Monday, June 18, 2012

Making Mandalas with Julia

I wrote this under the "wellness" section for the Sunday supplement.

An event notification on Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, intrigued Julia Kazarina. The event invited everyone to attend a workshop on weaving mandalas or Ojos de Dios (Eyes of God) and therapy.
I was surprised to know that one can weave a mandala. I knew that we could draw them, or create them from coloured sand, stones and shells. I found weaving a mandala intriguing and new, so I decided to attend it. Three days after the workshop I started to weave them non-stop. Thenceforth it became my life,” says Julia.
Julia, who recently held a workshop on mandala weaving in Pune, explains the art of Ojo (pronounced as Oho).

Ancient roots
Weaving Ojos de Dios is an ancient art practised by native Indian tribe called Huichol, in Mexico. However, similar art forms are practised in other parts of the world like Namka in Tibet and God’s Eye in ancient Russia. “According to the Huichol Indians, the Ojo, an amulet, protects their households from evil spirits. Today the Ojo has acquired more meaning. For instance, the geometry in the Ojo mandalas is mesmerising, a person can look at it and meditate,” says the 34-year-old.
After Julia started to weave the mandalas, she felt it would be appropriate to make small mandalas with semi-precious stones, which act as amulets. Stones have various properties and carry certain energies, and in a mandala design, they work really well.

Heart over mind
Julia, who has been practising it for two and half years now, says Ojo has made her calmer and wiser. “I have had some powerful insights during weaving. Any time I have a problem or a question I cannot find an answer to, I make a mandala. During or after the process, I find the solution to what’s troubling me,” she says.
During the workshop, Julia encourages the participants to get into the state of active meditation — a state when a person gets so involved in the process, he/she forgets everything else. “This is also the state, when a connection with the soul is established. How their face shines and beams with joy! In this exercise, I advise them to listen to their heart over mind, even when it comes to choosing colours for their art. Our heart is our true guide and we need to be in constant touch with it,” smiles Julia.

In the workshops
A mandala can be made from 2-3 sticks depending on the shape and some wool. One can also add shiny threads, ribbons, beads. “The workshop,” says Julia, “can range from 4 to 8 hours. An 8-sided mandala can be made in four hours, but I stretch it to 5 hours, so that the participants don’t feel the pressure.”

India beckons
A year ago, Julia felt the “India pull”. The feeling of visiting India gripped her, and when she started getting invitations to hold workshops, Julia was convinced that the mandalas were pulling her to India.
Pic Courtesy: Julia Kazarina. Julia with her students
I was 13 when I visited Goa and felt the instant connection — this was ‘My Place, My Home’. When I visited other cities in India, I thought I could help the Indians in easing their stress, health concerns and private fears through the mandalas. It is one means amongst several others. When people start creating, they develop insight, they do become calmer, and do change their lives,” she concludes.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Of American Dreams and Indian Realities

I met Meghna Pant last month when she had come to Pune to promote her debut novel, "One & A Half Wife". This interview was filed for a women's supplement.

She juggles numbers and words with equal ease. Her day begins as the deputy editor of a business magazine in Dubai, and at night she escapes into the world of literature. Meghna Pant, first-time novelist, admits that it’s crazy working from day into the night, but wouldn’t like to change her schedule one bit. “My day job and the stories that I write, when I get back home, are both very dear to me. I can’t choose between them,” Meghna, who was in the city to promote her book One & A Half Wife, said.
Talking about her “baby,” the 31-year-old business journalist said, “The idea for the novel germinated when I returned to India from the US where I was working with the Bloomberg. India had changed in the two years that I was away — right from the expensive onions to the mushrooming malls on every street. It took a while relating to this new India. This feeling of disconnect is one of the main subplots of the novel.”
The book, said Meghna, mirrors a lot of social realities and changing norms. “It begins with every Indian’s dream — to go abroad, specifically the US. It’s an immigrant story, but it doesn’t focus so much on the first and second generation immigrants. There are many who have gone to study and then look for a job. This novel delves into that space and the fact that dreams go sour.”
It’s the story of Amara Malhotra, who migrates to the US when she’s almost 15 and is brought up by her parents as the quintessential Indian girl in an American city. “It’s a clash of ideas, images and the old world vs new world,” Meghna shared. That gets us talking about values or institutions from the old world. What about marriage? Is the idea still strong in today’s times? “It is important for us. In the novel, Amara’s marriage fails, but that doesn’t embitter her towards the idea of getting married again,” Meghna said.
One wonders if Meghna, who’s portrayed Amara as docile and eager to please and then as a spirited woman entrepreneur, knows the world of her character first hand. “I have known Amara’s world in the US — how close-knit the Indian-American community is — and the glamour associated with living there. I have also stayed in India pre and post globalisation.”
What next?” we asked her. “My next novel is going to be a dark comedy. And my protagonist this time will be an old man. I might also bring out a compilation of my short stories which have appeared in publications in the US and UK,” smiled Meghna.
Isn’t she considering a book on the booming economy going bust? “I treasure my nightly escape to the world of literature... but I end with ‘Never say Never’,” she signed off.

Meeting Mrs G

This is the unedited piece I wrote for a women's supplement.

I’m sorry, I have to take Mr G’s call. I’ll talk to you later,” P cut short our chat.
One Sunday, P splashed some water on his face to wash away the signs of the afternoon siesta and took to the wheels. He was to drive Mr and Mrs G to Mumbai.
A few months later, he went to pick up Mr and Mrs G’s daughter from the airport.
The Gs were always a priority with my husband. And, when I met them a few months later, I realised why.
A weary-looking Mr G opened the door and on seeing us, his eyes sparkled behind his lenses and he burst into a wide smile.
His thin, bony hands pulled us into the living room where a disheveled Mrs G was sitting.
Arrre tu...” (Oh! It’s you!) she smiled at my husband.
Mr G exhaled a sigh of relief and nodding in P’s direction, said, “It’s a good sign that she recognises you.”
Aani..hi kon? (Who’s this?)”, she asked looking at me.
She’s my wife,” P answered.
Chhan (Nice)”, she remarked.
Meanwhile, Mr G had made lemonade, cut some fruits and offered to us.
After sipping some lemonade and coaxing Mr G to get her some chatpata stuff, Mrs G offered to show me around their flat.
Antique furniture dotted the three-bedroom flat, walls were covered with paintings and folk art.
Lovely,” I remarked.
Mrs G smiled and said, “This painting was done by my daughter Urr...Urmila. She stays at...”
Mrs G suddenly looked very helpless. As if trying to make sense of the sudden bolts of comprehension playing hide and seek in her mind.
Mr G, and P, who had followed us in the bedroom, mock-scolded his wife, “Aga ashi kashi visartes tu? He kay visraycha asta ka?” (Trust you to forget such details. Not done)
Urmi stays in Bangalore,” this was for me.
Mrs G then turned to go to the living room, while Mr G smiled genially in my direction. I couldn’t help noticing his over-bright eyes, brimming with unshed tears.
In the living room, Mrs G smiled at P and asked, “When did you come? And, who is this girl?”
Before he could reply, she exclaimed, “She’s wearing mangalsutra. Are you married?”
Her next sentence was an instruction to Mr G, “Get me haldi-kunku. She has come home for the first time.”
When he got her the haldi-kunku, she asked him, “Why have you got this?”
I answered her by touching her feet and asked for blessings.
I'm P’s wife. You didn’t come for the wedding, so we have come to meet you.”
Oh! Mr G, you forgot about the invite. Now let me welcome the new bride,” she smiled, smoothing down the pleats of her sari.
When we took their leave, Mr and Mrs G smiled and said, “PunhaYa (Come again).”
We try and meet them once a month and on every occasion, I am introduced and welcomed as a new bride.
You see, Mrs G suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.