by Francin Pinto
Body and Soul Books
This slim but courageous 86 page book is a multi layered look at economic and social decline in Mumbai. The introduction lists all the technical advances of 21st century life before pointing out that 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in India live on an average of 20 CENTS per day, 7 out of 10 children under the age of 14 years do not finish school but must go out to work to help support their families. At the same time 1,3% of the population forms the "iconic super rich billionaire class", 10% are millionaires and 33.7 form the country's middle class. the other 55% have no idea where tomorrow's meal will come from.
She raises the question: "Do material comforts such as cars, laptops, jet planes, close circuit cameras, malls, national ID programmers, computerizations of every necessary system from railway booking to banking, internet, emails, SMS', maids at our beck and call, best designer brands, 7 star hotels with excellent ambiance, IGSE, ICSE, MBA degrees, etc. make us better human beings?" She then points out that India still has 1200 tribes who live "as their ancestors lived without bank balance, without any clue about the future, without stress. . . " and describes how living on the barter system, conserving natural resources and respecting their elders is how they teach their younger generations to live in harmony with nature (i.e social sanity). She laments the loss of times when children had a childhood with the freedom to fly kites, climb trees and people shared with one another. When writing about the loss of better times and lamenting the ills that have come with so called "progress" the author falls into a rthymic pattern of speech that is like a chant, a pure cry to the heavens to hear her plea.
In the midst of all this, her character, Jessica, a young suburban woman with an interest in scientific study moves into the field of management in order to reap the rewards of more prevalent livelihood opportunities but is still obsessed with her interest in scientific study. Jessica decides to make a study of the effects of mental illness on productivity (as a management tool) and takes a look at three families: the "control"family and two familes who respond differently to the influence of having among them a family member who suffers from schizophrenia.
It appears to be the author's intent to draw an analogy from an individual's insanity to an entire society's insanity. Certainly the statistics in the introduction point out a society that is not functioning in a sane manner. Jessica seeks to make comparisons from animal behavior (which was her field of study initially as a scientist) and human evolution to the evolution of mental disorders in individuals, what is it that goes wrong and detours the individual (or the society) onto the path leading to extreme dysfunction? And how do individuals and societies find happiness despite the presence of insanity?
The author is a social worker dedicated to working toward social improvement and this book is the first of what may be several books raising questions about how best to do that and including the answers she discovers along the way.
Sandra Shwayder Sanchez