The Piano Teacher

Earlier this week, I called up Hem, who identifies himself as a creative film maker/ recordist (!!) After discussing my recording requirements, which are mostly classical music based stuff, I was generally talking to him about a few other things.

Hem is a south Indian, and lives near my parents’ home in Delhi, a place called Kalkaji. He is trying to set up a studio of his own, which I think finally he has found a place for. When I was here in December from Goa, he and another person, who we will call as R, came to meet me. R has been known to me for the last nearly two decades or possibly a little less than that. I have known him to be a musician of a small order, who has not learnt music thoroughly from anyone, yet by learning to play by himself and by dabbling with his keyboards.

He has often come to me for learning music, but more with the intention of ‘getting things out’ rather than really learning classical music. Surprisingly enough we have never clicked as a teacher-student. He always came, once in a couple of years, bowed at my feet (whcih I always resisted and told me not to) and talked about musical ideas and compositions. He never had it in him to learn music with anyone- he was always in a hurry to ‘encash’ things- quickly learn a raga and show if off to others. Even when I invited him to play with me, as I sang, I did not find him competent enough to, because he would be too restless to hear and start playing as I would start singing.

There are many I know like him- who keep playing tunes on the keyboards and then they figure out full melodies and they become musicians. Nothing wrong with that. They are doing things which they wanted to, by dint of sheer persistence.

best-mobile-piano-ringtones-free-download

So willy nilly, moving in our conversation, Hem informed me that R is ‘out of the market’. I heard him and did not pay heed. He repeated it for me again. I thought ‘what a strange thing to say’. So I asked him what he meant. He repeated himself and said that R was in jail, for the next ten years at that. Oh! I thought, now what was that about.

And then it struck me that I had read about it in the Hindu paper, that  a piano teacher being caught abusing his student in Kalkaji. I asked Hem if he was talking of that incident. At that moment when I read about it, I thought of R- what a coincidence. I of course was not thinking of him as an abuser, but I just thought that he was the only piano teacher that I knew of in Kalkaji. But then I consoled myself thinking that hopefully there would be others, and it is not him. Now what Hem was telling me confirmed that indeed it was R!

It is sad. The world of Hindustani music is rife with teacher-student abuse, which has stifled many a career and many a relationship. ( There have been instances when teachers have married their students, but that is not an instance of abuse) But a man in his forties abusing or exploiting a child. I do not know how quickly the prosecution worked but they gave him ten years in jail. I thought for a moment, what would happen to him after those ten years and what about his family?

And then what about the child who suffered? What would be the consequences of this on her? And what if there would be more children, who could not raise their voices against him? Would there be someone to support her traumatic experience? I am sure it would have taken a lot for her to express her suffering.

The sad thing is that when people known to you do anything, your faith in humanity is shaken for a moemnt and then the whole anger which each of us has against the systemic abuse- finds a target. I feel no sympathy for R. In fact, I feel more for his wife and family. What a suffering they would have to go through socially. Like we always say, letting go of every abuser only emboldens them further- it is about time some were punished. Even if those some be people of our own associations and families. It is about time.

Here is a related post about the same incident, on another blog.

 

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Mr. Rail Minister-acche din dooor hain

Dear Rail Minister of India, Mr Suresh Prabhu. Namaskar

I sent a parcel from Delhi (PRR number 4000377207) NZM station to Madgaon, in Goa on the 10th June, 2016. The parcel was loaded by a young man who works in our domestic enterprise, his name being Pundalik Zalmi.

Pundalik Zalmi (Gokul) is a simple village boy, who by dint of sheer labour and tenacity has worked his way into being the right hand man of the owner of the enterprise, my spouse. In his family he is the only one who has come so far- economically or socially. He was on his maiden trip to Delhi- to assist me with something. He took the parcel and landed up on the Nizammuddin Station. First of all, he encountered a coolie, who demanded Rs.1200/- to help him reach the parcel to its destination, which was the parcel office of the Indian Rail. When someone intervened the coolie agreed to do the job for Rs.700/-

In the ensuing pell-mell that happened somehow the coolie rushed him into the train, having booked his parcel allegedly on the same Rajdhani Express that Gokul was taking- train number 22414, NZM-MAO. When he got down the next day at Madgaon, the parcel had not reached with him- he went and checked in the luggage van too. He was confused, for it was the first time he was doing such a job.

Next day, and for several days after that he kept going to Madgaon Station every single day, a distance of eight/nine kilometers from our home, asking around for the parcel and then talking to whoever concerned at the station. Several times this was done by another of his colleagues Pravin Shirodkar, who is the driver in the enterprise.

After a few days, there was no sign of the parcel and everyday we were going up and down. Then I spoke with someone in the railway, who suggested I send a twitter message to report the misplacing of my parcel. I was anxious- I had just returned from Delhi myself, the day before and seven days after Gokul but the parcel was still not to be found. I needed the contents of the parcel for my next travel, which is due on the 1st July 2016- I have to return to Delhi with my two dogs, by Jet Airways. My parcel contained doggy crates- PVC containers meant for carrying small animals  by plane.

Upon the suggestion I sent the following tweet

PRR no.4000377207 sent HNzm to MAO_ Goa, 10Jun,16, not received till date. Plz help urgently. Load train 22414, PNR2765467844

This was followed by a daily round of tweeting to scores of people, who linked me to one another. The entire conversation can be seen here-

 https://twitter.com/HansadhwaniP/with_replies

Into the dialogue were roped the Konkan Railway, the Madgaon station people, the NZM station people, the freight people in New Delhi and of course the rail ministry in India. IN the medley, I saw many a bad egg and a few good apples too. This open message to you, Mr. Prabhu is written to bring to your notice one practice, which is perhaps going on regularly in the railways and is routinely unreported or brushed under the carpet.

After my first tweet of 18th, the following week, on Tuesday, 21st June after trying desperately to get hold of some information about the parcel we finally got in touch with one Superintendent at the NZM station called Mr. Meena. He told us that the parcel had been loaded on the train, as per the details here ( i noted them from the website myself)

Parcel/Luggage/VP Details
PRR No./PWB No. 4000377207 Scale Booking Date
From Station HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Destination Station MAO-MADGOAN JN.
Consignee Name and Address – – – Consignor Name and Address – – –
Item Description Total No. Status
PVC GOODS 1
Last Loading Train No. 22414 Last Loading Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Last Loading Date 10-Jun-2016 11:24
Status Loaded on train Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Status Date 10-Jun-2016 11:25
Last Unoading Train No. Last Unoading Stn. Last Unoading Date

He repeated the same message to everyone concerned.

Now Sir, just make a note of the following- The time of departure of the Madgaon Rajdhani is 10:55 am. IF the train left at 10:55, can any parcel be loaded in it at 11:24 logically?

In several conversations, Mr. Meena (mobile number 09717- 999425) had with both me and my husband he repeated the same information. In the final dialogue we had with him, he even told me that the parcel had been sent to Panvel, instead of Madgoan (perhaps to get rid of our persistent queries?).

Since I was in touch with a gentleman called Upendra Shindye from the Konkan Railways, who had been kind enough to call me on his own, in response to my twitter message to Konkan Railway Corp, I requested Mr. Shindye to make inquiries at his end. He did- I think he even sent someone to Panvel, from Mumbai, though I am not sure about it.

We were already more than ten days from the time the parcel had been loaded. I was worried for a lot hinges on it for me in the present moment for me. Mr. Shindye promised to update me by the evening. The date being 22nd June-12 days later. Meanwhile our rounds to the Madgaon Station were in vain everyday- but we still went. Either Gokul went or Pravin.

Finally my husband went on 22nd- we were all worried, and he met someone there, who promised to help him, then did not call. Later a gentleman called up Gokul and spoke with my husband too. He identified himself as one Mr. Murli (mobile +91 9004476083)- who said he was investigating the case of the missing parcel. My husband proposed to him that he probe into one angle- that the parcel had never left from Delhi in this whole span of time.

Lo and behold…Mr. Murli called and confirmed the suspicion, and said that the parcel would be leaving on the 22nd June 2016, by Goa Express and reach Madgaon on 24th. Later Mr. Shindye of Konkan railways also confirmed the same. IN other words, in this whole span of 12 days when we were all tearing our hair, Mr. Meena kept misleading every single person- saying the parcel had been loaded on the train, whose details are there on the website.

Who is updating the website?

My query and concern to you, Honorable Minister is this-

  1. If the parcel was not loaded on the train, how did it start reflecting on the website?
  2. What sort of a fraud is happening here – in which people’s parcels are getting lost? I at least had access to internet and even twitter, but what about those who cannot use these new technologies? Do you think every Indian who is using the railways for sending parcels is having a twitter account- to knock at your doors for lost goods?
  3. I am told that people are compensated @50/- per kilo of the weight of their parcels. what sort of a way is this to ascribe value to goods people are sending? (My parcel was carrying goods worth at least Rs.50,000/-, though its weight was a mere 25 kgs)
  4. There is a deep flaw in the way parcels are tracked– and there is no verification happening. IF a man can tell us that the parcel has left the station, while it is very much lying on the station, what do you think is happening in this department? How can the website be uploaded and scores of people mislead?
  5. Can you please initiate an inquiry about how goods are getting lost in the Indian rail parcel service and start fixing responsibility for the same?

Can we think of simple village folks like Pundalik Zalmi who come from their villages and lose their belongings on trains, never to have any voice in the whole din and cacophony of the Indian Rail?

Is size of the Indian Rail so big that we do not now care about the common Indian people who use it day and night, putting their hard earned money into goods they transport by trains everyday?

Would a Pundalik Zalmi, not backed by his employers who were English speaking, twitter familiar people, have found his parcel? Would he have the resources to keep going to the station, everyday, leaving his work behind, without losing his job? What employer would have allowed him the leave and not believed that he was lying about the loss of the parcel? 

Today is 24th June, 2016, and true to the word given by Mr. Murli and Mr. Shindye, the parcel reached Madgaon and we duly got a call at 7am confirming that. We of course have to pay a price of Rs.2880/- as the rent of one of them, for we were being charged @ 180/day for the same. The parcel that would have come on 11th, would have meant only four days of rental, instead of the 16 it has become.

But that is not the point, Mr. Minister. The point I am trying to make is would the average Indian have managed to stir so much action? Are we really empowering our people by giving them redressal mechanism via the twitter and other social media?

I am grateful that the twitter action works, but how many Indians have access to it and they use the Indian Rail? Please stop by at any station, Sir, and take a look at the India that travels by train- maybe you would think of other ways to touch their lives and save their hard earned belongings.

(i wish there was a way to measure the quantum of suffering this experience has caused us, starting from the encounter with the coolie- a great shame I assure you)

Caregiver’s stress or psychiatric emergency

On Saturday, the past week, a woman in her early forties, came with her mother and child to see me. The person who needed a counseling intervention was her mother, who came in with a deeply disturbed state of mind. I felt her inner fabric had been suddenly jolted due to a shock and catapulted her into a state from which she could not recover, with her own means.

According to the description of the daughter initially, and later corroborated by the mother herself, possibly two significant events in her life had lead to that. In the distant past, she had lost her spouse, in 2009, which possibly triggered off a grief which could not be duly addressed, or if it was it was not assimilated properly. However, the lady lived a fairly active life despite that, with one of her other daughters, in Bombay. In the recent past, the daughter who accompanied her to meet me, moved from Bombay to Goa, with her family, in response to her husband’s need for better work prospects. That set off another degree of anxiety in her heart, which remained unarticulated.

2014 107

All of a sudden the daughter became unwell (she had a bipolar diagnosis) due to adjustment stress in a new situation, whilst otherwise she had been quite stable for long years and off medication of any sort. The news of her daughter falling sick made the mother panic, and her anxiety took a turn for the worse- pushing her off the brink and rattling her fragile balance significantly.

When she came to meet me, for her daughter thought the next intervention required would be counseling/therapy, her discomfort and constant talk made me immediately decide that this was not someone who needed counseling support but immediate relief from her ‘symptoms’. The talk was ceaseless, she was frantic, tearful, anxious, repetitive, and kept saying that she would not take any medicine. The daughter was trying her level best to seek out any intervention that would work for her. I decided within five- seven minutes of listening to her that she would not have any effect of counseling, and requested her to take homeopathy, which she had been taking earlier as well.  But it had not been effective of late. I even referred my own doctor to them, lest their doctor have a limited repertoire, which is mostly the case with homeopathy. Before coming to meet me they had tried other ‘treatment’ options of reflexology, possibly reiki and other things.

I called up my doctor and also made her talk to him, and requested him to intervene, give a prescription which would be followed here in Goa. This is not something that we do frequently- because every doctor needs to meet their patients face-to-face. Doctor sa’ab was kind enough to relent, seeing the lady hysterical, and reporting lack of interest in anything in life, suicidal ideas, and several other indicators.

However , the catch in the whole picture was that she kept saying, that, if my daughter (indicating to the woman with her) comes back to Bombay I will be fine. This was a peculiar situation, because her deepest attachment seems to be with her daughter who is already married with a child of her own. The mother is so deeply attached to her, that it is almost like a parasitic attachment.

They stayed with me for over an hour, but since I had decided earlier, I did not put a bill on the exercise. What is the point of taking money when the recipient is not ready for what you have to offer- I cannot be a mercenary like a ‘professional’ if I remain untouched by human suffering, and focus just on the money that my practice can bring me. The more I thought about it, the more ethical I thought my decision was. Of course I could have told them to leave quickly, but considering they had come a long way, I just let them stay and talk about how to go about it and of course explaining to the daughter the medicines the doctor  had prescribed, since it was me who had spoken to him not her.

The Next Action

Today is Monday, and according to me today the whole routine would have fallen in place. However the daughter called me up today before noon and said her mother was refusing to take the medicines and had gone back to her earlier prescription of homeopathy. She reported a further hardening in the head and was unstoppable. I felt anguished to hear that. I had seen the mother to be a headstrong lady and I could see she was making it difficult for everyone around her to deal with the situation and only making it worse, in every possible way.

That brought to mind the last resort of psychiatry. I thought there was no option but to sedate her to calm her down. It is a very sad thing when I myself have to recommend psychiatric medication to anyone, because I try the best that nobody should be pushed into it. But if there is no alternative left and the person is adamant, what else can the family do? Her behavior must be causing a great deal of stress to her daughter also, poor girl, who was bravely facing it, both in front of her husband and in front of her mother- keeping a calm exterior.

I thought for the time being the best option was to anyhow medicate the lady and help her calm down. Over time when things stabilize and she has had some sleep due to sedation, possibly she would look for other ways to deal with her stresses and the triggers. For now her franticness would only make others spiral into the same. Her daughter said she was herself thinking of the same, as nothing else seemed to be working for now. In other words, the difficulty a family faces, pushes a person into forcible psychiatric intervention. The only trick is that at a suitable time the person has to be weaned away from psychiatric medication, because psychiatrists themselves will never prescribe it!

On that note we parted over the phone- me with a resignation that only when people are willing to get well and be compliant to recommendation of any sort, does an intervention work. Some people make difficult patients- they resist everything, for they know the better of it. I cannot but feel sorry when people have to be administered psychiatric medication, but I always hope that it would be a short term measure. Of course if the patient is complying, like me myself, homeopathy can work very well.

I do not see any recourse except for a devious manner of giving the medication or per force- which actually amounts to a human rights abuse. So that brings in the ethical dimension, as well as the dilemma- what could have been done alternatively? What can be done now? I am not sure today and I leave this post with this query.

Everyone will have a different response to this situation, but how does one decide. I do not know if they will come back to me, because they need not. But I will be around to support them in future, if they choose to. The mother certainly needs counseling to help her deal with the sense of loss that she is suffering from, and to help her focus on what is present in her life, rather than clinging on to adult children, who need to fly away from the nest, towards greener pastures.

I also hope that the daughter would not be unduly troubled by her mother’s suffering, as it creates a scope for her own suffering to surface once again.

On the last note, I am also wondering whether the mother’s suffering is not another face of the caregiver’s burden of looking after a child with bipolar and being tuned to her needs in an obsessive, fussing manner. But there is no way to find out about that, because I had no time to talk to them about their life together. Only this much could be ascertained within the scope that we had, once I felt it would not be proper to dig further into her psychic matrix. Whether this is an ’empty nest’ syndrome, a psychiatric emergency or another form of caregiver’s hyper-reaction to her daughter’s situation, piercing through her own frame, it is difficult to ascertain at this stage.

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.

Narratives as method in Law School

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

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 METHOD

 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.

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THE ACTUAL NARRATIVE:

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.

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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.

THE COURSE INSTRUCTOR:

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.”

CONTROVERSIES:

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

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CONCLUSION:

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.

FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE

FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE

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Introduction and methodology. 1

First and Second Year Students. 1

Awareness about snakes. 1

Personal Responses. 2

Utility of awareness mails. 2

Suggestions Provided. 2

Presence of Medical Infrastructure. 2

Third Years. 3

Reaction. 3

Awareness. 3

Suggested Solutions. 4

Medical Infrastructure on Campus. 5

Awareness. 5

attitudinal change. 6

Acceptance of risk and awareness of medical infrastructure awareness. 6

Administration and guards. 6

Conclusion. 7

Introduction and methodology

The issue regarding snakes on campus has been a serious one and this makes the lack of discussion on the same a cause for concern. This lack has not just been in the direction of a solution but even the more essential aspects of awareness and medical aid. The problem came into sharper relief while surveying the students on questions relating to the presence of snakes on campus, and their awareness relating to the same. In this vein, we have surveyed various interested parties and stake holders in college, who vary both in their temporal relation towards this college and their interest towards the college. The primary groups surveyed include a broad typology between the junior-most batches, the third years and finally the penultimate and final year students. Another perspective that we have explored is that of the administration and faculty.

First and Second Year Students

The survey team first interacted with the juniors of the University. There were seven students from first year and second year who were interviewed and expressed their concerns regarding the presence of snakes in abundance. The importance of this group serves as a litmus test for the current attitudes towards snakes in the wake of the increased awareness on campus. They also form an interesting footnote that contrasts their levels of awareness vis-à-vis their counterparts in senior batches.

Awareness about snakes

Most of the students didn’t expect presence of snakes at the college. For most of the students, encounters with snakes was an event that they had rarely, if ever faced before.  Most of them never had any encounter before coming to University. The majority of students are scared of snakes, and the fear has triggered hate against snakes. One obvious cause for the same is lack of awareness.

During the interaction, all the students believed that all snakes are harmful. Most of them aren’t even aware of the names of the common snakes which we might encounter at the college. This is a very hazardous situation as identification of snake is the first information that is required before administration of anti venom or other medicines in case of a snake bite incident. The knowledge on identification is restricted to popular tropes wherein the surveyed persons were scared of all ‘hooded’ of snakes and judged threat from a snake based upon ‘hood’, color and length.

Personal Responses

All the students said in unison that they will run away. A few first years said that they will call the seniors who have experience in handling snakes, or the guards around them. All accepted that they have no knowledge about the first aid to be administered after snake bite. A few tried to answer this question but their techniques were wrong.

Utility of awareness mails

Most of the first year students find the mails circulated for ‘snake awareness’ of great utility. To an extent, it also helped them in clearing their misconception about snakes. But interestingly, most of the second years don’t remember anything about the mails.  This might imply that the frequency of such mails can be increased. Further it might also suggest that with time, the students accept the presence of snakes and don’t find it significant enough to educate themselves.

Suggestions Provided

Most of the students were of opinion that the ideal solution would be to bring mongooses into the campus. One person, XY, further said,” In my opinion, snakes should be killed as soon as we see them. This is not for any ego issue, but for purpose of safety. Also, something must be done to stop their breeding.” One student says, “This campus is surrounded by forest, it is obvious that snakes will be present. Instead of killing them, we should get street lights in all the areas of campus, specially the path to the mess via lawn.”

They also criticized the administration. One of the student says,” I think we should definitely do what we are doing right now, but also have trained experts catching the snakes instead of students.”  This statement is with regard to the safety of the senior students, who generally take up task of catching snakes and then releasing them in safe areas. It is these students who are informed at first whenever a snake is found on campus.

Presence of Medical Infrastructure

The majority of junior students are not aware of the medical infrastructure which has been implemented on the campus to deal with the unfortunate situation of a snake bite. They have no idea whether the facilities are up to any recognised standards or not. This further reveals the lack of awareness both on the part of administration and students. One of the students says, “Just because snake bite has not occurred in past, doesn’t mean it will never happen in future.” It should be kept in mind that real problem is not the presence of snakes, but the absence of knowledge, awareness, and proper facilities.

Third Years

 Eight students belonging to the third year were surveyed personally to arrive at the following observations. This group stands as a handy intermediary point between the ignorance of the first and second batches and the obsolescence of the final year students. As such, third years can be expected to have the biggest stake in addressing the issue due to a combination of factors of experience and knowledge

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Reaction

Firstly, the initial reaction of fear was expressed in one of two ways on encountering a snake. Either screaming and running or slowly backing away and locking the snake in if possible. Both of these were clearly conveyed as a reaction induced by the fear. Further questioning the basis of the fear did not show the presence of any previous experience of trauma related to snakes but were simply an instinctive reaction due to the perception of these creatures as venomous and life-threatening. The justifications, however ranged from classifying all snakes as “plain evil”, or ”absolutely disgusting” to an articulation of fear that was not specific to snakes, but a reaction similar to what one would feel towards any creatures that could potentially harm you. Thus the first reaction to encountering a snake seems to be, as one student put it, attributable to a desire to not die of a snake attack.

Secondly, a general reaction to the presence of snakes, even to the ones who have not directly encountered one, was sought. The responses were not vastly different as students were mostly terrified of the idea that snakes could be found anywhere on campus. The fact that “they are so quick” and “manoeuvre around difficult areas so fast and easily” were some of the reasons why the mere presence of snakes on campus was considered extremely unsafe by the students.

Awareness

The students were questioned on the level of awareness they have regarding snakes with reference to either identification and/or first aid. They were asked also, if the level of awareness has increased after entry into the campus because, firstly, the incidences of encountering one have increased and secondly, there have been several e-mails sent to aid the students in identifying and employing personal safety standards, among other things. Being students of third year, the interviewees were expected to have had a reasonably long exposure to a series of such mails. The responses to the questions were mixed as students either claimed to have forgotten the contents of the mails, “retained only terrifying information like the fact that snakes can climb stairs” or simply not opened these mails and were hence at various levels of cluelessness. On the other hand, there were some students who thought that they were slightly better equipped, more watchful and have, most importantly, learnt that not all snakes are venomous and the non-venomous kind didn’t pose a threat. However, that would bring us to the next cause for concern; the fact that none of the surveyed students considered themselves able enough to identify snakes and would not, consequently, be able to differentiate venomous and non-venomous varieties.

The awareness with respect to first aid for snake bites were also lacking as the students had no idea as to any course of action, while one person said that they would tie a cloth over the bite to stem the flow of venom to the rest of the body but didn’t know further procedure.

Suggested Solutions

The surveyed students were asked about what could be done to handle the situation better. The suggestions saw both extremes as some students wanted the campus to be devoid of snakes by any means whatsoever. Even as one student suggested that the college should get mongoose and “purge this place of the blessed creatures”, others felt that the possibility of safely removing the snakes from the campus and transferring them to better suited habitat must be explored. It was felt that the administration should perhaps get in touch with people equipped with dealing with snakes and employ them instead of relying on students to take care of themselves. The suggestion stemmed from the fear of absence of the two students currently equipped to deal with the situation, because an immediate corollary reaction to fear on encountering a snake is to call one of these students for aid and in their absence, there was no alternative safe solution available to the students. It was felt that it was “extremely reckless” of the administration to let students deal with the issue irrespective of how equipped they might be. Other suggestions included the purchase of anti-venom and safe modes of administering the same as well the oft repeated suggestion that an identification manual ought to be circulated among students to aid with awareness of what snakes they are encountering which also becomes crucial while dealing with the administration of anti-venom in case of emergencies.

Medical Infrastructure on Campus

It was unanimously agreed by all the students surveyed that the campus had absolutely no medical infrastructure that enabled them to deal with a case of snake-bite. Some students said that even if there was a stock of anti-venom, there weren’t any qualified medical personnel equipped to administer the same and this was clearly a serious issue as the misadministration of anti-venom could be as life-threatening as the snake bite, if not more. It was suggested that there should also be a few sessions on first aid given to students to inform them on how to act immediately after a snake-bite before seeking medical aid. And the obvious extension to this being that on seeking such medical aid, the same is available readily and efficiently so as to not distress the students further. The need for a qualified medical professional available at all times as well as a functional ambulance was severely advocated for unanimously.

SENIOR STUDENTS

The nest group that is being surveyed is a collection of senior students, drawn solely from the 4th and 5th year batches. It was important  for us to target the said group in order to explore the temporal aspect to the attitudes towards snakes in college. These students, by virtue of having been on campus for 4 and 5 years respectively, have the gift of retrospection and form a handy litmus test towards how attitudes towards snakes have changed  over time in college. Another insight that this group brings is that they are in a better position to judge the changes in awareness and preparedness on campus towards snakes.

Awareness

All of the people surveyed agreed that they came into law school in their first years with attitudes towards snakes that were at best, mildly fearful and at worst, diagnosed phobia of snakes and other poisonous creatures (it is important to note that OurSchool is also home to many scorpions). However, they all broadly agree that in many respects, their attitudes towards snakes has taken a turn for the better. One student, AB, told us of how after attending a talk on the increasing environmental change around Shamirpet, she had been forced to understand the part that displacement played in pushing an unusually large number of snakes towards campus.  More than half of those surveyed recalled the attitude in OurSchool towards snakes in their initial years. In the absence of any awareness, preparedness or skills, all snake sightings were inevitably met with panic and the inevitable death of the snake at the hands of the security guards of the institution. One interviewee, SB, recalled an instance where he personally witnessed a perfectly harmless rat snake being killed by the guards because of the prevalent attitude.

attitudinal change

The attitudinal change came for many in the 5th year, through their interactions with their batch mates, who would hold forth on the subject and the harms of such an approach. For those in the 4th year such sensitization was primarily carried out through emails that were circulated to the batch. A clear and consistent response was that initially the increased awareness of dangers on campus, made most of them far more nervous and consequently cautious while stepping out. Secondarily, and variably, it raised the awareness and sensitivity towards issues of lack of medical awareness, the need to develop antivenom infrastructure and finally (and only in certain cases) the need to consider the ecological impacts and ethical costs of the indiscriminate killing of the snakes.

Acceptance of risk and awareness of medical infrastructure awareness

Needless to say, the senior students displayed, by far the most moderate attitude towards the presence of snakes on campus in college, with certain responses ranging from utter indifference to their presence, to a cautious state where the occurrence of snakes has become a normalized part of the experience of college. One particular student, who once found a snake in his cupboard, insists that this in retrospect is a fond memory, part and parcel of the more rooted nature of living in college alongside the clear skies, the lake and the fresh air. Furthermore, these students were all able to mention at least certain basic techniques for addressing the contingency of a snake bite and had moderate knowledge about anti venom and where to procure them from in case of an emergency

Administration and guards

It is the general perspective of the student community that more involvement is necessary from the administration in order to manage the issue of snakes on campus. The faculty and the non-teaching staff of the campus are well aware of the issue at hand but also don’t always possess the level of awareness desirable to deal with the same. Thus it becomes vitally important to gauge their reactions.

On questioning the staff, it became clear that most of the problems that the students are grappling with also affect the members of staff who also acknowledge that they need to be better aware and prepared. This is especially true in the case of guards who inevitably happen to be one of the first ones who come to know of snake sightings. On surveying them, it was clear that they are also largely scared of the creatures and their first instinct is to beat them to death irrespective of whether or not these creatures are venomous and are actually threatening. On interaction with the guards, we get to know that they aren’t aware of the best method to deal with snakes. They do their job of trying to catch it and keep students and others safe. Safety of snakes is none of their concern. Hence they don’t hesitate in killing a snake. Once when a snake was found inside hostel, the students called guards, and together killed the snake. Afterwards it was found out that the snake wasn’t venomous. This is seen as rather unfortunate by those sections of students who advocate for the safe transfer of even dangerous snakes.

The above incidents shows that even the guards are required to go through proper training to deal with snakes. It is necessary both for the safety of snakes as well as guards. Snakes aren’t supposed to be killed. They being aware of right techniques and with proper equipments will be in a position to catch snake, and not to kill it. Further, it would reduce the fear from the minds of both guards as well as students.

Therefore, in order to deal with the issue more effectively, awareness and direct involvement of the staff of the campus becomes crucial. This duty includes not only being more aware and prepared personally but also in employing able personnel who would be able to provide aid in cases of emergencies and advocating and actively pursuing the goals of better awareness for the entire community.

Conclusion

The survey exhibited that the students and administration considered the issue of snakes on campus as one requiring immediate attention and also that nothing constructive was being done in this direction. Lack of better modes of creating awareness and, more importantly, lack of  medical facilities are concerns that warrant swift redressal.

LawSchool- group assignment

What LAWSCHOOL thinks of the LAWSCHOOL community- A chain-novel group narrative

LAWSCHOOL is a small campus. With 80 students (now 120) in each batch, living together in a campus quite isolated from the city makes for a unique living experience. We all live on this campus with each other for five long years and it undoubtedly becomes something that inexplicably defines us. Through the almost four and half years we have lived here in college, we all have heard numerous sentiments being expressed towards ‘this place’. While many discussions centre around the academic standards, co-curricular activities such as mooting and other cultural activities whenever people express sentiments such as ‘I hate this place’ or ‘I love this place’ (since most people seem to view this place with extreme emotions) they are talking at least in some part about the community at LAWSCHOOL.

But, as Kareena says, life at LawSchool is not quite love or community or drudgery. Quoting an article by Marina Keegan called ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ Kareena expressed how life at LAWSCHOOL is just a feeling of knowing that there are an abundance of people around you. People who are in this together with you, who despite their varying personalities and life goals are living this life at LAWSCHOOL -which is the common thread that binds everyone. They are there with you at the mess table, outside the library to complain about projects, in the hostel at god-awful 4:00 am in the morning and even over the holidays at internships in different cities.

Adding on to Kareena’s statement, Cher expressed sadness at the prospect of leaving LAWSCHOOL. For Cher, community life at LawSchool is the possibility of knocking on anyone’s door at any point of the day to have a short ten minute conversation. It is the small conversation that people have in the library with the librarian shooting daggers at you. It is the random conversations with people from your batch or other batches at the dinner table.

For Prince, she cannot remember her life before LAWSCHOOL. She cannot remember the sort of person she was before college, so deep has LAWSCHOOL crept under her bones. She fears leaving this place, afraid that she does not have an identity apart from this place.She thinks everything significant about her has been shaped by this place. Living with people from across the country has shaped a particular world-view that can be traced back only to LawSchool. Her opinions on issues such as LGBT rights have significantly been crystallized by this place as well.

However, for Bono this place has nothing significant to offer. Apart from the academic and co-curricular activities, for Bono this place is quite dead in terms of community activities. Bono believes that we could be doing a lot more to build a more robust community life at LAWSCHOOL by having more cultural activities such as music, dance and theatre to give people a chance to interact in ways that move beyond the mundane class routine. LAWSCHOOL is quite eager to leave this place as LAWSCHOOL believes that this place has restricted his growth as a person in many ways.

Perceptions of LAWSCHOOL are diverse, depending on who is asked and when they are asked. Most conversations reflect a common thread – people have a love hate relationship with the college, and several layers are added to their sentiments over half a decade in the place. Living at close quarters with people at all times comes as a bit of a shock in the beginning and takes us far out of our comfort zones – and through this unnerving experience, we all take away some wisdom that will influence us in the future.

The question of what they have learned over their stay at LAWSCHOOL elicited some interesting responses. A common thread running through most responses is a sentiment that is learned because of the time that we are forced to spend with each other. Students felt that their experienceshave helped them realize that every person is cloaked in shades of grey. Face value judgments are most often wrong, and even judgments that are arrived at based on isolated incidents are only minimally indicative of a person’s charater.This understanding is reflected in Kanye’s changed worldview – she understands that she can never comprehend another person entirely. Batchmates she thought of as being incompatible with her have turned out, over a period of time, to be like minded. At the same time, the opposite experience also has been true. Understanding of another, she says, requires singificant investment in terms of time and effort.

Obama’s response was a diverging version of a similar thought. He expressed his strong opposition to the rumour mill at LAWSCHOOL, given its damaging and long-lasting consequences. The community as a whole, he feels, jumps to conclusions and judges harshly without even making an attempt to explore the other side of the story. This essentially boils down to a popularity contest, as the community sides with voices that are more vocal. In his experience, he has been at the receiving end of harsh communal judgment due to actions that were entirely misunderstood. Obama’s friends agreed with this sentiment, and added the perspective of people in power – the SBC. Sunnie, a friend of Obama, stated that the communal backlash disincentivized political participation, as people in power are most harshly criticized.

The response from the juniormost batches were starkly different. In general, they displayed a more optimistic outlook. They did not ponder over the judgments being passed and the possibility of these being damaging and incorrect. Instead, they expressed their desire for a better integrated community. Subbalakshmi expressed his particular confusion with the batch-based seating arrangement at the mess. He was understandably perplexed with the fact that he couldn’t choose any table during mealtimes, restricting his field of interaction to his batchmates. Given that interaction with first years in the hostel is banned owing to ragging scares and their hostel is sealed after 9 p.m., there is little to no social interaction and mingling among the batches.He feels the younger batches stand to gain a lot from conversations with seniors, and adds that he would rather be ragged (mildly) than not be interacted with at all. Evidently, the amount of time spent on campus made a world of difference to perceptions about the community life.

The question of community boiled down usually to a question of space. Crusoe thought that the entirety of LAWSCHOOL was community and open space. Ideas such as having a no-smoking campus for him were indicative of the fact that it is in fact an entire campus open to us as free space, that maybe we fail to optimally utilize. Carlos believes that the campus space belongs to students, but we have let ourselves be restriced in certain ways to smoothly function as a mini-society, just as rules develop in the greater society as part of a social contract. But despite these constraints, LAWSCHOOL was an open space, free for all of us to claim, which many of us keep claiming in several ways, and that according to him was the best part of the LAWSCHOOL community. He liked the fact that LAWSCHOOL was a system in itself, significantly cut-off from the larger society- a remote tropical island where we could build our own world. Such a situation had let us think freely and explore areas that are considered no-go-zones in the ‘real world’.

Tiger and Yakub agreed that LAWSCHOOL was a liberating free space, not only physically, but mentally and virtually too. The free and open email groups, the connectedness one feels through the use of social media has, according to them let such a small student body be interested in such a diverse veriety of things consistently. Yes LAWSCHOOL doesn’t have the tradtitional drama clubs and poetry groups that fucntion too well, but it is in fact testament of the diversity in LAWSCHOOL and its receptiveness to diversity that things like Ultimate Frisbee and Racquet Ball have had life here instead.

Beyonce, JLo and Rihanna however quickly brought the high-flying LAWSCHOOL community space discussion back on earth. According to them, while the LAWSCHOOL space might be unique and the community free of certain judgements, it was still extremely imposing with respect to most other ideas. Taking the social contract analogy forward, they asked the community what it has done to protect people with different ideas in general, not people with certain ideas that are considered different in the larger society. They argued that while the LAWSCHOOL community might call itself liberal, it places heavy burdens on people who do not conform with its idea of normalcy. Yes, different people have existed in LAWSCHOOL and continue to do so, but are they having to fight the society because of these differences? Are they having to find love in a hopeless place?

Mao spoke of ideology in the same context. He said the there is a dominant discourse in LAWSCHOOL that propogates violence against  certain ideas. But Mao was more optimistic of change, saying first that we are definitly, in at least our uniqueness, a more open community than most, and second that we are constantly moving towards better community spaces- evolving more nuanced dialogs on complicated issues that usually have no one answer.

A protected space for Frost was not one that protects all difference. LAWSCHOOL couldn’t and shouldn’t be seen as this separate society as we have sometimes. The larger societal power relations remain, and if we are able to offset them a bit, then we are a fairer community than society according to him. He thinks we are, but also says there’s still miles to go before we sleep.

Being this cut-off from the city, life at LAWSCHOOL does have its drawbacks. A common complaint of many students on campus is the lack of activities that takes place on campus. Mr. Robin Kanwar has said that maintaining a habit in LAWSCHOOL, be it anything, from reading, writing to dancing or exercising is a difficult prospect in this university. In his view, picking up a worthwhile hobby and developing it over the course of these 5 years is a near impossible task given the lack of time, incentive or facilities in this college.

A few students are inclined to point towards the distance of the college from the city as a major reason as to why it is difficult to get people to come down to college to teach certain skills such as dancing, singing etc. To a certain extent this is true, many people have refused to come down to our college citing the distance from the city as a reason for being unable to come down to the university. With this being said, there are many more who cherish being isolated and disconnected from the city. Many are of the opinion that being this disconnected from the city makes the living experience at LAWSCHOOL a unique one. Ms. Shelly Singh has said because going to the city is such a hassle, people are incentivised to interact with each other with the result being many people forge unlikely relationships that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.

Some are of the opinion such as Mr. Jaswinder Kaur that having the campus located in a village has exposed him to a whole different pace of life, one that he wasn’t exposed to before. Although he admits that in this environment it is easy to lose track of and maintain a hobby, he also says that it depends from person to person and if a person really wanted to pick a skill up then this place would not prevent him from doing so. He says this while citing examples of people who he knew who had picked up new skills such as playing the guitar, painting or running marathons.

So it is true that a lot of us at some point of time have complained about the location of our college and how that affects community life within the campus, it is also true that a lot of us are glad about the fact that college is a place that is disconnected from the city. A fact that has in some or the other acted as a catalyst for various people interacting with each other thus thereby giving our education in this university an added intangible value.

Submitted by:

  (2011-07)

  (2011-56)

  (2011-75)

 (2011-16)

Note to students: I had requested you to not put the name of the institution, so I had to make the change myself! The first thing about research is anonymity. Why did none of you pay heed to that? (Prateeksha Sharma)