Category Archives: Culture

A few more thoughts on the thoughtless state

Vipassana. Of all the types of meditation that I’ve known (And tried my hand at sporadically – like once in 2-3 years or so ūüė¶ ), Vipassana was the only practice that showed some immediate results. There is of course a logical explanation for that. I had no escape from it. I had no other option. Here was I, removed from the urban hullabaloo, at a secluded place somewhere in a village with all my tools of communicating – cell phone, paper, pen etc surrendered at the reception of the resort where this course took place. In addition, I wasnt supposed to talk to anyone AND all that happened for the duration of the course – 10 days, no less, was meditation. From 4. am… till 8 pm. The only windows of communication – daily 2 minute feedback session with the instructor in the afternoon and the series of video lectures every evening at 8 pm – where we were oriented on the philosophy of Vipassana. Of course the video lectures were one way communication – but still they began to matter because quiet and silence can be intimidating!

I was all gung-ho¬†about observing all the rules. Namely, observe silence – try to avoid even¬†meeting eyes with anyone –¬†practise meditation as per the instructions – for as many hours as¬†asked of us and even practise¬†homework given to us. I had a roomie and it helped that even she shared my enthusiasm. For 10 days, both of us observed these rules perfectly, even while sharing¬†a room, we did not look eye to eye and were thankful about it :). ¬†I had gone there,¬†simply because I knew it was supposed to be a difficult course – like a penance and I wanted to test it for myself. Besides, I was curious. Now I’d be hard pressed to explain why. In fact¬†perhaps, having experienced it once, it suddenly seems like a difficult thing to do again.¬†Since back then, I had no idea,¬†no pre conceived notions, I nursed a bravado….though the experience was all worth the ordeal I must say.

Though based on Buddhist philosophy, several of its tenets are similar to what we Hindus too believe – especially Karma theory and re-birth. A spirit – ‘aatma’-¬†is eternal – a witness to time. It has been subject to various acts, feelings, emotions, experiences over various births and a sort of debris¬† – of unfulfilled wishes, long-held¬†emotions – positive and negative piles up over the pureness that is aatma.So the inner voice communicates to one’s mind in this birth only through the filters of various ‘sanskars’ or the positive or negative attachments / impressions / trash that has accumulated over lifespans¬† – and so it may not always be pure. That our actions and thoughts in the present life are mostly guided by these sanskars¬†of past lives. Vipassana is the technique to slowly remove the debris and uncover the purity. As you slowly grow into the technique, you begin to experience sensory level various positive and negative vibes. Sometimes you shiver – out of fear, the other times, you shiver – out of pleasure. There are certain very prevalent sensations – you learn to associate them with a feeling. The object of Vipassana is to not only unearth, but also avoid further accumulation of trash. The only way there can be further trash is when mind is not in equilibrium – the non-zero state. Any external stimuli – an event, a person, an object, a place¬†will result in a ‘thought’ – which may be positive or negative – which is actually aatma’s response to that stimulus – but once through Vipassana, one learns to differentiate non-equilibrium state from the equilibrium state at sensory level, one can attempt to restore the balance as soon as possible and thus¬†restrict¬†the impact of that particular stimulus . In other words, if ‘fear’ is the major emotion that I have accumulated over my life spans, Vipassana teaches me to slowly reduce it and also differentiate it at sensory level from other emotion, say ‘anger’. If a meditator practises Vipassana regularly, over the time, he/she may actually recognize when the fear is subtly creeping into the mind, before it manifests itself in a reaction like¬†say anxiety or any other reaction, hold on to that moment and try to prevent that emotion from affecting the spirit any further. Another tenet was to live in ‘Now’, ‘present’ and not dwell either on past or future… that way you can control the amount of unnecessary thoughts.

Hard to explain it is…. but most of the people did experience a plethora of sensations… positive AND negative. The ultimate goal of Vipassana is eventually to become fully detached – to LIVE in a zero state. The seclusion and silence were necessary rules to avoid any external stimuli – so was absence of things like TV, phones, pen, paper, reading materials etc. We were not allowed to practise anything from our religions.

It WAS madness for first 3 days. I couldn’t¬†sleep. I believed then that silence would be capable of killing anyone. I was scared. Thousands of thoughts were¬†floating in my mind, though there wasnt anyone to talk to. At nights I lay awake and wondered how I had made it throught all these years with these many number of thoughts all running parallely…I¬†had never realised it before.¬†Just¬†like when entire city’s lights go off, suddenly, sky seems to be filled with thousands of stars… though not all my thoughts were that beautiful or even remotely¬†entertaining… silence got scarier at times. Not talking to anyone was an¬†unachievable feat for the talkative goose that yours truly can be….

¬†I was repenting the over enthusiastic and uninformed decision that I’d made to take the course. On the 3 rd afternoon, I told my instructor that I hadn’t¬†slept for more than 48 hours. She said it was okay, since I was just breathing¬† – it was all fresh air and in the midst of nature.My body probably did not need the rest and that is why I hadn’t¬†slept. Post lunch, they initiated us into Vipassana (diksha) – when we¬†were finally taught the technique. That is when I felt this was going to work. It was a smooth sailing thereafter. The thoughts slowly reduced. Occassionally I’d drift in and out of thoughtless state. Though I never stayed there for long.

Chanting of mantras, concentrating on a colour, a deity, tratak etc are all ways of stilling mind. Because one busies him/herself in this act, they reach closer to zero state Рneither living in past /nor in future, devoid of any emotions. It requires great patience and I admire all those who have maintained patience and continued to practise. Unfortunately, it took me a tragedy to be reminded of the fact that I can make my own living better Рthat I already know how.

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Gifting ideas anyone?

I want a Kaleidoscope!

¬†I was telling my friend M on Sunday, when I met her over coffee. She and I were discussing probable birthday gifts – for our upcoming birthdays. She wants an ‘unusual’ gift. I don’t know what unusual is supposed to be. Knowing her, I know she devours books, loves handbags, likes cotton garments, handmade artefacts¬† – any item with colours blue / violet/purple generally attracts her attention etc. Unusual for her would be anything apart from all these. That day, she bought nice jars for tea and coffee – She’s getting married soon and those jars are cute. She would have bought them for her mother probably even if she¬†wasn’t¬†getting married… but crockery etc is not my forte.There cannot be ‘unusual’ crockery…Jewellery, Music CDs etc would be very common place…I’m still thinking…

While I was still at it, I thought about this other friend, whose last day at work was last week, Friday. She wanted a jig-saw puzzle, a world map! Now that IS sort of unusual. We left work somewhat early,to look for it. Of course we didn’t find it, but ended buying some books and lots of stationery. It must be mentioned that I had never been to ‘Staples’ before and did not know that such a wonderland existed. I’m a stationery freak and was too happy to be in company of other 2 stationery freaks – who understood exactly,the joy I felt when I noticed scores of fresh reams of paper of various types, notebooks of amazing quality and covers, pens, clips, u-pins, binders, files, coasters, sketch pens, coloured pens, colours, hand-made gift wrapping papers, hand-made paper bags, various fancy sharpeners, erasers, notepads, calculators etc. My friends and I wished to undergo some time warp so that we could go back to school just to be able to use all these fancy items. The best thing about all this was the discovery that there existed some like-minded souls ready to go down the rabbit hole of stationery wonderland!! Though the store still did not stock Kaleidoscopes.

Everytime, I’ve gone to a stationery shop since last several years, I’ve kept looking for a Kaleidoscope. Probably toy shop is a better place to find it, and frankly speaking, God knows how many times I’ve tried it. The last time I went there was to buy a toy telescope for my nephew this May. I must have bought it in 10 mins flat and spent the rest of the 20 mins requesting shopkeeper to really search for a kaleidoscope if it is available…¬† it should be somewhere in the back of his store-room etc… No, it wasnt there. As a child I never owned a Kaleidoscope. I wanted it as a kid and wasnt given since it involved mirror glass etc. Growing up, I used to be fascinated by it – one of my cousins had it and whenever I used to visit their place, I’d sit for hours peeping into it…¬†looking at those pretty patterns. I was never adult enough to admit that the childish fantasy within me had never left. I never admitted it even to myself for a long time. A school friend,N, who shares her birthday with me, actually bought a Barbie-Doll house with her first salary – that was her childhood wish, to own a doll house. We called her crazy – what was she going to do with it – what a waste of space in the space starved Mumbai….Though now whenever I am reminded of Kaleidoscope, I end up empathising with her.In a weird manner, time and again I am reminded that concepts of ‘childish’ and ‘mature’ are too relative and perhaps¬† temporal.

Anyways, so while I need to ¬†look up for an unusual gift for my friend within a month, I expect her to do all the research over next 3 months and buy me a good Kaleidoscope ūüôā

Those Good Old Days – Videogames

I came across this post on ‘freshly pressed’ about the old¬†video games which promptly reminded me of hours and hours that I’d spent with my brother in front of TV getting insanely competitive about scores, during many summer vacations, while in school. I guess, playing video games is kind of ‘occupational hazard’ for every girl who has a brother, and since we grew up in the eighties and nineties, our introduction to gaming happened through those early gaming consoles (what do you call them??) of companies like Sega which needed to be connected to TV. Of course when we graduated to computer games, the kind of games that we played changed to NFS, Quake, SIM City etc – but then somehow, I lost my interest in the gaming. It suddenly¬†wasn’t¬†fun¬†any more, maybe,because the games¬†weren’t¬†silly concepts of a joker trying to cross hurdles in a circus or a Pacman eating away those dot or bricks falling randomly. It got more serious, violent, more tech-savy etc. Music wasnt simple and melodious anymore, it was all rock and heavy metal!

Modern form of gaming is all hi-tech and I don’t think I’d even understand anything of it. Yeah, the latest gaming buzz for the non-gamers would of course be games like Mafia Wars and Farmville, but those never enticed me. Nevertheless that post reminded me of my good times with gaming, just like ‘bhoole bisre geet’, this is my own list of games – I found them online as well, now in flash format. This order is totally random.

  • Super Mario Bros
  • Contra
  • Circus
  • Tetris II
  • Karateka
  • Tennis
  • Kung Fu
  • Pac-Man
  • Elevator Action
  • Sonic
  • Duck Tales
  • Little Mermaid
  • Donkey Kong
  • Milk and Nuts
  • Popeye
  • Dr Mario
  • Bomber Man
  • Burger¬†Time
  • Galaxian

Mangoes and other Konkani Fare

We bought this season’s first batch of Mangoes today! Its already mid May and only a person hailing from Konkan would probably understand the lamentful undertone of this statement. Infact, not just a Konkani, any other person who has tasted our most valued contribution to the gastronomic (and ecological) world – ¬†Alphonso Mangoes¬†would find this situation pitiable.

The mango season begins from late March onwards and ends by Mid-June. March is too early to buy since the first lot is always very costly. Usually prices correct by mid-April and the quality and quantity of the fruit too improves over this period. By the beginning of June, Mangoes get cheaper, but the quality too deteriorates.¬†When I was growing up, we’d buy chests and chests of mangoes during summer vacation. My cousins would usually visit us during the period and then we’d have this daily mango-time in the morning. I remember my grandmother rationing mangoes in order to ensure that we didnt overeat (which caused heat-boils). She’d also make sure, we each had a glass of milk after we ate mango every morning. The mangoes then would be large in size and have red-pink-orange tint and smell heavenly. They became more and more popular over the years, and¬†nowadays, such fruit as I described is only of export quality (hence not available for us sinful locals). Nevertheless, prices of ordinary alphonso mangoes too have¬†sky-rocketed. At one point I remember my mother bargaining for a chest of mangoes (containing ~ 50 mangoes) for Rs. 350. Today we bought a mere¬†dozen¬†of mangoes for more than Rs. 1000. Gone are the days of chests after chests of mangoes which would be consumed as fruit, pulp, jam, milkshake, ice-cream over the period of summer vacation. Neither do we have that many mangoes in the market (they get exported) nor do we have lot of money to buy..

A trip to the mango vendor is not for the limited purpose of buying mangos, but also to purchase the entire year’s stock of, other goodies from Konkan. Some of these items are available locally throughout the year, but the taste, the flavour, the aroma never reaches to the authentic Konkan level. Again, I suppose this is something which not many people (except those from Konkan of course) will get. The mango vendors are usually some plantation owners from Konkan who set up temporary stalls during the mango season. So all that they sell is fresh and original ‘made in Konkan’ stuff. If I sing songs of Kuleeth¬†Peeth (flour) – to a larger part of the world including North India that would sound odd since it is actually a cattle feed – but in Konkan, we use the Kuleeth flour to make Kuleeth Pithla (which is a heavenly concoction of only Kuleeth flour, chillies, oil, garlic and Kokam skin, can be made in less than 10 minutes, has creamy consistency and must be eaten with cooked rice), Pickles/amboshis (of innumerable varieties), other seasoning food such as mirgunda, chikawadya, papads, metkut (kind of powder made of rice and some lentils and spices and tastes amazing when mixed with curd/ghee/or even plain), goda masala, amsul (dried Kokam skin), Kokam agal (extract of Kokam fruit which is used to make our famed Sol kadhi – which is a made with mere coconut milk, Kokam agal, cummin seeds, chillies, coriander and a pinch of sugar and tastes amazing). Then you have Amba/Fanas poli (sun-dried pulps of Mango and Jackfruit), Kaju gar (Cashews) and cashew fruit jam / jelly, supari (Areca nut), numerous sharbet mixes (mango, gooseberry, kokam) etc. With my limited knowledge of my community, I am aware of only these popular items sold here in Mumbai. Given the vast cultural diversity within Konkan region itself, I wonder how much I might be missing out on….though I hope to discover most of it someday…

‘The one with all the laughter and fun’

An episode with all the laughter and fun and hysteria and gossip and flashbacks and hilarity!!¬†Friends! arent friends like episodes?? well, if they really are, then I’d have preferred a daily soap – so that the good times¬†continue into eternity ūüôā

I have always thought about this (not as a blogpost ūüôā of course)¬† – what friendship means, especially since the contexts have changed, times have changed, lifestyles have changed. How do you become friends with anybody… there are many reasons – ‘habit friend/s’ as in people who you end up hanging out with due to reasons such as being neighbours / classmates etc, ‘aspirational value friends ‘ as in people whose personalities / qualities ¬†hold a sort of attraction and you feel they are cool, you want to be like them and you might hang out with them, many other reasons perhaps, but the one I value a lot is connection.

For example, ¬†when I recall my childhood, can conclude that as a child, my only friends were the neighbouring kids/ classmates sitting next to me/my cousins¬†because those people were ‘given’ in my life. Everyone begins with such friends. They are ‘habit’ friends – they have different nature than yours, you might realise that (though not as articulately as that¬†– you will just not like them and pick fights with them) but you still play with them. All of the friends of my childhood were as such ‘habit’ friends, and I dont have a particular memory about any of them. I remember random things like a classmate sitting next to me in class 1 broke all my crayons, a boy had once run away from school – he was my friend¬† – and I think they never found him etc… I mean, those were totally non-descript years. atleast in my life ūüôā anyways, this is digression from the topic at hand….

Coming back to what I want to say : In my adult life – I take that back. I’d say, ever since I began to really understand that world did not feel the same way as I did , I met only a handful people outside of my family who I thought ‘got me’ – spoke the exact language I spoke. I really admire people who can instantly¬†connect¬†with anybody and everybody, but deep down, I am skeptical. I believe such connections are not as cheap and easy. Nevertheless, I have been privy to the absolute joy that is afforded by having such friends, such connections and I can totally testify to the fact that age, financial status, education etc need not be a common ground to make such a friendship. One such friend is now 51!! She and I dont share many things in common, we are mostly not in touch with each other, but when we meet, we can chat for hours and hours, pick up from where we left it like 2/3/5/7 months ago!! And I cannot explain it. Her concerns, opinions etc are entirely different from mine, given her age and yet, when I speak to her, I do feel we are equals – that she understands me perfectly. Perhaps it is her nature – unlike other people of her age she doesnt release a barrage of advices and can laugh at my jokes. Whatever it is, I’m grateful, I met her.

For most of the people, the best years of life are college years, when many people do experience such a connection with several people at a time and that is really an amazing feeling. Thereafter the work begins and colleagues are supposed to be your competitors and habit – friends. It is very rare to make friends for real within formal and official conditions though I am fortunate enough to make a handful of them and it is something that sometimes I cannot believe myself….

It is a truth universally acknowledged (I like to quote Jane Austen now and then ūüôā ) that the good times last only for short while… Life is changing too fast – jobs/ education/ marriage¬†makes it rather impossible for the ‘connection’ to last over two different countries/ cities etc. And that’s why I said friends are like episodes nowadays. So one can only hope to make many more such connections in their lifetime and of course hope that the old connections are not given up that easily….