That’s what it’s all about. Isn’t it? Our most basic needs.
For some, who were comfortable, these basics are threatened in the current climate. For some they have constantly been under threat. For the lucky ones, all is well. For now.
The fact remains that food needs to be grown by someone. Seeds need to be sown and nurtured. Given the right amount of nutrients, sun and water. Given time to mature and then harvested. Like Midas, even if everything else was made of gold, we could not eat it. Even if we put hundreds of satellites in space, we need our basic needs met.
Over the past few months I have appreciated growing a few things from seed. Sunflowers, mint, coriander and sage. Not enough to keep me alive but enough to give me a smug feel of being someone who grows stuff. I have little trays laid out by the windowsill and they fill me with pride each day they reach out for the sun, a few millimeters more than yesterday. What must it be like to be a real farmer!
In India, more than 11 thousand farmers ended their lives in the year 2016. Too much rain. Too little rain. Aberrant weather. Poor quality seeds. Exploitative middle men. Illness in the family. Monsanto. Easy access to pesticides. False promises of relief measures, incentivising a farmer suicide. The government promises money but fails to deliver again and again. It then blocks articles and videos that try to make this information public.
Kheyti is an organisation that helps small farmers design and implement low-cost farming interventions. “Greenhouse-in-a-Box” is a low-cost greenhouse bundled with end-to-end services. This greenhouse fits in 2-5% of a small farmer’s land, protects crops from environmental risks and grows 7 times more food using 90% less water.
This prolonged lockdown is going to affect many individuals and small businesses. Many are starting to worry about their very basic needs. Uncertainty, insecurity and the feeling of being stuck is rising everyday. Helplines are receiving more calls. Food banks have had to expand beyond capacity. The indirect and unintended consequences of the pandemic might be worse than the direct and predicted ones. As incomes fall away, despair in our communities will rise further.
Each of us needs to think of one person we know whose income might be affected by this and call them. We need to think of one person recently bereaved and call them. Not text. Not e-mail. Phone call. Speak. Directly. Ask questions. Connect, have a chat, come up with ideas and creative answers. Signpost to resources. Reassure. Give hope. Together, figure it out.
This too will pass but before that it will test us. All of us.
It wasn’t just a physical transportation but also an emotional one. For four weeks I was not an anaesthetist or a wife. I was just a traveling (Churchill) Fellow, curious to learn everything about ways of supporting vulnerable people through crises, advocacy for struggling families and attempt survivors, intentional and effective peer support, safe care-transitions and timely compassionate support for families, friends and communities affected by suicide.
Two contrasting towns with distinct landscapes. Concord in New Hampshire was a small, friendly town resplendent with autumnal beauty, a quiet serenity and a lot of ‘heart’. New York, a big blustering metropolis with clanking trains, crazy-ass driving (yes, worse than London), much honking and many high-level policy-makers. Hence, more like the ‘head’ of the suicide prevention community.
Since Saagar’s passing, I have not been on my own for that length of time. Especially as his 5th anniversary fell right in the middle of it. It was not easy living fully immersed in the world of Suicide prevention (SP) almost every day for a month. Sometimes it was overwhelming and ‘too much’. It turned out that I was not alone. I was met with much warmth, kindness and understanding. Some old friends made time to catch up with me and some new friends emerged.
One sunny autumn day I had the pleasure of riding a 3-person- tandem bike with an amazing couple who have cycled thousands of miles in tandem all over the world for the past 27 years. On the 16th Ann (an excellent SP trainer) and I went for a nice long walk in the woods in Derry with Dr Indiana Jones, her Border Collie. This was followed by a much needed brunch at a classic American ‘Red Arrow’ Diner where I had the best ever Tuna melt sandwich.
Polly’s pan-cakes was our destination one afternoon as we set off towards the north – Elaine, Pauline and I. We spoilt ourselves with a rich variety of pancakes before taking a walk along the river and visiting ‘The Basin’.
On my return to the UK, I joined the 50th anniversary celebrations weekend retreat of an amazing charity that supports bereaved parents and their families. It’s called ‘The Compassionate Friends’. The film below captures many aspects of the experiences as bereaved parents/siblings. Changed forever.
I am happy to be back home and back at work. My life greatly enriched, I hope to share the learning and bring about changes for the better, working with various charities, the NHS and the Mayor’s office as effectively as I can. Right now I am assimilating it all, bit by bit by bit.
The entire coastline covered in Sea Pinks, bunched together in shapes resembling piglets. They could easily be called Sea Pigs. Poor soil – no problem. Lashing winds – no problem. Salt laden air and water – lovely! These little pink flowers are hardy as hell. Unperishable. Their leaves stay green all year round – sun or rain.
A week in Cornwall, the
perfect escape from the Big Smoke.
From the white sands, rock
pools and sand dunes of the bay, we could see a classic white light-house
standing tall. A beacon of hope for hundreds of years for hundreds of people,
lost at sea.
Lovely long walks along the
headlands, fresh sea-breeze and delicious sea food. And, lots of exceptional cream-teas-
especially the one at Bedruthan steps. Wowwie!!! It was indeed, like a dream.
Our Scrabble travelled with us. In London we don’t get time to play it. So,
here was our chance.
After dinner on Wednesday, I
opened the green cardboard box. We were with friends who were half willing to
play. We agreed to form 2 teams of two each so we would be able to consult and
won’t have to wait too long between goes. As I unpacked the box, I found some
old score sheets in there. They had 2 columns of scores – one for Saagar and
one for me.
My heart lurched up to my throat and my eyes stung and burnt. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and smoothened out the contortions of my face. I didn’t want to spoil the evening for everyone. A good game is had by all and we are off to bed by 11 pm.
“I am in a strange building in a strange sandy seaside town. I am wearing strange flowing green garments. Someone says three people are waiting to see me outside. After a while I walk out to see these people. 3 young men are seated on comfy cane sofas in a shaded balcony. As I walk towards them, one pair of eyes glints back at me bathed in recognition. A knowing smile flashes across his handsome olive face.
I freeze and stare. His hair has grown. He has blonde highlights, like he did when he was 15. He is wearing a big tan jacket and looking so good! He stands up and steps gently toward me. I look at him is disbelief. He holds me in his trademark big bear hug.
“You know how much I’ve cried.” I whisper.
“I know.” He whispers in his sweet young-man voice.
I hang on to him, never to let him go.”
Then the flood gates of my conscience are flung open and once again I am staring at a gaping hole. Another day … love … longing … The sea pinks … endure. The light house … hope …
“… 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.
At the Delhi International Airport, leaving home, I usually am sad to be leaving my folks. But on this occasion I felt like an uplifted version of myself. Positively happy. Buzzing. Most uncharacteristic. Something was not right, if you know what I mean. I thought back to what had gone on in the few preceding hours. Well, the only new thing was that just before leaving home, I had a glass of ice-coffee that my Mum had made for us. It was most welcome on a warm day like that. That was the first time I had coffee in more than 10 years.
Here was my answer. Saagar used to love Mocha Frappucino. I thought it was just the sugar hit he liked but now I know it is a combination of the coffee, the coolness and the calories. For some, the cream on top. I had just found a ‘back-up’ plan for my blues. It was a tried and tested remedy.
Since last weekend the temperatures have completely justified a generous dose of ice-coffee and we’ve indulged every day.
This is how we make 2 glasses :
Medium strength coffee: 200 mls
(While hot, dissolve 2 heaped teaspoons of dark muscavado sugar in it and allow to cool to room temperature)
Cold Milk: 1 glass
Ice cubes: 14-16
Blend the coffee and sugar mix in a blender.
Add the milk. Blend again
Add about 12 ice cubes. Reblend.
Pour into 2 tall glasses and add the other 1-2 ice cubes in each glass.
For extra luxury, add cream or vanilla/chocolate ice-cream to the mix.
If you drink properly, you can even get yourself a nice moustache. I am hooked. Can hardly wait till tomorrow.
(I am not going to be a numpty and post a picture of ice-coffee. I think everyone knows what it looks like.)
Naani’s food is the best in the world. Yes. Much better than Mamma’s. That is a fact and Mamma agrees without the slightest reservation. She is happy to continue being Naani’s student forever. Naani’s chicken curry is the bestest ever and she even manages to make vegetables taste yummy! – These lines would accurately reflect Saagar’s feelings.
Naani is my mother. I am spending some time with my folks back home and life is largely about food. Mangoes, ice-coffee, fried fish, momos and idlis form a fraction of a vast list that is adding further vastness to my waistline and other lines. Summer offers up only a few vegetables of which ‘bhindi’ or ‘okra’ is a big favourite in our family. The particularly yum preparation is the spicy, stuffed one. Uncooked it looks like the image above.
Here’s how , for 3-4 people:
300 grams of tender okra – cleaned, dried, topped, tailed and slit along the length.
For the stuffing:
Salt to taste
Turmeric powder – half tsp
Red chilly powder – half tsp
Coriander powder – 5 heaped tsp
Dried mango powder – 1 tsp
Garam masala – 1 tsp
Stuff the okra with the mixture of dried spices above.
Heat 1 tablespoon of mustard oil till lightly smoking. Splutter 1 tsp of cumin seeds in it, add the stuffed okra and cook until soft. Serve hot. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds before serving.
Saagar loved this dish. We often cooked it together. I prepared the okra and the spice mix and he put them together. We had it with yellow masoor daal and plain basmati rice.
Today, we made bhindi, sending him our love and blessings.
We missed him at the dinner table. A lot.
At present, everyone seems to be planning holidays – Easter or summer or random.
Arabic was the language he was learning at University. He would be spending half of his 3rd year in an Arabic speaking country. So, we made an exploratory trip to Jordan. We visited friends and travelled around. It was one of our last few holidays together.
I ordered a Watermelon juice at one of the resorts. The barman mixed water and sugar into it. We noticed but didn’t say anything. Saagar took the drink from me, made his way back to the bar and politely requested the man to make it only with watermelon and nothing else. A few minutes later, celebrating his little victory with a smile, he brought the new drink back to me.
The sandstone cliff faces of Petra, the barren moody desert of Wadi Rum, the red and white sand, the pitta bread with zahter, tomatoes and olive oil, the exquisitely intricate Persian carpets appear in my dreams often. These are dreams about the places we have travelled. I understand now that these places reside deep inside me. I carry these places within me now. It will no longer be necessary to travel there.
Jalebis are the most luscious of Indian sweets . They are made from plain flour, ghee, saffron and sugar – the best possible ingredients. They bring back the sweet memory of home. Lately they featured in a Holywood film, Lion, as a trigger for a deep longing for home for a young displaced man. This longing grows into a desperation and then becomes a source of great suffering. Even though the body moves from one place to another, the heart can stay in one place for lifetimes, clinging on to sights, smells and sounds that mean ‘home’ and ‘love’. The power of the mind to revisit, relive, reconfigure and re-create life from all these stray scraps is tremendous.
This big blockbuster addresses issues of adoption, childhood trauma, migration and much more. The most interesting questions it has raised for me are – What is your narrative? What is the story you tell yourself? Do you ever question it? Are you willing to see how your life might change if you did question it? Are you willing to be proven completely wrong? Would that set you free? Would that empower you to change your direction?
The things we tell ourselves have more power than we know. They make the difference between life and death.
One of Saagar’s friends and housemates from second year at Uni writes in his memory book. He mentioned her very fondly very often. Friendships, so precious!
You were such a big part of my Durham family and being in fourth year without you is horrible. Second year in Gladstone Villas was undoubtedly one of the best years of my life and everyday I wish we could turn back the clock and be sitting in the living room all together again.
I wish I had been able to speak at your memorial service today but every time I tried to muster the courage to speak, I just burst into tears. I miss you so much.
We had some fabulous house dinners together and I think my favourite is when you convinced me to use two packs of mince for our dinner for two. This made thirty meatballs and we had to use two pans to cook them all. You impressed me with how many you managed to eat!
I always think of you and imagine you happily looking down. Still wish you were my housemate and in my French classes.
All my love,
What completes breakfast is marmalade. What enriches it with tradition is marmalade. What makes breakfast wholesome is marmalade, a source of happy, healthy, tangy carbs.
The origins of this exquisite preserve are controversial but date back to the1500s. The name has its roots in the Portuguese language. It is made from sugar and water boiled with the juice and rind of citrus fruits. Sweet oranges, limes, lemons, mandarins, grapefruits, any other such fruits or combinations of them are used.
Apparently the younger generation of today is more inclined towards smoother spreading jams, chocolate spreads and peanut butter as opposed to the bitty orange spread.
What had me hooked was the homemade version, made with Seville oranges by Si’s mum. Dark, with an intensely rich flavor. As most modern mothers have no time to make marmalade at home, it is not surprising that their kids have no taste for it. They are missing out on a delicious piece of their heritage.
For variation, it can be flavoured with ginger and whiskey as seen in farmer’s markets and gift shops at distilleries. I like them all.
It’s official. Without doubt, I am now ‘old’.
Both, The Telegraph and BBC Radio 4 support this view.
I am not just old, but ‘elderly’.