You are responsible for your recovery (from mental illness)

You will probably think I am unkind to even suggest this. But the truth is that nobody can bring change to your life, if you won’t. Just like no outsider can bring development in another country, nobody can bring progress to another group,  neither can anyone bring change in your life- even if they be your parents or anyone else close to you. You have to free yourself from the ghoul of mental illness. Be assured that others have trod the path, you are not alone.

The human mind is an interesting,  powerful device, and there is nothing that it cannot learn or unlearn. Even if there are behaviours that you have come to be  attached to, which you identify as inherent to your personality and sense of who you are, if they are not doing you good, you need to change them. Not because I am saying so- because getting rid of something that is not working for you, is only going to make you happier.

If you look all around the world, people who have overcome their severe disabling conditions are not weak people, who were attached to their disabled selves. They have taken their disabling conditions to be a part of their lives and lived lives accordingly, without being overwhelmed by disability forever. I am sure you would agree with me if I mention the names of Hellen Keller and Stephen Hawking. Perhaps on would think their disabilities have been big enough to incapacitate the average person’s mind into inaction. But that did not stop them. These are the role models one needs to look upto.

Trust me, I have always worked by looking up at role models- people whose stories I could see reflected in my own, and in whose struggles I felt I could find a resonance. I have found immense courage and will to survive by looking at others, especially those who suffer. Take heart and look at others. You will see more faces like mine, of those who have recovered.

Only when you believe that you too want to recover, will you take the next step – to plan how the recovery will happen. Recovery is always a slow process. You cannot be impatient about it, as you will have to muster many sorts of inner and outer resources, filter them over time to see what is working and what is not and remain consistently involved with them. I do not think anything can stop you from recovering. That is a promise from someone who has been there, done that.

However, before I conclude this little writing I must share with you, that nobody can recover without the support of outsiders of the circle. We cannot see where we are going wrong, or even if we can, we often do not know how to change it, because we are so accustomed to behaving in ways that we have always known. For that we need suitable others.

Since the mind is capable of learning and adapting, it can adapt to new behaviours. But what those behaviours could be, is not what we may know. That is where, counselors and therapists come in: to help you steer your path. If I did not have a therapist may be I would never have recovered myself. Whether or not I could be in regular counseling with her, whatever she advised me, I followed meticulously, because I valued her presence in my life immensely. Without outsiders we will make progress, but at a rate which may take decades to recover.

Choose sensibly therefore.


Why family support is NOT WORKING in mental health

This article can be downloaded from here, and is one of the resources offered by Antardhwanee. In this location, this article is titled, Families and Recovery.

In societies where social resources in health are limited, families play a crucial role in the illness and recovery of people. In mental health the case is even more so. For long periods, it is the family alone that bears the brunt of people’s illness and disabilities. Sometimes this may amount of a lifetime, and then the parents/siblings, who are the primary caregivers end up with the massive concern of who will look after their loved one[1], after their own demise.

Here is a brief list of findings, that research leads me to conclude, in the context of roles that families are playing, which ensure that people remain mentally ill, rather than recover and reintegrate back into society. This list is not exhaustive and as study is an ongoing process more thoughts will get added to this. Here are the beginning ideas.

Learning to be helpless together

Sometimes when one person is given a mental illness diagnosis, the whole family is paralyzed by a fear that mental illness has crept into their gene pool. They feel  extreme pressure due to the diagnosis and the social stigma associated with it. They all feel helpless about it and the infirmity or sense of loss that accompanies mental illness diagnosis of one person, in fact impacts everyone deeply. Secretly, they all start analyzing their own behaviours to see whether some traits of it are also lying within them!

In such a case if another member of the family faces anything of a similar nature, they are very quick to take action and take them for a ‘check up’ as well.

Protecting the loved one interminably

I have seen personally families being so defensive about their loved ones, that they keep protecting them from the world around. At times it amounts to the extreme case of hiding them from view, or not letting their loved one engage in any social milieu by themselves or without supervision. It aids in chocking both the people or set of people very severely, as no new ideas can come into the ecosystem, which does not interact with the outside world in any significant ways.

I have even seen another extreme, which surfaces in scenarios of marriage. I am not sure if this happens in India, but I have seen it here only. I have seen multiple families ‘hiding’ the mental illness diagnosis from the partners of their loved ones. As a result people are not able to remain truthful in relationships, and the trust that could be there between married partners never develops fully, because one partner knows they are not honest. This protectionism of the parents does not allow the partners to be one another’s greatest support systems, which marriage was traditionally meant to be.

Hero worshipping

Paradoxical as it may sound, I have found in many families that parents or siblings talk about their loved one, with a great fondness and regard, often attributing their mental illness to a ‘high IQ’, superior intelligence, artistic abilities or anything else like that. Though there are studies that have proved that mental illness is more positively linked to artistic creativity, the reverse is not true. Artistic creativity does not appear out of the blue, just because you are mentally ill and therefore your intelligence is also more than the average person.

By making their loved believe they are ‘smarter than the average’, families bestow them with a sense of entitlement, which means, just because they are more intelligent, they have a right to have moodiness, depressions, or any other attribute. This even inflates their ego and self belief that whatever they do or not do is well deserved, because now they are ‘mentally ill’.

I have seen in many cases that these loved ones, even when they come into counseling are so cocksure of themselves that they do not believe they will gain anything from counseling. They don’t. Their own intelligence is such a barrier, which their parents have created around them, that they are unable to use that intelligence for their own betterment by seeking help from anyone outside the circle.

Families ensure compliance to Medication

Since families have a great amount of faith in modern medicine they do not believe that psychiatry does not have a cure for mental illness. In fact, I would go to the extreme of saying that in families where parents or siblings are doctors or scientists, the possibility of anyone recovering from any serious mental illness is quite remote. Due to their unquestioning faith in modern medicine they keep medicating their loved ones, without ever probing into whether medicines are really bringing any tangible outcome.

Families may become human rights violators

Nobody ought to be coerced or forced into psychiatric treatment, especially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Families often believe doctors so blindly and rather innocently, that whatever the medical professional recommends is to be taken as a rule. ECT  is a very controversial procedure which has long term repercussions for a person. There is no need to administer ECT to anyone, but doctors do not educate families enough, who are anyways only too willing to follow what psychiatrists say.

Often people are given psychiatric medication against their will and in spite of having no need for it, even on the sly (by mixing in food for instance). Those with mental illnesses are not allowed to choose their treatments, because their families believe they cannot decide for themselves. As a result they keep medicating them and pushing them towards the edge, for the rest of their lives, till they reach their end! Sadly, the human rights violations in mental health are the most in any category of health, and the most part of it comes from families.

Fractured Communications

In  a whole lot of families people do not talk to one another- either properly or at all. As a result whatever support could come to all of them due to interpersonal communication, does not come about. Everyone lives in an emotionally marooned state, spiritually shrunk, cold, deeply fatigued, restless and wounded.

Even if one of them finds a solution to a problem, since their inherent communications are flawed, they are not able to convey that to others. In my own work I have seen many a family member, including people with a diagnosis, have been enthused to either meet me, encounter my work or hear about the sort of work we do. However, they have not been able to convince other members in their families due to a long term loss of trust, in one another and in the fact that any other ways could appear, leading them out of mental illnesses.

Not only in my case, but often due to lack of communications, people do not seek any other social mechanism to deal with mental illness, apart from free resources that the internet offers them.

[1] Throughout this writing I have used the phrase ‘loved one’ to refer to those who have been given a mental illness diagnosis, rather than calling them someone with a mental illness.

Therapy is not common sense- trust me

If everything could be achieved by common sense communication, then people would easily learn a few skills and resolve all their problems. But that rarely happens.  A vast array of problems start from communications, but to solve those problems we cannot often fall back on our own communication skills or abilities only.

People, particularly in India, often have a mistaken notion that someone who is therapist/counselor is talking from common sense and giving advice based on their intelligence. Yes, I agree, it seems like that, but reality is that is never the case. Let me start by saying that whoever has whatever level of intelligence, they have reached there in a complex distillation of ideas, study, immersion and of course years of work in the field.

I am giving this prelude to a recent encounter with a family that I want to talk about. It was the brother who approached me through a social network, upon seeing my work in mental health in some way. He asked me a few things and over time that set the ball rolling. His concern was for his older sister, a woman in her early thirties, who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In due course when I traveled to Delhi, they came nearly 300 kms to meet me, all the way from UP.

The woman, let us call her Sarita, came energetically and seemed charged with ideas, and full of enthusiasm and verve. I could see she was excited, and ‘high’ in some way. I would not want to see this ‘high’ as a psychotic high but there was a case of being sure of one’s self, and a bit of grandiosity- what would be seen as the classical ‘symptoms’ of a disturbance in the psychological wellbeing of a person. However, I never want to look at people through the lens of pathology or illness and therefore despite seeing the ‘symptoms’, which were truly subtle, I noticed her emotional fragility, anger and inner disturbance. After all I am not a peer for nothing, if I cannot discern how subtle the emotional fabric is.

At the end of the dialogue, which lasted a good two hours, I figured that the young lady had come to take a clean chit from me, that she did not have a mental illness and therefore did not require medication. Of course, I do not believe that anyone requires medication. But to move away from that stage where you do not have to take medication, you have to be cognizant  enough to move into the behavioural domain. I mean to say, that certain behaviours of those who are classified ‘mentally ill’ is ‘not normal’ by the standards of those around them. That is why they are taken to a professional- psychiatrist, therapist or counselor, or any other doctor.

Each one of these professionals acts in accordance with their  training. A psychiatrist believes that the ‘symptoms’ are due to a chemical imbalance and if the proper chemical is given, the person will become ‘normal’ or ‘fine’. Psychologists come with various kinds of training but they are mostly informed by the same set of principles as psychiatrists, especially those who go through clinical psychology courses.

I have a diploma in counseling. But more significantly also a lived- illness/recovery experience, to fall back on.  I fall back on my lived experience based knowledge pretty regularly to understand the suffering of others. People, like me, often work in the domain of social psychology and self experience puts my knowledge at an altogether different level. I am not arrogant about it, but trying to capture the difference. Just imagine a dentist who has never known a toothache. How can they understand the pain of a patient? Contrast that with a dentist who has had dental caries, been through root canal treatment, got a tooth extracted in teenage and has two cavities. How much more the latter would know about the suffering of their patient?

The Story I was referring to…

Coming back to Sarita’s story. After one set of dialogues the duo went back. There was a lot of friction with the father and that seemed to be a dominant motif that emerged. The younger brother played the balancing role in the family. Sarita was happy that I was willing to look at her beyond the psychiatric label of schizophrenia. After that assurance, she was sure that she did not need any medication, which in any case, she had been flushing down the commode.

A few days later, she befriended me on the social network, and I noticed a sudden spike in her activity. In a way Facebook serves me very well, especially for watching what is going on in the lives of those I counsel or generally engage with, because it warns me if something is going wrong. (I recently also caught another friend getting into the spiral of PTSD, and warned her, told her to go to sleep calmly for a few days. It seems she tided over that. She her admitted to all the ‘symptoms’ that I had seen, which made me raise the question with her in the first place). I found her trailing me on every forum and posting her own posts there, by joining a whole lot of fora where I was involved. I found this a very unusual behaviour and I asked her brother, if everything was ok.

He informed me that things were not good and Sarita was too excited about a certain new thing in her life. She was going on talking about it to everyone, in a manner which raised suspicion about her. I told him, to tell her to talk to me, if she would like to. She did, through a facebook or WhatsApp message! In what way can a professional help a client via a message?

Few days later, on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day, I sent a message to her brother again, hoping all was well. It wasn’t. Sarita was clearly ‘high’ by now and aggressive, offensive and charging her family, particularly father, with all sorts of things. All my exchange happened with the younger brother alone, via messages only. When it seemed she would not be interested in counseling, I told him to seek recourse to psychiatry, which I inevitably know, would forcefully drug her, sedate her and possibly give her ECT. I shudder to think of that!

The brother understood what the way out was, since the sister was unwilling to talk to me, or seek any insights into her life, or have any other way, but her own. She left a job that I had encouraged her brother to help her hold on to, because she wanted to float her own entrepreneurial venture. I told him how to win her over take up the government job, as she was adamant, that it was beneath her dignity to do so.

Upon my recommendation, the brother took her to the psychiatrist and sure enough, the forcible drugging, the sedation and the ECTs followed suit. Families will never know how they become the chief arm of psychiatric coercion and the biggest reason why people become permanently disable due to mental health conditions, that they can easily recover from. What could I have done in this case, even if the brother trusted me completely to guide them? If the person who needs to talk to me, and understand the situation does not understand it herself, what recourse can the family take?

My advice to any family would come from two options. One is the biomedical way, which is often forcible and therapy/counseling. The latter is difficult, and requires patience. No matter what medication they take, if you do not want to incapacitate your loved one for the rest of their life, they will have to seek therapeutic guidance and support, to deal with their situation/s. If you forcibly medicate them or give them ECT (which should be made illegal immediately), you are actually infringing on their human rights. Yes, you got it right- it is a human rights violation, which you are committing within your own home, with your own loved one. Sorry to say that, if it hurts your sense of justice, but I cannot fool you or me about this.

How could therapeutic work have proceeded after the first meeting with Sarita?

Ideally the first meeting is where anyone assesses a situation. You hear the two points of view or sometimes even one person, if they have come alone. First meeting or even a few meetings should be the ground that people have to understand one another. Entering into therapy is entering into a relationship and both people need to know another. Would you not like to know who your therapist is after all?

In family counseling it is always better to listen to everyone and talk to everyone concerned, because ultimately everyone in the family is impacted by one person’s condition, whatever it is. Narrative therapy goes even a step further to include even the next level of people, and open dialogues mean involving even the kinsmen!

In the subsequent meetings, one sets an agenda for action and a modus operandi. No therapy work cannot get over in one, two or three meetings. Often it takes many a meeting with clients, for someone to truly understand where the roots of suffering lie in their life.

In Sarita’s case, this could have happened-

  1. Sarita could stay in touch with me and talk to me, not more than once in two-three weeks. That would really help us understand what is going on in her life, which causes her frustrations and anguish, and which periodically boils up as temper tantrums and then accusations against her parents.
  2. The way to deal with any behavioural issue is to address the behaviour directly. I increasingly prefer to bring families into dialogues early, so that whatever we are talking with one person, could be known to others who would help in accomplishing the goals of that one person. Often family communications are deeply fractious due to forcible handling of psychiatric crises. Families need help with talking to one another gently, without causing further rifts.
  3. Ultimately, it is Sarita’s journey towards her individuation and she needs to understand that whatever expressions she has to express her anger, frustration and moods is not working with others around. She would have to develop a more reasonable and non-threatening communication which does not make her family and herself a social nuisance and laughing stock. Part of the anguish of her brother stems from this responsibility towards his parents and neighbours.
  4. Any journey towards finding one’s balance takes time. Most will not even attempt it in their lifetime. Only the ones who are deeply fractured seem the most appropriate ones to require a therapeutic dialogue. In reality everyone needs help, support and guidance.
  5. Equally as much as Sarita, her family needs the support, help and collaboration. That is why family therapy is the need of the hour, not individual therapy.
  6. Assuming that a client like Sarita would speak with me once a month, it will easily take her between two -three years to understand her issues in a more clear way. Though it may seem a lot, but what is two/three years compared to a life of psychiatric medication and who knows how much disability due to them? I must add here, that every meeting between a therapist and their client, has long term effects. So though once a month may seem very small a time, in reality it has a long lasting effect, almost like a butterfly effect, which touches many chords in their lives.
  7. In family therapy literature, it is said that within 20 sessions, most outcomes of a long term nature, would emerge. I agree with this. (In due course if we can create reflecting teams, that would be even more empowering and faster). 20 sessions can happen over a couple of years…is that not truly remarkable? I am not sure India is ready for it yet! Sad, but this is what I am seeing from multiple families.

What follows are some general ideas about therapy-

  1. Till those who are given mental illness diagnosis do not feel the need to seek help to change their outcomes, no change can happen with a dialogue between any member of their family and a counselor, like me. I have seen many a person in a family wanting to bring their loved ones for counseling, but find that they do not have enough trust between one another, to accomplish that!  It is truly sad for them.
  2. Therapy is not a day long affair. It is a reflection on our lives and how we have come a long way, with our behaviours. Therapy does not mean I am a therapist and you are a patient. Therapy is your attempt to heal yourself through dialogue and understanding that emerges from it, by learning to look at your life in a more balanced, philosophical and calmer way.
  3. Therapy means someone is helping you change your behaviour and assisting you become what you always wanted to- by holding your hand, while you gain that wisdom. It is not about guiding you at all. It is about letting you become the expert in your own life. But until you want to change your behaviour, nothing about your life can ever change.

antardhwanee- one at a time, towards better mental health

It is a great challenge to work towards mental health of others and deal with the challenges of your daily life, which do not diminish just because you have recovered from mental illness. Life does not give you a respite- it gives you more and more…suffering, challenges and obstacles, with courage if you can muster it,  just because you have dealt with something serious in the past. I think most of the time I derive courage in my situations remembering how bad it was when I was totally depressed. Today when I encounter others in that state, I know from so much experience that they can also recover. The hope of recovery is what my counseling is all about, as of course the knowledge gained from decades of study and research.

It all began with research, because while researching in mental health, I realized a whole lot of things,which were not of a psychological nature at all, but of a social one, impacting mental health. By understanding my recovery more and more, I started gaining insights into how more become ill and can become well. That is the USP I have in counseling.

 Life begins on wasteland

Anyhow, this blog post is to share the work that I had started long back, but is now in the domain of the public, to offer my services in counseling. I am relieved and hopeful that more will recover, also with some of the insights that would emerge in the counseling process.

Here is the website– and I am happy that I have at last gained the clarity to bring all my mental health ideas, concerns, and research into one pool. Onward from here. This is the page we maintain on facebook about the same.

Arts, Media and Mental Health- WCPRR special issue

This blog post is only to share this link, via which I hope to save here the special issue of the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, in which my article has appeared finally, nearly two years from the start of the process. What a painful journey. This journal is a publication of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry. 

I am not sure if there are more recovery stories in there, apart from my own, but I hope to look into that also later. However, this special issue is about how the arts interact with mental health and whether change occurs in the lives of people due to it. I am going to write my reflections on the issue and in general about psychiatry and how it appropriates human suffering, by calling it madness so effectively- and a whole array of resources get going to confirm that position.

Of ‘higher’ castes and lower minds

Imagine burning two little children alive, while they sleep at home with their parents. By what stretch of imagination can this be called the act of a sane mind, let alone the mind of a so-imagined ‘higher’ caste?

The continued myth of higher castes needs to be shunned at all levels in society and its oppression on the ‘lower’ castes needs to be dealt with utmost severity. But who will wield that firm stance? Those who themselves are pillars of this social menace and who have stood to gain in the name of caste and birth, generation after generation?

Just look at their faces here. Do they look like children who are any different from any children anywhere in the world? What is the meaning of Dalit or caste to these little children or other children of their age? But what have they lost their innocent lives to? To an imaginary social hierarchy created by adults centuries ago, that they had no role in creating or perpetuating, but simply becoming victims of it, without having any part to play, other than being born.

We are a failed human society. Sorry to say that, but there is no other truth that justifies this shocking, unthinkable, most condemnable act of mob violence. There can be no further words than that. Forget about civilization, when adults can go and burn children to death in a barbaric, brutal fashion…it does not show any progress, culture, education or development. It just shows that the lower mind is doing its brutal, barbaric, naked dance and it will crush anything now…unless crushed with equal force. And that force is has to be organized social action, not individual or another caste based solution.

These ‘higher’ caste men who really think that caste is their entitlement are so illiterate that they do not realize that the basis of caste system was a division of labour and at a philosophical level the four varnas were depicted within the human body itself, where the mind or intellect represents the brahmin, the arms that do work and labour are kshatriyas!! The feet that do the walking and carry the burden of the body are the lower castes. Can you see the lower caste in your own self? It is what you cannot survive without.

There is no lower caste outside of you- it is all within. So stop this brutal, barbaric, primitive dance of your savagery, you idiots. You are not higher in any sense of the word, those whose actions are governed by your lower minds. Conquor the Ravana within, and not burn laughable effigies outside.

Narratives as method in Law School


Introductory Narrative Methods is the course that Prateeksha Sharma, a classical musician who works in mental health and communications, taught a group of 24 students within a span of 11 days at our law school. This elective subject was offered to the students from the second year till the final year, fifth year, students. According to us, the elective was unique in that it was a one of a kind elective that had never been taught at a law school. With lessons that related law with narratives and also made the students interpret a few events in a holistic view the elective was offered as a one credit course to the students. We think ,the idea behind the elective was to enable storytelling – recounting experiences and using your own experiences to understand and relate to other people’s experiences. Also we felt that, the course aimed to develop the skills of expression and listening that are pertinent to the practicing of the legal profession.

 Our  survey will focus on the Introductory Narrative Methods classes itself and opinions from various group of students as well as the course instructor and will conclude with whether the course helped the students arrive at a synthesis to their thesis and anti-thesis and whether the elective was really something that should be advised for law students or not.


 The primary method of collecting our data was through surveys. There are three different types of groups that were interviewed by us : the people who were given the opportunity, the people who were not given the opportunity and the course instructor. Within the people who were given the opportunity there were two different groups- the students who opted for the course and the students who did not opt for the course. Our  group of three allocated specific roles for ourselves and we worked towards reaching those goals and in the end everything was collectively edited and made. One of us interviewed the people who were not given the opportunity, the people who are in the second year including the second year students who attended the elective and the course instructor herself. One among us interviewed the people who are in the third year and the fourth year including the people who took the elective from those years; and the one of our member  interviewed the people who are in the fifth year and also the fifth year students who opted for the elective.

For this blog post a total of 40 students were interviewed by us and this blog post will cover all the different views and opinions shared by them.



People who were given the opportunity:

  • People who took the opportunity;
  • People who did not take the opportunity

People who were not given the opportunity: The first year students were not given the opportunity to elect this course. As the first years are not given the opportunity to take part in any electives they are the group that comprise of people who were not given the opportunity.

While interviewing the first year students, our member gave them a basic outline of what the elective is about and also showed them the brief description of the course, which was provided to the other students before the start of the elective. They were then asked whether they would be interested in taking part in such an elective or not and asked for their honest opinions about it.

We see that ,Nathan was not too excited when he heard about the elective. His goal is to work at a corporate firm and so he thought that the course would be of no help to him especially since it doesn’t even deal with any legal aspect.

“I don’t see any point in doing such a course which is not even related to law. I mean what more can this course teach me than the saying that there is always more than one side of a story?”

Willa replied to us that she did seem interested in the topic but the only drawback that she thought the course had was that the course instructor was a music teacher and had no legal background. She also mentioned “without a legal background I don’t think the course would be of any help to me because she wouldn’t know the laws that go behind let’s say arbitration which has been pointed out in the brief description given by the teacher.”

We got some other responses like , Kate did not want to be a part of any elective as she was already busy with all of her other credits and she did not think that she would be able to give enough time for the elective.

Shyaak told us that he did not want to take any elective, as he wanted to just enjoy life and live in the moment. He was satisfied with everything he has as a compulsory subject and he did not want to sit in a classroom for another 2 hours every day just to earn one more credit.


We have also interviewed the second years to delve deeper into the reasoning behind the students’ interest in the Introductory Narrative Methods course. We have divided the second years  into three categories to gauge their opinions. The groups were:

  • Students who applied for the course but later dropped down.
  • Students who applied for the course and continued it.
  • Students who did not apply for the course.

Neil told us that he opted for this course as it was took relatively lesser time and efforts when compared to other law school subjects.He even felt that he developed a new perspective on law school and legal writing.

After speaking to Emma we felt that she was exposed to newer forms and techniques in writing. She wanted  to take this learning further. She also said that the course instructor introduced her into a new world.

Armaan said that taking this course was an enriching experience for him. He put down his unexpressed thoughts onto paper with the self-narrative writing task. He also felt glad that he interacted with a varied set of people.

Sara applied for this course. Later, she opted out of it due to some health issues. But told us that she was really interested in doing the course and would have done it if she had been feeling well.

Zayan attended the first class and later decided not to do the course because he was expecting the course to be more law oriented. The course did not appeal to him because it was mostly arts oriented. We understood from his words that he felt wanted to do a course which would be  more in consonance with what he was studying at law school.

We had some unique response too.Sasha’s was one such. She expressed that the course description was too abstract for her liking. She felt she might not give her best to the course as she was packed up with a lot of other work. The writing task mentioned in the description also did not interest her.

And Juliet  replied to our questionnaire saying that she heard about the course before it started and found it interesting. But she chose not to do it as she had booked her tickets to go home. And she wanted to spend time with her family during the festive time.

We found a contrasting opinion in Jennifer’s response , she said that the course description was not appealing. She also disliked writing tasks and so did not choose the course.

The third year, fourth year and fifth year students mostly overlapped in their criticism and appreciation of the course. This is what we could comprehend from their responses. As far as the assignments are concerned, a few people were a little uncomfortable at the personal nature of the self-narrative. Even people who are open about their thoughts and feelings draw the line at people they are close to and comfortable with. They even shared that, the foundation of the course being connecting with people and finding your comfort space, people were not willing to extend their personal space to people they otherwise don’t interact too much with were reluctant in taking up the course. With the self-narrative, there were concerns as to how they could be completely honest about their experience in narrating it to a stranger. Secondly, an experience has no objective standard of grading. How then will the self-narrative be graded as an assignment? How can a third person evaluate your story? And if the point was just to enable one to write his/her story/experience, it comes down to it being a personal choice of values.

Some students replied to us that, if the course was to be conducted earlier in the semester, they would have enrolled for it as October being the month of submissions, exams etc. tends to get quite hectic.

There were others who didn’t sign up because they didn’t find the course relevant to legal studies or to their choice of field.  A few others feltthat this sort of learning need not come through a course. Some people were just not open to the idea that this course might bring in something new in terms of learning and did not consider it important to their goals in law school. Some people were busy with other things and could not take out time for this course even though they desired to do so. The timing was an issue for quite a few people because after full day class, an extra class can be quite exhausting. Logistical issues were quite prominent among the issues people raised. We observe that apart from the first years, the students from other batches had expressed similar concerns.

This was the aggregate of the opinion collected by us from who attended the course.Among people who took the course, apart from those who raised concerns about their personal space and thus not being able to realize the purpose of the course, it was described by a few as a fresh course that was fun and extremely relaxed. The new activities and ideas that the course introduced them to was a welcome distraction. Prateeksha Ma’am especially was appreciated for her kindness towards the students and her own openness. Some people feel that even if they are not sure what the learning from the course is at this very moment, they can keep drawing from it in the future. The course wasn’t one with a definite end, but is about ongoing experiences.


Prateeksha Sharma was invited to University of Law to teach the students. With a specialization in mental health she wanted the students understand that every word such as “criminal” and “victim” have more than one way people can view it. Since she works with stories and since stories have a lot of possibilities. Moreover, law is also full of stories include law Introductory Narrative Methods was the course to teach. To see your own story as an outsider was an objective that the students were to understand during the elective. The first year students should have been given this opportunity as it would help them make the connection. It will make the students more sensitized. While we felt that she was expecting a little more stories and interaction from the students, Prateeksha found the class a little dampening and thought that the students were looking at the elective through the lens of academics and grades and no fun. However, she was happy to see a few people’s earnest effort to write. She also found the 4:20 to 6:20 timing a littleodd, as the students were burnt out by the time class started.

Prateeksha had to take a 3day leave from her daily life to come to our college and teach us. The repetition of such an elective occurring next year is not plausible as it takes a lot of her time and she would prefer that students come to her and learn, which could be done during the semester breaks or during a 3 or 4 day break within the semester.

After an interaction with her , we could get  more useful insights about the course from her. She said that it was  a ‘challenge’ for her to mould her research experience into teaching of narrative methods. Her experience in teaching prior to this course was mainly in the field of music. But she has been constantly working in the realm of narratives in mental health. Her efforts were to bring narrative tradition into law school. We understand that her main concern after beginning teaching was that this course should be introduced as early as the first of law school. She even believed that a teacher’s learning undergoes fine tuning with teaching. We comprehend that she meant that she was learning with us too. She even had to try hard to link the subject to real life narratives , as this would make every student engaged in the lecture. We felt that this was an appreciative way to evoke responses from the students. On being asked about where she found motivation to teach. She replied to us that she felt it as a responsibility to carry forward the energy and efforts put in by the students. That’s what kept her moving.

Reaction to the course

Me: So why did you think narrative methods would help us law students?

Prateeksha: See basically I work in mental health and I’m always looking into stories of people. If I look at people from the same framework as society is labeling them, is that enough- like when I say  like “criminal”. Is that all or is there more to it? Do I want to listen to the label as a finality, or should I look at their subjective experiences? I am interested in looking into the stories of other people and since I do I thought whether it could be related to law. I had a choice of choosing whatever I could do here. She (the academic convenor) said I could do something which would make students understand life with a new perspective, which made me look up ways to take my knowledge into a law school; and I read a paper of how law is all about stories. So I thought of teaching this course.

The Course Material

Me: So about the course material. Did you teach everything that you have expected to teach us?

Prateeksha: I came with the idea that I should give an introduction into what narratives are. When I thought about the course, I structured it mentally as an exercise which produces a reflective attitude within learners. When we work in stories and mental health anybody who becomes a therapist should learn to look at their own story in an objective way first, otherwise one never develops a distance from one’s own subjective reality. Should lawyers not be open to this and see justice and injustice first within their own lives? Learn to see their stories as outsiders or should they see everything without delving into their subjective truths, which are always changing? One of the key objectives for me was to help students develop a self distance from their narratives and believe that they are experiences that belong to a human domain, not just their personal truths.

  • Shaemus thought that the course material hitting the objective of what was supposed to be taught in a narrative methods class.

“The course material was, see it was good. Good as in substantial as in it was relating to narrative methods. It was hitting the target.”

  • John was happy when we asked him about the course material because it had actually helped him in writing a better narrative.

“The course material helped me in understanding how to write a narrative but since I was absent I can’t comment over its application in law.”


Our interaction with anumber of students has reiterated the fact that there were no controversies related to the elective course “Introductory Narrative Methods.”



The conclusion is an amalgam of our convictions and our learning . introductory narrative methods course was a unique elective course offered in a law school. After doing this course we have learnt a new of way of viewing every legal issue. For instance, in every single legal case there are various perspectives, and each perspective is a narrative. As law students we would be benefitted by the knowledge of narratives to understand various existing narratives.Though the course seemed to be off track, the element of law was not absent. The essence of law is language. The impact that words can have through writing was highlighted to us.This could be taught to the law students in their initial years at law school. They would be hugely benefitted by it because they will develop a holistic perspective in viewing everything. Most of the students were impressed by the course description. But some of them could not opt as they had time management issues and other workload. Most of the students who have taken the elective course found it to be a rewarding experience. They even expected to have contours drawn and a framework to be set to the course as the intended results would be delivered better then. They even opined that the given course time could have been used more a effectively and productively to imbibe more valuable information from the course instructor. We felt that the  sessions were highly interactive and the course instructor was flexible with the students too. We even learnt that every issue in law has a social , penal and legal perspective to it. This made sure that elective course was not cumbersome. So all together, it was a joyful learning experience for us. We would also like to express that there was a legal angle to this course which was not noticed by many. It might have been underplayed. But trying to understand the legal aspect of this course was the main objective.

Note from examiner: The responses that have been included here from me, prateeksha, are changed from the original submission, without affecting the grades of those being marked for them. I thought it was best to write my own language here, because young students may not be able to represent what I am saying to the extent I can do so. But that need not impact on how anyone has to respond to this narrative. 

Sorry, due to my inability to do so, I am unable to upload video clip.


There is a near-unanimous consensus amongst students that the mess food simply isn’t good enough. It’s oily, it lacks vegetables, and it can cause liver conditions, amongst other things. But, as we are only human, we still need to eat. So we look at the alternatives to mess food.

While most people on campus agree that there are sufficient alternatives to mess food on or near campus, opinion is divided regarding their healthiness. Revati, for one, would suffer through mess food every day of the week rather than buy food from M’s, one of the stores on campus that also sells food. Have you seen the condition of the store? I wouldnt be surprised if it spawns the  next Black Plague. Give me mess food any day over that stuffwere her exact words. This is a fairly popular opinion – while the mess receives a lot of flak for its lack of hygiene, its competitors are just as bad. Mama’s ingredients are exposed to flies, and the dhabas outside campus use just as much oil, if not more, as the mess.

Conditions in which food is prepared in the mess

However, there is a significant chunk of students who believe that the alternatives are far superior to mess food. Lawrence eats non-mess food on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, and claims that he can’t survive without the various alternatives. Id die man, Id die if I had to eat that shit every weekhe said, in reference to the infamous Tuesday lunch. Hygienic or not, a lot of people agree that non-mess food simply tastes better. And this is sufficient incentive for students to disregard their health concerns. Moreover, the alternatives are free of some of the constraints of the mess. For example, during Ganesh Chaturthi, the mess refuses to prepare chicken. However, a student who wants to eat meat will find it at PM (another “cafe”on campus). His craving for meat overrides any hygiene concerns he may have. In fact, Lawrence and his ilk would eat outside the mess more often if only they had more money to spare.

This leads us to the next issue – eating non-mess food isn’t exactly cheap. A fair amount of people estimate that their monthly expenditure on food was about 20% of their total budget. And so a lot of students are faced with the dilemma of enjoying a meal that doesn’t taste like cardboard, and having to ask their parents for an advance on their next allowance. And this has a cascading effect on one’s social life – by the time the weekend rolls around, people have spent so much money on food that they don’t have enough to go see the latest movie, or visit a “real”restaurant with “real”food. This in turn leads to students leading more boring lives in general, because they’re unable to get out as often as they’d like.

Another thing about the food that is served in these cafes is that it falls under the category of junk food. Junk Food is appealing due to convenience, price and taste. Its appeal is magnified in a college where the mess serves poor quality food.

When we asked students as to whether the quality of food in the mess compels them to have food outside, a whopping 86 percent of students said it does force them to eat outside, while 14 percent said that they have food outside only when they want to and not just because of the quality of the mess food.

The alternatives like M’s and PM serve junk food, including snacks which are oily and high on the calorie count. When we asked Mangeshas to why he eats at M and PM after knowing that the food at these outlets isn’t healthy, he replied that he doesn’t care about the calorie count or the oily food, what he cares is only the fact that on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (when he usually eats out), the food in the mess is not edible.

Eating snack foods that are high in fat and calories does contribute to weight gain. When the students were asked as to whether they observed any body weight issues after coming to the college, there was a also a substantial chunk of students who say that they have gained weight after coming to the college, specially due to eating at M’s, PM, Chacha’s. The food available at these outlets, though tasty isn’t very healthy, it contains too much oil. Anmol says that he was 78 Kg when he joined the college last year and now he is just 67, which he claims is due to eating too much at M’s and PM. Indu who gained 5 KGs this semester, attributes it to the life style, which doesn’t include much physical activities or sports due to the burden of studies, though she also that there is an association between eating high-calorie, nutrient-poor food and poor health.

Deepti says that on Tuesday lunch and Sunday dinner, when according to her the food is not edible she resorts to junk food. Jeetu says that he cannot afford to eat outside mess and hence has to eat whatever the mess serves, he also interestingly points out that, there might be a politics behind serving bad food so that the consumption is less and profits are more.

So many of these health issues which the students face due to eating junk food can be solved, if the quality of food in the mess is improved. This would also reduce the burden on the pocket of students. It can be concluded from the responses we received that there is a lack of will on the side of the contractor of the mess in serving good quality food as the students have observed the mess serving phenomenally good food during admission days and during the end of every semester.


Also something else we found surprising was that most people in college didn’t relate their health to the food they were eating at all. You are what you eat is an age old adage and till we actually got down to survey people at college we thought it was something most people believed in.  It was only about fifty percent of the people we interviewed who though college mess food had any impact on their health or energy levels while they are at college. This was very surprising to all of us as the general conversation around food on campus is more often than not about how unhealthy the food is.Ravindra was one of the few people we talked to for whom the link between the food and its effect on our health came out clearly. He said, “There is no point to elaborate any thing it is visible from the quality of food we get here.” In addition to him there were a significant people who thought that the food in college was making them put on weight as it was very oily. Manjulita for instance had the following to say about the food and its effect on her general mental and physical well being, “I generally feel much more lethargic, might have gained weight too probably because of all the extra unhealthy junk food”. People like Rsihika and Lalita saw a direct correlation between the lack of green vegetables in our food to iron and vitamin deficiencies they suffer on campus. Last year at a blood donation camp that was held on campus most female students were told to refrain from donation blood as they had low hemoglobin levels. Vitamin and iron deficiency has been shown to directly effect your energy levels yet not many people were able to make that connect with how lethargic they feel. Akhilesh and Shreyashee did however say that they feel more light and enthusiastic at home and manage to do more things in a day at home than in college. However, they were not very sure if food was the causation. Charu linked the lack of vitamin to the hair loss she was suffering on campus. A large group of people agreed that their stomachs were usually upset on campus. Bhat said that this was not only due to mess food but also because of having food at one of the small canteens that have opened on campus. Anita shared with us that in her first year she had to use the washroom every time she would eat a meal in the mess. It is also interesting to focus on how so many people didn’t see any correlation between the food they eat and the health conditions they have developed after coming to campus. Some of them admitted to not being observant of the effects the food has on them and hence they couldn’t give us a definitive answer. The more cheeky ones amongst us on being asked if they developed health issues after having had mess food said that while they were fine they have heard that a certain professor has developed liver issues because of the mess food. Irrespective of whether the correlation or causation was made by the student body the food needs to become more nutritious and use less oil in its preparation. People on campus might then become aware of the positive effect the food will have on their mental and physical health.

Possible solutions?

It is common knowledge that where monopoly exists, one is left with fewer options. Since various complaints have been heard time and again about the quality of food, or the wastage of food, one of the serious alternatives that can be looked into has been the existence of the token system-which basically refers to purchasing (via tokens) certain quantities of food as much as one requires at each meal. When we asked the student body of the viability of such a token system, a whooping 90 percent opted for a token system over a buffet system.

This of course brings about the question as to whether such a system would bring about a reduction in wastage of food or improvement in the quality of food. When we asked around, Kanika vehemently stated that such a token system would bring about no change in terms of either. This opinion was surprisingly voiced by around 10 per cent of those who voted on the proposal. However, the majority believed it would definitely bring about an improvement in both. As we were analyzing the results, we came to the interesting finding that while people had the option to choose which of the following a token system would impact most- wastage of food has emerged as a higher priority concern over improvisation of food quality. This clearly depicts the fact that wastage of food is a bigger concern in the present rather than the food quality, which is surprising, considering most of the concerns that are voiced generally surround the quality of food!

When we asked whether it was more viable to have a student run mess system or one as exists currently with the mess contractor at the pinnacle, we received a plethora of options. About 20 per cent of the people had not really thought about the issue. However, the rest of the people who responded to the questionnaire were largely in favour of an over hauling of the system with the mess contractor. Rajesh proposed an alternative in the form of having a competitive mess system wherein there would be two contractors (as in the case of another law school). He raised a valid concern with respect to geographical considerations of the student body affecting the kind of food that is provided. The anguish was clearly felt, especially when Sairam said, “Fire the mess contractor”. However, it was also balanced by some moderate voices that sought to remedy the situation by having a greater participatory role for the student body so as to take the student’s opinions into account. Thus, there was no unanimity in this aspect of the discussion, the opinions largely heard mainly focused towards a reform in the system since there seem to be a general attitude of discontent prevailing with the existing situation.

There are serious issues with the food on campus, whether it be the mess or its alternatives. However, the fact that there are alternatives at all is encouraging. And none of the issues are insurmountable. There is hope that in a few years, campus food will be, if not excellent, at least of a decent standard.

(This is a college assignment and not a regular blog entry on this blog)


A pervasive phenomenon that affects a majority of college campuses in India today is the problem of drug use in students. Recent studies have demonstrated a dangerous spike in the percentage of drug use amongst the Indian youth with drugs like marijuana, LSD, ketamine etc. being sold and consumed openly in college campuses.[1] The consumption of drugs may not only have adverse consequences on the mental and physical health of the user but may also be indicative of a deeper underlying problem or dilemma as a result of which, the user has turned to drug consumption. In this ultra-competitive day and age, young college going students are often faced with a multiplicity of stresses and pressures and in light of this being the prevailing atmosphere, it is expedient to examine the correlation between these external stresses and the use and consumption of drugs.

The problem of drug use is not a simple one. There are a number of questions that beg asking when analysing this problem. Why does someone resort to and sometimes become entirely dependent on the consumption of drugs? Is it a result of their immediate atmosphere or a deeper and more insidious factor? Is their consumption of drugs used as an escape or in search of a particular feeling or emotion that they may not have found in their otherwise daily life? Keeping these perspectives in mind we set out to formulate a deeper understanding of drugs and the Indian college student through this narrative inquiry.

Keeping in mind the delicate nature of the research, we decided to adopt a narrative inquiry, through personal interviews, and an empirical study of a small sample group, but nonetheless one that represented a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. We conducted a total of 15 interviews of people who were willing to come forward and share their experiences with drug use. We developed a questionnaire comprising of queries we thought were relevant in shedding light about the intricacies of drug use. The important questions which directed the interview process have been annexed below. These are the experiences of individuals in our immediate vicinity.

Through this interview process we saw the emergence of a group narrative, but one that was fragmented in terms of the attitudes and perspectives that we saw in people. In our sample size, there were some people who regularly partook in the consumption of drugs while there were others who had actively made it a point to stay away from drug use. 10 out of the 15 people we interviewed had at least at some point consumed some sort of drug. However, almost all of the drug use was limited to marijuana. Of the 10, 4 were habitual users of marijuana. 4 more indulged in its occasional use. When asked how they first came to encounter drugs, all of the interviewees unanimously said that it was through friends who had previously engaged in it. 6 out of the 10 had only tried drugs after coming to college.

A majority of the interviewees who had consumed drugs narrated their experience as unique and something which becomes difficult to describe. Most of the interviewees experienced a sense of calmness and a considerable amount of lethargy. 4 interviewees recounted experiences of intense paranoia, dread and uneasiness when we asked about their first experience. Amongst these interviewees, 2 had never tried any form of drugs, pursuant to their first experience.

When asked about the effects that the drugs have had on their productivity and other aspects of daily life, 5 of the 10 persons who had tried drugs denied any effect on productivity, while the other 5 described that their productivity was significantly hampered owing particularly to the lethargy associated with marijuana use. They felt that it took them significantly longer than usual to complete tasks, especially those that were intellectually challenging. They felt that the use of drugs had hindered them in their pursuits and achievements of their long-term academic and professional goals. Three of the users also felt that it had a significant adverse effect on their personal lives and relationships with friends. They found themselves being increasingly alienated from those in their social circle, who did not use drugs as frequently as them. There was one case of serious depression and alienation, which the interviewee believed was largely a result of his frequent use of marijuana. This interviewee detailed how, while he understood and could perceive the ill-effects that drug use was having on his daily life and his relationships with friends, he was unable to find another method to cope with the stresses of daily college life. He believed it was a vicious cycle wherein he sought comfort and solace from intense academic and social pressure in the use of marijuana, but the use itself made it harder for him to cope with this pressure owing to its adverse effects.

What was disheartening to learn was that 4 of the interviewees felt a significant and consistent pressure from their immediate peer group to partake in the consumption of drugs. They felt afraid at the prospect of losing their social circle and as a result felt the need to take drugs.

5 of the interviewees had never attempted the use of drugs. 2 said that they had at some point considered the prospect but had ultimately rejected the idea, while the others were staunch in their decisions to never consume any form of drugs or other potentially addictive substances. All of these people were afraid of the repercussion that drug use could have on their lives including disappointing their parents, adverse effects on their academic productivity, reduced levels of motivation, disciplinary action from the college authorities or otherwise.

2 interviewees were morally against the idea of consumption of drugs, as they come from conservative backgrounds where they were raised to believe that the consumption of drugs was not in conformity with their idea of morality and good conduct. 3 others primarily rejected the use of drugs owing to the consequences that it may have on their health. They all believed that any use of drugs, be it marijuana or hard drugs, would inevitably have terrible consequences on both their bodily health and mental well-being.

A pervasive concern that was common amongst these 5 participants, was that, once they began or attempted drug use, they might lose control, leading to addiction, or the fact that they may not understand or know where to draw the line. They narrated that they had heard of instances where drug use initially began as seemingly harmless experimentation, but then led to serious instances of addiction and dependency. They were not prepared to risk such an event happening and believed that the repercussions by far outweighed any brief sense of pleasure or calmness that they may experience during the consumption of the drug itself. Three of them vociferously reiterated that they would not at any point in the future even consider the idea of consuming drugs.

We began this enquiry with the understanding that there is a massive and troubling surge in drug consumption in college campuses across the country. Our enquiry demonstrated that this trend has seeped into our own campus – to an almost disturbing proportion. Most respondents polled had consumed drugs at some point of their lives, and a large number amongst these had only done so after joining college.

While respondents had reported vastly disparate experiences while discussing how drugs affected them, a few strands emerge prominently. Most respondents who partook in the consumption of drugs consistently, including all habitual users polled, reported that drugs had affected their lives considerably. Drugs, particularly marijuana, almost uniformly demonstrated adverse effects on the lives of users. Respondents found their social lives threatened, and reported considerably lowered productivity. Interestingly, however, the respondents continued to indulge in drug use. This exploitative pattern – where persons would consistently abuse drugs despite themselves perceiving their harms – in our opinion reveals a pattern of dependency that is truly disconcerting.

Our suspicions, in this regard, were confirmed by how respondents viewed their own drug usage. Many respondents confirmed that their use was borne out of a need to escape from the drudgeries of daily college life. For at least one respondent, detailed above, this took on a significantly abusive aspect, where he would rely on drugs to move away from the depression that, in a vicious cycle, drugs themselves caused. We believe that this points to the possibility that the drug problem isn’t one of deviant proclivities amongst individual users – or at least not entirely so. Rather, these patterns of usage reveal deeper systematic problems, where users turn to drugs to fulfill deeper inadequacies in their lives. This was corroborated in the fact that even those that stayed away from drugs saw, as a prominent reason in their abstinence, the fact that users would often become addicted despite not initially intending for the same, owing to how drugs temporarily appeared to parlay difficulties they were otherwise facing in their lives.

One of the more interesting aspects of the problem that our study highlighted was that most people, both those that eventually took to drugs and those who did not, did not initially intend to do so. Most people initially appeared reluctant to partake in the activity. While some continued with this reluctance for various reasons, many others were sucked into the practice in a manner that can only be described as inadvertent. A vast number of respondents seemed to initially take to drugs only because of peer pressure, and the fear of losing their standing in their social groups if they attempted to stay away from the activity.

Beyond the banal assertion that drug usage poses an alarming problem, therefore, our main insights may be summarized as follows. First, most people, including those that eventually do take to drugs, do not initially intend to. Drug consumption is therefore a cultural problem, with the exalted status that drug-consumption seems to take in college social lives coercing people into engaging in the same. Second, most drug users themselves admit to the fact that their lives are significantly hampered by drug-use. The fact that they continue regardless demonstrates that the problem is one of dependency – and drug users find it difficult to extricate themselves from their usage. Third, drug use is often motivated, particularly amongst regular users, by a need to fill in for inadequacies in users’ lives. Users do not indulge in drugs for the pleasure of usage in itself, but in how they deliver them from other stresses of life.

In light of our observations, we conclude that an effective counter to the menace of drug usage cannot be symptomatic, but must address the roots of the problem. Since drug users seem helpless in addressing their own addictions, penalizing drug use can only lead to their further stigmatization, while doing little to deter drug use. In fact, people suffering from dependency would, in light of such a penal approach, choose to keep their problems hidden, only serving to exacerbate the same.

We suggest two responses instead. First, there is an urgent need to counter the cultural position that drugs enjoy. Once drug usage is no longer seen as a ticket to social ascendancy, people shall be far more unlikely to take to the practice in the first place. This can perhaps be achieved through awareness or advocacy programs. Second, one needs to counter the psychological ills that lead people to return to drugs. This can perhaps be achieved through providing effective counseling and psychological assistant options. Once there appear to be alternative and safe avenues where users can turn to address their issues without fear, there shall be a considerable downfall in drug dependency.

[1]Colleges, schools work to rid campuses of drug abuse | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis. [online] Available at: %5BAccessed 27 Sep. 2015]; John, E. (2015). City students turn drug peddlers on campuses – The Times of India. [online] The Times of India. Available at: %5BAccessed 27 Sep. 2015].

(This blog post is a college assignment, not a regular post from me)