Friday, 30 August 2013


Just lie down on the floor on your back. If you know how to do shava asana, that’s what I mean. Be comfortable. Scan your body to see if you need to change the way it lies, starting with the toes and going up. The only difference between shava asana and this is that your hands are not on your side but on your chest, or breast. When you are comfortable, tell your body you love her. That’sit.  Go ahead, just tell her.

After all, it is true. There's no one and nothing else you love more, though you haven't admitted it consciously.  Everything, absolutely everything you do in life is for her. Think about it.

Monday, 26 August 2013


The most important aspect of this is LISTENING TO YOUR BODY. Believe me, it talks to you constantly. It is only our deafness, which is lack of attention, that make us deaf to it. I think I have already said somewhere that our bodies are like infants that need to be attended to the same way. Even as I sit at my computer scribbling here, my back is screaming and wants me to get up and stretch it, which I shall do shortly. If I were a truly good mother, I would get up in mid-sentence. But it is only because I am not a good mother that I am so focused on what it takes to be one. Though I am not getting out of my chair this minute, having made myself comfortable in it to the point where it has stopped screaming, I want to mention a few ways in which I am trying to make myself more attentive. The biggest way lately is this: I am allowing myself short naps throughout the day. The season is changing and I can feel winter in my bones with the passing of the monsoon high up here in the hills. I generally come down with a chest congestion this time of the year, but by nurturing my body I hope to skip it this time. I'm also drinking lots of hot drinks -- my favorite these days being a big pot of water in which I throw some crushed ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, the dark Indian elaichi or cardamom which I haven't found in the US, and some pepper corns. I simmer it down about 10%, cool and store it in the refrigerator. I drink at least four cups of this during the day, some with green tea, some with green tea and soya milk, or just plain.

Naps or simply stopping and doing nothing for a while is a new things with me. I am stupid enough to think I have to be doing something all the time. I have mistakenly thought that I had to do something during the time I am doing nothing -- like reading, or playing that addictive backgammon on the iPad.
Both of these can give me headaches. I can sense in myself the need to be different now. I shall keep you posted on the how.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


Too many posts on death and it is time to spend some time in that so very layered and complex concept: NOW, including its fantasies/fears of the future, regrets/sweetness of the past, and the ACTUAL PRESENT which so few of us can inhabit, tangled as we are in the strains of time in our brain. Today, as yesterday, I will taste the sweetness of this ACTUAL PRESENT which is best experienced, for me, sitting together with Payson and the dogs in our garden on our fancy Chinese lounge chairs that tilt back so we can see the tops of trees, the ridge, and the sky, talking or being quiet. Mostly, being quiet, the brain clean of all thought, just the eyes, looking.

Of course, the irony is that death alone sweetens this now, in which I and those I love have life as opposed to none further down the road


I have a personal death myth. Who knows if I will be allowed to put it into being. 

The plan is to die alone in a wilderness. To walk off like an old native American or Eskimo. For years I thought that the escarpment over looking the Laguna Salada in Baja California would be the perfect place. 

Now that I live in the Philippines the place is the ocean. When asked a few years ago by a good friend what my plan was I replied, "I am going to go south. I am going to live on the beach. I am going to build boats. I am going sailing. I am going to die at sea." 

So far I am too busy building boats to sail much but the plan is still very much in place. 

Robert La Quey


It's important to have death myths . It gives one time to prepare oneself for the inevitable. I want to live and die well. I would like to die in our bedroom, here or there, comfortably in bed, under my own quilt and on my own pillow. Here, in India, the bedroom is full of windows looking out on a wall of green past the lovely deodar tree, past the stream that is our constant presence and companion for six summer months; there, our bedroom is a perch that opens to a vast vista of the sky over the Pacific Ocean. Will the universe grant this? Or will I be rushed to a hospital and die in a hospital bed with unfamiliar faces all around me, like my dad died? Of course, one doesn't know. I wouldn't like to die the way Louis Kahn, the famous architect died, in between his two families, in a railway station.  

I have never been one to think about the future. It has simply happened to me, and happened better than I could ever have imagined it to be. But suddenly these days I find myself thinking and wondering about the mystery of the future. Who will go first, Payson or me? Where will our death/deaths take place? Here, in India, or in the US? Or in-between, blown up in a plane? Together? The scenarios are infinite, and no matter how many of them I can think of now, then is will be entirely new and and the circumstances, unexpected. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013


It seems to me as I observe Donald's 20th death anniversary by 

  1. making music in his memory, specifically a shabad (Sikh hymn) he used to sing along with me: sat guru shabad ujaaro deepa : the guru's word lights a lamp in the darkness of the heart, dispelling the darkness and revealing the temple inside full of jewels and gems; 
  2. thinking about his life, his presence, his absence, his richness, his poetry, songs, music; giving thanks for all of it;
  3. feeding lunch and ghee and almond halwa to our staff; 
  4. contemplating how my life has been enriched in the past twenty years by the presence of Payson and many other things;
  5. reflecting on the necessity to let life, all of it, painful and joyous, move through me, and keeping my mind and heart always open
I realize how essential it is to pay attention to anniversaries. It helps you to live mindfully, with consciousness, stopping, as it were, to take stock, to give thanks, and prepare for the coming years. Anniversaries bring to consciousness the passage of time, the arcs of our lives, the presence and absence of people in it, our own presence on this planet and our inevitable absence in it.  



The sea is calling to my body today,
and I must go.

Leaving the dishes dirty in the sink,
the garden dry and unwatered,
I pack quickly, the bare necessities: water,
 crackers, and a towel.

It is the same sea that surged
in your blood, that flowed and ebbed to
the moon, that called to your soul,
called in dream, then called
even in the day, so you couldn’t
stay, you  had to go.

The same sea that called to your
 ashes, that called to me
from the altar where they lay in a bag
in the carved Kashmiri box,
called all night and all day, and I,
fully clad, waded in
till the waters covered my head
and my feet no longer touched
the solid earth.

There, by the rock where the seals
dozed and slept, I removed
the bag from my pocket,
and released the solid
residue of your combustion,
gritty, like sand (remains of mountains),
and the soft pulverized powder

billowed like a cloud around my body,
before dissolving into the blue.

But though I released your ashes,
I did not relinquish you
to the sea.

For three years I, angler in eternity,
have held on as tight as my tackle
would allow, to you,
man turned fish, straining
against the line of my raw heart,

fought you, fought
the tide, tried to ride it
 while you ploughed further and further
into some deep blue mystery beyond,
past the threshold of time, I held on,
and dared to land leviathan.

But instead, of  course,
was drowned.

Down, I went
in the footsteps of Ishtar,
to the dark tombs of Irkalla,
where black tar absorbed all light,
to retrieve her lord of seeds,
from corpses, bones, and ash.

And now the earth has turned,
the line of sorrow
all played out, the dark
struggle over, for I have learnt
to bow my head,
dive at the feet of the mighty waves,

go under, save myself
by surrendering.

Today I am returned to the shore,
glorious dirt beneath my feet,

to snap the string, to rejoice, 
rejoice,  like the earth
from ash
to fruit again.



I want to write about him, but honestly, I only have the energy to write about myself, for the latter comes out of me like silk from a cocoon, like a filament out of a spider. I am that central to me, without apologies or regret. On the contrary, joyously! As I age, my world shrinks, I am my only concern and joy.

Today's post is my EPILOGUE from the book of poems I wrote after Donald's death, AS A FOUNTAIN IN A GARDEN (AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON.COM: HERE IS THE LINK):

It tells the story of how the book and the poems came to be, and something about Donald as well. In subsequent posts I will include some poems as well. 


 As a Fountain in a Garden was written over a period of four years after the suicide of my husband, and poet, Donald Dean Powell.

One day about a year after his death, I was going through some papers and came across several poems that I had written in some of my darkest hours since his suicide. I was surprised by them because I had no memory at all of writing them. I realized then that although the human, the lover, the wife in me mourned and grieved and suffered, the poet in me was detached, cool, even grateful for the opportunity for the intensest and most transformative experience of my life. 

One cannot be so detached, one cannot acknowledge such a disturbing truth about oneself without questioning oneself, and the quality of one’s love. I wondered if what helped me survive -- word, poetry – was also what made me less sensitive, less loving. Although I had been aware of the predatory nature of writing, the degree of this awareness became even more pronounced during the process of writing  As a Fountain in a Garden.

The thought that disturbed me the most was that the poet in me was no better than a thug that looted for goods wherever she could find them. Worse, that the poet in me was a scavenger that ate its own dead, so to speak.

This is a thought that would trouble most human beings, but it was especially painful for me. Sati is one of the archetypes that lurks in my consciousness with a persistence and a power that no amount of reason, education or feminism can allay. Sati, the practice of widows burning themselves on the pyres of their husbands, comes from the mythic persona of Sati, Shiva’s consort, who kills herself when her husband kills himself (in one of his many incarnations) when he does not get the recognition he deserves. Sati, however,  is not just an Indian archetype, but a universal one. What else can account for the persistence, even in the Western psyche, of Juliet and Romeo, Isolde and Tristan, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, Brunhild and Siegfried? The archetype persists from that mythic time, still present and alive in us, when killing oneself in   grief over separation by death from a loved one was not an indication of co-dependency but a measure of the depth of love. 

When I found Donald’s body draped over a tree -- he had shot himself sitting on a limb, and fallen backwards – and the pistol lying in the pool of his blood, I had thought -- but only momentarily -- of using it myself. The thought that had kept me from doing so was: who will take care of our cats?

Through the tortuous, painful, intense and dark path I was traveling, amidst the flurry of feelings, chaos, recriminations, fear and sometimes the desire of following in Donald’s footprints, one thing became clear to me: I was a survivor. I had used the cats as an excuse to survive, but really, if the cats hadn’t been there, I would have found some other reason to live on. Sunshine, perhaps. The summer and fall of 1993 in Southern California was golden, bright, and the sun felt like warm honey on my skin. I spent a lot of time in our garden, letting the sunshine pour its healing over me. And as the months and years progressed, I found another reason to live: poetry. But really, at bottom, my desire to survive was causeless, strong, and irrepressible.   

The realization that I was a survivor was accompanied by a deep disappointment in myself. I felt I had not loved Donald enough -- how could I have? Here I was, still eating and breathing and writing. I felt I did not feel enough -- how could I write about, and try to cash in on an experience like this? I felt like a paparazzi taking a snapshot of Princess Diana in her wreck. I was a fake. Survivors have to be, in order to survive. And especially compared with Donald, I was an imposter. One should feel something so much as to be able to die for it. I felt that suicide somehow authenticated one’s sincerity. 

I was disappointed in myself because my idea of how I ought to be was at odds with the reality of me. Even my idea of life was at odds with the way life is. Life in its essence is brutal and ruthless. The central fact of existence is that it feeds on death, both literally and metaphorically. As I continued to write these poems, I came to accept this fact and life as it is.

With the passage of time this acceptance changed to celebration. The recyclable nature of life was something to rejoice about. Not only did the way of life become tolerable, but joyous, and holy. No experience this intense, no experience that takes your head around and makes you look at your own destiny, whatever the particular circumstances of it, can help but be holy.

And not only was life holy, but the word, name, poetry was, too. In the process of writing, I came to accept myself for who I was, what I did, and the ways of the world.

That Donald should have given me the gift of his life and death is totally appropriate, too. Donald was a writer who loved, breathed and ate words, those ‘bountiful, magical letters,’ as he called them. He talked and wrote passionately about the ‘composting’ nature of writing: “You take your pain, your wounds, put everything into the compost pile of your consciousness, then feed the stuff to the garden of your words.” Donald also taught me that ‘the hardest thing about writing is telling the truth.’ I take comfort in knowing that Donald, to whom these poems are dedicated, and whose words, in italics, are interwoven into the fabric of the poem, would approve. 



This is the corollary to loving one's body. Absolutely and unreservedly, love it. It is our lovely animal, so mysterious that not another like it exists in all the trillion universes. Nourish, nurture, adore it. But know it is temporary. Again and again I come up against the immutable, ineluctable fact of death, staring at us all the time, and which we so blindly (isn't this the greatest of our blindnesses?) forget.

The only reason I remember and write about it so often is that before Donald's death I had had, except for the death of pets --no less traumatic -- no experience of human death, though a consciousness of  it existed from the second I was born. My grand niece, Ajuni, 6 now, had said to me at 2: I don't want to die. I don't want mama to die. When I was about three I saw a child's coffin in the bazaars of Secunderabad, and I am told I threw a fit, rolled on the street and screamed because my parents wouldn't buy one for me. I wanted it to sleep in, which reminds me that Edith Piaff used to sleep in one. What a wonderful thing before one went to sleep, that other state of unconsciousness, to remember the Great Sleep, and welcome it! That is how I want to die: not raging, raging "against the dying of the light," as Dylan Thomas did, or shaking my fist at God as thunder and lightening tore the sky, as Beethoven did, but opening my arms wide to it, and embracing it in an embrace that can only happen when Body is absent.

Bah, Humbug! I say this now, but who knows what I will feel when it is upon me? I will be too much in the clutches of suffering to turn to it as to a lover, passionately; or I will decide at the last minute to rage against it. It is a testimonial to the value of life that we are always reluctant to leave it. This, too, is an ineluctable fact.


Thursday, 15 August 2013


The real sorrow here, in your words, is:

"I feel defeated that I could not help him love himself in spite of all I attempted to give him." 

Ah, what a load is here! What a sense of failure! I know it well, I who have lost a husband to suicide. 

After all the sorrow and regret is felt, embraced, we must move on,  dear Nirmala, find ways to mitigate this hell, for these straits are dangerous and  illusionary. The people we love have their own complexities, compulsions, and, DESTINY. We cannot play God, cannot change the world, and the people we love in it. It is not ultimately our defeat, though we feel it is. There can be no defeat where there is love. But if we clutch too tightly in a world in which everything passes, we will have only defeat. 


This post is a response to my friend, Nirmala Seshadhri Jaggannath, who lost her husband, Steve, last year. She has kindly let me use it for my blog. This is her response to the last post, LOVING YOUR BODY:

Dear Kamla:
Thanks for your outpouring on the material and gross journey of life that gets over shadowed by our mental state all or most of the time. Something in the image of your description of your mother and her body made me write this to you since those images are very pertinent with not only old age but poor health. I had to see my Steve go from being an athlete, (he was a sprinter and qualified for the Olympics) slowly deteriorating into a pile of bones over four year span. He was very brave but could not deal with his own bodily changes. It affected his self image and broke my heart from which I cannot recover. No matter how much I told him he looked perfect in my eyes  any way he was and that I did not love him for his physical self alone, he could not grasp it. I am sure he would have loved me just the way I did him if the situation had been reversed. Don't know if I could have grasped his love for me in that situation. All I know is, your words ring true. "The first casualty of the mistake is our love for ourselves, the precondition, the very root of giving and getting love" I realize that sometimes giving love is easier than actually receiving it. The paradox of life. I miss him very much and wish even today, i could have helped him just accept himself just the way he was. We find reasons to take responsibility all the time and after clearly spending four years of my life taking care of him in every way possible, I feel defeated that I could not help him love himself in spite of all I attempted to give him. 


The specific lines that moved me were, first: Don't know if I could have grasped his love for me in that situation.

These words would not have resonated with me if I hadn't experience the following the night before. The right side of my head, down my ear and into my jaw was hurting again last night, and being a hypochondriac I thought the worst, that I had a tumor, that half my face would have to be removed and I would be the Woman with Half a Face. How would I cover half my face, to shield others from what I consider a 'horrible sight', and shield myself from their curiosity/pity/horror/derision? Going through all the scenarios in my mind I knew only one thing for certain: that in such an eventuality I would withdraw from the world (yes, even more than I have already done), perhaps even from Payson who I would not want to straddle with a hunch back of Notre Dame, a smeeve, a golum, an ET, etc.  

Again, in Nirmala's wise words, there are many circumstances in which giving love is easier than actually receiving it.

There are things in things in life one cannot transcend, that matter so deeply that one chooses to live in the sewers, like the Phantom of the Opera, or even annihilation. Some events and internal circumstances are simply so painful that one comes up against one's weak and helpless human core, the existential abyss upon which we are so precariously perched, as on a bubble.

This is a subject worth exploring since I am coming up upon the 20th death anniversary of Donald Dean Powell (1946 -- 1983), my late husband, who destroyed himself 20 years ago on August 18th. He was not deformed physically, but had come up against, repeatedly, what he considered his 'failure,' something he couldn't live with.
There are no panaceas to pain. The closest I come to a remedy for myself is this: don't shun it, feel it, embrace it, and it will pass (to recur again, in which case the process has to be repeated again) and leave behind a sadness that can only enrich us, for the recipe of life requires a measure of tears. As Nirmala said in another email: I am just happy that your words have allowed me to openly grieve this aspect of loosing my beloved Steve.

Monday, 12 August 2013


I'm back in our aerie after ten days with my mother in the city of Chandigarh in weather that was so humid that my poor little red Samsung net book almost died and had to be taken to computer emergency hospital twice. My computer is my security blanket and I agonize without it. It always takes me a day, if not more, on my return to recover from my long journey up here, anywhere from eight to ten hours on bad roads, rattling away in my scorpio. It gets harder as I age. Speaking about aging --

I had the privilege of seeing my almost 92 year old mother walking with her stick, with the help of her maid, to the bathroom to get her daily bath. She was stark naked and I have to admit I was riveted to the image of her aging body -- I cannot quite describe it, or my feelings, though I shall try. Her bottom has almost disappeared into her back, her legs are bowed, her body stooped and sagging. She looked like a creature from another planet, sort of a mixture of ET and Smeeve, you know, the guy from Lord of the Rings, or is it another movie? It is the sort of image we shield ourselves from, from which the culture shields us all our lives by projecting the body as the beautiful image we see on the screen, the image with which we compare our own bodies and despair. We are so brainwashed by this image that we mistake it for a precondition to love and loving. This is mistaking a shadow for the thing, the virtual for the real. The mistake would not be worth mentioning except that it can hack away at the root of our happiness and cost us love. A huge cost, actually, a loss of the most precious thing in life. We look at our own bodies and they do not measure up, and we think, we are not lovable. The first casualty of this mistake is our love for ourselves, the precondition, the very root of giving and getting love. 

It has taken me many years, a whole lifetime so far, in fact, to learn to love my body: its height, color, shape, features, lumps, bumps, pouches, paunches, spots, imperfections. I adore it now. In fact, it is my idol. It is what makes my existence and consciousness possible. Through all its metamorphosis from infancy to now, and many more to come, if I am lucky enough to get to really old age, like my mother, it has kept 'me' going. How wonderful is the 'I' of this body! What a miracle this lump of clay is, how sentient, how alive, how entirely worship worthy! The journey to love begins here.