It is a truth universally acknowledged that an unemployed young woman with aspirations to a novel or two must be in search of a therapist. There are obstacles to this though: said young woman, in spite of the severity of her angst, cannot possibly afford one.
In my case, however, the search for a therapist had begun much earlier – ever since age 13 to be precise, when I read Erich Segal’s Doctors and first came across the word “shrink”. It was imperative that I be analyzed immediately. The last time I had felt this strongly about something was when in Class 4 Amrapali Basu came one morning wearing a pair of the most dignified looking spectacles ever – and I prayed and prayed that my eyes might be diagnosed myopic too. I began reading in the dark in sheer desperation. I was blessed with glasses in a year, although the cosmic negotiations for the therapist took far longer. Over the next few years, I acquired several fashionable “issues”, persevered with tense inward strife and right before my Class X boards, was finally rewarded with a “counsellor”. It was good enough; the parents, practically blackmailed by their only offspring who was about to take the first big exam of middle-class Bengali life, paid the hefty fee.
At age 25 when the husband and I returned to Calcutta, having given up our shiny corporate jobs, apparently to "do our own thing" the parents probably wouldn’t have minded paying for a therapist, if only to convince me of my monumental immaturity; naturally that is exactly why it wouldn’t do one bit to accede. That was when my 2-year-old nephew, Saksham, stepped into the role smartly, displaying intuitive understanding of several schools of thought in contemporary psychotherapy.
At the centre of the engagement was the Freudian couch. He showed me its innate purpose: strew with toys, smear with food of choice – cheese – and then sprawl on, to watch cartoons. Naturally, being a self-respecting therapist, the programmes were of his choice; I was to merely benefit from them.
He was apparently aware of the Gestalt model. We’d sit in the balcony when it rained, our hands stretched outside the black grilles and the sound of the swishing trees in our ears – and in the shift from the talking cure to the experiential sense, the realness of raindrops plopping fatly on my palm – the grey cloud from my heart would be sucked out and dispersed among its brothers in the sky.
Saksham was superior to general shrinks in several ways:
1) He was available through the day – and much of the night.
2) The monetary investment was minimal. A balloon or a twenty-rupee toy of his choice if I was delegated to pick him up from school. (A toywallah sat very strategically just outside the gates.) A book once in a while, and that was not something he ever expected. Therapy hours could always be exchanged for play hours.
3) Most importantly, he had the unique distinction of operating upon grief. The following story will explain.
Early one morning around 5, I found him wandering about the hall. Neither of us were morning people really – but he was apparently looking for water and I had woken up from an acute anxiety attack compounded by the various characters – real and fictional – in my life; there are, I’ll have you know, many anxieties in remaining at home (make that the husband’s home), unemployed (possible unemployable), with nothing to show for except a long phantom pregnancy of a book in medias res. We met outside the kitchen, I was sighing; he indicated we might do well to sprawl on the couch and watch the telly – everyone else was asleep. He also indicated that he wanted the channel with the animals.
Soon we were gripped. Discovery Channel was in the midst of a heart-rending story about an elephant pack in Indonesia where a baby elephant had been injured badly. A group of intrepid animal lovers and surgeons journeyed deep inside the forests, managed to locate the injured calf, explain to the rest of the clan that they meant well (I’m guessing this bit as I was slightly woozy and not exactly paying too much attention) and tranquilized the baby. Then they carried out an operation – wielding scalpels and scissors and large mounds of gauze – which was shown in great detail; it all ended well as there was happy footage from “a few weeks later” of the restored baby prancing among the trees and spraying water from its trunk fulfilledly. Saksham was, however, absolutely transfixed with the surgery.
Through the rest of that day and on many days after that, he would spread out his doctor-kit and operate upon me, the pretend-baby elephant, and save my life. Soon, I began to look forward to it. I think, there is no sensation finer that being the passive recipient of being saved. And somehow, in that curious love that a little boy with curly hair and dark eyes could show repeatedly for a baby Indonesian elephant with absurdly big ears (acted out by his aunt in her green PJs), through that concern and empathy and dexterous scalpel-wielding, every time he operated on my sorrows too; a hundred times over, he saved my life.
(This was a piece that Grazia had asked me to contribute for a story they were doing about "the new twists in classic relationships". I figured that the relationship with a therapist was fashionable enough to be classic. Saksham Jha, the therapist/nephew is now 3 years and one-quarter old and lives in Moscow with his parents and baby sister. He still takes a keen interest in elephants.)