Sowbhagya arrived with Dosa for her breakfast. The dining table was converted to one of my four workstations but she managed to find space. She was trapped but I blame her. She did show interest. So I launched into the synopsis of Manjula and my story, written for Anita.
SB was immediately engaged and liked it. We both enthusiastically remembered Manjula: her character, her kindness, her fun. SB could see connections with her and other women’s experiences but also how she was especially adventurous, strong and independent in the face of so many challenges.
Last Saturday was the first session of Anita’s Attic. A programme for writers — yes, that’s me, officially a writer, of sorts — over the next twelve weeks.
There’s ten of us in the online group: taught, facilitated and mentored by Anita Nair.
Anita is a famous writer of English novels, here in India. My own favourite is Ladies Coupe and I hope that our story will feature similar expansive characters to help us discover more of India and wonderful people I’ve been fortunate to meet.
In my pursuit of new experiences and to help deal with my unwelcome friend: ‘grief’, I’ve joined an online therapeutic group.
In the group there’s four of us and we meet for two hours at a time. It’s been a great personal support, we’ve gained insights from each other and it’s helped us realise we’re not alone
It’s confidential so I’m not able to share any of the content but I want to compliment the therapist/facilitator and tell you about one of the techniques.
It’s called empty chair, and involves me talking to Manjula and then swopping chairs to talk to myself, as if I’m Manjula.
It is, but handled sensitively it’s powerful. I shift backwards and forwards in a continuing conversation ably facilitated, with gentle directions and questions. At the end, I reflect and everyone is able to chip-in.
So what’s the outcome?
I feel more positive through being able to chat with Manj. I understand better and realise how lucky we were to find each other.
It’s helped me articulate and continue to deal with my guilt. I’ve explained to Manjula what I failed to share before she died, to understand what she probably thought and create a narrative for dealing with the trauma and it’s aftermath.
She knows I am always there for her, understands I was stressed-out and unable to accept she was dying which limited my ability to be understanding and supportive or even know what to do.
I feel that I let her down and regret we didn’t say goodbye. It has however helped me recognise that I did what I could and have to accept what is.
I’ll improve my learning in this new discomfort zone and value Manjula in more ways, share her smile and kindness with others and give it to myself.
I’ve been able to hear from Manjula that she’s with me, loves and forgives. I recognise her strength and positive attitude and take that on board to guide me.
We are both able to go on with each others support, recall more of the positive, to accept what is, be there for each other, joke, recognise the wonderful life we had together and share our love.
I intend that we’ll meet again.
I feel less alone and commit to finishing our story.
The facilitator is the founder and Director of a countrywide network helping match counsellors to those in need. Do check it out. Please see below.
This annual Hindu event known in Mexico as the ‘day of the dead’ but of course, quite different, is known as Mahalaya Amavasya. We remember our loved ones and provide help and support for their journey to the next place. In our case to Manjula’s reincarnation.
Thank you to Sowbaghya, Satish and Vasanth for your loving kindness to Manjula. You made it very special.
It’s easy to forget how different we are within and between countries and cultures. Living in India and hosting visitors from around the world is precious. It helped Manjula and I realise and celebrate our similarities and differences.
We all generally travel for fun and many of us wish to create a shift, from our comfort zone, using that journey to appreciate how different things are.
I’ve now lived her for ten years and often forget what its like back in my own country, the disUnited kingdom.
This reminds me of the quiz questions I’d give to business executives before bringing them to India.
As part of my presentation I’d emphasise that: Its ‘differently organised’ and seems transparent but can be confusingly opaque, and my favourite its: ‘consistently inconsistent’.
Please realise this comes from a love of the place and its people and not just the very special one.
Check out this selection of questions and see how you fare but remember its ‘consistently inconsistent’ and it’s rapidly changing. Some of these are sweeping generalisations but I was a sociologist. Answers are in UK pounds.
1 How do you traditionally greet a woman?
2 When do you use your car horn? a – in an emergency b – to inform other road users you’re there c – to tell someone to get out of the way
3 Imagine you’re driving between two poles or structures with enough space for one and a half vehicles, do you drive a – to one side b – equidistant from either side
4 what the ‘accepted’ minimum daily wage rate in India (this is converted into UK pounds) a- 2.50 b- 5.00 c-7.50
5 How much did Manjula get paid per month for running (managing the staff, greeting the guests, cooking and cleaning) the Mysore Bed and Breakfast a – 50 b – 100 c -150
6 How much is it to stay at Mysore Bed and Breakfast (including breakfast) for two people sharing?. a- 24 b- 28 c- 32 How much to stay at an equivalent in the UK? a- x2 b- x3 c- x4
7 How much did Stephen get paid per day in the UK for delivering a days training for businesses. a – 300 b – 500 c- 1500
and the impossible question for which there is no obvious answer: how much do you tip? there is top tip on this on our site: http://www.manjulasmysore.in
1 hands clasped together at chest level, as if in prayer and say namaste otherwise wait to see how a woman greets you and follow. Traditionally it’s unusual to touch. The greeting for a man is similar but in business might be a hand shake. In Mysore there is a more informal version of Namaste just using one hand with a casual raising to the chest.
2 all the above, most often to inform the vehicle who’s just pulled out in front of you that you’re there and coming round. Generally its not used aggressively although that is changing.
3 of course it depends on the situation, but people in India will tend to drive to one side and in the west down the centre. In a busy place with lots of people you’ve all got to fit in! The issue of personal social and living space is perceived quite differently. That includes how people look and its not rude to stare!
4 a – 2.50 most people survive on very little, its worth checking Maslow’s hierarchy as most people in western terms might be seen to be struggling but determining the impact it has and levels of ‘satisfaction’ can be different and complex.
5 b – 100 and that’s not accounting for the bliss and joy we were paid. I clearly did nothing and was paid nothing, just allowed lo live here and be fed.
6 a – 24 we’ve no idea what the equivalent would be in the UK
7 between a and b when delivering training events as more recently I worked for one of the Prince of Wales’s charities working directly with international corporations. I mostly chose to work on behalf of not-for-profits, community organisations and government. The usual corporate rate was c and above.
It’s actually impossible to know the answers and part of the learning to compare and contrast our countries and cultures. The unpredictability is one of the attractions of diving into the unknown and ‘going with the flow.’
I know little. I continue to stumble and trip in my efforts to be connect with this wonderful country and its people and even I had the most beautiful, caring, giving guide, I could wish for in the world.