Two blankets

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Arshid Malik

Begger-dogs-in--Kashmir-the-bund-srinagarThere has been a common “notion” in Kashmir that if you chance upon finding a madman (basically a mentally sick person who has lost control over himself) and hand him over to the staff at the lonely mental asylum at Kathi Darwaza, Rainawari, Srinagar you would be rewarded with two wool blankets. Some people go on to say that they reward you with two blankets and a tin of clarified butter (ghee). While the former part seems quite relevant since Kashmir is a cold region but the ghee part never made sense. Overall nothing makes sense here. Howsoever, I was utterly fascinated by the idea but was never able to explore the genuineness of this “notion” and that is because I never had the nerve to catch a madman and turn him in at the mental asylum. Besides I never wanted two blankets and a tin full of ghee (we had plenty back home). Any of the readers of my column who happen to have any knowledge related to this cited “notion” may please contact me on my email id which you will find at the end of this column. All the same, this “notion” was a paradigm in itself for me when I was a kid and I wondered how and when a person went mad to the extent that he almost totally lost it. As decades passed by, I was driven to explore the genesis of madness and at a certain point of time I practically went mad myself and I thank Almighty for no one carrying the “notion” of two blankets and a tin full of ghee met me halfway. Instead I found a lot about madness after reading a stack full of books on psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, behaviorism, genetics and all and yes above all ancient philosophy. I also landed up as an outpatient at Kathi Darwaza psychiatric diseases hospital and found out a lot about the dilapidated conditions of the heavily under-staffed hospital and the plight of the diseased and distressed people – some of them inpatients and others standing in almost never-ending queues at the outpatient department at the hospital. This was back in the nineties (I was sane enough for a long time to come, sane enough not to slap a person who would publicly abuse me out-of-context, or stab me with a blunt knife since I had been molded into a civilized and cultured being (it was Lithium mostly), one who became an ardent follower of haute couture) and by the very gloomy looks of the hospital, the staff and the inmates I was cocksure that they sure were not willing to barter blankets for madmen and women. So, partially the “notion” of two blankets was blown.
The reason I mention the reward of “two blankets and a probable tin of ghee” is because this “notion-cum-belief” traces its roots to the stigma attached to mental diseases and those afflicted by such diseases in our society. The practicality on the ground is that we, Kashmiri people, have not been able to do justice to our own selves over the centuries by getting rid of commonalities which often border on taboo and superstition. This is annotated in the very “catch phrase” of “two blankets and a tin full of ghee”. The mentally sick, in the light or rather the shadow of the stigmatic quasi-metaphor of “two blankets and a tin full of ghee” points to the fact that such people are unwanted and you would be, so to say, rewarded if you chance upon turning a madman in. We are socially taking a stand here, aren’t we? In our society the mentally sick are outcasts who need to be called names and irritated to the point that they pelt stones at you – it used to be a certain kind of a “sport”, this chasing the madman or the other way round and presumably remains. There were a few madmen in our locality. I empathized a lot with these madmen owing to their characteristic quietude or vociferousness, their mumbling to themselves and throwing up their hands in the air and cursing the “creator” while going empty stomach for days together. I hated the part when people called them names. I recall one was called “Doon Kala” (walnut head) because his head was smaller than average. Some of them were very talented. There was a madman in our neighboring locality who could crunch sums in his head at lightning speeds, sums that would take a “normal” person hours to do and that too with the aid of a calculator. I do not recall what he was called and I am glad I don’t. Then there were children chasing these madmen. It was a sport and my heart trembled with fear for I knew someday I would also go mad – in fact I believed that all of us would go mad sooner or later. There were some who belonged to wealthy families and they dressed very well, were clean shaven and roamed the streets, some for their lost love and some for fortunes untold of. These were the people, I later realized, who had broken the myth of the affluence of human existence. They were the people who had had a good laugh over it all and continued to do so. We were (and are) the outcasts – living our lives carefully, not spilling the soup on the table cloth, not making a sound while chewing food, gently greeting people we would meet and on the other hand blowing entire cities to smithereens; building arsenal that could blow up the entire galaxy; lynching, raping, abusing and discriminating; killing and getting killed over petit larceny. Those incriminated of having lost their minds were the people who had started with outsmarting the “normalites” (which is another form of mental disorder that has cultural moorings and which outstandingly applies to all of you) and ended up ‘enlightened”. These were and remain to be the people we want chained and behind bars because they challenge our non-existent authority. These are the people who seemingly threaten us by their other-worldly flamboyance. These are the people we have always been willing to turn in to the “authorities” at the dilapidated psychiatric diseases hospital and win a reward of two blankets and a probable tin of ghee, or perhaps the stakes have gone high and maybe they issue five digit cheques.
Let me vividly imply here I was and remain mentally sick. I would love to be called a madman. What about you?

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