In Dr.P’s neighbouring village there was a Mariamman Kovil; temple dedicated to Goddess Mariamma. The festival days of that small temple were full of excitement to him as a child. There would be fire walking, dancing with burning coal in the palm, Komaram repeatedly whipping own body etc, etc. But the brutal slaughter of Goat and sipping the blood from the neck of Caracas kept him away from the scene when he grew up.
The name Maari was very familiar to him, but the name Maariyappan was new. Still Dr. P could recognise it as the name of Lord Siva, the husband of Goddess Parvathy. From the childhood days his understanding was Lord Siva is ‘Samhara murthy’, the guardian of destruction. Anyone with that name could be a dangerous brute; he convincingly presumed. But when the patient Maariyappan was brought before him for the first time during the ward rounds, everything astonishingly appeared in the opposite. The old man Maariyappan was short, frail and docile.
Those were Dr. P’s early days of job in the lunatic asylum. That was his second posting and he was not out of his freshness of studies. On those days decades back, everything was different in lunatic asylums. It was positioned exactly below the buttocks of the sprawling fortress, squatted on a hillock. The place received its name literally from the rocks and jackals living there. The vast campus was encircled with a tall compound wall. The only gate available looked like a mammoth grey screen. Once closed from inside, the whole construction had a menacing appearance of an old haunted fort. Even during day time nobody other than inmates and staff were allowed to go beyond the front office building. That relatively new building provided outpatient wing, doctors’ room and administration office. The doctors stayed in that front building only. A rare visitor of an inmate lunatic has to seek permission from the chief doctor. If the chief is pleased to issue the chit ‘show’, the concerned patient will be brought to the visitor by the staff. No one can go inside to meet anyone in the wards.
In addition to the teaching ward; one backward also was allotted to Dr. P. Those were the wards in the back portion of the campus and medical help rarely reached there. Almost all patients were long timers. Some of them entered there even before Dr. P had his birth in this world. No relatives or friends ever turned up to meet them. An abandoned folk in a cursed asylum! Most of them were capable of attending daily routines and others were too indifferent to attend to own needs. In the boldness of youth, Dr. P ventured into the backwards for assessment of patients with a view to make a few discharges if possible. Even if it could be one, facilitating a long term patient’s return to his own house hold would a great achievement; he thought. It was during that process, Dr. P came across Maariyappan.
Maariyappan was of no problem to anyone in the asylum. No one needed to prompt him to have food, bathe and return to the cell room when asked to do so. Besides these three things, there was nothing for an inpatient of the lunatic asylum to do during the day time. Smoking tobacco was the only available luxury. Those were gifts from relatives or rewards from warders. But that was limited to patients with visitors or patients who actually do the ward work on behalf of warders.
Dr. P did decide to discharge Maariyappan and send him home. But the ward nurse cautioned against. She used to support all his moves in the good direction. It was a surprise for him when she expressed difference of opinion. When asked her why, the nurse said ‘I heard there was some problem in the past’. She was not specific and didn’t elaborate. Some of her seniors had told her that Maariyappan was a dangerous patient and should be approached with caution. He should never be discharged. Dr. P verified the case record. It mentioned in the history that his admission followed a murder he committed during illness. There were no details. But that was years back when he was admitted in the hospital. If he was only a criminal, he would have been out of lifetime imprisonment several years back. There was no mention of any offending behaviour in the ward after admission. There were no adverse remarks recorded in his case sheet. He could very well be considered for a discharge. But nurse repeated opposite view and reminded that the records in mental hospital especially in backwards were notoriously empty. Dr. P already knew that truth. He thought he would discuss the matter with a senior doctor.
He went to Dr. RK. Dr. RK was working in that asylum for several years. He was an authentic chronicler as Moses to Phantom in the cartoon. It was Dr. RK who gave Dr. P the details. Maariyappan with a frail frame always was a docile person. But that masked the other side of him, which was full of fury. He had a tendency to develop seizures. After each fit, he will wake up dazed. That might last for minutes to hours. During that period, he will turn violent. Anything moving in front of him will be brutally attacked and made immovable. Actually his admission to asylum was after a murder he committed in one of such frenzies. The fits appear at totally unpredictable occasions, perhaps one in many years. Every time he throws a fit, he would kill someone who happens to be in his visible space. The old guards of the asylum always knew it and hence he was given a single cell accommodation.
It was just any other usual evening. Ward staff, along with working patients started locking up patients after the evening roll call. There was a message to Danam, the warder of the backward that a party is arranged for the night duty wardens and it was going to start soon. Not a soul in the world would know what is happening inside the sprawling campus, once the gates were closed. Hence an occasional party like that was not unknown to anyone inside.
Anyone with that name could be a dangerous brute; he convincingly presumed. But when the patient Maariyappan was brought before him for the first time during the ward rounds, everything astonishingly appeared in the opposite. The old man Maariyappan was short, frail and docile.
RMO, a middle aged man with hairs started greying, was living single in the small RMO quarters deep inside the campus. He was a ‘broad hearted’ man who always needed a ‘bed spread with life’ for a good night’s sleep. Among the cleaners it was the new young lady staff who was on night duty that day. Everybody in the asylum knew that she will invariably go to RMO in the evening to make a report. Everyone was also sure that he won’t let her go soon and she is capable of keeping him in bed for long hours without any fatigue. So there was enough time. The warders made elaborate plans for a party that can extend even to early morning. Venue decided was near the pond in the interior of the campus. Tapioca was ripe enough to make good accompaniment with the arrack distilled by the fire brand fellow in the group Ramakrishnan.
The warden from nearby ward hurried Danam. At that time he was actually in search of the keys to open the door of a cell room to lock up a patient. The key was misplaced somewhere. In the hurry of joining the party, Danam asked the remaining patient to go inside the cell of Maariyappan just for some time, till his return. After all, Danam had not seen maariyappan in any state other than tranquillity for the past several years of his posting in the asylum.
In the night, the patient in the room next to Maariyappan’s heard a hissing sound followed by jerks. He was also an old timer and knew Maariyappan threw a fit. He called the second patient inside to confirm. The confirmation horrified him. He shouted for the staff. No one was there to hear. He asked other patients as well to do the same and all started shouting. Still there was no one to hear. One patient started banging the steel plate on the ground, to make noise louder. Patients in all the cell rooms of that ward did the same, which appeared as a divine ritual.
Near the pond it was all rhyme and rhythm at that moment. Nadar was singing the villadichan pattu, highlighting the glory of God. He was a star performer of villadichan Pattu in festivals at Madan Kovils. Others joined chorus, in as much capacity they have. Some of them who were yet to lose balance, made feeble attempts to make a few steps feigning dance. Pankajakshan Nair did hear the banging sound of plates. It appeared as a cry of tribal’s in chorus, lamenting to the far away Gods seeking never received mercy. But Pankajakshan Nair felt those were patients’ contributions to their orchestra. The tempo of everything went up to unimaginable heights and then everything stopped abruptly. The night that followed was unusually deeper and darker.
In the horrifying silence of the asylum morning, warden Danam went to the cells to unlock and inform morning coffee is ready. In one cell he saw Maariyappan in deep sleep. His finger tips and teeth were full of blood. The other inmate was immobile on the floor with his head twisted to the back. His socket behind left lids was empty. One eye ball stared everyone from the corner of the room unable to close without a lid. The sac portion of one manliness was seen hanging on the iron grill of the door. The organ was seen plucked out of body and mutilated.
All those were days before the ‘opening up’ of asylums. It was the time when all were abandoned lunatics. The dead was buried and the record buried him again as a case of frank and clear heart attack. As usual no entry was made in the case record of Maariyappan to avoid anyone taking note of it later.
The story ended there. But did it really end?
Dr.P also turned a conservative since then, who will not dare to release any improved patients unless there were willing relatives expressing readiness to take them back. He continued to be a conservative, till he witnessed what was ‘CnR’ and ‘Seclusion’. I may be able to tell that story some other day.
About the Author
Praveenlal Kuttichira is a Psychiatrist by profession and is now working as Dean in Kerala University of Health Sciences.