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  • Writer's pictureDeepthi Rajan

What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang Makes for A Deeply Cathartic Reading Experience

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

I am tired and exasperated. For the umpteenth time, I tell my mother not to exert herself by climbing the stairs. It’s dangerous, she has barely slept. Chastised, she stands in the corner of my room, wringing her hands with a helpless frightful look on her face.

Depression is a strange thing.

It makes a stranger out of those you think you know even better than yourself.

Often, I find myself looking at my mother, sometimes that look turning into a stare, searching for the person I knew.

My mother is the epitome of strength and courage. She personifies kindness, generosity, and she’s incredibly perceptive. And she’s got a memory that’s to be envied. I haven’t known anyone who has an elephantine memory like hers. One of the most capable individuals, she has always amazed those who know her with the way she deftly managed her home and family.

But every few years she’d withdraw into a shell. Unable to get up from her bed, she’d huddle into a small bundle, disconnected from everything around her. But once she’d recover, it was almost like we’d all be swept up by a joyous wave. Home felt like home again.

As I became older, I started to recognize that her “spells of illness” arose from a mental health disorder rather than physical. I’d grow increasingly embarrassed when I’d see her struggle, during her low phases, to even sustain basic conversations with acquaintances.

“Why can’t she try more?”

“She’s doing this on purpose!”

I’d be seething inside, raging against her in my mind, always blaming her because I was convinced that she could control her depression if she wanted to.

It was, therefore, a cathartic experience when I read What we carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang.

Beautifully written, this memoir would resonate with sandwich carers who are simultaneously caring for their young children and elderly parents.

It’s a tough role and mostly a mix of hope and heartbreaks where you find yourself see-sawing among many emotions, sometimes within the course of a few minutes, as you take care of your once-infallible parents.

Maya Shanbhag Lang is an accomplished author with an unpretentious writing style, making it easy to fall in love with her story.

Short chapters, conversational tone and on point narration make What we carry an easy read.

But there’s nothing easy about the thoughts, questions, and choices that Maya grapples with throughout the book.

What we carry will make you reminisce and ponder over your own relationships with your family.

As I read the book, I was confronted with several questions of my own. The most important one was how little I knew about my mother. I knew parts of her childhood. Her happy memories that she shared with relish with my sister and me. Darker memories, she buried them deep inside her.

What we carry helped me see more clearly how my family has rallied behind my mother. Be it my sister’s dogged determination to help our mother or my father’s quiet devotion to his wife, their infinite patience is what has kept my mother anchored as she oscillates between the extreme ends of the mood spectrum, from vocal defiance to meek submissiveness.

And it has also sadly, brought to the fore, how little I have been of help with nothing to show for except only my desperate wishes for my mother to be normal again.

Mental health issues are taboo topics and it’s extremely uncomfortable for the patients and their loved ones to talk about these issues openly. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to accept. Sometimes, the acceptance never comes by.

As a recent World Health Organization’s report mentions, mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, dementia affect over 300 million people worldwide and are some of the biggest causes of disability.

I believe in writing What we carry, Maya Shanbhag Lang has shown tremendous courage as she shares her mother’s gradual decline due to Alzheimer’s and in doing so, has brought to light a topic that needs to be talked about more often.

But What we carry is so much more than about mother-daughter relationships or mental disorders. Through the book, we also witness the enormous personal transformation that Maya achieves as she confronts some of her biggest demons.

Having pivoted through multiple careers by the age of 28, she finds her true calling as a writer. But even then, she takes many years to finally get comfortable with her career choices and to discover her self-worth and focus.

What we carry in many ways is a wonderful lesson in empathy, hope and redemption.

Reading What we carry will help you not only appreciate your sometimes complex relationship dynamics that you have with your parents and your children but also contemplate about the future you want to have with yourself.

Here’s a touching line from the book –

I thought this was going to be a dark and difficult time for my family, one of strain. It occurs to me that diamonds aren’t made voluntarily. What lump of coal would opt for so much time and pressure? It could be that what shapes us against our choosing is what makes us shine.

We, at MyBookWorks, highly recommend What we carry.

It’s definitely a book that’ll stay with you long after you’ve read it.

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