Before Mahendra Singh Dhoni made people aware of Ranchi and before the summer capital of Bihar became the capital of Jharkhand, Ranchi was known for its mental hospitals. Not one but three of them and all set up by mad Englishmen. The British Government set up a mental ‘asylum’ for Europeans in 1918 a hundred years ago. They also set up another hospital for Indians in 1925. And the last English Medical Superintendent Dr R.B. Davis married a Malyalee nurse and after retirement set up a private hospital of his own.
I was reminded of Ranchi after watching the video of the young lady professing her love for the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. She spoke clearly and with conviction. She wanted to spend her life with the chief minister, a Yogi and a bachelor. She had met him in the past and had written a love letter and had travelled to Lucknow to find out once and for all if Yogi Ji was as serious about her. She spoke calmly to a gaggle of TV cameras and not surprisingly, in no time a video clip of the lady’s statement went viral on social media.
I felt sorry for the woman and also for the journalists.
She needed psychiatric help but we do not have enough psychiatrists in this country. Good psychiatrists are even fewer. If the TV journalists knew she had a mental health problem, they probably would not have aired or even recorded the video. But what they saw was a young, confident and articulate woman. She was cool, calm and spoke Hindi better than possibly most of them. She wasn’t hysterical or abusive. She was not raving or ranting. Nor was she tearing off her clothes or rolling on the ground—in fact none of the stereotypes made popular by Hindi films and associated with luntaics were on display.
The video took me back to the time when I was still in school and growing up in the campus of the European Mental Hospital (HMD after 1947 and now known as Central Institute of Psychiatry) where my mother worked. We grew up among psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric social workers, who hailed from all corners of the country. There was a library, tennis courts, cinema hall, badminton courts, piano, a TT board etc. in the club, which was used by some of the patients as well.
In this club one day we were mesmerised to see an elegant woman. She looked like a fairy, was dressed like nobody we had seen before, played a mean game of TT and sang and played on the piano competently. All of us 12-year olds fell in love with her. We looked forward to her arrival and vied with each other for her attention. The day she smiled at one of us or invited someone to play TT or badminton, we would be in a daze.
Such a woman, we decided, could not be a mental ‘patient’. It was unfair to keep her in the asylum. There must be some mystery that we felt we must unravel. When I tried to ask my mother, I received a tight slap and asked to mind my business. With time, our infatuation waned. Exams intervened and the frequency of our visit to the club went down.
A decade and a half later, when my mother had retired, I asked her if she remembered the lady. She did. The lady had foxed the doctors too, she recalled. The mystery lady was good looking, elegant, well-dressed, graceful, intelligent and charming. Although she was monitored closely, nobody found anything amiss. She was the perfect lady.
Many agonising weeks later, the mystery woman finally resolved the issue. Her husband, she confided, had failed in his mission. The army officer had thought that by admitting her to the mental asylum, he could prevent her meeting the man she had fallen in love with. But her lover, she confided conspiratorially, came every day to the hospital to see her.
This new information had apparently sent alarm bells ringing till one day the lady put an end to the suspense and named her lover. Satyajit Ray, the filmmaker himself, she disclosed, was visiting her in the hospital every evening.
Years later when I was the India Today correspondent at Calcutta, I told the great man the story of the paramour he never knew he had. The Master’s full-throated laughter was my reward.