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Streetcar named risky

Tram tracks are being concretised along Elliot Road. That is a good thing, for the tracks on this road were in a dreadful condition, often leading to accidents, for motorcycles and other vehicles, not to speak of humans, could easily trip over these death traps. Concretisation of tracks is fine in narrow streets such as Elliot Road and Rabindra Sarani but it has had disastrous consequences on wider thoroughfares in Ballygunge and Rashbehari in the south, and Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road in the north.

Earlier, the tracks on these roads were reserved, but after concretisation they were dereserved, leading to an impossible situation for passengers. Now it is no longer possible for them to get into trams for they pass right through the middle of heavily congested roads. One can only get in or out of these slow-moving vehicles risking life and limb. One can easily be hit by hundreds of vehicles whizzing past. Besides being dirt cheap, trams are ideal for children and elderly people as they are never in a hurry. But what’s the use if getting into them becomes a risky proposition.

Debasish Bhattacharya, the scientist-activist who is passionate about trams, says he has written to the police, CTC (Calcutta Tramways Company), transport department and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, but to no avail. Not even the Right to Information Act has helped.

The answers his letters evinced were always “vague”, he says. So Calcutta still has trams, if only in name.

Thin line of sanity

Jhilmil Breckenridge, an attractive 44-year-old woman from Delhi, speaks about a time she was visiting her husband in hospital where he was being treated for dengue. It was about a decade ago; her third child was still a toddler, her husband’s business was not doing too well and she had too much to manage. At some point, unable to deal with the hospital processes, she lost it. She began to scream.

Next thing she remembers is being put into a vehicle and taken to a mental hospital. It was like an arrest and an incarceration. Days passed, one after the other, each like the other, hopelessly, as she felt her new anonymity closing in on her.

One day she sat down in front of a telephone, which her minders claimed was always busy. She said she would wait till the phone was no longer busy and call her family members. But the hospital staff dragged her to her bed.

But the most remarkable thing, she remembers, almost amused now at the memory, was the question a doctor asked her every day. “Do you feel guilty?” he would ask her. Guilty of what? She had no idea. So at first she said no.

But then she realised that she was supposed to feel guilty, anyway, and that her admission would bring her a reward. So she said, yes, she felt guilty. Gradually, her husband and other family members visited her and she was allowed to leave the hospital.

Jhilmil is one of the four women who appear in the film Come with me, a documentary produced by Anjali, a mental health rights organisation from Calcutta. A screening of the film was held at Rotary Sadan in the city on Thursday, organised by Anjali and Swayam, an organisation committed to ending violence against women.

The women in the film came from different places and backgrounds. Jhilmil was the daughter of an IAS officer and was married to an educated, affluent man.

The other three weren’t so privileged: Golap Khatun, a young woman who smiles constantly, is from a Howrah village; Renu Tiwari, a singer, is from Benares; and Jayanti Karmakar is from Hooghly. Yet their stories are the same in a way. At one point, all of them suffered a tremendous violation: they were all thrown into a government mental health hospital, unaccountably to them. In what does not look like a coincidence, before they were admitted to the hospital, they had all suffered domestic violence, much of it severe.

The film, which is shot simply and sensitively by Gautam Bose, focuses on the women and allows them to talk freely to the camera as occasional shots explore the interiors of mental hospitals. From the way the women speak, it is impossible to see why they were inside the hospitals once, let alone being asked if they were guilty.

Of course, the film presents the stories of the women only as they tell it. One guesses at the other versions, of family members’, of the institutions’ (only one institution is spoken to). One guesses at their silences. Now that they are out, they are aware that it is not easy, for they were branded “crazy” once.

Yet, as they speak, about having been able to come out, about their lives now, about a future, even if they look a troubled, they make perfect sense.

That is the whole point of the film, it seems. Who judges who is normal and who is not?

Ratnaboli Ray of Anjali agrees, as she speaks enthusiastically about how she plans to screen the film at more venues, including at mental hospitals. She later moderated a discussion which was attended by the director Gautam Bose, Anuradha Kapoor of Swayam and Achal Bhagat, a distinguished psychiatrist from Delhi.

Contributed by Soumitra Das and Chandrima S. Bhattacharya