Title: If I Had To Tell It Again
Author: Gayathri Prabhu
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Price: Rs 299
Few topics are shunned by the collective consciousness of Indian society more than familial abuse and mental illness. If I Had to Tell it Again, a memoir by Gayathri Prabhu, shatters this silence with an intimate examination of the relationship between the author and her late father.
The author weaves together a tale of contradictions that make up human relationships. The father is an effusive man, the soul of every gathering, an artist, kind, generous to a fault, idealistic. He loves his family and places all his dreams and aspirations on his first-born. He is also the man who physically and mentally abuses his daughter for years, taking out his alcoholism, frustration and depression on her. His daughter, on the other hand, is torn between loving and hating her father — and eventually settles on trying to understand him, and, their relationship.
The book scrutinises depression closely both within and without the context of the relationship, at times treating it as a link between the two main figures of its narrative. It treats memory as a hazy mass, with the author reaching out and plucking a strand every once in a while, studying it and moving on to the next in the hopes of weaving together a tapestry.
The book acknowledges its flaws — in naming itself a memoir, it consigns itself to charting a factual history. Despite her attempts to step beyond herself and enter the mindspace of her father, it amounts to, at best, a fumble in the dark. And yet, it is her history, her facts that she delicately lays out, taking care to stay away from easy, one-dimensional conclusions.
There is one relationship in the book, however, that acts as an island of certainty — a labrador called Chinna who proves to be a rock of support through tumultuous years. It highlights an important aspect of mental illness — animal companions are often sources of immeasurable comfort, transcending what even those closest to us might be capable of.
The idea of a picture-perfect family is duplicitous, an illusion society often chooses to impose on itself. For this reason alone, this book deserves to be read.