I hate my shoes.

(‘A pair of leather clogs’ by Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890)

“I am wearing a pair of shoes.

They are ugly shoes.

Uncomfortable Shoes.

I hate my shoes.

Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.

Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step.

Yet, I continue to wear them.

I get funny looks wearing these shoes.

They are looks of sympathy.

I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.

They never talk about my shoes.

To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.

To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.

But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.

I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.

There are many pairs in the world.

Some women are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.

Some have learned how to walk in them so they don’t hurt quite as much.

Some have had to wear the shoes so long that days will go by before they think of how much they hurt.

No woman deserves to wear these shoes.

Yet, because of the shoes I am a stronger women.

These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.

They have made me who I am.

I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child.”

  • Author unknown.

One death by suicide is one too many. On World Suicide Prevention Day, today, let us start by

  1. believing that suicides are preventable.
  2. knowing that we all play a part, however small, by being aware, educated and resourceful.
  3. being kind and courageous enough to ask the ‘S’ question, listen and respond.

Now, they are pink.

The day after he died, our door-bell went berserk. This time the same young woman from the local florist, who had been here thrice already, stood at the door again. She had arrived with yet another bouquet of pure white lilies and roses. She stood just outside our front-door with tears rolling down her cheeks. Had this stranger accessed her own sadness or was she feeling mine? I thanked her and tried to console her, wordlessly holding her hands in mine, not believing any of that was happening.

Our eyes met through the fresh white flowers and films of salt water. She didn’t know me or the young man who had died and I didn’t even know her name. But we were flowing in the same river of humanity. Of loss.

For weeks, every room in our house reeked of the sickly-sweet stink of white lilies. I used to like that fragrance before all this but now it screamed ‘DEATH’. It crept into every empty space, crevice and corner. It sneaked under tables and inside locked cup-boards. It suffused my clothes and hair and got into my body like poison.

All these years later, that smell can still hit like an axe on top of my head when I walk past an innocent flower shop.

On my birthday last week, a bunch of Freddie’s flowers arrived unexpectedly. I thought I had cancelled that delivery but it seems I hadn’t. Roses, lilies and gladioli – but this time, they are a pretty pretty pink. Six days on, they are open and smiling and guess what … no heart-breaking fragrance.

Our long-distance relationship is working. Thank you, sweetheart.

Fresh off the boat

Twenty-two years ago, when I first landed in the UK, I arrived as a qualified anaesthetist. I didn’t think of myself as a ‘female doctor’. I did not classify myself as one from the ‘ethnic minorities’. Both of those things were incidental to the fact that there was a job to be done and I could do it well, even if it was in a completely different setting, four and a half thousand miles away from home, at Antrim Area Hospital, Antrim, Northern Ireland. I was nervous but being from an army family, I was accustomed to moving every couple of years from one state of India to another (states as different as Punjab and Bengal), making it my own, learning from a different way of life and moving on to the next. I was sure of my ability to adapt.

My belongings comprised of a family photograph in a silver frame, a suitcase, mostly filled with books and two hundred pounds in cash. From the window of the plane I could see forty shades of green, in a mesmerising patchwork across the fields and hills of Ireland. The sky was the deepest, most startling blue. My heart was up in my throat with the excitement of living and working in a country where everyone was educated (why wouldn’t they be if education was free?)  and well-mannered (why wouldn’t they be if everyone was well looked after by the Government?)

One of the secretaries from the Antrim Area Hospital, Mary, very kindly came to receive me at the airport. The drive from Aldergrove Airport to the hospital was like gliding through a picture postcard. After Delhi, I could fully appreciate the wide golden-green expanses gleaming in the sunshine with not one human being in sight. When I complemented Mary on how gorgeous her country was, she was perplexed, “Really?”

Saagar was 5 years old then. He had stayed back with his dad. My plan was to find my feet and have him join me as soon as possible. I wanted to get my post-graduate exams within one or two years and go back to work in India. In the next few months, as I settled into my job, I acquired a cheap second hand Renault 19, found a family home and an appropriate child-minder. In the tea room of the hospital, the nurses would tell me about their families and ask me about mine. When I told them that I had a 5 years old child back home, they would say, “How could you leave him there?” I didn’t know what to say to that.

I still don’t.

It changes. And changes again.

Over and over I asked myself – Now what? Now what? What happens after a severance such as this? How long do one’s bones bleed? Do the tears ever finish? What does ‘recovery’ look like? Is it even possible? How does one keep placing one foot in front of the other? Where is the road? Where does it come from? Where does it go? How long and meandering is it? When does the screaming in my head stop? How long can I keep up the facade? Pretend to be sane? Is this what a new diagnosis of a terminal illness feels like? Is forgiveness possible? Self-forgiveness? Acceptance? Surrender? All these big words! Surrender what? To whom? Who am I now? What do I do?

No answers. Silence. The tilted earth keeps spinning around its imaginary axis. It keeps cradling me. The sun stays at the center of its orbit. My son stays at the center of my being. My breath keeps coming and going. I grow new eyes. My bones carry my weight even though they bleed. The road appears under my feet. It reveals itself one step at a time. Rumi and Khalil Gibran come and hold my hand. The screaming softens. The wall of bricks that was my body, loosens. I come to know the terror and the joy of being insane, catch glimpses of being free. Respect for those who went before and sadly others, who follow. I stop fighting with the big words and keep it simple. Watch. Observe. See. Open. Let the gash in my heart, allow the light in.

A recent talk for The Compassionate Friends, a charity dedicated to supporting bereaved families.

Lashings of Time.

What do I say to the lone black eye-lash on my cheek?

I say bring me the colours of the rainbow

The pot of gold and all

Bring me the joys of the seasons,

Most of all, the fall.

The Autumn comes,

Once again

The yellows, auburns and ochres divine.

Hidden daggers behind their cloaks

They drop

When I open these arms of mine.

Its in their eyes

The fear of stabbings of memory

The tears of the sea.

Let it go.

Let it rest.

Let it be.

All that matters is here in me.

In the green apple and the oak tree.

I have and hold the world

that was, is and will be

in the blackness of my lashes

till eternity.

We are one my love. You and me.

I feared I would forget

I wrote it all down

I panicked I’d lost you

Never again to be found

But you are here

In every word, smile, tear.

I didn’t think I could bear it

But I did and I do.

This thorn has made a home in my heart.

I do not die.

I breathe through.

Its a great surprise

To rise

each day

To the umbrellas and shoes of life

As if nothing ever changed.

But all is new.

Me and you are sweethearts.

Inseparable.

One is the sand. The other, sea.

One is the hand. The other, lines of destiny.

Dear Beloved,

I place my pettiness at your feet.

The sense of separation,

The sad longing born of it,

The seeming disappointments,

Imperfections and regrets too,

I offer them all 

To you.

Food, water, shelter and clothing.

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.

Kooth Infographics – suicidal thoughts rising. Highest in the Midlands.

Kooth Week 10 COVID infographics

Be the Change

Be the change

RIP George Floyd.

The waves of raging violence in one form or another, in the street, on the TV, on Twitter, on Facebook, against the government, against one section of society or another. It is present everywhere I look. It seems to be the problem and the solution. Cops carrying guns to control gun-carrying people. Knees as weapons. Cries for mercy falling on multiple pairs of stone-deaf ears. Rich countries indiscriminately bombing poor ones in the name of peace, to bring them ‘liberty’. International leaders goading each other on to continue expanding their defence budgets.

I was born in a country of huge contrasts. It won its independence from the Brits, who ruled by the gun, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, who lived and led by non-violence which was the core of Gandhi’s contribution to the world. For him nonviolence was the greatest force at the disposal of mankind, mightier than any weapon, superior to brute force. A living force that no one has been or ever will be able to measure the limits or extent of, just like love. In fact, he translated the Sanskrit word, Ahimsa (which literally means non-violence) as love.

True nonviolence is dissociated from fear. Gandhi felt that possession of arms is not only cowardice but also lack of fearlessness or courage. Gandhi stressed this when he said, “I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice but true nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness.”

The same country, India, classes some people as ‘untouchables’ and treats them as such. The discrimination against dark skinned people is ugly to watch. You only need to watch an Indian film and look at the mountains of money spent on the skin-whitening cream, ‘Fair and lovely’.

Saagar and I knew what it means to look different, be different. We both suffered in our own ways because of people’s instant judgements, inability to look beyond our skin and their downright unkindness.

Let’s teach ourselves and our children a new alphabet:

A – Abundance of love

B – Belonging / Brotherhood

C – Compassion/Connection 

D – Diversity

E – Empathy

F – Forgiveness

G – Giving / Gratitude

H – Harmony / Healing

I – Intimacy

J – Joy

K – Kindness

L – Listening / Learning

M – Meaning

N – Non-violence

O – Openness / Oneness

P – Peace

Q – Quest

R – Remembrance

S – Self-compassion

T – Trust

U – Unity in Diversity / Understanding

V – Victory over our inner demons

W – Wisdom

X – Xanadu (an ideal place of magnificence and beauty)

Y – You matter.

Z – Zeal for love and life.

Thank you Ma’am.

She was just over 4 feet tall but her voice boomed across the workshop as if it was arising from a big Bose speaker. She spoke, taught, lived, breathed Ikenobo, the oldest discipline in Japanese flower arranging, broadly known as Ikebana. 1400 years, to be precise. It was her life, her passion and she generously gave it to us, her students.

Initially I couldn’t figure out what I should call her. In India, I would have called her ‘Aunty’, but it didn’t seem right. Some called her by name but I couldn’t do that. I tried it but it felt wrong. She was nearly my mum’s age. I dug out the word ‘Ma’am’ from my college days, a term used to address female teachers. It felt right to me and seemed fine by her.  

She drew schematic diagrams of arrangements on a white board in front of the class, explaining the name, function, quality and significance of each component. She emphasised the relationship between different parts of an arrangement but mostly, she spoke of the importance of spaces between them.

Wood symbolized mountains while grasses and flowers suggested water. A natural landscape, in a single vase. It was a meditation of sorts, exploring the relationship between the sky, humans and earth, between the outdoors and indoors. It had philosophical representations of the past, present and future. It was about harmony and the laws of nature, a welcome break from the cacophony of London.

After Saagar passed away, she gently encouraged me to join her classes. She knew this art form would help. Mondays became exciting because they were the day of the lessons. Couldn’t believe how little they cost. It definitely was not about money. I joined this community of aspiring flower-arrangers who like me, were constantly baffled by how minor changes made by her, transformed our arrangements into spectacular creations.

Ma’am was a walking-talking Encyclopaedia on all things garden. She had looked after award winning gardens for most of her life. She knew wholesale flower markets intimately and could predict and cherish the floral offerings of every month, every season accurately. But last week, an unfortunate accident suddenly took her away from us, from this earth.  

“Not only beautiful flowers but also buds and withered flowers have life, and each has its own beauty. By arranging flowers with reverence, one refines oneself”, she would say.  

We will miss you and your finesse, Ma’am. My head bows to the space left by you. Thank you for helping me see beauty in everything.

Freedom on a page

Writing is a friend. It sustains. It slowly pushes open the rusted, jammed doors of many hearts and allows for the gaping wounds in there to heal. Over the last few weeks it’s clear that it is not just possible but fun, to attend and host meetings remotely. Despite challenges, it can be enriching. A wise man/woman has identified 3 things one needs, to get through a day :

  1. Someone to love.
  2. Something to do.
  3. Something to look forward to.

No wonder people are gardening, baking, embroidering and doing various things, spending time or connecting in creative ways with people they love. We have been setting one episode of ‘The Crown’ as our carrot, to look forward to at the end of a long ‘working from home’ day. I have been writing some poetry and dreaming of putting a book together and getting it published some day. There goes my Ego …. again!

This seems like a good time to do something new. I would like to invite you to write with me. To connect with your hearts and bring a blank page to life. To find your own expression and share other people’s worlds through their words and prose. We would call ourselves “Freedom on a page”. In this time of partial captivity, this title seemed appropriate. If you have other suggestions, please bring them to the group. We would meet every Tuesday morning for an hour and a half – between 9 and 10.30 am on Zoom. We would write as much as we like during the week but have 200-300 words to read out to the group. If you would much rather only listen, that’s fine too. Join in. Don’t think so hard that you talk yourself out of it. You have done that before. Haven’t you? 😉

If you would like to join, please

(1) e-mail me at kidsaregifts20@gmail.com by Saturday, the 23rd of May. If you’d like more time to decide, take that time and send me the e-mail when you are ready.

(2) familiarise yourself with Zoom (https://zoom.us/) and download it on your computer/phone. It is free and easy. You can switch the video off if you don’t want to be seen. You can participate by writing on the ‘chat’ if you don’t want to speak.

I will send you an invite by e-mail on Monday, the 25th. I will start the meeting 15 minutes before 9 am, UK time (GMT+1) on Tuesday, the 26th of May and wait for you. Then we’ll see what happens. I have never done this before so I am a little bit nervous too. Shall we write about what ‘Freedom’ means to you? Feel free to pick any other subject. I look forward to this adventure. Depending on how you feel, we can continue to ‘meet-up’ every Tuesday.

Try it. Magic happens when the naked tip of a pen meets a nude blank page. The fingers holding that pen are deeply connected to the real you. So are the fingers typing on your keyboard.

Freedom on a page

Feathers fall from heavens like rain

A splash of sun-rays on the pavement lifts dust

Fills my senses with petrichor

The romance of which dances

In every gap, crack and crevice

I float up with the fragrance

And glide along the tops of trees

Breathe in bliss, touching green

Everything IS, as it IS

Watching its own ISNESS

Wrapped in a melodious silence.

This must be it

One moment of being fully alive.

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