tv series

The DD Files: Once upon a time in ‘Malgudi Days’

Few series have been able to match the power of the television adaptation of RK Narayan’s stories.

Childhood, for those who are on the other side, is less about what happened in a real time and place. It is that place where we all need to go whenever the burden of the years weighs upon our soul. You would think that television is the last place to find that secret key, but revisiting Malgudi Days could change that attitude.

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Think of a spot of sunshine that a nine-year-old tries to hold in his fist. Making paper boats and chasing them down the stream, and praying for the hapless ant that sinks along with the boat when a twig crashes into it. Bunking school and getting even with oppressive teachers and neighbourhood bullies. Friendships forged over lime pickle and schemes to get that plaything you desperately want. Think of an adult world that is of little use to you, other than your grandparents, who are the only ones who have the time and stories just for you.

Kannada film and theatre stalwart Shankar Nag’s 1987 adaptation of RK Narayan’s short story collection is perhaps the finest television shows ever. Set in the fictional hill town of Malgudi, the 1986 series featured the nation’s favourite child, Swami (Manjunath), and his rag tag friends who roamed the streets and alleys of the town playing cricket, chasing dreams, myths and gossip. In other words, everything that boys are wont to do.

Malgudi Days was set in pre-Independence India. Boys in billowy and calf-length pants, dhotis, caps and jackets ran amok; missionary schools forced religion down the throats of impressionable kids; Indians were still divided between those who saw merit in the British way of order and discipline and the anarchy seeded by the nationalist leaders. The sight of a handsome young Girish Karnad playing tennis at the elite Malgudi Club in his dhoti or signing off a stern letter to the Albert Mission headmaster with a “Your most obedient servant” is one such telling commentary on that era. Ultimately, it’s the endless adventure of the boys that make this show so timeless.

Given a chance, we would all love to play with ghosts and capture tyrannical kings on horses, start our own cricket teams and believe that copper coins can turn to silver overnight.

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Other than the compelling content, what makes a trip to Malgudi Days worth every minute are the real locations and lovely cinematography. Nag did not clip his vision and the audacity of his imagination for the small screen. The series was shot in a village in Karnataka’s Shimoga district. The camera glides over rivers, pulls back to show boys skinny dipping, dances with dew drops and melts in the mist.

And then there was the poignant theme music by L Vaidyanathan, comparable to the score of Pather Panchali by Ravi Shankar: simple, evocative, hummable and a classic. (The score in some of the episodes was by Sharang Dev.)

The abiding visual in the series is of Swami running around Malgudi barefoot. There is something about the way he skips over pebbly paths and mossy patches, wades through streams and bowls out his team mates that makes us want to yank off our shoes and, like Narayan’s endearing protagonist, run away from everything that holds us back, towards all that we wish to be.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.