Breakable

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A long time ago, on a Sunday morning at a village fete I saw a beautiful black-clay handmade earthenware pot. I wanted it. He said that we shouldn’t as it might break. We brought it home. A long time ago, it decorated our home for a long time.

He said if something is breakable, there is a real chance it will break, no matter how much we feel it ‘should’ not. Each time we looked at it our hearts warmed like the insides of fur mittens. He said nature had its own laws of demolition. That was a long time ago.

Another day, we brought another sweet fragile thing home. It was delicate as a little bird. It claimed all our love, our time and our sleep. It cooed and cackled and played silly games. It decorated our home for a long time. Each time we looked at it our eyes sparkled like north stars and our hearts overflowed like rivers breaking  banks. He said the cement of our love would keep us all intact and together. Forever.

We forgot that this thing was breakable. And we were breakable too. He said even if we moved across continents and oceans everything would be alright. He said even if we had nothing we would be okay. He said nothing would break. That was a long time ago.

Now the black-clay handmade earthenware pot from a long time ago sits in the centre of our living room, on a glass top coffee table, looking pretty. It’s breakable.

(Anaphora: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anaphora)

The Blackened Forests

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They said they’d been having bizarre weather all through last year. The evidence was all around. Fog and mist in the middle of June. Temperatures dipping to low teens – in central Portugal?
Last June was completely different – temperatures of 38 degrees, winds of 80-90 kms/hr and entire hillsides covered in orange and yellow flames, fast expanding in all directions. And again in August and October 2017- covering a total of at least 560,000 hectares, holding at least 2000 people hostage, leaving homes and cars charred, livelihoods ruined, claiming at least 100 lives and leaving many others burnt and traumatised. Leaving villages in deathly silence for months.For a country that makes up just 2 percent of the continent’s landmass, it made up 60 percent of its wildfires. I vaguely remember it being mentioned on BBC.
No one notices a forest until it starts to burn. Thereafter no one can control it. Climate change, Eucalyptus trees grown for commercial use, arsonists, poor management of forests, poor warning systems and a huge exodus of the country’s youth – all added up.
We were in a sweet little village called Tabua on River Alva. The roads were fantastic and traffic the lightest I’ve seen in a very long time. The hillsides were magnificent but covered in black stumps. It must have been a frightening sight when alight. Many locals couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it.
Come spring and tender fresh greenness has started to appear on grey-black, seemingly dead tree trunks. There is regrowth. There is life. The simplicity of existence and people in Portugal makes me question what ‘quality of life’ really means.  We returned home with memories, figs, honey, almonds and hope.

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Rascal Moon – A short story

His substantial shoulders supported a shapely head of midnight black hair – a Number 1 on the sides and a Number 4 on top. When he was born his grandmother had made him a small blue cotton pillow stuffed with black mustard seeds, for his head to assume that gorgeous shape. His skin was the colour of almonds. His wide creaseless forehead came down to a pair of perfectly symmetrical arched black brows underneath which two deep brown wells belied his 20 years. They were a cocktail of ancient wisdom of an old soul, dark torment of a lunatic and pure white innocence of a toddler. Nose, as if borrowed from the Buddha. A lazy stubble, almost deliberate. Smile, bright and generous as a Moroccan sky, giving him wings.  A shy dent in the middle of his chin. His man-child voice, lightly raspy yet gentle, had a penchant for accents. His favourite was Vietnamese. A peculiar whiff of teenage-testosterone tinged perspiration plus Lenor floated around him.

Despite his age and size, he delighted in the physicality of affection. He would douse his head in coconut oil to encourage Cleo, the family dog to lick it all off. She loved the taste of it. They rolled and tumbled on the floor like kids immersed in a game of ‘dog and head’. His ability to connect with others, be it man or beast was superhuman. In all his solid self-assuredness, all he wanted was to belong.

His drum kit was his Mecca. His passion for ‘rock’ percussion anchored him to the Earth. Strangely, this softie’s songs were – Catatonic, Heartless, Chimaira, Smoke and Mirrors, A Semblance of Life, Bleed, The Blackening. The dinner table often shook rhythmically as he sat playing imaginary drums with his fingers on his thighs underneath, carrying a faraway look in his eyes. If he wasn’t creating rhythms on the bonnet of a car, a table top, a random plate, a serving tray, a window sill or a Djembe, he was inviting them to flow into his brain through his ears and the world disappeared.

The rascal Moon turned green. Its beat was better. It thrusted its powerful yet silent, surreptitious rhythm on him. It got him like a mongoose gets a snake. His consciousness started to expand and contract with the pulse of the lunar cycle. As the tide rose, his beautiful head exploded. As it ebbed, he shrunk into nothingness. He couldn’t belong to anyone or anything. Not his shadow or his drums, his friends or his Mum, his beating heart or the air in his lungs. He couldn’t belong to his smile. He took refuge in the ritual of neatly rolling tobacco, blowing smoke out of his Velux windows. There was nothing anyone could do. All his kin watched the pendulum swing with impeccable timing.

The wretched Moon forced acknowledgment. On the brightest night that autumn, the young man typed his last message on Facebook: “Bigass mooooooon. Innit?”

                                                  ___  ___  ___

(Middle English lunatik, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French lunatic, from Late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna; from the belief that mental stability fluctuated with the phases of the moon)

 

Community is the answer.

“…the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.” – By Olivia Laing, The Lonely City.

In the summer of 1999 I moved from New Delhi to a little place called Antrim in Northern Ireland. I lived in a tiny room in the accommodation for junior doctors on hospital grounds. I didn’t know a soul there. Slowly I made a few friends at work. Unlike now, there were no mobile phones, whatsapp, skype, facetime or facebook then. Telephone calls costed a bomb.  People were friendly but everyone was a stranger. Initially I didn’t get their sense of humour at all. I felt foolish. I longed to speak my own language with someone. Anyone. But there was no one who would understand.

One evening I went to buy some chocolates to a nearby petrol station. There were 2 cashiers but only one of them had a long queue of people waiting their turn. I didn’t understand why. I went up to the cashier without a queue and made my payment. I didn’t get the meaning of the looks on people’s faces. It didn’t help that I was the only coloured person for miles. From some face expressions it was obvious that they had never ever seen a coloured person outside of the television. I felt alone. Very alone.

Urban loneliness is a common phenomenon.  Isolation causes inflammation. Inflammation can cause further isolation and depression. The cytokines released as a result suppress the immune system giving rise to more illness.

Frome is a historical town in Somerset. It is known as one of the best places to live in the UK. Dr Helen Kingston, a GP, kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives. They were treated like a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being with health problems. Staff at her practice were stressed and dejected by what she calls “silo working”.

With the help of the local council and Health connections Mendip, she launched a community initiative in 2013. It main intervention was to create a stronger community. They identified and filled gaps in communications and support in the community. They employed ‘health connectors’ and trained up volunteers to be ‘community connectors’.  They helped people with handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or men’s sheds (where men make and mend things together). The aim was to break a familiar cycle of misery.

In the three years that followed, emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% across the whole of Somerset. In Frome they fell by 17%.

No other intervention, drug or procedure on record has reduced emergency admissions across a population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A vacuum in the NHS.

When Saagar was ill, he filled out an online form and referred himself to IAPTs – Improving Access to Psychological Therapies. This programme  began in 2008 and has transformed treatment of adult anxiety disorders and depression in England. Over 900,000 people now access IAPT services each year. I have used this service in the past and found it useful. I suggested to him to fill out the form a second time and he did. They usually call back within a day or two. He didn’t hear back from them.

I recently found out that IAPTs does not look after suicidal people. I would like to know what they do when they read a self-referral form of this nature.

There is a vacuum in the NHS. There is little face to face support for those who feel life is no longer worth living. Why do most people with physical illnesses ask for help? Possibly because they trust they will receive appropriate help from the system. Why is it that many people with mental anguish don’t approach the medical services for help? Probably due to lack of trust.

The Listening Place works towards filling that vacuum. A few days ago I visited their premises, a short walk from Pimlico station, in the heart of London. This airy, green, warm and welcoming place felt ideal for anyone in need of care, support and understanding. Here, individuals can speak openly about their feelings without being judged. They receive on-going support from trained volunteers over a number of weeks as deemed appropriate. The volunteers help relieve emotional pain and stress and offer opportunities to consider alternatives to suicide. Anyone over 18 can be referred to them by themselves, other charities, NHS as well as health and social care organisations. They try to give continuity by facilitating you to speak with someone who knows you from before. They charge nothing and keep your information confidential. It is remarkable that they are open 9 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week.

Phone: +44 2039067676; Email: referrals@listeningplace.org.uk

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Sarah Anderson, who was once director at the largest call centre for the Samaritans, set up The Listening Place in 2016 and the service has since helped hundreds of individuals with its unique approach to care. During our chat, Sarah’s passion and dedication to the cause comes through, loud and clear.

The world needs more people who give a damn about other people.

(PS: Through the grapevine I hear the future funding of IAPTs is in jeopardy. The vacuum grows.)

 

 

 

Cyclists rule!

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We know we are in Holland when the study table in our hotel room has a puncture repair kit in the drawer. Looking out of the window I see people riding their bikes with great abandon – simultaneously texting, chomping at an ice-cream, carrying a big bunch of flowers and chatting with a friend riding a bike in parallel. Pedestrians and automobiles are invisible to them. Bi-cycles go where they like, when they like. Anytime of day or night they shoot out of blind corners and come barging at us from all sides. Walking the cobbled streets as unsure visitor, we feel like an inconvenience to these bikers. I seriously envy them their security, their space and their freedom!

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A white van drives past us with ‘Authentic smaak’ emblazoned across the side in dark green. It brings amusement to our faces. Does this mean what we think it does? We guess it refers to one of the substances that Amsterdam is well known for. We later discover the innocent local meaning of ‘smaak’ is ‘taste’.

‘Dutch masters at the Hermitage‘ is an enlightening exhibition. We got up-close to some of Rembrandt’s great works. The portrait of an old jew from 1654 came out a clear winner in my eyes. The light on his hands and face, the fineness of the wrinkles, the stories hidden in them, the detail on the hands, the use of space, the aura of wisdom …

Our hotel lobby was dominated by a large portrait of a mother and child. Painter unknown. Dates unknown.

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It softened my heart. It spoke to me. It took me right back into the past. It made me sad in the most delightful way. It brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my lips. I didn’t need reminding that my very last holiday with Saagar, in April 2014 was to this very town, Amsterdam. He is with me, wherever I go. Our children never go too far away. They are in our DNA as much as we are in their’s.

 

 

Old people’s radio station

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During his holidays, Saagar and his friends would be subjected to Woman’s hour on BBC Radio 4 second hand, as their mothers listened. They would later have amusing/interesting discussions about breast feeding, female education and employment challenges. This station was pre-set on the car-radio and at home. It was designated as the ‘old people’s’ radio-station by him. Invariably, ‘Gardener’s question time’ would come on while we were in the car together, travelling over the weekend. It was quaint by its sheer irrelevance to us as we could barely keep our 4 nameless indoor plants alive.  Our urban pre-occupations meant we didn’t have a gardening vocabulary.

‘Just a minute’ was our all-time favourite – a panel of funny people asked to speak for one whole minute on a given topic without repetition, hesitation or deviation. The seemingly innocent topics often held great potential for hilarity, for example, billiards, the best thing about cats, how I spread a little happiness, keeping a straight face, my love of the absurd, garages and such. The correct and incorrect challenges posed by the panellists generated tremendous amount of laughter. Our attempts at giving each other topics resulted in great amusement.

On Thursday evening I was asked if I’d like to be a guest on Woman’s hour to talk about Saagar. It was unbelievable. It made me smile and cry at the same time. What a paradox! Of course I’d love to be on Woman’s hour. Under these circumstances? Meeting Jenni Murray was an honour. She was down to earth and professional, looking just as I imagined,  in her trademark glasses sitting just above the tip of her nose.I told her she had my dream job. She said Joan Baez had been in the studio the day before, sitting at the same chair as me. How cool! Oops! Saagar prohibited me from saying ‘cool’ as he thought it sounded all wrong coming from me. I wonder how he would feel about this interview if he knew. Maybe he does.

Despite making notes and preparing as well as I could, I was a bit flummoxed by some of the questions. I didn’t say everything I wanted to. I hope there will be other opportunities. This conversation must grow until everyone is a part of it in a meaningful and constructive way. In a way that saves lives.

A recording of the interview with brilliant and committed Mr Ged Flynn, the CEO of PAPYRUS and I: