Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Keeping sane in an insane world

According to Gwyneth Lewis, National Poet of Wales in 2005-6, we should expand our concept of what is healthy to include depression, because it is "an important corrective mechanism for keeping us sane in an insane world". Gwyneth was talking on the BBC Radio 4 programme You and Yours today - here is a deep link to the talk - hope it is still functioning when you click it!

The programme invited several well-known people to talk about What disability means to me. Gwyneth was resistant to considering herself as disabled, even though the symptoms of clinical depression are indeed disabling while they last. On the contrary, despite dreading any signs of a possible impending attack, she looks at the positive effects depression can have, of getting things into context and escaping the tyranny of expectations that we should all be "high-earning, athletic-looking, brand-wearing consumers".

I have a number of good friends who are, like me, recovering depressives (or should that be depressives in remission?!) and sometimes we sit in a coffee shop and watch people rushing by, and wonder how many of them are in touch with their souls and how many are quietly desperate but haven't yet faced up to their problems or even realised they have them. Depression is not something to be wished on anyone - except maybe the idiots who say "Pull yourself together and get on with life" - but it does indeed have the upside of helping us see the world as it really is. That could be depressing in itself, but we know that we aren't the crazies - the crazies are the people who rush around in "the insane world" without ever finding out what life is for.

If someone in your life has or seems to have depression, I strongly recommend Gwyneth Lewis's book Sunbathing in the Rain, a cheerful book about depression!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Messages from India

India escaped from the British Empire on August 15th, 1947. The event was referred to as "the granting of Independence", though I find it hard nowadays to understand how a country the size of India, with such a wealth of ancient culture, religion, science and philosophy could ever have been "dependent" on Queen Victoria and her successors. Subjugated by ruthless military force and cunning diplomacy, yes, but "dependent"? Never. One of the big what-ifs of history is where we would be today if the colonial powers had developed honest open trade with the Indian sub-continent instead of behaving like pirates and attempting to subjugate the people. A Hindu friend tells me that bribery and corruption were not a serious problem in India until they were introduced by the British as part of their scheme to divide and rule. Whether this is true or not, he certainly believes it.

Back in 1947, I was a six year old schoolboy at a Catholic school with a mixture of gentle Irish and Jingoist English teachers. I learned that the Empire was a Good Thing, and its gradual transformation into the Commonwealth was a Good Thing too, because all the peoples still recognized George VI as their King, even if he could no longer stamp IND IMP (Emperor of India) on the coinage. And our wonderful missionaries would eventually convert all the benighted Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs to the one true Catholic faith, Amen. No mention of Buddhists, Jains, the ancient Christian Churches in Kerala and all the other traditions. Missionaries have to keep their view simple.

Since then, I have met many people from different countries of the sub-continent here in the UK, and as I am interested in religion and politics I have had many fascinating discussions which washed away my earlier indoctrination and replaced it with respect. However, there is also an uneasiness here about the way that large parts of the population of India live in extreme poverty and degradation, while other parts are enormously rich. I'm not a missionary, so I don't try to do anything about it other than contribute to Oxfam, but I do watch news reports from India with interest.

News reports, unfortunately, are biased and filtered. Not deliberately, but because the news corporations are interested only in the sensational, so the daily lives of real people are not covered. Therefore it was a breath of fresh air to come across Didi Seena's blog, Humming Leaves. Didi Seena describes herself as a hopeless romantic, but her writing brings a strong sense of what the real India of real people is like now. Many thanks, Seena, I'll keep reading!