It is said that youth is characterized by idealism and naiveté.
How else can I explain our scouring the slums of Mumbai looking for the brother of a mentally ill girl?
Yup, we were on a mission to track Ruksana’s brother so that he could take her home (for Ruksana’s story check out the previous posts).
As I sat on the bus which would take us to unfamiliar territory- the home address which Ruksana gave me, I was both excited and apprehensive.
The fact that my best friend Rita was accompanying me was some comfort- she is smart & sensible, knows how to talk with all kinds of people and more importantly she has a far better sense of direction than I do.
I tried to imagine the reaction of her brother when he hears the news of his sister.
Did he really not know where she was or had he abandoned her?
Would he be pleased to hear the news of her location or would he be angry?
Ruksana had told me that her parent’s had died years ago and another younger brother had died of T.B. So that left only her elder brother to take care of her.
We got down from bus and searched for the church she had talked about. There it was just like she had said. Then we proceeded to ask people about the Chawl she had told us. At first we got blank faces, this alarmed me. After all, the reliability of the information given by a schizophrenic is always suspect, adding to that the social worker had told us that she thought that the address did not exist!
Finally, a woman nodded and directed us to the chawl.She also said ominously, “A police-wallah was also asking me about that place yesterday!” After walking for some time we reached the place. It comprised of shanties, unlike other chawls this seemed cosmopolitan.They were open gutters flowing and dirty children were playing around. I also had the uncomfortable realization that some one was staring at us.
Room No.10. We had to look for Room No.10. We saw a Hindu teenage girl standing outside that room, washing clothes in the naala outside. Rita asked her,” How many years have you been living here.” The girl grinned and said;”I am 16 yrs now and I have lived here all my life. and my parents have been here since ages.”
My heart sank. That was it. Ruksana had given us wrong information. She was clearly delusional.
Then I remembered Ruksana telling me that she was well known in her chawl.”Everybody knows me.”, she had said.
I asked the girl hesitantly,”Do you know Ruksana?”
The girls facial expression changed with recognition and she said,”Woh pagal ladki?“(That crazy girl?)
She told us that this was the wrong Room No.10, apparently there was another Room No.10 in the same chawl behind that one.
I felt relieved. Atleast, Ruksana had given us the correct address. She had lived here with her brother. Now we just had to find her brother.
We found the correct Room No.10. It was locked. The place gave me the creeps, just looking at it.
I saw a kind looking fat middle aged Muslim woman ambling towards us. I asked her;”Do you know Ruksana?” “Yes”, she said,”I know Gudiya(Ruksana) and her brother.”
“Can you please tell us where he is, we have a very important message for him.”, Rita said earnestly.
The woman gave us a quizzical look,”But Arif is missing since Bakri Eid. He is mentally unstable. He just lies around the gullies,and goes around muttering to himself.He cant keep a job or take care of himself.”
For the second time that day my heart sank. To say that I was utterly disappointed was an understatement. I had hoped to find a brother who could take care of his sister. Who could take her out of the depressing confines of the mental hospital and give her a better life.
Rita said,”Do you know that Ruksana has recovered and is stuck in the mental hospital since the last 2 years.”
The woman exclaimed,”We thought she was dead!”
We had not realized that while we had been speaking to that woman a curious crowd had gathered around us.
“Who are you?”,A relatively well dressed middle aged man asked us.
We told him that we were clinical psychology interns.
It dawned on me that my friend, Rita was carrying a very fat 1000 page book on Psychotherapy in her hand as we had come directly from college. We always joke that though we don’t study much, we look very studious and scholarly because we are always seen carrying fat books around.
Anyways the man talking to us was a neighbor,a professor,who had already formed a good impression of us, thanks to the fat book on psychotherapy!
He wasted a lot of our time by giving us unnecessary information and hinted that there was something wrong with the whole family and then he quickly excused himself and left.
We know schizophrenia is hereditary and we would have been interested in knowing the academic details about her parents abnormal behavior but at that moment we were more interested in getting some one who could take responsibility for Ruksana, discharge her from the hospital and contact her other family members, if there were any.
The Muslim lady informed us,”As far as I know, her relatives are really not interested in helping her.They just want her property.” She said pointing towards the one room shack that Ruksana used to live in.
She told us that a Marathi lady who lived nearby used to care for them but she had gone to visit her village. We took her phone number from her daughter and called her up; the kindly voice on the other end told us to leave the address of the hospital and our number with her daughter.She assured us that she will get back to us as soon as she gets back from her village.
The curious crowd had dispersed except one person.
A shifty looking man in his late twenties approached us.I suspected he was a wahabi because he had a long beard and was wearing a kurta and pajama which reached his ankles.
I realized he had been observing us all along.
He spoke in a whisper,”I am Asad Shaikh, I live here. I have some important information for you about Ruksana but I can’t talk to you now because I am getting late for Juma prayers. Please give me your number.”
“Why don’t you give us your number? We will call you.”, said Rita.
The guy was reluctant and started fidgeting.
“Alright, Here’s my number”,I said, ignoring Rita’s disapproving stares.
“Why did you give him your number?!!”, Rita protested as soon as he left.
“I really wanted to know what he had to say.”, I defended myself.
“Okay, but I will talk to him.”,said Rita.
Now we had to kill time till he finished his prayers and called; which could take thirty minutes. “I should be praying too…”,I thought guiltily.
Even though the news of Ruksana’s brother’s prolonged absence and mental illness was disheartening, I took heart from the fact that at least one neighbor, the Marathi lady, was interested in her welfare.
We decided to wait for Asad’s call at the bus stop. Finally, he called, sooner than we expected and I handed Rita my cell (thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have to talk to him).
Asad’s information gave us a totally new perspective to the whole story. Apparently, The Marathi lady wasn’t as saintly as she seemed. She was after the property too. He said she used to throw Ruksana’s medicines away which would lead to her psychotic breakdown.
Rita told me that in the 25 minutes she talked to him, he must have mentioned the word property 100 times.
It now became clear that Asad had an ulterior motive. He also wanted the property. But not for himself. No sir, he wanted it for the Jamaat. Which was most probably full of shifty looking wahabis with impossibly long beards and short pajamas.
It did not help that he was not giving any guarantee that the Jamaat would look after Ruksana.
We felt deflated all over again.
Why was life so complicated? or Were we too naive?
As I sat in the bus, completely exhausted, looking forward to going home to my mom.
The realization of the grim reality that faced Ruksana dawned upon me,
“For her, there was nobody to go home to.”