The afternoon light is a mellow kind of yellow. I take a cab to Nirmal’s, past the usual sights of the Aavin Milk Depot, the convention centre with stiff cotton saris, and the stalls selling bamboo blinds. I put on my earphones, but it is truly impossible to choose a song.

What is the perfect song for finding out your test results that will probably prove that everything isn’t normal? You aren’t normal? Not an old song, not a new song, no Tamil and no Hindi. No indie and no cheesy pop.

Nothing too sad, in case I am too buzzy and distracted to even handle Nirmal. Nothing too loud. I just listen to the hums of traffic, see endless people pause and resume, on two-wheelers, mid- conversation, at traffic signals.

The cab brings me up, like a limo, to Nirmal’s before I choose a song. It’s on the ground floor of a small bungalow; a wrought-iron grilled balcony hides a porch. A sign saying “Beware of Dog”. Little night-jasmine petals by the gate. People’s chappals in a pile on the ground.

The receptionist, guarding a ten-chair, badly lit waiting room, is happy. “No queue today. Go, go.”

“Thanks...” I pause, but she doesn’t tell me her name. There’s no queue, but I still have to wait outside for Nirmal to get off the phone. I look at the view: a locked brown door, and strangely, a carrom board stacked on its side in the corner. Some depressing art: hyper pixelated, impossibly saturated digital prints of water falling on to rocks; three puppies with melting chocolate eyes wearing bunny ears.

I send Sam a picture. What do you think this means?

Then I message Amma. Just reached.

Amma replies: Cool, keep me posted, followed by five fingers-crossed signs.

Sam replies: Yuck!!!! I wish they had Monet’s water lilies.

I resolve to pass on the message to Nirmal.

Nirmal’s office is a ten-by-ten-foot room filled with things: an old desktop computer; a desk; a patient’s table; a large Ajanta wall clock; a sepia photograph of a man; certificates for expertise in neuropsychiatry and personality disorders; a steel stool; a CCTV camera of the waiting room. “Ah, Ami, dear,” Nirmal says, standing up when she sees me.

Kishore Kumar is playing on the radio. I look around and can’t see where the song is coming from, as if the tinny, beautiful voice fills the air itself. Am I in the afterlife?

“Hi...” I say, and pause. Do I call her Nirmal or Doctor? “I like the song,” I say instead.

She doesn’t say anything. reaches out her hand to shake mine. Her hand is dry and papery. “Please sit, dear. You have grown up so much. Now here is where I show my age and say you were this tall or this short...Sit, dear, please.”

I sit. Nirmal gestures at her file, or rather, my file. A thick sheaf of papers sits inside a folder marked with the hospital’s logo: heart in hands, a mint green sea wave.

“So tell me, Ami. How are you doing?”

“Good, a bit stressed about this appointment, but good.”

“Don’t be stressed. Take a breath in.”


“Breathe, dear. We get so caught up in moving around, this, that, we forget that half our problems will be solved if we just take in a breath. You will be surprised at how many patients I tell to do the same.”

She taps her pen against her prescription pad, stares at me with an unwavering, watchful look, leans forward with her arm balancing on her desk. There are wrinkles near her temples, and she smells like fabric starch. I now have a vague memory of her, outside Thatha’s room, putting her phone inside the front pocket of her Hidesign bag, her short hair silhouetted against the open front door.

I breathe. One in, five out. I breathe perfectly, to bypass her telling me how to do it. She is satisfied.

“All right, Ami, dear, how are we feeling today?”


“All right. Shall we proceed?”


“So your mother tells me you came back from the UK earlier, before the term finished. And you have done all your tests. So tell me. What do you think is the issue?”

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms?

“I came back because I just needed some time,” I say, very well rehearsed in my head. “I went to a college counsellor there once, before I came back. I don’t know, it felt like I was just stressed...or something...all the time. I couldn’t really focus on work, people, anything...” I take a pause. “I feel...I think...I just feel like something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was...”

“I see. And since returning?” Nirmal’s phone rings. She turns it on silent and flips it on its side. There is a hundred-rupee note crammed into the pocket of the phone case.

Returning, I say to myself in my head. I think of seagulls. Or is it cranes? Suddenly, I can hear every single second of the ticking clock. I hear a game someone in the waiting room is playing, little flourishes after collecting digital diamonds. I hear a motorcycle horn. Kishore Kumar still sings.

“I did the tests and everything...I guess I just want to know...if something is wrong. Do I have a disorder?”

Will me wanting something to be wrong with me somehow bias Nirmal? Will she think something is even more wrong with me? What am I even thinking?

Nirmal smiles.

“Tell me your symptoms. Whatever is striking you if you think.”

“I’m just tired, I can’t focus, I worry a lot, my thought patterns are a bit...And I feel tired.”

“Every day? Most days?”

“For some time every day.”

“Are you sleeping as you regularly do? More? Less?” Like adding salt to kovakkai curry. Little more?

“The usual, I think. I sleep around eleven...” I think back to that moment before sleep, which sometimes passes fast and sometimes stays like a rain cloud. “I wake up at seven.” Because Amma is talking, clattering, opening doors around then. Sunlight slowly fills the house, waking up slowly, after Amma. In college, I used to wake up only when the garbage trucks wheeled the ten-foot-high bins down the back lanes outside my window, a loud rumbling, the views broken into grids by scaffolding.

“Right,” Nirmal says. She taps at the file. “It is quite clear here. You have mild strains of clinical depression and very much of anxiety.”

Thank god.

Or . . . maybe not? I don’t know.

I focus on the small details: the blue vein on her right hand, the cream stripe on her blue polo-neck shirt, the Tupperware box under her desk, filled with sweet lime rinds.

“All right.”

“Would you like to discuss this?”



Nirmal explains depression and anxiety both – the lows and the jitters – but I don’t remember what she says exactly. I just nod at the words that filter through to me: irritable and intelligence and energy and perception.

“But most importantly, dear, you can easily manage them and live a healthy and productive life. I can definitely help you. Are you overwhelmed?” She taps her pen against her prescription pad; it lands softly. “Usually, people sit here for hours. One patient sat for so long, asking so many questions...” She looks more closely at me.

“No, I went to my college counsellor, and you know, they had these little books...How to identify...and then all kinds of illnesses. You know? So maybe...” I look down at my palms. “I spent some time there, you know,” Nirmal says. “In the UK. Mostly in Cambridge. It was so easy to drive there. Here, just one main road makes me deaf...Tell me how you feel, dear. Take your time.”

I look up at her and she is just looking right at me.

“I know other people suffer...But I just didn’t think I was sad enough...if that’s what I’m supposed to think? Or anxious enough.”

Excerpted with permission from The Worlds Within You, Shreya Ramachandran, Penguin Random House India.