Noble Silence

Would it be best if I took myself to a mountain top where I didn’t have to say anything, hear anything, understand anything, process anything or feel anything? Is there somewhere I could be free of the wrath of time? Where my heartstrings wouldn’t constantly tug at me. Where I could find the much-conceptualised ‘perfect balance’. Where I could wash off those parts me that ache non-stop. Where I could find an oasis beyond ‘I like’, ‘I don’t like’. Where none of the facts of life would hold any power over me.

My 51st birthday is the 3rd one without Saagar. That’s how it is – two significances attached to one day. Aren’t years supposed to bring wisdom and clarity with them? Do they? Possibly in unnoticeably miniscule doses in my case. I could take myself to a mountain-top but the snag is that the source of the restlessness and pain will come with me – my mind.

Looking for peace and respite from my mind I made my way to the serenity of a Buddist Monastry just outside London for a 5-day Silence Retreat. The first few verses we chant are Buddha’s words on Loving-kindness.

“Be one who is skilled in goodness
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.

Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and clam, and wise and skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove,
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small.
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to be born,
May all beings be at ease.

Let none deceive another
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies
And downwards to the depths,
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated,
Or lying down – free from drowsiness –
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense-desires,
Is not born again into this world.”

If there is just one thing I can take from these wise words, it is –
“Be at ease.”
“Relax.”
As Saagar would say in his notoriously funny south-Indian accent,
“Mamma. Chhillax.”
I think that’s a good place to start.

Day 973

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The days are just packed.

Days come and go, one after another, in a silent single file. Left to me, I would let the disciplined procession pass quietly. Luckily, it is not left to me alone. Si is an expert at creating things to look forward to. Never before has my diary been so full of fun things to do. Even when the diary is blank, he comes up with ideas that make the day go by in the most enjoyable way.

We had no plans for today but then we needed to buy hose connections to water our tiny garden. A trip to the garden centre meant we walked around with a trolley and looked at things and found a few that would be nice for the house. Before long, we had to get a second trolley for things we hadn’t thought of before we entered the store.

Dolly Parton famously quotes, “my definition of happiness is having something to do what you love to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.”

One argument against constantly wanting something to look forward to could be that it takes our attention away from the present moment. Yet, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Simple things like half an hour of peace to meditate or write a journal, a walk with a friend, a bike ride through the park, a warm shower or a bubble bath, trying out a new restaurant, a long chat with a friend on the phone, reading a book, cooking something nice and sharing with friends, a good stretch, a massage, a dance or exercise class can be uplifting. However, ‘doing’ something all the time is no fun. Doing less may be the answer for some.

Coming from a place of gratitude and abundance, looking forward to something is fabulous!

Thanks for helping me see that, Si.

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Day 914

Ding-dong – the laundryman with the ironing.
Ding-dong – the ever-smiling, podgy little cleaning lady.
Ding-dong – the air-con repair man with a helmet.
Ding-dong – the Fed-ex man with a delivery for the neighbours.
Ding-dong – one of the workmen upstairs requesting a bottle of cold drinking water and so on …

The lull of rotating fan blades. The hazy, lazy sun. The hopeful hint of an on-coming shower. The microscopic layer of fine urban dust on glass table tops. The colourful screw-tops of refrigerated water bottles. Old familiar Hindi film songs playing in the background like long lost friends. Dodgy links with the world-wide-web. The cool marble floors easing bare soles. Honey like water melons. Heavenly early mangos, semi-yellow, a wee bit raw around the stones. Heads taking respite under thin cotton scarves in multitudes of colours. Loose, airy, light, flowing, feminine garments. Childhood aromas emanating from Mum’s kitchen. Her annoyance with disobedient modern gadgetry. Dad’s concern. Their everyday household problems of retirement. Saagar’s pictures lining the walls adorned with flowers and silk. Being called by childhood names.

Specks of earth lifted off by droplets hitting parched ground. The magical heady confluence of moisture and earth teleporting my brain to a nearly buried, exotic moment from a long time ago. The awesome dance of the wind with the chime. The pure joy of the breath. The ecstacy of being.

The best things in life are not things.

Day 905

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Where is the news of Union with you that I shall give up life.
I am a holy bird of Paradise, from the world’s trap shall rise.

By your love, I swear that if you call me to be your slave,
I shall give up the mastery of life and the world.

Oh Lord, let the rain fall from your guiding clouds,
Before, like dust, I rise and vanish from sight.

When you come to my grave, bring wine and the lute to me,
So that I, delighted to see you, from the grave dancing shall rise.

Though I am old, hold me tightly one night to your breast,
Then, in the morning, from your bosom, young shall I rise.

On the day of my death, give me a minute’s time to see you,
Then, from the world and life, I will be set free.

  • By the Persian poet, Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī

Day 904

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“Ut amem et foveam” (To love and cherish) reads one of the tattoos on David Beckham. “Quod me nutris, me destruit” (What nourishes me destroys me) reads one of Angelina Jolie’s. Dragons, spiderwebs, birds, butterflies and many other forms and words cover many a body, silently relaying many stories. Mine simply reads ‘Saagar’ – an uncompromising statement, ink sealed beneath the skin as a permanent marker of what matters most. I got it in this very town on the 3rd of October 2016 (Day 718). Yes. It was painful but well worth it.

Tattoos once signified tribal affiliations and hard line expressions of devotion to a particular gang or cult. They serve as potent conversation starters and quiet sources of strength and hope. Some people with depression pick themes such as ‘Amour’, ‘Stay strong’, the picture of an anchor, “Grace’, a butterfly signifying if I could get through this I could become something beautiful on the other side, a dream catcher and ‘Sometimes you’ve got to fall before you fly’ and many such quotes and song lyrics.

They are a form of self-expression but when all over, I wonder if they are also a form of self-harm as they do hurt, especially when combined with multiple piercings. They certainly are an effective way of covering up scars from self-harm and may inspire people to invest in treatment and recovery.

A 2015 survey of tattoo owners in Britain showed that 40% of them regretted at least one of their’s. It is no surprise that tattoo removal parlours are the largest growth sector in the cosmetic industry.

I suppose it means different things to different people. Some say you can never stop at one but I am happy with one and I know that I will never regret it.

 

Day 903

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2 days since we landed in Portugal and 2 days of feeling like I’ve been hit by a tonne of bricks. Great weather, lovely company, fabulous food and still this strange feeling of heaviness. Maybe it has something to do with the lunar cycle. May be it’s the accumulated tiredness of the past few months finding an outlet. Unsure of what to make of it, I speak to my friend about it and she tells me about ‘saudade’. It’s the Portuguese name for an emotion that lives in this land, its people, music and culture.

It is a wistful longing, drenched in sorrow, for something that can never be had again. It is nostalgia, but melancholic. It is longing, but knowing it cannot be. A type of self-delusion. So, “saudade” is a feeling of lost connection with the most important feeling or thing you ever had, a desire for something that you lost – a country, a grandmother, youth, a son, a lover.

In English, it means ‘to miss’. It is a verb.
In Portuguese, it is a thing. A noun. Saudade.

 

Day 902

Mr Drums

An excerpt from a speech made by one of Saagar’s friends at his memorial at Durham:

“Whilst complaints about the noise level were regular, complaints about the type of music that was being played were few and far between as Saagar regarded his taste of music as above reproach. And to be fair – it was not far off. It was the epitome of eclectic – spanning Heavy Metal, Hip Hop and Punjabi M.C. Or as Saagar would put it – White man music, Black man music and Brown man music. Fortunately, for all of us today, Saagar would not rest on his laurels when it came to music, and instead was a gifted drummer. I never saw Saagar more excited than when he was talking about his latest venture with Lenny and the Mandem. Being part of that band meant the world to him. For that – I feel we owe Lenny and the Mandem a debt of gratitude: not only for providing Saagar with a musical outlet that fast became the highlight of his university life, but also for providing a platform upon which Saagar could showcase his amazing talents behind a drum set. I know that he felt incredibly honored to play alongside you all, and I for one, felt incredibly honored to be listening.

Indeed, one of the major highlights of my time at Durham so far, was having Lenny and the Mandem play at my 21st birthday party at Fabio’s last year. At the time, I did not know the rest of the band too well – but knowing how much of a fan I was – Saagar made the necessary arrangements for them to perform during our celebrations. Whilst this was enough to already make my evening, Saagar went one step further, and arranged for the band to cover a song from my all-time favourite band: Dire Straits. What followed was a moment that I will never forget. I looked up to the stage when I recognized the introductory guitar riff to Sultans of Swing and saw Saagar’s head poking out from behind his drum set – mouthing the words ‘Happy birthday brother!’. What seemed to be a mere song to so many at the party, was in fact the most touching gesture from a very dear friend. A gesture made all the more poignant by his passing.

This was not the only music-based memory of Saagar that will live long in the memory. Perhaps the most amusing moment I shared with him happened in the Aidan’s cafeteria. The summer ball act was about to be announced, and our lunch time conversation had turned to the one act or group (Dead or alive) we would most like to see perform live. We went around the table, and each person took a few minutes to consider their answer before saying somewhat predictable musical heavyweights from the last 50 years or so (from the Beatles’ to Tupac Shakur). The conversation then turned to Saagar, and he replied completely deadpan and without a moment’s hesitation with: Dido. The table erupted with laughter as nobody could believe that someone felt so passionately about what can only be described as elevator music but Saagar defended his decision with aplomb. From that point onwards – we decided to begin the rumor that Dido was going to be made the summer ball act, and much to our surprise –this went viral. So viral in fact, that Basshunter’s first few songs were drowned out with chanting from the crowd for Dido to come on. If the Aidan’s social chair is in the crowd – please take note. I can think of no better tribute than Life for Rent ringing around the halls of Aidan’s and it would be a massive improvement on that bloke we had last year. Whoever he was – he sounded like a cross between a digitally modified car crash and a Harrison Sand’s D.J. Set. Saagar did not approve.

One thing Saagar would have approved of however, would be the number of people who have taken the time to attend this memorial today – and indeed, the number of people who turned up to his funeral and the memorial service hosted by his alma mater: Dulwich College. At both of these previous events, the audience was completely full with people who had come to pay their respect.

As I stand here, still struggling to talk about such a presence in the past tense, I am comforted by the fact that the lessons we learnt from Saagar will never leave us. The most important one he taught me was pride. No matter what, Saagar remained unapologetically proud about so much in his life, and this pride was truly contagious. He took pride in his upbringing, and the sheer courage it took for him to move from India, to a period of racial bullying in Belfast to the drastically different setting of one of the country’s leading public schools (although speaking from experience – public schools are perhaps not the best place to seek refuge from racism!). This did not affect him in the slightest however. In fact – he remained so proud of being brown that he resorted to smoking out of liquorice rolling papers that were as brown as he was. Another thing I know he was very proud of was his time here at Durham, proud of his achievements: both academic and extra- curricular. Proud of the friends he made, and proud of the experiences he shared with them. Whilst he may no longer be with us, this pride lives on in each of us – as we are all immeasurably proud to have known him, and prouder still of how he chose to spend his tragically short time on this earth, leaving little more than the wisdom he imparted, the compassion he shared and the untiring friendships he made.

Since his passing, and despite the atheist outlook I shared with him, I have often found myself wondering what Saagar would be doing right now in the unlikely even that we were both wrong, and that there is a God and a Heaven above. I wonder if his room up there still smells the same, I wonder if he has found a place to buy those dumplings he always used to eat, and I wonder if Jesus has told him to turn his music down. Is there a drum kit in heaven? And even if there is – has he found a band with a front man as good as Lenny Jesinghausen? Does heaven have a cricket club – and if so – does that still mean his bowling action is illegal? In the unlikely event that religion IS true, and that I have not spent the last 3 years and nearly 30 grand on a theology degree that equates to studying ancient fairytales, I guess we will all be able to answer these questions for ourselves one day. Personally, the first thing I intend to do is to  catch up with Saagar over a fag in Heaven’s smoking area. I hope you will join us.

This is likely to be the final opportunity we have to pay our respects as a group. In a brief hour or so this memorial will conclude, the crowd will disperse, and slowly but surely, we will draw a line under this chapter and resume our lives. Saagar cannot do this. He has no line to draw, no life left to resume.
As a result, I implore you to take some time out to honour him in your own way. He had a youtube video for all occasions, so perhaps rewatch some of them. Listen to Dido, smoke a liquorice cigarette or something stronger if that’s your thing. But above all – never forget. Never forget the memories you made, never forget the laughter you shared, and most of all never forget the lessons you learned from him.

He lived for a mere 20 years, may his legacy live on forever. ”