What would you do if destiny twisted the road you took? What if it threw you to a place you did not want to go? Would you fight, would you run or would you accept?
Set across two cities in India in the early eighties, Life is What You Make it is a gripping account of a few significant years of Ankita’s life.
Ankita Sharma has the world at her feet. She is young, good looking, smart and has tones of friends and boys swooning over her. She also manages to get into a premier management school for her MBA.
Six months later, she is a patient in a mental health hospital.
Life has cruelly and coldly snatched that which meant the most to her and she must now fight to get it all back.
It is a deeply moving and inspiring account of growing up, of the power of faith and how determination and an indomitable spirit can overcome even what destiny throws at you.
A late, at its core a love- story that makes us question our beliefs about ourselves and our concept of sanity, and forces us to believe that life is truly what one makes it.
Preeti Shenoyis an author and artist based in Bagalore, India. Her first book 34Bubblrgums and Candies, a creative nonfiction, made it to the national bestseller list.
Her interests are as multifarious and divers as her several academic degrees. She also specializes in pencil portraits and holds an internationally recognized qualification from UK in portraiture. She has held a number of varied jobs in the past. She has also written for different publications like Reader’s Digest and The Times of India, as well as taught English and Math to underprivileged children in India. She loves art, reading, travelling, photography, nature, animals, blogging, basketball, and most of all,, spending time with her spouse and two children.
I wait my turn on the chair outside the doctor’s office.The psychiatrist, to be precise. The so-called expert. We have travelled all the way from Bombay to Bangalore to make this trip. Getting an appointment here is like getting an appointment to meet the Pope at the Vatican City. I don’t’ know how many months. For this visit, dad had to pull a whole lot of strings. Finally one of his oldest friends managed to get it. It is one of the best mental health care centers in India. Or so I have been told. Perhaps it is. Every magazine and every newspaper seems to mention it and quote its expert doctors on anything to do with mental health.
The drive this place itself is begging to seem ominous. The road lined with large trees, spreading their branches covering the place with gloom, as our hired car makes it way, it makes me want to get down and run. But I do no such thing. I sit and watch my surroundings. There is a blue board with large white letters proclaiming the name of the mental health institute, which is spread over a sprawling campus of ten acres, full of old buildings with fading yellow paint, dingy corridors, trees, bushes even a cafeteria and scores of vehicles in which patients arrive with their families in search of hope. In me, there is none left. There is only despondency and an increasing feeling of frustration.
We pass a large building brandishing a board which proclaims it is some kind of a guest house. I notice the peeling paint again. The car passes the other buildings, the Psychiatry ward, the Casualty and Emergency services, the De- addiction centre, the General ward, the Observation ward and the pale yellow cottages called units for some in – house patients. It looks like any other hospital and there is nothing to suggest that it is a mental hospital, except of course if you observe the signs and the people. I hate it all. It fills me with a kind of dread, I don’t belong here. I ought not to even be here in the first place. But I am, and there is nothing I can do about it.
The driver parks the car and we enter a building which is an outpatient screening block. It has more than a hundred people and their families, all waiting. The faint stench of human odor which emanates when bodies are packed together, hits my nostril and I hold my breath involuntarily. My dad approaches the counter and joins the snail and I read the board at the entrance on which the following is written in bold letters:
“Patients visiting National Mental Health Institute for the first time are requested to register themselves at this block for consultation/treatment.
Registration is carried out between 8:00 A.M and 11:00 A.m on all days except Sunday and certain specific holidays.
Please observe queue.”
I realize with a sinking feeling that the patient now refers to me. I feel helpless. I feel lost. I feel angry.
And in my mind I think that the whole mental institute things is bull shit. Hype. They talk nonsense and have no clue as to what they are doing or saying. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to see any psychiatrist of doctor. My opinion now does not matter anymore. I had my chance and I screwed it up badly. Now I have no choice except to my parents and go along with whatever they suggest. So much for my attempts at being independent. So much for my attempts at being as adult.
I sit between my mother and father. I feel like a kid but I am 21, a full grown adult. At least technically. The chair is made of metal and feels cold. I try to hide the scars on my wrist, and adjust the broad leather strap on my watch, out of habit. Curious stares and worse, the looks of pity irk me, I don’t want any of it. Especially, not now. Especially, not today. I don’t regret my pat actions at all. Physical pain is far easier to bear than mental agony. To be really honest, if I had another chance I think I would do it again. I look at the anguish on my dad’s face and the look of constant worry on my mother’s brow, just like those unwanted notides stuck on the roadside walls. I don’t feel sorry for them at all, though I am supposed to be. I don’t even wish I could erase them at all, though I am supposed to be. I don’t even wish I could erase them, I don’t want to see yet another doctor. I am tired of it all. What is this doctor going to tell me that others haven’t?
I loathe them all. The whole lot of them. They know nothing. My face is expressionless. I am incapable of feeling empathy. It is as though my heart has turned to wood. Rotting, festering wood that gnaws at the core of my being and threatens to drag me in. I was not like this. But that was then and this is now.
I look at the other patients waiting their turns outside. There are at least one hundered and sixty or maybe more. The waiting room is actually a long cavernous hall about fifty feet by thirty feet and there are iron chairs arranged in rows, one behind the other. It seems like the waiting room at a railway station and just as crowd too. There is a guy seeing on the chair with his arms round his legs, rocking back and forth. There is a girl who looks around my age staring listlessly outside. “I am not like you. I won elections in my college. I used to be the secretary of the Arts Association. I was doing my management from a fine business school. I am not like you all.” I want to scream at all of them. I want to tell them that I am a somebody, at least in my world which consists of college, home , friends, fun movies – the normal world consists of college, home m friends, fun , movies – the normal world, nor this hospital where people who cannot cope come to seek help. I am ‘educated’, superior, knowledgeable, and smart. The Pathetic, helpless situation that I am finding myself in is somehow making me want to prove that I am better than all of them. But it feels like somebody has stuffed a cloth in my mouth to prevent me from talking. I am unable to say anything. At the back of my mind I also realize that in reality, maybe I am in no way better than them. I am nobody. Here I am just a patient, waiting in turn with scores of others, waiting simply to see the doctor.
My gaze becomes transfixed on a middle aged man who cannot stop making small circulatory motions with his thumb. The air is dry, suffocating and oppressive. Outside, it is bright but shady. The psychiatrist inside will assess me and decided the next course of action What does he know? Can he look into my head? Does he even known what I am going through? Does medical school teach you to feel another’s pain or step into their shoes? Most of the doctors I have spoken to are impersonal and clinical. They are trained to be so. I highly doubt if this one is going to be any different.
Eventually, the nurse calls out my patient number. No one gives a damn about my name or what I used to be. I rise to enter his office. So do my parents. The doctor speaks to us. My dad is explaining my ‘symptoms’. I wince. That is not how it is, I want to scream. But I don’t want them to think that I am out of control. So I dig my finger nails into my skin to prevent me from talking. I grit my teeth and listen. The doctor asks my dad and mom to with outside.
Then he looks at me. He looks nice. He is young. He seems kind but that does not fool me. He is just a professional asshole being paid to assess me. I decided to co- operate. It is the best way.
Then he starts off with mundane questions. Childhood, school,, college. I look at him dully. I don’t feel like telling him anything.
“Look, “he says.” “I need to enter all this info here. Do you want to tell me or do you want me to ask your parents?”
I feel trapped, cornered, exasperated and suddenly very tired. I just want it to end.
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