Serendipity?

What do you think of this?

What does it make you think of? Where might it be from? Made of what?

My very good friend Jill, from England, emailed me today.

“I have been decluttering my ‘office’ now a junk room and found this among my treasures. It was in a box with my mother’s velvet evening bag”

“But what was even more surprising was what I saw when I turned it over and read what was underneath. How extraordinary! Who would have thought all that time ago – a link to somewhere that was to become so significant in your life.”

Jill and I used to work for a local council, in England, jointly managing part of social services. It was a great time in my life. There’s more info here

This was in the early 1990’s and we used all sorts of different techniques to help us innovate and develop a responsive service. I think this elephant was one of the awards we gave to thank our staff for their tremendous work. Jill and I had dressed up as a ringmaster and clown to give out the awards. No prizes for guessing who was who….

The significance of the elephant is the analogy we used and delivered in a workshop to all our staff. ‘Teaching the Elephant to Dance’ was about change and being sensitive to the individual needs of those who used our services.

There wasn’t any connection with India and it would be another fifteen years before I first visited the country and twenty before I moved here to live in Mysore.

Here’s what was underneath.

Waiting rewarded….

Happy Birthday Manjula we love, miss and cherish you.

We wanted to hear from you on your 47th birthday and we’re not disappointed. We have a lovely message… check the video…. below

Thank you Manj.

Manjula never ever let me down and together we created a wonderful life. Thank you Manjula for making me happy.

Lucie and I, are now missing our brilliant smiling light. The memories and intensity of her giving soul of a beautiful caring, compassionate woman lives with us still.

Here’s a challenge:

How to keep in touch and show one’s love, on her birthday, when she’s not physically here, anymore.

I think I have a solution

I have found a famous time machine on eBay for sale by Leonard of the ‘Big Bang Theory’.

so I can travel back in time …..

and pass on a message

That was then and this is now. What fun and a great success but I think I’m back one day early. What date is it?

The next test is whether my strong-willed, determined most positiveness wife can somehow gets a message back to me. As she said: “we’ll see.”

The route is clear

Not……

It’s an update.

To reiterate. I’m required to leave India within 180 days of arriving every visit. Due to the virus that has been extended but I’m likely to have to leave in August. I hope they’ll let me back in

There are three obvious options: Sri Lanka, Canada and UK.

I’m openly discussing this with friends and family who might be affected or kind enough to let me stay, so that we’re as informed as we can be. I wouldn’t want to be someone who came to stay at the house or next door and not be open and honest about the risks and consequences. God forbid.

The first challenge (assuming there are flights) is getting health insurance. It’s available but there is the risk that if there are COVID 19 restrictions it might invalidate the insurance. I don’t need it for the U.K.

Sri Lanka might initially seem the best option. Shortest distance, clear polices and systems, no need for quarantine/self-isolation, open to tourists in August. BUT it might mean a domestic flight in India which I’d prefer not to do. I’ll be required to travel with a negative test result taken within 72 hours of the flight, which might not be obtainable. I’d have to stay in a government sanctioned hotel. Yuk?. I could pay any health costs directly but I wouldn’t get to see any family or friends.

Canada is a stronger contender. Means double the distance to travel than the UK, I’d have to remember how to cook, and I wouldn’t want Oll my youngest son to be tried for murder. Insurance maybe a problem and I couldn’t afford to pay health costs directly.

U.K. well clearly….
It’s a well managed place, no problems with the virus, competent leadership, no idiot behaviour and the country isn’t disintegrating. A safe haven.

I jest, of course, it provides the opportunity to catch up and be with friends and family which I feel that I need due to fragility, I would have to be 14 days in isolation so that and the risk puts a lot onto whoever is kind enough to take me in. I don’t need travel insurance and hope the Health service can cope. It does involve risky travel to and within the country.

I think you can see which way I’m leaning.

I’ve had a beard trim but no hair cut for quite a few months

If only I’d learn

People, mainly men are gathering on the street corner.

One is clearly very senior. I can tell from the way he’s bossing everyone around and then he turns to me. Instructions spew forth.

For a moment I forget I’m in India. I ask who he is. He refuses to tell me. Name? ID? He orders me into my house.

I slowly begin to recall I’m in a land where civil servant doesn’t mean civil and doesn’t involve service. It symbolises I’m above you, do as I tell you and don’t question.

The reason for all this?

Our neighbour has tested positive for the virus so our street is now closed off, clamped down and we’ve been tested.

I understand the situation and will comply with the restrictions because it’s for our common good but why do we have to tolerate this sort of attitude?

I need to know my place. Coming from northern working class England where we don’t do deference isn’t easy and is no preparation for this.

I could say it’s this sort of attitude —, (I’ve saved you the tedious details), the hierarchy, do as your told, no questions asked — that helps lead to authoritarianism. But then I look in western countries. I include the US and UK where we’re brought up to challenge and officials can be quite a lot nicer but still we have to tolerate tin-pot dictators.

Where are you Manjula? I need you

Consistently inconsistent, that’s my India…


1 Bearded ladies

Bearded ladies, I’m joking, it’s about people wearing face masks, they do sometimes look like bearded ladies. At lockdown 90% of people walking the streets were wearing facemasks, astonishing to see that level of compliance, it wouldn’t happen in England. Now that lockdown has loosened its 80%. That’s worrying as over the next few weeks expecting thousands of repatriated Indians from abroad should be even more careful but credit where it’s due people are unusually for India, following the rules.
bearded lady with a disguise.

2 mobile phones

not driving while using the phone, haha, you must be joking… on a carefully calibrated sophisticated sampled study, yes random cars driving past me standing on a corner, before the ‘time of virus’, over 50% were using their phone. Hardly any were on hands free and a fair proportion were even texting. and the number one loser was a policemen.

He was in his fancy big SUV/Jeep type police vehicle, driving along the double road (dual carriageway) with his arm out of his window texting on the phone. Bad.

This is normal in a place with normality, that’s NOT following the rules.

This is not to say it doesn’t happen elsewhere in the world, this just happens to be were a live, it may be exactly the same everywhere else, it just isn’t

3 Drinking water

Now this is the most consistent thing I’ve ever found in India. When drinking an unbelievable 99.9% of people don’t let their lips touch the glass or bottle and this, in the land of inconsistency. Apart from being a great safe practice, this is probably number one example of people in India following an ‘unwritten rule’ seriously. It’s true, even where water is in a jug at a chai shop , or yes, on a wall alongside a construction site, everyone does it. Astonishing!

Why write to Manjula?

Thank you for your kind responses via messages, phone calls, Facebook and here on this site, to my two letters. It’s been important for me to share and feel your support.

In passing through the grief portal of pain to love, to understand and know Manjula better. I’ve found a few useful books.

The letter to Manjula was me talking to her to recognise my loss, and share with her, my remorse which I wasn’t able to before she died. It’s part of a process outlined in the grief handbook the book on top of the pile.

Is the latest I read, especially useful as there was a distinct loss of meaning and still is to an extent.

I’ve maybe written the letter a dozen times but it’s only now I’ve felt able to share it with her. In therapeutic groups or pairs they’ll often read their letter out to each other.

It’s quite interesting to shift from focussing on her body/ego to her soul spirit wherever that might now be.

It’s been quite a journey from the devastation I felt through to recognising my absolute love and devotion to Manjula. There’s now more sweet and less bitter and my first thought is now more likely to bring a smile, than a tear.

I now know her better, partly as I’m researching and writing our story.

Meanwhile Mysore comes back to life. There’s been an unlocking. Here’s a few shots from our morning walk

Taking home a palm branch for his fire.
Any opportunity to sell and survive
Lucie in our park after today’s walk. Determined to keep away from me and entice ticks.
Ha ha this one isn’t from our walk 🙂 it’s one of Manjula’s favourite flowers and now a tattoo.

It’s Tom’s Day

“O Captain my Captain! Our fearful trip is done.”

Well I can’t say it’s not been a challenge because it has.

Yesterday’s Tom day was a great success. I managed to get through the whole day without access to the iPhone (except for the alarm clock at 6 am) or the IPad. I used the MacBook for writing ‘our story’ and that’s all. It really made a difference.

The one failing, if you can call it that, is I did watch Netflix in the evening (the crown if you must know).

Here’s the link to the video that’s finally got me to follow Tom’s sound advice. Not everyday will be a Tom day, that’s not possible, but I will do full-on detox days sometimes and I will limit my gadget and t’internet access on all days so I can focus on something very important like ….. Writing Manjula and my story.

Lockdown has added values.

See below for original posting on Facebook.

Tom’s Day

Have you seen or heard them on shoulders? The angel or fairy observing one’s every move, whispering ideas, making suggestions, gently guiding, even tut tutting when you’re hovering over the line, the limen between good and evil. Our little friends like the elves are here to give a helping hand and nudge us just when we most need it.

What a lovely gentle positive image.

Well I’ve got someone else, he’s a little fella but with big hefty presence. He sits on my head, sometimes flicking my ears, drumming his fingers on my skull, loudly whispering his thoughts, his key messages, usually something like… get-off the technology, write that story, meditate, eat this and that, eat properly-sit up straight (oh, no that last one was a dad memory).

I love him dearly, my very own Tom Thumb.

So in recognition that we both care and to show I really do listen; I’m designating wednesday of this week Tom’s Day. Its when I’ll try my best to do my best without looking at my Ipad, Iphone, Netflix or Amazon. The only permitted technology on Tom Day will be the lap top JUST for the ‘word processor’ I’ll not access the news, F book, Instagram, the blog thing and I’ll report back on what it was like.

Question: anyone know one of two possible links to the first line?

Virus 4

I’m sitting on the balcony with the early morning sun shining through.

Lucie and I are back from our first walk of the day. We stopped and chatted to one of our neighbours who has husband and son at home. They’re not bored, using the time constructively connecting via the net and playing music.

As with anything else the level of awareness and understanding makes such a big difference. People just don’t understand the situation and what to do. I could fall into an easy trap and say eduction helps people understand and act. But we know it’s only partially true. Manjula was a great example of someone who was incredibly aware, in my terms. …’together’ with little if any education. She couldn’t read or write but was so clever, witty, linguist, who was a great connector, wise and SMART. Am I showing my bias again?

I have my breakfast of fruit, muesli and tea here waiting I’d just nipped out to give a poor older woman walking past a small token. I do sometimes amend my own rules. I notice a group of men having a chat on a street corner having parked their two wheelers. They have absolutely no idea of what it means to maintain distance. One has a mask on so it’s alright then, not much use by the way. Education? Awareness? Haven’t the first idea? How in any situation can we engage people’s hearts and minds? Enable them to make good decisions with their own and everyone’s interests at heart? Tall order

The city corporation have sealed off one of the parks, we have three close by. Here’s the sign notifying people.

The announcement of the lockdown was on the 23rd and came into effect on the 24th (the one day curfew was the 22nd). The sign posted on the 25th closed the park on the 21st….. doh.

Breakfast. I’m desperate Dan…..

Next, maybe managing Lucie’s boredom and my hypochondria

an open letter 

 

to our extended family, our friends from around the world, the community that grew around sharing our home

27th March 2020

Dear family,

thank you for your patience, kindness and support.

It’s been an awful twelve months since Manjula died, a pot-holed, rocky roller-coaster ride. Being able to speak to you directly, through my writing and sharing my feelings has been tremendously helpful. Your direct responses and visits have helped me through these difficult times. Thank you for those who’ve also been here to provide direct practical and emotional support, you know who you are and have made an impossible situation manageable.

Thank you for being a witness as Kessler writes:

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed……… they need to feel their grief acknowledged and reflected by others.”

As you know, I’ve shared and its helped. Thank you for letting me share with you, gain your support and help me to manage this tragic loss. I’ve most definitely been through the five stages (Kubler-Ross) of loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, often all at the same time and what I hadn’t realised was the anticipatory grief years before Manjula actually died that we also had to experience. 

Loss of a lover, loss of a life, loss of control, loss of the opportunity to do things differently, loss and the grief that results from it, is for me the hardest thing in life.

I also know now that: Grief unites us.

“You will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart,” 

I’m so pleased you met and go to know my beautiful smiling brilliant wife directly through visiting us, or introduced through these pages. She leaves a wonderful legacy in what she created and leaves part of her in all of our hearts.

It goes without saying that she will always be with me and I know the grieving will never be over but I look forward to finding the right balance in Manjula continuing to be part of me and me finding meaning and growing beyond that loss, then ……….  “the time will come when memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes” (Kessler)

We’ve now recognised Manjula’s death anniversary with a Hindu Pooja ceremony and lunch for immediate friends on the 12th March (the official Hindu anniversary), shared the BIG photo album (a copy is on this site) then on the 23rd I cycled Manjula through the city, sponsored meals for older people at a local ashram, and had a few drinks here at home. We still have Manjula’s shoes carefully positioned around the house in case she returns and needs them. (Didion) 

Over the year I’ve been careful to do the Hindu rituals, placed flowers at her two main photos in our living rooms monthly, some times weekly, sited benches in our park and at a city museum. I’ve printed t shirts in her memory, hoisted bunting made from her clothing, created a memory tree (Teckentrup) (please ask how you can add a memory or wish) and given gifts of Manjula’s pens. 

We plan to celebrate Manjula’s life in August, around her birthday, please do join us in person or virtually, that’s when we’ll also re-open Mysore Bed and Breakfast, if we’re through these challenging virus times. I plan to keep this place going for at least a few more years (our first season without Manjula was bitter sweet but worked OK)  and so invite you to continue to share our home.

Manjula will always be here.

I have been trying to write to Manjula for months and failed, I need to share my remorse for things I feel I could have done better and more, to ask for her forgiveness and to thank her for our wonderful, funny, life enhancing nine years together. It will be posted soon.

I’ll continue to post on www.meandmycycle.com which is the best place to follow. Writings will be varied: about life in India, more factly fiction stories and I promise there will be a lot less of the grief. I’ve committed to Manjula to write our story.  I’ve verbally shared bits and people have liked it, I just need to write better to do it justice. Who knows when that gets finished and released, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime there’s many of our times together and challenges of living in India already featured here and I’ll add more, including her funny videos.

Thanks for becoming Manjula and my family and I look forward to travelling together on the next chapter of our journey.

Your loving friend

Stephen

and Lucie

PS

Manjula would joke that I as I was bringing so many books into the house it would become a library when I was 75 and no longer leading cycle tours. Well, the quantity and variety of books have grown and grown and now include sections on grief and writing (guess why?)  and so Manjula’s library is now at our house. 😉 and no I’m not 75 yet. Do pay a visit or ask for recommendations.

The one’s referred to in the letter are:

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the five stages of loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Finding Meaning: the Sixth stage of grieving by David Kessler

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup