Arrogance: Breaking It Yourself

Arrogance has to be the greatest pain one can inflict on one's self, the biggest obstacle one can put in one's own path, and the most difficult personal failing one can attempt to address. As I sit in the stillness of a summer dawn, birdcalls and intercity bus horns (and the softly playing Ghost Trio) slicing through the dim air, it strikes me as a good thing to write about. A good thing to remind myself of.

All of us aspire to a broader canvas, a better life, a brighter, warmer, safer nest. That is at the core of our evolution, of our survival. The tools to get there are provided by nature - in the form of intellect, reason, physical ability, etc. I will never forget the words of my friend, Joseph, the man who walked on fire by mistake, when I expressed wonder at how he mastered the art of sewing/stitching in a few hours. He said, "God gave me hands, and God gave me a brain. There is nothing that cannot be achieved."

Man "dicovered" fire. Man created wikipedia. Image of Discovery liftoff from wiki commons.

This very ability - to overcome challenges and achieve anything, a virtue that we should be grateful for - becomes for most of us, the foundation of false pride and arrogance. We forget that each step we have taken to get where we are today has been possible only through the collusion of a million different factors. Starting from the attachment displayed by my mother (and father) on my birth, to the zillion times I have strayed and tested fate, to the opportunities that have found me - if one reflects on what has gone into making this "me," one can only be amazed at how insignificant our own role has been. I have been coaxed, nudged, rapped on my knuckles over and over by a million different protective forces before I learned even the basic lessons of social behavior. One can only guess at how much input goes into shaping thinking, personality and intelligences.

Strangely, this realization is largely kept hidden from us. This is part of the cosmic April Fool joke. We are given what we perceive as free will, only so that we can sculpt our destruction. We are given just as much choice to build upwards as we are to bring that edifice crashing down. Having been in the "business" of helping people (little time in the conventional "helping" profession and much more time in the "training" profession), I have seen this happen to everyone without exception. The best example, of course, is my self.

Dialog: The Starting Point, The Common Ground

One of my gifts from blogging is the joy of knowing Bhavana Nissima, a sentiment shared, I am certain, by all who have known her. All. I love her distinctive approach to things we see around us. Her posts question what we take for granted, yet in a very gentle, non-confrontational way.

When we announced a blogger's meet in Hyderabad in 2012, she caught a bus (after missing her train) and came to encourage us all the way from Chennai. Her posts blend social responsibility with her personal quest, with her commitment to reclaiming the feminine and with quiet moments of self disclosure. The result is a fine tapestry of thoughts and feelings (and a lot of facts) that reaches far beyond the individual and showcases what we as a people are truly capable of. This also comes through in photography illustrating her posts (as well as on her photography blog, Photobhavna).

Bhavana embodies the belief that concern by itself, unaccompanied by action, is of little value. In this guest post, she sheds light on the very essence of the journey from conflict to wholeness - Dialog. Before my introduction becomes longer than the post itself, over to Bhavana.


I began this piece the day after the Hyderabad bomb blasts, sitting in an office not far from Dilsukh Nagar—the site of the blasts. In some, there was anger, in some, helplessness, in some, a real physical pain, a loss, and for others life went on— “lite teesko” as they kept reminding me.

A stream of fresh air blew through the crack in the window reminding me to think afresh, anew and to think of dialog again. Yes, even now.

You see when folks think of the word dialog, they think of two people sitting together, in a polite, civil manner, talking soft sweet words to each other, listening and comprehending and that after sometime folks come to an understanding--a consensus.

What is the use of dialog when we are speaking in chorus? What is the use of dialog when we are already in agreement? When what is at stake is not important enough? When memories don’t hurt enough? When values are not deeply rooted enough?

Dialog when you believe that a dialog is impossible. And here is how. Not a full and a sure how. But a “thereabouts” how.


Dialog begins within yourself first. This is the toughest area of dialog.

1. Dialog is sometimes not even with a person or a community—it may happen with a book or an idea or a faith. It is not so much an “inter” process as it is an “intra” process.

2. If you are psychologically or materially invested in the issue, you have to develop an emotional distance from the topic, a process I call as “disidentification.” Identify ways in which the issues prick you and ponder on their roots. Then disidentify by mindfully observing the thoughts that course through your mind and work on being still.

Mental Health: Expecting Different Results

"Fairy tales are nice." ~ Syd Barrett  (6 January 1946 – 7 July 2006)

Most of us will have had some interface or experience with the inhuman practices that go on in the name of mental health treatment. We have heard of patients shackled to their beds being burnt to death, we have heard of rape and abuse, and we have heard about the horrors of addiction treatment methods. Most of us would have also experienced the stigma and the shame attached to mental health issues in a social setting. The combination of these two – a poor understanding of mental health and an ill-equipped, verging on abusive treatment environment - make a perfect recipe for tragedy. And this tragedy plays out in a million lives – both in the afflicted, and in the affected – every single day in our country.

One of the compulsions that made me step away from my life in the helping profession was my inability to understand or agree with traditional models of mental illness and its treatment. In many discussions, I have been branded an escapist, preferring to stay away rather than commit myself. Everybody is entitled to an opinion. In this post, which was originally started on the birthday of Thelonious Monk (which coincidentally is also World Mental Health Day- Google it) and completed on International Women’s Day (coincidence, purely, trust me), I share my thoughts on this topic by looking at three examples that will be familiar to most readers. This is a post that got written very, very slowly, and to allow our understanding to develop, I would invite you to read it slowly too.

We are all searching for our center; it is just that some people need to travel far and wide before they get there.

I must acknowledge my indebtedness to Aarathi Selvan and NVL Satish for helping me to clarify my thinking, for reading and suggesting edits to this post, and for sharing their expert understanding of the subject at hand. I am also inspired by the writing of Indu Chibber and Surabhi Surendra who tirelessly promote a better understanding of mental health through their blogs.

Are You Mentally Healthy?

The etymological root of the word “health” is shared by the words “whole” and “holy.” The World Health Organization defines it as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In the case of “mental” health, the WHO defines it as "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."

Leaving aside physiological and organic disorders of the mind, which easily and universally fit into this definition, one then wonders why the understanding of mental health differs from culture to culture and across periods of time. The answer lies in the fact that the general understanding of mental health closely overlaps the “clinical definition” but adds the concept of normative behavior to it.


At the fourth cross, holding the kerb
Search for a sign, any, easy to please,
An elf in a waiting car window looks at me
And keeps looking, and I keep looking.

A film, a memory, a number, no background.
On the public address system, mother says,
If you see anybody loitering around suspiciously
Please report it to the nearest police station.

Lights change, making life simpler to see.
The car moves on, the brat still looks at me.
The questions, the fears, the world, shiny reflections.
I am wanted! I am wanted! I am wanted!

Hyderabad, February 2013
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