December 27, 2005

Poor, yet so rich in understanding and love.

Getting down from the auto rickshaw after buying some vegetables and provisions from the nearby market, I saw a middle-aged woman standing near our front door. She looked familiar but then one saw many like her dotting the sides of the roads of Delhi – disheveled, weary, marked with poverty. As I approached her a smile lit up her tired face. She asked me if I wanted a cook. I replied that I did not want one. She said that why didn’t I give her cooking skills a try for she knew many dishes ranging from Hyderabadi Biriyani to Seekh kebabs. I asked her as to where she had learnt how to cook. As we got talking she said that she was from Aligarh a town in another state. Cooks were not paid well in Aligarh so she had moved to Delhi many years ago. She had not married for her elder brother had become ill when she was in her teens. Her parents died soon after, she said. As arranged marriages were still the norm no one was willing to marry her unless she cut off all ties with her brother which she refused. I asked her why the prospective grooms wanted her brother out of her life. She replied that he was mentally ill pointing to her head.

Her brother had been ill for more than thirty years. He lived in Aligarh with his younger sister who took care of him. He was well when he took his medications which could not be given regularly to him, she said. The money she earned in Delhi was sent to her younger sister by a Money Order for their living expenses and the medicines. The Money Order was often delayed. Then the brother had to go without his medicines. He would become withdrawn, not talk or eat, start talking to himself and slowly his behaviour would become so bizarre, even biting people who came to the house. When he took his medicines again, it took a lot of time for him to become better but he helped around the house, she said.

Her eyes misted when I told her that she seemed to understand her brother so well much more than the educated people. She said that he was such a loving brother. She would never forget the time in her life when he was well. Even then he was quiet – never expressed his love. He used to earn then and spent all his money on thoughtful gifts for their parents and his sisters. It was those memories that kept her going. She knew that it was the illness that had made him unable to earn a living.

Her day started at four in the morning as she worked in five houses as a cook. I thought, she did not know how to read or write but had the precious gift of understanding and a capacity to love that had triumphed all odds. So different from some of the well-off families that I had met, who had a family member struggling with schizophrenia. One mother, a wealthy doctor when speaking about her daughter’s behaviour always said -- ‘these people’ are so religious or ‘these people can never hold on to one job’ and so on. I felt so angry but never could tell her that having the illness did not mean that one had to be classified into a different category of ‘these people’.

Today this poor loving sister couriers the money so that it reaches her brother in time. She says she will bring her brother to Delhi when he is able to travel, to take him to a psychiatrist for it is years since he has visited one. It may take a while for the feeling of people staring at him is very strong, she says. It is people like her that inspire me – poor, leading a life of such hardship, yet so rich in understanding having the tremendous capacity to love.

Posted by survivor at December 27, 2005 03:00 PM


Dear Survivor Mom,

I came across your site and it really struck a chord within me.So I wanted to share with you my story of how deeply such an illness affects the lives, not only of those who encounter it, but especially those who are all around them.

My mother has Schizophrenia - she had it before she was married. However, her parents did not mention this to my father when they got married (through an arranged marriage). In fact, to this day, they deny that she is even ill and every bout of her illness is used as a political statement against my father. My father on the other hand, inspite of all this, has faithfully kept her with him, at great expense (both socially and monetarily). Long story short, my and my siblings have endured a very harsh life until now, inspite of the fact that we were well-to-do.

I'm the eldest so I got to see (and remember it all). My childhood was filled with lots of abuse (beatings for no reason or for reasons which all normal children do - e.g., wanting to play with other children was enough reason for a beating). For this reason, I did not have a single friend until I went to college. Would you believe I went through 4 years of college only to have 2 friends?

I have grown up deeply untrusting, defining boundaries in a interpersonal relationships has been very difficult and continues to be for me. I witnessed how my sisters grew up. The parts of their lives where they needed the influence of a mother has been completely left out. They are submissive, very plain and have a lot of love, yet I see clever people taking advantage of them all the time. It is as if, they never got any socialization to be able to define their boundaries and stand up for themselves. In some sense, I think it was more difficult for them. When my sisters became women, they did not have anyone to turn for help or explaination. For fear of embarrassment or out of their shyness.. it was a very traumatic experience for them. My father, in his best effort to keep the family going has supported and taken care of my mother, himself and by including us as well. But that was it, that was all he really did. The care of the children was left 'as is'. The normal things of seeing to the wellbeing of your childs health - e.g. getting glasses, regular dental exams etc were completely ignored until we were well into our teen years. As a result all of us have worse eyesight than would have been if it had been checked earlier. Both my sister had dental problems by the time they were in their pre-teen years.

As you know, in the Indian subcontinent, marriages are arranged. So you can imagine how difficult it is for a girl whose mother is described as a 'mental patient' to even get a single suitor. And not just for girls, even in my case, no one wants to marry off their daughter to a man whose mother is mentally disabled. Not only is the social stigma so unforgiving, but people also think that I will carry on my father's life by keeping my mother with me. And so by proxy, it is automatically presumed that I'm not marrying for myself but rather as a person who will be the caretaker for my mother. Sadly, despite the fact that I have a good job, have lived a very plain life and have seen my father keep my mother with him for no other reason than love, and that my intention is not to repeat the mistakes of my father, but how can I even convey this if people won't even talk to me? Life can be so unforgiving.

I should mention that my family is a middle-class family. God has been very kind to us so it is not like we are poor but it does not lessen the pain. as i grow older, become more mature and understand my own behaviors more precisely, i see how massively and negatively my life, the life of my sisters and especially that of my father, has been affected. Stability of finances definitely helped but the costs that are going to be born by me and my siblings are just beginning. Today Imy father is old yet instead of a well deserved rest, he is still being forced to deal with even greater stress brought on by how this situation is affecting his children. And there is no one to help him.

Sometimes it is hard just keeping sane myself if I even begin to put my self in his shoes. Lack of socialization, no friends, no community and being shunned due to a mentally sick mother - I cannot even begin to live my own life, the shadow from my parent's life is so overpowering.

Dear Survivor Mom, these are very personal things, yet, I wanted to mention them here so that your readers can know that there is a deep hurt associated with this, and that it extends beyond just the person involved. The road is lonely and how can you explain love for a person when the first memory of your mother involves her beating the crap out of you for a reason which you don't understand.

Posted by: A reader at December 31, 2005 11:50 AM

Dear Survivor,

I've always enjoyed reading your blog. Like many of the bloggers on this site, it's so honest and truthful.

I've just read the response from "a reader" and I'm saddened by how this illness affects families.

My own father was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 39 years old. I was only 12 at the time. I gues in some ways I am lucky it was my father and not my mother. A mother's job is to nurture and care for their children and I received that from my mother. But my mother struggled for many years to help the man she loved. She loved and cared for my father until death parted them.

I am thankful that my dear mother is still alive and has all eight of her children who love her very much. She has a very good and peaceful life now.

Your story about this woman who was looking to work as a cook is another example of how people sacrifice for those they love. I'm so sorry this woman never had a chance for her own life.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and story with us.


Posted by: yaya at December 31, 2005 09:29 PM

My father was mentally ill before he married my mother, and it destroyed our family. I've never been able to carry a conversation with him, and feel as if he understood, and I am deathly afraid that with my difficulties coping with everyday events, I may become schizophrenic as well if that has not happened already.. I'm 17.

Thanks so much for writing your article, and comments. It helps enormously to know that others can understand.

Posted by: Khadija at February 11, 2006 04:24 AM

I am so happy I stumbled across your blog. I am a professional counseling student and I am doing my research study on the myths, misconceptions, and ignorance that people have regarding schizophrenia. My hope for my research is not just to complete a study to get credit for the class, but to raise awareness about schizophrenia. I would love to converse with you via email. I could not find a contact address for you, but my email is
Take care.

Posted by: Jennifer at June 20, 2006 03:17 AM

I was reading about the sister who cooks in Delhi to treat an ill bother in Aligarh.

I came acroos this post because I was looking for instacnes of people who were driven to take on the challenges in their lives and face them with the skills they had at their disposal. I might be able to help this sister you mention in your post. I reside in Delhi and my number is 9810008022. I am looking at making a film inspired by the lives of such unique people. Will you kindly help me get in touch with this lady? I await your response. Thank you.

Posted by: jayakrishna at February 11, 2007 12:39 PM

Hello Everybody,
Im a 24year old girl from Malaysia Kuala Lumpur.I had a boyfriend for one year who parted from me three months ago because we had many problems from his schizophrenic illness,though we still love each other so much.Problems happen when he didnt want to bring me back to meet his family, he told me that his mum did not like him to have girlfriends, I did not trust him and thought that he lied to me all the while, recently after our breakup,I got to know that his family had schizophrenia, especially his mum, that is why his mum had wanted to destroy his beautiful relationships all the time, it made me very sad because my boyfriend is already a grown up man who is capable in his career and to make up his own choices and important decision in life but he didnt, he let himself listen to his mum and destroy the relationships he had and effected me emotionally too.Apparently my boyfriend didint know that his mum hired a private investigator to check on his girlfriend. I got this information from my cousin sister who was a friend of his cousin. That is why I came across this blog.I am very touched that you still have a chance to meke decisions to take care of your loved one. I was not given a chance to, My boyfriend has shizophrenia and I decided to walk this tough road with him because I love him very much, I told him before that I would not leave him if he was ill,but he refused and pushed me away because he didnt want to accept the fact and my care and also because of his mother that didnt want him to have relationships.I encourage children to be filial to parents,but it does not mean that my boyfriend shoud hurt another loved one and cause destruction on his love partner life to practice filial values. I guess untill now my boyfriend does not know and realise what impact he caused in my life for doing this to me, but should I blame him,because he seemed to still have part of his sound mind to think of what is right and what is wrong.He will have to sit down and meke a change in his life. My boyfriend and his family thinks that Monetary wealth is the only key point of success, and they look down on people. Actually the term Success, come from a balance of 6 aspects...Financial stability, health, a loving marriage and family, good friends, freedom and ability to go around the world. Having one and neglecting others is not considered successful in life. I hope that they will realise it,as there is no take two in life, each of us get to live for once, so make the best out of it and shower our love to the ones that need it, you never know because of a little expression of love can save a person and make him or her able to make a great acheivement in life. Treasure your times ...... :)

Posted by: Fat Girl Ghost ( fei mui kuai ) at March 6, 2007 09:48 AM

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