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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Rain began to fall, rising back up as steam from the hot dry pavement. Amita and I quickened our pace to a brisk walk. We were winding our way through the churning sea of late afternoon pedestrian traffic outside Chalai market in downtown Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Kerala. As I forged a tenuous clearing for us through the sidewalk congestion, Amita followed closely behind, commenting with amusement on my inadvertent collisions with shopping bags, schoolchildren, and half-opened umbrellas.

Turning onto the quiet lane leading to Amita’s house, I found myself alone. I rounded back to retrieve my friend, likely caught up, I thought, in some last-minute bargaining with a street vendor. I didn’t have to go far. Amita was just off to the side of the road, staring fixedly into the palm of a child begging for change, a girl no older than five or six. It was a strange moment of suspended animation. With one hand on her jutted hip, her face twisted into a scornful pout, Amita was viciously mimicking the child, returning the girl’s plea with her own empty palm. Twisting around in her oversized dress, the girl looked up into Amita’s face, ready to cut her losses and move on, yet transfixed just the same. Disturbed, I grabbed my friend’s arm. Unhinged by my gesture, Amita unleashed her anger upon the child. “Why should I give you anything when I, too, am in the same condition?” Her voice quivering, Amita spoke in English while listing her problems to this accidental and uncomprehending witness: her inability to find a job adequate to her . . .

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