Title: This Is How It Took Place
Author: Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee
Publication: Harper Collins India
Price: Rs 399
In October 2017, 16-year-old Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee jumped to her death from the building in which her family lived in Bangalore. She had left behind a body of writing including these 16 stories which were published posthumously in 2019, when she would have been 18.
At times, reading this collection is almost alarming for how frequently and deeply these stories written by a teenager explore death, living with death and dying. A good third of the collection is one story broken into three and spread through the book, interspersed by other stories. Throughout it, the adolescent protagonist must navigate all manner of death — the guilt attached to the death of a friend in a fire, the loss of yet another friend to a fatal habit, the death of an absentee father in an accident, the deadly love of a doting and abusive mother – and it ends in a chaotic crescendo of tragedy that is hard to read.
But, perhaps, the most disquieting treatment of death in the collection is in the story ‘Who Else Will Love the Damned?’ located in the aftermath of the teenage protagonist’s elder sister’s attempt to end her own life. The protagonist is empathetic to her sister’s situation despite their troubled relationship. When her mother reacts strongly to both her sister’s action and her measured response to it, she thinks to herself “My sister slit her wrists because she didn’t have the courage to do anything else. It wasn’t wrong, Mom. It was her decision.”
The characters in several different stories echo each other. At the centre is often a young woman with a difficult relationship with the world — lonely, rebellious, misunderstood by those around her, all written in the first person. Fathers are absent, and the mothers go out every evening leaving take-out noodles for dinner, failing to protect their daughter from abuse and exploitation. Mothers who respond with anger and shame to their children’s difficulties. Only in ‘When Carl’s Café Closed Its Door on Me’ does the mother’s volatile behaviour offer an uneasy, happy ending to the protagonist’s story.
One cannot help but wonder if the mood of these stories by a promising young writer would have been written off as teenage angst had it not been for the deep tragedy of Rudrakshi’s own life. While the writing might be a little underdeveloped and uneven for adult readers, it holds a serious mirror to them — one that tells them to listen, to engage more deeply with what children, and those approaching adulthood, are saying and thinking.
Rudrakshi’s stories speak louder and more unsettlingly than a lot of writing for young adults because here is a teenager speaking through teenage characters, as opposed to an adult writing for and as younger people. Her audience is indeterminate; her writing almost seems to be for herself.
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