I saw a message from Vijay on my phone, asking me to call when I was free. 

As I had been busy at the clinic the whole day, it was late in the evening when I could call back.

DGP Vijay is my best friend from school days and we have this comedy ritual about how I waste my time treating healthy-wealthy people with fake mental issues and make easy money. I usually retort that if I am busy treating mentally sick people it means he has less number of thugs on the roads, committing crimes.

After the banter, he came to the point.

“My son brought his friend Lakshman home and asked me if I could help him. This Lakshman claims that someone is trying to kill him. From interviewing so many suspects, I do have quite good instincts and can easily pick out a lie.  I spoke to him and I could ascertain that he is not lying. I have no doubts about that. But his stories are so far-fetched and inconceivable. Now I don’t know if I should believe which instincts of mine! I am totally confused.”

I quipped “So, you think he is a case for me and not for you? I know you would have done some background checking before asking me. Go ahead and tell me.”

Vijay laughed and continued “He comes from a rather dysfunctional family.  A neurotic mom and a drunkard dad. No siblings.”

Lakshman sat opposite me in a hunched posture. He held his hands tight to stop them from shaking. His eyes darted nervously all around. 

He whispered with a wild look, “Doctor, my life is in danger. This guy is trying to kill me. I see him sometimes far away and some times near me.”

I asked him in a patient, unruffled voice “Who, Lakshman? Who is trying to kill you?”

He suddenly went stiff and his eyes fixed in mad terror at something behind me. He raised his right hand, pointed and screamed “HE”.

I turned back to see the grotesque shadow of my nurse who was arranging something behind the screen of the alcove inside the consulting room.

Vijay and I were at his house, nursing drinks in our hands. 

He listened spellbound as I explained, “Lakshman has Sciaphobia, a fear of shadows. This is mostly caused because of some childhood traumatic events. I brought in the mother and had a long conversation with her.”

There was no other sounds in the room as we took sips and I continued  

“It seems, she had taken Lakshman to a puppet show called ‘Tholpavai kuthu’, when he was a kid. This is a form of entertainment in South Indian villages, where a mythological story is told, using the shadows cast by puppets on a screen as characters. Back home, when he refused to eat his dinner, the mom has used a terrifying looking character from the story to scare him into eating. I think, for a kid from the city, the atmosphere in a village, with low lightings and dark streets is frightening enough. With the adding of the shadow as another aspect, he has developed a deep rooted fear for shadows.”

“Oh. That’s very interesting. Now what? Can he be cured?”

“Oh Yes! With medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy he should soon be alright.”
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