Bhor Foundation is a not-for-profit trust set up in 2016, based in New Delhi, India. Bhor means dawn in Hindi, and all of us involved with Bhor want to usher in a new dawn for mental health, not just in India, but everywhere.
Jhilmil is today a very successful poet, writer, activist and the Founder Director of Bhor Foundation, a mental health support charity. She is pursuing her PhD at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and also teaches in the same university. Her poetry and other writings have been widely published and anthologised.
But this is not the Jhilmil you would have seen earlier, even a few years ago.
If you had met her then, you would have seen a trophy wife, happily married to a white man, having four loving boys and leading a busy life filled with candlelit dinners, fun parties, destination holidays, being a soccer mom, etc., even though she worked and had a career as well, but of course, as long as she put the needs of the family first.
Fairy tale life from the eyes of an outsider!
And life would have gone on as such had she not realised, at some point, that she was being controlled from all ends. And, contrary to what others believed, she was trapped in her seemingly exciting and happy life. Her mind, her body, her actions, her behaviour – everything had to be impeccable, meeting the social standards and criteria of the world she lived in. And she was trying hard to fall in line and be there and fit in that milieu. In addition, all these pressures coupled with sexual trauma were too much and like a pressure cooker, there was no safety valve. Something had to give.
It was her divorce that brought out all the reality in the open. And that is when all the beauty turned ugly, leading to a very painful period of her life that took away all her happiness and peace. In short, the clichéd phrase, her world turned upside down, is something that she lived through.
Being a mother is an integral part of being a woman. And there is no worse trauma for a mother than being separated from her children. Well, Jhilmil went through this trauma and is living it to the day – all her four children were taken by her ex-husband when he removed them from India contrary to court orders. I do not even have words to describe this and explain the agony that she must have gone through and is still going through. She has not seen three of her younger children, since the last six years. In addition to her children being taken in this fashion, she also found herself homeless, penniless and without the support of family. And this was not very long ago, all these events took place in 2012.
A trapped and angry lioness, when pushed to a corner, shows her frustration in many forms and shapes. And when an intelligent, capable and strong woman gets trapped and is angry – at her husband, at the pressures of society and most importantly with herself, our patriarchal society immediately takes charge and brands her into the most common slot – mentally unstable. Jhilmil was sent to a mental asylum in Delhi and went through so many experiences there that were inhuman, senseless and heart wrenching, to say the least. Her journey of forcible incarceration has been made into a documentary called Come With Me, and this has played in many national and international venues, leading to thought and discussion about women, support structures, what family means and how the systems fail a lot of women.
We all need an anchor in life. More so when we are going through the toughest of the times. Unfortunately, at the worst time in her life, the best anchor she could have had, her parents, also chose not to support her. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of the situation, and eager to conform to the norms of the society they lived in, they did not step up and give a helping hand, and what is worse, colluded with her ex-husband in having her incarcerated and continued to support him financially while she lived penniless for a while. Although the tide changed, and they are reconciled now and did indeed start helping financially, what she needed was emotional support at the time and she did not get that, not just from her parents, but from most of her friends and ‘wellwishers’ from her old life, who just shunned her.
However, who can control a spirited human? More so, if it is a spirited woman! It is often said, true strength is when you have a lot to cry about but you choose to smile and take another step forward.
Jhilmil did just that. And how! She found her anchor in spirituality, meditation and her pen. Her pen was her soul mate, her anchor and her lifeline.
She took to writing her angst and agony through myriad forms and formats. And finally found her home in poetry which always acts as a classic prism to perceive life and its happenings.
She also paints and finds joy in some form of daily exercise, be it yoga, kung fu or cycling. She also believes that we are what we put into our bodies and treats food as medicine. These days she is writing a book on Cooking As Coping, journaling her story of cooking through the hardest of times, adding some of her favourite recipes, and also inviting a few selected peers to share their stories of cooking as coping.
Through Bhor Foundation, Jhilmil wants to build awareness on mental health issues and wants to remove the stigma associated with it.
Namarita who is the co-founder of Bhor has been a caregiver and initiated listening circles in Bhor
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The profiles below either meet in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Bengaluru, or meet online.