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‘Slowly the energy would crash and a dark phase would begin’

Gallerist Shireen Gandhy looks back at her father Kekoo Gandhy’s battle against bipolar disorder, and how family members coped with it in their own unique ways.

Kekoo Gandhy, founder, Gallery Chemould, Photo by Ram Rahman, courtesy Gallery Chemould
Kekoo Gandhy, founder, Gallery Chemould, Photo by Ram Rahman, courtesy Gallery Chemould

Everyone knows that my father, Kekoo Gandhy, set up Gallery Chemould in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, and that it went on to become an important part of the cityscape as a space for modern and contemporary art. My father was known to be one of the earliest promoters of members of the Progressive Artists Group such as F.N. Souza and K.H. Ara, S.H. Raza, and more. The gallery went on to become a hub for contemporary art. What many may not know was that my father was discovered to have bipolar disorder. Friends in the art fraternity, who were close to him, were aware. This fact came to fore when my sister Behroze’s documentary film Kekee Manzil—The House Of Art (co-directed by Dilesh Korya) released earlier this year.

There would be months when he would retreat into a shell. Whereas at other times, when his zest for life knew no bounds—the world his oyster. His creativity, enthusiasm and ability to perform was highest during those ‘manic’ phases. I don’t remember when my mother, Khorshed discovered his disorder. For a long time, the term was relatively unknown to us. I was perhaps in my 20s when this started becoming apparent. His ‘high’ phases would bring in a lot of positivity, when we would feel that all was well and the disorder was behind us. But then there would be a gradual shift.

I have always looked upon this as a plate, which is empty to begin with. And then you put in a little food, and then you add a little more. The plate is half-full and still seems manageable. But as time goes by, you pile so much food on it that your desire to consume food has disappeared. Similarly, his plate was so full of excitement, projects, plans, exhibitions, and the ability to spend money immense.

Slowly that energy would crash and a darkness would surround him. When I would come down to my parents’ room while heading to work, I would stop at the threshold. Seeing him slouched, back turned, I wouldn’t feel like entering this space and the easiest thing for me to do would be to escape. This is a very vivid memory.

My mother, on the other hand, stood like a rock by him. Her ability to deal with him was undeterred. Her children referred to her as a “saint”! She was an intelligent and confident woman. She wasn’t submissive or meek in any way. In fact, my father used to call her “battleship”. But when it came to his well-being, she was extremely compassionate. She coped with the situation valiantly. Their mornings would often be occupied with notes—thoughts for the day—a practice they kept almost through their lives. She would write down what was on her mind and he would scribble (being an eternal scribbler!). But there were days when it was difficult to get him out of bed. My daughter who was very close to him, would often drag him to the table, like spirited children sometimes tend to do. He was her favourite grandparent.

Manic depression, or bipolar as the name suggests, is that when a person is out of that phase of depression, and you think all is well. The urgency to go to the doctor diminishes. The chemical imbalance that needs to be regulated during this “well phase” becomes irregular. ‘The patient’, which a manic depressive never seizes to be, doesn’t allow for treatment and just like life that tends to go on, family members also tend to forget.

(As told to Avantika Bhuyan)

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