Book Review : notes Selected Writings 2008–2018

Courtesy: Peky Samal

About a week ago, I bought the book “notes Selected Writings 2008-2018” from a local bookstore. I know the author and actually had been hanging out with her a few weeks ago, where she had mentioned the book. I was surprised at its sooner-than-I-expected arrival. I picked it up and wasn’t sure if I was going to buy it. I certainly didn’t want to just buy it in the name of supporting Bhutanese (women) authors.

Next, I randomly opened a page and I am glad I did just that, since the book is a collection of essays and short stories, and does not necessarily run in chronological order. The page I opened was titled “Growing Up.” I began to read it. The thing that caught my mind was about the part where Peky is unflinchingly honest about her and her family’s mental health struggles. 

Bravo, I thought. 

I smiled. 

I bought the book, loved it, bought it again, for my friend and decided to ship it across-continents, to another friend.

The timing of this book’s arrival in my life like many other things seems uncanny, in a good way, I think. Recently, after getting somewhat angsty and excited about buying a women’s magazine, mostly because a childhood friend had a photoshoot there, which I later dumped at my mom’s. The magazine itself was flooded with “contributors” who were all linked to each other in one way or another, Somehow this seems deep rooted in our society and systems which was a complete turn off for me. I read one piece, because the author was someone my cousin had a crush on (she may still do). 

But more than anything, in the coming few days, I felt terribly sad knowing that very few magazines in Bhutan, especially ones that have called themselves women’s magazine, have no stories about women’s mental health issue(s) and or sexual violence that women and men face. Or maybe I missed it? Often it’s filled with stories of triumphs of entrepreneurs. And we all know that sexual abuse, and violence against women, are not a one-off incident. As a woman who suffers from mental health issues, it is disheartening to know that in print, in Bhutan, we are barely talked about, let alone mentioned. I myself know women of all ages, from family to acquaintances, and strangers, who suffered, and continue to suffer from mental health challenges, some chronic and debilitating to the point they are no longer able to hold a job, or take care of their children. And in most cases, the root cause is almost always some sort of trauma, some sort of sexual abuse. 

Popular media in Bhutan barely has any stories that portray women’s mental health struggles. Growing up in Bhutan I have seen quite a few Bhutanese films where the story line almost always revolves around the guy- the hero- the savior, who not only triumphs in his own story, but also does so in the story of the damsel. 

So even though Peky does not go in detail (and that is her choice) in particular about her and her family’s mental health struggles, in that chapter, just mentioning it was powerful and courageous, and for that I would like to say thank you. If more people read her book, she potentially reduces some of the stigma against mental health that we continue to harbor, myself included. 

Peky’s book is a contemporary representation of Bhutan. Besides mental health she also talks about innumerable other issues such as Bhutanese youth, and their access, or in-access to sports facilities and venues, about our cultural relationship with alcohol. I also really liked some of her short stories that are feminine, deep and introspective.  

Despite the current lack of space, interest, and demand to talk about women’s mental health and sexual violence related issues, I remain positive about the future. I acknowledge writers who came before Peky, who made it seem possible for her generation to not only write but self publish. And her work could encourage other writers of this generation to tell their story. 

“notes Selected Writings 2008-2018” is another of several Bhutanese authored books that I have been catching up with. 

At a time when nearly 100 Bhutanese are killing themselves, (annually) we need more outlets (not just the hospital or in therapy, or our bedroom) to talk about mental health struggles, and how economic and social and gender barriers may play a role in that. Read Peky’s book, y’all. 

Medium Link.

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