Friday, 18 November 2016

Out of the Woods

(c) Shubhrata Prakash

Conventional wisdom talks about not being able to see the wood for the trees. 

When you have Depression, it is just the other way round - you are not able to see the trees for the wood. The wood looks too dense. Too suffocating. It comes closing in on you. Everything appears dark, and there seems to be no way out. You can't see anything except the trees and more trees and then some more - all around. And you are totally lost. In the woods.

It is time, now, to turn conventional wisdom on its head.

The trick to beating depression lies in seeing the trees for exactly what they are - Trees. Compartmentalize. Try to see each individual tree. It is just that - one tree. Place a mark there. Then move on to the next one - another tree. Place another mark there. Just go on like this. Don't look back. Don't let depression trick you into second guessing yourself. Keep away from the what-ifs. Just keep marking tree after tree, and go on till you reach a clearing. Pause. Take a few deep breaths. Then go on till you come out of the woods.

This book may just help you see the trees for the trees. And even help you find a way out of the woods.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

My Second Book : 'The D Word'

The D Word

(c) Shubhrata Prakash

To hell and back is a long way – to go and live to tell the tale.

That is exactly what Depression feels like. Like falling down a black hell hole. Like the rabbit hole in ‘Alice in Wonderland’: nothing is what it seems to be, nothing is what it was.

By Depression, I mean Major Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, as it is technically called. And to set the record straight, Depression is NOT sadness. Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, is a mood disorder, a mental illness. It is accompanied by changes in brain structure and chemistry. Low moods or sadness is just one of its many manifestations. MDD has physical symptoms as well as psychological symptoms. There is no catastrophic life event that brings on MDD. And……

……it can happen to ANYBODY!

When I was felled by Depression, I had no clue what it was all about. When I was floundering through the mental and physical swamps and sinkholes that Depression brought to my life, I tried desperately to understand what this illness is, how I could help myself fight it and how I could get to the other side. I looked around me for stories of people who had made it through and how they had done it. I did come across many success stories, but not one of them Indian.

Considering the fact that one out of every ten persons in the world suffers from a depressive episode some time in their lives, this should have been surprising. But, then, it was not. Actually, it would have been a wonder if I had found one, for we don’t talk about the ‘D’- word, even if we suffer from it. There is much of social stigma attached to the ‘D’ – word. And that’s a double whammy – first, surviving the illness, and then, surviving the social stigma.

That is when I decided that the ‘D’ needs to be brought out into the open – we need to talk about it. We need to fight the social stigma, and that can happen only when there is more awareness about it. People like me, who struggle with Depression for years and years, should have more access to information and knowledge about their condition. They need to know that it’s ok to be afflicted with a mental illness, which is not in their hands, much like any physical illness. The why’s and how’s of getting MDD do not matter. What matters is how to manage the condition and how to get better.

I have been to hell, and back – such a long journey. And I have lived to tell the tale.

Please help me get the word on ‘The D Word’ out there. People who suffer from Depression and their families, as well as society in general, would benefit tremendously, if we opened up about – ‘The D Word’.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Siam Diary: Books and Coffee

Bangkok, in May, is quite hot. And the high-rises, which dot the city in some places, and dominate the skyline in some others, do not do much to help dissipate the heat.

In the midst of all the heat and the hustle-bustle of a city always on the move, I was introduced to the Nielsen Hays Library by a dear friend. I am an avid reader, and when, on a sabbatical, I have often been hitting my head against the wall trying to think of something to do, this Library has begun to occupy a very special place in my partially vacant life.

An outside view of Library building and the adjacent cafe
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

The Nielsen Hays Library was started in 1869 by a small group of American and British women. What began on a very small scale turned into an institution by the turn of the century. The building, which currently houses the Library, was built by Dr. Thomas Heywood Hays in 1921, in loving memory of his late wife, Jennie Nielsen Hays. Jennie Nielsen Hays was a powerful force behind the Library in the early 20th century, and served as President of the Library thrice, until her untimely death in 1920.

The Library building up close
(c) Shubhrata Prakash
The Library is situated on Surawong Road in Silom. The beautiful white building is surrounded by an abundance of greenery. The building was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno. In 1986, the building was awarded the status of "Historic Landmark" by the Association of Siamese Architects. While from the outside it looks serene, with its white walls set against a natural green backdrop, on the inside, it is indeed majestic. The high vaulted domed ceiling and arched columns add to the beauty, while book cases and other architectural details, in polished Burma teak, add the right dose of class and sophistication.

The Library houses a huge collection of books, many of them donated by readers and patrons. There are old books and new books. Fiction and non-fiction. Hardbacks and paperbacks. The books are mostly in English, though there is a small section for Thai books too. There is also a small bookcase shelving books which focus on South-East Asia. There is a children's section as well where small children can sit and thumb through their kind of books.

A green chicken salad and a latte
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

In addition to the Library, and abutting the main building, is a small white glasshouse which is the Library cafe. It offers simple fare like salads, sandwiches, wraps, and of course, many varieties of coffee and iced drinks. Sitting inside the cafe, one has the feeling of sitting in a garden, albeit a really cool one, especially considering the temperature outside! There is ample space for parking.

Me @ the Library
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

Besides housing books for lending, the Library is also associated with several other literary and related activities.  The Library runs a book club which meets monthly to discuss and deliberate on the works of a chosen author. Craft activities for children, sale of paintings and handicrafts, book sales and a host of musical and cultural events are also associated with the Library.

Every city needs an oasis like this....and I am so glad that I have found this one in Bangkok. Hopefully, with so much of reading material on my hands (and in the bag which I carry to the Library!), time would be whizzing past soon. Who knows, the books may even add to my knowledge of the world and its ways....and my crass whodunit-taste in books may reach slightly elevated, if not all out exalted, levels!!!

Now a cache of books reposes on my desk
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Circle - by Dave Eggers: A book review

Recently, I chanced upon this book titled "The Circle" by Dave Eggers. Though it is not a recently published book, having first seen the book shelves in 2013, it is a good read as it provides a satirical commentary on these times of social media and 24/7 connectivity. 

The Circle is a software giant - with its headquarters called "The Campus", somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. It is something of a combination of Google, YouTube, CNN, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. It operates on providing a single window for all the daily internet needs. One account, one password. Once you have set up the account, you post messages, comments, "smiles and frowns", pictures and videos; you send and receive email; you shop online; you make all payments - whether to e-commerce sites or not; you have live webcast of all and sundry things from all over the world. The company has offices all over the world. It was founded by the "Three Wise Men", six years before the book begins, who still run it and decide its fortunes. The company aggressively tries to get more and more information about people's lives, even the very private aspects, and goes by the motto "Privacy is Theft"! 

The book traces the journey of the protagonist, Mae Holland, who joins the company in Customer Experience (CE) at the recommendation of a college friend, and thus, of the company itself as it grows aggressively and tries to make people telecast their lives 24/7 on the net by going "Transparent". In terms of being a thriller, as it is positioned, it is not much of one. It lacks the spine-chilling finesse and plotting of Michael Crichton, despite the scope being there. The climax is actually a three-page anti-climax, which is quite expected and really inane. There is no build up to the climax. Nor is there any build-up of nail-biting page-turning anywhere in the book. However, the book shocks in its own ways. One is shocked at how social media and recognition empowers, and how the empowerment intoxicates, to the extent that people are willing to enslave themselves to round-the-clock scrutiny of their lives, including their most private moments. It also a poses a very relevant question - is it going to become reality someday?

On the whole, it is, as I said before, a satirical commentary of these times of social media. The Campus is littered with sculptures and engravings of psycho-babble-cum-new-age-spiel like "Breathe", "Dream", "Sharing is caring", "The sky is not the limit - there is no limit". The book also takes a look at how "Democracy" and "Protection of Human Rights" are being used with impunity and almost criminally to deprive people of their right to privacy and their opinion. The ultra-leftist dream being enabled and almost foisted on the world by the Capitalists who look at nothing but the bottomline. Most characters in the book are caricatures, whether it is the young 20-something founder of the company who may have Asperger's, the smooth-talking, suave but ruthless CEO, and the all-for-transparency-democracy-and-human-rights third wise man. You see a lot of spouting of the words, "Everyone is valuable", "Every situation has a teaching in it", "You are precious and valued", "We believe every employee is important and deserves the best"- done to death cliches in most corporate set-ups and on the social media. 

Several times during the book, one can identify so many of our own social media experiences. We can identify people and characters from our own social networks. And all in the name of goodness, humanity, democracy, and god-knows what other things which promise democratic and transparent Utopia, but end up painting the picture of the worst-kind of exhibitionist and mob-rule Dystopia, where one cannot even breathe without people looking, liking and commenting!