“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers”.- Charles W
Ever counted seconds, minutes, hours, days, or months? I have been doing that for the last few months. My to-do lists became my best friend and companion. There were even details about cleaning the house, eating food, taking a bath, doing office work, and even how much time I spent lying in bed. During this phase, books, plants, and friends filled my life with love, patience, and kindness. Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse is one of them. I felt almost as if the universe conspired to reach out to me through this book.
This beautiful art book was kept on my colleague’s desk. I wanted to see the book but he was not available at his desk. I couldn’t resist asking him to show me this book the following day. I began reading it. I somehow felt a connection to the book. Within a few minutes, I had reached the last page after flipping one page after another. I felt so peaceful reading it. The story touched my heart. It felt like a breath of fresh air. In a moment, it changed the way I was feeling for a few months. Thank you so much to the pure soul who gave this book to my colleague. I borrowed the book even after I finished it so I could keep it close to me for few more hours.
Through illustrations, the book tells the story of friendship, strength, and love. It’s the story of a lonely boy who meets other animals in the countryside. Their walk together is filled with heartfelt conversation about life, friendships, and universal truths.
The book is an example of simplicity and how gently the author has described life and its challenges. You’ll find nuggets of life, friendship, failure, success, love, and kindness in this book. It shows you how far you’ve come. It encourages you to be kind to yourself. It inspires you to keep moving forward, to believe in yourself, and to love yourself. Life is difficult, but you are loved no matter what. One of the most beautiful aspects of this book is that it allows one to scribble on it and write about their feelings.
Here are some of the most beautiful excerpts from these conversations:
“It’s impossible to grow up as a woman in India without knowing what it is like to have to always seek permission to be yourself. Each of us, in our own way, often magnified by caste and class encounters resistance in finding self-acceptance, achievement, and affection.” (Excerpt from the Book)
The 90s were the time when Shah Rukh, Shaktiman, and cassettes ruled the world. My childhood was spent in the 90s and it was heavily influenced by Bollywood movies. Watching the Sunday matinee show on Doordarshan at 4 o’clock is one of my most fond memories. I was probably 5-6 years old along with my cousin. Both of us eagerly awaited 4 o’clock movies. We finished our homework before time so that we could watch movies in the evening. No matter what the weather was like outside, nothing could move us from our seats before the screen. The saddest part of our movie times were the power cuts which took place right before the movie’s climax.
Despite being scolded by our elders many times, we both ran for 1 kilometer to finish the movie’s climax. Doctor Saheb was an acquaintance of my grandmother, and he was quite wealthy for that area. He also owned a generator that would come on whenever there was a power failure. After the movie ended around 6:30 P.M., we both went home to enjoy a Sunday evening in a fantasy world away from reality. However, after we reached home, our Bua (Father’s sister) would beat and scold us. Occasionally, she would close the front door and not open it for at least two hours. We would wait for her to open it. The whole ordeal was repeated almost every Sunday. Wow, what memories!
I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you this story. The book I am about to discuss has the context of Bollywood films and how they have fascinated generations of Indians in their search for hope, freedom, and fantasy.
Shah Rukh Khan and Shrayana
“Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s lonely young women and the search for intimacy and independence” is written by Shrayana Bhattacharya. This book is the best example of the saying, “ don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like other people, initially, I ignored this book because of its title. However, after listening to the author Shrayana Bhattacharya on The Seen and the Unseen podcast, I immediately ordered this book and devoured it. It gave me perspective. I started observing all ladies around me and trying to piece their lives and how they are navigating and fighting with this world. The author is a young woman and economist at World Bank who also happens to be a zabra fan of the Bollywood super star-Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. She wrote this book motivated by her fandom for Shah Rukh and stories of ordinary women and her work as an economist to weave a fantastic story to understand what’s going on in the lives of ordinary Indian women and how they are dealing with the system of patriarchy.
I have found it to be one of the most insightful books I have read recently. I underlined almost every line. Each and every story of the woman in this book resonated with me. The frustration and relative deprivation of Vidya, the pains of The Accountant, the anxiety of Gold, the boredom of Manju, and most importantly, the author’s own story, all made sense to me. Whatever your educational and economic background, these stories show that women are discriminated against and made to feel inadequate and manipulated. It is all to serve the needs of the other half of humanity. The only difference was that the quality of this discrimination might have varied. Some of it was crude and visible, while others were refined and subtle. Then there is Mr. Shah Rukh Khan’s fan following. He helps these ordinary women bargain and survive the toxic patriarchy in their everyday lives through his movies and interviews. Shah Rukh’s fandom demonstrates their disappointment in society and its institutions which broke their hearts in different ways.
The lives of ordinary women
Reading this book made me more empathetic toward the lives of Indian women. It showed me how much struggle they are still going through irrespective of class, caste, or any other classification and how we women are also complicit in our own discrimination. Women are withdrawing from their jobs because not only do they have to face discrimination in their offices but also they are overburdened with the care and love which they need to provide for their families. Despite sacrificing their freedom to provide love and care to their family, women are feeling lonely and unloved. They are withdrawing from the workforce because of Sanskritisation effect where the increase in family’s income and status lead to more control of women’s body and their mobility to maintain the purity of their community and caste networks. Higher incomes allow family members to perform traditional upper-caste social rituals when women’s bodily honor is guarded strictly within the four walls of the home.
Women leaving the workforce
They leave the workforce because of an unfriendly and discouraging work environment where they are paid less as compared to their male counterparts plus they also have to deal with the male gaze. Marriage and child care act as a hurdle for women to take up jobs in India. In totality, family and society both make it so difficult for women to survive, take up a job, or stay single. We are taunted for whatever choices we make in our lives. In fact, they have a problem whenever we make any choices.
Feminism on Instagram
The author also highlights the discussions around feminism on Instagram. As per the author, real feminism is happening in the everyday lives of ordinary women and she does not have any radical story of resistance to share from the hinterlands of India. They are constantly navigating the patriarchy in their everyday lives which can never be seen on an elitist platform like Instagram. The story of Vidya from the book was so relatable that at one point I felt like vidya is speaking on my behalf. I have seen and worked with women who are very similar to Vidya’s that friend who finds faults in everything that Vidya does. They themselves are so rich and entitled but they judge women like us who have achieved something in their life coming from a normal background without any support and guidance.
In spite of not being able to relate to the heartbreak stories in the book because it has never happened to me, it was heartbreaking to know that women’s relationships, marriages, and love lives are bargained as commodities, and women are judged on the basis of their looks. Despite their different backgrounds, all of these women are fans of Mr. Khan. Seeing a superstar like this who respects and loves women provides them with a respite from oppressive patriarchal culture and discrimination. Many poor and working-class women display their fandom for Shah Rukh Khan or attend his movies in the theater to express themselves.
We need intimate revolutions
The beauty of this book lies in the fact that it also proposes ways to solve these problems for our country.
“Meaningful change in everyday life happens when we start to pratcise the views we profess. ….Only fools think we can rationalise, cancel, tweet, or march our way to a social revolution. Radical change needs oxygen from each one of us. We are required to practise what we retweet, to self-scrutinise, to incrementally partake in impossibly difficult conversations in our own everyday relationships. For people to move beyond people…………………real shifts in their private behaviour requires repeated and sustained intimate interpersonal dialogue in which discriminatory views are revealed and challenged.”
“Change will need good faith and generosity. Mindset is not enough, morality is embodied in how we demonstrate our liberal views in our daily encounters with people, places and our self. Without these intimate revolutions, the best laws and the strongest movements will fail. The realm of everyday intimacy is the true home of social change. It is where all our longing, self-loathing and biases are unveiled. This is the world of deeply private rebellions, within people & within relationships. No platform, no performance. It’s where the real battle is. And it’s got to be long and ugly.”
An answer to the most debated question on humanity can be found in this book. Exactly, what do women want? The answer will surprise you. Women want love, freedom, and respect in no particular order.
These days I wake up and feel like starting my day on a fresh note Then I hear something terrible Friend’s father is in the hospital Classmates’ wife couldn’t make it Colleague’s 13- year old niece is battling for her life in the hospital A friend is traumatised because he couldn’t perform his father’s last rite I am constantly checking on people Sometimes I get scared to hear phone ringing at the odd time I am doom scrolling Sometimes I don’t want to Then I want to keep myself updated so that I will be ready to face any new challenge What will happen There is anxiety and grief When this will end When everything will be normal I am telling myself every day When this will be over, I will live each moment I will never take things for granted I will be grateful Just waiting for this to end Just waiting for the day when I wake up And breathe easy Hoping for this to end soon…
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”- Nietzsche
The human mind is an enigma. It’s nearly impossible to understand the complexity of the human mind. I feel we create assumptions, theories and try to predict the nature of human beings but we can never be one hundred percent certain what’s going on in someone’s mind. I might be wrong. But till now my experiences of extremity in my life, readings of Behavioral sciences/self-help books, and also studying a little bit of psychology make me think like this. One of my aunts who did post-graduation in psychology also narrated various stories to me in my childhood that made me believe mystifying nature of the human mind.
The recent passing away of Sushant Singh Rajput will always be a riddle because no one knows what was going on in his bright mind. Why would he do something like this? When he was like an inspiration to the younger generation and also quite intelligent, driven, hardworking, passionate about his work. Then how he didn’t find one reason to make his life meaningful at that moment when he felt broken from inside. Why did he feel emptiness and meaninglessness in his life? By the way, I am not here to comment on his life. Because even I also used to look up to him as an inspiration. The author of this book and Sushant Singh Rajput had one common thing. They both quoted Nietzsche. The author has used the above-mentioned quote( “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”) many times in the book. The main message of this book is hidden in this quote. If we have found out our ‘why’ to live, we can survive any circumstances in our life.
The author narrates his personal experience living as a prisoner in a concentration camp during the Holocaust period and makes the reader believe that whatever conditions and circumstances you face in your life, it’s up to you how you respond to it. It’s up to you not to give up and have hope. Because “You cannot control what happens to you in life. but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you,” says the author. As the author kept himself alive and also kept himself hopeful, thinking about his wife and meeting her again and also dreamt of giving lectures about the psychological sessions to be learned from the Auschwitz experience.
As per the author’s finding, life is a quest for meaning and not a quest for pleasure or power as believed by Freud and Alfred Adler respectively. There are three sources of meaning to life, according to the author:
In work-doing something significant
In love-care for another person or by experiencing something; love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire for
In courage-in difficult time; the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering
This book has tremendously changed my perspective on life, love, suffering, and courage. Your work/passion can be the reason for your happiness and you don’t have to run for it, you have to dedicate yourself towards it. The author has a unique perspective on love. He was deeply in love with his wife even when he was not aware of her whereabouts or sure about her being alive. Because loving someone can be the reason for your life and you don’t need that person physically present or even alive to love that person, tells the author.
His thoughts about ‘suffering’ take you on a spiritual journey. If life has a meaning, then there must be a meaning in suffering. And if suffering has a meaning or a reason, it will not remain as suffering. I don’t know what best example I can give for this but somehow, when I was preparing for Civil services, It was really tough emotionally and financially both but I still remember those days as one of the best days of my life because I had one reason: I was chasing my dream. And no power on earth can take that ‘experience’ from me even if I didn’t get final selection in that examination even after appearing for interview twice.
“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
And the best thing about suffering as told by the author is that we can never fathom someone else’s suffering because the size of human suffering is absolutely relative. But the most amazing thing is that a tiny thing/incident can give you the greatest joys of your life.
I really can’t compare this current pandemic to the situation of concentration camps but an analogy can definitely be drawn. Even in a terrible situation like living in a concentration camp when you never know when you will be sent to gas chambers, the author kept himself sane. Similarly, surviving during this pandemic is quite hard for everyone because it has turned everyone’s life upside down. However, this is the time we need to have the courage to survive and maybe narrate the ordeals of this pandemic to our future generations or to fulfill our dreams.
So the crux of this seven-decade old book is that “never-give-up” and keep faith in any kind of situation because it’s you who is in charge and it’s you who can control how you respond to that particular situation. Because as the author shows through his experience of dealing with patients, his fellow prisoners, and also with people who had attempted ‘self-harm’ in past that there is a close linkage between loss of hope and the state of immunity of the body and how it can have a lethal effect on your body. In the last few pages of his book, he also talks about his logo-therapy which literally means ‘to find a meaning in one’s life’ and how this therapy re-humanized psychiatry and became the third stream of psychotherapy.
If you have not found ‘meaning’ still in this blog, let me make it more clear to you: It’s us who have to change our ‘attitude’ towards life and it really does not matter what we expect from our life but rather what life expects from us. It’s us who will have to give meaning to our lives by taking the responsibility in finding the right answers to our quest to live.
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