‘The thing about depression,” she said, “is that it permits you to smile. And therein lies its ultimate deceit. Because everyone looks at a smiley face and draws the same conclusion: There’s one happy person, wish I could be forever smiling, too!” However, sometimes, according to her, managing it all comes down to the fine art of “cooking”. Cooking up a balance, that is.
Lalita is such a diminutive figure, so pint-sized, you feel she’d fit in your pocket. She looks nothing like a chef, no headdress, no apron. Yet, here she is, all five-foot-two-inches of her, attired in a traditional floral-print saree of her home country, speaking to a rapt audience, about how she’s learned to “cook” things to her benefit in the “kitchen of her mind”.
It is an informal seminar on depression and coping. “Being granted immigration under exceptional circumstances itself ought to have cleared all the blackness, because that’s a light at the end of the tunnel you never imagine is there, and when it does appear miraculously, it’s like breaking through the water where you’ve been drowning, and breathing again,” she says. Only, if that relief turns out to be temporary, tempered with loss of other kinds — two miscarriages and the possible inability to ever bear a child again ... those incidents, she says, “become like riding a roller-coaster”.
One day, immigration granted. “You’re up in the sky, celebrating.” Next, “You’re married.” You celebrate even more. “What I didn’t realise at the time, was what science teaches us. That there’s a thing called gravity. And things that fly high, even higher, when they become victims of gravity, plunge very quickly. The fall is steep.”
As happened with the dual miscarriages, “the second of which nearly took my life. I know what several members of the audience are thinking and want to ask ... how does she cope? I’m here to tell you that, although it’s my own strategy. And what works for me may never work for you”.
When the blackness is over-enveloping, she said, she would pick out random, tiny incidents from the past and, like Diwali sparklers, set them alight. “The memory of my mother, for instance, holding a handful of grain out to the three hens and rooster that we had, and as a child me watching how these domestic birds even while fighting each other to get more grain, never once pecking her hand or fingers and making them bleed.
‘No bait, no hook’
“Or, another instance of my teenage brother sitting on the bank of the river pretending to fish, just a nylon line floating on the water’s surface, no bait, no hook, and saying to me, Lalita have you seen how the poor fish struggles when a hook is stuck in its throat, how hard it tries to get free and ... live? My brother Nitin couldn’t hurt a fly.”
So, when the darkness assails, “and sometimes I’ve felt like it’s easier to go under, to surrender, that’s when I reach into my bag of anecdotal sparklers, set fire to them one by one and watch them light up the darkened sky”.
Soon, if you have enough of these vivid memories to draw upon, you could pepper the landscape with tiny pinpoint flashes of brightness. And these little flashes, in their own small way, “help me see things through”, and “in time using this coping mechanism”. “I’ve found myself relying on it less and less’ until these days”, “more often when I smile, I feel it’s not a mask anymore, just the genuine me, slowly emerged on the other side.”
Lalita says the idea came to her from an accidentally-heard song by the singer, Enya. It was called Paint the Sky with Stars.
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.