Nothing extraordinary!

I have nothing amazing going on in my life. Just the mundane stuff that makes up a day, a night. Posting pretty and not-always-pretty pictures of my stay in India is fun and I like the likes on Facebook. But we know this by now that what is pretty to me is not so pretty to anyone else. I find my mother’s face without her dentures, trying to smile while she is crying, very pretty. Her shriveled skin curls up even more into her mouth and she shuts her eyes as she pretends she wants to sleep. She hates the night as she keeps awake. Maybe her life’s mistakes get to her and she wonders why she has to suffer so much. She is a totally new person in the morning reminding me to manage my time differently and also my attitude to things- you won’t believe the advice she continues to give. She is 86 and in great health except her legs that have stopped functioning since the last two years and are now avoiding damage.However, I won’t post pictures of my mother’s many wounds but only the ones that make me smile. The muggu aka rangoli makes her smile. And a house full of people. Fresh puris, aloo and halva make her happy and we had that for New Year’s Day breakfast. Staying in Hyderabad for four months is a treat but I miss being with my family and kids. It’s like I live in silos that I made to keep things separate. On a day when everyone needs my attention is a difficult one. Wisdom can deny its existence for me for some more time and I am good with that. “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise, the Fool tells King Lear”- said a Renkl in the NYT article my friend Svapna shared with me. It sums up most of the days with my mother except when some crazy infection gets her on an antibiotic and she can’t handle the heat that messes with her stomach lining, the skin scars and some mouth ulcers.During one of her nap times when I ventured out, I met an auto-rickshaw driver who sweetly chatted up with me right from the moment I got in. You have to bargain your price when you ride an auto in Hyderabad but not so much with Uber. So I bargain with the auto guys down to the last tenner and feel good when I get my way. But I never give them a tip.The very American-Uber has forced a tip and also “peak-fares” which means the market decides how much more we need to shell out to Uber guys when it’s more effort to be in traffic and when the demand is high. I refused to easily give that same peak-fare or a tip to the auto guys. Yesterday though was different. When I bargained with him he said, give me 150 to King Koti and I’ll take you and I said I’ll give you 120 and you take me. He said okay, 130 de do, mai leke jatoon. Baitho. So I agreed at 130 and took the ride.We chatted further and he said to me, what’s happening with corona madam? I said the news reports are right, the cases are rising. The media is not reporting how people are not dying, I said. Then I realized I should mention to him that vaccinated people are the ones not dying and upon asking he said he did not take the vax. I said if you had told me you did not take the vaccination, I would not have sat in your auto. And I gave him a loud earful on why he should take it. And how his parents and my parents have taken us to the hospital 20 times in the first year we were born just to vaccinate us. My finger wagging voice is still ringing in my ears. Kya hai ki amma, ek saal me marte bolrai. I don’t know amma, they say, we will die in one year if we take it. This conversation made me wonder if I did the American thing, and spoke to a stranger nicely? I explained how it’s important to vaccinate himself and his whole family. I asked him to get it done. I said happy new year to him and gave him a big tip.Folks here will say that I am spoiling the underclass for giving ideas about bigger tips and expecting more in life and having more. My tip won’t do much for the guy. He might spend it on a good drink. He seemed like a good guy. Maybe he won’t beat up his wife after the drink. My karma won’t be about the tip going towards his drink or his wife getting beat up, or maybe it is. Where does my karma stop and where does it start? At my significant others’, my family and clan? Or does it extend to my community, my people in my social infrastructure that supports a good life? And what happens to my karma when their karma clashes with mine?

Neem

I was thinking of how Covid might make everyone a carrier of the disease very soon. I am not sure of this but it is a train of thought.

It took me back to the time when I made multiple visits to the US from India with both my kids in tow. We had plans to settle down in India (after living in the US for some years) and had my one kid in a school in Hyderabad. While in India, we had to go back to the US couple of times for some paperwork; unexpectedly the fingerprinting dates for a green card, which you don’t give up easily had come up. During one such visit from Hyderabad there was a health issue and my kids’ pediatrician in New Jersey -a south Asian, forced the Tuberculosis test due to the fact that we had stayed in India past the 6 month period. We did go ahead with it and have since exposed my kid to it.

And in this context I am left wondering which country -US, India, has more points from me for taking care of its citizenry then? Back then I would have thought India lost out because I recall two emergency hospitalizations- one with dengue and another with high fever. But I also recall a pediatrician who I could walk up to or ride to on a bike with my father-in-law. I recall how I was on the brink of breakdown for being dependent on a system that works depending on who you know in the hospitals. Or who you are related to. It is a blessing I am not willing to trade for anything. It comes with the structure I belong to. It is part of my circle of people, my community. Or a really tall brother who would loudly get the doctors to dispense a test because a cousin suggested it or get the staff to dispense the doctor’s orders.

I know my family in the US is safe right now. There are no riots, looting or civic disturbance. But it is faced by others I know of. It is the same structure I will not be thankless for. For the choices we made when we could and because we were able to do so.

One is left to get worked up at the small day-to-day difficulties while the big picture reveals a malaise of those in the margins.

The migrants in India still walking home, the blacks in US. The systemic torture is still systemic torture across the global south and the north.

One is left to deal with the minutiae of the moment. Just be in the moment that I hear all the time! Of the maid who will come and clean up or not. Of the right tadka in the dal, the horrific imli instead of the tomato, the cold tea. Not to mention the number of meals one prepares to devour and satiate.

Malini Waghray

Azadirachta Indica or Neem

The world of nature closely connects with the world of humans, it does and it should. Nature as an essential element of the world around us is being taken over by the artificial infrastructure but when it does connect, one is able to emote to the beauty of it. Nature and nurture- the two wor(l)ds collide as we engage in discussing health that encompasses social, natural, emotional and mental wellbeing.The taste of the bitter neem leaves or fruits of the plant azadirachta indica leave a revolting experience on the senses. It also has incredible healing qualities that have a function of setting us at ground-zero of our tastes or the lowest level of it. This taste of the bitter awakens us to an interesting thought. This bitterness of neem as opposed to the pleasurable foods that have the flavors of sugar, salt and fat aplenty, not to mention the proteins and fresh vegetation that keeps one in a pleasurable state, a serotonin: this is a contradiction to take on.

The state of the senses is similar -the pleasures of materiality, to that of the emotional, the non-material- one juxtaposes the good from the ugly, the success from the failures and learning on the way.

Malini

Dying to move On-ward

Dying as far as we understand is transformation for the dead; but, also for some of us living.  My Dad lived wisely. Now he teaches me posthumously. Yes, my Dad is no more. His death did not wait for me.  It happened. He’s gone forever; vanished into space when I least expected it. How can you expect it of a joyful, fairly healthy and determinedly active person?  A person so alive at every moment?

Life and death come in a bundle. We can’t have one without the other. Every day, we carry a chance of dying within. However, this prospect is somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds.  Whether the stoics tell us “memento mori” or when death happens in our circles, we don’t process how we will cope if it happened to us and our most-beloved.  

My regret: I fiercely wish I had loved my Dad more. Now that he is gone, I wish to show him how truly beloved he was.   

Sadly, it is through death that Dad remains my true teacher. Why had I waited for him to pass on in order to realize the deep wisdom from his death? Now through regret and reflection, I am applying Dad’s wisdom onto my loved ones, to my planet and our future. 

Most days since his passing on September 12, 2019, I have woken up to the rock on my chest and some days moving or thinking feels like choking.  

I grew up knowing my Dad mainly through my mother. I habituated myself not to look at him whole. This defined our relationship until 2016, when he left to go home to India. He came to live with me when my children arrived on the planet, 22 years ago. This was an ‘arrangement’ I was content with but actually, truly blessed with! It seemed to work out for all concerned: my parents who couldn’t stay together, my husband who loved my Dad, and my children, who continue to adore him. Dad lived with us for 18 years being himself – happy, helpful, joyful, kind, resourceful, engaged with kids, family and community. He kept himself busy cooking, shopping, chauffeuring, sharing, participating in all, without interfering. We lived together enjoying his happy presence, but I didn’t really make efforts to explore my views of him that were colored by my past nurture. It appears that I love both my parents but, I loved Dad less. 

Now my Dad is gone. For ever and ever.  

I struggle daily knowing that I loved Dad less than he deserved. Often, I remained un-acknowledging of his true giving to my family.  It was taken for granted by the busy-ness of life, work, career, and being self-absorbed. My children flowered in his love and Indian guidance. I remember him gently telling my son at my lighting god’s lamp, “don’t accept nor reject what mommy says.  Just be. And think for yourself. Understand it’s how mommy grew up.”   

When Dad left to head back to India, my relationship with him started flowering.  I missed his loving presence and his need for family. He wanted my mother and brother home. I could relate to this now when he is not with us anymore.  We talked every day. He gave me life-lines that I hold close and live by. 

‘Trust yourself.’  

‘Forgive yourself and others, Ma.’ 

‘Don’t dwell in the past; you won’t arrive into your future.’ 

‘Life is swift; remain awake.’ 

And this big one: ‘Don’t put yourself down!’

I started to see him now as my Dad.  My guy, holding strong with my best interests in mind. 

I saw that despite all the mud-slinging that he had faced his whole life, and the severe isolation from his own family, he did not let any of it define nor stop him from living his everyday life joyfully.  He had blossomed in his later life; every day, every moment he was full of joy and wonder. He loved every spider in our home. He gave every child and child-at-heart, gadgets galore. Money poured out of his savings to help people start a business or help them stand up.  He read books by the thousands and shared them when relevant. Through his blog, he wrote to thousands of people “random thoughts” of wisdom. My school friends and acquaintances were on his email list. He had 7000 followers on Speaking Tree. He talked to me, kids, my husband, his siblings, every day!  And this man would type with one finger, and joyful with 25% of a functioning heart.

I planned to visit him September 25, 2019 and stay with him for a couple months, exploring my non-profit work in India. The news of his sudden death following our conversation for 1.5 hours on the morning of September 12, 2019, knocked me out.

When I was able bid him my last goodbye, I knew that I didn’t know him as well as I could have.  My habit of being suspicious of him, based upon my childhood coaching, had created a palpable distance between us that I was not yet gotten over with.   I decided to go meet his friends who had been the bane of our (my Dad’s) family’s existence. My Mother had misconstrued from her own pain, that these friends of his “took” needlessly from him; we were to always to watch out for them, as they would “hurt” us by being friendly with him.  

What I learnt from meeting his friends is beyond precious for me. The only basis for his friendships was decency, love, sharing and giving.  Dad had cultivated real families beyond his own. His isolation in several senses from his own family, had him seek and shower affection to all he would meet.  And this hadn’t lessened his love for his blood family! Every one of his friends had great empathy for us/children and my mother. 

I am getting to know the true meaning of friendship. My circle of love has opened wide.  My family is bigger now. With my father’s friends, we share shoulders and mourn him. We all have lost our best friend at the same time.   

So how does one move on from such deep regret that cannot be changed except by time travel into the past with the wisdom we gain following death,, and correcting the error in our thinking? At least in my thinking?!   I can’t move on. But, I can move on-ward with my Dad in me.  He is the fossil imprinted in my heart of everything past that I cherish and carry.   I awake now to the questions, “how can I be his good child to the ideal ancestor he was to all who loved him?”  “WWDD/ What would Dad do?” 

Here is how, based on my Dad’s wisdom: 

–   Show all the living great tenderness and compassion.  They need it now. Not when they are gone. Time and space are relative in all parts of the cosmos.  But our time and space is now!

–   Open up to (your) humanity.  We have a role in the ecosystem as a member-species. 

–   Spread the legacy of a good person.  Visit and serve the vulnerable, weak, terminally-ill, orphans, the depressed, the voiceless.

–   Don’t conflate death onto religion, medicine, politics, ideology or relationships.  Don’t wait for deep wisdom that comes following death. Don’t wait to learn from dying.  Understand death from within the soul. We all have the ability to do so, now! 

–   See the future now, instead of when someone has passed.  Everyone we love is within us – in our habits, our children, our strengths and weaknesses, our character, in all our layers.   Even if the mind is foggy, they are always there. Our future is now. Our future with them/your loved ones, is now. 

To my one and only Dad, “I love you.”  I am moving on-ward with you.

Cheers!

Priya Tallam is a Geographic Information Systems specialist, wife and mom of two young adults. She is trained as an Architect and Urban Planner and at local government analyzed data to develop and apply sound policy for the health of the environment and people. In 2018, she established a non-profit centered on species and habitat conservation- vspca.org. She is an animal activist and advocate who encourages a plant-based lifestyle. Priya is currently researching the intersection of animals and design, aiming to demonstrate safe co-existence of humans and animals. One of the goals of this endeavor is to further human-animal flourishing in an urbanized world. Another goal is to encourage the stewardship of the planet. To this end, she promotes pedagogy to encourage ‘cosmic education,’ – working from the universe to the parts– genes, life-forms, ecosystems, individual cultures, history, geography. This is principally based on Maria Montessori’s work, but prepares young kids to learn by being inserted into real-life scientific research or natural living.

From our reading pulpit

Paromita Vohra, whose work we follow, is featured here as a share. She is a filmmaker based in Mumbai.


“Where is the room for secret, dark places in our nature, where strange flora, petalled and bacterial, bloom, alerting us to our own leanings? This fertility, in dark, wet, sometimes lonely places of the self, is an emotionally inefficient but regenerative process. There are no relationship agreements to be made here, no guarantees of love or success, and the permanent risk of being inconvenient to some and irrelevant to others.

The business of being yourself, or becoming yourself, is mostly a helpless act, often bloody and cyclical, born from the risky collisions with other minds, hearts and bodies.”

Food rules

We all love to change the traditional ways of making food but what we don’t expect is that we are introducing new elements in the game of cooking. Food is chemistry and what we do to it has repercussions to the end product and hence to our health. It is however a lot of fun to experiment and to explore creative foods and ideas. The problem is that traditional recipes come to us with rules and restrictions and we need to know when and why to make changes to them. Or not. Like cooking spinach with a fat and an acid to make sure the iron is absorbed in the body- something that I did on a regular basis due to tradition but this changed when I put spinach in a smoothie with a banana and yogurt. There was no fat or acid added. Spinach, a green micro-nutrient was a total loss to my system and to the process of setting up a new routine.

And consider dal or lentils.

A nutritionist I follow on instagram Sangeetha Khanna gave me some details on lentils. She posted about the lentil cheela with lots of vegetables and that got me thinking to a time when my father suffered with kidney and liver problems and the doctor suggested eating less toor dal or any dal (lentil). He was a mid-life teetotaler, so alcohol was not the reason for his liver problems. The nutritionist said this about the dal intake- “…Ayurveda has already prescribed ways to prevent the ill effects of lentils. Think about our dal ka tadka (seasoning) with asfoetida, garlic, cumin and chillies or sambar (lentil soup) that is made with tamarind and a tadka or the various fermented lentil preparations. The oxalates and purines in lentils are associated with oxalate type stones in kidney but if lentils are cooked according to Ayurveda prescribed ways and one consumes enough water, there is no need to worry.”

Thank you Sangeetha Khanna for this, and I would suggest you follow her blog and posts for more interesting information on food and nutrition guidance.

Malini Waghray is the founder, editor, immersive researcher and developer at Choosing Wellness.

Memory and nostalgia

Memory, nostalgia are a part of food.

A part of the socio-psychological infrastructure of a community is it’s food practices and rituals. The rituals, mores related to it, have a binding quality. At the same time these are the reason for oppression in many ways. But how are they oppressive? Let’s break it down in a way where one can dissect and examine it.

Food is an integral part of a life as it provides the nutrition needed but also a social fact wherein it is consumed in an environment that has the companions, significant others that participate in the process. If ready food is bought as compared to being cooked in a household, it has an easy albeit a monetary value but is also a matter of affordability and can be seen in two ways. If you can afford to buy optimal, nutritious and good food, then you belong to the high income economic bracket. If you are unable to buy it but instead buy sub-optimal, low on nutrition, cheap food then you belong to the low income category. There are variations to this which can be explained but that is another write-up.

Food when associated with a household kitchen and is cooked for meals each day, interrupts lives on a daily basis and this interruption is something of an ongoing challenge that can be examined closely. It is in a sense oppressive as one is always having to think of food for the self, for the offspring and maybe a partner if that is available. First it is about tastes, likes and dislikes of all the people mentioned; and next, it is about tradition that may or may not be healthy and third, it is about preparation- which is all work with a set agenda. This is an interruption because it keeps one away from engaging in otherwise useful pursuits. (And yes, there is an argument to be made for making this interruption a useful pursuit in and of itself).

Some of the tropes that come to mind while growing up are stories around food, festivals, rituals, ways of life that are still the binding factor for families and communities. Food is about the nostalgia and at the same time a battleground for oppression.

Malini Waghray is the founder, editor, immersive researcher and developer at Choosing Wellness.

How we feed our families…


“…food sits at the intersection of biological or material and symbolic aspects of human life. Food is essential for life because we need its energy and nutrients as biological creatures. But the nature of our humanity lies in our social practices, and thus our ability to sustain ourselves involves more than nutrients. What we eat is a “sign of membership, social status and spiritual worth. Eating the same food as others is a mark of belonging… The practice of feeding a family involves, meeting, what Stone calls “communal needs” which include “community, solidarity, a sense of belonging; dignity, respect, self-esteem, and honor; friendship and love” .

(Stone, 1988)

Food is a social act, in essence, it is about sharing and belonging. The very nature of cooking then starts with pots and plates, meant not just for a singular consumer. Eating alone however, is not an anathema but the process of cooking and eating has come to mean a bit more than sustenance and hence the challenges of sustenance eating. The contradiction is within the logic of food- you have to eat together as humans but you have to eat within your limits.

At this time of thanksgiving in the United States and Diwali in India, the onslaught of food-voices and choices from every possible avenue- it is a nice reminder to put things in perspective and to register this holiday for what it is.

Malini Waghray is the founder, editor, immersive researcher and developer at Choosing Wellness.

The inevitable dawning of common sense

The physical body over the mental- which comes first? Is it the chicken or the egg? Or is it easier than that? I practiced the mental well being for far too long and got hit by the lack of the physical care that was needed. Hence the effort to get to the core of it and understand how both are connected.

The inevitable dawning of common sense

For a number of years, the refining of the thought process to understand a social problem (as a sociologist) was to me a far critical issue to work towards. It has been a default setting for the longest time I could remember. The idea of “seeking help” was not an option to fix this lack of understanding- if at all that came about. I always knew that the most nonsensical of the problems has a solution, if only one reads more about it or finds ways to newer understandings and the truth I might seek would unravel in front of me.

The mind-body connection, or the physical-body problem in the form of high BMI, is a new one that life has dealt in a fashion that now cannot be ignored. This is a warning sign of what’s more to come soon. On the other hand, the lack of a right mind-set that makes you a misfit in a certain circle, like your brilliant class mates in a Sociology class, was a warning sign too. I clarified concepts by reading more and more, to arrive at an understanding that not only made me the wiser but also got the grades I was looking for.

The physical body however, took a while to give me the warning sign and working to fix that is what this dashboard or a thesis is about. Contact our editor to contribute to the dashboard as a writer.

Malini Waghray is the founder, editor, immersive researcher and developer at Choosing Wellness.

What the mandala taught me.

The Tibetan monks who came from Hubli, Karnataka had this to teach today at the Princeton Center for Yoga and Health. How to do a job well, to focus on one item at any time and breathe in with it, taking it all in. They are mindful of creating the mandala- they focus on the process. The process consists of first making a draft of the mandala with the outline on the surface. Then using colored sand, pouring it into the cones with holes at the ends. Then you inhale and exhale lightly, settle down by bending into a comfortable position and start tapping the sand onto the design. You orchestrate your hands to move the cone a few millimeters a second to create the pattern- and all this while continuously breathing. This is an ongoing process for 6-8 days to create a beautiful mandala.

The whole point of this activity then is to do a job well and wait for the beauty to come through (or not). This is an example for how any piece of work needs to be done. The end result may not be a visible product like the mandala here. It could be a small task taken to it’s end, accomplished well.

After creating the mandala, there is a ceremony done to celebrate its beauty and the aspect of working and accomplishing something together. The monks then let go of the beauty in the mandala by sweeping the sand up- the work is done and done well. The essence of it is gathered while creating it -it is this essence which we find common in the doctrine of mindfulness. It is knowing that what needs to be done is a “do-now”. It is the “do-now” that one needs to focus upon, this moment. The rest will follow through.

Malini Waghray is the founder, editor, immersive researcher and developer at Choosing Wellness.

(Picture Credits: Commons.Wikimedia)