“The winter was too chilling. And blank, somehow. In the background, there was no blaring music, and the morning felt like someone had taken the salt out of an almost perfect chotpoti.
“Bitterness filled the mouth as the boy woke up. He didn’t feel like waking up. The cot creaked as he made his slightest movement. The rays of the sun were not going to visit until later, but the perpetual routine of waking up at 5 AM never came to a close. The blanket was thick enough to cover the outer cold, but there was a shiver going through his bones that his thoughts could not shelter.
“He did not comprehend the feeling, rather, he could not. There were moments of laughter, but there was an underlying stinging that urged him to escape. Where to? He never knew. There was no moment of prolonged happiness. For the major part of each day, it felt to him that he was drowning in the river, and the point of neutrality was his breath. The breath he was trying to catch.
“The harvest was not doing well, and did not deliver much for a few seasons. Everyone in the community had suffered losses, but Ismail dumbfounded. Was it because his seeds weren’t good or was his harvest just worse because he hadn’t planted it properly? He would think about this every other day, and like a cycle, it went on. It didn’t hurt, but it rendered Ismail numb.
“It did not matter further, it was high time he got up. The sweater had holes in it, but it was not ruined just yet. His mother had heated up the leftover rice from last night, and made panta. The warmth of the earthen bowl and the heat from the first bite of chili provided a respite. This morning, the iciness of his bones was lighter.
“There was a deep sigh before he crossed the threshold of his hut. As the sun hit his bones, he felt as if it was a better sunrise than the preceding ones.
“The previous night, at the tea stall, as he pondered upon the feeling of not being enough, an old friend had asked about how he had been feeling. It was not much, but to Ismail, he felt like these thoughts had been ploughed, and a lot of darkness had come bursting out.
“For the first time since the death of his father, he had spoken to someone, and somehow felt lighter. It was not a cure, but a step nevertheless. Ismail broke it down about how the smallest things felt like knives pressing onto his body. Even though he could never articulate it, he expressed his hopelessness in the simplest of terms.
“There was a time when Ismail felt like he was never going to have a good harvest. He was being eaten up by how his mother had seemed disappointed when he said the cultivation wasn’t fruitful. Even though he had paid the fees for the exam, he was scared his brother would not be able to sit for them. There was a tumble – one after another, he was driven into a dark abyss of thoughts that never ceased to stop frowning upon him.
“But at that tea stall, the friend he had just met, listened to him. For a long time, his friend listened, and Ismail went on. This went on for around six months, until one day, Ismail said he felt like there was no more ice. That he had started feeling warmth again.
“Ever since, Ismail and his friend met less frequently, until their contact was rendered to monthly letters.
“Ismail is better now. He realised his land was not fertile enough to support his crops, and that it was not his fault. Then, he invested in a poultry farm which allows him to let ends meet. His brother passed his exams, and his mother still grieves. No, not for her son, but for her husband whom she loved dearly.
“This was the reason why I wanted to start a mental health campaign in the village. I did not know I would meet Ismail on the day I got lost on my bike. Neither did I know that he was going through depression when I met him.
“To me, he was a farmer, sitting on a wooden bench on a cold winter. But I was wrong. The last time we met, I told Ismail about his illness. As he sipped his tea, he said in the most forlorn tone that he was lucky we crossed paths. Otherwise, he might have been taken to the local ojha to be cured. Ismail said that I was his Ojha, because the broom I used on him was when I listened, and the mantras he heard were my words.
“To derive from my story is your choice, but as you graduate, you will be lucky to cross paths with cases this close to you. Always remember, mental health matters, whether it is here in a mega city, or in a small village which you never knew existed. Thank you.”
This excerpt is a speech of a clinical therapist on his retirement day. He never shared this with anyone beforehand as he could never express the gravity of the case. As an older, wiser person, he let his listeners derive meaning.