Random thoughts as we celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence

Negotiating the city traffic on the eve of India’s 75 th Independence Day, I tune in the car radio to the local FM station and am bombarded by umpteen commercials each with the message of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav exhorting me to buy a product or exchange a product for a wonderful offer to celebrate the country’s Independence. Really? As if occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day or traditional festivals like Durga Puja and Diwali were not sufficient to feed our consumerist desires, now Independence Day is also being turned into an occasion to buy more, binge more by every conceivable brand to celebrate what? Independence! Freedom!

That made me think – how free are we? When the sight of a policeman evokes more discomfort and fear than a sense of security – are we truly independent? When thoughts and ideas are better left unexpressed for fear of retribution and the responses they’ll generate – are we free? When as a woman I worry about my own and my daughter’s safety every day even today – are we truly free?

Undoubtedly India has made a lot of progress in the fields of technology, food security, healthcare, education, to name a few, in the years since Independence. But, somehow, I fear, in our pursuit of economic prosperity, we have lost our humanity and degenerated into an uncaring, unsympathetic, self serving mass of humanity.

As I drive through the city, everywhere there are vehicles of every kind driving past with flags of various sizes proudly fluttering atop the vehicles. A happy sight and a really positive thing that feelings of nationalism and patriotism are on display with so much enthusiasm. But it makes me wonder if loving something means that you have to hate something else. If I don’t hate anything, does it make me less loyal, less of a lover?

GANDHIJI IN SASKATOON

It isn’t very usual to expect to run into a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the middle of the Prairies of Canada. But this is exactly what we encountered way back in the year 2004, when we, a team of 4 members along with a team leader, were a part of the Group Study Exchange program selected by Rotary International, to represent India at the Rotary District 5550 in Canada. As goodwill ambassadors and skilled professionals from India, we were expected to display high ethical and moral qualities, improve international understanding, promote friendship and goodwill and above all, exchange ideas with fellow professionals and gain first-hand knowledge about our vocation as practiced in another country

Team GSE from India at Rotary District 5550 in Canada, at the Winnipeg Legislative Assembly with the Premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer

A symbol of peace, unity, universal tolerance, non-violence, social harmony and equality, the Mahatma has touched the core of humanity far and wide. We were pleasantly surprised on the very first day of our tour through downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to come across this bust of Gandhiji. It was a moment of great pride for us as Indians, but our Canadian hosts were equally proud that such a great man who was from the faraway mystical land of India, was given an honor in their city, as a reminder to all those who pass by that “Non-Violence is a Universal Law Acting Under All Circumstances”.

Mahatma Gandhi’s bust was commissioned at the request of the Saskatoon India-Canada Cultural Association and was gifted by the Government of India to the people of Saskatoon. This bronze sculpture was installed in the year 2000, sculpted by the artist Ram Vanji Sutar, and represents Gandhiji’s philosophy of non-violence transcending all geographical boundaries.

With The Father of our Nation in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, at Saskatoon

As we stood for a moment to take picture in front of the bust of Gandhiji, in downtown Saskatoon, in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, each one of us was a proud Indian.  It is moments like these that make our hearts swell with pride, that we belong to a Nation whose Father has taught us the core values of humanity.

                                                                                                                       

THE CALLING

When the desire for longing is strong, the calling will come. In my vision before I went, it was almost real, in reality it was like a surreal dream, and now, it is a living, palpable vibration that I carry along with me.

A Journey to Eternity

Words fall short, if one has to describe the individual experiences that Kedarnath brings. If one seeks it, one will experience it. I can say this with great clarity today, because this has been my second visit to this consecrated space. Thirty eight years ago, when I was a young teenager, I had accompanied my parents and trekked along with them through the lofty Himalayas, by the side of the river Mandakini from Gaurikund, the last motorable point, even today. In those days, I was never too attracted to temple visits, mostly because of the crowds and also the lack of cleanliness in such sacred spaces. Never the less, I was aware, that this abode of the Great Lord Shiva, high up in the mountains, must have something to it. What I do remember distinctly, was the majestic landscape, the beauty of the snow clad mountains, the narrow trekking trail, the river gurgling deep in the valley below, the sheer drop of the gorges, the Sadhus in deep meditation in the caves and the never ending stream of people making their way up , or returning after a satisfied Darshan. The ardous journey to reach this temple after eight long hours of trek had already exhausted all my energy, and the rest of the events including the Darshan happened mechanically for me.

Fast forward to 38 years later. We five school friends were already having restless feet, as the pandemic had kept our travel plans at bay. Then, one fine day, one of our friend informed us that the opening day of Kedarnath for 2022 was just announced and her husband who handles the chopper services for the Yatra asked if we were interested. Kedarnath Temple usually remains shut for 6 months as it is usually buried under heavy snow in winters. Almost instantly, all five of us just jumped into the plan , and thereafter there was no looking back. Although we were warned of a massive footfall with the opening of the Chhota Char Dham Yatra, we were optimistic that everything would fall perfectly into place. We had a vert tight schedule and it needed millions of variables to align accurately to make this event happen.

When the Calling comes…. there will be a way

Our first halt was in Rishikesh, and we took the golden opportunity to attend the evening Ganga Arti at Parmarth Niketan Ashram. With the setting sun on the backdrop of the statue of Lord Shiva, and the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Adi Shankaracharya, this evening was one of the most poignant times to remember. As the Arti reached its peak, the atmosphere was electrifying and we actively took part in it. With Swami Chidananda and Sadhviji’s presence, the stage was set for a most enchanting and memorable evening. As we floated the diyas on the River Ganga, our hearts were full. Dipping our feet on the River Ganges , as the river flows by, gave us an experience to be remembered.

An enchanting evening at Parmarth Niketan

Next morning we headed for Guptkashi , via Dev Prayag and Rudra Prayag, the base from where we were to board the chopper to fly to Kedarnath.

Dev Prayag….the confluence of Bhagirathi and River Alakananda to form the Holy Ganges

The Universe makes this amazing network of planning, which we often don’t notice or consider it to be just random events. But our friend’s husband was a major connection in this whole sequence of events that were to follow and eventually culminate in our Darshan at Kedarnath. I cannot be more grateful and thankful for this connection which made our entire journey so smooth and fulfilling. Despite the rain Gods playing hide and seek, we eventually boarded the chopper to experience one of the most thrilling and exhilarating journeys I have ever taken. Through the mountains, valleys and gorges, we finally touched down at the Sacred land of Lord Shiva. As we stepped out amidst the lofty snow peaked mountains, the atmosphere was nothing short of heaven. I don’t know what heaven is, but if my imagination was to be matched , then this was just a perfect fit. The vibration , the energies and the air we were breathing, cannot be described in mere words. Divinity touched upon us and we were in His Divine Grace.

The Temple

The first Aarti of the season took place that same evening at Kedarnath, and we were mesmerized in the truly electrifying atmosphere. We were in the same place where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati would come and meet their devotees thousands of years ago. This was also the place where the Pandavas came to offer their penance, after the death and destruction that the Kurukshetra war brought upon. Twelve hundred years ago , Adi Shankaracharya came all the way from Kaladi in Kerala, on foot to find his meditative spot in this very place in the abode of Lord Shiva. He is said to have gained MahaSamadhi in this very place. The significance of Kedarnath holds an important position in Hinduism , as this is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and considered to be the most significant one. With such a rich Divine presence, and the millions of devotees who throng this place each year, despite enduring treacherous hardships, the power of this space can only be experienced as a highly energetic place transcending all the boundaries of the material world. This journey is a test of human endurance, as children, the elderly, the sick and the frail , make their way to Kedarnath crossing all the hurdles of inclement weather, difficult pathways and long travel time, only to experience the power of Mahadeva, the formless unmanifested Absolute.

To be in that Space

In fact the material world, under the veil of Maya or Illusion, seemed like an insignificant speck from where I was. There was immense clarity and a sense of Realization of ourselves as being manifested forms of the Cosmic Consciousness. I could stay on here forever, but for some earthly responsibilities. And it is in such moments that we realize a sense of purpose of our lives on this planet and the need to fulfil that purpose with full involvement, as this life has been endowed upon us as a gift, to learn our lessons, to understand ourselves as consciously evolved beings, who have the singular capacity to be driven to unlimited potentials and possibilities by their own free will. And that is the journey towards our ultimate liberation and dissolving into the Divine.

In touch with Divinity
A bird’s eyeview of the Valley from above

I can’t be more thankful for this incredible journey of a lifetime. The midnight Darshan in solitude of the Sanctum Sanctorum, the moments of embracing the formless image of the Lord which exists as a pyramid shaped stone, the whispering into the ears of Nandi, the energies of Bhimshila, the echo of the Mantras in the spiral space created for Adi Shankaracharya, the early morning trek to Bhairav Baba temple, the guardian of the Valley,  through some breathtaking landscapes, all culminated into one unifying experience.

Bhimshila… the Rock that saved the temple in the 2013 Avalanche…. the Hand of God
The trek to Bhairav Baba Temple

The shift is palpable. I find myself aligning and more in tune with the Cosmic Consciousness. There is no fear of the unknown , because the unknown is now known.

The Disappearing Island….a wake up call to save our soil.

The Magic of Majuli

Majuli is simply magical. It’s magnificence is to be experienced. Here, time stands still. If you want to press the ‘Pause’ button in life, then this is the place to be in.

Life in Majuli is woven gently around Mother Nature and it’s clock. Known to be the largest River Island in the world, embraced in the bosom of the mighty Brahmaputra River, today it is also called the Shrinking Island. What measured as 900 sq. Kilometers in early 1990s, has today become a mere 352 sq. Kilometer. An existential threat looms over it, as there is a possibility of it becoming totally extinct in as early as the next 20 years.

My short visit to this amazing part of the planet, made me feel blessed that I got an opportunity to value life itself. We start valuing things only when they start slipping away from us. Sometimes we learn the lessons early on, and sometimes a lifetime simply slips away before we realize it’s too late.

The Simplicity of Life

As I soaked into the glory of my surroundings, away from my bustling city, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the moment. As I walked by the riverside on a foggy December morning, even the sun took it’s time to display it’s grandeur, playing hide and seek through the canopy of trees.

As the mist slowly lifted up from the river, it was as though a thin veil had been lifted up, and as I blinked, the canvas in front of my eyes got filled. In my heightened sense of perception, I started noticing intricate patterns around me. Even a spider’s web between the branches of a tree, appeared to be an amazing manifestation of creation. I could now hear only the sounds of silence, be it the chirping of birds , or the distant barking of a dog, or the faint tinkling of a bicycle bell and my own footsteps crushing the dried leaves under my feet. It was surreal.

There is perfection in Creation….A Spider’s Web and a Chinese Fishing Net in the background
The stillness of a country boat

As my gaze shifted to the river where I could see a country boat standing still on it’s banks, a Chinese fishing net in the distant horizon and a large mask of the 10 headed King Ravana on the opposite bank, my vision got locked with it. I tried to recollect the symbolism of the 10 heads which constituted 6 shastras and 4 vedas. Ravana was not a demon but someone who became delusional with power and thereby lost his spiritual identity.

The gentle rays of the sun felt warm upon me and it was a moment to behold. To be still in the stillness around me was a unifying moment. I was in no hurry. Time stood still, and I was frozen in my motion. There was no next moment. For that one moment, I surrendered myself totally to my surroundings.

Richly woven in the culture of the traditional Satras, Majuli’s famous Vaishnavite monasteries are steeped in preserving the teachings of Sri Sri Shankardev. A visit to Dakhinpaat Satra was filled with serenity and calmness. Generous donations and ornate gifts by the Ahom king Jayadhwaj Singha in the 16th century are carefully stored in the ‘Bhoral’ or Store House and we were fortunate that the Head Priest took us inside to see some astounding pieces preserved carefully over time.

Dakhinpaat Satra…stillness in devotion

Another famous Satra in Majuli is the Samuguri Satra, well known for it’s family members who have excelled in mask making, usually of characters from the Mahabharata or Ramayana. The unique feature is that the masks are made from bamboo, clay and cowdung and colorfully painted in bright colors. However, this art is also now becoming a dying tradition with only a handful of family members trying desperately to preserve it.

Mask making at Samuguri Satra…a dying art

Majuli is not a destination, but a surreal experience, where time and space merge into one large canvas to deliver the true essence of life in it’s most natural and rustic form. A large number of Migratory birds still find their way to this island every year and it is a haven for bird watchers.

Our fragile ecosystems

We however, need to understand that preserving the rich Vaishnavite culture and tradition, and preserving the natural biodiversity will have meaning only if the island still continues to exist. The consequences of damage to the delicate balance of our ecosystem often will first have it’s impact on such fragile and vulnerable lands, as is witnessed by the rapid shrinking of this unique river island which is already on the brink of disappearance and extinction.

It is time to collectively become one unifying force across the globe to save our soil and our fragile and delicate ecosystems on this planet which has been sustaining life in all it’s myriads of form till now, but will collapse if we do not deliver the necessary attention and action that it deserves. We should be an actionable generation and a responsible one, and the least that each one of us can do is to generate this awareness and speak as one voice.

There is an urgent need to raise the organic content of soil

According to UNCCD, ( United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), we are losing one acre of soil every second. What is happening in Majuli is a reflection of a much larger global issue. In fifty to sixty years time, all of the world’s agricultural land may be lost, which would lead to conflicts, hunger, poverty and famines. Even if we have all the money in the world, it would not be enough to buy us food, simply because food would no longer be available.

Soil which is rich in organic content is the only unifying factor for humanity as a species to survive. The impact of desertification of soil is contributing to global warming, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and disappearing land masses. Whether they are sinking or shrinking , the impact of climate change on planet earth can no longer be undermined. Many islands like Tavulu, Maldives, Palau, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Seychelles, Kiribati, and our very own Majuli are shrinking daily, and many coastal cities like Amsterdam, Venice, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Houston predicted to sink and disappear totally at an alarming rate in the next couple of decades.

We owe it to our future generations to save our soil

Soil connects us beyond boundaries, nations, religions, caste, creed, gender or age. A collective voice singing one tune is bound to be heard by those who can change policies. To be proud of technologies which are creating weapons of destruction to divide us , or to be able to use technology to unite us as a species is a question that can be answered by tapping our very own human consciousness. If we live only in a survival mode, we will continue to bring divisions, but if we live in a conscious way, we will look for our collective wellbeing. Political boundaries are only meant for better administrations for upliftments of communities and not for creating wars and untold sorrows upon humanity.

A ray of Hope

The future of our planet can be decided by our very own actions. We reap as we sow. Every action or inaction will have its consequences. If we choose to leave a beautiful rich planet for our future generations, let us come together to save places like Majuli which is connected to a much larger world wide web through the linkage of our connecting soil. For once, let us think beyond boundaries and limitations. After all, we live in a shared world with so many other species. If all the microbes and insects in the world were to disappear, humanity would not survive more than a few hours. But if all human beings were to disappear, this planet would surely thrive. We need the microbial world for our survival more than they would ever need us. Let us be humble to realize that we are a mere speck in this cosmic dance, but as an evolved species we have the capacity to undertake meaningful actions to see that we do not disturb the delicate ecological balance of Mother Nature.

Our Fragile Ecosytem

As homo sapiens we have the ability to act responsibly and create the possibility that we desire for our future. This moment is without doubt, the final wake up call for humanity. Today, we choose to go to exotic destinations for our vacations, have a good time, come back and post a few happy pictures on social media. Many of these destinations are on the verge of being wiped out forever. This would lead to migration of populations for the sake of survival, thereby effecting the limited resources of our dwindling planet. My trip to Majuli was no doubt an enriching experience at a personal level for which I feel blessed, but it was also an eye opener, and a reason to speak about saving our soils from extinction.

With the #savesoil movement by Sadhguru gaining momentum, as he travels across continents on a 100 day solo ride to engage with communities and policy makers to make an impact, I as an informal Volunteer for Isha Foundation would like to dedicate this article for the cause. Let’s Save Soil and Make it Happen.

Indeed, Soil is the Soul of Humanity.

Soil is our Soul

Surya Pahar- an enigma

A symbol of the Cult of Sun Worship

It was a calling from the mother of a patient of ours. We had lost this young, beautiful girl to breast cancer about 2 years ago,but our connections with the family were intact, as happens with many of our patients. This mother, was no ordinary woman. She had survived several storms in her life, and had lost not one, but two, out of her four daughters to breast cancer. Her eldest daughter had passed away many years before we started treating her youngest daughter. This angel too, finally passed on to the other side in 2019.

This mother who had gone through so much in life, had insisted that we must pay a visit to her house some day, and also take the opportunity to visit Surya Pahar which was very near her home. We were a team of doctors and we quickly started doing some research about the place. Without a doubt , my curiosity grew more and more, and on a particular Sunday, we finally made a trip to this hidden gem in Assam. With the season changing, and that little nip in the air, this was such a pleasant window of opportunity.

The sprawling entrance

It took us about two and a half hours and with well connected roads, it was a lovely drive. As we approached the entrance to Surya Pahaar, we were fascinated to see the roads lined with Eucalyptus trees on both sides. A vast expanse of a sprawling well maintained campus welcomed us. At the entry point of this sacred hillock,  we met some senior committee members who gave a gist about the place. We initially felt quite lost as we didn’t even know from which corner we should start exploring. The most intriguing part about the history of this land, as told by the silent sculptures and relics,  is that it was once a melting pot of at least three thriving religions -Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. However, the name of Surya Pahaar indicates that there was a cult of Sun Worship here, around which the other religions thrived. Surya pahar was taken over by Archeological Society of India in around 1993, and since then , some startling and amazing discoveries have occurred.

The Vishnu Temple

We initially started with the Vishnu Temple. The priest told us about the story of the fire which is burning from 7 feet below the ground and till date has never been extinguished. The vibrations and sheer energies of this place gave us the goosebumps. We were in a highly consecrated space and the energy was palpable. We went to the Dasha Bhuja Temple where rock carvings of Lord Vishnu and His various Avatars were evident on the rocks. As we started exploring the rock caves we approached the way to the Akashi Ganga Temple. It was a small, tiny entrance beteen rocks and as we entered , we were enthralled to see a priest sitting inside, beside a Kunda where apparently the water never ever dries or overflows but remains at a constant level. As we continued are exploration, we were mesmerized by the Shiva Lingas all over the place. There were several large rocks which were cut with windows through which we saw the Shiva Lingas. It is said that this hillock has 99,999 Shiva lingas sprawled all over, laid down by Veda Vyasa,  just 1 short of Kashi.

The Nothingness of Shiva…. yet so omnipresent
Relics of a bygone era

Beyond this we walked towards the votive Buddha Stupas. Cut out of granite stones, there are about 25 of them .The peaceful ambience of the place, with only the sounds of chirping of a birds and the chattering of the Rhesus monkeys, the serenity of the space had a soothing effect, as we were one with nature in this paradise, so near and yet so far from the bustling city that we live in! Historical significance of these stupas, indicate the importance of a Buddhist presence in ancient Kamrupa.

The influence of Buddha

Surya Pahar also is a reminder of the influence of Jainism in this region. Although not much footing is evident of Jainism in the NorthEast  , Surya Pahar tells us a story through the Jain carvings in its Southern slopes, marking the cognizance of the first Tithankara. We were spell bound, mesmerized and in awe as we observed the silent tales of a bygone era frozen in the rock carvings of this hillock. As we were guided to the major excavation site as explored by the Archeological Survey of India, what was clearly evident was that once upon a time there existed a thriving civilization here. Most of the footprints date back to the 1st and 2nd BC era but with more discoveries happening , the story is still unfolding. Until then , we are left with our own observations and our own imaginations to interpret these frozen rocks in our own way.

The excavation site

This particular visit only goes on to make one realize how miniscule we are in the larger canvas of things. The quest to explore and understand the magic around us, leaves me totally in awe and wonder as I live in amazement and gratitude, and continue to be curious about our amazing planet. To be a part of this magical web, and to be connected in some way to everything around me, leaves me with a sense of deep and profound sense of intense involvement with life itself.

As we returned, it felt like we had almost visited another lifetime. The level of energy and vibrations was something so very experiential, that it just cannot be put into words. Our patient’s family members were waiting for our return, and as we stepped into their humble home, we were so overwhelmed by their hospitality. Most of the food preparations were by the third daughter, who was staying with her mother now. We couldn’t save their youngest daughter, but we knew she was an angel in the skies, floating amidst the stars and planning this whole reconnection, which had a purpose. It was only after we had a most delicious lunch, so lovingly prepared by the family, that the Universe revealed to us, what that purpose was. The mother announced to us that now her third daughter, our patient’s sister, who was serving us lunch so lovingly, was apparently also diagnosed with breast cancer, a year after she lost her younger sister. She completed her surgery in another hospital and was on chemotherapy now. Their financial resources were now beginning to dwindle. The way she was serving us, there was no way we could have ever said she too was a cancer patient. We were shocked and speechless beyond words. Such connections happen for a reason. I hope and pray that we can do everything possible within our capacities to see that this lady completes her full treatment without fail, and we can help in whatever possibly way to heal her disease completely.

A Ray of Hope

The visit to Surya Pahar, had a reason far beyond my comprehension. As we returned to Guwahati, my mind had a myriad of thoughts and questions, whose answers I was seeking for. I hope I am able to fulfil that purpose, that this Universe so carefully crafted for me, by making this trip to Surya Pahar happen. There is so much to learn from everything around us. There is so much to learn from the seventy year old Mother, who still lives with a smile and gives hope to her third daughter suffering from the same disease that took away two of her daughters. Yes, the show must go on.

Life moves on

THE FEMININE

Celebrating the nine nights Divine

The unexplored dimensions of Feminine

Woman the epitome of strength they say

Yet to be accomplished in many ways

Am I blessed to be born a woman

Certainly so without an indecision

But to the warriors of feminine strength

I have a plea to make

For you must not have qualms

Bequeathed with Angelic vigour

You are your sole Governor

Initiate and become a trend setter

To spearhead the refinement of her.

THAT TRIP TO KENOSHA

                                                                                   

Almost three decades ago, as a newly married coy bride, it was a mandatory custom in the family tradition to make a visit to all relatives, far and near, to seek their blessings. It is amazing at how societial structures have come into being, and how these customs have shaped the kinds of lives we are supposed to lead. But at that age and time, there were no asking questions. What needed to be done, had to be done. Probably, that’s how the dots eventually get connected. Sometimes you see beyond the reason, and sometimes you live in unawareness. Needless to say, I remember vividly this particular visit to meet my husband’s Uncle, Mr. Mukul Mahanta, a man of amazing substance, and who interestingly happened to be very close acquaintance of my own father too. What amazed me was the house of this person, which was constructed and built entirely by himself. Every bit of furniture was made by his own hands and he actually gifted us a few precious pieces too. And here I fleetingly remember meeting his son Moon and his newly wedded American bride Janet who were also doing an India trip to meet up with the family members. That transient meeting with Moon and Janet was forgotten and dissolved as another random meet with two more people on this planet. More than two decades later, I had another chance meeting with Moon when he was visiting India and this time it was at a conference on Alzheimer’s Disease which was being held in Guwahati. I was one of the resource persons and so was Moon. We shared a few quick moments in between sessions and that was about it. But we both knew we had our concerns about the burning problems of the elderly in our society, the lack of awareness and the desire to do something substantial about it. Moon’s vast first hand experience about elderly care in America and the sheer lack of it in India, had probably stirred the need to do something about it. Having met with me, he knew that I too shared the same concerns and was struggling to work towards generating awareness, and training up a pool of resource persons for elderly care in general and Alzheimer’s in particular in a vast country like India. Moon’s particular interest in the subject was also ignited by a personal reason, because his mother was diagnosed to be a frank case of Alzheiemers Disease. Over the next few years, a lot happened and we were devastated to hear one morning, a few years ago, that Moon’s father passed away due to a stroke leaving behind his wife by his side, who was struggling with Alzheimers’s and was probably even unaware of the fact that she lost her husband that fateful morning. It was extremely hard upon Moon to figure out how his mother would be taken care of in a place like Guwahati where elderly health care support systems were at its minimal. Eventually, he had to make the difficult choice of putting her at the best possible care home in the city, Mother’s Old Age Home, which was one of the few places where compassionate and loving care was being given to so many elderly people, by Monica and Utpal.

Moon’s Mother ( right) in the comfort of Mother’s Home

It was in February 2019 that I planned a trip to the US, in order to visit my daughter who was at that time interning at the UN Headquarters in New York in the Peacebuilding Department. It was a month long trip and with the help of my daughter I carefully chalked out my itenary. Meanwhile I was in regular touch with Moon who was a mentor and guardian to my daughter while she was earlier studying in the University of Chicago. A trip to Wisconsin was very much on the offing though Moon clearly warned me to brace up for a lot of snow in February. At this point in time, I was in two minds about this trip to Kenosha in Wisconsin where Moon and Janet stayed. Though I really wanted to meet them and spend time with them,  I was also aware of the fact that Moon was going through a lot, in terms of his health condition. He  was diagnosed as a case of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. For the past one year Moon had been battling with this disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes. Since I was an Oncologist too, Moon discussed his medical reports often with me and kept me informed about his treatment protocols and how he was coping up. NHL is usually known to be an aggressive disease but at the same time, it is also very responsive to treatment. Moon responded pretty well to his chemotherapy and had a very good metabolic response. He actually scheduled a visit to India at the end of his treatment to see his mother and we also had an opportunity to meet him at that time, when he came down to Guwahati. A week after he left for the US, Moon’s mother had a peaceful transition to the other side.It was as though she had waited for that one last glimpse of her son. I could understand how devastating this must have been for Moon. It simply wasn’t possible for him to come back again to India. However, he knew that it was Utpal of Mother’s Old age Home who took the utmost care of his mother during her final days and he fully deserved to perform her last rite as he had done for so many Mothers who passed away, while under his care.

This was probably another turning point in Moon’s rollercoaster life. Shortly therafter he was scheduled for his reassessment PET scan and it showed evidence of early relapse of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And this time he was offered the option of a bone marrow transplant which is the standard of care for treating relapsed cases. I was fully aware of Moon’s medical condition and the furthur management plan. This was the time when I was supposed to be visiting Chicago and Wisconsin, and I was in two minds now. Here was a man who was rattled with Cancer for the second time in such a short time, and was now undergoing preparations for a bone marrow transplant, and instead of laying bare his situation to me, instead of asking for privacy in these times, he was actually inviting me, with an honest desire to host me despite the trying circumstances he was going through. He even went on to say that this would be a golden opportunity for me to visit the cancer centre where he was undergoing his treatment and I could have a good overview of how Oncological Centres work in America and could carry some ideas back to Assam. I honestly felt that my declining the offer would probably hurt him more and eventually agreed to make this one most memorable trip of my lifetime to Kenosha in Wisconsin on that wintery February month of 2019.

Arnab Mahanta (Moon)…. Gazing at a White World, Lake Michigan, in all its glory

As I landed in Chicago, it was Moon’s wife, Janet who came to receive me at the airport. We had a wonderful reunion and then it was an hour’s drive through the snowy landscape to Kenosha. The Mid Western country side of America in winter offers a spectacular landscape and I cherished every moment embracing the majestic beauty all around. It was a warm welcome at Moon’s home and I just loved the coziness of his sweet home. It was a sheet of white snow outside and it felt almost like I was transported to a wintery fairyland . Kenosha is a quiet little town on the banks of Lake Michigan. It was such an ideal place to unwind and soak into it’s beauty. The next three days that I spent with Moon and Janet were unforgettable. In spite of what Moon was going through in terms of his preparation for his upcoming bone marrow transplant, his spirits were not to be dampened in any way. I learnt a lesson of positivity from this man, seeing from close quarters how he was dealing with his current situation and how he was even planning everything meticulously for his coming days which were bound to be extremely challenging. Despite seeing so many cancer patients on the professional front, it is a different learning altogether when you observe the lives that they actually live, from close quarters.

The majestic Kenosha North Pier Lighthouse, built in 1906 and standing 50 feet tall

Moon meticulously planned out my next three days ensuring that I would take the best memories of a wintery trip to Kenosha. I still relive those days as though it was a slice out of a fairy tale. The long drives and chats with him about different perspectives of life as we saw it, was so very enriching for me. And I do believe it was mutual, as we shared deep conversations from growing up in different environments, to challenges at various points in life, to basically learning from life itself. Our diverse backgrounds seemed to intersect at a myriad of junctions. We were actually not surprised that our fathers were good pals once upon a time.

Moon gave me the best of Kenosha and Milwaukee in the short span of three days. Despite the thick snow outside, I geared myself up well , ready to embrace the sights and sounds of Kenosha. Visiting Lake Michigan and observing the 6 foot waves, crashing on the snow, I stepped out to take a walk in the deep snow while Moon kept a careful watch from the car, gleefully observing my child like demenour of having this little adventure in the white winter wonderland.

Sights and sounds of beautiful Kenosha

As we drove around the town, my eyes caught glimpses of the beautiful homes covered with snow and surrounded by Christmas trees. It was a slice of heaven. Moon actually gave me a snapshot of his entire life ever since he came to Kenosha as a young man on his first job. He drove me to all the landmark spots of his life, which were major milestones in his life, his first working place, his previous homes, the church where he and Janet got married, the school where he earlier taught, and every little detail that mattered to him in the journey of his life.  It was like he was rewinding his life and replaying it for me, all over again. I was transported to another world in the company of this amazing man.

Driving through Milwaukee

However, apart from absorbing the wintery beauty of Kenosha, Lake Michigan and Milwaukee through the eyes of Moon, there were two particular events which set this trip totally apart. Moon had lined up an amazing plan for me which was nothing short of a surprise. Knowing that I was in the field of Oncology and was a part of a new Oncology set up being created back home in Assam, he wanted me to have an excursion of the Cancer Care centre where he was getting his treatment, just as he had promised me earlier. He wanted me to understand what happens behind the scene when patients like him enter such set ups.  So an entire morning was devoted to the Cancer Treatment Centres of America, at Zion, Illinois, which was a huge learning point for me. I was so thoroughly impressed and excited to have this golden opportunity of understanding Comprehensive cancer Care set ups of international standings. This was certainly something that I hadn’t expected.

A fruitful day spent at The Cancer Treatment Centres of America , Zion, Illinois

The other surprise plan for me was to visit the school where Moon was a teacher and actually meet with the high school students and interact with them. This reminded me of my Group Study Exchange trip to Canada in 2004 where we had done similar activities as  a part of the programme. I shall never forget that wonderful afternoon with a bunch of young immigrant students at Salam High School, Milwaukee who were so curious to know about India, its culture, education system customs, traditions and the geography. The twinkle in their eyes and their innocent questions taught me another lesson that irrespective of the fact of where we come from, human emotions are just the same everywhere. We all yearn for a little love, compassion, trust, inclusiveness and hope for a better future for all of humankind. We don’t want our differences to divide us, but rather learn to embrace them, as though we are all different flowers of the same garden.

Interacting with children at Salam High School, Milwaukee

I am so grateful to Janet and Moon , and their three handsome boys for welcoming me into their homes and hearts and sharing a glimpse of their lives, which was another milestone in my own journey of life.  I now understand why despite my hesitation to make this trip , it was eventually meant to happen for a reason. The wonderful ways in which God weaves our lives, can only be understood if we choose to see things from a wider perspective.

As a man who has fought the cancer twice, it is needless to say that he chooses to ride high on life, without being deterred by the challenges on the way. And so I wasn’t surprised to come across his book “REFLECTIONS OF A CALM MIND”, which reflects upon the profoundness of man’s temporary existence on planet earth. A widely travelled man, Moon’s first hand close encounters with exciting and hair -raising situations through his life, gives us a taste of how one can navigate through this journey, and it also depicts the larger plan of the Universal web which intricately designs each of our lives. I can only wish him and his dear family, abundance of good health and happiness.

Nothing in life is a coincidence, but it is all a part of a well orchestrated masterly plan. If we choose to see it, we will understand the reason of our very existence and all the connections that we make in the process. I humbly bow down to the Universe in Gratitude for joining the dots.

With Janet and Moon in the warmth of their home

To catch a copy of his amazing book “Reflections of a Calm Mind” by Arnab Mahanta , one can go to the link below:

VANITY AND THE INWARD JOURNEY ……

Happiness is a state of activity

The Thirties are perhaps little confusing age mostly because we gradually approach a change towards responsible seniors at work in the family and generally in a society. Physical changes are seen in many and very prominent among others is greying. Today we see young people in their twenties also greying, with various changes coming to their lives. But I remember my grey getting visibly prominent during my mid thirties and I too started following the custom of dying my hair, little realizing the side effects or after effects. It is impossible for any lady to accept so early and easily their ageing processes and the same happened to me as well. Unless I learn from my mistakes I am not ready to give up. And so I continued with the covering up till it worked fine with me. When younger our body can tune in to anything synthetic, comfortably.

Almost twenty years gone by and now in my mid fifties, realizations dawning in several spheres of life. Couple of years back, when salient changes were taking place in the body metabolism; I sensed the need for a change in my customary routine in life. Slight changes with regular exercises and spiritual practices got introduced in my daily schedule and I could notice improvements. My choice of going natural and plain was showing positive results. Yet I wasn’t bold enough to wear my natural hair colour. It has been my silent desire to get off my coloured hair yet vanity won’t let me. My eyes would itch so hard and I would feel lazy to get touch up done every fifteen days. I used to look at sensible faces that never got into the rut and they looked so glowing and fresh with their grey.

Finally January 2021, I decided not to get another packet of color, when it got over. I took it as a resolution for the year and since continued following. The Wuhan virus helped me somehow, despite the damages and distress it has spread over the world. The lockdown imposed by the outspread, restricted our outings and helped me to stay naturally at home. The recent haircut got rid of all coloured hair that was left on me and I am wearing my natural colour finally. A feeling of Freedom and Bliss….        

Joy is spiritual and far grittier than normal happiness

HEIGHTEN YOUR HAPPY HORMONES

I have often viewed that having a balanced perception, driven by some purpose, is the best way to navigate your life. A balanced view will always keep you in equilibrium, calm and composed, allowing you to be stable and thereby apply the best choices when it comes to taking decisions. Balance helps us to negotiate with the nuances of life. It is a great way to make your way through a variety of circumstances, keeping you from tilting or falling to any one side. A lot of the yogic sciences are focused on maintaining this delicate balance in the 4 domains of life- physical, intellectual, emotional and energy or spiritual levels.

Balance it out!

Focus, or a purpose,  on the other hand is enhanced attention or concentration to get you somewhere. Focus helps us to move towards a goal. It requires clarity, concentration and attention to detail.  It is the innate ability of every individual to be able to focus on their desires, which is what the yearning for a full fledged life is all about. It is a constant desire for longing or seeking something which takes you towards it. Whether a person realizes this ability in one’s lifetime or whether it remains dormant is a choice which every individual takes. A state of realization has the ability to draw your attention towards that focus where you are driven by a purpose, and thereby gives you clarity and direction. It is a destination or a goal that can be dynamically evolving and enhancing with time. It can entail taking risks and willing to negotiate while trying to maintain balance. You are willing to learn or evolve to your higher self and be the best version of yourself as you move forward in life . One learns to maintain stability without loosing focus. So , balance and focus , though dynamically opposite , need to go hand in hand , to steer the ship of life. It is akin to a ship sailing in stormy weathers where the helmsman steers it by maintaining both balance as well as focus, so that it does not tilt  to either side and still continues to move ahead.

Steer your way ahead!

Interestingly , our body and systems are loaded with apps or applications which can keep us happy, balanced, relaxed, focused and enriched with love. We just need to know how to download these apps and apply them in our day to day lives.

 The first one is Serotonin, which is largely a ‘mood stabilizer’. Stabilizing our mood is one of the first steps of having a more balanced perspective of life. Serotonin helps us to relax and reduce the levels of stress which we unknowingly accumulate in our daily humdrum of life. It is a great leveler. Also known as 5 hydroxy tryptamine, it is an important neurotransmitter, predominantly produced in our gut and the central nervous system. We can greatly enhance serotonin levels by activities like meditation, nature walks, jogging, cycling , swimming and gardening. Apart from being a natural anti-depressant, serotonin levels also boost up our natural immune system. Serotonin is derived from the essential amino acid Tryptophan which can be found in high levels in foods such as eggs, soy protein, salmon, spinach, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

Nature walks can greatly enhance your Serotonin levels

The second important happy hormones are the endogenous Endorphins which generally are the natural pain relievers. We are naturally bestowed with these chemicals in our body, provided we know how to tap them. Pain by itself may not mean only physical pain, but can also be induced by psychological and emotional surges, which brings about the concept of total pain. Fortunately, there are activities which can enhance the release of our natural endorphins like gardening, exercising, watching a comedy, or even relishing a chocolate or enjoying a delectable dish.

Gardening is not just a mood stabilizer , but rewarding too, thereby causing surge of happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins

The third happy hormone is Oxytocin or the love hormone. Activities like playing with your pet dog, hugging a close family member, playing with a baby or giving a compliment can cause a surge of this hormone. Oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary gland. It plays a major role in uterine contraction and during lactation in females, and is also present in males. Research has shown a major role of oxytocin related to human behavioural responses like love, empathy, trust and compassion.

Oxytocin surge with some unconditional love 💘

Finally , the fourth happy hormone is Dopamine which is like a reward chemical. It is released when you feel accomplished about something. It could be a small task that you had planned and finally executed. Celebrating small wins, self care activities, treating yourself to a choice dish, listening to your favourite music or putting on your dancing shoes could all help in giving us the high of  dopamine. Dopamine drives us to perform better. These ‘feel good hormones’ are a great way of boosting our lives. The best part is that they are freely available to all of us. We just need to know how to tap these potentials within us.  More importantly,  we don’t really need to pop a pill for it. Learning the art of tapping our happy hormones at all times, irrespective of the external circumstances needs immense focus and a continuous practice till it becomes our second nature. Once you acquire the skill, stress is no longer a word in your dictionary.

Celebrate small wins and increase dopamine surges

 The beauty of life is about maintaining balance without losing your focus, and to be joyful, happy, calm and relaxed in the process. A motivated individual will never loose focus, and a calm individual will never loose balance. We need to bring about the best of both, to navigate through the highs and lows of life.  So go ahead, identify your focus, be ready to handle the risks as they come, and soak into the beauty of balancing the ride of life. While focus is your destination, your balance is your journey. Make sure you keep your Happy Hormones at their optimum levels to make the best out of it. So, even if life throws lemons at you, you are sure to make the best lemonade out of it.

May we all continue celebrate life by boosting our Happy Hormones!

About the author: Dr. Neelakshi is a physician with more than 30 years experience , Professor of Medicine, Oncologist, Geriatrician and an advocate of healthy and active ageing .

Give me some sunshine

Every moment should be filled with sunshine.

A good laugh is sunshine in our lives. We can keep our sunshine protected only when there is always harmony between our thoughts and actions. Most of us are so entangled with daily routine work in our lives that we miss out on the minute and more delightful or gratifying moments around. We are so stuck in the rut; we need to make effort on more attention to the surroundings around us and to every detail in it. We would be pleasantly surprised to find each moment is filled with joy and happiness and it is upon us to find them ourselves. If we can be happy for the present moment and be grateful to be enjoying this moment, we should feel ourselves to be blessed and that sunshine can never leave our doorsteps .Like the saying goes -Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine. In the present times we all need to practice it with a conscious effort

My friend a home maker for almost 30yrs got used to being asked: how she spends her time at home, by every new acquaintance she met, almost to the point of irritation. I always thought home managers are the busiest people in their profession with diverse kind of chores and responsibilities, yet a general opinion seems to differ from mine. Slowly the question started amusing her and she felt how ignorant one can be. She felt so happy that she could handle the matter without having complications in her thoughts and continue with her duties very contented and efficiently too. She was so aware of the fact that each moment is life and we must try and make the best of each moment. Sunshine always gave her company in all weather.

Happiness is Sunshine.

One should also have enthusiasm for a life, with monstrous dreams and a determination to fulfill those dreams as well. The biggest adventure we can ever take in our lives is to live the life of our dreams. Dreams might change with time for many, or remain the same for others, but they give a purpose for life. No dreams, no sunshine because dreams give a sense of achievement once they are fulfilled and makes us happy. Love travels together with happiness. The more we spread love, the happier we can be. If we start greeting everyone with a smile, irrespective of being strangers or acquaintances, we can get initiated to our sunshine instantly. If we smile at a stranger it is only possible that we get back a smile in return. A smile can do wonder to a stranger for it might be the only sunshine he sees all day.

It was one summer afternoon few years back, and I was walking into Tata Memorial hospital with my Mother in law who was patient of stomach cancer. It was a routine check up and both of us waiting for my husband to join us after parking the car, at the hospital gate. As we were waiting there, a young man approaches us with a file in his hand in need of money for the tests of his mother in the same hospital. It can’t be so much of a coincidence and I was convinced that God Almighty has chosen us that day to spread some sunshine amongst his subjects. My husband helped him with whatever possible he could. But the whole episode ushered a booster dose of positivity and stronger resolution in us to go ahead with Ma’s treatment. I noticed a fresh exuberance in our approach. My Mother in law finally said good bye to us in February, 2014. Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves, and the sun shines for the wide world’s joy. It is upon us to decipher the ways to let it in to our lives.

Bring your own Sunshine

Friends are lifelong sunshine. They bring hope and joy in any situation. Let us be grateful to the charming gardeners that make our souls blossom because friends show their love not only in happiness but also in times of trouble. Friendship multiplies the good and divides the evil. All of us travel through various stages in life getting busy complying with various responsibilities. The middle age inevitably revert us back to our friends with whom we parted ways earlier in life. Most of the alumni get active in the school reunions, yearly vacations with friends are eagerly anticipated and regular gatherings in different groups of friends, has become apparent in current scenarios. Many changes are noticed in various levels of relationships but friendship remains status quo.

Charming gardeners that blossoms our souls

However, still and all, the most important factor for sunshine to be in our lives is we have to always try to manifest opportunities for it to enter us. A happy person is not always in good situation, but he has a good attitude in any situation. To be truly happy we have to give up on grudges and stop holding on to thoughts that are acrimonious or antagonistic. A premeditative effort is indispensable to stay happy always. Because Sunshine is the most precious thing to be found on Earth…..

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