Sunday, October 23, 2016


Afzalbhai breezes in into the office and rather largely introduces himself; “Dr., I am an MDP; you see. My wife wants me to have a talk with you”. I thought Afzalbhai wanted to me to get an impression that he is an MBA from XLRI. He was almost brimming with pride in introducing himself as an MDP.
Ameena Begum standing coyly behind the man ventures a smile and takes up the indicated seat. Afzalbhai is already comfortable in the armed chair with elaborately crossed legs and an amused smirk on his face. Afzal is a huge man, flabby body with ruddy cheeks and disproportionately small mongoloid eyes. Ameena wants to say something but holds herself back and waits for her husband to start the ball rolling. 
Bhaisaheb is in no mood to kick start a conversation, but is more interested in the lacework of the table cloth. There is no sound for a couple of minutes and suddenly Afzalbhai tilts up his absent neck and offers me an elaborate smile and; “Yes doctor, Ameena has a problem, she thinks she has depression. With me having MDP, her condition is not getting any better for the--- the, better, let us say,,, for,,,, almost,,,, for the last twelve years.” Then he stopped for a snort of tobacco snuff into his huge nostrils, big enough to belong to a bovine hulk..

Ameena Begum is a frail young woman, appearing to be closer to sixty, with wrinkles, sunburn and a set expression of hopelessness. Her large eyes are sunken, darkly unfathomable, which have not smiled for decades, it appears. But her eyes tell her story. She had the bearing of a hardy, famished work horse. “Behanji, (honorable Sister) what brings you here from so far away? How can I help you”? They both have traveled something like 150 kilometers, auto-rickshaw, bus, train and auto-rickshaw again. Despite her frail body she did not appear to be tired. She made a start and held herself back. After 20 minutes she suggested she would like to talk to me privately. I escorted Afzalbhai to another room and settled her in a comfortable chair to tell me her pain. Tenderly and hardly audible, she said without any preamble “Doctorsaheb, Afzaljan is not sick, he does not have MDP. He does not want to do any work. I am not in depression. Yes, I am depressed. Anyone would be; in my situation. Tell me how can I cope up with what I get day after day, keep getting hour after hour, 7 X 24?” I didn’t say a thing, didn’t have to say, the story unfolded. Afzal is around forty, has worked in the Arabian gulf for three years. Had to leave the country under some unexplained circumstances about which Ameena has no idea. She has never asked for details. Soon after his return from Gulf they got married. She was given to understand that Afzal would be going back to Gulf to take up a new assignment. That never happened. Instead he started ‘Agriculture - Chemicals’ retail shop. His family had many acres of agricultural land and the trade he liked most was something connected with agriculture. The strong smell of the chemicals started irritating him; to overcome that he started sniffing tobacco snuff, which became an unbearably offensive habit. Without personal attention the business packed up pretty soon and then he began to sell of pieces of land to live in the comfort he was used to. Much of the remaining land, where our house stands, which is about an acre and a half, - a gift from my father- is his next focus. He wants to sell part of it to pay off his debts and I am refusing. I will not compromise on it. The way he is living, he is likely to finish off every saleable article we have. I do not know where all the gold Vappa gave me have gone. He never pledges gold, knowing he can’t redeem it and so conveniently sells off whatever ornaments he gets hold of when I go to school.” “Oh, you are a teacher? Nice to hear that Ameena” “Yes I am a PGT (post-graduate Trained) Physics teacher. I teach 11th and 12th. Apart from teaching and all the associated work, I do all the house-work too as I am not very comfortable with engaging housemaids. I do not trust Afzal wholly in these matters. So I end up doing everything including shopping on my way back from school. I sleep for less than four hours” Ameena talked for over an hour describing their circumstances, the slight she had from his family as they have no children, the fault for which too she is bearing. The truth is not worth mentioning to you. Allow me to keep my dignity. One thing she loathes is her moral problem with suicide, though that is decidedly a better option than the life she leads now. Ameena is rock steady as she describes her plight in harrowing details. She has no tears to spare. “I am brought here for you to convince me to be party to selling off pieces of the Tharavadu (ancestral) land. I didn’t want to create a fuss which I never do. But I am not going to agree to the sale of the only remaining asset we have. If you can please convince him that he is not right in how he is going about this; I will be grateful. I have nothing more to say. Thank you for your valuable time” I escorted Afzalbhai back into the counseling room. He shot out a smart query, “Doctor have you fixed her?” “Yes, we can discuss that soon. But Bhaijan, (dear brother) how do you believe you have MDP? “Ha, that, the doctor we saw in ……….. Hospital told me that I behave like an MDP. “Right, did you take any medication for that?” “Oh, no, the doctor told me there is no need for any medication. My condition will not improve with medication. He asked us to go to a counselor and also told us that Ameena needed help”. “And did you go to any counselor” “Doctor that is the problem, she says there is nothing wrong with her. Yesterday for some reason she said she is ready to see anyone because she has no desire to live. I am worried about her. She might even do something stupid, you see what I mean? That is why I insist on your fixing her, you see? She is so quiet now before you. She can be a tigress at times, you see? I hope you have fixed and corrected her.” “Have I?” Who needs fixing? Is it moral trying to ‘fix’ people in counseling? Where do we make a beginning in their situation? Think. 

© Alex Mathew


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