Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Return to Our Nature

DAYS 3, 4 & 5 – 20th September - 22nd September 2009

By the third day at the Ashram, we had all slipped into a routine – we knew what do when, what to pack for the various treatments, when to fix our massage appointments - before or after mud therapy, when to have our various juices and when to reconvene for lunch.
Our mornings, once we had our kaadha, went in a blur. Each of us did our own little individual routine and our paths crossed at frequent intervals. The treatment centre was a few yards away from the dining hall and we took every chance between treatments to go back there and have the juice of the hour. By the time we finished we were rushing to have lunch or fruit or fruit juice – whatever our choice and we then co-ordinated and met up for lunch.

Over these few days, we discovered that whatever we did our juices were important.

We knew how to time our visits to the doctor so that we could minimise waiting time to the least.

We figured out how to buy our fruit and even get it peeled, cut or shelled (in case of pomegranates) by the fruit sellers.

We explored and found a larger, greener circuit for our morning walks.

And last but not the least, austerity drive notwithstanding, we figured out how to make the most of our evenings! But more about that later.

Over the second and third days, each of us made an individual visit to the doctor. The doctors here are of the firm belief that a fruit diet would be good. On the third day, I agreed. The next 2 and half days I would have only fruit. NF had already started it the evening before. SS decided to do fruit once a day. We’d plot and plan our fruit meals – the main meals and the in-between ones! What Naturopathy recommends is that you eat only one fruit at a time. So we would decide our fruit array for the day, make a trip to the fruit sellers at the gate and pick the choicest of what we wanted. The good thing was that all three of us loved fruit. So we’d make plans at lunch about what fruit we’d have for dinner only to go there and discover that only that particular fruit was not available. We’d quickly revise our plans and continue. No musk melon? Ok… papaya will do. We managed to make quite a feast of our fruit meals: going through the whole gamut of fruit options: papayas, pineapples, pears, guavas, chikoos, custard apples, pomegranates – all these hit our dining lists!

The evenings became the high point of our day. Having finished virtually every activity by about 6:30 pm, we had an evening stretching out before us. We’d go back, shower and change, pack our stuff for the next morning’s hectic activity and then regroup in my room for “the evening entertainment”! With a handy laptop, some DVDs, and some downloaded videos, we were all set to have one memorable evening after another! After all, seeking entertainment was in our nature!

To top that SS had carried a pack of UNO – the fun playing card game. Thanks SS. While I had played UNO earlier, we did one trial run before we actually started playing. Once we did that, I got extra smart and decided to teach SS and NF some clever strategies on winning the game. I must modestly admit, although my innate humility does not allow me, that both my students were quick on the uptake. It is entirely to my credit that, by the next day I could not win a single game. So much did this combination of pride in successful teaching and humiliation of getting defeated rankle, that one evening I told them that we would not stop playing till I won. I think out of sheer respect for my L’Oreal-ed white hair, NF and SS sportingly gave in and we played bleary-eyed late into the night. When I won, I am not sure which one of us was the happiest. I sure was.

The cottages and room complexes in the Ashram had thematic names. Where we stayed the theme was seasons. So there was Vasant and Shishir and Hemant. We were in Sharad 4 and 5. In the Ashram we were identified by our rooms. Sharad Char (four) was mine. Later on, it was to get a higher title: Sharad Char – the Entertainment Centre! By the third or fourth day we had made this pretty much one. Except for Dolby Surround Sound, I think we had everything! Well, sound was an issue on a laptop and we could barely hear the movies. Also because laptops have an LCD screen we had to position it just so, for all three of us to see the video without any dark shadows. Which meant the laptop had to be pretty close for us to hear well, but far enough for us to see clearly. Over three days, NF had it mastered to theatre perfection. For rest of our stay there, that was the hi-fi arrangement that we stayed with. And enjoyed. Thanks NF!

When NF and SS trooped into my room in the evening, they brought with them their own pillows as backrests. The evening entertainment began with a few games of UNO. Then came movie time. SS managed the lighting. NF the rest. On my part I artfully pressed the ‘Enter’ button on the laptop. The laptop itself was placed on a plastic chair thoughtfully provided by the Ashram for that purpose (or so we thought).

If someone were to chance into our room, their reaction would have been appropriately dramatic. There we were, three of us, comfortably cushioned, sitting in a single row, on two single beds joined together, watching a movie on a laptop – the laptop placed on a chair – the chair perched on the bed!
Well, entertainment ke liye kuch bhi karega!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Return to Nature

DAY 2 – 19th September 2009

Our treatments prescribed the previous day, we were all set for the next morning to get them underway. Much of the previous evening went in figuring out how one would go about drinking the various juices and brews advised and manage to squeeze in the number of different treatments. We were laden with terminology alien to us but excited all the same. We were finally here and we were going to go ahead with the predefined 7 days, salt free food notwithstanding.
So what is Naturopathy?
A leaflet provided to us while we checked in describes it as thus: Nature cure is a drugless approach for the management of diseases. It does not advocate use of medicine.
This particular ashram in Uruli Kanchan, Nisargopchar Ashram, was actually set up by Mahatma Gandhi. His belief was that if you are in tune with the elements of nature then there is no cause for illness or disorder to set into your body. Nature cure takes its cures from the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. Each of these is used in therapies to bring back the balance in the body.
Our day at the Ashram began at 5 am. 5:15 we started the first yoga class. Over 2 days, NF figured out that we could do the 6:15 am class as well. So within 2 days we had started doing 90 minutes of yoga, the first class more of stretching and breathing exercises, the second one more energetic and challenging.
We got out of the class, all ready for our morning refresher. No no, no tea or coffee. It was kaadha – a herbal tea brewed from lemon grass, tulsi (basil) leaves and ginger with a bit of jaggery added to it. Post that, we went to a terrace to get our dose of the sun and the earth. A mud pack (mittilep) was applied to the stomach and we had to lie in the sun with it. The mud is supposed to be therapeutic and helps relieves many ailments like constipation, digestive disorders and urinary tract ailments. For people with skin disorders a complete mud bath is recommended. Sun bathing in the early hours gives you your dose of Vitamin D and also brings in the elements of air and fire into your therapy.
After the mud pack, we returned to a series of hydrotherapy treatments. Of the common ones prescribed were tub bath, hip bath, steam bath and spinal bath – each depending on your problems and indications.
This was followed by an (optional) massage. But you kind of waited for this. The maalishwali bais (masseuses) were each very good and characters unto themselves. The code of conduct here was that you got a masseuse assigned to you on the very first day, who then was your ‘bai’ till you left the country, figuratively speaking. So strong is this unwritten code of conduct that if you wish to change your assigned maalishwali to another one, no other woman will agree to do her job. However, if your assignee is busy and she is free to send you a substitute and you are to accept that unquestioningly, almost gratefully. Well, with their kneading and pummelling skills, you better go by what they say.
The massage no doubt is the best part of the deal. If only it could have been less noisy. But get these women together and they are bound to talk, nay, argue. Though whether they talk or argue, with their high-pitched voices, it all sounds like one big fight.
The massage having done, you proceeded to have a bath and then, feeling cleansed and rejuvenated, wended your way to the dining hall. It’s well into 10:30 am by now and the lunch gong has rung. Lunch consists of the virtually the same things we ate for dinner the night before except that the vegetable is different this time. But yes, the food is still devoid of oil, spices and even salt!
Post lunch you hurried your room for ‘quiet time’ a.k.a. afternoon nap. At 1 pm, a mitti patti was kept outside your room. This was mud, wrapped in a piece of cloth and folded into a flat band. You were to keep this on your eyes and forehead for its cooling and soothing effect.
3 pm brought us back the dining hall for our second round of kaadha. Then back to some more treatments. Local steam was one of them. A jet of steam was aimed at ailing parts – like knees, back and so on. For some patients, this warmed part was then bandaged in a linen cloth soaked in warm water then wrung out. This was then further bandaged with a woollen cloth to retain the heat inside. This was kept on for an hour.
The early evening was reserved for a brisk walk around the Ashram premises. Which then worked up your appetite for dinner. The dinner gong went at 5:30 pm. Yes, 5:30! Dinner had most of the stuff in the morning but with the addition of khichdi. It’s funny how the simplest of food suddenly take a place of importance when there is nothing else on offer.
Time and again, as we ate our sattvik food we wondered how we did not miss all those things back home. But in the Ashram it was easy to stick to the regimen because your pat h was not strewn with temptations. A bhel puri counter round the corner. A dosawala two signals away. Pav bhaji smells wafting tantalisingly into your nostrils. The Ashram had none of these. No wonder you had people not straying from the chosen path and knocking off quite a few kilos. 5 kilos, 7 kilos lost, was considered to be the norm.
As the day ended and we went back to our rooms, we wondered how we would fare on our return to nature.

Link to website:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Checking in and checking out

A seven day sojourn at Nisargpocharashram, Urli Kanchan
DAY 1 – 18th September 2009

On the 18th of September 2009, a Honda city drives into the hallowed ashram. Out walk three of us in appropriately impressive sunglasses. And step into the office. Three reasonably simple women stare at us with a combination of surprise and amusement. Surprise because we are (by the standards here) too thin to be here. And amused because they don’t think we can last out here.

Getting here was a story in itself. We left Mumbai at 8 am – pretty early by our standards – or so we thought on 18th of September. (Now we are in the realms of 5 am!) Knowing that we are now going on an ‘austerity drive’ we quickly stopped an hour later for a McDonald’s breakfast. And of course, yes, of course, my virtually last cup of coffee.

Coffee! That fuel that kept me going in Mumbai. “Oh” I said, nonchalantly, “I won’t need coffee out there. I’ll just sleep it off”. (Famous last words! But that’s another story, oops, blogpost, altogether.)
NF tucked in on waffles and maple syrup, we had a bit of hash browns and both of us had burgers and coffee. At 9 am, it seemed the right thing to do. We drove on to the Expressway to meet up with SS in Pune. Directions were given. Getting to a particular left turn after a toll naka was easy. Then we had to go on to the next landmark.
If you’ve been to any place in India and asked for directions, you’ll know that all roads lead to where you want to go. Most people usually tell you to go straight ahead no matter where it is that you want to go. You could be in Mumbai and ask for directions to Texas and you’d be told the same thing… “Straight ahead”. Not one person will admit that they don’t know the place. Not one soul will tell you how far it is. I am impressed at the way this nation has evolved in terms of relativity. If you ask someone how close your destination is, they’ll tell you it’s very close. No one talks in terms of distances as in kilometres, blocks or streets. Everything is “straight ahead”.
As today’s smart women, we were without a map but with explicit directions. Also being women, it was easy asking for directions. What was difficult was getting them. Our next landmark was Sancheti Hospital. Obviously, as you would have guessed it, the first person we asked told us it was straight ahead! “Poodhe ja”, he said. Go straight ahead. Yeah right. At this point we were at least 20 kms away from the desired landmark. On the ‘straight ahead’ route, we asked an auto driver thinking he would be more conversant with distances. “Saat-aath kilomeeter” (7-8 kilometres), he said with authority, much to our relief. Seven kilometres later we realised, he was one of the ‘straight ahead’ types. There was no sign of Sancheti hospital. We did see a lot many other hospitals though. Two more stops later we reached a signal where we could see Sancheti on our right. The idea unfortunately was to ‘see' it. We realised later we need not have turned right towards it but having ‘seen’ it gone on ahead. The ‘straight ahead’ bit? We went wrong there. And plunged into a proper ‘Pune traffic snarl’.
So a few traffic snarls later we continued asking for directions. Our next destination was Central Mall where SS was waiting for us. We did reach the Mall. Only it was the wrong mall! Backtracking, we finally made it and were we thrilled?! The car boot space came in handy again as one more yoga mat got loaded in. We stopped at the Mall to pick up some bottles of water and have … yes… coffee. SS packed in a Chettinad Chicken Wrap! Oh! Would she remember it at mealtimes a day later!
Uruli Kanchan is only 30 kilometres away from Pune. SS carefully directed us out of the city and soon and we reached pretty much without incident.
And there we were. Sliding through the large gates of the Ashram, being directed by the security guard to the office.
Once in the office the key was to decide how the three of us would room in. There were no cottages or rooms of threes available. Our option was to take a double and a single room. Of course, we would not consider the options without seeing them. So the better part of 45 minutes went in one solitary and unwilling guy taking us through various rooms. Finally we selected two double rooms, one would have single occupancy.
The teen deviyaan at the reception were sufficiently relieved that we had come to a decision. The look of amusement had still not gone from their faces. We went through a rigmarole of files, signing registers and paying cashiers - at Window No. 2 which was not numbered! I told NF it was a secret. But finally we had registered and we were now dying to go to our rooms. But wait… it was almost 4 and we had to see the doctors before we did anything. So there we went to the assigned place where we weighed ourselves and waited for the doctor.
We were not to know that time, but in retrospect this place is about weight! And wait! The time spent in waiting is amazing. For those who read, one could finish 'Gone with the Wind', or in today’s day, 'Shantaram' (all the thousand pages) in a week while you wait. Okay, okay, it’s not so bad but it’s annoying when a laidback attitude keeps you waiting. Guess we have become too much of city buffs to even “wait and watch”.
We filled the file with personal history, met the doctor who then prescribed various ‘treatments’ for each of us depending on our complaints. With that was prescribed a diet which on the face of it looked pretty doable. It consisted of roti or rice, soup, salad, vegetable, chatni, and buttermilk.
By the time we finished with paperwork, it was time for dinner. 5:30 pm. The dinner bell went off. Since none of us had had lunch we were quite eager for dinner. And there it was. A princely meal of gourd (ahem!) mung soup, chutney, khichdi and a choice of rotis – bajri, jowar and wheat!
The portions were generous; we paid with food coupons and sat to eat our sumptuous meal! Eeeks! What was this! The food was salt free. Phew! There we were – our very first introduction to natural food – no oil, no spices, no salt in our food. Oh well, we thought, we’d be fine. And finally finishing dinner we wended our way to our rooms to unpack and start another – the real thing!
The treatments, the meals and more… coming up tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In our nature

A seven day sojourn at Nisargpocharashram, Uruli Kanchan

The Plans
It started with a casual conversation.
“So what do you plan to do when you are on your sabbatical?” I asked SS. She had planned to quit and take some time off… very smart thing to do, considering the high-pressured life we lead in advertising.
SS’s eyes glazed. Right there on her desk she got a faraway look. “Oh, I want to do so many things…travel, I plan to visit my cousins and I am planning a visit to Uruli Kanchan”
My ears perked up. Uruli Kanchan I knew was a naturopathy farm near Pune – a place I would have been interested in visiting provided I had the right kind of people to go with. There’s much that goes for naturopathy – a form of alternative healing – and I had read up enough to know that there was merit in most forms of natural cures rather than drugs and therapies.
“Oh wow” I said,”I’d love to come along”. I don’t know who was more excited at this suggestion. SS or me. Our eyes lit up and suddenly we had a plan. A little while later I mention this to friend NF., another advocate of alternative healing. She too jumped at the thought and soon we were three people ready to go … only question was when.
If you try to coordinate routines – with a busy work schedule, home responsibilities and birthdays of close family members (even your own) getting three people to go somewhere together can be quite a task. We managed.
A date was set. SS was to do the booking and we were excited. Word got round and others seem to be getting excited too! We’d discuss it off and on through our busy week in the office. SS offered to call and find out more details. All of us were excited and looking forward to a “detox-destress break”. Somewhere along the line Uruli Kanchan got shortened to UK!
And it sounded even more like a plan!
We actually made a foolproof, comprehensive packing list. Much of the essentials that we carried were bits of wisdom derived from friends, family and colleagues. “You better carry your own sheets. It’s clean but…”, said a close friend. When we called to ask for information we were curtly told to bring our own glasses, a knife and a spoon. Apparently the knife was to cut fruit in your own room if you wanted. (I, with my infinite wisdom, added a plate to the list!) Yoga mats suddenly seemed like a must-carry. Mosquito repellent was a must-use. And of course, there was important stuff like books and music. Oh! The things we need when we travel! By the time we finished the list, no one would believe we were going to an Ashram – but then in our minds we were clearly going to “UK”!
As we did our final packing, a stream of smses crossed cyberspace! And finally we were packed and ready. By the time we finished I was glad we were going in a larger car. NF had tanked up the Honda City – but more importantly the boot space was at a premium!
And thus began our journey to and sojourn at NisargopcharAshram, Uruli Kanchan. Starting 18th September 2009. After all, it was in our nature to be there!
Stay tuned to read a meal by meal account of how the three of us fared at the Nature Cure farm, set up by none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Hole in the Heart

Every person over time gets a hole in the heart.
You may have it too.
That one little empty place, that no matter how much you try, you cannot fill.
It may happen because it’s a gap that someone left behind. Or some place that no one or nothing filled. Or it was just a tiny little crack that became a yawning gap with neglect.
You don’t notice it at first. You are so caught up in the inconsequential things that fill your life. You are so hell bent on head ruling over your heart. Oh yes… no holes there in your head. And the heart is pushed aside as you charge through your day triumphing over every challenge that comes your way, bravely vanquishing mountains of opposition as you reach the end victorious. Oh yes… your head helped you win. So did your heart… by just stepping aside. By not being there.
And soon it becomes a habit.
Head over heart.
Head over heart.
Head over heart.

Till like a train thundering towards its destination the rhythm sets in, the fast motion, the speedily changing landscape and you feel you are moving forward with a purpose.
And while you do, you drop things by the wayside. That relationship. That opportunity to help. That chance to bend backwards for someone. That reason to go out of the way for someone. No way. You are on the right track and nothing, no one, is going to derail you.
Till you derail yourself.
And on a lonesome evening with much time for thought you realise you have reached your destination. Only there’s no one there. It’s just you on an empty platform with no address to go to. And you look inside your head for answers but there are none. And then your heart comes forward. It’s bleeding from that hole you neglected. It’s empty out there. And you can’t fill it. You can never ever fill it.
And you do your best. You lie, you blatantly lie: all is well. But the gap will not fill. You imagine, another time, another place where all is whole again, but the heart knows only the truth – not imagination. And then you try to fill the gap with things, more things, but the more you put in to that black hole the bigger it seems to get. And you realise that nothing can fill that gap you created. Nothing can stop that bleeding. Nothing that you put in there will bridge the gap.
And you crumble on the platform on your knees. Your suitcase of things you have collected over time by your side. And you realise that you’ve packed the wrong things for this journey. And you realise through unshed tears that what you should have been carrying was just one thing: Love. And there would have been no gaping void. No emptiness. No hole in the heart.