These past few weeks, starting from late March have been interesting in parallel ways. I got to read two books, by two artists, one from India and one Australia, in the domain of mental illness. The common thing between the two books is more than this- for both the books were given by their respective editors/publishers to me. One gave me a hard copy in person and the second a pdf version over the email. I am expected to write a review of the second, which I intend to in a few weeks.
I have known the author of the first book, an Indian woman called Reshma Valliappan, and the second book author, himself approached me and asked me if I would be willing to do a review of his book. The author is an artist called Alfredo Zotti, based out of Australia, though of Italian origin. The first author lives with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and is known to me for several years now, and the second lives with Bipolar II, and someone I am getting to know via his writing.
When I was reading Reshma’s book my own writing about the role of childhood suffering stood completely validated, for here was the author writing in detail about her family and the role of her parents in a very vivid and descriptive manner. It was extremely painful to read her book and only if someone really wants to read about her personal story, or to know her past, one may want to read the book. I am not offering a review of it here, for I found it difficult to even reach the end of the book, for reasons of ethics and how we need to treat people who are living still.
Reading her book, which is autobiographical, brought to mind all the dialogues I have had in the past with one of my senior (academic) friends, Prof. Ajit Dalal. One of the chief reasons why writing about one’s own self is very difficult is that there are others around that one ends up writing about and they are also living in the same world as we are- so what happens to them when we tell our stories with them appearing as characters in them? Can we reveal a past of abuse within family and not point out a finger at the abuser or tell the world about how a younger/older sibling treated us, abandoned us or hit us, without damaging our current relationship with them? That is where autoethnography, autobiography and memoirs become difficult zones to explore.
Anyways, reading Zotti’s book is an entirely different experience, dotted as it is by his art, interwoven with his musical explorations, which of course one cannot hear but imagine nevertheless, and the work he does with supporting others around the world. I find his book a very beautiful example of how someone can deal with their personal suffering, emerge courageous from it, more compassionate and deeply wise. It is a great contrast to the other book- which is so full of anger and pain that one feels sorry for everyone who is written about in the book, including the author herself. When I write a full review of his book I will share a link to that, but for now I am just appreciating the kindness with which Zotti has written about himself, how he has chosen to portray his father with whom he had a ‘hate/hate relationship’ and how he chooses to forgive him towards the end of the older man’s life. I really think it is a book that must be read by those who want to deal with their own or their loved one’s illnesses in any real way.
Zotti comes out as a real artist in the enterprise, and it is a pleasure to read his book- even though the differences that I have are many and I will articulate them in due course: some publicly, some to him alone and some to myself only.