World Schizophrenia Day: Five years to cross the road…
“You are a fraudster. You want to take away my property. You son of...”
Ramesh-bhai was interrupted by a hand covering his mouth from behind. His brother Rahul, pulled him back and using great force brought him inside the house.
This was the third time, in last two months, that Ramesh-bhai had gone on a tirade of abuses against the neighbours particularly Mansoor who had once curiously enquired with Rahul (studying for CA finals) about the price the houses in their society could fetch.
Mansoor was planning to shift to a new city for his textile business.
Ramesh-bhai had overheard this conversation from his bedroom and came to believe that Mansoor wanted to take away their home. In the following days, this suspicion kept grew in Ramesh-bhai’s mind so much that he decided to take this matter head-on, and started hurling abuses at Mansoor in front of everyone creating a big ruckus.
A couple of years back, Ramesh-bhai had lost his job as a supervisor in a diamond polishing firm after having a heated argument with some of his colleagues at workplace whom he had accused of harassing him, but the allegations were found to be baseless. Since then, he would do some odd jobs. But most of the time he would either stay at home or keep wandering outside aimlessly.
Sometimes, he would be seen smiling inappropriately while smoking cigarettes on the terrace of his single-storeyed house.
Ramesh-bhai, 30, was a B. Com graduate, who stayed at home with his mother Kanta-ben and younger brother Rahul. He was married five years back, but a few months after the marriage, his wife left him for another man. This had left Ramesh-bhai very depressed.
Since then, his family members had started observing that he would become angry on small matters and had started smoking cigarettes and would occasionally consume alcohol. He would stay by himself and not interact much with anyone in the home or their neighbourhood.
One day when he was walking on the road to his workplace, he overheard someone laughing on the street. Ramesh-bhai turned around, became very angry and started abusing that man, as he believed he was mocking at him as his wife had left him for another man.
In the last few months, his behaviour had started to become even more alarming as he was acting out on his suspicions.
Today, Rahul was scared, that if somehow Ramesh-bhai managed to escape from home that night, he might attack Mansoor. With the help of his friends in the neighbourhood, he managed to restrain Ramesh-bhai to the bed on which he was sleeping.
Understandably, Ramesh-bhai became very agitated and started pulling violently at the ropes. But they were tied a bit too tightly for him to escape. As he started shouting, people began gathering around their home, and Rahul felt very embarrassed.
Rahul was reminded of that horrific night, 15 years ago, when he was merely a six-year-old child. Imagining that scene, itself terrified him. His father in a fit of rage had damaged the household goods and then had started running outside on the road wildly when he was hit by a car and lost his life.
Their lives had turned upside down that day.
With nobody to support them, their mother had brought them up with much effort and made many sacrifices to make the two ends meet. Rahul stopped his trail of thoughts and focused on the task at hand.
Despite being a bright student, he had been convinced by the neighbours and some distant relatives that the spirit of his father had embodied Ramesh-bhai, which was making him do all this. Being brought up in a culture which believed in the stories of fairies, ghosts and spirits; Rahul gave in to this idea. With the insistence of some neighbours, he decided to take Ramesh-bhai to an exorcist, who stayed at the Kali Dargah, in a village 35 km away from their home.
By then Ramesh-bhai had started to become very agitated and had started spitting on anyone who even came near. With great force, Rahul and five of his friends tied his hands and feet together with a rope and also shut his mouth with tape.
He was then lifted from his bed, and kept inside a car of one of the neighbours before they drove to the Kali Dargah. It was dark when they reached the place, and by then Ramesh-bhai had relented and had fallen asleep.
The fakir, sitting beside a large sacrificial fire, wearing a black kurta with red threads tied around his wrists, seemed like straight out of an Indian horror film. He appeared to be in a state of trance.
One of Rahul’s friend who had previously visited the place, knew the fakir personally and offered his salutations to him. He bowed down, touched his feet and said, “Baba, my friend Rahul and his family are in great trouble. Rahul’s brother, we think has been attacked by the spirit of his father and that’s making him do strange things. Please help him.”
The fakir opened his dark and brooding eyes, took a cursory glance at Ramesh-bhai, who was sleeping peacefully on the backseat of the car. He took out some holy water, chanted a mantra and went near the car. He sprinkled some water and Ramesh-bhai woke up startled and frightened at the same time. The appearance of the fakir was enough to frighten any living soul.
Ramesh-bhai begged for the fakir to let him ego.
The fakir laughed aloud and said, “This ghost is very coward. He has started begging for mercy. Take him home.”
He chanted a mantra and took out a black thread from his pocket and tied it around Ramesh-bhai’s wrist. Rahul and his friend were relieved that the spirit had been set free by the holy-man. They bowed down to him and made him a donation of INR 1,000 for the Dargah.
They were asked to stay alert for the next few weeks as the spirit will try to re-enter the body.
However, the spirit would completely go away if Ramesh-bhai was brought there for the next two consecutive new moons for a ritual that would set the ghost-free.
Ramesh-bhai was calmer, and no one could fathom what was going inside his mind. He was very frightened of this new development, and soon he started to argue with his brother and started accusing him of trying to make him mad and plotting to kill him.
Rahul didn’t bother much, as he recalled the words of the fakir and thought this was a normal response of the spirit which was still around.
As the new moon night approached, Rahul began preparations to take Ramesh-bhai to the fakir. He brought the ropes and arranged a car for the same.
Sensing the abnormality, Ramesh-bhai ran away from home. Rahul searched for him, frantically. He called out his friends and all of them went to search for him but to no avail.
Finally, they decided it was time they seek the help of police. They went to the nearby police station late at night and lodged a complaint.
On learning the story, Inspector Rathore was convinced that the missing person was suffering from a psychiatric disorder. After a search of four hours, Ramesh-bhai was found hiding on the top of a tree near their house. He was keenly keeping an eye on the activities of Mansoor whose home was visible from the treetop.
After some coaxing, Ramesh-bhai was brought down from the tree by the police. When Rathore asked him why he was sitting on the treetop, Ramesh-bhai replied that he had been doing so since many days after he got to know that Mansoor wanted to confiscate his property.
Upon descending the tree, he started pleading to the police to save him from Mansoor bhai and his brother Rahul who wanted to tie him up with ropes and throw in a jungle and then they would confiscate the house and make money.
Rathore pacified him and asked the struggling man to come with him. Without wasting much time, the police team comforted Ramesh-bhai and escorted him to their jeep.
They brought him to the psychiatry department of the civil hospital which was across the road, less than 300 metres from Ramesh-bhai’s home.
Meanwhile, Rahul and his friends also followed them and reached the place. The attending resident doctor took the history from the brother and the police, and at once knew he was dealing with a case of schizophrenia here.
It was really unfortunate, that despite clear signs of the illness, the family had taken five years to come to them; to the right place.
Ramesh-bhai was admitted in the psychiatry department and the treatment was initiated. After three weeks of oral antipsychotic medications and electroconvulsive therapy, which is one of the safest and most effective forms of treatment, Ramesh-bhai started showing significant improvement.
He started to care for himself, slept better. For the first time in many years, he even hugged his brother Rahul when he came to meet him at the hospital.
A teary-eyed Rahul realised that education wasn't just about securing marks and attaining positions. Rather the real objective of education is its practicality. It enables you to make sound decisions in your life. Unfortunately, it had taken him five long years to cross the road.
Schizophrenia is a neuropsychiatric disorder with a prevalence rate of 1-2 per cent globally across all societies in which the sufferer experiences mental and behavioural disturbances like delusions which is a fixed, false, firm belief usually involving persecutory or paranoid themes and also hallucinations which is the perception in the absence of a stimulus.
In the majority of the cases of schizophrenia, these hallucinations are auditory, meaning the sufferer can hear voices of people talking to him/about him. Schizophrenia occurs due to interplay between genetic risk factors like a family history of psychiatric illness and substance use and environmental risk factors like major life stressors which act as a trigger.
While there are many theories why schizophrenia occurs, not one theory is related to spirits/ghosts. Schizophrenia can be managed by psychiatrists and not by exorcists. Early diagnosis and treatment favour the prognosis, so it is best to initiate treatment immediately following the slightest sign of behavioural disturbance.
May 24 marks the World Schizophrenia Day.
(Dr Devasish Palkar is currently working as a second-year MD resident in the Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Surat.)