Posts Tagged ‘Sepia Leaves’


Kabir Khan on Sepia Leaves

   Posted by: aman    in Sepia Leaves

Friends, when I had launched Sepia Leaves in the end of 2007, the manager of the store had said: your book will live for more than a decade. I had been very surprised but it seems to be true. Over the years I have been receiving messages from readers when they read Sepia Leaves. Given the nature of the book and the reading(s) I am touched by them but I keep them private. However, a few days back Kabir Khan chose to blog about the book and I am sharing his response here.

‘… I have never read something which is so close to reality, to our day to day lives.’

Please read.

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This is what happens when you have been roaming the Dargahs and tombs of Sirhind and get late keeping your appointment with dear friend and contemporary intellectual from Punjab Daljit Ami. By way of penalty, he calls you to the studio and forces a brief interview on you. My first in Punjabi. Interview by Jaideep.

Please see here …

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Friends, it is September 2013. Roll of Honour completes one year with us. In this year we collected over fifty reviews and interviews on Roll of Honour and some more on Sepia Leaves. Thank you so much for your love and support. I feel humbled and honoured. Please read all the pieces in the right panel under ‘Roll of Honour’.

This week Dr Charanjeet Kaur from the esteemed literary journal Muse India interviewed me on both my books and the writing life. Thank you Dr Kaur. Please read here …

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The Woodpie Interview

   Posted by: aman    in Roll of Honour

Anuradha and Manoj are committed to creating a user friendly and interactive website around reading. I felt honoured they chose to open their site interviews with me. Best wishes, we need more interlinked readers. Read on.

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The Hindu Article

   Posted by: aman    in Roll of Honour, Sepia Leaves

It is such satisfaction that in 2012 The Hindu gave Roll of Honour a review, me an interview, and yet another article mentioning Sepia Leaves as well. Thank you! Please read here.

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Who is the other?

   Posted by: aman    in Roll of Honour, Sepia Leaves

Response to the topic for a blog magazine: Encountering the Other in Language/Place

The ‘other’ in place and language pre-supposes that place and language are located. To me they are not. I am often asked which language is my mother tongue. The answer is: I do not know. I was born in Rourkela, Orissa to Punjabi Sikh parents. My parents fought in Punjabi. My friends in the street played in Hindi. Our maids talked in Oriya. My school was in English. Each of those languages became part of my linguistic expression and experience. I laugh in English, feel sad in Hindi, count in Punjabi, and Oriya soothes my ears. As for the next question: where are you from? I again do not have an answer: as I said, I was born in a town whose official history started with a post-Independence steel plant and I have left a lot of places since then – Rourkela, Dehradun, Rajpura, Kapurthala, Bhilai, Hyderabad, Bangalore. Two of these cities have belonged to different states in my lifetime. Being dislocated and not being owned by a language, I have a self that is less defined by external markers and my obvious affection towards them. If all that I am not is the ‘other’ then, to make sense of living is, I need to find my ‘self’ and to confront my prejudices. To do so, I struggle with language and feel at home in the open pages of my drafts.

About a decade ago, I asked myself if my exploration of self would not best start by exploring my own family. I sought to write about my mother’s mental illness, about the care I received from our maid. Though my mother was my subject, I could not and did not want to be completely objective and clinical about her. In fact, the success of Sepia Leaves comes from it not being a cold, objective study of madness but by its being a warm, involved, subjective look at the situation in a family living under the shadow of Schizophrenia. It also posits the fact that a surrogate mother, the maid, actually connects the little boy to the world.

I said above that Rourkela’s objective history began with the construction of the Steeel Plant. That is how we construct our history as a nation – objectively. The reality is that the land for the Steel Plant was acquired from the tribals living in the region for generations, for hundreds of years. These tribals were uprooted, sent to the margins of the new town, made untouchable by the Nehruvian ‘temples of modern India’. Then when there is a crises in a family in this experimental nuclear society whose constituents have migrated from across the new nation, where one does not share culture or language with one’s neighbours, it is the tribal maid who comes to assist the young boy grow up. How can then there be an other in it? The othering is in our minds, in the language we employ, in the tools we use to sharpen our understanding and by which we miss out on the essential truths of the situation.

It becomes trickier in my next book Roll of Honour (due to be published September 2012). That is a story of split loyalties of an adolescent Sikh boy, studying in a military school during the wave of Khalistan, in the year 1984. The story deals with militancy at the national/state level and power hierarchies within school systems, and also with bullying and sexuality. The difficulty in writing Roll of Honour is dual:

a) The fact that the life at school is a sub-culture and almost complete in itself with hardly any reference to markers outside the school walls. It has its own system of punishments and rewards and valourizes its own notions of honour and disgrace.

b) That the language of the school is English but the language among students in a strange mix of Punjabi and their own code of speaking in which words are used more as tokens and less for what they inherently mean: cusswords which perpetuate and respond to a host of power equations.

The othering happens when I try to tell the story of an essentially rustic Punjabi experience in the English language. English is a language that the students learnt from textbooks and not from their environments. Each day of the last several years when I failed to articulate the angst of the protagonist I felt my own self was othering me, othering my understanding of what had happened.

One can write about the school as travelers wrote about Asia and Africa a few centuries ago by painting it in their own point of view, by orientalizing it. But here the storyteller is a native, himself not unfamiliar with what seems bizarre to an outsider. To write about a sub-group the writer needs to access what is being discussed within the sub-group in the language of the sub-group. If one chooses to access it like an erstwhile foreigner would to India or a grouping in India, the knowledge would remain that much bland. But if one wants to really access it, one learns to make it part of oneself, become a subject, and not objectify it. Quite like shop assistants in shoe shops all over Lajpat Nagar Central Market have their own unique register in which they fix prices for the shoes we buy. I remember the grain merchants from my childhood speak amongst themselves in a different language than what they used with the farmers who brought the grain. These language and registers are inherent in sub-groups which can extent to neighbourhoods, towns, cities, states, nations and also to religions, sects, businesses, occupations.

The only way I found out of it was to paint the picture as simply as I could. Use English not for its flamboyance or floweriness but for its ability to say less but to convey the essential. Whether it works or not depends upon the reception the book receives and how I feel just when the edits are over and it is going into print. That is when I will know if I could finally diminish or even erase my own sense of otherness from my own sense of self. I will know if I could move beyond dualities towards oneness and yet tell the story of the drama in the human heart.


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Mental Illness and Guilt

   Posted by: aman    in Sepia Leaves

Over the last two months those of you who do come to this site must have been sorely disappointed in me. I have been so non-punctual about updating these pages. I was caught up with something else, my second book, which I will talk about later.

For now this is a notification on a talk I am giving at Roshni, a part of ACMI (Action for Mental Illness) initiative this Saturday, April 18, 11 AM at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, New Delhi. Link to ACMI.

I am no expert on human behaviour or on mental illness. All that has happened to me has been 35 years of living in close proximity to mental illness. Okay not so close, I was mostly away from my fragmented home where my mother was ill. But my mother was also in my heart. That way she was never too far. I grew up watching for her, her moods, her tempers, and my behaviour.

I also saw my father all these years, crumbling under the onslaught of mother’s temper. He felt guilty. I felt guilty for being their son and keeping them married. Under the combined load of all our guilt my father lost his mind towards his end (2003). I had been writing Sepia Leaves for about two years before that but the night my father passed away the format of the book revealed itself to me. I wrote Sepia Leaves to tell Papa that he was not responsible.

Roshni is an association of care givers of mentally ill patients. I want to stand in front of these care givers and listen to them telling me their stories. And I want to present to them the fact that they are not responsible for what has happened in their lives. In fact, they have already done much more than is their due. Come!

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Finding my Faith

   Posted by: aman    in Sepia Leaves

When I was a child and had to escort my mother to the doctor’s chamber, I believed that the psychiatrist was a magician and my mother would be altered when she came out of the session. I did not then know that the doctor was human, and ever since then I have struggled with psychiatry. My struggle also got me my friends. Dr Ajit Bhide is the kind psychiatrist in my article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry special January 2009 issue. Dr Bhide not only helped me deal with my traumas and depression but also nudged me to write Sepia Leaves. Click here to see the article.

Yesterday, I cried when I got the email from the magazine and read the Sepia Leaves review in it. I cried because I felt that my parents’ struggle had finally been acknowledged by those with whom I had struggled. The circle of psychiatrists in India, the official magazine of psychiatry in the country, had finally found it worth while to listen/read my story and empathise with it. Click here to see the Sepia Leaves review by Dr Alok Sarin in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry – the official newsletter/mouthpiece of the Indian Psychiatric Association .

My work with psychiatry is not yet over. Some time in the future I plan to work in the area as a counsellor/activist.

Thank you Dr Bhide for not letting me slip away. Thank you Dr Sarin for reviewing the book. Thank you Dr Rao, the editor of the magazine, for putting it all together.

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Chiroti says …

   Posted by: aman    in Sepia Leaves

I read Sepia Leaves. It was like as if I watched a movie, the narration was very very realistic and very touching. At places, I felt the story was getting brutally realistic, and one needs a lot of courage to speak up personal experiences that have been so hard on you. This book talked about courage, patience, and acceptance of harsh realities of life, which probably most of us deny or are so scared to acknowledge. Hats off, wonderfully written, and God bless.

People mention Sepia Leaves to me over mail, sms (text), phone, and in person. I must start putting them here. I start with this one. Click to see Chiroti’s own blog site.

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