We Shall Overcome – By Rimli Bhattacharya

Pic by Quang Lự Đỗ



I was talking to Manisha on phone when I broke down.

“Nothing makes me happy, Manisha,” I sounded exhausted. A cacophony she has heard before.

Which is scarier – Manisha’s schizophrenia or my clinical depression?

“Why don’t you cry Manisha?” I enquired.

“I can’t. Crying doesn’t come to me. Maybe I am suffering from some other form of mental illness”, was her reply.


I was diagnosed with mental illness exactly six months post my marriage. I remember my parents coming running down from Agartala to Mumbai to save their only daughter. I knew I was sick. I needed help. My husband took it as an melodramatic scene-playing of mine to avoid the daily kitchen chores and I, at that time was not on talking terms with my in-laws. Had I been, they would have taken me to their Church to get blessed by their priest to ward off the evil eye of Hindu satans (as they called it). I am a Hindu and they are devout Christians. I was baptized before my marriage and was declared a true Christian (implying I was no more a Hindu). I often ponder if that was the reason for my mental health issues or if it was my husband’s indifference towards me that made me emotionally vulnerable. Last but not the least, the regular fights between my parents which I had witnessed as a child had made me emerge as a scared kitten that I would run to anybody whose lust I would confuse as love when I was a teen. My memory is in doldrums as I write out this essay. My mind suddenly remembers my science teacher who had kept me as his sex slave for two years (my mother knew about it) when I was only fifteen.

My mother’s family side has a history of mental illness. My aunt had burnt herself alive, a victim of schizophrenia. I still cannot figure out if it was in my genes or was it the years of abuse, torture, neglect and also abnormal love that made me a victim of being a pagol/pagli (lunatic as society loves to call it). I was a wife at one point of time. I couldn’t stay in that role for long. My ex wouldn’t let me stay sane. That was a major blow to my self-esteem. I was an unloved wife, meant to satisfy him on the bed, cook his meals which he would throw when he felt, do the dishes, wash his clothes and tolerate his tantrums. He would often leave the house leaving behind a disheveled wife and would not return till I would run in the streets, often reaching the railway station barefooted to find him enjoying the nature, chewing a bubble gum or chatting with his friends. On the third year of my marriage he left Mumbai for a better career and I heaved a sigh of relief on hearing the news. Later, we divorced.

It was my parents who had taken me to a psychiatrist to save their only daughter but I guess that was too late. The disease by then had already spread its venomous wings in my already troubled mind. Medicines and the dosages increased. I was told that they would decrease in due course, but later I realized it was a lullaby sung by the doctor to calm me down. One thing led to another. One mental ailment opened the doors to another, and I changed forever. There were episodes of heavy crying, breaking down, constant phone calls (I loved to use the telephone), get insulted but as I said, I was never the same.

I was once a slender good-looking woman who turned obese as a side effect of the psychotropic drugs. One abuser of mine suggested that I take to psychological counseling and I obliged. I attended session after session, but trust me, the only stuff that could keep me sane were the medicines. The counselor gradually distanced herself from me – I guess she understood I was too complicated a human being.

A little wonder that I would like to share is – amongst all this, I would carry myself to my workplace each day. I would struggle to keep up, often slipping, I would scratch, crawl, bite but I would hold on to my job because I was ordered to keep myself busy. During my latest stint as a teacher I was insulted to such an extent that I was left with no option but to quit. I would get severe headaches, vomit, my bowels were irregular but I still managed to pull results from my students.

But there was once thing noticeable in me. I never felt like committing suicide. I love to say that I want to die but the very thought of death scares the shit out of me. I want to live, I want to laugh, I don’t want to lock myself in that bedroom of mine with lights out and stare at the ceiling for hours together. But that has become a pastime of mine. Along with mental illness I suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid, abnormal cholesterol and uric acid. At the age of forty-seven I lactate (side effect of extreme medication). I have lost my parents and the only person that I call my family is my teenage daughter.


Manisha always used to encourage me with the words “we shall overcome”. Yes, I will overcome all my satans one day, and that day is not far off.

Please, don’t misjudge me. I have not written this piece to gain your sympathy. I have just shared my story. Probably, this unburdening of myself may motivate someone in a similar state to come out in the open and lighten up their mind.


About the Author


Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class, gold medalist graduate Mechanical engineer from the National Institute of Technology, Agartala. She is an Indian classical dancer, author, poet and a proud mother.