‘Mama’s gone bananas and Papa’s gone to pieces’: Dealing with mental illness
“My mother lived in a world where I was the President of India and married to someone called Vivekta and she was the heiress to a fortune that ran into many crores; Rajiv Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh were paying guests in her father’s home. We, the sane, call this world schizophrenia.”
These lines by fiction writer Amandeep Sandhu introduce us to his mother who suffered from mental illness and her family suffered with her but never shirked the role of care-givers. His essay, ‘My Mother’s Breast’ is part of ‘A Book of Life: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind’ edited by well-known writer Jerry Pinto. Some 13 writers have bravely shared these poignant stories with a view to de-stigmatise mental illness.
Move onto another memoir and it is a scathingly honest account of his father’s bi-polar disorder, journalist Sukant Deepak writes ‘Papa, Elsewhere’: “Then on the morning of June 7, 2006, he went for a walk and never returned. When we – my mother, my sister and I – were convinced that he was not coming back, there was a collective sigh of relief. There was almost a celebration”. The mentally-ill person in this case was the legendary Hindi writer Swadesh Deepak.
“Looking back I hold myself guilty for knowing so little about mental illness that I sat in judgment on him. By the time the disorder was found out in the 1990s, he had become a disgusting and despised figure for everyone — family, friends and relatives. Lying in the queen-sized bed in his room, this famed writer who would receive the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for his play ‘Court Martial’, would stare for hours on end at the ceiling.”
A common thread in the 13 essays included in this volume is the long time the family takes to identify the symptoms of mental illness or deny it as long as they can for it is hard to believe that someone so dear to them is ‘insane’. It is also not easy to lay bare before the world the illness of a dear one for the popular belief is that ‘madness runs in the family’. Most of the writers have written about their parents’ tryst with mental illness, some of their siblings and some sadly of their own children. Many of them are also activists in mental health causes.
Psychiatrist Simmi Waraich says sharing of experience help people deal with the patients with more empathy. “It is not easy to be so open and candid and it’s a catharsis for a person who realises that he/she could have dealt differently but can do nothing now. It helps to deal with our demons.”
The plight of a daughter can be seen in an essay ‘My Mother, The Professor’ by Leela Chakrovarty where the daughter learns poetry from her mother who brings to her the world of Shakespeare and Tagore or the stories of Mahasweta Devi, suddenly turns around using the foulest of language and asks: “Do you know how much pain I went through to bring you into this world? Oh my God, don’t you love your mother?” The child will but think that ‘Mama has gone bananas’ as would another whose healthy father lies all day in a room filled with tobacco smoke staring at the ceiling that ‘Papa has gone to pieces.”
Patricia Mukhim in her essay ‘Daniella’ gives a heart-rending account of her daughter’s suicide battling with bi-polar disorder and she describes the family’s survivor-guilt: “It is eight years since Daniella left us, yet none of us in the family dare discuss her mental state, It has not been easy to write this, and I know I have still not looked truth in the eye. We are all coping in our own ways and I wonder sometimes if we all need to see a therapist”.
How did this book which hopes to throw more light on an area of the human mind groping in the dark come about? Jerry Pinto’s novel ‘Em And The Big Hoom’, based on his mother’s long battle with bi-polar, brought many to him who wanted to share their stories.”