Vite Vine

Darling Saagar,

You learnt your English in the UK from English-speaking people. I learnt it in fits and starts from Hindi/Punjabi/Bengali-speaking folk in India. It was not a surprise that you were only 10 when you took it upon yourself to start correcting my English. All the time.

“Saagar, please would you close the vindow?”

“The parent’s meeting is on Vednesday. No?”

“Where does the best Vite Vine come from?”

You would be all over the floor. What was funny? These were simple questions. In Hindi, there is an equivalent for ‘v’. None for ‘w’. The sound of ‘w’ is learnt. I learnt it and can apply it to everything except nouns. Must be a genetic aberration. I had a huge sense of achievement when I made you laugh, given my sense of humour was nothing compared to yours.

Other words that I spoke wrongly were – rebel (re-bell), adolescence (a-doll-essence) and such.

Sometimes I knowingly uttered incorrect sentences, so you could correct me, playing with your predictable pleasures.

“Bought a really nice t-shirt today.” you said.

‘What colour?’

“Not ‘what colour’ Mamma. It’s ‘which colour’.”

‘Ah. Right. What colour?’ I asked again with a crooked smile.

Rolling-up your eyes, shaking your head from side to side.

“Parents!”

Laughter.

We’re in lockdown at present, Saagar. Long story! I can’t help thinking how fab it would be to have you home. We would have so much time together to try new recipes, to exercise and laugh, play carom and do some gardening, relax and watch funny cat-videos and so on…

Time … tic-toc, tic-toc … gone forever.

My mind plays silly monkey-tricks with me. The rascal. I watch it. Holding my own, I am not getting carried away with it. I am being the witness (vitness).

You are here, with me always.

I love you.

Yours,

Mamma.

The Sliding.

Ryan woke up at least twice every night to run to the loo. But last night he moved like a little whirlwind under the sheets. Sue slept through most of it but found it peculiar. She didn’t say anything, lest it disturb him but he disturbed her at least every hour without knowing it.

She woke up feeling tired at 6.30 am. It was a Monday morning. The day of the week didn’t matter much any more as both of them had recently retired. She as a head-mistress of a primary school and he as an accountant.

Their daughter lived in Liverpool with her boy-friend. Her job as a personal trainer at David Lloyds was less than they’d hoped for her. Her boy-friends spoke funny but for a living, wrote speeches for prominent people. The phony politicians who couldn’t even write what they wanted to say to the people they represented.

Sue put the kettle on and freshened up while it whirred. She put two green and gold Wedgewood cups and saucers on a tray along with a matching milk pot and a tea pot large enough to hold 4 cups. She entered the bedroom with the tray. Instead of sitting up in bed thumbing his phone, Ryan was flat on his back. His eyes red and fine vertical lines above his nose.

‘Morning!’ she sang, ‘You ok darling?’

With a smile, she placed the tray on his bedside table and placed her hand on his forehead.  

“Yes. I’m fine.” Said Ryan.

‘Did you sleep well?’

“Not really. The temperature in this room was all over the place. Couldn’t settle.”

The temperature was just fine, she thought but decided to stay mum.

‘Care for a cuppa?’

“Yeah. Sure.” Ryan raised his head off the pillow. An oval wet patch was imprinted on the white cotton pillow case. He quickly turned it around and stood it up against the cushioned head-board. She noticed but did not comment. She poured the golden-brown tea into the cups and added a few drops of milk for him. Over this first month of their retirement they had been falling into a nice little routine. Opening the day with a shared pot of tea was a special pleasure for them both. It made space for the rest of the day to slide into their lives.  

“What shall we do today?” she asked Ryan.

‘I miss my work. All the friends I had. My clients. The window in front of my desk. The 11 am coffee with colleagues. The laughter. I even miss the commute. I never thought I’d hear myself say that but it was nice. I miss all that.’

“Yes. I am sure. I miss my work too but not much. Shall we go to the garden centre and get some saplings? This is a good time for planting. The Organic Café does some nice coffee too.”

‘Let’s see. I might just enjoy the sun-shine in our garden today.’ He got up to visit the loo again. This was not like Ryan. He was the one who normally put ideas forward and she was the one who normally said yes or no.

As soon as he left the room, she put her cup down and stood up to get a closer look at the other side of his pillow. It was definitely damp. She peeled back Ryan’s side of the duvet. The bedsheet underneath him was certainly moist. It smelt of him. Only stronger. This was unusual.

Sue’s pulse quickened. She’d heard of people working really hard all their lives and then dying soon after their retirement. She shoved her silly thoughts aside and waited for Ryan to come back, trying to focus on the delicateness of the tea.

When Ryan came back, she was surprised to hear the puffing sounds of his breathing. His brow had started to glisten.

“Would you rather have a lie-in Ryan?”

‘No. I am ok. Nice tea. Don’t make an old man of me. I’ll be fine once I’ve had a shower. It’s funny. My left arm feels strange. Must’ve slept funny.’

Now she could hear her own heart pumping in her ears. But she kept it cool.

She managed a fake smile. A polite false agreement. She wanted to jump at the phone and dial 999 but didn’t want to scare Ryan.

“There’s no rush to have a shower. More tea?”

‘No. Thanks. I’ll get myself a glass of water.’

“Don’t worry. I’ll get it for you.” She jumped.

At the kitchen sink Sue stood like a statue, staring at the water pouring down the hole in the stain-less steel basin. Is today the day my life changes for ever?

She debated with herself on what to do next. A tug of war went on within her. Does he know he’s unwell? Is he really unwell or am I imagining this? Is that new virus in him? In our house? In our bed? Will he be terrified if I tell him what I think? Is he just having the blues? Or a heart attack? Or an infection? Or nothing at all?

She carries the glass of water back to Ryan. He glugs it back and slowly slides back inside his duvet. She walks around to her side of the bed, slips under the covers and lays down right beside him, holding him with both her arms, a little bit tighter than usual.

Like a couple of soft cuddly toys, they snuggle up. In that moment, she has all she needs. Ryan breathing, resting right next to her. Her tears meld into her pillow. The past and the future disappear. In that moment, life is whole and complete.

Storyless

The spring knows not.

I need my story.

Who am I without it?

It’s a habitual place.

A refuge.

Something I can lean on and hide behind.

This is my story. This is me.

Is it? Really?

Am I not more than the way I have been taught to respond and speak and act?

More than the stories they told me and I tell myself?

Am I not a mysterious, wondrous creation of the galaxies?

Am I not more than a feelings-crunching machine?

An events-processing factory?

Like all other life forms, am I not designed to evolve through challenges.

Adapt. Learn. Grow?

Processing kills it. My creativity.

Thinking locks me up. In familiar prison cells.

Who I am

flies, flows, dances, melds and reaches out with all its arms.

It knows not what it is.  

Like the ocean knows not how deep it dives.

Like the sky does not care how far above the planets it stretches.

Like the day knows not the secrets that will unfold as it extends into time.

Like the stars twinkle on, oblivious of how many eons pass them by,

Which telescope catches them, which doesn’t.

Like the spring knows not where its flowers will grow.

Like the river sings along, not knowing who will drink from it or

The apple tree that offers all to friends and strangers and

Stands. Story-less.

Who am I?

I am. I am. I am.

Andy’s dilemma. Errm … decision.

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On Friday, the first thing I heard on radio was Andy in tears. It was also the last thing on TV before going to bed. A proud Scotsman, 31 years of age, Andy announces his retirement after a scintillating career in tennis and a long fight with an injury to his right hip. Tall and athletic, in a deep blue t-shirt, seated in front of a dark grey screen covered in contrasting logos, he faced the press. Eyes lowered. Head bent. His left hand trying to cover his face in the guise of adjusting the brim of his baseball cap.
“Ermm. Not great.” (Nods, looks sideways, down and to his right. Nods twice to himself. Big sigh.)
“Ermm…”(Comes close to breaking down and leaves his seat. Walks off with head steeply bent forward.)
Comes back. Sits down. Starts again.
“Sorry.” (Small cough)
“Ermm. Yeah. So, not … not feeling good.
Obviously been struggling, been struggling for a long time.
I can still play to a level. Not a level I’m happy playing at. But also, it’s not just that the pain is … too much really. I don’t want to keep playing that way. You know, I spoke to my team and I told them that, you know, I can’t … I can’t keep doing this and I needed to have an endpoint. I told my team that I needed to get through this till Wimbledon. That’s where … where I’d like to stop.
Ermm … stop playing. (Visibly steels himself as he says this).
Ermm … but also not certain I’m able to do that. (Shakes his head and bends it further forward)
Ya. Ya. I think there’s a chance of that for sure. (Rubs his right eye. Purses his lips.)
Ermm. Ya. There’s … sure, because like I said I am not sure … not sure I’m able to … to play through the pain you know. For another 4-5 months. Ermm. I have an option to, you know, have another operation which you know is … you know a little bit more … more kind of severe than what I’ve had before and having my hip resurfaced will allow me to have a better quality of life and be out of pain and that’s something I’m seriously considering right now. There’s obviously no guarantees. The reason for having an operation like that is not to return to professional sport. It’s just for a better quality of life. Yeah. For myself mainly. (Pulls the brim of his hat forward). There’s lots of little things. I mean, you guys see me running around the tennis court and walking around in between points and it obviously doesn’t look good and doesn’t look comfortable but you know there’s little things like day to day, that are also a struggle, and ya, it’d be nice to be able to do them without any pain. Putting your shoes on, socks on – things like that. Having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training or any of the stuff that (shrugs) I love about tennis.
Nothing helps. You’re in lots and lots of pain. You can’t do what you want to do, what you love doing. I can do it but it’s not fun. I’m not enjoying doing it. So … I mean. That’s what I’ve done. Tried to deal with it, talk about it. Ermm. But none of that makes my hip feel better unfortunately. I wish it did, cause if it did, I’d be feeling brilliant just now but it doesn’t. So…” (Gets up and leaves.)

His deep sense of loss, confusion, pain and vulnerability came across clearly. It’s probably one of the hardest decisions of his life. I visualise a society, our society, creating space for such expression, not just for physical but also emotional pain. It’s going to be a tricky transition. I am sure he has the required support network in place. Good luck Andy!

Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jan/13/andy-murray-tennis-retirement

 

The Cats

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(Merry Christmas from Milkshake)

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the City Hospital was a circus. A different clown (read Consultant) was in-charge everyday. What was right on a Monday was completely wrong on a Tuesday. The same action would be pronounced as ‘perfect’ by one clown and ‘abhorrent’ by another. To make things better, they didn’t talk to each other. The flunkies (read junior doctors) were the in-betweeners that got lammed from both sides as their shifts crossed over time-territories. They were the pawns on the frontline that took over the running of the unit from one clown at the beginning of a shift and handed over to the other at the end. They were the ones dodging the arrows of conflict over phones, in hospital corridors and at handovers. They were the ones that stayed up all night working hard, only to be abused and criticised the next morning. They were the buckets into which bile was poured, the bile of bitterness that the clowns didn’t have the guts to express to each other.

In 2004, I was one of those flunkies. After about 8 months of this non-sense, I was done. I was loosing my sense of self, my confidence in making decisions and most importantly,  pride in my job. It was time to stop and take stock. After a nasty night shift, I was handing over the patients to the day team. I am sure at one point I heard the Consultant taking over suggest to me ‘you need your head examined’.  That did it for me. Bleary-eyed and broken, I couldn’t bear to go home only to come back to this toxic work environment yet again that night. I planted myself in Psychiatry Outpatient Department and demanded to be seen by someone. Dr Ingram was a handsome, young psychiatrist with kind eyes and a small beer belly, well couched in his grey suit. He understood. I was given 6 weeks of work-related-stress leave and started on Fluoxetine. I was also seen by an occupational therapist once every fortnight. She suggested getting a cat.

At the local Animal rescue home, we found an enchanting black and white, one year old feline. It was her eyes that got me – talking and smiling eyes. We were told it was a girl. We decided to call her Bella. We were advised to keep her strictly indoors for at least 6 weeks, till she got used to the smells in the house. She found her way to the strangest of places –  on top of kitchen cabinets and radiator covers, squeezed behind and underneath beds, chairs and sofas, inside shoes and boxes. The only place she didn’t like was her soft furry blanketed bed.

On our first trip to the vet for a basic check-up and vaccinations, we found out that the she-cat was in fact a he-cat. After much consultation, he was christened ‘Mr Bronx’, the old faithful. He soon became a source of great joy, comfort and hilarity for the family. We had him go crazy playing with balls of wool, soft toys with tiny in-built bells and laser beams. He was pure entertainment from a distance at the beginning but slowly he allowed us to stroke and cuddle him. Within a month we were having full-fledged conversations with him.

The Fluoxetine made me feel frozen. Hollow. No joy. No pain. No love. It was dehumanising and unbearable at times. It was proof that pills alone cannot make you happy. After 6 weeks, it was time to go back to work. I did. A cunning plan was put into place so that I didn’t spend too much time at the ICU. It worked.

9 years later, Saagar was home from University and I got a phone call from him at work. He said he’d found a cat on ‘Gumtree’ and he would love to get it. That evening we went over to a tiny flat in Sydenham occupied by a family of 4 – mum and 3 kids. On a window sill lounged another family of 4, a grey mother-cat with her three grey kittens, 6 weeks old. One of the malnourished kids was about 3. He handled the kittens like rags. He didn’t care if he lifted them by their ears or tails or bellies. He let them go from various heights above the floor, cornered and held them with a lot of force. He told us all about what the cats ate. We picked the cutest little kitten who resembled a mini-punk, got it properly accessorised and brought “Milkshake” home. He was Saagar’s baby that summer.

Not once did it occur to me that there might be a connection between the circumstances under which we got the first cat and the second.

Ref: https://www.cats.org.uk/news/purring-the-blues-away

How did I get here?

17John W James was a young man in America who had his heart broken by the death of his son in 1977. He found that there was no help available for his heart. He was mostly asked to process the pain through his brain. This did not work for him. His pain continued to worsen and invade other parts of his life, such as his marriage and his work. At one point his suffering and isolation was so great that he couldn’t bear to continue living. He was on the brink of ending his life when he asked himself, “How did I get here?”

He sat down and took a closer look at his life. He found many losses in his past that had been claiming parts of his soul like land-mines along the way. For example, friends lost in the Vietnam war.  He had never addressed or resolved any of his previous painful experiences and they had been layering up, one on top of the other, on top of him, to the point he was being smothered by them. He unpicked each of these layers one by one. He dealt with every one of them in a particular way. He found a method by which he could reach his heart and reduce his pain. Slowly, he started to feel much better. He shared this method with other grieving families and it helped them too. He called it “Grief Recovery Method”.

This afternoon I completed my Grief Recovery Method workshops and I can see why they have helped thousands of people across the globe over the last 30 years.

PS: E-book request form : https://www.griefrecoverymethod.co.uk/ebookrequestform/

Empanadas

He sits on a bench in Borough market with one of his friends who gets up and goes to get a drink. My heart takes a giant leap. Si is with me. He calls out his name and he beams his trademark squinty smile of recognition at him. He stands up. They shake hands like old mates. My eyes fixate on his face like those of a mad woman. His eye-lashes are not as thick as before. Everything else is the same. I recognise his off-green t-shirt that he lived in. I can’t hold back. My fingertips explore his shoulders without his permission. He doesn’t seem to notice. He’s definitely real. I can touch him. He raises his left arm to rearrange his hair the way he does. He pinches the front of his t-shirt between his right thumb and index finger like he does. Either he can’t see me or he’s letting me do my thing. He’s talking to Si.

“The guys in grey suits wrote to us in first year at Uni. All the students on the Arabic course got the invitation.”
‘You didn’t say anything.’
‘No. They told us not to. They offered us jobs.’
“What kind?”
‘Exciting. After the second year at Uni I thought I’d take it up.’
“And?”
‘It was fun but then … 4 years was enough.’
“So, is this for good?”
‘Yup. For now.’
“Good to see you man.”
‘Yeah. And you. Great to be back. Argentinian Empanadas. I remember those.’
I am still invisible to him. We used to buy empanadas together. Beef ones for him and Spinach and ricotta for me. My finger tips are still confirming reality. He has been working out. I can tell. I want to check his tattoo but that would be too bold. I want to look for the scars on his left forearm but my eyes cling to his thick black brow, his slightly dry lips, his careless stubble. Their thirst cannot be quenched. My ears clasp his voice, his breath. Every word, a harmony. He is here. His words are real. He’s been hiding all this while, working with some kind of a Secret Service. He looks like a British Indian James Bond. But he still hasn’t noticed me and it’s ok.

The tension in my arms lessens as more and more confirmatory signals feed into my brain. My heart is doing somersaults like he did when he was 6. My eyes are so wide, they can take the whole world in.

Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting. Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra. Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting. Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting. Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra. Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting.

Stab. Bang. Kick. Punch. Screeeeeeeeam!!!