Mehndi Magic

The other day we had some fun with henna. Henna is used to decorate hands and feet in Arabic countries as well as Pakistan and India. Henna, or mehndi as it is called, is used for special occasions, especially for brides on their wedding day. Traditionally, the designs aim to depict the sun on the palm, which represents the mind. In today’s modern life, most people apply mehndi with paper cones, but in rural areas they still grind the henna leaves with oil. Not surprisingly, this freshly made paste produces a darker and thus more lasting color.

An example of wedding mehndi

A tube of premixed henna is Rs. 10 at the market and goes really far. My sister Brett is an artist and quite good at henna. (She had lots of practice from all the doodles she would make on her hands, knees, etc. in pencil and pen during class). Once she arrives at Christmas I’m sure we will be covered in her whimsical henna designs.

Architect Megan displays her tattoo

In a less traditional artistic vein, I drew a pirate on Bini out of her love for Pirates of the Caribbean and, more specifically, Johnny Depp.


The Creativity workshop (19 film and photography students from Delhi) starts tomorrow and I have got almost everything in order.  Tomorrow we are planning a welcome session  with candles, flowers and some surprises. Check out the brochure I designed for it:

Creativity Workshop Brochure-Nov 2011


Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and although it was rainy and gray like back home it was definitely not the same holiday. I miss waking up early to watch the Macy’s parade while I help my mom make stuffing, gravey, and twice-baked sweet potatoes.

I just skyped my family in the middle of their Bananagrams game and we had a lovely chat. They are so excited to visit in less than a month! I’m so thankful for my bio family and my Indian one too.

Venus and Maitreyee


A New Season

I know I have been posting less often, but it’s only because I have  been elbows deep in work here. It’s crunch time, since the Alternative Winter Break team gets here in about two weeks (yikes!) and there is still so much to organize. Shivakumar and I have been working hard on logistical arrangements. I’ve also got another side project. A class of photography and film students from the Sri Aurobindo Center in Delhi are coming for a five-day creativity workshop next week, which I’m helping Harvinder organize.

After the UO team leaves on Dec 20th, my family will be arriving on Christmas Eve. Did I mention that my family is coming to visit? Yeah, they are! I am very excited to show them around Pondy and have them experience what my life is like here at the Society. They will be here for three weeks and then my sister Brett will be staying for an extra few weeks. She loves food gardens just as much as I do, so we’ll be spending lots of time in the magical jungle of Matrikunj.

So much to do, but I am excited for this new chapter of my time here!  The last four months have been a time of peaceful exploration, where I am free to read, practice my Hindi, and stare at the ocean. Those days are gone, at least for awhile. I like working again; it reminds me how much I love organizing.

For my birthday the British architects brought me a gulab jamun (or as they pronounce it, a gulab jammin.’)

A birthday trip to the beach

Birthday Plans

It is my birthday tomorrow! This summer the thought of turning 24 seemed very depressing. It’s all over, I thought, I’m old now. As a fifth-year senior, I’d spent the last two years of college surrounded by 19 year olds in Eugene, the town  that never grows up (ahem, ‘scuse me, the city that never grows up). Now that I am in the ashram environment with adults of all ages I don’t feel quite so old. I realize there’s no point in worrying about getting old. Right now you’re the youngest you’re ever going to be, so just enjoy!

My birthday is also the mahasamadhi darshan day at the ashram, the day the Mother left her body. Ashramites and visitors from all over come to walk through Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s room. Since it is a solemn darshan day, I will not do anything social but spend the day off relaxing, which usually means cooking, reading, or going for an exploratory cycle ride. On Sunday Venus and I are planning to have a small get together dinner, with lots of good music and food.

Since it is my birthday I also get to go to Sri Aurobindo’s room and meditate for ten minutes. The Mother spoke on the importance of birthdays. She said that the purpose of one’s birthday is to find the purpose of life. On this day “one can unite with the Supreme Consciousness… One is so open and so receptive that one can assimilate all that is given [from the Divine]… ”  Because of this receptivity, one can accomplish the arduous work of lifetimes in a single moment. The most important thing is to have an aspiring heart and a clear mind.




In the News-Nov. 11, 2011

Southern California, US: Today I read an incredibly inspiring story of a church pastor who started a weight loss program for his congregation, called the Daniel Plan. The program uses small groups as the source of committed support. Pastor Saddleback realized that the Church had regular small group meetings for Bible studies, a perfect model for healthy lifestyle support groups. Successful programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers use this system of accountability and loving support that comes from having some friendly faces around who share your struggle.

Author on chronic disease Dr. Mark Hyman says “One in two Americans are going to be diabetic or pre-diabetic in 10 years — mostly undiagnosed and untreated.  I believe the only solution is the decentralization of care.”   (Amen to that, but that’s another post.) How can we as Americans be ambassadors, global leaders, social changers, taken seriously, etc. if we live with disregard for our physical bodies? Many churches do charity and relief work. It is a good thing to help distant countries who face famine, AIDS or poverty, but it is just as important to take a look at ourselves before we set our sights across the world (Look who’s talking, I know, I know.)

In India one learns that you must start with yourself before you can hope to change anyone else. Everyday I am inspired by the personal discipline that my colleagues show, avoiding fried and spicy food, smoking, alcohol, and prioritizing exercise in their daily routine. But it is more than self-commitment, it is a cultural priority in India to take care of one’s self. I know that cultural changes take time, but groundbreaking, heartfelt initiatives like The Daniel Plan show that America is taking a step towards something better.

Not every one can afford to be a Weight Watchers member, to buy a gym membership or organic carrots, but maybe they can have a shot at a healthier life through the one thing that doesn’t cost any money: sincere friendship.

citations from the Nov. 10th New York Times

The Preciousness of Life

Nov. 9th, 2011

My friend from the ashram school called me last week and told me that her father had died. I couldn’t believe it; just the other day I was at sitting on their couch, talking to her dad about this and that. He was a strong and healthy man who taught boxing. Its hard to understand how he could have succumbed to a heart attack.

I went to visit her today. Seeing her and her mother grieving made my heart ache.  She conversed with me well enough, but she would often get a faraway look, as if the desolation of her father’s death has stolen the sparkle from her eyes.

Life is so precious. It is so easy to take our family members for granted, they have been a part of our lives longer than anyone. We think our family will be always there until they aren’t.

In Hinduism, the body of the deceased is burned, and the ashes spread on a sacred or significant body of water. Once when I was at the beach with the British architects, we watched a funeral procession. The body was carried along the beach in a decorated float, and people silently walked alongside. The path was spread with garlands of flowers, to make a beautiful path to the next life.

“On the day of Thy transcending

the mortal remains of Thy living,

I asked Thee again and again

with tears incessantly streaming

from the depths of my being:

O Lord of self-efflugent Light,

O Lord of Bliss everlasting,

Why hast Thou forsaken me,

who sought none but Thee

to lead me on Thy path of Bliss?

Deep came Thy reply,

ringing sure and clear, echoing in my vacant heart:

“I’ve not left you, be sure,

O my daughter of Delight. 

I shall ever be by your side

and lead you through

every ebb and perilous tide.”

-Kailas Jhaveri, ‘Awakening,’ Aug 2011, Sri Aurobindo Society

Tea, Potatoes, and the Taste of Clouds


The last two days have passed in the verdant bliss of exploring the misty, rolling hills. The quilted patchwork of tea, potato, cabbage, carrots, and fruit trees still leaves me in awe. Yesterday we went to Bini’s mother’s village, where Bini’s grandparents and many cousins, uncles and aunts live. Like so many villagers in this region, they cultivate tea. It was wonderful to see the family’s deep roots in both the soil and familial love. We stopped at many relatives homes to say hello. And of course, at every home you must drink or eat something, so after about five cups of tea and many cookies I was done for. Bini and I made a run for it as soon as there was a break in the rain. We went for a walk with two of her cousins, clambering over rocks, through mud puddles, and up trees to pick some not-yet-ripe gooseberries.

The mists seem to come out of nowhere, filling the whole valley with a puffy blanket of white and then gone the next moment. It makes you feel like you are flying.  Have you ever tasted a cloud? It possesses a very distinctive smell, earthy.

 Today Bini’s dad took us to his office. He works for the central government, researching potato varieties and their potential immunities to destructive viruses. When we came home Bini and I became potatoes ourselves. Snuggled under blankets on the couch, we slogged through two movies and some masala TV.

Spuds galore

We also got to tour a tea factory! I love seeing how things are made. Tea needs lots of rain to flourish. It also likes to grow on steep hills, so only the most trepidious hills can be used for tea cultivation. Bini says that her grandparents always want it to rain more, as only then their tea is happiest. The tea leaves are usually harvested every day, to get the tenderest new starts at the top of the plants. The fresh tea leaves are brought to the factory by the farmers and then the leaves are dried and crushed up again and again until it becomes a fine powder. The pungent, bittersweet smell of fresh tea knocks your socks off when you walk into the factory. Needless to say, the tea of Ooty is delicious, and I will definitely bring some back to Pondy with me.

A factory worker stuffs leaves into a processing tube