Saturday, 5 November 2016

Room No.22

All my life I have never known what madness is. I have seen people who are branded mad; who do not go well with society’s vision of normality, who stands out, who would not settle, who lives in their self-created havens - alone and hopeless.  But I say I have never known what madness is, it is definitely not a disease.


“What is it that you’ve seen?”

“I cannot say clearly, doctor. Don’t you think language is sometimes very limiting to explain certain things?” he replied.

“Yes Aftab. I agree. But could you try to say what happened?”

“There was a sufi song playing somewhere in the distance. I was reading about space, time, universe and how it all exists inside us… And then I found the music growing loud, cause after all, what is space but something which we’re born into? Maybe she helped me to transcend that space or maybe she could have herself brought the music…” his eyes were fixed towards a horizon which I could not see.

“Do you know her? Have you seen her before?”

“It was the first time. Looking back I do not know if it was a woman, but I’d like to hope it was so”

“And what is it that this woman showed you?”

“Knowledge!” he replied with a smile.

“Knowledge about?”

He only smiled. As far as I know it, this was the last reasonable conversation Aftab made with anyone. I would see him for the rest of his life sitting in that lonely room, looking out through the window and smiling gently.


I had this habit of looking back on the records of past inmates. I find it interesting to see the world in their point of view, and sometimes it brings in strange experiences.

There was a patient named Mohan who claims he could see time floating in front of him as if it were a ship and the rudder was in his hand.

“I’m trying to make them meet. But the odds are great. Too great for me!” he would keep on saying. At times he would turn violent, would demand for light, and try to claw open the wall of his room with his fingernails. But except for these recurring episodes, he was exceptionally calm when talked to.

“Why did he so badly want light?” I asked a staff named Krishnan who worked here during Mohan’s times.

“Because according to him, light is the beginning and end of everything and only through light could lives be saved!”

“Is this what he would say?”

“The only thing he said for a year or two!” Krishnan laughed and continued “Funny guy that, you’d not think he is insane when you look at him!”


Aftab died 10 years after he got admitted here. Even in death there was that familiar smile in him which inescapably remained. He was always ready to re-enter society but he insisted on dying in that room. Our room no. 22 was his universe, and the window he loved gazing out to was his source of enlightenment. He was at peace every single day he spent inside. He talked about space, time and sufi songs and if you would care to listen to his non-sense he would say to you that all three had no boundaries or barriers!

When you work too long in a mental
asylum, your idea of reality will be greatly distorted. Aftab and Mohan were two people who kept coming up in my thoughts often, how well they knew about science yet how extremely absurd their views seemed.

“Sir, there is a patient waiting for you outside” the call momentarily broke my thoughts.

“Ask them to come in” I said.

“I’m Sister Jane, we’re coming from the orphanage. There is this girl we want you to look at”

“Where is she?”

“She is inside our car and won’t come out. She is asking for certain assurances from you!”

“What sort of assurances?” I was confused.

“She won’t say to us”

I saw the girl from distance and something pulled me into her. It felt as if she was conversing with me through her gaze.

“What is your name?” I asked her when I got near the car.

“Tessa” she said with a smile.

“What are these assurances I should make you?”

“I don’t like medicines, I don’t like to fall into a pattern and I get to choose where I sleep!” she said firmly.

“Ok. I agree. Now why don’t you come out?”


I don’t know if it was the room or the people who lived there which made that room special. Tessa asked to be kept in room no.22, and quite like Aftab she too would gaze out of the window into an infinity people like us couldn’t see. On that day when I was doing my rounds Tessa said she wanted to talk.

“I had these visions” she said “Visions that I can’t explain, that doesn’t have meanings yet would call out to me at nights!”

I took a seat beside her bed and listened earnestly.

“I feel like I’m floating through darkness… towards a place I’ve not known… There is a song… it plays in the distance. And I cannot understand it…” she was struggling to find words to express it.

“It is ok, Tessa. Do not strain yourself”

“No sir. It is as if a person is waiting for me at the other side of darkness, and all I can bring to him is this song, and I bring it to him through this window!” she said looking out through the room’s window.

At first I had no idea what to make of it, but then it hit me and I panicked. The room seemed to suffocate me from understanding, from knowledge!

I raced out to find Krishnan. He was perplexed. I was in a state of delirium and it may have seemed strange to him that I sought him for salvation.

“You said about Mohan, I want to know something!” I could feel my breath turning heavy.

“What is it sir?”

“Did he get the light he searched for?”

“What..?” Krishnan was confused.

“The light he searched for… Which he clawed upon the wall to get”

“I don’t know sir, but we put a window up there and he grew calm after” he replied.

I was suffocating; I could feel my lungs gasping for breath and stomach rippling in anxiety.

“Which room was he in?” I asked

“Room no.22 sir” he replied. I found my head in my hands, body shivering, sweat drowning me in and thoughts eating my brain.

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