Psychotherapist’s novel explores sex trafficking in Delhi
Psychotherapist’s novel explores sex trafficking in Delhi
07 October 2015
Child foeticide, prostitution, the burning of widows (sati), sex trafficking and child marriage, are all touched on in Lucy Beresford’s novel Invisible Threads.
English author Beresford, a journalist, psychotherapist, former investment banker, radio presenter and author, who has spent considerable time in India, was in conversation with broadcaster and journalist Bidisha at Asia House.
Beresford said she based the book, her second novel, on her own experiences travelling to and living in India, a country she has visited more than 30 times. The book offers glimpses both into the opulent lifestyle that some expats and Indians enjoy, as well as the difficulties and absolute poverty many Indians in slums and those who sleep on the streets, experience. In the novel there is a lavish wedding that people arrive at in helicopters, for example, whilst the lives of those living in desperate conditions in slums are also narrated. Beresford had seen a slice of India’s high life – a style of life she had never experienced in the UK – during her earlier travels to India with an investment bank.
Invisible Threads is based around an English character Sara, a psychotherapist, who travels to India to find out what happened to her husband Michael, and then gets involved in helping trafficked women.
“Sara does not arrive in India from a period of strength, she arrives grieving. At first she hates India and it shocks her. But gradually it transforms her,” Beresford told the audience at the talk which was held in the Asia House Library.
“I am very grateful to India because my life changed when I went there. It made me less of a ‘comfortable with my life person,’ she said. “For me to go into a slum cluster – it’s not the kind of thing I usually do, so I stretched myself,” she added.
“Seeing the slums in India is a very intense experience. You see dozens of families living in close proximity in illegal structures,” Beresford said. “There is the smell, the noise, the intensity of it – and yet the longer I worked in those slums the more beautiful it seemed to become and the longer I stayed, the more empowering it seemed,” she added. “In the end I became quite uplifted by the whole experience,” she said.
Some of the characters in the novel are a mishmash of aspects from different patients that Beresford treated at a psychotherapy clinic in India. “The clinic I worked at in Delhi had an outreach in the slum clusters and sometimes what we did was not therapy, it was just giving the women a shoulder to cry on, or teaching them really basic skills like how to make tea, or do basic hairdressing and helping them to get jobs, so they were not dependent on their husbands who drank their income away,” she added.
“In India you will see poverty, people defecating outside; it’s shocking – it’s a complete assault on your senses. Yet if you can plough through that, you can still love the country and see some form of beauty and that is what Sara does,” she added.
She said she came across dozens of Indian charities working to change the way some women are treated in India.
Beresford has spent the last few years working with an Indian charity Rescue Foundation based in New Delhi that rescues women from brothels. “Those are the stories that I have told in my book,” she said. It was while volunteering with them that she discovered that “whilst you could educate women to be more assertive and men to be less fixated on women as objects, what was really hard was to dismantle the corruption,” she said.
The book also tried to answer the question of whether you can heal yourself and heal others and depicts how psychotherapists, despite being self-aware, are not perfect in how they handle relationships.
Responding to a criticism that there were independent women with a voice in India, Beresford pointed out that whilst women in cities like Mumbai had a lot of independence, that was not the case in the slums of Delhi, or in second-tier cities like Udaipur.
“In Delhi slums they [men] appear to be in a time warp in terms of how they view women,” she added.
Beresford defended her decision to set a book about sex trafficking in India – even though it takes place across the world – by saying she had also covered sex trafficking in Hounslow in the novel. Mainly though she wanted to set her novel in India. “I was very keen to write about India in general and I came across this awkward life many Indian women have in terms of whether they have a voice. They may be independent in many ways but yet there are many opportunities where they don’t have a voice. Even Sara does not have a voice as she can’t talk about her relationship with her driver who she falls in love with. I wanted to explore what happens when you don’t have a voice,” she said.
“I think there is an understanding in India that all segments of India want to be lifted up on some level otherwise the country is not going to move forward,” she said. When questioned by Bidisha on what right she had as an “outsider” to comment on India, she responded: “Sometimes it takes the outsider to shine a light on what’s going on in a system, you often find this in the family. There might be an outsider that comes in like an in-law who notices fundamental flaws in a relationship. An outsider can often expose things.”
Listen to Lucy Beresford’s talk about Invisible Threads that took place at Asia House on Tuesday 6 October below:
On 8 October come and listen to art collector and entrepreneur Simon Franks, founder of the Franks-Suss Collection talk about how to start an international art collection and emerging artists in Southeast Asia. To find out more click here.
Asia House Film Festival artistic director Jasper Sharp will present an illustrated overview of the life and work of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star and the first Asian American actress to gain international recognition on 29 October. To find out more click here.