Meeting old friends for the first time.

Meeting old friends for the first time. In at least three dimensions. Sharing a physical space together, not just a bland rectangular screen. Actually holding hands.

“Gosh! You’re for real!”

The sparkling smiles of recognition mixed with disbelief. The hugs offering heart to heart resuscitation and healing. Sitting down side by side on the sofa, sharing stories, tea and cake.

A year ago, this could have been fiction but last weekend it was fact. While volunteering at a retreat for Bereaved parents hosted by The Compassionate Friends, we finally met people we’ve only ever seen on Zoom. It was held at the simple and serene Woodbrooke Centre, a Georgian manor house in Selly Oak, Birmingham with tall trees, beautiful flower beds and a family of geese perambulating the grounds, intermittently honking. It is a Quaker centre and has a poster in the main foyer which reads “Nameless helping the Nameless”.

The garden in front of the main house has a labyrinth mowed into it. Early on Saturday morning, birds were singing and the light was inviting me into the open. I decided to walk bare feet into the center of the labyrinth. I took my shoes and socks off at the edge of the circle. As soon as I started walking, it turned into an extremely mindful experience as the ground was littered with geese droppings.

The silence in that place was sweet and the views a treat. We talked about the importance of finding meaning. We shared the joys and challenges of taking the inward road. We watched a film and sang together. We wrote from our hearts and created pretty little candle holders for our kids from jam jars at the crafts table. We cried and laughed, reassured that in this company, it was completely acceptable to do both, sometimes simultaneously.

A pleasant exchange. Giving and receiving with compassion. Understanding. Belonging. Learning. Holding the utter magnificence of life in one hand and the absolute devastation in another. That’s what this game is all about, I guess.

Day 768

“For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” – Seth Godin

Moving from Belfast to London was a culture shock. Suddenly, I was a nobody. Completely anonymous. I loved the freedom it afforded but missed belonging to a group or community. Luckily, it grew around us over time. For many people living in this overcrowded city can be an extremely lonely experience.

The phrase ‘social networks’ appeared many times in today’s lecture on resilience. It reminded me of Saagar. He was all about his friends. His life revolved around them. He was happiest when he was with them. After he left for university, he had officially flown the nest. His identity rested with his peers. Even when he complained about some of their characteristics, he went back to them.

Unfortunately the timing of his illness was such that he was home when all his friends had gone back to start their third year at university. They were physically away from him. He lost his tribe. He lost himself.

Day 713

“Thank you Gas-lady” said the surgeon at the end of our working day as he picked up his bag to leave the operating theatre. I acknowledged it with a smile and a nod. That’s sweet. At that moment it didn’t register but later I realised that he does not know my name. We have worked in the same theatre complex one day per week for the past 4 years and he does not know my name. That’s interesting. I wondered how many people I see on a regular basis and don’t know the names of.

How did that make me feel? Not exactly insulted but definitely unimportant. I found myself making excuses for him – may be he finds my name difficult to remember. It is a foreign name after all. But this is London and many people here have foreign names. May be it is a reflection of a basic power imbalance – every one knows his name but he doesn’t have to know everyone’s name.

Knowing a name is a small thing, but it makes the difference between making someone feel that they matter or they don’t. When our name is known, we are more likely to have a sense of belonging to a person or a group. It also means that who we are is central to the interactions we have.

“Could someone get the defibrillator please?”
“James, could you please bring in the defibrillator?”

Which one of these two statements is likely to produce a quick and effective result? Knowing names can make it easier to get a job done.

Patients are not diabetics, schizophrenics, bed 10, ‘last on the list’, so on and so forth. They have their names and unique identities. Of course, it is not always easy to remember names. It does take some effort. It is easier to put in that effort if we know how much of a difference it can make not only to others but also to us. I find myself paying more attention to names now. Even if I get it wrong, I like to think I tried.
It is definitely worth the effort.

( Saagar was really good at remembering names. In fact, the more unusual the name, the more fun he had with it. Well, there’s a name I’ll never forget – Saagar.)

Day 711


“This study is ok for the bed-room” said my teacher scrutinizing my floral arrangement, “not for the living room.”

Resuming Ikebana lessons has reminded me how much pleasure I derive from touching, feeling, smelling and putting different types of flowers and foliage together. After a long day of practicing anaesthesia, it is a refreshing change to be in a position where the big decisions to be made are – which colour do I want the flowers to be, how long should this stem be, which leaves should I keep and which ones should be trimmed away and other such important considerations.

I belong to the Ikenobo school of Ikebana, an ancient art of Japanese flower arranging. It endeavours to bring nature indoors and establish a perfect balance between the beauty outside and inside homes. It is a classical art form based on deeply philosophical principles.

The study I am presently working on is called Shoka Shofutai. In this composition 3 types of materials are used and arranged in 3 groups named Shin, Soe and Tai.

Looking over my notes I found that the Tai group has 3 stems right in the front of the arrangement, representing the present, the past and the future. The one representing the present should stand tall and should have some buds. The one representing the future should be bending forward and should have buds. The one representing the past should be in between the two and should be the smallest in size.

I wonder if there is a message in that.


Day 709

Often I feel like I am hanging in between life and death. Neither fully alive nor fully dead. Will this plague stay within me forever or set me free one way, or another?

Andrew Sullivan, who suffered with AIDS and its accomplices writes :

“ And for a precious short time, like so many other (HIV) positive people, I also sensed that the key to living was not a concentration on fighting the mechanics of the disease (although that was essential) or fighting the mechanics of life (although that is inevitable), but an indifference to both of their imponderables. In order to survive mentally, I had to find a place within myself where plague couldn’t get me, where success or failure in such a battle was of equal consequence. This was not an easy task. It required resisting the emotional satisfaction of being cured and the emotional closure of death itself. But in that, of course, it resembled merely what we all go through every day. Living, I discovered for the second, but really the first time, is not about resolution; it is about the place where plague can’t get you.”

The grief of loosing Saagar is not the plague. It is unbearably sad but the plague is that voice in my head that screams – “You didn’t love him enough to save him. You could have done more. Love is in actions, not words. Love is not just an emotion. All this campaigning and writing is a cover-up. You will be found out. You didn’t care enough for your own child.”

That is the plague.
Living is, to find a place where the plague can’t get me.
To find a place where it can’t get me.
Cannot get me.

Day 702

In one month it will be 2 years since Saagar’s time on this planet came to an end. I don’t want that date to arrive. I am absolutely dreading it. I remember when Saagar was coming close to finishing school, the thought of him going off to university made me feel terribly sad, almost panicked, knowing it was bound to happen. It’s the same feeling, only different. Another year! Another slot of time. A longer gap between him and me, more distance between the time when he lived and now. More fade. More erosion.

This evening we attended a unique black-tie event – a dinner/dance to honour and celebrate Ruth’s life. She was only 44 when she got tired of her Bipolar Disorder. She had suffered with it for most of her adult life. Her friends and family got together and had a great big fun party for her. It was a happy event. I have never met Ruth but her Mum and I have a unique bond. It felt special to be there with Si and my parents. I felt deep gratitude for all these lovely people in my life. All the proceeds went to the charity Mind.

The same adjectives I use to describe Saagar were used  to describe Ruth. She was actively involved in amateur theatre and her gorgeous photographs from various productions were displayed for our pleasure – Kismet, Sweet Charity, South Pacific and Oliver. Her twinkling eyes and cheeky smile sparkled through every photograph.

“Mem’ries light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colour mem’ries of the way we were
Scatterred pictures of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were
Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time re-written ev’ry line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?
Mem’ries may be beautiful yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter we will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were… the way we were…”

The way we were from ‘The way we were’.

Bless you Ruthy!

Bless you Saagar!

Day 697


Last week, Saagar’s bench was dedicated to his memory at his old school. I was asked to speak. It’s never easy but I do have a lot to say and so I did speak. I also wore a sari as Saagar would have liked that.  It was attended by many of his teachers and friends, some of our friends and family and some who didn’t know him at all. Here is an except of what I said:

“We got married in 1990. I was 24. Very close to my ‘sell by’ date, which in India is about 25 for a girl.

3 years on and no kids! Both sides of parents were politely not asking, only hinting obliquely every now and then. 3 years was too long! Concerning! I was a junior doctor and Naresh was a captain in the Indian army. In the 4th year of our marriage, Saagar was born. He was beautiful! First grandchild on both sides of the family. Much adored and absolutely adorable! At 5 years of age, while moving from nursery to Kindergarten, he was asked to write numbers from 1 to 10 and then all the alphabets. He started with 1 and wrote all the numbers till 9 which he wrote the wrong way around and it became a P. He then carried on writing QRS…Z.

As he was growing up, he coped with many changes, moving from one city to another in India and then to Northern Ireland and then London. The reading homework in Primary school was more about the accent of the day rather than the reading. He had a great sense of fun. He made good of wherever he found himself. He never made a fuss. Although, age 9, after school one day he did ask me if his name could be changed to ‘Aron’. He had his own brand of humour and an infectious laughter. He loved dressing up. He valued his friendships greatly. And grew up to be a talented young man. His accomplishments far surpassed our expectations, as an academic, as a musician and linguist, a sportsman and as a human being. I always thought he was too good to be true. It turned out he was.

His brief illness was very painful and confusing for all of us, most of all for him. He did his best to manage it. He followed every advise he was given. He wanted to get better but sadly that wasn’t to be.

In the UK suicide is the leading cause of death for young people, both male and female, 3 times more than road accidents. Every day in the UK alone, 4-5 young people take their own lives. 3 times more men than women. Majority of people don’t know this. I didn’t know it. But it is the sad truth and it is closer to home than we think. It needs to be treated as an urgent priority. I am immensely grateful to the college for honouring Saagar and keeping his memory alive in so many ways. Thank you for recognising the need to raise awareness and to empower everyone to be able to make a difference.

I am very proud of Saagar. He would be very proud of me seeing me use an i-pad today. He was the one who coaxed/encouraged me to move from my good old Sony Vaio to Apple. It always amused him to see ‘old people'(me) work on a computer. Even today when I am stuck, my first instinct is to call out to him.

For me this bench is a reminder of Saagar’s friendly, creative and playful nature, his wit and charm and his ability for compassion. I hope the boys will enjoy it and know that they never have to suffer alone. I hope that it will be a source of strength and hope for many for a long time to come.

Thank you all for being here today.”

Thank you.

Day 694

Last Friday morning I was struck by a young lady I met at work. She was perfectly healthy but was in hospital to donate her eggs. It meant she would have to undergo the risk of an anaesthetic and a minor surgery. But this would make it possible for another couple, unknown to her, to have a baby. There was nothing in it for her – no money or recognition. I asked her what her motivation was. She said, “I do it because I can.”

I instantly saw her humanity shine through. I have always believed that it is in our true nature to help each other in whatever way we can. When asked, we are more than happy to help in whatever way we can. When I was convinced that I could not survive Saagar’s death, many acquaintances and strangers who reached out and helped. Many didn’t have to but they did.

Saagar’s friends have run half marathons, hosted open-mike nights, golf events and walked many miles to help raise awareness about suicide prevention. This is their opportunity to make their humanity shine and bring more light to this planet.

What can I do? I can walk. So, I am walking 50 K tomorrow to mark the World Suicide Prevention Day. It should help raise funds to create more resources for young people in distress. I hope to meet many new people and chat with them about Saagar. I shall carry his picture with me for everyone to see. I am really good at showing him off.

For the first time in my life I will also participate in something called ‘The Thunderclap’ – Talk Through the Taboo.

Just a few things you could join me in. Thank you very much!!!

Day 693

This morning I spent an hour and a half at the Parliament Square with other enthusiastic, proactive, dedicated , men and women of all age groups who are passionate about talking about suicide and bringing it into everyone’s awareness so that it stops being a taboo subject.

A new YouGov survey commissioned by national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide reveals 78% of those surveyed did not know that suicide is the leading killer of our young people. The nation needs to wake up to the reality before more young lives are lost.

People do not realise how major this issue is. We need to raise this level of awareness and enable people to be more comfortable with the idea that they too can help to prevent suicide.

When asked what stops people from asking a distressed friend or relative about their suicidal thoughts, the main reason given was the fear of putting the idea of suicide into a person’s head.

“All the evidence shows that naming suicide is a relief for the person at risk and that we cannot create the idea by talking about suicide”, stresses Ged Flynn. “I cannot emphasise more strongly that asking about destructive feelings, talking about suicide, does not make it more likely to happen. It can, and often does, reduce the risk of suicide. Talking about suicide can seem scary but silence and stigma are killing young people. Many young people feel isolated with thoughts of suicide. People can start today by supporting our #TalkThroughTheTaboo campaign – it could save a young life.”

What would stop someone from speaking out about their destructive thoughts? That they would not wish to worry anyone (31%) or felt they would be letting people down (26%). Stigma is a barrier to seeking help.

Andy’s Man club is an inspiring new movement started by Luke. His main message is – “It’s ok to talk.” ( I felt strong standing there with these people, knowing that through the pain and tears, I make a difference.

When great trees fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

-Maya Angelou

Day 682

100 kms, 2000 meters of ascent (and descent), 25 hours, much pain, a few blisters, no sleep and very little rest later, it was done. The South Coast Challenge. Inspired by our 25 K flat, riverside walk last year that he found terribly easy, with great enthusiasm Si signed up for this long arduous walk about 10 months ago. I promised to support him and do a couple of practise walks with him. Despite having had many odds against him, Si completed it with a smile.

South Coast Challenge


More than 2000 participants got together to support various charities. All around us there were pictures, memories, a few tears and the will to make a difference. I wish I had the time to get each person’s story. Si walked in support of PAPYRUS (, a charity dedicated to prevention of young suicide. At the last stop he said that if Saagar would see him in his present state, he would have a good laugh. He would laugh so much that he would cry. It was in fact raining lightly. May be that’s what it was.

It was interesting for me to be in the supporting role for a while. The waiting, hanging around, remembering the details of what would be needed when and being there just to provide moral support – small things but they meant a lot to both of us. That he is here with me and we share our lives and values so deeply  – I didn’t know this was possible. It is and I feel so lucky! So proud!