Today was the first anniversary of my father’s death. Next year will mark another one and the next, the following one; and so on. According to Eastern tradition, one year marks an important point in the grieving process. It signals the changes in a person after a year of reflection, grieving and changes. So what have I learnt about myself in this year?
First, was that my father’s life is still a positive force, alive and inspiring to me and to those that knew him. It is said that the dead give the living the gift of their lives. My father’s life was that of absolute determination in the face of the most daunting obstacles and winning despite them. I felt ready to move on and become a real adult by trying to emulate my father’s courage, his honesty and earnestness. These were his real gifts to me. For the first time, I felt truly grateful to have had him as my father.
This morning I wrote a haiku to mark this occasion.
I saw the sunrise today,
Wrote my father in his diary,
Simple, direct and honest- like the man.
For many weeks, I have been watching a spider in my garden. There is almost a zen like quality in the way the spider makes its web, busy but methodical. Then when winds and rain bring the web down, it starts again (I wrote a blog about that). That spider gave me a lot of hope!
I watched it getting bigger, swaying like a trapeze artist in its web when the wind blew, or (as I imagined), relaxing in its delicate hammock, enjoying the last of the evening sun. In some comical moments, I would imagine it reading a book and I would be envious of its carefree and contained life. I would water the plants around it, treading carefully so as to disturb it. Once I accidentally touched the web and it scampered off into the cranny of the wall, frightened.
Now I have to confess, I am not a spider lover- I used to be terrified of them. I still think I wouldn’t want to meet another one that I had seen once that was the size of my hand or the tarantula I saw in the Amazon forest. But this orange-brown one had landed from somewhere, lonely and singular, and I had become its admirer and human friend.
Then as the days went, while it got bigger, it started staying more and more in the wood of the surrounding wall. It would come out occasionally and I went once or twice to see how it was doing. The web started getting more tangled up but it seemed the spider had retired into meditation.
Yesterday as my son and I were clearing up after a thunderstorm, we found it on the decking, dead and dried. The web had gone too.
I wondered how good it would it would be if humans also lived like that. Enjoying the days of youth, eating what was local, making and living in a self build home, flourishing and then to die in contentment without leaving a trace. The perfect minimalist life style! A life without the complication of wills, money, inheritance, family beds, and pollution and waste.
There is so much I’ve learnt from my spider friend- thank you and farewell!
There is much we don’t know about. While we may know about our own lives and that of close family and friends, our area of work or what is happening near where we live, there is much going on that we don’t know about. It is good to be curious, good to listen to others and good to learn about new things. Recently I have become a convert to saying, ‘I don’t know’ after years of saying, ‘I know’.
The reason comes from a childhood incident when a teacher told me I was stupid because I confessed that I did not know the words to a Christmas carol by heart. I was being truthful but was upset when this woman declared that I was stupid in front of all my classmates. So I started saying ‘I know’ to everything and saying ‘Yes’ to everything. Both are stupid reactions but how is a child to know? I carried this shame and reaction in my heart for many decades although I had long left that school and teacher. It is only now that I realise that saying ‘I know’ is actually stupid. There is very little we know and most of what we know is of little importance. It is better to be humble and look at the world with new eyes of learning and gratitude. It is also such a release. When you say, ‘I know’, you are also waiting to be found out that you actually don’t know. So less stressful!
It is also so powerful to say this because you open your heart to new experiences, to be able to listen and to gain knowledge. Even if you find out later that you knew something, it still adds to your skill and knowledge to hear it from someone else. Most people are keen to talk and tell you something. So the ‘I don’t know, please tell me’ has actually increased my knowledge and I have made more friends by being able to listen. It doesn’t sound unprofessional at all- in fact it makes you look more professional by wanting to listen and understand colleagues. Social media wants you to look like an all-knowing clever (and barbed) quip-a-dozen personality. But opting out of that restriction is always an improvement to one’s life! Be simple, be ignorant- or to follow the quote beloved of Steve Jobs, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’.
While the UK and Europe are battling over the Brexit process, it is easy to find yourself drawn into this like a moth to the bulb, spending hours thinking about pros and cons, and who said what. Then there is a perpetual source of amusement coming from the USA, which generates reams of journalistic coverage and hours of entertainment. It is easy to lose yourself in these things everyday. But one day I took a look at my terrarium- and realised that there were small events happening daily in my own room that I ignored. Things that gave me joy and courage. And hope and happiness.
A life was emerging and there were more signs of life to be found in my living room that I hadn’t acknowledged, like this Peace Lily from a pot that hasn’t bloomed for years.
Then I realised there were big things also happening that could affect our life on the planet at the time when politicians appear to have taken centre stage. Climate change threatens our entire existence and no one really seems to be paying any attention, despite the student protests on Fridays. In December 2018, a meteorite came close to causing catastrophic damage to all forms of life when a force close to ten Hiroshima bombs was unleashed. Except, thankfully this meteorite exploded over a water body and no one was hurt. So I realise that when the immediate seems to capture and hold your attention, then try looking up into the heavens or inside your home. There are things happening there which are far more meaning to your life and others.
It is rude to ask someone their age, how much they earn and other personal stuff like religion and sexuality (unless they talk about it themselves) but I found there are times when it might be advantageous to reveal your age. This is when you work in an industry where age or experience matters and you look younger than you are. I look younger than I am and I work in a very male dominated industry where I’ve been dismissed by both men, and surprisingly by women too (I suppose these women follow the males). I was being also ignored for promotions and my suggestions or advice not being listened to. One colleague even calls me ‘kiddo’. Friends told me to stop worrying about it, saying, ‘You know that people actually reduce their age on social media?’ or ‘You are so lucky!’ People have different problems and I had this strange one. I wondered what I should do as it seemed a ‘non-problem’ to some, and even ironical to complain about it.
I spoke to a female mentor and she said I shouldn’t worry about this and should use this to my advantage. But what advantage was it giving me? None, I decided. Then I noticed a female colleague who had set out her date of birth in her C.V., unlike me. She is the same age as me but actually looks older. But instead of dismissing her, I noticed the men saying we should all support this ‘young woman’ and the women giving her respect too. So obviously being careful with online scams and ‘cat fishing’, I’ve decided to reveal my age (but not the day and month) on my social media profile on sites like Linkedin and my CV. I noticed that this also stops me from getting unwanted chatty emails from men saying things like, ‘I love your smile, shall we meet up when I am next in London?’
Have you had any experience of this? What actions did you take?
I’ve got an autoimmune condition which causes blood clots for many years. I’ve had a stroke and several miscarriages. Since then, I’ve been either on self injected medication or on tablets. I need to have a blood test every week or so, depending upon the result to make sure my blood is at required level of ‘thinness’ or INR. I also go for other medical tests every six months as well as eye tests. Now all this takes up an awful lot of my time and attention- I’ve only forgotten one appointment in almost ten years (for which I apologised profusely). I’m also fed up of having so many medications, of not being able to travel as much as I’d like to, unable to do some kinds of sports, and of constantly watching my diet because I’m not allowed certain foods. Although I’ve made the most of it, it is a very restrictive life. Last year, I had a setback when some medication I was given with another issue reacted with the warfarin and I was back on an increased dosage. There have been two occasions when certain medications reacted so badly that I was back in the A&E on various drips with a BP of 35. And another thing- the warfarin also leaches bones so I’ve developed osteoporosis in my spine which gives me terrible pain but I’m not allowed painkillers due to reaction with the warfarin. It is an endless cycle of medication against medication!
This year, I made a New Year resolution of being medication free by the end of the year. As it has been said time and time again, ‘Let food be your medicine’, I am trying a new diet which I have called my #cleancurecooking. The idea is to use organic foods in season, cook using the least amount of oils, spices and salt, and thereby save money and time. I’ve watched many food programmes and read a lot of research on using food. There are many spices and herbs which are reputed to thin the blood- turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc. But one of the reasons that warfarin is used instead of traditional herbs or foods to thin the blood is because the dose can be controlled and managed. As I’m being tested each week and every six months anyway, I wondered if I can use food to reduce and ultimately get rid of my medication. The risk is minimal and if there are problems, the warfarin can be topped up. I also eat more starchy carbohydrates than really needed and consequently feel hungry while putting on weight (although I’m small 5’4”, I am tending towards overweight on the BMI chart). I’m not a huge meat eater but if I don’t eat meat at all, I will need to have some more medications to increase iron and Vitamin B12. So the recipes and ideas I’ve devised are not vegetarian or vegan.
Another thing I’ve done to reduce portion sizes is to serve food on plates with dividers. I found that I’m not conscious of how much I’m eating if eating on a plain plate. I’ve stopped having sugar, instead I’ve fruits in season. I have two cups of black, unseated tea with some cloves which gives it some sweetness (think mulled tea!) Apart from cranberry juice mixed with some apple and pear juice, I don’t have any fruit juice or carbonated drinks. My treat is dark chocolate which again is supposed to help with thinning blood. I generally don’t drink although this Christmas I’ve had a few glasses of wine. A few tricks from reading up and experimenting-
Having lemon juice with protein increases absorption of iron and allows you decrease amount of salt without losing taste
Keeping your room slightly colder than usual, helps to lose weight as well as be eco-friendly (from Science Magazine)
Lentils help with gut biome which help with losing weight- they are also a good source of protein, especially combined with meat. Lentils with meat dishes are good because you can reduce the amount of meat used.
Many spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and red chillies help with blood thinning as well as the immune system. Think how the warming and spicy mulled wine is used in the winter. I like the taste and smell of fresh turmeric which although is expensive, is a luxury worth having. If you can’t find any, powdered will do.
Herbs and foods such as corianders, onions, fresh chillies, and garlic are also good for boosting the immune system, so I often use chopped up coriander, spring onions and chillies to garnish my foods. These foods also bring up saliva which is good for digestion.
Drinking water is often good- sometimes when you are thirsty, you think you are hungry, so try the water first.
Use distraction as a way of warding off snacks. I often make calls or do some engaging work and I find I’m thinking less about food!
Chew your food more, that way you will feel satiated with less.
Foods in season taste better and cost less. For example, I’ve now given up buying expensive tomatoes in winter- they taste like boiled potatoes. In summer, I buy less of lemons and oranges but use tamarind to provide sour taste.
Use foods to provide sweet or salty taste instead of adding actual salt or sugar- so for example, raisins can make food taste sweeter and celery can make it salty. Using more herbs can make the food more tasty than adding more salt.
Dry frying onions and adding oil once the onions have turned translucent uses much less oil than normal frying.
Here is one dinner-
Next I tried this one which seems to have worked better as it the portions of protein and carbohydrate appear to be better.
I’m due for a blood test on Tuesday, so I will see if this diet is working or not!
This year we have lost many wonderful amazing human beings who made this planet a better place- my father being one of those. He was a maths teacher and lived his life the way he wanted to, despite threats and ridicule, helping the poor and disadvantaged. There are many like him, who have died unknown. Their legacy lies in themselves, while the luckier ones also achieved fame (see the quote from Stan Lee below). Regardless of whether you achieve fame or not in the end, I think the greatest achievement is to live your life in your own way, using your talents to help others.
Here I have selected some quotes from more famous people to reflect on, and to provide inspiration for the year ahead. These humans weren’t perfect because no one can be and you may not like them but what they say is an enduring testimony to the power of inspiration. Some quotes will make you even think about fame in a different way. Let me know if any of these appeal to you or if you have other inspiring quotes from people who passed away this year.
“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then… even thought impossible.”
– Sir Roger Bannister (UK athlete and neurologist, who broke the human speed record)
“Every guy in the world would love to be Mr Macho, but I am camp and you cannot lie to the public. If you’re yourself, they’ll either love you or they won’t.”
– Dale Winton (UK TV presenter)
“Because you run against each other, that doesn’t mean you’re enemies. Politics doesn’t have to be uncivil and nasty.”
– George HW Bush (past US president)
“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”
– John McCain (US senator)
“Every time I go to a comic book convention, at least one fan will ask me: ‘What is the greatest superpower of all?’ I always say that luck is the greatest superpower, because if you have good luck then everything goes your way.”
– Stan Lee (US creator of many superhero comic characters)
“Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”
– Aretha Franklin (US singer)
And finally these great words-
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
– Professor Stephen Hawking (UK scientist)
I took this photo couple of days ago on my iPhone- no filters or photoshop was used. It is a photo of an amazing sunrise but what is most amazing is that until a few months ago, I would have really been depressed and angry to get up so early. I thought by doing so I was depriving my body of sleep and that I would be tired and irritable. And of course, I would be angry and irritable the more I thought about it, thereby fulfilling my own prophesy! Anyway, now I get up when I wake up and go outside and enjoy the spectacle that the skies provide from my balcony. This is the gift of the universe. In fact it is our daily gift to wake up and see the skies- sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy, sometimes raining, sometimes stormy but always beautiful and inspiring. It always leads us to be inspired and invigorated. I kick myself for my stupidity all these years, when I hadn’t woken up to enjoy the morning skies. For the incredible power that dawn gives us.
This poem by the 13th Century Indian poet, Kalidasa, encapsulates all the power and determination of the dawn.
Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!
It seems a bit strange to discuss the cons of taking what others have thrown out- in fact, there’s a saying to the effect that someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure. For many years, I took in stuff given by people and also those I found lying in the street. I believed that it was good manners to not only accept other people’s gifts but also use them, whether they proved to a hindrance to my daily life or not. I believed that picking what other people had left out on the street, not only could help me (just in case I needed those items suddenly!) but also helped to clean the streets and the environment, giving things a second life. My way of thinking also came from having been brought up in great poverty and having too little.
For years, these objects lay in my home, in boxes when I moved, and in my new home. Even if they were difficult to use, I had to use them. The turning point came when I realised that I had become so tired of taking care of these things, storing them and cleaning them when they are so patently useless. Of my gifts, I noticed that one of my friends had a knack of giving me stuff that cannot be washed in the dishwasher. Hand washing is one of thing I hate, having done it from childhood and I love my eco-friendly dishwasher. Dishwashing is one chore I would be gladly free off. One gave me flowers and bowls which although very pretty did not last. So I would be left with utensils (or broken crockery that I thought I would use for arts projects!) that I could not use and empty flower pots. I picked up stuff from the street, stuff I haven’t used at all- books, cutlery, glassware, etc. Of the things I have picked up, furniture has been my most used item and I have even sold some antique stuff for profit. But the money made is really negligible. But the most despicable thing I have done is, giving my own unused stuff to my parents. Perhaps out of love, they did not say they couldn’t use it and at times, they even tried to, but gave up. These items have been languishing in their homes for years.
Now my eldest son having left home, and my father having died, I am now finding stuff stored in all corner of my own house and that of my parents. My mother is going to move to a smaller place. I’ve spent more than two months trying to declutter and stuff keeps coming out of everywhere. I tried selling them on eBay and no one would have them (although they are either brand new, unusual or antique items). It is also an effort of put items on the website and then keep checking and then having to post them. I’ve had people who bought the stuff without reading t&c’s and told me that they thought I was going to deliver the item to their home! Really! I tried selling them at antique shops- they were interested but always told me to come back when their shop had a little more space. In the end I got tired of ringing them and waiting for them. They also would give me very little money, which really wasn’t worth the effort. Then I tried giving them to the charity shops which are also filled to the brim with other people’s junk. But taking them on public transport to various charities, really tires me- I’ve got an incurable blood disorder which is debilitating. So I’m now ‘freegling’ stuff which means people can take it away. Bu that has been a great pain as well. People promising to turn up at an agreed time and then not doing so. One person even kept me waiting for two days giving all sorts of improbable excuses.
I now look back at my time over the years, collecting all this stuff (dragging some huge pots or furniture from the street), looking after it, moving it, trying all sorts of creative ways of re-using or up-cycling it, trying to give it to others, selling it, donating it and having failed in all these ways, then storing it. What a waste of time (and space) that could have been spent more creatively and usefully! But I still will not litter the streets with my junk, even though I might have picked the junk off the street. But perhaps something in me has changed. Today, my younger son, who is a hoarder, has given away two boxes of children’s books to someone who was very happy to have them. He even hoovered and cleaned his room- a teenager doing this is very rare! I am slowly decluttering- things that have been collected for years will take some time leave. In Buddhism, the word ‘karma’ means action and also denotes the effects of the action. So I think I may have changed my karma. I have thanked all the junk that came my way for the lesson it taught me and how it has helped changed my ‘poverty karma’. I feel rich and full, without all the junk in my life. I will leave up-cycling, selling, organising and re-using to all those people who get paid for it, have time for it, and do it well. My life’s work is different although it is still very creative. Also, I’ve made many friends by giving away stuff but disposing of junk does take a lot of time from my work.
As for picking other’s people’s trash, I will never do it again! So here are some lessons I’ve learnt-
Do not have a junk mentality- do not let junk enter your body and environment in any way- junk food, junk mail or junk stuff.
Do not even consider a junk drawer- if you have stuff that you are unsure about, put it where you and your family will see it everyday. If the sight irritates you or you haven’t used it for a month, give it away.
Do not give junk to others, especially your family and friends. If you receive what you know is junk, accept it gracefully and then give it away. No one will care or ask about it!
If you have no skills in up-cycling, re-purposing, or DIY, do not ever pick up junk that you think might be useful.
Do not clear other people’s junk- their karma is theirs, they don’t need your meddling.
Lately, I have been thinking about how growing up in India in extreme poverty has made me into what I am. At one point, I used to be extremely embarrassed by our family’s state- especially as my father who was a very proud man told us never to talk about our lack of money. We wore badly fitting home made clothes out of scraps of materials that my mother found. Our school clothes were also made at home, while my friends had tailored clothes. In Delhi’s bitterly cold winter, we went without sweaters- sometimes wearing cast offs, and saving our school sweaters and blazers for school wear and occasions. We went to the local BATA shop where we bought shoes at least two sizes larger and cardboard was inserted so that they would last a bit longer as our feet grew. My mother went to the street market late in the evening when the sellers were selling off damaged or not so fresh produce at cheaper prices- I still remember her walking slowly in a distinct gait coming back with her shopping, as she has a pronounced limp on one leg. She bought rice, lentils and other goods from the government ‘Ration’ shop. These were of very poor quality. So I used to take a long time to eat- two three hours sometimes- picking out maggots and weevils from the rice and vegetables. We could afford fish and egg once a fortnight while chicken and goat meat were a luxury for once a month. My mother used to write each and every cost in a diary, the most meticulous record of expenses that I have ever seen in my life. We were severely malnourished though and in particular, despite being inoculated, I had every disease going- from malaria, whooping cough, diphtheria amongst others and nearly died from a severe case of jaundice. I remember being given steroid injections in order to make my muscles grow but evidently they never worked as can be seen today.
We (three girls and our parents) lived in one small room surrounded by an open terrace which was baking hot in the summer while the leaking roof and badly fitted doors allowed rainwater to come in during the monsoons. The kitchen was also outside and my mother used to get wet getting food from there and back. There was an outside toilet and bathroom with asbestos roof and tin doors that didn’t shut properly. There was one small table fan. The day when we got a ‘ceiling fan’ was wonderful- we sat, taking in the cool breeze that came from the top that cooled down the hot room. Mains water came in intermittently- once in the morning and once in the afternoon (as it still does). So everything from cleaning dishes to cleaning the rooms had to be done in those times- these were such hive of activity all around the neighbourhood. We each had a set of one dish, one bowl and one glass- all made of stainless steel and given to us at our ‘annaprashana’ when the baby eats the first solid food at 8 months. So we had responsibility to wash these after each meal. When I was 22, we got a fridge and then later, a television- both were welcomed with great joy. But it was too late to wipe off the humiliation we had suffered at the hands of various children who had visited our home and the relatives who wondered if we would even live to tell the tale, so great was our poverty. My father valued education, so via scholarship and scrapping money together, we went to a Christian school, which had a much better standard of education than the government schools. My school mates were rich, some even turned up in a car- a rarity in Delhi in the 70’s, so we were the target of many jokes.
The onset of teenage years brought on further humiliation due to poverty. Not only could we could not afford to buy bras, but also sanitary napkins. So we used my father’s old dhoti’s which were soft and I fashioned them to be like sanitary napkins that I saw on the packs in the shops. But my mother made us wash these rags out and re-use them which I found an terrible and embarrassing task, especially if men were around. Further, these home made pads would sometimes pop out of my homemade underwear when playing at the school. After much pleading, my mother bought us bras when I turned 13 years old. And when I got into architecture school, I had some money to buy sanitary pads. But the humiliations continued throughout. Even richer members of our family did not hold back. One of my uncles taunted my father, ‘You can’t even feed these girls, how will you pay for their dowries?’ Another rich cousin sexually abused me and my sister- it seemed we were the butt of every humiliation going. My father used a bicycle to get to his school where he taught. Although in the West, cycling is seen as a middle class pursuit, in Delhi where materialism is worshipped, he was taunted by not only his colleagues but also his students. Recently while cleaning, I found a report that he had been physically assaulted by a colleague in an unprovoked attack. I also clearly remember walking with him with some school boys hurling insults at us. I did not know why they were doing so, but I was afraid. When I grew up, I learnt that these boys were making fun of him because he seemed to have two of each shirt- he bought extra cloth to get two of each items made, thus saving money. So in those boys’ minds, he was a cheapskate. How angry I feel now!
But in midst of these dire times, there were also times of joy. My beloved Uncle, Meshai, who nursed me back to health after my attack of jaundice, encouraged us to paint. He also took us to see exhibitions of modern art, much of which we couldn’t understand but perhaps absorbed something by osmosis. So each weekend was spent in creative pursuit, using PVA paints made from turmeric (yellow), sindoor (red) and the blue dye used as a whitening agent. We made secondary colours out of these basic ones- green, purple and orange. But there was no black paint, which might explain why even today, I don’t use black! We had old calendars, on the backs of which we painted scenes from imagination and also copied pictures from our school books. He also bought us glitter, glue, cellophane, and shiny paper for our birthdays- again, I love these today as they remind me of my childhood joys. I used to steal the foil from his cigarette packs, smelly though they were, and used them. Waste seeds, lentils, scraps of cloth, paper-everything seemed imbued with the possibility of a rich new creation. My tendency to layer waste and found materials in my art today, is probably a nod to my past. The day my Uncle gave us a pair of scissors was a memorable day, but stupidly while playing doctors and nurses, I cut my sister (and deservedly got a good spanking for it!)
I know I have a tendency to hoard which comes from having so little as a child, and so doing ‘Konmari’ or even the ‘Swedish death cleaning’ has been a ritual to exorcise the past. I also used to store things to give to other people, and it took me many decades to realise that people neither appreciated these gifts nor reciprocated them. So now I give donations straight to the charities that I support. For me, this was personally a big lesson. To be messy may be my particular tendency but again, some of that comes from having too many bits to deal with. I used to have a cardboard box in which I stored many images from magazines and old calendars that I got from my Uncle- the foreign magazines were of good quality paper and so, were much desired. When I grew up, I stored a lot of images- pictures cut out from magazines, photographs and even digital photos. I am now getting rid of much of these photographs that Konmari called ‘Komono’ as a way of getting rid of my inclination to store things that I don’t use. The box is long gone but instead, I am slowly going through the images in my mind and visiting these places that I saw in some far away moment in time, in a calendar or a diary. It seems such a miracle to be alive and to be where I am today. My older son suggested I should tell my story, he said, ‘Mum, no one can imagine where you’ve come from when they see you today’. That is why I wrote this piece. Hope you liked it!