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. :)


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


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
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.

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.


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.

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?


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!

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.

* 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.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Vision of Yoga

After a long weary journey, I was led on to the doorstep of Yoga. Being and learning with our teachers Raghu and Sashi, and fellow-seekers in the community for three years now has been a rich experience. Here is one articulation of the way I see the personal and the collective; how everything (climate change, my eczema, patriarchy, genocide, my breath, my incessant mind) comes together in One Vision. 


My Journey
I begin by seeing and acknowledging that I'm on a journey, and that my limited mind / my small self is incapable of understanding and undertaking it all by 'itself'. I need help. Patanjali's invitation in the form of the First Sutra says 'Aaah! Now you're ready!!' Atha Yoga Anusasanam.

This is the point I gain the ability to look at the 'Hero's Journey' framework. I am disillusioned enough to start asking the questions:
- What is my journey towards?
- Where am I in the journey?
- How did I get here?
- What lies ahead?

Bringing awareness into 'Who I am' not in a philosophical but an absolutely practical way: my personality, tendencies, gifts, questions, aspirations, meaning-making, fears, explorations, experience, learnings, challenges, relationships, behavioral patterns, attractions, aversions, etc. In other words, I begin to intuitively understand my 'Universe', along with which naturally, but slowly, unfold 'self-acceptance' and 'compassion to the self'.

This understanding becomes the seed of true non-violence / ahimsa.

Others' Journeys
As a consequence of my beginning to understand / have insights into my own journey, I begin to see and acknowledge, begin to understand / have insights into others' journeys. As I start bringing awareness into my Universe, I start bringing awareness into others' Universes, along with which naturally unfold 'acceptance of others' and 'compassion to others', little by little. Though my sense of discernment / judgement sharpens, I experience myself as less and less 'judgemental'.

The seed of ahimsa has begun to sprout.

The Collective Journey
A pattern / an understanding emerges: It is one of an upward spiral movement that the Consciousness is undertaking. Suddenly, the world that seemed all chaotic and messed up, with everything misplaced and gone wrong, looks orderly, meaningful and beautiful. There is a sense of purpose to everything around. Each life form and living system is undertaking its own 'Hero's Journey'.

A sense of wonder and anticipation! The seeds of humility and surrender begins to sprout. Isvarapranidhana.I am but a speck in a larger journey that I cannot yet comprehend.

I begin to experience 'Inter-being' and 'Oneness'.

I simultaneously read about what enlightened masters have to say about this for the sake of my curiosity. Theories about the 'Super-consciousness' and the state of 'Samadhi' are all appealing. But I have no way to verify and know any of this, and I don't feel the need to. This information does not propel me to continue the journey. The journey is meaningful and exciting in and of itself. All I need to know is 'The Direction' to follow.

Where the individual and collective / inner and outer / personal and social converge.

It becomes clear that 'Social Change' is nothing but a significant movement up the spiral at the civilisational level, which can happen as more and more individuals / individuated life forms / living systems move up the spiral. We are at an interesting time when this climb / movement is happening at a rate faster than ever before in known history. There is a sense that we are at the verge of a significant breakthrough in Consciouness. We are living in exciting times!

'The Work' of our times is to facilitate / catalyse this movement...
... at the individual level, through bringing awareness into what is happening inside (inner work) and what is happening outside (the world crisis), how they both reflect each other, and how healing can happen when we recognise their alignment.
... at the collective level, by collectively imagining newer possibilities and co-creating newer ways of organising life in form: new forms, structures and processes of community, economy, governance, education, celebration, expression (the arts), justice, etc. based on trust, dialogue and collaboration.

An experience of Abundance unfolds as I go deeper into this work. Abundance of all things good. Resources. Connections. Positivity. Hope. Energy. New Possibilities. Ideas.

Sacred Activism!

Knowledge of 'Existential Universes'. This understanding uses the intellect. To understand without arrogance or the need to control. The right use of knowledge. The Sacred Masculine.

The Map might show what is where. I still need to use my intuition to feel my way through the terrains, and decide on the best path (there might me multiple paths connecting two points). Knowing the path needs tapping into Intelligence. The Sacred Feminine.

If my body is to be able to undertake 'The Work' by channelling and containing higher wisdom and energy, then it needs to be functioning at its optimal capacity. A sound asana and pranayama practice becomes an absolute requirement.

If my mind is to drive the body, then it needs to be clear and pure.Yamas and Niyamas are simultaenously the aspirations and the natural consequences of 'The Work' undertaken with sincerity. Pratyahara. Dharana. Dhyaana.

All of the above reinforce and provide feedback to each other.


(Image Courtesy:

Ashok Subramanian

The first time I met Ashok was in a meet on Natural Learning. His was a clear and loud voice connecting a lot of the dots: modernity, learning, food, health. Very soon I heard about him in an NVC workshop, and later that he was facilitating a meeting with our staff at reStore. And soon after, that he was interested in integrating a lot of different threads of work, and also integrating them all into his own life; like seeking doula support for the birth of their first child, and water-birthing their second. This is how I got interested in Ashok's journey!

We know how it all roughly unfolds up until the point of getting into an Engineering College for any middle class boy of our generation! The story begins after he joined Civil Engineering in Anna University in Chennai. He was one of those students who recognised 'learning' as something associated less with the classroom and more with the people and events outside it. This recognition motivated Ashok to attend every talk and conference held in the campus that he possibly could! One such talk that he landed in introduced him to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), an approach to inculcating self-awareness, followed by proactively changing our negative belief and behavioural patterns into more life-affirming ones.

Giving up his masters for pursuing further training in NLP in the UK, Ashok successfully trained and and along with his brothers, founded Brainobrain Kids Academy in Chennai, which soon grew its franchisee centres across the TN, India and other countries. In a conventional sense, Ashok was an achiever at the early age of 26. But the price he paid was his health. Having lost his vocal chords and being obese while still so young was not fun. No amount of conventional treatment helped.

In 2007, Ashok met a Hindu monk and Ayurved Vaidya Swami Radha Krishna Chaitanya, and decided to try out his Ayurvedic treatment. That was when he started taking a serious look at his own lifestyle and began to make changes in it. With treatment over time, his voice and his overall health was fairly restored. More importantly, something else happened alongside. Ashok was asked to spend a mere Rs.160 for his treatment. The benefit that he got out of a pittance, starkly contrasted against his approach of maximising profits from the programmes he offered. Something shifted within and Ashok decided to offer workshops inviting participants to 'Pay by Heart'. Those who could paid for the workshops fully. Those who couldn't either paid partly or didn't pay at all. But in the process, something new started to build. Relationships. One participant who could not pay, sponsored someone else who couldn't pay for himself in a future workshop (someone that he didn't even know) out of his first salary!

Ashok's new-found interest in lifestyle changes made him search for workshop venues which gave him access to healthful food. His search led him to Ashrams, Naturopathy centres and Organic Farms. One such place that he used as a venue was Navadarshanam. Ashok soon found that these places not only gave such a calming natural environment that aided self-reflection and inner work, but also housed some very powerful persons who the participants started receiving a lot of warmth and wisdom from! Ashok recalls one incident when a depressed participant, whose wife had committed suicide, interacted with Prathapji at Navadarshanam, something shifted within and opened a new door in his life. Since NLP itself is about recognising excellence in persons, systems and processes, and seeing how they can be modeled, these places only strengthened the work that Ashok had already set out to do. It was clearly the end of Ashok's offerings in big expensive Hotels, often devoid of nature, warmth or wisdom.

What I find very fascinating about Ashok's journey is that he approaches every person and process of excellence that he comes across as someone / something that can be modeled. And because of such genuine enthusiasm and sincere interest in serving life, he keeps on integrating them all into his offerings and into his own life. Look at this rich list of offerings, all of which he practices as well!

NLP & Dance Therapy
NLP & Ayurveda
NLP & Sociocracy
NLP & Health
NLP & Parenting
NLP & Education

I won't be surprised if this list will grow longer over the years to come!

Ashok lives with his partner Pria and his daughter in Bangalore, and travel together many times. Their daughter does not go to school, and learns by living, traveling and exploring.  

Ashok's website: 

Ashok can be contacted at

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sangu Pushpam Juice

Sangu Pushpam / Clitoria Ternatea / Butterfly Pea

Collect the dry flowers

Put them into a glass jar

Add hot water. Or add plain water and leave it under the sun.


In about a minute, the juice will start seeping into the water.

And the water will turn deep blue in about 5 minutes.

Try adding lemon to one half of it.

And lo! You get a purple drink.

Add some ginger juice and sweetener to get a different taste.

Learnt all this from Sandhya Manian who makes this often. Will post a more detailed recipe from her soon!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Another Garden. Another Life.

This is the sixth garden I've collaborated with Nature in creating. The first one was when I wanted to heal my mind ten years ago. This had to be abandoned later on. 

The next one happened on the terrace and all around our independent rented house in Mandaiveli, Chennai. I absolutely loved waking up to the excitement of the anticipation of a new flower, seedling, and all kinds of unexpected arrivals (including an unplanted banana sapling) on my terrace! When we had to vacate the house, friends came and took home a lorry load of plants, poles, pots and soil that had been created using biomass that I'd drag into our house from all across our neighbourhood: abandoned banana trunks, sackfuls of watermelon shells and sugarcane bagasse from neighbourhood vendors, to name just a few. 

I took ten potted plants to our new apartment, where I was asked to remove them from the terrace following their Association Policy. We moved. 

Our next house owner, a single woman, welcomed plants and gardening, but would secretively pull out and chop off lush plants and trees, pretending like she didn't know about it at all! Unable to tolerate her sadistic behaviour, we moved into another house with the promise of a garden.

The new owner was unhappy with the whole amrit-mitti process (I should have known better!) and got the municipal corporation truck to clear the whole compost one day when I wasn't around. We soon moved out of that house as well. 

Looking for a peaceful home where we could be rooted for sometime, we moved into an apartment with no possibility of gardening and lived there for three years. That it was walking distance from a lovely beach was the saving grace! That was when we started three community gardens through reStore. One in the Adyar Cancer Institute, one at the Urur Kuppam Children's centre and another on a private land in Kottivakkam. The first one still continues, the second and the third went on for a while but had to be eventually discontinued for various reasons.

Whenever I was not waking up to a real garden, I'd get dreams about either open spaces where I would be planning and raising a garden, or a lush garden with all sorts of unusual plants. The intense yearning would consume me from the inside for about half a day after waking up from sleep. I had to live with this pain intermittently. A poem I wrote about my yearning-filled dreams.

After our move to Tiruvannamalai, I started all over again. 

Restarting each time hasn't been easy at all, for images of abandoned or disrupted gardens would stare at me all the time. We live in a rented house in Tiruvannamalai, and one day this garden would need to go or be partly relocated too. Every time before starting work, I attempted practising mindfulness, staying with the pain as it came up and releasing its energy to imagine and welcome new possibilities. 

Infusing biomass (soaked in cowdung or EM) into what was just gravel, nature and I together managed to create pockets of soil and slowly planted seeds and saplings collected from all over the place. In six months, we have a cute little wild garden with quite some colour and character. For the first time, I decided to introduce a lot of flowering plants into our garden. And wow, the colours and beauty they add bring so much joy. Sharing some pictures here. :)

Originally (8 months ago, June 2015), all gravel and a few blades of grass.

Garden (2 months ago, December 2015). Will replace with the latest picture soon!

First successful attempt at tomato-growing.
Harvesting kilos of tomatoes from this one plant, which came up on its own!

Marigold and Lemongrass complex.
With a blue sangupoo creeper, tomato sapling, tulsi all growing underneath.
Lemongrass regularly goes into tea and Thai curry...

Nochi. Great for body pain when added to hot bath water. 

Henna / Marudani.
Going into home-made hairwash powder today.
Will go into home-ground mehendi paste for cooling the upcoming summer effect..

Balsams are great. Colourful and self-propagating.. Just the way I like it! :)

This layered Sangu poo for poojai. And also makes very good juice. Will soon post tutorial! 

Indian Basil (Viboodhi Pachilai)
Used regularly in our indigenised pesto recipe.

Ponnanganni keerai
Basella (Pasalai Kodi), Papaya (appeared by itself), Sangu-poo, Betel-leaf creeper, Balsam, Jasmine,
all happily hugging each other and growing together.

Continuous supply of mint (traditional variety).
Mom, Isha and our neighbour and helper Lakshmi, cleaning up some wild-edible greens harvested from our neighbourhood. Lakshmi is going to help us learn a new recipe using this keerai. Mom willing to try it out.

Love portulacas. Have three colours and am collecting more..

Always thought 'Roses' were overrated, until I had my own! It's an absolute delight to see them bloom. Bunches or orangish red, yellow and white roses, that Isha sometimes wears on her little braid.

My inspirations
Bernard-Deepika's Pebble Garden in Auroville
Subbaraju's garden in Anantapur
Malathi's and Kavitha's gardens in Chennai
Dr.Thirunarayanan's sidewalk herb garden in Chennai
Sapney Farm (and Martin Bastide) in Auroville
Hema-Dev-Aparna-Abhi's sidewalk garden in Porur, Chennai
Bill Mollison