Sunday, August 22, 2010

Expecto Patronum

I am a little too lazy to go back and check if I have written about this already in an earlier blogpost. Even if I have, I like to believe it is worth repeating :)

Harry Potter books have helped me in a very real way. Some years ago, I suffered from chronic migraine. I still wince at the memory of those days when the terrible headaches would last for 48 hours or more. I would darken the room and lie curled up. Then at some point, I would start hearing buzzing sounds in me ears, then I would threw up, and the headache would begin to subside. But more difficult than the migraine itself was the pool of depression it left me in in its wake. It was absolutely terrible, dark and lonely.Getting back to work/ study was immensely difficult. Since, for some reason, I found it hard to explain myself to my professors, fellow students and colleagues, I tried to deal with it by attempting to get back to work with vengeance only to feel overwhelmed and burnt out very soon. It was very frustrating for me and several others around me.

I am glad that it was around that time I started reading the Harry Potter books. When I first encountered J K Rowling's description of a dementor attack, I was stunned to see how much it sounded like a description of these attacks of depression: like all happiness has been sucked out from within me and for several miles around, like it was just one endless stretch of bleakness. The depiction of the dementors themselves as dark, hooded creatures gliding soundlessly over their victims struck me as the best allegory to how these phases of depression crawled over to me. The wizards in the Harry Potter books conjure the Patronus charm to defend themselves from the dementor. What a wizard requires to do to conjure a strong Patronus is to first seek refuge in his or her memories of happiness and love and cast the charm from there. For the dementors, in J K Rowling's imagination, cannot withstand the power of even the remembrance of love and happiness. 

It appeared to me that this could be a tool I could use to combat the onset of depression. As I usually found it hard to be verbally articulate about how I felt during these phases, it helped to have a visualization that someone else had taken the trouble to come up with. Thankfully, I have not gone through a migraine for sometime now, but depression still sneaks upon me in various ways. To this day, the Patronus charm works for me. It is quite wonderful.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sickness and Health

Note: Here's something I wrote and shared with a bunch of friends by email sometime in late October 2009. I was in Washington, DC, and could not perform at a festival as planned. My knee injury had acted up, and I had to take a call and refrain from performing at the event which was, in fact, the main reason for being there in DC.My personal angst at not being able to perform notwithstanding, the festival and shows were a great success. Dakshina's (the company) team of seven dancers presented "Karna," a new work created by Daniel Singh and me, very beautifully.

My dear dancers,

I don't think I need to tell you that I was quite saddened about not being able to dance in the festival this past weekend (the last weekend of Oct 2009). It sort of became acute on the second day (Saturday), when it felt like everyone was dancing and it was only I who could not. So, after the matinee show on Saturday, I came home to cry. I did not want to sulk in front of everyone. But I am sure I did that too!

I also quietly admitted one truth to myself: that besides feeling bad for not dancing, I was jealous of you all. I just decided to face that fact, have a good cry, and get it over with. And that's what I did. 

Something really beautiful and paradigm-shifting happened after that. While walking back to the theater, I found myself humming the lines of a song that I have not remembered in months. It is a song by Subramanya Bharathiyar, one of Tamil's most dearest poets. The lines of this particular song go like this:

காயிலே புளிப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே - நீ 

கனியிலே இனிப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே ........

How do you taste so sour in this raw fruit, Oh, Kanna!
How do you taste so sweet in this ripe one, Oh Kanna!

And then, 

நோயிலே படுப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே - நீ

நோன்பிலே உயிர்ப்பதென்னே கண்ணப்பெருமானே 

You are what lies enervated in illness, Oh, Kanna!
You are what springs alive after a fast, Oh, Kanna!

Never before has the song made sense to me in the spectacular light in which I occurred to me at that moment. If I love my dancing, agile self, I must also love my healing, wounded body, for it is all "Kanna" finally! If I can offer my dancing body in prayer, I can offer by limping one too! :) That shift was tectonic in scale. 

I wanted to share this experience with you.