Book Review: I have never been (un)Happier

-by Shaheen Bhatt

-review by Sanskar Jhajharia

Lights, Camera . . . Inaction

Unwittingly known as Alia Bhatt’s older sister, screenwriter and fame-child Shaheen Bhatt has been a powerhouse of quiet restraint—until now. In a sweeping act of courage, she now invites you into her head.

Shaheen was diagnosed with depression at eighteen, after five years of already living with it. In this emotionally arresting memoir, she reveals the daily experiences and debilitating big picture of one of the most critically misinterpreted mental illnesses in the twenty-first century. With honesty and a profound self-awareness, Shaheen lays claim to her sadness, finding it a home in the universal fabric of the human condition.
In this multi-dimensional, philosophical tell-all, Shaheen acknowledges, accepts and overcomes the peculiarities of this way of being alive. A topic of massive interest to anyone living with mental health disorders, ‘I’ve Never Been (un)Happier’ stretches out its hand to gently provide solace and solidarity.

How many of us talk about mental health? I bet, almost every one of us does. But do we know how it feels? Do we know what it is like to live with it? How can we stop something that’s beyond our control? Surely, only those going through the trauma knows the pain. To be honest, I felt the book was raw and straight from the author’s heart.

I have a thing for looking at the life of author herself to understand the book more. And Shaheen’s life in depression amidst the glamour and fame of her family puts end to various stereotypes surrounding depression. She reports various instances of how the same fame and life of her celebrated and famous family members further accentuated her situation to worst. Here I understood from her perspective, coming from the family she was from, a successful father who is a renowned filmmaker, a beautiful mother who was once in a successful cinematic actor, a super talented sister with beaming awards in her name and so on. Somewhere she felt that she didn’t fit into the family. To put all these in words, it must have been even harder than going through the phase.

The book openly talks about her thought on suicide and where there were days she didn’t even want to get out of her bed. For people like me, I won’t understand what it must have been to be trapped with something beyond our control, but I understood the pain of trying to break something which is not anyone’s choice.

“Your pain, like your fingerprints, is unique to you. In other words, you can buy happiness off the rack, but sadness is tailor-made just for you.”

Shaheen rightly points out, “Happiness is a one-note emotion that doesn’t challenge you in any way.”

The book can be conveniently broken down into three distinct parts. The first part, say the starting 20% of the content deals with what depression is. I have personally known people who have been through this at different stages of their life but the ease and comfort with which Shaheen describes it, is commendable. There she has also given a number of instances of her life which she thinks might be the points where she might have contacted this ‘disease’ but fails to pin point on one of them as ‘the’ cause. This is so relatable as these are very normal situations which a lot of us might have gone through or might have seen people been through, but never thought that it could be so devastating. I loved the details that Shaheen had chosen to share in such few words in such great depths. Kudos to her for that.

One of the best quotes I take back would be – “We’re taught early in life to keep our emotions hidden and we’re especially taught that negative emotions have no place in a public domain.”

When I read thereafter, I began to lose the sheen. I felt like in one way or another, by use of different narratives and metaphorical descriptions, Shaheen had been describing the same instances of how depression had been catching up with her and how she would keep succumbing to it every other day and night, silently. Yes, the writing was without any doubt top notch. No doubts and qualms about her calibre on that front. Yet, somehow, I just wasn’t happy with the content. Maybe it was because I haven’t personally been through the same. One of my close buddies who had been through this phase a year back, mentioned how he loved that portion.

But, but and but.

Just the way when eating a Cornetto, the end is the best. The same turned out to be true with this book as well. Shaheen went on to share her experiences and instances out of her own life describing what factors lifted or exacerbated her equation with depression from time to time. She began to share what role her father and mother played, and how her sister, Alia’s rise and the engagement of others in the talented family affected her. And, those narrations completely won me over. These bits of the book were no more poetic representations. There was no romanticization either. It was as raw and real as a piece of writing could have gotten. Thus, there is no reason why I would not have loved it.

What stood out the most in this book for me is how it doesn’t really bring a definite start and end to her struggle with depression. This makes it all the way more natural and pure. It seemed like she has poured her emotions all over the book. Another striking feature of the book is the series of snaps she has included from her personal diaries. Those are just raw emotions with not a single pint of adulteration. The vulnerability and toxicity of what she was going through are clearly reflected in those. Whether you have ever been a victim of depression or not, there is so much that this book can teach you about what depression is and what it can be like to be suffering at its hands. It’s so much important because even if you aren’t a victim at its clutches, someone you know could be. Someone who matters to you could be. And, to support and to best understand them and their plight, this book has the potential to give you the maximum exposure in minimum content. Thus, a highly recommended read. Do read the book. Even if you don’t want to learn about depression, read this book to look differently at the ever-elusive “happiness”.

Imagery- 7/10

Background- 8/10

Writing- 9/10

Overall- 7/10

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