Issues related to women’s mental health have always occupied centre-stage attention. The reasons for this are not hard to find. The lived realities of women’s existence that highlight their subjugation and distress in a patriarchal order have been the subject matter of literary narrations, theatre enactments and academic courses on gender. One almost always encounters the trials and struggles of suffering protagonists with heightened vulnerability to depression, free floating anxiety, often bordering on mental illness as the main story line or the text narrative. The model is one of women being victims of insensitive, hapless social systems. It is in this backdrop that Mahima Nayar’s book comes as a very refreshing and significant contribution, for it asserts very strongly that women have their own voice and agency and can assume control over their own lives. It is almost as if Positive Psychology comes alive in her writings with the focus shifting to women building resilience, rather than crumbling or succumbing to the weight of societal pressures.
The other very attractive feature is the visible departure from what may be labelled, presenting the textual narrative as a clinical case study which is usually how authors in the field of mental health build their treatise or worldview. Nayar takes recourse to presenting nuanced depictions of women’s experiences and emotions, locating them in the culture, context and social fabric of their lives. These give the much needed authenticity and richness to the discourse that she is trying to build. A long innings in fieldwork experience and the ability to theorize from ground realities are evident all through her writing.
As is implicit in the title, the book is about the lives of women from low income families and neighbourhoods who face threats and challenges to their mental health on a regular ongoing basis on account of poverty and limited resources. The focus is on highlighting the psychosocial distress that they face as a by-product of their socio-economic condition and the pressures of urbanism. But the story does not end there. The reader is transported into a world of hope, wherein many of the women themselves are able to find ways of treatment and catharsis, be it visits to local healers who use indigenous healing practices, contacting local doctors and at times altering their own self-perceptions to negotiations from a position of strength. Issues related to their sense of self and identity are also woven in very subtly into the text.