writing

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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Finding Answers

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Writing a few lines online after, what seems like, a long long time. As happens often, music and imagery tend to play a big part in enabling emotions to spill out in verse. Not that one hasn’t felt an emotion in as many days but listening to the song To Darkness tonight, I was hit by answers that I had subconsciously been searching for. Subconsciously, because when asked the same questions, I never had an answer since to me, the question never existed. I guess this is what they call ‘seeking’.

Here goes:

What is it that reminds you of home?

What is it about the sound of the sarangi

the song of the bhopa,

that tugs at your heart

calling you home?

What is home?

Was it just with him?

Did he take it away? 

Where did he go?

Will you go home again?

 

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.

The Purpose of Art

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I have always believed in there being a purpose for most things, if not a necessarily large cosmic plan, but, yes there being some order in the chaos called life. It has been one year since I have been practicing art on a full time basis. I still remember starting out on a mere whim to test my diligence at something that I enjoy immensely. I worried, at that point in time, that I might be disinterested or lazy soon and with sustenance, one can rarely take such risks without a decently secure financial status. At the end of October 2016, I had a collection of 31 artworks – sketches, doodles, whatever else they might be. I was in awe of what possibility life can be and took a few drastic steps. I had no plans besides swimming in the waters of uncertainty and learning to tackle the deep ends that I was safely away from till then.

Starting with the sudden bang of an exhibition and merchandise sales, this one year made me question a lot of things but, the never the leap of faith I took. I questioned if I was making a fool of myself by even drawing something since no one seemed to want to pay for it, a few claps can’t sustain me after all.

I have also found myself disillusioned at times with the state of the world, the minds of people and the technology enslaved lives that we spend. Over time, I have found my peace despite the external reality remaining the same or maybe, in some cases, worsening. I learnt nuances of canvas painting, created a total of 80 artworks, wrote unending poems and stories publishing a few, started a podcast, read newer books and started teaching art education. In short, this year has been the most fulfilling year so far.

The reason I share this is because today, I feel full of gratitude. For the past week, I have been visiting and immersing myself in art forms of varied types at the Serendipity Arts Festival.

I feel the need of mentioning my story with SAF because this festival, for the first time, left me with hope, inspiration and courage; as opposed to most others that had always left me with a butterfly in the stomach at the elitism of it. I remember having a conversation with a fellow art appreciator where she insisted that art today is very elitist. Looking from another spectrum, I felt compelled to share that it wasn’t so and it was just the inability for each one of us to connect with everything.

This thought still applies but, as I complete my year as a full time illustrator / artist / art student / teacher, I concur with her on elitism of art today. Ranging between extremes of overpriced artwork to pittances being paid to others, I have found a certain stiffness to fill the bodies (and hearts) of people in the “art circles” at times. I have no technical education, no BFA or MFA nor an uncle or aunt or godparent with their name pushing my work ahead but, all I have is the desire to create, to communicate better, to be able to move hearts, mine and others’.

That had made me once contemplate giving up completely and just drawing for myself; hell, I had even stopped drawing for a month and a half post October. But, SAF rekindled hope and perseverance in my heart again. This was the first festival that was completely inclusive when it came to people with different abilities, different understandings and perceptions. There was something for every single person who came. I have been drawing again, recalling all images that had been floating in my mind for the past month and a half. I knew I would remember each one as vividly as they seemed back then too. Each time my mind has asked me to give up, Nina Simone’s words, ” How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” smack me in the face urging me to try harder.

With this nostalgic year end post and the hangover of SAF, I can only say one thing, art is for each human being because in the humdrum of life, it is art of any kind, that makes our hearts human. If you are exploring creation of any kind, like me, keep at it and you’ll get there someday. If not, at least you would have grown much more and found something else to morph into. That’s at least what I believe (and am told by fellow artists).

If you’d also like to collaborate with me on poems, podcasts, artwork, reach out!

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?

Dear Father

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A part of my brain, the one that fears judgment from the world, the one that refuses to be vulnerable in front of humanity; that part of my brain is cringing as I type this. However, I must go on despite its warnings against this being a complete bomb and unnecessary cry for attention. If, as a reader, you feel the same, I urge you to go ahead and close the window. Sorry, I do not have a dislike or hate button here for you. I am sure someday soon, we will have them.

I have only once in the past written about my father and yes maybe briefly mentioned him in a recent post on Instagram.

Today, however, I write from the point of view of grief, especially after the death of a loved one. My father left his physical form 8 years, 6 months and 20 days ago. It was sudden, right 5 weeks after I turned 18, the birthday I was most excited about. 16 was never an interest.

Very interestingly, this year, I have been thinking of him often. Much to my surprise. I had presumed that I have grieved and accepted and taken his death in my stride. When Chester Bennington passed away, I found myself weeping almost as badly as I did when papa was close to the last moments of his life. My head went back to the time Robin Williams’ death made me feel on similar lines. I wasnt sure why I felt so deeply sad at this. I remembered all the times when I have been happy with my father, the times when I thought he was not right or made me angry. :) I learnt of what all he intentionally or unintentionally taught me during the time that we spent together. I learnt of why some of my favourite memories with him remained my favourite till date despite having made a considerably good number of memories since then.

Today, I have come to terms with his death in a way much deeper and intensely happy and peaceful than I had ever imagined possible. I have goosepimples as I type this line, in particular.

To him, I would say, I am happy that I met you, happy that I was born to you. I am happy where we are today and I hope you are happy and peaceful where you are.

I love you and today, very strongly, I understand what J.K. Rowling meant by those who you love never leaving you since they can always be found in your heart. I know you are always in mine.