Eminent Businesswoman Aparna Piramal Raje Speaks Of Living With Bipolar Disorder

Women in particular face a lot of bias even when it comes to mental healthcare and awareness in our country. Aparna Piramal Raje's Chemical Khichdi brings more conversation to the table.

The conversations around mental health and particularly suicide prevention peak around 10th September every year as it is World Suicide Prevention Day. But we need to normalise having these conversations to reduce the myths, misconceptions, stigma and taboo around mental health and deaths by suicide.

In India due to the stigma and taboo few people come out in the open to speak about their mental illnesses, and even public figures shy away from sharing their mental health statuses. In such a scenario sharing lived experiences by a public figure is a huge leap in normalising highly stigmatised conditions like Bipolar Disorder.

This latest book by Aparna Piramal Raje is her memoir as a person living with bipolarity and her lived experiences is a welcome move in this direction. Aparna is a famous columnist, writer and business tycoon who hails from a reputed Indian business family- the Piramals, she has been the former CEO of BP Ergo, one of India’s largest modular office furniture companies.

Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health (2022) published by Ebury Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House India, evokes curiosity as to why a mental health book be named after a vernacular dish that is so simple and yet versatile. In this book, Piramal Raje meticulously weaves threads of what worked for her, making the book into  a sort of self-help guide for other survivors and caregivers who want to understand the wide spectrum of mental health, and bipolar disorder- 1 in particular.

Why the language of speaking about mental health matters

As a mental health and suicide prevention activist I often face the dilemma of sensitive language for this area of work. What should the survivors be called? What verbs to use and how? These are questions we as activists and counsellors also face every day.

Piramal Raje tackles the issue head on and writes, “There is a debate about whether one should say ‘I am bipolar’ or ‘I have bipolar’ – the latter, to my mind, seems grammatically incorrect.” She chooses to say “I am bipolar” or “I live with bipolarity”.

The author thinks the word “disorder” means there is “a malfunction of some sort” – she insists on calling it “a mental health condition” instead.

Chemical Khichdi is thus a semi-formal attempt and quasi-medical attempt at defining how a mental health condition may alter the life graph of anyone. Even someone like Aparna who comes from a premium business family of the country, has been to the best educational institutions and has lived a fairly “normal” life as a parent, spouse and sibling.

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Our allies in our mental health journey

Women in particular face a lot of bias even when it comes to mental healthcare and awareness in our country. This is not just a proven fact, but my own lived experience too. Our allies are few and far between.

Piramal Raje writes, “The word ‘ally’ is commonly used to describe friendly nations who come together in wartime to protect one another. It is particularly appropriate for someone with a mental health condition such as mine, which often feels like a psychological and physiological civil war.” She elaborates how her mother, sister, husband, children, friends and mentors sheltered her during this ‘wartime’ and nourished her during ‘peacetime’. How her team of caregivers created a system of support for her that was crucial for her thriving with the condition.

The lived experience of the author speaks to the reader

The three part format of the book has lived experience as the central theme running through all of these, and hence manages to evoke the empathy of even an impatient reader like me who gets intimidated by facts, figures and business jargon. The book is well-researched and has anecdotes about her marriage, parenting, sibling relationships, her parents’ divorce and the like that make it relatable for all commoners especially modern women.

The book is easy to read and her  lucid style  shines through even when she describes something as mundane as definitions and triggers.

What doesn’t work for me

The author remains empathetic and candid while being aware of her privileges because of coming from a particular class. However, the use of the word ‘hack’ for  mental health can however be debated.

Also a lot of mentions of the support she received easily and efficiently is something still not available to millions and that gap is difficult to bridge for many as readers. Supportive families in a country that abandons its mentally ill women are also rare and hence the role of caregivers as elucidated in the book is hard to relate to for many including me.

Due to all these reasons the entire section on seven therapies becomes hugely subjective and at points, unrelatable.

Overall the book is inquisitive and also insightful, full of varied lived experiences of a survivor and can be useful to survivors, institutions working on mental health as well as caregivers.

Though it would be difficult for a commoner to relate with some of the solutions or “therapies” offered because even love or space is a huge privilege in our society, which all people do not have.

A good one-time read for anyone who has any interest in mental health, mental illness and especially Bipolar Disorder.

Want a copy of this book?

If you’d like to pick up Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health written by Aparna Piramal Raje, use our affiliate links at Amazon Indiaand at Amazon US.

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Image source: YouTube and book cover Amazon

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About the Author

Pooja Priyamvada

Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant, and poet. An awarded bi-lingual blogger she is a trained psychological/mental health first aider, mindfulness & grief facilitator, emotional wellness trainer, reflective read more...

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