Invisible People by Harsh Mander, is a collection of short stories about the lives of people, who found themselves in frightening and desperate circumstances, often for reasons beyond their control. The stories explore, how these people coped, and sometimes even blossomed, with the raw hand life had dealt them.
The stories are suitable for teenagers and adults. They focus on the lives of people who are disadvantaged either through poverty, or disability, or other social prejudices. Harsh does a marvellous job of of relating their struggles through engaging stories. The stories deal with people or circumstances, that I have spent most of my life insulating myself from.
I have tried not to think about them, because it has seemed too bleak, morbid or scary. So I was reluctant to delve in to the book, but the fact that it was written specifically for young adults got me curious. The stories are neither morbid nor too depressing. In fact, many of the stories are uplifting, about inspiring, courageous, and persistent people, who did not lose their rationality and humanity in spite of enduring unfair hostility and sometimes an alarming degree of cruelty.
The stories do not invoke pity. Instead, they look beyond the alien circumstances of the poor and disadvantaged, to expose their fears, vulnerabilities, virtues and follies, that are easy to relate to.
The stories show that most people are decent. People sometimes, succumb to violence and cruelty in emotional frenzy, out of fear, or being caught up in a mob mentality. But there are outliers on either side. While some people are manipulative and selfish, there are others who are altruistic.
+ + +
- A few stories expose the corruption in prisons and government organisations. They also show, that many individuals are reluctant participants, and an appeal to their humanity can break the walls of indifference they have constructed to work with the system. Many of these people are not particularly altruistic, but human enough to respond with sympathy for those who deserve it most and that can make a huge difference.
- The Carers And The Cared-For is a story about mentally ill people. It illustrates how frightening and unwilling to engage they can be. But, it goes on to show, that with proper medication, a little compassion and persistence on the part of a few people, they can lead productive and fulfilling lives.
- Standing On Her Own Feet deals with physical handicap. It beautifully illustrates that one’s limitations can be transcended with unwavering support from just one or two people. No doubt it is very hard, but parents can help physically handicapped children achieve many of their dreams.
- The Lost Children is so real, it is haunting.
- Nine Long Years makes you feel the helplessness of the mother.
- The Boy Who Wanted To Study, ends up in jail for committing a murder at a time of extreme emotional stress. My favourite paragraph from this story is
“He realised that he could have still been in jail. but if he had not gone to jail, in a strange way, he would never have the chance to study”
I found it interesting, that although the boy loved studying, he took up a career in adventure sports. Only real life can be so interesting. Very few fiction writers would have the imagination to end the story that way.
. . .
- In some of the stories like, Standing On Her Own Feet, A Journey To Jail and a few others, the protagonists are portrayed as almost flawless, like super heroes. Although the stories are great, for me, this took away from the realism. I am not doubting the truth of the stories. But the characters could have been given more depth by bringing out some of their flaws. Showing how those flaws affected the story would make it more real. This is probably difficult in short stories.
- This point is not particular to this book, but applies to any book that talks about real lives and real incidents. No matter how truthful the author is, and how objective they have tried to be, the truth is always coloured by their perspective. Some things are stressed upon and some things are left out. Something to keep in mind when reading such a book. This author seems to have made an effort to present a balanced view of some things. Not having first hand knowledge of the systems or situations my analysis on this is limited.
! ! !
- The stories gently led me out of my comfort zone.
Fact is stranger than fiction!
A copy of this book was given me by the publishers, Duckbill in return for an honest review. Thanks Duckbill.