By Aminah Sheikh
It is early winter, but the October heat in Ambala Cantt is making me visibly drowsy. “Do you mind some Tulsi leaves in the chai?” he asks. I nod in the typical manner in which we Indians do. “Well, go on then, pluck some leaves from the plant. It’s right opposite the gate,” he prompts. Sounds of chirping birds, sunlight that warms the linen clothes drying on a wooden hanger, happy plants and a few flowers break the monotony of green. The garden is perhaps the only ‘lively looking’ corner of this ageing home.
Sitting opposite each other, with a table that holds a bowl with floating roses, we sip chai. “My father loved roses,” he says breaking the silence. And even before I can acknowledge by saying – Yes, that’s what I gathered from the story “Papa, Elsewhere” he has written in A Book Of Light, Sukant Deepak offers to give me a tour of the place that is home to famed playwright and short-story writer Swadesh Deepak, his father.
Within the confined walls of this house are stories, like in any house – some pleasant and some mired with painful memories. Sukant now lives alone in this house that stands witness to almost two decades of suffering that his family went through after Swadesh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1990s. This phase of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner’s (2004) life finds its spot in A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind, among twelve other stories edited by Jerry Pinto and published by Speaking Tiger.
Although Swadesh left his home one monsoon morning of 2006 never to return, his house breathes nostalgia. “I love staying in this house, that’s why I stay here,” says Sukant, adding that he’d wanted to tell his father’s story for a long time. “I wrote it because it had to be written. Some things have to be done. It was a ruthless decision.”
Each of the 13 writers have come out of their shell, perhaps, to tell a tale that has affected them deeply. The process of writing, not so easy at times. Yet they did write!
“Many of us have family histories that contain very troubled moments, that have had people whose lives, their joys and struggles, the love we felt for them or the dislike, remain within us long after they are gone,” shares Sharmila Joshi, one of the 13 contributors to the book. Her story “The Man Under the Staircase” speaks of her uncle shunned by his own brother (her late father) then a Judge at Nagpur High Court. “My uncle Vinay was one such person from among various complex characters in my family – some of whom I have for long wanted to write about. His story just came to me first. Telling it is an attempt to record and then purge maybe, an attempt to look back without too much sadness.”
Lalita Iyer, writer of “Roger, Over and Out” shares the story of her former love interest Roger, who she believed was her companion for life but things didn’t quite go the way she had imagined they would. By sharing their story, Lalita wanted Roger to find a voice. She says that for the longest time, her backstory always preceded her. She was that girl who called off her wedding to a ‘psycho’. She was ‘that poor thing’. She finally reached that place of numbness when she stopped talking about it and pretended it never happened. “But in the last few years, I have had many friends ‘coming out’ and talking about their journeys with loved ones who were mentally ill. Jerry’s book Em and the big Hoom spurred me to unlock the past that I had so carefully guarded,” she says. “I felt that the world (my family and friends) always looked at the story from my point of view, and Roger was always the ‘other’, the ‘outsider’, and I thought that was really unfair. Sometimes I wonder if he had written his story, what would it have been? He never got to share his story and probably never will. I also feel hopeful that with me sharing my story, there might be other people who are willing to share theirs, or at the very least, people will learn to approach mental illness from a place of compassion than a place of anger or wronged-ness. I hope more people are motivated to seek help and be more empathetic to those afflicted by mental illness.” At times when alone, Lalita sees Roger’s face. “It’s often an ethereal image, of a face in the clouds, like an angel. This also makes me feel that perhaps he has left this world.”
Most stories are of dear ones who’ve passed away and maybe it is easier to write when the person isn’t around, but two writers –Madhusudan Srinivas and Nirupama Dutt- have written about their children. Children they live with and face each day, even today. While Madhusudan through ‘Abhimanyu, Our Son’ shares his journey as a parent of an autistic 23-year-old son, Nirupama chose a unique way of telling her daughter’s story. Nirupama’s “Mother and Daughters” has been written from her daughter’s point of view. “We share a very intense relationship of co-dependence. Even though it is a troubled one, we know each other’s mind well, so I just narrated what goes on in her and my mind. That was not difficult at all,” says Nirupama. However, writing as a mother was not an easy task, she adds. “I wished to tell the story, more so for it touched on the status of the girl child in India and the damage that is done just because she belongs to the second sex.”