KARACHI: Frightened and lost Gulzar detests himself. He is tired of listening to his parents’ arguments over his performance in school. His mother understands his mental suffering and supports him while his father berates him. The constant turmoil drives him to a state of sheer hopelessness and he attempts to take his life.
Gulzar’s experience strikes a chord with many people who suffer from mental disorders but are unable to seek treatment due to peer pressure and taboos surrounding the problem.
The stage play ‘Kon Sunta Hai?’ depicted the story of a fictional character, Gulzar, who suffers from bipolar disorder but societal rejection and parental disappointment exacerbate his suffering.
The play was organised by Pakistan Association for Mental Health in collaboration with Care For Health and Humanity Initiative to promote their joint venture Taskeen. The performance was held at Jinnah Medical and Dental College on Sunday evening. Hamza Bangash has written and directed the play while the idea was conceived Ramis Akhtar. It starred Asiya Alam, Hadi Bin Arshad and Hammad Siddiq in the lead roles.
“Our purpose is to break the stigma surrounding mental disorders,” said Taskeen co-founder Dr Taha Sabri. The only way to solve the problem is encouraging people to talk about it as much as possible, he claimed.
Mental health is one of the most difficult subjects to write on, Bangash told The Express Tribune. “I took this project and was given immense freedom to capture the stigma attached to mental health in Pakistan,” he said.
“I literally cried at times while directing the play,” he said. “I personally believe that people with mental disorders can lead normal lives if they have family support.”
Portraying mental agony
The show opened to scenes depicting the life of Gulzar, 18, where he feels he has disappointed his parents. He is unable to come to terms with his mental disorder and the problem is exacerbated by his father, Sohail, who refuses to acknowledge his son’s illness. Sohail labels his son as “lazy” and reckons he is “uninterested in studies” rather than encouraging him to seek treatment.
The circumstances push Gulzar to take his own life but he survives and finds himself in the Jinnah hospital ward. There he encounters two other characters, Naureen and Umar, with whom he is able to share his inner turmoil.
“I thought killing myself was the only option that will ease my parent’s lives as well as mine,” said Gulzar while sharing his experiences. “Nobody knows what I have been suffering for the last one year.”
The scene is poignant as it highlights that the only people with whom Gulzar can truly share his feelings are people who suffer from mental disorders as well. Meanwhile, in Gulzar’s house, the audiences encountered Sohail who tells his wife that people are mocking him because his son is admitted in a mental hospital. The scene brings out the prominence of social stigmas and peer pressure in people’s lives. The case is worse for people suffering from mental disorders.
Taskeen is a mental health and emotional well-being awareness campaign. It was founded by young and professional people who have suffered from mental disorders but had the courage to overcome them. Its co-founders include Beenish Nafis, Ebadullah Shaikh and Alizeh Valjee.
People interested in the initiative can follow their Facebook page. The team will soon launch a social media campaign regarding the stigma against mental illnesses.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2015.