Rascal Moon – A short story

His substantial shoulders supported a shapely head of midnight black hair – a Number 1 on the sides and a Number 4 on top. When he was born his grandmother had made him a small blue cotton pillow stuffed with black mustard seeds, for his head to assume that gorgeous shape. His skin was the colour of almonds. His wide creaseless forehead came down to a pair of perfectly symmetrical arched black brows underneath which two deep brown wells belied his 20 years. They were a cocktail of ancient wisdom of an old soul, dark torment of a lunatic and pure white innocence of a toddler. Nose, as if borrowed from the Buddha. A lazy stubble, almost deliberate. Smile, bright and generous as a Moroccan sky, giving him wings.  A shy dent in the middle of his chin. His man-child voice, lightly raspy yet gentle, had a penchant for accents. His favourite was Vietnamese. A peculiar whiff of teenage-testosterone tinged perspiration plus Lenor floated around him.

Despite his age and size, he delighted in the physicality of affection. He would douse his head in coconut oil to encourage Cleo, the family dog to lick it all off. She loved the taste of it. They rolled and tumbled on the floor like kids immersed in a game of ‘dog and head’. His ability to connect with others, be it man or beast was superhuman. In all his solid self-assuredness, all he wanted was to belong.

His drum kit was his Mecca. His passion for ‘rock’ percussion anchored him to the Earth. Strangely, this softie’s songs were – Catatonic, Heartless, Chimaira, Smoke and Mirrors, A Semblance of Life, Bleed, The Blackening. The dinner table often shook rhythmically as he sat playing imaginary drums with his fingers on his thighs underneath, carrying a faraway look in his eyes. If he wasn’t creating rhythms on the bonnet of a car, a table top, a random plate, a serving tray, a window sill or a Djembe, he was inviting them to flow into his brain through his ears and the world disappeared.

The rascal Moon turned green. Its beat was better. It thrusted its powerful yet silent, surreptitious rhythm on him. It got him like a mongoose gets a snake. His consciousness started to expand and contract with the pulse of the lunar cycle. As the tide rose, his beautiful head exploded. As it ebbed, he shrunk into nothingness. He couldn’t belong to anyone or anything. Not his shadow or his drums, his friends or his Mum, his beating heart or the air in his lungs. He couldn’t belong to his smile. He took refuge in the ritual of neatly rolling tobacco, blowing smoke out of his Velux windows. There was nothing anyone could do. All his kin watched the pendulum swing with impeccable timing.

The wretched Moon forced acknowledgment. On the brightest night that autumn, the young man typed his last message on Facebook: “Bigass mooooooon. Innit?”

                                                  ___  ___  ___

(Middle English lunatik, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French lunatic, from Late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna; from the belief that mental stability fluctuated with the phases of the moon)

 

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.)

Day 803

She is in her early forties – single, tall, professional, gorgeous, glamorous, fun party girl who takes multiple multivitamins and visits the gym regularly. Every fortnight she has a new love story for me. Each of them has an exciting beginning, holding great promise. But somewhere in the heat of text messages sent too early or too late, certain feelings expressed or not, wrong emoji used, misinterpretations, unmet expectations, awkward silences and undisclosed relevant facts, the story evaporates. The deeper delicate shimmering layers of her persona lie concealed beneath her outer veneers. Not many get to witness the pure, fragile vulnerability within, hidden like a pearl.

Below is a humorous but painfully true, already outdated summary of some modern relationships that I chanced upon on social media:

“Dating in 2016

Let’s be friends, just friends, I’m not ready for a relationship but I expect you to do things with me considered inappropriate in terms of a friendship. We’re not together, you can’t claim me, you can’t be with anyone but me. I need you to be loyal but I’ll do what I want and when you get mad, I’ll just tell you we’re not together. If you catch feelings, I’ll become distant. You knew what this was…I told you, I’m not ready for a relationship.”

Day 764

paratrooper

He served for 10 years in the Parachute Regiment. He had witnessed and been a part of ‘very severe military activity’ in Afghanistan as a result of his service in the elite Pathfinder Platoon. He left the army in 2010 and started to work in close protection in Iraq. In 2012 he married a Thai woman who commented that 2 years later he ‘wasn’t good’.

He sought help from the Combat Stress charity (http://www.combatstress.org.uk/) in December. A nurse referred him to a Consultant Psychiatrist as she felt he might have PTSD. His father noticed that Pete had started to have a tic and facial problems and that was a clear indication that he was suffering from deep psychological trauma. The psychiatric appointment was available for a date 4 months away, in April. Faced with this long wait, Pete went back to Iraq for 2 months. He returned home briefly before flying to Vietnam for a kite-surfing course. Pete never went on the course and sadly ended his life in Vietnam in February.

The Coroner heard that drugs were found in Pete’s blood and ruled there was insufficient evidence for either suicide or accidental death. His family are hoping that the authorities will recognise Pete’s death as a direct result of PTSD resulting from his service. They want his name to be included at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Another tragic loss of a young life, not getting timely help despite asking for it. Another family lost, not knowing exactly how to help their young man. Another suicide not registered as such, adding to the underestimation of the national scandal that it is. Another charity, offering more assistance than the NHS. Another child not coming home for Christmas.

Preventable? Yes.

RIP Pete. 

 

Day 762

Bone doctors can sometimes forget  there is a heart and a mind attached to the bone being fixed. Orthopaedic surgeons are the butt of many jokes for some unknown reason. They think it is because everyone is envious of the vast amounts of money they make and of course, they would like to think that.

What do you call two orthopaedic surgeons looking at a chest X-ray?
A double blind study.

What’s the difference between a carpenter and an orthopaedic surgeon?
A carpenter knows more than one antibiotic.

How do you hide a 20 pound note from an orthopaedic surgeon?
Put it in a textbook.

They are not what they are made out to be. Mostly. 😉

I am lucky to work with some funny, gentle and bright orthopods. One of them has changed from a purely professional colleague to a friend through the last 2 years. Yesterday, I shared with him my frustration over any meaningful improvement in the awareness of mental health issues within the medical community and beyond. I feel as if nothing has changed and no lessons have been learnt from Saagar’s death. Many others like him continue to suffer in silence. I feel that I go on banging my head against the walls completely in vain.

He wrote back:
“Saagar, has somehow had a profound effect on me, even though I never met him.

I have a young woman whose humerus I plated last week, and in clinic yesterday I could see her whole life starting to come unravelled: can’t exercise yet, not at work, not concentrating. All the things she used to give her self-worth are not available. Not despair, but the beginnings. So we talked about the dangers, and she agreed to see our psychologist.

You and Saagar have made that change in me, so keep doing what you do: it works.”

Day 734

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The tradition of fasting to death is called ‘Santhara’. It is glorified in Jainism, an ancient religion of India that teaches a life of renunciation. It usually applies to elderly people who feel they have entered the final phase of life with no meaningful purpose left to fulfil.

Early this month a beautiful 13 years old girl, Aradhna, from a Jain family died two days after fasting for 68 days. She lived only on boiled water for nearly 10 weeks. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/13-year-old-Jain-girl-dies-after-observing-68-day-fast-to-bring-good-luck-to-family/articleshow/54750457.cms)

According to the media, her father, a jeweller was in financial difficulty and he consulted some senior Jain monks who came up with the idea of her fasting to get the family out of that situation.

According to her father, it was her wish. She had fasted for 8 days in 2014, for 34 days last year and it ‘suited’ her. She was keen to go further this year. As 68 is an auspicious number in that faith, she wanted to fast for that many days. It was entirely voluntary. The family merely supported her wish.

According to both, the completion of the fast was marked by huge celebrations attended by 600 people. So was her funeral procession. She was anointed as a ‘divine soul’.

According to the hospital, she was brought dead from home. The family’s defense is that she was slowly recovering after breaking the fast gently with fluids and semi-solids but then she suffered a heart attack.

They certainly didn’t know of a condition called ‘Refeeding Syndrome’. When undernourished patients are re-fed there is an increased requirement for phosphate as the body switches back to carbohydrate metabolism, which can be made worse by a background of relative phosphate shortage in starvation. Phosphate levels in the blood begin to fall and mainly affect the heart and brain. So, it is more than likely that her ‘heart attack’ was because of prolonged fasting  followed by unmonitored and inappropriate refeeding. (http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/health-professionals/clinical-guidelines/re-feeding)

Was this a suicide? A murder? Pure ignorance? Superstition? Religious blindness? Lack of common sense? Huge violation of children’s rights?The journey of her soul? Karma? All of the above? What values over-ride the basic instinct of parents to feed their off-springs?

It seems so wrong!

Day 731

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Last night as I went to bed, like many times before I prayed for a quiet peaceful death in my sleep. Facing another day has often been a terribly treacherous prospect. A heart so shattered, wonder how it keeps me alive!

I woke up knowing today marked the same wretched point in the circle of time where we were 2 years ago – the same dark spot that has smudged the rest of my days, the same dagger that has gouged an incurable agonising hole in my being.

Finding excuses to stay in bed for a bit longer I turned my phone on. The first message was from a friend who had lit a few candles in Saagar’s memory and said she was thinking of us today. Then over the course of the day there were similar messages and phone calls from Saagar’s friends, their parents, our friends and family. I was amazed that so many people reached out to us. So many didn’t know Saagar and so many I have never met. It was truly healing and life-affirming. Yes. Together we can keep Saagar’s memory alive. And that of many other innocent young people like him. They will not be forgotten. Their life and death will not be a waste. Their stories will be told and retold till lessons that need to be learnt are learnt.

We held a traditional hindu prayer ceremony called ‘havan’ at home in the afternoon. Havan is a ritual of making offerings such as grains and ghee into a consecrated fire and invoking one or more deities. It is accompanied by chanting of Sanskrit prayers and mantras. It is said to purify the environment and allow for transformation of individuals. As I made those offerings into the fire, it made me think of the symbolism of surrendering anger, regret and guilt to the Gods so they could be transformed to love and empathy.

The day wasn’t so wretched after all.
It was a reminder of the enduring nature of love.

Thank you Saagar for being my son and for being you.
Thank you all for reaching out.