Prabha Khaitan Foundation organized a session of An Author’s Afternoon with Vidhie Mukerjea. Vidhie is a young, dynamic author born in India and raised in Bristol. She is the daughter of Peter and Indrani Mukerjea. She has poured her heart out in her book, ‘Devil’s Daughter’, a personal reflection on one of the most harrowing experiences one could possibly encounter. In conversation with her was Ehsaas woman of Kolkata, Esha Datta.
6 years ago, when Vidhie’s mother was arrested on the eve of her 18th birthday, she completely went into shock which led her into numbness. She didn’t cry for the first 2 months after her mother’s arrest as she had no idea what to make of it at the young age of 17, just turning 18. She believes that there are only 2 ways of dealing with something like this, one is to delve into the issue and second is to completely shut off from it. She chose the latter as she didn’t what else she could have done and started escaping from her feelings and the first thing she did was take a flight to London and start her University. After getting to her University, she started pretending as if nothing was happening back home, to feel normal and in her head, she even believed everything to be fine. She says that right after her dad’s arrest she spiraled out of control. She only spoke to her parents and mom and dad about things and her dad was the only one who was helping her out through everything but once her dad was gone, she didn’t know how to deal with everything anymore. Even her friends started disappearing from her life following the incident and she was left alone to face her problems.
She says that she was extremely stubborn and opinionated as a young girl because of which she didn’t form relationships with her extended family and cousins. It took her a really long time to realize that that’s where she was at. When her family came to help after both her parents’ arrest, they were shocked to see how she was dealing with everything, she didn’t reflect any pain that she was feeling. This made them feel that she wasn’t feeling anything and was just doing her own thing. She was in denial for 5 years and finally, only last year accepted that what was happening to her is real. She realized that she was alone and that she had to be okay with this, had to parent herself and had to get through life herself and understand who she was as a person. She created a huge wall around her and didn’t trust anyone except her parents, not even her friends. This took a huge toll on her as she stopped talking to her mom for 2 years and could only communicate with her father through letters.
Vidhie alienated herself from everybody and chose to be that way. She had gone on a trip by herself essentially and after returning, she didn’t keep in touch with her friends or family. She was spending time with herself only, which she was extremely scared to do and she tried to find ways to not be with herself. Even though it was scary and tough, spending time with herself made her understand herself in a way she didn’t think was possible. She realized that people are put in situations that they have the ability to come out of. For her, understanding who she was and going through something called shadow work, which is a form of shadow therapy where a person works with themselves and tries to know the deepest and darkest parts of one’s self. This helped with her anxiety and she came out a new person at the end of the 4 months that she underwent the psychotherapy.
She talks about mental health and says that in India, mental health is still considered a taboo topic. People are ashamed to say that they are not fine and the idea that it is okay not to be okay needs to be enforced. Nobody can have good days forever, that is not normal. Life is about duality and to have light there needs to be dark as well. She says that seeking help is very important thing and is something that everyone needs to have a person that they can get an unbiased opinion from. She says that it’s not easy to talk to someone and advises that everyone should start by talking to themselves.
She has travelled a lot and talks fondly of her travels. Most of her travels have been impulsive and trips that she had originally planned to be 1 month trips extended to 3 or 4 month trips. During her travels, she stayed in hostels, villager’s homes and even learnt to cook on fire. Once, while staying in a hostel, she ran out of money and even worked as a bartender to cover the expenses of her trip. She doesn’t feel like she will ever pay for a hotel ever again and is also writing another book that talks about all of this.
She talks about when she met her mother after 2 years, she was not in a good space and her father had advised her to go see her mother. Before meeting her she thought that her mother would be angry with her but when she met her, she actually broke down in front of her. This incident made her realize that there were two people that loved her and this led to her starting to work on herself understand herself and her mother better.