Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Mentalman

Day 1

As I walked into that incredible room, various voices welcomed me. Those various voices, however, were not legible. To start with, I took them for just, Hi or How are you? type of exclamations, but later I realised they really were not legible.

Dr. Thomas began introducing me with the occupants of the room.

"He is Tony."

"That is Ray."

"And one sitting there is Malcom."

The introductions continued. I do not remember how I greeted them when our eyes met for the first time. Those emotionless, crazy eyes!

"And here we are! He is Warden Smith. Your caretaker."

"Helloo" I managed to say.

Was it a dream? No. It was not. It was finally happening to me then. At first I had shrugged off any possibility of such an impossible thing ever happening to me in my life. But then, who said wishes are always to be granted. This particular one, was certainly not granted anyway. Or at least it seemed like that.

I still was not able to grasp the depth of the situation. It was a wonderful morning in the spring. The trees were re-born with tender green-ness following the rules of nature. Some of the trees I saw were wearing bright yellow flowers on their branches too. But by then, I was already on my way to this place.

That's for the nature - as far as I was concerned, I was a fresh graduate. Raring to take up the challenges of professional life. With nice academic records in my bag, I was certain to get a good job in a well-to-do firm. In short, I was looking forward to life.

As for the fate, it had very different plans chalked up for me. Considering that you believe in what I say, I found myself most unfortunate that I had been declared mentally unfit. How this had happened, and most importantly, why this had happened were the questions drilling holes in my tiny brain. Without getting any traces of logical answer, that is.

I would have been rather better off if they had just marked my mental status with "unfit" stamp and let me alone. But fate had not had enough with me. I was detained my this mental institution and after various tests, they decided to lock me up in the institution for ever. No, not for ever: for as long as it took to cure me.

At this point, I am inclined to quote a cliche, and here it goes - they say, prevention is better than cure. Prevention and cure for what, I do not know.

"What are are your nayems?," was what I could decipher from what the middle-aged person standing next to me was saying.

"Um. I am Peter," I obliged him with my answer. Still thinking if mental illness took toll on grammatical skills.

"Oh. Hello, John!" was all that he had to say to me.

Strange, isn't it? Yes, it is quite strange. But then in this world, there is no law against strangeness. And at the place where I happened to be, I was just too happy to live with such trivial strangeness. Nice start, I wondered, was it?

After the introductions, Dr. Thomas led me to another room where I was introduced to yet another bunch of people. This time they greeted me with my name. I was glad at that.

And then the doctor showed me my bed, and closet. My world had been shrunk to this small place. No more open air! It was not dark altogether, but dark enough to feel sad. I don't quite understand why they can't have pleasant place for people like them, well, people like us, who need the best possible environment for recovery.

Thinking of recovery, I asked my doctor: when I could leave that horrible place.

He smiled, and said, "As soon as you get well, sonny!"

Then and there, I decided to get well : as soon as I could.

But then it was not so simple either. When you know the enemy, you can treat it with due respect and overcome it. I could not see my enemy, or the decease that is. How was I supposed to get well as soon as possible, when I was already well. Illogical, it may sound, but the whole situation I was in was not logical in first place, then why fret over logic!

By the time I had settled- unpacked my bags and arranged them in order, I had a visitor. The fellow from the next bed was very much interested in the things I had brought. Mostly books, and a few photographs, a music player and my favourite pen was all I could bring in. I was still thinking all this was a joke, but did not know would turn out to be a life-changer.

The visitor was awed at seeing books. I thought he had forgotten to read and couldn't see any utility of those. These were mostly classics, I told T. He had told me his name was T, and not D as I had pronounced. After the Peter-John incidence I had decided to be very careful about names.

"What are classics, Peter?," was his question.

I thought this was a very sane question, and said, classics are those which go beyond time. They are remembered and are relevant in almost any era.

"Are we classics also? Will we be remembered for ever?"

"I don't know T, but who knows!"

"I like you Peter, you are different."

I felt better and felt re-assured that I could prove it and get out of that place soon.


"Yeah, you are far worse!" T added, much to my frustration.

I decided I needed to get used to such talk. I decided to expect it, for there was no way of avoiding it.

Noon was the time for lunch. Four O'clock was time for tea and then seven-thirty was the supper, I was told by the warden. The lunch was rather good. But the way it was relished was awful. I am sure the warden had a tough time managing the table. And then I wondered, that was my first day there, and I was getting so much frustrated -- what about the sane warden! I decided I respected him for his patience and diligence towards the work.

At the four O'clock tea gathering, when the guy next to me spilled hot tea on my shirt, I was angry. Why should he take my cup and spill it all over? Fortunately tea was not boiling hot or otherwise I would have taken my anger out on him. I patiently excused myself and washed off the dark brown fluid. By the time I was back on my seat, the guy on left on me decided he had enough of discipline and spilled his own tea on my shirt.

This time I went back, washed off the tea yet again. Upon returning, I filled my cup with the remaining tea in the kettle and emptied the cup on Ray's trousers.

Things like these happened every now and then. The drawing room was never spared of noise, and I could not concentrate on reading. Then I decided to give up reading for the day as it was getting time for dinner anyway.

I was shocked at seeing the same menu for the dinner. Boiled potatoes, something resembling a dilute soup, and bread. And boy, how well we enjoyed it! Guys around me seemed happy about the food, one even asked the warden what the occasion was for the special food! I thought, well, let me enjoy the moment, assuming it was some special occasion. And I did. I even thanked the warden for the good food.

By the end of first day, I thought I had behaved well and scored a few points for myself. Well, unfortunately, I had got all that wrong.

[to be continued]

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