Six years ago, Remembrance Sunday fell on the 11th of November. Same as today. I was visiting Saagar in Durham that weekend and had the privilege of attending the special Sunday service at the ancient, opulent Durham Cathedral. The music and words were deeply moving. I felt lucky to have found a spot to stand at the back of the cathedral that day. I met up with Saagar afterwards and we went for a long walk, lunch and then we had a hot chocolate at the Railway station before my return.
I was surprised to find that over a million Indian soldiers fought in WW1 at Somme, France. At least 74,187 Indian soldiers died and 67,000 were wounded during the war. We rightly remember and honour those who lost their lives serving their country. But do we learn from history?
Northern Europeans have mass murdered indigenous people of entire continents, now Australia and USA, diminishing their numbers to tiny percentages. Then they funded scholars to write books to justify these acts of violence against innocents. Today, I remember and honour all those people who died defending their right to exist.
India was known as ‘the golden bird’ before the Empire established itself in that country. After years of exploitation and oppression they left behind a shattered subcontinent. A fractured country. 14 million people were displaced and several hundred thousand lost their lives as a result. I salute all those innocents who died for no fault of their own.
“What do you think of western civilisation?”, someone asked Mahatma Gandhi.
He replied, “That would be a good idea.”
We continue to make war in the name of peace. We spend millions on finding more deadly and cowardly ways of killing people. We never forget the 3000 people who died in America on 9/11 but we don’t remember the 500 that have been dying every week in Syria for the last 7 years and in Yemen for the last four. Before that, in Afghanistan and Iraq. All, for peace and liberty. Today, I remember all people, everywhere who have been traumatised and displaced by war and those who have died violent deaths as a result of war. May humankind learn to be kind.
The concert had just finished and the hall was semi-lit. A dance recital entitled ‘Hope’ had coaxed everyone’s feelings up from deep within to just under the surface, like fish in an aquarium hovering at the top for specks of food. The main supporter of the show was the Patel family who had recently lost one of its eminent members. He was survived by his young wife and three kids. The soft thuds of seats folding up, the hiss of people whispering in gentle tones and trudging in small steps towards the exit filled the warm air.
I approached the 17 years old Patel boy, one of the sons. He appeared shrunken. Contracted, like an empty plastic water bottle, after a flight.
“How’re you doing?”
‘Not bad. Thanks’ he stated, unconvinced, looking downwards and sideways.
“Did you enjoy that?”
‘Yes. T’was nice.’ Still expressionless.
“How’s mum doing?”
‘We went for a safari to Kenya. That was good’ he looked up a little.
“I am sorry for your loss. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself.”
‘Yes. Thanks’. Mortified.
“Can I give you a hug?”
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.
The bridge rumbles, shakes and shudders
as trains thunder over it.
I sit under the bridge and everything around me
rumbles, shakes and shudders.
The verticals, horizontals and things in between
Outside and inside of me
I live under this bridge. It threatens to snap and bury me in rubble
Some trains are overloaded.
They crawl on top of my chest.
Crushing me to pulp.
Others come galloping,
Turning me to fine flying dust.
Thousands of us huddle under this bridge.
Wondering why our love wasn’t enough
Why no one said anything
Why it keeps happening at a maddening pace
Why we were blind
Why we didn’t know what to do
Why the Earth keeps spinning
Why the breath keeps oscillating
Why the heart keeps drumming.
4 years ago, it was all happening in September.
He didn’t know he was so close to the end.
I didn’t know I was so close to his end.
Now, I know.
Was I deaf or is it much too late?
She was 29. She had suffered with severe anxiety and depression since the age of 12. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and other things. “I have never been happy – I don’t know the concept of happiness”, said she. Aurelia had spent a couple of years in a Psychiatric unit and a couple in a prison. She wanted to be freed from her body. Doctors in the Netherlands agreed to assist her to end her life. On the 26th of Jan 2018, she drank the poisonous mix of drugs (supplied by medics), cosy in her bed, in the presence of her pals and 2 doctors, clutching her soft, pink, toy dinosaur and peacefully slipped away.
This is the beginning of the death of hope. I have full sympathy with Aurelia’s suffering. The question is:
Had every other option been fully explored and found useless?
Had she read Buddhist teachings or volunteered to help conserve a local park or anything else?
Had she tried travelling to a different country with a different vibe?
Had she tried Homeopathy, Ayurveda or Chinese traditional medicine?
Reflexology, Aromatherapy or Kinesiology? Music, theatre or art therapy?
The range of options explored are limited by the limitations of the imagination of ‘the system’. A purely medical approach is useless without attention to social factors. Many social issues cannot be fixed but they can be understood and imaginative alternatives offered.
Her death wish was most likely a symptom of her illness. No?
Does this euthanasia make it easier for many others to give up?
Can we be a 100% sure that she had considered all her options?
Had she received appropriate bereavement support when her mother had passed away?
My deepest condolences to her friends and her Dad.
RIP Aurelia. I am sorry you couldn’t find a reason to live.
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.