If I had to tell it again: A moving memoir by Gayathri Prabhu
November 5, 2018
I met Gayathri Prabhu at a workshop last month. She teaches literary studies at the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities. She was moderator of the most impactful session of the day— not by being at the forefront, but by gently facilitating from the sidelines. She made her subjects stand out and preferred to stay in the shadows. There she was — dressed in grey and white, with her similarly coloured hair. And the only word which came to mind again and again was: ‘graceful’. I tried to strike a conversation with her, unsuccessfully. But there was something intriguing about her. I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t read any of her works before. And so the moment I got back home, I went online and ordered her memoir.
When the book arrived it looked stark. The cover was in black and white with fading letters. Her story is equally stark. As I began reading, the painful story of her life unfolded before my eyes. The memoir traces her life with her father. A father who loved her more than she wanted. And who as she watched, sank into the clutches of alcoholism. SGM, as she refers to her father, is an ambitious man who is disappointed with what life offers him. He expects his daughter to bring him the success which evaded him. Behind the facade of a generous philanthropist, lies an imposing father who doesn’t mind using leather belts or burning cigarette stubs to discipline his daughters. He is a father who is intoxicated and isn’t around to protect his daughter when she needs him most.
What makes the book different is the author’s treatment of her most personal memories. There is a chapter called ‘Leap’ which is written in the format of a one-act play which I found most impactful. The author struggles with how to project her father. It is the struggle when one realizes that a million eyes will read her truth once it is in print. Should she write about his positives as a friendly, selfless soul, as her mother wants her to? Or does she write with integrity about the truth as she sees it? ‘Do we remember as we write, or do we write as we remember’ — she muses.
What makes the story even more poignant is the author’s realization that she shares genes and traits similar to her father. Both of them are born storytellers. She is as resolute in her convictions as her dad is. And then the awful awareness that like her father, she too is sinking into that bottomless dark pit called depression. The rest of the book chronicles her struggle with clawing out of clinical depression. There are portions which portray her close connection with Chinna, her dog, who pulls her away from the precipice.
Gayathri Prabhu is a gifted writer with the ability to bring her words to life. You travel with her on her journey as she vividly paints the greys and blacks which surround her. We have all probably encountered flawed aspects of our parents on different occasions. But it isn’t easy to bare yourself to the world. Gayathri Prabhu’s telling of her tale is important — for these are stories of survivors that we need to hear. These stories give courage to the hopeless. And show us a world which is possible beyond the inky dark recesses of despair.
(‘If I had to tell it again: A memoir’, by Gayathri Prabhu. HarperCollins Publishers. 2017, Rs 299, 185 pages)