My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fatal Accidents of Birth (Stories of Suffering, Oppression and Resistance)
Author: Harsh Mander
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs. 499
The review also appeared in The Free Press Journal on January 1, 2017. Find the review here.
‘Our task is to change some conditions that appear to me as obviously against the beauty of being human’, said Paulo Freire. The quote greets the reader first. Little did I know that as I would turn the pages, I would learn so much about the inhuman intricacies woven into human lives, at times by circumstances and at other times simply because of one’s ignorance about the bigger picture while nitpicking over the supposedly misplaced tiny details.
The preface Other Lives, Other Worlds is hard-hitting and delivers the chills even before the human coldness starts storming in from the seventeen stories ahead.
Far from the hustles and bustles of rural India, where people swear by superstitions and certain beliefs and where caste still plays a dominant role, living in a city like Mumbai with its own cacophony of things ranging from one’s livelihood to his grand plan of existence, this book caught me off-hand. It is not only powerful but also offers riveting accounts of human lives caught in the glare of media at some point of time. While the tales of some characters ended abruptly just like their lives, some other characters’ tales found a better twist and hopefully will have a ‘proper ending’, if there would ever be one. But each of the seventeen stories is a slap on the face of the society that we are a part of. Each story has the potential to leave the reader aghast and rework the so-called rules of the ‘rigid society’ which according to many no longer exists. It very well does exist, probably just outside the confines of the place they call ‘home’ and sometimes inside it too, without their knowledge.
It also provides various angles to the Ishrat Jahan case (The Many Deaths of Ishrat Jahan) and leaves the threads of her tale open so that the reader can try to make some sense of it and make patterns of it in his mind as per his understanding.
It also chronicles the story of Rohith Vemula, doctoral scholar at the University of Hyderabad and a lover of people, who, he believed, are created of stardust, from the time of his mother’s birth. The story of ‘a man who could not rescue himself from what he described as the “fatal accident” of his birth, Rohith Vemula’s first and last letter to the world and the outrage that followed his death also find mention in this book [Mourning Rohith Vemula (1989-Forever)].
From the social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, prostitution, bisexuality, begging and certain castes to the consequences and dangers of human trafficking, militancy, murder and riots – there is much insight to be gathered about all of these from this book. Some first-person accounts are dark and gory to the core which will make the reader pause and reflect over the lesser fortunate ones with whom he co-exists and yet is unaware of, or is rather silent when he should be voicing against the injustice meted out to them.
The human race is selfish. It will take kindness and a lot of empathizing to drill a sense of brotherhood and ‘-ity’ into ‘human’. Harsh Mander, maybe because he is a human rights worker and has seen in person and heard the tales of many of the people whose stories constitute this book, manages to bring to life a picture of the lives and tribulations of those hit by tragedy into mainstream conscience, deftly. It gives the reader a chance to step into the shoes of those whom one would generally not give a thought about, or rather whom one would look through, because caught as they are with the cobwebs of their own life, who would want to spare a second to possibly gather more cobwebs? Isn’t it? No. By doing so, we may actually be able to do something better to a lesser fortunate one. We could, even if we cannot clean their cobwebs, at least try to be a ray of hazy light for them to look past their cobwebs-filled existence.
Pick up the book if you think your life could have been better than it is right now. Chances are, you will be grateful for the life that you were granted while in the bylanes, a mother would pray for a son from the confines of a prison and another woman would wince as another hand would grope her unprotected body while in yet another roofless camp, heartfelt prayers would be sent to bring some solace for those with charred thoughts who would have to start learning once again how to live, clutching on to the vestiges of a dream that now lies shattered into a million pieces.
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