Writings / Drama

My Life, Too Pro-per

“Man is born free but everywhere he finds himself frozen under the medical gaze”

(Foucault The Birth of the Clinic trans.  Sheridan Smith, 1973)



Dr (Mrs.) X. A psychiatrist

Lalit Sabhavat-Damodaran (LSD). A research scholar

Shastri. Attender

Guards and Nurses

(Announcement, off stage): This is an excerpt from a conversation that I, L.S.D (Lalit Sabhavat-Damodaran), had with Dr (Mrs.) X, a psychiatrist and HOD at one of the most prestigious mental health institutions in the world.

Me: (Standing at the door of the Psychiatry Department and looking inside) Excuse me Ma’am, may I come in?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Wait! (To the attender) Shastri, bring a hot cup of coffee for me, and get a pair of paper-tissues wrapped around it ok? You bring the coffee on a plate; you don’t know how hot it is to hold it. (Attender leaves. She looks at me) Now you may come in.

Me: Good morning Ma’am. My name is L.S.D. I am what you call a research scholar… I had a few questions and problems which had been bothering me lately, so I thought I would come and see you.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Wouldn’t it be better L.S.D if you went through the official procedure and get admitted first? I would personally come to your ward and hear you out. The wards in the in-patient department have been empty of late.

Me: (A little confused) My problems and questions are academic ones, related to research. They are not clinical problems so to speak.

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Suddenly) What?

Me: Ma’am, I’d taken the appointment the other day. I’m a student of Dr Y who’s my research guide. I believe you had asked me to come and see you on Monday, the 9th of October, at ten O’ clock.

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Relaxing, like a pillar of salt melting into the river Ganges) Oh you are that L.S.D! How is Dr Y doing?

Me: Oh he’s fine Ma’am. He said that you would have answers to all my questions.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Poor Dr Y, he’s gotten into the habit of praising others whenever he wants a favour from others. He used to do that even when he was in the college. Rosy cheeked young girls that we were we used to fall for his flattery.

Me: Oh… (A defence-mechanism smile)

Dr (Mrs.) X: Never mind… (Taking off the glasses) Tell me, what are your questions?

Me: I have a feeling that psychiatrists are… Um, may I take a seat first?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Wait. Pull the chair with the right hand – you’re holding the files with your left! – to four inches. Then you can squeeze in between the table and the chair. I don’t want my table to be shaken – it’s already rickety – or my pens and pencils in the pen stand rattled. It gives me the creeps.

Me: Oh by all means. (I pull the chair behind and it screeches)

Dr (Mrs.) X: Oh can you please avoid that horrible sound? I have a weird sensation in my jaws whenever I hear it.

Me: I’m sorry. (I sit and place my folders on the table) So I was saying that I feel that the psychiatrists are control addicts…

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Snappily) Could you please remove your files from the table. As you might know my coffee will be arriving shortly. I don’t want the hot coffee to spill by accident and spoil your records.

Me: Oh I am sorry! (I pull the file on to my lap) This is the little hypothesis that I have worked out: psychiatrists are control addicts. What do you have to say about that?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Substantiate!

Me: Um… well this is a hypothesis… and that is precisely what I intend to do with it…

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Snapping on me and articulating each word with a time gap of one third of a second between each syllable) Substantiate it with scientific argument.

Me: Oh yes; yes. You see I came to this conclusion after reading the personal interviews of many psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. A single author – I have forgotten his name – has interviewed all these people and has compiled the interviews in a book. In all the interviews he has asked one general question: what made these people take up psychiatry or clinical psychology as a career, and the answer most of the times has been to control or modify the lives of people around them, along with the other reason of wanting to help people. So that is how I came to the conclusion that psychiatrists are control addicts.

Dr (Mrs.) X: You don’t remember the name of the author… do you at least remember the name of the book?

Me: No Ma’am, I’m sorry to say that I don’t, not right now, at this moment.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Well, Mr. L.S.D I must tell you that it’s a serious mistake to start or undertake any research without proper references.

Me: I understand that Ma’am. I’m sorry about it.

Dr (Mrs.) X: No use Mr. L.S.D. Pleading guilty in court might reduce the years that you have to serve in prison but not here. Here, a sentence missed qualifies you to receive a sentence.

Me: I’m genuinely sorry about it Ma’am. I can assure you that my references are all intact, I have a list of books that I have read regarding this topic at home; it’s just that I can’t remember it now.

Dr (Mrs.) X: I suggest you abort this project right now. I can see that it’s morbidly affecting you. It’s giving you amnesia.

Me: What?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Selective amnesia to be precise. What did you have for breakfast in the morning?

Me: What?

Dr (Mrs.) X: I’m testing your memory. Answer my question.

Me: Dal and chapatti, and a glass of Horlicks.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Horlicks? You still drink Horlicks?

Me: Well, it’s my mom; she says that as long as I’m a student I should drink Horlicks. It’s rich in iron she says which is necessary to keep the brain sharp.

Dr (Mrs.) X: I see, I see. So let us look at it like this: you are being forced by your mother to get addicted to a beverage called Horlicks which she believes will stimulate your brain cells to keep you sharp and alert. So the converse of this particular theory would be: if you stop consuming this particular beverage called Horlicks you will cease to be sharp, which, in turn, compels you to consume this beverage throughout your life. That, in psychiatric parlance, is dependence. Right now Mr. L.S.D we have only alcoholic and drug dependence listed in our DSM IV-R but there are many other substances which a person can, will and does become addicted to. Why don’t you do a research on ‘The addiction of school and college going children to milk beverages, and the influence of paternal – esp. maternal – pressure in inducing this addiction’? Hmm… you have a good topic there.

Me: Very original. Yeah. Well I must say Ma’am that I’m not intellectually equipped enough to tackle such a heavy and complex topic. Well Dr Y was right, you’re full of ideas!

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Smugly) So I am. (The attender comes in with the coffee with two paper napkins wrapped neatly around the stainless steel glass) Shastri, ask Mr. L.S.D whether he would like to have a taste of the beverage consumed by the grown-ups.

Me: (Feeling awkward) Oh no, thanks.

Attender: Have Sir, I have one flask full of coffee!

Me: Oh, no, please. Thanks so much.

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Again) You see this is the beverage of the grown-ups. (Snappily) Now that you don’t want to drink coffee, shall we say good bye to each other? I want to sip my coffee in solitude and contemplate about the cases that I might have to see in the near future.

Me: Well Ma’am I have a few more problems… er… topics to discuss if the first one stands rejected.

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Forcefully) It is rejected Mr. L.S.D

Me: Ok. This is my next hypothesis. We never come across animals or birds having schizophrenia or OCD or BPD. So if animals don’t have these major mental disorders then these disorders are specific to human species. Considering the fact that these disorders are specific to homo sapiens do you think the cause of these disorders lie within the artificially-created complexities of our society rather than the cause being an innate or biological one?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Shut up!

Me: Sorry Ma’am?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Shut up, Mr. L.S.D!

Me: I will. But why?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Who told you that animals don’t have schizophrenia? That they don’t hallucinate or have delusions?

Me: A friend of my cousin is a veterinary doctor. I had a series of discussions with him on the topic. And he said that he has never come across any disorder either in the text or in actual fact which meets the description of schizophrenia, OCD, BPD or any other disorder mentioned in DSM IV-R.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Well then he is wrong! I will tell you why.

Me: Yes, Ma’am.

Dr (Mrs.) X: You know I had this dog – Chivvy was its name – which I received from my husband as a gift on my 27th birthday. It was a little puppy when I got it, so I had the wonderful opportunity to condition it thoroughly, based on Pavlovian and Skinnerian principles. I had trained it, groomed it and had taught such impeccable manners that it was a class apart: the finest and the most elevated example of the dog species.

Me: (As she looks at me. Admiringly) Oh!

Dr (Mrs.) X: I had poured all my knowledge to assure its pro-per development, I made sure that it reached the milestones of development much before the standard milestones set for dogs, so that, as it grew, it reached ever greater levels of growth and development, the kind of growth which was considered impossible for dogs.

Me: (Again admiringly) Ah!

Dr (Mrs.) X: And it was at least a hundred times as obedient as my own son was. There was no irrational barking or running about, no over indulgence in licking the hands and showing affection, and no overeating and messing up the house. It was almost like a remote-control-car, it would stand when I asked it to stand, it would walk when I asked it to walk and when I asked it to eat, it would eat. I must confess that I have never been able to replicate this kind of consistent conditioning over any of my patients in my twenty years of service.

Me: (Baffled and amazed, faintly) Wow

Dr (Mrs.) X: Having achieved so much… (Suddenly noticing the cup of coffee on the table) Let me finish my coffee first, it will grow cold.

Me: Sure, sure.

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Empties the cup and wiping her lips with a hanky) Where was I?

Me: You were telling that in spite of training the dog so heavily…

Dr (Mrs.) X: Yeah, in spite of having trained the dog so much I was astonished and shocked to see it running after our neighbour’s dog Minnie, when I had taken it to the park for an evening stroll. I was outraged.

Me: Outraged?

Dr (Mrs.) X: You ask me why? Are you, Mr. L.S.D, asking me why I was outraged?

Me: No, not exactly, it is quite understandable, really…

Dr (Mrs.) X: You see I had spent my entire learning in teaching this dog manners; I had dreams of taking it to Olympics for Pets and Domesticated Animals, and this dog, the moment it smelled the scent of opposite sex, threw all the training into thin air, and started running like any other Road Romeo stalking the streets. How could have I tolerated that? If I hadn’t expressed my rage I would have turned that rage inwards and would have fallen into chronic depression.

Me: What did you do?

Dr (Mrs.) X: What would I do? I dragged the doggie home. Gave it a shower in ice-cold water – for it was in heat you see – and flogged it within an inch of its life. I taught the bastard what it meant to flout my training.

Me: Then?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Now we come to the most interesting part of the story, one which answers your question. The dog’s speech and manners completely changed from that day. It began to bark unnecessarily, it would growl and bristle even when I went to feed it, and began messing up the house in the most outrageous fashion, crapping on the sofa, in the kitchen and even on my bed.

Me: How – how does it answer my question?

Dr (Mrs.) X: Can’t you see? The dog which had been thoroughly groomed to be a part of the civilization suddenly went berserk due to prolonged brooding over a short exposure to sexual stimulus. This brooding caused it to forget everything, all that it had learnt since its puppy-hood, and it became amnesic: an amnesic of the dissociative kind.

Me: Amnesia?

Dr (Mrs.) X: So that disproves your hypothesis that dogs, cats and other animals do not have mental illness.

Me: That’s exactly where you are missing the point Ma’am. I think the dog became amnesic, as you say, or went berserk, in general, because it fell into human company. Left on its own, left to act its own mind, the dog I’m sure would have led quite a fulfilling life with its wife and children.

Dr (Mrs.) X: That’s bold of you Mr. L.S.D to suggest that it was I who made the dog go crazy.

Me: I don’t mean it personally Ma’am, in general, I feel that animals remain sound mentally until they are forced to live up to the irrational expectations and demands of human conduct.

Dr (Mrs.) X: What?

Me: Same is the case with humans. Humans are intelligent animals with the same physical and psychological needs as that of an animal. But we neglect it, deny it and polish ourselves so thin that mentally we grow fragile and brittle, vulnerable to break at the smallest of life’s jabs or blows.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Stop it, stop it, stop it Mr. L.S.D. You’re going to give me a nose bleed! (Clutching her nose with her hanky) Are you trying to say that all my training to discipline human nature to a state of normalcy is worthless? Are you implying that we should make way for animal nature to take over us and that we should go back to the trees and prance and chatter and tease?

Me: Sorry Ma’am you’re implying too much from what I said. I said we have the same physical and emotional needs as the animals. Normalcy is a return to the state where we genuinely accept and acknowledge our needs, where we become whole, where we feel the inner stirrings to flourish and grow. Normalcy is not a game of numbers, it is not statistics, it is not the average set of characteristics of all those who fall in the middle of Normal Probability Curve. If that is the case then, think of a situation like this: if 80% of the population had T.B and cancer then those having T.B and cancer would be normal, and those not having it, those who are healthy, would be abnormal. It’s not as simple as that Mrs. X, you should have known better.

Dr (Mrs.) X: Ah! (Screams) My nose is bleeding! (Clutching her nose with her hanky and wiping the blood off the nose)

(Trying to change her voice to a cold, measured one)

Mr. L.S.D after hearing all that you said I’m convinced beyond words that you need psychiatric help. You’re an intelligent person but unfortunately you’re using it against yourself; you’re giving in to the irrational forces which are forcing you to turn your face away from normalcy and civilization. I think you just had an acute attack of paranoid schizophrenia. (Presses the bell) Shastri! Shastri! (As the attender looks in through the door) Call the nurses; we have a new case here.

Me: (Standing up and gathering the files) That’s your escape mechanism – defense mechanism – isn’t it? Look at you bleeding in the nose. That’s not your nose which is bleeding, that’s your conscience.

Dr (Mrs.) X: You’re a clinical case Mr. L.S.D. It was a mistake to take your words so seriously.

Me: Look, have you ever wondered why you are forced to be so obtuse in your speech? Why your speech is always directed at shutting the other person down? It’s because you cannot stand a straight human conversation: because acknowledging the humanity of an other person requires acknowledging one’s own humanity first.

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Loudly) Shastri, hurry up! You might also require some guards.

(Three nurses and two guards run into the room. Shastri looks on, astonished) Hunh, take this man up to room number 101 and keep him in restraint. Careful, he might become violent.

Me: (Drawing out a pen from my pocket; coolly) Whoever tries to touch me, I’m going to slit his bloody throat and hang him up the gates of this hospital like halaal sheep. Back off! No one moves until I walk out of this building.

Guard 1: (One of the guards looks at Mrs. X and asks) Ma’am?

Dr (Mrs.) X: (Wiping her bleeding nose and clutching it with her hanky) Let him go! Just make him leave at once!

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