Saturday, June 24, 2017

Relentless & endless suffering – 2

(Reading part -1 would make more sense as you dig into part-2; just further down!)
You could say in a way I was born anew at 38.  Three events burst on me more from chance than design: mother moving out of Besant nagar, at long last I found a writing job, and finally out of the blue I fell in love. Each transformative in itself and together combined spelt new hopes and filled the heart with “dreams may come true” optimism.
            My eldest sister found a one-bedroom apartment for the mother bang opposite her bungalow.  She could keep an eye, feed three squares and yet not have the nuisance in the house.  
            Working for Worldwide Media from home gave me just the drive to develop my writing. I spent long hours in the dictionary and starting to develop some craft. 
            “Writing” and “mother’s issue” gave a lot of relief to the mind but it was “romance” that gave the mind its dreams.
            Enter the “Jackal” phase:
            I used to blog in rediffiland in 2006.  One day I find in my inbox a co-blogger’s request to read her posts for a feedback. I run my eye and within half an hour I feel the first flush of romance. We write to one another, more love flows in the heart.  A month later we take to the phones, we are inseparables whispering the “magic three words” without an image being exchanged.
            Ishita (name changed) impacted my mind like slow spring – it was not a lightning thunderbolt but she crept into my system steadily. I was 38 to her 40.  This tale is so interesting, let’s break it into stages:
First Stage: Soulmates 
            We met on a mid-afternoon sultry day in the mid 2007 after I had flown specially to meet and converse in the Gujarat capital.  The emails and phone-calls of three months set us up beautifully. We met as long lost friends and by the end of the day our heart sang in unison: this is for real as we hugged and kissed.
            Ishita seemed perfect in every way – beautiful to look, sunshine personality, spontaneous humour, and wore clothes to her best advantage.  Those eyes blazed radiant cheer and rosy cheeks ridge to a curve each time she smiled. She had built a wonderful career and much respected at work – a natural winner in life. . 
            As for me I was under no illusion that I had won a jackpot. It felt a Mills & Boon romance; poor boy meet rich girl kinds. In our case, let’s make it uncles and aunts!          
            Six months were pure magic. We met less than 8 days in our lives and they were made in heaven for me including a pre-honeymoon vacation to Kodaikanal.  We were speaking for two hours over phone and those weren’t enough; I love the fruity voice rattle on the happenings of the day.  Ishita sang Hindi hits over the phone, read her poems, and her incessant sms texting:  Given to frequent travels on work, she would report by the instant: Now security. Ten minutes later, boarding.  And then an hour later “Landed”.
            It felt a James Bond girl walk into my arms. Ishita, in her own words, sums up this period, “Sathya, Thank God you have a stable job for once.  I believe we were destined to meet. Aren’t we soulmates?” while tossing me the Brian Weiss book.  The mushiness is too much for me, “I may not be a writer of Weiss standards but this soulmate is bit too thick.  It’s true I love you with a passion and gladly die defending your honour.”
Second Stage: Standby mode
We speak couple of hours each day – remember we were separated by geography, Chennai and Ahmedabad – and gushing passion. The ma’am plans honeymoon locations, Mauritius is bandied and I nod my head like a good boy: anywhere, as long as she is there for hugs and kisses.
            Six months pass by and I am frantic at the delay. Each time there is talk of marriage, the subject is deftly changed.  I meet her in Bangalore with a stern tone: What’s on your mind? Am I an embarrassment or a time-filler?
            Ishita climbs down from the high horse, “Sathya, I have not spoken to my parents as yet. Please come to Ahmedabad and we’ll make it official”. I wonder what kind of parents allow their daughters on pre-honeymoon trips and not be in the know.
            I visit Ahmedabad for a tête-à-tête for a complete fiasco. I am introduced to the mother who is seated on the sofa and legs stretched over the coffee table! I say nothing, but the gesture doesn’t escape me.
            Ishita explains over phone once I am back to base in Besant Nagar: Mummy, she was shocked to see your tanned skin colour. Please don’t make a fuss, darling. “
            The whole “marriage” thing rings hollow.  All my instincts scream: IT’s OVER.   Ishita would not just commit on a date.  Worse we were fighting over trivia; I now believe she fabricated them and dilute my ardour.    
            That’s the last time we meet. Ishita continues on the phones. I keep saying: Either marriage or stop calling. It’s emotionally draining. The diva says in her softest persuasive tone of mischief: Sathya, I am a beautiful woman and any man would love to stop and converse.  Whatever happens to romance part, we are still friends.  Aren’t we?
            As for me the memories of Kodaikanal were too etched on the mind to let go.  This stalemate continues for the next 12 months.
Her excuses suddenly seem pressing and run like this: Search rentals after a vacate notice, Conference to organize, Bihar flood campaign after which we’ll sit and talk.  We no longer coo and whisper sweet nothings. All the fantasies done and dusted. 
Third Stage: The knockout
It was apparent this relation was going nowhere.  Then out of the bolt I find her Orkut post with the status: Committed.
            Something snaps in me. I had never felt a devil lodged in me; now it was aroused to a blinding fury. I wrote to her office on her character or the lack of it, wrote blogs and the woman cried over the phone for the last time: Sathya, I am not a prostitute. I don’t know where I have gone wrong. I am sorry to have hurt you. But I have a right to choose my life-partner. 
            I thought: Of course you have a right to choose after 500 calls, 100 snaps (I mean pictures/images!!!), 400 mails, Kodaikanal trip, sharing beds, hugs, kisses and more! Of course, she has a right to seek details of registered marriage procedures for one man in 2008 and another in 2009.
Fourth Stage: Reflections
One devil of a mother reduced me on “mood balancing: drugs.  Ishita was told about this Bipolar even before we met; she knew all about my earnings, she came down to Besant Nagar for inspection at the height of fever shrieking: wow, great.  She saw the beach and Theosophical Society that read: this is life.
            In my mind I conclude for an autopsy report: Ishita was extraordinarily charming to a James Bond girl level. No man could have resisted her charms. She was self-serving which can be condoned. It took me years to realize that she was wicked, scheming, and morally loose.  It's unlikely her Prince Charming appeared one fine day riding a white mount dropping from the skies, she had been dating for a weeks and months and keep my telephone conversations going. It takes an evil mind to keep two horses running at the same time. That's why long distance online romances are terrible.   
            It took me almost two years to realize that Ishita was better than a geisha, an opportunist to the core. And it was time I stopped feeling unworthy, and disgusted for being a champion loser. Thousands of people fall in and out of love all the time;  in my case I am baffled. She burst on my life for no reason, showers love which I greedily lap, then close and open the tap on whim,  my utility over and then cast away.  I felt a "use and throw" napkins. 
            I spent years lamenting the play of destiny.  I sought romance in the first place as I felt a daily dose of love and passion would do me good and my train back on rails.  Which meant I escaped the SNAKE of a mother only to embrace a JACKAL for a lover.
            With Ishita chapter hermitically sealed, I feel the full fore of loneliness. I adore my writing still and that’s there’s no creative juice in it. My career nosedives further south.  Writing jobs in Chennai is a hopeless case, I am now well over 40 and defeat written all over the face. I find small joys in Vipassana, chanting classes, morning walks, write inconsequential posts that smell of retirement and resignation at the same time.
            I stay in an empty house and work myself to self-pity at the double whammy: lousy family and senseless romance.   
            The years kept marching by. I had foreclosed romance though a few attractive faces impinge on my mind for no more than a week’s fancy. I trudged on for a lonely soldier’s vigil. I find friends at the beach, India Cements gave me Manikandan and his brand of laughs, Vipassana got me hours of meditation, weekend spiritual discourses, and my sister’s daily calls for a sole human connection.  But I run out of reasons to survive.    
            To wake up alone, mostly work from home, cook for self, and go for days without a human being in sight is vulnerability to the extreme.  My highest aspirations are suicidal thoughts;  a lonely person cannot manage any chronic illness as a diabetes or hypertension thrown in with advancing years. I stock barbiturates feeling my time is just around the corner.  My life had become a dreadful bore with nothing ever happening.     
            My creative writing lost its nip and zip reflecting the faded colour of my existence.  I take an assignment at Abu Dhabi only to run into another monster boss, suffered and came home more hurt and defeated and convinced my time was up.  I realized earning fat salaries does not assuage loneliness. You may end up buying more in a mall but adds nothing to your stored-up agitations. 
            There is something about loneliness as I faced the full brunt of it for a decade. You never get used to it. It weakens your will to live. My life was so hollow; my living or dying makes no difference to others except me. 
            I go for days and weeks without talking to a human being. I fear my vocal chords going to seed that I started a daily round of chanting of slokas than devotion to the failed gods.     
For years my daily prayers were: Lord, end this misery quickly. I want to die next instant and reborn a human again minus this family, minus this bipolar. Maybe then I qualify for life's blessings of love, family just as anyone else.  
            I have been on my own since 2007. By 2015 I had reached the very end of the rope. Dying makes perfect reason but for this countervailing thought: Death is irreversible. However much your current sufferings are, there is no end to destiny’s mischief to piling more.  I see a cage of love birds at the vegetables shop I frequent; they chirp unmindful of being trapped in small space. They are locked from the outside as the shutters are downed for the night; even natural light is denied to them until the shutters open the next day.
            Life is not easy at all for anyone; be it animals in the wild or birds on migratory flight with all this climate change nonsense.
            Even when you are at the extreme limits of human endurance, snuffing your own life out feels criminally offensive.  It's not death would confer my happiness that living denied. I am so high on the misery scale to Guinness Records but animals have it worse. Here I am in a beach-side residence and I still have enough to feed myself.  What if I am condemned to those love birds in the cage of that vegetable shop for my next innings!!!  Then the truth feebly seeps through: only as human being there is a possibility. Possibility to learn lessons of peace and happiness even if you die ploughing through rivers of fears, tears, rejections and those depressions.  It is for this remote possibly that you hold your life. Human life is very precious even if smells of death for years and you languish in splendid isolation. 
            I almost do myself in towards the end of 2016 as to engage a quack’s injection for a forced exit. I backed out at the last moment not out any fear of uncertainty or karmic punishment but I did not want to die so far from home and no friendly hand to hold.  Since then I discovered Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR., Tara Brach and a new world where suffering is the starting point to discovering something new. 
         “I have suffered so much that I don't want to suffer any more, “is the first line of the teaching and it got my full attention. Thought and intentions are the only tools I have and let me junk all those that drag me down, don't serve me. Used to prayers hoping for a quick end, I now pray: God, let me have a shot at romance again. It would be sad to go through life realizing that I was no more a 2007 winter collection of a diva.  I finally learn to love myself. Stand up for myself. Resolve to treat myself gentler and kinder. And maybe that is all that I need. 
          For too long I used to see myself as a bird afraid of heights; of late there is a strong belief that I had been an eagle all along.  I am destiny's child. I could have died any time since I turned 21. Yet I am hale and hearty at 48.
            It takes me 48 years to realize that DESTINY has been extremely kind. It takes a master-planner to use the SNAKE and the JACKAL into making an EAGLE of an ASS.  It is only the mindfulness literature that got me these new energies and whole lot of self-worth.
Life's just begun and I can’t wait to read the next page!        

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Relentless & endless suffering – 1

Which is definition of perdition, isn’t it?
What is the worst karmic punishment?  Born blind??  Muscular dystrophy?? Deaf and dumb??? Spastic??? Autistic??? 
            I make a case for “Being born to a mentally retarded parent” for the emotional damage is often permanent and suffering prolonged.  
            The tale is so gory. So let me keep it absolutely short and crisp. Bare essentials and no frills. 
            My father’s side of the family were simple, honest Brahmins. The menfolk studied the vaidika sastras for a living while the womenfolk supported them by cooking and raising kids. Those days – say until mid-1980s – families were large, cohesive, and a set lifestyle. Faith, piousness and rituals summed my grandparent’s generation.
            My father was a simple man, a calm temperament, soft spoken and measured in conversations. Besides he was intelligent and capable of clear thinking too.  Born in 1930, he studied till SSLC (10th grade by today’s standards), toiled extremely hard for four decades and died prematurely.  
            My mother side of the family were not ritualistic Brahmins but landlords and highly educated. My uncle was an IAS, influential in the corridors of power. But there is a sinister dark side in the gene pool, high on geniuses and evilness for a sickening combination. 
            My maternal cousins are world-class talents: One son an observational scientist of worldwide eminence, daughter a classical dancer of rich fame, another son an IIT educated engineer, and last son a Chartered Accountant; something none in my father’s side can ever boast. But this high intelligence came with a heavy price: these were rigid people prone to lifelong grudges and resentments. The genes never accommodated kindness and compassion for a genetic defect at source
            The behaviour of my maternal uncle (the IAS fellow is still alive and kicking at 92) amplifies the dichotomy of evil and genius side by side: His eldest son married a woman of his choice in the 70s.  The son was thrown out and boycotted socially.  Even the news of his sudden death in sleep four decades later did not soften the hearts of the parents. Another son married a Christian divorcee and he was similarly snapped and estranged.  My mother – his sister whose mental dumbness may not have a reference even in our epics – was sternly told off on her wedding day in 1961: I have done my job in finding a groom. Now get lost and don’t ever show your face; you’ll be thrown out if you ever step on my doorstep.  This admonition from a brother of the bride in full view of the groom’s family; my father was horrified at the vehemence of hatred.  His genetic makeup could never understand this “cut and snap” in family ties.
            My mother is a prized idiot: deaf (another genetic characteristic), natural arrogance of stamping down people, and in her case the genes took a turn to genius dumbness.  Hopelessly unlettered, zero social skills, loud mouth, high pitched energy which began every sentence with a “ayyo” (most inauspicious word in the Tamil language) made her a stand-out pain in every company.  Soon others ran away from her path and sight. Loneliness and social boycott is a feature of that genetic side. 
            My mother did not work hard to drive my father to an early grave: her lashing tongue from those messed-up genes was as venomous as a cobra. She nagged him to death with her daily cribs provoking the poor man into banging his forehead in disgust.  It takes an evil genius of a mind – one exclamatory word in high pitch screeching voice to pierce every armour of tolerance and target the heart with pinpoint accuracy for maximum damage.  I saw my father die inch-by-inch; none strong enough to cry halt the daily warfare. 
            My father lived with his wife for 27 years on a daily supply of high decibel squeals and threats and “ayyos”. His body ran out of gas and will to live before he turned 60 years.  My mind rebelled and condemned to moodswings at I entered my 21st birthday. 
            Even at 21 I knew there would be no romance, no marriage, and see how far I can go without being a nuisance.  It looked a suicide script to me before 30, before 40, whatever. Reaching a milestone as the 20s or 30s was a huge achievement in endurance.
            What made my mother such a genius monster that no man or beast could stand?  
With her around, any human would feel being in a battlefield. When my second sister was born in 1964 the mother refused to breastfeed the baby for a week. Her mind reasoned: not a girl child again!!! Once a two year old baby in 1967 insisted (I am deliberately avoiding names) on swinging the cradle standing up for better bounce from inside a cloth of a saree.  My mother reacted by banging the head of her infant daughter inside the cradle to the wall. The baby turned blue and breathless and rushed to quacks for first aid and treatment.  My mother was equally outraged and ranting: if the baby does not listen now; will she not turn out rebellious later on? That child grew up shy and diffident until she found a husband 22 years later for some semblance of normalcy.
            As to the torture she inflicted on me, they are heart-rending to this day.  Even a male child was not spared.  Her violent savage nature would keep me wailing in hunger as a one year old. The feeding bottle would be sterilized upon my squeal, milk heated, and later to cool down under the fan as the child bawled out of the skin. 30-45 minutes from the first sign of cry would peak to a crescendo when the feeding bottle got ready. Again no words of solace instead abuse, slaps, and threats.  Imagine a baby being breastfed with taunts and a volley of harsh abuses in a high pitched voice on a daily basis.
             As I grew older, I kicked the feeding bottle to ground to register my protest at the inordinate delay. It was met with more kicks and abuses. That same rationale prevailed: if the child does not mend now, when??  I still recollect going with an empty stomach, sobbing my heart out and my chest in spasms.  My mother’s tongue knew not one word of kindness and sympathy instead a rich vocabulary of abuses and threats and ayyos.  Even while feeding solids, she would throttle it down my mouth yelling to my tiny ears (remember she was a lot deaf): if you don’t eat, crows will swallow you up. Or I will complain to the police and they will beat you black and blue. I grew up in this putrid air of the worst verbal and physical violence any child can stomach. I grew up listening to this daily litany: you are useless, worthless; you will not amount of anything.  I turned out exactly similar. 
            It was during the MBA days in Ghaziabad I found to my horror these stored-up hurts were activated when thrown in the midst of a happy boisterous crowd.  I used the maternal side of my genes to hunt a name for the disorder in the library; while the paternal side counselled patience and endurance. I realized before my 21st birthday: I had contacted a high grade mental disorder and it would take a lifetime to set right the wrong, and if that it is at all possible.
            I entertained little hopes of a career; I had a heart surgery at 29. I discovered a passion for walking especially on Theosophical Society lawns.  I also found weekend Spiritual discourses a soothing balm to the tortured mind. My aspiration never rose higher than feed myself and support the devil and even address as “Amma”. I was on “mood balancing” drugs for decades now. Though I had a lot of friends, I was a loner and painfully shy in boisterous party atmosphere.   
            Life treated me as I treated life: I walked in the side alleys; I never got into tangles, and zilch career and romantic aspirations for myself and think dying thoughts for solace.  My personality was a hybrid mixture of my dad’s side – honest, simple, hardworking, and not outreach my station in life – and my mother’s side on talent, resentments and grudges. 
            Suffering needs actors and events to generate tales and drama.  In my case nature had earmarked my suffering to a lonely one. My father dead when I was 21, both the sisters got married and left the nest before I turned 20, and the family was now reduced to “perpetrator” mental MOTHER and “victim” Mental SON.  At 38 I realized that two idiots can’t be in the same house and a very accommodating eldest sister taking responsible of the old woman.
The diagnosis was Bipolar or mood swing in the medical jargon to account for those childhood tortures. In simple language it meant “continued and sole exposure to hate”.  Few lives on earth are condemned to such depths of emotional poverty and deprivation.
            Failures cause fear; fear causes hatred of oneself, which in turn manifests as extreme diffidence and impending disaster at every turn – I kept losing jobs at frightening frequency unable to blend in an office environment.  With each failure I withdrew into a shell like a tortoise at the first hint of danger to avoid more failures.   
            The hate sowed in baby state by an evil mother was now reaping the whirlwind. The worst of bipolar is: Your story reads a like a movie script playing on the screen; you know what is going to unfold couple of scenes later yet immobilized to alter a line of the sub-plot of the script in your favour.  Suffering in ignorance at least gives birth to false hopes and misguided efforts that suffering in knowledge deprives: you are reduced to awaiting death and sober prayers: God, end this misery quickly and give me a new innings. I want to be a human being again minus this family, minus this bipolar.
            Right from my 21st birthday I knew the gravity of this disorder caused primarily by rotten genes and terrible upbringing.  This is “multiplication of misery” – any genetic defect can be rectified in a loving and caring environment affirms a BBC documentary.  Even if you are born with normal genes, continued exposure to my mother’s level of rants and high pitched wolves howling noise would cinder a human mind – which is after all tender, impressionable, fickle especially a mind of a tender child- to dysfunction and go out of operating range. 
I had to find my own medicine and in this I spared no effort.    
            I ran to every astrologer, every faith healer, yoga teacher, decades of listening to Swami Paramarthananda and Vipassana. I had consulted a dozen of the best psychiatrist the metropolitan had to offer. I had the mental strength of a man who will make his own road even if it meant tunnelling through oceans and mountains. I have an endurance not seen in either my father’s or mother’s side of genes.  If god made me a donkey, I had its heart to bear the load.
            Every search for mitigating bipolar was a hopeless one; each gave a momentary relief but no lasting remission until I discovered Mindfulness and Eckhart Tolle.  One is so engrossed in healing the mind that one forecloses the possibility of going beyond the mind.
            But those came in much later before life threw in a surprise as I turned 38: I got a writing job after a decade of strenuous search and I fell in love with a woman of my dreams.  I felt destiny was showering roses at long last and my plane finally take off.  
But nature was still not through with me. I kept getting hammered and knockout defeats fighting Mohammed Ali in the ring which we shall see in the next part. 
As TM Soundararajan sings to Kannadasan's lyrics and MSV's music: Sothanai mel sothanai pothumada saami. Vethanai thaan valakkai endraal, thaangathu bhoomi. Meaning: Lord! enough of piling sorrow upon sorrows. If living is only about misery, the earth cannot endure. 

Post Script: Every human being causes happiness to someone at least once in a blue moon. Amma is a constant negative kinetic energy of fear, distrust, stubbornness and not an atom of gratitude to even the hand that feeds.  There is this repulsive reptile feel to the woman – scared and scary at the same time, hyperventilate, deaf, stubborn, and firmly set in her ways to cause storms and turbulence in every encounter. She was hopelessly sick with those terrible genes. When the cause is rotten the result is only sorrow.  And those genes were taking a heavy toll on me.   

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I’m alive!

At Eliot's beach at 6:00 a,m
“Can I speak to Sathya?” as I held the landline arm to the ear.
“Yeah, speaking!”
“Thank God! You’re alive. Am I really speaking to Sathya. You are not dead right.”
I don’t get flustered as I gently plod:  You ask for me and when I identify myself you want a confirmation I am alive. Not fair. Who is this?
“I am Arijit Manna from Kolkata.”
This intellectual from the great land of Bengal was a Facebook contact as he complained with just reason: no blog post in years, Facebook account deactivated. I was fearing the worst.
            It made me happy for a while; that someone takes the time to ponder on me. Next week another call and this time from Mumbai: Sathya, I am Siddhan.  It’s been more than two years since I heard from you or about you. I keep enquiring about you with T H Iyer mama. It seems you have evaporated into thin air.”
            It is not that I get a stream of such calls. Only these two to be honest.  Yeah, I am very much on the planet earth and very much alive.
            After my return from UAE in 2014 I went through prolonged blues. I lost all zest of writing and living. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I went to the depths of hell only to realize that earth is not such a bad place at all.  But more than that, I lost the writing twitch. From 2006 onwards I have been very prolific on these blog posts before realizing after UAE sojourn I had nothing new to write: unremitting and unrelenting loneliness stretched for eternity as the Sahara, miserable job experiences, and agonies of world-class cribber of a touch-me-not oversensitive soul.
            One of the best things of life is nothing is permanent; not even my sufferings.
            It’s came as no surprise that both my sisters reached out in my darkest hours.  For months I stayed put in Adambakkam, my eldest sister’s place.  After 10 years of lonely living in Besant Nagar I lost all joys of the Eliot Beach, Theosophical Society and weekend Upanishad lectures.  My second sister would invite me to her place in Kodambakkam and drag me to temples or entreat for Ayurvedic treatment for my arthritis.  Both intuitively knew that my emotional suffering had reached saturation point.  They advised in different words, “Sathi, things are bad but you’ll bounce back.  If there is just one way out of a million to escape, you’ll find it. Just persevere. Keep a little faith.”  
            There is miraculous pattern repeated time and again in my life: Balakanth became a friend soon after my father’s death. Manisha in 2006 when my boat was sinking.  Vivek is another friend who lavishes warmth and a human connection. I offer nothing in return but I get so much. I get free medical consultation from depression to arthritis to migraines from doctor friends: Manisha, Vivek, Rajaram
With Mr. and Mrs. Iyer at the beach
The miracle this time was Mr. T H Iyer mama.  I have known him since 1998 when I first started walking in the lawns of TS.  He is by far the wisest man I have known. He is an engineer who spent 4 decades in Germany in executive positions of MNCs, every great spiritual leader of our times – Sai Baba, Swami Chinmaya, Swami Dayananda – have been personal guests at his residence and they interact with him on an one-to-one “equal” basis. His wit is spontaneous and world-class. We are oceans apart - Iyer mama is the best advertisement of a human being while I have never deluded myself other than a failed writer, failed human being, broken spirits and now in free-fall.   
            One day he said: Sathya, Lord Guruvayoorapan came in my dream and asked me to keep an eye on you.
            Had any person said this, I would have shrugged it off.  In fact, it was his suggestion that I would daily chant “Kanakadhara slokam” in the years 2011 and 2014.  He would say: chant “Vinayakar Agaval” and I implicitly comply.  Another time he would suggest a “Sudarshana Homam” at my place or a visit to Kanchipuram for Mahaperiva’s blessings. Anything he said; I follow without questions.
            My redemption came in the most unlikest of ways. I started with Louise Hay’s affirmations 30 minutes morning and night from the youtube and her magnificent book “You can heal your life”.  At first the affirmations felt as distant from another galaxy but I persisted in absorbing the ideas and psychology.  That led me to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR – a free online 8 week course on Mindfulness.  Within two weeks I was hooked; I ravenously read “Buddhist” literature for 7-8 hours in a day.  Every idea felt the bars of the mental jail opening.  When I first heard “The Power of NOW” as audiobook on youtube before ordering a hard copy, I found a guru in Eckhart Tolle.  Swami Paramarthananda’s talks would take me to Himalayan heights in an experience of timelessness. Eckhart did likewise but one difference: each sentence in the book felt like it was written specifically for me.  "The Power of Now" became a practical guide to handling a tumultuous mind.    
            For the first time in life I felt: reading this book was worth all the trouble in my life starting from a sick mother used to banging the head of a one year old to the wall in 1970.  The belief system of such a child growing in such venomous hostility is fundamentally antithetical to peace and joy.  Having such a cannibal at home meant I never grew wings to fly.  
           One of the first lessons of spirituality is SUFFERING is not such a bad thing. In fact in Buddhism it is the starting point of liberation. You have suffered so much that you don't want to suffer any more.  
            My mind cluttered with so much negativity - with more than half a mind to escape the pains of earth - now found new energy fields in the mind. Transformation is a supercharged heavy word; it simply means re-wiring the mind. I became an alchemist changing my fears, resentments, hatred, and insecurities to GOLD in the form of healthy love and respect for myself and my life situation. We improve by degrees so whether the transformation is 10 % or 90% is good enough as long as the mind is set on the road to peace and happiness. In other words, being transformed simply means: I am willing to change to these wholesome thoughts!
            Mindfulness is my new buzzword.  My twitter handle is full of posts and interactions on mindfulness.  I listen and read the greatest teachers of MINDFULNESS of our times to savour and course correct: Tara Brach on Radical Acceptance (I loved her jargon on “trance of unworthiness” “constant war with oneself” “definition of prapancha” RAIN meditation. Again every sentence of her talks and writing is pure gold).  Jack Kornfield on Forgiveness, Dr. Kristin Neff on Self-compassion, Thich Nhat Hanh (loved his “ringing the bell” and “no mud, no lotus”), Byron Katie’s The Word in the form of 4 questions for replacing a negative thought into a positive, and so many really. This is no place for name-dropping but listening and reading these teachers has immeasurably enriched my life.
            Gautama Buddha asks: “If you get struck by an arrow, do you then shoot another arrow into yourself?” I spent over 47 years of my life shooting a second arrow with my cribs of lousy parents, genetic predisposition to moodswings, monster bosses, footloose romance, and growing old to loneliness and misery. Just 4 months of Mindfulness I see new hopes; new energies and a possibly that I can still make something useful with my life. 
            I think I lost that writing twitch for good which is vitally important – the love to communicate (its actually more a flaunting), addiction to words and thoughts and an endless and tireless labour to shape words into visual imagery.  I don’t foresee I will ever hit those peaks of 2011-2014 as a writer.  But writing is something I can't totally eliminate from my world. There are some topics I want to record like my uncle's sudden passing away last year. Besides "mindfulness" serves me so many lessons. These potentially can make for good reading as Rocky says: When I can change, you can change then everyone can change. Come to think of it, capturing a change process in the mind is why writing is embarked upon in the first place. 
            I am totally indebted to my eldest sister and T H Iyer mama for hauling me up to this side of life. 
            I am still very much alive and kicking and in Besant Nagar and God in his rightful place and everything perfect in heaven and earth.  Life is a journey and it will have its ups and downs. But I’ll survive and maybe even surprise myself. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Kolhapur knockout

Writing wise September was a productive month for me. I posted 15 posts on Spiritualsathya and three in thinksathya. I can’t trace back to a time where I worked so determined and hard. I was racing to complete the Bhagavad Gita summaries of the last 7 chapters pending since 2009. Transcriptions are only a clerical chore, meaning hard physical labour, and my mind was feeling the pressure of idleness and lack of purpose. I feel the worthlessness of my dreadful existence. Continuing with my one Vipassana course each month resolve I signed on to a centre in Kolhapur as it was recommended by a co-meditator in Bangalore.
            I took the Dadar Superfast on 30th September at 6:50 in the morning bound for Solapur and I found engaging conversation with an overzealous Christian girl. She was pursuing her PhD from IIT Madras and she was selling me the Jesus the Saviour line. Paradoxically that chance conversation got me a lot of clarity to my mind: we repose faith in God only when we feel our life a blessing and family is the only blessed thing we have on earth. A physical attraction between a man and woman grows on to embrace a family for bonding and care. Destiny has stripped me bare of this nature’s blessing. That conversation got me to realize how vacuous the forces of God had been in my life. A derelict feels no savior and no prayers ever answered.  By the time the train pulled in to Solapur at 10:20 in the night I was a confirmed atheist. The connecting train was at 11:35 and bound for Kolhapur.
            I reached Kolhapur at 6:00 in the morning, almost 24 hours of travel from Chennai. Dhammalaya is nestled among the mountains besides a huge Jain temple. The construction of the main Dhamma Hall and the pagoda to a circular design along a sloping terrain is some architectural feast for the eyes. There are lots of wild grasses and trees filling the circle. The men and women quarters come on either side of the circumference. 
            I saw others troop in the afternoon. There were 65 participants and I was more observant after expending my vocal chords on the train. Maharashtra is a huge state, there are distances of over 600-700 kms travel within cities. The weather was agreeable and a bit chill in the mornings, south west is in the last leg for slow downpours in the evenings and nights.
            They served from a Marathi menu and every dish was unknown to me. They don’t have a sambhar or rasam instead pack a lot of sweetness and blandness in food either in liquid or solid form. A couple of dishes seemed like rubber pieces to me. There is one red liquid that seems like thick blood without any vegetables but basically is North Indian menu without spice. There were 70 people in all; 69 Maharashtrains and one idiot from Besant Nagar Chennai. The Marathis include jaggery, they mix turmeric powder and jaggery with milk for a drink that clear the throat. My creative mind had a free run; palak panneer looks like cow dung. And there is a dish in Kannada that looks like fried steamed horse prick with balls! In the evening we are given two glasses of lemon juice. 
            As in every meditation your face learns to observe those around. I saw an American with matted hair like Bob Marley’s strands, and then there was a very savvy fifty year old man who spelt opulence and grace even from a mile. They had put a list of meditators at the pagoda for the cell numbers and every name read a Patil, Suryavanshi. Chugle. Kimble, Kate, Manwadi, etc. This is rural Maharashtra and every name was from the Marathi gene pool. The Marathis are a very accommodating race. Everyone speaks Hindi as good as their mother tongue, even the alphabets of Hindi and Marathi are similar. In the evening discourse 60 people opted for Hindi language and just four for English.
            I loved this aspect of the centre; it is far way from a city. I feasted my eyes on the night skies for stars, planets, and the moon. I had forgotten all about the astral world since my schooldays and it was here I would stare at the skies and memorize a few star formations. In the meditations in the day my knees stood the test but somehow I felt my back sag so much. Since Kolhapur is the hometown of the Kalyani family, my very reliable friends, I thought about them in the initial days. Kolhapur from a Chennai eyes is pure air and wonderful weather and away from the maddening noise of a city.
            Each day went without stirring any new thought or strange emotion. If there is one relief I have expended all thoughts and energy of the Sindhi long time back - it was 10-90 relation, I got 10% of bliss for 90% pain for an absolutely lose-lose transaction. Neither are there negative imprints of Panneer Chelvam nor Mohan, my last two bosses. If there is one aspect I felt I could improve is get my rooms at Besant Nagar swept and mopped more regularly (this house opens out to the main road where vehicular traffic is heavy and dust formation is daily nuisance). I also thought I should stock fruits, casual eats in the house. I also resolved to get a few carpentry works like fixing the cot and get a dining table replaced. In short get some aesthetic in. 
            On 11th October the vow of silence came to an end. I restricted myself mainly to David the American and the suave man, later learnt that he runs a few management institutes in Pune. We were the only men attending the English discourse in the evenings. I wished a few pleasant faces that I happened to witness in these ten rigorous days of meditation. On 12th October I accompanied Kusto, from Orissa to the famed Mahalaxmi temple. Visited Manisha’s uncle’s place and they treated me to an hour of discussion on politics (Maharashtra is going to the polls this week) and music. The uncle’s family’s hospitality and respect was standout. They came to pick me up in a car at the landmark “Victor Palace” and later dropped me at the bus stop for Pune. That was a five hour journey and I kept talking the whole time wearing myself out with Kusto. The bus reached “Svargate” (the bus terminus at Pune) and waited for an hour to be picked by my cousin. My father’s last brother has been a Pune resident for 30 years and they invited me warmly over the phone once they learnt from my sister that I was in Kolhapur.
            Meeting my uncle, his wife and two sons was a revelation. My uncle never earned much but he got fortunate marrying a virtuous woman who squeezed every penny to ensure the best quality education for her sons despite penury earnings. Now both the children are well placed. Rajesh is the campaign manager of a NCP candidate and he’s already making a mark in Maharashtra politics even at just 22. His elder brother Kishore is in a software firm and earns astronomically compared to his dad’s paltry. That family smelt close-bound and they treated me as royalty. Sankari Chitti made payasam and wadai and treated me to a feast. I was there just for two hours but I will carry the memories for long as Kishore dropped me at the Pune station at 11:30 for a midnight train to Chennai. All of them said,” Next time please come and stay for a week. Two hours won’t do.”  
            I came home and my mind kept playing the memories of Manisha’s uncle’s family and my own uncle’s family. Both were a good spectacle and advertisement of a good family. I came home to an empty house and felt miserable coming to an empty apartment. I don’t think I will give God a natural death. Earning money is the easy part but staying alone is not something a human being is programmed for. I have never felt a stronger death wish coming from a Vipassana course. Or is there any more turns in the script of my life? 
         Somehow this "27th April" syndrome scares me; sharing a birthday with Dr. Arunachalam Kumar my maternal cousin (he writes ten times better than me; he is a Scientist, Anatomist, Painter, Wildlife enthusiast and yet his suffering is of a colossal scale. Mine is greater for I suffer alone; what is worse I don't have his brains or energy). This is death layer by layer; agonisingly slow. Or is suffering the starting point for liberation? Why has nature chosen me; both my sisters have it easy in life and so does anyone I know. More questions and no answers yet only waiting has been my lot
          Bloody hell with waiting. I am always game for another fight, another battle even if it is against my destiny. I may bloody lose but I will stand my ground. I must love myself, trust myself, encourage myself, support myself even if the solar system and milky way is against me.  
        I will pour unconditional love to myself; I will be my only friend. What if I don't have a family, I have me and that's more than enough. I may be knocked down a thousand times but I will get up each time even as the count starts. Each time with more love and sympathy for myself. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Life’s like that, April times

this is my view! N my guitar! (living king-size)
It’s 8:40 on a Friday morning. I sit looking at the French window tinted glass from my chair. What I meant by French windows is that one side of the room is glass panes and I get a full length view of the road. Never mind I am sitting or standing, the outside is visible to the eye. The three lanes becoming five near the signal. In Abu Dhabi the road divider is fat in the middle with palms but as it approaches the signals at the crossroads it gets thinner to accommodate two additional lanes. One to turn left and another the free right on the outside. It’s gets engaging to spend at least an hour daily watching the flow of cars, pedestrians, municipal workers in yellow or pink jackets with a measuring tape, or a Lavajet person in green attire picking debris from the road with a fork. At times I get to watch school children engage a taxi (don’t forget, I am looking over them from the fifth floor of a glass tinted building) for a bird’s eye-view.
View from West End of the room, Fatima Bint Road
The Sheikha Fatima Bint road meets Hamdan road at a traffic signal and that’s were all these spice of life unfold. Further ahead I catch a sniff of the sand dunes as the roads end and the skies meet the desert. There is a stream too but those are too far for the eyes to be definite about. This is the centre of the town and as fine an observatory of the streets from inside a tall building and AC comforts for an idle armchair lounger.
I see the pavements more than 60 feet in width at the edge of my nose. I get to see the faces of pedestrians from my vantage height. Filipinos women in tight jeans and hair hung out. I usually see them with sunglasses, sometimes Indian women too in sarees, or early morning bikers on their way to deliver the day’s newspapers. Or the yellow school buses and the grey taxis and so many things that keep ticking in the day of a modern city.
I have an empty day in front and a blog post to fill, Fridays are a heaven compared to six days of work under a dog’s collar. Mine has been an unusual life, so many life’s lessons tumble down on me without asking.
Learning is not about knowledge gained from books or mouthing someone’s words, it is your own experiences as life dishes out. Lessons are always for the emotional mind and not the rational intellect. And the mind is so dynamic, a throbbing cauldron, few can claim a mastery over it. So when I serve these lessons it is with a humility and an awareness that I may not have the strength of will to follow all of them all the time but I have no doubt to their soundness. We take ourselves far too seriously for starters. Nothing is permanent and nor your troubles, you are passing by as the cars lining up behind one another outside my window.
Lesson one: MONEY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR HAPPINESS. Your happiness is not defined by the money in the wallet. I stumbled on this fortunately from my interactions with Balakanth in 1990. You need money to buy groceries, eat three times a day, have a roof to sleep and anything more is an excess. This money, property, shares and mutual funds never held the slightest attraction to me. There is an intuitive revulsion to a consumerist mindset. I have always seen MONEY as a dead-weight; that's more important is an investment of happiness and joy and it takes a lot of learning to get there. 
Lesson two: DEFINE YOUR OWN IDENTITY. My father’s death in 1989 served a powerful lesson that changed the way I run my life. Being a slave from 9 to 5 for 35 odd years, being married and nagging kids was a no-no to me. Instead I view living as an adventure. I allowed my writing to flower at its own pace, attending spiritual classes since I was 23 gives perspective, chanting classes I chanced on, Vipassana has been an efficacious medicine. What I'll do next is something I leave to the normal run of life. But no plans to remain in status-quo! 
Lesson three: DESTINY IS YOUR ALLY, you would be a fool to fight it. It is easier to shift mountains or change the course of a river then fighting, rebelling, resisting, cribbing about what’s happening to you at any point in time. Besides they don’t get you anywhere! A fool would rail, “why things are not happening my way.” Living is about uncertainty and I have healthy respect and appreciation of it. I would be suffocated if every event in my life is preset and planned; I would hate myself in a heaven with 24 hours of singing hosanas and bored with Ramba and Urvashi's company all of the time. 
Though my father’s death was tragic in 1989, it got me started on my inner growth, heart surgery liberated me from career expectations reinforcing my natural drive for a bohemian existence, and a solitary existence ensured I value people of culture. Destiny is invisible and its writ runs large. In fact it is the last word and knocks all your carefully laid plans. It does takes after your long term interests even if the daily pinpricks and heart burns feels like turtling the boat.
Six months back I never knew such friends existed: I met Arun Kumar in an interview in the last week of November, 2013. He said,” I read your blogs and your Linkedin page and you are an intellectual. If only I could write like you.” Since then he has been a good friend. Issaias cares for me as a brother, I learn guitar from Tom Manning, I only met him last week. Roberts, Shafeek, and others too. As a jiva, as Swami Paramarthananda would say, we’ll be boxed around in a merry go around. Uncertainty is a part of existence and part of natural evolution. Take it with a smile every time you are thrown out of orbit. 
Lesson four: DEVELOP RELATIONS. Destiny can set the outward situation for you but you need a smartness to know which relation to sprout and flower and which to nip. My friend’s list reads some of the best names in the city: Ranga, Sarada Mami, Kalyani family, Rajaram, T H Iyer, Ramakrishnan, Vivek. I don’t waste a second in turning my back from the gross, boorish and self-obsessed. Solitude is a good medicine and a time to watch your mind and make sense of the events of the day. What is the best medicine for the mind? Just love your mind with its thoughts and emotions even it leads you to a sewage hole of rats. Mind is the ONLY tool we have as a human being and make it your best ally. 
So many insights come rushing unsought in the course of a day. A healthy mind is one that takes a long time (and enough provocation) to get hurt. A mind is healthy when it knows how to snap out of it, recover from the bruises of the day as quickly as possible. It’s okay to lose your composure once in a while but you should back to a semblance of normality as fast as possible. I have an obsession to observe my mental content: what sets it off, blind spots, prejudices, what makes it happy, what makes it still. After all, mind is a tool for my use, but it still uses me as a slave but with less of a hold than before!! 
Lesson six: DON”T BUILD A TIMELINE OR STACK A LIST OF WISHES. The past is but a thought in the mind, the present is what we go through in our waking day (offices, bosses, clients, deadlines, humourless colleagues, laundry man taking his sweet time) but future is just a thought you create and scare yourself. Silly. Having a wish list is another stupidity I have never subscribed (nice house, curtains, furnishings, a woman rushing to hug; car etc). I am forever content with my middle-class comforts. Maybe I am spoilt from staying in Besant Nagar. so close to the beach that I DON'T NEED to make a list and tick them off. 
Living is a miracle for this reason alone: you don’t need know what lies in the next corner. But this much I affirm: no one can be your best friend than you yourself. Two, having a tranquil mind helps. A calm mind gathers while an agitated mind leaks life energies. Three, LOVE yourself more than any FEARS arising out of a situation or people around.  Four, be gentle and compassionate to yourself every day and every moment of your life. Let no person ever snatch that from you even if it was an angel in black tights and pink tops. 

(I wrote this blog in the morning and in the time between writing and posting I got a news from my sister: Sathi, my mother-in-law passed away late last night unexpectedly. Life is so precious. Our time is limited and why squander it in worry, anxiety, and fears of the future. All roads lead but to the grave! Surrender your troubles, fears, aspirations to the uncertainty of the day). 

My deck of cards in April: April is the month of wear and tear of daily living. I was shifted from Al Naeem to Marina Plaza on a temporary basis as a doctor’s wife came visiting from Kerala. That created some uncertainty on office provided accommodation. The progress on the magazine has been tortoise pace, finally it moves to the studio. I purchased a laptop and a guitar this month. Summer is getting to be scorching hot on the scalp. Ramakrishnan, Manisha, T H Iyer, Vivek, my sister continue to write and talk. I am introducing fruits for a respite from hotel food at least two dinners a week. Tomorrow I turn 45 and still more a rock star in attitude to living than a normal Joe. There's been no one quite like me in my family; I don't know why I chosen to be so different than a placid Tambrahm existence who place a premium on job stability, income, and one arranged marriage, two children and both studying in IIT. 

(My office gave me a wonderful surprise yesterday with the cake-cutting and all that. The team got together and we enjoyed a free-flowing banter and bonhomie. Srinivasan in Karpagam Garden called from Chennai and so did my sister. I spoke to Ramakrishnan, Manisha's mom, T H Iyer. It felt nice, so many took the trouble)....28/4. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Whiffs in March

January saw me diffident; new place and “doubting me” mind frame from a mild meltdown. I was timid to hail a taxi or even visit a grocery store in the initial weeks before the mind got a bit stronger. Thanks entirely to Vipassana and breathing exercises. February saw me fall in love with Abu Dhabi - Corniche, Qasr, ADNEC, Shaikh Zayad Grand Mosque got the mind a new breeze of confidence and optimism. As I see it now, the time flew quickly in January and February. As to March the clock is back to its normal mundane course – time does not hang heavy nor is the whirlwind of a honeymoon
            Opening a bank account with Emirates NBD was the last stage of documents after my residency, labour card, and Emirates ID was processed. Having that ATM/Debit card meant normality and I stopped viewing myself as a foreigner here. The office supplied me room curtains and key to my room in 104 after a prolonged chase. As my room got filled, I smelt a psychological belonging here. The mind felt a good approximation to Besant Nagar; a home feeling is a place you don’t wish to be somewhere else. I belong here, period. It feels good when strangers ask you of an address and you are able to assist them.
            Sangeetha and Ever Green restaurants, I frequent for my three squares in the day, make me glow – I get affection at both places. It was raining last week throughout the day and the night before, Pandian a waiter at Sangeetha said,” Sir, I have never seen such long rain spells here in the last 8 years. But since you are here, it is a raining miracle.” I made a humour of it. Sachin at Ever green says,” Sir, you only come for breakfast. On Monday we serve Paratha and our Friday lunch is a specialty.” These people have seen my face for over 75 days yet they are not bored; I am surprised. Am I turning an angel from the cast away devil? While I am either at Sangeetha or Ever Green my self-image blows up – my humour, sparkle in the eye, banter, smiles flow naturally.    
            I realized the worth of two friends this month. Issaias is a man who cares. I complained of heaviness in the chest on an occasion, poor man kept inquiring through the week,” Sathya, take it easy man. Learn to cope with office stress better.” Ashok is a visitor I see at Ever Green at breakfast time. I keep pulling his leg,” Ashok, you won’t get leaves at your office to go home to Chennai. You are a key resource here.” The “Key Resource” humour can be milked for a laugh anytime as he would say,” don’t increase my stomach ache” in Tamil (this is idiomatic as vaitharchal kalpardango). He was the one to suggest I try Sangam and Saravana Bhavan to complete my knowledge of South Indian Vegetarian hotels here. Now I can write a newspaper column on the subject! Another occasion he said,” I just had my haircut. So I don’t wish to come to your apartment.” Such sentiments feel like Besant nagar here. Besides these two, I smile readily at Jaffer, Sharif and Roberts reserves a kind word for me. Living on your own and in a new city, you need every ounce of a smile and a greeting. Trust me, these are as important as oxygen and your next meal.
            In March I never ventured out for sightseeing. Swamiji lectures transcriptions or even blogs took a back seat. Office became out of bounds on Fridays, which means I am in a speed rush to a laptop purchase at the earliest. I have been postponing the buy the last three weeks. I get the damn thing this week so that I start April with a clean slate and nothing in want.
            It is only in the office I learn my lessons.
a)      Don’t do anything that would weaken or threaten your job security (I remember my momentary foolishness with RWD and that alerted me to this genetic defect my creative side brings)
b)      When a person goes sledge-hammering you with words, it is better go docile. Reason is no communication option to a person who is sitting on the frying pan, they only end up adding more fuel. Better to burn one side of the toast than your side
c)      The mind needs to be tranquil for this reason alone – when you speak slow, calm and with poise and a gentle smile the world treats you likewise. Fear and nervousness and a racing speech are a bad advertisement. Can’t afford in a society you are just implanted
d)     Lastly I have realized how to harvest each of the four colleagues at work. Better to invoke their best side or ignore than rattle their cages.
I went to Al Raha Mall in the first week of March. I left at 6:00 in the morning and that road took me on the Dubai highway. I was scared to see signpost like “120 kmph” speed levels and a city bus that did not stop for forty minutes except accelerate at over hundred kmph. I got down in the middle of a desert called “Al Bunder”. I was feeling queasy and a whiff of panic before another co-passenger gave a taxi booking number. I was waiting in the bus stop for this taxi before another empty one passed my eyes. He stopped as I flagged it down and my first query was,” Is this my taxi booking?” He shook his head to indicate otherwise and fortunately just then my taxi came. This driver told the other,” He is a real gentleman to wait for you.” A small incident but it made my day.
            I still dream of a column in a newspaper; destiny sucks for I am better than most I read in the UAE or Indian newspapers.
            My eldest sister, Ramakrishnan, T H Iyer write in regularly. Manisha too is communicative over mails; I made a regular practice to call the trio each time I get a salary cheque. I got a couple of nice mails from Arun of Kaar Technologies. 
I went for Pradosham yesterday and it opened a door to new friends with similar interests. Seeing a gathering of over two hundred Tambrahms in a hall got me feeling like being in a Mylapore market. As I grow older, I feel more a sense of identity as a tambrahm – it is wonderful community of academicians and hardworking souls and an intelligent gene-pool.
            This is a story against myself. I am a sucker for promotions that I purchased body lotion, mouthwash, face cream, hair cream just because a convenience store was offering them on a sale. I went and blew over 100 AED on a whim. And I did not feel bad; let’s see if I can ever make grooming a part of me?  
            I revise ten idioms a day – I jot down in my home (after that explanation in the second para!) before coming to office. Then I explore them over usage and meaning and context in the office computer. Words give me a secure feeling. When Roberts said,” Sathya, it is terrible to live alone. Find a woman.” I said,” I am happy as I am”. There are certain things in destiny’s territory but adding a woman baggage is not one of them. Being in Abu Dhabi for three months I am basking in my good fortune. The 2007 Sindhi was a 100% loss transaction for me. And this painful experience had dug deep into my subconscious with a chisel on a rock: no more foolhardiness. There are times I feel sad: we had a good bonding and should have built on it. But she just kicked it away with disdain (so trivial as to list romance before below grocery purchases like tomatoes and electricity bills and look out for rentals) and now my heart sees no fun in that direction. 
            What then has March taught me: augmenting my savings remains top on the column. Go slow and easy on yourself, have friends to laugh, and keep your mind healthy. I have learnt long that contentment in the here and now than seeing anything rosy in the horizon.  For a man on the threshold of a 45 birthday, the best days are in the rear view mirror! But as a writer I am only now beginning to soar. April and a new laptop should add to this belief, hopefully.