The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

From the start of my thinking years, the movie Shawshank Redemption has been my steady companion, often shedding a beam of light over many a dark days. An incurable romantic at heart, I have often relied on fiction to make sense out of this world, often banked upon movies for inspiration, on books for insight, on stories to assure myself that magic indeed is real. And so Shawshank Redemption was my ideal mentor- assuring me in the face of many an adversity that I have an insurmountable power to conquer, just like Andy Dufrain who in the movie conquers all odds, gives meaning and purpose to his life despite being condemned to prison for life, for an offence he did not even commit. As I grew, my understanding of the movie grew. Today I feel, aren’t we all doomed? Condemned to this prison of flesh and bones? Banished to live out our sentence? To find meaning and purpose within our confinements?

Well, the movie holds its ground even today and I often think of Andy Dufrain whenever I feel imprisoned by circumstances. But fiction too has its limits. And unfortunately we all have been gifted with our pint-sized twin with a set of red horns and a pointed tail who’ll leave no opportunity to tell us: ‘You can’t do it!’ ‘You are a loser’ or ‘You cannot get over this one’.

Amidst one such heated conversation with my pint-sized evil twin, my brother happened to gift me ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly‘ by Jean Dominique Bauby. And since that day, my twin has never won the argument.

If you have ever doubted the potential of a human being or been bogged down by its limitations, this book is your answer. Man is limited by nothing else but his own vision. This is a story of a man who, though paralyzed from head to toe is cursed with a perfectly conscious brain, thanks to which he is a prisoner within his own body! “Locked-in-syndrome” is said to be a ‘rare medical condition in which the patient goes completely paralyzed and yet, with an intact functioning of the brain, the patient feels the world just as anyone else would, but he or she would be unable to move a single limb or utter any sound’. “The closest thing to being buried alive”- that’s how the medics describe it. And what does such a man do? Spend his remaining days blindly, watching sunlight come and go within his room? Or perhaps hold his breath bitterly till he is released from his cruel confinement? But not our man here! What this man does is dictate a whole autobiography using the only organ of his, still in satisfactory working condition- his left eye!

And what more! Its a true story! The most inspiring one I have ever chanced upon. Its humor will shock you. The pure determination of the author will make you cry. Its a testament to the invincible human spirit.

A tragic tale is supposed to move you to tears, arouse sympathy in you, wrench your heart till you are numb of all feeling. But not this book. The story of Jean Dominique Bauby will fill you with triumph, jubilation and wonder! Never will you again doubt that miracles indeed happen and that you yourself are the architect of all of them!

Vismai Rao