It sits on my shoulder like a monkey. Annoying. I’ve had a long day, I say. Go away.
It pulls my right ear and searches for lice scrambling all its fingertips over my scalp, irritating as hell. There are none. Get lost. I am not a child.
I’m losing it. The moon is winning.
Proud of its super-fullness. It is evil. The tides it excites, the fights it ignites, the way it bends minds, the resting foetuses it pulls into this cruel world, stealing sleep from the depths of the night. Milky and serene on the outside, within a serious trouble-maker resides. Hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes it invites.
You’re an imposter. I see you. A big black rough rock with nought to your name. No water. No gravity. No air. Certainly, no light. This thing you proclaim as your own is in fact not so. We all know. It belongs to the star called Sun. The one that gives life. Not you. That’s the real star. You, a mere appendage, borrowing importance, gloating in your pretend beauty, cycling and circling with poor intent.
With all her worldly wealth, she could not purchase belonging. Especially to herself. Her eyes thirsty for tenderness. Her muscles tense with want, her skin hungry for touch, her lips a straight line of dissatisfaction.
She hoped a painter might find her in his brush strokes and capture her on his canvas. She paid him a mountain, so he could help her find out who she might be … find out if she could meet her real self. After many hours of sitting still, with her hands clasped together in her lap, she was tired. She was tired of perfectly painting her fingernails bright red, for the painter. She couldn’t wait to see what he saw.
The day came and the painting was ready to be seen by her. Her eyes bulged out of her head, eager to find the joy she so wanted to find in herself. All she saw in the fore-ground, was a golden dress sitting beside a golden yellow lamp shade. All she saw in the back-ground, was the austerity of dark brown walls and furniture. That was the gist of it. The thing she was dying to find was not there. It was yet to be born. Those clasped hands held the secret. She knew what she had to do – unlock the door with those lovely hands and leave … for some place, white, blue and green.
Two years back, it could not be screened as scheduled. After a long wait, last weekend it was, at Clapham Picture house where Saagar often went with his friends. People came from Leicester, Salford, Cornwall, Cardiff and Birmingham. Some, I had only ever seen on screen. Others, when they were school kids. They brought their sisters, spouses, friends and colleagues. They stayed for hours afterwards, talking about themselves in a way they never had. They fell in love with Saagar’s big brown eyes and mischievous smile. They saw what a treasure had been carelessly lost. Everyone felt something. Many had no words but there was a profusion of overdue hugs all around. Many felt they knew him even though they had never met him. Some introductions were made to link up the leaders from various sectors of society so they could form stronger and safer networks.
That woman in the film was not just me. She spoke for the fifteen families in the UK, who are plunged into this harsh reality every day. More than 6500 every year.
That young man in the film was not just Saagar, but everyone who has ever blamed themselves for their troubles and felt shame for things that have happened to them, hiding behind their beautiful smiles. Unseen. Unheard. Each one who lost their tribe and couldn’t find a way back.
These were not just Saagar’s friends, but all those who are left behind, trying to figure out how this could happen to someone they loved. Wondering what they could have done then and what they can do now.
This film laments a future lost. It mourns silent suffering. It also illuminates a path that appears out of darkness. It also celebrates love and smiles. It also gives us permission to soften, lighten, loosen. It breaks open our hearts so we can hear the unspoken pain that lies behind the mask of another face and our own. It makes us one.
This is what it means to be human. Here, on this beautiful Earth, there is no other. Only us. Not us and ‘them’. Just us.
PS: International film awards: Eight.
‘1000 days’ is made by Me and Thee films for educational purposes. Hence it is not yet freely available on social media. It was screened in the ‘Lived experience’ section at Middlesbrough, for the Hartlepool and Stockton Safeguarding children’s Partnership and South Tees Safeguarding Children’s Partnership Conference on the 12th of July. It made a profound impact on roughly 350 attendees, motivating them to make individual and collective change so as to protect young lives and their happiness. Will keep you posted on the opportunities to watch it. Thank you for your love and support. Please do share any constructive ideas/ thoughts you may have for the film in the comments section.
Meeting old friends for the first time. In at least three dimensions. Sharing a physical space together, not just a bland rectangular screen. Actually holding hands.
“Gosh! You’re for real!”
The sparkling smiles of recognition mixed with disbelief. The hugs offering heart to heart resuscitation and healing. Sitting down side by side on the sofa, sharing stories, tea and cake.
A year ago, this could have been fiction but last weekend it was fact. While volunteering at a retreat for Bereaved parents hosted by The Compassionate Friends, we finally met people we’ve only ever seen on Zoom. It was held at the simple and serene Woodbrooke Centre, a Georgian manor house in Selly Oak, Birmingham with tall trees, beautiful flower beds and a family of geese perambulating the grounds, intermittently honking. It is a Quaker centre and has a poster in the main foyer which reads “Nameless helping the Nameless”.
The garden in front of the main house has a labyrinth mowed into it. Early on Saturday morning, birds were singing and the light was inviting me into the open. I decided to walk bare feet into the center of the labyrinth. I took my shoes and socks off at the edge of the circle. As soon as I started walking, it turned into an extremely mindful experience as the ground was littered with geese droppings.
The silence in that place was sweet and the views a treat. We talked about the importance of finding meaning. We shared the joys and challenges of taking the inward road. We watched a film and sang together. We wrote from our hearts and created pretty little candle holders for our kids from jam jars at the crafts table. We cried and laughed, reassured that in this company, it was completely acceptable to do both, sometimes simultaneously.
A pleasant exchange. Giving and receiving with compassion. Understanding. Belonging. Learning. Holding the utter magnificence of life in one hand and the absolute devastation in another. That’s what this game is all about, I guess.
In Delhi, it was simple and sweet. In Belfast, it was a problem. It had to be pronounced slowly with exaggerated lip movements and spelt out clearly. Still, it was uttered in all kinds of ways – Segaar, Sega, Saaga, Sags, Sagsy-wagsy. It is after all, a proper noun. “As long as you call him with love, you can call him anything.” I would say with a smile. But of course, it was his name. Not mine.
At the age of 7, one day he came home from school and said, “Can’t you change my name to Aran or something?” I felt for him but laughed. What else could I do? I asked him if something happened at school that day, if someone said something hurtful and he just picked up his soft grey elephant and cuddled it.
I told him the story of his name. I was 24 when I got married. My in-laws lived In Chennai. We visited them a few months after the wedding and one evening we all visited a place called Besant Nagar beach. That was the first time my eyes fell upon the expansive ocean. On the map this water body had the boring label, Bay of Bengal. The vision of a dark blue shimmer below meeting a pale blue glow above in a clean, delicate, straight line made everything else disappear. Its calm, its rhythm, its enormity, its subtle dance, its grace and openness pulled me in. All conversation faded away and there I was, completely soaked in the bliss of the ocean. My soul soothed. My body relaxed. My eyes quenched. My heart happy. I was in love. In that moment, I knew that if we ever had a son, he would be called, ‘Ocean’: Saagar. I reminded him that his name was Saagar because his heart was as expansive and as beautiful as the ocean. He smiled and gave me a tight hug.
As he grew older, he came to own his name. He came to live it. The waters of this ocean ran deep. They appeared placid on the surface but strong currents ran underneath. All I saw was the steady flow of gentle waves, rhythmically lapping against the shore through the seasons. It oscillated with the moon but the high tide was never too high and the low tide was never too low, until one day it was.
I still hear the key turning in the door from the outside and you stepping in. Can you believe it? I still see your face, darkened by the sun. Dressed in your cricket whites, you drag your massive cricket-bag-on-wheels behind you by your left arm.
“Did you take the sun-screen with you?” I ask.
“Yes, it’s in the bag.”
“Did you actually put it on?’
“Mamma, I’m hungry.”
I still wait for you to join us for dinner. I cook the foods you like, especially on your birthday: spinach-paneer for mains, chocolate mousse for dessert. I wonder what you’d be doing in this realm if you were here. Job? Girl-friend? How silly! Isn’t it? I can’t help it. It’s involuntary. It’s got something to do with the heart. With longing. With missing. With love. It’s not supposed to make sense. You would have had a good old chuckle at my expense if you were here. But you are not and I am. How random is that?
I still remember the first time I felt you elbow-ing or knee-ing me from inside my tummy, as if we had an inside joke between us. I remember holding all three kilos of you in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t believe you were for real. You were all mine. Now my arms ache with emptiness. Is this real?
Do you miss me sometimes?
Happy birthday my darling.
It will be the past
And we’ll live there together.
Not as it was to live
But as it is remembered.
It will be the past.
We’ll all go back together.
Everyone we ever loved,
And lost, and must remember.
It will be the past.
And it will last forever.
– A poem by Patrick Phillips, on the New York subway.
(“Ghar aa” is a Hindi phrase that means “Come home”)
Chasing me. Haunting. It wants to swallow me. I wonder why. I am a mere witness standing by. It viciously runs to get me. Grains of sand penetrate my eyes, making me squint and blink and tear-up. But I am just a spectator. I wrap my head in a pink cotton scarf. It soaks up the water, protects my head but my ankles are now submerged in the sand. I extricate them and lunge away from it, breathing hard. Then stop. Turn around, stand still and stare at it. It hisses, plumes of sand flying off the top of it like flames. It threatens to burn me alive.
Images, echos and winds of the past. Dancing dunes of time.
It has blocked my doorway, invaded my home, drive, my garden, front and back. There is grit in every crevice and crack. All I have is sunk underneath this deadly dune. Only the slate-grey gable roof and the chimney tops breathe.
I am not running away from it. From anything. This dune does not have my permission. It may not bury me. It cannot. I know it has a weakness. It can only play in the field of the Past. It cannot enter this Present moment of mine. A silk veil of breath undulates between the damned dune and me. It keeps me on this side of the line. Here, I am safe. This side of the boundary line is mine. Here, all I need I have. The field of my presence is spacious, clear and blue, untouched by this devil of a dune. As pure as my smile. In. Pause. Out. Pause. In. Pause. Out …
I am told it’s common for those at the end of their tether to believe that everyone would be better off without them. I don’t know if Saagar believed that but if he did, I want him to know that’s not true. They are far from ‘better off’. They hurt for as long as they live. They try to keep walking, with their painful unanswerable questions shouting in their ears. They make repeated futile attempts at forgiving themselves for their real and imagined, seemingly unforgivable mistakes. They try to uphold a light of hope for themselves and others, inside the well of their desperate darkness. They try to find purpose and meaning in their lives, when they can hardly move from one breath to the next.
Three years back I went traveling to the USA and Australia, as a Churchill Fellow, to find answers to a few of my unanswerable questions. I met some amazing people and learnt a lot, some of which I shared on this blog in October 2019. For the last two years, I have been compiling my findings with the aim of producing a report. It has been a challenging task and has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, thanks to the multiple distractions of the last couple of years.
The report has now been published and I am delighted to share it here with you. It is called ‘Bridging the Gaps in Suicide Prevention’ . I hope it will inspire compassionate ways of dealing with human fragility. I hope it will reach all those who can influence change from within – governments, communities, professions and hearts of individuals. I hope it will keep our hopes alive, for a well-connected, understanding world.
How I envy the lives of those, who have never been touched by suicide. What must be the quality of their minds? Their being must be so clean, un-spattered with blood. How I miss the old me of the world ‘before’, however ignorant and self-absorbed I was. My smile used to reach my eyes. It conveyed something real and complete about me. Now my eyes thirst to see that one sweet face. My smile is a faded and false version of its former self. A nicety that makes futile attempts to cover up for a heart that bleeds all the time.
When I look at photographs of women’s faces, I can tell the ones who have lost big chunks of their hearts. Their eyes are miles away from their smiles. Searching. Hungry for that part of their story which disappeared. I know that hunger. I envy all the other eyes, that sparkle.
Oh yes. I make up condolences for myself. Isn’t it a blessing that he didn’t have to go through the treachery of the lock-downs, he doesn’t have to worry about getting on the property ladder or about nations at war or about the appalling state of world leadership or about the rising fuel prices or about increasing world poverty or about some woman breaking his heart, about offending someone by asking a simple question. And climate change. He doesn’t need to deal with all this nonsense ever. Lucky bastard.
I turned to the kid’s section at our local library to rediscover the lost child in me and found ‘Charlotte’s web’ by E B White. I loved Fern, the little girl who could understand animal sentiments and conversations. I met Wilbur, who was ‘some pig’, terrific, radiant and humble and Templeton, the annoying rat. Charlotte, the spider, was adorable, a kind and benevolent friend. That’s the world I want to live in.
I think I’ll be visiting the children’s section of the library more often. This Easter, we shall watch all three Kung Fu Panda films, in preparation for the fourth one coming soon. Maybe we can fit in some Madagascar too 😉
Towards the end of 2020, a series of phone calls with mums and dads from the USA, Australia and the UK resulted in the formation of an on-line peer support group that has met every other Saturday evening for an hour and a half. The first meeting was held in the middle of January 2021. We’ve recently had our 32nd meeting. The group provides a warm space for sharing and offers non-judgemental listening and understanding. It provides a fertile ground for post-traumatic healing and growth. We call it CORe: Circle of Remembrance.
The loss of a child is different from other losses. The purpose of CORe is to honour our children, to create an opportunity for sharing our inner and outer experiences and to seek tools and mutual understanding for establishing a firmer ground of compassion, from which to live our new lives.
Over time, I have come to appreciate my need for a tribe to belong to. Other people who are also living through the loss of their child validate our experiences, witness our pain and help us feel less alone.
After many years of trying to make sense of something so treacherous, I now know that it is impossible to make any sense of it. However, I also know that it’s possible to create a new path for ourselves. A path of learning and peace.
It has been an honour for Si and me to facilitate the CORe group of roughly 20 friends and witness their journeys. The rich, life-sustaining conversations and friendships within the group are a delight to be a part of.
It therefore gives me great joy to invite bereaved parents to a new group that will meet on alternate Wednesdays from 7.00 – 8.30 pm (UK time). Please visit the website of CORe (link below) for more details and testimonials and sign up if you would like to join. In our experience with the Saturday group, the upper limit to attendees is 25. Once we have about 15 members, we’ll get started. The tentative start date is 4th May 2022.