Educated by Tara Westover

This past weekend I finished reading Educated by Tara Westover. After that I wrote a short review about it. Usually, I am never hungover a book. But this time Tara’s story has been playing inside me like an unending tape. Educated is a remarkable, fierce story of a girl’s ascend to the zenith of her capabilities from astoundingly challenging circumstances. It is also a testimony to the price she has had to pay for the kind of education most of us take for granted and for the confidence to live in a normal world. I rarely read non-fiction, and this story was so shocking and gripping that I had to constantly remind myself that this is a real story, all of whose characters are alive and kicking. Educated is not just the story of how Tara, without any formal schooling, went and achieved education from Cambridge and Harvard. It is a story about her struggle between the rationality provided by her education and the radical beliefs that had been the foundation of her formative years.

In one of the initial episodes of the famous sitcom FRIENDS, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is heard telling her father, “All my life people have told me you’re a shoe, but daddy what if I don’t want to be a shoe? What if I want to be a hat?”. Tara’s story is something similar yet murkier and dark.

Born to Mormon fundamentalist parents, Tara had not entered a formal classroom till the age of 17. Her dad is a religious fanatic who believes that the government, the education system, and the healthcare system are members of Illuminati and are there to brainwash people. Thus he keeps his family out of grid, without filing for their birth certificates, without providing them adequate medical assistance when required, and keeping them off formal education. Her mother is a herbalist who treats the family of everything (severe gasoline burns, explosion, head injuries) using her herbs and essential oils. There are times when Tara’s mother seemed sympathetic toward what her children were being subjected to. However, being a submissive wife, when confronted she always chose to side with her husband’s beliefs and proclamations instead of protecting her children.

There are no perfect families. The experiences we have at our homes, especially during childhood, are the foundation of our understanding about the reality and the world. That is how a human grows. That is how a young mind makes sense of and interprets its relationships and surroundings. If you are brought up with liberal thoughts and ideologies, your life and adulthood are inclined in that direction. And same is true if you are born in a conservative family. Tara’s childhood was one that belonged to the extremely radical end of the spectrum. And this was ‘normal’ for her because she had not witnessed any other.

Kids in the Westover family have been fed certain extremely polarized thoughts. The word of the father is the final word; girls can have no other ambition apart from getting married and bearing children; a woman’s place is in the kitchen; and it is OK to physically abuse sisters when they cross their limitations. Throughout the book there are instances of the same. Tara and her sister have been time and again physically abused by one of her brothers.

What is shocking is, even though Tara knows that what is happening is wrong, she chooses to cover up those brutalities as normal sibling fights. And what happens when she decides to speak to her parents about it is even more shocking. Initially her father asks her for proof and her mother sides her brother saying he was doing it for her good. Later they deny the entire subject stating that Tara is taken over by the devil and it was all her imagination. How the brother reacts on knowing that Tara has told about his behavior to her parents is cringing to the core.

This gaslighting led Tara toward severe mental breakdown jeopardizing her education for which she had already fought so much. It takes years to understand and accept the brutal experiences, especially those that take place in one’s childhood. This processing becomes further difficult when your own parents are a party to the brutalities, directly or indirectly. Immense mental effort is involved just to remember the incidents, and despite that you are not sure about whether those events actually occurred. That is what happened with Tara. She almost ended up believing her parents’ narrative.

Another infuriating thing that I came across was Tara’s constant efforts to reconcile with her family. And I am sure, the way she keeps on going back to her family even after all the abuse, a reader might feel why is she doing this. But a little thought and further reading allowed me to witness her struggle between her love for her family and rationality.

We all are well aware how family ties are. Estrangement from ones family, however bad, is not an easy experience. None of us want to severe ties with our family. All of us, in some or the other way, are making efforts, overlooking and tolerating quite a lot of conflict just to maintain the relationships. When I look back now, I do not feel shocked anymore that it took Tara quite a long time to walk away from her family. I feel she was right to first make all the efforts to reconcile with her family. And I feel she did the right thing when ultimately she walked away.

This book is a hope for those who are struggling with similar circumstances. The control of one’s family has over them, in conjunction with extreme and radical religious beliefs and severe mental illnesses, is most exhausting and agonizing. Though Tara finally managed to escape, the scars, I believe shall forever remain.

If tears could speak

I sat on the bench, with a slouch which any person capable of reading body languages will identify as the one of a failed person. I was filled with anger. I was frustrated. And tears were rolling down my cheeks. Why? Because I cannot scream and shout.

I wish these tears had a voice. Just like that ‘howler’ in Harry Potter movies. I wish these tears were howlers; screaming all my frustrations out as they splashed on any surface.

Thank God! thoughts are silent. Imagine the havoc if people around you could read your thoughts. But I wish tears screamed. Because, there are many like me who cannot mouth words when they are frustrated.

If tears could speak, people would not throw and break those expensive phones in frustration. Gee… how do people do that?! How can people spend a kidney’s worth on a phone and then be overcome by rage and throw it?!

What about men? Most scream and shout and go all ballistic missile at times in their rage. Would they continue to do it if tears could speak?

If tears could speak, we could so easily identify those crocodile ones. Those would actually be hilarious to listen to. Literary geniuses might need to come up with a new word to describe that kind of content. Because those would neither be tragic nor comic.

By the way, a small trivia question and answer here. Do you know why ‘crocodile tears’ phrase is called so? The phrase comes from the belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their victims. Scientists say that crocodiles shed tears while feeding.

Thank God again that  crocodiles can’t speak. Just imagine if crocodiles were on twitter and they get to know about this fact. INTOLERANCE OUTRAGE.

“We shed tears when we eat. Not to fake emotions.”

“I condemn comparing us to those wretched humans faking emotions.”

“This is a false allegation. Those are not crocodile tears. Those are glycerine tears.”

If tears could speak, Nirupa Roy would never have had any dialogues.

If tears could speak, Adele and Taylor Swift would be having a million songs by now.

If tears could speak, Aamir Khan would have been in serious trouble. Real feelings towards the movies he watches would be out; Bollywood outraging; nephew outraging; so much outrage all around.

If tears could speak, it would have been so easy for babies to communicate. Oh! but then the already under-rated mothers would get even more under-rated. *sigh*

But If tears could speak, many of us would have been spared of that all time frustrating question of “Why are you crying?” (Let us cry man, dont do this QnA session.)

Alas! tears can’t speak.

Well, I guess I am better off at crying silent tears. Atleast they aren’t hurting anyone.

What more?

Its another one of those suffocating days. They want me to talk. Talk what?
I am trembling all over inside, faking a mask over my face. I am shit scared of don’t know what.

No, I guess I know. You know right now I feel that people who are in actual jails are better off than me. At least they know that they committed an actual crime. Moreover their thoughts and ways are not controlled. But here I am more jailed from inside than I am from outside.

She asked me to go and hug him. Her reason being he feel depressed and might feel better if I did so. But what about me. Why can’t they leave me alone. I am doing all they want. They took away my job. They took away my love. They took away my friends. They took me away from the place where I want to be. And yet they are not happy. What do they expect from me? What more should I do?