Brindisa, a Spanish Tapas Bar sits at one corner of Borough Market. I sit at the window at one corner of Brindisa, sipping hot chocolate after a long day at work. A wee treat. It’s raining just short of cats and dogs. Umbrellas are out in all their colours and varying degrees of wind-induced angular crookedness. Hoods are up and hair flying off scalps at funky angles. Some walk hunched and shrunk, others wear big smiles, facing the sky. Many pairs of crisp city shoes step off the kerb and dunk straight into puddles. Squelch. Squelch. Squelch.
The last few weeks of writing less traverse my mind. In the first week, that vacant hour seemed contrived – like a designer hole in the evening. I strapped myself in a brace of immobility, letting it pass, pretending I wasn’t watching. On a couple of occasions I was desperate enough to turn to the TV for help. It felt unnatural and abrupt to break the rhythm of writing every day. I had a non-writer’s block. I knew it was coming but it was more unwelcome than I thought it would be. It made me feel like I was being denied the sweets I loved. I felt redundant. I thought of Saagar and missed him more than normal, if that’s possible.
The second week was a week of late nights – emergency surgeries at work, friends visiting from abroad, reading an ‘unputdownable’ book. Sleep and energy deficit was huge. There was no time to think or write. An e-mail came as a reminder that the last of 36 instalments towards the payment for my bike had been made. Yes. I got it in July that year. Saagar helped me with setting the height of the seat, inflating the tyres and oiling the chain. He worried about me cycling on London roads. He was an avid cyclist. Once a female driver of a car nearly hit him because she was on her mobile phone. She apologised to him. He used to answer my phone when I drove. He also used to answer my text messages. He felt strongly about mobile phone use by drivers. He hated that we lived on a hill. The last bit of the bike ride home was hard for him, as it is for me but I am getting used to it. One e-mail and a barrage of memories!
The third week was quiet. Cats. Music. Food. Candles adorning Saagar’s picture. Time to record a podcast with an eminent Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Dele Olajide. Lots of cycling. Sleeping. Si and I pottering around the kitchen. I wash the spinach and he wilts it. He clears up the sink, I put the dishes away. Si boils the kettle, I prepare the mint for the tea. We dance our culinary waltz and Milkshake sits as a spectator on the upper stall of the kitchen island. In the pauses between ‘doings’ we dance. We rejoice, we dance, we create new memories.
“If you had a carpet bag and an umbrella you could be mistaken for Mary Poppins” one of my colleagues commented as he stopped his car right next to me at a red signal while I waited there on my bike. I often wear a tunic dress with leather shoes to work. I enjoy watching other cyclists in their multi-coloured and multi-logoed breathable jerseys, elasticated and padded cycling shorts, grippy mitts, electric yellow socks, clickity-clop shoes, snazzy sporty eye-wear and fancy headgear. Most of them are very serious.
My cycle belongs to the category of ‘hybrid’. It’s black and silver. It’s heavy compared to some of the feather-weights on the road. The special thing about it is that it is wholly unremarkable. Saagar used to call it ‘old lady bike’. Its first name is Strawberry and second name, Hill.
Space on roads is negotiated between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Cyclists move in packs and sometimes have disagreements amongst themselves. It’s clear from the behaviour of a cyclist if he/she has ever been behind a wheel. Likewise, it is easy to say if a driver is cyclist-aware. Pedestrians are a law unto themselves.
Within 3 turns of my wheels as I start off from a red signal, at least 10 bikes go past me. It’s another matter that a hundred yards hence we find ourselves waiting at the next set of lights. Some attempt to squeeze through the narrowest crevice in the traffic. Being stuck behind a bus is a special treat in terms of the quality of air. Smoking is mandatory.
The morning ride to work is a dream – fresh air, fresh me, very few people out and about, the wind behind me and the way mostly flat or downhill. In the evening – smoky air, tired me, lots and lots of people, riding into the breeze on a steady uphill road. Both, leisure times. Excuses to be a child again. As my quads toil hard to get me home inch by inch, I visualise the tub of Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate ice-cream waiting for me in the freezer. It helps with the speed and puts a song in my heart.
It were mental last weekend. We went crazy at the club. We did.
We ran around like a bunch of loonies.
Johnny was cackling like a fool. He’s a right schizo. He is.
Gives me the creeps, a right window-licker.
He’s not that bad really. He isn’t.
You gotta be a bit insane to live around here.
The place is completely mad! It is.
Could send anyone doolally. Completely demented!
Living like this is no living. It’s insane! Innit?
Yes. But Johnny’s a bit cuckoo. He is.
He just lost it. Went all OCD on me.
One minute I was ok. The next I wasn’t.
Bloody lunatic. Went bananas.
I wish he’d go away. I need him like a hole in my head.
It’s nuts being around him. Sends me round the bend.
Now everyone and me thinks I’m loopy.
Bloody psychos everywhere. Crackpots.
Nutters, them all. So they are.
One of the actors at the above workshop, who is also a mentally ill patient in recovery spoke about his insights, “I realised that as long as I depend on the State to look after me, I will be met with the lowest common denominator. This brought me to the conclusion that I may not have control but I have agency.”
After I got home, I looked up the meaning of ‘agency’ to figure out exactly what he meant. Agency is an ‘action or intervention producing a particular effect’. For example, many infectious diseases are caused by the agency of insects. Synonyms to this effect are: influence, power, effect, force, means, channels, routes, mechanisms and techniques.
In effect, he was referring to ‘self-help’. He was saying, “I have the power to change my situation.” It was inspiring for me to hear him say that. That statement reinforced the message of the workshop – there is a very thin line between the well and the ill. Role reversals are common. Sometimes visible. Often not.
I came away from there with a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand, I could clearly see the daily struggles of mentally ill patients and on the other, their brilliance shone through. I wonder how Saagar would have been, had he got through that big dip.
An excerpt from the Eulogy by Saagar’s uncle (my brother), Chetan:
“Two things about him come up over and over again.
The first is how much fun he was to be around. His ability to laugh. To make people laugh. And his astonishing ability to laugh at himself.
The other was how helpful he was. How he would do things he did not have to, to help other people out.
But clearly Saagar was so much more. He was so many things to so many people. And it is very difficult to capture in words the essence of what a person is. In the angst of his loss, his aunt wrote a short poem, which captures him more beautifully than I ever could, so I would like to read out now.
You were more…
More than the dreams you dreamed
More than the laughs you shared
The beats you kept of the music you played
The words you learned of the tongues you spoke
The love you sought and the hearts you won
More than the questions we ask, and the tears we shed
And more, much more than the demons you faced
And the battle you lost.
Hope you found your peace, and some day we find meaning…
When I think of his having moved on, I am in despair. But when I think about Saagar himself, what comes to mind is a series of memories. Knowing Saagar, they are all a lot of fun.
I fIrst met Saagar Naresh on a warm day in the summer of 1994 in Delhi. A baby was brought before me, probably 30 minutes after birth. I had no idea a human could be like that tiny, that fragile. The honour bestowed upon me was to be the very first person on this planet – after his mother, of course – to provide him nourishment. I touched a spoon with honey briefly to his lips. That was my first meeting with Saagar Naresh.
Saagar has been a constant source of joy and pleasure ever since. The odd way in which he slept in bed as an infant. The 2nd birthday where the birthday boy vanished, only to be found in the balcony with the new puppy, sharing a bowl of yoghurt, one spoon at a time.
I remember the 8 year old who never tired of practicing his bowling. The child who found the courage to get into a fixed wing glider for a joyride. He came out badly shaken, but proud that that he had done it.
And the 14 year old who – once when he was visiting us – decided it would be fun to have my pet Doberman, Cleo, lick his head. So he poured coconut oil all over his head. And Cleo was more than happy to oblige by licking it all off.
I remember the naughty 18 year old bodybuilder who put a post on his sister’s facebook page when she wasn’t looking, which said “My brothers triceps could dam a river”. And, of course, Saagar and Hugo’s mimicry of the English spoken by Indian tour guides would always have us in splits.
Saagar was great fun. I can bet that wherever he is right now, those around him are happy that he is there. Just like we have been for the past 20 years. Of course, there is regret that I will not see him soon. But there is gratitude for the time that I did have with him.
Saagar was gifted with a natural skill for languages, and along with that comes the desire to travel, which he did extensively. And because of him being far away and traveling often, there were always extended periods when we would not see each other.
Saagar has set off on another such trip now. And I think it is just a matter of time before we run into each other again. Honestly, I can’t wait for that day.
We miss you Saagar. Have a great trip.”
My deepest thoughts are in Hindi. Only when I am in a hurry do I think in English. It’s my second language. A legacy of the Raj. Even though I have been using it for most of my personal and professional life, I need to constantly work at it. Being bilingual means one has 3 languages to have fun with – Hindi, English and Hinglish.
The English in the UK is different from the one I learnt as a child. That English was more a medium of education. As a teenager I started to enjoy it, especially through Tintins – billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles.
The usage of a language in its native country is very different from anywhere else. I had no idea what ‘Pinky’ was. For me it’s a person’s name, mostly a girl but could also be a boy. Little finger? Really? It would never have crossed my mind.
This notice in the loo on the train showed me the endearing way in which vernacular can be used : ‘Please don’t flush nappies, sanitary towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams or goldfish down this toilet.’
‘Numpty’ is not quite the same as idiot. It has a particularly affectionate tone to it. Cute! Again, a new one for me. ‘Skulking’ is not as simple as loitering. It is, moving about shadily, with something to hide. It has a naughty/sinister connotation to it. ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ introduced it to me.
This evening I asked 2 English men their favourite word and both of them perfectly pronounced the same one: Floccinaucinihilipilification.
Recently I was flattered to be asked to write an article for the charity Mind, about a simple coping mechanism that has helped me and can help anyone. I wrote about writing. This is how I grieve: Woes and Prose.
A picture of innocence. Beautiful big eyes. Gorgeous striations of white and grey. Perfect symmetry. Luxurious fur. Abundant agility.
Instinctively he knows the newest and best piece of furniture in the house. Very soon it belongs to him. If he finds someone else sitting on his chair, he lets them know that he is putting himself through the inconvenience of waiting for them to vacate his seat.
While perfectly capable of using the cat-flap, if we happen to be in the lounge, he expects to be let in by us. He even places his front paws on the French windows, just in-case we hadn’t noticed. I must admit that when we do open the door for him, he always obliges us with his grand entry. As the saying goes, dogs have masters and cat have staff.
One minute he is your best friend and the next he completely ignores you. The next, he goes for your toes as if they were menacing little mice. The next he wants a kiss and a cuddle and the next he claws the very fingers that caress him. Quiet the alpha male, he is often seen bullying other cats in the neighbourhood. In a jiffy he transforms into a cute little fur-ball. He doesn’t like light falling on his eyes and he assumes various shapes to block it out.