Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Tempestuous Tale of Youthful Angst

The Story of a Suicide, by Sriram Iyer, is a tempestuous tale of abuse, love, betrayal, insanity, and depression in the intense young lives of its four main college-going protagonists, Hari, Sam, Charu, and Mani. Although replete with plenty of flawed logic and grammar in its initial chapters, the tale nevertheless grows on you, mainly due to the author's skill in conjuring up multiple characters, as well as his support towards the underdog, and his strong sense of justice.

The story begins with betrayed homosexual protagonist, Hari, writing an anguished suicide note to the world. The subsequent chapter introduces us to Hari's family: His dad, benign, kindly, and full of premonitions about his son's imminent death, Hari's headstrong sister, Anju, the decision maker of the house, and Hari's mom. The father's morbid fears and fantasies introduce a sense of foreboding in the story from its very start.

Next, the author introduces us to Sam, the homophobe, soon to become Hari's roommate in their new college, and his hyper-moody girlfriend, Priya, who shifts from irritable to furious to petulant to loving and to regretful all in one brief chapter. Small wonder that the relationship soon ends.

At this point, I'm digressing to say that I strongly advise the author to work on his logic and grammar. An example of wrong grammar in this book: "Sam rubbed his forefinger against the two days old stubble". An example of poor logical flow: "Moving leftwards (towards what?) he smelled his underarm and instantaneously the eye brows moved in unison into an inverted trapezium (difficult to picture how this is possible!)"

Returning to the story, we get to know that poor Hari was raped by his uncle as a little boy. His uncle also passed the innocent child on to his friends who raped and beat him. In his narration of Hari's trauma, the author comes across as a person who feels strongly for homosexuals and abuse victims. The author does not hesitate to say how Hari's anus burns and bleeds heavily due to the abuse. The author's stark narration of the sadism of Hari's shameless adult tormentors vividly brings home the cruel and unbearable nature of child rape.

Bearing the double burdens of being an abuse victim and a homosexual, Hari has ample cause for his day-to-day helplessness and despair so touchingly portrayed by the author, that brings me to say that it is imperative we train all our kids to recognize a bad touch, and to open their mouths and tell people if something like this happens. Unbearable as such things are, I have personally seen kids who are loved to pieces and helped by their family recover to lead happy lives. Personally, the molestation I faced in buses and roads affected me very badly, but I could bear the memories better with Vipassana meditation, and hence would recommend that.

Going back to the narrative, Sam reaches KIT, his new college, and encounters the attractive Charu, frantically trying to help Mani, an underprivileged boy who has attempted suicide. Charu succeeds, and Mani is saved. After they return to KIT, Sam meets Hari, who is now his roommate. 

Sam and Charu now start flirting, like any two youngsters intensely attracted would. However, what would be an enticing portrayal of budding young romance is jarred because the character of Charu is somewhat ineptly introduced by the author. Initially portrayed as extremely strong and helpful and capable, Charu's personality is suddenly reversed into traumatized and antsy, asking Sam to protect her literally out of the blue! Also, Charu is supposed to be having hallucinations, but there is no sign of schizophrenia in her.

Luckily, the writer's jarring logical flaws are replaced by pleasingly adept narration in the subsequent chapters as the writer moves to Mani's abuse at the hands of his sadistic father. The father trusses up Mani and throws him into a well, refusing to take him out till he gets two thousand rupees from his wife. Narrating the incomprehensible violence and inhumanity of abuse is definitely something the writer has done realistically.

Next, however, the author goofs up again. When Sam is telling Charu that he wants to build a product called JARVIS for Android phones, Charu, who studies in an engineering college, actually asks, “Slow down dear. I am a little dull in all this. What are Android phones?" Ridiculous!

The story then focuses more and more on Hari. While Hari's father has yet another premonition of his son's death, Hari keeps reliving the trauma of his abuse, and has to simultaneously deal with encountering multiple people who poke fun at gays and speak of them with scorn. The writer expertly portrays how learning about the tribulations of Hari rouses protectiveness and sympathy in Mani, who rises above his problems to fall in love with Hari.

Meanwhile, Charu and Sam's flirtation goes nowhere. Unfortunately, Sam does not realize this and keeps pestering Charu, who spends the night at the house of Alex, the handsome professor. Frantic at not being able to trace Charu, Sam keeps persistently calling Charu. Irritated, Charu posts an angry rant on Facebook using highly sexual language.

The authors' portrayal of such indiscreet behavior brings home how much the boundaries between online and real worlds are blurring for today's youngsters, leading them to ignore the dangers of such online rants. I personally would advise any person against doing this. Online ranting using sexually-charged content will surely invite stalkers and trolls. And so, quite realistically, Charu encounters an online stalker, too. One who sends her dick pics and smutty messages in response to her Facebook rant. Unknown to her, this smutty troll is none other than Sam, exhorted by his friend Aditya to take revenge on Charu. Sam's continued harassment of Charu is imaginatively portrayed by the author. Charu finally meets cybercrime expert Anwar through the professor, Alex. Anwar suspects Sam to be the troll right from the start, but is unable to catch him in the act.

Meanwhile, Mani has sex with Hari without his consent. Already shattered because of his rape by his Uncle, Hari breaks down, telling Mani he has raped him. The author portrays this situation skilfully, not painting Mani as an intentional rapist, but at the same time being understanding of Hari's pain.

The subsequent chapters aptly portray the misuse of technology so prevalent in today's world. The author narrates how Sam hacks into Charu's phone and laptop and sets up the feed from Charu's cameras onto a public website so that the entire world could see what the cameras saw. Unfortunately, the camera records Mani having sex with Hari instead, and the feed is uploaded for the whole world, including Hari's dad, to see.

The author's description of Hari's predicament after this event is extremely painful, and brought tears to my eyes. Although Charu accepts their homosexual relationship as natural, and keeps trying to contact the guys as she misses being with them, Hari's hitherto doting father disowns him harshly. The author paints a powerful potrait of the subsequently broken-down Hari reliving how he was slapped for peeing on his Uncle's friend's shoes in the terror of being raped. The despairing Hari loses all the resources and zest for living that helped him cope with an uncaring world in the past. "I have been scared all my life. I am done living," says Hari, and kills himself.

The end of the story is skilfully done, and strongly portrays the pain and horror of a person when they find no option except suicide. As a person who felt suicidal as a young child, I find it crucial to add that any vulnerable person in a distressing environment should see a psychologist. I have friends so traumatized by abuse that they refuse to seek any help as they start shattering the minute they get reminded of the abuse. As someone who's overcome unbearable torment for years, I'd say that being persistent in dealing with such issues definitely will return your lost happiness back, although you might still be haunted to a much lesser extent. Most of all, develop a habit of loving yourself and appreciating yourself for every achievement, even if it is sleeping on time. It may seem artificial initially, and even scary, but you will soon learn to be  confident.

If you feel suicidal, do not hesitate to ask for help. Walk in to a social organization, half-way home, or reputed mental hospital. Get yourself admitted if the pain is unbearable, and gently remind yourself it never was and never will be your fault if you start attacking yourself. Begin your day by asking yourself what your thoughts and feelings are. Make a conscious choice to be happy as a reward to yourself. You will by and by develop a resilience and self-esteem that will help make life happier in a way you thought would be possible.