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Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a book about the Indian diaspora with a difference – focusing on the protagonist instead of the usual ‘immigrant experience’.
“You never asked to be raped. Biology works differently. So what if your body responded; your mind didn’t! He violated you…”
A sexual abuse survivor who I was once counselling told me about how she was accused of “enjoying her rape” because she had an orgasm, even though she kept screaming her lungs out to stop the perpetrator from committing the heinous crime. Thoughts of her ordeal make me shudder even today. So, when I read the above line in author Sweta Srivastava Vikram’s latest novel Louisiana Catch, it hit a raw nerve. It made me sit up and applaud the author’s gumption and valour to talk about issues which most would prefer to bury under their carpets.
This line actually encapsulates the essence of the novel which is an honest, uninhibited, sensitive and courageous story of a woman whose journey about finding her inner strength in the face of adversity will indubitably touch your heart.
Ahana is a 33 year old modern woman from New Delhi who is struggling to come to terms with her divorce. The toxic relationship has impacted her deeply, and just when she begins to pick up the pieces and move on, tragedy strikes again.
She loses the most important person in her life who has always been her anchor in times of distress – her mother. Her life seems to be in shambles, and in order to escape it all, she takes up the responsibility of spearheading a feminist conference in New Orleans.
Two men enter her life at this vulnerable juncture and while one of them seems to be a friend she can open up to, she feels offended by the other’s bawdy sense of humour and ostensibly flirtatious demeanour. But, are people always the way they appear to be? Does the grief-stricken and distraught Ahana unearth the vigour from within to trust and love again? And most importantly, can Ahana break free from the gloomy labyrinths she feels caged in as a survivor of sexual violence?
I was mighty impressed with the way the author has fleshed out each character in the novel. They not just contribute significantly to the plot but are convincingly portrayed.
In Ahana, the author has created a protagonist who will make you experience a myriad of emotions just by the way she is. You will find yourself rooting for her, cheering for her, shedding tears with her and smiling with her. She could be anyone you know. And while the story is narrated from her perspective, you get to know as much about every other character in the tale. They are the kind of people we meet in our daily lives, bringing their own unique flavour to the novel.
I think there could not have been a better time for a book like Louisiana Catch to hit the stores. In the wake of the recent #MeToo movement, and other such campaigns which have got the world talking about the appalling realities of sexual abuse, this book will certainly inspire and give more courage to survivors to speak up. There is no mincing of words and the author gives a loud and clear message that it is never the fault of the victim. She successfully brings the trauma and guilt that victims go through to the forefront, and makes a strong case about shifting the narrative and putting the onus on the sinner rather than the sufferer.
While the story is woven through with this key thread, there are also various other social issues highlighted by the author; like domestic violence, toxic friendships, stalking, online bullying, and emotional abuse. And even though the subjects addressed in the story are grim, the novel comes across as a light read and all credit for this goes to the unassuming and straightforward writing style. The prose is simple, evocative, deep and meaningful, and will make you reflect without pushing you to the edge.
While working as a volunteer with an NGO in the rehabilitation of rescued human trafficking survivors, I had recommended dance therapy as one of the ways to help in the healing process. Strangely, many people found it amusing, only to discover later that this was one of the most impactful workshops conducted by the NGO that year.
The truth is that as a society, we still have a myopic view of sexual abuse and are not aware of the practical ways to help in the rehabilitation of survivors. The author’s sensibility, knowledge and rationality come to the fore with the way she has handled the protagonist’s approach to recuperate and heal through the medium of yoga and meditation. The process is gradual and organic, and lends credibility to the character’s graph as the story progresses.
All the relationships between the various characters in the story have been beautifully depicted. Be it Ahana’s rapport with her family members, or the way she connects with her friends, or the manner in which romance brews in her life, every bond strikes a chord. It is interesting that the mother-child relationship is one of the most heart-warming aspects of the tale, even though the mother’s character is declared dead just a few pages into the novel. The author has managed to achieve this by sprinkling the narrative with titbits that give us an in-depth insight to imagine how exactly the equation must have been between Ahana and her mother.
In summary, Louisiana Catch is one of those books which has the potential to change our society for the better and that is its prime victory. If you are a feminist, then this book is for you. If you are not one, then this book is definitely for you.
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Top image via author’s Facebook page and book cover via Amazon