Even as actor Sushant Rajput’s suicide continues to grab headlines, and mental illness has suddenly become important enough to be debated in almost every second television debate (for a few days at least) including by those who hold no authority on the subject, she says that the angst and the anger behind the sentences in the book had been brewing inside her more than a decade. That the feelings grew with time, but the words were falling short. And one day, the lid blew. Realising that she had been hiding behind the garb of ‘normalcy’ for way too long, brushing everything, including her chronic depression, countless failed relationships, heartbreaks and personal failures under the rug for way too long, she decided to just throw them down on paper. “I just spat it all out unabashedly and spewed venom almost. So, that’s pretty much how the book was conceived,” says author Tazmeen Amna.
‘Goner’, to be published in July by Penguin Random House India, the debut work by this Delhi-based author gives a peek into the mind of a young woman going through a mid-20s’ crisis — trying to deal with haunting memories of an abusive ex-boyfriend, remnants of a broken family and blatant mental health issues. With no job, a failing art career, months of expensive therapy, a cast on her leg and a mystery man in her life, the question remains if she would be able to recover from her embarrassing wastefulness.
Talk to her if the book is autobiographical, and this literature pass-out from Lady Shri Ram College for Women in the Capital laughs, “Well, I’m not afraid to admit that it does. Look, there is no point in hiding? I have been in an abusive relationship, the memories of which tormented me for years. Chronic depression with manic-episodes has walked with me most of my life. However, I never wanted to admit to the same owing to the fear of deviating from the norm, in other words, didn’t want to be seen as ‘weak’. You know, people are quick to label others with the whole ‘victim mentality’ tab. For a long time, I wanted to fit in, wanting to have friends and to be what we call cool. I did not want to be deemed ‘undateable’.”
And does ‘coming out’ give a certain relief? “Of course, there is a beautiful sense of liberation in owning up to the reality of my life. I may have exaggerated some of the incidents quoted in the book, and I’ve been careful in not naming people. However, I am no stranger to several things mentioned in ‘Goner’ including experimenting with intoxicants. I would be lying if I said, ‘Oh, wait, what’s weed?’ or ‘What’s strunk (stoned+drunk)’. Also, there are parts in the story and I want to say this without giving away too much — which exhibit a very strange attraction and affinity towards the ‘abuser’– it is possible to be head over heels infatuated and masochistically in love with the one who abuses you. I say this because I’ve been there. I really hope no one can relate — but if anyone can, I want them to know this is not okay.”
Stressing that labelling, ‘otherisation’ and unsolicited advice make it all the more harder for people to open up about mental issues, the author says, “Sadly, everybody is so quick to offer solutions including ‘Be patient, don’t think so much, just pray’ — as if that is the answer to mental disorders, instead of treatment. Imagine, I have even heard stuff like, ‘put on a cute outfit and go out’ as if that would cure my depression. I can tell from first hand experience, that those who suffer from mental illness have to always acquire an almost apologetic stance with their partners and friends. It’s literally like, ‘sorry you have to deal with this because I’m depressed’. We should have never had to hide or be apologetic in the first place. Depression is real and it’s out there, and it’s claiming lives!”
Stressing that many celebrities coming out and discussing their battle with mental illness surely helps the cause, Tazmeen does feel that it is still not addressed enough, and especially those who are in a position to influence people need to come out and talk about their experiences as this will go a long way in de-stigmatize mental illness. “Hollywood celebrities and influencers who have been extremely open with their struggles, like Billie Eilish with her Tourettes Syndrome, Ariana Grande with her PTSD, Lele Pons with her OCD, and Selena Gomez with her Bipolar diagnosis. Bollywood could definitely step it up a little with the awareness game now, especially in the wake of the suicide of a talented actor like Sushant Rajput.”
Adding that much research into ‘Goner’, including talking to her therapist, Tazmeen has already started thinking about her next book. “Absolutely! Thanks to anxiety, my mind is mostly in overdrive, making up imaginary scenarios that probably will never happen. I am working on a feminist plot, bringing to the surface everything our gender is afraid to voice out. It would be interesting to normalise all that is considered imperfect, and break out of every mould.”