03 August 2010
An advertising professional suffering from schizophrenia, Mekhla Mukherjee had been living in a decrepit flat at Thane without electricity and at her neighbours’ mercy
She has been abandoned by her family, including her husband and elder sister, who is a senior entertainment journalist working with an English broadsheet. Her father, Manas Mukherjee, is a retired general manager of State Bank of India, Kolkata, has allegedly not kept in touch with her either.
However, Mekhla is unaware of her own destitute condition, suffering as she is from schizophrenia. When the NGO led by R Gopalakrishnan, tipped off by a local journalist went in to rescue her, they found her in a pitiable state, but blissfully ensconced in the belief that her husband will come soon take her away. The rug which serves as her bed, the broken windows which are a freeway for pigeons, the accumulated faeces and soiled newspapers used to clean up her periods, told a different story.
Mekhla’s ex–husband – he had divorced her in 2005, but she is unaware of this – and his mother were present at the Nallasopara rehabilitation centre where she has been provided shelter. Requesting anonymity since he has now remarried, he said, "We met at a Vodafone call centre in 1998, fell in love and married in 2001 against our family’s wishes. I am a Maharashtrian and she is a Bengali."
The marriage, says the man now working with HDFC bank, ran into rough weather with the arrival of his mother and his father’s demise. "My mother and Mekhla did not get along at all, leading to very ugly clashes at home."
Apparently, Mekhla also suspected her husband was cheating her around this time. For reasons best known to him, the husband bought a flat in Mira Road, literally dumped her there and continued to live with his mother in a rented apartment elsewhere.
Mekhla’s mental condition began deteriorating, and though the husband paid the EMIs on the flat and all other society charges, he stopped paying the electricity bills in 2003. "I did not want the flat to be forfeited by the bank," he argued when we quizzed him on this.
Meanwhile, Mekhla’s journalist sister, who stays in Lokhandwala, too had allegedly severed all ties with her in 2001. When we tried to talk to her, she refused to comment, asking us to get in touch with Mekhla’s in–laws instead.
Since 2003, Mekhla has been living without electricity and her apartment resembling a dungeon. Neighbours who pitied her, helped her occasionally with personal hygiene, but Mekhla would be too depressed to care.
Society chairman Ajay Sharma said, "She would beg for tea, soap, shampoo from neighbours in the 35 flats." Her estranged husband however had made arrangements with a local caterer who would provide a tiffin service to Mekhla, and would pay Rs 2,000 monthly charges," said Sharma.
Mekhla would have continued to live in the shadows, slowly fading away, had not her condition taken a turn for the worse. A few months ago, she began screaming in the dead of the night, scaring and annoying her neighbours. News reached a local journalist who then contacted Gopalakrishnan.
Mekhla will be at the centre for at least three months after which the NGO hopes, her family from Kolkata will take her away, to give her the love and care she deserves. Her exhusband too has promised to stand by her.
At the centre, washed, cleaned and helping herself to tiny morsels of food, Mekhla spoke to us in clear, fluent English, "I love my husband very much. He will take me back."