Sepia Leaves by Amandeep Sandhu
Over the last days I read an amazing book, Sepia Leaves by Indian author Amandeep Sandhu. It tells the story of a young Indian boy struggling with his mother’s schizophrenia. It’s a moving, sometimes depressing, but also uplifting story of a family’s attempt to cope with mental illness at a time where “crazy” people were usually locked away. But this is not an option for the father of the family. He stands by his wife, no matter what neighbors say, no matter how much she yells at him and even turns violent against him. What the boy perceives as weakness and cowardice in his Baba is the noble persistence of a man who always wanted to do the right thing.
We can’t help smiling when the mother during one of her tempers leaves the house despite the curfew under the Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi. Police officers try to stop her, but she won’t yield and tells them she’s the new president and their job is to protect her not to stand in her way. The officers yield, laughing but also helpless facing a will power beyond their grasp.
The story starts out in the night Appu’s father dies. In flashbacks we relive his childhood with him, the confusion he felt about his mother’s outbursts, mutterings and delusions. He matures far beyond his age in the two years of the major crisis. The child’s ignorant but attentive perspective gives the story it’s unique charm and reminds us of Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus, where we also encounter a world turned upside down through the eyes of a naive boy.
Sepia Leaves is an important book that can help people cope with mental illness, but it’s also a wonderful piece of literature. The older narrator’s thoughts during the night of the watch guiding us along into a past well worth exploring.
If you want to find out more about the author and his work, go to http://www.amandeepsandhu.com/.