The women meet every Monday afternoon near a psychiatristâ€™s clinic. They have been doing this for the last five years. Asha Anjali, they call themselves. They are survivors of depression, illness and suicide attempts. The goal of the Monday meetings is simpleâ€”pursuit of happiness. â€œThis group has given me hope. But more than than, it has given me my life back,â€ says 43-year-old Susan.
She is dressed in jeans and a cotton top. And she looks stern. She has been suffering from depression for nearly 10 years. After losing her mother at a young age she had to take care of her father and three sisters. She often sought refuge in sleep. Sometimes she would walk out of her house, and keep walking for kilometres. Once she walked from Andheri to Mahim, lost in her depression. â€œThe walks were my last refuge. I was alone with my thoughts. I would compose poems. I composed a poem for Jesus too which was shortlisted by an internet site for an award. Since I did not have $50 to pay the entrance fee, I did not enter the contest even though I was shortlisted,â€ says Susan. â€œSusan, letâ€™s hear your poem,â€ says Madhu, the coordinator of the group. Susan converts her poem into a songâ€”â€œYou are a star when Jesus is not far/ He loves and cares for you/ He knows you by your name, years before you came/ You think that he is not there and that gives you a scare/ But he is always there.â€
As Susan wipes her tears and bows her head after reciting the poem, the other women in the group nod. Some clap. They wait for the sadness to pass. In one corner of the room, 56-yearold Madhuri sits with a benign smile on her pretty face. Madhuriâ€™s husband expired two years ago. â€œI donâ€™t think I fell ill after that but my daughters felt so. I am alright now,â€ says Madhuri. â€œMy husband used to pamper me a lot. Without him, I was lost.â€
The women are sitting on thick mattresses. In the breeze that animates the wind chimes, the women, about a dozen of them, chat about their lives and times.
They meditate, and celebrate too. Last week, they danced to Mauja Hi Mauja from Jab We Met. Sometimes the group has cooking competitions.
Presently, they are absorbed in a contest that challenges them to prepare low calorie and nutritious food. Some days, they have fancy dress competitions too.
â€œI was dressed as Saira Banu in one of the fancy dress competitions,â€ says Meena, a 46-year-old woman who belongs to an upper middle class Gujarati family.
Meena is not comfortable discussing her depression or her personal problems. It has been over two years since she became a member of the group. She has been under medication for â€œa few years,â€ and says that the lesson she learnt from the group is that when a problem arises, one should not run away.
â€œI was a coward. I would flee when a problem arose. But I realised that the problem is in me and I need to address it,â€ she says.
The door opens, and a pretty woman enters. Dressed in a black Punjabi suit, 37-year-old Neetu Ghosh stands out here. Her life could have been part of an Ekta Kapoor tear jerkerâ€”two children and an abusive husband before she turned 22.
A divorce followed but that did not hurt her as much as the attitude of an enamoured distant relative who declared that he loved her, wanted to marry her and then kept her hanging for three years before he finally said that his mother would not accept a divorcee.
That is when Neetu had a breakdown. But she soon found joy when an acquaintance fell in love with her, and married her. Her four and a half years with Sujoy Ghosh, who accepted her and her two children with open arms, were the best period of her life. Then Sujoy passed away due to food poisoning. As her life crumbled again, this group resurrected her. â€œNow I live for others because I realised when you help others, some of the happiness comes back to you. I truly believe this and am not mouthing any platitude,â€ she says.
The group has both the young and the aging. Tina, a shy 20-yearold says, â€œI get depressed if I donâ€™t attend this meeting. I attempted suicide when a relationship went wrong.â€ Another woman says, â€œI am Reema and I am 46-years-old. I suffer from anxiety attacks. Earlier, I could not bear the shrill noise made by my pressure cooker and I would feel that it would burst. I am fine now though I still have panic attacks when I wash my hair. I have all sorts of negative thoughts. My family has been supportive and this group is my lifeline. I telephone them when I have such attacks,â€ she says, smiling for the first time during the meeting. TNN