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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Daily Cal

This semester, I will be joining the Staff of UC Berkeley's Newspaper The Daily Cal as an Opinion Columnist.

The theme of my Column is "The Person Inside" and will be published on Thursdays

Super Excited at this opportunity.

Links are below. Do read and Comment.

1. I'm in the video introducing the Opinion Columnists. I explain what my column will be about. 

2. My First Opinion Article on Communication Challenges

Friday, January 12, 2018

ee hari

ee hari

The introduction to the world of academics was rather late for I was learned to communicate for the first time in my life only at age 13. My first attempts at typing were at best, fragments. The focus was communication for this non-verbal boy. No one, least of me, cared for the thing called punctuation, grammar or any semantics. There would be odd spaces, words that ran together, an occasional comma or period, sentence fragments and all.  But communication was opening up my world so I didn’t quite care. When I started writing short pieces and poems, it was all in lower case. You see, using uppercase involved the use of 2 fingers. I was a one finger typer - a lone index finger roamed the qwerty keyboard, searching for, and hopping from letter to letter. I soared in the power the written words afforded me. My written word substituted the spoken word, people never said pause or comma when they spoke so I needn’t worry.

When  I moved from special education to typical education in Grade 8,  an unexpected side of pedantics reared its head - there was demand for these things called grammar and punctuation. Grammar was hardly the thing to teach, in my former special education world. Grrr! - Gerunds were strangers that growled at me as my mind reached to grasp a whole host of new terminology. Bits of sentences linked to terminology had no relevance.  “Was language not something to enjoy, rather than be dissected like a frog?" I moaned”. Essays needed punctuation and spell check;  it was mandatory. I needed to bring my other index finger into play to hold down that shift key. The world demanded all this in my writing.  Word processor spell checks somewhat came to my rescue. I enjoyed the composition, literature and vocab parts of English but the topic grammar was not in my list of graces.

It was in American Literature that  I first met ee cummings. I read his poem “In Just-.” His poetry confounded me. A first glance I wondered, “Is this written by an autistic boy, with poor fine motor ability?”

Turned out it was written by a famous poet, who intentionally flaunted grammar convention and punctuation. There was meaning in the very lack of punctuation. But it gave me courage. I didn't need to conform. Perhaps my limitation could be turned into a strength.

I wrote the following poem  in response to ee Cummings assertions in “since feeling is first“ and wrote it in the nonconformist style of “In Just-” 

noPeriods, Period

death’s no parenthesis
asserts e e cummings.
as the soulRenewsBody

life’s no paragraph
avows e e cummings
             just face it
life - is
     no grammar syntax
        ...just flows…..
     noPeriods. Period.

i have to thank ee cummings, for giving me a new perspective on breaking the boundaries.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Large intestine hellbent on Tickling

A very funny conversation I had with my mom during my initial year of typing. 
This one was on 3/4/2007 - 

3/4/07 8:51pm
Mom: Why were you laughing so much?
Hari: got the  gi ggles because tummy was understably going  rectum
Mom: I don't understand. Try again
Hari: had to  go poop.
Mom: But why did you laugh?.
Hari: just noticed sensation in  large intestine hellbent on tickling.

"A Large Intestine Hellbent on Tickling"  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Cancun Vacation

In front of Playa Delfines
Kan Kun

Cancun in the Yucatan Peninsula, was our New Year destination this winter.

The Mayans called it "Kan Kun" or the nest of snakes, the Spanish changed it to Cancun.

Cancun used to be an uninhabited area of beautiful beaches, snakes, mangrove forests and wetlands before it became the resort and theme-park filled tourist attraction of today.

Playa Delfines

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Color of Me

The Color of Me

I ask, What is the
Color of Me?

azure blue like the calm sea
undulating ripples from a gentle breeze
a perky yellow sun beam

A dash of bravura
Desire is wisdom, wish and will
primodial karma of being transferring into becoming
movement has to be anchored
origin of individual timelessness

thought vs action
self control
thought manifested
self inquiry
want to reach consciousness

the uncertainty principle
infinite unknowns
fruit of knowledge

persistence and perserverence, essential qualities

I ask again, What is the
Color of Me?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Goodbye Rishi Srinivasan

Goodbye Rishi Srinivasan

Veritable Senior Citizen.
15 dog years, 105 human years.
Golden Fur Shih Tzu.
I miss you, friend.

My 15 yr old Shih Tzu passed away on Sunday night. The house is gonna feel different without him around underfoot and acting as quite the proverbial sibling at times by competing for attention and food.

Meditating in the forest deep.
Flowing hair like a Hermit Rishi.
Expression, a thoughtful contemplation. 
Rishi Srinivasan, an appropriate name.

Rishi came to our house when I was in 3rd grade. Rishi had this mournful look about him and his long fur made him look like a rishi meditating in the forest. So he was aptly named Rishi.  Rishi would accompany my mom to pick me up from Mr Tran’s class those days. My classmate Ryan asked me his name and when I responded, “Rishi,” Ryan immediately exclaimed, “Hari Srinivasan’s dog is Rishi Srinivasan.” So that’s how Rishi became Rishi Srinivasan. The name tag that hung from his collar proudly stated “Rishi Srinivasan” and had our phone number on it.

Rishi the showdog

Sashaying fur like skirts around legs.
Fluffy wagging tail, a furry bouquet.
Former show dog, a handsome dude. 
Pets from strangers, a regular thing.
Tourists, “Can we take a picture with him please?”

Rishi oozed his own unique personality. Rishi had been a show dog before we got him and was a very good looking dog with his flowing hair and the fur around his legs falling like a skirt. His tail when upright looked like a fluffy furry bouquet, which would swish from side to side when he wagged his tail. Whenever we’d taken him out to beaches or to Yosemite, folks had always wanted to pet him. Many tourists have wanted to take photos with him. I think in his younger days, Rishi probably knew that he was good looking and was proud of it too. When anyone took a photo, Rishi would join in, give a pose and look right at the camera.  People often mistook Rishi for a girl dog as he was so pretty. I wonder if Rishi minded being called a “her” by people who wanted to pet him.

Communication via Body Language.
Angle and wagging of the tail.
Eyes sparkle or mournful to suit the mood.
His body spoke so much to you.

Rishi communicated a lot just through his body language. The position and angle of his tail itself would be an expression of his delight, his disapproval,  his disappointment or his sorrow.  His eyes too would sparkle with joy or become mournful when he needed a treat from an adult. 

Package of love in under 20 lbs.
Barks stating “I love you, Hari!”
A Happy Dance when seeing me.
Cute paw over paw greeting.

That Rishi absolutely adored me is without a doubt. He’d be camped on the front doormat the entire time I was in school - from the time I got on the school bus to the time the bus returned.  He would hear the bus at the end of the road and come to life joyfully announcing my return. As soon as I stepped in the door, he would do this cute paw over paw on the ground and then skip around in a dance; we called it Rishi’s Happy Dance. One time I was on the backyard swing and Rishi was running circles around me happily barking. My mom asked me, “What is Rishi saying?” expecting me to say “Woof” or something to that effect. Instead, I instinctively responded with “I love you, Hari!”. 

Concern for me when sick.
Vigilant guard during therapy.
Message clear to therapists.
“Take good care of Hari.”

When I was sick, a very concerned Rishi would lie at the foot of my bed, till I got better.  If I said bathroom in any room in the house, Rishi would run to my mom and give a sharp bark as if to say, “Go attend to Hari.” When therapists came over, he would keep an eye on them from his place at the door of the room, making sure they were treating me right. Therapist Cherie has even laughingly assured him, “Rishi, don’t worry, I’m taking good care of Hari.” I was taught to say his name in ABA therapy though I already knew his name inside my mind; those were my pre-typing days when everyone around me assumed I knew nothing. During my later homeschool years, Rishi was my mascot, lying under the table as I did my lessons.

Understood nuances of this extra-special kid.
Alas, the autism factor.
Love could not be stated explicitly.

The quality I think we admire most in dogs is their empathy and Rishi had that in abundance. Intuitively he understood I was just different and adapted to it. He learned to work around a lot of my needs and behaviors. For instance, he had really wanted to sleep with me on the bed but I could not handle that, so he just slept in his basket. Instead, he became my music buddy, camping on the bed when I would listen to music on the headphones or during prayer when he would dutifully sit the whole time and listen. As a young dog, he would try to intervene when I became agitated but his small size meant he really could not do much. So he learned it was better to just keep out of the way but would come back and sit next to me later to offer comfort.  Rishi followed me around and showed his love even though I did not always explicitly display outward affection for him. Hugging and petting a dog was not my strong suit as that is a very sensory experience and I have all sorts of sensory dysregulation. Until the very end, I had not found a real comfortable way to physically interact with him, the autism part of me puts many obstacles in the way. Autism often means that our behavior and body mannerisms can be contrary to our thought. But I think Rishi just totally understood that and did not demand or expect a reciprocal physical interaction with me. I think he got enough hugs and cuddling from my mom. Rishi also instinctively sensed the times I was more receptive to touching him and when I was not. My touch too has not always been regulated so Rishi just learned to wiggle out if I was a little rough. In a world that is filled with naysayers and doubters for us differently-abled folks, it is refreshing to experience such non-judgemental and unconditional love that dogs like Rishi bring. Every disabled child needs to have a dog sometime in their life. 
Every 2 months.
Shaggy bear to shorn sheep.
Sudden new dog in the house.
Autism mind - not reconcile.

Rishi was a hypoallergenic dog with double coated fur. His fur did not shed, rather it grew out so long that his eyes would be completely covered by fur.  So he would go to the dog groomers every couple of months to be bathed and get all his fur trimmed back. He would come back with a bandana and a bow. The transformation would quite throw me in the early days. We would drop off an overgrown shaggy bear at the dog groomer and get to pick up a shorn sheep. He would look so different that I would be quite scared of this new dog. I would refuse to go near this new Rishi for a few days. 

Before Grooming
After Grooming

Fruit connoisseur, a banana-loving dog.
Gnaw Carrots, his veggie bone.
Idli, pesarattu, into Indian Food.
Protest bark if not offered a piece.

Rishi loved Indian food like yogurt rice, plain dhal, idlis and salt-free pesarattu. My family is vegetarian and salt and spices were added to most dishes after keeping some aside for Rishi. He loved apples, pears, avocado, boiled potatoes, boiled beans, carrots, moong sprouts, quinoa, and cucumber. He would sit on the kitchen floor and stare mournfully and sometimes make a noise of protest if he was not given a piece. If still nothing was forthcoming, his tail would be stiff and he would give a sharp bark as a reminder that he needed a share. He was quite the connoisseur of fruit and banana was his all-time favorite. If he walked into the room and realized and we’d eaten a banana without him (he could still smell the banana in the air), he would whimper sadly.  Rishi could probably eat a whole banana or even two bananas if we let him. A carrot was his daily vegetarian bone and he would gnaw on it all day. Even as he has acted like an older sibling in his concern for me, he has also acted like a younger sibling - competing with me for food and attention from my parents. At times the autism part of me has not liked this, though the logical part of my mind has reminded me that he’s just a small wholly dependent dog, and that this was no competition at all. 
Paw on keyboard.
A look that says, “Me too.”
Hari, you are getting a voice.
I want a conversation with you

I think Rishi was thrilled when I first started typing and learning to communicate. He would come,  place his paw on the keyboard and look up as though he too wanted to type. I bet if he’d been taught to type too, he’d have had a ton to say too. He totally knew the keyboard was somehow helping me. One of my earliest poems was about Rishi.

Around the time I started typing is when Rishi got his first major health issue. He got some kind of allergy and almost lost all his fur. My folks even tried alternative therapies with him like Homeopathy but he steadily lost weight. I remember typing, “Noisy licking keeps kid awake.” Fortunately, a new vet was identified who changed his kibble and meds. My Saroja Paati (grandma) was also visiting and she changed his diet to include lots of boiled vegetables, dhal, and curd rice. Rishi prospered so much that the vet asked if it was the same dog during the next visit. Rishi with his glorious fur and sparkle was back. 
Rishi in Raincoat

Alas, old age catches on.
Perpetual allergies, Ear infections.
Vision gone, Hard of hearing.
Body slows down.

Rishi’s earlier illness meant that he’d also developed lifelong allergies. He had to be gluten free, milk free and on special Kangaroo meat kibble and hypoallergenic dog treats for the rest of his life. He was at the vet a lot for some allergy related issue or ear infection and constantly on meds. As he aged, parts of his golden mane started turning grey, (yes, even dogs get grey hair). In the last few years, Rishi also started slowing down. He slept most of the day. His sight started deteriorating till he became almost completely blind. Apparantely Shih-Tzu's are genetically prone to eye issues. He was on eyedrops all the time so his eyes would not dry out. He knew his way around our old house so it was not that obvious. His sight issues became very noticeable when we moved to our new house the last few months. Poor Rishi would bump into things and not know how to navigate the steps in the backyard of our new place. His poor vision meant he would not see my sudden impulsive body moves. He no longer constantly followed me around and our interaction dwindled even more. Two years ago, he developed a tumor and had a toe surgically removed. He stopped barking when the front doorbell rang; perhaps he became hard of hearing. But till the last day, he would come running for food - especially if he could smell banana in the air. 

Rishi’s condition really went south last weekend. He could not even hold his neck straight. He had to be hand fed as he could not eat his hard kibble. Good thing was that he still ate his favorite banana the morning before he died.  By Sunday night he was in bad shape. My folks did their best to shield me from what was happening but I did hear two sharp cries of pain and his loud raspy breathing on Sunday night. He stopped breathing just before midnight. We took him to the vet to be cremated and will get his ashes in two weeks. 

I’m not quite sure of how I feel now. I think I’m still trying to process. I know I am sad; after all, Rishi had been a huge part of my life for 15 years. There are more emotions swimming around inside but no words for them just yet. I am gonna miss Rishi’s cute shenanigans, his unconditional love and his presence around the house. 

Rishi was a spiritual dog for he loved prayer and vibuthi. 
Go now and rest at God’s feet, Rishi Srinivasan, as 2017 comes to an end.

Rishi's Ashes were immersed at East Beach under the Golden Gate Bridge

Monday, December 18, 2017