Thank you Prime Minister.

Recently, our highly respected Prime Minister declared there was a need to treat ‘problem drug users’ with ‘compassion’ by investing in rehabilitation. In the same breath, he said that his government would  ‘wage a war’ on drugs by removing passports and driving licenses from drug-users to tackle drug-related crime. He rightly emphasized that drugs were really ‘bad for society’.

Little surprise that he said absolutely nothing about the invisible drug that is freely available in shops and restaurants and can easily be found in homes, clubs and pubs. Many of us use it everyday even though it causes severe social, financial and health damage. As good friends, family and colleagues we often encourage each other to use it, while thinking nothing of using it ourselves. Some of us go as far as taking offense, when someone declines our offer to use it. Yes, alcohol is a drug. It is a depressant, even though it can fool us into thinking and feeling otherwise. It causes more than 60 types of diseases and injuries.

[Courtesy: Science Direct : https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/ethanol-effect%5D

Alcohol use, particularly heavy use and dependence is directly associated with suicide in three ways:

(1) through its dis-inhibiting effects, it emboldens people to attempt suicide

(2) individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders are at an increased risk of suicide as compared to the population at large

(3) alcohol consumption co-relates with suicide rates, all over the world.

Thank you dear PM for giving us a chance to think about our relationship with ‘drugs’, especially at this time of year which can be difficult for some and over-festive for others.

I wish you good company, much fun and laughter now and always. May you be blessed with lots of cake.

(by Charlie Mackesy from “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse”)

Ref: Suicidal Behaviour and Alcohol Abuse:  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872355/#b26-ijerph-07-01392

Pendulum swinging too far.

He: “In the present climate, this doesn’t look good. Does it? Two white men, Clifford and I, leading this place.”

Me: ‘I think it’s great as you both know your stuff and work well together. Also, the organization is gaining strength and reputation under your leadership. Give it at least another year before you change anything. Everyone’s happy.’

He: “Yes, but … it doesn’t look good.”

Me: ‘What do you mean? Who’s looking? So long as the job is done well and the purpose of the organization is served, I don’t see the problem.’

He: “Yes, but, could I ask you to be my Deputy?”

Me: ‘Oh. Me? Hmm. What does the role entail?’

He: “I will find out the details and let you know.”

Me: ‘So, you are offering me a role and you don’t know what it is?’

He: ‘Yes. But I’ll let you know very soon.’

Me: “If you don’t know what the job is, how can you offer it to anyone? How can you know that I am capable of doing it?”

This was wrong at so many levels. Don’t use people to make you look good. See beyond their ethnicity and gender and think about the job at hand. Think about their abilities and aptitudes. Remember meritocracy? Would you have a doctor or a lawyer or a car mechanic or an architect look after you only because they had particular demographics or because they had the right credentials and were bloody good at their jobs?

Moreover, my colleagues would know that my promotion had little to do with my capabilities or performance and everything to do with the fact that I am a ‘woman from a minority community’. It would be insulting. No. Thank you.

We are one race – the Human race. Each individual, fully deserving to be seen as their unique self, way beyond their gender or color or creed. Let’s not loose the plot altogether.

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

Mum’s not the word.

He didn’t want to go. The new school was an hour’s drive from home. His bags were packed. Each piece of clothing had been labelled, “Baxter 289”. Each set had been neatly marked and packaged – rugby, cricket, football. He was getting ready to leave for the most prestigious Boarding school in town. Nothing less would do for a seven years old lad from such a good family as his. It was for his own good. This precious boy needed a proper education, even if he had to be separated from his sweet mum, wrenched away from his big house on the hill and the fields all around, his playground. This was unquestionably the right thing to do and it was being done. They would make a proper young man out of him. 

His mum knelt beside him in his room, combed his curly brown hair back from his forehead and kissed him there, gently. She looked at his freckled face and spoke apologetically, “I’ll see you at the weekend my darling.”

“I don’t want to go Mum.” He said, looking straight into her big blue eyes.

“I know sweetheart. But once you get there, you’ll have so much fun. You won’t want to come home” she said.

He looked at her face, his eyes now pleading. She felt an ache in her chest and looked down and away at the green Persian carpet.

“Don’t send me away. Please. I promise to be good.”

“My sweet, sweet child. Your dad only wants what’s best for you. Let’s not keep him waiting in the car.”

She held his hand and walked him out into the sunny afternoon of that last Friday in August. The sun was keeping the car warm even though all the windows were open. The day looked like it ought to be a happy one.

It was never the same again.

Forty years later.

He wanted to come home for Christmas. The Government had locked everyone in their homes because of the bugs. He lived in the big smoky town full of bugs. She still lived in her lovely big house on the hill in the open, clean and green countryside.

“It’s not as bad as they make it out to be Mum. We are well and strong and so are you. Nothing will happen. Don’t worry.”

‘I do worry darling. Let’s meet once this season of calamity is over.’

“I would really like to spend Christmas with you.”

‘Yes. That would be nice but I am not sure. The government has not given permission yet.’

“They really should. If they don’t, that would be more of a political decision than a scientific one.”

‘The Government only wants what’s best for us. Let’s not disobey the rules.’

That sounded familiar. He was seven again.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Ref: How early maternal deprivation changes the brain and behavior? by Masa Cater and Gregor Majdic

EJN – 18 April 2021: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ejn.15238

This night.

He was born when I was 28.

The monsters of pain took him in his 21st.

I was in my 49th.

Today, he would be in his 28th. I am in my 56th.

7 years ago, this night was his last in this house.

I am here tonight. Sleeping in his room.

7 years it takes for all my cells to be replaced.

7 chakras. 7 cycles.

7 colors. 7 musical notes.

7 days clumped into a week.

A bunch of random dates. Time as a thing.

Not straight. A mirage.

Revisiting.

Revolving. Rotating.

An illusion. A thought.

A future forgot.

Grow. Mature. Flower. See.

A constellation upon which I sit as fully me.

Push through the glass wall of Time. Release.

Rise and fall

free.

Ordinary people

Once upon a time there was an ordinary person. Making a living, being honest, spending time with the family, having a few friends and simple pleasures. Nothing special. Just ordinary.

Then they lost their child to the monster of unbearable pain. They carried on breathing and giving and receiving love. There was nothing ordinary about that. They couldn’t bear the thought of the same thing happening to anyone else. So, they went out to tell the stories of their angels to everyone. To exhibit the smithereens of their bleeding hearts. That was not easy or normal but they did it anyway. To say that there were other options that they wish their kids had been encouraged to explore. To give out the phone numbers of the good people out there who can help. To remind everyone that there was hope. There is hope.

These 3 dads were ordinary people. Now they are walking together for 300 miles over 2 weeks, making waves all over the country, connecting with people, smashing the stigma and sharing the stories of their lovely girls. Ordinary and beautiful. Just like you.

Please listen and take a look at what’s possible when love speaks and acts.

Not ‘them’ and ‘us’. Just ‘us’.

It has been a dream to be face-to-face, talking about Saagar with the Psychiatric community. In the past 7 years that has not really happened. On Wednesday, the 15th of September, I got as up close as possible with an entire department of roughly 100 psychiatrists and Therapists at differing levels of experience and practice. They were in New York and I was here, in London. The Grand Round was organised by a colleague, Prof Mike Myers, who gave it the title:

‘Losing a Son to Suicide: How One Mother is Opening Hearts and Minds Around the World’

After a cordial ‘meet and greet’, the film ‘1000 days’ was screened. It was followed by complete silence. Same as the previous time it was screened. And the time before. Each time the audience was left speechless.

After a long minute I gently stepped in with the assurance that this was a normal response. I invited questions and comments. I thanked them for the work they do and acknowledged how difficult it is for the profession to deal with such losses. I shared my hope that the film will deepen their insights into the human element of such deaths and the value of forging partnerships with bereaved families.

What followed was a fulsome, creative and holistic exchange of ideas.

“What led you to make this film and share your life in this way?” one young Resident asked me.

“I could only work with what I had and do what was in front of me. When I could write, I wrote. When I could speak, I spoke. When I could learn, I learnt. From the moment I heard the news of Saagar’s death, my only intention was that this must stop. No one should have to suffer the way Saagar did or the way I and his friends do. This film came about because it’s time we recognize that these lives are worth talking about, that the desire to end one’s suffering is a normal human desire and that we all have a role to play.”

Winner – BEST DOCUMENTARY – Swindon Independent International Film Festival
Winner – Brighton Rocks Film Festival – Spirit Award
Winner – Compassion Film Festival Colorado – Reflections of Love People’s Choice Award
Nominee – Morehouse College Human Rights Festival Atlanta (winners yet to be announced) 
Semi Finalist – Gold Coast International Film Festival – New York 
Nominee – Long Story Shorts International Film Festival 

Upcoming festivals where the film can be watched starting 23rd September 2021. Tickets available now.

‘1000 Days’  
Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival – fosters ongoing discussions about human rights and social and political issues.
September 23 – 25 https://morehousehumanrightsfilmfestival.com/2021-film-guide/

‘1000 Days’ at Women Over Fifty Film Festival:
WOFFF is an inclusive, international film festival celebrating women over 50 in front of, and behind the camera.
25 Sept – 2 Oct – tickets on sale
https://wofff21.eventive.org/films/61379c142c09f100b90ae7c4

Comments:

”Bringing people closer and keeping them deeply connected despite social isolation.”

“Keeping the silk threads of human bonds as strong as ever.”

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.”

Fresh off the boat

Twenty-two years ago, when I first landed in the UK, I arrived as a qualified anaesthetist. I didn’t think of myself as a ‘female doctor’. I did not classify myself as one from the ‘ethnic minorities’. Both of those things were incidental to the fact that there was a job to be done and I could do it well, even if it was in a completely different setting, four and a half thousand miles away from home, at Antrim Area Hospital, Antrim, Northern Ireland. I was nervous but being from an army family, I was accustomed to moving every couple of years from one state of India to another (states as different as Punjab and Bengal), making it my own, learning from a different way of life and moving on to the next. I was sure of my ability to adapt.

My belongings comprised of a family photograph in a silver frame, a suitcase, mostly filled with books and two hundred pounds in cash. From the window of the plane I could see forty shades of green, in a mesmerising patchwork across the fields and hills of Ireland. The sky was the deepest, most startling blue. My heart was up in my throat with the excitement of living and working in a country where everyone was educated (why wouldn’t they be if education was free?)  and well-mannered (why wouldn’t they be if everyone was well looked after by the Government?)

One of the secretaries from the Antrim Area Hospital, Mary, very kindly came to receive me at the airport. The drive from Aldergrove Airport to the hospital was like gliding through a picture postcard. After Delhi, I could fully appreciate the wide golden-green expanses gleaming in the sunshine with not one human being in sight. When I complemented Mary on how gorgeous her country was, she was perplexed, “Really?”

Saagar was 5 years old then. He had stayed back with his dad. My plan was to find my feet and have him join me as soon as possible. I wanted to get my post-graduate exams within one or two years and go back to work in India. In the next few months, as I settled into my job, I acquired a cheap second hand Renault 19, found a family home and an appropriate child-minder. In the tea room of the hospital, the nurses would tell me about their families and ask me about mine. When I told them that I had a 5 years old child back home, they would say, “How could you leave him there?” I didn’t know what to say to that.

I still don’t.

No caller ID.

Soon after lunch one Saturday, my phone went. “No Caller ID”.

‘I am James Eames from the New World Building Society’s fraud investigation team. There have been some suspicious dealings with your debit card recently. So, I am calling to ask if you’ve given your card details to anyone lately?’ spoke a smooth cultured voice.’

“Hi. Let me think. On Monday I had an e-mail from DVLA saying I needed to update my card details to pay the road tax in time. So, I did.”

‘Right. So, that’s how they’ve got you. But, don’t worry. I have been doing this job for the last 17 years and I get to work every day, including sometimes a Saturday morning just so I can help people.’

“A bit like me then. For years I worked at least 2 weekends every month.”

‘So, I am just going to send you a text message with a code, just to verify your identity. When you get that could you read out your code to me?’

“Yes. Sure.”

‘So, I see that you have recently made a few purchases from Argos.’

“No. I have not.”

‘Ah. It must be them. We are liaising with the police to get to the computers they are using and that’ll help us catch them. So, don’t worry. This is very helpful. Could you read out the code to me?’

“Yes. It is ——.” I feel so stupid. How could I trust a random e-mail like that? I checked the site and it looked so proper – just like a government website.”

“They are very clever. You must check the sender’s e-mail address by pressing reply. You should also look out for e-mails claiming to be from DPD and Royal Mail.”

‘Gosh. It must be hard for you to keep ahead of the game with this kind of fraud, especially nowadays when everyone is banking on-line. It’s just a battle of wits. Isn’t it? And they are so smart. These youngsters.’

“Yes. We must stay sharp and we have very good security systems in place. So, that helps. I see that you move money regularly to Tina. When was the last time you did that?”

‘About 3 months back.’

“Can you trust her?”

‘Yes. Completely. She’s been a friend for 10 years.’

“Saagar?”

‘Yes. He passed away a few years ago.’

“Oh. So sorry! It seems these guys have set up a standing order in Tina’s name for 2000 pounds.”

‘Can’t you stop them?’

“Yes. We are working on that. In the meantime, can you ask your friend Tina if she has received the money? We might need to close your account and set up a new one for you.”

‘I’ll try.’ I go downstairs to get the handset of the landline and call her.

“Hi Tina. So sorry to bother you. Do you have a few minutes to speak? My bank is on the phone with me trying to sort out some stuff I need your help with.”

She confirms that she has got 2K from me. I am relieved as I know she will help me sort this out.

“Dr Mahajan, do you have a card reader?”

‘Yes.’

“Okay. If you get that and put your card in, I will give you a number to enter. Remember not to speak out your pin aloud please.”

‘Why do I need to do this?’

“To make sure that your card still works for you. If you put your friend Tina on the phone with me, I shall guide her on how to transfer the money back to you.”

Text from Tina – I just got 8,000 from you! Something is wrong. I am worried.

‘Tina says she has got 8,000 from me. I don’t even have that much money in my account. How are they doing this?’

“They might have moved money around from your savings etc. Don’t worry. Put her on the phone with me and I’ll take care of it. I have 17 years of experience in this kind of thing.”

I give Tina’s phone number to James.

I text her: James is trying to help us. He’ll call you soon. Please talk to him. Thank you!

She replies: Send me a picture of your card and I’ll transfer the money.

I do that.

James calls back, “Has she moved the money?”

‘She’s doing it. Please wait. There is no need to rush her.’

“Can you really trust her?”

‘Implicitly. She is highly talented and very hard working. She doesn’t need to cheat anyone.’ I say.

“I found her to be quite difficult. I am trying to help but she is being obstructive.”

‘Well, she has every reason to not fully trust you. You’ve only spoken with her for a few minutes. I have been speaking with you for nearly an hour now. So, it’s easier for me than for her to place her trust in you.”

“That’s right. I didn’t think of that. I can learn a few things from you. Are you doing something nice this weekend?”

‘Gosh! This is so nerve-wracking! Thank God I have a singing lesson in a little while. That’ll help calm me down. Thereafter I might watch a film on Netflix. Do you have a recommendation?’

“Yes. ‘The invisible Guest’ is in Spanish and it’s excellent.”

‘Ok. Thanks. I can recommend ‘Malcolm and Maria’ for you. It’s different. Intriguing. When do you finish work?’

“7.30 pm. I’ll probably get a pizza and watch the football.”

‘Great. Have fun when you get there. What happens now?’

“Can you check if Tina has moved the money?”

‘I don’t want to be so pushy. Let me send her a text.’

Any luck? I ask her.

She replies: I am on the phone with my bank. Nearly there.

Thanks Tina.

“Shall I log into my account and see if the money has come back?”

‘No. We are working on it. So, you won’t be able to access it now.’

“Okay. I am really tired now. Can we please finish this call? I am sure she will move the money back to me.”

‘I am tired too. Shouldn’t take long now.’

Text from Tina: That guy called you was fraud because when you just put your card in your card reader, just then was transferred money. 8000. He give me other account numbers. But I move money to what you give me.

“How do I know that you are calling from New World?”

‘Can you read the name of the sender of the texts?’

“Yes. They are from New World.”

‘That is your proof. That cannot be faked.’

More codes arrived, the card reader was used a couple more times. Finally, James was happy. He said it was all sorted. Gave me a reference code and signed off.

Later on when Si came home, I told him all about it and we looked at those text messages from New World. Each of them said –

“Never share this code with anyone. Only a fraudster would ask for it.”

I held my head in both my palms and broke into a sweat.

Once my breath returned, we phoned the fraud squad at New World and they told me that all the money that had been transferred out had been moved back into my account. A few purchases were attempted which did not get through:

JD Sports.

Fancy shoes.

Pizza.

(PS: Based on true events)