Travels with Autism

The son is no less a goofball than the daughter. He is a regular Mr Bean. He loves to laugh, literal roll on the floor laughter.

At swimming, he discovered the diving platform. I wasn’t even changed into my swim costume when I watched him march right on to the top level of the diving platform. It looked like he absolutely knew where he is going and what he is doing.

With great confident strides he reached the edge of the platform and my heart just stopped. At the edge, he looked down and froze.
I strangled a scream because I realised what he realised. It wasn’t a good idea to jump. He just sat down on the platform, his legs dangling and himself enjoying the view.

I changed peacefully and went up to join him in admiring the view. The world just needs his perspective. To go someplace and not do what others do.

Then he is one who can actually doze off on the world’s scariest roller coaster. He sits looking perplexed at what all the fuss is about. He doesn’t bat an eye when the roller coaster makes you upside down or spins in all dimensions known to Einstein.
He scoffs at all the noise, “shut up, silly people, enjoy the ride”, he seems to say.
Once down, all the regular people are puking or are too stunned to speak. He will calmly join the queue to go back on the ride and wait his turn.

He doesn’t like idle talk. Put on some music and swing on the swing is his idea of heaven.
While riding his cycle, he doesn’t make eye contact with people, so oncoming traffic is always alarmed but unharmed. He rides almost seamlessly smooth avoiding obstacles like cows and humans.
The only threat to his peace and joy are other people. He subscribes to Neitzsche’s view ‘Hell is other people.’ And from experience of life with a disability like Autism, I fully endorse his view. No great threat to humanity than humans.

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Tremors

All my knowledge of ‘how birthdays are celebrated’ are from movies and novels. I knew theoretically, I had never celebrated my own even in college. I just know there is cake, there are gifts, and there is a new dress.

So I learnt the practical with great difficulty. I understood that all children deserve to be celebrated.
And yet organising birthday parties for the little one is my biggest anxiety of the year.

This year there were new problems. One day before the birthday, she fought with her best friend. They had a scratch/bite/punch/kick/roll-on-the floor fight in which my little one sustained a rather visible injury. Now she forbade this best friend from attending. There couldn’t however be a party without him, so I had a word with his mother and we decided he has to attend.
He came, the gallant gentleman, but my daughter flew at him in her birthday fairy dress, all willing to settle the matter with more violence than ever before. We somehow separated the two and distracted them with cake.
A moment later , I found the little gentleman missing from the table. He had decided to spend the evening under the table because my daughter was pointing him out every time someone asked how she got injured.

To my horror, it became fashionable within minutes. Other children too wanted to live under the table. Suddenly my daughter too remembered that best friend is fun after all. The tables were shaking like those underground monsters moving around in the Tremors movie of the 1990s.

God only knows how children can raise hell and still be adorable angels. The evening ended with amicable settlement of the war between the two friends. I might have aged a few decades in this one evening but it was finally a success.

I draped this gorgeous super comfortable Mishing mekhela and sorely missed the darling mekhela saree draper of the family.She is my sister from another mother, every year she rescues my poor introverted soul from birthdays but this year she couldn’t be with me.
You were sorely missed beloved, do visit next year, it’s just not the same without you.

Thank you Anindita for everything.

Surviving Tempests

TW: MTP, pregnancy loss

When I was doing my post graduation, I used to spend more time in Parul’s room than my own. Many happy and comfortable hundreds of hours I have spent in her room. We were practically not even the same generation. When she came to join our department, I was already a mother and she wasn’t even married. And there were many other women in the department who I had not been able to connect with.

When my son was nine months old, I accidentally conceived again. Family on both sides refused to help me, though they actively advised against continuing with the pregnancy. I decided to undergo a medical termination. No one even accompanied me when I consulted the gynaecologist. My parents thought it was the in-laws responsibility and in-laws thought it was parents job.

Spouse was studying in a different city. He said I could decide whichever way I wanted it and he would support. I brought home the drugs that were to terminate the pregnancy. I was torn apart by guilt and shame and extreme fear. I had just held a newborn nine months ago and I had welcomed him with all my heart. I wanted to continue with this one too, thinking it was God’s will. But everyone just left me standing alone with a nine month old in my arms and a MD degree to be completed in that very year.
I crumbled against these odds and took the MTP drugs in Parul’s room. She told me that if I bled to death, at least someone would know. She kept me plied with tea while I bled a few bucketful of impurity.

I survived, as you all know, with a lot of bitterness in my heart against the hypocrisy of religion, family and society. Some good people might have said God sent Parul. But I tend to believe, Parul sent herself, made herself available, and I am indebted to her, not to a make believe entity that was supposed to look out for the unborn as well as for myself.

So here’s to my present life, unchained, unburdened with religion. I place my faith in humanity, my own and that of my friends.

Marcus and I

I am in conversation with a Roman emperor. My friend Shehernaz introduced me to this fellow when she mentioned something somewhere that I couldn’t understand. My search led me to this affable chap who seems to struggle with rights and wrongs, just like I do in my every day life.
During daytime Marcus does important things, just like we all do. Ruling the greatest empire on earth, leading battles where people die, and struggles with problems such as “when you have trouble getting out of bed” to dealing with incompetent or malicious people.

I too face moral dilemmas that are overwhelming in their complexity. In most cases, I don’t have any rule books to refer to. The human condition is such, that the lines of rights and wrongs have no definition at all. Most are not even lines, they are circles or curves or tangents.
How far are we responsible, can we make any difference to the world around us if we tried?
My friend Marcus says
” because you have abandoned your hopes of becoming a great thinker or scientist, don’t give up on attaining freedom, achieving humility, serving others….”

“That you are a part of nature, and no one can prevent you from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always.”

Speaking of his adoptive father Antoninus: ” That he respected tradition without needing to constantly congratulate himself for Safeguarding Our Traditional Values.”

So my friend’s friend Marcus lived 2000 years ago and reading his thoughts on matters that concern me every day, I feel how the river of time never changes. It speaks to us, if we care to listen.
“Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations.”

‘Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people – unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.”

“Many lumps of incense on the same altar. One crumbles now, one later, but it makes no difference.”

“In short, know this: Human lives are brief and trivial. Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow embalming fluid, ash.”

“What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Marcus Aurelius “Meditations”

Myself about to take-off and myself preaching (inset) in my Bagh print tussar.

My Inadvertent Healer

Today I fixed up with an old friend (the friendship is old, not the friend) to go to a temple. She had been feeling a little unhappy lately because of shitty social circumstances. My friend is Gujrati and they are a unique people who have to be lured with the promise of temple visit if you need them to go out anywhere.
On the way to the temple, I told her we should visit a plant nursery. Then we spent a joyful hour buying plants and flirting with the gardener. Thankfully she was so happy with the plants that she completely forgot the original agenda.

Friendships are like that. I felt it was my duty to give back all the happiness that she had once brought into my life. She gave me the green thumb. I know how her face lights up talking about plants and trees and creatures. Every leaf is not a green thing that dies, it is an artwork with a unique colour, texture, shape, and fragrance.

My friend belongs to the Bhil tribe. I have experienced from very close quarters, how deeply they love plants and animals. Over the years, her plants have healed me, her animals (rabbits, cats, dogs, pigeons, parrots, goat and sheep) have delighted my children. While another neighbor chopped down 4 trees because a bee stung a member of their family, I have seen this friend nursing sick, angry, biting creatures of all kinds. Some of her family members catch snakes who enter homes and release them into a nearby forest.

When I had first landed in this city, very much a wounded creature myself, she had walked in and taken me under her wing. She taught me ‘touch it’, ‘smell it’, ‘approach slowly’, ‘hold it from below so you don’t break it from above’. These were instructions regarding different plants and creatures. Gradually, my garden blossomed. I woke up every day with the first thing on my mind being my plants.

She has ruined me for other regular friendships, with people who talk cars and foreign vacations. No one comes close to the pulsating life she radiates to all around. To be able to ‘feel’ every moment, to be ‘alive’ right this minute, and to be able to gift this to others. She is my inadvertent healer.

Since original plan was temple, I had draped this beautiful cotton silk from Assam. And in this first pic I am not looking so cheerful because there is eggplant for dinner and I am dreaming biryani

Sarees and Relationships

I started collecting sarees only about 3 years ago. That’s when I seriously started draping. From once a month initially, to now draping every day and also on holidays.

The last 7 years of my life have been the most beautiful, because it was 7 years ago that my little sunshine was born. She brought so much joy with the sounds of her voice that we had so far, never experienced. Language and speech had been missing from my elder one’s childhood. Autism gave us beautiful insights, and spectacular breakthroughs, but our world was devoid of meaningful words strung together in sentences. Our world had thus far been silent.

My daughter had just started speaking and I would go fawning over every word she uttered. At that time, an elder lady visited my house and pointed out that my daughter was addressing every one as ‘tu’ and not ‘aap’.
‘Aap’ is the respectable form of address in Hindi and ‘tu’ is non formal.
I was astounded that someone found something to criticise in these magical divinely beautiful sounds!

But I digress. I was intending to tell about the sarees that I bought during the years of her infancy and toddlerhood. She learnt to touch sarees and ask “Is it cotton?”
If she liked a saree very much, she would say “Ma this is Elsa saree!”
Elsa of Frozen fame. Elsa and her belongings were the epitome of desirability.

She became my partner in crime, gushing over beautiful sarees. Once in a while she would say “I want this when I grow up ”
I was surprised at how incredibly easy it is to raise her and love her.
And then we went shopping for her birthday dresses. I love the princess frocks so very very much. I found crowns and tiaras and wands and wings!
My mathematical precise thought processes had never known snowflakes on frocks and I was enamoured. Daughter would practically drag me out of shops selling tiaras. I wanted them all!

So sarees bought during these happy days will forever make my heart glow with love. They are hardly objects, sarees are relationships. 7 years ago I would have laughed at this sentimental nonsense. Not anymore.

This telia saree I draped today, so many memories already linked to it, all of laying down roots and connecting to emotions.

Get Educated, Not Addicted

Internet is like alcohol. Highly addictive and potentially deadly. It has been known to fan large scale sectarian/ethnic/religious/political violence.
Facebook algorithms encourage people to segregate themselves. It encourages us to believe that, what we think, is correct, and the best way to think. If you look at your newsfeed on Facebook, you would think that the whole world agrees with your views.

I see extreme cases of internet addiction (you may google ICD 10 criteria for addiction).
The most difficult addictions to treat are the culturally acceptable ones, like nicotine, alcohol, gaming, social media. Socially acceptable because everyone is doing it without getting in trouble with the police or becoming homeless, which happens very commonly in say heroin addiction.

What I wanted to talk about is not the treatment of internet addiction (which is too specialised and as yet poorly understood topic) but the prevention of the condition.

First, the people prone to this addiction are the socially isolated and low self esteem folks. We should build a healthy sense of self in our children if we want to prevent this outcome. We encourage self expression, we praise more, criticize less, we encourage gratitude more than envy. We expose their young minds to the wonders of the universe. We show them how diverse and beautiful our world is. We teach them how to think, not what to think.

Every adult has a child inside. That child is seeking acceptance and a sense belongingness. There are too many people with massive online followings who are seeking to ‘divide and conquer’. They spread relentless hatred, they incite violence, while carefully avoiding giving any answers except hatred and violence. I think online violence of speech and ideas is one of the most numbing experiences. We become immune to evil, because it is being mouthed by thousands, if not millions of people.
And yet, all we need to ask is, what is the answer to a problem without giving way to jungle law. We are a civilisation, after all.

Online predators are abundant. I wrote a post on how smart pilots and yacht owners queued up to befriend me on Instagram and Facebook. These dudebros think I would love a six pack and the suggestion of prosperity. Unfortunately, I seek grey matter, brains, ideas, knowledge and creativity. The children and young adults will however, frequently be susceptible to these frauds. Look for substance people, don’t buy air, don’t even look for it.

Endless scrolling through social media can be converted to reading of specific articles that can open your mind to new worlds. Follow pages on art, sciences and social sciences. Learn the basics of debate etiquettes, neither give nor seek personal information, learn to delink ideas from individuals.

If you find yourself getting embroiled in addiction, ask yourself “why am I running? What am I running from?”

Follow people and pages that talk about things beyond the last vacation, unfollow that friend who buys things only so they can be displayed on social media. Ask yourself ‘why am I looking at this? Does it help me grow as a human?’
Find out who you are and who you seek to become.

I found one good way to curtail screen time is to go on walks without the gadget. Go away with a book for half an hour, escape into the kitchen, hide in the garden. Touch things, feel the texture, the consistency, the colour, the smells; make your brain acknowledge every shape. You will replace more and more hours with educational, inspirational, compassionate and joyful activities.