Vinod is trying to tear off the steel net that covers his window pane, protesting loudly. Though Gomathy tries to console him, it's a while before he calms down. Gomathy offers a small bottle of mango juice that a neighbour has gifted him. He sits near the grilled door, at the corner of the room, holding the bottle.
The grilled door will be opened when he's taken to the hospital or for a bath. The steel netted sheet has been torn into half by Vinod.
"I may be the only mother who has built a 'jail cell' for her son. For the last 25 years, I've been going through this pain all alone. I'm tired but will not give up," Gomathy Amma, who lives in a rented two-roomed house near Vattappara of Thiruvananthapuram, says.
Gomathy was just 18 year old when she lost her husband. With her then one-year-old son, and without a penny in her hands, house or any property, she had no idea how to live. She carried the baby to her workplaces and put him to sleep in a cloth cradle under the trees while she earned her living. When he started his schooling, she was a bit relaxed as she could work when he went to school. Life was better for them. But that did not last.
"He started acting differently when he was a 13-year-old. He stopped talking, went quiet and would sometimes get angry suddenly," Gomathy recalls.
Vinod is now 38 years old but Gomathy is unclear on what his mental health issues are. The tablets taken by Vinod, however, appear to be ones that are prescribed for schizophrenia, according to a doctor that this writer consulted.
"He's mentally ill. He was first diagnosed when he was a 13-year-old boy. Since then, he's been on treatment. He stopped his studies after the fifth standard," she says.
In the first few years, Vinod accompanied Gomathy to her workplaces. She was then a labourer in a brick factory. "After a few years, he started getting violent. I was not able to control him. He'd destroy things, run away and sometimes get seizures too. I stopped working," she recounts.
She moved to a care home run by Beemapally, a mosque in Thriuvananthapuram, where patients with mental health issues and their relatives are accommodated. "We lived there for 12 years. He was inside a cell, I stayed in a hall. We had enough food and clothes. I'm grateful to the mosque authorities. But, I was tired of living like a refugee for years. I wished for a space for ourselves," she says.
Gomathy then shifted to a small rented hut near Seemamula in Vattappara. "Many people helped me. So, we moved to a house. But, I was not able to go for work as he gets violent when nobody is at home. So, I turned a room into a cell by fixing a grill. If it's a wooden door, he will break it. I built a jail for my son 13 years ago...so that I can go to work," she says, tears filling her eyes.
She had to shift from the first house as Vinod managed to break and bend the grill of the windows. Later, a family gave them a small house to stay in until they got another place.
"Here too, I put grills to keep him inside. But, he gets more violent when I'm not here, so I go for work very rarely. I don't have to pay rent here. But, I will have to find another place or buy this home for Rs 8 lakh," she says.
Gomathy has pleaded with the authorities for a home. But no doors have been opened yet. A house of their own is the only dream she has.
"Everyone who is landless gets 3 cents of land on which to build houses. I have been requesting for it for a long time. However, the government gives Rs 1,200 as pension for me and Vinod was also getting a pension until a few months back. So, we are living with that amount. His pension was stopped due to some technical issues, but it will be resumed soon. Then, we will get Rs 1,200 for him too," she says, not complaining though their family income is just Rs 2,400.
While Gomathy speaks, Vinod keeps repeating what his mother is saying.
"He just repeats what we say. He cannot understand what we tell him and neither does he communicate his needs or feelings," she says, while patting his head through the grills.