Mrs. Gayetri Dey Sarkar looks adorable as she plays and gurgles with her toddling great grand-daughters. Her wrinkled, toothless smile is warm enough to melt the poles. This petite, apparently fragile, septuagenarian is a fighter and a survivor. Of life’s many curve balls, she has faced Schizophrenia and emerged stronger from it.
Life is but a Dream
Gayetri’s memory falters often now, she is unable to keep track of people and relationships. Her cognitive and social skills are also imperfect. And yet, the story of her early life gushes out seamlessly every time you bring it up with her.
Gayetri was born in a pre-independence India, in the city of Dhaka. Her father was a manager for a private firm and her childhood was comfortable, for a while. The partition came to shatter their lives and steal her childhood. Gayetri’s voice gives away when she describes the turmoil at the time.
“We packed our things, said goodbye to that beautiful house and took a flight to India. Everything became so quiet suddenly, like all the happiness in our lives had been siphoned off. Before the year had turned, we watched our mother silently wither and eventually die of the heart-break. My father died the year after. Suddenly, we were thrown from being the privileged kids to orphaned refugees.”
Gayetri and the younger siblings found a home with their married elder sister and before she could finish school, she was married off to a businessman’s son in Tripura. Gayetri’s husband, Haridas, joined his father’s business, but insisted that Gayetri pursue her education. Gayetri went on to finish her schooling, graduation, and post-graduation, even as domestic life followed its course and her two daughters, Mitali and Mahua, were born.
She got employed as a professor in Education at Tripura. Gayetri’s life after that was not unlike many Hrishikesh Mukherjee movies, full of minor ups, major downs and yet, filled with love and laughter.
The rough waters had started to settle and it seemed like Haridas and Gayetri were headed for a pleasant retired life. But, Haridas was only 64 when he succumbed to a series of heart attacks. For Gayetri, it was the loss of her anchor.
“Ma did not really cry after our loss, she just turned to stone”, mentioned Mahua.
But, as it often happens, life continued to flow for everyone – the daughters getting very busy with their growing children. Gayetri resumed her job and chose to stay alone in the apartment that she had shared with her husband. In 1999, five years after Haridas’s demise, Gayetri retired from her post and the full impact of her loneliness hit her. It was around that time that the whispers started in her head, an experience that Gayetri denies today.
That Hushed Phone Call
Mitali and Mahua received a frantic phone call at 2am in the morning, sometime in the year 2000.
“It was my mother’s neighbor, she sounded scared and concerned. She asked us to come immediately and take mother to our place. Mom had knocked at her door at that time – she had seemed confused and disturbed. We were terrified. Even today, 16 years later, it gives me the shivers to think about that night”, said Mahua.
Had they not gotten any clue about her deterioration before this phone call? “Not really, she did sometimes mix-up a thing or two – but we ascribed that to having a ‘senior moment’. She was living alone and functional – we had not seen this coming,” said Mahua.
The next few days were tough on Gayetri’s loved ones. The incidents were short and frenzied. Gayetri often related conversations that were improbable and grim. She would have black-outs during those incidents. At other times, she looked tired, withdrawn and uncharacteristically silent.
“We were struggling to find Dimma in the body of the woman we loved. This was a different person. She had incidents of hearing and seeing people who clearly weren’t there. She would often try to leave the house and wander off. Her physical strength during those ‘attacks’ was phenomenal for a person of her stature. She was either very disturbed or very tired.”, reminisced Gayetri’s grandchild.
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