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A Story of Love, Hope and How Determination Can Overcome Even Destiny
By now, Preeti Shenoy is a literary superstar of the highest order.
But just seven years ago, she was merely a bestselling author of a single collection of thirty-five real-life incidents, titled 34 Bubblegums and Candies.
And then, in 2011, she published her debut novel:
The rest, as they say, is history.
Who Should Read “Life Is What You Make It”? And Why?
If you are a fan of Chetan Bhagat – and especially his novel told from the perspective of a female protagonist, One Indian Girl – then you’ll find plenty of things to like in this book.
However, we feel that we need to warn you that this is not a light read. Despite its ending, Life Is What You Make It is far from a filmy Hollywood romance in which the flight of the butterflies is interrupted merely for a few seconds because of a slight quarrel.
The main protagonist here is not exactly appealing, and the reason for this is a severe ailment: bipolar disorder. The book captures well both the highs of euphoria and the depths of despair that come with this mental malady, as well as the serious difficulties someone suffering from bipolar disorder may face in life.
But also, Shenoy’s novel doesn’t fail to portray the other side of the coin and also reveal the struggles faced by people whose friends and loved ones suffer from this debilitating disease.
So, if you are one of them or know someone who has these kinds of problems, then Life Is What You Make It should be one of the first books on your next month’s reading list.
Preeti Shenoy Biography
Preeti Shenoy is an Indian blogger and bestselling author.
Described as “one of India’s most popular authors,” and “the only woman in the highest-selling league,” Preeti Shenoy debuted in 2008 with 34 Bubblegums and Candies, a humorous collection of short real-life incidents.
Life Is What You Make It came out three years later and received wide critical and popular acclaim in India. Ever since then, Shenoy has managed to write and publish at least one book every year.
In 2012 she published two novels: Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake and The Secret Wish List. The One You Cannot Have was released in 2013, followed by It Happens for a Reason in the last month of 2014.
Love, Kisses and All Things Warm and Why We Love the Way We Do both came out in 2015, and another bestseller, It’s All in the Planet’s, the following year. A Hundred Little Flames was the only book published by Shenoy in 2017.
In April 2018, Shenoy published Love a Little Stronger, in which she revisited her first book, 34 Bubblegums and Candies.
Merely two months ago, in September 2018, Shenoy published her last book so far, titled Rule Breaker.
She has been consistently ranked among the 100 most influential Indian celebrities for the past half a decade.
Life Is What You Make It is mostly set in Kerala in the 1990s.
The story opens in a mental institution where the protagonist of the novel, Ankita Sharma, is apparently brought to unwillingly by her parents.
She is 21, good-looking and smart, and yet she is there among many people with listless looks and lethargic bodies.
“I am not like you,” she wants to scream. “I won elections in my college. I used to be the Secretary of the Arts Association. I was doing my management from a fine business school. I am not like you all.”
But, unfortunately, she is – just a first-time patient at the National Mental Health Institute.
So, how did she get there?
When her number finally comes up, and the doctor starts asking her question, we, the readers, slowly but surely start uncovering the answer to this question.
The flashback starts with two letters exchanged between the protagonist and Vaibhav, a childhood friend of hers.
We learn that Vaibhav has managed to get into the Indian Institute of Technology – Delhi, and that Ankita is not allowed to do the same by her conservative parents, despite her excellent grades.
The reason for it is, of course, the gender of Ankita – and nothing more. So, expectedly for a girl living in Kerala in 1989, she enters St. Agnes College for Girls.
However, she misses Vaibhav who, as we learn from the letters exchanged between the two, was a little more than a friend to her.
They say that distance is sometimes capable of sharpening love, but they also say that it is a make-or-break test for it.
In the case of Ankita, it seems to be both.
At first, it works in favor of Vaibhav whose letters Ankita eagerly awaits – they are not just the highlight of her college life, but basically the only thing she looks forward to.
However, as the days pass, Ankita starts fitting in at St. Agnes.
Not only she is a great student, acing her tests and excelling in her extracurricular activities, she is also an all-rounder adored by absolutely everybody. In fact, she is soon elected to be the Arts Club Secretary, and, even sooner, makes a lot of friends.
One of them, Sanjana, introduces her to Abhishek, a stout boy good at playing guitar and great at public speaking. We also learn that he has “a roundish face that sported slight stubble,” that he wears glasses and that he is “friendly and jovial.”
And he’s also quite smooth – if not a little corny – with the icebreakers, since the second thing he says to Ankita as he is shaking her hand is: “So what do you do, apart from being so pretty?”
And that’s code for “Vaibhav, who?”
But that’s also something a student at St. Agnes would expect from someone coming from Mahaveer College, for the simple reason that “even the best-looking girl at Mahaveer, could not match up to an average looking girl at Agnes.”
After being left alone with Abhi by her classmates following a cultural event, Ankita is surprised to find out that she has enjoyed every second of her time with her new acquaintance.
She is even more surprised when Abhi drops the “I love you” bombshell: “I fell in love with you the moment I saw you,” he says. “I have never felt like this about anyone before, trust me. I am crazy about you. Honestly. And I have never done anything like this before in my life. This confessing feelings and all, is just not me, but with you I really cannot hold back anymore.”
As if he held back at all!
Ankita rejects his advances by telling him that she has a boyfriend, but Abhi is persistent. He sends her a letter and, before too long, Ankita visits him at his place.
Finally, “during the mother of all cultural festivals, the Mahatma Gandhi University Youth Festival,” Abhi and Ankita kiss.
They start going out, and everything in Ankita’s life is looking picture book perfect. Except, you know: as her feelings for Abhi start growing, her love for Vaibhab slowly stars fading away:
Vaibhav and I were still in touch but not with the intensity as earlier. I think it was more out of a sense of duty that he called rather than anything else. I had not even noticed that his calls had trickled as I was so absorbed in Abhi and the other things that were going on in my life. I think the love I had for him was replaced by a kind of fond affection. Honestly, it did not matter to me anymore whether he called or not. It seemed as though Abhi and I had been through so much together and somewhere along the way, Vaibhav had been left far behind.
Years pass and Ankita is obsessed with a new agenda: getting into one of the top institutes in the country offering an MBA program. She gets an interview call from four of them, one of which is the most well-known one located in Bombay!
Coincidentally, Ankita’s father is promoted in his company at about this time, and this promotion means that all of Ankita’s family will be moving to Bombay.
It also means that her relationship with Abhishek is nearing its end.
“Even if my folks were not moving to Bombay,” Ankita says to Abhi, “we would still have parted as I would have chosen to do it in Bombay.”
“Pride has gone to your head,” replies Abhi, whom Ankita describes ominously as “an emotional fool.”
They break up acrimoniously, and the very next day Abhi’s body is found; it is discovered that he drowned due to an excessive amount of alcohol in his body. And that it may have been a suicide. Only Ankita knows that this is undoubtedly related to her.
She tells her best friend Suvi, and with her help, she calls Abhi’s grandfather.
“I know he loved you,” he tells her, even though he hides this information from the police. “I don’t know what happened between you two, but I have only one thing to say. You are young, you are pretty. Please remember molle, sneham mathram puchikaruthu. No matter from where it comes.”
The closest translation that Ankita is able to come up with of these beautiful words in Malayam is “never belittle love.”
These wise words open a piercing hole inside Ankita’s body.
And even though in Bombay she is doing what she does best – winning the hearts of many and acing all of her exams (whilst writing poems and making notes for everybody until late in the evening) – she is also, slowly but surely (and also, unwittingly) falling down this hole.
To make matters worse, her parents discover the love letters she had been exchanging with Vaibhav and Abhi. They burn them and scold her severely for them. Unsurprisingly, very soon, the darkness gets the better of Ankita: depressed and miserable, she tries to slit her wrists.
And she doesn’t stop at her first suicide attempt: the second time it is her father who saves her.
And that’s the reason why Ankita is admitted to a mental hospital at the beginning of the novel.
Life Is What You Make It Epilogue
So, back in the present, Ankita is talking to Dr. Madhusudan who diagnoses her with bipolar disorder. He explains to her that what she went through is common and that there are two sides to it: a euphoric one and a despairing one.
The ray of hope?
Well, as Dr. Madhusudan explains to Ankita, it is a disorder closely associated with creativity – something Ankita does excel at.
“This condition is unique,” he goes on:
Many famous historical figures and artists have had this. Yet they have led a full life and contributed so much to the society and world at large. See, you have a gift. People with bipolar disorder are very, very sensitive. Much more than ordinary people. They are able to experience emotions in a very deep and intense way. It gives them a very different perspective of the world. It is not that they lose touch with reality. But the feelings of extreme intensity are manifested in creating things. They pour their emotions into either writing or art or whatever field they have chosen.
After several months, Ankita is able to recover from her depression. And even though bipolar disorder is not an ailment that can be effectively cured, she is certainly capable of managing it.
Or, in other words, to become the “Master of her Fate” as both the last chapter of the book and the poem quoted in the dedication claim.
Yes, in case you’re wondering, that poem is none other than “Invictus.”
Also, if you want to know what happened to Ankita in the long run – well, let’s just say that she was just fine. The epilogue states that she went on to gain six more academic degrees and that, along the way, she met and married a kind, sensitive man.
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“Life Is What You Make It PDF Summary Quotes”Never to belittle love, no matter where it came from and to be a little humbler, nicer and kinder with my words and actions. Click To Tweet Some say that you gravitate instinctively towards people you can relate to and then gradually over the months a bond develops. Click To Tweet There are no buts and no ifs in life. Life is what you make it. Click To Tweet Spending time in a mental health Institution makes you a hundredfold more sensitive towards others than you were earlier. You learn to value emotions. You learn to look out for others. Click To Tweet The book is not just about bipolar disorder. It is a story of courage, determination and growing up. It is also about how life can take a totally different path from what is planned, and yet how one can make a success out of it. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Ten books later, Life Is What You Make It is still Preeti Shenoy’s best book.
Powerful and poignant, the novel was the bestseller of 2011 in India, and its fame and status have merely increased since then.
You don’t have to do a lot to realize what all the fuss was about.
You just need to read it.