A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest. The work of Anjali

The Goal.

Give me a break now
To savour the flow of joy in an open meadow-
Oh, give me a break now.

The back alleys of love
I can’t comprehend.
Who’s good and who’s bad
I’m not concerned.

It all mixes and mingles-
Let’s all say together- Come
Let’s create a society so dear,
That the whole world will
Stir in wonder.

I understand monotheism
Understand waterfalls
And Mandakini’s surge
All of you might be planets and meteors,
I want to be a star.

- Shaktipada Jana (Anjali Rehab Programme Participant)
Translated from the original Bengali by Paramita Banjeree.

‘Shaktipada Jana (35) was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was admitted to Lumbini Park Mental Hospital as a long staying patient. Anjali facilitated the process of reintegrating him into his family in 2003. He works in a motor garage. With a passion in poetry, he has gifted Anjali three hard bound notebooks full of his own poems’.

So opens Anjali’s book, ‘Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest’. It is no ordinary little book; for it brings you into rare societal places, which are too often locked away. It is part of Anjali's, a Kolkata based organisation's work to promote awaremess of mental health issues.

Visiting the Anjali team in Kolkata, I got a chance to visit the Lumbini Mental Hospital. Hospital? Well, that would be pushing it. It looked and felt more like a prison. Patients locked in drab wards. Little stimulation. Bare beds. The patients were admitted for care, what they generally receive is neglect; often over medicated, over sedated, almost criminalised.

Anjali, however are working hard to change the system- both within the hospitals, and without; working with state bodies and the media to change the way mental illness is perceived and responded to.

In the hospital they organise therapeutic interventions for ‘participants’; art, music, drama, dance and also basic life skills. I was just in time to attend one of the music therapy sessions and see a group of women who came alive again given the opportunity to express themselves; they certainly know how to sing and dance, and yes, once again little Clare was pulled up to perform!

Rathaboli Ray, the founder of Anjali, explained some of the workings of the system to me. The admittance procedure to metal hospitals is heavily legalised. Once admitted patients are rarely released, for again it would involved the courts and complex legal proceeding. But this is one area where Anjali are now working. They work with the courts to secure release for healthy participants, and then work with families to re-integrate the Anjali participant into the community.

Beyond this, they rally the media, raising awareness of the conditions in the state hospitals, promoting change.

Anjali’s model has been replicated to eight other mental hospitals. Progress has been made. It is slow, hard work, but at least with their efforts, an alternative model has been proved to be effective.


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