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Don’t you dare touch me! Don’t come near or I’ll open my third eye and kill you!” The 22-year-old Swiss man’s non-stop screaming doesn’t distract the team of doctors and nurses treating him at the Privat Hospital in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of Delhi. Dr Kalyan S. Sachdev, who runs the hospital, deals with around 100 such cases a year. The patients, usually Westerners in their mid-20s and 30s, come in with the same afflictions: paranoia, schizophrenia or acute delirium.
Each year, European embassies typically repatriate 10 to 20 nationals suffering from psychological disorders. The numbers are hardly significant, given that around four million tourists visit India annually. How-ever, the phenomenon is extreme enough for psychiatrists to pay it attention.
Typified by depression, paranoia and hallucinations, the symptoms of the Indian Syndrome usually disappear once the tourist is home;
Dr Régis Airault, formerly a psychiatrist with the French consulate in Mumbai, calls it the “Indian Syndrome”, perhaps echoing the Paris Syndrome that afflicts Japanese tourists in the French capital. It is also typified by depression, paranoia and hallucination — some, for instance, have claimed to hear the voice of the Virgin Mary on visiting the Notre-Dame cathedral. Culture shock obviously works both ways and is not a phenomenon restricted to travellers to India alone. Anyone visiting foreign lands can be so acutely overwhelmed by their new environment that it impairs their mental balance. Doctors report similar psychiatric manifestations in Jerusalem, where the encounter with a city that is the religious centre of three faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — can sometimes bring on a sense of spiritual shock. While doctors in the Holy City are used to patients who suffer from delusions of persecution or fancy themselves messiahs, mystical themes predominate in ‘Indian syndrome’ delusions as well. Impressionable youngsters embarking on a ‘spirituality quest’ are often overwhelmed by India’s wealth and variety of religious practice, and being inexperienced lack the understanding to absorb the culture they find themselves in. A year ago, the Pondicherry police found the body of a Westerner who had starved to death in a cave. The French consulate identified him as a French citizen who had been in India for six years; he destroyed all his identity papers within his first week in the country and later started believing he was Lord Shiva.
Paris syndrome (French: Syndrome de Paris, Japanese: パリ症候群, Pari shōkōgun) is a transient psychological disorder encountered by some individuals visiting or vacationing in Paris, France. It is characterized by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution (perceptions of being a victim of prejudice, aggression, or hostility from others), derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, and also psychosomatic manifestations such as dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and others. Similar syndromes include Jerusalem syndrome and Stendhal syndrome.