Noble Silence

Would it be best if I took myself to a mountain top where I didn’t have to say anything, hear anything, understand anything, process anything or feel anything? Is there somewhere I could be free of the wrath of time? Where my heartstrings wouldn’t constantly tug at me. Where I could find the much-conceptualised ‘perfect balance’. Where I could wash off those parts me that ache non-stop. Where I could find an oasis beyond ‘I like’, ‘I don’t like’. Where none of the facts of life would hold any power over me.

My 51st birthday is the 3rd one without Saagar. That’s how it is – two significances attached to one day. Aren’t years supposed to bring wisdom and clarity with them? Do they? Possibly in unnoticeably miniscule doses in my case. I could take myself to a mountain-top but the snag is that the source of the restlessness and pain will come with me – my mind.

Looking for peace and respite from my mind I made my way to the serenity of a Buddist Monastry just outside London for a 5-day Silence Retreat. The first few verses we chant are Buddha’s words on Loving-kindness.

“Be one who is skilled in goodness
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.

Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and clam, and wise and skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove,
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small.
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to be born,
May all beings be at ease.

Let none deceive another
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies
And downwards to the depths,
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated,
Or lying down – free from drowsiness –
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense-desires,
Is not born again into this world.”

If there is just one thing I can take from these wise words, it is –
“Be at ease.”
“Relax.”
As Saagar would say in his notoriously funny south-Indian accent,
“Mamma. Chhillax.”
I think that’s a good place to start.

Non-writer’s Block

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Brindisa, a Spanish Tapas Bar sits at one corner of Borough Market. I sit at the window at one corner of Brindisa, sipping hot chocolate after a long day at work. A wee treat. It’s raining just short of cats and dogs. Umbrellas are out in all their colours and varying degrees of wind-induced angular crookedness. Hoods are up and hair flying off scalps at funky angles. Some walk hunched and shrunk, others wear big smiles, facing the sky. Many pairs of crisp city shoes step off the kerb and dunk straight into puddles. Squelch. Squelch. Squelch.

The last few weeks of writing less traverse my mind. In the first week, that vacant hour seemed contrived – like a designer hole in the evening. I strapped myself in a brace of immobility, letting it pass, pretending I wasn’t watching. On a couple of occasions I was desperate enough to turn to the TV for help. It felt unnatural and abrupt to break the rhythm of writing every day. I had a non-writer’s block. I knew it was coming but it was more unwelcome than I thought it would be. It made me feel like I was being denied the sweets I loved. I felt redundant. I thought of Saagar and missed him more than normal, if that’s possible.

The second week was a week of late nights – emergency surgeries at work, friends visiting from abroad, reading an ‘unputdownable’ book. Sleep and energy deficit was huge. There was no time to think or write. An e-mail came as a reminder that the last of 36 instalments towards the payment for my bike had been made. Yes. I got it in July that year. Saagar helped me with setting the height of the seat, inflating the tyres and oiling the chain. He worried about me cycling on London roads. He was an avid cyclist. Once a female driver of a car nearly hit him because she was on her mobile phone. She apologised to him. He used to answer my phone when I drove. He also used to answer my text messages. He felt strongly about mobile phone use by drivers. He hated that we lived on a hill. The last bit of the bike ride home was hard for him, as it is for me but I am getting used to it. One e-mail and a barrage of memories!

The third week was quiet. Cats. Music. Food. Candles adorning Saagar’s picture. Time to record a podcast with an eminent Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Dele Olajide. Lots of cycling. Sleeping. Si and I pottering around the kitchen. I wash the spinach and he wilts it. He clears up the sink, I put the dishes away. Si boils the kettle, I prepare the mint for the tea. We dance our culinary waltz and Milkshake sits as a spectator on the upper stall of the kitchen island. In the pauses between ‘doings’ we dance. We rejoice, we dance, we create new memories. 

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Day 1000

Living on the blurred line between reality and illusion.
Tasting the bitter-sweetness of all things.
Moving from the world of words to no words.
Letting the silence listen and speak.
Pure experience. It’s like this. This is how it is.
All existence in one realm. One love.
Death, the great leveller, swallowing all pride.
‘Forever’ sitting within the fold of Now.

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Mystic Love

When I seek peace, he is
The kindly intercessor,
And when I go to war,
The dagger, that is he;
And when I come to meetings,
He is the wine and sweetmeat.
And when I come to gardens,
The fragrance, that is he.
When I go to the mines, deep,
He is the ruby there,
When I delve in the ocean,
The precious pearl is he.
When I come to the desert,
He is the garden there.
When I go to the heaven,
The brilliant star is he…
And when I write a letter
To my beloved friends,
The paper and the inkwell,
The ink, the pen is he.
And when I write a poem
and seek a rhyming word-
the one who spreads the rhymes out
within my thought is he!
– Rumi.

Day 996

 

Tying the knot

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Today my friend and her fiancé tied the knot. 2 individuals and families came together and entwined their love and destinies forever. The sun and the flowers smiled as they poured out blessings. The fragrance of jasmine flooded the air as the pretty little white flowers adorned the hair of most women present. Chanting of Sanskrit verses in a rhythmic baritone meter sanctified the atmosphere. The fire at the centre of the auspicious ceremony bore witness.

The sights, sounds and smells conjured up images from the past. The food and music. The silk and gold. The gifts and festivities. The smiles and promises. The coconuts and beetle-nuts. The salutations and offerings to deities. The hopes and dreams of lifelong friendship, companionship, health, happiness and prosperity. Mischievous traditions of the bride’s friends hiding the bride-groom’s shoes and little competitions between the bride and groom. A reminder of times and people gone by.

In the last 2 years and 9 months I have turned down three wedding invitations. Couldn’t face the thought. Today was the first. It was good.

The last wedding Saagar and I attended was in September 2012. We drove to a small village near Brighton on a very wet day. Our Tom-tom took us to the middle of a field and declared, ‘You have reached your destination’ . We had to laugh. We drove up to the nearest set of houses, knocking on doors of complete strangers to find out more. We finally got there. It was great!

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Day 993

Ruth

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Broken glass

“You are well enough to safely go home now”, said the panel.
“But I can’t! I need one more day to complete my church!”, said Di, who was being treated at Bexley hospital for Postnatal Depression in 1966. She had a brilliant occupational therapist who took them to the swimming pool, organised hair-dressing days and helped patients to make things. Di made a church with bits of shattered wind-screen glass, put together with resin but the spire wasn’t on yet. This beautifully tactile piece of art was named ‘Faith’ by Ruth, her daughter.

Ruth

Ruth was a talented young lawyer. She was an actor and singer. She was kind, generous and gorgeous! She travelled extensively. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her late 20s. She coped well with the help of health services, her friends and family but tragically lost her battle at the age of 47.

Di is in her second year of missing Ruth terribly. She has created the most beautiful garden in her memory. Some of the plants there are from Ruth’s house. Her mediterranean wall is stunning.

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Being bereaved by suicide is a huge risk factor for suicide. Around 125 youth suicides a year occur soon after the person involved has experienced a bereavement. One in four (25%) of under-20s and 28% of 20 to 24-year-olds had lost a relative, partner, friend or acquaintance around a year or more beforehand. In 11% of suicides among under-20s, the person who those involved had lost had also taken their own life.

In a recent inquiry, bereavement was found to be an important theme in many deaths, said Prof Louis Appleby, the director.

People who have been bereaved need greater support to reduce the risk of them killing themselves. Agencies who are meant to help are not good at recognising this risk and need to improve.

This morning I caught up with Di over a cup of tea. We both believe that if Saagar and Ruth have met each other wherever they are, they must get on famously. The link below is a conversation with Di. She talks about her insights on mental health services over 5 decades. Thanks a lot Di!

Day 992

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Strawberry Hill

“If you had a carpet bag and an umbrella you could be mistaken for Mary Poppins” one of my colleagues commented as he stopped his car right next to me at a red signal while I waited there on my bike. I often wear a tunic dress with leather shoes to work. I enjoy watching other cyclists in their multi-coloured and multi-logoed breathable jerseys, elasticated and padded cycling shorts, grippy mitts, electric yellow socks, clickity-clop shoes, snazzy sporty eye-wear and fancy headgear. Most of them are very serious.

My cycle belongs to the category of ‘hybrid’. It’s black and silver. It’s heavy compared to some of the feather-weights on the road. The special thing about it is that it is wholly unremarkable. Saagar used to call it ‘old lady bike’. Its first name is Strawberry and second name, Hill.

Space on roads is negotiated between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Cyclists move in packs and sometimes have disagreements amongst themselves. It’s clear from the behaviour of a cyclist if he/she has ever been behind a wheel. Likewise, it is easy to say if a driver is cyclist-aware. Pedestrians are a law unto themselves.

Within 3 turns of my wheels as I start off from a red signal, at least 10 bikes go past me. It’s another matter that a hundred yards hence we find ourselves waiting at the next set of lights. Some attempt to squeeze through the narrowest crevice in the traffic. Being stuck behind a bus is a special treat in terms of the quality of air. Smoking is mandatory.

The morning ride to work is a dream – fresh air, fresh me, very few people out and about, the wind behind me and the way mostly flat or downhill. In the evening – smoky air, tired me, lots and lots of people, riding into the breeze on a steady uphill road. Both, leisure times. Excuses to be a child again. As my quads toil hard to get me home inch by inch, I visualise the tub of Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate ice-cream waiting for me in the freezer. It helps with the speed and puts a song in my heart.

 

Day 984

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Wonder what Saagar would have made of Brexit. He would have wanted easy access to France. He was a die-hard Francophile. He loved the intricacies of French language, food and wine, girls… He wanted to work there at some stage, to practice his French.

Trump would have been extremely amusing and concerning for him. I think he would have had fun making a cartoon character of him and imitating his mannerisms and speech. He used to mimic Bush Junior a lot, to our great amusement.

He would have had some strong and interesting opinions about gender  identity politics and ‘safe spaces’ in Universities, which mean different things to different people. I was told that in his first year at University he volunteered as a student counsellor for LGBT students but in the second year he withdrew from that role. Did he not feel well enough within himself? Was that an indication that he knew something wasn’t the same?

Burning Middle-East, migrating populations, global tensions, towering infernos and erratic climatic phenomena – I wonder what he would have thought of all these things.

The passage of time is dragging me away from the point when he was alive. I grieve the widening gap between then and now. That time is receding further and further away like a very low tide. Physically, the current keeps flowing in one direction – away. Mentally, it dances, twirls and circles, touching many points over the past 24 years and gathering up as many gems as possible, folding them neatly and putting them away safely, to be revisited again and again and again… What if I forget everything? What if it goes too far away and then disappears? What if I can’t touch that time ever again?