Three years of nothing

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One morning as I set off to work on my bike, my neighbour bundled up her chatty 6 years old son in her car and drove him to school. In the evening when I got back home, huffing and puffing, she was there again, putting the bins out with her son. I unlocked our front door and walked in with the biggest lump in my throat.

A few months ago, a notice arrived from the Council saying that the rubbish collection day would change from Tuesdays to Fridays. My first thought was, “Must let Saagar know.” It’s not the fancy things, but silly, mundane, ordinary, everyday things that make up the essential fabric of life.

Yesterday was three years since we spent a whole day together, going to the GP, then to the green-grocer and bank, then for a walk and then for an afternoon nap. When he was upstairs in his room, I phoned my brother in India and shared my sadness and helplessness about Saagar’s illness. He said he would come over as soon as his Visa came through, most likely within the next couple of days. I felt re-assured. I cooked a nice meal. We ate and watched TV together. We kissed good-night and went to bed.

3 years ago, today was the last time I drove him to the gym and back. He didn’t spend much time there. I noticed but didn’t make much of it. I asked him if he met any of his friends in the gym. He said no. He did his best to carry on. Today was the last time I gave him a cuddle and kissed him good night.

Last week I happened to walk past the GP surgery where Saagar was treated (or not). It has closed. The GP has retired. A barrage of mixed feelings emerged out of nowhere. It felt good to read that sign. Yet, it marked the end of a career, a vocation. God knows how many people found help and comfort there. God knows how many got lost. God knows how many such practices still exist where GPs work single-handedly and in isolation, hiring locums on occasion.

Walking along the Thames a few days ago, a stream of bubbles glided across my field of vision with the majestic, unshakable St Paul’s cathedral standing solidly in the background. The bubbles captured all the colours of the rainbow hidden in the autumn sun. The breeze sculpted subtle shifts in the shapes of the bubbles as they floated along the river. They danced and smiled as they moved with the wind. They added immense beauty to the world even though they lasted less than a few seconds.

Billions of people have lived and died before Saagar and I. Hopefully, billions will live and die after us. We are like bubbles in the ocean of life, capturing all the colourful emotions and being the best we can for as long as we are here, however long or short.

Saagar’s best friend Hugo shares his thoughts and memories. He also sings a beautiful song for Saagar. We love you and miss you darling Saagar. May peace be upon you!

 

 

 

 

Non-writer’s Block

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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. 

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Day 966

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It seems like that was another lifetime. Some moments however last forever. My mind has been dancing in overlapping elliptical, circular, zig-zag and squiggly shapes between the remotest past and the far future and deep inside this bottomless present moment. I find gems scattered all around. Today the moment when I first saw his face shone the brightest. I picked it up. I held it in both my hands, looked at it for a while, felt it, kissed it and held it close to my heart. This is where he lives. In my heart, in the past, the future and the Now.  That moment from another lifetime is mine again.

Experiences can only be experienced. Not explained. Ones who has experienced it know it, ones who haven’t can have a guess. Some songs say it all. This one does. It speaks to me. It’s a song of love. Roberta Flack sings to my heart. She knows how I felt the first time ever I saw his face.

“The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies my love
To the dark and the endless skies

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command my love
That was there at my command my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last ’till the end of time my love
And it would last ’till the end of time

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face, your face.”

Day 945

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The beat goes on…

Leicester Square Tube station is a short stimulating walk from there. Chinatown is mouth-wateringly aromatic. Soho is teaming with restaurants and bars of all kinds. Music of various genres flies on to the street from doors and windows. The streets are buzzing with tourists and locals of all kinds, colours and inclinations. Outlandish garbs and hairdos are normal. It is Entertainment Central.

Ronnie Scott’s is black. A legendary jazz bar that has hosted every big name. The entrance is an unassuming black and red double door. It leads into an atmospheric, intimate space. The shapely waitresses manoeuvre their way delicately around tables in black dresses with broad red belts. The walls are awash with black and white pictures that capture jazz artists in an ecstatic moment. The cocktails are elegant and the menu fit for a Queen.

A drum-kit usually sits at the back of a stage. At best, to one side. But last night, it held centre-stage in all its glory – 5 drums and 8 cymbals at various angles. It was a celebration of Buddy Rich’s 100th birthday. He’s been called the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath. Gregg Potter and Dave Weckl played the drums as a tribute to Buddy. They led a beautiful-big-band made up of 11 wind instrumentalists, a pianist and a base guitarist. They added layers upon layers of intricacy and magic to their music. Notes slithered up and down the octaves like snakes up and down a staircase. The sound was smooth, the timing impeccable and the speed, unbelievable. It was soothing and explosive at the same time. The beats bound time in a tight grid.  The drums became an extension of the drummer. They were one.

I wonder if Saagar had heard Buddy. I wonder what he thought of him. I am sure he would have found his drumming to be ‘ridiculous’. Saagar often went straight to his drums on getting back from school. Drumming was his passion and respite. I suggested he do his official music grades. He said he had nothing to prove to anyone. He just wanted to enjoy it. He was a natural. Pity we never went to Ronnie Scott’s together.

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Day 936

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Born to run

“Patti will observe a freight train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and running quickly out of track… she gets me to the doctors and says, ‘This man needs a pill’.”

 His new memoirs speak a lot about his long battle with depression. Bruce Springsteen had a strong family history of mental illness. He didn’t do drugs as a rock star which is unusual. He was afraid  they would unmask his genetic potential for insanity but he was already suffering  with serious melancholia.

On the therapeutic value of touring he says, “You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.”

His wife of 25 years, Patti understands his illness. She helps him manage it. “A lot of his work comes from him trying to overcome that part of himself”, she says.

The media often reinforces negative stereotypes of people with mental illness, depicting them as inadequate, unlikable, dangerous, confused, aggressive and unpredictable. The Boss’s devotion to many progressive causes sharply contrasts that image.

Public stigma leads to self-stigma. It stops us from talking about mental illness and worse, ask for help when we are struggling. Patti was initially apprehensive about the book in which Bruce speaks openly about how years of depression left him crushed. It would be read by millions. But then, she saw the value in that.

I watched Bruce Springsteen in 1985 at a Live Aid Concert in Delhi. I was terribly envious of the young lady he invited on to the stage from the audience to dance with him.

Long live The Boss!

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line”
H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

 

Day 924

 

Day 924

CHIRAG
(Central Himalayan Rural Action Group; Also means ‘lamp’)

Every time I return to India I witness immense beauty in simplicity. I feel that beauty changing me. I grew up in a simple, sweet world. Moving away from it was difficult but time moulded me. Somewhere deep within that appreciation of simplicity remains. I see it without romanticising it. It is a part of me. I feel closer to myself each time I am faced with it.

Last week I volunteered to tell a story at a primary school in a small village in the Himalayas. I sat in a circle on the floor of a well lit large classroom with a group of  sixteen 7 year olds and we chatted for about half an hour in a mixture of Hindi and English. One of them asked me if we would be singing but I wasn’t able to confirm that. It bothered me.

The Principal, an enthusiastic young man of 29, said they didn’t have a music teacher in the school as the charity had just about enough money to pay for teachers to cover the academic curriculum. A local musician has offered to teach music but they are waiting for funding to come along to be able to employ her.

It is Saagar’s 23rd Birthday today.
I think he would have liked for that school to have a music teacher.
Happy Birthday Darling!

“O Bud! Your life is so moving that only for a while
You blossom, for just a smile.
“In this garden, O dear,” said the bud
“Just a few are lucky to smile, even for a while.”
(Translation of an Urdu couplet by Josh Malihabadi)

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Chirag School Newsletter 2_Autumn 2016

 

Day 912

Everything was fun.

As soon as he could walk with support, leaving home in the buggy for a walk in the evening meant, him pushing the buggy, taking it for a walk. Looking into the mirror, playing hide and seek with himself was fun. Kicking a cotton sheet off him with his frantically moving arms and legs was fun. Wearing big sunglasses and shoes was fun. Playing with toys and words was fun. Crawling, walking, running was fun. Dabbling in different kinds of music was fun. The ‘bandana’ phase was fun. Playing and listening to any kind of percussion was fun.

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Going round and round while sitting in one of my mother’s big cooking pots with a convex bottom was fun. On his second birthday, we found him in the balcony with a pot of yogurt, officiously feeding himself and our dog, Caesar, with alternate spoonfuls of the honeyed white stuff. As he grew older, pulling faces was fun. Smurfs and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was fun. The little toy in the occasional Happy Meal at McDonalds was fun. Z-Ball was fun.

Being back here in my parent’s house brings back heart-warming memories of his childhood. He was such good fun!

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