In Pursuit of the Good Life: Aspiration and Suicide in Globalizing South India

In Pursuit of the Good Life: Aspiration and Suicide in Globalizing South India

Jocelyn Lim Chua

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0520281160

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Once celebrated as a model development for its progressive social indicators, the southern Indian state of Kerala has earned the new distinction as the nation’s suicide capital, with suicide rates soaring to triple the national average since 1990. Rather than an aberration on the path to development and modernity, Keralites understand this crisis to be the bitter fruit borne of these historical struggles and the aspirational dilemmas they have produced in everyday life.  Suicide, therefore, offers a powerful lens onto the experiential and affective dimensions of development and global change in the postcolonial world.

In the long shadow of fear and uncertainty that suicide casts in Kerala, living acquires new meaning and contours.  In this powerful ethnography, Jocelyn Chua draws on years of fieldwork to broaden the field of vision beyond suicide as the termination of life, considering how suicide generates new ways of living in these anxious times.

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are shaped by moments of lived, situated interaction, moments that are often improvisational and shift precipitously in the resource and time-strapped institutional settings of mental health care in Kerala.8 If in editorializing registers clinicians like Dr. Cheeran make broad statements about the unrealistic ambitions of Malayalis today, at the level of therapeutic practice they assess and manage the aspirational lives of clients in ways that prove far more complex and uneven. THE MAKING OF A

examples of what can go wrong at a time when gains and losses are steep. Stories and rumors of suicide judged the living, too. More than cautioning against the perilous investments of the departed alone, suicide commentaries spun outward to implicate the deceased person’s social web. They often served as broader accusations about deficient love, poor care, and negligence that blamed inattentive parents, callous daughters-in-law, scornful lovers, and failed families. In this sense at least, the

The lack of closure around Biju’s death had led family to send Ajith to Thiruvananthapuram to collect more information from friends and mental health professionals willing to help. To facilitate the effort, Ajith had collaborated with two other relatives to produce a carefully crafted memo that summarized the case evidence, a copy of which he produced from his back pocket that morning for us to look over. Although Ajith sought new leads not yet pursued, the memo remained faithful to the police

however, Lata also threatened to destroy it by her own hand, announcing in front of her parents that she, too, would kill herself if forced to marry another. But unlike her mother’s, Lata had warned, her intentions would be sincere enough to succeed.28 Kinship relations are not fixed entities afforded transcendence through biology. Far from being a static and completed project as the anthropologist’s webbed charts of squares and circles might suggest, kinship relations require ongoing

spirituality.” Perfectly coiffed in a carefully starched cotton sari, Dr. Sharmila invited me to stand with her in the doorway to chat as the children went through their stretches. Our conversation would unfold entirely in English. While an advocate for the reform of parenting, Dr. Sharmila offered critical reflections on “parenting today” that reveal the polarizing pulls of the multiple positions she inhabits as practicing psychologist, public figure, wife, and mother. Articulate and poised, she

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