The Devadasis

The History

The practice of dedicating young girls to temples was prevalent in many parts of India but in the deep south, the Chola kings by their patronage to the arts elevated the status of mere Devadasis to that of Rajadasis or  royal courtesans.

Rajaraja Chola I is supposed to have recruited around four hundred dancing girls from all the temples of the Chola country to be employed at Brihadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur.
Devadasis were called ‘devaradiyal’ or ‘servants of God’, which was corrupted to ‘thevadiyal,’ a derogatory term still in use. Eventually,  devadasi was a Sanskritized version of  Devaradiyal.
Devadasis were not typically Brahmin but could have patrons  from the upper classes. Most often they were mainly dancers who would have one or maybe two patrons in their lifetime, some girls born as Devadasis others offered to the temple fulfilling some sacred vow. The beautiful learned dance and music and the less endowed unfortunates, were relegated to various tasks connected with the temple.

 

The initiation ceremony of the devadasi began with  the pottukattu (tying of the sacred thali or thread round the neck as in a conventional marriage ceremony).  Following this the devaradiyal was officially married to the deity and considered a Nityasumangali (one who never suffers the curse of widowhood) and was specially sought after during marriages to bless the bride.

Devadasis who enjoyed the patronage of the king and the temple were women of considerable wealth in the form of gold and landed property. The community was  dominated by women under the supervision of the matriarch known as thaikkizhavi. Daughters were naturally preferred as they were an asset to the family. Devadasis were highly emancipated women and were treated with great respect. Some famous modern day Devadasis are M.S. Subbalakshmi, Balasaraswathy and Kishori Amonkar.

 

But the advent of the British changed everything. With no royal patronage their status was reduced to that of mere prostitutes.

For those who have never heard of or don’t know much about Devadasis, this book promises to be a real eye opener.

In “A Rose for a dream,” I have introduced a new stream about Devadasis. As usual most of my imagination is fired by my mother, who always told me really colorful stories about a Devadasi family that lived very near her growing up in Thanjavur. The “Madam” was a good friend of her grandfather Swaminathan, who used to arrange police bandobast whenever there were big events like Pottukattu ceremonies or Arangetrams. Strangely enough, although traditionally brahmin women didn’t mix with Devadasis, her mother Rajam and aunt Kunju became friends with Koviladi Valamba. This is the origin of Koviladi Kamalamba and her niece Balamani.

In this excerpt, Balamani is preparing for her pottukattu ceremony and her Arangetram, but she longs to be free and live the life of a normal girl, to love and marry and have children. But more than anything, she longs to unravel the deep, dark secret of her birth.

 

~~~~~~~~

“I’m so tired of all this. I don’t want to do the pottukattu and I don’t want to have a patron.” Bala ranted, raising her voice in sheer frustration.

“Shh. . . .” said Vasanti quickly closing the door. “Someone will hear you.”

“Why can’t I be like other girls and have a normal life? Meena next door goes to school. I want to do that too; I want to learn.”

“Shh,” Vasanti said, cradling Bala’s head in her lap and wiping the sweat off her neck and face with a soft towel.

“You and I, we can’t do anything to change our destiny. We are born Devadasis and we will die like that. Everyone around knows which caste we belong to. Even if we try to run away, they will not let us live normal lives. Amma has so many friends in the police who will find us no matter where we run. You know how Muthu beat Vyjayanthi when she ran away last year? You remember that don’t you?”

How could Bala forget? It was she that was assigned to wiping the blood off the floor after Muthu was done with teaching Vyjayanthi a lesson. It took more than six months for her wounds to heal before she looked normal. Even before Vyjayanthi’s psychological lesions  healed, Amma had found a rich Mirāzdār from Salem to visit her. The three girls slept together and were unfailingly woken up by Vyjayanthi’s  nightmares and sobbing. No. There was no escape.

“Don’t even think of running away. It’s just not worth it. Just accept your destiny and maybe one day you will have your own home and be an Amma like Kamalamba Amma.”

“I would never do that. I would rather die than make small girls dance and entertain fat, old men. I want to marry and have a family. Why can’t I marry like other ordinary girls?”

“You will. And what better husband than the Lord himself?”

“But he isn’t real and he can’t love me and hold me or even talk to me. I don’t see the point in that.”

“Don’t aspire for love from a man, foolish child. That is not for Devadasis. We love each other and that’s all that matters. The most dangerous situation for us is to fall in love with our patrons. They are all married men and would never consider leaving their wives for us. Don’t even entertain that thought. You know what happened with your own mother, don’t you?”

Bala stared up at her with a blank expression and Vasanti knew she had made a mistake. Amma never liked to talk about it, but the gossip grapevine held no secrets. Obviously no one had said anything to Bala, and she was not about to be the first. If Amma wished, she would reveal the story.

“What happened to my mother? Tell me.” Bala pleaded.

“Nothing. I meant to Kamalamba Amma, not your mother. You know about her first patron don’t you?”

“Why can’t you tell me? I know you are hiding something. I want to know her story.” Bala pouted angrily, annoyed at being treated like a child and kept in the dark.

“I can’t tell you. Muthu would kill me. Just know that she was fortunate to be loved by a real man and she tasted paradise on earth. Now come on, take a quick bath and I’ll rub some coconut oil with camphor on your legs. It will ease the pain.”

Bala sat up and stared vacantly across the room. She sat down in front of the large wooden carved mirror and looked at herself. A few stray locks had escaped from the tight bun and framed her heart shaped face. She leaned forward and admired her grey, doe shaped eyes with naturally curled lashes. Then she ran her fingers along her long arched eyebrows and down her pert and slightly hooked nose until they outlined her full lips and pointed chin. In the glow from the candles, her skin shone like polished ivory. She was beautiful. She turned around and looked at Vasanti.

“What do you do at night with the patrons? Do you dance for them?” she asked innocently.

Vasanti dropped her shaking head into the palms of her hands. No one had told this poor child what her destiny was. In what words could she explain to a twelve-year-old what her main occupation would be for the rest of her youth?

 

 

 

The Brown Sahibs

 

A Brown Sahib according to Wikipedia is a term used to refer to natives of South Asia who imitate Western—typically English—lifestyle. It is also used to refer to those have been heavily influenced by Western—usually British—culture and thinking.

When the British came to India they were the rulers of the land and despite making several institutional changes, were unable to make a dent into the social structure. And so, they did what served them well: devious and insidious infiltration into the psyche of the colonized mind. They chipped away at local self-esteem demeaning the authenticity of anything native while simultaneously making “white life” and everything that went with it, enviable. They literally placed themselves at the pinnacle of the caste system, converting every educated Indian into a colonial slave, who longed to be white but was trapped in brown skin, unable to decide between loyalty to the crown and love of land. They imitated western ways and did whatever it took to blend in and be “as British as a Britisher,” but in the eyes of the white man they were always just “darkies”.

And so you have it: the legacy of the Brown sahib…

In “A Rose from a Dream,” Mahadevan fits in perfectly into the role of the classic Brown Sahib. I have also introduced hints of this mental tug-of-war in certain vignettes with Inspector Swaminathan who worked for the British police and faced this dilemma on a daily basis.

The following excerpt occurs after independence when Mahadevan truly examines the inner workings of his psychological conditioning and comes face to face with his own racist beliefs.

Mahadevan placed the medal back in the blue velvet container and sat down at his desk. He wasn’t really sure how he felt, but he realized he was troubled. For more than forty years he had worked as a civil servant loyal to the crown, and his allegiance to the British astonished him. The advent of independence resulted in an upsurge of many conflicting emotions within him, and it was unpleasant and disconcerting because he was customarily clear thinking, and was usually not swayed by his emotions. He wasn’t quite sure if he felt any national pride with the British leaving India. As soon as that thought popped into his mind, he felt guilt and shame, for every citizen in this land longed to be free from the British. Why was he feeling this sense of doom on their departure?  For so many years, by adapting to British ways, something within him remained comfortable and content. He loved his Johnny Walker Red label and Yardley talcum powder and hated bidding farewell to them in addition to the other host of British goods the family had used and enjoyed for so many years now. How foolish to give so much importance to trivia! After all, whiskey and talcum powder didn’t compensate for deliberate depletion of the country’s national resources. Even so, he could not shake off the melancholia that had attacked him like a slow and painful virus.

Slowly but deliberately, he had become a colonial slave. Somewhere deep within him was an acceptance of his inferior status and an admiration for the white skinned. This didn’t happen overnight. Over time they had chipped away at his confidence and placed themselves at the pinnacle of the caste system. The pride he took at being Brahmin paled in significance to being English. Speaking the language, hobnobbing with British officers, being included in the inner circle, had over time become paramount for his self-esteem. Every time he was insulted or humiliated by his British superiors, he silenced that little voice within him, muffling the protest. He could think of a dozen times he stood on the brink of throwing it all away and joining the fight for freedom, but the cowardice within him triumphed each time, never allowing him to act on his bold impulses. Yes, I am a second-class citizen in my own country. He could never allow that thought to manifest and take root within him because pandering to the British, and a deep need for acceptance by them, took precedence. Intellectually he knew he was wrong, but this was an intuitive choice he made without his own volition, and now here he was, wondering if the new India cabinet of ministers was good enough for him. He had turned into an intellectual snob! That was appalling! He cringed inwardly at this consideration.

For the first time in his life he reflected on the values that laid the foundation for his work ethic and wondered how he would adapt to the new way. Change was imminent, and he was the quasi-white-skinned-Britisher looking down on natives.

What were his choices? He could either remain utterly miserable working for those he believed were a cut below his caliber or he could adapt. Somehow the second choice was the prudent one. After all, transforming into a British bumsucker was his way of surviving within the system, and it had worked well for him. He just needed to change his mindset. Work was work. What difference did it make whom he reported to? He would silence the superiority dialogue in his head and move on. It was time for a reality check. The British had left. It had been good for him while it lasted, and now, he needed to ensure his mind was steady. No more audience to those ugly voices that longed for the past and were scared for the future. Just like Appanshayal always told him, he would bring it all back to the present. Now, now, now! That was all he had. And it wasn’t so bad. A great job, an accomplished wife, and three healthy children. Life was good. The mental shackles of colonial slavery needed to be released. Mahadevan sat at his desk and wrote three liberating words.

I am free.

An Excerpt from A Rose from a Dream

 

The Art of decision Making

 

Decision-1All day, every day, we make decisions which vary in intensity and importance. Some are really small and inconsequential involving routine matters like what to wear and what to eat, and these are really first world decisions. We seamlessly make these based on our past conditioning, guided very powerfully by the strength of our desires. So we do what gives us pleasure and stay away from that which causes pain. Which is why it becomes extremely difficult to decide on something which doesn’t give us any pleasure and may even cause us some pain. Those are the tough resolutions we loathe but have to take while mired in stress. Breaking a ten-year long relationship, giving up a job with no alternative source of income, eliminating sweets from your diet because you have diabetes and the list goes on. Decisions are nothing other than life choices. Taking tough decisions is character building. It’s easy to decide when the repercussions are less earth shattering but we certainly need to pause and deliberate while making the tough choices and that inevitably leads to stress, especially in those that have a difficult time making hard decisions.Desicion-2

Categories of decision makers

  1. The Type A “My decision”

This type of person likes to be in charge and is the ‘decider’ in the group. We all have one of those in the family or in the office. They are the ones who have very good reasons for deciding everything from the next family vacation, to the airline they pick for business travel. They always take charge and know how to get things done. This person will never eat Chinese when the mood is for Indian cuisine especially if the suggestion comes from someone else. They need to have complete ownership of every decision. Highly strung and emotional, these individuals function at a very high level of anxiety and pass on their sense of urgency to others while continually reminding them who the decider was.

  1. The non-rufflers

This person loves someone else to take decisions and just follows suit without exerting any aspect of his personality. It doesn’t matter to him either way. He could eat Indian or Chinese or Azerbaijani food and it’s the same. It makes life easy when someone else is making the right decision leaving him with plenty of time to spare for other relaxing activities. Most often non-rufflers are easy going and relaxed, apparently unfazed by life situations. They live within their comfort zone and don’t take on any additional responsibility.

  1. The Flip floppers.

People in this category really suffer because they cannot take any decision and stick to it. They are convinced that their first choice was good but at the first hint of opposition fall deeply into the canyon of self-doubt and immediate back out of the decision, taking an opposing view. But that doesn’t last long either. Yo-Yoing constantly between doubt, regret and the other choice, they drive themselves and others around them crazy. They live in their heads all the time doubting their circumstances, their situation, people and events, and for sure suffer from continual elevated stress and lack of self-esteem.

Not Black and white categories

Each one of us moves fluidly between these categories depending on where our priorities lie. A person might decide very easily about financial decisions in the office but make everyone crazy as he sluggishly picks from a menu. Similarly, one might flip flop between career choices but may make very good, unwavering, healthy, food choices. A decision is not this gigantic, phantasmal, nebulous shroud hanging heavily over you; it is nothing but a choice.

 Types of decisions

Informed decisionsinfo

Decisions can be informed only when there is ample reaction time and one doesn’t have to act immediately. When you have to make important, life altering choices it is important to have some sort of mental map or plan. There is no substitute for due diligence which is the magic ingredient in creating the #marketingguru #greatdesicionmaker, great buzz words a.k.a. must-haves on one’s resume.

Gather information

Before making a choice gather as much information as possible. Begin by making a list of your requirements and priorities. This will help you organize your thoughts, your needs vs optional luxuries.

Have a Plan B

Inform yourself about the other options as well. A good decision is weighed against other routes where based on your needs you pick the best alternative. Such decisions are most often not entirely cerebral and often enter into the realm of intuitive decisions. Always have something to fall back on in case your first choice doesn’t pan out.

Time factor

Take a decision as quickly as possible. There is a direct relationship between time and stress. Quite understandably. The longer you take, the more time you have to chew the cud and the longer you stay in your head, the greater the stress. Give yourself a cut-off date which might increase the pressure in the short run but will be a relief looking back, once the choice is made.

Commitment

Once you take the decision, commit to it. Take ownership of that decision. It was yours to make and was taken after measured thought and now you have to possess your situation completely. Second guessing your decision will lead to poor execution unhappiness and frustration.

Intuitive decisions.Desicion-3

All life situations can never be purely clinical and intellectual. There are many circumstances where we have to sink into our source and function from the heart rather than the brain. Decisions that are tough and life-changing usually have the best results if they sprout from the source. Intuitive choices do not have logic and rationale backing yet tend to have the best results as they stem from your source which most often is your best resource. Intuitive choices feel natural and right and align with universal energies. It is that feeling when you step into a house and know it was built for you although it may not satisfy your specific criteria. However, no decision is stress free.

Stress in decision-making

Stress arises while making decisions because we fear the unknown. What if it doesn’t go the way I want it to? What if I fail? What if this is the wrong thing to do? What if I lose all my money? And Family? What if they disapprove? Trying to please the whole world leaves you in state of utter confusion and shrouds you in stress, making you doubt every decision you make.

Fear paralyzes you.

Know that fear is nothing other than situations in your head about the future that may or may not happen. We don’t know the outcome for sure. Bring yourself back into the moment and do a fear check. Are they immediate or imagined? Awareness of fear reduces its intense hold over you and allows more balanced decision making.

Commit 100% to the choice and go with the flow of life.

Know that if this journey does not work for you there is always another choice. Life is filled with endless possibilities. And the Divine has filled you with deep reserves of abilities that only come up to the surface under pressure. At every turn there are hundreds of choices you could make. Pick one and go with it. Know that you are never in a situation you cannot deal with. There is never a problem without a solution.

Accept your situation

Sometimes the Universe decides which path you need to take and in the short run there is no alternative. In such situations acceptance is key.

Drop your doership.

Realize that life is just a series of events and experiences, all of which inform, educate and enlighten you. Live in the moment with faith that you can and will live up to the high standards of excellence the Divine expects from you. That makes any decision, intuitive or informed, so much easier. Lighten up a bit, it’s not so difficult to decide. “And if things get too much for you, just take a pillow and go to sleep.”

The legend of the Brahmakamalam

In the summer of 2009, my mother fell seriously ill and I was with her in Bangalore. At the time I was halfway through writing WTLB and called the manuscript Rajam. It was an extremely difficult time. I was writing the book for my mother yet I wasn’t sure she would live to read it. Then one night in May, nine Brahmakamalam flowers bloomed in her garden and I knew she would be fine and live to enjoy my dedication to her. My book and my life is for my amazing mother. I had the title for my book and in three months the manuscript was written.

Last year a friend sent me two leaves from this plant which I planted and for the last year have been watering faithfully  like Rajam in my book. I don’t know what the future holds but I believe the blooming of the lotus will change my destiny and manifest my dreams.

Here is an excerpt from the book which explains the legend I have created from the Blooming of the Brahmakamalam

A tiny bud
A tiny bud
To a flower
To a flower

Brahmakamalam, the exotic Himalayan beauty, is called by many names — the Fragrant Queen of the Night, Golden Heart, and Star of Bethlehem. A plant, which, by a whim of nature grows only in the Himalayas, the abode of the god Shiva, around Mount Kailash and in the verdant valleys of Mansarovar. Ancient Hindu Texts refer to this flower as being special to Shiva, although the word Brahmakamalam translates to Lotus of Brahma. Perhaps this was the golden lotus on which Brahma was seated as he emerged from the navel of Vishnu to create the universe. So incomparable is this flower that it symbolizes every aspect of creation, expressing itself in the world we live in as a tribute to the creator. It creates from within itself in a design so complete that it overloads the beholder with emotion, sensation, and passion — a lotus that includes aspects of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva within its physical form. A unique plant, the likes of which is not found in any other part of the world, a flower which some say, belongs to the sunflower family, while others swear is an epiphyte, a cactus, or a lotus.

The first impression is deceptive, as its long drooping leaves look like any common foliage. But its magic lies in leaves and flowers growing out of the leaves themselves and not from a stem. It has been seen in full bloom in spring and winter, and those who have the honor of seeing the Brahmakamalam flower, never forget the experience. At first a limp pinkish bud appears, and for a while nothing happens, then all of a sudden, mirroring the miracle of life, it unravels in white splendor. The outer petals are thin and pointed, revealing within its folds a round petalled mound that uncannily resembles a Shiva Lingam. Over this mound are white stamens tipped with yellow, resembling the hood of a cobra suggesting Adishesha, the hooded serpent associated with Vishnu.

Once a year it spreads elation and joy as it opens its face in the delicate moonlight for humans to admire. It blossoms only once a year, only for three or four hours, after which the petals wilt and fall to the ground. While the plant is in full bloom, its consummate fragrance is unparalleled, defying description, leaving the privileged gasping at its magnificence.

My Writing process #Monday Blogs

I have to begin by thanking my dear friend Feroza Unvala, the creator of all my book covers who introduced me to  her writer and social activist friend, Humaira Ghilzai.  Humaira I appreciate you inviting me to participate on this blog tour which has impelled me to reconnect with my writer friends and continue the blogging process which I thoroughly enjoy.

My writing process

1)     What am I working on? 

 

The culture that you are brought up with to a large extent defines who you are in the context of modern day living. It grounds you and gives you a sense of identity. Added to this is a passion to give a resonant voice to universal women’s issues. That said, 1930′s Colonial India was the  natural choice for the setting of my first novel, “When the Lotus Blooms,” which was published in 2011, telling the story of two child brides attempting to find identity in a patriarchal society. the novel includes the entire gamut of women’s issues from infertility to a domineering mother-in-law, rape and substance abuse to abortion and widowhood. Rajam and Dharmu, the main protagonists, are my grandmothers, Kandu, my father and Kamu, my mother.

I am currently working on the sequel which I hope to call, “A Rose from a dream.” The book spans a decade from 1942-1952 and brings in issues which I didn’t cover in the first book, including the institution of Devadasis, (organized prostitution) the Independence movement and the World war as it impacted India. Hopefully it should be out by 2014.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

 

My book falls under the category of historical fiction. While there are hundreds of books on the British Raj, most have a western viewpoint and none have showcased the span and depth of its culture especially from the viewpoint of its impact on women. More particularly, my books speaks about tradition and culture of the Tamil brahmin community.

What has been much more difficult to do as a writer is to speak out against social injustice in a voice of compassion that does not offend the sensibilities of thousands of brahmin women, whose life is defined by this very tradition. To use the pen to create awareness, conversation and perhaps change. The difficulty was in finding the right balance where I didn’t convert the book into a handbook of Indian culture, yet was able to talk about common practices that define the Brahmin community and change that needs to occur.

Most importantly I exist in every page of the book. Hailing from the culture gave me deep insight into the mindset and attitudes of Tamil brahmin women and I present the social milieu in a non-judgmental, participative manner that resonates with women from all walks of life, every culture and every society. Nothing has really changed. Social relationships, male patriarchy, abuse and subjugation; all these issues plague women even today.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

 

I write in two genres; spiritual non-fiction and historical fiction. I discovered writing after I learned a special breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. The breathing practices combined with meditation quieted the mind sufficiently for the latent talent to emerge. My second book was written in gratitude to share the happiness and peace I had miraculously discovered. I had finally chanced on writing and through the written word was able to express my innermost feelings and emotions. My earlier anger with the world, the resultant frustration and stress had just dissipated. The book is called “The Present: a Gift from the Divine: and it has been endorsed by my Master H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as well as H.H. the Dalai Lama. I have heard that nonfiction is more popular but I prefer the comfort of fiction!

My head is filled with untold stories. I see stories in everything from mundane tasks like drinking milk or going swimming to the more dramatic like child molestation.  A small and unimportant task like spreading cow manure on the floor could be converted in a scene of shame and control, to portray the very insecurity and fear that troubled Rajam all her life. It became stimulating to write because I could let my imagination and intuition take over and then watch the drama play out. The journey was much more exhilarating, and I was present right through at every important juncture in the lives of my characters  through my writing. I am not in the career of writing for money; I write because that’s what I love to do. Money and fame are a product of destiny. Self-publishing my book brought closure for a project dear to my heart. I am very happy with the end product, and having a small publisher in India has worked well for me to distribute and sell in the land of my birth. The only promise I strictly honor is to be true to myself and maintain my authenticity by writing on subjects  I am passionate about, and using the pen to affect change and create awareness. I guess I write because I have no choice. It is natural, gratifying and exhilarating.

 

4)     How does your writing process work?

There is very little planning involved when I write. My writing style is anecdotal and each chapter could stand on its own merit as a short story. I pick a character, take a deep breath and begin typing:  the story simple reveals itself without any special effort on my part. This is when I write fiction. For my nonfiction book I interviewed over a hundred people from five continents, after which I transcribed each interview. Following this, I created a spreadsheet using different headings like anger, lust, delusion, karma and so on. I would read the interview and enter the name under each category. Two years later I had 500 pages transcribed and no idea what to do. Then one day I just sat and began writing. I picked a topic pulled the interviews related to it and put it all together. I wrote for 12-14 hours a day for 2 months. I don’t know if this works for others. Research and information just acts a s a guide when I write. My writing is completely natural and intuitive. It’s as they say; there’s someone sitting on my shoulder telling me what to write next.

 

Meet my author friends

Keith .B. Darrell

Keith .B. Darrell is a prolific American writer of short stories, novels, nonfiction books, and newspaper and magazine articles. If not for his support and keen critical evaluation of my writing I would not have published my book. Thanks Keith!

Keith B. Darrell was abducted as an infant by evil Fae creatures, who replaced the author in his crib with a changeling doppelganger. By age 24,the changeling known as Keith B. Darrell had earned his A.A. from Broward Community College, his B.S. in Journalism from the University of Florida, his M.B.A.from Emory University, and his J.D. from the Emory University School of Law. He went on to become a member of the State Bar of Georgia and the Florida Bar.

Darrell is a cross-genre writer of speculative fiction, flash fiction, fusion fiction, fantasy, contemporary fantasy, urban fiction, sword & sorcery, science fiction, dystopian fiction, apocalyptic fiction, horror, slice of life, political and sociological fiction, humor, drama, gothic mystery, children’s fiction, young adult fiction and nonfiction. His short stories have appeared in three collections, Shards, Randoms,and Careywood, as well as in Kindle short story format e-books available from the Amazon.com Kindle store.

Website www.keithbdarrell.com .  Twitter @Keith_B_Darrell

 

 

Michael Cantwell

Michael Cantwell, CCIM is an author and commercial real estate agent in Florida as well as a published photographer. He was born in Ft. Campbell KY, raised in Trenton, NJ, graduated college at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, PA. He now resides in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Website:www.ksmmike.com                              Blog:http://ksmmike.blogspot.com/

Twitter @ksmmike

 

Dr. Shirley Press

In 2001, Dr. Shirley Presswon big in the Florida Lottery. In her book, Dr. Press takes
readers on a tour of her life from a poor girl in Camden, NJ of Holocaust survivor
parents to becoming a doctor and a lottery winner and the lessons learned from her journey.
PRESSING MY LUCK: A DOCTOR’S LOTTERY JOURNEY
Written by Shirley Press, MD. Published by Re-Spin Publishing Paperback, 274 pages. Paperback and kindle versions are available at Amazon. ePub versions are available at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. For more information, visit http://www.shirleypress.com.

Twitter@ ShirleyPress

website blog  http://shirleypress.com/blog/ –

 

 

Appanshayal: My Spirit Guide

Appanshayal

Appanshayal was my paternal great-great grandfather. My father spoke very fondly of his memories of visits to his grandfather’s home in Nagarcoil. It was almost as though he venerated his Grandfather Nilakanta Ayyar and more so his Great Grandfather Appanshayal. When I wrote this book I felt connected very deeply to my ancestors. As I wrote, I couldn’t help feeling they spoke to me, revealing their characters, their innermost thoughts and their lives. My writing style devotes a chapter to each character and I would meditate each morning asking for insight. Then I would go to my computer and write whatever came to mind. Nothing in this book was planned and it’s a miracle it all came together, because I had no idea where my imagination would lead me.

Each one of us has a special spirit guide whose presence we feel often when we avoid a dangerous situation or solve a complex problem. At such time we surprise ourselves and attribute such mini-miracles  to destiny, ESP or sheer brilliance. Such solutions spring from the inner spirit and have no reason to become known. This is when we feel the presence of the Divine and attribute it to heavenly intervention. It is said that ancestors and spirit guides communicate to us through such thoughts, notions, feelings and ideas and I have spent a good chunk of my time pondering this, wondering if I had such a guide. Who was this heavenly entity? Would this truth ever be revealed to me? When I meditate, I often ask for my spirit guide to reveal himself and most often the face of Appanshayal pops into my mind. I have no idea if indeed he is my guide or it’s just that I have this deep reverence for him. All I know is that I connect with him. This photograph is of Appanshayal with my grandfather Mahadevan. Look at the strength he emanates and the nobility of his posture.

Little tidbits of information became paragraphs and chapters. For some strange reason I wrote this episode when Appanshayal cures a young boy of a snake bite. I knew he was a yogi and very knowledgeable about Ayurveda but when my mother sent me this photograph of him I had gooseflesh. I was shocked at what I saw. The photograph was old and had some sort of impression next to the old man. It was without doubt an  impression of a King Cobra poised to strike.. Miracle or coincidence ? Who knows?

Here is an excerpt from my book ,When the Lotus Blooms…

Kandu ran to the outhouse where his great-grandfather Appanshayal lived, a quaint little house which he loved visiting. The outhouse had two rooms. The back room had plenty of books and on one side was a bedroll where the old man slept, meditated and prayed. One wall was covered with images of different gods and goddesses, under which was the pooja altar with many silver idols. Appanshayal met his patients in the front room. A low platform covered with a thin mattress stood on one side of the room. On the other side were shelves filled with glass jars, each containing a different herb or root. Appanshayal was very interested in herbal remedies, a very important branch of Ayurveda, the ancient system of Vedic medicine, and had trained under a famous teacher for many years.

  People had complete faith in Ayurveds and went to them for any and every ailment. Remedies existed for every conceivable disease, from snake and scorpion bites, to constipation and diabetes. Appanshayal got some of the herbs locally but every year, he made a trip to a hillock near Cape Comorin, where plenty of medicinal herbs are found, and spent many days physically collecting the herbs and roots he needed to make his medications.

Appanshayal ran a free clinic in his front room, and every evening for two hours he attended to numerous patients, mainly locals and villagers from nearby villages. He was especially known for his expertise in treating snake and scorpion bites.

When Kandu walked in, he saw his great-grandfather seated on the floor, his brown spectacles hanging on the edge of his nose, as he ground some herbs using a mortar and pestle.

“Hello, Appanshayal Thatha. What are you doing? Can I help you?”

“Who is that? Kandu? Come come. I was waiting for you. Do you want to help me? I find it hard to keep getting up, so maybe you can get me the jars I need.”

For the next few hours Kandu assisted his great-grandfather, helping to make all sorts of potions and powders, some of which were brewed in a pot over a small outside stove. Around lunchtime a man came running in with a small child in his arms. He was out of breath and crying. The inert child’s head lolled backward. Appanshayal knew immediately that it was a snake bite but the father had no idea how it occurred and exactly what type of snake had bitten the child. Very often the offending snake would be non-poisonous but the villagers, thinking they were bitten by a poisonous snake, would get all the symptoms and almost be near death, such was the power of the mind. The young boy was already exhibiting many symptoms. He was warm and in a semi-conscious state. The wound was red and swollen and the fang marks were clearly visible.

“Do you know how long ago it happened?”

“Maybe ten minutes ago. I don’t know. I picked him up and ran all the way. I live down the road, so it could not have been too long.”

“Did you see the snake?” Every bit of information was important for clues to decide on the right treatment.

“I only saw it disappearing into the bushes. It was black and maybe three feet long.”

“Probably a King Cobra,” said Appanshayal, judging by the bite and the father’s description. To Kandu’s horror, he put his mouth against the wound and started sucking the blood and spitting it out. After several minutes of that, he placed the child on the bed, making sure that the boy’s hand hung down at a lower level, so the poison would take longer to travel through the body. The poison was thick and slow moving but ten minutes had passed since the bite. Still Appanshayal knew if he slowed down the flow of blood to the rest of the body, the symptoms would become less severe.

Kandu sat down near the boy. “Is he alive or dead?” he asked, his voice low. He had never seen anyone so sick ever before.

“He is alive but the symptoms have manifested.”

Appanshayal combined his herbs and soon returned with two remedies. He put the one with a thick consistency directly on the wound and then began forcing a liquid potion into the child’s mouth.

After almost an hour, the child’s eyes fluttered open. The father, who had been beating his chest and lamenting the impending loss of his only son, was instead crying afresh at the unbelievable miracle. He fell down on the floor at Appanshayal’s feet, calling him a god, a savior, which embarrassed the old man. He handed the boy’s father the liquid potion and told him to give it to his son along with fresh honey for the next few days.

Maya Angelou: A Legacy of Hope

Maya Angelou  born Marguerite Ann Johnson; (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American author and poet, who is best known for her seven autobiographies, based on her incredible life experiences. Her books focus on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Added to this list are several books of exemplary poetry and plays.

When I read her biography, I was dumbstruck by how much she has achieved in a single lifetime with all the odds stacked against her. She was an African American woman, a single mother with two known marriages. (One inter-racial) In addition she had no spectacular college degree or wealth to speak of. Yet in her lifetime she was honored with over 30 honorary college degrees besides winning the Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her life was filled with rich experiences, a painful and difficult childhood and words that emerged from her pain were poignant, because they surfaced from her core, her spirit. She didn’t stop at writing, she was also actively involved with the Civil Rights Movement both with King and Malcolm X.  She had the honor of speaking both at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and more recently at the historic Obama inauguration.

One record of her past touched me deeply. At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, a man named Freeman. She confided in  her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered, probably by Angelou’s uncles Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing that it was her voice that killed him.  In the silence that enveloped her, Maya developed her love for the written word and the ability to dissect human emotion and drama at a cellular level. Maya Angelou often checked into a hotel and wrote her stories on legal pads. No computers and no typewriters!!

Maya Angelou represents the quintessence of African American writing and her absence will be felt in the literary community. Her legacy is not merely one of literary achievements, it represents hope, to achieve an impossible dream, motivation to maximize ones hidden potential and inspiration to break out of imaginary boundaries and conquer uncharted territories.

Spotlight on Nigeria

Spotlight on Nigeria

This week in the news, the spotlight is on Nigeria where a local Islamic Fundamentalist group, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 200 young girls . The Twitter hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls” has been trending at various points since the girls were taken, with many users from around the world demanding a swift rescue of the girls. The horror of their plight is worsened in the knowledge that the group plan to use and sell these women as sex slaves.

What is Boko Haram?

Loosely translated from the local Hausa language, this means “Western education is forbidden”. Boko originally meant fake but came to signify Western education, while Haram means forbidden. The group is fundamentally opposed to the education of women whom they believe are born to serve men, to cook their food, bear their children and provide free sex.

Schools were the hunting grounds for new “Jihadis” but as the group escalated into horrific violence, now commonplace in so many parts of Africa, they popularly came to be known as the Nigerian Taliban, despite no official connection with the mother organization. The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau gloated “I abducted your girls. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.

Islam and women

Neither the Koran nor Allah ever expounded any theory of deliberate suppression of women. In fact men only took more than one wife only if they could treat them all equally. Islam is one of the few religions that allows the woman to divorce her husband-Talaq. In fact, the husband has to return the “Mehr,” the bride price paid at the time of marriage. Mr. Abubakar is delusional and is venting his own psychological emasculation by enslaving innocent girls. It is unfortunate that men, Islamic or otherwise contort religion to give rationale for their own inadequacies. Education of women is seen as a threat, as men don’t wish to lose their control, which is a natural corollary when educated women  join the work force and gain financial freedom. Here in the US, women still earn 30% less than men and it makes me wonder, if Hillary Clinton becomes President, will they pay her 30% less? It is regrettable that one needs an incident as horrific as this one to make the world rise from their slumber and examine more fundamental issues. Issues that govern how men view women but more importantly how women view themselves.

World view of women

Women’s issues have preoccupied me and it comes out in my writing. When the Lotus Blooms, my first published book highlights several issues pertaining to women and though set in the 1930s are valid even today.This world view of women as basically inferior is at the core of all violence against women and this disease is rampant, touching every society in every country. Why do we raise our daughters to cook while our sons can play outside? How many women, after a 40 hour work week, cook Sunday dinner while their husbands watch the game with a six-pack of beer handy. Our children learn from our habits and imbibe hidden messages through our body language and the legacy persists. A 30 year old unmarried daughter is a liability who could potentially become an “old maid” while her male counterpart is a bachelor “enjoying life.” Hindu marriages concretize the belief that women are “property” in a ritual called Kanyadaanwhere the father gives his daughter as a gift or offering to her husband. Today, we continue this ritual in our marriages without examining its hidden meaning and what this means for the emancipation of women.

Emancipation of Women

Freedom doesn’t come solely with voting rights and equal opportunities. As long as we treat women differently from men, as long as we assign roles to women, as long as overtly or covertly subscribe to the superiority of men we can never stop the rabid abuse of women. The plight of these Nigerian women should make each one of us examine why world over this patriarchal belief system reigns supreme? Why do women need looking after? Why should  the destiny of women need to be controlled by men?  Are we unconsciously enabling the subjugation of women? Does the very fabric of society, the complex web of inter-gender relationships need to be re examined? And the last rhetorical question- Are we as women in some way responsible for these crimes being perpetuated against us?

Pongalo Pongal

Today on the occasion of Makara Sankranthi I was reliving the time I wrote an entire chapter in my book “When the Lotus Blooms,” about the festival of Pongal.

Pongal is a harvest festival, very important for farmers. For Tamils, it is a big occasion, with lots of preparation and festivity. Initially a celebration of the winter harvest, for farmers who toiled all year in the fields, Pongal celebrates the bounty of nature with great fanfare.

Many people believe it is Tamil New Year but that comes later in the year. I have very fond memories of Pongal which we thoroughly enjoyed especially if my grandmother Rajam was with us, as she was an outstanding cook. That was the only day in the year my mother allowed us to chew on sugar cane which she bought and washed thoroughly with soap and boiled water before serving us. Even though I grew up in Bombay I was never allowed to drink the notorious, diarrhea inducing sugarcane juice on the streets.

What was even more enjoyable was ‘Kanu” the next day. The colorful rice always attracted me and I loved watching the crows and sparrows vie with each other to get at the banana leaf laden with colored rice balls. I also remember how mad my mother got one time when our dog Raja decided to polish off the food! I didn’t realize we must be selective about our offerings.

The scene in the book shows the family gathered around the pongal pot which boils over, signifying prosperity in the future. Velandi the parayan watches the food being cooked, while hunger pangs in his belly distract him. Celebration in one household becomes the reason for envy in another.  The scene exemplifies opposites which continually rule our lives. Hunger and harvest, prosperity and desperation, bounty and death are all juxtaposed, mirroring the duality of perspective. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Nagamma had already put the rice and lentils into the pongal paanai and Sushila added the jaggery. The fire beneath the pot was flaming, burning bright and strong as the men kept adding more firewood so the pongal could boil faster. Balu had his brass plate and spoon ready and waited impatiently for the pongal to boil over. The water simmered as Nagamma added the milk. She turned to the family. “Pray all of you that as this pot of pongal boils over, so does our life boil over with good events and happiness.” She barely finished speaking when Balu noticed the pongal rapidly rising to the top of the clay pot.

“Pongalo pongal!” he yelled gleefully, hammering his spoon against the brass plate. Everyone shouted in unison, “Pongalo pongal!” clapping their hands and shouting as loudly as they could. Rajam stuck her tongue half out of her mouth, rapidly moving it from side to side in a warble louder than Sushila’s. Balu looked at her and tried to mimic her, but no one could hear his soft voice amidst the din. Rapidly removing some sticks of the firewood from under the pot, Nagamma reduced the intensity of the flame. The evil spirits hovering around the house were sure to have been frightened away with the racket they made. Rajam closed her eyes and prayed for all bad events to end and for new happy moments to surround their lives. In her mind she knew she was only praying for that one elusive event to take place.

When the Lotus Blooms has won two awards, one at the Great Southeast Book Festival and the other at the New England Book Festival.

The Dalai Lama endorses my new book ‘The Present: a gift from the Divine’

Holding onto  a dream 

Publishing When the Lotus Blooms was the realization of a dream. Many felt I would not be able to do it but I had supreme confidence in myself as a story teller. In spite of a million setbacks I self published in the US and got Supernova Publishers in India to market my book. Over 3000 copies of the book have been sold so far. A small achievement but a dream realized nonetheless.

Getting endorsements. 

No book sells unless recommended by someone important and I needed to get a well known name promoting my book. My mother and Lily Tharoor are old friends and through her I managed to get Shashi Tharoor’s office address after which I pestered his secretary for three months. Eventually I got the Foreword which is an added adornment to a book written as an offering of thanks to my first Guru: my mother.

The Power of Meditation

I perhaps would never have realized this latent talent for writing if my mind had continued to swirl in the small mind, with all my problems and daily irritations. Sudarshan Kriya and meditation transformed my life because it quietened the mind sufficiently to allow my natural talent to surface. This jump started my spiritual search and the transformation in my character, my ideals and values was so stark I had to express my gratitude to my spiritual Guru; My master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar without whose guidance my life would have remained colorless. His knowledge sheets became my daily inspiration and the move from the head to the heart was now in motion.

My foray into Inspirational-non-fiction

After I received SriSri’s verbal permission to write a book on the movement, I began reaching out to people within the Art of Living who had stories of such transformation. For two years I interviewed over a hundred people from countries like Togo, Argentina, Bosnia and Georgia, men an women with different ethnicities, race and religions affirmations. The common denominator was that all of them practiced the breathing and all experienced the transformation in different aspects of their life.

The Present: a gift from the Divine

The actual book spilled out over two months during which I wrote for 12-14 hours a day. It felt as though it was written through me and I was a mere spectator. Only the Grace of the Divine through my master allowed this to happen. I realized that life takes place in the present moment and all you require is a fistful of faith, gratitude and courage.

Shooting for the stars

In January, I was at the Hyderabad Literary Fair and someone asked me how I got an endorsement from Tharoor for my very first book. I remember laughing and telling them to wait and see how I would get the Dalai Lama to endorse my second. I knew I was aiming out of my reach but I had to try or forever regret my lack of effort. I spoke several times to my publisher and finally persuaded them to write on my behalf to some important people. They made requests to Dr. Karan Singh who immediately obliged with a fabulous message. Both President Abdul Kalam and the Dalai Lama‘s office kept prevaricating. Finally in the beginning of May, Kalam turned down our request and my editor felt nothing was going to come from the Dalai Lama’s office either. I gave up that dream believing it wasn’t in my destiny but within me was that Sankalpa, a tiny spark of intention that the Divine would take care of me because my intention for writing this book was pure.

A Monday morning Surprise.

Mondays always begin with a low note with hundreds of junk emails on my IPhone, so imagine my surprise when I received an email from my editor telling me that patience had paid off. I  continued to read and to my surprise she had attached an email from The Office of the Dalai Lama telling us the committee had reviewed my manuscript and that the Dalai Lama was  happy to endorse the book if we were still interested. My eyes were filled with tears of gratitude.

I must be the luckiest person in this world. I have had the fortune to write about the greatest spiritual leader of our time and am now endorsed by another globally acclaimed spiritual Giant: The kind and compassionate Dalai Lama

It pays to dream

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