Five years after her stroke, Manjula had to seek out psychiatric help. She didn't do so voluntarily, rather it was thrust upon her by her family physician John who was also a long term friend of hers, a doctor to doctor friendship that ran deep underground where the roots were, although above ground there was not a whole lot of exuberance. Among his patients John was also called Dr. John.
At the age of 58 when the cleaver of a stroke fell upon Manjula's body, halving her body in two, leaving the left half of her body badly mangled and severely paralyzed, the once vibrant and dynamic 58 yr. old life came to an abrupt end. In other words, Manjula's old self died. But, the right side of her body remained alive and intact. Her heart kept on pumping, her lungs kept on breathing. She was labeled as a stroke survivor. But, 'what kind of survival is that?' Manjula asked herself. Could it be labeled as a survival with half a body and no life? Or, no body and no life? Such a choice was dismal and Manjula, dynamic minded as she was, simply refused to choose between the two. After returning home, Manjula visited Dr. John regularly every fortnight, and these visits fell somewhere between, medical and social encounters, at every visit the medical problems were dealt with, but there were also lots of babbling and chattering, punctuated with bouts of laughter. The friendship carried on as before. Manjula's stroke couldn't dampen it.
After one month following her stroke, she was discharged from the intensive care Unit. As she was transferred to the general ward, she failed to see any purpose of continuing living on this earth. She wouldn't be able to work as a physician any longer. She wouldn't be able to drive. She would go on living like an imbecile, disabled, sitting most of the day in front of the TV, perhaps in a wheelchair. From time to time she would chat with others on the phone. Others, who are active and agile in their lives and that, would be the extent of her activity. On the top of that, perhaps she would never be able to walk upright with a healthy posture, like the rest of the humanity, ever again.
The cluster of such thoughts robbed Manjula from every desire of living. That was when she started with her altercation with the Higher Power. If you gave me the stroke, then why didn't you kill me? Why didn't you take me straight to heaven? She argued with the Almighty. Why did you do a half botched job? Why did you leave the job half done? For me to do the rest, right? That was how the decision of suicide crystallized in her mind. She couldn't think of living a life that would be lonely and isolated, desolate and cut off from the rest of the society, in fact from the rest of the humanity. Being obsessed with such thoughts scared the hell out of Manjula. She shared her scary thoughts with her husband Pallab, who reassured her that he and the two children would spend with her as much time as possible. He told her, the children still needed Manjula in their lives. 'You know how our daughter Maya is, no matter how strong minded she is, when in trouble, she cries out for her mother. You are very much needed in this family' finally Pallab added. Manjula's eyes flooded with tears, she turned her face.
Manjula was aware, the life she had built up till then had died, down the road she would have to cremate that life, then hold a funeral service. And end it formally, with dignity. While that life waited for a cremation and funeral, a dark cloud of depression wrapped around Manjula snugly. That dark cloud was heavy. As dark clouds always are. Because a dark cloud carries millions of gallons of water to be dropped on the earth during monsoon. Carrying the heavy burden left Manjula tired, 24-7. But at no time could she get rid of the heavy burden. That was also why she found no reason of continuing her life on this earth. Her friends and her family members told her just think about your children and go on enjoying a happy life. Yes, the children were indeed there, but they were grown up, they had already left home, living on their own in Toronto. They were financially independent, socially and emotionally independent. They didn't need any advice from Manjula on day to day matters, indeed they visited from time to time, but they were busy, they had little time on hand.
Following all such thoughts, when the time came for Manjula to take the next dose of medication, she had no trouble to reach the conclusion to overdose. It was a serious decision that she made on an impulse. She took four times the dosage of her cocktail mixture of medications. Her husband immediately took her to the hospital, where after a detailed history taking, her blood was taken to determine the blood levels of the medications she had overdosed with. That was when, as if out of nowhere, her family doctor Dr. John appeared at the emergency and told Manjula in a straightforward no-nonsense voice 'you can't leave the hospital until you have seen a psychiatrist. 'Me? Seeing a psychiatrist? What's the point?' Manjula asked back in a mocking tone, really John, I don't need a psychiatrist, you know, how it all fits my personality. I had overdosed in a momentary impulse; I'm not stupid I'm not going to repeat that kind of stupid action ever again. Then why drag a psychiatrist in the whole matter? It is really pointless. But, 'I have already called the crisis intervention team' Dr. John said in an unwavering firm tone. 'The whole team? How many are there in the team? How many people do I have to see?' There was pure horror and panic in Manjula's tone. 'The nurse is already waiting for you' Dr. John said. The psychiatrist would join her shortly.
Manjula realized there was no way out for her. She was trapped in the corner. She tried to relax. She made her body muscles go limp and let herself fallback softly on the bed. She asked for a glass of water and sipped a few sips. The nurse started asking Manjula questions. Poignant, sharp questions, but there was no malice in her tone. She was just doing her job. All the while Pallab waited at the foot-end of the bed. And he helped Manjula to refresh her memory. It seemed that Manjula's recent memory was littered with speed -bumps. There were also discussions about the stroke and the damages it had left behind. In what ways those damages had affected Manjula and how she had been coping with those.
At this point the nurse informed Manjula that the nurse's part was done and now the psychiatrist would join them. Just then the door burst open and the psychiatrist entered the room, with large round befuddled and bewildered eyes Manjula went on looking at him, in fact, her eyes were glued on his face, because the psychiatrist looked just like the famous physicist Einstein only a dark version of the scientist. That made the doctor's appearance even more strange. His wispy frizzy hair was collected in clusters around his face, giving the impression of a halo. His skin color was dark, although brown, not the night blackness of the African race, rather typical brown-dark complexion of the folks who hail from the southern part of India, against the backdrop of the dark skin his teeth glowed like one hundred watt bulbs and that lit up his face with a heavenly smile. Immediately Manjula sent a silent prayer to the Divine Mother, Goddess Durga, dear mother, thank you for blessing me with a psychiatrist, who is blindingly lit with joy and happiness. With the help of such a psychiatrist I shall be able to go through an honest and truthful psychological free-fall. I won't hesitate to open up my heart to him, to show him my vulnerabilities, to tell him my woes, to beg him for help, Manjula felt completely disarmed, she lay there with her muscles relaxed, her heart beating comfortably, her breath flowing smoothly.
She mapped out what she would do with this psychiatrist of hers. It would be like a parachute ride, she thought. From the aircraft holding on to the rope of the parachute I'd jump down, I'd have no fear, no hesitation, I'd pour my heart out, tell him, all about my relationship with Pallab, my relationship with Maya and Raj, about my pain of losing my work, losing half of my body about the fact that money doesn't mean a whole lot to me, since I have got enough of the green stuff, that I spend no money either, that Manjula believed that she had reached the final chapter of her life, still she dreamed big, and she needed the help of the psychiatrist to realize her dreams. She dreamed of offering a final great gift to the humanity prior to her demise and a final legacy to her children.
At this point the psychiatrist started hurling questions at Manjula, sharp poignant, goal-oriented questions, soon enough Manjula's life lay there like an open book. The psychiatrist started reading from that book and pointed out to her what a strong bond she \enjoyed with her husband. How in forty years they had become entwined. How the upbringing of the children had fused Manjula and Pallab inseparably. Finally Manjula realized how fortunately placed she was in her life. Her family looked after her with all their heart and soul, her children worshipped her, the way devotees do to the deities. She had no financial worry. She enjoyed an abundance of love, care and dignity. What more could she expect from life? Manjula was nothing but a true blessed soul. While thinking so Manjula nodded affirmatively. Now she found herself in the psychological free-fall. Holding on to the rope of the parachute she had jumped out of the aircraft. She fell through the clouds. White clouds. Blue clouds, even simple vacuum without any clouds. Just air mass. She had no fear. No worry. Because she knew her mind-doctor was always by her side. He never left her alone, never left her unguarded. All the while during the fall she opened her heart to her new found mind-doctor, a man whom she could trust, a man who wouldn't let any harm come to her, who would be by her side all the while during the free fall.
So was Manjula's first encounter with her psychiatrist and her first adventure of psychological free-fall. As the parachute reached the ground, and as Manjula steadied herself, she felt light, she felt, many of her psychological knots had gotten untangled during the free-fall. She felt loosening of the claws of depression on her psyche. Manjula also knew, this was just the beginning. She would have to travel a long way with her mind-doctor. There would be innumerable free-falls, when she would open her inner self and he'd offer explanations. Manjula harbored many dreams. She wished to write a collection of short stories around the issue of her stroke, so that publishing them in a book form would increase the awareness of this devastating disease among the general public. She also wished to write a short novel about the immigrant group she belonged to, namely, the Bengali immigrants from India and Bangladesh, the nucleus of the novel being the mother-daughter relationships in this particular immigrant group. Through such a novel, the mainstream Canadians would have a better understanding of the Bengali immigrants. Manjula was acutely aware how she needed her psychiatrist to realize her literary dreams. In order to concentrate like a laser beam, she needed to have an uncluttered identity, which in the clumsy events of day to day life often got clouded. She was also in need of an emotionally uncluttered mind.
So started the final chapter of Manjula's life, when she chased her dreams, trying to transcend to a higher literary level, while her enabler, her mind-doctor stood by her side. They got used to each other. Manjula admired his bright disposition and honest opinions and he admired Manjula's dynamic and strong personality.
What a collaborative effort that was. At every moment of 24-7, it throbbed with life, vitality and creativity. Manjula went on writing one line at a time, one story at a time story after story, waiting for the day till her collection would be complete.
So Manjula learnt how history is made. Her hand had reached out in the space looking for help. Another hand had clasped it offering help. A chance encounter, a miracle. From that source words started flowing, that formed sentences, that formed, chapters and that formed stories, finally a book. An accidental history was made. A doctor to doctor friendship ensued. Between a disabled retired doctor and a mind-doctor, under the ground the friendship-roots ran deep, although above ground there was barely any exuberance.