30 April, 2018

Story of My Homeopathic Cure

April 25, 2018
My Republica (http://www.myrepublica.com/news/40504/)

We should broaden our minds to alternative concepts of disease
and healing, not rely exclusively on big pharmacological solutions

A few days ago, The Guardian ran an article about Prince Charles and his belief in homeopathy. The writer expressed scorn at the Prince’s beliefs in homeopathy. The tone of the article struck me with its scientific smugness and condescension—an attitude which has been very effective in blocking inquiry into broader conceptions of disease and healing. In this op-ed, I want to share my own experience with homeopathy. I was also healed by a homeopathic doctor—rather to my surprise. I share the story with you so you can make up your mind about the intangibles that make up the process of healing.
In 2007, I attended the Berlinale Film Festival. I was part of a contingent of filmmakers which had been accepted to the Talent Campus. The campus aimed to bring together young filmmakers and provide them with access to mentors from different cinematic disciplines. We saw Gael Garcia Bernal, Frederick Wiseman and Wim Wenders. We heard the composer who’d done the music for Peter Pan, and the cinematographer of  Red, Blue and White. The time I spent in Berlin was fun, and took my mind away somewhat from an incomprehensible accident that had killed a close friend of mine from college on New Year’s Eve.

On the way back from Berlin, I stopped over at Thailand for one night. I paid $30 to spend one night in a room that felt like an enclosed box. It was hot and stifling, and I seem to have caught dry cold there. On return to Kathmandu, I came down with severe fever, cough and cold. When I recovered, I could hear a wheezing deep inside my throat and lungs that didn’t seem to go away. The asthma may have been triggered by the extreme cold of Berlin, transition to abrupt tropical heat of Bangkok, then back to a colder Kathmandu. Underlying it all was the loss caused by my friend’s death. I could hear a rattle in the throat that was so loud it woke me at night.

Running into a healer 
I talked to my doctor, who prescribed an inhaler. The spray of chemicals in my system made me feel worse. I felt a sense of despair at the thought I would be forever dependent on this medication. During college, I had a friend who also had childhood asthma, and who had overcome it as an adult, so I knew asthma was not a lifelong affliction. It appeared to me there was a cure. But where was it?
Then I ran into a German musician who lived in Bhaktapur. Gert Wegner was known to me through two of my friends. Sarina Rai, the most well-known punk rocker of Nepal, had started her musical career by taking guitar and drum lessons at the Bhaktapur School of Music, which had been started by Gert.

On one memorable occasion, Sara Shneiderman, a friend who was then managing a study-abroad program for American students, had invited me for a program at the Bhaktapur School of Music, and I had seen Gert in his element, in an old garden with wooden pavilions, encouraging girls to take up the big dhimmay baja drums, which traditionally were only played by men. So I knew Gert to be a kind, capable and thoughtful man, who had not just started an institution of great repute, but was also well-respected in Newari community where he lived.

Bhaktapur retains its medieval culture, and Gert was discreetly embedded in this town. His home was an old crumbling Newari home that looks like any other house from the outside. During one festival at Dashain, I learnt that Gert had been given the status of an elder, respected guru by the community of butchers he’d worked with for many years, and that he was in charge of leading a team of musicians to honor Nasa Deo. During that Dashain, we watched as team after team of highly drunk, out-of-tune, rollicking musicians went past—following by the ramrod straight, disciplined military march of Gert’s men, all playing their music in harmony. Needless to say, they won the competition that year.

I can’t remember how or when I ran into Gert again in 2007, but sometimes during these asthmatic days, I happened to visit Bhaktapur, and I ran into Gert at the yogurt shop. As to how I told him I had asthma I don’t remember, but I wasn’t feeling good, and if he asked me how I was, perhaps I mentioned the asthma to him. Then, perhaps in that same conversation, or perhaps in another, he mentioned, in an off-hand manner, that he too knew homeopathy. I was curious now, and requested him for a diagnosis. He agreed.

That same day, I walked with him through winding lanes and a little garden with flowers to the entrance of his old interconnected house. This is the kind of strange thing that looking back Hindus call “karma”—Gert is someone I have met perhaps five times in 10 years, but that moment, when I was most in need of a cure, I happened to run into him.

Gert had rented one of the floors of this old house. It still had its mud floor and walls, and on the floor on a straw mat I could see his tablas. We went up to his beautiful kitchen, and he offered me some tea. I admired the old kitchen utensils that he had placed around as objects of decoration. We had a nice conversation as he told me about his teaching at the Free University of Berlin. He explained to me he himself was not trained as a homeopathic doctor, but his former wife had been, and she had been the one to teach him.

After I’d drunk the tea, we went down again into another room. This had a cabinet full of small vial-like bottles, with the small white homeopathic medicine in them. They were all neatly labeled. I wanted to go closer and look, but didn’t want to appear too inquisitive, lest he think I was being invasive. I got the sense he didn’t want me to go too close to those neat bottles. I sat and watched him as he opened some big books, and started to read them.

Then he took up a little metal instrument which was like a little metal pendulum. He swung this back and forth a few times, looking very intent. It looked like he was testing something, perhaps the magnetic direction of the poles—or perhaps the energy my body was putting out in the room. This looked like some wacky, New Age cure—not at all the rational, Germanic pharmaceutical solution I thought I was getting. I thought about Ouija boards. I felt an urge to laugh. But because he was an elder man who clearly had earned his respect, I maintained my composure. I sat there, curious but willing to see what he had to say.

 “Do you feel the sorrows of other people deeply?”

Rather surprised, I said that indeed I did feel the sorrows of other people deeply. He rifled the pages of his big encyclopedia-like book again, searching for something. Looking at the book, he asked me a few other questions that seem to me to be equally out of range of what a doctor asks a patient who has just told you they need a cure for asthma. It appeared he was trying to place me into a certain category. I felt slightly discomfited, wondering what that category was.

Then he said: “I think you are a causticum type. I am fairly certain you are a causticum type.”

He then rifled around in his closets till he found a small bottle. He put a tiny white ball in a small piece of paper. “All you need is one,” he said. I must have looked disappointed to see the tiny white ball. After the long process of diagnosis, the medication appeared incredibly small and token. Seeing the look in my face, he said: “But I will give you three, just in case you need it.”

I was grateful for this medicine, and eager to try it out. That night, I took one pill of causticum. The white sugar taste vanished on the tip of my tongue.

Miracle happened 
The next day, my asthma, which had been troubling me for a few months, vanished. And it did not return. This was too good to be true. Just to be sure, I took the other two white sugar pills as well, even though I didn’t need it.

I have no idea how, or why. I have no idea why irradiating my throat with a broth of pharmaceutical chemicals didn’t help, and why a tiny white sugar pill did. That’s the mystery of healing. You can’t tell me I didn’t have asthma, because I know I did, and I was suffering from it. Perhaps it was the presence of this elder man who exuded an aura of wise healer energy. Perhaps it was his old adobe house, full of objects that seem to exude magical power. Perhaps it was the time and place of Bhaktapur, and the episodes of music. All I know is that homeopathy worked for me, and I was grateful towards it.

Healing is a magical act, in many ways. Germ theory may explain one part of disease and healing, but it doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain how our body is connected to our mind. Which is why homeopathy, and other systems like it, find increasing adherents all over the world.

This story is not aimed to make you “believe” in homeopathy. This story is only aimed to make you take a closer look at what makes people ill, and what heals them again. This story is also aimed at those policymakers who design healthcare programs in which pharmaceutical companies are given great importance, but who ignore alternative systems of healing. The Nepali Times recently ran an article claiming one-third of Nepalis suffer from mental health disorders.

Many people’s anxiety and depression have been exacerbated by the earthquake, amongst other reasons. In a world with these many people affected by mental health disorders, we should broaden our minds to alternative concepts of disease and healing, and not just rely exclusively on big pharmacological solutions.

Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker from Kathmandu, Nepal

(You can also find an older version of this article posted in my blog.)

16 April, 2018

Beyond Patriarchy

April 16th, 2018 
My Republica (http://www.myrepublica.com/news/39954/) 

In a culture of patriarchy where the girl or woman belongs to the family unit, the “ownership” of the girl by the family can often be lethal

A little girl who loved grazing her ponies was raped and killed in the Indian state of Jammu in January. She belonged to the tribe of nomadic Bakerwals, Muslims who grazed their horses and moved around, possibly across state and national boundaries. Who wasn’t moved by the photograph of the lively little girl with the big eyes in the little purple outfit—the same purple outfit her corpse is shown wearing at the moment of death? Who wasn’t sickened by the story of the drugging, the rapes and the murder? Who didn’t feel a sense of loss hearing the story of how she loved to graze her ponies in the forest, how she was the light of her community?
We know a lot about the case from various news sources. That Asifa Bano had been adopted by her family, because they had previously lost two girls to an accident. Her biological mother gave her up after her brother came and begged for a child, after he lost both his daughters to an accident. Her mother was reluctant, but eventually succumbed to his pleas. That she had been the darling of her tribe for daring to go out and graze the ponies in territory which had already exhibited discord and conflict, and that surely her clan knew was dangerous for children, especially a little girl. But still they had sent her—not a young boy in his teens, not an older man. They had sent an eight-year-old adoptee in the fraught, conflict-ridden landscape of Jammu to graze their ponies.
We know she had been lured and killed in a plot by a Hindu farmer who noticed she was grazing her ponies too close to his lands, and who surely noticed her vulnerability.  Surely he must have known that she was marginal, not tied by the strong ties of genetics and biology to the family who sent her out. Surely she, like any little girl, craved for the love of people around her, and this led her to the risky and daring act of going out in the forests alone, which brought her the attention and love she craved.
Government response 
And yet the response from the Narendra Modi government to all these incidents of violent rapes against little girls is still Beti Bachao—save your daughters. The Indian government cajoles and promises, as if the family, sacred institution, holy cow of faith, would somehow act as a barrier against rapists and murderers. As if a girl, by being a daughter, is somehow entitled to a special lakshman rekha of protection which will keep her inviolate from dangers of life. Have they failed to notice that family is often the most violent and terrifying institution which a little girl can find herself in? Let’s face it: the family can often be the worst institution to take care of children, and the nation, by extension, even less so. The state as a benevolent parent is laid bare in this narrative.
“Beti Bachao” is a good slogan for elections, but it hardly deals with systematic issues, including how paternalism is often at the root of violence against women. If daughters are kin to be protected by the family and nation, what happens to the little girl who is only half a daughter? What happens to the trafficked girl who has moved across borders to find herself in sex work and lost contact with her family, either because of circumstance, or because the family decides she has besmeared their honor? She’s no longer a daughter now. What now? Is she—eight years old—alone and at the mercy of traffickers, also entitled to the protection given to daughters alone? Is the nation to take up the role of the benevolent but absent parent—one who can hardly be trusted to feed a child, let alone ensure her safety?
Systemic problem 
India has a systematic problem with rape which won’t change until it acknowledges that girls and women are individuals with rights and freedoms, entitled to the right to life, the right to live a life without fear, and the right to dignity. It won’t change until the state stops its paternalistic discourse of kinship and protection, and moves towards the discourse of rights and responsibilities. It won’t stop until the justice system treats each victim as a citizen with the same set of rights as the elderly male politicians who are deciding her destiny.
But of course this story is so much more complicated: there is the historical conflict between Hindu and Muslim in Kashmir, between the settled and the nomadic, and the rising demographic pressures on smaller and smaller amounts of land. There is the vague, ominous unease in social media that Assam is being besieged by Rohingya refugees fleeing the violence in Myanmar.
There are the troubling photographs of women raped in Assam by Muslim men and boys, and which the Hindus are outraged about, but which the liberal press declines to cover. The outrage is fueled in part by how lopsided the public perceives the press to be. The Indian liberal press often clams up when it comes to issues that may be seen as communal or controversial, as in the case of Kairana, a community in UP where 346 families of a Hindu community fled, leaving all their property behind, due to fear of Muslim criminals. Not to mention the large scale ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley by Muslims.
Surely these incidents were at the back of the mind of the farmer when he came up with his devilish plot to murder the little girl, in order to scare the Bakerwals away from his neighborhood. Women’s bodies have always been a way to settle scores and disputes. India’s rape culture makes this permissible, and as the appalling Hindu Ekta Manch’s support for the rapists showed, even defensible.
How to change this culture of violence upon women’s bodies as the subcontinent gets even more fraught with changing and shifting demographics will be the challenge of the next century. There are 172 million Muslims in India, about 14.2 percent. This is not a small number. In the upcoming years, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will have to work out a culture of living in harmony with minority populations which focuses on the rights of individuals to life with safety, and not fall back upon the old historical ways of using women’s bodies as sites of war.
The Indian government could start off by designing a campaign which shows girls are full citizens with rights to life, safety and dignity. To do this, they need to move away from the discourse of “Save Our Daughters”, because the more they associate girls in filial roles, the more likely they are to tie them back into a small space where life is always at risk and where security is never certain. In a culture of patriarchy where the girl or woman belongs to the family unit, the “ownership” of the girl by the family can often be lethal.
Joshi is a writer and filmmaker. She lives in Kathmandu