Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shattered Mind

It's been 10 days since I saw Woh Lamhe, but the film continues to haunt me still. More than the film, it's Kanagana Ranaut's schizophrenic character the refuses to leave me. While this is surely a tribute to her acting talent, the real reason is that her honest and real portrayal of the character brought alive long forgotten memories. I've met a few people who felt that her character in the film was weird and quite unbelievable, but having come in close contact with a person affected by schizophrenia I know very well how 'weird' a schizophrenic can appear to others.

When I was in college, there was a guy in my immediate circle of friends who was schizophrenic. We all used to have great fun at his expense and lost no opportunity to pull his legs and tease him. On his part, he was quite sporting and never took offence. He seemed perfectly normal, but somewhere in the second year we could feel that his behaviour and reactions were gradually inching beyond the limits of normality. Soon he started behaving 'weirdly' with his insinuations that we - all his closest friends - were conspiring against him. We thought it was just his over-reaction to our leg-pulling and didn't give much heed. But after a while, we observed that he started pulling himself away from our group. He started believing that his room in the hostel was haunted and he was shit scared to sleep there at night, so much so that he would beg people to let him sleep in their rooms at night. There was more to come. He started telling everyone that someone was throwing a dead cat in his room at night. One morning we found him shouting at the sweeper because he had started believing that it was the sweeper who took the dead cat away from his room every morning, so that people think he's going mad. Now we knew for sure that things were indeed serious, so we took him back to his parents. I must add that all this while, he was perfectly normal most of the time except when his hallucinations suddenly took centrestage. Finally, he had to drop out from the college and we never heard of him again.

It's been 18 years since that time. I had completely forgotten about this, till I saw Woh Lamhe and was immediately transported back in time.

Schizophrenia is a complex psychiatric condition that hasn't been completely understood. While it is largely known to be genetic, there is no way one can predict the exact cause that triggers that condition - it could be a curious mix of genetic, environment and neurobilogical causes. What's worse, it cannot be cured. I has to be managed.

The word Schizophrenia is derived from Greek, literally meaning 'Split Mind', or better still - 'Shattered Mind". Not only does it 'split' the sufferer's mind in that the affected person starts living in alternate reality where he/she has hallucinations and delusions and is convinced about things/events that do not exist, it also completely 'shatters' the lives of the victim and those close to him/her.

Just imagine what it would feel like to see things that everyone around you says do no exist! Instead of empathy, the obvious reaction of people - as I must confess it was mine too - is to laugh it off and calling the person 'mad'. Actually, patients of schizophrenia have to be treated with a great deal of empathy and compassion. One has to maintain a balance between caring and being overly sympathetic, which can have an adverse impact as well. In that respect I think Shiney Ahuja did a brilliant job in the movie in achieving that fine balance.