Astu

Doctor: आप को ईशावास्य उपनिषद याद है?
Patient (recites):
ईशावास्यम् इदं सर्वं यत् किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् । 
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ॥ १ ॥
Doctor: उत्तररामचरित?
Alzheimers Patient: Recites from Bhagavadgita

And again interspersed somewhere else in the movie, beautiful lines from the Upanishads such as the following from the Chhandogya.

यदा वै विजानाति अथ सत्यं वदति नविजानन् सत्यं वदति

How often do you find this in an Indian movie? I’d say rarely or not at all would be an appropriate answer (See disclaimer at the bottom).I recently had an opportunity to see a screening of the Marathi Movie Astu screened by the Marathi Mitra Mandali at the local temple in Delaware. The movie was followed by a panel discussion on Alzheimers headed by Dr.Agashe and other mental health professionals.

Astu is a Marathi movie starring Dr.Agashe in the role of Dr.Chakrapani Sastri — a retired Professor of Sanskrit. It revolves around how his family deals with his memory loss and devastating effects and progress of Alzheimers on a beautiful and learned mind. Dr.Sastri gets to the point where he forgets that he has eaten his lunch, needs post-it notes to remind him of his own name and that of his family members. As a result, he lives with his married daughter. The daughter and the son-in-law take good care of him and the daughter cannot bear to send him asylum. They face challenging circumstances, such as when he gets violent and stuffs cake into his granddaughter’s mouth.

One day, the daughter stops for a few minutes to pick up her daughter’s blouse that she needs for a play rehearsal. She parks her car on the street, locks it and steps out for a few minutes. In the meantime, Sastri sees an elephant on the way, and manages to get out of the car and follows it. The family then begins a frantic search for him. Meanwhile, the elephant-keepers family adopt him recognizing that he is a learned man and a scholar. The elephant-keeper’s wife, accepts him unconditionally for who he is now — in the state of a child and cares for him, feeds him, combs his hair and even changes his clothes for him. In her own uneducated way, she has learnt the best way to deal with the situation is to live in the present. The movie alternates this acceptance with the daughter going through painful past memories, of conversations with her father about Zen philosophy and living in the moment and her own struggle with the acceptance of her father’s reality. The intent of this was to stress that being a primary caregiver for a patient necessitates a suspension of logic, living in the past, rationality and acceptance of the patient and their reality. It highlights the very human weaknesses and day-to-day difficulties encountered even in supportive families under such trying circumstances. Many of us have seen and lived with aging family members (parents, in-laws, grandparents) and dealt with dementia and other memory-related illnesses.

Dr.Agashe who is a mental health professional himself, said the producers ran out of money towards the end and he completed the film with his retirement benefits. If any of you see a screening in your area, please watch. It is a poignant all- too-human film that will touch your soul. Amidst all the poignancy, you also get the bonus of hearing a lot of aptly chosen Sanskrit quotes from the Gita and the Upanishads. The movie taught me many things and provided many reflective moments on how to deal with ageing and ageing parents and in-laws and such inevitables.

Disclaimer: The last time I watched an Indian movie was about three years ago. I have long given up on television too. The phase of Bergmans, Majid Majidi has come and gone too and it is only the rare poignant movie that comes every few years that I can tolerate. For, there occurs a point in everyone’s life where we are free to declare “I refuse to be a part of popular culture no matter who says what” and stick to it. Perhaps this is the comfort of adulthood.