Me and the Mountain

IMG_0950

A friend’s house on a mountain has been our home for this week. A little bit of water and electricity flows through it but no phone signal or Wi-fi. It’s more than a kilometre away from the nearest motorable point. It’s made of wood and stone and surrounded by cedars, pines, oaks and rhododendrons on all sides. Every room has a fire place and all the windows are single glazed. It’s about 50 years old, quaint and basic. Since the sun went into hiding yesterday, it has been icy cold and we have been magnetised by the lone wood-burning stove. The overgrown garden around the house still has colour from clusters of wilting maroon dahlias, symbolising the past glory of the house within. Every window looks on to a landscape that could be a picture postcard.

IMG_0947

There is nothing to do but go walkies. Jacob, a neighbour, dropped by to say hello. He is certainly the most energetic 70 years old man I have ever met. An Austrian anthropologist and a tour guide by trade, he has been living on this mountain for more than 40 years. He has a lovely Austrian wife who gave birth to their 4 sons on this mountain. The sons went to the local Tibetan school and then moved on to fulfilling careers.

A Buddhist monk has been living in silence and solitude in a cave on the side of this lush green mountain for the last 15 years. The only visible indicator of his presence is an oil lamp that lights up every evening.

Tea is consumed by the gallons here. It’s milky and sweet enough to float a boat. Its calorific value is high enough to eliminate the need for food. People here have peace, time, clean air and fresh spring water – luxuries for most city dwellers. Stories are exchanged, transmitted and created over cups of tea. They keep the bush telegraph alive and kicking.

There is a distinct beauty and stillness about this mountain, called Dharamkot, in the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. The sharp contrast between my inner and outer landscapes is unsettling. I teeter closer to the edge of insanity than usual, feeling ill, walking the scenic slinky mountain tracks every day. Good old grief is bubbling up big time, threatening to push me over the edge. I am plummeting down the roller coaster at the speed of light and the only way seems to be down.

Since ancient times sages and sadhus have recognised and chosen the Himalayas as a seat of peace and enlightenment. The Dalai Lama’s residence and monastery are visible down the valley from this mountain. Smiling monks amble in ochre robes, lending an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The spiritual energy here is palpable. It’s doing its best to hoist me out of my slump.

I sit still, struck by the scale and magnificence of the giant Himalayas. What am I in front of these ancient icons? Insignificant. One little turn in the weather for the worse , one slight ruffle in the tectonic plates beneath me, one tiny miscalculation of a footstep on the mountain slopes, one temper tantrum of the mountain breeze is enough to make me disappear.

How big am I?
How big is my sorrow?
How many stories have these mountains witnessed?
How many more are yet to unfold?

What if the answer is to dissolve the ‘me’ in the mountain, in the basic elements that make up everything – earth, water, fire, air and ether. Be nothing and everything.

Yes. It’s different.

A few days before the wedding Si asked me how I felt about getting married. Smiling, I said “Well, it’s a good way to finally get to know you.” When two people get married after an 8 years long relationship, they hope like hell things stay the same. Do I feel any different after the wedding?

Yes.
It’s like becoming an important part of something much bigger than me. I feel entrusted with a higher level of responsibility and I feel confident that I can live up to it as I feel deeply connected and resourceful. I feel closer to Si than before if that’s possible. I feel stronger and well supported by many. It feels a million times healthier than being the ‘lone wolf’ I have been for a long time.

Our loose 10 day itinerary explores the godly province of Himachal Pradesh in North India. Today we are at ‘The Mirage’ in a tiny village, Andretta.

Andretta is a traditional hub for painters, actors, potters, ceramic and other artists. Norah Richards, an Irish play-write established this focal point in 1924 through her passion for local art and culture.

The artistic heritage of Andretta is evident from the presence of a fascinating pottery museum and a quaint art gallery within half a kilometre, on the village “High Dirt-track”. Being here is tranquil and uplifting. People here are warm, kind and eclectic. They smile generously and look content. Their simplicity is exquisite. Si and I dream of spending more of our time around here.

khalilgibran1

Silk resembles love.

Rose petals

Couple of years before he died, Saagar thought I needed to see a therapist. He didn’t explain why. At the time I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I guess he could see that I did not know how to access the sweetness of life. I allowed preoccupations of work and practicalities of life to fill my time, leaving little room for love.

Painfully delicate and surprisingly strong, silk resembles love. The silkworms destroy the silk they produce as they emerge from their cocoons. That is why farmers have to make a choice between silk and silkworms. Often they kill the silkworm while it is inside the cocoon so as to pull the silk out intact. It takes the lives of hundreds of silkworms to make as scarf. But for the silk to survive, the silkworm has to die.*

At a small and sweet ceremony, in the middle of nowhere, in the presence of twenty people, holding the holy fire as witness, Si and I tied the knot yesterday. It was a joyous day, a celebration of love.

On the previous night the moon was full. Saagar was with us.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” – Rumi

*Ref: ‘Forty rules of love’ by Elif Shafak.

 

This and This.

In one hand I hold the joy, excitement and celebrations of the upcoming wedding, the holidays, time with family and friends, the outfits, the outdoors, the sweets, the music and festivities. New beginnings!

In the other hand I hold my devastation over having not seen Saagar for 3 years. Three years! The years made up of unliveable moments. The period that has shown me what’s important. The weeks and months that have seen friendships thin out and flimsy acquaintances grow into pillars of strength. The time when I have met some of the most incredible people I know. The time during which I have come to know more families bereaved by suicide than I knew existed. Also the time I have learnt about being human.

Both are simultaneously and fully present. I am fully present to both. I honour them both and hold them close to my heart. I know that Saagar is smiling. I know he is with me.

After a long time, today I took a chance and bought water-proof mascara.

 

Three years of nothing

IMG_5170

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!

 

 

 

 

If all the world’s a stage…it has props.

downloadIn the background stands a majestic Palladian structure in brick red. It’s nearly 400 years old. The artistic roof displays beautiful finials, turrets and cupolas. It’s easy to imagine the large atria and sweeping staircases on the inside. It appears as if this building emerges from an expansive lush green sea.

The cricket nets are placed to the right of this building. Many hours have been spent here, laughing, picnicking, practising, talking, spectating and playing. Multiple recordings of his bowling action have been made here, each scrutinised to the nth degree by him. Each one distinct to his discerning eyes but all identical, to my lay ones.

In the fore-ground sits a TV screen with ‘Friends’ playing. He likes Rachel. I think she plays the role of who she is in real life. Not much acting ability required for that. He doesn’t understand that. He thinks I don’t like her. I like Phoebe. We both love ‘Smelly cat’. He watches it when he is down. I see why. However feeble, it always brings a smile to his face as it does to mine now. However predictable, it doesn’t fail to amuse, to lighten the heart. The impression of a head is clearly formed on the red velvet cushion resting at the corner of a black leather sofa.

At centre-stage, a pink and silver drum-kit sits atop a hand woven black and white Moroccan rug.  2 goblet drums wait in the wings – a Djembe and a Darbuka. A set of initialled drum-sticks read ‘SN’. Big round black bags lean against the wall. They weigh half a tonne. They encase special cymbals – presently silent but given half a chance, fully capable to raising the roof of not just our house but also that of the neighbours.

A fake snake coils on the study table with its tail realistically hanging off the edge. It has been used successfully to blow the living day-lights out of people of all ages, shapes and forms, on many occasions. It took me 2 years to immunise myself against it.

An unwieldy ragged cricket bag with wheels at one end lazes against the wall. One entire shelf in the cup-board is dedicated to cricket gloves, balls and other paraphernalia.

The sun streams in from 2 big sky-lights and the space is lit like a sanctuary. A silver Apple Mac laptop lies gaping on the study table with funny cat-videos playing. It’s connected to the dome of Harman Kardon speakers which hide under the table.  An assortment of coins, head-phones and keys splash across the dark wood table top. A few coffee mugs are scattered around the room with various shades and degrees of dry brown coffee lining the insides.

Behind the door is an overflowing willow laundry basket. A pair of union-jack boxer shorts shine through. The space smells of an unkempt temple with a male caretaker –  hints of incense, musk and testosterone. From the door hook hangs a towelled maroon dressing gown.

All the props are here, tell-tale signs of a life. Where’s the main man? At a subtle level, his absence is only physical. His essence is present.

It’s in all the props, in the air around them, in the luminosity of the room, in everyone he touched, made jokes with, played music with, was kind to and loved. In the glow in my eyes, the light in my heart. In me.

His essence is here. I only need to close my eyes. This must be immortality.

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”                              – Terry Pratchett

(Ref: A fully referenced, peer reviewed article published in an educational, medical  journal for GPs; a case study of a young man called SN to demonstrate the importance of Suicide prevention training and the role of human factors in patient safety: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1755738017724183.)

The basic human right to be offended

A patient attending hospital to get help with conceiving a baby complained that one of the staff members was visibly pregnant. It was offensive to her as she was unable to fall pregnant naturally. By that measure, no one should walk in the presence of people in wheel-chairs as they might be offended. How far are we willing to take our right to be offended?

Wonder where this extreme unhappiness comes from? My guess is that it stems from feeling like a ‘victim’, having a huge sense of entitlement and feeling bitter because what is rightfully our’s is being denied to us.

I often get asked if it hurts to see Saagar’s friends graduate, get jobs and girl-friends, go travelling etc? The answer is that I am happy for them. I do miss Saagar like crazy. I do wonder what his life would be like but I don’t resent his friends living a full life. I still haven’t found the most appropriate way of answering the question, “How many children do you have?” but I am not afraid of it anymore. I take my time answering it.  The answer often depends on the person asking the question and the context in which it is asked. I have the power to choose to answer or not.

The only things we can give to others are the things we have. If we are brimming with anger, sadness and disappointment, that is what spills over. If we live with peace, that is what we present. Do we have a choice? I don’t know. But we can be aware of what’s in our bowl and how it may come across to others.

My bowl has been empty for a while. I have not actively replenishing it for myself. When I am on zero, I have nothing to offer to the world. Of late I have been seeing my therapist regularly, taking time to meditate, going for walks, listening to music and spending time with friends. Now, I feel the difference. I feel good and I can take better care of others. Historically we attach great moral value to ‘selfless’ service, especially to the role of mothers. These values are misplaced. We all need to nourish our spirit for that goodness to flow out.

What are you going to do for yourself today?

self-care-quote-3