Monday, March 13, 2017

Not veiled anymore

More than ever, the unfolding of events in the last year has left me stumped. Call it naivety or sheer stupidity, the fact is that I have been stunned on several occasions. What I thought lay interred in the subconscious manifested itself with unimaginable intensity.

Among my circle of friends it is not uncommon to hear of splits, divorces and remarriages. In one case, a widower acquaintance of mine, initially devastated after the untimely death of his wife, appeared to be getting restless about his single status. His search for a partner led him to the women in his friends’ circle, many of whom were married. But what started out as a lark turned out to be a successful venture! Not one but two married women in his group responded favourably to      his overtures. Surprisingly, he had a choice and after having a brief affair with both of them he chose one. When he announced his intentions to friends and family he was met with shock and disgust. The bewildered husband of the woman he eventually married had no clue how and why his wife left him. And to think that just a few months before, I had been feeling sorry for my widower acquaintance. Now I was only consumed with disbelief over his audacity of having an affair and getting remarried within 15 months of having lost his wife of 15 years. I was taken aback at the speed with which circumstances changed for him and the woman he married. I questioned my naivety in what I thought was a content relationship for the woman. With two kids in tow and in-laws living in, was it that easy to toss out an alliance, I wondered. Obviously the frustration that lay buried for quite some time had been exposed for her, and was defused by her newfound love. 
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In a drawing room conversation with some other friends, I happened to express my disgust at the recent assault on filmmaker Bhansali. The conversation then steered towards the BJP government and its Hindutva mindset. Much to my horror, some of my friends lauded the government’s overt efforts to promote it, displaying a sense of nationalism intertwined with religion. Before I knew it, I was at the receiving end. I never realised I had friends who harboured non-secular sentiments. I was completely overthrown by what had just emerged from the shadows. A sharp sense of disconnect from the very friends who I had been proud of; was palpable.

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Last year I was in London during the Brexit campaign. At that time I believed that this was the age for collaboration and inclusivity, and the idea of Britain moving out of the EU was a ludicrous one. Everyone in London seemed to think so too. You can imagine my shock when I woke up one morning to the news of Brexit. This is unthinkable, there must be some mistake was my first reaction. It only gradually emerged that a large proportion of the British public, whose voice had not been captured by popular media, had nurtured xenophobic sentiments all along. What lay nicely tucked away from public view was rising like the proverbial Phoenix to find its place under the sun. 
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When the world was recovering from the upset over Brexit, we were in for another one. There has been no leader in modern times who has faced such massive opposition from the world as has Donald Trump. But who are these people who voted for a man like him? Why haven’t they been seen or heard all this time? Why had the world believed and assumed that Hillary would win? In an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, it was only natural to believe that inclusiveness, multiculturalism and cooperation was on the rise. But Trump’s victory proved that divisiveness and isolationist tendencies were taking centre stage. Like a bolt from the blue what was unthinkable had surfaced.

I now realise that nothing can be taken for granted. Assumptions need to be questioned from time to time. While I continue to alter my own notions of people and societies, I wonder what will help in minimizing the extreme polarities in views that we see today. Technology and innovation might have made the world a global village but are bonds within societies strengthening to keep pace?

It is becoming apparent that harmony is hanging by a thread, easily blown away by the slightest wind of discontent. Insecurity like a wildfire, stamps out confidence with ease. Narrow-minded perspectives are gathering momentum faster than expansive and more tolerant ones. Frustration brews silently for days on end and then bursts out with ferocity. The fabric of deep connections, meaning, tolerance and an unwavering strength of character is weakening. Somewhere the expression of thoughts and emotions have been repeatedly throttled  leading to deep resentment, anger and insecurity. If people had the opportunity to ventilate these feelings without fear and hesitation, there would be a reduced sense of isolation and anxiety associated with it. From our families to communities and our nation, the time and mind space for having genuine heartfelt conversations is getting limited. The pace of life is restricting the depth of dialogue that we as humans need to have to keep our bearings intact.

Are couples having enough conversations about the fulfillment of their needs and values? Are the voices of the marginalized getting enough air time? Are we allowing people from the lower socio economic strata into our lives to blur the divide? Is our insecurity about ourselves inhibiting us from being tolerant about divergent views? Are we letting go of our fears to allow for possibilities to take its place?

The task of building harmonious families and societies is a slow process, but one that is begging for our collective attention. The unveiling of the psychological distress, is a pointer for me and indeed all of us , to step into action on a war footing. Perhaps facilitating authentic dialogue with oneself and with sections of society may be a foundational step in that direction.







Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women Leadership Retreat 7th to 9th April 2017

Nirupama and I are delighted to present a Wholistic Leadership retreat for women professionals

This is a 2 day residential program from the 7th to 9th April 2017 at Laksh Farms(close to the Faridabad road) in Haryana.

Whether personally or professionally women have to juggle several priorities in their lives. Coping with high expectations in all spheres can leave many of us exhausted and undervalued. This is a unique opportunity for women to come together in a safe, congenial environment designed to help nourish and re juvenate themselves. They  will learn to lead from their whole being ( Spiritual, physical, intellectual,relational and emotional) as they gain new perspectives from a diverse group of women
​, including those from the villages closeby​


for more details on the program write in to Aparna on aparna94@gmail.com 9818155282 #leadershipretreat# womenleadership

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Reveal n Revel

A favourite pastime of mine is to mindlessly flip through photographs posted by friends on Face book. While feeding my voyeuristic tendency, I realized how dated my notions on fashion were. I don’t seem to have kept pace with the norm or the ‘in thing’ as they say. My view on fashion has been to wear what looks good on you or what suits your body type. Shopping, for me is a time consuming affair as countless outfits get junked till such time as I find the perfect fit. A good fit most definitely means one that hides my flaws. Increasingly I see women and particularly those in my age bracket, wear western outfits of varying shapes and styles. Little wonder then that they look so similar, the only difference being that only some are able to carry them off with panache. At the cost of sounding racist, I feel a flowing fitting gown or a little black dress has a low probability of looking good on an Indian body type and structure, n the same way that a bindi or a saree seems out of place on a blonde. Yet there seems to be a fanatic attempt to don a western attire.  Moreover they seem to hold this deep abiding view that revealing has a direct correlation with looking young. A display of unaesthetic arm pit bulge is acceptable because sleeveless or an off shoulder is what you should be wearing. Looking pretty is not of consequence here, it’s keeping up with joneses that ups your sexy, cool and stylish quotient. Strangely enough the most hideous of pictures on face book manage to get several likes and  “oh you look gorgeous and young” comments. No matter how much one tries to cheat the shutterbugs by posing sideways, ladies, the tummy bulge stares right into it. Pouting doesn’t make them look young, the harsh , 'I have arrived' kind of look is a complete give away. The western dress has clearly trumped the Indian attire to make it look retrograde. Its fashion faux pas of the highest order if one turns up in one at a social do. And heaven forbid if you decide to don a sari, be sure to pair it with a blouse that reveals more than it conceals. Sometimes I wonder if it’s stuck to the bulging body by sheer will power.

40s is the decade when tell tale signs of aging start showing up. The love handles, the sagging breasts, stomach bulges need a clever fix to keep it under wraps. But the bold woman of 40 is unabashed in her display of flesh. Some might say that this exhibitionism is a sign of unrestrained expression of her self.  It seems to me that there is unmistakable denial of age and a desperate and despicable attempt to look 21 again. Peer prodding and appreciation is another reason why she may be emboldened to expand her wardrobe. With youthfulness scoring higher than aesthetics, I question my own notions on dressing. Am I really in tune with the times or am I  fuddy duddy? If a deeper psychological meaning be drawn from this out of sync conservatism, am I hiding something by not revealing? J

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Midnight Splendour

For someone who sleeps like she is dead to the world, waking up at 230am is extremely unusual. Last night, when I turned in my sleep, I was awakened, as if by an invisible force, to witness the most spectacular sight. My room was bathed in the golden hue of the almost full moon. It was brighter than never before and I was delighted to be in the centre of its radiant beam. Right above it was a star, the moon’s knight in shining armour, perhaps. They tore apart the dark cloudless sky, with their soft,warm glow, heralding the festival of love. I sprung out of bed and stepped  into the balcony to soak in every minute of this midnight splendor. It suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t seen stars in a long while ( no pun intended!) let alone star gazed. As I sat on the balcony window the silence was soothing, goosebumpy and the fading winter cold invigorating. Forty minutes later, a light haze masked this Valentine couple. The strained howl of the neighbourhood pariah dogs jarred the silence of the night. I’m excited about re living this experience tonight and join the dalliance of the magnificent moon and the shimmering star. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Laili

In the wee hours of a cold winter morning, she knocks vigorously on my door. I stumble towards it in my somnambulist state and she greets me with the most radiant grin. Her hair tied neatly in a bun, her sari draped clumsily around her a good five inches above her feet, she walks in purposefully and then questions with some authority on why I haven’t surfaced yet. Not in a condition to engage in conversation I scurry back to my bed. I catch a glimpse of her do the unthinkable, she discards her woolens like unnecessary baggage and picks up the broom. She seems to be on a mission; quite like Arvind Kejriwal is, armed with the same weapon! I am by now buried under several layers of warmth thanking my stars for not having to earn my bread in such brutal circumstances. Moving rapidly from room to room she enters mine and without any hesitation she opens the balcony. The cold draft that charges into the room makes me dig myself deeper into the layers of blankets covering me as she lets out a chuckle. “ Did you know it rained last night but surprisingly it’s not that cold, I wonder why”,  “today is colder than yesterday, because it’s windy,” “its so foggy today, I couldn’t see my neighbor’s house, but I feel the sun will be out by noon” ,“ Do you think it will snow someday?” Even before I can get to the morning newspaper she has delivered her rustic but reasonably accurate version of the weather bulletin.  In her very endearing way she gets me to peep out of my covers to respond to her. And then just as I am drifting back to catch some more sleep she turns up with the basket of clothes tucked under her. “Only these many clothes for washing?” She asks in a tone of admonishment.  I look at her completely bewildered “More you ask? It’s so cold, why do you want to wash even these? Let it be.” She looks at me equally flummoxed. “No I won’t get time during the day so I will wash them now” she responded.  I ask her if she has been missing sweeping my dad’s room since he is sleeping. “No don’t worry, he wakes up by the time I’m done with the rest of the house.” She has it all worked out. I don’t need to say or do anything. I wake up to a house that’s nicely swept and cleaned and never has a day gone by when I haven’t thanked the Lord for her presence in my life. In the evening on my walk, I’m greeted by the same cherubic smile as she struts swiftly to her next place of work. When the weather clears a bit and I am in a more wakeful condition, I plan to ask her. “Laili, what drives you every morning, to start a day of drudgery and monotony with such unbridled joy and enthusiasm?” I wish I had even half her untiring spirit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Intoxicated

Words cannot completely describe this heady elevated feeling that I am currently engulfed by. Before you start thinking that I am feeling drunk after a weekend of revelry, I’d like you to pause. My stimulation for this intoxication is of a different kind and the best that the world has to offer. The last weekend has been one of the most soul stirring immersions in my favorite form of classical dance, Bharatanatyam.  All three dancers of the recently concluded dance festival, the Divinity series (27th-29th September 2013 at Chinmaya Mission, Delhi) have left me moved.
Rama Vaidyanathan inaugurated the festival with her graceful mayuri allaripu. I marveled at the sheer skill with which she captured the subtle movements of a peacock to recreate its magnificence through dance. So real was her depiction, that if she were to perform this in a garden, the national bird would be easily fooled and begin to court her! In another composition, Lord Ram discloses to his wife, Sita that he has been banished from the kingdom and would proceed all by himself. How can you even dream of leaving without me, she implores. Consumed by hurt she asks him how she would live the life of luxury within the palace precincts while her husband roamed the jungles surrounded by wild animals. Rama’s depiction of shock, bewilderment and deep pain that Sita experiences was so authentic and tears welled up almost instantly. And then she takes a jab at the male ego by saying, “If you are planning to leave your wife, what kind of a man are you?” Sita, the quintessential Indian woman- the power of her love and dedication for her husband was so palpable. And she spares no opportunity to strike back when her love is under attack. It made me wonder if such utter devotion exists among women of today or did this only exist among the women of yore? All three artistes of the festival chose to depict the sacred and the indomitable feminine shakti, symbolized by their unending fortitude, passion and surrender. 
 Rama’s last piece, Shivoham transported me to another world. As she slowed down to the repetitive notes of ‘Jeevah Shivah, Shivo Jeevah,’ I found myself slipping into the inner depths of my being. Just when I had moved to that space of silence, she moved into a speedy teermanam. It made me sit up and be dazzled by the brilliance of her nritta on stage. Her sudden break seemed to suggest the reality of a fast paced life that we call maya. Dive deep into your divine self to source the soothing silence into our world of illusion is what I took away. With her captivating abhinaya she is able to hold the attention of the audience for a substantial period of time enabling one to completely absorb the sentiments of the nayika. What I think she is a master of is her ability to get under the skin of the characters she portrays. So whether it’s a graceful bird, the jilted nayika or the elephant like gait of the nayak, her ability to bring it alive for the audience is unparalleled. In another padam, Radha is trying to silence her lover, Krishna by asking him to stop playing the flute. A playful Krishna continues to trouble her. While she tells him to go away lest the neighborhood would wake up, one can see a part of her also enjoying the attention she has been getting.  The brilliance of the dancer is seen in the way she balances the nayika’s annoyance with a coy expression of her delight.    
I watched Meenakshi Srinivasan, on stage for the first time and I had goosebumps all through her performance. I loved the way she held her space. For Shakespeare, all the world’s a stage but Meenakshi commanded the stage like it was her world and played the many roles with effortless grace and perfection. Sheer honey flowed from her lips when she introduced her compositions. She drew in the viewer by her stylized narration, almost like lyrical poetry. Her heavily emphasized syllables in ‘Andaal’ and ‘Vrindavan’ are still ringing in my ears. So soothing are her words that even a person disinterested in dance, would sit up and take notice. While each composition was breathtakingly beautiful, her padam on Radha and Krishna stayed with me.  This was by far the most sensual Bharatanatyam composition I have seen and one that was depicted with poignant charm. Radha urges Krishna to re apply the kohl in her eyes that have been smudged during a night of passion. She is not ashamed of the love marks on her body and asks the Lord to soothe them with sandalwood and musk. With no nritta at all, the beauty of this piece could be appreciated only by the dancer’s evocative abhinaya. A slow and soft and composition that explored the depths of the feminine persona--unabashed in love, bold in her requests, yet shy and graceful in her demeanor. The ambience created by her was so potent that one could completely relate to Radha’s mood. Having interacted with Meenakshi, I am also completely taken in by her humility. The fact that she remains unaffected and possibly unaware of her phenomenal expertise and beauty makes her persona even more appealing.
On the final day, the dance enthusiasts of Delhi were treated to a delightful performance by a U.S based dancer, Mythili Prakash. My jaw dropped in awe and wonder when she performed her racy nritta with accuracy that would shame a Swiss watch. In the ashtapadi, Radha’s sakhi shares her pain of separation from her beloved Krishna. The theme of separation is not an uncommon subject and has been depicted very often through dance and drama. Yet it continues to tug at your heartstrings. Mythili’s ability to express this deep anguish left a lump in my throat.  In the hour and a half of her performance, I was transported to another world- one where I could touch the depths of the rasa and be one with the bhav of the nayika. Her concluding piece was a befitting closure to the festival on divinity. Tarana in Rag Natabhairavi, composed by Maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar was a prayer for Inner Awakening. ‘He Nath, hum par kripa keejiye’- she urges the Lord to help us find the space within that transcends the physical realm to reach out to our higher purpose.
Not one with a fascination for Carnatic music, this time round the music of the performances also touched a chord in me. Not to mention the Gandharva choir which set the mood for the scintillating dance performances that was to follow. 

The vision of the organizers, Deepak and Jyotsna Shourie was beautifully captured in the Divinity series. I share their dream in making art and culture the very essence of our existence. May the movement towards our inner self that our arts can trigger, become infectious amongst India’s burgeoning youth. May this be that space where they find an anchor, a peace within that can arm them suitably to face the challenges of a big bad world out there.  
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