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Love, Memories And Care

Anindya Das

By Bianca Brijnath
Berghahn Books, New York, 2014, pp. 240, $95.00


Unforgotten is the product of Bianca Brijnath’s doctoral research at Monash University. It can be considered as a significant contribution to anthropological literature on ageing, dementia and its care in India. Though her research is limited to urban middle class (which she acknowledges as a limitation), it is truly revealing in terms of the confined participants and their lived experience with dementia and sevâ. Sevâ a concept which Brijnath explores in all its forms and layers as care work is shaped in everyday family life centred on cooking, feeding and eating; in doctor shopping and looking for an ilâj or cure; and bearing the attended expenses. Sevâ apart from care also means acts of normalization of pesky behaviour and bodies in negotiating the social world to avoid stigma. Sevâ is patterned by kinship relations, socio-cultural norms (e.g., women doing sevâ to their in-laws) or attachments over time (as in paid care). Through the concept of sevâ the author invokes ideas of love, devotion, duty, shared memory and reciprocity. Thus sevâ also means fulfilling the last wishes and fighting to the end. Moreover the author’s sensorial approach to anthropology pays dividends especially in exploring the aspects of sevâ in terms of caring for the elderly with dementia in case of loss over bodily functions, the emotional toll it takes on the caregiver; and also the affective valence attached to food and feeding. As an extension Brijnath attempts to make readers ‘smell the writing’ in her hermeneutic inquiry to ‘understand the dialectic between care practices and the discourse that frame them.’ Brijnath frequently resorts to Hindi terms, such as dekhnâ (to see), dikhânâ (to show) and dikhnâ (to be seen), the three kinds of seeing that families make as they proceed through the ‘diagnostic journey’ of dementia. This journey follows in stages characterized by an initial phase of recognition (dekhnâ) of the problem in the loved one, followed by consultation with neurologist/ medical practitioner (dikhânâ). Finally, for the families publically ‘showing’ sevâ (dikhnâ) takes meaning in doctor shopping and finding a cure (even in alternative methods of healing) to ultimately coming to terms with the incurableness of the condition. Caring in dementia not only constitutes toil, pain and love but also exercising power, disciplining and at certain times abuse. In discussing economics of exchange particularly paid attendants and nurses for elderly care, the researcher brings in ...

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