Day 815


(A sculpture by Ruth M, who lived with Bipolar Disorder, expressing her depression)

In the 1940s, mental hospitals were places of isolation and confinement, probably closer to prison than hospital. Netherne, in Surrey was seen as a progressive asylum at the forefront of waves of reform and development for nearly 50 years, till the eventual closure of the British asylums. They enthusiastically adopted physical treatments, now viewed as barbaric- insulin coma therapy, electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy, then seen as optimistic approaches to treatment.

Edward Adamson (1911-1996) was a pioneer of British Art Therapy. He encouraged and collected the paintings, drawings and sculptures by people compelled to live in Netherne Hospital between 1946 and 1981. He describes that many people who came to his first lecture there had shaved or bandaged heads, bruised faces and black eyes, following brain surgery.

Adamson started collecting art during his early visits when a man on a locked ward gave him the first of his several drawings done on toilet paper with a charred matchstick. He later met other people on the wards who would have had no personal possessions, working with whatever materials they could find to create something for themselves.

The Adamson Collection has 6,000 of these works of an estimated 100,000 when he retired. The collection is seen as unique in the history of art therapy of the reforming psychiatry of the 1950s and 60s, collected by an artist rather than a psychiatrist, with a strong representation of works by women. Above all it is a memorial to all those who suffered in the asylums and to the human need to express.

“Edward Adamson practiced art as healing before there were ever terms or labels like ‘Art Therapist’. Being with him for anyone was therapy and yet he didn’t play at clinician, but rather served so sweetly as a supreme friend, ‘there’ for those who had none other. There were for Edward no patients. I think that is why so many lost people in his care found their way back to themselves. Adamson’s was an alchemy of the highest sort.”

– Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, Founder/Director American Visionary Art Museum, 2011



Day 811

Her Voice – a short story

‘I hear her. Her voice is in my head’ says Joe.
“How long has the voice been there?” asks the trainee psychiatrist.
‘Since I was 12.’
“And you are now 18.”
“Is it really upsetting for you?”
‘Yes. Distressing. I feel terrible.’
“What does the voice say?”
‘Different things. Often cries desperately.’
“How often does this happen?”
‘At least 3-4 times every day. It’s painful.’
“Hmmm. Let me speak to my senior and come back to you in a few minutes.”

A few minutes later.

“We think you might have Schizophrenia. Let’s start you on Quetiapine and see how it goes.”

Joe waits at the pharmacy to collect his medication. A trainee nurse is also waiting there to collect some meds for a patient on the ward. They talk. He tells her why he’s there. She asks him who is ‘she’? Whose voice does he hear?

‘She is my little sister. When we were kids we shared a bedroom. At night, my mum’s boy friend would come into our room and trouble my little sister behind a curtain. She cried. I could hear her but I was powerless. I could hear her then. I can hear her now.’

‘Do you think these pills will work?’

Day 799

(An exercise in creative writing)

Carousel number 6 rolled and tumbled squares and rectangles flown in from Dubai to London Heathrow. People crowded around it, like moths to light, waiting impatiently. The black boxes looked suspiciously similar yet, 2 good-looking men in their late thirties, both in well-worn denim jeans and greenish t-shirts, both roughly size 40 picked up 1 each, assuming ownership and walked to the exit. One of them Steve, the other Matt.

As Steve left in a black cab, the thought of his ex-wife from a decade ago, Tara, struck him out of the blue. She most certainly lives in London now. He wondered if she had finally found ‘satisfaction’, smirking to himself. This business trip had been thrust upon him. He tried hard to see the upside with no luck. He had half a day to himself with no plans. He managed to check into his allotted section of the travel factory and sat looking blankly at the heavy maroon silk curtains, really bored.

Well, best unpack and venture out for a walk, he thought. Surprisingly, the number-lock on his suitcase was undone. However unlikely, he must have forgotten to lock it before departure, said his rational mind. He opened the black Tumi and was hit by an explosion of floral perfume. Looking through the fragrance, the contents of the box appeared textural and colourful, most unlike his own belongings. A red feather boa lay strewn across the top. He was shocked and intrigued, completely sucked into the suitcase. He picked it up like a thief, peering shadily around the empty room to check if anyone was looking. It was softer and lighter than anything he had ever touched before. He had to know what it felt like on his cheeks, so it automatically came up to his face. It was so soothing that his eyes closed all by themselves. After a while he respectfully placed it on the bed. On second thoughts, he bravely wrapped it around his neck. He then pried back into the box.

A pair of purple silk net stockings came next, another delicate, tactile article. It seemed ridiculous that he had a strong desire to try them on. For once, he allowed himself to go with it and changed into the sexy, luscious, figure-hugging, perfect leg wear. His hands didn’t want to let go of it but his legs loved it even more. Then came the little black dress, the dramatic fake eye-lashes, the flashy silver bracelets, the red pencil heels, the gorgeous make up, the Jitterbug perfume and the flamboyant blonde wig. And, they all fitted him superbly!

Suddenly a jarring sound shocked him out of his rhapsody. It was the blasted phone. The airline-man said there had been a mistake with baggage handling. Steve didn’t know how to speak with lipstick on but before he knew it a feeble ‘yes’ escaped his lips. It was arranged for him to take the suitcase back to the Information Desk as the owner of this suitcase was in a hurry to have it back. Steve felt somewhat curious and embarrassed.

A handsome couple stood at the desk, slightly pensive. Steve feigned complete innocence as he blokishly shook hands with Matt who leaned forward slightly to pick up the fragrance of Jitterbug perfume on Steve. He gave him a slightly crooked knowing smile that Steve dodged and furtively looked away. His eyes fell upon an older, more elegant Tara, Matt’s partner.

Steve’s ego was shot to pieces but he was grateful for this introduction to his own little piece of heaven.

Day 797

My generation is the last one to have grown up in a world without screens. Being an army family we were often stationed at faraway places in India where the TV signal was too faint to be picked up. It was an occasional luxury to see a snowy screen in black and white that showed a hazy picture after much manipulation of the rooftop aerial and imploring of the Gods. Our neighbours were kind about sharing their big black telephone with us in case of an important call.

One day a magic box called the ‘cassette player’ arrived. It was a source of great pleasure as we could listen to songs of our choice as and when we liked as opposed to waiting for them to be played on the radio.

A radio that was presented to my parents at their wedding travelled with me to medical school. All through my time there I planned my life around it. My favourite station, All India Radio Urdu Service finished broadcasting at half past 12 at night and hence bedtime was 1 am. By the end of my 5 and a half years there, I had to use sharpened matchsticks to enable the worn little bandwidth buttons to maintain electrical contact. I depended on it. It was my most prized possession, my window to the world.

I remember standing in queues to make phone calls from a manned telephone booth without a door or walls. At the time it wasn’t fun as my side of the conversation was easily audible to all present. There was no time or space for small talk as I was most aware of everyone around especially those awaiting their turn.

That was a beautiful world and so is this. Now it’s so wonderfully easy to stay connected with people all over the world, to share our thoughts and ideas. Our screens can be our windows to the world and allow us to connect across previously unfathomable distances. It has been a blessing for me to be able to share Saagar with you. Thank you for walking with me.

Day 777


I am the breath of eternal presence
I am the resonance of the heart
The sounding of the creation and beyond
The sounding of eternity and infinity
The divine vibration that brought all into being
Not too loud not too silent
Not too light not too dark
Not too hard not too soft
Neither too aggressive nor the abused
I am the balanced inner strength of equanimity
Creation is only a blink of the ‘I’ of eternity
Eternity is only a blink of the ‘I’ of creation
Words carry a vibration of consciousness
I am the spiritual intensity of words
I am the sound of one hand clapping
I am the sound of one whole remembered
I am the heart’s mantra of transformation
I am the sound of virtues nurtured or not
I am the sound of choices made
Eternally and infinitely vibrant
I am also silence resounding
And none of the above
The only one I can change is myself
I am neither the changer nor the change
I am destruction as I withdraw energy and change focus
I am creation as I give energy to the new focus
As I am destruction so I am creation inseparably
I am the ebb and flow of life itself.
Going with the flow is not an aimless drifting downstream
It is a purposeful working with what is
I am the sound of humility and renunciation
The emptiness of the divine
I am the sound of gratitude and fullness
I am all concepts and none
All beings and none
All form and none
All consciousness and unconsciousness
I am everything and nothing
I am and am not.

– Satya.

Day 770

The Last Time 

The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant
with white tablecloths, he leaned forward
and took my two hands in his hands and said,
I’m going to die soon. I want you to know that.

And I said, I think I do know.
And he said, What surprises me is that you don’t
And I said, I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you’re going to die.

And he said, No, I mean know that you are.

– by Marie Howe whose brother John died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989. She published her best-known book of poems, What the Living Do. The title poem in the collection is a haunting lament for her brother with the plain last line: “I am living. I remember you.”

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days,
some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up.

Waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and then the sunlight passes through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here
and I can’t turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking now: This is what the living do.
And yesterday, hurrying along those wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk,
spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

When you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass.
We want whoever to call or not to call, a letter, a kiss- we want more and more and more of it.

But there are moments, when walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself
in the window glass, say, the window of the corner of the video store,
and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

For my own blown hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Day 766

“I have only a story and my belief in the power of story to save us.”
– by Bruce Weigl.

“We are beings who require language to be. It is an existential imperative that people share stories. Indeed, the human experience is contingent upon the interaction of stories.”
– by Frances Driscoll, a survivor of rape and a writer with the power to heal through poetry as a way to process pain, giving voice to the voiceless.

Island of the Raped Women

There are no paved roads here
And all of the goats are well-behaved.
Mornings, beneath thatched shelters,
we paint wide-brimmed straw hats.
We paint them inside and outside.

We paint very very fast.
Five hats a morning.
We paint very very slow.
One hat a week.
All of our hats are beautiful
and we all look beautiful in our hats.

Afternoons, we take turns:
mapping baby crabs moving in and out of sand,
napping, baking.
We make orange and almond cake.
This requires essence and rind.
Whipped cream. Imagination.
We make soft orange cream.
This requires juice of five oranges and juice of one lemon.
(Sometimes we substitute lime for the lemon. This is also good.)

An enamel lined pan.
Four egg yolks and four ounces of sugar.
This requires careful straining,
Constant stirring, gentle whisking.
Watching for things not to boil.
Waiting for things to cool. We are good at this.
We pour our soft orange cream into custard cups.
We serve this with sponge cake.

Before dinner, we ruffle pink sand from one another’s hair.
This feels wonderful and we pretend to find the results interesting.
We all eat in moderation
and there is no difficulty swallowing.
We go to bed early.
(Maybe, we even turn off lights. Maybe, we even sleep naked. Maybe.)
We all sleep through the night.

We wake eager from dreams
filled with blue things and designs for hats.
At breakfast, we make a song,
Chanting our litany of so much collected blue.
We do not talk of going back to the world.

We talk of something else sweet to try with the oranges: Sponge custard.
Served with thick cream or perhaps with raspberry sauce.
We paint hats. We paint hats.