Belfast – Face 1

In 1999, I was 9000 miles from home, building a new life, working 80-100 hours a week looking after the sick. Today I had driven my new, blue, second hand Renault 19 into town for the very first time. After much worry, I had thankfully managed to find the right place to park. It was a Saturday morning in November, cold and almost too bright for Belfast, famous for its ‘jeans and polo-necks’ season all year round. I had my black boots, black denims and a light blue high-necked jumper on. I was looking for the Thomas Cook office. Couldn’t wait to buy plane tickets to go home after slogging all alone in a foreign land for nearly 5 months. My ears were thirsting to hear my beloved Hindi language again and my tongue was dying to speak it with my loved ones. My heart ached for home.

I couldn’t find the wretched office. It was 11 am. I was on a street called ‘Donegall place’. People walked about happily shopping, talking, laughing and sipping their portable drinks. They smiled and chatted as they strolled about with their friends and family. A portly middle aged man walked alone on the pavement with a newspaper tucked under his left armpit. I gently approached him for directions. Even before I had spoken, he retracted, scowled and spat, “I have nothing to give you.”

In that moment, every cell in my body wished to disappear.

Remembering. Not learning.

Six years ago, Remembrance Sunday fell on the 11th of November. Same as today. I was visiting Saagar in Durham that weekend and had the privilege of attending the special Sunday service at the ancient, opulent Durham Cathedral. The music and words were deeply moving. I felt lucky to have found a spot to stand at the back of the cathedral that day. I met up with Saagar afterwards and we went for a long walk, lunch and then we had a hot chocolate at the Railway station before my return.

I was surprised to find that over a million Indian soldiers fought in WW1 at Somme, France. At least 74,187 Indian soldiers died and 67,000 were wounded during the war. We rightly remember and honour those who lost their lives serving their country. But do we learn from history?

Northern Europeans have mass murdered indigenous people of entire continents, now Australia and USA, diminishing their numbers to tiny percentages. Then they funded scholars to write books to justify these acts of violence against innocents. Today, I remember and honour all those people who died defending their right to exist.

India was known as ‘the golden bird’ before the Empire established itself in that country. After years of exploitation and oppression they left behind a shattered subcontinent. A fractured country. 14 million people were displaced and several hundred thousand lost their lives as a result.  I salute all those innocents who died for no fault of their own.

“What do you think of western civilisation?”, someone asked Mahatma Gandhi.

He replied, “That would be a good idea.”

We continue to make war in the name of peace. We spend millions on finding more deadly and cowardly ways of killing people. We never forget the 3000 people who died in America on 9/11 but we don’t remember the 500 that have been dying every week in Syria for the last 7 years and in Yemen for the last four. Before that, in Afghanistan and Iraq. All, for peace and liberty. Today, I remember all people, everywhere who have been traumatised and displaced by war and those who have died violent deaths as a result of war. May humankind learn to be kind.

An excerpt from the hymn ‘Hope for the world’s despair’ by Ally Barrett:

Love for the human heart:
when hate grows from our fears
and inwardly we start
to turn our ploughs to spears.
Help us to sow
love’s precious seed
in word and deed,
that peace may grow.

Hope

The concert had just finished and the hall was semi-lit. A dance recital entitled ‘Hope’ had coaxed everyone’s feelings up from deep within to just under the surface, like fish in an aquarium hovering at the top for specks of food. The main supporter of the show was the Patel family who had recently lost one of its eminent members. He was survived by his young wife and three kids. The soft thuds of seats folding up, the hiss of people whispering in gentle tones and trudging in small steps towards the exit filled the warm air.

I approached the 17 years old Patel boy, one of the sons. He appeared shrunken. Contracted, like an empty plastic water bottle, after a flight.

“How’re you doing?”
‘Not bad. Thanks’ he stated, unconvinced, looking downwards and sideways.
“Did you enjoy that?”
‘Yes. T’was nice.’ Still expressionless.
“How’s mum doing?”
‘We went for a safari to Kenya. That was good’ he looked up a little.
“I am sorry for your loss. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself.”
‘Yes. Thanks’. Mortified.
“Can I give you a hug?”

It was like hugging a coat stand.

Resources:

1. Child Bereavement UK: https://childbereavementuk.org/for-families/support-for-bereaved-children/
2. Winston’s wish (Charity to help young ones cope with grief): https://www.winstonswish.org/
3. Cruse: https://www.cruse.org.uk/children/how-to-help

Train talk

The train had only a few people in it. It was quietly making its way through the Irish countryside. Callum’s borrowed black suit stank of booze. He’d just finished with his mum’s funeral. He looked at my face and consoled, “When I go in d sun I turn d same colour too. Its awright. We’re all one. I’m tryin’ tell ya. Its awright.”
‘Did your mum have a hard life?’ I asked.
“She grew me up with my grand-moder. My dad died in a car-crash at 27. I never seen’im. I’z a very hard young boy ‘cause I won’t listen to nobody. So, I go from home to DC to prison.”
‘What’s DC?’
“Detention Center. My mummy gonna hurt for 20 year. The pain remain. I too weak. I go up and down d hospital for 2 week. Then, she die. Pain is love and love is pain. That’s all that remain. You and me is the same. See, I’m not stupid. It’s awright. I know she always want me be strong. When you feel weak, don’t fall and crumble, ‘cause she don’t want me to stumble. She never leave me. I promise. I never leave her. It’s awright.”

you is kind. you is smart. you is important.

images-1

My laptop claims to have at least 8 films on it but for some strange reason, on a train from Birmingham to London, it agreed to play just one, called, ‘The Help’. It’s about the writing of a book compiling the stories of African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. A book about an open ugly secret. About the courage of a few to start talking about it as a mark of protest. About the collective impact of small actions in bringing about big changes.

Yesterday was World Mental Health day and the UK became the first country in the world to announce a minister for Suicide Prevention. The day before yesterday, I learnt that Health Education England are very keen to put measures in place to prevent suicides within medical practitioners. Having been a part of the Suicide Prevention Community for the last 4 years, the one profession that is most conspicuous by its absence is Psychiatrists.

At 2 different meetings, I happened to meet 2 different Consultant Psychiatrists. On hearing Saagar’s story, one of them said he was very sorry but ‘this has been happening for 30 years’. I went blank. I just looked at him. I wonder what the public’s reaction would be if a surgeon would publicly admit that his surgical team has been making the same errors, that have been costing people their lives for 30 years. Yes. These are systemic errors. They are difficult to tackle. But, even today, youngsters like Saagar are dying because of lack of leadership within the specialty of Psychiatry, like they have been for the past 30 years.

The other, extremely prominent and respected Consultant Psychiatrist completely rubbished Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation, without having tried any of them. He said that all these interventions have side effects. He believed that a Psychiatrist is only meant to attend to the most extreme cases. Their role comes into play only after these 5 have been called upon – parents, schools, GPs, CAMHS and Talking therapies. I am sure he knows that many youngsters die while on the waiting list, without ever getting to see a proper Psychiatrist, once. I am also sure he knows the side effects of psychiatric medications that are offered generously to all and sundry by non-psychiatrists. Lastly, I am sure he also knows how unsupported the GPs feel when faced with patients who are severely mentally unwell due to slow and inefficient response from the secondary services. And, I am sure it’s all down to poor funding. The same excuse that we’ve had for decades gone by and will have for decades to come. How about some imaginative leadership?

As parents, let’s start by saying to our kids in words and actions –
‘You is kind. You is smart. You is important.’
To me, I say – ‘I is kind. I is smart. I is important.’
You could too.

Shauna’s Mum says

” A schoolgirl’s been murdered in our area. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to happen – never should have and is just another reminder of this shit world we live in. I’ve been trying not to follow the news on it but they released CCTV footage of her last known moments and it was actually somewhere my brother drives past on the school run four times a day so I did watch it all and check the timings to just make sure he wouldn’t have been there and possibly seen something. (Different time of day)

I’ve just been struck by how it’s pulled the community together. There’s been balloon releases, marches, leaflet drops – the mum is clearly being very much supported ….I couldn’t find one person willing to have a cup of tea with me; three years on I still can’t. And I know suicide is different. Murder is evil; what was done to this poor girl, there’s absolutely no doubt people should be outraged by it…and I know suicide is about making a decision – albeit a stupid and flawed one…. but there are things I don’t understand why they’re quite so different.

The Head teacher of the girl’s school implored students to come forward because answers were needed. We needed answers with Shauna and anyone at her school who knew anything got told it wasn’t an appropriate thing to discuss. We even had a girl go to her teacher with some information, get told off for it and then to choose to write independently to the Coroner’s Court (with info we found hugely relevant but was promptly disregarded.)

Today the girl’s school announced that they’ll be making a memorial garden for her with lots of nice words about there always being a place for her and her never being forgotten. Shauna’s name wasn’t even allowed to stay on the Year 11 hoodies. The gesture is nice but the words; it would have made such a difference to us if someone had said stuff like that to us.

There was just both girls of a similar age and it’s just really brought it home how differently people see these things. I’m glad this Mum has the support that she so desperately needs, I don’t begrudge her it – I just wish it wasn’t so glaringly different how people reacted – this Mum is a heroine because of what she’s had to endure, we’re just potentially neglectful parents who should be forgotten about/ignored 😦

I don’t know if I’m making any sense. Like I say I do understand it. It doesn’t stop it hurting though. 😦 “

A weak heart (microfiction)

Anoushka smoothens out the non-existent creases on her well-fitting maroon skirt with both hands. The slender brown hands, terribly unsure of where to rest, how to move, how much to move. Them randomly reaching up to her head for no reason and then hiding behind her back to hold and comfort each other.

As she hears footsteps approach, she jumps up to stand. Her sharp black eyebrows jump up in unison. The hands now form sweaty tight fists by her sides. In walks his mum, an elegant lady in a long blue linen dress and a light white cotton scarf casually wrapped around her neck. A soft smile adorns her face. Her eyes sparkle with kindness. She holds out her right hand, leaning into the young lady with her upper body. The room warms up. Anoushka’s muscles relax and a smile surreptitiously escapes, mirroring the one shining at her.  Her twinkling, perfectly set teeth contrast magnificently with her silky chocolate skin. She radiates utter relief.

“How do you do? Matthew has spoken so much about you.”
“Anoushka. I am good. Thank you. I am happy to be called Anu. Thank you. How are you today?”
“I am very well but my husband is not too well. Matthew is with him now. He should be here soon.”
“I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“He has a weak heart. He has had for some time now. The doctor was in last night. He has advised rest and altered some of his medications. He is rather delicate today.”
“Ah! I am sorry to hear that. I hope he feels better soon.”
“I hope so too. It would have been nice for you to meet him today but now I think it might be better to wait till he’s better.”
“Sure. Whatever you think appropriate.”
“Well, just the colour of your skin would be enough to give him a heart attack.”