pulled!



RS talks about being a good subject of the State. Let's aside the fact that I question the very idea of State. But based on what RS has said, if he does not believe in respecting the court order and will not go by any judgments of any of the State institutions, how is he applying it to himself?

This is only a sampler. I might be able to put together a long list of contradictions in statements and realities if I spend some time doing my research. I did that sort of a thing for the riverlinking project ten years ago. But what I am actually interested in are more fundamental, paradigm-related questions. I see the WCF as a detail within a larger paradigm which is what needs to be brought into the discourse.

Culture?


During my school-going years, I grew up with the word culture being used largely in the context of 'cultural programs', which basically meant 'dance, music, drama, costumes'. I don't see it as much different from how RS is using it, at least in the context of the WCF. Yoga and meditation might have been the extra elements thrown in. Costumes and the arts are forms of cultural expression, which are today, floating in mid-air with their foundation suffering serious erosion. What we see taking over is a Global Consumerist Culture, which has turned the very purpose of art forms from expression for invoking resonance, into commodification for consumption (entertainment). What we need in order to promote world culture and its diversity is not a 7-acre stage (however eco-friendly it is) bringing 35 lakh people and thousands of performing artists over. We need a clear and loud critique of globalisation which is eroding cultural diversity and homogenising cultures across the world. I don't see RS doing even a bit of that. I'd recommend watching Ancient Futures to understand this destruction, which has been unleashed on a massive scale.

Spirituality?
One can even begin on the path of spirituality only after one has renounced all refuges. Most of the world today takes refuge in money, material and co-dependent relationships. But like the Buddha has said, the most dangerous and complex refuge is the 'Idea of God'. The modern rational mind is extremely uncomfortable with inhabiting the refuge of religion, which is comprised of beliefs, symbols, idols and myths, all of which are perceived as 'irrational'. Someone “expounding the truth”, especially one which comfortably keeps it where it is with ample opportunities for small improvements (meditation, asana, pranayama, a few hours / days of charity or volunteering) naturally becomes an extremely attractive replacement. This is nothing more than sophisticated religion which has been invented for the modern rational mind. The template of the Idea-of-God refuge remains intact. The content has changed. That is all.

'Spirituality' and 'Spiritual Guruship' are extremely slippery areas to tread, especially in today's times. Even within the KFI institutions, I see many people constantly say 'K said this..' 'K said that..' and I tell myself 'That's fine. What do you think? What are you saying?' Even K, who is supposed to have taken utmost care in not wearing the garb of guruship, is said to have commented in his last days that no one really got him, and that most people who came for his talks consumed them as entertainment. He walked out of the institutions that got created around him. Now, if someone claims to be enlightened and really wants to help raise human consciousness, why will (s)he be sitting and watching as people swarm into his/her camp, looking up to him/her as an external savior and seeking refuge, and lapping it all up? Shouldn't (s)he, at the very least, be warning people about the danger and engaging with it?

Happiness?

Yoga and meditation have become very easily salable commodities today. In fact RS has himself said "Yoga and meditation should be commercialised to reach every nook and corner." 

We want to take as much of it as is convenient for us. We want to 'manage stress' and 'become happier and calmer' in order to comfortably stay on in the exploitative paradigm. How many yoga schools or gurus are ready to talk about aparigraha as an essential aspiration and practise in Yoga? Capitalism's very foundation is parigraha.

Good Work?
The CSR paradigm (which all of AOL's constructive work comes under) is very problematic. Capitalism is a very comfortable philosophy for those who have made it “successfully” up the ladder. We can call them the elite or the aspiring elite. This class of people, who make up pretty much all the followers of AOL, also want to do some good work, but without disturbing or questioning their own world. RS, in fact, reinforces their illusory world by saying things like “I don't see there is any conflict between capitalism and compassion.” And even some absurd things like what he said in a speech in a conference called 'Corporate Culture and Spirituality': “People ask me 'Don't Business and Spirituality go against each other?' I tell them 'Business and Spirituality are like the scissors and needle; one cuts, another joins. Both are essential.... Business is all about passion and spirituality is all about dispassion. They look like opposites but they are complementary. The in-breath and out-breath. You breathe in... passion... and you breathe out dispassion.” Uh?



The CSR is like an intoxicating potion that is given in the name of medicine. It keeps us shut behind the golden bars of illusion, only intensifying the world crisis!

The GIGANTIC?
Small is beautiful, and yes, big is inherently ugly, within the paradigm we are talking about. (Please don't confuse 'Big' with 'Vast / Expansive'.) RS supports the government's 'Make in India' Campaign and makes statements like “India has proven to the world it has the capacity to do something gigantic.” Could these needs 'to do something 'gigantic' and 'to prove to the world' be coming from fear / poverty consciousness?

Most people understand small as constricted, limited or weak. Quite the opposite: Small can be much more inclusive, expansive and resilient than the big. I'll post another separate write-up based on our own experience at reStore and OFM, which are built on the value of S-I-B, in order to substantiate this.

WHAT I'D LIKE TO SEE
* A Spiritual Guru who will keep her/his discourse limited to aligning inner and outer peace; a Guru who will design processes or ask questions for self-enquiry and not expound “truths” for others to follow. This is what draws me to Ramana Maharishi and Eckhart Tolle, even though they don't actively talk about capitalism and climate change.

* If (s)he indeed wants to comment on the state of the world, then sufficiently understand its complex nature. At the very least, (s)he should have a voice like JK's who didn't shy away from calling out that the emperor had no clothes on, while talking about having compassion for the emperor. A voice that will boldly make statements such as “It is no measure of health to be adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” He is supposed to have called students who passed out of KFI schools and joined the mainstream society “disgustingly successful.” Eknaath Eswaran is another voice that does this beautifully and forcefully.

* If (s)he wants to engage in solving the present day crisis, then with a proper understanding, work towards creating a new paradigm, where
- small and local are celebrated and restored
- small and local are networked for wider reach
- infrastructure is created for emergence at local levels
- resources are mobilised locally

Here are some powerful examples of how local action can scale up and go global.

'Incredible Edible' was a humble attempt to grow food in public places in Todmodern, a small town in England. It has now spread to many countries across the world.

'Transition Town' was an initiative started in a small town in England in response to the world oil crisis and has now become a powerful network called 'Transition Network' spread across hundreds of towns and cities across the world.

'Awakin Circles' started with a group of friends who would gather ever Wednesday in a small meditation circle. These circles happen in many many cities across the world, with thousands of people meditating on Wednesdays. Even the gift-culture-powered and volunteer-driven Vipassana movement is an inspiring example.

The 'Ugly Indian' is a social experiment for civic action which started in Bangalore and has now spread to many cities across India. The power of this movement lies in the anonymity of its members. Even during the Tedx Talk, the speaker refused to reveal his identity and wore a mask!


Ekta Parishad, a nation-wide organisation which works for adivasi and dalit land rights regularly organises padayatras of several thousand people at a time, who walk hundreds of kilometres as a form of social action. The resources for organising these yatras are saved a few rupees / a handful of rice everyday over a period of a few years leading up to the walk, by the adivasis themselves.

We need cultural festivals which will support and promote local wisdom and practices in agriculture, weaving, water conservation, seed and plant diversity, along with regional folk art forms. The outstanding work of 'Deccan Development Society' needs to be looked at. Provide scholarships for these artists and artistes to perform and teach widely, not just in elite contexts. And sincere attempts to heal and revive classical art forms, much like in the 'Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha'.

*******

I am expecting to receive responses which might pick some minor details in my article and argue over them. I'd like to state upfront that, though I'm open to correcting factual errors (if there are any), I am not interested in engaging with detail-related arguments. I'm very happy to engage in a dialogue around the larger / deeper paradigm-related statements made in the article.