WRITING STYLE: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3/5
Mental health is one of the least talked about topics in literature. In fact, mental health issues are the least understood as we, as a society, are not patient or maybe compassionate enough to understand the ones who are different from the very concept of ‘normality’.
Even though the new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 is a long way from the dismal situation which existed under the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912 under which the asylums were built to protect the society from the mentally ill who were considered dangerous, our perception towards the people with special needs is still condescending, to say the least.
T21 in Downs Lane is one such attempt to provide insight into the life of people with special needs. Not a grand heroic narrative, the book focuses on the daily struggles that the protagonist faces as he suffers from Downs Syndrome.
The book opens with the guy watching the live broadcast of T20 World Cup second semi-finals between India and West Indies. He is introduced as Jay Siddhartha Roy, a Trisomy 21 alias Downs Syndrome.
Leaving no room for niceties, T21 in Downs Lane plunges into what it means to be someone who is intellectually disabled, so to say. Sardonic in tone, Jay asks Aashima (the journalist who has come to interview him on successfully completing his graduation), “Many people do complete their graduation every year. Don’t they? I also did. Isn’t it the same?… the face of the fact is that even though I have passed successfully, I am still an ID, a Retard for all.”
Moving between the past and the present, the large part of T21 in Downs Lane is narrated from the perspective of Siddhartha Roy, Jay’s father who, through his diary entries, tells the reader about the struggles that he and his wife had to overcome to bring Jay into this very world; in the world,where the stakes are already weighed against him, where the society believes in eradicating the abnormality before its very existence, “What place is this? Where have I come? Do they want to kill me even before I am born?”
Sad and angry, almost giving into despair, at one point, the author, Utpal Kant Mishra, asks, “There are so many differences all around. No two persons look or behave the same…but we do not look at them as different. What makes this difference noted starkly and given such raw deals?”
As the author says – the entire narrative needs to be changed, the preconceived notions need to be changed to make the society more inclusive for the people with special needs.
Emotional and perceptive, T21 in Downs Lane gives a broad perspective – medical, social and emotional – into the lives of people who are marginalised and side-lined and whose voices are often lost in the multitude.
T21 in Downs Lane might not be the most outstanding work of fiction dealing in the mental health, nevertheless, it’s a good place to start if the one is interested in the peripheral world of intellectually disabled – for whom the daily life is also a struggle.
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