Friday, December 27, 2019

A shout-out for Skin Stories: Essays on Sexuality, Disability and Gender...

... which is the book version of the digital publication edited by Shreya Ila Anasuya. Many disabled or differently abled people tell their stories in this collection, and there are nearly as many such conditions – or variants on such conditions – as there are writers. Having read close to half the pieces so far, I was struck by the hushed, intimate tone: some of these read less like elaborate, writerly essays and more like thoughtful and lucid notes to oneself, which is probably part of the point – they perform the dual function of explaining a particular condition and its implications to the reader while also articulating it for the writer, who is still in the process of coming to terms with aspects of it.

Because while a few of these stories are about very specific, clearly identifiable issues – living with a prosthetic leg or arm after a freak accident; a degenerative disorder; deafness; blindness – a few others fall in a grey zone where the sufferer might struggle for empathy or understanding even from well-meaning friends or family. For instance, I can relate to much in Urvashi Bahuguna’s description of fatigue (in a piece that begins with her mother asking “Why do I always hear you saying you’re tired?” and includes a psychiatrist’s counsel “How much time do you spend thinking every day? Your mind goes at a hundred miles per hour […] of course your body is tired”) but I also know from personal experience that it’s very hard to explain such things to others, or to oneself. 

(Besides, given the ambiguity surrounding many such conditions, you can’t assume that every manifestation is comparable. It could be less pronounced, or more…it could be genetic, or a consequence of living through an emotionally draining period. It works similarly with depression, which can take vastly different forms, and draws similar reactions: people look at your apparent sociability, or a happy-seeming picture on Facebook, and draw facile conclusions about you; initial, conditional sympathy can easily give way to impatience, where you can tell someone is thinking “Maybe he’s just making excuses, or whining unnecessarily.”)

Anyway, there are many fine writers in this book, including Shals Mahajan, Manjiri Indurkar, Antara Telang, Unmana Datta and others. And many stories that might open new doors to empathy, or give you a shiver of recognition (even if you think yourself as mostly "normal").

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