The Dark side of the Moon

Last month, I spent the greater part of a day at a mental asylum. Before you can say “I knew you had the potential”, let me tell you the larger story.
“CC”, was a strapping young man with a cushy MNC job. Having tasted early success, he distanced himself from his biradari and led a hedonistic life. Soon, he sank into an alcoholic abyss: he abandoned his wife and kids, sank into debts and lost his job. He continued drinking till one day he nearly lost his vision; this jolted him to contact his elder brother, “GJ” for the first time in many years. When GJ brought CC home it was a ghastly sight: CC looked like a 70 year old! He was suffering from many psycho-physiological ailments and needed institutionalized psychiatric care. No, this is not from a Bollywood remake of the “Prodigal Son”. GJ called one of his favourite uncles (me!) for support, and hence this story.
I sought the advice of a close friend and serendipitously discovered that his daughter was a doctor (Dr.PS), practicing in the very area where we needed support. Upon his advice, we went to this large Government Institute that treated addiction as well as all other mental disorders. At the out-patient ward I had my first shock: the queue was around 300 people long. So many stressed out people, just in the OPD!
Dr. PS asked us to take CC into the Emergency Ward for tests. What an unreal world! As I wheeled in CC we were greeted by a hallucinating patient, who thought he was in a banquet. He pointed to us and said “Dekho mehmaan aa gaya. Unko khatirdaari karo” (Our guests have arrived, attend to them). Next to him was another young teenage patient, inconsolably weeping. Then, silence. Suddenly the loud cry of a patient in denial “Bolti hai jhoot, bolti hai jhoot” (They are lying) broke the silence. A patient at the other end responded in rhyme “Teri ko ilaaj nahi milega, Bhoot” (You can never be treated, you are a ghost). The shouting reached a crescendo and I anticipated violence. A Security Guard very deftly mollified them and peace returned temporarily. Suddenly a whole lot of people rushed into the ward, among them a man and a woman struggling for the possession of a baby. It appeared that the woman was a child-lifter. Sometime later the Police emerged for questioning and were followed by a TV crew. Phew! I saw human misery at its nadir and wondered whether I could last the day.
After the tests, we got CC assigned to the de-addiction ward. The security procedures resembled an army camp. The ward is locked from the outside and entrants are frisked for addictive substances and hurtful things. My wife had sent a small idol of Ganesha which CC had in his pocket for inspiration. The Guard removed it because it could be hurled as a missile and hurt someone! At the de-addiction ward I saw glazed faces, some who approached me for prohibited substances. I also saw hope — people who were in advanced recovery and who wanted to be helpful to the newcomer.
In all this gloom, I saw inspiring examples of human strength. The last time I had seen Dr.PS, she was a wisp of a girl, a medical college aspirant. Perhaps she still was a wisp of a girl but she was mature beyond her years. Amidst the chaos, she was calm, attentive and continuously taking decisions. She was “Doctor Sahiba”. Wow! And I saw many doctors and nurses (most of them below 30 years) in the same mould: cheerfully committed. If they had given up joys of the real world, they didn’t show it; this was their chosen path. Even the security guards (usually the lowest in social, economic and educational hierarchy) were not churlish, but showed firm tact in defusing problems that emerged at alarming frequencies. One guard told us “Dekho, in sab ko chahiye pyaar— pyaar hi aadha ilaaj” (all these people need love – that is half the cure). Words of wisdom from an unexpected source!
All this unfolded at a time when the contract attendants in the hospital were on strike. The existing Doctors and staff were already overworked, but effectively coping with additional stress. Perhaps this was because of tremendous empowerment and resultant ownership at lower levels — decentralization that I have not seen in other Government bodies. Such empathy that I have not seen in some 5 star hospitals. Jaihind to that!

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