Out of Office

For the next ten days, I will be participating in a silent meditation course to learn a technique called Vipassana.

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills.

This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose. 

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion. 

The scientific laws that operate one's thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace. 


To see what a typical day will be like for me while I am away, click here.

To read about the tradition of Vipassana, click here.

Wish me luck!

Vipassana Timetable

4:00 am      Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am   Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am   Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am   Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am   Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon   Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm   Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm   Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm   Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm   Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm   Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm   Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm   Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm   Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm   Question time in the hall
9:30 pm   Retire to your own room--Lights out

Divas 201: I'm allergic to leisure.

I woke up too early this morning and reluctantly Skyped with my overenthusiastic sister, who wouldn't let me hang up and go back to sleep. Once I was somewhat awake, I read a few pages of The Power of Now before Gaikwad Auntie and I ventured to Dadar market in search of a tailor to stitch a sari for me. The heat was stifling and the crowds were baffling, and this was not even close to the worst it gets. We wandered the street looking for a shop that would sew my sari into a shape that would allow this gringa to be able to wear it. As we slumped around the streets, I got to see a lot of uplifting arrays of colorful clothing.

About an hour into our quest, we came across a place that would do the somewhat unusual job. Hallelujah! We dropped off my cloth and headed past a row of tempting shops back towards the car. I was able to resist buying a single thing . . . except a bottle that looked like sparkles suspended in a cumulus cloud -- nail polish is my weakness!

We then stopped at a popular cafe for a snack, and I ordered the most Punjabi thing on the menu -- channa masala. It was love at first bite, except for the peculiar fact that the jeera rice had a strange rice-to-jeera ratio of 1 to 2 (i.e. too much jeera!). But still, my taste buds were pleased to be reunited with the north Indian food they always seem to be missing.

At home, I rested for exactly 8 minutes before venturing to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) office for a meeting with Ashwini Bhide, the eloquent and inspiring Additional Metropolitan Commissioner of Maharastra. She educated me for an hour on various transport projects being administered in Mumbai, and the effect they have on slum-dwellers who illegally occupy land needed for the infrastructure projects. The focus and structure of our talk reminded me of a lecture by Ms. Deveneau -- the highest compliment I confer, to be sure!

After this, she allowed me to sit in on a meeting with the board of trustees of a temple which needs to be partially demolished to allow for the building of Mumbai's monorail. This discussion, heated at times, was a great way for me to see in action some of the challenges she described to me during our discussion. I was very pleased with my "lesson" for today.

I returned home and started this post, but was soon interrupted by the world's cutest potato cutlets. I guess I can't complain!

In the evening, I got to hang out with Dr. Nitz! We went to a nearby hotel's patisserie (Nitin Uncle loves coffee shop-hopping) and unearthed a range of topics from the various corners of our respective minds. It was so nice to be able to talk at length like this, and I would also like to congratulate Nitz on killing his first mosquito! A good day for us both, to be sure.

Back home, I told Gaikwad Uncle and Auntie about the day's wonderful meetings before continuing to work on this post. (I guess packing will have to wait until tomorrow . . . ) Please wish me luck for my meditation course -- this chatterbox is intimidated! And so, so excited.

I'll talk to you all again on April 1st!

Divas 200: I left my smile on the counter.

Today started with a blood test. (All normal, but I'm supposed to eat more sugar -- I can certainly do that!)

After this, I read the next section of The Power of Now and a page of Ars Amatoria.

Before getting ready, I chatted with my cousin Nayaz on Skype. It's been ages since we caught up, and it was good to finally hear about the latest and greatest in her life, and fun to be told that I "look like an underachiever" and "shouldn't have gotten a hairchop." Thanks, Naazoo!

This morning, I had a meeting with Dr. Sneha Pulnitkar, the Director of the All India Institute of Local Self-Government. She gave me an overview of the challenges of urbanization, and some insight into the 22 projects her organization is currently implementing and monitoring in the fields of infrastructure development, poverty elevation, and governance.

While there, I also read parts of the latest Mumbai Human Development Report -- the chapters on Gender, Elementary Education, and Slums.

This reading, particularly the first two chapters, of course made me think of my girl students at Gyaan Ghar.

Thus, upon returning home, I drafted a letter to my close friend Sonal Chawla, requesting that she do some activities and therapy work with the girls as part of our Sisters' Circle initiative, even in my absence.

I then passed out for three hours (as usual) and woke to Skype with Priya as she received the presents I sent for her from India. I also spent this time watching her play games on her cell phone and teaching her to plunge a toilet.

Additionally, she said she was proud of me (for the first time ever) when she saw a sketch I had done of an Indian outfit I am planning to have tailored. Score!

It's time for dinner now, and then planning for my penultimate day of garrulousness!

Divas 199: I am here.

This morning, Papa and I visited Dadar to pick up some kitchen utensils for Mama. On our way home, we dropped by Westside again and I grabbed some surprise gifts for a friend back home.

After lunch, we bid Papa "tout a l'heure" and I caught up with my girl Sonal at length before catching some Zs. 

I woke to yummy snacks and my sister. Though she ignored me and made me talk to her Certamen trophy at times, we finally got to chat for a good long time. I'm so proud of her Latin and running skillz. :)

I then settled in with The Power of Now, a life-changing book of which Gaikwad Uncle is a huge proponent. It is advised that the tome be read a few pages at a time, so I started to do just that.

As India beat Pakistan in a cricket match, Auntie and I watched Dance India Dance -- sorry for not being patriotic enough, but this show really impressed me!

I feel laziness starting to seep into my psyche, so I think my meditation course couldn't be better timed! Click here to see what my vastly different schedule will be like in two days' time.

I'm peacing out for tonight -- until tomorrow!

Divas 198: There are different levels of happy.

We set out for Pune before sunrise today, first frozen by chilled showers and then warmed by delicious vegetarian tikki breakfast sandwiches. We arrived after a two-hour nap at Yashwantrao Chawan Academy of Development Administration (Yashada).

After a very quick cup of tea, we embarked on our first site visit, to Lexicon Management Institute. Their administration seeks to imbue students with values of honesty, love, service, and beyond, in addition to training them in management.

Papa was asked to give a speech in front of the students, during which he revealed the impact Gaikwad Uncle has had on his life. Then, Gaikwad Uncle shared his belief that changing the world must start with changing oneself. As we were leaving, the school's administration honored the three of us on stage.

We sped back to Yashada for three back-to-back one-hour meetings in Marathi, of which I understood hardly a third. The discussions covered slum sanitation and solid waste management in slums, so it was a pity that my attention span couldn't last long enough to fabricate possible translations in my Hindi-speaking head.

I was all too happy when we made our way to lunch at one of Atul Uncle's Marriots, the 500th to be constructed in the world! We enjoyed a traditional Rajasthani meal in snazzy surroundings -- Varsha Auntie and I caught up while Atul Uncle made fun of my bookworm-ish looks, never prying his attention away from his phone. :)

We then dropped by the Deshmukh residence, giving us a bit of time to chat with Uncle, Auntie, and Didi -- but not enough! I've friended the latter on Facebook and look forward to talking further and keeping in touch.

We were soon joined by Baralay Uncle, shortly followed by Dolly Bhua and Abhishek Bhaiya. So many splendid family members in one day! We had long promised to visit Dolly Bhua's new house, so we sauntered up the street and gaped at their lovely new home.

Upon entering the front gate, I was reunited with my best friend! I remember playing with this precious child four years ago and praying she would never forget me.

2007                                                                    2012

I've promised to return to Pune soon to give Riddhima tips on growing her hair out (irony). I've also now promised three families that I'll stay with them on my next visit to Pune -- guess I'll need at least three days. Yikes!

I tore myself away from some of my favorite people to return to the Marriott for the "real" reason we came to Pune -- a conference on business incubation. Gaikwad Uncle, the guest of honor, gave the opening address before we slipped out to once again hit the road.

We're now on our way back to Mumbai, and I can't wait to return here!

Divas 197: Frolicking in the Forest

Today, we visited Sanjay Gandhi (Borivali) National Park. Who would have thought that one-third of Mumbai is virgin forest?!

We drove up to the entrance and were met by a park ranger, who led us to a log hut where we enjoyed some refreshments as he told us about the park's history.

I then requested that we go up close to the lake we had seen on our way in. We got there, and gawked at green algae galore!

Before leaving, Ratna Kaur G. and Ratnakar G. paused to pose for a picture with some Phalacrocoracidae (cormorants).

What a surprising and awesome adventure!


Spreading some love: 

If you get a second today or tomorrow, write a statement starting with the words "I am . . . " on a notecard and email it to thevoiceinsidedg@gmail.com for this incredible artist's next video. (I used Quizlet.com to make my cards.)

Daniel and his brother used to ride my school bus, and I can never forget the warmth with which they always greeted my sister and me in the morning! To watch some of Daniel's videos, click here. You can also check him out on Twitter and Facebook.

Rock on, DG!

Divas 196: I want to sleep alarmless.

12am to 12pm: I slept.

12pm to 2pm: I ate.

2pm to 4pm: I slept.

4pm to 5pm: I helped Priya identify community service opportunities in Brasil, where she will be going for Spring Break.

5pm to 6pm: I slept.

6pm to 7pm: I assisted Papa in setting up his new daily photo blog.

7pm to 8pm: I watched this inspiring video and got ready for dinner.

8pm to 12am: We had dinner with a number of close family friends.

Divas 195: Please excuse my laughter.

Feeling far below the weather today, I stayed home. I spent the day sleeping a lot and eating a little.

In the afternoon, I ignored a throbbing headache to write a sonnet about a recent troubling incident.

Sonnet 11

I've lost you now -- I don't know what to do!
You made me glad though you were always blue.
A great companion any time of night,
when I would sing or dance or laugh or write.
You knew my thoughts before I did, I swear.
When all were gone, I'd find you always there.
By letters, songs, or undulating lines,
we saw the greatest days -- the best of times.
I tried to keep you in my care, you know,
but lent you to another, now my foe.
The angles of my heart you softly traced:
with useless ballpoint you can't be replaced.
If truth be told, you were my real best frien'
though many others thought you "just a pen."

As you may be able to glean, I am very particular about the writing instruments I use. I was near tears yesterday when I lost my Sarasa Zebra 0.7 royal blue ink pen. Woe is me!

In the evening, "Dr. Nitz" came over to lift my spirits and lower my temperature. Thank you, Nitin Uncle!

Now, having emerged from a wonderfully cold shower, I'm back to complete bed rest.


P.S. Happy Pi Day!

Divas 194: "I want to live a boring life."

I started my day with Ovid.

Then, moved by the excitement and passion with which Shivanjali Didi had yesterday described her two-day experience at the Gandhi Ashram, I started to read the book she so kindly brought me from there. I have always admired and respected Mahatma Gandhi a lot, but felt like I need to know more about his life and philosophies. This tome is perfect for my short attention plan and snail's-pace reading abilities -- the introduction sums up Gandhiji's life in 10 pages.

I decided to complete the rest of my morning's reading on the treadmill. I started with a chapter from Uncle's book and went on to continue the section on Francis Bacon in Durant's masterpiece. I walked a total of 27 pages.

For lunch, we visited Manu Uncle and Archana Auntie at their lovely home. Their family is also very interested in music, so Uncle and Papa performed old Hindi songs for us on Uncle's great karaoke system while I shared my YouTube recordings of Make You Feel My Love and The One That Got Away and Auntie showed us a presentation of her paintings.

Having eaten too much at the lovely meal, Papa and I dropped by Westside Mall, where I picked up a kurti and some bright yellow shoes.

Later, we dropped by Mumbai's historic Taj Mahal Hotel for some coffee with (a view and) Nitin Uncle and his friend Dr. Patil.

After Papa had been ridiculed enough and we'd enjoyed some refreshing beverages, I wanted to explore this unique building. Nitin Uncle arranged for me to go on a guided tour of the property (I didn't know they had such a thing!) and Viren and I were off. This excellently informed guide showed me a number of the hotel's highlights (click here to see my snaps). I wish Priya, the hotel enthusiast, could have been there!

Back home, we caught the tail end of Gaikwad Uncle's recent (Marathi) interview before I had a brief chat with Sonal.

I struggled with my camera for a while before being able to upload today's photographs and start this post. Thank goodness it finally worked!

My camera is comfortable here.

Divas 193: "I like everything."

Gaikwad Uncle, Papa, and I left the house early this morning for a meeting at Mantralay on Skill Development. Because India's population pyramid has a significant youth bulge, it is important for these young people to develop skills to improve their employability and competitiveness in the global market. This meeting was not as informative for me as the one I attended on Day 190, but my key takeaways were the paramount importance of primary education (Go Gyaan Ghar!) and the need to consider concrete vocational training when designing a state's school's curricula.

For lunch, Papa and I visited Gokhale Nanaji and Nani. (I was told how much I look, sound, and act like my mom for the entire meal.) It was lovely to catch up with them and hear all about their children and grandchildren, and I look forward to spending a few days with them at the beginning of April!

In the afternoon, we went to the super pleasant Palladium Mall for coffee with Nitin Uncle, who is basically Papa's little brother. Uncle is so sweet! I think that's the best word for his warmth, affection, and genuinely golden conscience.

We had a fun time hearing about his amazingly talented kids Tanvi and Saarish. He also shared with us that Kavita Auntie designed the bronze statue on Chowpatty Beach, about which I had been reading just yesterday! So cool.

I worked out upon arriving home and we are now watching the Centennial Ceremony for Yashwantrao Chawan being hosted by Uncle at Gateway of India -- but on television at home. Didi just returned from the ICICI Fellows training program for tonight, so we are chilling with her, while enjoying the cultural program going on at the Gateway. Puna bhuteya!

Divas 192: You're a photograph waiting to be taken.

I slept last night! We had a lazy morning, the highlight of which was Gaikwad Uncle making and reading an astrological chart for me. Takeaways: astrology is cool and I can't wait for the year 2023.

Our daily outing came in the late afternoon, when we took Papa for a spin to see some Mumbai highlights by night. We started from Marine Drive and went for a stroll along the Rio-like footpath.

We then stopped at Chowpatty, but sadly found it littered with garbage. Looks like I have my work cut out for me!

We briefly stopped at Babulnath, which looks like a modest Hindu temple from the road. However, after climbing three flights of stairs covered with pocket-sized kittens, we arrived at a very grand and elegant structure. The vibrations inside the place of worship were extraordinarily pleasant, as was the voice of the priest chanting a prayer with the accompaniment of a drum. (Unfortunately, there were no photographs allowed inside, and my clicks of the outside can't really capture the space.)

Our last stop was at one of the many pedestrian flyovers Uncle has constructed as part of the Mumbai Skywalk Project, transforming Mumbai into "Skywalk City." The structure we saw receives traffic of a million people a day, making Mumbai safer for pedestrians and more convenient for walkers and drivers alike. What I find most amazing is that the city recovered the cost of the project many times over by selling advertising space along the skyways. Remarkable!

Ratnakar G. and Ratna Kaur G. discuss Mumbai infrastructure, standing atop the Skywalk.

At home, we had a light dinner before I shared my photographs with everyone and began this post. Good night, Mumbai!

Divas 191: "Mumbai changes every moment."

I did not sleep a wink last night. Though I was doused in repellent, armed with a mosquito trap, and under a fan, the funny pests wouldn't leave me alone. Perhaps I dozed off at some point, but my alarm clock snarled at the unwelcome hour of 7am, and several iterations of "snooze" could not permanently avert the conundrum of having to wake up.

There's nothing that a strong cup of black tea can't fix, though! I had some breakfast and logged my treadmill time before taking a cold shower and starting my day.

I exchanged a few messages with Priya, who is competing in the three-day Shamrock Tournament this weekend. Please send good wishes her way as she gets her volleyball on!

Auntie invited me to her room for some midday chocolate and memories, showing me photo albums from the last visit of Shri Arya Wangsa of Thailand to the Gaikwads' home. My favorite was a picture of this famous monk meditating in my room!

Uncle then told me a bit more about his faith in meditation, before I read an address delivered by Mr. S.N. Goenka at the United Nations World Peace Summit in 2000. We enjoyed a late lunch before I crashed for a nap to be rested for our evening adventure.

On Monday night, Gaikwad Uncle will be hosting a program to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late Yashwantrao Chavan, Maharastra's legendary first Chief Minister. 

This cultural program and dinner will be the first of several such functions this year, and the president will be present day after tomorrow! Today, Uncle visited Gateway of India to sit in on the rehearsal and oversee the preparations. I was so jazzed to be there.

It was electrifying to be so close to this national monument, and exciting to have a behind-the-scenes view of the event. I was becoming a bit camera happy, and was even asked if I was a professional photographer!

On our way home, Uncle and I stopped for a brief brisk walk along Marine Drive -- this walking path reminds me so much of Copacobana! What a great atmosphere.

At home, I had a lovely time catching up with Sonal on the phone before dinner. I called her back from the car on the way to the airport (to receive Papa), and she interviewed me on my dream wedding (haha) for a project she is doing as she applies for Wedding Design internships.

Papa and I are home now, discussing old times with Gaikwad Uncle and Auntie. Watch me fall asleep while typing . . .