young adults novels
Modi was just re-elected as prime minister of India and Trump might be re-elected as president of the United States of America, things that make many of us shudder. I try my best to be open-minded but I can’t help but wonder why some of my brown-skinned Gujarati-Indian relatives are pro-Modi and/or pro-Trump. It’s shocking to me, but mostly sad. Especially when the relatives are women.
We’ve all heard about the hate of women that goes on behind the closed doors of some everyday families. Families where husbands beat wives. Families where uncles rape nieces. Families where daughters are sex trafficked. Families where sons take part in honor killings of their women relatives.
And as leaders of two big democracies, Modi and Trump don’t do much to end the hate of women. In fact they often perpetuate it in their lack of support for women’s issues and their bold declarations…
Trump: "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”
Modi: At an election rally in Himachal Pradesh, said about Sunanda Pushkar (wife of politician Shashi Tharoor), “Have you ever seen a Rs 50-crore girlfriend?”
So do the leaders of other countries…
Bolsonaro: He said this about a fellow lawmaker in congress. “She’s not my type. I would never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it.”
Kim Jong-Un’s government: The North called former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the country’s first female leader, a prostitute.
Duterte: “They said there are many rape cases in Davao. As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.”
When misogyny is proclaimed and acted upon as truth by powerful male leaders, it hurts women by making them worthless objects instead of worthy humans. The effect is the same when misogyny is proclaimed and acted upon by any man—a husband, father, son, uncle, etc. The very nature of oppression can make women more likely to have blind faith in cruel leaders and men in general. Maybe that’s why some of my women relatives are pro-Modi and/or pro-Trump.
I remember the misogyny proclaimed and acted upon as truth in my Gujarati-Indian family of origin—husband/father is god. A euphemism for wife is servant, daughter is wife. Years of this crushed my mother’s soul. It left me hating myself and needing men to validate my existence. To survive we had to accept and recreate the object status give to us by “god”—have blind faith in a the husband/father.
Thankfully, my mother and I broke away from our traumatic past. But the scars will never disappear. That’s why I’m passionate about helping others heal through individual and family therapy. That and I’m dedicated to writing realistic young adult novels that depict the ramifications of misogyny on adolescent development.
Thinking out loud about the big picture, perhaps part of what can help change the existing cruel, misogynistic leadership plaguing our world is to start small scale: one vulnerable family at a time, change the dynamics of dysfunctional families from all walks of life. This is obviously complicated and would require multiple levels of resources, but it may just be the paradigm shift that is needed. I don’t have all the answers but imagine if abusive husbands learn and want to treat wives like the equals that they are. Or imagine if all fathers treat daughters with respect and teach sons by being good role models and all mothers had the privilege to teach daughters to use their voices and teach sons how to treat women. Imagine if there were no women who hated themselves or their situations. If that happened in every family, perhaps generational misogyny would end. Then, who would vote for Trump? Or Modi? Or any misogynistic bully?
At the end of the day, if we don’t help families heal when possible, then aren’t we allowing husbands in those families to play god? Aren’t we allowing Modi and Trump to each play the god of gods?
“Every year close to 800,000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally in 2016.
Suicide does not just occur in high-income countries, but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the world. In fact, over 79% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016.
Suicide is a serious public health problem; however, suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions. For national responses to be effective, a comprehensive multi sectoral suicide prevention strategy is needed.”
--World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Suicide 8.24.18 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide
Yesterday, Keith Flint, the frontman for the band Prodigy, took his own life. He was 49. His suicide hit me hard. As hard as Chester Bennington’s, lead vocalist of Linkin Park who was 41. Being a first generation Gujarati Indian American, my life experiences didn’t align with theirs, but I found solace in their powerful music. As did many other people. That and I’m also in my 40’s. And I’ve had suicidal thoughts. The shit is real.
But I haven’t taken the thoughts to the next level—the attempt level or the deadly level.
How am I lucky enough not to have taken it to the next level when so many people have?
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent years in medical school and residency training studying trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts on a biologic level. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent thousands of hours putting myself in the shoes of numerous youth and adults with suicidal thoughts and attempts and trying to help them survive. Or maybe it’s because I remind myself that I don’t want to hurt my husband and children. And I’m fortunate to not be abusing drugs or alcohol.
What I know for sure is that it isn’t easy because sometimes the suicidal thoughts are so intense, so real, so seemingly inescapable. Vivid swirls of GRAB THAT KITCHEN KNIFE AND STAB YOURSELF IN THE HEART…RUN INTO ONCOMING TRAFFIC…
See that’s what happens sometimes to people with hardwired anxiety and/or depression. The suicidal thoughts are SYMPTOMS of this hardwiring. The suicidal thoughts are not a character flaw. They are not a cop-out. Suicidal thoughts can be misguided, automatic thoughts aimed at exerting the ultimate control over overwhelming chaos.
A person with well-treated asthma isn’t in a constant state of an asthma attack, but can have symptoms such as wheezing when triggered by weather changes or exercise. In this type of case, breakthrough asthma symptoms can be treated quickly, allowing the person to return to normal functioning. Similarly, a person with well-treated anxiety and/or depression can have suicidal thoughts when triggered by tremendous stress, conflict, loss, reminders of painful pasts, etc. That’s how it is for me. I’m not in clinical depression or anxiety. But things can trigger symptoms. I’ve learned to manage these breakthrough symptoms immediately so that I can return to my normal, healthy baseline in no time. If the breakthrough symptoms include suicidal thoughts, I remind myself that my brain is playing tricks on me because I’m overwhelmed. I tell myself to listen to music instead, it will pass. Or I tell myself to write, it will pass. Or maybe take a nap, it will pass. Cry if needed, it will pass. Go for a hard run, it will pass. Ask for a hug and reassurance, it will pass. Now is not the right time for the glass of cabernet, it will pass. I repeat the mantra IT WILL PASS.
And it does.
But the breakthrough symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, may come back because that’s how my brain is wired to automatically handle massive stress and I understand that. But I’ve got an arsenal of coping strategies at the ready to help me pull through no matter how many times symptoms such as suicidal thoughts breakthrough.
If you are depressed or have suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Cultural appropriation is generally defined as the dominant culture stealing aspects of a minority culture, such as fashion, music, traditions, symbols, etc. It is often viewed as harmful, especially since it stems from colonialism and oppression.
Personally, I think the concept is taken too far sometimes. It’s not that I’m down with the disrespectful stealing of another’s culture, but I think the sharing of cultures can be beneficial. It can promote tolerance and empathy if done right.
I’m the first person in my Gujarati immigrant family to be born in America and honestly, there are times I feel Indian, times I don’t. There are times I feel American, times I don’t. And the culture I most identify with is hip hop culture, a culture born out of the black experience in New York City. Hip hop culture has influenced me in many positive ways and at times even saved my life. I’m thankful to hip hop, so much so that I gave it a central role in my debut young adult novel, Rani Patel In Full Effect. I intend no disrespect to the founding black culture, only gratitude. Hopefully, I succeeded in giving it the mad props it deserves.
I don’t relate to most aspects of my Gujarati Indian culture. But I do relate to yoga, a Hindu tradition that encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual practices. I focus on the physical and mental aspects in a Westernized way in a Western studio. For me, yoga, like hip hop, provides tremendous relief to the internal anguish that still plagues me given my family of origin issues. This, and because I’m a psychiatrist, I’m overjoyed that many people in the West practice yoga and find it helpful.
Not all Indians feel like that. There are Indians who consider westernized yoga to be harmfully appropriated, especially given the high commercialization of it and how far removed it’s become from ancient Indian philosophy and purpose.
More recently, I’ve felt the sting of this cultural appropriation in my yoga classes. But for me, it’s quite specific. Usually, I’m the only Indian person in class and when I hear practitioners, mostly women, talking about being on “detox juice cleanse diets,” “going vegan,” “deciding to quit all carbs,” or praising each other on weight loss, I feel angry. I mean do these people know that 15% of India’s population is undernourished? Do they know that most Indians in India are lacto-vegetarian? Do they know that it’s highly disrespectful when they talk about bodies like pieces of meat (which of course, they don’t eat)? Do they know that they’re perpetuating misogyny? I wonder if they talk to their children, especially their daughters, like that. More than angry, that makes me sad and scared for the future.
The worst was when a frequent practitioner began reeking of ketones during and after class. I know the smell from medical school and residency training and from my work with eating disordered patients. It’s not normal. Simply put, it represents the body breaking down. It can be dangerous, even fatal. It was common knowledge that this particular practitioner had been taking 3 classes a day. Every single day. Without eating in between. And not eating very much of anything all day. Personally, I found this to be the ultimate in disrespectful appropriation of yoga. I’m no expert on yoga philosophy, but I know for sure that it’s not meant to be harmful. And then how healing is it if a fellow practitioner dies in class because privilege allows them to take 3 classes a day and choose not to eat?
I expressed my concerns to the practitioner and the studio. I’m happy the studio made positive changes to their policies to assist practitioners in making more balanced, and less deadly, yoga choices.
I’m still all about sharing culture, but not about letting entitlement and privilege turn someone’s culture into something toxic.