Literary Memories with Barathi Nakkeeran / by Chakriya Phal

Hey readers! Welcome to the newest addition to the blog where I ask readers to share their favorite literary memories. I strongly believe that reading can both be fun AND transformative, informing us new ways to experience the real world. I love talking with other readers about those “aha” moments when reading that shift something in our lives. If you’re interested in being featured, head over to the contact page or send me an email at hello@chattithebrave.com

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“My name is Barathi Nakkeeran and I’m 26 years old. I was born and raised in different parts of India. I’m a law graduate and subsequent to graduation for a brief while I worked with a corporate law firm in the field of securities law. However, due to inconsistencies in my interest and the profile of work I decided to take a break. In India, not everyone has the privilege of taking the time to choose what they want to do in life. As a result, my mental health suffered greatly and I spent a year recovering. I was lucky to have a supportive family who helped me through the process. In reality, many don’t. The operation of caste, class and gender weighs heavily in what you study, where you study, what kind of work you do even what kind of books you read or write! I am currently pursuing an M.A. in Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi, India. My work has appeared in journals like the Economic and Political Weekly and the Health Research Policy and Systems. Apart from academic writing I have also tried a bit of creative writing – one of my short stories was published in a local newspaper.

I remember loving the feeling of reading and consuming a story, any story for as long as I can remember but the most vivid memory I have is of my mother and I reading stories from this giant Hans Christian Andersen omnibus collection. I was about 6 years old at the time and I remember being restless because I wanted to read the stories myself. It was the most thrilling experience to actually read the words myself even though I needed some help to understand what were ‘big’ words to me then.

I believe that books, like people, often enter your lives when it’s the perfect moment. They hold so much meaning in certain moments almost as if the book was meant for you. There have been so many such books but if I were to pick one I’d say To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I received it as a gift for my 13th birthday. Until then I always thought reading was just something I liked to do but To Kill a Mockingbird taught me that stories have great meanings beyond the written word. Stories have the capacity to show you lived experiences of people who are not like you, a window into their lives. At the same time they also show you that these lives are not unlike yours. It teaches you empathy where real life probably failed. It is for this reason that I think stories are written so that the unfairness of the world, though not extinguished, is at least understood and in that brief moment we are all less alone.

When I read it again in my first year of law school a few years ago, it helped me understand the weaknesses of structures like law, that they often fail to take account of the inherent power relations in society. That though fairness, truth and justice exist it is [naive] to believe that they are untainted by power. This thought freed me not only as a law student but also as a person. It was then that I started reading books on feminist scholarship, critical race theory and so on. Seven years hence I still have a long way to go but there was a lot that owe to that book. Sometimes, I think that I learnt much less from the book itself than from the experience of reading it – it was my first serious book and it gave me a lot to think about at the time. When I read it again recently, there were of course some parts that I found discomfort in, as one does in books you’ve read a long time ago. But, I still cling to it like an old friend.  

My favorite literary memory? Oh, definitely discovering the Potterverse. I was nine when I read my first Harry Potter – interestingly I read the Chamber of Secrets before I read The Philosopher’s Stone so I made up my own theories about a lot of things that happened pre-CoS. It is my favourite memory because it was the first time I was completely enveloped by a book. The Potterverse had a way of making you feel special and it was such a magical experience. It helped that the books were about ‘actual’ magic.

For others, I’d recommend The Color Purple by Alice Walker and When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy.”

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Photos courtesy of Barathi.

You can learn more about Barathi over at @bookbarr.