Reviewed in India on 4 August 2017
Dying to Live by Monisha K. Gumber is an illustrated sequel to her previous novel, Sick of Being Healthy, which, I’ve already written about. The protagonist here is Tara’s BFF, Megha Deshpande, an all rounder - academic topper, swimming champ, sports captain and what not. This story follows Megha, having all that a girl could ask for, but she struggles to live her life happily, why?
Megha is a disciplined teenager. She is the ideal student, with her marks and achievements at sports, nobody could have ever thought that this girl could be unhappy. But yes, she was. When she meets Sandy, Dolly’s brother, she gets into a relationship with him. It doesn’t take long for her to understand that he is not right for her, still she continues to be with him, because she feels she can work this out. Things get bad when he hits her, really bad, and the whole secret relation gets out to their parents. Megha is broken, for she loved that son of a b***h. Her break up with an abusive boyfriend pushes her towards nervousness and self pity. She starts losing focus on studies, gets panic attacks and has series of fainting spells. To make matters worse, her parents divorce, her mother refuses to accept that she needs therapy, she loses the Nationals and her BFF Tara scores better than her in the pre-boards and also wins the All Rounder Title, which she always believed was for her. The final nail was when she checked her boards result, a topper, now she couldn’t even manage to score 70%!
Life definitely got different after the suicide attempt, for better or for worse, time will tell. Megha’s mama sent her to Ambala, her grandmother’s place, for her healing. Though Megha doubts that Nani had the capability to heal her, she still is game for her lessons, some golden rules to be remembered. Over the course of 2 months, Megha finds herself getting better, but also finds it a little tough to accept and let go of things not within her reach - her mama’s relationship with her coach in Ambala and her father’s re-marriage. Back to school after her summer vacations, Megha has another problem to deal with - Tara and Dolly, both have left the school and she feels without them. It is then that she befriends others and starts afresh. Determined to bring her life on track, Megha begins working on the realistic goals she wants to achieve - surviving school, patching up with her BFFs, bringing up her performance, winning the States and then the Nationals - which she eventually does, but at her own will and pace.
Written in a diary format, this sequel is another teenage saga, with a message, that of parental and teacher pressure and the impending doom it brings for the student. Though it is has a lot more preaching than the prequel, it makes the point - suicide is not a solution. And neither is denial. The first half is mostly covered with Megha’s internal battles, bringing out her vulnerable character quite well. Like all teenagers, Megha has her emotions confused, what is right and what is wrong, where should she step down and where should she take a stand, whom to trust and whom not to, my parents and BFFs are bad but they are good as well, I can’t lose or else I’ll be a loser and nobody will like me...and so on. The author very aptly colors the varied and contradicting feelings, I almost got lost in my own teenage years, comparing and judging Megha - her feelings of helplessness, failures, jealousy, heartbreaks, suicide - all felt so relatable. The second half is where it becomes a drag, with all those rules and lessons by Nani, it seemed like reading a self help book, which is the last thing I ever want! It is a fact that a person can only learn a lesson when he/she has gone through it themselves, and not just by listening to it or reading about it. So, it is necessary for children to have their own share of experiencing everything - love, heartbreak, success and failure, for them to become mature.
Parents tend to get overzealous when it comes to their children, especially high flying career parents, who only want their children to succeed like themselves. Although parents have the best interests at heart, it is also their duty not to neglect their child’s wishes and preferences, appreciate them when they perform good, and tell them it’s okay, when they don’t. A competitive spirit is good, but excess of it can be suffocating, and suffocation leads to only one thing, it cuts off life.