At 15.

Cricket in the summers and badminton in the winters. That’s what Saagar chose to play during his school years. He was good at both and wanted to be better.

I often went along to watch him play, even though I didn’t appreciate all the technicalities of either game. One evening we gathered in the Sports club to watch him play. I noticed that every time he missed a shot he hit his right leg hard with the badminton racket gripped in his right hand. That must hurt. I didn’t understand. It distressed me. I spoke with him later. “It’s only a game, darling.”, I said. He kept quiet, neither defending his action, nor arguing with me, pointedly focussing on the piece of ground hit by his obliquely downcast eyes.  In him I saw a boy in pursuit of perfection.

Out of the blue he broke up with his lovely girl-friend of 7 months. That too on Valentine’s Day. His first love. Sweet and innocent. On being asked why, he said, ”It’s boring.” Soon after, late one night I gleened tears in his eyes as he hugged me, pretending not to sob. In him I saw a boy, trying to be a man. Oh! The pains of growing!

After a night out with friends, one weekend I noticed a cluster of 3 pea-sized fresh burn marks on his right forearm. Horrified, I asked what happened. He said it was a dare. A few of his friends were being goofy and challenged him to hold the burnt end of a cigarette on his skin and he did. He laughed as if it was a joke. I didn’t know what to make of it. How could this bright kid with an astute sense of right and wrong be talked into this kind of silliness? In him, I saw a boy trying to fit in with his peers.

Was there more to see? Did he tell me everything or just what he thought I could handle?

We love. Therefore, we are.

Nearly 5 years on, we gather again. This time it’s a 25th birthday party. Many in the room are in their mid-twenties. It’s their party. It’s everyone’s. There’s an open mike. Young voices. A few songs are special – Dolly Partons’ ‘Jolene’, Timberlake’s ‘Cry me a river’. By divine conspiracy, there is this song from the CD Saagar got me one Christmas –  Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Girl put your record on’. I sing along nice and loud, word for word, like I used to, a long time back!  It’s our music, biryani and laughter. A strong sense of belonging binds the room together. Sadness and joy are everywhere, stuck together like conjoint twins.  

When I supposedly had ‘everything’, I didn’t know how to access true joy. Now that I don’t have ‘everything’, I do. Even if it happens for tiny snippets of time, it happens in its fullness. It’s like being immersed in a singing warm ocean of bliss. The brickwork of resistance drops off. Everything is in harmony with my cosmos. Everything that steps in the way melts away. I am complete with everything just the way it is. This enticing path of joy meanders through a dark forest of grief. I carry the forest with me. And its black shadows. And all its wild animals that threaten to kill. We celebrate. We sing, laugh and we dance. We hug and cry and eat and drink as one. We are held in the warm embrace of a field of love that nourishes our souls.

We hurt alone and heal together.

Uganda Diaries

Frantically searching for an important document, I rummaged through all my papers up and down the Study. My mind can’t be trusted with anything anymore! My memory is shot. I exhausted myself and all my options. Over a cup of tea, I thought about all the places I had not looked through. A box full of Saagar’s books and diaries. I never read through any of his personal stuff. But that day, before I knew it, I had read all his musings from his travels to Uganda with a friend. They were there for 2 weeks to help at a local school supported by their College.

It seems when he was struggling, he wrote. Like me. He wrote exactly as he spoke, leaving some words half said and stretching out the first letter of unspeakable words. His diary was reading itself to me in his voice. I felt like he was in the room. I was an intruder. It wasn’t my place to read it. It was personal to him. But it was also my conduit to him even if it was written 27 months prior to Day 0.

It was clear that the boys were totally unprepared for the massive change. This is the note from his last day there.

30/7/2012. 2300 hrs.

“Never before have I been able to say the words “I want my mommy!” with as much certainty as now. This sucks ass. I feel like such a pathetic little shit. I hope missing Mother is no more than a manifestation of homesickness.”

A deep feeling. Then a judgement. Then an admonishment and then a substitution. A minimization. A classic example of a young man being brutally unkind to himself even though he is suffering. Being a ‘man’. Not allowing for any fragility even in the face of a harsh reality.

Fact: He missed me. Thinking of me brought him comfort. I have evidence.

How could I ever doubt that? By judging myself too critically. Why do we do this to ourselves?

That was a beautiful gift from you to me on your birthday my son. 25th birthday! Bless you my love.  

Visiting my adolescence

Innkeeper's wife

(The mean, very mean wife of the inn-keeper. Nativity play 1983. CMC Ludhiana. India.)

Once upon a time I used to be a kid. A bright and happy kid. I nearly forgot that girl. She used to be fun. She loved singing, dancing and play-acting. She had thick black, unusually curly, short hair. She laughed easily and played harmless pranks. She listened to music on the radio with such ardour that her day was planned around the timings of her favourite programmes on the Urdu service of All India Radio. The last few pages of all her notebooks were filled with scribbled lyrics of songs written at speed to keep pace with them as they played on the old Murphy which was a part of her mother’s dowry. Then she neatly transcribed the messy song-words from the back pages of her notebooks onto a special red diary which was her treasure.

A few months back I accepted an invitation from my alma mater, Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, India.  This is where I trained to be a doctor and an anaesthetist, nearly 30 years ago. They requested me to run a Mental Health workshop for about 70 medical students and make a Keynote address at the World Junior Medical Congress they were hosting in early April.

While preparing my lecture, I dug up a few old pictures. They flew me back in time. I saw what I looked like when I was Saagar’s age. It was a strange juxtaposition. So much had changed. Oh, that heart-breaking innocence! The stars in my eyes shone so bright, they nearly blinded me. Who was this lovely girl? Where is she now? She has walked a long way and formed a big circle. She is back where she started, working with what she has – her Love, her Grief and her Self.

MH Workshop

The workshop was four and a half hours long. The sharing was powerful, the enthusiasm infectious. The learning for all of us was invaluable. It was fun! We sang and we danced. We worked and we played. It was just like the old times. Saagar was there. He was smiling his crooked smile.

“There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” – Victor Frankl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do I need another pair of socks?

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It would be a blessing to have all the time that I would otherwise waste on creating space in the house for more stuff and making room in the bin for more packaging and plastic. I would prefer to sit by the fire and read a book instead.

My clothes, like the arms of a giant octopus, have found their way underneath beds, in and on wardrobes, stuffed inside chests of drawers, wrapped around banisters and hanging off hooks behind every door. Cycling clothes, work attire, casual wear, Indian outfits, semi-formals, super-stuffy, long dresses, jackets, tunics, thermals, water-proofs, tights and … some never worn more than once a year.

There’s hardly a square foot of flat surface left bare on any table or shelf. The pile of unread books is growing taller every day, shooting accusatory looks at me. Unworn hats, unused gloves, unopened soaps, unlit candles, unadorned jewellery, unsent cards, unrevealed fragrances, lotions and potions … never wanted, never missed.

At the risk of being utterly boring, I am giving myself the gift of non-judgement this Christmas.  I am highlighting all adjectives and striking them off. Good, bad, lovely, pleasant, sad, merry, funny, empty, gorgeous, happy, beautiful, desolate, right, wrong etc are eradicated. All is just the way it is, without the need for appreciation, qualification or categorization. The turkey, the table settings, the cake, the tree, the gifts … just are.

I am uncluttering. Softening. Yielding. Opening. About time too. Nothing is absolute. Even when I’m unsure of myself, I can still make a difference. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean I am alone. Broken hearts too can give and receive love.

Becca writes

 

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You laugh till you cry, squinting your tiger eyes
But tell us to hush when your parents call
In your Dulwich voice you say ”Be quiet guys!”

And in Indian voice you pick up, making us fall
About with laughter, like when you do your godly pose
Or carry Seb round your waist, provoking hustle and bustle
To get a good shot of you, as you put on a show
Wearing a quite tight t-shirt to show off your muscles

As the parties continue, drinks are going both ways
(Who owes who drinks? I’ve lost track of the debt)
whilst you start charming the ladies with le français
and protect them from drunks, proceeding to get
with them, then when all is nigh you third-wheel on a couch
never in a bed, you can be found asleep on the floor
snoring like a silver spoon is clanking in your mouth,
a sound that not even sleeping logs could ignore!

And when we wake and board the train I stare
At your long toenails, forever on my mind
I beg you to cut them as you offer to share
Your pungent fish-curry, which I have to decline,
I’m just glad you didn’t wear flip-flops that time we ate
Dinner at mine with my religious uncle and aunt
(who you mistook for my grandma) and they both said
that you wanted to marry me, me thinking “you can’t
be serious’ as it would have been like incest.

Plus our music tastes conflict (metal’s not my thing)
But back on track now to mention that you give the best
Hugs and your previous girl-friends continue to sing
Your praises, more or less, along the same lines …

Saagar, talented musician, gifted linguist and great friend.
Words cannot express just how sorry we all are,
How much we love and miss you.
Rest in peace.

Love,
Becca.

PS: The missing is driving me nuts!!!

I is big!

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He loved the company of older boys. The younger ones annoyed him. His favourite thing as a toddler was to stand in super-big shoes belonging to the older men in the family. He waded around the house in them. He happily posed for the camera with a toothy grin, looking up with his twinkling eyes.

He couldn’t wait to grow up. As a 5 year old, he would sit studiously at the dining table and squiggle pages of nonsense words on a writing pad, claiming seriously, ”I am doing office work.”

About a year later, one Sunday I was on call. We were driving to his child-minder’s house at 7 am. There was no traffic at all. All of Belfast was asleep. I said to him, “Look Saagar, it’s so unfair. Everyone is resting today and I have to go to work.” After a moment’s thought he said, “But Mamma, you’re a good girl.”

One summer evening, he had been playing outside with his friends for a couple of hours. We lived in the hospital accommodation which was a block of 6 flats surrounded by green grounds and tall trees, a safe distance away from the road. At dinner time, he said he wasn’t hungry as he had had snacks at one of the neighbours. I had prepared dinner and had been waiting to have it with him. I tried to coax him to eat just a little bit. But he didn’t want to. I persisted with my efforts, making up stuff like, he would get bad dreams if he didn’t have a proper meal before bed. After a while he sat me down and said,  “Mamma, when you are not hungry, do I force you to eat?”

What can you say?

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