Friday, 23 March 2012

Are you feeling a little pitiful?

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
I used to think self pity was a wonderful thing:  it granted me the right to eat at expensive Greek restaurants, revelling in the moussaka and lemon potatoes.  Not to mention the luscious baklava.  But a few pounds heavier, and a few neurons wiser, I’ve rethought my position.
If I want to eat well, I don’t need to justify it by giving in to self pity.  In fact, I’ve come to believe that self pity could just be that original sin that I heard so much about as a young child.  Self pity is toxic.  It justifies lousy behavior and fuels anger and contempt.  I suspect that if we could examine the motivation of every person committing a wrong, at the bottom would be some sort of self pity.  “I only snapped at you because I have this terrible headache that won’t go away.”  “Well, I had to steal her purse, because I'm just so broke, and my life is really crappy.”  “Don’t blame me for what I did to that kid.  You should have seen the abuse that was done to me, when I was even younger!”  “Of course it was necessary to drop the bomb, don’t you remember how our country suffered because of them in the past?”  If you think about an action you now regret, ask yourself if you were feeling some self pity at the time.   
When looking at literature for therapy, or bibliotherapy, I love how Mistry’s Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash live in the grimmest of circumstances, and yet they finally stay above the poverty, cruelty, and indifference that they experience as members of the lowest caste in India.  Where another character from a more affluent background winces at the state of the landlady’s bathroom, these two marvel at its luxury.  Set during the Emergency time in India, lower caste young men are tricked or forced into having vasectomies as a population control measure.  Without his consent, Omprakash is also operated on, despite his wanting to be married and have children.  Infection sets in, and he suffers a horrifying fate.  How he deals with his situation is what makes this novel an excellent choice for literary therapy, or bibliotherapy as the old school librarians like to say.

While this is a book that will make your problems look light in comparison, it’s also a book about how these characters transcend horrifying conditions.  Read it and see if it doesn’t change your perspective on self pity! 

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