Tribute

Naseeruddin Shah on watching Om Puri on the stage for the first time: ‘He was a revelation’

Puri was dazzling as a warrior in the kabuki-themed play ‘Ibaragi’ at the National School of Drama, says his peer and friend.

We returned from vacation for our final year, to be informed that auditions would be on for the next production, a Kabuki play in Hindi, Ibaragi, to be directed by an expert from Japan. My awareness of this classical form was as immature as that of a twenty-two-year-old drama student can be expected to be. We had never actually seen a Kabuki play but had been shown films of some performances. It would be a stretch to perform like that, I knew, particularly with the vocal acrobatics required, but I felt more than confident that the big part in it would be mine. Even though I then had frequent laryngeal trouble, and had to often perform with a voice that was no more than a ghostly whisper, I was cocky to the core that if anyone could pull this off it had to be me. It did not occur to me that there were other actors too, not as showy as myself, who had been far more diligent in practising their craft than I had been. Arriving at the school for the first read-through, we were told that only the students of acting would be cast. We, the students of direction, were to only observe and assist in the production. I was gutted and so was Jaspal, who had naturally assumed that with his vocal abilities, he would be a shoo-in. And who should get cast in the main part but Om Puri, also a classmate, who had very quietly persevered in self-improvement through the time he had been at NSD. [National School of Drama].

When the play was performed Om, for once cast as a flamboyant warrior, was a revelation. I was stuck doing production duties for this play I would have killed to act in, and could only watch him in wonder and envy. Despite intensely coveting the role, it was difficult not to be thrilled at the level of performance he had achieved. Something told me I could NOT have done what he did. Om had always been a model, if somewhat stodgy, student and human being: completely virtuous, genuinely considerate, deeply compassionate, industrious, punctual, attentive, thoughtful; but had so far received attention because of his sweet temperament rather than for his acting. Now he had delivered a knockout performance, and I could see there was no magic formula responsible. He was so astoundingly good because, quite simply, he had gone for broke and expended every ounce of his energy in preparation. Om continued to inspire me for a very long time. Even though I initially found his sincerity amusing and quite unnecessary—at complete variance with my own attitude—I finally began to see its virtues, and had to admit to myself that none of my own performances in the school productions could begin to approach Om’s achievement in Ibaragi.

Excerpted with permission from And Then One Day: A Memoir by Naseeruddin Shah, published by Penguin Books India (Hamish Hamilton).

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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.