Google+ Consumer Psyche: Mentally ill? Who?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Mentally ill? Who?

What is mental illness? What is peace? The definitions would vary from person to person. Sometimes we don't know who is ill/well. Well this is one just like that. Read on...

It was a sunny morning in 2003 when I first noticed her on my way to work. Her unkempt hair, scornful face and multiples soiled dresses said she is a social outcast but there was certain emotion on her face that adjectives failed to express. She lives in Hyderabad, on the footpath, sitting under a tree with a small sack of clothes, items she picked up from her sojourns perhaps. She is silent and doesn't even beg from the passers-by. Each time I looked at her I knew there was something different in her from others. I wanted to talk to her to find out, but didn't. Few days passed and one day I just stopped and went to speak to her. She didn't like that and shooed me away. I gave her some money, food and kept doing it regularly till she started to consider speaking to me. After many days of bribing, a sweater, fruits, money, food, etc., she opens up. She no longer has that crooked look when I give her something. One day she started speaking. It is 7 AM and the first rays of sun are hitting us. The city is just waking up. She takes one banana from the bunch I gave her and hides the remaining in her sack.

"You are a very stubborn kid," she tells me before settling down. This is a very censored version of her story. I had to change few details, but the essence is till the same.

She is a postgraduate in English literature, used to work as a teacher in a school in Hyderabad till the late 90s. She had a Titan watch, Sunny(two-wheeler), a portable color TV, a small but beautiful house small garden with a swing in it and some jewelery. Her husband used to work in a clerical cadre at the district magistrate's office and she used to compensate by teaching neighborhood kids at home. They made a lot of compromises to fit in all the fancies the kids needed and saw them through schools, engineering college, marriages, bikes and what not. All they did was think about the kids and thought once they get old they will be taken care of by the kids.

She stops peeling the banana, carefully puts the peel in a paper, glances at it and then starts to eat. There is no hurried munching. There is a stylish, cool, calm way she eats it. Once she is finished she washes her hand and wipes it on a dark cloth.

She has 3 sons and a daughter, all well settled. One of them stays in Hyderabad in a well-to-do locality. The other two are in Bangalore. Her daughter is a homeopathic doctor in Mumbai. Don't think they have left her like this. She left them. She walked out as she couldn't see how her husband was treated in his sunset days when all her children would make it a point to split his medical expenses and then quarrel insulting him and her. Then they wanted him to divide his pension, gratuity, their house and settle everything before he died. But the old guy had become smart and had changed his will in his wife's favor. After he passed away they found the new will which made the situation worse. They made her change the will in their favor. When forced she complied. Then it became hell. She was seen as a burden and was hated. One of her daughter-in-laws slapped her for borrowing money from a neighbor for medicine. That's when she decided to move out. She started living in the railway station, bus-stand, parks and later ended up in an ashram where she found there were more horrific tales than her own. Then she faced the hypocrisy of the caretakers and decided the street is the best place to try living. And hence the street life and her designated footpath.

She barely speaks to anyone now and has her own world to worry about. What does she eat? Anything that she is given, usually stale food she picks up from a prominent hotel's bin nearby. Once in a while she buys idlies with sambhar from roadside vendors but that's rare.

"I am a regular here. I even get credit from the idly-walah. The police here recognize me and don't chase me away."

"What's your wish?" I ask her to check if I could do something.
"Do a movie with Nagarjuna!"
"No. Tell me something that I can do."

I look at her eyes to see if she is sad. She is not! There is a glow in her eyes, a glint that tells me there is a wicked twist.

"Do they visit you anytime?"
"No!"
"Do you visit them?"
"NO!"
"To them, I am dead and so they are to me."

"Tell me something..." this is the first time she looks at me eye-to-eye, "Why is your generation so selfish?" That look burns my insides and my mouth goes dry even when I know I am not in the wrong.
"I don't know."
"Forget it. You seem to be a nice kid."

"You know I am very neat," she smiles. "I wash my clothes and take bath everyday." I smile back.

"It is getting late. You should go now. All other neighbors would come and literally seize your money and gold away. Worse they will throw me out from here. Leave now." I nod and got up and as I reach to my purse she smiles and tells me she doesn't need any money. She has a bank account and gets her pension. "That is more than enough."

"Moreover, this city takes care of me now. I will be fine. And thanks for your time." She looks away. I smell moistness in her eyes.

I still give her some money and start my bike. I some how carry a lot of weight in me now. I want to do something but don't know what to. I tell myself I will do something for sure.

"Munna! You want to know what I did with my money?" That is the first time she calls me that. And that's the last. I stop my vehicle and look at her blankly.

"I donated everything to the ashram I used to live. It is a small amount, but my children would never get it."

That wicked smile comes back to her face again. Only this time it is not wicked but the joy and satisfaction. I feel a lot lighter and confusingly happy. While I was recovering from this jab she lifts her sacks and walks away into the park opposite to her spot. I look at her disappear into the shadows.

The next day I see her she has her 'mentally ill' look and antics back again and acts as if she doesn't recognize me. She refuses to take the food or money I gave and starts yelling. I try a few more times and then I decide to leave her alone. For her I represent the truth, pain and suffering that she had to face from my generation.

Back in my own life I couldn't taker her off my mind as to why she was calm. Now I know. She is at peace with herself. I'm not.

Pic: Old Age
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