A weak heart (microfiction)

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.”

Meet Bruce

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“… if bread is to be a life companion, then we had better be choosy about it…”
– Elizabeth David

I remember the weeks and months of ‘tea and toast’.
Food that whispered to my heart,
“Every little thing’s gonna be alright”. And still does.
Food that nourishes the soul and sustains the spirit.

If breaking bread together is gold-like comfort and trust,
making bread together is nothing less than alchemy.
Under the wise and precise tutelage of Hilary Cacchio
Si and I spent some time this weekend feeling kneady.
We got our fingers dirty making sourdough starters.
We got introduced to ‘Bruce’, a four year old culture.
He was named after the priest who blessed him when he was little.
He smelt sickly-sweet, more like beer than champagne.
His texture was spongy, like honeycomb and
he was the perfect balance of yeast and bacteria.

The stringent accuracy of weighing ingredients was scary.
Rye, spelt, white, brown, caraway, coriander, molasses…
The importance of ‘resting’ was reiterated time and again.
It must be as important for dough as for humans.
The art of stretching organic white flour
into fine glutinous strands felt like a
Dance between one hand flattening the dough
and the other maneuvering a fine pink plastic scraper.
The wooden worktop was like solid silk.
Luckily, after 10 minutes of dancing, and some resting,
our dough passed the ‘stretch test’
(a delicate interplay of fingers)
Got tactfully transferred on to trays and
went into hiding in huge industrial ovens.

What went in – Salt, flour and water.
What came out –
Golden-brown, fragrant, light and airy dollops of heaven.

A touch of butter on fresh warm bread.
Yes. Every little thing’s gonna be alright.

Cyclists rule!

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We know we are in Holland when the study table in our hotel room has a puncture repair kit in the drawer. Looking out of the window I see people riding their bikes with great abandon – simultaneously texting, chomping at an ice-cream, carrying a big bunch of flowers and chatting with a friend riding a bike in parallel. Pedestrians and automobiles are invisible to them. Bi-cycles go where they like, when they like. Anytime of day or night they shoot out of blind corners and come barging at us from all sides. Walking the cobbled streets as unsure visitor, we feel like an inconvenience to these bikers. I seriously envy them their security, their space and their freedom!

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A white van drives past us with ‘Authentic smaak’ emblazoned across the side in dark green. It brings amusement to our faces. Does this mean what we think it does? We guess it refers to one of the substances that Amsterdam is well known for. We later discover the innocent local meaning of ‘smaak’ is ‘taste’.

‘Dutch masters at the Hermitage‘ is an enlightening exhibition. We got up-close to some of Rembrandt’s great works. The portrait of an old jew from 1654 came out a clear winner in my eyes. The light on his hands and face, the fineness of the wrinkles, the stories hidden in them, the detail on the hands, the use of space, the aura of wisdom …

Our hotel lobby was dominated by a large portrait of a mother and child. Painter unknown. Dates unknown.

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It softened my heart. It spoke to me. It took me right back into the past. It made me sad in the most delightful way. It brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my lips. I didn’t need reminding that my very last holiday with Saagar, in April 2014 was to this very town, Amsterdam. He is with me, wherever I go. Our children never go too far away. They are in our DNA as much as we are in their’s.

 

 

Turn the page…

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The wisdom of Paulo Coelho:

“One always has to know when a stage comes to an end. If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.
Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.

Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden?
You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened.

You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that.
But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister.
Everyone is finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away.
That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home.

Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.
Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them.

Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.
Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.

Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the “ideal moment.”

Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back.
Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need.
This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life.

Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.
Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.”

Three years of nothing

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One morning as I set off to work on my bike, my neighbour bundled up her chatty 6 years old son in her car and drove him to school. In the evening when I got back home, huffing and puffing, she was there again, putting the bins out with her son. I unlocked our front door and walked in with the biggest lump in my throat.

A few months ago, a notice arrived from the Council saying that the rubbish collection day would change from Tuesdays to Fridays. My first thought was, “Must let Saagar know.” It’s not the fancy things, but silly, mundane, ordinary, everyday things that make up the essential fabric of life.

Yesterday was three years since we spent a whole day together, going to the GP, then to the green-grocer and bank, then for a walk and then for an afternoon nap. When he was upstairs in his room, I phoned my brother in India and shared my sadness and helplessness about Saagar’s illness. He said he would come over as soon as his Visa came through, most likely within the next couple of days. I felt re-assured. I cooked a nice meal. We ate and watched TV together. We kissed good-night and went to bed.

3 years ago, today was the last time I drove him to the gym and back. He didn’t spend much time there. I noticed but didn’t make much of it. I asked him if he met any of his friends in the gym. He said no. He did his best to carry on. Today was the last time I gave him a cuddle and kissed him good night.

Last week I happened to walk past the GP surgery where Saagar was treated (or not). It has closed. The GP has retired. A barrage of mixed feelings emerged out of nowhere. It felt good to read that sign. Yet, it marked the end of a career, a vocation. God knows how many people found help and comfort there. God knows how many got lost. God knows how many such practices still exist where GPs work single-handedly and in isolation, hiring locums on occasion.

Walking along the Thames a few days ago, a stream of bubbles glided across my field of vision with the majestic, unshakable St Paul’s cathedral standing solidly in the background. The bubbles captured all the colours of the rainbow hidden in the autumn sun. The breeze sculpted subtle shifts in the shapes of the bubbles as they floated along the river. They danced and smiled as they moved with the wind. They added immense beauty to the world even though they lasted less than a few seconds.

Billions of people have lived and died before Saagar and I. Hopefully, billions will live and die after us. We are like bubbles in the ocean of life, capturing all the colourful emotions and being the best we can for as long as we are here, however long or short.

Saagar’s best friend Hugo shares his thoughts and memories. He also sings a beautiful song for Saagar. We love you and miss you darling Saagar. May peace be upon you!

 

 

 

 

A life sentence.

The best part of being human is to be able to feel stuff. All kinds of stuff. The world seems to be forever in pursuit of happiness in more money, more holidays, more clothes, more children and so on. The elusive ‘happiness’ is put on hold until the ‘more’ arrives, soon to be followed by more ‘more’.

In a week, it will be 3 years since Saagar died. For days I have been feeling this day approaching like a huge oil tanker which is going to squash my dinky little boat. This inauspicious day should be removed from all calendars everywhere for all the years ahead. It should be obliterated, erased, deleted and destroyed.

I think back on this time three years ago, trying to understand how Saagar must have felt. I try to find words for the thoughts and feeling that he could not verbalise. I lament the fact that no one could read his body language. I admire him for coping with his state of mind with patience and dignity. I look at his face-book post from this night. It was a full moon. He said ‘big ass moooooon innit”. I marvel at his ability to appreciate beauty. I remember how funny he was. I get a smile on my face. I promise myself never to take one moment of those 20 years for granted. Each of them was a blessing. Yes. It’s true that this feels like a life-sentence sometimes. Yet, I know I am blessed.

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“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace

 

I am not my diagnosis.

While I continue to struggle to figure out Twitter, forget how to update my website, get confused while recording podcasts, consistently get my innumerable passwords mixed up, stay oblivious about Instagram and Snapchat, the digital world gallops ahead.

Digital Interventions in mental health Conference 2017 was recently held in London. It explored topics across psychiatry, technology and culture to identify innovative ways of addressing mental health needs.

Dr Becky Inkster is a Neuroscientist, passionate about digital interventions in mental health, social media data analysis, genomics, molecular biology, and neuroimaging. She co-founded Hip-Hop Psych as she is passionate about working with hard-to-reach, disadvantaged groups and youth culture.

‘Views from the street’, ‘Prison transition tools’, ‘Beyond the bullets’ and ‘The Digital Psychiatrist’ are some of the workshops that were conducted at the above conference. The range of topics was rather fantastic. It was aimed at improving our understanding of how social media is helping to create and facilitate new spaces for mental health practices and support, exploring the benefits of social media and social networking to improve a sense of identity, self-expression, community building and emotional support through examining a few popular international examples. Participants and facilitators engaged in interactive sessions to understand how new tools for self-expression via pictures, videos, captions and short personal narratives can help break down the stigma surrounding mental health and perhaps even lead to more people seeking help. They explored how to empower young people to use social networks in a way that promotes their mental health and wellbeing, how to harness the power of social media to nurture mental health innovations that the future holds.

Impressive stuff. I carry on doing what I do. I write another article for the Huffington post – Darkness to light. I talk about my darling Saagar and emphasise the importance of us, the people, educating and empowering ourselves so that we can help ourselves and each other through the light of knowledge and empathy. I continue to speak with ordinary people living extra-ordinary lives. Here is a conversation with Sara Muzira, mother of the beautiful Simba. Both, mum and son are artists. She talks about the state of inpatient mental health services in her experience and things that can be made better for patients and their families. Thank you Sara.