Gaurav Deka, in his story on mental health, "Why we need to talk: A look at the prejudices against psychotherapy in India" published on on October 10, has fictionalised and quoted our private email conversation.

Deka had, on October 6, pitched this story to me. I work at BLink (The Hindu Business Line), and we have published his pieces in the past.

This is what he wrote to me:

Hello Aditya,

How have you been? We’ve been out of touch for long.

I wanted to talk to you about the World Mental Health Day, which is on the 10th of October.

I have been searching for the right opportunity but I think this should work best. On the eve of World Mental Heath day I wanted to write a piece on the need and emergence of drug less therapy techniques in India. The emergence of alternative or non-traditional forms of psychotherapy in contrast to usage of chemical/medicinal compounds (as in modern psychiatry) which are nothing but ways of symptomatic relief discovered during my (career) journey from medicine to drugless interventions. At the same time, as a part of awareness programmes, I would also like to highlight how there are no fixed rules or laws governing the practice of psychotherapists in India because of which anybody and everybody seem to practice it, and the worst being some of them turning into faith healers and spiritual crusader.

If you have more inputs on this, please do let me know. And if at all I could write this piece for Hindu. Please do let me know if you would be interested to carry this piece. I can submit it to you latest by 8th morning.



I had reservations about the statement "chemical compounds are nothing but ways of symptomatic relief,” which is why I turned the pitch down politely. Many years ago, I had been diagnosed with a mood disorder and I prescription drugs as well as therapy to overcome it. Hence, I wanted to be as sensitive as possible in turning the story down. Here’s what I wrote in response:

Dear Gaurav,

How nice to hear from you again! You must pitch more articles to me.

About World Mental Health Day, yes, we’re mindful of the occasion and have commissioned a story about it: a mental health mini-comic being distributed at CR Park pandals.

However, with all due respect, I’ll have to take a pass on this one, Gaurav. Please allow me to explain: in college, I knew several people who were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, clinical depression, bipolar and even schizophrenia in one case. Most of them were on anti-depressants/mood controllers for a couple of years – and people made fun of them, even people who knew them very well. In some cases, guys stopped taking the pills so that they could declare they are ‘cured’ and hence do not need any more pills. They suffered and inflicted suffering upon others. The ones that stuck to their guns (and their pills) made it through college without damaging their self-confidence, their grades and their all-round well-being.

The semantic burden of the word “medicine” is too heavy for teenagers to bear, and they find themselves becoming Sontag’s ‘plagued ones’, marked for ridicule and boycott. On balance, therefore, I feel that we need more people to say that being on Zoloft or Nardil or Xanax does not make you a freak. A story that tries to downplay the importance of these medicines, therefore, isn’t something I can endorse in good faith.

I am not discounting the role of non-traditional forms of therapy. Indeed, statistics show that the most effective courses of treatment (as far as mental illness is concerned) are likely to contain elements of both drugs and therapy. I have no doubt that with your remarkable gifts, you’re probably helping dozens of people every day. But as I mentioned, I feel like I’ll be doing a disservice to a lot of people I care about if I publish this.

Hope you understand.

Best wishes,


Imagine my surprise then, at being the subject of the following vicious and vindictive paragraphs in Deka’s piece on

However, it does not surprise me that many people, well educated and “progressive”, have such skewed notions not only about mental health, but also about psychotherapy as a reliable method of treatment. On the eve of World Mental Health day when I wrote to an editor of a major daily asking if I could write about the “talking cure” focusing on the need and emergence of therapy in India, his response came as a real disappointment. I was rejected on the grounds that his friends in college who suffered from various mental illnesses remained “sane” only by virtue of taking medication and drugs. He said that if he published a piece on therapy – which was already assumed to be in opposition to drugs – he would be doing disservice to a lot of people he knew. Clearly it meant that I, through my article, was there aiming to shame people who popped pills and therefore, downplayed the importance of medicines.

Having said that, during my own journey of popping antidepressants during medical school, I was sent to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, where the therapist not only asked me to look at calendars of naked women to cure my sexual orientation, but also asked my mother to confiscate my phone and delete the numbers of all my male friends. Information and skill do not help a person kill his or her prejudice. Therefore the dearth of regressive minds in informed circles – be it at a clinic or at an editorial desk – is an absolute myth.

I have the following objections to these paragraphs:

  1. Deka has completely fictionalised our conversation, which, as work product, should never have been quoted in the first place. I have clearly mentioned, in my email, that “I am not discounting the role of non-traditional forms of therapy. Indeed, statistics show that the most effective courses of treatment (as far as mental illness is concerned) are likely to contain elements of both drugs and therapy. I have no doubt that with your remarkable gifts, you’re probably helping dozens of people every day”. And yet, Deka painted me someone with a  “regressive mind” who was trying to draw an adversarial binary between drugs and therapy, when it was he who did so by saying “drugs only provide symptomatic relief”. This is lying, plain and simple.
  2. Deka conducts several kinds of talk therapy sessions, including past life regression therapy. It is clearly in his financial interest to draw a binary between drugs and therapy in this context. He took the opportunity to fictionalise our conversation, to make up a “regressive an editorial desk”, because it suited him financially. I have mentioned clearly that I “believe you (Deka) must be helping dozens of people on a daily basis”, but he conveniently chose to leave it out, because it did not fit the fictional character he created: a “regressive mind” at an editorial desk who was acting as a gatekeeper. As someone who has struggled with depression and mood disorders myself, I find this terribly cynical of him, not to mention disturbing.
  3. Deka follows up the paragraph about our conversation with one on a homophobic doctor and then cleverly puts us both in the same box, saying “Therefore the dearth of regressive minds in informed circles – be it at a clinic or at an editorial desk – is an absolute myth.” I cannot emphasise this strongly enough: this is deeply hurtful, dishonest and unethical.
  4. Since Deka is clearly very concerned about medical ethics, perhaps he should extend this same concern over professionalism to his writing life as well. No editor expects email conversations over story ideas to become story ideas themselves. No editor deserves this treatment.

This entire exercise – and the desperation with which Deka pursued this story – suggests that this was never about the story (or about mental health awareness) at all.

It was more about Deka’s sense of entitlement (how dare a lowly editor turn down his pitch?) and his commercial interests: if a fictional story about an intolerant editor was a better advertisement for his therapy sessions, that’s how he was going to write it.

To those of us who deal with both fact and fiction, there is nothing more distressing than to see dishonest practitioners conflating the two at the expense of professional ethics and the feelings of other people. – Aditya Mani Jha

A response from Gaurav Deka

I agree there is professional ethics of confidentiality involved while pitching ideas to editors, and we discuss and debate them. But when a professional conversation reveals misconceived regressive ideas on the part of the person who has the power to influence and shape knowledge that may be harmful, it adversely has an impact on many, I feel it becomes a moral duty to call it out. An editor of any journal or daily exerts similar power.

I felt that my interactions with a particular editor revealed such problematic visions regarding psychotherapy as a method of treatment in India, and was compelled to use it to build my case. It is a representative example, and I believe I have the right to analyse it. I’m afraid I do not understand why Aditya Mani Jha is convinced he is the editor I am talking about. While pitching the piece, I did in fact write to several editors nationwide and received a range of responses. Some of them were problematic and I chose to use the one I thought would make a strong case in point.

It must be noted that apart from the editor, I have narrated my experiences with a range of other professionals, and nowhere in my article have I mentioned their names.

I have also mentioned that I had written to an editor of a major daily. As you know, there are many major dailies in the country. Hindu Business Line is just one of them, and BLink isn’t a daily. It is a Saturday supplement.

As far as the fictionalisation of my private conversation with Jha is concerned, I fail to gather why he would read this article and assume that it is him when he was just one of the editors I contacted. Nowhere have I quoted him or paraphrased his email.

So, the fact that my article reads differently from the conversation I had with Jha itself is proof that I was talking about my experiences, albeit similar, with a certain someone who clearly isn’t him.

Also, the premise of my pitch to involved my experiences of practicing as a psychotherapist in India over the last few years, interweaving my personal experiences concerning people’s attitude to my profession, with a look at the emergence of psychotherapy in the country.

In my article, I’ve spoken about my pediatrics professor, the IAS officer in question, my cognitive behaviour therapist and a certain editor. I used my interactions with these people and many others to draw a collective analysis and conclusion in my piece – without referring to anyone’s name explicitly. Using personal anecdotes to illustrate and comment on wider issues is a common literary device. So when Jha writes about pitching "this story" to him, I don’t understand why would he claim that he is the subject of my article.

Given my training as a medical doctor with a valid license to prescribe drugs, it baffles me how the conclusions drawn from the article attempt to portray me as small minded and greedy by highlighting my assumed financial interests in drawing a binary between drugs and therapy.