I believe in the power of human empathy: Author Jerry Pinto (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, Sep 15 (IANS) Talking openly about mental illness is still unwelcome in our society as, for many, it remains a taboo. Author Jerry Pinto has now taken his second step to bridge the gap between society and mental illness.

“I believe in people. I believe that they would like to ‘only connect’. I believe they can find a way to sympathise. I believe in the power of human empathy,” Pinto told IANS in an e-mail interview following the release of his new work, “A Book of Light” (Speaking Tiger/pp 175/Rs 399).

“I am willing to stake this book on that,” Pinto added.

In 2012, Pinto published his debut novel “Em and the Big Hoom” which talked about his bipolar mother. The book impacted thousands of readers and many could relate with the story, which touched an emotional chord as he drew from his personal experiences.

So, what made him come up with the second book while his first too has a similar story line?

“I think we all write about the things that concern us deeply. In my case, my mother had bipolar affective disorder as it is now known. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was simply said of her that she had had a nervous breakdown or, more brutally, that she was mad. That was what got me interested in the subject,” replied Pinto.

“A Book of Light” comprises 13 stories that sketch the lives of people from different professions who have had to deal with emotional turmoil while living with someone with a mental illness or infirmity — a situation somewhat similar to Pinto’s.

After the release of his first book, people started talking to him about how their family members had suffered from a mental illness and how they felt about it. Thus was born the idea of the second book.

“I did not know how to handle this. I told a friend of mine who said that I should see if they would write about these experiences. She even suggested the title, ‘A Book of Light’, because it would cast light on these neglected areas of the Indian family and its experiences. Each reading turned into something like an encounter group,” the author said.

“I called up other people who I knew had had similar experiences. Some agreed to write and then didn’t. Some said they would think about it and then didn’t. I respect all their decisions. But I am grateful to the 13 people who told their stories bravely and beautifully and sensitively,” Pinto added.

Talking about coming out openly about sensitive issues like mental illness and personal lives, Pinto said that the more open we are towards these issues the better it is for our society.

“When things are taboo, then some people will always be excluded, hidden away, not talked about, and ignored. This is inhuman,” he said.

Pinto believes that we all have our own stories and have the right to tell them to the world. As the editor of the book, he helped the writers — who were not writers by profession — by editing their work, but never forced anyone to talk about anything they did not wish to talk about.

“I would never write about someone else. Each of my contributors made a decision and they wrote as they wanted to. But, of course, there is a moment when you must consider a close associate who comes into the tale and then take a call,” Pinto stated.

(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at somrita.g@ians.in)

–IANS

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