A guide to self-help when you lose a parent

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 1.51.11 PMLet me start you off by stating, very clearly, that there’s no textbook way to grieve. There’s no one way to cope with grief and loss, simply because there is no one way to feel those emotions. It’s come up on exactly one year for me since I lost my father, a loss that one year later I don’t know that I’ve entirely processed. I’m not entirely sure anyone really entirely processes the loss of a parent. There are the things you had, the things you didn’t, those blanks in between that you wanted to see but were never filled, those ‘what ifs’ and more. Ruminating and dwelling on those things serves no one well, and that’s a lesson my mother has taken care to carefully remind me of in this past year as she deals with our shared loss in her own way.

But before I start, to my mother:

You will always have close familial relationships, and for me, my mother and I have always been closer than anyone in the entire rest of my family even though, in so many ways, my father and I were very similar. Our shared loss has brought my mother and I even closer, but it has inspired me to cope with loss in a way that I didn’t know how to before. If earlier I was inspired by my mother’s nature and commitment to things, now I am amazed by her strength in supporting me in every way possible. In her, I find both unconditional love and a trust that I may not even have felt for her entirely before. You will rediscover things about your own family, and they will bring you closer than ever.

 

Focus on the good

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Like with every family, there are memories you wish to remember and some that you wish you did not. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t telling the whole truth – but they shouldn’t have to.

Someone who suffered a very similar loss told me soon after the loss that you “tend to focus on the good and only occasionally think about the bad.”

This is absolutely the case, and T, thank you for that one statement. It’s stuck in my head ever since.

Your closest friends are the ones who will be able to help most here. Their proximity to the situation – and yet their relative distance to the loss, will help you discuss both good and (more fleetingly) the bad, thereby clearing your head.

Keep them close. I made the early mistake of being guarded about my grief early on. Encourage yourself – and your closest will do this too – to speak about your loved one. The first step to grief is acknowledgement. Talk. Talk about the things that hurt you, talk about the things that made you happy. Talk about the experiences you shared and about photographs.

About holidays or about sunny days reading books at home. About childhood stories and songs you sang together or TV or anything you feel like. Let it all out, whether it’s in the form of tears or words or speech or absolutely anything that helps. It’ll help.

For me, I remembered the many fun holidays we took together – to the beach, across Europe, across south-East Asia, across the street from the hotel to the 7/11 to pick up beer and local snacks. Across.

 

Acknowledge your loss

A very irreligious person, I am nevertheless grateful – but still perhaps in part, traumatised, by the ritual of “sorting the bones.” But as I think about it, it comes across more as a way to impress upon you that you have in fact suffered a loss. It’s the ultimate truth of life, and it’s best not to run away from it early on, as soothing as it feels.

Initially, and with a loss of the magnitude as big as that of a parent, you sometimes tend to sort of pretend it didn’t happen. That isn’t to say that you don’t understand your loved one is no longer with you, but just bottle up your reaction to that loss temporarily. As hard as this might sound to those of you lucky enough not to have suffered this loss, you convince yourself, in a way, that your parent has gone on an extended vacation.

There’s no wrong or right about this. It’s a coping mechanism, and whatever works for one may not work for the other, or may work brilliantly. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about a loss, but trying to ease yourself into coming to terms with it, I’ve found, has helped immensely. Yes, shockwaves will come back to hit you in sudden bursts but they go away quicker.

Speak to your family – both immediate and extended. While you may want to avoid this for fear of hurting your family, or out of a desire to protect them from hurt (I made this mistake), you’ll find that they are the ones who share your loss the most. In my case, I had my mother, to whom I have always been very close, and my grandfather. All of us suffered the same loss in a different capacity. Speaking about your feelings gives them body, makes them real, and makes you understand and begin to process your loss. Initially, I avoided speaking about it for fear that it might open up wounds that my loved ones were trying to heal. In reality, us talking to each other helped us vent, heal and repair.

 

Don’t look for things to “fill the void”

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Not my guitar – mine are safely ensconced in stands right next to me though! 

Yes – look for activities to do to occupy your time and new hobbies or creative pursuits. However, don’t try and fill the hole the loss of your loved one has created with a person, or a habit. Let that wound heal on its own. The hole or void that the loss of a loved one leaves is certainly reparable – but not replaceable. But it’s also a way to understand that your loved one – and the loss thereof – will always remain with you. The void will be there – but it may be smaller. The wound will be there, but it will certainly hurt less.

What you should do is things you love. Let that person-sized hole heal, but it doesn’t need to fill, and you certainly don’t need to fill it with a thing, or a person, or anything. It can just heal. Think of this very morbid analogy – you don’t need to stuff a wound with gauze for it to heal.

For example, I’m getting back to an hour of guitar practice and singing a day. Exercise is helpful, even if it’s just a walk. A pastime. An instrument you want to pick up or re-pick up. It will give your mind something to occupy it, you learn a new skill or sharpen an old one. It… always helps.

 

Pressure will come and go and especially on occasions – it’s okay.

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Deflate….gate? Sort of.

The pain of missing your loved one will get exponentially more severe around the holidays. it’s not just the holidays, either. Birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions will all become difficult and feel strange in a way that few other things do.

You don’t have to be strong and ‘man’ or ‘woman’ up as the case may be. There is no mandate requiring you to be stoic, pretend as though nothing has happened, or go about your day. If you need to feel it, feel it. My mother and I both did, and both of us did cry. Both of us also felt his memory by.. something simplistic – ordering his favourite Mexican food. Honour your loved one’s memory in whatever way YOU feel is appropriate.

 

It is not for anyone to tell you how to grieve – if you want to go to your place of worship, do that – and if you don’t, do that too. Visit places you went to together. It’s okay – and perfectly normal to feel like this on those days. I felt it on the first birthday I had without my dad this year. My mother felt it on hers. We felt it on the anniversary of his passing. And all of those things are normal – and helpful in their own way. Don’t pressure yourself to put on any sort of brave face for anybody.  Don’t let anyone tell you “not to cry” or even force yourself to if you aren’t feeling like emoting at all.

Which brings me to….

Your grief is your own 

It is absolutely in nobody’s place to tell you what is a morally right way to grieve or not. The week after my father died, I went out to do groceries and buy snacks. I met a neighbour there who said it was “wonderful to see me up and about shopping so soon.” She was silenced fairly quickly by some daggers from my best friend, who is Mad in both name and nature.

But I’ve digressed. The thing is, there’s no timeline. There are days you’ll want to sit in the shower and howl your guts out, and there are days where you just want to forget anything has happened and … live. Both are fine and dandy and both can happen when YOU feel like If you’re a man, don’t listen to people who tell you you must “be brave” and “take care” of everyone. Yes there will be things to take care of, and no they aren’t necessarily people. Self-care is the best care, and if that self-care begins with crying or includes it throughout, there is no need to hold it in.

Feel it.

It is yours, just as your own happiness is. There is nobody who can tell you how you’re grieving is wrong . Be as you see fit and don’t feel the need to put on any sort of ‘brave face’. You’ve had a massive loss. It is okay. You will be okay too.

 

Therapy is a good thing

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Seeking professional help in any area of your life is never a sign of weakness – all it is is a sign that you need help. Having dealt with anxiety and depression for much of my life (over half of it now), I have sought professional help for it on multiple occasions, and have been lucky enough to have a mother who made an extra effort to understand later in my life. But even today, in 2018, the word ‘therapy’ invites quite a bit of judgement, many whispers and then some.

Remember, though, there is absolutely no shame in seeking help if you need it. It is immensely helpful, and I can say with conviction that sticking to that routine (aided by M and D, who reminded me every day to go) has helped. Your mental health and well-being are the first steps in any healing.

Therapy isn’t for the ‘insane’ or ‘the victim’. And what people fundamentally still need to understand is that you can’t just ‘chin up’ from a loss. Especially if you’re already dealing with mental illness, it will be hard. There may or may not be medication involved. What isn’t involved – or shouldn’t be – is judgement, and that’s where therapy comes in. There is a need for a safe space you can be in to talk about your most deep-seated fears – and believe me, loss brings them to the front of your mindspace like few other things. I found therapy extremely helpful in dealing with both the passing and unrelated trauma a few months later.

 

Trust your friends to be there for you

This sounds generic but honestly, your friends will be there. Trust them. Think of it as an emotional, live, continuous trust fall. I am lucky beyond what I’ve ever imagined to have the friends I do. Condolences poured in soon after the passing but so did offers of help and support – offers that people I had not had contact with a long time came through on.

I had my best friends by my side the morning after the passing. They will hold you and let you cry your heart out as you try to hide from mourners pouring in and out of your home and that catharsis is just as important as anything else.

My best friends were there for me, searching for things I needed even before the unthinkable happened. They were there after and they continue to be there. They become family at some point.

Speak to your friends. Some of them may have experienced similar losses and will be able to relate. Yet even if they haven’t, trust them to let you speak it out, cry it out, remember things, laugh about things without judgement.

Try not to guilt yourself

This is a small addendum I thought of later but it’s important nevertheless. There will be times – fairly often, to be honest, where you’ll wonder if you could have done more for the person when they were alive, been there more, wished certain aspects of your relationship were better, or just different even. There will be plenty of times when the “what if” comes into play and it will.

But do not, or at least try not to guilt yourself and dwell on those thoughts. They’ll be there for certain and I still have them fairly often. It’s normal to have them, but you need to rationalise and realise that for whatever reason, or in whatever circumstances, things in your life – and your loved one’s life – played out in whatever way they did. Until someone finds a beat-up DeLorean, nobody’s going to get a chance to do anything in their lives over and even then, it’s quite a leap. A quantum one, in fact.

Yes there will be that guilt about the missed dinner or lunch. Guilt about that phone call or not calling your loved one. It’s painful guilt like no other and there’s no other way for me to put this and no point to mincing words. It will hurt like you’re being stabbed right in the heart. There will be tens and dozens and hundreds of “what ifs” that you may even end up playing out in your head just to see what

But that’s okay, too. Just feel it. Ride the wave. And as one of those wise old men once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.”

Remember: There’s no time frame for grief. Feel it when you want. One year on. Ten years on. Twenty.  You don’t have to feel fine anytime soon, but I promise you one thing – you will heal, and you will get through this.

 

Anyone who does need to talk about a loss/grieve/just generally reminisce about their loved ones, please feel free to contact me via the email tab here and I promise to respond.

 

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Red parachute, green parachute and love

Two weeks. That’s when the ‘official’ mourning comes to a close, when all is said and done and everyone has come to visit and gone, and we contemplate upon what has just happened.
The time period makes sense, perhaps, but still, the loss does not. It has been over two weeks since that frantic flight here, mentally willing the plane to fly faster than it already was in the full knowledge that people have taken flights like this before, some of them worse.
In the past two weeks, emotions have been like a strange staccato tsunami. In quick, short, huge and painful waves that are almost musically punctuated. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Morse-esque. Now there, and now not. Hitting with the force of a thousand small waves and poking me each time.
In the past two weeks, those emotions have raged from extreme anger and that all-too-familiar blinding rage, your blinding rage that I so amusingly inherited, to a deep and inexplicable sadness, to utter helplessness at the inability to change anything at all.
We had our perfect little family of three plus two, that five years ago dwindled to three plus one, that now has dwindled to two plus one. Within those sums, there are permutations and combinations, thoroughly undesired ones.
And in those sums there is anger. We were due that next beer, that wildlife trip. We were due the homemade chicken wing recipe I wanted to teach you, the home improvement you wanted to teach me. We were due yet another of our many plates of biryani eaten sitting on the floor of my apartment, cursing at yet another cricket match, both of us stopping only to shout “IDIOT!” at the next dropped catch, at the next unnecessary wicket.
It’s IPL season now, my first without you. Every year will be yet another missed IPL date with you, gearing up with our favourite drinks and snacks 45 minutes before the opening ceremony, both of us frantically scrambling and sending each other text messages as we prepared for the big dramatic opening.
Even more recently, your calls to me just to shoot the breeze and tell me to get Bira and watch the match with you, watch Hardik Pandya because you thought he had ‘so much potential’ – all those plans unfulfilled, but I shall watch the guy play with a smile on my face now.
As I think of all the times I couldn’t sleep because of your loud (really, really loud) snoring and whined “Appa, please don’t snore,” I realise I would do anything to hear you snore again, just to hear you breathe. But I can’t. I am powerless. As I try to stifle my own tears, I ache for you to see me cry, as you always have, and put my head on your lap and stroke my hair and say “Anu ma, don’t cry” one last time and bail me out of every situation, like you always have.
Instead, the situation now is life without you. Some days so far it is difficult, some very. The cricket season adds a special, and incredibly painful, irony.
I learned from my father a love of a) fitness b) yoga c) eating healthy, often obsessively, d) good food e) home improvement and so on and so forth. I saw your love for me in the smallest of things – using home tips I gave you, and never, ever using a wallet that I hadn’t gifted you.
Today of all days I miss the smallest of things. Our constant comparisons of our matching eyes. Our matching hairy misshapen toes. Our matching black curls that became salt and pepper for you, and will likely do so for me too.
I will forever miss the smell of talcum powder, and every time I mash my lips together with lipstick on, I will remember every single time you would hold me up to the mirror in the old house and imitate me and laugh.
After years and years of begging you for a dog, playing with every dog on the street and despite ma being a little scared of dogs at the time, we came back from that one car ride with a wonderful black labrador puppy squealing on my lap – way back in 1998. Our darling Joey.
You did not just teach me – you lived the fact that no man is different from a woman. Working is not a ‘man’s thing’, nor is cooking a woman’s. You were always the one in the house who loved to cook to the point of shooing everybody else out – as I do now.
As I attempt to do the things we often did just together, I try to hold that immense, broken grief in and try to push myself to realise this is not just a vacation or a temporary thing – it’s for life.
And still, you leave me as you made me – strong, able to take on anything and everything the world throws, and has thrown at me with my head held high.
Every bite of a chip we both liked, every persuading glance to share junk food on vacation – glances only the two of us shared – those will remain with me for life, as will the wonderful, wonderful memories you left me with – now tinged with immense pain that I can only hope may dull over time as I hear your voice, always, in my head, patting my head in that rhythm only you had.
I’d give anything, as of this very moment, to see Appa calling on my phone and hear you on the other end – but painfully, helplessly, and ever so angrily, I realise that is something I cannot do anymore.
To the only man who could put me to bed at night with stories of hotel fires and parachuting daredevils and video cassettes of our favourite Mother Goose cartoons – Red parachute, green parachute to you too, Appa. I will love you always and a lifetime.

Dusk

To say that my heart is in a million little pieces would be an absolute understatement. I lost my second companion of the past decade, but I remember bringing him home as if it was yesterday.
A year on after Joey’s passing, we wanted a friend for Tim.
The vet directed us to a lady with a German Shepherd puppy who was the runt of the litter, and every other puppy had been adopted.
My darling little man was a quiet, yet restless little boy who didn’t even trust anyone picking him up. We quickly nicknamed him Squirmy, for the sheer amount he wriggled.
After Joey left us, Timothy was alone for a year – and so we had decided to bring on a dog as a companion. Although he was always friendly, we were unsure how he’d take to a new puppy intruding on his territory. But in Timmy, Dusky would find a mentor. He’d fight with him, but when Dad or Mum or someone else disciplined Dusky, Timmy would stand in between. The two became firm friends and Dusky was perhaps just as bereft as us when Timothy left us in 2014.
Only one person could walk him without trouble. Raju Kamble uncle, who was also the only person allowed to bathe him.
I named him Dusky after a special influence in my life and somehow, it suited him. A wriggly, wormy little puppy with his still-floppy ears, he didn’t have to grow into that lupine name.
Somehow, it just fit.
Chasing pigeons was somehow a LOT of fun. Chasing people even more so. Ripping the seat off someone’s jeans was amusing (to everyone except the poor man it happened to).
Dusky, doosk, triscuit. They all became nicknames that rolled off the tongue.
Bacha, dumdum (we’re not Bengali, no!) also worked.
Ferocious outside, you were always a little baby in the end. Curled up on my lap until you were nine years old. 
That warm body fast asleep and snoring (and occasionally farting) on my lap, your dog-breath just before you licked my face. Every memory comes flooding back in fits and bursts.
Suddenly, I’ll wake up or think of how a ‘Dusky – see SHOO!’ would make you run to the gate wondering what it was. It was always nothing but a joke.
I will forever miss the tenderness with which you’d grab mutton and chicken bones from my hands, and the roughness with which you’d grab chapatis.
Your inability to catch was always funny, and so was how you threw Parle-G right back to me when I was feeding you.
Kicking fallen coconuts in the garden around, pretending I was David Beckham and you, you were Gigi Buffon, goalkeeper extraordinaire, and somehow you knew exactly how to keep.
But it wasn’t just the games. It was the fact that we grew up together. 16 to 25 is a long time, sweetheart, just not long enough. It was how much you saw me through, you and Tim together. All the hurt, all the gallons of tears, tears that won’t stop anymore as I write this.
Both of us, the slightest sound outside the door or from the road waking us out of our stupors. Right now, perhaps I don’t want to think of, or remember, going to my balcony and shouting “sssh…. Dusky!” and waiting for you to look up and smile from the porch. Or shouting “sweetheart, who’s that” and you running to the gate to see, because you thought you had to protect me.
Even the smell of your flatulence became familiar, my darling. A quick ‘surprise’ when we were sitting at the computer, or reading, or playing some guitar. Speaking of music, you were always a lovely harmonizer, singing along with the piano, the harmonica, all of it.
There was always, always nothing but love in those sweet dark hazel brown eyes of yours, my love, even when you wanted to grab my towel, momma’s hanky, Appa’s shorts, anything, really.
Hearing you whine when we left the house, or when I left the city, the country, that, that was the most heartbreaking sound. Your sadness. Your pain.  It never got easier to leave you, my darling, and now that you’re gone it never will.
That yellow marble porch is empty, now, your warm body and its memories mere ghosts there, still in the air.
One month ago
You were not ‘fine’. Age had begun to show, but illness was nonexistent. You were sprightly, just not as before. Chasing me around the garden. Running up the stairs when you heard your name.
That leap of happiness when I saw you, and you me, when I was in the car on the way from the airport. Ma told me your energy levels seemed to have multiplied since. Dog drool is the best bath I could have asked for, sweetheart. And cradling you was the best ever feeling.
It hurt every time I went to the store and you thought I was leaving. Your cries will never, ever leave my head. And actually leaving hurt me mortally.
Did I know that was the last time I would see you, sweetheart? I did not. I told you as I left (and hid my suitcase), that I would come back and see you again very quickly.
The apologies I want to send out for not being there for the last two weeks, when it got bad for you, my sweetheart, I wish you could read them but I know there’s no way to say any of this to you. I wish I had been there when it got painful, when it became hard for you to do all the things you were doing just fine a month ago.
Home, home will be painful. There’s nobody to frighten the pigeons with anymore. No pitter patter of claws on brick and marble. No little munchkin crawling onto me and licking my face anymore.
No sound anymore when I shout DUNKIN! Nothing to come running to the gate every. single. time.
Maybe it has been the third time since I lost a pet. Whoever said one gets used to it, or it gets easier, lied. Completely. It never really does, and every single time, it’s like a little piece of your heart is taken away somewhere. A little scar, as it were, a scar you carry your entire life.
Your passing, my dear darling, has closed a chapter of sorts in our lives. The three of us, I think, will struggle to regroup.
But I will still hear your paws running to the gate, feel them on my skin, remember the smell of your fur, your wet nose in my ear. Those, and you, will never fade away, my dearest Dusky. I love you.

Of butchered tolerance and gau raksha

 

Beef. Politics. Politics. Religion. Beef.

I have beef. Beef to pick with you. The movers of corpses.

Cows, lying on the streets. Rotting carcasses. Carted away by those we, as a society, have all but cast away.

Then, as they lift that skin, they are castigated. Beaten. Bleeding, rotting hides, like the dead flesh they moved not moments ago.

Gau-rakshaks, the beaters call themselves. Cow-protectors. Gau-mata ka rakshak. Upholders of the cow mother, upholders of an arcane belief system, upholders of ‘Hindutva’, of Hindiusm, of their own brand of what a culture should be.

A culture that values, that has always valued, human life incredibly selectively – on the basis of religion, of caste and creed, of profession and money, of colour.

A culture that values certain animals’ lives as more valuable.

A culture that sees a young boy, all of 16, run into the street with his gang of vigilantes, guns and crowbars at the ready to beat up a poor man carrying off a cow carcass. That 16-year-old wields all his weapons at a boy likely his age, perhaps an elderly man his father’s.

Beats up a person moving the animal while he takes off his leather belt, using it to flog the helpless on the street relentlessly. Crack. Whip. Cracked skin. Crack. Whip. A cut.

Crack again.

Blood. A little at first, then a lot.

The stench fills the air. Of propaganda. Of a creeping monster attacking from within. Of easily swayed masses that take societal protection upon themselves. Or at the very least an incredibly loosely interpreted version of it.

That propaganda creeps slowly into our system. It may start with what many consider ‘uneducated’ – which is not the case. It is there among our ‘intelligentsia’. Our so-called intellectuals. Politicians. Everyday members of society.

Your classmate. Your cousin. Your aunt or your coworker.

And sadly, that is not where it ends. It goes down family trees and takes root in the worst of places – in the minds of children.

Impressionable young sponges, with the world before them to discover, and understand, and learn from as they form their own opinions, they are stopped in their tracks. A form of Arrested Development, if you will, in building their own opinions and making sense of the world.

That world now becomes what mummy and daddy – however bigoted they may be, decide what it is.

That world leads to a young boy being threatened by a classmate in school because the classmate ‘thought’ he ate beef.

Families lynched in villages for ‘suspected’ beef. For being ‘suspected’ of making a free dietary choice.

And here, at a plush school in the capital, a nine-year-old threatened down that same path for just the same reason. Trickle-down economics may not have been successful – but trickle-down bigotry certainly, and sadly, seems to be.

Who then is the upholder of society in times that are looking to get darker than ever? As countries look to move to the future, become inclusive and open, our country is stuck in a time of arguing for religiously-oriented food choices. Of restrictions on diet. On love.

Much was bandied about on development – but tragically, it seems we are going in entirely the opposite direction.

Marital rape has no provision in our legal system, but states looking to form ‘cow protection committees’ are finding the all-clear.

In the end, does this bovine militia, this self-appointed cabal of security guards, really care about cows? Bones poking through weathered hide, weeping sores, legs tied together as they struggle to cross crowded roads in city streets, some visibly in pain, none quite fed.

The real concern is for propaganda.

Or is it society that needs to take a proper gander at itself?

Hello darkness, my old friend.

You Say Goodbye: A tribute to George Martin

The years have come and gone, as have two of the Beatles. They brought us beautiful music, music that will be left behind for years to come. My mother began my lifelong love affair with the Beatles, the most fruitful of my life.

It led to me making a pilgrimage to Liverpool when I lived in England, spending three days on what can only be described as a pilgrimage, after years of having devoured every bit of Beatles literature that I could lay my hands on, that friends sent me, that relatives sent.

Cassette tapes lay around the house, in the cabinet behind the push-in bed in my parents’ room. They lay in the car, the car my mother drove me around in every day. Two of my favourite things – listening to the music my mother had playing around the house, and her driving me around. The only two things that could really calm baby me.

The music, those beautiful string arrangements. They appealed to my mother, in her thirties, they appealed to me in the single digits. My mother had listened to them as a child, my uncle had grown up with them. They were loved. They are loved.

Their faces, John, Paul, Ringo, and George. The four lads from Liverpool. We’ve all read the stories of the Cavern Club. Of Germany, of their debauchery in and out of European borders, and we’ve enjoyed them.

But before all of that, they were a struggling, albeit immensely talented set of lads whom nobody wanted to sign. Rejected, spurned, like an amorous lover who kissed like a fiery Italian but was tossed by the wayside regardless.

Until George Martin. The Beatles were being managed by the talented and tragic Brian Epstein, who has also been called the Fifth Beatle for his pivotal role in their careers. And there was this trained musician, this civil engineer with movie star looks, who would be their saviour.

But they had been repeatedly rejected, turned down by Decca Records. He didn’t think they were ‘that great’, but loved the Lennon-McCartney sound, as one does.

It was Epstein, the legend says, whose eager nature was the final step in convincing Martin, at Abbey Road Studios, to give the Beatles – who did not yet have a Ringo among their ranks, an audition.

And it was George, George Harrison, who joked around with Mr. Martin and sealed the deal.

He was behind the scenes on some of their biggest, earliest hits. Love Me Do, From Me to You, all of which started that brilliant enduring craze otherwise known as Beatlemania.

The first album I ever heard, strangely, was Yellow Submarine – brilliantly arranged and orchestrated itself, and my mother, whose favourite album is A Hard Day’s Night, played that again, and again, and again, and we’d sing along together on the paisley carpet in her bedroom, both of us sitting cross-legged and rewinding the cassette.

Later, when I was older, we got a 3-in-1 CD change player with a radio antenna and cassette deck. The greatest! We’d sit there and change CDs and arrange them on our CD rack.

That album is special and beyond. My mother had a flat tyre one evening as we were driving back after dinner, and we went at all of 10pm to have that flat repaired. I was humming And I Love Her, one of my favourite songs, and my mother, who doesn’t sing or play music herself, finished the line for me and we had a good chuckle at it and sang on the way back home. It’s a memory even she may not remember, but one I cherish.

The Beatles were famously known for not all being trained musicians – but Martin, a musical prodigy who played piano, oboe, guitar and a number of other instruments – and was properly musically trained – filled that gap for them.

They were like a tapestry – a beautiful tapestry, albeit one with holes in it, holes that needed to be patched, darned, to Come Together. And that thread, that tailor, that magician was named George Martin.

Many who listened, and listen to the Beatles may not know the little things – that it was Martin who had to wheedle McCartney into accepting a string quartet on Yesterday, when Macca wanted only an acoustic rock sound. The result is evident, and when the song hit No.1, maybe Martin felt vindicated.

He arranged their most beautiful work. Penny Lane (the second Beatles song I ever heard) and that lovely little trumpet that I remember dancing to on that same old carpet.

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In my ears and in my eyes

Now, back to A Hard Day’s Night. It was one of the albums we had lying around the house, and possibly my mum’s favourite one. The film was re-released in Indian movie theatres, and my mother simply HAD to go. I went with her.

I had only ever heard the songs, never actually watched the film. I did. I fell in love, too.

It’s one of my favourite limited edition DVDs, one I ended up buying in my late teens many years after the incident, but I’ve watched the film a million times.

That bit when Ringo goes off by himself, falls in a puddle, down a well? Those funny little bits of music behind him, behind Paul’s grandfather? That was all George Martin, who also composed in secret.

Also perhaps my favourite Bond film of all time, as a massive fan of Paul McCartney (obviously) and Roger Moore (whom I still have a crush on!), Live and Let Die, was scored by Martin as well.

He was like a second father figure, said Paul McCartney, in a touching tribute to the man who, only 15 years his senior, had guided and held his hand through a dog-eat-dog world, and truly, it may be said, got their talent to hit the stratosphere (and go to outer space, quite literally).

Every time I pick up my guitar, or play my piano, I think of my love for music that started when I was a toddler. When my fingers glide across ivory or strings, and when that first bar of Here Comes the Sun comes to life, that spirit, that love, that was the Georges at work.

Their mentor in both music and life, Martin outlived half the band he had nurtured and seen grow. Remastered their music, which was truly also his.

The Cute Beatle famously said “If anyone deserved the fifth Beatle tag, it was George (Martin). Martin played that off, saying it was Neil Aspinall (their longtime roadie) who deserved that title, but it was always George.

Help, we need somebody.

Help, not just anybody.

Help, you know we need someone, they cried out.

That someone was George Martin, and now he’s left home, with that lovely music in our ears and in our eyes.

Thank you for everything.

I’m just a-mad about Saffron|I stand with JNU

JNU. Jawaharlal Nehru University. One of the oldest, most prestigious, highly-regarded universities in the country. If you mentioned the name today, at this moment in time, you’d be referring likely exclusively to the obsessively politicised issue that has seen reams and reams of newsprint and hours of airtime dedicated to it – and not necessarily productively.

The Telegraph ran a poignant cover a few days ago, but all photography and pithy headlines aside, the true worrying fact that we are ruled, and sadly, surrounded by jingoistic ‘nationalists’ persists.

That persistent rhetoric – of ‘nationalism’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘country-love’ is one best served only in the history books, which have shown us exactly how this has turned out in the past. Badly for those who stand against it.

And yet, for a country that would like to describe itself as having ‘arrived on the world stage,’ with big-money mining projects, invisible Foreign Direct Investments that our leaders are bringing in, projects that are yet to entirely materialize but come guaranteed to adversely affect the environment.

To those who are not as yet completely abreast of the situation at JNU, a group of students held a demonstration allegedly condemning the hanging of Afzal Gru, who in 2013 was hanged for the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament.

That case is itself shrouded in mystery, and whether one agrees or disagrees is a new can of worms entirely, and its own separate debate, one that will not be alluded to here.

This, and alleged ‘slogans’ that were chanted at the college, were described as ‘anti-national’ by politicians who have opinions on every issue that goes on in the country – barring those that actually matter and are truly consequential.

These ‘anti-national’ statements led to police action. Delhi Police, who I presume are a bit short on work considering how women are incredibly safe in the capital and need no police assistance whatsoever, that there is no gun (or other violence) in the capital, you know, the things it has become notorious for worldwide, picked up on this and promptly took a student leader into judicial custody, in the sort of speedy action perpetrators ofsome seriously heinous crimes seldom receive.

And therein lies the first problem. Whether or not one agrees with their statements, personal opinion of no kind should be able to have you imprisoned.

Being contrarian, and now labelled controversial instead has had student leader Kanhaiya Kumar arrested. The same political figures who are shockingly mute when issues need to be addressed have, in the past few days, done various things, each of them vocally.

They have cried themselves hoarse reiterating the same nationalistic, jingoistic rhetoric that had them elected in the first instance. The irony being that these very same parties, back when India was still under colonial rule – as was the case not too long ago on a historical timeline – did nothing for the freedom struggle, for the actual nation.

These parties, and the members thereof, were the ones who insisted on wanting to remain under the Raj. It is then a bit odd that they have somehow successfully (at least to their worryingly unthinking target demographic) marketed an ideal of being the one true upholder of freedom ( a concept they have completely misinterpreted, incidentally) and nationalism (a concept that really should not exist.)

Would those who fought for our nation’s freedom in the many years gone by have condoned the fact that those very freedoms, freedoms the Raj tried to quash – the ability to express oneself without the fear of legal retribution, without worrying about arrest, bodily harm and with true freedom – of expression and speech, none of which have been given to protesters.

Upholders of the law (at least on paper), in their black robes, have reduced themselves to what the bulk of our political parties have all always been – a bunch of weapon-wielding, non-cerebral goons who want to impart vigilante justice with no real understanding of the issues, but carry out what those who are playing them so conveniently mention.

In the day since student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested, he has been called ‘seditious’, a traitor, words politicians in India have used for anybody who disagrees with their views. Contrarian? Seditious. Anti-establishment? Traitor. The responses roll off forked snake-tongues like oil off a duck’s back.

(For more, see Arundhati Roy, Aseem Trivedi)

Our ministers have, in joining with the goondas, nay, being them in full force, failed us entirely in upholding what our country – and really, any democracy – should really be about.

So when a BJP MLA says he was ‘upholding his duty’, an MLA who happens to be a lawyer, that duty he refers to is not justice – it’s goondagiri and hooliganism.

Perhaps a step back would be in order for the same netas who are so proud of our nation and all things saffron (which incidentally, Iran is the world’s biggest producer of). In aggressively marketing their own brand of nationalism – waving what is simply a gigantic orange dick at the general public, some of which holds on tightly to it, they have failed the ideals we fought colonial rule in the first place for.

Of the ability to think, to speak, to exist for oneself and not as an instrument, an extension of the powers that be.

We have been told how to love, whom to love, what to eat and why, how we must behave and dress (to prevent rape, of course! If we women dress ‘provocatively’, we’re asking for it because those poor men can’t control themselves!).

We are now being told what to say, and what we cannot, and shown exactly what the consequences will be if we do.

The terrifying thing here is that it is not just political hardliners (but considering our powers, everyone is a political hardliner, now) but even our home minister and ministers of state, people who should in fact distance themselves from this, the most vocal of all against the students at JNU.

When even those who protest against this manhandling, this throttling of our freedoms are routinely beaten by police, it is more than worrying – it is the proverbial Grim Reaper come to visit, telling us to bid our liberties goodbye.

Instead of an unhappy public expressing dissent with the government, it is now the government that has expressed that dissent. In ways that should not be legal and have no place in a democratic society.

And therein, dear politicians, ministers, and those who do not stand with the students, lies the real terrorism. It is when the police see the student who was attacked identify his attacker and let the man walk out scot-free.

Not in a political rally at a college where students are encouraged to think critically – a skill it appears you will never possess.

That word, nationalism? I don’t think it means what you think it means.

David Bowie’s Space Oddity: Cover

As obviously evinced from the many, many posts dedicated to him on my blog, I absolutely adore David Bowie, and his life, music and death have all, in turn, had a profound impact on my life.

[More on that here.]

Today, I covered his iconic hit, Space Oddity.

Have a listen here:

Godspeed, David Bowie

Today, a normal Monday. Many of us woke up, went to work, listening to the man on our commute.

Two days ago, Blackstar. A seminal album for the ages, just as every single one of his others had been. Like many others, I enjoyed it, replayed it, enjoyed it again.

Two days ago, I was in a tattooist’s chair, having Aladdin Sane permanently etched into my clavicle in ink.

Today.

Sat down at work and got onto my laptop, got through some work, and logged on to Facebook.

Like all of us who are now utterly shattered, I read that David Bowie was no more.

I immediately called up a close friend who loves the man as much as I do. I spoke to him. “It’s not true.”

Both voices shaking. Neither wanting to believe.

Later, confirmation. From his son. That the great man was gone. No more. Just like that, snuffed out in an instant.

It wasn’t in an instant for him, or for Duncan, or Iman, or his daughter.

18 months is a long, hard fight, and in a sense it’s better that it was not longer.

But this was a loss the world was not, has not been, would never have been ready for. How can the immortal Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, just leave?

My brush with Bowie began in my teens, when I first heard Life on Mars. It blew my mind in ways that I still remember today. Every bit revelatory, every bar of music, every single word of the lyrics touched my soul in a way that is truly indescribable and still, even using every word in existence, every emotion we know of, is somehow not enough.

It was the freakiest show.

Like a starved man who had tasted his first morsel of food, I, in my Teenage Wildlife, devoured his music. Lapped it up. Every single piece of it.

Each album brought out nuances, subtleties in music that one may have never believed existed. Themes and motifs all the writers of the world may not have been able to come up with even put together.

Every album behind a mask, behind a character  – or perhaps, written by it. The young, hollowed out Aladdin Sane wrote of himself, of Ladies Grinning Soul, with pianos that sounded like flamenco guitar.

The lyrics inspired even the least creative of minds to conjure up images they may never have seen. Lady Grinning Soul. A tall woman by a piano in a bar, perhaps, her body shrouded in mystery and feathers, her eyes afire as she held a microphone.

Who knows if that is the image he intended. But it was always the one it brought to my mind. It’s one that is vivid, as if it were in front of my eyes just now.

Drive In Saturday made me want to fall in love. Hard. And hold someone close, and kiss them harder. And not let go.

And know what it was like to hold them as we both fell away, tired, sated and still at peace.

It’s absolutely one of my favourite songs to this day, and I’m playing it as I write this just now.

A song, an album that opens parts of you you didn’t know existed.

To anyone who is reading this, please, just go, turn out the lights, and play Aladdin Sane. An album for the ages if there ever was one.

He covered Pink Floyd, The Beatles, his own friends – the Stones. He did the Kinks and did them beautifully.

But his sheer capacity for songwriting – across genre, subject, lyric, music, instrument, absolutely anything – cannot even be described as monumental. Bigger than the ever-expanding universe, even. For a slow, flamenco-meets-piano Lady Grinning Soul, there was a Starman.

For a Starman, there was an Ashes to Ashes.

For every poignant song that could evoke tears at a moment’s notice, there was a Kooks, written for his son, about going to school and being a normal father. No, scratch that, not a normal father, a wonderful one.

It made me want to be able to come home to my own dad and laugh with him as I ran home from school, and in a sense, as I grew older, I did sometimes have my mother to be able to sit after school with as we watched TV together, and I’ll cherish those memories forever.

Before Aladdin Sane came The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Written from the point of view of an earth-visiting Alien. AKA David Bowie himself. A truly otherworldly being. Not human, not religiously divine.

Just a mortal with the potential of a superman.

In my darkest, most suicidal days, I overplayed Quicksand over and over again. And the Bewlay Brothers, as I imagined my life gladly slipping away from me, wanting to end whatever pain I was going through. And even then, in that darkness, those songs were things of sheer and utter beauty and nothing else.

The album was also special to me in that the first song I ever performed in public, for an actual audience, was a little ditty named Moonage Daydream. I’ll be a rock and rollin’ bitch for you, David.

The memory of walking into that dim light as my friend Laura set up a stool and microphone for me, announced me in and allayed my jittery nerves, that memory is so vivid.Adjusting a microphone for me, and a microphone for my guitar as the low screeech of the feedback echoed.

The smell of beer, good and bad, the low hum of what was perhaps a semi-interested audience that cheered me on  as I sang and played on, and then it never stopped.

Memories of some of the best times of my life have become inextricably tied to David Bowie, to his music, to his legacy. The first time I ever tried to smoke a cigarette, I was listening to Life on Mars, and to this day it is reminiscent of that breeze, that smell, that burning ash.

I then introduced one of my young, closest friends to it, and she fell in love with it too.

Letter to Hermione, a wonderful gem off Space Oddity, holds a special place in my heart. On a date with a man I had fallen deeply for as a young woman years ago, he held my hand and sang it to me on a beach in the heat of mid-day and my young, impressionable mind that had never known love, opened up and soared, and melted into his arms.

I spoke to that man this morning as I cried, and he did not want to believe it either.

Even teenage me, wanting to die, holding a swiss knife to my wrist, listened to Quicksand over and over again, with no belief in or love for myself, and still somehow was able to enjoy the music with every fibre of my being, sink into the lyrics that spoke so deeply to my soul I felt like the man, the musician knew me, knew my fight, as I struggled to deal with being unloved, alone, bullied and hurt.

As I finally took to fiction, each story a cathartic experience, those were inspired by Bowie too. A homeless young girl (with the mousy hair). A Major Tom, who lost his mind.

Wanting truly to know the happiness that came from love, I listened to Kooks. Of a father who just wanted to put his son in the car and drive him around when homework got too much. A simple melody was Kooks, and still inspired so much happiness.

Lady Stardust. A transvestite. Playing into Bowie’s beautifully fluid gender idols. Androgyny. The male. The female. All one, and one with each other. And it didn’t matter if you were gay, straight, male or female. You were attracted to him, in love completely with a man, a being, walking music himself.

And he reinvented himself, year after year after year. After year.The Thin White Duke. Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.

The Next Day was a new Bowie. The talent of and genius of old. The music of now. And his old personae came out to play.

Ever the consummate actor, Bowie was not just prolific in film as the iconic Nikola Tesla, whom he portrayed in The Prestige – perhaps his most well-known film role to date, but as the Man Who Fell to Earth (a must watch, if you have not already). Of Jareth the Goblin King, with a beautiful voice and a just-as-beautiful bulge.

An innovator in music, in writing in film, in truly every sense of the word was David Bowie.

And if you’ve ever watched his interviews, he was devastatingly funny (and handsome), disarmingly charming, honest, baldly open, just himself. And you couldn’t help but fall completely in love.

Only three days ago, Blackstar came out. His video, his song. Lazarus. The biblical character whom Jesus resurrected.

The musical character, the man, the  enigma, the riddle, the genius. Not a mortal at all, but resurrected in death to live for all eternity, just as that final video.

In a way, it is just as well that 18 months of hard-fought suffering have come to an end, but it is the sheer loss that we, as fans, as lovers in our heads, find it hard to come to terms with.

I guess we all just thought he was immortal. And in so many ways, he is, and he will be.

Now one with space and time and the energy of the universe, there really is a Starman out there somewhere.

Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky.

Sport, Lad Culture and what I’m learning as a journalist on the internet

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Yesterday, Chris ‘Lad of the Lads’ Gayle played a strong knock at the Big Bash League.

Of course, this prompted journalist Mel McLaughlin to ask him about his performance and what he “looked forward to.”

“Looking forward to looking at your ass later” somehow seemed to Gayle an appropriate response.

He then proceeded to ask her out for a drink, telling her “not to blush.”

Despite her insistence that she was not, in fact, blushing, he continued. Of course, this made its way to the internet – as everything does now.

Unfortunately, it also saw Gayle’s behaviour repeatedly defended by ‘lads’ who saw his behaviour as a bit of ‘banter’ (I’m going to go crazy with the quotes because it appears to the only way to truly convey both sarcasm and utter disgust.)

I went onto the internet and attempted to address the issue by commenting on a BBC Sport article with my public profile. I expected abuse and backlash. I may not have been able to predict the sheer volume, though.

A couple of shining examples:

 

Not pictured are the ~50 more comments I got later, telling me I “don’t need to worry about needless sexualisation you c*nt, have you seen your own face? You don’t need to worry about any sexualisation” and “bitch, F1? Do you even know who Kimi is?”

Yes, because any F1 journalist worth their salt is completely unaware.

Internet abuse and trolls have been around since the inception of the internet. It’s easy, fun (for them), a quick way to attack someone and pass your day without having to worry about the consequences to someone on the other side of the screen.

What bothered me was not only how dismissive Gayle was of McLaughlin’s questions, but also how quick most people were to defend that behaviour. Among the various excuses I read: “he’s Jamaican,” “he was just flirting,” “it was innocent.”

Sadly, it’s not innocent when you’re trying to do your job and someone, like I said to my lovely internet trolls up there, neglects that entirely, instead choosing to focus on your sex, sexuality, and all things unrelated.

As an F1 and tennis editor (and obsessive enthusiast), I’ve had seemingly innocuous tweets directed at me that say things to the effect of “oh, you’re a chick who does motorsport? That’s really cool. Sorry if I sound sexist.”

I’m not sure the man was sorry at all.

(Here, I’d mention Jennie Gow, whom I look up to for Formula One – and a lot of my information.)

There seems to be a very pervasive attitude that what is between your legs dictates what is between your ears, what you enjoy, your skill.

Unfortunately, that seems not to have stopped the men who implied I went to the gargantuan effort of paying a man to ghostwrite for me so I would seem like a ‘cool chick’, which speaks more to me about the shallowness of the idiot who took time out of his day to send me that letter.

Flirting may be fun, and it’s human. Like everything else, it also has a time and place, neither of which is ‘on national television when you’re being interviewed.’

Still, the constant (and still continuing) comments that seem to suggest I am ‘frustrated because I’m not getting any’ anger and upset me in equal measure, and not for the reasons these men likely expect.

The behaviour implies somehow that my self-worth, and that of every other woman, is tied into the opposite (or same) sex finding us sexually attractive. It’s a malaise that has plagued society a long enough time that many women have grown up believing this to actually be true, with several self-esteem issues tied into various forms of perceived attractiveness.

I say this as someone who spent a majority of their youth being bullied and called exactly that – ugly – in addition to qualifying for another very undesirable label – the ‘nerd’.

Live television, and during someone’s work, is not an appropriate situation in any way to bring up wanting a ‘coffee’, a date, or being boastful of admiring someone’s posterior (not something to be proud of in any event).

Neither is shirking what the person (man, woman or otherwise) in front of you is asking you. Address the question, move on as every sportsperson does, as does everyone who has been on the news. There is humour and there is inappropriate creeping.

As anyone who has had to deal with unwanted advances has definitely experienced, all you want to do in that moment is extricate yourself from the situation entirely, which, given the nature of McLaughlin’s job, she was unable to do. It is to be admired that she continued to stand there and powered through Gayle’s continuously disgusting behaviour even as he asked her “not to blush”  – something she did not even do.

To those who bring unrelated factors into Gayle’s advances – unwanted attention can come from any source whatsoever. If it is unwanted, it is unwanted. Mutual consent is really not that hard to understand, as is taking someone else and their job seriously.

Here, sadly, because McLaughlin is a woman, those factors somehow have culminated into it being ‘okay’ and ‘cool’ for Gayle to behave the way he did. As a person doing her job, I’m sure she simply wanted to be able to finish it effectively. Which, considering the circumstances, she did with aplomb.

I may not be at McLaughlin’s scale of reporting – but as a journalist who focuses on what people sadly consider a ‘male’ sport – Formula One – I have men emailing me saying I “don’t know”, “am pretending,” or quite simply am shit.

This is just to recount the experience of the many, many trolls who have tried (unsuccessfully) to break me down with expletives, implying my knowledge is somehow lacking because I am a woman, that I do not know my sport, that I am somehow lying about enjoying watching someone bat.

Considering the way the internet and attitudes are, to expect trolls to understand truly that their spite, their awful profanity, is actually reaching someone on the other end of a screen, is likely a big ask. [It still doesn’t mean you stop trying.]

Until then, we all need to Lean In and end yet another disgusting disease – that in 2015, there are still people who believe there are things women ‘can’t do.’

To the man who messaged me saying “goddamn feminist,” yes I am.

And darn proud of it.

 

 

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