Kids bring mom home after 20-yr jungle stay

Mumbai,May 24: In the hospital ward in the western suburbs where Laxmi Baraskar is being treated, the staff call her “Jungle Laxmi” — an apt moniker for the wiry woman who spent the last two decades in the jungle near Guhagar taluka in Ratnagiri.

Laxmi left her home in Katale village 22 years ago to ‘‘settle down’’ in the wild, about an hour’s walk from her old home. What prompted her decision was a beating by her husband and his relatives. The underlying reason — schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder — was not diagnosed until last fortnight, when her son brought her to Mumbai.

Laxmi’s life might have been no different from those of other homeless schizophrenics who roam the city’s rough streets, but for her children’s determination to bring her out of the jungle and back to civilisation.

“She lived in a proper jungle, complete with crawling snakes, wild boar and leopards,’’ says her 25-year-old son Nitin, ‘‘but nothing bothered her.’’ She would cook in the evenings before settling down to sleep on the rocks. The only thing that unsettled her was a gathering of more than five people —then she would hurl cuss words to show her displeasure, says Nitin, who works as a driver with a firm.

Without treatment or medication for over two decades, Laxmi’s speech seems largely incoherent. Even so, she manages to make it clear that she hates the sounds of the city. From her bed by the window, she points to the cars in the street and says, ‘‘ Kitni awaaz (too much noise).’’

Nitin and his sister Geeta explain that their mother hates noise so much that the family had to adjust. ‘‘When we brought our mother home last week, we had to send my children out, as their non-stop activity made her restless,’’ says Geeta.

As soon as Nitin acquired his independent ‘ kholi ’ (tenement room), he and his sisters saw their chance to change their mother’s life. On May 2, Nitin picked Laxmi up from her jungle home and drove to Nalasopara. With the help of his employers, he walked into psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty’s clinic with an appeal: ‘‘Please make my mother like your mother.’’