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ramblings of an unknown psychiatrist

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Rights and Love: a story

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on September 7, 2010

He was a tall man. Dark and young, his name was James. He came for a full cup Chai* five years ago. He never stopped coming. To him, Chai was like petrol. It kept his engine running. He made friends easily. He became friends with Rafique on the very first day. Rafique was here to buy his bundle of beedis. The minute James realized that Rafique has just discontinued studies; he spent an hour with him to get him back to school. He failed. Of course! Who can convince a thug in the making. I have been hearing Rafique’s mother Salma begging him to study properly for the past 10 years now. It was of no avail. Rafique played the fool throughout his school life. He was no different from most of the guys in Dharavi. Honestly, at his age I was like that too. I left my home in Allepy when I was younger than Rafique. My original name is Abdullah. People now call me Nair. When I came to Mumbai, I wanted to be a hero, a star.  Fate had its way. I became a chaiwala*. I work hard and earn my roti*. That is a decent life. Isn’t it? At least I did not do crime.

Even though Rafique did not take advice, he realized that James was his well wisher. He became his friend and partner in his work. James was like a student who was interested in finding out our problems. He wanted to know about our lives. He wanted to find how we decided what was right and what was wrong. He wanted to know what we did when we perceived injustice. Rafique helped him meet up people in the slum. James came twice a week and did his job. He never missed his full cup special chai in my shop.

In about a year, James started educating us about our rights. He told us about how the real system ought to work. We knew how it worked. The constable on beat was the symbol of all authority to us. Give him a free cup of chai, he would not bother you for the day. The other symbol of power we know is the neta*. His ilk come here before the elections and would never show up again. The bigger guys here keep in touch with the netas. James taught us that these fellows are there to serve us and not get served by us. He also told us about the court system. In fact, that year Police picked Zuber and locked him up. They had suspected him in some bomb-blast case. We knew Zuber as a hard working tailor. He was cool and liberal. He could have no such links. James came to our rescue. It was then that we came to know that he was a lawyer. It seems he had studied in one of the best law colleges in India. I heard it is in Banglore. To us he was like God. Zuber was back. We learnt we could fight.

He fought few other court cases for our slum people. One was a divorce of Janaki and Kadam. Kadam’s drinking was routine. He beat his Janaki black and blue. One night she fell on a doorpost and bled from her scalp. It required 4 stitches to control that bleeding. Next weekday was the day James usually came to our slum. He spoke to Janaki and other neighbors and reported to the police. Police laughed at the issue. They said domestic fights between husband and wife are normal and they should be sorted at home and not police station. With James around they anyway had to register the case. James tried counseling Kadam. I would not have even tried. Some people won’t change. Atrocities on Janaki increased. Janaki decided to leave Kadam. Where would she go in Mumbai? How would she feed herself and her little five year old son Babul? She was concerned as Babul too was getting beaten regularly. She was also afraid that he could become like his father.

James fought for her and got her a divorce and also the custody of the child. Guys like Rafique too were not very happy with the divorce thing happening. Why? Aren’t other women adjusting with alcoholic men? Aren’t other women tolerating few beatings received from their husbands? James reasoned that we all have basic rights common to all mankind. One such thing is a right to life, liberty and security. He said our liberty should end one foot away from his neighbor. Here we had Kadam always violating his wife’s right to security and exercising his pseudo-liberty. He also felt Janaki could leave her husband exercising her right to liberty. I can very well understand that. Marriage should be based on mutual continual nurturing relationship. I was sort of convinced that she had a right to break the marriage. James also found Janaki a house maid’s job in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, which is not too far from Dharavi. Kadam has died two years ago in a train traffic accident. Obviously, he should. He was totally drunk and was crossing the railway tracks. I wonder how he had survived 40 years on those tracks.

During last year’s elections most of our area’s people had gone to election campaign programs for money. There was very little business. I could have some personal time with James. I asked him about how he spent rest of the time. He said that he visited slums in Thane and Pune on a regular basis. He was doing the same thing that he has been doing to us, providing legal aid. I asked him how he managed to live. He smiled and said that few friends support him. Many of them were from a  network of Lawyers. There were others who also contributed. A dozen of them gave about Rs 1000/- each per month. That probably washed their conscience of the guilt of not doing anything for the poor. Many of those lawyers had monthly income running into Lakhs*. His wife Agnes was a teacher in a school and she earned another Rs 5000/-. They managed their livelihood in Mumbai with that money. It was difficult to imagine the kind of place that he was staying. He probably was not too better off than us.

Last year, he started coming less frequently. I was busy with pregnancy of my wife. I did not notice that I did not see him for six months. He came two weeks ago. He looked tired and worn out. His head was low as he walked past my shop.  I shouted for him, “ Saab. Chai?”  He pulled himself to the bench in my shop and sat down. I gave him his usual -special full cup Chai. He looked at me as he sipped and smiled. He looked older and mature. His dynamic force was gone. He was sober but looked to be in control. He finished his cup and went to meet others in the slum. I got busy with my work.

That evening I met Rafique. I told him that James had come that morning. I also shared my observations and expressed my wonder at the change. Rafique smiled and said, “You will never believe what he has gone through. He appears different, but this is what he really was- all the time that we saw him.” “Why? What happened? Tell me what you know”, I asked knowing very well that Rafique being close to James would know more.

Rafique narrated this story, “ Agnes, the wife of  James Sir had been suspecting him of having an affair with someone. She put strictures on where he could go, when he would be back, whom he would talk to and so on. She also felt that he was trying to kill her. Six months ago she stabbed James in his stomach with a knife. James was lucky; the knife pierced his bowels but spared his blood vessels. His neighbors heard the shriek and rescued him. They took him to Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General, Hopital in Sion. They did an operation and saved him. In the meantime his wife Agnes was arrested for attempted murder.”

“Oh! My God. It should be tough on James to go through all this”, I asked “What happened next?” Rafique said, “I am still shocked at what James has done. After his discharge, he fought for release of Agnes and won the case. He then got her treated in a psychiatric facility. They gave her shock treatment and medicines.” Rafique added, “She had not responded well to treatment. She is now on the best medicine in the world for her problem. James Sir takes her for blood tests every week. She still has not improved. She is suspicious of him even now. James Sir still lives with her, though he had to change the locality. The locals requested him to vacate. Our great lawyer chose not to fight.” I felt numbed. I could not say anything. Rafique had his cup of chai and left.

I could not sleep well that night. How can James live with his wife after what she did to him? How can he continue to be with her when she still poses a threat on his life? How can he share home with such a dangerous woman? Why can’t he divorce her and start a new life? He has helped so many people start afresh.

When he came today, I asked him, “Saab, Can I ask you something personal?” He agreed with his usual smile. “Saab, I heard what has been happening in your life from Rafique. I feel very bad about it. I want to know why you want to continue living with a person who is suspicious of you and has tried to even murder you? Can’t you choose a life of liberty that you want us to have? Why…?”

James then said, “Nair, we all have rights. Don’t you realize, if we all had our rights then nothing will be left. We all give up our rights for those we love. Don’t we? You have every right to eat from what you earn. Would you spend it eating Chicken Biryani alone or would you spend money to eat normal food with others in family? I have a right to liberty. I can divorce her as she would not allow me to be close with her, but I also have a duty to care for her. I have made a promise to be together in health and in disease, in happiness and in suffering. I will keep my promise even if it means to give up some of my freedom.

“But…You fight for our freedom”, I asked. He said, “Yes, I do fight for freedom and so many other rights. Many of our friends are unaware of their rights. If they are aware they would like to claim them. I help in raising awareness and helping fight to claim it. If someone does not want to claim a right for a different purpose, it is absolutely acceptable. It would be nice if that purpose is rational. Do you remember, last year Shinde joined BSc in Maths though he got a quota seat in Engineering. It is rare for someone to get to college level from Dharavi. Everyone scolded him. I knew he had a higher agenda. He wants to prove himself. A person who can run does not need crutches. Shinde will come up in life. He will live with self respect. Watch him. Anyway coming back to the point, rights give people a chance to make their life beautiful. Giving up your rights too can make life beautiful. In the case of me and Agnes, it is not yet beautiful. I agree I do not know what can happen to me, but that is alright. In a grand plan of people caring for their family, it is already beautiful.”

As I saw him walk away, I wondered James did give up much to be with us and has made life more beautiful for us. I found a new definition of love: That which makes the subject give up his/her rights to make life more beautiful for the object of his love.


*Chaiwala- One who deals with Tea.

*Roti- Pancake made from wheat. Contextual translation- bread.

*Neta– Leader, usually political.

*Lakh- 100,000.

*Saab– Sir

PS:( added on 25th September 2010) A sequel to this story “Love: Feeling, Reason and Choice” can be found here.


18 Responses to “Rights and Love: a story”

  1. Preena Deepak said

    Very nice piece and so thought provoking too.

  2. Your stories make riveting reading. It’s good they come a few days apart each time – a bigger dose would be highly depressing!! Or is that a normal trait for a psychiatrist!! Just kidding!!

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      Thanks Arpit. With comments like these , I could make writing an alternate career 🙂
      You have asked why my stories are depressing.
      I try to bring dark realities of the world into my stories. The realities, which I feel are missed out in the popular discourse. I have been criticized by many others too for writing depressive stories. I gladly accept that criticism:-)
      I see a lot of suffering in the world and so I try to bring it out. I struggle with giving hope easily without engagement with the problems. Many problems are so complex that I am overwhelmed by them even in my thought. Writing happy endings would betray my conscience. This is my problem.

      • Dear Dheeraj,

        Sincere apologies. Actually after I left the post I wanted to come back and clarify, but my internet stopped working and then I forgot. What I said was as a joke. I totally understand that the realities of this sinful world are often dark and I know that each of your stories is probably happening a hundred times over every day. In fact, what I like about your stories is that you actually bring out something beautiful through all the pain. That is the key to meaningful existence. That we can see beyond the obvious pain and hurt to the deeper truths of life and God that are there if we only look for them. Thanks again, and don’t change anything!!


        P.S. Must remember that psychiatrists are serious people. My regular interactions with Raja had made me forget that!!

        • Dheeraj Kattula said

          Thanks Arpit for reading beyond my lines. I hope to continue to write.
          Raja uses humour as his primary defense even before an anxiety signal gets repressed, such that there is no need to deal with frustration at any stage ! 🙂 Joking…

  3. RR said

    Nice story. Giving a hope of good meaning to the lifestories that are full of spelling mistakes.

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      I have not understood your point.

      If you mean the spelling/ grammar mistakes in the story, please do point out. I would make changes and also acknowledge you. I have made the spelling changes you have pointed earlier.Thanks for that.

  4. RR said

    No doctor, I could not see any more mistakes. I was not keen also when I saw its not going to affect the beauty of the story. Thanks for acknowledging me anyway for that very little help. 🙂

    What I wrote was this:-In the eyes of the world, James´s life is filled with meaningless deeds. We see no good outcome till now. But he was giving a new meaning to his deeds by defining his love and commitments in a better way than that the world defines.

    I was thinking, perhaps a word with a spelling mistake in one language can have a beautiful meaning in another langauge.

    The story is very well written.

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      I get the meaning now. Thanks.
      Regarding the spelling mistake and beauty, we must remember that we must evaluate a person in the language he has intended to use. We cannot give points for writing mistakes which are meaningful in some other context.
      In the story James shocks us, living by some values. It is as if he was speaking a different language. We might say he was speaking well but for some one else who thinks in different language it could be gibberish. Human emotions sometimes transcend culture. Most societies would respect James for his commitment. So in an ultimate sense he was not speaking gibberish in any human of languages. Have I confused you as much as you confused me before? 🙂

  5. RR said

    Not in an argument with you doctor. 🙂

    Just trying to expose this world which appreciates goodness but actually does not do it (I do not exempt myself also from them).

    A person sees someone who was attacked and wounded and lying on the way. He stops there and says, “Its so sad and painful and its not right that any person shall do such a crime to him.”

    Another person came that way at the same time, and saw the wounded person. He didnt wait to pass a comment to others who were standing there.. But rushed to the wounded person and helped him by giving water to drink and taking him to the doctor.

    The two persons had the same emotions, same language..both the persons understood the language of compassion..

    Still, the first person, did not change the situation!!

    But the second person did, and it can shock the first person for he could not do it, though he knew what is appreciable!! 🙂

    What is the difference here? I would say, even if I speak the right langauge with no spelling mistakes but do not put it into practice through deeds, I speak only gibberish/meaningless language..Its not going to help this world.

    Many in this world speak gibberish though they have a good knowledge of the right languages. I do believe there are some exceptions. Thats why this world is surviving. And their deeds are in news papers and news channels at times.At it shocks the world!

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
    1 Corinthians 13:1.

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      Thanks RR for reminding us the story of Good Samaritan. Thanks for also bringing up 1 Corinthians 13, my favorite treatise on love. Paraphrasing what you have written, one can quote James 2:26 “…faith without deeds is dead.”

  6. Narayan Bindhani said

    Hi, sir
    Its really good to be human right activist but it is better to sacrifice one’s rights for the sake of others . The society will change for the better when people know their rights and yet sacrifice it for others. Society would remain uncivilized when people remain ignorant of their rights and adjusted because of religious or some other reasons.

    Narayan Bhai.

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      Dear Narayan Bhai,

      Thanks for visiting the blog and writing the comment.
      I agree with what you have written. It is something like,it is acceptable if a person works for a meager salary, because he is interested in the work but it is not acceptable if someone is paid a meager salary because of his ignorance or weakness.
      I have learnt much from you regarding realities in life from the life stories we discussed during our evening chats in GSMH campus. Those chats have shaped my thinking on various issues. I miss you and your fellowship. I appreciate your commitment. I know the sacrifices you have made to be there.
      May God bless you and your family abundantly.


  7. neerja said

    Hey.. if you see everyday life of any indian family – husband , wife, mother, mother – in law, father, father in law. Everyone adjusts themselves in a family. some may be short tempered, some are patient, etc.

    When the tolerance is missing, or has exceeded limits, then, u find many divorces come up.

    You are taking an example of a husband & wife here. So you are basically pointing out that husband is tolerating his wife even when she is a about to kill him.
    The scene will look completely different if a child is mad.The parents don’t give on their children..(imagine the child is 30 yrs old and their parents 50yrs)
    Every one tries to make their life simple and easy – so divorce is an easy option.
    But every one tries to accomodate their loved ones – whether they are parents, spouses,relatives or children.
    So when dealing with family in general.. RIGHTS do not stand, only emotions & smartness.

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      Thanks for your comment.
      You are absolutely correct Neerja in pointing that when we deal with family we do not claim our rights. You have indicated it is because of emotions and smartness. My perspective is slightly different, but you might agree with me. Don’t we give up our rights even if it is irrational at times as in this story? Don’t we give up our rights even if our emotions go contrary? We would if we have commitment. Many times volitional aspects are forgotten in discussions. We discuss rationally and debate emotionally but we forget we have volitionally chosen which side we would take. Love is an act of commitment. It is not just a feeling, as perceived commonly. Marriage is more than a rational act of convenience. Feelings may fade and contingencies may change. Love is volitional and we demonstrate it in our families. In fact love need not be limited to family. It can and should extends to neighbors. I do not deny that when we love, life is all going to be all right. Love is costly. We have to give up some things including rights.
      I am so happy to see that you have written what I see everyday, i.e parents in 50’s bringing children with mental illness in 30s for treatments despite all difficulties. I am so encouraged by their love for their loved ones that I do not give up therapy even if it is difficult.

      Anyway Neerja, thanks for checking out the blog again 🙂
      I remember you have commented in the blog before too. I would look forward for your comments. By the way I am going to attend the General Body Meeting of KVCLRI Alumni association on the 19th of September 2010. If you are in Chennai, you are welcome.

  8. […] Rights and Love: a story […]

  9. photo said

    Wonderful site. Plenty of helpful information
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