When hope needs inked horizons
Scorching heat, burning roads, hectic schedules, and 2500 students hustling on the campus of chaos, surprisingly a smile emerges from the crowd, the very reason I make it through the day. You could always spot her - and her tattoos, eleven to be precise. There was something about her that made me feel that there is much more to that smile, to those tattoos. And the curious me, texted her one day for a random meeting.
"My body is my canvas, and I am going to paint it as I like. This is my masterpiece, I don't care if the world understands it or not."
I had come in to meet her, hoping to get some good tattoo stories. But little did I know that I was about to discover a completely new perspective towards life that day.
Through our conversations, she revealed that she was diagnosed with a condition called " Pseudo Neurotic Schizophrenia.' For a moment, I was scared. I had no clue what it was. All I knew was that these were the people who were termed 'Mental' by everyone.
She showed me one of her tattoos - 'Fitoor'.
Although Fitoor has different meanings in different languages, the most profound was it's Arabic meaning - mental.
Before me was a girl with a clinical mental disorder, proud and positive, smiling and starry eyed. I just didn’t get it. What do I ask next? How do I do ahead with this? How do I behave with her now? She sensed this, and without a word, got me a glass of water. Handing me the glass she says, "The world cannot relate to me, because my world is completely different from your world." From what my mind was processing, I felt like I was learning a new language. A language, her language, no one knew.
After this, I knew that I had to clean my slate for her. I could only imagine how hard life would have been for her. But I still wanted to know her story. How supportive were the people closest to her? How did her family deal with this?
"They just didn't understand what was wrong with me." There was no explanation for this at that time. Why would anyone want to believe there is something wrong with their daughter?
When she told her family about the family help who molested her, the molester was given the benefit of the doubt. She had to continue looking at her molester, in her own house, for whole year, till she left home.
I could feel anger burn inside me. But I was not sure what I was angry about. Was it because somebody didn't believe a 'weird girl', was it because a criminal got away with a crime or maybe because mental health was not being taken seriously in my country? My mind was clouded with many thoughts. But then she told me how supportive her parents had been once she was diagnosed with her disorder. They never stopped her from doing anything. Be it travelling to different countries or supporting her decision to move to Mumbai.
I asked her what kept her going all these years. "I want to be a travel journalist. I can go around the world, talking to my camera." I saw some of her photos from her previous trip, neatly arranged above her bed. I randomly picked one up and asked her about that. "This one's from Amsterdam." she told me. I just knew almost immediately that this meant something to her. I could see the spark in her eyes. 'I can forget about almost everything if I am travelling. All my problems, all my issues disappear when I am out there exploring.'
I sat there looking at her hands, the tattoo of the 'Last Leaf' inspired by O. Henry's book, is her last hope. She told me how it kept her going, living each day, never knowing when it would her last.
I had taken out just an hour of my schedule to know more about her tattoos, that was it. Little did I know that I was going to spend 3 hours talking to this stranger. My life problems seemed to fade away. Through all these years, she has kept going, falling and picking herself up, holding her head high and moving on. I knew I couldn’t do anything for her, other than supporting her.
Mental health is often paid the least attention in India. Very few people understand about the problems revolving around mental health. It’s high time we educate ourselves about mental health. Not necessarily for those facing problems, but for ourselves.
As for me, I had walked in to talk with a stranger, but I left happy, sad, surprised, confused, all at once. I now have a friend to confide in, a friend to care for.
My friend Mridu.
By Chinar Mote