Monday, October 11, 2010

Our towns need a victim helpline

One night, when I was deeply asleep, my telephone rang like hell.  I woke with a start and groped for the phone, still half-asleep.  The caller had a very young voice, shrill and piercing.  "I'm a grammar victim", I heard the young woman say.  "And I need professional help."

Grammar victim!  The dictionary of victimhood, if there was one, must be an ever-expanding one, I thought.  I had heard of murder victims, rape victims, flood victims, earthquake victims, tsunami victims, and several other kinds of victims, but never of grammar victims.  "What do you mean, grammar victim?"  I asked her, giving a big yawn.  "Gra…oh, no!"  the girl screamed, her voice thick with anger.  "I said trauma, not grammar. I am a trauma victim.  I am emotionally disturbed.  I need some advice."

I was now wide awake.  And I understood what the girl wanted.  What I didn't understand was why a trauma victim should call me up at midnight and scream blue murder.  "Are you sure I am the person you wanted to talk with?"  I asked her.  "Isn't that the Social Service Centre?" she screamed with impatience.  "No", I said.  "But I know that in the Yellow Pages my number is wrongly listed as that of the Social Service Centre."

I gave her the telephone number of the Social Service Centre, but she preferred to talk to me about her problem.  She was an engineering graduate, and she lived in Orissa.  When she was at Hyderabad for two months, she met a young man who fell head over heels in love with her.  "He wants to marry me.  He says that if I don't agree, he will commit suicide.  I've just had a call from him.  I don't know what to do.  I need some professional help.  Is there a helpline here?"  To the best of my knowledge, there was only a child helpline in Vijayawada, and I told her so.  Then she asked me whether I could help her.  "No", I said,  "I can only help you with your grammar.  But I have a friend who can handle your trauma."  I gave her the telephone number of the friend and hung up.  Within minutes, the phone rang again.  It was the friend now.  When the phone stopped ringing at last, it was four o'clock in the morning, and the young woman had got over her trauma.  As it turned out, she was a depressed nightbird who had to be handled just the way my friend did.

Incidentally, I bore the SSC (Social Service Centre) cross for four years, answering thousands of queries which the SSC people should have answered.  I wish the SSC, or the BSNL, or the Yellow Pages people, or all of them together, would rescue me by removing my number from the Yellow Pages

But that's beside the point.  It's time that a helpline was set up in each important town and given wide publicity.  About 20 years ago, while collecting information for an article on suicide, I came across a helpline in Chennai.  Sneha, as it was called, was actually a suicide prevention clinic with 50 volunteers and a trained psychiatrist.  Chennai must have several Snehas now.  Every other Indian city must have at least one – a voice at the other end of the line to pull a wretched soul back from the brink.

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