After doctors treated his psychotic disorder, Palraj is a different man today

He was quite a familiar face for regulars at a tea shop on the Thanjavur Road in the city. With unkempt hair, dusty beard and soiled clothes, the haggard youth hung around the shop, mostly in the late evenings, mumbling incoherently and frequently slapping himself on the face in self-admonishment.

Though some instinctively recoiled at his sight, he never harmed anyone.

He did not beg either – content with the occasional tea and food offered by some kind-hearted soul. A typical wandering mentally ill (WMI) person, S.Palraj (29) of Gandhi Market was mostly ignored by passers-by.

But, today not many would recognise the clean shaven and smiling Palraj as he goes about his work as a ‘substitute' loadman at the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation godown or at the shops in the vicinity of his previous hangout.

Palraj was lucky to have been spotted a few months ago by Venkatesa Prasad, a former social worker, who took him to Anbalayam, a city-based voluntary organisation which runs a government-approved psychiatric rehabilitation home for the mentally ill in the city.

After four months at the home where doctors of ATHMA Institute of Mental Health and Social Sciences treated his psychotic disorder, Palraj is a different man today.

Though he seems to remember his days on the streets, he brushes aside the trauma. “It was just for a few months. I was in shock as my mother disappeared from home after my brother died in a road accident. She was devastated to find him dead on the road and disappeared soon after. I was worried that she too could have met with an accident,” he explains.

A Standard IX dropout, Palraj, who lost his father about 10 years ago, has been doing odd jobs, working as an assistant in a lottery shop and a load man earlier. His only aspiration now is to secure a “token” as a regular load man at the TNCSC godown.

“Palraj's case just goes to show that many of the WMIs that we find on the streets can be rehabilitated and mainstreamed with the society,” says T.K.S.Senthil Kumar, founder, Anbalayam.

Anbalayam volunteers fan out to provide lunch, provided by sponsors, to quite a few WMIs in the city every day.