Tag Archive | psychology

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver- 52/52

My biological clock just left the building.


There is a reason why I picked up this book. I started it a few months ago, but the first couple of chapters were a drag, so I abandoned it. Then something happened last Thursday that made me feel I just had to read this book. And I couldn’t put it down until that very last chapter, that very last line. That very last line that left me stunned.

At first, I thought Lionel Shriver was a man and that is why Eva Katchadourian came out as un-womanly as ever. No woman, I thought, can even think of writing about regretting a pregnancy just because she had to stay off wine. But then, Lionel Shriver is a woman. A woman who wrote a book so stark, so honest, so unapologetic, so bonechilling and so shockingly real.

I hated Eva. If only she had put in half the effort she put to get Kevin her surname into actually understanding and loving Kevin, Thursday may not have happened. Or would it have? Maybe she shouldn’t have wanted the answer to the Big Question. Maybe she should have just let the page be, not turned it. Turned it to reveal the horror on the next page. Maybe. And I hated Franklin. For all his denial. For all his good intentions. I hated him for just wanting to have had Kevin. But Kevin, I couldn’t hate him. I couldn’t love him. I couldn’t feel anything for him.

An unborn child can hear, it can feel, it is scientifically proven. An unborn child can learn the secrets of warfare from his mother’s womb, it has been mythologically proven. And now I believe that an unborn child can hate. A minute old Kevin shuns his mother’s breast. A four year old Kevin destroys his mother’s favourite wallpaper. A six year old Kevin plays mind games with his mother. A fourteen year old Kevin disgusts his mother. An almost sixteen year old Kevin destroys her life. And his. And eleven more.

The writing was not so great, so many digressions. Letters of confession, unsaid words, unthinkable thoughts all poured out to Dear Franklin. But those digressions were probably necessary. You need to know how much she loved her job and her company and her travels , loved those so much more than she loved her son. You need to know about her agoraphobic mother, maybe that mental condition manifested itself in another way in Eva. You need to know about her contempt towards American society, the very society she brought up her son in. You need to know how much importance she gave to her Armenian ancestry and the genocide. You need to know. Because only then you’ll understand the other genocide. That high school genocide.

Devastating. Haunting. Shocking. Mindnumbing. The book kicked me in the pit of my stomach. The book reached inside my heart and squeezed it till it clogged up. The book reached inside my mind, my soul and made me introspect. Yeah.

PS: Two things I didn’t buy. How does Kevin mention ‘flying planes into the World Trade Center’ in April 2011? How does he manage to keep that object he gives his mother in the end? Doesn’t juvi have the same squat and cough rules as in other prisons?



Now let’s get personal.

Last week I got a frantic call from a friend. Her 16 year old son had just called the child helpline number and complained about her just because she refused to buy him a laptop. No, not refused. She just didn’t buy it for him the moment he asked for it.

Five years ago, I wrote this 55 word fiction piece.

 “Half that blood is your father’s. How else do I expect you to behave?”She slapped him. “As long as that bitch’s blood runs in your body, don’t call me Appa” He shouted. The mother’s still remained inside when they found him. The father’s blood had coagulated as a pool around that eleven year old wrist.

That was when the same child had threatened to jump off the balcony.

Two years ago, I got this email from my friend. She had fractured her leg and was immobile without her crutches.



That was when she had asked the boy to study.

And last Thursday, I took calls the whole day. From the mother, from the father, from the aunt and from the child himself. Horrible language was used, tears were shed, family was disowned, death threats were made. The rage resonated across 600+ kilometers and sent a shiver through my spine.‘ Oru savam inniku vizhum paarungo’. And I thought to myself, ‘If only this was America, this boy would have grabbed a gun and shot a dozen of his classmates’. And that is why I picked up the book from where I had abandoned it. No, he is not Kevin, she is not Eva and he is not Franklin. Thankfully, there is no Celia. This is a more complex story. But in some way, they are too.

We take it for granted in India that ‘good news’ questions are in order two months after the wedding. Why India, even George Clooney’s father-in-law wanted babies even before the wedding pictures were sold to a tabloid. And of course, no woman can not want a baby. She is either a monster, a career minded bitch or just plain hormone deficient if her uterus doesn’t skip a beat whenever she sees tiny crocheted socks or catch a whiff of Johnson’s baby powder. Maybe our society, culture and complex family network helps such monsterwomen overcome their true feelings and go on to make happy families. But you can’t deny that such women do not exist. Or that such thoughts do not cross the minds of some women, even fleetingly.

And then there’s postpartum depression. Maybe our oldwives call it something else. But another friend wept to me five years after her daughter had been born. About how she couldn’t touch the baby for a fortnight, how she hated her husband for feeling so comfortable with the baby. About how when she was alone, she slapped the week old baby. Slapped. The. Week. Old. Baby. Again, our family system complete with gushing mothers and mothers-in-law, neighbors, extended family and long paid maternity leave help tide over this kind of crisis. This child has ofcourse turned out alright.

But I’m afraid. Very afraid now. Is there a Kevin walking among us? How many?


52 done. And what a book to finish with!


Amen: The autobiography of a nun- Sister Jesme : 48/52

Turning water into whine

Blame me for expecting something explosive. This was nothing more than the long rant of a disgruntled employee. The fact that she was a nun is just an added bonus. As a saying goes, if there’s a devil residing in the roof of every normal household, there’s a devil residing in each rafter in a convent. A house full of women where everyone is everyone’s mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the stuff Ekta Kapoor’s dreams are made of.  And the poor husband, Jesus Christ, looks at the drama from above helplessly, and shakes his head in despair. And no, divorcing him isn’t as easy as divorcing a human husband. A Convent, Hotel California. Same thing.

Sr. Jesme is a PhD in English, but this book reads like a ten year old’s What I Did During My Summer Vacation essay.It is written in present tense, a flashback while she’s on the train as a fugitive ,on the way to hand over her resignation. It just rambles on and on with one phase of her life flowing into the other without a pause.  There are too many references to Provincials and Generalities and church specific bureaucracy  without saying which one was which or whether they were the same person throughout the book. Almost ten words on every page were within quotes, like why should ‘ plus two’ be within quotes when referring to plus two students.

Sr. Jesme , or maybe she’s back to Memy now, paints herself as the goodiest of goody two shoes that ever walked the earth. Barring a single faltering when she’s alone in the room with a priest, she is goodness personified. She is a socialist who mingles with the lower strata of kitchen nuns freely, she is a liberal who watches movies and makes movies, she is so honest that she is the only one who stands up against capitation fee, she is the saviour of poor students, she’s so Jesuslike that she always shows the other cheek. She’s so everything that she actually deserves a YoSrJesmeSo set of jokes.

Agreed. The rot inside the church runs deep. You have corruption, sexual liaisons, petty jealousies, politics that will put our parliamentarians to shame, mind games , rampant sexism, racism and good old simple hate. She herself seems to have been victim to a ‘special love’ with another nun and almost succumbed to the advances of a priest. But I somehow am not able to bring myself to blindly believe her version of all the events in this book. Why would she be forced to take psychiatric treatment if there wasn’t something that made the rest of the congregation believe she needed help? There must be something more to that part of the story, especially that incident which was the breaking point which made her leave the congregation. But hey, who am I to judge. If she’s happy now, free from the shackles of the Convent, good for her. I must Google for some follow ups about her life.

Afternote: My sixth standard teacher had joined a convent and left, but before she became a full fledged nun. I wonder what regrets or relief runs through her mind till this day. Two of my classmates have become nuns. One I met after a few years and she was cheerful and happy. It was awkward, the confusion whether I should call her by name or call her Sister. The other one joined the more difficult Pentecostal nunnery, haven’t heard anything from her since the day she told me she’s becoming a nun. I hope she’s happy.

While a Sister Act-like Mary Clarence will be super cool, the  Catholic church should loosen up a bit and let nuns be human. They allow their priests to be anyway. Nuns like this one, may her tribe increase.

A Tale for the Time Being- Ruth Ozeki: 47/52

Zen philosophy meets Quantum Physics meets Reality.

A freezer bag washes up on a beach in a remote island somewhere in Canada. A hello kitty lunch box. A composition notebook written in French. A watch that doesn’t work. A diary with a Proust cover. And a tale for the time being written in purple ink. A tale written by a sixteen year old Japanese schoolgirl, sitting in a French Maid cafe. A tale she says is about her 104 year old great grandmother Jiko, but one that is more about herself. A tale she wants to tell someone before she commits suicide.

The Nao part of the book was gripping. A  teenager uprooted from the Great American dream and thrown into Japan again. She’s a misfit in school, tortured by her classmates in unbelievably shocking ways. A father on the verge of losing it, a mother struggling to keep the show running. And the comfort she finally finds in her 104 year old great grandmother and her dead grand uncle. I wonder which Haruki was sadder, the present day one with the deafening conscience  who reads philosophy books and makes origami insects out of the pages and joins suicide clubs or the young Haruki on the suicide mission during WW2. The theme of suicide looms large throughout Nao’s narration, disturbing and heavy.

The Ruth part was painfully boring. For starters, I hate the name Ruth. It only reminds me of a stiff old fashioned woman in black stockings and a high collared shirt. This Ruth wasn’t exactly that, but she was so boring. There was no emotion in her part of the story. Yes, she was consumed by Nao’s story and worried for the girl, but even that was so stiff and starched.The husband and wife relationship was so formal and awkward, they seemed more like a student and her HOD, discussing garbage gyres, native crows and Schrodinger’s cat. Not that intellectually stimulating conversation between a husband and wife is not allowed, but it was so bleh and academic. Also, there somewow seemed to be no love between them, with her complaining about everything from his illness to life on the island to his cat or getting possessive and confrontational when he understood Nao’s predicament more than she did. In managerese,I could say that Ruth doesn’t offer any value add to the story.

I have to skip analysing the Zen parts. I’m too simple minded to get Zen. That dream scenario went over my head. I have to skip analysing the Quantum physics parts. I’m too unintelligent to get Quantum Physics. I did understand Schrodinger’s cat though, thanks to Sheldon Cooper. There was a lot of Japanese peppered into Nao’s narration, too many footnotes to check. Otaku, Hentai, Ijime, Hikikomori : some of the words that continued to disturb me throughout the book. Japan, you twisted country, if what Nao writes about your people is true, you scare me.  I would have liked more closure, more answers. Less Ruth, more Nao. But overall I liked the book. I’d try another Ruth Ozeki sometime soon

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You- Devdutt Pattanaik :44/52

Mind fu.. oh wait.

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This may be politically incorrect, multi-religiously blasphemous and all that jazz, but seriously what were our ancients smoking? It takes truly brilliant  minds to come up with such fascinatingly kinky, twisted stories, attribute it all to gods and goddesses and have centuries of humankind unquestioningly believe in them . To be safe, let me clarify that I say this in a positive sense.

‘Queer’ is a term I absolutely detest, because the very definition of the word defeats the purpose of creating an all inclusive, tolerant society. I don’t know if the purpose of this book was to say that ‘queerness’ has the blessings of the gods, be it Hindu, Roman, Greek, Assyrian or Egyptian. Or whether it is to convince the upholders of present day morality to look within before they judge. Or to say that it has existed over several millennia so let’s not be hypocrites about it. Or to  say it happens, deal with it. Or whether it is  just another book on Indian mythology for contemporary readers. But I’ve loved every one of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books and I did like this one too.

Most of these  stories aren’t new to me. I’ve known many of them since I was a child, thanks to Amar Chitra Katha. But reading them again through adult eyes and from the perspective of  ‘queerness’  is what makes this almost mindblowing. Take Karthikeya for instance. From ACK, all I remember was babies born through a spark from Shiva’s head, floating in a river and six beautiful celestial mothers adopting them. These babies then go on to become one baby and is the much loved, much revered god. A heartwarming, beautifully illustrated tale. But now, reading about it from this ‘queer’ angle, I’m sorry to say, I find his actual conception (if you can call it that) plain creepy. Shiva shoots his seed into the mouth of Agni, it is cooled by Vayu,  it goes on to impregnate all the male Devas, then finds its way into the wombs of six totally clueless women who are so angry that they discard the foetus in the river. The baby(ies) survives inspite of that, a custody battle follows and in the end we get the god we know and worship as Skanda-Karthikeya-Muruga . How crazy is that.

The last time I read about Aravan, after maybe an ACK comic, was in Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya. All I felt then was anger towards Arjuna for being so callous and unfeeling about his own son, one whom he didn’t even remember and was ready to sacrifice. I was irritated with the son of Uloopi and Arjuna for wanting to help the father who had no clue about who he was. And the unfairness of it all.  But I didn’t give much thought to the queer angle of this tale. And the lesser said about what I think of Krishna the better. I can’t  bring myself to justify anything which that god has ever done ever.

There are thirty such stories in this book, twisted stories, stories of gods and men being castrated for showing restraint, for not showing restraint; men turning into women, women turning into men; deer eating human seed and giving birth to humans with antlers; crossdressing gods, sons of gods and mere mortals; men taking the form of animals and sneaking into unwilling women’s beds; Bhagirath ,whose very name means what it means, born of two ladyparts; men giving birth to men, men giving birth to women, men giving birth to iron maces. There are also tales from Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and other ancient civilizations where Things happened.

Maybe these stories started off with the good intention of encouraging ancient societies to embrace all kinds of people. Or maybe these stories were all made up by cunning men  to justify their kinks. (I won’t say women, it was a male dominated society)  Or maybe these stories were just versions of pr0n or fantasy fiction back then.

But whatever it was meant to be, then and now, this book left me totally mindfucked. And looks like that was one bodypart that our gods or our ancestors didn’t actually do.


Let me make some things absolutely clear about where I stand on the LGBT community. I fully support them, their rights and their lives. I believe that it is natural.  Natural because it is part of nature. You even see such orientation in the animal kingdom. But normal, I won’t say. It is not normal. Like say a birthmark is natural, but not normal. I also believe that this is not a disease and it is not something that can be or needs to be ‘cured’.  I am totally in favour of scrapping Sec 377. The government has no right in anyone’s bedrooms, they can’t dictate whom people should love or how. I try my best not to use the word gay as an insult (though I sometimes do). I’ve been brought up to call the saree wearing eunuch who used to deliver the newspaper as  ‘aval’ or ‘her’ and not ‘adhu’ or ‘it’. But I also believe that the LGBT community does not need our condescending and patronizing support, they need us to just let them be. So I won’t be seen sporting the rainbow colours on my Twitter or Facebook DP.

And then, on the other side, in Oct 2009, sometime around  when Sec 377 was decriminalized, I wrote a blogpost titled ‘377=666?’ and was all judgy about a picture of a famous fashion designer in an open liplock with his (then?) boyfriend. This was what I had written. And I hmmm to myself about it. And cringe.  But then, this was five years ago. And I was stupid. Kindof.

I pride myself in being extremely broad minded. I always support everything that society frowns upon.Sometimes because I really mean it, and sometimes just to go against the grain. But anyway, I always ask “Who made up the rules?” If something happens it was meant to be that way. So just let it be.

…..but ever since the great 377 floodgates opened up in the country, there has been a small chink in my armour and I have begun to rethink my “broadminded” stand

I slowly find my support wavering away from Celina Jaitely and moving reluctantly towards Baba Ramdev. I tried hard to sway towards Celina, but the wind kept whispering otherwise and kept pushing me away.

But yesterday two images from the Van Heusen Men’s Fashion Week sealed my resolve strongly and firmly, and now, I can declare with conviction that I wholeheartedly support Baba Ramdev and Co

But people change. Attitudes change. Opinions change. I changed. I grew up.

The Illicit Happiness of Other People- Manu Joseph :38/52

Dark. Deep. Depressing. Funny. Haunting. Sad. Scary.

A 60 watts yellow bulb, losing the fight to low voltage and weakly trying to light up a musty, mold smelling room on a wet November evening. That was where this book took me. To a dark place where something just sinks inside my insides, does a somersault and sinks a little more.

The same wickedness of Manu Joseph’s Serious Men is still going strong in this book, but the wickedness comes with a sense of melancholy here.  The tired economy is on the brink of throwing its doors open to foreign investors. It is three years since The Leader died and his mistress (ZOMG!), the humiliated Amma is on the rise. People are going on hunger strikes for someone else’s war.  And in a nondescript middle class colony in Madras where ‘all men are managers, all women are housewives and all bras are white’ lives the dysfunctional Chacko family. A mother who wags her finger and talks to the walls, a father who gets his obituary written every night and a twelve year old at the crossroads between child and man, fighting pettiness, losing his innocence. There’s Mythili Balasubramaniam, the girl next door, as good as a good girl should be. And Unni Chacko. Unni Chacko, our hero, who did what he did.

Ousep rediscovers his son through the eyes of his classmates, his friends, eccentric cartoonists, a nun who took the vow of silence, a psychiatrist, a physics teacher and finally his mother. Mariamma wants to understand why the father has suddenly embarked on this journey to rediscover his son. Thoma tries hard to usurp his elder brother’s place. And Mythili Balasubramaniam quietly locks him up in her fond and not-so-fond memories. Everyone is trying to understand why Unni Chacko did what he did.

I can’t review this book. It is a book that needs to be read and relished through your own eyes, own perspective. And once you’re done, draw your own conclusions. Or continue to wonder why Unni Chacko did what he did.

What I think ? Spoiler: I think Unni Chacko did what he did because he suddenly realised that he had become Philipose. And Philipose needed to be punished. By Unni. Again.

I sat through the night reading the book until my eyes protested. I woke up and read a few more pages with toothbrush in one hand and I drove to work at extra speed to open my laptop and continue reading. This book just had to be finished in one sitting. The pages turn themselves and make you crave for more. More Unni.

I’m a very simple person, questioning Life overwhelms me. So there was a lot that went *whoosh* over my head towards the end. Big word syndromes that I totally couldn’t relate to, but syndromes that do exist. Maybe exist closer to me than I want to believe.

If you want to walk into a big black cloud and float around in it for some time, read the book. You’ll stay dark, heavy and sad for some time. But you’ll get out of it. Because as Unni Chacko said, you just can’t escape happiness.

Girl, Interrupted- Susanna Kaysen : 9/52

It makes you wonder.


After having watched the movie a dozen times and having loved it, I finally got my hands on the book. No, though I’m tempted to, I will make no comparisons. Because both aren’t the same.

Everyone goes through a phase, be it at 18 or at 38. Do we really need to give that phase a name and put it into a textbook? That was the question that I kept asking myself long after I closed the book. Were all those cups of medication pumped into her for no reason at all? Is Borderline Personality Disorder actually a disorder? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to these questions. And that’s what she asks herself throughout the book. Was I really sick? The Brain vs Mind chapter provided some deep insights from a layperson’s point of view, in pretty simple language.

After the much hyped The Bell Jar made no impact on me, I braced myself for another disappointment, since this book too hovered on a similar theme. Sylvia Plath gets a mention in this book, having been an inmate of the same mental hospital earlier. But the simplicity of Girl, Interrupted was stark, rather than bland ( which was what I felt about The Bell Jar)

Short chapters that read like a shuffled diary, no flowery prose.  She was just saying it like it was. What she did, what she felt, whom she met, whom she liked, whom she didn’t.

Small characters like the Other Lisa, Alice Calais and Torrey made an impact, and left me wondering what happened to them. The meeting with Lisa Rowe after her release seemed more cinematic than real, and I was slightly worried about the fate of her child. I sincerely hope he turned out ok.

This is a kind of book that I will pick up again whenever I feel like it and just read random chapters.

PS: I loved the story behind the book’s title. Here is the painting.