Culture

Why Suicide? – Beyond Mental Health Awareness

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Drawn on a day of intense panic and anxiety circa 2017.

I have been reading so many tributes to Bourdain and Spade, in light of their recent deaths by suicide.

Suddenly, my timeline is filled with posts and thoughts on mental health awareness. There are people constantly sending out love, advice to anyone who would care to read, to anyone in a dark place. In time of news like the tragedy of an influential figure ending her life, the virtual world seems to come together as a community.  It is indeed pitiful that it takes tragedy for us to display emotions and advocate thoughts, that seemingly are more natural to the word ‘human’.  

I believe each one of us has a dark space in our hearts. Its almost like the black hole in the universe–only, the size and the force with which this black hole on the inside can suck out our soul differs for different people. 

One thing that all this highlights to me is the fact that despite reading so much and learning so much about mental health, even those privileged enough to have access to all this continue to be, if not apathetic, ignorant (and indifferent) to people around us. There seems to be a continuing gap between the abundance of information on mental health and the day-to-day application of it. People with the privilege of access to information continue to struggle with depression, and the shame and stigma attached with it; leave aside those without the privilege to access information or even take online counselling.

We may care, of course, for most people around us. But, only till a point that it is comforting, only till a point that it gives us the satisfaction that we have helped someone. If we don’t get the instant gratification of pulling someone out of sadness or gloom, we give up, pulling the plug of our empathy.

It isn’t that we tend to be tardy and heartless. But, I believe that this gap probably stems from the inability to apply textbook (or internet) knowledge to understand, in case of suffering friends and family, when does general sadness become depression? Have we been able to identify it easily, more so, accept it? Probably not. Because depression continues to be seen as the typical black and white image of someone sitting with their face in their hands in a dark space, in deep anguish; forgetting or perhaps, denying the existence of high-functioning depression.

Depression can be present in someone who seems to be living it up. One can be fulfilling all their worldly ‘tasks’–doing their jobs, eating, going out, laughing with friends–while being painfully depressed. Oft repeated but, depression is not a matter of terrible and terrifying shame, to force one to deny being depressed. Nor is it the likes of a casual headache, for anyone to call themselves depressed for momentary sadness or displeasure.

Many loved ones of people who end their lives by suicide continue to grab at their memories saying that things seemed okay, she seemed okay, if there was any darkness, it was sudden or she didn’t share.

Point is, suicidal tendency stems from an innate sense of fatigue and tiredness rooted in  hopelessness. This hopelessness is usually in one’s ability to ever get out of the cycle of darkness that one’s mind can spin.

Suicidal tendency in someone will not carry a tag, informing others of the state. The only way to prevent it is to teach oneself to be alert on a daily basis, to be aware of those around us everyday. 

If someone has been struggling mentally for a long time, you can help them by giving yourself to them on an emotional level, letting them know that you are there. They probably have been tired of fighting but, your pinning value in their struggle and your belief in their victory over their hopelessness, will give them courage and reason to persevere, to not give up. Give them that and you won’t be wondering what went wrong.

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Selling Dreams of Elitism

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I saw a real estate poster today, a big glossy ad of a new residential project somewhere in this beautiful landscape called Goa. Now I was not quick enough to capture it on my phone but, my mind saved a good image of it.

The model on the ad seemed to be of African descent. Now I am all about inclusivity and brands being especially keen to promote anti-racism (if that is a term), but funnily the tagline made me burst out laughing at the stupidity of advertisements. The tagline read,

“Goan inside, but Modern Outside.”

Does it make sense? Not to me.

One can’t help wondering and subsequently, questioning the attachment to the word ‘modern’. What does that even mean anymore? Then, if modern is a great appeal or reassurance then, is being Goan something lesser than modern? Why is there even a comparison?

I have been mulling over this simply because it is an inherent tendency often noticed among many, including a former version of the self. One sees yellow, dim lights in halls; glass and steel and a little bit of wood in balconies; and it becomes clear that those are the signs of modernity aka elitism. If you have that kind of a home, you’ve arrived. At least, this the kind of emotion that realtors seem to appeal to in their potential buyers. And then, in a society that values being attached to one’s roots intensely, it becomes important for the marketing team of the ad agency to bring in the sentiment of “I might look videsi but, will remain desi at heart.”

Sigh.

Maybe that’s why there will still be a lot of people who will go and check out those spaces that are “Goan inside but, modern outside.” ’cause har ghar kuch kehta hai. 

Pardon my love for quoting ads.

But, note that my ‘offensive’ against this ludicrous ad holds true, at least in the choice of Photoshop model.

(En)Trusting the Future to Youth

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It has been a few months since I have been teaching, mentoring and working with children and adolescents. The journey has been challenging as well as rewarding, leaving me with a fresh perspective with every interaction.

For the past two days however, I have been thinking intently about how can more children and teens be reached out. The reason that I feel this compulsion? Well, that’s not just mere knowledge that the children and teens of today will be the adults of tomorrow (duh!). No, my reasons are based on my observations.

I have seen 15-18 years old people suffering through death, bullying, peer pressure and so on; without, any support. Note that in saying that there was no support, I do not intend to imply that parents don’t support or maybe they are to be blamed in any way. What happens however, is that parents, after a certain time of spending their energies to keep things running smoothly in the daily, tend to look at things in a certain manner and fail to approach children to ensure an absolute support. It doesn’t necessarily speak of incompetency but, more of the human tendency to err.

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Trail by Shivranjana Rathore (C)

A few observations that compelled me to think and study this include an adorable 8 year old becoming conscious of his eating habits because he’s been told by his friends that he is fat (unsure if he was made fun of or gently told); a seemingly stubborn and confident 17 year old arguing with her mother on shopping as the price for her to accompany her parents eventually saying that if her mother didn’t agree, she always had her father to ask for money, and then finding something to read to find a way into self confidence; the mother of a 13 year old fearful of her daughter’s reactions since a death in the family since she didn’t think she was capable of reaching out to her; a group of 17-18 year olds with nice clothes (in line with Instagram fashion), pocket money to buy whatever they could get their hands on (sangrias mostly) gathering together to record a video message for a friend in a public space ending up dropping an empty plastic glass and not bothering to pick it up; an 8 year old bumping into snack packets in the aisle of a grocery store ending up dropping the packets, turning to look at them and proceeding towards the next aisle, with no care for the dropped packets; a set of four 20-something boys on two bikes feeling the need to honk on a road full of traffic and then continuing to do that even when they had no vehicle blocking their path and lastly, the sight of 15-16 year olds with expressions of glorious victory while walking out a liquor shop with cans of Budweiser.

Each one of these observations created a good impact on my mind because none of these people are ones with whom I have had any direct interaction nor will I have one anytime soon. But, the prospect of their lives going on this way, with no mentoring or support, left me despairing over the future. That’s when I came across a short film called Rites of Passage that not only gave me possible solutions but, left me with a lot of hope because finally, my questions seemed to not be one of those that were left hanging in the space. It gives me a way, to find my own around this. Hence, I write this blog post as a part of action that I can take in this direction. If you are someone who deals with people in the age groups that I mention and/or if you maybe know one in your life, this will be of great help for you.

I will not get into details of what the film is about but, one core point it leaves one with is the need to nurture the future of the world being the adults’ responsibility through

  1. Respecting children and teenagers as they grow older in the form of respecting the individual who is growing up and who will add something unique to this world
  2. Celebrating and having markers / ceremonies around significant dates that mark the adulthood of teenagers – things like turning 16 (in Indian culture), turning 18, getting voting rights / driving license – anything and everything that makes them a part of the adult world
  3. And last and most important using action in their own lives as models to inspire responsibility among young adults as opposed to preaching or coercion or the ideas of “that’s how you are supposed to be”

The film’s site offers a toolkit that can be used as well. Go ahead and do it and share with me as well!

PS: This is something else that I found helpful in the same line of thought. The thoughts of a man from Chile practicing a Buddhist philosophy.

Note: Have published this to reach a wider audience on Youth Ki Awaaz as well.

Thoughts on One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

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I had never thought that there’d be a day when I would blog about a book I have read. For an overthinker like yours truly, I surely never articulated the power of literature to change things. Well, unless I decided to seriously pursue writing. I think that’s maybe because I asked myself why I wanted to write besides the momentary joy of it.

As a reader I believe that books come to you when you are ready for them. The seemingly inanimate pages displaying strings of characters and words collectively carry something palpable, something so intimate that the reader lives the words. Isn’t that the singularly most awe inspiring and powerful thing about the written word? Starting with simpler books for young adults, I read a varied set of books, each of which leave me with something new. Of course, there have been occasional instances of a few books that don’t sit well or put me to sleep within a few pages. Those, I leave.

Until 2017, I had never been the one to actively aspire to read a certain number of books through the year. In 2017, I decided to keep track of my reading, if not have targets. I am reading 3 wonderful books while the ones that I have read lie happily with slightly worn off pages in my bookshelf. Of these, the one that compelled me to write this is Perumal Murugan’s ‘One Part Woman’.

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I stumbled upon this book through an artist who recommended the read. Her work and her style continues to inspire me and I decided to give this book a shot since the basic plot type has seldom seemed inviting to me. When reading up about the writer after reading it, I realised that Murugan was in fact, the writer who somewhere stirred the desire of writing professionally, in me. I was pursuing my Masters when I had read extensively about him as a writer who was harassed for his work. I remembered being in awe of the offense taken at a work of fiction by a mass of people and the subsequent responses of the writer to not write anymore. I had decided that I want to be such a writer, who would however, continue dissent.

When I started reading the book, I fell in love with the imagery created by Murugan – the portia tree, the farm, the forest and the mountains, Kali’s drowsy body staring at the canopy, Ponna’s beauty – all of it made me feel like I was a voyeur in the most tender and intimate lives of the two. So, Ponna’s pain and anger made me sad and want to reason with her that being childless is no sin, Kali’s listless personality and eventual mistrust of Ponna made me weep wanting to reach out and tell him the truth.

Once the emotions faded, the crucial importance of this book is what stayed with me making me want to write this. Through the narration of the life, love and loss of Ponna and Kali, Murugan very intelligently displays everything that feminism speaks against, everything that is wrong with the patriarchal world view. For Indian feminists, I think the book serves as the go to book to identify and work through typically Indian realities in a discourse dominated by non-Indian writing.

That patriarchal mindsets are poisonous for every individual, became the truth for me through an independent research project that had cleared the picture. ‘One Part Woman’ further makes the damages of patriarchy so simple, bringing it in rural Indian context sharing thereby, how the rigidity of these ideas and rituals destroys human happiness of a daily basis.

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Kali and Ponna, the two protagonists in the story, through the eventual destruction of their love, display the seemingly micro yet key impact of patriarchal beliefs. Ponna is unable to bear a child which is a cause of much shame and sorrow. To an urban mind, this would of course feel exaggerated. One would want to say to the woman and her kin in such a case, that they need to just shake off the worry and adopt of maybe just understand that giving birth to a child is not the be all and end all of a woman’s existence. However, the writer is able to share just how painfully real these beliefs are and how what is required is a larger, cultural thought revolution. I have, through various tools, shared the hypocrisy of Indian society when it comes to honour engendered in the female body. On one side here, adoption does not seem like a possibility (which is the case even for urban Indians), the other side has the family contemplating getting Ponna impregnated (after all pleas and fasts to god fail) by taking her to a religious festival where for a day “gods” descend from the hills to bless women with children. Note, these gods are men, penis-bearing male bodies, intoxicated and let lose for a day to sleep with any woman that comes their way. Also note, that on this day, any woman is allowed to sleep with the man who becomes god for a night.

The two are tricked by her parents and brother wherein Kali isn’t told about Ponna’s going to the festival while Ponna is told that Kali approves. What then happens is where the intelligent storytelling comes in. True to expectation, while Kali, who had become aggressive as a husband often raping his wife every other night in a state of drunkenness and anger at her even asking him if they should consider the festival as the way to have their child, is heartbroken eventually and directs all his anger towards his wife; Ponna, on the other hand, is childlike and enjoying the new sense of adventure that her life seemed to have brought in through this desire to seek a god to help her. It is in this sequence when the narrative tone changes from Ponna’s true identity, her likes, dislike, sorrows, disappointments, all brought to the fore while Kali’s constant benevolence at being okay without a child yet still craving fatherhood, sling away into the shadows of his sorrow.

What had seemed like the most passionate love for Ponna with vivid descriptions of Kali’s sight, his expression of love for her by nuzzling his face between her breasts; turns out to be yet another story where the woman’s voice was stifled. Ponna had been in love with someone else but, it was custom for her to not fight for it and give in to the family’s decision to marry Kali. Ponna was Kali’s first love but, not the first one to be made love with.

One Part Woman therefore, becomes an essential read for Indian readers to share the key reason for feminism – the culture of silence breeding a continuous quiet among its women. As far as one can think, whether physically same or not, a woman is a human being first. Why silence her voice then?

Exclusive Art

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Inspired by a New Yorker cartoon

This piece is something that has been brewing for a while and while I tried for it to be published somewhere where it doesn’t feel like a rant as well as gets a greater audience (twin win eh?), it is indeed a “controversial” piece and hence, I could not find any buyers for this. Sigh. I am not one to write lengthy Facebook statuses as well because well, I prefer writing in my notebook more. However, after an evening briefly spent visiting and checking out installations under the Story of Space, I am compelled to barf it out here.

But, before that, lets set a little context.

Those who know me or have maybe known me earlier when I was in school, seem to be surprised at my choice to work as an independent writer and artist – both, self taught. That’s mostly because everyone felt that my brains deserved to be embodied by an IAS officer or maybe, a number crunching CEO or economist. However, this professional choice was inevitable as far as I am concerned since this is exactly what I have known myself to be, since as far back in time as I can remember.

Like most amateurs (if you may), I have believed that art is for all. Of course, there are people who might not “get it” but, that is the purpose of art – for the artist to express herself and for the viewer / consumer of art, to experience it in her own way. Of course, the downside of all this is also the very difficult opinion that people who do not earn a living off making art, believing that they ought to get it for free. But then, that’s another story altogether.

However, as much as I love (f)artsy environs and galleries and conversations and events, I find myself slinking away in a corner at the sight of certain herds of hipsters or whatever the tribe is called today. Till yesterday, I had believed this opinion to merely be a personal prejudice or judgment hence, the need to not proclaim it on my blog earlier on. However, this evening, I found the same sentiments being echoed by a friend who isn’t an art enthusiast nor an artist but, simply keen to see and learn new things.

The Story of Space is a fascinating project that was held between 10th and 19th November in and around Panjim, Goa. The project, broadly speaking, explored the concept of space through an intersection of science and art. While for me, through whatever little I could catch, it pointed towards thoughts of us being made of ‘star stuff’ and the inter-relatedness of science and art, in relation to everything in life / nature.

Most of my sojourns into such shows or art spaces have been alone. I like experiencing the artists’ expression by myself, without the distractions of any familiarity. However, I also enjoy an occasional shaking of the mix, a new thread of thought and opinion to add to my own thought bubble. 

On the last leg of my run to check out a couple of installations at Sukerkar House, a decrepit looking old building minus the usual charm, I found myself uncertain to walk in. I paused and looked around and sensed a strange vibe of discomfort, rushing towards me in waves as if the frequency of the throngs of carefully recklessly dressed artists, volunteers, curators and art and design students / enthusiasts. I suddenly felt an air of being an outsider, if you know what I mean, when you seemingly don’t belong somewhere. I wondered if it was my careless lack of the carefully casual outfit or my missing hipster glasses that did not fit the wannabe winds that blew at that moment in Altinho. Mustering my amateur, self-taught guts I walked in, passing over two and then, a third installation; my thumping headache adding to my misery of not seeing much beyond the already well explored idea of space in them.

And then, we entered a fourth room, into something that was called the Escape Room and that sounded very cool. Much to the chagrin the curator, I did not know about there being batches to enter the Escape Room that lay behind a door at the end of this room. I ended up walking into a room full of men and women with large glasses and long, unkempt hair in buns or braids, wearing lose t-shirts that looked like they came from the same factory in the glare of the single bulb that hung from the ceiling, shadowing their awkward gazes. Each pair of eyes stared at me in that longest moment as I squinted back, questioningly. My attention hating side screamed at them for screening me so intensely and then, my voice finally broke the silence that was pressing on my ears. Upon asking what was happening with raised eyebrows, I was then informed about the groups and that I would have to wait for the next one. Relieved that it was just strange speed of communication and not anything to do with perhaps my scrunched up nose as I tried to focus in light’s glare, I walked out heaving a sigh of relief.

Not too keen on waiting any longer (and keener to get myself a croissant or a coffee…or both), I walked out of the venue checking with my friend if he wanted to wait after. With a frown, he responded that he didn’t want to stick around that place even for a minute. Intrigued that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t just my prejudice I decided to dig further, asking him what, in particular, was the cause of displeasure for him there while he did seem to enjoy the other installations and artworks.

His reply, to summarise, was simply the pretentious energy, the cold, raised-eyebrowed and hooded eyed looks that he saw there. He felt that the people present there seemed to exist is a slightly darker art bubble than at the other places, uninterested in allowing anyone else in.

I was stunned. I have felt similarly about litfests and major art galleries and art show openings, despite admiring a lot of the artists’ works on display. I presumed that it was my own misplaced intellectual arrogance that I thought I sometimes suffered from. Who doesn’t want exclusivity after all, isn’t it?

Turns out, I really have grown up!

What I felt was something to do with my untrained artist / writer status, simply was the tendency of the herd mentality that exists within all but, only a certain chunk of the world manifest it. I think I have a problem with it largely because while knowing that creation is an act of selfishness because it gives the artist a much needed release or sense of purpose, I also believe that as a way of life, art also is something that is universal even if someone is seemingly artistically challenged in the eyes of the most fascinating artists.

Art, for me, is a way of communication, an expression of the heart or one’s soul (mind, if you don’t believe in soul). Sometimes, these expressions are very simple and speak of broad emotions that humanity deals with. Other time, they can be very complicated that maybe only a few understand. However, the intention of any art form essentially is not to exclude because the act of creation in itself becomes a way of the artist opening up and sharing a part of themselves.

Going Mental(ist) – Errors in Storytelling Today

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching sitcoms on binge. The latest show that I watched on binge and even used Google to end my misery at times was The Mentalist (yes, yes, I am quite late to jump on the bandwagon but, better late than never right?)

While there are many tangents that I can go to in terms of what I loved as well as hated about the show, I will pick up on one broad trend that is a reality for media in most places. Sitcoms even in the Indian industry (can speak for Hindi shows alone since I haven’t watched any other Indian shows in other Indian languages), are the ordinary citizen’s access to a world far away from her daily reality. From TV sets in common rooms to Netflix and the likes on one’s bed, media as entertainment has access to the most private corners of one’s existence. Of course there is the business side to it as well that deems producing things that aren’t just liked but, also accepted by the viewers. It is crazy how the virtual production of the Game of Thrones made ‘winter is coming’ as a mark of cool and awe-inspiring minds.

What I have thought about time and again however, is the need to balance economic orientation behind soaps with creating things that add a new value to the viewers’ minds, makes them question and think. Media and storytelling has that immense power.

With such an orientation however, when one watches an acclaimed show and sees it fall flat on its face, it feels sad. Web series are definitely changing the way things go but, the downside of the trend yet again is the surge of multiple channels owned by a few big business houses that own the TV channels spreading mediocrity.

Why I am ranting about media here is to note one point that has come to mind time and again whether watching an Indian web series or reading a comic or watching The Mentalist. My basic issue is with all of it, especially the series in question, is the reaffirmation of stereotypes that deepen a sense of bias against people. This is a very subtle form of bias that exists in the modern world. One has opinions based on one’s race, class, sex and appearance…the least that storytelling can do, is to break through those typical narratives forcing the viewer to look beyond hearsay. Another classic fallacy in Western storytelling is building everything around one male protagonist (usually white) who is wronged by another man and with the help of a secondary female character who nurses his hurt ego and teaches him vulnerability after he disses her all through the plot, he gets justice and stands taller with his arm around the woman’s waist looking straight ahead. Remember Harvey Specter and Christian Grey? The typical protagonists?

While the entire plot line and appearance of the show is clean, minus heavy words displaying hyper-masculinity and full of humour and love. The characters are all shown to possess their own pasts and like all of us are products of their environments who have evolved a lot with time. All of this is what makes this show very likeable. However, as the series progresses, slowly all the mature writing falls through the cracks. Lisbon then becomes the female cop who was no nonsense and super professional not because she is good at her work and prefers to keep things that way. Rather, she was so because her dark past made her display a tough exterior to protect herself until love comes knocking. The same love that makes her throw away everything that she defined herself by and reduce her existence to anonymity. Jane is a funny, con man turned righteous hero who spends all his energies trying to salvage the murders of his family caused due to his irresponsibility. From the hurt and grief stricken man looking to avenge his loss, he slowly becomes the egoistic narcissist ought to display a sense of superiority especially against the woman he loves, without any care when the same woman loses everything in order to help him. Their story is the typical story, only with a little addition of Lisbon’s past. On the side are 3 more characters – Rigsby (tall, athletic, dumb white male aka jock in the dictionary of stereotypes), Cho (short, pokerface Asian guy with the focus of a horse with blinders because you know, he’s Korean with a gang past) and Van Pelt (red head with the perfect body that is objectified immensely, also a farm girl with the belief in horses, unicorns (not really) and rainbows, she is shown all business unless of course, love grabs her heart).

I would end with just one thought – while adding a background story to the lives of the characters does add a more humane touch giving life to these stereotypes, it still reaffirms every bit of it keeping narratives stale and predictable. Stories, while of course need to be a sort of business to sustain storytellers, are however, more powerful that dumbing down generations by affirmation of stereotypes. They can change the destiny of the world, if only, a little more courage is shown in telling them.

Machine

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For months now, I have been working for myself. Most of my friends have remarked with a “oh, that is so great” and “Oh! That must be fun.” I agree, I hate the clockwork organised ways of a job and I do absolutely love what all I do and the fact that I am my own boss and liability as well is a great deal. Yet, sometimes, I find myself compelled to feel that my run is up a more arduous hill. I am pretty sure each one of us has felt that at times. The need to share with people, to scream at them perhaps, that maybe they need to open their eyes and not cry over petty things, that there were bigger problems that people go through as you speak.

Ever wondered why we feel this way? I think the need arises from a systemic training to feel that if you’re “doing more stuff”, you’re somewhere up there in life. This also comes from the fact that time and again, through systems like grading, ranking, competitions, appraisals, we are conditioned to bother with how the others are doing. It might not necessarily be envy, a mere curiosity, you say. This need to always be the number one, at least in one’s own head, aided by the deceptions of social media, make one feel constant need to keep running. That you’re busy, becomes a symbol of your life being so multi-faceted that you don’t have time at all for a call or a random movie marathon.

Move away from it and I am sure you’ll find more time for work and everything else that you plan to do after you’re 40.

A little poem to go with this then.

 

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Machine

Chop chop chop

Claw claw claw

Splash, bam, spurrrr!

Motion, sound, noise.

Each atom in movement.

No silence

No pauses

Comfort in chaos.

Run run run

Race ahead.

 

Can’t stop, won’t stop

Life flying in the drill.

Was there ever a time to be still?