When I was 38, I traveled from the United States to India, to find my mother dying at the hands of her sister. I had spent my whole life running away from my mother’s mental illness and abuse, but when I found out she needed help, I knew I had to save her.
My mother immigrated to the United States from India and married my white father when she was twenty-eight and he was fifty. He died two years later. My childhood was filled with journeys to visit astrologers in India and visits to see my grandmother in Calcutta. My younger memories are ones of traversing continents for weeks at a time, missing school so my mother could seek the answers to our future.
My mother’s paranoid mind was plagued with voices and she was possessed with rage and violence that she often inflicted upon me. When I was twelve, she left me in India to live with my grandmother. There, I was sexually assaulted, and learned first-hand the gendered constraints that are placed on women. I also learned about the extreme silence that exists around mental illness in India. As I grew older, I tried to speak to my mother about her mental condition but she refused to talk about it.
I became a professor and taught postcolonial literature at Harvard and Yale. My career was rooted in a desire to understand my family and the forces that produced them. Ironically, I could only examine them at a distance, through the professional world of academia. It was only when I returned to India to save and confront my mother that I finally began to understand the legacy of violence, mental illness, and love that had shaped her life—and mine. This history of trauma passed down scars that crossed cultures, oceans, and racial lines.
do you love me? explores this legacy through the lens of culture, colonialism and inherited trauma. It is a memoir about my life and my mother’s that allows me to speak of a past and give hope to a future where such traumas can be spoken of and not silenced.