A Book of Light – When a Loved One Has a Different Mind is edited by Jerry Pinto and has contributions from 13 authors/people. It was published in 2016, and this blog post is not a review of the book as such.
I own a hardcopy of this book, and have carried it along with me to Dublin, Ireland. It has been precious to me, and I have often turned to it on many occasions to read, and reread the accounts there.
The reason I write about this today is that May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and some people tend to pick something up to read on the topic during this period. The World Mental Health Day of course falls much later in the year, it is on October 10, 2022. However, there’s no harm done if we use both May and October to read or perhaps watch something that is honestly written, or made, and offers us the opportunity to be kinder and more empathetic.
This book doesn’t offer you ‘answers’. Like Jerry Pinto says in the introduction, “The stories in this book do not seek to hold out answers. They tell you what happened and how it was dealt with. You may often disagree with what was done or how it was done…
There are no moral lessons in this book, or easy stories in which everything comes out right in the end. There will be questions you will want to ask: How did you deal with the molestation? Where do you think your father is now? Did you ever forgive your mother? Did she marry someone else? Your questions should reassure you of the veracity of these narratives…”
I had Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and a few other books like Prozac Nation, I’ve Never Been (Un) Happier but A Book of Light and Em and the Big Hoom (also by Jerry Pinto) are really the two books that spoke to me in a way that others have not. It could be because of the Indian context, being able to relate with the attitudes, reactions (of society and extended family) and sometimes the lack of understanding and adequate facilities for those who were diagnosed with a mental illness as well as those who were looking after them. Also, I felt as if I knew or understood just how these scenarios played out in a society that I know only too well, and whose fault lines I must claim as my own, as I do its strengths.
Most of the narratives are searingly honest and may at times make you feel very uncomfortable. These narratives do not hold back from talking about both – how the person who was living with a mental illness dealt with it or could not really deal with it, as well as the effect on those who were caregivers or family, and in some cases very young children who had a parent with a mental health condition.
Why should we read these stories? I read them, and reread them because of their sheer honesty, and I felt as if these narratives were holding a mirror to myself – probing me in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind and heart.
There are no neat endings, no ‘love is enough and it can make everything alright’ – but what I do feel has changed in me after reading this book is this: I have to be kinder. There are so many outcomes that we will never be able to change but kindness, and genuine kindness – be it towards friends, extended families, neighbours, colleagues and even strangers can definitely help in practical as well as many other ways.
This book also helped me to conduct a series of interviews for the mental health series we did for The Good Story Project. It gave me an understanding, and a base to frame questions and in how I wanted to approach this particular series.
You can read all the interviews we did for this series in the link I have provided below. (At the end of the story you will find the hyperlinks to all the interviews – you just have to click on the names to read their accounts and pieces.)
I was also able to interview Jerry Pinto for our series on mental health, and this interview with him remains special to this date.