Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Story of A Suicide by Sriram Ayer: Book Review




"Adida avala, vetra avala...." (Translation: Beat her, kill her) is a popular Tamil movie number starring Dhanush. Recently, I heard a 5-year old boy singing this song to his play mates at our children's park against a little girl because she wouldn't give way for them to play in the sand.

Imagine these little children growing up imbibing such attitudes from films and observing other male relations in their families. 'When a woman doesn't comply to his wish, hurt her' is what is seeded in their minds which becomes the reason behind several acid attacks, rape, murder cases and stalking. 

And this is in fact happened in the Swathi murder case recently in Chennai!

Sometimes I analyze to myself why someone would indulge in rape. I feel that it's not the sexual desire, in most cases. It is the need to show their male supremacy over a female ego and body. This need might have piled up in them for several years and one day they bring it out on a known or a stranger woman.

I was reminded of this fact while reading 'The Story of a Suicide' by Sriram Ayer. In brief, this is an open book for public reading intended to raise awareness on depression and suicide among youngsters. It's framed as a novel, focusing on a handful of characters with Sam, Charu, Mani and Hari taking the lead roles.

Rejection

The character of Sam is frustrated after his girlfriend, Priya walks away. While, Priya's action can be justified by Sam ignoring her by indulging in gadgets and tweeting with his friends during their meet-ups and thereby failing to provide a loving companionship to her, Sam on the other side feels rejected and cheated. When he feels the rejection with the next girl, Charu, he anonymously invades her privacy, making her feel threatened and shaming her womanhood.

Behind the lust Sam feels towards Charu, there is a subtle love that he expects her to reciprocate. He feels good when she urges him to take care of her. Though he gradually becomes the bad guy in the plot, I felt that, to begin with, he wasn't bad. He likes Charu and does take interest in her affairs in the chapter 'Will you protect me'. He doesn't deserve what Charu does to him, leaving him high and dry.

I felt Sam's family or childhood background, if mentioned, could have backed the understanding of his psyche a little more.

Sam's character is typical of teenage boys. They get desperate to allure a girl. It becomes as though it is a do-or-die challenge to them. Once the girl reciprocates, they want to possess her and in the process fail to deserve the love they initially carried. They find it difficult to understand the girl's thoughts and gradually, the relationship doesn't work in their favour.

Anguish

The character of Charu leaves the most rigorous impact in the book. She hates men, not all of them, but those who look at women as a pleasure material. Though the background behind her attitude isn't clear, the expression of her emotions is awe-inspiring. In the chapter, 'The Facebook Post', she writes an open letter.
Dear Penis,
Alright, here goes my story. Who am I?
I am the vagina you have been desperate to get into.
Hairy and the audacious one.
.
.
For all of you, it is just about the conquest, once we let you in, you lock us up as a trophy, put it on display for your tribe to applaud your achievement and then move on to the next hunt.
.
.
You know what; I would want to love any person I like. I love because I can, irrespective of whether the other person can reciprocate or not. I like to be loved. I want to fall in love completely and unconditionally, and as the relationship fades which it will, I’ll quickly move away without becoming baggage. I might want to make love to men, not because they have a damn penis, but because they are more than a stupid lump of muscles, bones and nerves… That their words speak the truth of the heart… That their lives are bigger than the digging of vaginas. When they can be kind to a child on the street and at the same time hold their ground even when speaking the truth might spoil their chances in life.
I am immensely glad that a male author could put himself in a woman's shoes to have come up with this fierce piece of writing. When woman's equality and freedom are talked about, it's not about the reservation in buses and trains, it's not about woman being recruited in army and navy. It's about preserving the feeling of security in her; that she need not be afraid of being the way she likes to. I am afraid, this is largely missing in our culture. On the so-called damn Indian tradition of protecting girls, we have paradoxically made them more vulnerable to insecurities, over centuries.

It made me think if Charu is right or wrong. Honestly, I don't have an answer. After all, I have been bred on the same soil as others. And in spite of an intuitive agreement to her thoughts, I am still unable to take her side. But this might be a beginning for many, as it was for me. Perhaps, we need more Charus!

Vulnerability

One of my childhood friends confided one day that a neighbour boy tried to play with her vagina when she was about eleven years old. The following year, when she attained puberty, she was scared for some unknown reason and wept for days together, locking herself in a room. She felt insecured about the physiologically mature girl in her. And she couldn't speak about the earlier incident to anyone. One of my classmates who had lost her mother at a young age and brought up by her aunt disclosed how her aunt's son would touch her private parts in the night when all else are asleep. She felt ashamed to talk about this to anyone. Another close relative revealed how once he was raped from the back by his older cousin in childhood. He broke down after recalling the incident, something none could have expected out of him.

When I read such incidents in the newspapers, I thought this is a rarity. But after hearing such stories from my close circle of people, I am more than convinced that it is happening secretly all around us. The character Hari in the book, The Story of a Suicide is brutally abused by his uncle as a child. This part of the narration moved me. In the chapter 'I Love You', Hari recalls:
“I stood nervously behind the toilet doors while I could hear HIM talking to another man.......I could hear their footsteps louder. My body was trembling. I didn’t know why. I had kind of gotten use to HIM inside me."
In spite of living away from his uncle in the present and knowing that he wouldn't disturb him anymore, Hari feels insecure and weak. He is dismayed that his mother didn't listen to him; he is scared of the past, the pain and he is anguished at his own helplessness.

I read the book, A Silent Scream by Siddharth Garg, last year. It was the first time I came in close quarters to the issue of child sex abuse. Ever since, I take much care about children around me, known or unknown. For the second time, this issue has bothered me from my depths with Hari's story.

Shame

Adding to his misery, Hari is afraid of disclosing his sexual orientation, especially to his family. On one side, he feels shameful to have developed the feelings of a homosexual but on the other side he is unable to avoid getting attracted to men, something that happens within him naturally.

I have never met or read about a homosexual before. For the first time, I could understand this subject from an unbiased perspective. In the chapter, 'I Love You', Hari and Mani exchange their feelings of love for the first time:
As soon as he heard Mani’s affirmative reply; Hari kissed him hard on his lips. Mani was taken up by surprise but did not push him away.
Hari hugged him tighter.
Mani could hear Hari’s racing heartbeats very distinctly.
“What is happening?" he wondered anxiously, “But I don’t feel bad about this."

“Actually I like his body around me. Am I in love with him? Is it normal?" his mind screen flickered with conflicting thoughts.
Hari was not talking, he continued to sniffle. He was just wearing a brief while his arms and legs were wrapped around Mani.
Mani took Hari’s face in both his hands, looked at his sullen eyes, “I missed you today; I think I am in love with you. I don’t know if this is right, but whatever happens I will be there for you. You have gone through hell as a child and you can always count on me," and kissed him on his lips.
Depression

Though title of the book suggests that the book is on suicide, the plot isn't actually wound around suicide. Except for one brief incident, none thinks about killing themselves in the book. However, long-pent up emotions, all of a sudden, burst opens to one of the characters when he is faced with a terrible betrayal from the one he loves; when he is put to shame publicly and when finally his parent feels undeserving of him. That's the point where he falls apart and decides in a moment's time that he shouldn't live any longer.

"Could something have been done to prevent this suicide?"
That is the question the book aims to answer through the story of this suicide. Not just about this suicide, but in general, suicides of youngsters around us. 

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Let me begin from where I started:

What are entertainment and family seeding in children?

One-side love happens. Betrayal and break-ups happen. But a few young boys instead of overcoming this emotional struggle, get drowned in their anguish towards the girl. In their high 'spirited' state, they get inspired and sync in with all the 'soup boys' songs. "Adida aval, vetra avala...." repeats on their mental screen.

And what did their family teach them? Diwali, Pongal, Independence Day.....on all holidays, the man of the house can relaxe with the TV shows while the woman is in charge of the elaborate meals of the day. Children begin to accept that women 'must comply' to what the man demands. They are hardly taught that women exist as independent beings with independent choices.

Such boys turn into Sam!

What becomes of the girl child who watches this drama since childhood?

She becomes Charu! 

Girl children, as they grow up, slowly begin to think about the differences in the way their mothers and fathers live. They understand what their mothers went through is not right. They become afraid that it might continue with their own lives. When this fear invades, they become Charus in the process of defending themselves. Charu's father running away with another woman could have shaped her into what she is.

When it comes to relationship, for a woman, love and sex are two different things. I can hug and kiss a man without feeling sexual. But men are lesser-abled to segregate the two. This often frustrates a woman. When she expresses this frustration through outward rejection without a verbal explanation, it hurts the ego of the man. The man now feels the instinct to take control of the woman either physically or by burdening her to do service to him. Woman of the past became submissive to this control. However, young girls of today rebel and the cycle of love, rejection, frustration, hurt and control continues.

Without explanation, it goes what of their backgrounds push the characters of Hari and Mani into difficulties.

To parents of little children:
As adults, we need a serious re-thinking of our attitudes only which can shape children as well as youngsters. In order to correct them or help them from life struggles, we need to, first of all, undo our upbringing a little to redefine certain values according to today's pace. Here are a few:
Demonstrate values of equality in your relationship with your spouse. That needs a change within you, to begin with. 
Let the rules be the same for sons and daughters. Like how you instruct your daughter to put her frock down when it slips up, make sure you instruct your son to pull up his pants if it slips down. It requires you to understand that shame isn't a girl factor alone. 
Don't categorize male and female chores at home. Let the man of the house do the cooking some days. Let the woman drive the car some days.

To parents of teenagers: 
Don't neglect your teenagers
In a nuclear family which is most common today, teenagers can spend time only either with their parents or their siblings. The availability of their parents' time is crucial until they begin to live independently. Spending time isn't existing in the same room with each one busy with an individual gadget in their hands. There might be something the mother wants to share with the family. There might be something the teenager wants to discuss with his parents. Let there be space within the relationships at home. When your teenagers are in a mind set to speak with you, listen to them. That's the best route to understand what's happening in their minds. Most importantly, when your youngster is feeling hesitant to talk about something, probe without force. Be aware it could alarm something important.  
Don't scream at their problems
As a parent, if you know that your son or daughter is going through a break-up or other psychological battle, you might tend to feel worries which may result in showing your anger towards them. "Stop crying", "Don't be sad always, it's irritating", "Don't crib in front of me, I am bored of your stories" are the worst statements you can make to them.
Keep a close watch of them without intruding their privacy
You don't need to check what they tweet or post on Facebook on a daily basis. But observe how they appear when they come back home. A mother can definitely identify if the children are disturbed of something. Be sensible not to bombard them with immediate embarrassing questions. They are most likely to shout at you before deciding not to speak with you again. Wait for the right time to casually enquire about what you feel. If you don't get a clue, don't ignore. Find other sensible ways. 

To youngsters: 
As a teenager, what to do if you feel rejected, guilty, shameful, frustrated or depressed?
Take the guidance of your parents. Initially, it might be embarrassing to involve your parents into your problems. But believe that they care the best for you. If after repeated trials, your parents don't seem to be concerned, speak to a close acquaintance or a professional counselor. 
Make yourself and your problems visible to the right people. It might seem good to keep them secretive. You might be afraid of being judged or looked down upon. But keeping it closed will not fetch you help. 
Coming out of an intense struggle takes time. Give time for things to settle down. Don't come to a hasty conclusion within a short time period.

Title: The Story of A Suicide
Author: Sriram Ayer
Illustrations: Ghana
Publisher: Self-published
Chapters: 31


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About the Book

"The Story of a Suicide" by Sriram Ayer is a young, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends novel, which grippingly tells the stories of Hari, Charu, Sam and Mani, whose lives are interconnected in a web of love, passion, revenge and deceit.

Today's youngsters are expressive, self-absorbed, independent, afraid, hurried, fearless, fame hungry, but surprisingly resilient. In a world that makes unreasonable demands on them, many are disillusioned about their education, relationships, jobs, sexuality, bullying, and abuse. In the backdrop of a powerful story and visuals, this project aims to reach out to young people, by verbalising their struggles through the story, informing the do's and don'ts when they face challenges, and providing a platform to share their experiences.

Reading the novel is simple. Click the top menu for a list of chapters or follow the link at the bottom of the page. The site is mobile responsive, so you can read it on your laptop, tablet or mobile phone. You can also listen to the novel by clicking on the play button under the Audio book. Each chapter has a set of "How do I?" on various issues.

About the Author

Sriram is a writer, social entrepreneur and compulsive dreamer. He founded NalandaWay Foundation, which works with children from the most exploitative situations in India, helping them using the creative power of arts, to become creative, learn life-skills, build self-confidence and succeed in schools. Named by the Outlook Business magazine as one of the top 50 social entrepreneurs in India, he has received numerous awards, including the World Bank’s South Asia development marketplace award, 'Architect of the Future' by Waldzell Institute, Austria, Ashoka Fellowship and more recently the Millennium Award instituted by US AID, Govt. of India, UK AID and FICCI.


7 comments:

  1. This is so very well written. Congratulations. I tried to review, in fact twice, the book also. But I'll any day rate your review better than mine. I've not any other review of the book. But perhaps it'll be difficult to find a better one.

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  2. Thanks Ashwini Kumar. That's nice to hear. I take reviewing of books seriously for all the heart and mind that authors put into their works. An appreciation like this sure makes the review worthy. Congratulations to you, as well! Happy blogging!

    Nandhini

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  3. You deserved to win! Well written review :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Niranjan. Congratulations to you too!

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  4. That's a detailed review. Congratulations on the win :)

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  5. very informative post for me as I am always looking for new content that can help me and my knowledge grow better.

    ReplyDelete