Thursday, December 15, 2011


The kind looking man sitting across me was saying that these are just the beginnings of symptoms of OCD. “I am fairly sure these can be treated without medications. Lets look at a more holistic approach...”  For the next three quarters of an hour, he took me through my personal issues, gently counselling me at every stage till I was fairly convinced that I am a healthy person with a healthy mind and I can live a normal life.

The trigger (I am not completely sure about this) was a power point presentation I had seen in my son’s school as part of their culmination day activity. The presentation showed the grave consequences of misuse of water with the prediction of a doomsday just 50 years from now when our children would have less than 1 glass of fresh water a day to drink. Such predictions are always exaggerated, based on highly approximated figures but that did not help to lighten my mood as I walked out from the room with horrifying images plaguing my mind. That was a year ago.

Now, a year later, I am suddenly greeted by dark thoughts sneaking into my mind. What if all the water resource of the world gets depleted in a few decades? What will happen to our kids, and their kids? Then one day I get stuck in a real bad traffic jam and anxiety knocks on the doors of my mind. How many thousands of new cars hit the road every day? What if when my kids are grown, the roads are so full of traffic that no-one can ever reach anywhere? I see an aeroplane flying high and wonder how much fuel it must consume per flight. Then, before I know it, the treacherous thoughts invade my mind. How long would the energy resources of the planet last? What will happen to the rain cycle once when all forests are cleared for urbanisation? Will there be enough fresh air to breathe in the near future or will our grand kids have to wear oxygen masks? And so on, the thoughts become stronger every day. They baffle me with their persistent energy. They rock and torture my mind, giving rise to a whole lot of uncontrollable anxiety. I am unsure as what to do. I am incapable of showering, eating, thinking. I want to fast-forward my life to see what happens. I panic at how to get through the day. I cannot discuss this madness with anyone out of fear that I would be laughed at. At last, out of desperation, I confide in my husband. He suggests that we seek professional help.

The first doctor I consult talks with me for precisely five minutes. She concludes that I have OCD and prescribes three medicines which I have to take for a long time. I hesitate. I google the definition of OCD and get the following...Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviours aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.” I study the symptoms of OCD, they all seem to match my condition.

My husband suggests that I seek a second opinion. After giving it a thought I decide to reach out to an old friend whom I can trust. She helps me immediately with the reference of a ‘wonderful’ doctor who had helped her mother in the past. And that is how I find myself sitting across this kind looking man, late one Saturday evening. He is talking to me. He wants to listen to everything that matters to me. He takes time to talk to my husband. He suggests to me to break the monotony of my everyday life, to try and do things differently. While talking to him I realise that I have been very lonely for very long. I had felt pangs of loneliness when my husband would be away on his profession (he is a sailor) and a different kind of loneliness even when I am surrounded by people. I had given up a blooming career in advertising eight years ago to devote myself to the children. I guess I had started to structure a routine to make my life easier but in the process my days have become predictable, monotonous.

I walk out feeling that I am normal, perfect. I will try to live more spontaneously as I used to. We stop for ice-cream before heading home. I see an aeroplane flying. I don’t panic. For the next few weeks I am a happier, more relaxed person. I don’t arrest the thoughts when they knock on my mind; I greet them and say hello to them and tell them I don’t need them. I follow all the instructions of my doctor. I meditate. I laugh loudly and freely.

Then one day out of curiosity, I decide to do some research online; not the most reliable source, but still. I discover that we have plundered this planet and depleted one-thirds of its total resources over the last three decades. Our extravagant and wasteful lifestyles (especially of the developed nations) are fast upsetting the delicate natural balance and cycles. No amount of technology can make life sustainable beyond this century if the current rates of wastage of resources continue.

Some of the dark foreboding anxiety grips me. I am on the edge of panic. Then my daughter runs in with a paper and crayons and I immediately visualise a lovely life bringing up my kids with joy. I know that I can deal with my thoughts, I know that technology will advance fast enough to provide an answer to every problem mankind may have, I know that if I have faith, the Universe is a great provider.

I am normal now. I ask myself some perfectly sane questions which any person of sound mental health may contemplate without panicking. “Is it really necessary to stretch the gifts of nature to the limit?” “Are continuous materialistic aspirations and fulfilment making us continuously happier?” “Now that the wheel has been set to motion, can any power stop it, or control it?”

My daughter begins to passionately colour the sky a lovely shade of blue. I sincerely pray that it stays that way. I know I am normal but another stray thought sneaks in through the backdoor of my mind and I wonder, “Are the world and the vast humanity that dominates it normal? If so, why are they not panicking?”

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Shoe Keeper

The building was old but comfortable. The ceilings were low. There was a basement and four floors, the top one being reserved exclusively for minor surgical procedures. The ground floor lodged the reception, the enquiry and billing counters, the pathological lab and a waiting area. The waiting area comprised of two narrow corridors with chairs on both sides. It was here that I sat while I waited for my number to be announced. I had an appointment with the ENT specialist and the doctor was late.

From where I was sitting, I could see the balcony at the entrance with the rows of open racks for keeping the shoes. It reminded me of a temple. This medical center had a rule wherein patients and visitors were required to remove their shoes before they enter. The man attending the shoe racks is about fifty. He has a big grin permanently spread across his face. Whenever I visit the medical center, I am immediately greeted by that grin while he courteously directs me to the rack where I should keep my shoes, handing me over the token with the corresponding number. Sometimes when all the shelves are full, he reaches out to take my sandals and keeps them in a corner on the floor while announcing, “No token required Bhabi, I will take care of these.” 

My attention now shifts from the shoe keeper to the harried mother who has just entered noisily carrying a baby in her arms while holding the hand of an older child. She plonks down on an empty chair with a huge sigh but only for a second. Her elder child runs off towards the staircase and she runs after her while the baby in her arms starts wailing.

I am bored and my eyes rest on the man sitting across me who had been having a long conversation on his phone for quite some time. From his tone and a few words I catch, I figure that his conversation is about business. He is starting to get agitated and his tone loses some of the earlier politeness. Soon, I can make out, he has embarked on an argument. He is almost screaming now.

The chair next to mine had been so long occupied by a woman. She had been waiting patiently since even before I came along with her husband who was sitting on her other side. Now the husband had begun to lose his patience. He gets up with an expletory under his breath and begins to pace the corridors. 

The harried mother is back by now feeding biscuits from a snack box to her child. There is a slight commotion near the billing counter and I can hear raised voices. Invariably, there must have been a confusion as to who was standing where in the long queue.

I look at my watch. It strikes me that I have waited for nearly three quarters of an hour. By this time I could have completed a household chore or two. The man dressed like an executive who has waited for about twenty minutes was coming to the end of his patience. His time, I gather, is much more valuable than mine. He is constantly glancing at his watch and dialling on his cell phone.

My mind drifts. I idly ponder why everybody is so hassled. Is it really that they are missing out on something very crucial in life while spending their time here, waiting? I hear a muffled sob and notice for the first time a young girl sitting alone in the corner across me. Why was she crying? Is she facing some dreaded ailment? Is she afraid of what she may hear from the doctor? Has she been unlucky in love? My mind wanders aimlessly as I consider these possibilities. Maybe it was something else altogether. I wished I had brought along the book I had been trying to finish since ages. Oh, how I wish I had remembered to carry the book. At least I could have ‘utilised’ my time better.

There is a slight ruckus as a female attendant walks by carrying a trolley loaded with tea and snacks for the staff. I long for a cup of tea. The businessman on phone was now making a series of calls. His mood seemed to have gone sour. It must have been some money issue. I carelessly conclude that most of the tension we bear is either due to money or power or love; or rather attachments to these things. And love covers the whole gamut of relationship issues. I feel wise having reached this conclusion. But before I can ponder more on this, my doctor arrives. He is led by a nurse to his cabin upstairs. I am relieved. Now I don’t have to wait much longer. I start mentally to sum up my throat problem as I would state to the doctor.

A short while later, I am done with the doctor’s visit. I leave the place feeling relieved that my symptoms are nothing more than a minor infection. While I hand over my token, the shoe keeper flashes that permanent smile at me while he bends to retrieve my sandals from the lowest rack. I wonder for a moment what is it that keeps him so motivated to perform his routine dreary job, twelve hours a day, every day. Doesn’t he have any issues with money, power or love? His cheerfulness is too good to be true! I stop for a moment to return his smile and say ‘Thank You’. It strikes me that for the first time I had taken the time to do just that. Time after all is so precious! Besides me a lady is impatiently asking for her token. He turns from me to attend to her with the same eager smile. I suddenly see a sea of faces rush by, each holding its own thoughts, all of them wearing a mask of discontent and anxiety.

As I turn to leave, a small disabled boy with one leg comes hopping, leaning on a crutch. He addresses the shoe keeper as ‘Papa’ and asks for money to buy some food. The shoe keeper delves into his pocket and hands him a few coins telling him to buy a banana. I see a glimpse of fatherly love light up his face as he addresses the lame boy.

I leave. I realise that I am not wise enough. Some things must be more precious than cravings for money, power and love. I walk out completely ignorant yet with a strange feeling that today I have learned something new. Humanity is held together by an indomitable force that surpasses everything else, and truly wise are those who have found it.