Categories
Editorial

We Did It!

That good things happen despite darkness, despite prognostications of doom, that light glimmers hope if you strive to focus on your strength in hard times is borne true both in fiction and in life. Perhaps, we cannot get back the old ways (but is that what we want?) but new paths emerge. Old gives way to new. And while trying to gather pearls of human excellence — borne not of awards or degrees but of bringing out the best, the kindest, the most loving in human hearts — we managed to create with a team an outstanding anthology. Woven with the writings of old and new — we created a tapestry together that the editor in chief of our publishing house said was “classy, literary, engaging and international”. That one of the oldest and most reputed publishing houses in India with bookshops countrywide took it on was also an unusual event! We are truly grateful to Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri and Jyotsna Mehta along with all our writers and readers who made our anthology a reality, and to Radha Chakravarty and Fakrul Alam for the kind words they bestowed on our effort.

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Please greet our first anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles, with love and friendship. It could be the perfect Christmas gift in the spirit of the season! And as the blurb says, “it will definitely bring a smile to your face because it is a celebration of the human spirit.”

The anthology is different from our journal in as much as it has a sample of an eclectic collection that has been honed with further editing and has some new features. Most of the writing is from our first year and showcases our ethos, except for Lesya’s poetry and interview. Lesya Bakun from Ukraine is still on the run, looking for a refuge — she cannot return home like you or I can. Her family is scattered across number of countries. Her cousin, who was guarding the factory at Azovstal, was taken prisoner. We included her story in the anthology hoping to create global empathy for refugees as the numbers will increase not only due to war but also due to climate change.

The reason we felt a hardcopy anthology was a good idea was because nothing beats the joy of having a bunch of interesting reads in the warmth of your hands (especially where internet cannot reach or is unavailable). In any case, books with the feel of paper, the rustling whispers which carry voices of leaves can never be replaced as Goutam Ghose had also said in his interview which is now part of our anthology.

And that is why we celebrate more books… this time we feature Singaporean prima donna of literature, Suchen Christine Lim, with her new book Dearest Intimate, a novel that spans more than hundred years including the harrowing Japanese invasion during World War II. She shared sound advice with writers: “Suffering is good for the writer. It will deepen lived experience and expand the heart’s empathy.” And perhaps that is what is echoed through the experiences of the other writer interviewed on our pages by Keith Lyons. This is a writer who not only brought out his own books but was a regular contributor of travel pieces for Frommer’s and National Geographic traveling to unexplored destinations — Christopher Winnan. Another writer Lyon had interviewed recently, Steve Carr, has passed on. We would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

We have a number of books that have been reviewed. Reba Som reviewed Aruna Chakravarti’s Through the Looking Glass: Stories that span eras spread across time. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises and Bhaskar Parichha, Rahul Ramagundam’s The Life and Times of George Fernandes. Basudhara Roy has written of Afsar Mohammad’s Evening with a Sufi: Selected Poems, translated from Telugu by the poet and Shamala Gallagher, verses that again transcend borders and divides. We have an excerpt from the same book and another from Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit, translated from Bengali by Anurima Chanda.

More translations from Bengali, Balochi and Korean enrich our November edition. Fazal Baloch has translated a story by Haneef Shareef and Rituparna Mukherjee by Shankhadeep Bhattacharya. We have the translation of an inspirational Tagore poem helping us find courage (Shonkho Dhulaye Pore or ‘the conch lies in the dust’). Another such poem by Nazrul has been rendered in English from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. He has also shared an autobiographical musing on how he started translating Tagore’s Gitabitan, which also happens to be his favourite book. More discussion on the literary persona of TS Eliot and the relevance of his hundred year old poem — ‘The Waste Land’ by Dan Meloche adds variety to our essay section.

Evoking the genius of another outstanding artiste, Kishore Kumar, who happened to pen thought provoking dialogues in some films, is Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri’s essay, review of a recent book on the legendary actor-singer and an interview with the authors. Infringing the boundaries of literary with popular culture and art and integrating all forms into a wholistic bundle has been part of our ethos. In that spirit we have a musing by Prithvijeet Sinha on Edvard Munch’s famous painting called Scream. We have non-fiction from Australia spanning Meredith Stephens’s recent brush with Covid, Mike Smith visits a Scottish beach in the footsteps of a novelist, Ravi Shankar has given us a poignant piece for a late friend and Candice Lousia Daquin talks of the existence of bi-racial biases. In contrast, Suzanne Kamata sent a narrative that bridges divides showcasing a German wife of a Japanese scientist that draws us to conclude that biases erode over time to create an acceptance of bi-racial people. Devraj Singh Kalsi brings in humour with his funny narrative about a guitarist. Rhys Hughes writes in a lighter vein on Indian cuisine in his column and spouts more funny poetry bordering on the absurd.

Jared Carter has shared beautiful poetry on murmuration in birds and we have touching verses from Asad Latif for a little girl he met on a train — reminiscent of Tagore’s poem Hide and Seek (Lukochuri). Michael R Burch has given us poems setting sombre but beautiful notes for the season. We host more poetry by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Quratulain Qureshi, Jim Bellamy, Gayatri Majumdar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Alpana, Jonathan Chan, Saranyan BV, George Freek and many more. We have stories from around the world: India, France and Bangladesh.

Gathering all of your thoughts in strings of words from all corners of the world, we present to you the bumper November issue of Borderless Journal . Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with us. Thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fantastic painting and more thanks to the whole Borderless team for seeing this issue through. We would not have been able to do the anthology or these issues without each one of you — writers and readers.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

There is always hope for a new tomorrow!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Interview Review

The Making of Historical Fiction: A Conversation with Aruna Chakravarti

Aruna Chakravarti reveals how she wove a historic novel, The Mendicant Prince(Published by Picador India, 2022),  from a controversial court case that took place in the early twentieth century and created ripples through not just Bengal but the whole country and even England.

Aruna Chakravarti. Photo courtesy: Swati Bhattacharya

Perhaps we can call her the queen of historical fiction or an author inspired by history, but Aruna Chakravarti, an eminent award-winning Anglophone writer, evokes the past of a united Bengal – long before the Partition along religious lines in 1947 — repeatedly giving us a glimpse of an age where culture superseded beliefs. She recreates a period where we can see the seeds of the present sowed. In her last novel, Suralakshmi Villa (2020), she gave a purely fictitious account of a woman who pioneered changes in a timeframe that dates back to more than a century. Before that in the Jorasanko novels (2013, 2016), she brought to life the Tagore family history. By then, she had written her own family history set in the same period called The Inheritors (2004), which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Award. Perhaps, her grounding comes from having translated Sunil Gangopadhyay’s First Light and Those Days, both novels set around the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She also won the Sahitya Akademi Award for translating Sarat Chandra’s Srikanta, a novel again set in a similar timeframe. She started her journey as a writer translating Tagore songs for which she won the Vaitalik award. Perhaps, this grounding has made her what she is today – a powerful re-creator of history where the characters come to life. You emote and react to their statements and on their actions. Her narrative carries you with it.

Her novel based on the real story of the Bhawal Prince which was launched last month,  gives a clear glimpse of the event with historical accuracy. The Bhawal prince turned mendicant after losing his memory in 1909 in Darjeeling. He was recovering from a bout of syphilis. He fell prey to intrigue and might have been poisoned. The prince was abandoned as a corpse during his cremation and yet he survived …and then, twelve years later, he returned — having travelled through much of the country with a band of Naga sadhus — to claim his rightful place. Swapan Dasgupta, a journalist turned politician, wrote when he thought of the Bhawal case, the “Dreyfus affair in late 19th century France, the John F. Kennedy assassination in the US and the James Hanratty case in Britain are ones that come readily to mind.” He was reviewing an earlier historical narrative written by Partha Chatterjee(2002) called A Princely Imposter?, which Chakravarti tells us she has used as a resource.

Set against the independence movement and colonial era, she has painted a man, who though flawed, gains the sympathy and wins the heart of the reader. The writing is fluid and evocative. Given that the trial lasted for more than sixteen years, and his first wife and her family refused to acknowledge the prodigal prince, the story has been made into films multiple times, once Sanyasi Raja (Bengali, Mendicant Prince, 1975), the second time, a remake in Telugu Raja Ramesh (1977) and more recently somewhat anachronistic, a movie called,   Ek je Chhilo Raja (There was a King, 2018). The Mendicant Prince departs from the films in being a stickler for the period, the historicity and brings to fore events and nuances the author researched by interviewing surviving Bhawal family relatives. What is amazing is the way in which Chakravarti has fleshed out each character to make the persona real, to the point where, as in her earlier Jorasanko novels, the reader can visualise them. Aruna Chakravarti’s strength is definitely her mastery over the language and her ability to breathe life into the past.

In this interview, Aruna Chakravarti tells us how she has woven the novel into the timeframe and created a novel based on history – an excellent lesson for aspiring writers of historical fiction from the empress of the genre herself.

What moved you to write a novel on the Prince of Bhawal?

The controversial prince of Bhawal, Ramendra Narayan Roy. The top is a picture of the claimant and the bottom has the picture of the prince as a Naga sannyasi or mendicant.

I first heard of the Bhawal case in 1950 when I was about ten years old. The time was the aftermath of Indian Independence and Partition when many Hindus from Pakistan were relocating in India. A family from East Bengal came to live in the government quarter next to ours and became very friendly with us. One of its members, we called him Uncle, was an excellent story teller and regaled us with many tales.

One was about a legal case concerning a prince turned sannyasi [mendicant] then prince again. It had taken place in Bhawal, a principality in present day Bangladesh. The case was still fresh in his memory. The Privy Council verdict had been announced as recently as July 1946 and it was natural for him, still nostalgic for the land he had left behind, to wish to talk about it. I was so mesmerised by the tale that it stayed with me for decades afterwards.

I never thought of writing about it till recently, when some friends distantly related to the royal family urged me to. ‘You have already done two novels on the Tagores so why not the Bhawals?’ I didn’t take to the idea easily. It seemed too big and complex a project. Then, during the Covid years, in the state of incarceration we all found ourselves, I started thinking seriously about it. But I was constantly beset with anxiety. ‘Would I be able to pull off such a delicate operation?’ A meticulous adherence to the facts together with dates was called for since these were already out in the public domain. There was no way I could take liberties with them. A reconstruction of the life and times of the concerned people, within these limits, called for tremendous imaginative power and an equal amount of discipline and concentration. Covid worked in my favour. In the complete silence and absence of activity; in the total encapsulation of self by the mind; I found myself getting slowly entrenched in the world I was creating. A world of queens and mistresses, liaisons and stratagems, faith and betrayal and a desperate British imperialism slowly eroding under the pressure of an awakening nationalism.

It seems amazing to me now. But it worked.

What kind of research went into it? Did you travel to Jaidevpur?

No. That was one of the hurdles Covid put in my way. For all my other novels I have made it a point to do an extensive amount of field work. This time, travel being rendered impossible, I had to depend entirely on secondary sources. My chief source was Dr Partha Chatterjee’s book A Princely Imposter? It contained a treasure trove of information. Articles in Bangladeshi journals of which there was quite a significant number and other books, both English and Bengali, fiction and non-fiction, helped me to understand and visualise the context in which the drama had unfolded. The two films Sanyasi Raja and Ek je Chhilo Raja also offered a few glimmerings. These, however, were negligible. What came in truly useful was the first-hand research I had done for my earlier work such as my translations and other novels. As also the conversations I had with some distant relatives and family friends of the Bhawals.

How much of your story is fact and how much is fiction?

This question, invariably put to me in the context of my creative writing, is difficult to answer since it is impossible to put a quantum to either. All I can say is that the events the reader is taken through in The Mendicant Prince are historically accurate and documented. But the book is not history. It is a novel; an imaginative reconstruction of a prominent legal case fought in the dwindling twilight of British India. The fictional element travels beyond the case to the lives of the people it affected, particularly the women of the family. Nothing much is known about these women so I have had to give them backgrounds and contexts; personalities and distinguishing characteristics that are wholly imagined.

It is true that you have woven history and fiction meticulously and seamlessly in the book. In creating the ambience of the period, you have touched on prevalent myths such as the education of a woman results in her widowhood. You have also mentioned bedes and kheersapati mangoes. Were these actually part of what you found in the Bhawal story? Or is it something you introduced? If so, what was the intention?

No. They had nothing to do with the Bhawal case. These details were provided to intensify the ambience; to make the world of early twentieth century Bengal come dynamically alive. Reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Debendranath Tagore had advocated education for women. But the idea was fiercely resisted by the conservative section of Bengali society. Many clung to an age-old belief that educated women were liable to become widows. It was natural for Rani Bilasmoni [the prince’s mother], with her disdain for education even for her sons, to hold such a belief. In terms of the novel, this is a distinguishing trait of her character and brings into focus Bibhavati’s difficulties with her mother-in-law and her alienation in her husband’s home.

Pannalal Basu’s preference for kheersapati mangoes, along with other fictional details about his nature and tastes, takes him out of the realm of history and gives him a personality and voice. The presence of bedes at the river bank, just before the monsoon sets in, is a regular feature of the riverine culture of East Bengal, now Bangladesh. The addition of this detail enhances authenticity. In this case it provides a bit of dramatic irony as well. The band is travelling to Bhawal. Bhawal which has been the central focus of Pannalal Basu’s life for over six years…

You discussed the story with a relative of the royal family. What kind of interview did you have with him? Please share with us.

Actually I spoke to several members of the family. None of them are directly connected to the royal line. The person with whom I interacted most closely is the grand-nephew of the bara rani [the eldest queen], Sarajubala Debi. It was not a structured interview. Some family gossip and reminiscences, were shared, from time to time. That, too, mainly in connection with the bara rani. Among the bits of information I gathered, was the bricked over Bhawal vaults, filled with gold vessels, which ran across one entire wall of a room in the palace. Another was the conversation in which Bibhavati tells Sarajubala about the aridity of her sex life. I also came to know that the mejo kumar’s [second prince’s] second marriage was arranged by Sarajubala and that she had initial doubts about its suitability since Dhara Debi was small and slight and the mejo kumar very tall and hefty.

Your characters, each one are very well drawn, and the narrative makes readers travel back in time. How do you manage this? How do you gauge the reactions of the characters?

It is difficult to answer this. It has, I suppose, to do with instinct and the ability to internalise. In a historical novel, characters are conceived within a factual framework to begin with, then internalised and allowed to evolve through the course of the novel. The process is not planned. There is no strategy involved. It flows naturally and spontaneously. Not only the characters… the world that the author is recreating expands and grows in depth and richness as one goes along. Gradually it pervades one’s whole consciousness. So much so that sometimes one is not even aware of where fact ended and the imagination took over. I find myself in this state of confusion quite often. Did I read or hear about this somewhere, I’m often caught wondering, or did I imagine it?

Some women in your Jorasanko and Suralakshmi Villa are path breakers. But in The Mendicant Prince, they are more within the stream of history. Was this a conscious call or was it the circumstances? Please elaborate.

Suralakshmi Villa was pure fiction and I wanted to project a certain kind of woman as the central character. A woman who is far ahead of the times in which she lives; who breaks stereotypes and lives on her own terms; who dismisses societal expectations without giving it a second thought. A complex, enigmatic character whom people find difficult to understand, even a century later.

In Jorasanko, some of the characters were indeed path breakers. Digambari forbade her husband entry into his own home because, in her opinion he had strayed from the moral path. Jogmaya refused to obey her brother-in-law’s diktat that his entire family embrace the Brahmo faith, resulting in the rift that divided the Tagores into the Hindu branch and the Brahmo branch. Tripurasundari refused to give up her husband’s property. Jnanadanandini introduced many changes in the way the women of the household lived. These were real people and their actions are documented facts. There were no such progressive women in the Bhawal family. So how could I present them as path breakers?

The Bhawal case had been a mystery for a long time and no one knew why the prince’s first wife, Bibhavati, refused to recognise him. Have you figured that one out? Do you have an opinion on it?

No one knows the truth. Bibhavati’s insistence that the sanyasi was not her husband has left people baffled to this day. The case was fought many years after the alleged death and cremation of the prince and the verdicts given were based mostly on circumstantial evidence. I have tried to rationalise her stance and find a cause for it.  This is where the fictional element comes in. It lies in the kind of person Bibhavati is and her relationship with her brother. In terms of the novel, I mean. Nothing has been made very explicit. But there are hints. I’m hoping readers will be able to figure it out for themselves.

You have written historical novels before this one. You have dealt with the Tagore family ancestry and your own. How different was working on this novel?

The difference was that this one dealt with a court case the details of which were already out in the public domain. There was very little known about the Tagore women and my own family of course. For the latter, I had to depend on what I had heard from family members, which was very little. For the Tagore women project I gleaned titbits of information from their own writing, biographies of Rabindranath, and Rabindranath’s autobiographical writing. The facts being few and far between the imagination was allowed full play.  

Writing The Mendicant Prince was a different proposition altogether. The facts were well known. What could I add to them to justify a new work? And then an idea came to me. How would it be if I were to bring to the fore the women of the family who were strongly affected by what was happening but about whom nothing is known? They were only names in the drama that was unfolding around them. I could flesh out these women, give them thoughts, emotions, aspirations and distinguishing characteristics. This component would be pure fiction. As a result, the book came to be structured on two levels. It is an authentic record of the Bhawal case supported by  documents like letters, diary entries, newspaper cuttings, legal papers and case histories. But the account is interspersed with the personal revelations of the women of the family. Gradually the musings of a few other characters were added. The District Judge and some of the subjects were also given a voice.

Do you have another book on the cards? What should we look forward from you next?

 A collection of stories titled Through a looking glass: Stories is scheduled for publication by Om International. It should be in the market in a few months. There are nine stories showcasing women from across the spectrum of Indian society. Though coming from diverse religions and provincial cultures, they are all trapped in the tradition of silence which is the woman’s lot. Each has a secret space within her with a hidden story.

Thank you for giving us your time.

The Prince of Bhawal before he became a mendicant, early 1900s.

Click here to read the book excerpt

(This online interview has been conducted by Mitali Chakravarty)

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Essay

Reflecting the Madness and Chaos Within

Over 150 Authors and Artists from five continents, wrote on mental illness. Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist and writer and editor, tells us why this is important for healing

A watercolor of King Lear and the Fool from Act III, Scene ii. Courtesy: Creative Commons

When Indie Blu(e) put feelers out about creating an anthology based on mental illness, the passionate reception galvanized our belief it was a necessary subject. However, a few expressed concerns that an anthology about mental illness, would be ‘depressing’ and they wondered ‘who would want to read about mental illness?’ It is this perspective, acting like a fog, that separates those inflicted with mental illness from those who are not.  

Such responses exacerbate feelings of isolation, unworthiness, and loneliness that many with mental illness already have. Through The Looking Glass, a metaphor from Alice in Wonderland, evokes this common feeling of separation, as poetry and prose has long had a tradition of doing. For many, this lack of understanding may be the tipping point leading to a premature death. If there is one reason to embrace mental illness in an anthology of art and poetry, it is to speak for, speak with and represent those who would be otherwise denied. To continue a tradition of poets and artists elucidating on the subject of suffering mentally: 

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, 

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through”

(I felt a Funeral in my Brain, Emily Dickinson)

If you Google ‘what causes depression?’ among the top ten searches will be ‘free yourself of depression’ and ‘depression is a choice’. As long as we blame the sufferer, the malady will become more entrenched. Mental illness is the only malady, aside from lung cancer caused by smoking, that we actively blame the sufferer for inflicting on himself.  We bandy around terms like ‘chemical imbalance’ and ‘deficit of proteins in the brain caused by trauma’ but nobody really knows what ‘causes’ depression because like most disease, depression is epigenetic, hereditary and mal-chance and so many things we do not understand.

Depression can be a learned behavior, it can be transmitted through a virus, be the result of a series of debilitating personal events, or because you have stomach problems, and the serotonin and other chemicals are not manufactured in sufficient quantity. Depression can be the result of faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, dementia, old-age, youth, hormones, drugs, eating disorders and sexual abuse. Or, depression can be caused by absolutely nothing! Usually it’s more than one thing, deeply complex and difficult to replicate in a laboratory setting.

As long as we as a society utilize words like ‘snap out of it’ and ‘be strong like …’ we will entirely miss the point. Not one person living chooses to be depressed, it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high that can be ‘fixed’ with a pill or an adjusted attitude to life. We must distinguish between sadness, melancholy, situational sorrow, grieving, bouts of misery, feeling sorry for oneself, and medically defined depression.

The latter is a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you’re delusional or mad or unreliable, in fact depression strikes all but typically the more intelligent are more prone to it. One could argue, depression is a disease of insight and awareness of our ‘unbearable lightness of being.’ For some it manifests in childhood, others not until they’re elderly. All forms of depression are legitimate, and should not be shamed, rebuked, repulsed, diminished or ignored.

Whilst there is sense in saying we should not obsess over the subject, to the exclusion of efforts to brighten one’s life, by whatever means possible, we should equally not ignore those who are desperately struggling and usually without a single person to help them.

If your neighbor had cancer, you would not shame him for his ‘weaknesses tell him he was making a ‘bad choice’ and ask him to ‘get over it’ so why should you ever think it’s acceptable to do that for depression? Just as we are re-writing language for Trans Generations to be inclusive and supportive of insight and change, we should reconsider how we talk about depression. As long as we perceive depression to be a ‘bad attitude’ or ‘personality deficit’ or believe if Oprah could ‘get over it’ so could you, we condemn those who have obviously tried hard to do just that. They might feel it is their fault if they have not ‘succeeded’.

Encouraging someone to do things that help them when they are depressed, believing for some there is an end to their depression, those are all positive actions. We should take our depressed friends out for walks, to remind them there is joy in the world even when they are not able to see it, through no fault of their own. But we should also be careful that our well-intentioned prescriptivism does not become dogmatic and suggest the individual isn’t doing all they can. If they’re not (doing all they can), it may be that’s all they can do for now. Equally if you really believe someone isn’t doing enough, you can suggest things you feel might help without seeming accusatory.

From inception, we at Indie Blu(e) sought to offer a platform for those who might otherwise find no platform. Artists have historically endured mental illness in higher numbers than average. Reasons abound but there is no final analysis, it is thought whatever spurs creativity, may equally make certain illnesses more likely, just as left-handed-people are often more creative, perhaps it is about what parts of the brain are utilized and how. 

No one group of people, based on gender, ethnicity, culture, doesn’t suffer from mental illness. Varied cultures have sought to shame others.

Likewise, mental illness has long been thought to affect women more than men and is tied inexorably with ‘hysteria’ (hyster/womb, the once-thought seat of mental illness in women).  However, in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon has said: “If one discounts depression triggered by anxiety about offspring, the rate of depression for men and women appears to equalize”, especially, with women seeking mental health counseling in higher numbers because of cultural approbation toward men owning any perceived vulnerability. This is further proven by the higher rate of completed suicide and ‘accidents’ among men, pointing to a social cause rather than one gender suffering more than the other. 

With the stigma of mental illness well entrenched in most societies, and not likely to be eliminated, despite best efforts, the only course of action must be in continued awareness. The more we are aware and exposed to diversity, the more accepting we ultimately become, or so sociologists tell us. If there is any truth to this idea of ‘acceptance by exposure’ then being a vehicle of awareness is how to eventually overcome prejudice and bigotry. Solomon tells us: “The insistence on normality, the belief in an inner logic in the face of unmistakable abnormality, is endemic to depression.” These kinds of ‘certitudes’ can be the triggers that push someone suffering from moderate mental illness, to a breakdown. It is the lack of support, empathy or compassion that acts as a sharp rebuke to those who need the very opposite. 

For those suffering from the myriad of mental illnesses that exist; stigma and shame are daily companions. While logically we know people never ‘choose’ mental illnesses, a societal prejudice can be deeply engrained, making it a greater challenge than ever not to blame oneself. How often have we heard the sayings: “If I could beat it, then I think anyone can and they’re not trying hard enough if they still suffer,” or something to that effect? How often do pronouncements like: “They don’t seem to be able to get themselves together,” or similar, indite people who are sick, when we would rarely use those same pronouncements on those with physical ailments?

In ‘The Will To Power’, Friedrich Nietzsche tells us: “(the mentally ill) represent the same ills. Health and sickness are not essentially different, as the ancient physicians and some practitioners even today suppose. I fact, there are only differences in degree between these two kinds of existence: the exaggeration, the disproportion, the nonharmony of the normal phenomena constitute the pathological state.”

Our penchant for judging, putting ourselves above others, ridiculing and labeling, seems boundless, and causes those who are already struggling to stay afloat, further grief. Why we feel the need to do these things, is too long a consideration for this foreword, but suffice to say, the more we put others down, the better we seem to feel about ourselves, if history is anything to go by. In many ways then, prejudice against the mentally ill, is not dissimilar to racism, homophobia or sexism. It shares that delight in rebuking someone else for who they are, and a relish in implying the accuser is of superior stock. When we look at it like that, it seems quite pathetic, and obvious, but when it’s subtly employed in modes of speech, everyday considerations and overall responses, it can be insidious and incredibly damaging. This could be a reaction from people who are unable to process the condition. They attack, as a form of unconscious self-defense. 

In Psychology and Freudian Theory, Paul Kline says: “When we speak of defenses, we actually mean whole ways of perceiving reality such that important attitudes, for example prejudices and sexual views, are affected.”

When I trained as a psychotherapist, I wanted to ensure children and adults who were depressed had someone to go talk to, rather than fall into despair. Sadly, I found in the profession, such a high rate of ‘burn out’ that I could understand why therapists seemed so disinterested, uninvested and fatigued. If you see 12 clients a day, each for an hour and then have to write long notes and take phone calls, you simply cannot give enough of yourself to be competent.  Psychotherapists have a duty through their profession to ‘nonmaleficence (do not harm) and beneficence (promote good) but psychotherapists are only human and possess human flaws, including their own prejudices and biases. When you combine those with an unrealistic workload, you may find psychotherapy doesn’t work as well in practice as it should, which is a pity, considering how necessary it remains. 

Even in countries where insurance companies do not dictate how we label people, in order to be reimbursed, there are too many sick people for too few therapists and the patients really suffer a lack of quality care. One could argue this is an improvement from the days of mass mental institutions or even, the ‘care in the community’ model, that fell flat on its face and led to mass homelessness. One could also argue, what other way realistically exists? But we seem to find the money for other things, just not mental health, so the real issue is priorities. Mental health, despite its terrible fallout, has never been a priority and it doesn’t matter how many mentally ill mass shooters there are, it never seems to significantly alter policy or be considered important enough to truly invest in. Easier to dose with pills that are supposed to be short-term and have long-term side-effects. 

Instead, stereotypes abound, and few people outwardly admit to being mentally ill for fear of condemnation or it is affecting their job or right to keep their children. Draconian as that might seem, without sufficient protections in place, mentally ill people have fewer rights than anyone else. This ‘going underground’ response means those in need, are even less likely to receive it and the sheer cost means those with serious mental disorders, are often unable to earn enough to pay for treatment. Whilst this echoes modern medicine and the health industry at large, mental illness has more in common with chronic illness, the kind that are invisible, or misunderstood, like Chronic Lyme and Fibromyalgia. The same brutal disregard for the suffering of these individuals is shared by those with chronic mental illnesses, they are an inconvenience at best, in societies that prize profit above all else. 

In Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the dark side of the psyche, Robert A. Johnson contends: “The balance of light and dark is ultimately possible – and bearable. All nature lives in polarity – light and dark, creation and destruction, up and down, male and female. It is not surprising that we find the same basic laws functioning in our psychological structure.”

When reading submissions, we realized, even among mental health professionals, there is so much disagreement, and implied judgement. When someone talks of ‘those who can fight their way out of it’ they imply, those who cannot, are weaker. I’m sure that is not what is meant but language is so crucial when considering impression. Just as with racism, how we speak, indicates our biases and level of empathy. If we want to be non-judging, we should start with reworking how we speak about mental illness and consider how many times those suffering have been humiliated and judged by our lack of care in how we refer to their problem.

This is no less true in poetry, and some of those poems not selected for the anthology, whilst good and raw, had components within them that could have been misconstrued. This means even those who suffer mental illness may inadvertently judge themselves and others, through learned behaviors and language. One of the most judging people I spoke to about this anthology was an acquaintance with Bipolar 1 disease. Ironic yes, but not entirely surprising when you consider how we often emulate what has been done to us, so if we were judged our entire lives, we do it in turn.

Others would argue, what’s the harm in holding an opinion? When dealing with vulnerable populations who are trying to be treated equally and not labeled or dismissed, we must consider the importance of how we express ourselves. Of course, we’re all entitled to hold an opinion, but hate and prejudice are different, and judging is a form of prejudice that can act like a slow cancer. We should ask ourselves instead, why we feel the need to judge others when they are not like us, rather than consider how they are like us, or what we can do to help them? Why is claiming to be stronger than someone else, such a ‘thing’ in our society? Why do we relish putting others down?

When we learn to stop doing that, we may reach Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s highest level in his Hierarchy Of Needs, that of self-actualization, where we no longer live based on basic needs (physiological, safety, self-esteem) and begin to consider what we can do for others. If we don’t wish to do this, at least we could do no harm. When considering harm, we should bear in mind, words do not seem as apparently harmful as actions, but putting someone who is already struggling down, could be the last straw. Would any of us want to push someone over the edge just because we can?

Indie Blu(e) has published anthologies in response to the #metoo movement, LGBTQ equality and other socially minded subjects and with 2021 emerging from a year of hell, we saw how those with chronic mental and physical illnesses suffered silently without recourse. The umbrella of ‘art’ is one means by which, we have as humans have always expressed ourselves best. Art has led to societal change, acceptance, tolerance, elucidation. Art can heal, art has power. 

It is our hope mental illness will one day be seen for what it is, an unavoidable malady that people try their entire lives to overcome. We have seen some of the best creative expression come from those suffering from mental illness and without mentally ill people, our world would be bland indeed. Mentally ill people are not typically mass shooters; they are creative, expressive, intelligent, and incredibly strong. A collection of work celebrating the talent of those who suffer from mental illness, seemed to be a necessary way to begin to shift old prejudices and shine light through the looking glass. 

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist, LPC/NBCC. She is a Senior Editor at Indie Blu(e) Publishing & Co-Editor of their anthology exploring madness, Through The Looking Glass.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL