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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


Bridging the chasm in mental health

A review of 'Beneath a Rougher Sea', Susmita Bagchi's novel about mental illness
Amandeep Sandhu

Noted Odia writer Susmita Bagchi’s latest novel, her first in the English language, Beneath A Rougher Sea, is a refreshing and important addition to the books in the field of mental health. In our society there exists a chasm right in the middle of the field of mental health. It is the chasm of ignorance defined by the walls of stigma. There is a great need for better communication and dissemination of knowledge to bridge the chasm between those who need care and the spaces where the professionals operate. Over the past decade or so there have been some accounts, texts and testimonials depicting the struggle of sufferers and caregivers. Yet, the third of the triad – the mental health care professionals – remain out of the ambit. Psychiatrists and other professionals, on whom the society finds it so easy to pin blame, do not narrate their stories.

Beneath a Rougher Sea  is the story of Aditya, a psychiatrist. The novel advances the narrative through dextrous use of Aditya’s medical cases. Given that it is about mind spaces and the plot line twists and turns with each case, a detailed summary will be a spoiler. The primary storyline is: Aditya is a successful doctor with private practice in Bengaluru. When he was a medical student, Aditya had feelings for Deepa. Deepa had married Naren and moved to London. Naren passed away suddenly. His young son Raj took the death badly. Deepa and Raj return to Bengaluru and Aditya treats Raj. Raj recovers. Deepa moves back to London. A while after all this, Aditya starts feeling a sense of loss and inadequacy. Does Aditya manage to recover? What does he do?

The strength of the writing lies in its simplicity and transparency. It is clear that behind the ease with language is the hard work Bagchi must have done during her extensive research on the symptoms, diagnoses and social aspects of each of the cases she depicts. Though the cases are complex and impact the world of the character, they do not overwhelm the readers. The narrative pull is in the reader wanting to know what happens to the characters and seeking resolution to their histories.

The range of cases is diverse. While Tanushree lives in a make believe world, Satish rues the loss of profits from his godwoman mother’s treatment which cures her of her mania. Das is one of the brilliant cases who manages not only his life but his work as a mental health activist by following the strict medicine regimen. Ali’s case is not solved because he abandons treatment. Smitha’s father worsens because his caregivers do not co-operate with the treatment process and listen to the doctor’s advice. Through the novel Bagchi walks the razor edge a psychiatrist walks in daily life. She ends up drawing out a balanced picture of the mental health profession. What comes through is the lonely battle each psychiatrist fights to keep the sanity of the world. Through dialogues between characters, without seeming forced, she brings to light the information patients and caregivers need to be able to handle their topsy-turvy lives and make decisions and break the shell of stigma around mental health.

There is a second narrative pull: now that Aditya is successful, what should he do next? He is married to Prachi who is also a doctor. She wishes that he expand his work, set up an institute, employ more doctors and experts. Aditya hesitates and silently even questions why Prachi and Das are being ambitious about him. This question lurks at the heart of the mental health practice in the country. That we have so few experts in the field and the issues and cases are growing exponentially, how can we, as a society, address the challenges in the field?

Beneath a Rougher Sea is also a deeply Bengaluru novel. It has a slightly lopsided but very healthy representation of different communities: Odias, Bengalis, Malayalis, and religious minorities. It is refreshing to note the story taking place in familiar locations like Koramangala and Bull Temple road. This too is essential in these times when not only our rural but even urban discourses are shrinking. In terms of style and language the novel works well. Though I would have sought to peep into Deepa’s recreated journal instead of it being summarized. I feel it would have created an interesting layer to the narrative. Overall, Beneath a Rougher Sea is a valiant effort and Bagchi deserves credit for bringing to light the untold side of psychiatric care in the society by featuring its heroes and basing a novel on them.

Amandeep Sandhu is the author of Sepia Leaves.   


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