ENGLISH BAZAAR PATRIKA

Depressed in London (and in Ahmedabad)

SHARIK LALIWALA
20-09-2017

The period starting September 2016 has been my loneliest phase till date. The loneliness at first was deliberately desired but it slowly became a cause of great anxiety and later grew into a depression. For far too long, I have wished to write about mental health based on my experiences of what I went through and what I still suffer (albeit in a very truncated sense). A long impending emotional outburst resolved my several month-long internal conflict about whether to write or not write reflecting on the dreadful part of loneliness i.e. depression: Whether the personal should come out in public or not?; how do I balance the sentimental with the rational? I decided to hurriedly write this slightly long piece yesterday not thinking of many such questions that ringed inside my head (breaking boundaries of some grammar rules): In the process, this has become more of an unorganised personal tale; better to publish it with its imperfections than not. Hence, unconcerned of what many would think, today, I wish to open up.

I.

As I looked at the morning-sky at 7:15 AM, it seemed that the sun was yet to rise fully. Time of sunrise and sunset is unusually peculiar in London. After preparing the routine insipid breakfast, tuning in to Hindustani Classical music, I turn in a ritualistic fashion to read at 8:15 AM. The sun had yet not risen. No: It had already set; the time was 8:15 PM. My (self-prescribed) medicines had proved out to be too heavy, giving 19 long-hours of sleep.

I sat awe-struck at this obstinately enduring depression (while staring endlessly outside the window at the panopticon like structure of my residence building), that had stayed with me for nearly 11 weeks till then, end of February. It has continued till now, draining myself of self-dignity and energy on many occasions. My concentration ability dwindled: as it accompanied a persistent migraine (and sometimes unbearable chest pain). My curiosity to learn reduced so thin that it was impossible to discern whether it was there at all or not: Intellectual orgasms became a blissful memory (and other kinds of…? Shhh). Whatever little remained of my curiosity was consciously achieved at a time when I urged unconscious learning like before. These fault-lines of mind coupled with that of blood, in the first-time witnessed anaemia. The all-optimistic assurances (and reassurances) of my counsellor seemed nonsensical. The socialising sessions with the small coterie of friends I had in London appeared purposeless.

To overcome the low mood, I began some brief affairs with the cultural atmosphere of London, yet the depression would remain. The self-constructed meaning of life – to pursue knowledge in the silence of my room buried under innumerable books – laughed at my face: It was a purpose rightly thought but wrongly carried in reality. This at a place where I always dreamt of being – something that had been made possible by a wide-range of scholarships (I was disappointing all of them). All in all, I lay wondering about the meaning of modernity, pushed into post-modern loneliness.

[At the cusp of my (high-sounding) epistemological break from the discipline of management, I sinked into an (see this snobbery) epistemological crisis.]

In this (supercilious) epistemological crisis, books came to advise me at unexpected moments. In Tube, Gandhi told me to self-negate and reduce myself to level-zero and kill desires. Remarkably during a class on English Civil War, Iqbal self-affirmed my worth when I should have been focusing on Parliamentarians and Royalists. While exercising (if the migraine, which remained for 6 months, momentarily dissipated), Tagore reasoned with me to move beyond binary oppositions and seek moderation. In the high-modernist SOAS library, Nehru romantically urged me to build a synthesis among all currents of thoughts, worldly and personal. While taking an exit from this revolutionary campus, Camus argued to reawaken the Rebel in me (with just means), and Foucault (don’t take him seriously), as always, reinforced my cynicisms in all human designs. On my way to British Library, Rousseau reminded of his warnings about the perils of modern civilization. And in the solitude of my room, Greeks wanted me to live a good life of reasoning: How often do we associate places with political thoughts? 

[What about Marx?! I knew that you never had sympathy for the working classes. (You do not know anything. In my mind, Marx the sociologist keeps on defeating Marx the organiser.) Why no poets?! (You do not think about poets when poetry is absent from life.)]

When Greeks stopped urging me to live with reason, books stared at me in my inhumanely designed 11 by 7 feet room that I was forced to recognise as home. Yet I abused all of them, as the written word lost its value. I despised my bookshelves: It was the death of Socrates; thus walking on the streets, London’s architecture stopped making its political arguments in my mind as the transition from classical to neoclassical, Gothic to neo-Gothic, articulate (but sometimes ugly and suffocating) modernist designs to (deliberately) senseless post-modernist structures stood there without evoking thoughts.

In despair, I turned to the final rescuer in whom this rationalist had long lost faith, God. In the Muslim prayer room of college (British multi-culturalism, as they say), I kneeled with lachrymose emotions allowing my nose (long-nose problems or a blessing; Rushdie writes: ‘A nose like that, little idiot, is a great gift.’) and then head to hit the ground: ‘La Illaha’ (There is no God), leaving it there without completing it, echoing Mansoor’s Anal Haq, and Sarmand. I tried to loosen up (alas, failed) as the Dhamaal at SOAS in tribute to victims of the blast at Sehwan Sharif proceeded, ironically celebrating the death of many.

[I had to ahistoricise myself and make a quantum leap into the future: I was high modernism individualised. (Should I hide this overthinking? (Yes! (Such are the voices in my head.)))]

II.

March was spent fighting loneliness and a fading sense of ambitions; I was victorious at the end of it. Drawing my meticulously detailed planner (please: do not reduce every minutes of life to pages of some planner) for April and May (as the classes came to an end), I felt supremely confident: Go out of home once a day, meet someone once in two days (that is ridiculously less), relish food whenever possible filled between the regular tasks of finishing essay-writing, library visits, exercising, managing household, cooking, Urdu self-learning, and movies. [Dopamine recovering, serotonin moderate – artificially maintained, migraine almost over]. The first week of April passed with some success, then the world turned upside down: In 4 days, I was back to ground-zero (or probably slipping beneath the ground).

On the morning of 10th April, with unbearable chest pain and a throbbing head, I searched number of Samaritans and then set out to dial Ambulance – Heart Attack (it was not – is not there a long family history?; nor did I call); in three hours, I was reading at the British Library with all the bodily pain. [Dopamine minimal, serotonin – is it there?] At night, I re-drew the planner for the next 2 weeks increasing outings and socialising. And in another 30 minutes, I broke down (for the umpteenth number of time in the past 4 months) but this time was different: I decided to fly back to Ahmedabad at the earliest. Hurriedly packing my bags, I paid my farewell to London. When I took photographs of my room before leaving (my way of taking stock of what remained in the room), tears rolled down rapidly (again, for the umpteenth number of time in the past 4 months): There was no courage left in me to ever return to this metropolis. Nothing less than a miracle was required to save me and let me complete my degree.

III.

[Did you not want to return to Ahmedabad? – the city you cherish, the most. Did you not read out aloud, on the banks of Sabarmati from Gandhi Ashram, that clichéd poem on the day when you left for London? (Questions contain the answers.)]

Approaching India from a distant vantage point, I could point out how modernism and post-modernism mixed themselves with traditions. From Britain, I wanted to see India through some lucid prose, growing some intellectual fecundity by desiring a solitary life; I wished to inculcate courage to speak truth to power. To do that, I desired loneliness in London – actively, literally – forgetting that isolation never helps. What was to happen once I ruptured this distance?

(Nehru was true, almost always:). As I left the Ahmedabad airport with its spectacularly ridiculous futurism, I saw a couple touching feet of their parents. (India is “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer). The occult was repeated approaching a materialistic possession: Put the right foot in the car first. (of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and). Followed by a dose of truncated rationalism I received from family: Why insist on having a cup of tea at Lucky before reaching home? Did not you have good food on the plane? Could not say – ‘I did not eat nor did I sleep’. (yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”). Here I was: Much had changed and yet nothing had been erased though the process of closing up (what? Mind!) was (is) underway. 

Hence, as I reached Ahmedabad back, I wondered about the paradoxes of the city: Ahmedabad’s people aspiring to acquire Western materialism fail to imbibe the West’s cosmopolitanism; the city is at once parochial and modern with all its innocence (and violence): Yet most loveable. I partially regained my self-esteem by frankly and openly sharing my emotional state of mind with friends and less so with family. As I reached out to friends in Ahmedabad, I yet felt lonely – passively, metaphorically. Nevertheless, endless café visits, reading of novels, and of course, the soulful time spent at my favourite places in the city revived much of my enthusiasm. But as the day of departure to London came closer in mid-May, I started to slip back.

IV.

I would want to leave the story of the time from mid-May unexplained: Numbness has been a norm; though the worst phase of depression is over, on most days, I found myself lacking internal enthusiasm (less so now). At night, I felt energetic enough to conquer the world only to wake up with thoughts about how to survive the day. In the numbness, I became sure that the future was optimistic and for that, I needed to focus on only one thing: Appreciate the present and the past will take care of itself. For a history student, the past is of utmost importance but now I had to grapple with the mundane realities of the present: How to feel energetic? How not to sleep for 10 hours a day (some experience insomnia; some oversleep) and wake up with calm emotions (without migraine)?

The battle with depression has been an excruciatingly painful one. During these 9 long-months, the burden of past has informed my present blurring my visions of future. In the past: the societal stigma concerning mental health loomed large at me. The cry that ‘men don’t cry’ rendered me a non-muscular person – Gandhi (despite being a sexist) remains my life-time hero for he did not pretend to symbolize any muscularity; this cry does more harm to men than to anyone else.

The only probable solution to my frustrating condition of low energy seemed to lie in the past. I wanted to relive it. I wanted to repeat my undergrad and energize myself by the festivity of college life. I wanted to reside in my dilapidated old city home in the familiar (but sometimes very nosy and intruding) sociability found in innocent neighbours. Like all attempts to recreate the past, this too is futile. In this terrible diagnosis, how was I supposed to live in the present, optimistically staring at the future? I am still searching for an answer.

V.

As I reaffirm my self-worth, I urge whoever reads this to take mental health seriously and not ridicule it as yet another wasteful, snobbish adventurism to gain sympathy (which I also did in past and in the first two months of witnessing depression). (In fact, the poor are more vulnerable to it more than the rich and the privileged like us. They simply do not have a vocabulary to describe it.) Seek help at the earliest, open up: I repressed my emotions for 2 months until they revealed heavily upon me.

Without the support of incredible teachers, cherishing moments of affection, care, and counsel provided by friends in London and from back home in India, I would not have been able to write this: time to acknowledge them. Every time a well-known personality took his/her life out of depression, at least 2 friends made it a point to ask me about my well-being and provide assurances. (Remember: Some will only pretend to help – “Oh, I am sorry” – it’s important to know that too; only a few will help – never let them go). Special thanks are due to Gopika, Nirali, and Sudhir who supported at crucial moments while giving timely, unmatched personal and academic help. Of course, Aarti (with her ‘simply’ communicated frequent doses of pragmatism (activism?) with which I inevitably disagree first only to reconcile to it later; the copy-editor in her would be frustrated by seeing the peculiarly deliberate errors and complex writing style of this piece), Anisa (who acted as my counsellor on many occasions), Charul, Chirayu Samaan (words shall not suffice for this ceaseless pillar of lifetime support), and Jayraj (whose ever enthusiastic voice unfailingly energises – always, mixing scholarly talks with enjoyable, rich small talks – which I cherish as my perpetual talisman) cannot be forgotten. Particular regard to Vipoolbhai whose conversations helped without knowing anything about my condition (and who let me lavishly dig into his personal library of 20k books!); he would read this to his dismay I believe. More thanks are due to (some of them did not know about my health): Aadit, Abin, Ari, Grahame, Jyot, Naveed, Sagar, and Mathias. During this phase, some have suffered incredible thoughtless flows of relentlessly emotional outbursts from my side. I take this moment to apologise to these victims.

While writing this, I have deliberately left out the extreme incidents (not to forget the cause: It is not important to tell everything to everyone; regardless, the cause entirely stems out of my own faults) and also the trivial ones like wondering for one full hour whether the alphabet ‘q’ precedes ‘b’ or ‘t’ (now I am fully aware that it precedes ‘r’) – never forget that mental health tremendously affects your memory functions.

Had this depression not taken place, my academic experience in London would have been more vivid, but I am grateful to it for making me a better person who knows how to master some of his habits of mind and body. I have realised that the quest for a perfect self – invented at breath-taking speed to impress the world – is a farcical chimera. I assumed the individual’s social (and more importantly, personal) world to remain stable without any struggle: My liberalism’s staunchly anti-utopian vision had failed to truly reside within me; now it settles itself more thoughtfully and prominently – No more robotic perusal of 24/7 intellectualism.

I will return having rediscovered myself through London though not fully ready for the imminent (why do you want to use that word?) epistemological transition if not rupture. Now on, I will be slow on life, easy on myself, and care to enjoy everything that comes without solid expectations or planning to the minutest detail: that should be the norm for all of us and not the exception as the Brooklyn moment (the movie that is better than the book) is awaited when I return to London for the graduation.

[I finish writing this having successfully (hopefully?) defeated the worst phases of depression without any usage of antidepressants, drug or alcohol abuse, in London (in a new accommodation which I am leaving, for good – the previous one reminded too much of bad (and happy) memories (memories: the good is so merrily mixed with the bad that what you want to remember inevitably reminds of what you wanted to forget; I did not want to relive both for some time – ahistoricization, right?!)), as on my right lay (fitted in a broken photo-frame – ground handling at airports) Socrates’ timeless dictum – An unexamined life is not worth living (When will you examine yours? (What else was this? (Sorry.))); and on my left is pinned my source of idealism, Tagore’s ‘Where the mind is without fear’. (E, such a nerdy geek you are!) As I flick my glance from left to right, I missed staring at two photographs: the first is an image of Mahatma in conversation with the sage Tagore, and the second is the iconic (endlessly photoshopped) image of Nehru with the Mahatma – such conversations shaped India: All three had to spend momentous years of their lives in London, the city that crucially defined India.

Some will wonder why the voices of my mind are ambivalently contained in brackets running directionless; my answer: during depression, I could not discern who I was and who I was not.]

WEDNESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2017

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Discovery of Another India

Natwar Gandhi
15-09-2017

In his first Independence Day speech, “A Tryst with Destiny,” at the midnight hour on August 14,  1947, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru famously asked his fellow citizens: “Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavor? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man...to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to...ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.”  As I ponder on what would the Prime Minister of India say from  ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2047 at the completion of India’s first hundred years as a free and independent nation? I imagine he or she would say that we have travelled far, wide and long from the day when Pandit Nehru gave his now famous speech with ceiling fans furiously circling overhead in the parliament before a rapt audience of fellow freedom fighters.

As I look ahead thirty years from now, at the end of first century of its independence, India would have still remained a free and integrated country despite its continental size and myriad of differences among its widely varied people. At the time of independence, however, imperialists in UK and elsewhere were quick to warn that an Independent India would not survive long. During fifties and sixties, there was no shortage of observers at home and abroad who ominously predicted that the country would soon disintegrate.  Some even called it “an area of darkness,” and wrote it off. Despite all this foreboding, India has survived as a largely secular, liberal democracy while many countries that got their independence just about the same time have descended into periodic dictatorships, military rules, or worse, chaos. I am quite sure that India will celebrate centenary of its independence as the most populous, largely stable, and mostly secular democratic country in the world.

By the time the hundredth anniversary of its independence arrives, India would have made substantial progress toward reducing the crushing burden of poverty that has plagued Indian masses all through its modern history. By year 2047, I predict a globalized Indian economy buoyed by a vastly improved infrastructure, an integrated national market, and an expanding manufacturing sector that would draw rural masses to its vibrant metropolis and would provide them with a better life.

However, I also see two danger signs. First, thirty years from now, I see India most likely facing massive challenges of environmental degradation and air pollution unless drastic measures are taken now to protect environment and curb pollution. Second, its demographic dividend--the largest pool of young people ready to work in the world--could become a major liability if the economy does not produce enough jobs.  If this expanding workforce--a million or more a month--is not gainfully employed, then I see India failing to achieve its full potential.  

Despite resilience and resourcefulness of people of India, the country has been hamstrung for over a century by an obdurate and insensitive bureaucracy and a feudal framework of social and political institutions.  This iron frame has to be reshaped because it has hindered India’s march towards a nation of Pandit Nehru’s vision on that day in 1947 when he said we had “a tryst of destiny.”

e.mail : natgandhi@yahoo.com

Natwar Gandhi was Chief Financial Officer of Washington, DC during 2000-2013

http://www.indiaabroad-digital.com/indiaabroad/20170825?pg=30#pg30

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features