Saturday, October 27, 2007

Eternal Sunshine of the Inscrutable Mind

This is the male ward of the occupational therapy and rehabilitation center that we are visiting for a psychology field trip, macabre as that sounds. Twenty-four students and one very attractive teacher – they are not used to so much female energy, one might say. We have been warned not to startle, provoke, or offend the “clients", as a result of which silence hangs heavy in the air along with much fidgeting and sideways-glances.

The inmates speak about their stay here, and I let my eyes travel. The one on the left is wearing bright blue slippers. He slides his feet out of them as he speaks, then slides them back in again, so that I can see a repetitive pattern of skin-blue-skin-blue-skin-blue. This is something that I would do at home, that anyone would do unconsciously, but here all actions are automatically accounted for as unnatural. A slight twitching of an eyebrow is a signal, the scratching of a wrist an omen. The one who is speaking has funny ears that stick out of his head. I smile silently at this curiously eager man who is telling us about his vocational training classes. And then I see him. He sits there, last in a row of five, surveying us visitors with a languorous elegance so unlike the others. I follow his gaze. While we have been studying the other clients, he has been surveying us. He sizes up every face, cool as steel, mentally passes a judgment, and moves on.

I do not like the way these men have been lined up against a wall like prisoners with us watching them, even if they are seated and fed. I look around the room – a television, a heavily scarred dartboard, chairs, drab walls. Heavy bars on windows. To all purposes it is a well-kept room, but the impersonal character of it appalls me. How terrible that one must live with white walls and bars on the windows: all of a sudden, the dartboard and the lone calendar seem so sorry, so wistful – vain attempts to bring about a sense of existence. Even if I were stark raving mad and far removed from this world, somewhere within me I would know that this is not how my room should look – no flowery curtains, no cheerful artifacts. The clients should not be disturbed, but would it not be a lot more disturbing to never catch a glimpse of a bright colour?

I catch his eye. He has been following my eyes around the room, and he knows what I am thinking. I come back to the conversation guiltily. It doesn’t mean much – the virtues of the institution are being extolled. The men speak fluently, logically, and intelligibly. If we did not know that they had a range of disorders ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to schizophrenia, we would be sitting easy, our legs more relaxed, our faces infinitely more open. And he knows this, this elegant man with the grey hair and the keen eyes and the long pianist-like fingers. I wonder what disorder he has. What could possibly be wrong with this scholarly man who is the only one out of the five who doesn’t slouch, or keep fiddling with the folds of his trousers? He has charm, this man. Someone must have loved him once – does he think of past memories through the days he spends here?

My romantic musings are brought to a halt. We leave the room, and are then given detailed case histories of the clients. Varied accounts of mental illness, each more startling than the earlier. I suddenly realise that these men are fairly stable - the Acute Ward is three floors above and access is denied. And yet, the man with the funny ears has a lethal combination of schizophrenic delusions and obsessive-compulsive disorder - not something I would call stable. The charming man I found so interesting has bipolar mood disorder. I try to imagine him vacillating between extreme depression and extreme mania, and fail. Switching from euphoria to devastation is not something that suits him. I snap back to reality. Not something that suits him, as if disorders were clothes.

As we leave, we pass the section of the ward where the more unstable clients are – one of them clutches the iron bars, and mumbles at us. His mouth droops, and he stares at us students vacantly. “Whatever you have learnt here, forget it!” he says. “Fuh-get it”. He rattles the bars and repeats the sentence again, and again, and again with a slurry Americanised accent. We are ushered out hurriedly. As I watch fascinated, the Charming Man, who has been let back into his ward, comes up and stands next to the mumbler and smiles, as if to say “You came to see lunatics: here they are.”

He knows we have not been disappointed. We have received our performance of something Not Normal. What a show we’ve put up for you, his smile says, The grand finale to a dull afternoon. Now go spread the message. He knows we will be telling this tale wide-eyed to other people, further enlarging the gap between his bare room and our comfortable cocoons. He knows that at the end of the day the only thing barring us from understanding him is our perception of him, which is why the human mind will probably never be deciphered. He knows.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ineptitude, and a Little Whining.

Am going through a most distressing phase in my life. It’s called Writing Application Essays For College. And I'm sure that anyone who has been through this phase will sympathise with me. It is simply not possible to write anything at this point of time without thinking, “What does this show about my character? Am I sounding Different enough? Does it provide the Big Picture? What is the Big Picture? Aaargh, where is coffee when you need it?”

I grow old. I can’t write essays without making them look like blog posts, and I can’t write blog entries without going into essay mode. So I know what I’m going to do for a while. I won’t write at all. Yes, you heard right. Start celebrating. If at all you feel the need to remind yourself of my presence, go visit my deviantArt webpage. Photography has been a guilty passion with me for a while; I used to think myself pretty good at it, till this thing called Orkut materialised and suddenly everyone looked beautiful and seductive because of experimenting with their camera phones. When you can have an alluring display picture, who needs a photograph?

If it makes anyone feel any better, there are only five photographs on it as of now.

Friday, October 5, 2007

An Other Effort

Let me tell you the story behind this poem. I remember posting about my inability to write what I like to call deepdarkmorbidpoetry, and newagescheherazade, as is her wont, told me that she'd like to see me try my hand at it. And I, as is my wont, did. Here is the result. I'm warning you beforehand, though. I am no poet. I am not much of a rhymer. What I am, I think, is a singularly thick-headed experimenter. Just don't lynch me for it.

Anthem For Doomed Youth (Part Two!!)

It seems a rule of some eminence
That teenage poetry must be devoid of common sense.
A teenager must never write a word
That is funny, ridiculous or absurd
For why would the world want to know
About anything but our personal woe?

People think we’re morbid, but we can tell
They’re wishing all teenagers were in hell.
No one understands what we go through
So this is how we make you go through it too
By making sure our poems get into the newspapers,
So that your perfect Sunday goes up in vapours,
So that life suddenly turns into a huge inkblot,
And you shout at your maid because the tea isn’t hot.
Then the maid berates the poor milkman
For bringing milk in a dented can
And the milkman goes on to the corner shop
And tells the owner that his liquor is slop.
So the circle of gloom creates a worldwide fuss,
But no one gives the credit to us.

If you think of why we suffer from depression,
It’s because you laugh at our freedom of expression.
Some years down the line we’ll be adults too,
With taxes that are hefty, and paychecks that are few.
And then we’ll open a paper to find that the press
Has included a poem filled with angst and distress.
And then we’ll wonder what the writer had to face
That didn’t include bosses or financial disgrace.
We’ll have forgotten that what we once wrote
Was somewhat like this gloomy anti-antidote.

It seems very funny to me
That we teenagers write poetry
To contend with the fact that one day
As a grown-up, for our youth we’ll have to pay.
While grown ups criticize youthful verse
Not knowing that they once wrote something quite like this.

Only a lot, lot worse.