By Manvi Pant
Did you feel underconfident growing up? Or too consumed with self-doubt? Got sandwiched between what your family tells you to do and what you think you should do? Has the feeling of ‘not doing enough’ plagued you?
If yes, then Big Mistake: An Anthology on Growing Up and Other Tough Stuff (Penguin India, Rs 250) is definitely not a mistake to read. It is an exciting collection of thought-provoking narratives that will compel you to question your conditioned reality and all the ideologies imposed on you while you were still trying to get a sense of this world on your own.
This label-defying anthology starts with a powerful foreword by Shaheen Bhatt, where she talks about mental scars – how they often lie lurking behind a smile and make an appearance now and then, yet fail to define us as we move ahead in the path to inclusion and affirmative dissimilarity.
The compilation, then, opens itself to stories, anecdotes, and poetry from 12 powerful voices such as that of badminton superstar Saina Nehwal, founder of Revival Disability magazine Anusha Misra, founder-CEO of Feminism in India Japleen Pasricha, and writer-comedian Kautuk Srivastava to name a few.
The authors use their life and experiences to talk about subjects like love, identity, ambition, disability, body positivity, and many more, making the read strikingly relatable to readers.
Every chapter displays an ambiguity that the writers tackle with stunning clarity. For example, in ‘An Accidental Ambition’, Japleen says, “As young students, we are pressured into deciding what we want to do at 15 or 16 years of age. I did not find my calling until I was 25 and three degrees down.”
Her story fearlessly questions societal norms and standards and calls them out for not giving kids enough room to make their own decisions, explore, or try new things.
When it comes to taking charge of one’s life, the story by seasoned author Andaleeb Wajid, ‘The Haircut’, stands tall for all the right reasons. She writes, “A woman’s beauty lies in her hair. The longer it is, the more beautiful she is considered. By whom, I wanted to ask Ammi.”
Raised in a conservative Muslim family by a single parent, Andaleeb’s character realises very soon there is more to life than her thick long hair, which her mother and her culture take pride in. She understands it’s essential to have self-perspective in life, and one doesn’t need to cave into everything that elders say or believe in.
And so, when her college initiates a hair-donation drive for cancer patients, despite trembling feet, she takes a brave call and donates her hair. The plot is simple but leaves its readers captivated.
Some pieces in the anthology will amuse and sadden the audience at the same time, like co-founder and CEO of Yuvaa, Nikhil Taneja’s letter. ‘To All the Boys We’ve Failed Before’ takes a funny yet honest dig at how boys are raised in India.
He has attempted to call the toxic out of masculinity in a tongue-in-cheek style and explore why our society teaches boys to be men before they can become human.
Holding a lot of ground right there, in a thoughtfully written piece, ‘The Geometry of Shapes’, queer South Asian illustrator, writer and graphic recorder Sonaksha Iyengar presents an excellent argument against how society is obsessed with body shapes, paying utter disregard to the human within.
In their own way, both writers celebrate vulnerability as a strength and urge readers to embrace it with open arms.
While no piece in this compendium fails to make a mark, the one that leaves a long trail is Anusha Misra’s ‘The Crip Gang’, in which Anusha talks about how a stroke at the age of nine rendered her disabled and re-defined her entire worldview.
The story opens boldly with an assuring statement, “Before you read ahead, please note that I have accepted who I am, partly, if not completely.” It moves forward and ascends from the feeling of invalidation, invisibility to solidarity, courage and acceptance.
The essay clarifies that living with a disability is not as ‘inspirational’ as it is portrayed to be. It can be a de-feminising, isolating experience and that the road to building social connections is still far away.
This engaging book is highly recommended for millennials reeling with conflicts of all sorts, and those from the older generations who keep an open mind. The collection’s element of humanity will hit home and remind its readers of all the pivotal moments that defined and confined them at some point.
Published in eShe’s July-August 2021 issue