Life is what you make of it
By Preeti Shenoy
Published by Shristi Publications
This book, the second by the author, starts off by taking us into a mental health care facility, where a young girl Ankita is about to be admitted. Through her voice we learn she had been a starring student through college, and she feels, she doesnt deserve to be there.
The novel then slips into flashback. College days, student council elections, debates, dramas, socials, exams, further education and yes, crushes, both long distance and immediate. Through the flashback, we see Ankita disintegrating as something we slowly come to realise as a mental disorder takes grip of her. The story meanders into how Ankita’s life gets thrown off track with her illness and how she comes back on track. What is interesting about this book is that it tackles the little understood illness of Bipolar Disorder, and tries to sensitise the reader towards what a sufferer of this illness goes through.
What is interesting is the detailing of how Ankita grows up in small town India, battling conservative parents, who have her best interests at heart no doubt but continue to be conservative in their outlook. The experience and the circumstances that a girl in 80s small town India goes through, the hesitation to be seen talking with boys in public for fear of being branded immoral and therefore having her reputation ruined in the gossip vine, the experience of college socials is something one could identify with, having seen it happen during one’s college days. The experience of college festivals, elections, a gang of girls and the long distance relationships over telephone in an era when the cell phone was not even a gleam in the eye of its inventor and calls had to be timed to perfection to ensure that one was in the immediate vicinity of the telephone to answer the call.
The novel could have been tauter, but it is definitely a bravely written one. Parts of it are gripping. The theme of bipolar, or at least mental illness, is not something that has been explored much in Indian writing and the novel is a plea for understanding of how mental illness is as valid an illness as a physical illness is and needs to be treated with concern and compassion by the family members.
The novel is bravely written, gripping in parts and ends with an afternote (spoiler alert) on the lives of the protagonists, and we are pleased to find that despite all the main protagonist Ankita has gone through, she is managing to lead a relatively normal life, thanks to medication, awareness and a supportive husband. In a sense, the positive ending does lift the novel out of the bleakness that did characterise it for the most part.
Read it. It is like a blast to the past for the most part, and would help you relive your college days if you grew up in the 80s.