Sunday, October 31, 2010

Almost a Conversation

By Mary Oliver

I have not really, not yet, talked with otter

about his life.

He has so many teeth, he has trouble

with vowels.

Wherefore our understanding

is all body expression—

he swims like the sleekest fish,

he dives and exhales and lifts a trail of bubbles.

Little by little he trusts my eyes

and my curious body sitting on the shore.

Sometimes he comes close.

I admire his whiskers

and his dark fur which I would rather die than wear.

He has no words, still what he tells about his life

is clear.

He does not own a computer.

He imagines the river will last forever.

He does not envy the dry house I live in.

He does not wonder who or what it is that I worship.

He wonders, morning after morning, that the river

is so cold and fresh and alive, and still

I don't jump in.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Function of Relationship

Relationship is inevitably painful, which is shown in our everyday existence. If in relationship there is no tension, it ceases to be relationship and merely becomes a comfortable sleep-state, an opiate - which most people want and prefer. Conflict is between this craving for comfort and the factual, between illusion and actuality. If you recognise the illusion then you can, by putting it aside, give your attention to the understanding of relationship. But if you seek security in relationship, it becomes an investment in comfort, in illusion - and the greatness of relationship is its very insecurity. By seeking security in relationship you are hindering its function, which brings its own peculiar actions and misfortunes.

Surely, the function of relationship is to reveal the state of one's whole being. Relationship is a process of self-revelation, of self-knowledge. This self-revelation is painful, demanding constant adjustment, pliability of thought-emotion. It is a painful struggle with periods of enlightened peace…

But most of us avoid or put aside the tension is relationship, preferring the ease and comfort of satisfying dependency, an unchallenged security, a safe anchorage. Then family and other relationships become a refuge, the refuge of the thoughtless.

When insecurity creeps into dependency, as it inevitably does, then that particular relationship is cast aside and a new one taken on in the hope of finding lasting security; but there is no security in relationship, and dependency only breeds fear. Without understanding the process of security and fear, relationship becomes a binding hindrance, a way of ignorance. Then all existence is struggle and pain, and there is no way out of it save in right thinking, which comes through self-knowledge.

Book of Life, March 16

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Leaf Skeleton

I've crushed young saplings, silken wings,
and all things new and tender
a hundred different ways each day.

I've built fortresses separating Them
from Us, in all degrees of subtlety.
Words have found their way to the tongue
only because they'd been there before.
I've looked at myself in mirrors
just to see what I wanted to be.
Spoken to be heard, been silent in fear,
and loved to be loved in return.

I've crushed everything sacred and lovely
every hour, every day, and yet
this moment unfurls like a bud
opening to the world the first time --
delicate as the skeleton of a leaf,
holding no trace of what has been.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

After the Storm

Clive James

We used to call what ruined us the storm,
though that suggests we could have seen it break
And barred the door. But it was multiform;
It got inside, it made a teacupshake,
It sought us out where we lay half awake.
Now it was here, what would it make us do?
When we were thrown together, then we knew.

It sometimes hit us even while we fought.
One sideways look, and soon the skin and hair
Were flying in a different sense. I thought
The consequences too extreme to bear:
This was the lion's den, the dragon's lair,
The storm. You used to say you felt the same,
When you could speak again, and spoke my name.

When the storm raged, I tried to hide in you,
Your only refuge was to cling to me.
The way we rode it was why it grew
In fury, until you began to see
Your only chance to live was in liberty.
So now you have the life you should have had,
And I am glad, No, I am very glad.

Visiting you, i see that it was worth
My loss. A family picnic on the beach,
Your beauty, still like nothing else on earth,
Here shows its purpose. No regrets. Yet each
Of us is well aware that your sweet speech
Is only tender, my glance merely warm.
This is just love. It is nothing like the storm.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning from suffering?

Krishnamurti: I see it, you can learn nothing from suffering, though you should not withdraw from it. The function of suffering is to give you a tremendous shock; the awakening caused by that shock gives you pain, and then you say, ''Let me find out what I can learn from it.'' Now if, instead of saying this, you keep awake during the shock of suffering, then that experience will yield understanding. Understanding lies in suffering itself, not away from it; suffering itself gives freedom from suffering.

Comment: You said the other day that self-analysis is destructive, but I think that analyzing the cause of suffering gives one wisdom.

Krishnamurti: Wisdom is not in analysis. You suffer, and by analysis you try to find the cause; that is, you are analyzing a dead event, the cause that is already in the past. What you must do is find the cause of suffering in the very moment of suffering. By analyzing suffering you do not find the cause, you analyze only the cause of a particular act; then you say, ''I have understood the cause of that suffering."But in reality you have only learned to avoid the suffering; you have not freed your mind from it. This process of accumulation, of learning through the analysis of a particular act, does not give wisdom. Wisdom arises only when the 'I' consciousness, which is the creator, the cause of suffering, is dissolved. Am I making this difficult?

What happens when we suffer? We want immediate relief, and so we take anything that is offered. We examine it superficially for the moment, and we say that we have learned. When that drug proves insufficient in providing relief, we take another, but the suffering continues. Isn't that so? But when you suffer completely, wholly, not superficially, then something happens; when all the avenues of escape which the mind has invented have been understood and blocked, there remains only suffering, and then you will understand it. There is no cessation through an intellectual drug. As I said the other day, life to me is not a process of learning; yet we treat life as though it were merely a school for learning things, merely a suffering in order to learn, as though everything served only as a means to something else. You say that if you can learn to contemplate you will meet life fully; whereas, I say that if your action is complete, that is, if your mind and heart are in full harmony, then that very action is contemplation, effortlessness.

(From Verbatim Reports of Talks and Answers to Questions by Krishnamurti Italy and Norway 1933: Third Talk at Frognerseteren)

I'd love to talk about this, so do feel free to write or call or get in touch any other way :)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Something Krishnamurti said in a conversation I just read took my breath away. I hope this excerpt makes sense out of context. I have a feeling it can stand alone; do let me know if it doesn't.

Questioner: I shall have to go into this very, very deeply.

Krishnamurti: But this also can become an occupation which becomes an escape. If you see this with complete clarity it is like the flight of the eagle that leaves no mark in the air.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The only thing I can do

I cry easily. When anyone speaks to me with strong disapproval, crying is the immediate habitual response. No matter what is said, however true or untrue or even silly it is, tears well up – and often it is the physical reaction that comes first. Strong emotion and a particular pattern of thought tend to follow the tears.

One way to move with this is through thought – by changing my conditioned response and my patterns of thought. It would not be too difficult to convince myself of the absurdity of my response, to dig into why it started to happen so I might change it, to remind myself to take deep breaths or even just observe my breath at the time of my reaction, and more likely than not, the reaction would die down and in time fade away.

I could go quite far with this sort of modification of thought. I could condition myself to become a much happier person – calmer, less reactive, less impatient –I’d be end up being nicer to people, so people would be nicer to me; it would all get pleasanter and pleasanter!

But I am sure I do not want to do this. There is no desire in me to ‘get over’ this reaction. Sure, it makes things difficult sometimes – I burst out crying in staff meetings and all kinds of possibly embarrassing situations, I cannot always be clear about what I want to say, and self-images are frequently and grotesquely punctured.

There truly is no desire to modify thought because I see how limited that is. I see that the self may get subtler and subtler, but the division still remains. Because there is deep concern with the most fundamental separation, because I want to find out if it can completely come to an end, and because it is clear that to condition myself would only be moving away from this question, it is impossible to do.

I am trying to say a rather subtle thing… I’m not saying I want to continue to be neurotic so that I have enough opportunity to observe the self in action. I‘m not saying I will be what ‘I am’ instead of suppressing my true emotions, or that I will remain stuck and put everyone else through my emotional mess.

Interestingly, just the action of not moving away brings about a sort of flexibility. Sometimes the reaction just dissolves, or the physical reaction happens but I remain completely clear and articulate through it, sometimes it does not even arise. I can address it with people when I see it limiting a relationship. And often I just go through the full-blown reaction. But I will stress that not-moving-away is not another more effective method to get rid of the reaction. It is the only thing I can do.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How the intellect can run ahead, creating an image of deep enquiry, while your life, each actual non-verbal moment of your life, is untouched by goodness and clarity!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

rusty cages
stuffed with chickens like cotton in pillows
show me how far i'd like to run
from my own suffering

Monday, May 24, 2010


I can remind you that we see little and know little
but much goes on behind the scenes.

I can prod you to confront your disbelief
and dig out facts for yourself
go ask the milkman, visit the slaughterhouse
make the links.

I can help you do that.

But I cannot lift you
out of the dead weight of habit.
I cannot knead your mind
to make it pliable, young, innocent.
Nor can I uncloud your eyes
so you might see afresh
the wonder of life
and the immediacy of truth.
I cannot lighten your footsteps
slow your thoughts down
or fill your heart.
Words that sound right,
songs that are meaningful,
and work that is useful,
need love to ring true.
stuck in honey
desperately in love with life

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Being Consistent

When I find the very same person
in each face

Ask some questions
but not others

Feel the same words
on my tongue
all the time

I know I am being consistent

I've lost the rhythm of the universe

there can be...

there can be
without unhappiness
or despair

with no craving
or movement
towards anything

without satisfaction
or perfection

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

stepping out

stepping out
out of home
out of self

eyes reflect the green glow
of sky through the top leaves
of trees never still,
never without shadows

two squirrels weaving
up and down
absorbed in their play,
their dance, their love
yet completely aware
of me
as i step out of home

paying for vegetables,
eyes locked a split second longer
smile widening ever so slightly
my "thank you" infused
with the beauty
and specialness
of the cashier in her uniform
infused with the aching joy
the light-headed rush
of love

Monday, April 26, 2010


Curled tight under blankets

you spin threads and tears.

He will come if you call enough,

with nimble fingers to unknot your heart.

Spiraling strangling ball of thread

sucks in your heart and limbs and lungs

till you can breathe no longer

and you take your tangle

to him with no hope of unwinding.

He would not have come,

for across the walls he is asleep.

Ball of nausea squeezing inward,

tighter and tighter,

compressed into the tiniest shard of glass.

The tiniest shard of heart


Heart of shards, shatter!

Shatter hopelessly, shatter threadlessly,

shatter in wonder of street lights.

With a single breath of night air,

shatter in joy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010


A couple of years ago, before I grew possessive of my time, I met Teeny and Bounder every time I visited the local shopping complex. Now I go with a fixed agenda and shopping list to check off, avoiding everything that might distract me, especially my two excitable dog friends, who demand a good half hour of love before they are ready to stop squealing and let me on my way.

The last time I allowed myself the time to meet them, Bounder looked miserable. We had noticed his skin disease earlier -- Rahul had given him a course of medicine -- but how it had deteriorated unnoticed! Now, half a minute did not pass when he did not scratch himself desperately; he had little hair left; even his eyes were red and itchy.

I wept on my walk back. How important is all this work I am busy with, how important is anything I do, if I haven’t the space to be in touch with and respond to other beings around me? How does one fit everything into these tumbling days without smothering all that that waits quietly around the corners - indistinct, unplanned, but precious beyond words?

Photograph: the lake at The Valley School

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Rain!

stones on wet roads

only hurt the feet

when the sky clears

Morning : Agnes Martin

Morning 1965
Agnes Martin
Acrylic and pencil on canvas

"I was painting about happiness and bliss and they are very simple states of mind I guess. Morning is a wonderful dawn, soft and fresh.''

From Agnes Martin's obituary in The Times:

"At a glance, or from a distance, her work looks like nothing at all. Square canvases are so palely touched with colour they might almost be blank. Considered slowly and carefully and close-up, however, the whole surface comes alive. Every detail counts, as the viewer is gripped by an intricate and endlessly fascinating interplay of irregular graphite lines and thinly layered bands or strokes of paint."


" To the end of her days her methods and concerns remained the same. She had no studio assistants (“I don’t know what they’d do”), and her only concession to age was to reduce the size of her canvases (after 32 years) from 6ft by 6ft to 5ft by 5ft so that she could still lift and carry them herself.

Well into her eighties she was working in the studio from 8.30 to 11.30 each morning. She would then have lunch in her favourite restaurant in Taos, and read at home in the afternoon — Agatha Christie was a favourite author — before going to bed by about 8 o’clock. She never owned a television, and by the time she died had read no newspaper for 50 years.

It was the life she wanted. “I have a very quiet mind,” she said a few years ago. “I worked hard for that. It took a lot of discipline.”"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recipes: Spreads!

I love experimenting with spreads. Since we don't use butter or cheese, and jam doesn't make a filling meal, we need something creamy and flavourful to eat bread with! We've discovered that all kinds of ingredients lend themselves to delicious spreads: the base could be different kinds of beans, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, cauliflower, brinjal, coconut, or avocado, along with herbs, fruits, vegetables, etc for flavouring. Throw an assortment of ingredients into a blender and voila! You have a quick, wholesome meal! The perfect dish for innovation.

Tofu-Olive Cream Cheese

Blend together a pack of tofu, 3 olives (green preferably), 1 tbsp dried oregano, 2 tbsp fresh onion, 5-6 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt, jaggery (we use a home-made syrup), and 1 tsp vinegar. This is so quick and tastes so special that it is a regular with us. When in a rush, I skip the onion, and it tastes just fine.

Double Bean and Greens Super Spread

We came up with this super healthy spread last night.

Cook 1 cup of double beans. Cut one or two tomatoes into large chunks and cook them well, along with 3-4 cloves of garlic. If you have the time and energy to remove the peels of the tomatoes first, do. Add 1 bunch of greens (spinach, amaranth, etc), cook until they just wilt. Blend together with 1 cup of cooked double beans, salt, jaggery syrup, dried thyme (or other herb), 1 tbsp oil, natural vinegar.

Rajasthani women in Goa: just to add a bit of colour to this post :)

Recipes: Sweet and Sour Tofu, Fried Rice, and a Salad

Last night Chocka and the three of us made dinner together. Everything we made -- a rice, tofu side and salad -- came out very well, but eaten together, I think the tastes were a little too strong. I haven't yet learnt to think of a combination of dishes and get the flavours right!

Sweet and Sour Tofu

To serve 6
Recipe adapted from 'Diet for a Small Planet'

1 small pineapple
About 1/4 cup soy sauce
About 1/4 cup natural vinegar
Juice of 3 tomatoes
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ginger, grated
2 200g packets of tofu
3 tbsp oil (sesame, preferably)
1 green bell pepper, chopped any way you like
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped any way you like
1 carrot, cut into very thin strips

  • Keep aside some pineapple to be put into the vegetable as pieces. How much you decide to put depends on how you would like it. Make the rest into juice for the sauce.
  • Drain tofu well (by wrapping in absorbent cloth and placing under a weight, and/or squeezing hard, till the texture changes so it is more... porous!). Break into pieces. Someone once told me it is better to break tofu by hand than cut it with a knife because the uneven edges make it more absorbent.
  • Mix the sauce ingredients: pineapple juice, soy sauce, vinegar, tomatoes, cornstarch and a little water (maybe 1/4 cup)
  • Heat oil, add ginger, and saute the tofu for 10 minutes. Cooking tofu for long enough gives it a wonderful texture!
  • Add the bell peppers and carrots and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the sauce and pineapple chunks and cook, stirring, till the sauce thickens. Do not overcook -- the carrots should remain crisp.
Fried Rice

To serve 6

2.5 cups of rice, cooked with salt till just done and spread out to cool well in advance
4-5 cups of vegetable cut very small (we used cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, mushrooms, beans)
Ginger, garlic to taste (we use a lot of garlic, here perhaps about 20 cloves)
Vinegar, Soy sauce, salt
Oil (about 5 tbsp)
  • The rice should not be overcooked and should be spread out to cool so it does not become squishy or lumpy.
  • Heat about 2 tbsp of the oil, add ginger and garlic, the rest of the vegetables. Cook the harder ones first, then soft, quick-cooking vegetables. Keep stirring vigorously.
  • When the vegetables are cooked, still crisp, colours vibrant, add the soy sauce and vinegar. Add the rice and stir well so it is heated through.
  • Add the rest of the oil and mix well. I prefer not to heat all the oil we consume, and to add it after cooking instead -- I think it is healthier.
  • Add more soy sauce and salt if needed.

Our salad had lettuce, diced tomato (cherry tomatoes would work even better), grapes slit in half and pieces of orange (just the fleshy insides). The dressing was just oil, vinegar (we have a delicious four-spice natural vinegar), salt, pepper.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Article: The Minimalism of Veganism

An blog post by Leo Babauta on mnmlist

This post will strike a nerve with some readers, as many minimalists or aspiring minimalists are die-hard carnivores. They love their meat and don’t want to hear anything against it.

Well, hear me out, please. If you could read to the end of the post before disagreeing, blasting me, or dismissing me, I’d be grateful.

In this post I’ll tell you (briefly) why I chose veganism and how it is the diet I believe is most in line with minimalism.

Minimal eating

Veganism, simply defined, is abstaining from animal products, from meat and fish and poultry to dairy and eggs and other such products. I also try for whole foods that are minimally processed, which means I mostly eat veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, some whole grains.

This is a limited, minimal diet, and yet it can be incredibly satisfying and maximally flavorful. It’s also very healthy, very light, and low on the budget (if you compare it to eating whole foods carnivorously).

A small amount of ingredients. Light on the palate and stomach. Easy to prepare, with a minimum of fuss.

The most sustainable diet

I won’t go into the figures here (they’re covered better elsewhere), but raising animals for meat, eggs and dairy is incredibly wasteful. For every pound of meat or dairy, many times that amount of plants must be used to feed the animals for those products.

Animals also produce a huge amount of pollution and contribute immensely to greenhouse gases, not to mention the machinery and fuel that’s used to raise, slaughter and transport them … and all the plants needed to feed them. They contribute hugely to deforestation and other environmental problems as well.

Eating only plants cuts that waste to a minimal amount, and is so much better for the environment. Minimalists who care about living lightly and sustainably would do well to research this and consider it.

Minimal cruelty

One of the main reasons for becoming a vegan is that we don’t believe animals should be held captive, suffer, and be slaughtered for our pleasure.

There is absolutely no need for humans to consume animal products to live a healthy life. Sure, we’ve eaten them for millions of years, but as millions and millions of people have proven, you can eat a vegan diet and be healthy.

And so, the only reason to eat animal products is pleasure — you like the taste and “can’t give it up”. Vegans don’t believe animals should suffer for our pleasure, and becoming vegan means you’re opting out of a society that treats animals with extreme cruelty and pretends it doesn’t happen.

Addendum 1: Obviously this applies to factory farming, but it’s also true of free-range, grass-fed animals. Some vegans (myself included) don’t believe animals are objects that should be used for our pleasure, kept captive and killed, no matter how “humanely” we treat them while alive. This is akin to slavery of a fellow thinking, feeling creature. Animals don’t exist for human benefit — they exist for their own benefit.

Addendum 2: Another justification commonly made is that vegetarians kill plants, and those are living things too. However, they don’t feel and think and suffer in the same way that humans and animals do — they don’t have a central nervous system or brain. It’s a fallacious argument — carnivores have no problem with killing plants, and are only pointing this out to make vegans look inconsistent. If you feel that killing plants is cruel, then I challenge you to live consistently with that belief. Vegans are doing our best to live consistently with ours.

Living lightly, not always conveniently

If your definition of minimalism involves always choosing the most convenient, easiest options, then veganism might not be the most minimal choice. It can sometimes be inconvenient, when eating at restaurants that aren’t vegan-friendly or at the homes of non-vegan friends or family.

That’s a reality, but in truth, it’s not that hard. I mostly cook my own food, with a minimum of preparation, and so most days I have no problems whatsoever.

More and more restaurants are becoming vegan-friendly, and the ones that aren’t can usually whip up a quick and simple vegetable dish on request. I usually avoid McDonald’s and most fast food anyway. When I go to someone else’s house, I usually bring a dish with me, and friends and family who know me best often will cook a dish for me out of consideration.

So it’s not that hard. My suggestion, if you’re interested, is starting small: try a couple vegan dishes this week, a couple next week, and so on. There’s no need to drastically change overnight, but in time you’ll find that vegan dishes are delicious and the vegan lifestyle is wonderfully minimalist.

Thanks for listening, my friends.


A market in Goa, years ago.

My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes,
and will carry your sight into the heart of things.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where the mind is without fear...

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

This poem is so beautiful and rings so true that it hurts. "ever-widening thought and action" makes me think of how we all seem to choose what causes to be sensitive to, what is important to us. And then we are all undoing each other's work -- some working for human rights but causing immense suffering by consuming animals, others working for animals rights without a care for the amount of waste they produce, others working for the environment but unaware of how they emotionally abuse people around them. Each person stagnating within his particular ideological construct. For 'ever-widening' love, sensitivity, compassion, awareness to be awakened seems quite different.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe: Enchiladas

Angie made enchiladas for dinner yesterday, in honour of Apurva's birthday. There were four of us doing the kitchen work, and we found that dinner was surprisingly simple to make, not too time-consuming, and very tasty! Adi baked a cake, so we ended up eating only two enchiladas each, but under normal circumstances I think a person would need a couple more. Here is a rough recipe that makes about 12 enchiladas. This is based entirely on the enchiladas Grishma, Minti and Nikita made -- thanks! ;)

Tortillas :

Mix 3 cups of maize flour, 1 cup of atta and add salt to taste. Knead with water as hot as your hands can handle to make a firm dough. Roll it out into tortillas and cook on a tawa.


We used spinach (about 4 cuts, without the stalks), 3 onions , a packet of mushrooms, 3 cobs of sweet corn and a packet of coarsely crumbled tofu. Any combination of vegetables would work, though; cooked beans would make a good addition. Saute everything, add salt to taste, mix up.

Tomato Sauce:

Slit crosses in the tops of about 16 tomatoes. Put them in boiling water until the peel begins to wilt. Remove and peel. Grind with about 4 onions and 15 cloves of garlic. Add salt, a little bit of jaggery (syrup) and herbs to taste (we put in dried basil and oregano). Cook.

To assemble the enchiladas:
On a baking tray, heap enough stuffing onto one half of the tortillas, fold over, then top generously with tomato sauce. Bake for about 10 minutes, and they are ready!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Children's Book Illustrations I Love

Gary Blythe: The Whale Song
Lisbeth Zwerger: The Gift of the Magi

The Little Mouse, The Red, Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear: Don and Audrey Woods

Flip through the whole book in this video. A four-year-old reads it out for you too :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Recipe: Corn and Rice with Fresh Tomato

We all loved this, and it was extremely simple and quick. It tastes great both hot and cold: Angie wants it for her next packed lunch! :)

  • Cooked rice
  • Sweet corn, taken off the cob
  • Tomatoes, deseeded and diced.
For the dressing:
  • Oil
  • White wine vinegar
  • Basil, fresh or dried
  • Jaggery
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Coat the corn with some oil and salt and roast in in an oven until slightly browned (very roughly 15 minutes on 250 C)
  2. Mix the dressing ingredients. I didn't measure quantities, so just go by taste. The ratio of oil:vinegar should be approximately 3:1.
  3. Mix the rice, corn and chopped tomato.
  4. Add the dressing and mix up well!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Colours of Pots

A Wish

I wish I could show you the glory of that tree in evening light, its honeyed leaves trembling in almost still air then shivering splendidly in breathless gusts of breeze, light and shadows flickering over me as I lay beneath, my back arched and pampered in Setu Bandha Saravangasana.

(Is it true that when you've finished reading 'Setu Bandha Sarvangasana' you've forgotten everything that came before? :D)

Paying Wages

On Sunday, for the first time in my life, I was faced with a request for a salary raise.

Rudramma, who has worked at my parents’ house for a long, long time, comes once a week to clean our place. She is an exceptional woman: she works hard and fast, cleaning shelves and hidden spaces without being asked, arranging and organizing as she cleans. I do not mind this because it is only once a week – after she has gone, I put things back where I think they belong!

We discovered early in the year how difficult it is to clean the house regularly after tiring days at school. Having to cook, wash dishes and manage other maintenance is difficult enough. In those first months, it felt like there was always something that needed to be done– the bookshelves to be dusted, or the floor or bathroom or fans to be cleaned! So we decided to have someone come in once a week to ensure that at least one regular, thorough cleaning was done. We preferred her coming in just once a week because we could then pay her a reasonable amount, and we didn’t have to have someone around the house all the time.

So when Rudramma requested a raise, we were already paying far, far above the general hourly rate around here. It is quite likely she was just pushing her luck, as my mother tells me she tends to do. But despite all the rationalization and economic theory, I do not really understand why she should be paid any less than I am. I do not earn very much: what I do earn is more than sufficient for me right now, but it would be only just enough -- perhaps not even enough -- if I had a family. And I live a fairly simple, inexpensive life.

How does one decide how much to pay someone? I do not trust the ‘rates’ – they may be the norm, but what makes them fair? On the other hand, it seems presumptuous to try to calculate how much a person ‘needs’. Then how does one decide? The only solution I have found so far is to pay according to how much I value the service provided. How much would I be willing to spend to have somebody else do this work?

I have so little experience with money that I do not know if this is viable. Insecurities come up – will I save enough, am I paying too much given my own earnings, will people take advantage of me, what is the most sensible thing to do? And there is the other kind of question - is it just conditioning that prevents me from paying more, am I being over-cautious, what is the right thing to do?

Somewhere I sense that perhaps money is something that should be used to give rather than to accumulate. And many moments come with the intense realisation that I must just trust life and what it brings, instead of protecting myself from it.

Since Angie and Adi were unreachable on the phone, I made the decision myself, after a quick consultation with my mother. I took the middle path: raised her wage, but not as much as she had asked for. Her wage is creeping close to ours now, and the next time she asks for a raise, I know I will go through the same whirl of questions!