• Publish Date: Jan 7 2017 8:27PM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 7 2017 8:46PM
BOOK EXCERPT: PsychosisBook Cover

Look at how many children you can have. Now you are going to have our children.

—Robert Fisk, The Rapes Went on Day and Night, The Independent, Feb 8, 1993

Rape is always torture.

—Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur, United Nations

Each receding paranoid trooper diminishes, shrivels and fades in the convex mirror of the 407 bus, dragging behind itself a long ribbon of the road. The road bends at Dalgate and stretches through the downtown of Srinagar. Sakeena is one of the thirty seated, standing, lurking, hanging, tired, baffled, happy, inscrutable, serious or garrulous passengers who cram the bus, pushing and nudging each other in the aisle. She makes it a point to spot each and every passing autorickshaw in the reflection of the side view mirror, read its registration number and especially scan the fashionable petty romantic Urdu couplet stencilled on its back. It is a habit she has nurtured over the years.

Sakeena shares half a grubby seat with an elderly fat lady. The lady has squeezed her so much that Sakeena feels breathless. A young woman stands in the overcrowded aisle, holding onto the roof handrail, stealing glances at Sakeena. Sakeena doesn’t care about the young woman’s staring at the careless way she conducts herself. That when Sakeena’s dupatta slips down her head, falls off her shoulder and begins to sweep the floor of the bus, she doesn’t care to lift it up. The young woman studies Sakeena’s raw beauty: her fair skin and sharp features—a straight, sleek, long nose, almond-shaped eyes under perfectly arched brows with the extra hair she has long given up tweezing. The woman stares at the plump contours of Sakeena’s cheeks and notices the prominent ugly oily pores on her nose.

Sakeena’s elder child, ten-year-old daughter Insha, has hennaed ducks on both of Sakeena’s palms. Her fingers are fair, her nails gnarled at their tips. Her sun- kissed hair is slightly dusty and loose over her temples. Although she has deprived herself of all jewellery and make-up, she still wears silver anklets. And a little silver stud glints in her right nostril. But her nose is a bit runny, causing her to occasionally snivel. A black thread with a rectangular amulet is her most prominent adornment.

A flat plastic bag sits on her lap. Before she alights at Rainawari Chowk, she fumbles for her medical prescriptions and reports, reassuring herself that she has carried them along. She is on her way to the Government Psychiatric Diseases’ Hospital, the only one of its kind in the valley of Kashmir. She has been visiting it for the last six years.

When she disembarks, her silver anklets jingle, commanding the attention of other passengers.

Today there are more patients than usual, jostling at the sparsely barred window which doubles as a reception counter of the Out Patient Department. She has to struggle to queue up behind a morose old woman—whose son, Sakeena learnt, has been killed in front of her eyes—and pass her consultation card to the assistant behind the window and collect the token for her turn.

Clusters of uniformed nurses return from the canteen after their noon tea, chatting and lightly chuckling. Some security guards are helping push an old man’s wheelchair up the cemented entrance ramp. The old man had stopped feeling his legs after an Army tanker ran over his only son. A woman, who pushes the wheelchair of the old man, waves a wet X-ray film of a skull in the air, drying it up. For some days now the paraplegic man has been butting walls. The neuropsychiatric consultant wanted a radiograph of the old man’s head. If it is confirmed that the man has hurt his skull, because he has also stopped speaking, it might lead to further investigations.

The white ambulance stands quietly in a section of the hospital compound shaded by a wall, uncertainly sleeping through its moments of peace for some indefinite time, its melted front tyres tilted right. The two old chinars behind the old barrack-like hospital building are completely leafless, the snow-crowned top of mount Harmukh behind them looms close in the view against a cerulean November sky.

Sakeena’s turn to enter Dr. Imtiyaz’s consultation chamber is just after a young man with frissons. She has been noticing him and his seizures for all the six years now. The man is accompanied by an elderly woman. He has been silent and shaking from the day he forgot to lower down a water boarded captive who had been suspended upside down in a police torture cell. That is what the elderly lady, who happens to be his mother, is narrating to everyone. The young man was a constable in the State Task Force—a special police wing in Kashmir constituted by the government to eliminate the militants—and had been on duty, watching over a dangling upside-down captive through one night, and had fallen asleep before he could loosen the captive’s rope and put him back on the ground. When he had woken up later, the captive was already dead.

Dr. Imtiyaz is glad about the improvement Sakeena has made over a long period of time. He crosses out the drugs he had earlier prescribed for her query seizures, but she has to continue taking Olanzapine 20 mg BD, twice a day, for her cycloid psychosis.

Six years ago when she was admitted to this hospital for acute onset of confusion, delusions, hallucinations, altered behaviour, pan anxiety, elation, happiness or ecstasy of high degree, self-blaming and mood swings—with her bleeding, razor-nicked wrists—she had to be literally tied to her bed in the general ward. The doctors and her attendants had been prepared for her transfer to the asylum section of the hospital, just in case. But after showing a reasonable comeback, she had stayed in the ward. And later that year, with some psychotic symptoms intact, she had birthed a baby boy, Bilal.

Considering Sakeena’s condition, Dr. Imtiyaz had been kind enough to adopt Insha for that crucial year, and taken care of her like he would of his own children. His twelve years of experience treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients had melted his heart, so much so that he had begun to sound irritatingly humane to his wife, relatives and friends. His patients visited him at home, some disturbed him at night. Besides free consultations, medicine and endless counselling, he had even started lending money and providing shelter to poor or distant patients and their attendants.

‘So, how do you feel now?’Dr. Imtiyaz asks.

(Excerpted from Scattered Souls, a collection of interlinked stories by Shahnaz Bashir) 


Book price: 399 INR

Pages: 192

Publisher: Fourth Estate HarperCollins

Available at Password Bookstore, Residency Road, Srinagar