My Mother’s Lesson (Guest Post for CaffeinatedLife.net)

Here’s a guest piece I wrote for Caffeinated Life about early English lessons from my Mom:

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My Mother’s Lesson

When I was 6 years old, my mother and I traveled from Montreal to her hometown of Srivila, a tiny village bordering Kolkata, India. While the reason for the trip was ostensibly so I could connect with her side of the family, the fact that we left immediately after a huge fight with my father smacked of one of her trademark emotional power plays. After a few weeks of shopping for saris and jewelry in the plush, air-conditioned havens along Park Street, she returned to her previous work as an elementary school teacher. I was largely left to my own devices in this new country, and often accompanied her to class. Sitting in the back of high-ceilinged rooms with slowly whirring fans overhead, I witnessed an entirely new side of her: quick-witted, withering when a student failed to live up to expectations, and possessed of a deep love for English literature. When my father arrived months later to win back his family (hint: copious gifts to my mother were involved), she once more laid her profession aside to raise me and follow the hundred unwritten rules of a wife in a conservative Bengali family. Only one element of that fiery teacher remained: every afternoon, once my schoolwork was done, I was to carry out a writing assignment for her eyes only.

Some days it was a short story. Others it was writing a set of poems. The subject matter could be of my choosing, but the deadline was always evening’s end. Over a cup of tea and some butter biscuits, my mother would ruthlessly mark up the day’s efforts with a red pen. Yet aside from grammar and composition errors, she never passed judgment on the work itself. At school, there was constant pressure to excel. At home, the requirements of being a well-behaved Indian boy, seen but rarely heard, choked off open communication. But within those pages, I discovered an avenue for self-expression whose limits expanded in lockstep with my explorations.

At age 9, we learnt via the dreaded midnight call from India that my grandfather had passed away. Although my mother’s father, a kindly former business executive with wisps of white hair protesting baldness and thick coke bottle glasses, had spent years dealing with diabetes and glaucoma, his death was unexpected and came as a terrible shock. My mother packed a bag and once more left for Srivila, this time without her son in tow. When she came back a stack of writing assignments were on the nightstand awaiting her approval. But her attention had shifted. In the following weeks, we looked on helplessly as the schizophrenia which had lain dormant capitalized on a daughter’s grief and consumed her whole. A woman who loved to gossip and throw parties spent 18 hours a day locked in her bedroom, having increasingly agitated conversations with voices in her head. The bright saris she favored were replaced by all-black clothing. She got into violent altercations with strangers on the street, and began to spout paranoid conspiracies to explain every turn of fortune. Worst of all was seeing the love in her eyes replaced by the hollow brightness of an actress playing a role. She wasn’t my mother, not really. Only the voices knew who she really was, and everyone else was just an imposter out to make her forget the glory of her true destiny. When the paramedics finally came to drag her, kicking and screaming, to the hospital, the only clear emotion I felt was numbness. In the ensuing 16 years, as she cycled in and out of various treatment facilities, making progress, coming back home, only to eventually relapse and suffer another breakdown, I kept writing and discovering the layers of disappointment and anger and bruised love that come with caring for someone with such a debilitating disease. Only I’d stopped believing she would ever read these entries, and did it now solely in the interests of self-preservation.

By age 25, a life spent on the run from the shadow cast by my mother’s illness had left me utterly alone. In a strange echo of my mother’s personality changes, I’d embarked on a career as an actor, escaping into roles like a doctor trying to save Rachel Weisz’s life in The Fountain (and getting pummeled by Hugh Jackman in the process), and spurned lover roles in Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions. But this talent for invention had also spilled over and altered other facets of my life. I invented pleasant family backgrounds in the face of a girlfriend’s questions. I mimicked the preoccupations and preferences of whomever I encountered in the hopes that they’d like me. Ultimately, no one stuck around. Maybe I didn’t really want them to. As I stared out at the snowy blue-grey Montreal skyline on New Years Day 2006, I saw that my entire life had been predicated on a fiction. By pretending to be other people, I’d really held up the shame of the past beyond all else. I’d let it rule my relationships with others, guide me in all things, and it had led to here. In that loft with only my cat for company, I felt the sharp sting of tears, the acknowledgement of the pain I’d tried so hard to lock away. And I began thinking: if a fiction had gotten me into this mess, perhaps a fiction could get me out.

Since the publication of my first novel, The Isolation Door, in February of this year, readers of all ages have reached out to me with stories of caring for loved ones through mental illness and other battles. In the book, a 23-year-old named Neil Kapoor takes his first steps towards manhood while grappling with the effects of a mother’s schizophrenic breakdown. While the Kapoor family differs in certain ways from the Majumdars, the emotional journeys of the mother, father and son was as close to the truth as I could get it. In the years that I spent fighting to get the book published, the doctors found a combination of drugs that effectively controlled my mother’s symptoms and finally put an end to the relapse-and-recovery wheel that she’d been on. Today her face has trouble expressing emotion. Sometimes you can see her struggling to make sense of what others are saying. Most painful for a book lover, she’s lost the concentration necessary to sink into a long work. Yet her son’s novel remains on the nightstand, and every time my wife, young son and I visit I can’t help but pick it up and quickly thumb through the pages in search of those telltale red correction marks.

Purchase my first novel, The Isolation Door, on Amazon.com (Paperback and Kindle) and shoot me a tweet @dashamerican letting me know what you think! 

 

Foreword Reviews on The Isolation Door

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Here’s an excerpt from the Foreword review of my first novel, The Isolation Door (I was completely blown away by this one):

Neil’s college theatre group and family members strike a cord with their vivid realism.

The Isolation Door is the first novel of journalist Anish Majumdar, a man of complex heritage. Bengali-born, raised in Montreal, and currently living in the United States, Majumdar entwines elements of experience and perception into fiction both finely textured and eloquently fragmented.

Niladri “Neil” Kapoor is a twenty-three-year-old college student, but his story goes beyond the usual angst and ardor of twentysomethings. Priya, Neil’s beautiful and charismatic mother, is losing her prolonged battle with schizophrenia, a condition which has a seismic effect on Neil and his own hopes for the future. Although Priya has suffered another serious breakdown, Neil enrolls in a theatre program at a local university. The claustrophobic world of his home life begins to open up through his studies, and he meets new friends and lovers. Majumdar deftly uses his protagonist’s drama coursework to parallel the more disturbing drama of his personal reality. Emotions are exposed and manipulated to learn the craft of acting, and Neil is no longer able to be so guarded and self-contained.

As Gary, Neil’s sage and sometimes ruthless professor, notes, “Actors have worked on this stage for over forty years. Fighting demons, opening their hearts, discovering, magically, that they’re not alone … [w]hat we show others creates the most amazing energy. One with the power to heal.”

Beyond the classroom, however, Neil feels overwhelmed by his mother’s hospitalization and her ineffective and even sadistic treatments. Majumdar enters dark territory here, guiding us through the labyrinth of mental-health care and the strain it can place on families. And while Neil’s college comrades, Emily, Tim, and Quincy, are convincingly defined and intriguingly flawed, the characters of his family network truly resonate. His haplessly determined father, fiery yet vulnerable mother, wealthy Auntie, and jovial, pragmatic Ganguly Uncle are all vivid and memorable.

The Isolation Door is recommended for its especially appealing narrative voice and cultural contrasts. Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri may enjoy this novel, as may anyone who has experienced the unnerving challenge of coping with the mental illness of a loved one.

Grab a copy of my first novel, The Isolation Door on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle).

Calling All Book Clubs!

Here’s a clip from a recent book club meeting on The Isolation Door hosted by 2 wonderful friends of mine in Rochester, Ben & Leora. I talk about the family circumstances which inspired it as well as the journey from secrecy towards sharing my past with others.

 

Anish Majumdar Book Club Clip

 

If your book club has read The Isolation Door: A Novel and would be interested in scheduling a Phone/Skype chat with me, just send me a message through the Contact page of this site or shoot me a tweet at @dashamerican. Enjoy!

 

A Night with An Author (And Beer)!

A Night with An Author (and Beer)!

Venue: ROC Brewing, 56 South Union Street, Rochester, NY 14607

Date: May 22, 2014

Event Type: Author Presentation & Q&A, Social

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Come out and enjoy a craft beer while hearing from a local published author!

On May 22, for Mental Health Awareness Month, Rochester author and young professional Anish Majumdar (AnishMajumdar.com) will be speaking on publishing his first novel, The Isolation Door, and the events that inspired it—namely, his mother’s struggle with schizophrenia and the profound impact it had on his upbringing and life’s journey. Anish will also be discussing the role the city has played in his development as an artist, particularly the rich base of resources and community support. A short presentation will be followed by a Q&A session and book signing.

The Isolation Door (Ravana Press) is available now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. A portion of the proceeds from every book sold will be donated to schizophrenia research and treatment.

*****Please make sure to RSVP because space is limited: rypcommunitydevelopment@gmail.com

 

Kirkus Back Story: From Memoir to Magic

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Here’s an excerpt from a Kirkus Reviews Back Story piece I wrote on my first novel, The Isolation Door, and its journey from memoir to fiction:

I began writing what would eventually become The Isolation Door, my first novel, on a frosty January morning in 2005. While it would be tempting to say that dreams of hitting the best-seller lists fueled those first few pages, desperation is a far more accurate answer.

I was 25 years old, working as a professional actor in Montreal, and utterly cut off from friends and family. This exile was self-imposed; after a lifetime spent in the shadow of my mother’s paranoid schizophrenia, I felt like it was the only way to break loose of my dysfunctional upbringing and create a new life. Acting, at its best, is spontaneous invention, and this skill came in very handy when navigating personal relationships. Rather than talk about the darkness and insecurity that comes with seeing a loved one consumed by the voices in her head, I invented backstories about my family and fondly recalled happy memories that never occurred. I preemptively cut ties with girlfriends and close friends who cared about me, believing that it would only be a matter of time before they’d peek behind the curtain and see the emotional wreckage. The end result was an inability to hold onto anyone for very long, and during that endless winter I realized that depression had sunken its claws deeply into me. After trying so hard to be someone else, I’d ended up in a prison of the mind not unlike my mother’s.

So I decided to write out the memories which were haunting me. Mainly to relieve some of the internal pressure, but also with the idea of possibly creating a memoir. The first few memories came easily. Visiting my mother in a high-security wing of Douglas Hospital in Montreal, the smell I’ll never forget of ammonia and bodies trapped for too long in a confined space. My father and I picking up the house after she’d been forcibly taken back to the hospital to begin yet another round of treatment, her screams and pleadings still ringing in our ears. Soon, though, keeping the timeline of life events in place became extremely difficult. Sitting impotently in front of my laptop, I realized that the way my brain dealt with unpleasant situations was to fuzz them out. Only it had butchered a situation requiring a surgeon’s delicacy, axing out entire years of my life with nothing left save for vague recollections.

The story might have ended there. But during the next few days, my subconscious kicked into overdrive. I had visions of a Bengali-American family, similar to my own yet different. A father who taught at a small college town, a kind man enabling his wife’s illness out of love. A mother whose charm and vitality had grown toxic through years of schizophrenia. And, trapped in their midst, a 23-year-old named Neil Kapoor, vacillating between being there for his family and striking out on his own. It was like looking into a fractured mirror, and every break, every difference offered a place for my imagination to roam free. The words began to come, first a trickle, then a torrent.

Read the full essay here.

Purchase the Isolation Door on Amazon.com

Thanks to everyone for the support and feedback on the book- it is truly appreciated! -Anish

 

The Isolation Door Reader Question: What’s Real & What’s Fiction?

Isolation Door Reader Question: What's Real & What's Fiction?

Pick up a copy of The Isolation Door, my debut novel about growing up and finding love in the shadow of a schizophrenic parent on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle):

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Chatting with “Conversations Live” Host Cyrus Webb About Growing Up With Schizophrenia and The Isolation Door

I had a wonderful time chatting with Cyrus Webb, host of “Conversations LIVE! Radio” about my experiences growing up with schizophrenia, finding a life beyond the darkness, and how real life bled into the fictional universe of The Isolation Door. I truly appreciated the insightful questions and support- this was such a pleasure to do.

CLICK HERE to listen to the full interview!

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Anish Majumdar Joins Listen Up! Talk Radio To Talk About Schizophrenia on “Mattters of the Mind”

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Anish Majumdar joins Dr. Peter Sacco and Todd Miller on Listen Up! Talk Radio to talk about life with a schizophrenic parent and writing his newly-released novel, The Isolation Door, on “Matters Of The Mind”.

CLICK HERE to listen to the interview (hint: click on the “Matters of the Mind on Demand” button, then click on the following episode: 140105 MOTM Vol 35 SCHIZOPHRENIA. The interview with Anish starts around the 20:00 minute mark. Thanks!

 

Isolation Door Behind-the-Scenes Video: Losing A Mother

This is a video which talks about the gradual realization, when coping with a parent with schizophrenia, that the person you loved is gone. Of course, pieces remain, and your job is to love those pieces while also coming to terms with this changed individual. It’s a painful and very difficult process- even though it’s been almost 8 years since my mother’s paranoid schizophrenic has been stabilized, it’s not something I’ll ever fully be able to accept.