“Hi. My name is Joe
And I work in a button factory
I’ve got a wife
And one day my boss said to me
He said, “Joe?
…Got a minute?”
He said “Push the button
With your left hand”
It was like being a kid again. The Theatre workshop at the Dragon Café let loose my imagination and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was part of a community full of great ideas, all of which were real in that room. Colourful currents of creative juices were flowing, intersecting and mingling within that sacred space. Every suggestion was validated, every feeling acknowledged. I felt safe and uplifted. For that one hour I could be anyone, anywhere with any story.
The interaction induced empathy. For a few minutes, each of our characters felt what it must be like to be in the other one’s shoes. We formed strong connections and had great fun.
I can see why Drama therapy works in schools, prisons, mental health centres, businesses and hospitals. It is an instrument for change, individual and social. It can help us work our way through a problem, discover some truths about ourselves, understand the meaning of images that resonate with us and explore and transcend unhealthy personal patterns of behaviour.
Saagar was a natural mimic and actor. Every time he auditioned, he got a good role. Predictably, he played one of the 3 wise men in his primary school nativity play. Then, he was Badger in Wind in the Willows. His last school play was Of Men and Mice in which he played the character of The Boss. He loved the team aspect of putting a production together. The last play he watched was ‘Book of Mormons’.
Once upon a time her life revolved around music. Her days and nights were spent either listening or humming or singing or watching thinking about songs. All her time was infused with music. Her friends would sometimes have to shut her up. She was addicted. Music was her friend in good times and bad. It was a constant and reliable companion. It never let her down. They had a steady relationship.
One day her world turned upside down, inside out and back to front. She couldn’t make any sense of anything anymore. Music didn’t help. It fell by the wayside. Their friendship disappeared. She couldn’t cope with rhythms, notes or lyrics. Melodies brought forth floods of tears. Harmonies took her to painful places. She stayed away. She fiercely guarded her heart strings from melting. She preferred silence. Deep, dense, safe silence.
Serendipity stepped in. A musical friend who knew of her old connection invited her along for an evening of informal singing in a friendly group. She reluctantly agreed. The thought of revisiting Music had fleetingly crossed her mind on New Year’s eve. Her parents and friends had been gently pointing her in that direction. Her love of music was alive but its expression immediately exposed her fragility. Could she risk it?
She decided to go along even though she was filled with self doubt. Would she be able to hold a tune? Would she get the timing right? Would she run out of breath before the end of a line? Would her voice sound okay? After a long estrangement, would Music be her friend again?
On the morning, she meditated, prepared herself physically and mentally, determined to face Music and re-establish their friendship.
She did it.
It wasn’t as difficult as she thought it would be. She went with the flow. Her throat welled up a few times. Her eyes got heavy with moisture. Every now and then she completely lost herself, disappeared. She came away smiling, feeling lighter. She reinstated a new, joyful connection with her old friend, who had been waiting for her all this while.
“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Having a couple of daylight hours still left after work is a luxury. This evening I was lucky. I walked aimlessly along the Southbank and ‘The F-word’ exhibition caught my eye. F for Forgiveness. Bold posters with simple, human messages from ordinary people from all over the world, telling stories that transform, offering a dynamic and challenging exploration of forgiveness through real life situations.
There is nothing ordinary about forgiveness. Forgiving others. Forgiving myself. I constantly struggle with it.
One mother said “When I was told that my son had been killed in action, the first words that came out of my mouth were ’Do not take revenge in the name of my son.’ It was a totally instinctive response.”
When Saagar passed away, one of the strongest feelings that came up for me was – no one should have to loose anyone they love to suicide. That was the driving force that kept me alive and goaded me on but forgiveness is a subtle and powerful thing that happens at another level. I am very conscious of the fact that it is something I really need to address but keep putting it off while it keeps gnawing away at me. Perhaps, it is not entirely by co-incidence that I chanced upon this exhibition.
This is a well-known story within medical circles. A few years ago, a patient was in the operating theatre to have his diseased kidney taken out. Everyone believed it to be the left kidney, except a medical student who said in a hesitant, soft and muffled voice that he thought it was the right kidney. No one paid him any attention and went right ahead to take the left kidney out. It turned out, that was the wrong kidney. The only person who was correct was the medical student. The person who suffered the damage was the patient.
Large organisations are hierarchical by nature. Decisions taken by those on top are rarely questioned by juniors. But true leadership means, the ability to challenge the status quo. The culture of an organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.
During their selection process, Google particularly look out for ‘courage’ in candidates. They prefer to hire people who ask the right questions and are not afraid to be open if they disagree with what is being said, irrespective of who says it.
The only way to improve is to be open. That is how we learn.
When was the last time I kept quiet when in fact I had something to say? When was the last time I didn’t have the patience to listen? What are the dynamics at my work place? Who pays the price for my silence or my inability to listen? Will I have the courage to speak-up the next time? Will I have the courage to listen?
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” – Seneca
Jalebis are the most luscious of Indian sweets . They are made from plain flour, ghee, saffron and sugar – the best possible ingredients. They bring back the sweet memory of home. Lately they featured in a Holywood film, Lion, as a trigger for a deep longing for home for a young displaced man. This longing grows into a desperation and then becomes a source of great suffering. Even though the body moves from one place to another, the heart can stay in one place for lifetimes, clinging on to sights, smells and sounds that mean ‘home’ and ‘love’. The power of the mind to revisit, relive, reconfigure and re-create life from all these stray scraps is tremendous.
This big blockbuster addresses issues of adoption, childhood trauma, migration and much more. The most interesting questions it has raised for me are – What is your narrative? What is the story you tell yourself? Do you ever question it? Are you willing to see how your life might change if you did question it? Are you willing to be proven completely wrong? Would that set you free? Would that empower you to change your direction?
The things we tell ourselves have more power than we know. They make the difference between life and death.
He often watched ‘How it’s made’ on TV. He was fascinated with the process. Be it guitars, dream cars, ballistic missiles or bubble gum, he was intrigued with how things were made. In school he studied Design and Technology (D&T). As a project he had to design and make something in his last year at school.
Together we came up with the idea of a jewellery stand. We discussed the desired features, materials, shape and size and over time he refined the idea with the help of his teachers. A few months later he brought home this beautiful piece of work. He had managed to add a mirror, adjustable fittings and decorations to it. I was immensely proud. Another one of his many gifts! May be his finger prints are still on it, intermingled with mine.
(Saagar, slightly blurred, in the background in his school D&T lab)
Two hundred and thirty one children in the UK died of suicide before finishing school in 2015. Nearly 100 children aged 10 to 14 killed themselves in the UK in the last decade, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The more I look into it, the more my heart breaks. I am sorry if my writing has the same effect on you. It is such a waste! We are loosing our future to suicide!
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela
Every investigation into an avoidable death is a learning opportunity for Trusts, clinicians, families, wards, patients, management, boards and the community. The lessons learnt can be passed on to other organisations and future generations. But unfortunately, often investigations are done in order to not find any deficiencies. They are defensive in nature rather than exploratory. They are reductive and analytical (Root cause Analysis) rather than holistic and empathic. Both approaches bring value to an investigation but often the greater good that can come out of them is overlooked.
200 avoidable deaths take place within the NHS every week. Each of them holds valuable lessons for the future but they are buried. Hence the same mistakes happen over and over again, costing more and more lives. In some organisations serious near-misses are recorded as ‘no-harm caused’.
We need collective intelligence, not individual genius. We need responsibility and accountability, personal and professional, shared and individual.
In 2015, a report was leaked to the BBC from Southern Trust that looks after 45,000 people. They had 1454 unexpected deaths over a 4 year period, 2011-2015. Of those, just 195 (13%) were treated by the trust as serious incidents requiring investigation. Deaths of adults with mental health issues were most likely to be investigated (30%). For those with learning disability the figure was 1%, and among over-65s with mental health problems it was just 0.3%.
“To err is human, to cover-up is unforgivable, to fail to learn is inexcusable.”
– Sir Liam Donaldson.