A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind
Ed by Jerry Pinto.
Pages 175. Rs 399.
Review by Roopinder Singh
What dispels darkness is light. It has the power to illuminate, to bedazzle, to blind, to create shadows, and to show what was thought to be hidden simply because it had not been exposed to scrutiny that often accompanies light. A Book of Light is a small yet significant compendium of stories that allow us to explore a world of individuals so much like us, but distinct in a significant manner, insofar as they have a different mind.
Lakhs of Indians suffer from afflictions of the mind, but most of the time they are invisible to the rest. These families are often alone in taking care of them in any manner they can, and a precious few seek medical help, but most live a life of being swept under the carpet. Here are some brave attempts by the ‘other victims’, people who suddenly find themselves in a situation that is far from normal, one in which they learn to cope with what is thrown at them, more by trial and error than anything else. A son’s touching account of the life and disappearance of a brilliant father in which the honesty of the narration, equally unsparing to all, including the writer, highlights the emotional matrix left unstated.
A daughter writes about her mother’s affliction, of loss of support and betrayal at a crucial time when she needs her mother to step in and stop sexual harassment.
A son’s searing account of living with a mother who is unable to take care of herself, because of her schizophrenia and cancer. A valiant struggle, emotional roller-coasters, the succour of spirituality, guilt — when we seek to shine light, we often expose more than what may have been originally envisaged.
A mother adopts a daughter. She narrates how life unfurled for her. Here the writer uses the first person to narrate the story of abandonment of the girl child in Haryana, sadly too true in so many other parts of the country. She survived despite being thrown out of a train, was injured in the eye and head, lived in an orphanage, and found a home. This is the story of her finding a new life, growing up, facing challenges, understanding life and finally leaving her nest to set up her own home.
How do you cope with your child taking her own life? The recriminations, the berating… and coping with the world that was built around your loved one — the guilt and learning to cope. With time, memories fade … “Those left behind, the living, must find ways to carry on.”
Who will judge a Judge? The readers get a chance to do so as they read the story of an alcoholic younger brother of a Judge who is a respected figure, but whose abusive behaviour towards his family surely contributed to the situation. Abandoned by his family, the alcoholic found dead by the roadside found closure only after all his options were closed, yet he was cared for enough to stay in the memories of those who penned his story.
The lack of a personal connection with the subject allows the luxury of distance, but then I know some of those who have written in the book — Sukant, Nirupama, and Madhu. I take a break and look at a Facebook post that shows Abhimanyu swimming with his father, Madhusudan.
I have known Abhimanyu since he was a child. I don’t need to read his story to know it. His struggle with autism is a brave one. His parents are both Delhi-based journalists. Over the years, we have seen how they made sure that Abhimanyu was a part of their activities, and that of people who were close to them, enriching their lives.
I know people whose stories are yet to be told. I look at the rest of the book, many more pages to read, to think about, to empathise with, to learn from. I do so in small bits, and I recommend that you do the same — A Book of Light touches the heart, even as it inverts the world we inhabit. As I read it, I realise how much I don’t know, and how those who have a different mind illuminate lives, even as they pose challenges of various kinds. This book has thrown up shafts of light into unfamiliar nooks of our society, created shadows, even as it provided illumination into a world that is so familiar, yet different.
This review was published in the August 14 edition of Spectrum magazine section of The Tribune. You may like to read a review of Jerry Pinto’s book Em and the Big Hoom, which was published in Spectrum on June 17, 2012.