Last week, a 25-year-old woman died lonely in a west Delhi flat, shutting herself out from the world. SHALINI NARAYAN revisits some of the other such cases in the Capital that made news and tells their stories — of loneliness in the big city.
Thirty-one-year-old Neerja Gupta lies on her bed on a hot Tuesday afternoon, talking to her 80-year-old mother Nirmala Devi, who shuffles around the house looking for a comb she remembers she had kept near the TV but can’t find now. On another bed lies Neerja’s elder sister Mamta, 40, whose eyes only seem to follow her son Shubham, who has just come back from school. The 15-year-old tells his mother he scored the highest in class in his Business Studies paper and that his teacher had congratulated him.
But Shubham knows his mother isn’t listening. Her eyes are now fixed on the door. For her, every movement is suspect. With every sound, her heart skips a beat. And then, she sees it — a black dog at the door, baring its teeth at her son.
She lets out a cry and Nirmala comes running. “I told you to keep the door shut,” she hollers at Shubham. He quietly gets up and shuts the door, his academic success all but forgotten. Shubham doesn’t try telling his mother that the black dog she saw is only in her mind. He knows his grandmother and mother are hallucinating.
On June 16, 2012, Neerja and Mamta were rescued from their home in north Delhi’s Rohini Sector 8. They had been starving and their mother had alerted their neighbours. When they were admitted to Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, Neerja weighed 25 kg and Mamta 15 kg. They were discharged after four months of treatment. That’s when Shubham first heard of ‘schizophrenia’ and since then, he has learnt to live with it.
The cramped room in the double-storeyed house reeks of urine and sweat. It’s as if nothing has changed from two years ago. A bedpan lies beside both Neerja and Mamta, but neither uses it. Neerja’s bed is brown and bloodied as she is menstruating. “They defecate and urinate in their beds. Naani cleans it sometimes. But every time she tries to lift the sheet, they scream,” says Shubham, rubbing his mother’s arm as she winces in pain.
“I had to stop going to school for about six months because my grandmother thought there was this black dog that would bite me,” says Shubham who goes to a government school in the area. “Naani accompanies me to school everyday and 10 minutes before school ends, she is waiting for me at the gate,” he says, smiling at his grandmother.
“Woh bada kutta hai. Kaat lega continued…
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