Friday, February 20, 2009

Tabula Rasa

You have this repulsive personality in you.
Most of the time, you are a well-behaved gentleman, but when the monstrous personality takes over, it commits the most reprehensible, inhuman acts. Eventually when the fiend is subdued, you try desperately for redemption though you know there is none. That does not stop you from trying. You apologise, you pray, you recompense in many outlandish ways. But the sheer cruelty of the acts leaves you with little absolution. Before you can contend with one phase of your past, a slew of new acts, worse and more unrepentant than before, accumulate in your account. Dealing with the continuing accretion to this mountain of sin, you realise, is becoming frustrating Sisyphean labour. You accept then that no atonement is possible for the past.
You now want to at least prevent the villain from destroying your future. You try hard to reform or cure. And you fail. One part of you starts to chase this other repulsive part out of your body.
Let’s call it the Dr Jekyll vs. Mr Hyde battle.
Your repulsion is strong enough, and your remorse so haunting, that Dr. Jekyll triumphs after a long battle. The fight is ugly. During the trial of strength, you are tortured. You alternate between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The latter’s acts hurt the people closest to you, perpetrate the most outrageous acts of injustice on the unsuspecting watchers. They cluck their tongues in sympathy. “Poor chap, has turned schizophrenic.” The coarser of them say, “Mad. Lunatic. Unstable.”
As we have been taught about every battle of the good vs. the evil, here too, although the evil seems to win, it is the good which gathers strength, a little by little at the end of every skirmish, until it has corralled enough for the final war. During Armageddon, in one fell swoop, Dr. Jekyll succeeds in driving Mr. Hyde out. The evil doppelganger bolts, but he is smart. He makes away with the complete history, memory and identity of you. He’s gone, it’s a relief. He’s taken every shred of yours. Good riddance, you feel, since you were not proud of even one possession. This is what you wanted. To cleanly erase your past. To be rid of its burden.
But you are now an empty Dr. Jekyll. Your body is a grown man’s. But your mind is a baby’s. You have no memories. You have no identity to call your own. You cannot relate to your surroundings. The psychiatrists come and declare, “It’s dissociation. He has dissociated from himself.”
This is where the trouble starts.
What should you do with a baby to ensure it survives? You teach it, assuming nothing. You let it learn and acknowledge its learning.
That’s not what they do. With a grown man’s body, a thick ten days’ stubble, it’s hard for them to imagine you are a baby.
They don’t teach you. They start medicating you.
They try speaking to you in loud tones, in soft tones, appealing, intimidating, pleading. You are only a few days old in this world. You don’t understand anything. You give them back a blank look.
Your mother is upset.
“What is wrong?” She cannot complete the question without sobbing.
“This is not uncommon with dissociation. He has perhaps gone into a deep depression.”
“What should you be doing?”
“Don’t worry, elderly lady, we’ll prescribe some medicines. He should come out of it soon.” They turn to the ward boy who is attending on you. “These tablets. Antidepressants.”
The medicine creates a piercing discomfort in you. You don’t know enough to know it’s discomfort. So you cry.
They try to make you walk. You wobble.
“Motor conditions can be affected with depression. Sometimes there’s dizziness, vertigo.”
As your mother watches with concern, they add to the list of drugs.
When Mr. Hyde lived in you, your mother hated you. She was embarrassed and mortified by your misdeeds.
“I don’t care if he goes back to his old ways. This is unbearable. Let him maim, insult and rob. I wouldn’t say a thing any longer.”
She doesn’t understand that Mr. Hyde is gone forever. With everything. The door by which he went is now sealed. New tissue has grown over the joints. That door cannot be prised open. Because it doesn’t even exist.
After a few weeks, you have now started smiling at your mother and the others who visit you.
The first familiar faces.
“Some improvement,” says the doctor.
You still don’t speak. Because you don’t know how to.
“I consulted some elders. They feel there would be improvement if we got him married,” your mother suggests tentatively.
“No, can’t think of anything like that now,” the doctor dismisses. And turns to you. “You want to get married? Huh? Do you?”
You give him your smile but say nothing.
“Looks like he likes the idea,” your mother tries.
“No. Not for some time,” says the doctor firmly.
The ward boy is of a cheerful disposition. He chats with you endlessly whether you respond or not. You stare at him. He is smoking surreptitiously. It has now become his routine to smoke a cigarette after feeding you breakfast, which you eat out of instinct. Though the powerful drugs make your eyelids heavy, you stare with curiosity at the smoking object between his fingers.
One day, he decides to teach you its name.
“Cigarette. Say, ciga-rette. Cig-a-rette.”
He does this every day.
For some days now, when the ward boy mindlessly chants the word, you have been experiencing a tickling sensation in your tongue.
You can take it no longer. You blurt out, “Cig-a-dette.” For most, it’s “Ma.” But for you, it’s “cig-a-dette.”
The ward boy is shocked.
“You spoke,” he says incredulously. And soon realises you have pronounced his misdeed.
“Don’t say it, don’t say it anymore. Say something else.”
To make you forget his crime, he teaches you another word. “Water.”
Everyday, after breakfast, he gives you a drink of water.
Soon you are saying “Water.”
You take the doctor by complete surprise when you say, “Cig-a-dette…Water.” You couldn’t take the tickling in your tongue any longer. You had to say it.
At first, the doctor doesn’t understand. “What?”
You repeat.
The ward boy is quaking. He is terrified you’d give him away. He is signalling at you with your eyes. You smile back.
Luckily for the ward boy, the doctor thinks differently. He asks your mother, “Before all this, was your son a smoker?”
“That too?” Your mother is alarmed. “I haven’t seen him smoking at all.”
You have never smoked.
“He seems to be asking for cigarette and water. Cigarette is against the rules. Boy, give him some water.”
You have just had a large drink of water. The ward boy knows what you mean. But he can’t defy the doctor’s orders. He feeds you some water which sits on top of water and pressures your kidney.
“Not bad. Some improvement. He wants cigarette and water,” the doctor says generally to the onlookers, including some students in training. Then he turns to your mother, “Madam, the medicines seem to be working.” He turns back to the onlookers and mutters, “Anti-anxiety…SSRI…” The eager students furiously scrawl notes.
The ward boy, now knowing he is out of danger, teaches you “button.”
You recognise the buttons on his shirt. You say “button” for every button you can see on his shirt.
Soon you learn to recognise buttons everywhere.
When the doctor and the students march in, you say “button” for every button you can see on their shirts.
“Button? Interesting,” says the doctor.
“Cig-a-dette, wat-er,” you offer since your tongue tickles.
“Students,” the doctor says, “Cigarette, button and water. What do you make of it?”
The students venture tentative explanations.
“Remember Freud’s theory of dislocation? Manifest objects? I would like you to construct a hypothesis of this victim’s complex treating cigarette, button and water as manifest objects.”
The ward boy is now convinced about his understanding of you, but baulks at approaching the doctor. What if the doctor calls it impertinence?
However, he can no longer control his curiosity. “Doctor,” he calls out hesitantly.
The doctor stops in his track. He is not accustomed to being called by the ward boy. “Yes?”
“Doctor, what is wrong with this patient?”
The doctor gives him a disdainful look. “You’ll never understand.”
“I’ll try,” says the ward boy with sincerity.
“No, no. You won’t understand. It’s all very complex.”
“Doctor, somehow I get the feeling, the patient’s like a baby. He just needs to be taught everything. From the beginning.”
“No, no. He needs complex medicines. It’s all difficult for you to understand…”
“Doctor, forgive me, but I think he would become a lot better if he got started on kindergarten lessons instead.”
“Don’t make me laugh. The man’s very learned. Just in case you haven’t noticed, his name is Doctor Jekyll.”

Author : G.B.Prabhat in Business Line

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