As one struggles with one’s sanity, one tries to deconstruct your life and find inspiration from it. I go through prescriptions and photographs to try to figure out the best way to save myself. I ain’t going down without a fight, for sure! These pictures were taken at your worst, I wonder who shot them and why? The first one was of course after the self immolation, the breasts and arm were burnt! I think it was Ashwini bhaiya, who operated upon you, in Kolmet. I remember for a long time ( was it for a year or two?) that you couldn’t wear a top because you were so itchy! The rest of course look like your Corex and medicine induced states. With Dustu’s cards asking you to stop downing that God forsaken cough syrup, I also found Dr Kothari’s prescriptions. I wish I could say, it’s very different from my shrink’s prescription! My mother…my self, haan!
They try to convince me and other people of course, that you were absolutely fine as long as everybody else was taking care of you and somehow murderous me, went and killed you! The shrink tells me, a pill will make the antisocial me, better, meaning nicer, I’m assuming. I’ll probably stop slam dunking people, if I just take some tablet. Miraculously, I will forget being accused of murdering you, ah even better murdering your son ( I keep thanking God I was with GD that night) of eloping, of everybody I know being called, of my love life being discussed as if it was something that was ongoing and even imaginary extra marital affairs being made up ( strategically, just so that I wouldn’t work in a particular area), of my work and my intelligence being mocked…of even my previous landlady in Kashmir being called up to discuss how I wasn’t making your relative a Director and probably it will be some Kashmiri boy….of being alienated…all of this as I was grappling with loosing you and trying to make sense of my existence. ‘ Let it be. Don’t think about it. How does it make a difference to your life?’ well wishers ask me.’ I would have, if it didn’t seem all too familiar and above all misogynistic to the freaking core of it!
So, instead of talking to people I keep to myself mostly, make sure no one knows who I meet ( otherwise they too will be called…of course the Wall and S are exceptions because the won’t flip sides) and if people do ungli, which they can’t help themselves from doing….I just return the favour. You know I’m too lazy to go on the offensive but people sometimes mistake me for you…they assume I have your tolerance level…But sau sanahar ki aur ek lauhar ki!I give it back and they get another round of ammunition. The mature thing to do would be to not react I know…ideally be like you…but If I’m going to go into to the Chakarvyuh and the exit has been blocked, I ain’t going down quietly, that’s for sure. Especially because someday this is going to be a lesson for my daughter- from your life she will learn perseverance and kindness but from mine, it will be this- In the worst of circumstances, even at your frailest moment…even if you have do it by yourself…we try to peg the patriarchy…win or loose…we fight irrespective of how powerful the opponent! We face our internal demons and hero up.
P. S- In case there’s any confusion, the term ‘peg the patriarchy’ isn’t being used here as a sexual term, it isn’t the same as a particular sexual act known as pegging. ‘ Matatas, who coined and trademarked this term, calls it a ‘ metaphor for ‘ subverting a system that requires subservience, within a gender binary !’
Got dragged into the principle’s office today. I felt like a naughty kid, who was going to be punished! Kidding. The analyst asked me to meet the psychiatrist, who one had been to initially.
Shrink: After discussing your case we have come to the conclusion that you need medication.
Me : Really? What about my behaviour makes you think so? ( Eyebrows raised, voice deeper, SB’s went into fight mode)
Shrink: Your reports suggest that there is a borderline personality issue, you’re impulsive, antisocial and suffer major depression.
Me: I thought you said that I had PTSD?
Shrink: That is there but these are the main problems. If you don’t want to take the medication then you can take the RTMS ( where a machine mucks around with your brainwaves) . It will help accelerate the treatment.
Me: I’ll think about it!
Shrink: You have to trust the doctor. In such cases we don’t ask the patient, we tell the patient what to do!
Wrong thing to tell a rebellious person. Now, I was really pissed. Cold stare, teeth clenched, voice becomes softer and deeper.
Me- It seems to me that between you and the analyst and inspite of so many sessions no one’s been able to figure out what exactly do I have! You say PTSD and Borderline Personality issues, she says I’m Bipolar ( manic). So what am I going to be treated for? [‘The meds prescribed to me are for Bipolar Disorder’ I want to add but I keep mum]
She tries to deflate my anger, now.
Shrink: In this case we can’t give a definitive answer. Therapy will help but it’s a very slow and time consuming process. Medicines will make you feel better, you’ll see the changes in days.
Me: I am in no rush!
Now, you may wonder why I’m so aversive to them? Let me play the Devil’s Advocate. My mother was on those pills and I know what they do. She had to take them because she was violent and suicidal. Having said that, the dosage that was given to her, rendered her almost useless. From a woman who kept a lovely house and took really good care of her kids, she became someone who slept most of the times, continued to be suicidal inspite of the medication and was mostly unhappy. No one looked into the root cause of her problem, they just kept giving her things to suppress her symptoms and her body kept getting addicted to those. What she needed was self love, she needed to get rid of the angst of being rejected by her mother as a child, she needed a loving husband who was there- physically and emotionally and she needed to be surrounded by people who encouraged her to shine rather than be threatened by her awesomeness, not people who would call up friends and family to mock her and make her feel more alienated! She needed to confront her shadow and somehow, come out stronger after suffering terrible losses- a brother she loved ( and related to the most ) and a child ( she adored more than anyone else). She needed someone to convince she was fabulous and when you did, I saw her change. I saw her becoming such a loving mother, in her latter years, that she managed to change the heart and attitude of a child who had resented her, for her tumultuous childhood. In the end those extra pills caused her the most damage and her will and resolve to change, were the only things that made her life better!
So, if that’s not enough, to convince you that these pills are bad, go through the Sushant Singh Rajput Case. Here’s someone who consulted multiple shrinks and was on medication. Inspite of that he committed suicide! So, what is the efficacy of medication? Who the hell knows? I don’t think there’s a sort cut, for solving your problems. A pill isn’t going to stop me from looking at most people and thinking ‘I’d rather be alone, than play these petty games’. Need is going to. If and when I will need to get along with people, due to work, loneliness or procreation, I will have to figure out a way.
The need for a better version of me, Saadiya 4.0, if you will, is there, that’s why I am in therapy because my circumstances are demanding for me to learn how to tackle people without loosing my mind or slam dunking them. I will have to figure out how to work around my inherent trust issues with other humans, especially since my gut instinct is nine times out of ten right. Getting angry about people’s intentions is harmful for my heart and soul. I have to learn to love myself and my body more than giving into my wrath! I have to know, in my heart, have total and complete confidence in myself that I will be able to manage whatever, anyone else or life throws at me because I have repeatedly proven that to myself. I have to be totally and completely obsessed and committed to my own growth and let the naysayers, continue gossiping. They wrote me off at 16, when I had my first episode, since then I have reinvented myself twice, I can do that every freaking decade. But I got to believe that, my validation has to come from Saadiya Kochar, only. Not from a man and most certainly not from the family.
I wish Akash was alive, her sessions helped. This is going to be tougher. I’m reminded of Greg, my photography teacher, who was very insightful maybe because his mother was an analyst. I remember him telling me, ‘you have excessive mental energy that you need to use. Keep yourself very busy, otherwise you’ll drive yourself insane.’ I need a teacher, I know and I know the only thing that can save me from me is photography, not a 10 mg pill, that’s just too easy, for my egoistic self!
Yesterday, you popped up on my FB wall, Amma, as it’s been a year and a half since you passed. Each time I write Amma, I can see you face squirming…how you hated being addressed as such! It was mom, high tea, diamonds, Kaaashmir and what not for you! You were always too fancy dudette and I was too desi.
Time passes, like it does. Your nighties smell less of you and more of me, now. I haven’t been able to get a tattoo due to Covid, so you know how clingy SC gets. Those Marks and Spenser, nightgowns are bakwaas, by the way, they’ve completely lost their shape. I always told you, a local tailor constructs better garments than these chains but you thought I was a miser ( which I am but still). No wonder, people would look at us and go, ‘hai yeh aapki beti he?’
That reminds me, turns out that becoming a particular version of you, is my deepest fear. I find myself fighting with people and more often than not, yelling-‘I’m not my mother! Don’t try, the crap you tried on her!’ Also, surprise, surprise, the less in control of one’s life one feels, the more aggressive one gets. Oh I’m so lovely, these days! You were so gentle, my tongue would have embarrassed you . Though, my fit throwing would have seemed familiar. Remember how I was between fourteen to sixteen? Well, I’m not as bad…I don’t run out of the house at 2 a.m and keep walking around to calm down but uff, the wrath! They say, it’s been accumulated over a long period and especially after loosing you and going through the lovely experience of feeling cornered and alone…when I was already vulnerable, has tipped off my mental balance. Maybe it has or maybe I’m just plain nuts and of course totally misanthropic.
Good choice on the boy…I should have listened to you. You always knew better than I, who was good for me. Ever since, you’ve gone he frets over me like a mother hen. You shouldn’t have asked him to promise you, that he’ll take care of me. He actually came down to ensure, that I wasn’t going completely bonkers. Sat around ( watching a silly series with me) gave me pep talks ( you need to channel the anger constructively) and pampered me silly ( we went out ever single night). Poor guy, seemed a bit scandalised by your man. But you know how that plays out better than anyone else.
Nevertheless, life is the way, it is, circular. As I grow older, I understand you more. Honestly, I never understood why you were so paranoid? Why you would tell the domestic help ‘ if anyone calls just tell them I’m sleeping’. Why did you become addicted to Corex ( oh, I found the sweetest cards your son made for you. ‘Mummy please stop drinking Corex!. They’re heartbreaking!) Why did you prefer the company of kids and animals? As I delve deeper into my own psyche and try to confront my shadows, I’ve had to re-examine you and your life as well.
I forgave you a long time ago but now I truly empathise with you and two of my brothers. Respect! I’ve been in your shoes for a year and a half and I’m like ‘ Oh sweet mother of God!’ But you all are too nice and I’m a loose freaking canon with nada to loose…no boyfriend or husband who can be manipulated, no extended family and whatever can be said to my friends and acquaintances has already been said and done. Advantages of being bad, baby you already have a particular reputation and once it all goes to hell, you don’t fear no one! You should have tried it, it might have saved you from the electric shocks. Actually, that is something that can be pulled on me, as well ( maybe I should reconsider marriage, just to ensure they don’t get me institutionalised). You were someone who blinded everyone with her goodness and her light, so you needed to be controlled but in my case there’s more to be gained materialistically. After all, since you were a woman as soon as your Father passed away, you were forced to sign away all your rights to his property and when your mum passed away, since you and and one of sisters weren’t ’ mentally stable’ , you were not given even a piece of her clothing, forget anything else. For now I have God in my corner, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived the past eighteen months. Let’s see, how long he protects me.
On a pleasant Sunday evening, my companion and I head out to this Haveli in Chandni Chowk which has been restored by Vijay Goel- a Rajya Sabha member who is in the process of restoring another mansion, close to Haveli Dharampura, which took him around six years to restore. We walked in tiny meandering lanes, close to Jama Masjid’s gate number three, where the rains had turned the ground into quagmires and in Gali Gulian found this wonderful 19th century mansion, which will transport you back in time. The entrance isn’t overbearing, it has a quintessential Dilli 6 feel to it, with a narrow lane and a huge door, which you could miss if you’re not on the look out for the board. But as soon as you make it past the concierge, it magically reveals itself.
The courtyard that lies behind that door, is akin to all the old mansions one has visited. So many of the Indian homes, down South, thankfully retain that sort of architectural style-courtyard in the middle and all the individual rooms open into it. But in the times of builder made flats, having a house and that too with a courtyard is a luxury, restoring and owning a mansion seems princely.
Chandni Chowk built by Shah Jahan, is a a foodie’s paradise. Some of the chefs in this area, are actual descendants of those who worked in the Royal kitchen. So, if you are a vegetarian, you can find the best chaats, paranthas, kachoris, dahi bhallas in CC, closer to the Temple. If you love meat, like me, you can find the oldest, most iconic restaurants near the Masjid. So, a delectable meal isn’t what you should visit the restaurant, Lakhori (at the Haveli Dharampura) for. It’s for the entire experience, which is what is unique.
On arrival you are given a welcome drink-Kanjee, which is a zesty probiotic. This is followed by Palak Patta Chaat (yummy), Broken Wheat Kachori (which is heavy as an appetizer), Aloo Mint Kabab followed by Murg ke Parchey. By the time one finished eating the appetizers, one was full to the brim. Right on cue, the servers guided us upstairs for the Kathak performance. In that setup, it’s ethereal, though it only lasts for ten minutes. We came downstairs and were served Tamatar Ka Shorba. Since, one couldn’t get another morsel in, the server suggested we take it up to the terrace.
Up we went, by ourselves and I was so glad I wasn’t on a solo date but with someone who is usually game for some fun and frolic. From a particular spot we could see the dome of the Jama Masjid. On a couple of terraces, young lads tarried and dawdled as we sipped our soup. After a while, we made it back to Lakhori to finish our meal. The food like I mentioned wasn’t my favourite part, as the non veg dishes surprisingly paled in comparison to the vegetarian ones. All the potatoes fill you up, so you don’t really notice that the variety and quantity of the non vegetarian dishes is meagre. The Biryani is vegetarian and you’re given a single piece of Roshan Josh and a couple of pieces of Butter Chicken, neither of which you would want to write home about.
But you wouldn’t want to miss eating all these specialities laid out on copper and ceramic plates, in a beautiful environment with a courteous and friendly staff. I would suggest getting the vegetarian meal and visiting on a Sunday, when the performance takes place and it’s easier to park and walk in CC. From Tuesday to Friday, they serve Ala Carte and on Saturdays and Sundays, when there’s the Kathak performance you can only order the Chef’s menu. To tum bhi ‘ aao kabhi haveli pe’ to get reminded of a bygone era.
As one’s mind goes back and forth, scanning one’s entire existence, for discrepancies- these days, one becomes more acutely aware of what an irreplaceable role one’s teachers have played in getting one through the tough times. Since one’s memory is terrible, one only remembers the one’s who made one feel-safer and saner. My first standard teacher-Mrs Dasgupta, who helped a painfully shy student, to adjust shifting from DPS to CJM.
Sheel Aunty, who not only gave me tuitions but helped me deal with the angst of growing up in a rather irregular environment. For being a parent and guardian angel to me, one will never be able to thank her enough. The parents stopped the tuitions because one not only found strength and hope, in a woman who could barely walk (due to polio) yet provided stability and wings to all the kids who went to her but due to the fact that one kind of thought of her as the parent . ‘You took her away because I loved her!’ one would throw a fit in the teenage years, when no one could control me and they tried with all their might to calm me down.
Till of course Anupam came along and that became the turning point. There’s an experiment that was done by Dr Emoto’s with three jars of rice, water and words. The rice which was thanked and appreciated fermented, the one which was assaulted verbally, was covered in black mould and the one that was ignored turned even darker. Trust me, the experiment works. Whenever the story of one’s life is recalled, an entire chapter is dedicated to a boy who was just six or seven years older, who came in and played teacher and part therapist. Everyday, my father would come back home sozzled, telling me how I would never be anything in life- I was just too dumb and everyday to counter that, he would sit and tell me ‘you can!’. In those few years that he taught me, my life turned around. I did better in school, came first in editing and even got recommended for my first photography job by the iconic Mr O.P Sharma, who taught me photography. Anupam taught me how to be a student, how to trust someone enough to take their advice and gave me key insights into my personality- one competed/flourished well around men and one required a cheerleader to counter the father’s voice in one’s head. I wish my mum had someone who would have done that for her. Those ten thousand ‘you cans’, still continue to motivate me on days when I think I can’t go on and I still remember his fascination for numerology-‘ you’re a number 9 and you’re ruled by Mars -uncontrolled the number is self destructive but learn to control it and you’ll be unstoppable!’
During the same time, I was seeing a boy and though traditionally, I wouldn’t call his father -O.P Sehgal and his sister Shallay- teachers, they taught me a lot about seeing and doing, about creativity and craft and most of all, what loving families look like. Someday, when I grow my babies from my heart, I would want to emulate the love they shower on each other.
Then came the creme da la creme- Greg. The first time, his boss and the head of ICPP, saw my portfolio, he said to me that the teacher who was going to arrive, would like my work and he did so one became student and even assistant, at times. The most sensitive man I’ve met in my life, his gaze could pierce right through anyone. He saw something in everybody, that no one else saw. He was not just a photography teacher to us- he was more like a guru, life coach and co traveller. Every decent image of mine is thanks to him and someday when one ceases to exist, I hope my works reach him.
Last but not the least, Sunil. I think of him as a friend and not so much a mentor because of his openness and friendly nature. We’re about twenty five apart but we have a rollicking time together. He’s introduced me to the LGBTQ community, taught me about using art as a means for activism and has exposed me to his wonderful life.
So, though one doesn’t recall school life one remembers one’s wonderful teachers throughout one’s lifetime. Without them one would have been the worst version of one’s self and that’s why at my lowest I always say, I need a teacher not a therapist. Cheers to them, for making me want to be better, for making me believe that I can fall down seven times and get up eight, for seeing the best in me when everyone saw the worst and most of all for making me believe that I get through it. The ‘chip on my shoulder’, that people find insufferable because that makes one hard to manipulate and control comes from all those who walked into my life and made me believe, I was worthy and I could do whatever I set my mind to!