Day 31 & 32 of Panchakarma – farewells and fresh beginnings

Folks. I’m done in, so this’ll be a brief post. But I’m delighted to say all ended well today. I’m done. Wooohooo!

Fond Farewells
In preparation for a thank you treat for the harem women, on the way home yesterday I popped into the local ladies handicrafts shop to buy cards and ribbon. After this morning’s treatments I picked up a length of strung jasmine outside the ashram where the woman who sells flowers is always smiley. Back home I wrote out cards, enclosed cash, attached ribbon and jasmine, and then pedalled back to the clinic for my last rub-a-dub-dub.

I had planned to dole out gifts after the treatment, but because one of the main harem massage therapists was leaving early I handed them out before we got started. As you can see, I wrote in Tamil the names of each of the three women I was giving cards to. We took photos, me and my Panchakarma Comrade. So now you can see the lovelies who’ve been pummelling, rubbing, tapping and using hot herb balls to do a (not-always so soft) soft shoe shuffle across my skin these last three weeks.

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Version 2

So that was my first Panchakarma treatment. In the next couple of days or so I’ll wrap things up properly, but as far as tomorrow goes – I intend to rest. It’ll be my first free day in three weeks. Whoop, whoop. Can’t wait!

Thank You
Thank you for keeping up with me. Having people check-in on the Panchakarma progress has been encouraging and much appreciated.

And a big shout out to Mr D who has been patient, caring, intrigued and supportive throughout.

Today, I thought I’d end this post with a poem by Mary Oliver:
– Wild Geese –
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Throughout my posting on the subject of my Panchakarma experience I feel:
– I’ve been telling you of my despair
– like “the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,” that I’ve now returned home to myself for a fresh beginning
– gratitude for your listening and creating a space in this quirky “family of things” out here in Facebook cyberspace

So anytime you need to, find someone to tell of your despair, of what your body loves, and (like the wild geese flying high in the clean blue air across the landscapes of your life), of all the ways in which the world calls to you, however harsh, however exciting.

Wherever you, however you feel, whatever your despair or your loves – travel well.

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Day 29 & 30 of Panchakarma – acts of love and kindness

These early starts are proving a bit of a killer. I’m cream crackered mid-morning. I won’t be surprised come Friday morning when I just stay in bed, enjoy a wonderful lie in, laze around and snuggle up to Mr D. That’s the kind of colour and form coming into view now I’m only two days away from completion. Two days until freedom! Sweet.

Food and Love
However, the weariness is not just from clinic attendances, but also that darn pre-menstrual thing. Got the tell-tale spots too. So on Monday night when I was at that stage of feeling too tired to eat I nearly caved when Mr D suggested he’d head out and go forage for his supper. Not happy with that idea given he’s also in need of good food, I said I’d cook a simple supper for him. I said, “It’s an act of love and kindness. It’ll be my pleasure.” I made a quick but delicious dinner of nothing I could eat. But guess what? I did. That’s how come I know it was delicious. Food prepared and cooked with love – makes all the difference no?

Then yesterday while lying on the massage table I started imagining what I’d do for that night’s supper. When Mr D came to collect me he asked Dr A if I was allowed biscuits. She said no problem. Confession – I had a ragi biscuit yesterday! Then I though that was what he was on about, but when I got back home I discovered that all my cogitations about what to cook where cancelled out. On the stove was not one but two pots of beautifully cooked veg. To put that into context – in the eight years Mr D and I have been together (during which he has obviously performed many acts of love and kindness) he has never cooked us a meal. Ever! To come home to freshly cooked food on a day when I was feeling knackered – an awesome act of kindness that went straight to my heart.

Kolam Kindness
With regards my Panchakarma Comrade – she’s back on form, her splodge of difficulty not exactly passed, but more manageable. She’s also been keen on having Dr A have a kolam outside her clinic. A kolam (also known as a rangoli) is a design of powder created fresh each morning at the entrance to a person’s home or business. Frequently just white powder is used, sometimes a ruddy-brown powder is added as well, then other times they’re a fab splash of colour. Traditionally the powder was rice flour, but now most people use rock powder. Kolams are good-luck and welcoming symbols and the designs vary from simple dots and interlinking lines to all sorts of fancy stuff. With Panchakarma Comrade in refreshed and ebullient spirits, a couple of days ago she insisted Dr A have one outside the clinic. Dr A duly instructed one of the harem to set about doing that very thing. First up was the ritualistic prepping of the intended kolam area by sweeping and washing the space down, then it was out with a bowl of rice flour (no rock powder available) and on with making the kolam. As you can see from on of the photos, my Panchakarma Comrade was happy with the outcome.

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Monkey Care
Not long after leaving the clinic yesterday with Mr D we passed some monkeys perched on the top of a concrete wall. Because it’s a fairly narrow and pot-holed lane we were going slow enough for Mr D to spot that one of the monkeys had just given birth. We stopped. Signs of fresh birth matted the hair of the mother’s backside. Her new-born baby clung to her chest. The monkeys beside them were tending to the mother with so much care and kindness. Although I hated to intrude – as well as being worried we might get attacked for being so close – seeing the exhausted mother, the tiny baby monkey and their attendants like that, right next to the road in full view, felt like an amazing gift of natural kindness.

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Gratitude
So despite not much to report on the Panchakarma front – bar the rising excitement that it’ll be over very, very, very soon – there’s been magic and beauty and kindness a plenty. I’m also taking the image of that new life as a symbol of fresh life flowing in me too. And no matter what else I say, no matter how tired or moaning I get, because of that fresh flow I continue to be really bloody grateful.

To all you lovelies everywhere – wishing you your own magic, beauty and acts of love and kindness.

Day 21 & 22 of Panchakarma – a tale of bloated microbes

Eleven days of the core Panchakarma treatment are done. That means only ten more to go! Woohoo. Only ten more days – I can almost taste freedom.

The last couple of days have been quiet on the treatment front, more of the same as before. So in lieu of anything Panchakarma-entertaining, I thought I’d re-post an edited version of something I wrote last year about the microbes playing havoc inside our guts:

“Mindful Microbes – What’s your gut telling you?

A while ago I read an article in New Scientist magazine, Gut Thinking: There are strange forces at work behind our food desires. The author of the piece, Chloe Lambert, reported on new findings concerning food desires. The article was well-written, the key information presented cogently, and new directions for research identified. Unfortunately, having read the article I’m not really the wiser about what I can do to mitigate my own food cravings.

Despite the lack of anything more than a damp branch of hope to grasp in the tumbling river that is weight gain, loss, gain, unhealthy food cravings and exercise struggles, I think there is value in sharing some of the key information contained in the article. Namely, what’s going on in our guts is potentially wreaking havoc on our weight management efforts.

But first, and at the risk of sounding like an ad campaign for a new diet (faddy or otherwise), a few questions:
Q1: Are you overweight?
Q2: Have you ever been overweight?
Q3: Have you ever been on a diet?
Q4: Did it ever work?
Q5: Do you continue to struggle with keeping your weight down, with reducing your food intake, with making different and better food choices?

I can answer those questions in the blink of lizard’s eye….
A1: Yes, again
A2: Repeatedly
A3: Of course!
A4: Not for long (see answer to Q1)
A5: Yes (please refer to previous answer), yes – always, Oh god yesssssss.

In the article Ms Lambert gives a couple of interesting quotes an endocrinologist at Imperial College London (Tony Goldstone), one of which was used to highlight the futility of telling overweight people to change their eating habits, i.e. “We don’t just tell asthmatic people to breathe more.” Exactly! Telling overweight and obese people simply to eat less is equally pointless, meaningless and downright offensive. Obviously if you’re overweight and give a crap about your body you’ll have tried that very thing – to eat less – and probably failed repeatedly.

A Little Bit of Science:
In case you didn’t already know this, and in fewer words than should be allowed for such a complex physical function, here’s how the whole hunger-eating-satisfaction cycle apparently works:
• hormones in the gut assess what’s been eaten and when
• the hormones then send notifications of hunger to the brain to tell us we need to eat
• we go foraging, hunting down a meal or snack – from the kitchen larder, the fridge, the canteen at work, or the nearest vending machine

Unfortunately the brain, with reward pathways hard-wired when food was scarce, gets a stronger hit from foods that would ordinarily be off the weight-management list. Yep those scrummy fatty and sugary ones of course. So those vending machines and convenience stores, with their easy to grab goodies we can immediately stuff down our gullets, are frequently what we reach for.

But Here’s the Interesting Bit:
Recent research has discovered that it’s not just hormones and brain chemistry involved in our food desires and cravings, but also some rather clever microbes deep inside our guts. Our gut microbes and bits of bacteria hanging out in our bellies outweigh the brain. And our brains are apparently the heaviest organ in the body – not anymore it isn’t.

That explains my bloated belly then.

And – get this – our microbes might even be clever enough to control the kinds of foods we crave with the sole purpose of selfishly feasting. Essentially, our gut is full of gluttonous, self-serving microbes having a wild time partying on all the fatty, sugary foods we keep consuming.

It’s Not My Fault!
This then means the mass of microbes lurking in my gut are probably the bastards that have caused all my years of shame about my weight and erratic eating habits. At last, I have something other than my non-existent willpower to blame. At last, I can begin to understand why the power of some foods seems to overcome any rational thinking or judicial assessment or even the gainfully-acquired food and health knowledge I’ve taken time to investigate over the years. It’s not my fault! It’s the microbes. Being able to say it’s not my fault feels a bit like saying the cat peed all over my homework – but a lot less smelly – and backed up by science! Wow.

Willpower No More
Fortunately, Ms Lambert states in her excellent article, “…expecting people to rely purely on willpower…is misguided.” And in the end, that’s what all diets suggest you use – willpower. I’m taking solace in her words.

If willpower is out of the equation what else can we do? Here’s what Ms Lambert’s article pointed to that might help chubby folk:
1. Surgery – specifically gastric bypass surgery. If you’ve been tussling with the idea of either a gastric band or gastric bypass surgery (and who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to have the help of some outside agency in the battle for a better body?) – go for the bypass. Gastric bypass surgery will affect those all-important gut hormones in a way that a gastric band won’t ever.
2. Wait for hormone or genetic therapies to mitigate the gut’s hormones and microbes – in the meantime keep letting your gut do the talking.
3. Add fibre to your diet. Ms Lambert reported on a study that had shown some success with adding fibre to familiar and popular foods. But again, this finding is new and undergoing further research. For example, what kind of fibre are we talking about, and in what quantities, etc?
4. Include probiotics in your diet. Probiotics can potentially produce a better balance of hormones and microbes. Once more, further research is ongoing into how this is applicable in the real world.”

As you can see, no mention of deep, month-long health treatments. But I think the Panchakarma approach is a goodie if you suspect microbes are interfering with either your weight management or health.

As a side note – I did try high-density probiotics for a while, which seemed to help calm the microbes down a bit, but not enough. Although undergoing a rigorous Panchakarma programme is not for everyone, I felt I had no other meaningful alternatives to getting my health back on track. I’m glad I took on the programme. That said, only ten more days to go. Dee-lighted!

So if you suspect microbe mania or other internal mayhem are giving you and your body gip – you might want to consider some kind of gut cleanse. Just a thought.

In the meantime, how about this – clear the diary, clear the dishes, and give yourself a whole day without any commitments. Apparently that’s also a great way to detox.

But whatever you do or don’t do, remember – keeping things real and keeping it loving can be a good way to go to it.

Day 19 of Panchakarma – a drool-worthy stottie & more improvements

I saw the photo on Facebook. I drooled. All the kinds of food I’m not allowed to eat just now – not that anything like that is available here in India of course. But still. A mouthful of quality, thick-cut ham, peas pudding and a soft and tasty stottie (North East England bread) would be smashing…

Today’s post is a brief update – mostly about improvements:

Yesterday morning when I was clambering out of bed I stopped mid-clamber because I was suddenly aware something was different. The different was that my left knee didn’t immediately click. I’ve had a clicky left knee for about 30 years. Sometimes that knee gives me trouble, trouble that can also affect the left hip. Occasionally I hobble rather than stride, but overall the trouble is mild. One activity my left knee hates is lying face down on a massage table. Always after a massage I hobble. I can mitigate against that by using a rolled up towel to support the knee joint. Since my first massage with Dr A’s harem that’s what I’ve been doing, along with them starting on my back rather than doing my front first. That way my knee has a chance to recover from lying face down on it. Nevertheless, the massages seem to be easing out the underlying orthopaedic problem. Likewise my dodgy shoulders and cervical spine. For about 10 years, I’ve gradually felt more and more crippled by the lack of movement due to muscle tension and joint pain around there. At times the pain on movement has been sharp and excruciating. That’s also easing off. Thank fuck quite frankly.

Sadly my skin is feeling less lovely. I’m hoping that will improve as more toxins get shoved out of my body, obviously through my skin as well as those other regular methods.

Speaking of which, the last couple of days I’ve been evacuating my enema medicine a bit quickly. I’m now spending less time walking around and more time staying put on the massage bench, bum in the air, while I let that dark-brown, oily liquid do its thing.

Another strange thing is my periods. I seem to be having a perpetual, but not quite proper period. Dr A says I’m going through menopausal changes. Given my periods having been changing of late that could be true. What might also be true is that I have a Mirena coil fitted – that went in the same time the troublesome fibroid was removed back in 2013 – and that might also be the cause. I’m not worried about that, but it’ll be interesting to see what unfolds gynaecologically over the coming months.

Also yesterday I had a bit of a run-in with Dr A. As already mentioned, I have a flabby belly. Clearly I’d like it to be more trim. Some exercise would surely help. But I don’t got a lot of time just now – I spend a lot of hours at the clinic while also trying to fit the rest of my life in around those treatment times. Consequently exercise is one of those things that is down the priority list. Not uncommon. Anyways, Dr A was thinking of me when she bought an exercise gadget. I hate exercise gadgets. On the whole they are useless and a waste of money, especially when they are cheap versions. This was a cheap version of a pulley system. Despite my telling Dr A that I think such gizmos are crap, I played along for a while, a short while. The gizmo was attached to the window grille, a yoga mat placed on the floor, Dr A instructed me to lie on my belly while she tried to figure out how to get the thing on me. All the while I’m complaining while she’s faffing with the thing. I get up and tell her to demonstrate first. She gets on her back, not her front as she’d asked me to do. At that point I walked away. Kindly but firmly and said, “No. I hate these things. I will not use it.” She acquiesced.

I see this interaction as an improvement too. I have been far too pliable to the will of others, especially those who appear to have some authority over me – such as a doctor-patient, boss-employee relationship. What a pathetic fuckwit I’ve been. Why do I do it? Mostly because I’m a kind, considerate person; like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit people get from me frequently ends up with me being the loser. That is not a win-win situation. But not this time. I feel proud of myself for being firm without being unkind, and certainly without being unkind to me. Was it a win-win? Maybe not, but at least the loss was not just in my direction this time.

On that note, I’ll leave you with this I recently lifted from a Tweet:
“… you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself.
Surely you see that.”
(excerpt taken from ‘And I Always Thought’ – Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956)

Writers and Politics – Why Do We Bother?

I recently submitted a response to one of Jason Howell‘s questions. Apparently he was  inundated with good responses so he sweetly rejected my offering – I’m choosing to post my (edited) response myself.

Here are his questions:
Q1: What role do you feel fiction writers are called to play in terms of affecting the political weather, this moment? (including poets, essayists, in general or yourself in particular)
Q2: Does writing seem politically pointless?
Q3: Or do you feel called to action?
Q4: Is there an urge to write in service of amplifying a particular voice or agenda?
Q5: Is there an urge to write to try and diagnose the confusion overall—respecting even the “villains”?

Here’s my response:
First off – can writers truly affect the political weather? Well, yes they can, but, more crucially, do they? I feel Jason’s questions almost suggest the effect writers have on the political weather is slight, something akin to a flock of birds taking off from a lake – the water is disturbed, but only momentarily. However, what’s necessary to note is that during political discourse when we voters get to hear, literally, the politicians spouting on about what they will deliver when they are in power, behind these politicians are writers. Which means, in effect, writers are affecting the political weather, they are the workers who craft the words the politicians read and we hear.

That said, as a diverse group writers are generally interested in rational and open discourse about what constitutes good governance. For example, prior to the UK’s recent EU referendum, many writers added their voices to the Remain group. Their cogent and creative pleas were drowned out by the populist rhetoric of post-truth politics. I should imagine the situation was replicated in the USA. Likewise in India, where  Modi and his many cronies seem intent on increasing their despotic tendencies, any dissenting voices are lambasted as unpatriotic and, similar to anti-Trump campaigners in the USA, targeted with death threats. Seemingly there is a growing reliance on lies to drown out rational discourse whether from writers or the many others across all the interested parties.

Perhaps as the increase in post-truth and fake news politics ascends, the need for rational-thinking writers to write about the truth behind the lies becomes greater, more urgent, more necessary. Perhaps. Because no matter how savvy you are with words no amount of writing will budge an unwilling person from their prejudices and bigotry – those attitudes are massive ego trips and require a very different tack to break them down to something more compassionate.

Nevertheless the urge to write – whether poet, essayist, reporter – is an endless call to action where the output can be many and varied and, depending on the writer’s perspective, borderless and without restriction. Therefore why not attempt to amplify a particular viewpoint? Why not try to unravel the confusion of political game-playing? Why not discover what villainy really is and who is being the villain?

For centuries writers have done just that and many been persecuted because of it, whether voicing a simple opinion or pointing to harsh truths. Writers, in all their various guises, have frequently been vilified as villains precisely because they have used words in response to atrocities, human rights abuses, vile and hateful regimes and political activities. Today’s writers are no less called upon to express their thoughts about these things, and we should do so because eventually when enough voices keep expressing the same truths the noise from the villains just might be revealed for what they are – divisive and destructive.

Now, as ever, adding words with the aim of expressing the truths that define our humanity and raise our individual and collective consciousness and kindness (rather than any kind of villainy) continues to be important. The urge to write about our current political situations will always remain. Thankfully good writers can expertly express the thoughts and feelings, the perspectives and real truths we all need to be reminded of during these times of fake news and post-truths because they can write about what must be said, what can be said and what others wish they could say. After all truth, rather than lies, even in fiction, is at the heart of good writing.

P.S. My header image is of the Gandhi statue on the beachfront at Puducherry, India – I have a notion that Gandhi was not only a politician, or a cotton spinner, but also a writer.

A 2016 Short Story Writing Challenge

Back in December 2015 Radhika Meganathan, a writer friend from Chennai (India), was visiting London and we had a lunchtime catch-up in the hubbub that is Westfields just before Christmas. She told me about her 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge that she would be hosting again in 2016. I loved the idea.

Most writers work better with deadlines, but what was also compelling for me was the idea that I would get some much-longed for feedback on my writing. All I had to do each month, along with everyone else on the challenge, was to write a new and complete short story of between 1,000 and 6,000 words and then critique the stories submitted by the rest of the group. A great opportunity to work on my craft and skills, and pull together a collection of stories. I was in.

Now, with only two weeks left of 2016, those of us still in the challenge – about less than half who started back in January – are looking toward celebrating our achievement. No small thing when every participant has so many other priorities and commitments to focus on. In fact, throughout my involvement I have both loved and hated being part of the challenge because of those very things.

What I have loved is …

… the challenge of working through to a completed story each month. The process has involved: wondering what tale to tell, how to weave it into a cohesive, punchy, satisfying whole; starting to jot ideas down and have one, or a combination of ideas, begin to flow and meld into something akin to a story someone, anyone, would want to read; hanging out with some new characters; delving into different landscapes and locations; reaching an end point. For too long I have kept several electronic folders full of started, incomplete and sketched-out stories lurking in the near periphery of my consciousness like persistent mosquitoes buzzing just out of sight. Last year (2015) I think I only completed three stories, so now, with the end of the year in sight, I have 12 complete stories. That achievement is a major confidence boost.

… the challenge of critiquing a significant number of good stories each month. Surrendering myself to new worlds. Exposing my heart and mind to quirky plots, intricacies of erudition, the curious and the fantastical. Seeking ways to clarify the hunch that something does/not work. Figuring out how best to explain a particular problem.

… that my fellow writing challenge participants were willing to give their honest and learned opinions about my work, always managing to highlight something useful, from a bloody obvious typo to some crucial element of the story that’s missing, like a plot hole or a lack of clearly-evoked emotion or a poorly-described scene.

… feeling flattered that these same folk have looked forward to my comments on their stories.

What I have hated is …

… how some months, after taking time out to work on other projects, I suddenly found there are only about a few days in which to produce a decent, rather than very rough, draft.

… how I never gave myself enough time to get the depth and richness out of a story because I didn’t use the full month between submissions to work on what was presenting itself and make the story even better.

… that doing my monthly critiques took me an inordinate amount of time ( I call it being thorough…).

… that each month I wondered if I could keep the momentum going when I had a shit load of other things I was and am trying to move forward. In the end, continuing with the benefits of staying in the challenge outweighed the considerations to quit and the consequent anxieties. I dearly wanted to get on with those other things, but I stuck with the challenge because I was benefiting in a whole host of ways.

Overall I loved…

… completing a fresh batch of stories

… getting concrete feedback about my work

… my writing craft being richly informed and developed by the review process (both giving and receiving critiques)

On a final note about the challenge
A side benefit of being in India during my participation in the challenge was that I got to meet some of the other writers, all of whom were previously unknown to me. Rads, our challenge founder and moderator, has been in the writing world for a long while. She’s run and hosted several writing workshops and online courses, and given talks and encouragement to many other groups. In April 2016 Rads hosted a challenge get-together and I was lucky enough to be able to join them and meet some of the Chennai wing for an afternoon of chat. The meet-up was such fun. Meeting people who for the previous few months had simply been stories, reviews and a few email comments appeared as their real, non-virtual selves in the comfort of a cosy diner in north-central Chennai. As I often find with writers, they were all great people – interesting, quirky, vivacious, thoughtful, wise, funny, opinionated, curious, responsive, intelligent.

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A happy Sara having just met some of the lovely writers on the 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge

To find out more about Rads and her writing opportunities, follow the links for her blog and Facebook pages.

If Rads decides to run the challenge again next year, I probably won’t take part – not only does a novel beckon, but I’ve got 12 stories need some thorough editing – but if she runs it again in 2018, well then I could be on board with that one.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to crafting my collection of completed (woohoo) stories into something I’ll be proud to see out in the world.

 

Aside

We’re Back in the Money!

Woohoo! We have cash!! The Delectable Mr D did the necessary and has just returned home with some readies from his bank branch. Apparently town is busy as hell with the monthly full moon flood of pilgrims, but he was undeterred and succeeded in bringing home the bacon and the fat. See – crisp, new ₹2,000

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The all-new ₹2,000 – and all ours!

Not only can I now forget any Modi-initiated diets, a much-needed hair cut and a dentist appointment are now back on the cards. Phewie!! I think I’d better go lie down – feels as though the relief is causing an endorphin rush….

Are You Making a #RushForCash? – How some of us are dealing with the lack of cash in a cash-driven economy

On Tuesday 8th November 2016 just after 8pm IST (Indian Standard Time), while I was busy in my office in India uploading files and checking emails, I heard my boyfriend’s voice from the living room – “What useless rubbish is this?” exclaimed Mr D.

A TV programme Mr D had been watching was interrupted for a live televised announcement by Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, declaring that all 500 and 1,000 notes would no longer be legal tender. Mr Modi was giving everyone 30 minutes notice. Yep, you read that correctly. Thirty minutes notice on a major nationwide-sweeping action. With the slash of his mouth he had caused long-ranging disquiet. He then babbled on for around an hour about the reasoning behind the apparently impetuous demonetisation declaration.

Mr D and I sat and watched in disbelief as the information was relayed across a host of different TV stations, both English-speaking and Tamil. We looked at each other opened mouthed, quizzical, not immediately comprehending what was going on. Was this action for real? Was this news some kind of joke? How could cash we’d been using for years suddenly, in the space of 30 minutes, become useless? What stroke of lunacy was this by Modi and his government? Why so little notice? How the hell was this political stunt going to deal with black money? As we digested the facts as they presented on our TV screen we realised this was not a hoax, this was a true event. Our disbelief and consternation were compounded because we had significant plans for the following day (Wednesday 9th November).

Mr D had been to the bank earlier in the day to withdraw enough cash for both of us. Up until Mr Modi’s announcement, we felt we had got ourselves adequately prepared for our important excursion to the city. But there, on our TV screen, Mr Modi had just made life difficult for us – and the whole of the 1.34 billion population of India. We cared less that all banks and ATMs would be closed the next day – but we did care that in one fell political swoop and we were lumbered with a load of useless ₹500 notes.

All in however, the next day we travelled, ate and went about our intended business without too much worry or hassle. Many of the businesses we visited allowed us to pay using our bank cards. One thoughtful and business-savvy restaurant owner agreed to take and give us change for a ₹500 note for our lunch. Nevertheless we returned home with our wallets full of now illegal cash and, more crucially, down by a few precious ₹100s. True to the notifications, all banks and ATMs were closed so we never saw what took place the following day – queues everywhere as people attempted to deposit illegal notes or, more necessarily, withdraw low-denomination cash.

Watching the TV images of lines of people at banks and post offices across the country I considered the fact that Mr D easily and successfully managed to deposit our ₹500 notes on Thursday afternoon. But we were still very much reliant on the few ₹100 notes we had left. I, like countless others, raided my coin tin and was delighted to find several ₹5 coins and even a couple of ₹10 coins in amongst the silver. I’m still holding on to them though. Not having an Indian bank account I am reliant on ATMs. Where we live, in a small town out in the sticks, we are both blessed and cursed by the inoperable ATMs.

We are blessed not to live in a city where there are more people needing access to cash. TV images show interminably long queues at all the banks where some people have reportedly been standing in line for up to eight hours. A few bank branches are dispensing new ₹2,000 notes (although if you’re unable to get change, they are, quite frankly, fairly useless at this early stage of the mayhem) and some ATMs are working, if only for a short time until the insufficient quantity an ATM’s cash cassettes of ₹100 notes run out. On the flip side, our curse is that being in a small town of about 145,000 people means our ATMs will be among the last to be up and working. Mr D has been out everyday to find out if any ATMs in our town are yet working, but nothing as yet. And when they are, they’ll surely be out of the necessary readies almost immediately as ATM operatives struggle to keep up with the intense demand.

So we too are going to have to join a queue at one of our local banks – and standing in queues is something I loathe. When I see a queue for something I’d planned to use or see, I walk away without hesitation. The only queues I tolerate are at supermarket check-outs and waiting for a bus, otherwise I’m outta there. Although I don’t have an Indian bank account, the fact is Mr D is going to have to go to his bank and get us some cash.

Modi has claimed that ordinary people will not suffer. But that statement is already being proved erroneous. The media is reporting that people are stocking up on tinned and dry foods, ATMs are unlikely to be fully functional for at least two weeks, people’s wallets are empty of legal tender, businesses unable and unwilling to accept banned notes – all of that seems to me to be a form of suffering everyone is experiencing. Everyone but Modi and those who already trade in the black market economy I’m sure.

As has been reported elsewhere, India is a cash economy so the news that regular folk are the ones bearing the brunt of this sudden change in the rules is no surprise, that outcome is as assured as the sun rising and setting each day. How Mr Modi expects to put an end to black market money mills is curious to me. He has asked for patience, for everyone to wait until December 31st before castigating him for this actions, but the truth is, I’m certain, like everywhere in the world, those who successfully deal in a black market economy, especially in a country as cash-dependent as India, are probably five steps ahead of the government.

So let’s see, as he says, what the state of play will be come December 31st. Who really will be the winners, the losers, and those laughing all the way to their offshore bank accounts behind the backs of their low-paid, highly inconvenienced workers and staff. As for me, I’m either going to have to go on a Modi-instigated weight-loss regime due to a lack of food, or swallow my queue-dissing pride and line up like thousands of other people are doing every day.

In the meantime we have been fortunate. Mr D’s various forages for food and supplies have been successful: a few vegetables for a few rupees; other items secured on credit by those small businesses who know and trust us to return with cash as and when we’ve got it. Despite the many frustrations of everyone in this unexpected and inconvenient situation, the beautiful thing I can take from it all is that we are still surrounded by people being kind and generous-hearted at a time of difficulty for everyone across this truly incredible land.

 

Curious Questions

Recently I was contacted by Jason at Howlarium. He was reaching out to fellow writers to share their thoughts in his online Q&A. He sent me what I considered to be a curious question. I say curious because it was not something I could immediately resonate with – despite the fact that it held elements that have and do touch my life. Namely meditation, writing and compassion for others. Jason’s emailed question included information on the subject in the form of a truncated quote asserting that meditation and writing for the ‘ignorant person’ are just ways for people who have not gained any knowledge or understanding to withdraw and leads to an increase in ignorance, which has no compassion in it. Then the question … Continue reading