He loved the company of older boys. The younger ones annoyed him. His favourite thing as a toddler was to stand in super-big shoes belonging to the older men in the family. He waded around the house in them. He happily posed for the camera with a toothy grin, looking up with his twinkling eyes.
He couldn’t wait to grow up. As a 5 year old, he would sit studiously at the dining table and squiggle pages of nonsense words on a writing pad, claiming seriously, ”I am doing office work.”
About a year later, one Sunday I was on call. We were driving to his child-minder’s house at 7 am. There was no traffic at all. All of Belfast was asleep. I said to him, “Look Saagar, it’s so unfair. Everyone is resting today and I have to go to work.” After a moment’s thought he said, “But Mamma, you’re a good girl.”
One summer evening, he had been playing outside with his friends for a couple of hours. We lived in the hospital accommodation which was a block of 6 flats surrounded by green grounds and tall trees, a safe distance away from the road. At dinner time, he said he wasn’t hungry as he had had snacks at one of the neighbours. I had prepared dinner and had been waiting to have it with him. I tried to coax him to eat just a little bit. But he didn’t want to. I persisted with my efforts, making up stuff like, he would get bad dreams if he didn’t have a proper meal before bed. After a while he sat me down and said, “Mamma, when you are not hungry, do I force you to eat?”
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.
He sits on a bench in Borough market with one of his friends who gets up and goes to get a drink. My heart takes a giant leap. Si is with me. He calls out his name and he beams his trademark squinty smile of recognition at him. He stands up. They shake hands like old mates. My eyes fixate on his face like those of a mad woman. His eye-lashes are not as thick as before. Everything else is the same. I recognise his off-green t-shirt that he lived in. I can’t hold back. My fingertips explore his shoulders without his permission. He doesn’t seem to notice. He’s definitely real. I can touch him. He raises his left arm to rearrange his hair the way he does. He pinches the front of his t-shirt between his right thumb and index finger like he does. Either he can’t see me or he’s letting me do my thing. He’s talking to Si.
“The guys in grey suits wrote to us in first year at Uni. All the students on the Arabic course got the invitation.”
‘You didn’t say anything.’
‘No. They told us not to. They offered us jobs.’
‘Exciting. After the second year at Uni I thought I’d take it up.’
‘It was fun but then … 4 years was enough.’
“So, is this for good?”
‘Yup. For now.’
“Good to see you man.”
‘Yeah. And you. Great to be back. Argentinian Empanadas. I remember those.’
I am still invisible to him. We used to buy empanadas together. Beef ones for him and Spinach and ricotta for me. My finger tips are still confirming reality. He has been working out. I can tell. I want to check his tattoo but that would be too bold. I want to look for the scars on his left forearm but my eyes cling to his thick black brow, his slightly dry lips, his careless stubble. Their thirst cannot be quenched. My ears clasp his voice, his breath. Every word, a harmony. He is here. His words are real. He’s been hiding all this while, working with some kind of a Secret Service. He looks like a British Indian James Bond. But he still hasn’t noticed me and it’s ok.
The tension in my arms lessens as more and more confirmatory signals feed into my brain. My heart is doing somersaults like he did when he was 6. My eyes are so wide, they can take the whole world in.
” 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. 😦 “
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.”
Born and brought up mainly in the plains of North India, my geographical vocabulary is meagre. The feeling of being at the toe of a glacier is a thousand times more awe-inspiring than looking at its picture. The expansive agelessness of it! It goes back thousands of years, slowly and steadily, giving. It makes me feel small, as I am reminded of the angst on the railway platforms in London when the 7.12 is delayed by 4 minutes. Time adorns a different cape in the white light of the glaciers.
The debris revealed on the sides and the toe of a glacier as it recedes forms landmasses called (lateral and terminal respectively) moraines. Often there is a bowl of icy water in the centre as if artfully crafted by a deft potter.
The glaciers have their own weather system. A breeze blows downhill over them cooled by the icefield. It is denser and heavier than the air it replaces. These winds have the staccato name of ‘katabatic’ winds.
The Athabasca Glacier spills from the Columbia Icefield, flowing over three giant bedrock steps like a massive slow-moving waterfall. Although glacial ice is solid, it deforms and flows under pressure, moving like a thick pudding. Gravity and the weight of the ice pulls it downhill towards the valley.
And the valley offers splendour and beauty in abundance.
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-August and I am missing you. To say ‘I miss you’ is like saying ‘I am alive’. I think of all the evenings and weekends I spent at work while you were home. At that time, I thought I had no choice but now I know I did. I thought wrong. I think of the time we were walking through an ‘Ideal Home Show’ and you wanted to buy a brown leather bean-bag for your room and I said no. I thought you should have more floor space. Again, I thought wrong. These thoughts are sets of darts that fly in uninvited at supersonic speed and leave parallel rows of bleeding abrasions behind.
This summer has been exceptionally glorious but Nature at large is annoyed with us I think. There have been flash-floods, droughts and heat-waves in most unlikely of places, forest-fires and famines, violent volcanoes and earth-quakes. I wonder what you would’ve made of the burning Middle-east, Mr Trump, Brexit and North Korea. If only Electric cars could solve all the problems of the world.
They say the longest journey is from the head to the heart. I made that journey in one second – the second I knew you were gone. You won’t believe how many real friends and real conversations I now enjoy. I also read a lot more. I wonder what you think of my new reading glasses – metallic purple frame. Yes. The time has come. After carrying them all over the world in a red polka-dotted Cath Kidson case for more than a year, I have finally started wearing them.
While clearing up a corner of the study I found a set of drum-sticks that belong to you. They looked well used. ‘REGAL TIP USA But Naked’. 🙂 I held them in my hands like you would’ve. You remember how we competed in the game of ‘chop sticks’? One shrimp, one string of spaghetti, one edamame bean, one grain of rice, half an edamame bean and so on… you won every time. You rascal!
Yesterday, the ‘Old people’s’ radio said that ‘Friends’ was the most streamed TV programme on-line. I remember how our opinions about Rachel clashed as though she was the most important person in our lives. FYI, I’ve still not changed my mind about her.
West Norwood High street has many more cafés now – Thai, French, Brazilian and Portuguese. I feel a stronger sense of community is developing here. The new improved South London Theatre is putting up some great shows and a new Cinema is being built where the Library used to be. The streets and cafés miss you too my darling.
I attach a picture of your beloved drum-sticks for you. I could write, not just a letter but a whole book for you but, another time. I hope wherever you are, you’re having fun.