Both Sides Now

Working for Indian people is not like working for anyone else, I think.

Take for example last week, when I had an 11 day stretch of day work and night gigs and rehearsals, so my back half way through Tuesday afternoon last week just simply stopped functioning properly.  and shooting pains brought me to my knees, which made me think:

“Well hey – maybe I should take a break”. I have been accused of ignoring my own needs in the past.

Unable to even get to clients coming into the store, I was reduced to admitting that “I think I need help”.

I texted Aman, the store owner who responded within seconds that she would be there in fifteen minutes.

I sat down on the chair and hoped no one would come into the store as I didn’t know if I would be able to actually walk to the racks to show them anything. It was pretty bad. A few came in and there i was waving like the Queen of Sheba not moving from behind the cash upon my perch, my back inordinately straight.

Thirteen minutes after my text, and after a few more people had begun to come in and mill about, Aman and Romy came stampeding into the store, with their eldest daughter in tow. It was like an efficient  military swat team operation.

Aman looked at me, with her grouchy concerned face, marched immediately  to the back of the store, grabbed a Nepalese blanket, tossed it down on the floor between the middle of the store and a changing room, and quite literally threw me down to the ground on my stomach.

“You stay”. she said all business, and began issuing confident sounding  orders in Hindi to Arpita, who also snapped into action as her mother’s habitual other right hand.

” Hindi hindi Coconut oil…hindi hindi hindi …terrible dry skin!! ….hindi hindi” is what i heard allot of.

I often wear the things in the store that we are wanting to show people the most, so that day i was uncharacteristically wearing a short “business like” dress, maybe mid thigh length. Beige.

But as I lay there my dwindling consciousness told me there we people in the store. Lots of people.

Romy and Arpita held them at bay showing them things to stay interested in at the front of the store,

Suddenly my dress was half way up my body and my underwear were half way down.

On the floor

In the store.


I felt a little uncomfortable but the pain won and I tried muttering supplications.

Can I give you some advice?

Never ever supplicate an Indian.

I tried speaking to her – thank her. I don’t know.

What the hell do you say to someone when they have laid you down on the floor and are covering your body in coconut oil to ease the aches of decades of physical self abuse?

If you’re me – you minimize.

“Oh Aman I’ll be fine…don’t worry! ill just go home and have a ba…”

I’m sure Aman heard sometime like

“Blah blah … blah blah blah…”

She snapped…

“You don’t speak now! ok? Understand? Shh”.

I could hear the concern in her voice and let myself sink back into painless bliss.

Suddenly her hands were on my lower back and the pain was absolutely gone. Poof. Eliminated. She hadn’t actually done anything yet, just the fact that she knew EXACTLY where the pain and went straight to it, I think it began to dissolve.  Over the next half hour, with my new dress now covered in coconut oil, as was the entire rest of my body,  Aman managed to perform some miracle on me, relieving pain and bringing my dry and sad skin back to life. I left he store relaxed and disheveled,  my hair now a massive mane of shiny greasy mess piled on top of my head and went home.

I cancelled a gig to rest, because I’ll tell you it got worse before it got better. I spent four days basically immobilized in some weird fog, sleeping or awake sketching was all I could muster.

I did an afternoon gig where the music started to revive me, and then I was back at work, feeling better than I have in years.

I am sharing this story because not only does it illustrate to me all of the things I am learning about the Indian people, how they take care of each other, and there is a genuine concern for every person’s well being.

I have grown up in a culture where we talk about how nice that idea is on Sundays and act like assholes the rest of the week.

These people are completely different.

To have an opportunity to see a loving example of how people truly incorporate compassion and community into their lives is probably the greatest thing I have ever experienced.

It is frustrating to me when I see people come into the store treating Aman like something less, thrusting things at her to hold, not saying please or thank you, never making eye contact or talking to her as though she is an idiot. It is hard for me to bear.

But I am fortunate to see both sides, and it is obvious that there are a many preconception that interfere with our ability to get to know each other as people.

One is who we think we are and the second is who we think each other is.

Very often I see the Montreal dwelling unlingual french canadians that treat Aman  with the greatest disdain. I hear them hammering her to speak better french and being angry and obnoxious when they confuse her (fifth) language.

I had one person ask me in french if “the English here were friendly”?


I had another ask me if “bosses pray four times a day”

Seriously. No.

I love that they support me in everything. Even what others have called “my bad temper” has come to good use.  Like with the lady in a failed attempt to negotiate (which I disdain)  who said she wouldn’t even pay two dollars for this “Indian crap” – to the hand beaded dress in her sweaty little palms.  It was my pleasure to show her to the door.  Aman is too polite for this but we have a rule: No amount of sales equals our dignity.

I’ll tell you honestly, when I was a kid, I was frequently horrified by my fathers treatment of people who worked in boutiques and restaurants. It was his way of “commanding respect”. Old school and often ugly.

More than once I remember wanting to crawl under a dinner table in a fancy restaurant as my father carried on in his indignant manner, obviously horrifying the poor waiter or waitress who had the misfortune of crossing his path on a “need to feed the ego” day.

The irony that now, at least five times a day I get to be on the receiving end of people just like him, who make me change their shoes while they talk on their cell phones (that never goes well) and who speak to me as though I am their personal attendant and no need for common courtesies are required. We don’t put up with that either.,

Maybe our store is special in another way – that we will provide free instruction on kindness if you seem to require it.   The place is steeped in it.

You just have to come in and breathe.

Adventures Of a Little Shop

moon-treeAman was at the counter where the cash is when I came in today. She was with a customer at the crystals. I could hear his voice was very loud – even a little aggressive.  We get all types – but mostly very nice people.  He was a big man and seemed to be almost bent over Aman in a sort of imposing way.

For such a peaceful little place – the energy was weird and tense and I didn’t like the way he was pushing her, one question after another no chance to breathe or respond.

Really? What does this do?” he would say almost sneering, pointing at a crystal or a wand with conglomerate crystals in the cases I had lovingly cleaned and rearranged the day before.

And this? What  about this one? eh? Really? Do you really think that? Or is it a lie? What do you think – is this all just crap? Eh?

Aman was patiently repeating to him that truth is inside of him and she could not decide for him what to believe.  Everyone once in a while you meet someone raring for a fight but normally it is when I am singing a bar, not in a  gentle little Indian store with peaceful wares.

“It is what is inside of you”, Aman was patiently trying to explain to this bizarrely belligerent customer.

Belligerent and paranoid.

“You know – those hydro meters are really screwing up our energy man – you know what I’m talking about?  They just put those things in our houses without asking and now I’m all messed up, you hear me?” as he spoke his voice grew in intensity. I could feel the conspiracy theory craziness seeping from his pores and I took a step between the two of them, deliberately interrupting the flow of this interchange.

Although I have only known Aman for only a couple of weeks, and yes indeed she is my boss and I have great respect for her in that role because she is very good at what she does.  We both respect each other’s strengths and this is really amazing to me – she has taught me that we are women first, and I knew she that she would completely understand my inhabitual rudeness when I crushed my body between hers and the increasingly agitated man, knocking over the display of silver necklaces cursing under my breath. Another boss would have been angry at a new employee when the man thrust his body around the corner and spat in my face “Hey! You got a problem with me? You having a bad day?! I think you have bad energy!” and he looked at me with his crazy eyes.

I waited to consider the few words I would give him. His words had shown me that he was in some terrible pain – fear or something – inside of himself. I felt aman figure it out too and we both sort of settled down.

“No. Stop being nasty or you will have to leave. You’re acting aggressively and its uncomfortable. We can help – but you have to be nice.” I said quietly. I felt a weird kind of  affection for him at this moment. he had nothing to fight against. As I held his gaze, what was most remarkable was that my heart beat rhythm didn’t change. I felt Aman beside me her quietness radiating outwards, in that place full of love and good intention – and I was steady and sure that this guy was just not feeling well that day, and we could handle that

Then, as though we had all agreed on it somehow,  we all let the energy drop – just like that.

Very soon I ended up talking to him quite congenially about Himalayan salt to find his balance, and that maybe he should consider a serious detox.
And let me admit that normally that kind of “confrontational” stuff – ohhkay ANY kind of confrontational stuff – would last for with me for days. But even this morning I started with a whole different kind of confrontation and somehow I have been able to work and be and do, and I am fine.

Nothing is sticking to me and that’s a massive relief.


Aman’s husband Romy teaches me about attachment of the mind and things that cause us to suffer – which is always what we think about something.  He shows me through words and examples a kind of “congenial detachment”, peppered with good humour and a continuous attention to letting go. What I am being shown is magnificently functional and often results in me having insanely happy days.

Maybe something about having bosses that are focused on kindness and love, that teach me about attachment and staying truthful even to yourself in your mind – helps. It is incredibly refreshing to see people who live every aspect of their lives with the highest priority of helping others in the best way they can, every day.   moon-tree

People really live like his?


This changes everything.

In some ways it’s like discovering that unicorns are real or something!

This is fantastic!

And is surely – a continuing story…