A teacher recommends three books in her class. The students take turns borrowing the books and share notes.
“So how was bitter chocolate?”
“Umm, depressing yet amazing…very well written…you should definitely read it.”
So I get the book and start reading it. The book begins with an author’s note which churns my stomach. Ok, its ok, just a book, I tell myself. Except that no one told me that it’s not JUST a book. Bitter chocolate is an experience, albeit a traumatic one at that, which makes your mind go totally haywire, and has a lasting impact on the reader. But first, let me tell you about the book in much the same fashion as Pinki Virani, the author, writes it: dripping with facts.
Bitter chocolate is a book about child sexual abuse in India. It is divided into three notebooks. The first deals with what CSA is, the statistics and the effects of it. The second notebook gives two detailed case histories. Finally, the third notebook talks about the healing process, recovery of CSA victims and their families. The book is interspersed with several real life case histories.
The book ends with a list of books recommended by the author on CSA and related subjects, such as marital abuse. It also contains a small compilation of contact details of NGO’s working in the area of CSA, in the major Indian cities.
Now that the facts are over, let me come to the real thing- Bitter Chocolate was a harrowing experience for me, which shook my very soul. I was never ignorant to CSA/sexual abuse before reading the book: the countless OPRAH shows which I have watched on the subject will vouch for that.
But this was different. Very different. Perhaps it was the Indian context, perhaps the cold bloodedness of the hard facts or perhaps it was the sarcasm underlying every word in every page of the book; I don’t know.
But I know that I will never be the same again. I am seeing every human being in a new light, in a new perspective. Every male seems like a potential perpetrator of CSA. Looking at every woman and child makes me question: have they been sexually abused today? Or yesterday? Will they ever be sexually abused at any point in their lives? Oh leave aside strangers. I have started to doubt my family members, my friends, their families, neighbours and about countless people who I have ever known in my life: all of them seem like they hold some secret related to CSA….do they?
None of these emotions are in any way exaggerated or written for effect. Not even the fact that after I finished the first notebook, I stayed up all night crying inconsolably, questioning just about everything in this universe.
Would I recommend this book to anyone? OF COURSE and not just to anyone, but to everyone who cares to listen. To everyone who has ever loved and trusted. Essentially to everyone who knows how to read. It would be to create awareness, to make CSA a dining table conversation. But more than that, perhaps I would recommend it to people in hope, that someday, someone, somewhere would read it and find peace, even for a few minutes. Or better yet, prevent CSA from taking place.
Would I read it again? Or rather, do I have it in me to go through the whole ordeal again? Honestly, I don’t know and I can’t say.
So coming back to the question: how IS Bitter Chocolate? Simply put, an experience, one which leaves a lasting impact.