Dr Indu was broken inside out. She felt like a big black boulder and could barely hold her weight. After all these years of marching on alone and doing the ‘right’ things, this was her reward. Most of her friends had no clue what to say or do. After a few days it was clear that many of them could only stand by her for a week or 10 days max. This is when Indu remembered a passing acquaintance, Ruhi, a girl who wore long flouncy colourful skirts and big dangling ear-rings made of feathers and other dreamy things. She thought of her as a girl even though Ruhi had silvery grey hair and was seven years older than her.
Indu wanted to see Ruhi again. She didn’t know why but it had to be done. Indu posted her an invitation and as back-up, sent her a text with details.
The clear bright day was trying to cover-up the immensity of this death. Ruhi came in a flowing black dress with multiple strings of black wooden beads in various lengths cascading down, from her slender neck to her shapely waist. The ends of her long black sleeves opening-up like flowers to reveal her delicate hands. Not only did she have a pink lip-gloss on but also a serene smile. On this tearful day, she smiled on as if that was the most natural thing to do. No defiance or disrespect. A subtle involuntary smile, puzzling and misplaced.
She walked up to Indu and held both her hands in hers for a few frozen moments. She went on to open her arms and enclose Indu in them like a baby. “One day you’ll be grateful for this”, she whispered in her ear. By now Indu was used to hearing non-sense like “be brave”, “you’re so strong”, “such is life” and so on. She had learnt to ignore a lot. It took too much out of her to do anything more than that. “You have no idea what this is like” she thought to herself, feeling like a duplicate of herself amongst all these people. She drew back from Ruhi and looked into her dark brown eyes through her tearful ones. “Believe me. You will” Ruhi said softly.
Seven years have passed. Now Indu is as old as Ruhi was then.
And she remembers her horror at what Ruhi had whispered in her ear that day. The chains are falling off. Her vision is clearing. She notices more, within and without. She wants to live the truth. Be it. She knows it now. It’s all a ‘seeming’. All of this. It’s so clever. It fools us into believing it’s real. She has felt the presence of the divine in her broken heart. The blessings of a few fleeting golden moments of absolute grace have left her charmed with life and thirsty for more.
Indu and Ruhi meet up at the café that plays Bossa Nova jazz all day. They catch-up over large mugs of cappucino, sing and dance and take long walks together. They laugh and cry with abandon. Both wear pink lip-gloss and without knowing, they smile. Light as dust.
Whenever he picks mint or basil or bay leaves, he says a polite ‘thank you’ to the plants with a subtle bending of his head and all. I watch him and smile. How pointless, I think. If that’s his way, fine by me. Happy to be entertained for free by Si, the country-boy.
All the extra time at home over the last few months has meant lots of herb-pots overflowing in the garden. The relative dryness has meant lots of watering of the plants. An urbanite at heart, every two days I go around with a watering-can and make a leisure activity out of it. Slowly, select the order in which I go, pick the spots where the water drops in and carefully consider, how much. As I tilt the can into the basil, a waft of basil-fragrance envelops me. Am I imagining this? On to the thyme, a cupful of water and the air suffused with thyme-odour. I had never noticed this before. I wasn’t convinced. I move to the lavender and pour more generously, and there it is again, filling the air. The same unmistakable gesture comes from the profuse apple-mint.
I am not imagining this. They are all saying ‘thank you’.
The impeccable house we were invited to, shouted out the immense efficiency of our hosts. It was spotless, warm and welcoming. But every few moments something ‘not right’ was vociferously highlighted by our wonderful hosts. The unacceptable way the red silk cushions were left scrunched and squashed, compressed into corners of the plush golden sofas by the rude backsides that had been resting on them. The panic about the imminent possibility of too high a quantity of left-overs. Or the worry over a small chance that there won’t be enough. The width of the cake wedges was either too thin or too thick. The imperfect consistency of the gravy, the flatulence inducing artichoke soup, the highly undesirable heat generated by the log-fire, the terrible noise coming from the television, the spot of annoying stickiness left behind on the jar of honey by an inconsiderate user, the five brown crispy crumbs of bread left shamelessly sticking to the neat rectangular slab of butter on the gold-rimmed china butter dish, the uncouthness of the incorrect placement of the ornate silver by the staff, the inconvenient timing of a phone call with a relative abroad and so on …
Despite the absolute beauty of this home, the air was imbued with the smell of ‘dissatisfaction’, the well-known fundamental state of most human existence.
Do we change overnight or just carry on with the desire for things to be different? Time is a continuum going in waves, up and down and round and round. The ‘start’ and ‘stop’ points are nothing but artificial. The solstices and equinoxes mark time, connecting us with the movements of nature and linking various planetary bodies with one another.
Ordinary events present us with gems. Its up to us to spot the gems, pick them up and drop them in our pockets.
This year, I wish you and me the ability to appreciate and adopt Deep Simplicity. The ability to recognise the futility of being in a constant state of dissatisfaction, to switch our attention from imperfection to gratitude for all that is, to compassion towards ourselves and others, to patience with others and ourselves as we evolve. It takes time.
Shaving of heads is an age-old tradition in India. Some hindu families tonsure kids at about 1 year of age. It is believed to liberate them from the ties of their previous life. It is also felt that the new growth of hair is healthier and thicker than the old one.
Tonsuring is an act of surrender. It also means giving up one’s vanity. It can be a sign of mourning in some southern states in India. Father’s soul can find peace after death if his son shaves his head. Shaving is a way of raising funds for charity and for showing solidarity with a cause, such as free Tibet.
Saagar had beautiful soft curls. They were shaved when he was a toddler. It was a shock to him but it helped him cope with the hot summer. When he visited Uganda for charity work at 18 years of age he shaved his head again. This time it was a shock to me. I thought it was a big step for a teenager, especially one who angled his head and checked out his hair each time he purposefully or accidentally came face to face with a mirror. He was very much his own man, my boy!
The heavens have opened with all their might and a heavy tropical downpour has drenched Stone Town to the bone. I stand in the balcony looking at streams of water running down corrugated roofs in parallel right into the street. Down below I watch a father and son holding Superman and Spiderman umbrellas, both completely soaked. Checkered and plain, bright and black circles are floating in the street, not doing much.
There is a real chance that our flight from Zanzibar to Dar-Es-Salaam will be cancelled and hence we might miss the connection to London but well, may be another day in paradise is meant to be. Who knows? Hakuna Matata.
That he was born to me
That he was mine to hold and love,
That he was all cuddles and smiles,
That he was sweeter than sweet, kinder than kind,
That he was the brightest spark in the dark,
That he made me cry and made me laugh,
That he came unto life through my being
That he brought joy to me and so many,
That he far exceeded all expectations,
That he helped many get over their inhibitions,
That he was funny and had time for all,
That he was sensitive beyond call,
That he came through deep pain with dignity,
That he didn’t want to be any trouble to anybody,
That his laughter was infectious,
That his advice was often beyond his years,
That he lived his 20 years to the full,
Even though life was sometimes cruel,
As an eleven year old I often felt like I was born in the wrong country with the wrong nose, wrong hair and wrong skin colour. It was all a bit awkward but not much could be done about any of these things. So, the hair was cut short and stayed so for most of my life.
It’s normal for those with dark hair to want them light and vice versa and for those with curly hair to want them straight and vice versa. This is a small example of a much wider discontentment and dis-ease within humans.
We travelled for 36 hours, including an overnight stay at Dar-es-Salaam, 5 take offs and thankfully the same number of safe landings to get here. 3 of these were on the smallest plane I have ever been in. It sits about 14 people including the pilot. It reminds me of ‘Out of Africa’. The engine makes clicking sounds in response to the subtle mechanical actions of the pilot and the scenery is out of the world. Sapphire blue deep waters with turquoise shallow edges dotted with emerald islands with golden crescents along the curved margins.
This is the north of Tanga, a point jaggedly jutting into the Indian ocean with a white sliver of surf marking the reef’s edge. The noon-tide was so far out that it was nothing more than a soft whoosh but we woke up from our post-prandial coma to the rhythmic roaring of the sea that had arrived right up to our doorstep.
The smiles that greet us with ‘Karibu’ are happy and a bit shy. There is no running water or mains electricity. The internet connection comes through a generator and solar powered router, best described as flimsy. Yet, something about being here brings the word ‘contentment’ to mind. This is what it must feel like.
Saagar would have loved this place – a little piece of heaven.
(Sorry, no pictures as very narrow band width on the internet. May be later.)
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandolf, ’and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.’
Tolkein wrote this roughly 80 years ago but it is ageless.
‘It must be really hard talking about Saagar in public meetings. Is it?’
The answer is ‘Yes. It is. Very hard.’
But I have decided to do it with the strong intention of creating awareness, breaking the stigma and making sure that through the lessons learnt from the poor management of his illness, other lives can be saved. I have decided to put this intention out to the universe with the promise that I will do everything I can. It is my belief that the universe is responding and will respond to support this true intention.
I can’t get how he died out of my heart and head, even tough it happened in 1 second. I sometimes forget to honour who Saagar was and how he lived. He lived for 20 years, 5 monthS and ten days! One of the comments his Head Master made about him was, ‘he spoke to me the same way he spoke to a student 3 years younger than him.’ He treated everyone with respect and light heartedness. He found every opportunity to laugh and make others laugh. He brought out the best in people. I need to learn from him to enjoy my life and relationships, to enrich my life and that of others through every interaction. I must decide to do that too.
Last night as I went to bed, like many times before I prayed for a quiet peaceful death in my sleep. Facing another day has often been a terribly treacherous prospect. A heart so shattered, wonder how it keeps me alive!
I woke up knowing today marked the same wretched point in the circle of time where we were 2 years ago – the same dark spot that has smudged the rest of my days, the same dagger that has gouged an incurable agonising hole in my being.
Finding excuses to stay in bed for a bit longer I turned my phone on. The first message was from a friend who had lit a few candles in Saagar’s memory and said she was thinking of us today. Then over the course of the day there were similar messages and phone calls from Saagar’s friends, their parents, our friends and family. I was amazed that so many people reached out to us. So many didn’t know Saagar and so many I have never met. It was truly healing and life-affirming. Yes. Together we can keep Saagar’s memory alive. And that of many other innocent young people like him. They will not be forgotten. Their life and death will not be a waste. Their stories will be told and retold till lessons that need to be learnt are learnt.
We held a traditional hindu prayer ceremony called ‘havan’ at home in the afternoon. Havan is a ritual of making offerings such as grains and ghee into a consecrated fire and invoking one or more deities. It is accompanied by chanting of Sanskrit prayers and mantras. It is said to purify the environment and allow for transformation of individuals. As I made those offerings into the fire, it made me think of the symbolism of surrendering anger, regret and guilt to the Gods so they could be transformed to love and empathy.
The day wasn’t so wretched after all.
It was a reminder of the enduring nature of love.
Thank you Saagar for being my son and for being you.
Thank you all for reaching out.
Sarah Fitchett is a neonatal nurse and a lecturer. She is also a mother bereaved through suicide. Like me, she is affiliated with PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide Charity by way of fundraising and awareness raising. This is an e-mail from her:
“I delivered an awareness session to GPs in Birmingham last week and they were desperate for more training. They were literally asking me,
“What should I say?”
“What if the answer is yes?”
“What am I looking for?
“There are no services available to signpost young people to – CAMHS is so stretched”
“How will I know?”
“How do I cope with losing a patient to suicide?”
I really hope they will come on ASIST. Such a lot of work is needed. One of our young volunteers, a mental health nurse from Bristol self-funded a place on ASIST because she had no idea how to help someone at risk of suicide, neither did any of her colleagues. Her training hadn’t covered it and there was no training available to her. A WM police officer self-funded a place on ASIST and used her annual leave to attend because so very much of her role is attending people in crisis.”
11th October 2014 was a saturday. I had tickets for the Omid Djalili show for us. Saagar loved stand-up comedy and I thought it might help him. He sat on my right. I watched his responses. He appeared to be under a cloud. He did laugh but his laughter was subdued. At break time I bought him a drink and for some strange reason it felt like a significant happening, like an unforgettable scene in an iconic film. It was the last time I bought him a drink. It was the last time we went for a show together.
Let us do everything we can to save young lives.
Thank you Omid for bringing him some happiness. Even if it was short-lived.
First law of Thermodynamics : Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.
Within my basic understanding of physics, I think of it as: when breaks are applied to a moving car, the kinetic energy from the movement is converted to thermal energy causing the break-pads to heat up. Similarly the turning blades of a wind turbine transform wind (kinetic) energy into electrical energy.
May be each one of us is a field of energy. May be that is why the interaction between two people changes when a third person brings their energy into the equation. May be that is why we like someone for no reason at all and dislike someone for no reason at all. May be our energy can neither be destroyed nor created. So even after someone’s physical form disappears, their energetic form continues to exist. May be it just changes its expression. May be it flows through the people they knew.
Being with Saagar’s friends is comforting for me as I feel his energy in them. It’s the same for them, being with me.
I see our compassion grow. I see us being creative. I see us going out of our way to deepen our understanding of the human condition. I see us wanting to make the world a better place. I see us taking small steps. I see us all constantly loving Saagar and carrying his beautiful energy within us.