Denials.

Amongst the heap of books with colourful book-marks popping out at jaunty angles, amidst the papers printed and plain lounging about, inside a laptop open but its screen black, behind a glass of orange juice half-full, inside a bunch of blue and purple pens and underneath a lime-green I-pad. I looked everywhere. Could I find it? Nope.

After 2 years of carrying it with me all over the world at the bottom of my handbag, hidden inside a red polka-dotted Cath Kidston case. Never letting it out for fresh air. Squinting my eyes to the point of distortion. Cocking my neck to extremes. Adjusting the length of my arms till they wail. I pushed it as far into the future as possible. Avoiding reading as much as I could, especially the list of ingredients on a packet of food or drink in the supermarket. Enlarging the text-font on my phone so much that people whose eyes might fall on the screen would spontaneously burst into a loud laugh.

It had been long overdue. This change. It’s here now.

No glasses, no reading. No glasses, no writing. The pair had to be found.

Went upstairs to peer under my pillow, just in case … not there. Popped over to the dressing table and caught a flying glimpse of it … in the mirror … perched on top of my more-salt-less-pepper head of hair.

Now it was my turn to laugh out loud. I used to make fun of my dad when he went up and down demanding his glasses to appear – if it wasn’t this pair, it was that. And now it’s me. Si threatens to buy me a string of loosely put together baroque pearls to hold my reading glasses firmly around my neck. That would be too much of a declaration. It’s too early yet. I believe that was a one-off. Yes, what has happened cannot be undone but its highly unlikely to happen again. Isn’t it?

Blue Rose

She was the colour of almonds. Her smile so bright, it made the sun shine. Her hair waist-length, wavy and a very dark brown, like a heavy veil down her back. Her petite frame, shy, smelt of sandalwood. She was only 19.

Her friends had rebellious red, pink and green highlights in their hair. Some had happy multi-coloured beads and braids woven in. Others had playful ribbons platted in, like flower-girls at hippie weddings. She sat on her aquamarine blue sofa with her laptop, peering through colour-charts. She wanted her hair dip-dyed. She hadn’t picked a colour yet.

It was going to cost a bit but her mum had agreed to pay for it. She often did.

When alone in her room, unable to sleep at 2 am, Rose had looked up Helium and what it does. She didn’t know why. It was an involuntary act. It was nonsensical. Her body and mind were no longer of her.

Her hair appointment was in a couple of hours. She had to decide now. It was important she got this right. It was an expensive decision. The staid Royal blue or the scintillating Moroccan Turquoise? Silky peacock blue or the majestic sapphire? She wanted a straight horizontal line to run right across the dark sheet of her hair. The bottom one-third of the length a startling shade of blue, like a designer curtain.

She played classical music on the violin. Her ears didn’t particularly savour the Blues. They jarred her. She didn’t have a taste for blueberries. She preferred the ‘rasp’ variety with big dollops of double cream. Her wardrobe was a smattering of whites, pinks and reds. No blues there either, except the denim jeans and shorts. She was a proper girlie-girl. Blue skies made her spirits soar. But they left blue stains on her heart. She hid them like children hide pretty pebbles in corners of drawers. Her smile kept feeding the sun through the blueness.

She hand-wrote letters to the people she shared the house with, in blue ink. To her mother she said how wonderful a mum she was and she should take better care of herself. To her sister she expressed her appreciation for her companionship, friendship and laughter. Her little brother never left her side. She never turned down his invitation to play any kind of silly game with him. The dogs were all hers. They didn’t know they weighed as much as her. She had to sit down when they clambered all over her saying ‘we love you’.

The blue stains on her heart were expanding like drops of ink drip-dripping on a white blotting paper. She knew it was happening but didn’t know what it was. It’s creepiness had no name. It made her want to escape. It compelled her thoughts to convince her that her deepest desire was to implode. She had no say in the matter. It made her hands look up Helium on the internet. It kept her eyes wide open at night. It made her tummy churn, her legs restless and her head hurt. She now had 2 hearts and she moved between them. One blue. The other not. One wanting out. The other wanting blue hair.

“I am finding this difficult Mum.”

‘We need to leave in about 20 minutes for the hair-dressers my darling.’

“Yes. I am thinking about it … looking up the options on the internet.”

‘Good idea. We can take your laptop with us. I am sure the hair-dressers will have some ideas for you. Don’t worry.’

“I have some ideas but haven’t decided yet.”

‘Take your time. No rush.’

Midnight blue was the final choice. She was happy.

Over the next year that wretched blue embedded deeper into her heart and from there, leached into every cell of her body. Then it burst out, released itself and merged back into the midnight, the sky, the ocean.

That was 5 years ago. Till this day, her mother’s mind twists into painful knots when she remembers that day. How could her lovely Rose have wanted to live with blue hair and at the same time, to not live at all? At nineteen! How?

No one knows. Sometimes it’s like that.

———————————–

A video for every parent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BByqa7bhto

Logotherapy

It was late 1930s. He was a young man in love. She was a young woman who was delighted to be asked by him. They were married. Soon she was to be a mother. But the clan they belonged to were not allowed to procreate. She was made to abandon the baby even before it was born. They both were sent to different concentration/death camps. But their love story did not end there.

Despite shoveling snow with no shoes on, going for months without proper food, constant beatings and humiliation, not knowing which instant he would be walked to his death, he carried on loving her. He did not know if she was dead or alive but he loved her every second. He hoped to see her again. His longing kept him alive.

Four years later, he was freed and he found out that his sweetheart had passed away soon after their separation, at the age of 24. His father, mother and brother had met the same fate in that ugly assault of humanity on itself. His sister had survived and moved to a faraway land.

Viktor E. Frankl was a Psychiatrist. He took 9 days to pen down his learning and thoughts which became a book – ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ that sold millions of copies all over the world as it helped them transform their suffering .

He pioneered a new way of counselling patients called Logotherapy or ‘meaning-based-therapy’. When asked of the difference between Psychoanalysis and Logotherapy, he said, “In Psychoanalysis the patient must lie on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell. In Logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

It is a future focussed approach through which the patient is reoriented toward his unique and specific attributes aligned to a purpose which can be fulfilled by him/her alone. It is based on the premise of freedom – the freedom to choose our response to our experiences, the freedom to choose the stance we take when faced with a difficult and unchangeable situation.

Over the last 5 years I have read Frankl’s book at least 5 times, each time deriving new inspiration. Last week I had the good fortune of being able to share some of those insights on-line with a community close to my heart. The Compassionate Friends helped me discover that Frankl’s love story will never end. It is interwoven into yours and mine and with the love-stories of those yet to come across it.

Herbal life

Whenever he picks mint or basil or bay leaves, he says a polite ‘thank you’ to the plants with a subtle bending of his head and all. I watch him and smile. How pointless, I think. If that’s his way, fine by me. Happy to be entertained for free by Si, the country-boy.

All the extra time at home over the last few months has meant lots of herb-pots overflowing in the garden. The relative dryness has meant lots of watering of the plants. An urbanite at heart, every two days I go around with a watering-can and make a leisure activity out of it. Slowly, select the order in which I go, pick the spots where the water drops in and carefully consider, how much.  As I tilt the can into the basil, a waft of basil-fragrance envelops me. Am I imagining this? On to the thyme, a cupful of water and the air suffused with thyme-odour. I had never noticed this before. I wasn’t convinced. I move to the lavender and pour more generously, and there it is again, filling the air. The same unmistakable gesture comes from the profuse apple-mint.

I am not imagining this. They are all saying ‘thank you’.

For the first time, I am paying attention.

Human rights issue – Families Matter

Hundreds of times, in waiting rooms outside Intensive Care Units I have looked into the eyes of sons and daughters, spouses and partners of patients, held their hands and said, “We did all we could. I am so sorry for your loss.”

When Saagar died, no one looked into my eyes and said that to me. They had not done all they could for him. The hospital carried out a sham investigation, a futile exercise in ‘being seen’ to be doing the right thing.

The GMC found everything to be hunky dory. The doctors ‘looking after’ Saagar had done their jobs to perfection. Just too bad the patient was dead. They did not deem Saagar’s case worthy of an investigation. GMC’s role in its own words:

We work to protect patient safety and support medical education and practice across the UK.”

The Coroner’s report shone some light on the holes in Saagar’s care. It clearly pointed out the things that South London and Maudsley (SLaM) Hospital got wrong.

  1. There was a general failure to identify the diagnosis on the discharge summary from the Home Treatment Team to the GP.
  2. There was a general failure to communicate thoroughly enough with the parents about the relapse symptoms, what to watch out for and where to go for help in the future.

Last June, I wrote to the CEO of SLaM, requesting an update on the changes that had been made in his organisation in response to the Coroner’s findings above. He said someone would get back to me and I heard nothing. This June, I sent him a reminder and again he said someone would get back to me and I am still waiting.

What are my rights as a parent? Is this too much to ask?

What were Saagar’s rights as a young man with a mental illness?

Are our lives not as important as anyone else’s? Black or white or brown? With Cancer or Diabetes? Or Bipolar Disorder?

Everyone deserves to be heard and seen. With respect.

It’s not charity. It’s a human rights issue.

Ref: Learning from deaths: Guidance for NHS trusts on working with bereaved families and carers

The Order – a short story.

She didn’t want to feed the monster but after ages, she had time. Time to work her way, one by one, through her long list of ‘Books to Read’.  On top was ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. She logged on to Amazon and found 23 used copies. One of those would do. After finishing it she would donate it to the local Red Cross Charity shop. This was her formula for keeping a clean, spacious, open home. It’ll be here tomorrow. Magic.

Boredom stayed miles away as her mind landed fancy occupations. Lately she’d been listening to Eva Cassidy’s songs and imitating some of her less well-known paintings on her sketch pad. They were simple and sweet and reminded her of her childhood. She had also attended a poetry workshop on Zoom and was trying her hand at prose-poetry.

She longed for her home-town, Bhopal in India, even though she had chosen to leave fifteen years ago. Traveled thousands of miles in search of some ground beneath her feet and some air to breathe, after a major heartbreak. Now she had left that ruin far behind. Her job as a journalist felt like being with friends creatively. She had found that patch of earth and created a little haven for herself. At 39, she was settled even if her parents worried she was not. A little flat in East Dulwich in London was home.

The tiny package arrived in a massive lorry. She opened the door even before the deliveryman had knocked on it. She pulled at the stiff brown case. It was a fight to set the contents free but finally the book was held in her elegant hands. All eight corners were soft and rounded. Turquoise blue and white decorative pencil-work on a sinister black background. An ornate profile of a young woman with her hair put up anointed the front and back cover. This book was worn. Like her, it had travelled. It was smothered in a familiar dusty odour.

She opened it to the first page. In a sparkly green feminine font, it read:

“For my darling husband Atul.

Happy 4th Anniversary!

Sometimes I feel like Caroline de Winter.

Love you,

Sonali.

4th March 1999”

In that second, it was not her book. It was his. Once again, he had appeared out of nowhere and snatched her calm. The last time he did this was when she was a college student, happy with her books and music. He was two years her senior. He had subtly got her to look up at him and at life, invited her to parties, long bike rides and picnics. Before she knew she was his girl-friend and surprisingly she enjoyed the role. He made her laugh. He was a preening peacock and she, a simple sparrow. But it worked. They would sing and laugh but after 3 years of that, he made her cry. A lot.

Lost and lonely, she had roamed various cities and continents for years and finally made peace with her solitude. Now, the reins of the past had loosened their hold on her. She could breathe.

She had avoided acknowledging the existence of those two names all these years. Now they were lighting a fire in her eyes. One name of her one and only boy-friend and the other of her one and only best friend. May be this book had absolutely nothing to do with them. There must be thousands of people with those ordinary names.

The book sat innocently on her coffee table. She looked at it as she would an unwanted guest. She looked away, wondering what to do next. She turned on  the kettle as if in automatic mode. As two cups of near-boiling water were being infused with Darjeeling tea leaves, she prepared herself for the turbulence ahead. She poured the tea into her Frieda Kahlo mug and sat down again.

Her delicate hands reached out for the book again and casually unfurled the pages like a pack of cards. It sounded like a bird taking flight. A book mark fell to the ground with a soft flick. She fished it out from under the sofa. A pale blue and white visiting card:

Mr Atul Tyagi.

Tyagi and Lal Associates

First Floor. Office number: 133

NKS Plaza. Char Street.

Bangalore. 200 006

Phone: Office:  +44 221 63939

             Mobile: +44 976146022

e-mail: amtyagi@tala.net

Oh no! After years of laboriously moulting out of his skin, here was an invitation back into the darkness of it. An invisible chord lay between them. She knew of it. He did not. Did she have to do anything with it? No. Did she want to do anything with it? Not yet. There was no point blasting an exhaust fan over the dust that had taken eons to settle. The smooth glossy card reminded her of his forehead that she had kissed a thousand times. She held its corner between the thumb and index finger of her left hand and rested her head on the right palm.

Sadness – yes. Regrets – no. Excitement – a little bit. Flummoxed – a lot. Cat-like-curious – oh yes! Was this a psychological mind-game? Were there hidden cameras in her apartment, like the Big Brother House to record her reactions to this? Was this a sheer co-incidence? There were 22 other used books to choose from. How did this one land up in her lap? Destiny? Randomness? Serendipity?

For old time sake, she had to say hello. They were grown-ups now. They had to let the past sit in the past. Should she call him or send an e-mail? She could always hang-up like a truant teenager if the voice at the other end sounded dodgy. An e-mail might never be answered. She could send him a formal text and arrange a time for a phone call. Less intrusive. Also, it gave him a choice to chicken out. She did not want him to have that choice. Not this time.

Hello. Tyagi and Lal Associates.

Hello

How can I help you?

Hi. I am Kavita. Is that Atul?

Sorry. I am Manish Lal, his associate.

It’s ok. I’ll call back later.

Can I convey a message?

It’s okay. Nothing important.

Are you Kavita … Saini? From his college?

Yes.  

Oh. I’ve heard so much about you. Don’t worry. All good. He’d be delighted to hear from you. He’s traveling right now but I can put you in touch with him.

Where is he traveling to?  

London. He’s on a business trip. All the work is on me now. That’s how I’m in the office so late. Finishing up. Where are you calling from?

It doesn’t matter. I don’t have any message for him. Sorry to bother you. Bye.

Wait. Please. There is something you must know. I am his husband. Yes. It took him years to admit it to himself. Please forgive him. It wasn’t easy. Sorry.

Click.

The man who loved yellow.

He dropped out of the security of an Engineering Course to enrol into the futility of a dance school. He carved his way through sheer hard work from a humble home in the north-east of India to the flashing lights at the heart of Bollywood. He personified simplicity. He had no god-fathers in this brutal industry known for its nepotism and ruthlessness. He stood on the sheer credibility of his talent.

Stars, moons and aliens took up a lot of space in his head. He spent hours on his beloved telescope which he called his ‘time-machine’.  He made new friends, kept old ones and his humility through the fame and the wealth of stardom. He stayed true to himself and his name which meant ‘Peaceful’.

His charm and talent won hearts all around. His youthful portrayal of his love of cricket came through in his films ‘KaiPoChe’ and “M.S Dhoni, the untold story“. But the media gave him a hard time as they saw him as an outsider. Of journalists he said, “First they’ll ignore you, then they’ll laugh at you and then they’ll fight with you. Right now, they’re laughing at me.”

Not anymore. Bollywood is in a state of shock. On the 14th of June 2020 Sushant Singh Rajput ended his life at the age of 34. It seems he had been on treatment for depression for the past 6 months. Police is frantically interviewing multiple people to establish a ‘cause’ for his death.  

Film contracts falling through? Not enough new offers of interesting roles? Disparaging remarks made by influential bitchy colleagues? Being bullied and ignored? Financial difficulties? A painful break-up? The death of his mother at the age of 16? The death of his young manager, Disha Salian 3 days prior to his? Unmet parental expectations? Inadequate treatment for Depression? Migration away from home? Loneliness? Stigma of having a mental illness? Not knowing how to ask for help? Being a man?

All of the above.  

RIP Sushant.

PS: India has the highest suicide rate in South-east Asia: 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people

Food, water, shelter and clothing.

That’s what it’s all about. Isn’t it? Our most basic needs.

For some, who were comfortable, these basics are threatened in the current climate. For some they have constantly been under threat. For the lucky ones, all is well. For now.

The fact remains that food needs to be grown by someone. Seeds need to be sown and nurtured. Given the right amount of nutrients, sun and water. Given time to mature and then harvested. Like Midas, even if everything else was made of gold, we could not eat it. Even if we put hundreds of satellites in space, we need our basic needs met.

Over the past few months I have appreciated growing a few things from seed. Sunflowers, mint, coriander and sage. Not enough to keep me alive but enough to give me a smug feel of being someone who grows stuff. I have little trays laid out by the windowsill and they fill me with pride each day they reach out for the sun, a few millimeters more than yesterday. What must it be like to be a real farmer!

In India, more than 11 thousand farmers ended their lives in the year 2016. Too much rain. Too little rain. Aberrant weather. Poor quality seeds. Exploitative middle men. Illness in the family. Monsanto. Easy access to pesticides. False promises of relief measures, incentivising a farmer suicide. The government promises money but fails to deliver again and again. It then blocks articles and videos that try to make this information public.

Kheyti is an organisation that helps small farmers design and implement low-cost farming interventions. “Greenhouse-in-a-Box” is a low-cost greenhouse bundled with end-to-end services. This greenhouse fits in 2-5% of a small farmer’s land, protects crops from environmental risks and grows 7 times more food using 90% less water.

This prolonged lockdown is going to affect many individuals and small businesses. Many are starting to worry about their very basic needs. Uncertainty, insecurity and the feeling of being stuck is rising everyday. Helplines are receiving more calls. Food banks have had to expand beyond capacity. The indirect and unintended consequences of the pandemic might be worse than the direct and predicted ones. As incomes fall away, despair in our communities will rise further.

Each of us needs to think of one person we know whose income might be affected by this and call them. We need to think of one person recently bereaved and call them. Not text. Not e-mail. Phone call. Speak. Directly. Ask questions. Connect, have a chat, come up with ideas and creative answers. Signpost to resources. Reassure. Give hope. Together, figure it out.

This too will pass but before that it will test us. All of us.

Kooth Infographics – suicidal thoughts rising. Highest in the Midlands.

Kooth Week 10 COVID infographics

Thank you Ma’am.

She was just over 4 feet tall but her voice boomed across the workshop as if it was arising from a big Bose speaker. She spoke, taught, lived, breathed Ikenobo, the oldest discipline in Japanese flower arranging, broadly known as Ikebana. 1400 years, to be precise. It was her life, her passion and she generously gave it to us, her students.

Initially I couldn’t figure out what I should call her. In India, I would have called her ‘Aunty’, but it didn’t seem right. Some called her by name but I couldn’t do that. I tried it but it felt wrong. She was nearly my mum’s age. I dug out the word ‘Ma’am’ from my college days, a term used to address female teachers. It felt right to me and seemed fine by her.  

She drew schematic diagrams of arrangements on a white board in front of the class, explaining the name, function, quality and significance of each component. She emphasised the relationship between different parts of an arrangement but mostly, she spoke of the importance of spaces between them.

Wood symbolized mountains while grasses and flowers suggested water. A natural landscape, in a single vase. It was a meditation of sorts, exploring the relationship between the sky, humans and earth, between the outdoors and indoors. It had philosophical representations of the past, present and future. It was about harmony and the laws of nature, a welcome break from the cacophony of London.

After Saagar passed away, she gently encouraged me to join her classes. She knew this art form would help. Mondays became exciting because they were the day of the lessons. Couldn’t believe how little they cost. It definitely was not about money. I joined this community of aspiring flower-arrangers who like me, were constantly baffled by how minor changes made by her, transformed our arrangements into spectacular creations.

Ma’am was a walking-talking Encyclopaedia on all things garden. She had looked after award winning gardens for most of her life. She knew wholesale flower markets intimately and could predict and cherish the floral offerings of every month, every season accurately. But last week, an unfortunate accident suddenly took her away from us, from this earth.  

“Not only beautiful flowers but also buds and withered flowers have life, and each has its own beauty. By arranging flowers with reverence, one refines oneself”, she would say.  

We will miss you and your finesse, Ma’am. My head bows to the space left by you. Thank you for helping me see beauty in everything.

Vite Vine

Darling Saagar,

You learnt your English in the UK from English-speaking people. I learnt it in fits and starts from Hindi/Punjabi/Bengali-speaking folk in India. It was not a surprise that you were only 10 when you took it upon yourself to start correcting my English. All the time.

“Saagar, please would you close the vindow?”

“The parent’s meeting is on Vednesday. No?”

“Where does the best Vite Vine come from?”

You would be all over the floor. What was funny? These were simple questions. In Hindi, there is an equivalent for ‘v’. None for ‘w’. The sound of ‘w’ is learnt. I learnt it and can apply it to everything except nouns. Must be a genetic aberration. I had a huge sense of achievement when I made you laugh, given my sense of humour was nothing compared to yours.

Other words that I spoke wrongly were – rebel (re-bell), adolescence (a-doll-essence) and such.

Sometimes I knowingly uttered incorrect sentences, so you could correct me, playing with your predictable pleasures.

“Bought a really nice t-shirt today.” you said.

‘What colour?’

“Not ‘what colour’ Mamma. It’s ‘which colour’.”

‘Ah. Right. What colour?’ I asked again with a crooked smile.

Rolling-up your eyes, shaking your head from side to side.

“Parents!”

Laughter.

We’re in lockdown at present, Saagar. Long story! I can’t help thinking how fab it would be to have you home. We would have so much time together to try new recipes, to exercise and laugh, play carom and do some gardening, relax and watch funny cat-videos and so on…

Time … tic-toc, tic-toc … gone forever.

My mind plays silly monkey-tricks with me. The rascal. I watch it. Holding my own, I am not getting carried away with it. I am being the witness (vitness).

You are here, with me always.

I love you.

Yours,

Mamma.