Meet the doctor who was inspired by SRK in Swades!
Sometimes, one moment can change our life forever. The same happened with this doctor, who then set out on the path of mental health awareness & soon moved to the North East to make a difference!
“Born in a middle-class family in Vangani, a village near Mumbai, I’ve grown up watching SRK’s movies... I was so obsessed with his personas on screen that my dream career would keep changing based on his characters. While my love for SRK knew no bounds, my love for my family was even stronger! Maa and Baba have always encouraged my sister and I in everything since we were young... They have always been open minded, so I never had to hesitate before expressing my emotions to them.
As I grew older, I left behind those childish dreams of pursuing careers that SRK’s characters did and instead decided to become a doctor. I began my MBBS studies, and it was in my first year that a character SRK played had a significant impact on my life. That year saw the release of the film Swades, which really resonated with me. It showed me what a real hero is—someone who uses their knowledge to uplift society. In movies, we see heroes fight with villains; and in real life there are several villains – poverty, lack of awareness about several issues– these are the ones we should fight!
Inspired by the movie, I started reading up on social problems in our country & I came across a quote of Gandhiji’s, which was, ‘When you are confused about what to do in life, think of the most miserable person you’ve met and do something for them!’ That line stayed with me at the time…
Simultaneously, with studies almost done, I started interning in a hospital, and once, when I was on night duty in a hospital, 6 suicide case patients came in at night and what was shocking was they were all youngsters! We weren’t able to save 3 of them, and it affected me deeply. Facing their parents made me feel even more helpless; and this incident impacted me so much that I decided to do something in this direction…it helped me find my purpose in life.
When I told my parents I wanted to study psychiatry, they were concerned because back then, there was this misconception that psychiatrists are ‘crazy’. However, on sharing my reason for choosing this path, they were touched…they said, ‘You have our support beta!’ Although my family was encouraging, many of my relatives and acquaintances shunned me because of my choice…it was hurtful but I didn’t let that deter me.
Before beginning studies in Psychiatry, I researched for almost a year to find out the challenges, and what struck me was that most psychiatrists worked in hospitals in cities & the treatment is not affordable for all. I wondered, ‘What about the people living in villages?’ They need more help because there are too many stigmas regarding mental health in rural areas due to lack of knowledge. Furthermore, I realised how access to treatment for marginalised people was almost non-existent, and this is when I made another decision that would change my life.
Just like SRK’s character in Swades, I decided to help people in rural areas…and that’s when I chose to work in North East India. It was not an easy decision to make because it was a huge shift – but I felt so deeply about helping marginalised communities that I was ready to do whatever it took.
So, I studied Psychiatry in Assam and soon after, started working with a hospital there. However, I realised that patients wouldn’t readily consult doctors for mental health due to societal stigma as well as accessibility…that’s when I realised that if I truly wanted to help them, I would need to go to the patients rather than expecting them to come to me.
To bridge this gap, I started working with different NGOs–I formed a team with the people who worked with me and soon, we started organising medical camps to reach people & we’d organise them in public places. The first few experiences I had were mind-boggling…Since I was working in a different style in the sense that I went to people, spoke to them openly, charged only Rs. 300 a month; they would doubt my intentions… Since I didn't fit their preconceived notion of what a doctor should look like, they initially found it difficult to trust me. However, whenever I’d visit, I started staying with the locals instead of staying at hotels and connected with them…that’s when they started trusting me and opened up about their mental health problems.
Making them understand mental health treatment was difficult, they’d feel ‘aap sirf humse baat karte hai aur kabhi kabhi davai bhi nahi dete’.Sometimes, because of their superstitious beliefs, they wouldn't recognise that they were dealing with mental health problems. To convince them, I’d tell them, ‘Aapko jo puja karni hai kijiye magar meri davai bhi lijiye…agar farak nahi pada,main aapke paise lauta dunga.’ Most of the time, they’d notice the improvements the medicines would make and come back to us. Moreover, they’d also spread awareness, thus helping others as well.
It’s been 8 years since I moved to the North East from Mumbai, and I’ve helped over 50,000 people…that makes me feel that with every day that passes by, I’ve been achieving what I set out to do. I came here to help people, and I’m doing that by also raising awareness about mental health. It makes me feel that all my efforts and sacrifices are worth it!
There was this one time where I felt I made a huge difference—by helping cure a couple’s son who was schizophrenic. The boy was delusional and thought his parents were going to kill him, so he’d beat them up! Since he had harmed them multiple times, they had no choice but to chain him up in the house and he stayed like that for 4 years! They did consult a doctor once but since the treatment was unaffordable, they stopped it midway.
Once, it so happened that our medical camp was organised near their home, so they visited me. I diagnosed his schizophrenia and started counselling him & prescribing medicines. In a few months, he slowly started recovering and they just couldn’t believe it. They exclaimed, ‘Hume laga humara beta kabhi theek nahi hoga..bas ek hi beta hai aur hume laga humne usse kho diya hai…but aapne humara beta wapas lautaya’. For years, they had suffered and lost all hope, and helping them made me feel I truly made a difference in their lives.
Just like SRK in Swades, I feel happier when I help treat these villagers…’Main Mumbai mein bhi kaam kar sakta tha, achcha kama sakta tha; but yahaan inki madad karke jo sukoon milta hai, woh shayad nahi milta! Shayad yahi SRK ka jadoo hai! He inspired me to find my purpose in life, and today, when I see the change I’ve made, I couldn’t be prouder!”
Being India’s biggest storytelling platform, Humans of Bombay is all about bringing you extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Today, on World Mental Health Day, we bring you this inspiring story to of a psychiatrist to not only raise awareness about mental health but also show how sometimes, people go above and beyond to help others, and if we know such people, we must appreciate them. If you’d like to read more such stories, check out our book and dive into the diverse tales of a country with billion beating hearts!