Come home, my darling.

I still hear the key turning in the door from the outside and you stepping in. Can you believe it? I still see your face, darkened by the sun. Dressed in your cricket whites, you drag your massive cricket-bag-on-wheels behind you by your left arm.

“Did you take the sun-screen with you?” I ask.

“Yes, it’s in the bag.”

“Did you actually put it on?’

 “Mamma, I’m hungry.”

I still wait for you to join us for dinner. I cook the foods you like, especially on your birthday: spinach-paneer for mains, chocolate mousse for dessert. I wonder what you’d be doing in this realm if you were here. Job? Girl-friend? How silly! Isn’t it? I can’t help it. It’s involuntary. It’s got something to do with the heart. With longing. With missing. With love. It’s not supposed to make sense. You would have had a good old chuckle at my expense if you were here. But you are not and I am. How random is that?

I still remember the first time I felt you elbow-ing or knee-ing me from inside my tummy, as if we had an inside joke between us. I remember holding all three kilos of you in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t believe you were for real. You were all mine. Now my arms ache with emptiness. Is this real?

Do you miss me sometimes?

Happy birthday my darling.

Heaven

It will be the past

And we’ll live there together.

Not as it was to live

But as it is remembered.

It will be the past.

We’ll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,

And lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.

And it will last forever.

                      – A poem by Patrick Phillips, on the New York subway.

(“Ghar aa” is a Hindi phrase that means “Come home”)

The innocence of others

How I envy the lives of those, who have never been touched by suicide. What must be the quality of their minds? Their being must be so clean, un-spattered with blood. How I miss the old me of the world ‘before’, however ignorant and self-absorbed I was. My smile used to reach my eyes. It conveyed something real and complete about me. Now my eyes thirst to see that one sweet face. My smile is a faded and false version of its former self. A nicety that makes futile attempts to cover up for a heart that bleeds all the time.

When I look at photographs of women’s faces, I can tell the ones who have lost big chunks of their hearts. Their eyes are miles away from their smiles. Searching. Hungry for that part of their story which disappeared. I know that hunger. I envy all the other eyes, that sparkle.

Oh yes. I make up condolences for myself. Isn’t it a blessing that he didn’t have to go through the treachery of the lock-downs, he doesn’t have to worry about getting on the property ladder or about nations at war or about the appalling state of world leadership or about the rising fuel prices or about increasing world poverty or about some woman breaking his heart, about offending someone by asking a simple question. And climate change. He doesn’t need to deal with all this nonsense ever. Lucky bastard.

I turned to the kid’s section at our local library to rediscover the lost child in me and found ‘Charlotte’s web’ by E B White. I loved Fern, the little girl who could understand animal sentiments and conversations. I met Wilbur, who was ‘some pig’, terrific, radiant and humble and Templeton, the annoying rat. Charlotte, the spider, was adorable, a kind and benevolent friend. That’s the world I want to live in.

I think I’ll be visiting the children’s section of the library more often. This Easter, we shall watch all three Kung Fu Panda films, in preparation for the fourth one coming soon. Maybe we can fit in some Madagascar too 😉

Invitation to the Circle of Remembrance

Towards the end of 2020, a series of phone calls with mums and dads from the USA, Australia and the UK resulted in the formation of an on-line peer support group that has met every other Saturday evening for an hour and a half. The first meeting was held in the middle of January 2021. We’ve recently had our 32nd meeting. The group provides a warm space for sharing and offers non-judgemental listening and understanding. It provides a fertile ground for post-traumatic healing and growth. We call it CORe: Circle of Remembrance.

The loss of a child is different from other losses. The purpose of CORe is to honour our children, to create an opportunity for sharing our inner and outer experiences and to seek tools and mutual understanding for establishing a firmer ground of compassion, from which to live our new lives.

Over time, I have come to appreciate my need for a tribe to belong to. Other people who are also living through the loss of their child validate our experiences, witness our pain and help us feel less alone.

After many years of trying to make sense of something so treacherous, I now know that it is impossible to make any sense of it. However, I also know that it’s possible to create a new path for ourselves. A path of learning and peace.

It has been an honour for Si and me to facilitate the CORe group of roughly 20 friends and witness their journeys. The rich, life-sustaining conversations and friendships within the group are a delight to be a part of.

It therefore gives me great joy to invite bereaved parents to a new group that will meet on alternate Wednesdays from 7.00 – 8.30 pm (UK time). Please visit the website of CORe (link below) for more details and testimonials and sign up if you would like to join.  In our experience with the Saturday group, the upper limit to attendees is 25. Once we have about 15 members, we’ll get started. The tentative start date is 4th May 2022.

https://www.core-community.com/

I was so wrong.

I thought that if his doctors would have recognised how sick Saagar was, they would have known that the best thing to do was to refer him to the Psychiatric services. They would admit him to the hospital, look after him and keep him safe.  He would recover fully, return home and resume his life as normal – play the drums, read and speak French, play cricket, go out with his friends, go to the gym, make me laugh till I had tears in my eyes and soon, return to University.

Now I know, that I was so wrong at so many levels.

  1. Recognise?

The GP didn’t think his condition was life-threatening, even after he told him it was. How much more obvious did it have to be? They didn’t believe him. If at all they did, they didn’t take him seriously. Or maybe they simply didn’t know what to do.

GPs are not trained or supported in looking after suicidal patients.

  • Refer?

If they would have made a referral to the Mental hospital, he would have waited for a long time to be seen. Maybe he would have died while on the waiting list, like many others.

GPs are dis-incentivised to make referrals to specialist services in various ways.

  • Admit him to the hospital?

No chance! That would not have happened as there would have been no beds. If there were beds, there would have been others much sicker than him, ahead of him in the queue.

Hospitals have very poor capacity and very high thresholds for admission to inpatient beds.

  • Keep him safe?

490 patients died while detained under the Mental Health Act in the year up to March 21. At least 324, for non-COVID reasons.

Ref: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-59336579

Being an inpatient does not mean –  safety.

  • Recover fully?

Many patients report traumatic experiences while admitted to mental hospitals. The treatment is often not conducive to recovery. Concerns include coercion by staff, fear of assault from other patients, lack of therapeutic opportunities and limited support.

There is little understanding of what the patient needs, to recover.

(Ref: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/experiences-of-inpatient-mental-health-services-systematic-review/C5459A372B8423BA328B4B6F05D10914)

I am presently reading a book – ‘Building a life worth living’ by Marsha, M Linehan. She is the psychologist who developed Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, to help suicidal individuals to build their lives. Much before she did that, she was a seriously suicidal and self-harming young adult.

I am learning so much.

Marsha M Linehan – Author of ‘Building a Life Worth Living’

Oceans apart

My mother.

she was known by

her chum-chum silver key ring

tucked into her slim waist

and her swishing saris.

Those delicate fabrics

draping her like feathers.

Her face so gentle, her red bindi

was home.

Still is.

*

No other.

I saw me in her.

Years carried me away

to far-off places,

where every house

had steep staircases

inside.

Outside, the winds blew hard and

the terrible winter

could bite.

*

Why bother?

Here, jeans and polo-necks,

only they would do.

The stairs would unfurl

my sari in milliseconds,

if I dared to.

My dupattas would sweep the floor.

My bindi out of place,

found no spot to decorate.

The years I blame.

*

Not like her.

Yes. Oceans apart,

she is she, in her handwoven

white, pink and blue cotton sari

and me is me, in my blue Gap jeans.

Yet we are somewhat the same.

***

Grey day

I didn’t light his candle today. Not because I forgot. But I just couldn’t be bothered. He left without saying bye. I know it’s silly to bring this up now, after so many years. He needed to do whatever it was he needed to do. He needed to go. I understand. But the missing makes my heart crumble again and yet again. How is it possible to keep going after its smashed so many times? It feels like the old yellow rubber duck in his bath, being stamped heavily upon, by a topless angry Arnold Swarzenegger wearing big black military trousers and boots. What is this thing that pretends to drum in my chest, tattered and torn?

He broke the rule. Saying good-night was our ritual for many years. After settling him in his bed, I religiously kissed him on his chin, both his cheeks, first left and then the right, his closed eyes, first the left and then the right and then, once on his forehead. He put his little arms around my neck and we both held each other for a short while before I switched off the light and went to my room. We loved it and slept peacefully.

He didn’t respect our little rule. Maybe he couldn’t. But, I deserved at least, a proper good bye. But then, can anyone truly know who deserves what?

all my love,

endlessly

black and white portrait.

Two suitcases, three homes.

Diwali at home with Mum and Dad – after ages!

Nineteen months passed before I could travel again. The uncertainty in the air for all this time meant no one knew when they would see their close family that lived in far-off countries. The news relayed the horrendousness of the situation in India and the 6700 kilometers between them and me made me feel utterly powerless. I would have flown to India at least thrice in this time but I waited for it to become possible.

Then, it did. Si booked my tickets and I felt like I was flying already but coming up to the date of travel, the extra layer of bureaucracy turned me into a tight knot of nerves. This test, that certificate, the other QR code, the timing of this, the reference number of that, one on-line form to be filled on the way out and another on the way back and so on and so forth. I had 2 close friends on speed dial, one in India and the other, a frequent flyer in the UK.

Yet, in the run up to the date of departure, my antacid consumption seriously shot up. In my awful dreams, the faceless uniforms looked at my paper work and shook their heads from side to side. They sent me back home from the airport. They told me I would have to quarantine at the other end in a seedy hotel for 10 days. That would eat up more than half my holiday. I woke up in a bath of sweat.

My two suitcases were mostly packed with chocolates, cheeses, cheese-crackers, sheep’s wool, woolly jumpers, bamboo socks and other such goodies for my folks. I got on the plane at Heathrow and landed at New Delhi safely, utterly grateful to be united with all my loved ones back home. How much I take for granted!

I immersed myself in the everyday life back home- boiling milk, making chapattis, creating rangolis at Diwali, indiscriminately consuming sweets dripping in desi ghee, singing, praying, chatting and overeating at every meal. I set aside my concerns about pending jobs, deadlines for writing assignments, hacked e-mail accounts, consciously locked them away in a clanking steel Godrej cup-board.  

Yes, there was pollution and poverty. There was religious and political bigotry. There was the Right and the Left and the Middle, the Farmer’s protest, the choked Press and the Covid dictats. There was my mind, noticing that Saagar was not physically present in the room. His cousins were messing about, grandma was cooking his favourite chicken curry, Olivia Rodrigo was singing ‘Jealousy Jealousy’ on the Bose speaker, his uncles and aunts were drinking beer and chomping on roasted, salted cashew nuts, talking about the joys of driving on the new highways network and the high price of petrol. We were celebrating our togetherness but he was not here.

In that thought, he became present to me. His essence appeared in the room, as me, my presence, my noticing, my love and my longing. It was subtle, only perceptible at a certain frequency that in now accessible to me. This nameless, formless realm that makes itself known when I pay attention. My real home. Its doors always open.

Before I knew it was time to come home. My two suitcases filled with silk and cotton fabrics, saris ‘borrowed’ from my mother, home-made carrot halwa, cashews and almonds and proper Darjeeling tea.

I am back home from back home now. Rested and reconnected. Refreshed and reassured.

All is well. All is well.

A report and a film.

A report published last month by National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) identifies common characteristics of children and young people who die by suicide between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020. It investigates factors associated with these deaths and makes recommendations for policy makers.

Every child or young person who dies by suicide is precious. These deaths are a devastating loss for families and can impact future generations and the wider community. There is a strong need to understand what happened and why, in every case. We must ensure that we learn the lessons we need to, to stop future suicides.

Key Findings:

-Services should be aware that child suicide is not limited to certain groups; rates of suicide were similar across all areas, and regions in England, including urban and rural environments, and across deprived and affluent neighbourhoods.

(No one is immune.)

-62% of children or young people reviewed had suffered a significant personal loss in their life prior to their death, this includes bereavement and “living losses” such as loss of friendships and routine due to moving home or school or other close relationship breakdown.

(Saagar was unable to return to his life at University due to a new diagnosis of a mental illness.)

-Over one third of the children and young people reviewed had never been in contact with mental health services. This suggests that mental health needs or risks were not identified prior to the child or young person’s death.

(Saagar had been in contact with Mental Health Services but they discharged him as soon as he showed signs of improvement. They did not follow him up. His GP was unable to identify his high risk of suicide despite his Depression scores being the worse they could be for at least 4 weeks.)

-16% of children or young people reviewed had a confirmed diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental condition at the time of their death. For example, autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This appears higher than found in the general population.

(Saagar did not.)

-Almost a quarter of children and young people reviewed had experienced bullying either face to face or cyber bullying. The majority of reported bullying occurred in school, highlighting the need for clear anti-bullying policies in schools.

(At his Primary school in Belfast, his peers called him ‘Catholic’. He didn’t know what it meant but he knew it was not right. This went on for more than a year before I found out. When I spoke to his class teacher about it, she denied any problem.)

The film ‘1000 days’ tells us about Saagar and what we have learnt from his life and death. I am not sure what or how much the policy makers and service providers have learnt or changed but we have learnt and changed a lot and here we talk about that. The film is presently available on-line at the Waterford Film Festival (Short Programe 6), till the 15th of November at the link below. Please take 20 minutes to watch it if you can. You will learn something too. Each one of us can make a difference.

https://waterfordfilmfestivalonline.com/programs/collection-jlvwfxb8ctq

Now, they are pink.

The day after he died, our door-bell went berserk. This time the same young woman from the local florist, who had been here thrice already, stood at the door again. She had arrived with yet another bouquet of pure white lilies and roses. She stood just outside our front-door with tears rolling down her cheeks. Had this stranger accessed her own sadness or was she feeling mine? I thanked her and tried to console her, wordlessly holding her hands in mine, not believing any of that was happening.

Our eyes met through the fresh white flowers and films of salt water. She didn’t know me or the young man who had died and I didn’t even know her name. But we were flowing in the same river of humanity. Of loss.

For weeks, every room in our house reeked of the sickly-sweet stink of white lilies. I used to like that fragrance before all this but now it screamed ‘DEATH’. It crept into every empty space, crevice and corner. It sneaked under tables and inside locked cup-boards. It suffused my clothes and hair and got into my body like poison.

All these years later, that smell can still hit like an axe on top of my head when I walk past an innocent flower shop.

On my birthday last week, a bunch of Freddie’s flowers arrived unexpectedly. I thought I had cancelled that delivery but it seems I hadn’t. Roses, lilies and gladioli – but this time, they are a pretty pretty pink. Six days on, they are open and smiling and guess what … no heart-breaking fragrance.

Our long-distance relationship is working. Thank you, sweetheart.

Only one race.

You are not your body. Who you are has nothing to do with how you look.

You are not your mind, your thoughts, your feelings or your memories. All those things are aspects of you but they are not you. They change from moment to moment. Thoughts come and go. Feelings mould. Thousands of old cells are shed and replaced by new ones every second.

During my training to be a doctor, I had to dissect a human body. It was an enlightening experience. On my first day at medical school, it was a shock – the massive Anatomy hall reeking of Formalin, 12 metallic rectangular tables, each occupied by a horizontal human form covered with a white cotton sheet. 4 students in alphabetical order, to a table/ body. All different but more or less the same, students and bodies. Mine was a dark skinned, muscular young man in his thirties. I wondered how he had landed up on this table in the heart of Punjab when he clearly belonged somewhere else. I wondered what his story was.

As I carefully peeled the skin off, a pale yellow silky layer unraveled itself. I peeked at the next table and it was the same. And the next and the next. Men and women, old and young, squat and fit, brown and black. Whatever on the outside, were the same just underneath.

We laugh and cry the same salty tears, we feel the same love, we yawn and sneeze and hiccup and breath the same way. We all are distinct and yet, more or less the same. We are all made up of a substance called ‘love’. We carry the whole Universe inside of us.  We are bundles of boundless cosmic energy. Our bodies are vehicles for us to experience this Earth and for this fantastic energy to express itself. Let us not allow anyone to tell us how we should look, as their vision may be limited. Be fully expressed. Don’t let their limitation be yours. You are whole and complete, just the way you are, no matter what anyone says. Don’t let anyone let you love yourself any less than one thousand percent. Your love and compassion for yourself is the source of all joy for all humanity.

Just as black people are so much more than just black and homosexuals are so much more than just that. And Saagar was so much more than just a handsome brown young man. Underneath, we all are human. We have the privilege of coming from the most gorgeous star. Our numbers are higher than ever before and our potential as a race is the highest it has ever been. At a time when we need more cohesion between humans than ever before, we are building divisions all over the world – us and them. Be it the colour of our skin, our religious convictions, our gender, our choice of sexual partners or our private medical choices. We need bridges, not walls. We need to see ourselves in others and them in us – vulnerable, tough and unique at the same time. Everyone. Absolutely everyone.

I say to all you planning and scheming and dreaming, defending, proving, and justifying, laughing, crying, and feeling people, wanting love and understanding, offering love and understanding people:

 “You be me.  I be you.  They be us. We be them. All be one. Love be all. All be love. Only love. Get down on it.”