Thursday, 25 January 2018

Book Review | Borderline By Author Shabri Prasad Singh | Mental Health Catharsis | Fiction Meets Facts | Opinion


'Paagal hai kya'- A common refrain heard in India, sometimes in jest, sometimes in frustration. It is a word we loosely throw around without ever thinking of the serious subject matter it denotes -Mental Health. And then we worsen the situation by dumping every mental health related discussion in this very category of 'paagal'. Popular culture has more or less just added fuel to fire with numerous depictions of mental health institutions in dilapidated condition, hitler-esque doctors conducting weird experiments on inmates and the dreaded electric shock. Result is that every temper tantrum, every fist fight and every depressing situation is ignored/increased in India by remembering the horror of /using the taunt of 'being a pagal' and 'going to a pagalkhana'.

Subject Matter

It is thus a refreshing change to come across the book 'Borderline' by Author Shabri Prasad Singh that aims to tackle the much ignored as well as much maligned subject of Mental Health, not by way of eye-opening statistics, graphs, charts or sermons; but by way of a deeply personal journey of her own life as someone who has struggled long with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her alter ego aka Amrita Srivastava takes us on a ride through her childhood to adulthood and beyond, from being a part of a happy loving wealthy close-knit family as a child to shattering of that mirage with her parents' divorce, her era of teenage rebellion, extreme attention seeking behavior and lingering relationship issues well into her 20s and 30s. Her emotional extremes are triggered as a jolt by instances such as untimely death of her father who she was closest to, to feeling used and abused by her closest romantic relationship and thereafter a long spiral into the world of drugs. Her willpower to wade bravely through the lowest lows and take concrete step to get therapy lends an optimistic air to this personal saga of tragedy and sorrow. 

Personal Thoughts

1. The easiest job in this world is to point a finger at someone else. Feeling high and mighty while making someone else feel small and sad, we humans find it so easy and tempting to do. Just take a look at social media. Thousands have made a career out of 'trolling' and making memes! But what is the toughest job in this world? To point the same finger at oneself. To be emotionally naked and stand in front of the world, warts and all. The author does this marvelously in Borderline, which gains her massive respect from my side. The story flows seamlessly from one chapter of her life to another, filled with intriguing moments, much like an intense drama TV show and she gives a balanced view of all that happens, without making it sound like someone else's fault. That is not easy to achieve. If today I were to write a book about some of my childhood situations that molded my personality, I would be sorely tempted to place blame on someone else for all my shortcomings - 'This happened because xyz was mean to me'- but Shabri aka Amrita does not do this. This makes it easy for reader to look at every situation with an objective lens too

2. Author's honesty in accepting her shortcomings also makes it easier for us to look inside our own lives on all that we might think of as 'normal'. Her portrayal of being emotionally abused by the person she was romantically involved with or her description of turning into a stalker or going to any extreme to find validation for her very existence - these points might seem extreme but on thinking about it for a moment or two, I found that quite a lot of my normal friends (and sometimes I too) have indulged in some kind of emotional power game with each other. It is important to be self-critical in this way so that we may be better equipped to use the resources available to us for dealing with our shortcomings.

3. Borderline comes at an opportune moment. Claire Danes plays the main character of Homeland (one of my very favorite TV Shows) who suffers from bipolar disorder and the show is a gripping political action drama while sensitively portraying her mental health issues. Meanwhile, Deepika Padukone has made waves by openly talking about her struggle with depression and become a strong public face for the need to eliminate shame while talking about mental health issues. Borderline is a very brave step forward in the same direction. By taking mental health out of the shadows of hush-hush conversations dipped in a cloak of shame, it is an important reminder to society at large to be more sensitive and upgrade with changing times.

4. We live in a fast-paced world, with so much development in the field of technology, communications, healthcare, media and what not. But this is also the time when most of us are at our loneliest. The biggest message I got from Borderline is to keep an eye out for others. Brain is a complex organ, even scientists haven't been able to completely decipher all its secrets. We do not know for sure why some people are more prone to Depression or Parkinson or Alzheimer or Bipolar Disorder etc. But They Are! We All Are! And we need each other's help. In modern times of rapidly disintegrating familial relationships and intense materialism invading every part of our life, we have to take some time out to be kind, sensitive and considerate to each other as well as ourselves. In a rat race to be the 'best' and own the 'biggest, largest, most expensive' things, we might be losing a part of the very core that makes humanity beautiful. 

5.  It is harrowing to see Amrita, the protagonist, deal with the demons in her head, the loneliness and heartbreak she feels at every turn without being able to share them with anyone. It is an urgent reminder to all of us to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Our society places too less importance on anything related to mental health. So many times we will see someone sad and just say 'oh you have the blues, that is it, shake it off'. But what if it cannot be shaken off? We need robust resources, trained therapists, well-functioning and well-equipped institutions, strong support groups to altogether deal with this elephant in the room. The author was lucky to have met Dr. Sanjay Chugh and therapist Purnima who have helped her heal, but even this came after a horrible stint at an apathetic institution where every mental health issue was treated in the same way we have been trained to deal with it -say 'paagal hai' and give electric shocks!

6. Finally, even while dealing with the mammoth issue of mental health and heavy dose of tragedy, the author slips in little life lessons at every turn peppered with apt quotes, a few of which are:-

--'Permanency is a myth, change is the only constant'
--'To love oneself is the most important thing to do, otherwise all other love is hollow if you can't love you'
--'Remember there cannot be a rose without a thorn'

I also have a feeling that the author has immense intuitive skills or maybe her anxiety gives her this power to look beyond the obvious and reach the core of every situation. Throughout her life journey, she gets jittery before any bad event, be it her father's death or meltdown  after breakup with Hafeez. I have read many books where this kind of 6th sense is attributed to unexplained parts of our brain, be it premonition, precognition, deja vu or ESP. Maybe all those whom we categorize as 'mentally unusual or disturbed' also carry some heightened awareness that we haven't been able to understand or categorize. Maybe some day all the mysteries of brain will be unwrapped and we will look back at the days of calling everyone 'paagal' as a long-lost footnote in history!

As of now, I recommend Borderline as a Must-Read for everyone :)

Image Source - Bloomsbury 


  1. That's a very beautifully penned article there talking about how easy it is to point fingers, calling people lunatic along with giving a foray on the book plot and characters. The book looks interesting including the beautifully designed cover.
    Thanks for sharing this review and recommendation with its equatable reality.


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