After reading an excerpt from Susmita Bagchi’s Beneath a Rougher Sea, on the website of White Swan Foundation, I was hooked and wanted to read the book. The book was especially interesting because it is narrated by a psychiatrist. It offers the reader a window into the mind of a psychiatrist that is rarely seen in Indian fiction. We see patients suffering from various mental illnesses as he tries to diagnose their condition. We see how it affects their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Aditya is a psychiatrist running his own practice. His wife Prachi works as a paediatrician at a private hospital in Bangalore. It is business as usual for Aditya until one fine day Deepa, his old flame, walks back into his life. Deepa was saddled with a husband who had schizophrenia. This was hidden from her before marriage and she came to know about it much later when her husband had to be hospitalized. Now it appears her son might be schizophrenic too, but she is in denial. Aditya tries to helps her see the truth so that she can get her son the necessary treatment.
In between we see other disorders Aditya attempts to treat. Shabnam’s husband suffers from hypersexuality. Left untreated he will be a lech with a roving eye all his life. It makes him dangerously unpredictable and unfit to live in the society as he is. There is the case of a woman who suffered from possession syndrome disorder. A ‘goddess’ enters her body and she acts as an oracle answering the questions of the masses. Now cured of the disorder, the ‘goddess’ has stopped visiting her. A relative’s father suffers from nihilistic delusion, where a person is alive but thinks he is already dead. It should be a cause for concern for the family, but in our society even educated people believe in black magic and the concept of ‘drishti’. Their loved ones live with a serious but treatable mental illness which could prove fatal in the long run.
Although the book deals with serious topics, in the hands of the author, it is never heavy. I finished the book in a few hours because I wanted to know how the lives of these patients turned out.
Susmita Bagchi is a Sahitya Akademi award winning Odia author and Beneath a Rougher Sea is her first novel in English.
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- Discussions or conversations about mental health issues are still rare.The author takes up a subject which affects many but is usually swept under the carpet. Beneath a Rougher Sea endeavours to show people that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and with proper medical care the patient can live a ‘normal’ life.
- Volunteerism is shown having a positive impact and brings about change in people’s mindsets.
- The cover design by Riyaz Merchant is beautiful and apt for the book.
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- The ending was abrupt. I did not buy the way the issue plaguing the protagonist was resolved and the book’s swift conclusion.
- The book doesn’t feel like a first novel because of the author’s experience but some lines would have made better sense had they been left in Odia.
- I would have liked the book to go in-depth into one particular disorder to know more about it rather than skimming on the surface.
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- Aditya and Prachi have no children and we are casually told the reason behind it. I wish more people accepted facts as they stand and didn’t rush forward to point fingers or be so quick to blame.
- Due to stigma attached to mental illness Deepa wasn’t told about her husband’s condition. She should have been told before trying for a child. The choice should remain with the mother if she wants to bring a child into the world, who has a chance of suffering from the same illness.
- Why does a stigma surround mental illness? Because for people the word ‘mental’ is synonymous with ‘mad’, which is a misconception. The brain is a part of the body. So how is it different from any other ailment afflicting different parts of the body? Is it easy to dismiss because it affects the mind and the illness is invisible? People fail to understand that a mental illness is just like a physical ailment and needs to be managed as soon as it manifests. I hope books like Beneath a Rougher Sea will help in creating the much needed awareness.
A thought-provoking read.
A copy of this book was given to me by the publishers, Leadstart Publishing, in return for an honest review.