Happiness in a Dark Place

Sailakshmi Senthil KumarUniversity of California, Berkeley


It’s 10 AM in the morning on a day where the sun shines brightly to induce 103 degree weather. A coworker and I walk to a courtyard and begin to set up the morning’s activity. As she sets up the speaker, I size up the crowd and realize I have no idea how this is going to play out. I am as clueless as I am when someone speaks Hindi to me.

But as my coworker starts her routine with stretches and little dramatic exercises, I start to calm down as I witness the warm and friendly reaction from the crowd. With all women this particular day, we can see them excitedly talking to one another, and see those older helping out when others are distracted.

The song “Cham Cham” then blares from the speakers as my coworker screams to energize those around her. The women now are dancing and laughing and just creating any movement they possibly can. A woman about sixty knows she can’t move much, but shakes her hips to the beat of the music and her eyes twinkle in a way that indicates she’s at peace. Another younger woman on the side jumps up and down, ignoring my coworker’s cues, while teaching her dance moves to those around her. The energy is infectious as I start to laugh and dance along with them, all while my clothes become drenched with sweat.

Would you believe me if I told you this was in a mental health hospital?

Mental health in India is far from normalized, and continues to foster confusion and mistrust in the average person. While some embrace the “illnesses of the mind”, others place shame and guilt on those who need psychiatric services. In my own life, I have seen the othering that inevitably happens, and how ignorance of sameness can lead to treating those with these “illnesses” in different ways. But somehow in this melange of perspectives, there are some that continue to fight and argue that we are all the same, and prove to be allies to those most vulnerable. These are some of the people I work with in Tata Trusts, and am proud to have met and shared experiences with.