A Woman’s Love: Part of Women in Focus Festival

As part of Women in Focus festival by Poplar Union, I will be singing a variety of songs related to the theme of women expressing love. This includes songs from significant love stories (i.e ‘Layla Majnu’) as well as songs depicting an altruistic form of love through worship and self-sacrifice. The show will highlight how expresions of love can reveal a woman’s power which contrast with stereotypes and traditional discourses about the submissive nature of women. I will be accompanied by musicians Yousuf Ali Khan (tabla), Amith Dey (keyboard) and Robin Christian (flute). Towards the end of the programme, you as the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions to myself and musicians as well as share your own views about music and wellbeing.

To book please call Poplar Union box office on 020 3039 3333 or visit Eventbrite Bookingsevent brite pic a womans love

When Magic Happens!

An energetic group organised by Camden People’s Theatre and Hopscotch BME Womens Project. Really privileged to have been invited to facilitate this. We talked about participants’ favourite songs from childhood, how they use their bodies to occupy space and the impact of a local major construction site on their physical and emotional wellbeing. We used our voices, breath control and group singing as a meditative relaxation exercise and went onto basic CBT techniques for managing anxiety and panic attacks. The group helped participants gain support through arts without feeling pathologised. This project envisages participants to go onto creating a piece describing their lived experiences as part of a theatre production in March 2020. When arts and health merges, magic really happens!


Charity Music Event for Learning Disabilities & Autism

Last year, I received a call at home to let me know that a service user in the team I worked in had tragically died. I had worked intensely with her, as had our team for several months which of course meant an attachment had developed. She loved music…she loved dancing and I found that none of my conventional psychology models worked with her partly due to her cognitive deterioration but also simply because she engaged with music. Once I found that singing to her was the only thing that helped her process the intensity of her own inner pain so I encouraged the use of music for her. The only drawback was that we didn’t have a music therapist or staff comfortable with this approach to see it as a valid intervention.

She was a was a polite, kind and musical soul but had emotional and physical health issues which were not fully understood in the context of her disabilities. Her death was another accident which occurred because people with learning disabilities can have serious problems such as a stroke or infection which may go undetected, or dementia which may not be easily picked up due to pre-existing cognitive issues.


At the time I did what I needed to do in a clinical, functional and I supposed professional manner. I supported other service users to grieve her loss, I provided staff support, I comforted my distressed colleagues, I wrote an article advising services how to manage personal and professional grief, I basically continued being a psychologist in spite of all the grief, anger, loss and guilt I felt.

I found myself very soon after this tragedy leaving the service perhaps because of my own unprocessed emotions. I found myself moving onto more of a management post where I felt I can perhaps influence service planning and delivery more, to include  music and arts more in hospital settings. I also began to plan a charity event for learning disabilities and autism, to raise awareness of music therapy and to encourage the local  community to celebrate the lives of people with incredible gifts who happen to also have learning disabilities.



The charity event, in partnership with Hope n Mic and Otakar Kraus Music Trust was soulful! The children performing* really took me back to when I first worked in learning disabilities. It took me back to my first voluntary job when I left university with a vague sense of how I was going to become a psychologist. During this brief voluntary job, a little deaf and mute girl with big anxious eyes held onto my little finger for the entire day during a visit to the London Eye! She was barely 7 years old, and I don’t think I will ever forget her anxious little face. We didn’t speak the whole time, but somehow we developed an attachment, a trust and sense of emotional safety.

All the songs I sang on the charity event were in some way related to eye contact and gaze, something very relevant in Autism which I hope the audience took away through my explanations. I hope you enjoy one of the songs below where I was accompanied by Keval Joshi on tabla and Amith Dey on keyboard. Many thanks to Hope n Mic for this wonderful event!

*Photography used in this blog are by Salam Jones, Hope n Mic



Fire as Metaphor for Psychic Pain


This Bangladeshi song, originally sung by Nilufa Yasmin (1948-2003) for a film in 1975, was performed in Harrow, London 2018 whilst accompanied on tabla by Keval Joshi.

The song describes the distress of a woman who is involuntarily leaving her village. She describes a fire which continues to burn with no one here to help. Metaphorically, she is referring to the burning sensation of emotional pain which she is expressing in a term called ‘somatisation’. Interestingly, in British South Asian women, there tends to be high rate of somatisation, namely a physical description of pain located in the body. South Asian women often describe a burning in their chest or in their liver which psychologists believe to be a culturally normalised way of experiencing and expressing anxiety and stress.

She goes on to describing how despite building a home by enduring a lifetime of sorrows, this home is now burnt to ashes. The final part of the song describes a possible attachment figure who she has lost or leaving behind. She describes this individual as one who bears a mountain of pain but remains smiling, she resembles him to a flower which bears the pain of its thorns but continues to radiate a fragrance. She asks where she can now search to find such a person.

A simple rural Bangladeshi song from an era long gone but by no means forgotten.


“Collective Cries” Translation of a Tagore Song

This song, written by Rabindranath Tagore was presented as “Collective Cries” for Change of Arts Festival, 2017. Introduced by comedian Sindhu Vee, this devotional peace song was translated & recited by myself prior to singing the full song in Part Two    accompanied by Piyas Barua (Tabla) and Amith Dey (Keyboard).

This event was organised by Hope not Hate in memory of Jo Cox, British MP who was murdered in 2016. This performance was one of several performances with the theme ‘More in Common’ and took place at Amnesty International, London.


‘The Squatters’, A Lalon Shah Song

A Psychological Interpretation of a Lalon Shah Song

This performance was my interpretation and analysis of a song written by the late Bangladeshi songwriter, spiritualist & social reformer, Lalon Shah (1772-1890). I have often listened to this song and wondered what he was referring to when he wrote ‘Tumar Ghoreh Bash Koreh Kara?”. The more I engrossed myself in this song, its lyrics and Lalon’s own biography, the more I was convinced that he was referring to psychic structures.


Performing as a ‘Professional’ to ‘Service Users’

At the the prospect of performing to ‘service users’ to communicate the genius of Lalon, I was a little apprehensive. My anxieties lay in the power difference which presents itself when a ‘professional’ finds themselves in the minority, going as a guest to an event organised by those whose lives I would normally be arranging through my clinical assessments, reports and recommendations. I wondered what Lalon Shah would have made of this divide between ‘professional’ and ‘service user’ and the power difference it creates between us. Lalon was critical about the concept of caste based hierarchies and religious divisions. When asked about his own religion, he replied that he saw no colour or caste in people, meaning that he saw no reason to associate himself  through labels of religion or nationality.

Interestingly, when I took part in this event, I no longer became a ‘professional’ but simply an individual who was part of a beautiful event organised by kind and caring souls. We seemed to connect very easily possibly due to our shared acceptance of each others’ emotional journeys.  I realised that I was no longer the professional and they were no longer the service users. Rather, we were part of a system which continues to create divisions, power differences and social hierarchies through all the multiple labels we give ourselves and each other. Like Lalon, perhaps I too take a critical view of these labels which divide us and create anxieties about ‘the other’.

Creativity in Costumes

Significance of Kingsley Hall & Survivor Stories

This performance was organised by the Friends of East End Loonies (FEEL) which is a self funded, progressive mental health group campaigning for arts and holistic care for individuals with lived experience of mental health difficulties. The event included pictures/paintings submitted by service users, performances celebrating survivor stories and a whole day of stalls and workshops. Kingsley Hall itself was home to one of the most radical non-restraining, non-medicalised psychological treatments through the provision of therapeutic communities for individuals affected by schizophrenia during the 1960’s. In addition, it is also significant as it is where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visit to the UK in 1931.


Survivors of an Abnormal World

My performance consisted of a short presentation which included singing a song written by Lalon which I understood to be referring to internal conflicts within the psyche. I believe these ideas Lalon talked about are very similar to theories of personality and psychopathology developed later in the West by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The audience received it amazingly well, engaging in both the music as well as the meaning. I found myself feeling utmost respect for each person I met. They were survivors of an abnormal ‘mad’ world which is often cold and cruel. Perhaps we are all survivors, but however we choose to describe our experiences, music brings us closer to each other and reduces social, cultural and political divisions. I experienced this for myself as a participant in this event. Thank you Loonies!


‘Collective Cries’: A Bangladeshi Peace Song

A Bangladeshi devotional song for peace, written by Rabindranth Tagore will be performed on 17.6.17, 7.30pm at the Human Rights Action Centre, Shoreditch  in memory of Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016. This FREE Change of Arts Festival organised by Hope not Hate, aims to bring together members of the community who would not otherwise meet. Jo Cox’s maiden speech to parliament was “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. This performance by Sidrah Muntaha aims to spread messages of peace and highlight how we collectively hope for a more humane world.

This performance will be accompanied by a slideshow of emotive and personally symbolic photography taken and forwarded by members of the Bangladeshi community. These include the following:  Salam Jones, a Carpenter, Writer and Critical Thinker with a passion for photography and charitable causes, Pushpita Gupta, who is actively involved in supporting different faith communities that are victims of sectarian violence in Bangladesh, Dr. Sakti Das, a Professor of Urology who has carried out exceptional humanitarian work in different parts of the world including surgical procedures in Haiti and Afghanistan, Dilawar Hussain who has participated in charitable work in Palestine, Hena Ahmed, a Social Worker, involved in helping a charity that has developed a Mental Health Support Centre in Sylhet, Bangladesh which is being supported by mental health professionals & finally Dr. Muhammad Ahmedullah, a researcher and historian who has travelled extensively and immersed himself with numerous communities around the world.

This performance will be part of an evening of other short acts, entertainment and plays by various artistes. For details, please see  Change of Art festival.

The Introverted Artiste and his God


Music as an ‘Object’ of Attachment 

Musicians and artistes differ in their approaches and passion for music. However, most who I have observed appear to receive some sort of cathartic release through their art. With the exception of those who enter the music industry for popularity and glamour, artistes tend to be interesting in terms of their relationships with music. Their attachment to their art seems to be almost like an attachment with a person. In Psychology we often refer to ‘object relations’ theory, which essentially describes how individuals relate to others in relationships as linked with their initial early attachments with primary caregivers. But I wonder how this may be linked with artistes whose art itself may become an ‘object’ to which they attach their needs, their hopes, their aspirations and their dreams.

Spiritual Connection Through Music 

So when I met Mr. Mehboob Nadeem during his Indian Classical Summer School course at SOAS University, which I eagerly enrolled for a few years ago, I wasn’t surprised by his passion and dedication for music. However, what did surprise me then and in subsequent courses with him was his attachment to God. I experienced him to be incredibly spiritual, and when I first heard him sing a Sufi song (“Yah Gharib Nawaz”) I was taken aback by his spiritual connection with Islamic mysticism.

It is interesting how little we know of the internal world of such artistes who appear to be somewhat introverted. Those who have their needs met through their attachment to God and their art perhaps have little need for worldly interests. Perhaps there is something ultimately divine in Indian Raga. It is said that such music represents sounds of nature and in Hindu scriptures, Indian Raga is believed  to represent Ultimate Truth. Each note (Sa Re Ga etc) is considered to correspond to the different chakras, and thereby each note is thought to activate different energy channels which have a direct effect on the mind and body.

Divine Faith Vs Logical Reasoning 

I am not sure how much I believe or understand the above. There is no clinical evidence for it, but somehow listening to Mr. Nadeem singing  a Sufi song and now listening to this sitar recital makes me wonder. What is it that we don’t understand in the West about music and its spiritual source? What is it we don’t understand about the internal workings of such introverted artistes? Perhaps they themselves don’t know  and are simply gifted with talent and an innate connection which ‘logical’ people like myself will never truly comprehend.

I often search for suitable music to use in relaxation exercises and I find Indian Raga both soothing and energising. There is a lot more to learn about this, and perhaps genuinely gifted artistes like Mr. Nadeem can help us clinicians and students of music to try and understand in order to make Indian Raga more accessible for the mainstream public.

Women as ‘Wounded Healers’

I have heard this song countless times, and each time I listen to it, I hear it differently. In this song (Film, Shagoon, 1964), a beautiful woman whilst playing a piano watches a man drinking at a bar. The lyrics of the song are undoubtedly beautiful. The singer tells the man through her music to “give me your pain”. She asks him to give her whatever hurt and anger he is experiencing, and she will take responsibility for his care. She adds that she will see how the world hurts him once she takes him into her wings. She asks him to let her support him through his loneliness and whatever defeat he has experienced in life. Although my heart has often softened at the ‘selfless’ lyrics, today I am associating it with the concept of the ‘wounded healer’.

Healing Our Wounds Through Attending To Others 

In reality, we all experience defeat in life. For every one success, we will experience multiple disappointments. But what makes one person more likely than another to extend their hand of support to those who are in pain? The wounded healer is often used to describe those who enter the caring profession, those who do charity work or those who somehow dedicate their lives to others (e.g doctors, nurses, missionaries, NGO workers). These professions require public service, personal sacrifice and a focus on the needs of others over oneself. So what drives someone to put aside their own hurt? The ‘wounded healer’ (Carl Jung) supports others  because they themselves have experienced despair and can bear the pain of another.  However altruistic it may appear, there is a personal benefit for the healer, which is that their pain also eases through healing others.

Women As Healers 

But what interests me is why there are more women in the helping profession than men. Are women more compassionate by nature or are women taught by society to be ‘selfless’? This song often reminds me of the way a mother speaks to her child. The nurturing approach of taking care of the man, taking away his sadness, shielding him from the worries of the world….women are often socially conditioned to be ‘selfless’ and conditioned to consider the needs of others over themselves. First as daughters, (particularly in certain communities), women are taught to obey social norms in order to keep the ‘honour’ of their families. As wives, women are taught to be the ‘sanctuary’ of the husband, and as mothers, women are given social messages that the welfare of children lie in a mothers’ capacity to make personal sacrifices and put the needs of her children over her own.

Capacity for Altruistic Love 

Someone very wisely once said to me that I sing with the sombreness of carrying out a post mortem examination! Today, I think I have dissected this song enough, so I will just let you enjoy listening to it. All analysis aside, it’s simply beautiful and I love it. Maybe that’s what love is really about. It’s the capacity to love something or someone unconditionally and without effort, irrespective of whether this love is for ones beloved, parent, spouse or child. Real love may be natural, and naturally loving another may mean not requiring anything in return from them. Maybe women have a greater capacity to love altruistically. Or perhaps there is no true altruistic love at all, except between a mother and her child. Perhaps we will never understand, but this song’s selflessness will soften even the hardened of hearts.

The Real ‘Umrao Jaan’

The Real ‘Umrao Jaan’: An Experimental Performance on Shame & Sexual Exploitation

My brief experimental performance for charity using several images of sex workers in the Indian sub-continent. Based on a Hindi song from the film Umrao Jaan (1981), this performance highlights issues of shame experienced by girls/women who are sold to brothels, and the discrimination that they face when attempting to re-integrate back into mainstream society. This was performed on 24.2.17 at Hope n Mic, Kazi Nazrul Centre, Brick Lane, London.