Marylise Vigneau: On the other hand

At the Punjab Institute of Mental Health in Lahore, Pakistan, songs of devotion and religious lamentation ring out through the facility’s 1400 beds. Here, I encountered agony and heartache, but also uncovered moments of gentleness and delight. During my visits over three years, the residents blew soap bubbles, traded smoked, and listened as one older man recited John Keats in English.

Daily life in Lahore can be painful for those with mental illness. Behavioral quirks are met with prejudice and mistrust, and vulnerable psyches attract little compassion. Those suffering from psychiatric conditions are often taken to faith healers instead of receiving medical attention, and diagnosed individuals are generally seen as a burden upon their families.

Inside the hospital, however I found empathy and generosity, both in the chronic patients and in their doctors, who provided valuable care and medication

Patients could remain within the facility for decades or depart and readjust to mainstream society. Some came in and out, but the place was always filled with the steady rhythm of “songs, dances, cries, tenderness, silences.

It was a lot about love, mostly unfulfilled love, about "Ishq", this word that is of persian origin and is derived from ‘ashiqah" that means vine, the word that is used for sensual love, religious love and has inspired thousand of poem describing the state of Ishq".

Here are some quotes by the patients:

"Last puff of a cigarette is better than thousand kisses of a virgin."
"My wife is mental patient not me."
"I have understood the purpose of life : enjoy enjoy."
"Herkules told me to stay in America."
"The bus is here. It is in my brother pocket."
"An hero came to fit inside me from English movie and I beat him."

Salim Iqbal (the old man with the distorted shoulder): "They stopped nude film they should not stop them, they should stop the bombs"

I wish to thank Doctor Nusrat Rana who was the chief psychiatrist of the hospital. The love she inspired to her patients was obvious and the day she left for retirement many were crying.
I also wish to thank Aun Raza who is a wonderful photographer and without whom the mood of the place would have been very different and the words lost for ever.

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