Men and boys

International Men’s Day is designed to help more people consider what action we can all take to “Make A Difference” and “give men and boys better life chances” by addressing issues such as high suicide rates, sexual abuse and health.

I had no idea when this day was until yesterday morning, when I received 4 photographs from Aidan who lives in Malasia. He is one of Saagar’s close friends and he shared a house with him at Durham. His comment read “Delivering a Mental Health talk to Schlumberger in conjunction with International Men’s day.’

Invaluable, undying friendships.

Here’s another set of friends. Rene’s friends, who are racing across the Atlantic later this month in his memory – Race for Rene. They are raising a huge amount of awareness and funds for 2 charities: PAPYRUS and Child Bereavement UK. They say, “We lost Rene to mental health in 2017. We don’t want anyone else to have to feel what that’s like.” That is a vision worth having.

Here’s a conversation with James, one of Rene’s friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=Aerqfealiwk&feature=emb_title

Good luck to the crew. Here’s to all the men and boys we love:

Thanks for this Mary.

Three friends

This is an approximate transcript of a presentation I made at a TCF (The Compassionate Friends) gathering of bereaved parents earlier this month. The topic was “Finding Hope after Catastrophe”. I hope you find it useful in some way.

“Hello. My name is Sangeeta. I am an Anaesthetist by profession and it’s my job to put people to sleep. Thank you TCF, for having me here this evening.

My son is called Saagar Naresh. I could often hear his cackles emanating from his room. I am pretty sure he’s watching cat videos again. He loves to laugh and make other people laugh. He’s as bright as they come, astutely picking up languages, accents and mannerisms of people around him. He would go shopping with his best friend Hugo to Oxford street and they would pretend to be South African tourists all day.

We loved cooking together. It involved chopping of onions. He got tired of his eyes stinging and watering and found a way out – he would wear his swimming goggles whilst chopping onions. It worked brilliantly!

He was an excellent cricketer. A fast bowler to be precise. He also played the drums in a band. He loved to go to the gym. Most of all, he had a heart of gold and even when he was a teenager, he loved cuddles. He spoke French and German fluently and chose to study Arabic from scratch at University as he wanted to challenge himself.

After his second year at Durham University, he came home for the summer holiday and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. He was unable to go back to pursue his studies as his depression started to deepen. We saw a doctor on the 14th of October 2014. He told us that Saagar would have to wait till his medications kicked in, that he was on the right medicines but they would take time to work. On the 16th of October, Saagar ended his own life.

That was like a bomb going off in our lives. Losing him suddenly, out of the blue was our catastrophe.

Finding hope …

The Oxford dictionary defines Hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen”.

For me, Hope is the belief that it is possible that some of the best days in my life are yet to come.

Soon after Saagar passed away, just getting through the day was an achievement. The time ‘yet to come’ was a huge burden. I had nothing left to offer to the world and the one thing I wanted, the world could not offer me. My own mortality stared me squarely in my face and it was strangely seductive.

What was I left with? My logical mind had been turned into an emotional pulp as there was no logic to this. The more I tried to make sense of it, the more I suffered. It was like banging my head against a brick wall. It did not make any sense. Period. Deal with it.

What was I left with?

  1. This moment, right NOW
  2. Me, mySELF.
  3. Nature.

NOW

How deep rooted was my belief that Saagar would always be around? How much did I take that for granted?

What am I taking for granted right now?

My breath.

My parents.

My partner.

My job.

My health.

Let death be your teacher. ‘Right now’ is all I have left. Like a bird trapped in a cage. The door is open but the bird is unable to fly away. The cage is where he/she belongs. In the ‘now’, I could only sit and watch the door, knowing that it was open. I could breathe in, take a pause, breathe out, pause, breathe in and repeat… I could fully acknowledge and feel the dark hollow that was my chest and hear the echoes of my sobs returning from the black hole within. Connecting fully with the present moment was the only way past it. There was no short-cut. No secret escape route. One moment at a time. Now, I am walking upstairs. Now, I am halving cherry tomatoes. Now, I am watching the steam rise from my cup of tea and so on… My refuge lay in this moment, right here. Right now. The future is a story. The past exists in our thoughts. Yet, our mind is in one or the other. What is real is this moment.

I had a patient once who had a black ‘Gratitude’ tattoo on her left forearm in a big bold decorative font. I asked her the story behind it. She said, ”I work with kids with learning disabilities. By the time I’ve brushed my teeth in the morning, I’ve achieved more than they can. So, I am grateful every moment.”

SELF

I was lucky to have so much support at that impossible time. My mum and brother came over from India to be with me. My friends, Saagar’s friends, their parents, my work colleagues. Everyone stood by me with love and compassion but ultimately it was up to me to live with this utter devastation. I was filled with so many questions, so much guilt and grief that I felt like I was drowning. 

It took 2-3 years but slowly I taught myself to be kind to myself. I am still teaching and reminding myself that our everyday reality is made up of stuff that is unthinkable for most people. We live the life that is other’s worst nightmare. Many can’t even imagine what it’s like to be in our shoes. 

So, we need to honour ourselves for carrying on living with as much grace and dignity as possible after having absorbed the impact of such a huge catastrophe. To know that the harsh inner critic will continue to chatter but we need to witness its mumbling, recognise the pointlessness of it and let it go.

We need to have compassion for ourselves. Compassion being not just a gentle kind feeling but small acts of courage. For instance, I used to love dangly ear-rings ‘before’. I would change them every day, to match my clothes. But for 3 years ‘after’ I didn’t change out of the boring old gold studs. One day I decided to change into one of my favourite pair of ear-rings for no particular reason. It was a small shift. It took courage. I cried. But it was an act of kindness towards myself. I needed my own friendship, my own affection. I needed to once again find ways of being at ease with myself. Lord Buddha has said “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

I am learning that I need to be a ‘compassionate friend’ to myself.

NATURE

That wretched day in the middle of October was cursed but also resplendent with autumn colours. It was a festival of orange, ochre, red, green, yellow and terracotta. These decorative leaves carpeted our street. I stared out of the window watching these leaves gracefully dance their way to the ground. The trees went from being semi-nude to naked. This was the cycle of life. Nature was reminding me and showing me the devastating beauty of life. Cycles upon cycles of change, millions of times over. The impermanence of everything.

Over the next few months, I sat gazing at the Himalayan mountain range, marvelling at its history and all the changes it has undergone. I sat on a beach in Goa, watching the ocean waves change every second. Over time, I started to allow Nature to teach me what I needed to learn and soothe me when I needed to be soothed. I learnt that we humans can carry the utter tyranny of life in one hand while simultaneously carrying the spectacular beauty of it in the other.

I requested everyone to join me in singing this song by ABBA and was delighted by the upward shift of healing energy in the room as everyone sang together. It was a powerfully uplifting evening.

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help…”

Becca writes

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 21.04.24

You laugh till you cry, squinting your tiger eyes
But tell us to hush when your parents call
In your Dulwich voice you say ”Be quiet guys!”

And in Indian voice you pick up, making us fall
About with laughter, like when you do your godly pose
Or carry Seb round your waist, provoking hustle and bustle
To get a good shot of you, as you put on a show
Wearing a quite tight t-shirt to show off your muscles

As the parties continue, drinks are going both ways
(Who owes who drinks? I’ve lost track of the debt)
whilst you start charming the ladies with le français
and protect them from drunks, proceeding to get
with them, then when all is nigh you third-wheel on a couch
never in a bed, you can be found asleep on the floor
snoring like a silver spoon is clanking in your mouth,
a sound that not even sleeping logs could ignore!

And when we wake and board the train I stare
At your long toenails, forever on my mind
I beg you to cut them as you offer to share
Your pungent fish-curry, which I have to decline,
I’m just glad you didn’t wear flip-flops that time we ate
Dinner at mine with my religious uncle and aunt
(who you mistook for my grandma) and they both said
that you wanted to marry me, me thinking “you can’t
be serious’ as it would have been like incest.

Plus our music tastes conflict (metal’s not my thing)
But back on track now to mention that you give the best
Hugs and your previous girl-friends continue to sing
Your praises, more or less, along the same lines …

Saagar, talented musician, gifted linguist and great friend.
Words cannot express just how sorry we all are,
How much we love and miss you.
Rest in peace.

Love,
Becca.

PS: The missing is driving me nuts!!!

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!

 

 

 

 

Day 902

Mr Drums

An excerpt from a speech made by one of Saagar’s friends at his memorial at Durham:

“Whilst complaints about the noise level were regular, complaints about the type of music that was being played were few and far between as Saagar regarded his taste of music as above reproach. And to be fair – it was not far off. It was the epitome of eclectic – spanning Heavy Metal, Hip Hop and Punjabi M.C. Or as Saagar would put it – White man music, Black man music and Brown man music. Fortunately, for all of us today, Saagar would not rest on his laurels when it came to music, and instead was a gifted drummer. I never saw Saagar more excited than when he was talking about his latest venture with Lenny and the Mandem. Being part of that band meant the world to him. For that – I feel we owe Lenny and the Mandem a debt of gratitude: not only for providing Saagar with a musical outlet that fast became the highlight of his university life, but also for providing a platform upon which Saagar could showcase his amazing talents behind a drum set. I know that he felt incredibly honored to play alongside you all, and I for one, felt incredibly honored to be listening.

Indeed, one of the major highlights of my time at Durham so far, was having Lenny and the Mandem play at my 21st birthday party at Fabio’s last year. At the time, I did not know the rest of the band too well – but knowing how much of a fan I was – Saagar made the necessary arrangements for them to perform during our celebrations. Whilst this was enough to already make my evening, Saagar went one step further, and arranged for the band to cover a song from my all-time favourite band: Dire Straits. What followed was a moment that I will never forget. I looked up to the stage when I recognized the introductory guitar riff to Sultans of Swing and saw Saagar’s head poking out from behind his drum set – mouthing the words ‘Happy birthday brother!’. What seemed to be a mere song to so many at the party, was in fact the most touching gesture from a very dear friend. A gesture made all the more poignant by his passing.

This was not the only music-based memory of Saagar that will live long in the memory. Perhaps the most amusing moment I shared with him happened in the Aidan’s cafeteria. The summer ball act was about to be announced, and our lunch time conversation had turned to the one act or group (Dead or alive) we would most like to see perform live. We went around the table, and each person took a few minutes to consider their answer before saying somewhat predictable musical heavyweights from the last 50 years or so (from the Beatles’ to Tupac Shakur). The conversation then turned to Saagar, and he replied completely deadpan and without a moment’s hesitation with: Dido. The table erupted with laughter as nobody could believe that someone felt so passionately about what can only be described as elevator music but Saagar defended his decision with aplomb. From that point onwards – we decided to begin the rumor that Dido was going to be made the summer ball act, and much to our surprise –this went viral. So viral in fact, that Basshunter’s first few songs were drowned out with chanting from the crowd for Dido to come on. If the Aidan’s social chair is in the crowd – please take note. I can think of no better tribute than Life for Rent ringing around the halls of Aidan’s and it would be a massive improvement on that bloke we had last year. Whoever he was – he sounded like a cross between a digitally modified car crash and a Harrison Sand’s D.J. Set. Saagar did not approve.

One thing Saagar would have approved of however, would be the number of people who have taken the time to attend this memorial today – and indeed, the number of people who turned up to his funeral and the memorial service hosted by his alma mater: Dulwich College. At both of these previous events, the audience was completely full with people who had come to pay their respect.

As I stand here, still struggling to talk about such a presence in the past tense, I am comforted by the fact that the lessons we learnt from Saagar will never leave us. The most important one he taught me was pride. No matter what, Saagar remained unapologetically proud about so much in his life, and this pride was truly contagious. He took pride in his upbringing, and the sheer courage it took for him to move from India, to a period of racial bullying in Belfast to the drastically different setting of one of the country’s leading public schools (although speaking from experience – public schools are perhaps not the best place to seek refuge from racism!). This did not affect him in the slightest however. In fact – he remained so proud of being brown that he resorted to smoking out of liquorice rolling papers that were as brown as he was. Another thing I know he was very proud of was his time here at Durham, proud of his achievements: both academic and extra- curricular. Proud of the friends he made, and proud of the experiences he shared with them. Whilst he may no longer be with us, this pride lives on in each of us – as we are all immeasurably proud to have known him, and prouder still of how he chose to spend his tragically short time on this earth, leaving little more than the wisdom he imparted, the compassion he shared and the untiring friendships he made.

Since his passing, and despite the atheist outlook I shared with him, I have often found myself wondering what Saagar would be doing right now in the unlikely even that we were both wrong, and that there is a God and a Heaven above. I wonder if his room up there still smells the same, I wonder if he has found a place to buy those dumplings he always used to eat, and I wonder if Jesus has told him to turn his music down. Is there a drum kit in heaven? And even if there is – has he found a band with a front man as good as Lenny Jesinghausen? Does heaven have a cricket club – and if so – does that still mean his bowling action is illegal? In the unlikely event that religion IS true, and that I have not spent the last 3 years and nearly 30 grand on a theology degree that equates to studying ancient fairytales, I guess we will all be able to answer these questions for ourselves one day. Personally, the first thing I intend to do is to  catch up with Saagar over a fag in Heaven’s smoking area. I hope you will join us.

This is likely to be the final opportunity we have to pay our respects as a group. In a brief hour or so this memorial will conclude, the crowd will disperse, and slowly but surely, we will draw a line under this chapter and resume our lives. Saagar cannot do this. He has no line to draw, no life left to resume.
As a result, I implore you to take some time out to honour him in your own way. He had a youtube video for all occasions, so perhaps rewatch some of them. Listen to Dido, smoke a liquorice cigarette or something stronger if that’s your thing. But above all – never forget. Never forget the memories you made, never forget the laughter you shared, and most of all never forget the lessons you learned from him.

He lived for a mere 20 years, may his legacy live on forever. ”

 

Day 858

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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!

Saagar,

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,

Louise. xxxxx

Unforgettable, my darling! That what you are.

 

Day 822

the-drummer

Jack Samuel on Facebook:

When I found out about the passing of Saagar Naresh, I had very little time to process my thoughts. Sitting on a train to Munich several days later, I was alone with my thoughts for the first time, and a memory of Saagar popped into my head. We were in the music room at Aidan’s, having one of our last-minute band rehearsals. At the end of a song, we realised that one of the porters had been standing outside the room, listening to us. He came in, and he said “I’m loving the music, but could you possibly play a little more quietly?” Assuming that he could hear us from his desk upstairs, we weren’t all that surprised that we were being a bit loud. What we hadn’t realised was that the porter had come from a conference in the Lindisfarne Centre at the other side of college. He had come to tell us that Saagar was drumming so loudly that everyone in the conference could hear him. By extension, Saagar was probably interrupting the whole of college. I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the other Hill colleges could hear him. Nobody drummed as loudly as Saagar.

This is a song I wrote for Saagar that day on the train. Even if Saagar and I sometimes had a different approach to life, he is such an important part of some of my best memories of Durham. He had a joke for every situation, a great awareness of the world, and the most powerful drumming style I have ever seen on a man.

RIP Saagar, this one’s for you.

Here is a song for someone who will bang the drums so loudly that we’ll always be able to hear him, no matter where he is. R.I.P. big man.