On one of her Instagram posts on World Mental Health Day on October 10, Kairavi Bharat Ram noted, “We’ve all had those moments when giving up is on our mind,/ When to your dark future you feel totally resigned,/But pat yourself on your back and keep repeating this phrase, So far you have survived 100 % of your bad days.” It’s the memory of the darkness that she has overcome and her deep sense of empathy that Bharat Ram shares in her latest book, C is for Cat, D is for Depression (Scholastic, Rs 495, appropriate for young adults). “Depression. There I said it. It’s always spoken of with a hush./ Such an important topic upon which in school they don’t even brush./ You may have heard the word but not know what it means,/ It’s hard to really understand unless in depression you have been,” she writes, taking her readers on a journey into the dark, clammy world of a mental health affliction that continues to affect a considerable percentage of children and young adults across the world and that has found few expressions in popular literature, especially for children.
Bharat Ram, 22, identifies depression as a dark pit, a ceaseless radio commentary of negativity in her head, a churning ocean that leaves her floundering for lack of swimming skills or a nightmare without end. Her spare narrative is lit with the patient awareness of one who has walked the difficult path herself, telling her readers about the different ways depression manifests itself, the havoc it wreaks and the coping mechanisms that have worked for her. “Facing it head-on is best, you’ve got nothing to fear,/ After all I’ve been through, I’m still HERE,” she writes.
As always, illustrator Priya Kuriyan’s work blends into the narrative with intuitive precision, her colour palette moving from bleak monochromes to a hopeful, warm-hearted burst of colours. This is a gorgeous, sensitive book on mental health that needs to be read over and over again, not just by those trying to understand its vagaries, but by everyone who hopes to be there when a loved one is in need of empathy and solidarity.
Ten-year-old Susruta Patel, better known as SP, just cannot seem to find the light at the end of the long tunnel that he tumbles into ever so often. He feels things deeply — be it the barbs of school bullies or his father’s disappointment at his lack of prowess in football. His inability to match up to the expectations of those around him makes him feel smaller every day. The only thing that gives him comfort is his art book, where he sketches episodes from his life. But, some days, all he can manage are squiggles and loops, just like the reels of his own inadequacies that runs through his mind.
Mumbai-based writer Vaishali Shroff’s The Boy in the Dark Hole (Eklavya, Rs 110; appropriate for: 8+ years) addresses an important theme — the fragility of mental health in children and how tenuously balanced it often is for those who don’t always conform to general standards. In keeping with SP’s anxiety, Samidha Gunjal’s artwork moves from a mostly blue-and-grey colour palette to a burst of colours towards the end. While a tighter editing, especially in the early chapters, would have served the book better, Shroff does a good job of bringing out the casual cruelty of peers, the burden of expectations on hypersensitive children and the comfort of deep friendships.
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