The title aptly describes the condition and position in which Phumlani Pikoli was at the time of writing- in a psychiatric clinic under treatment for depression.
The stories are illusionary, crazy to the extreme, dark, deep, deadly, bloody disturbing, graphic, and strange; but do not fail to portray crucial messages and scenarios in democratic South Africa.
The characters are different and out of the ordinary. Like a man who bites his tongue and enjoys the taste of his own blood, an uncle who walks naked around the house, and a guy who defecates on himself whenever he gets excited.
The book consists of 21 short stories and a number of illustrations.
The opening story is titled My Beautiful Little Boy, an elder brother counsels and cautions his innocent younger brother who has been subjected to covert racism that, “those children don’t like you because their parents have been taught to hate our parents. And their parents teach them to not like us. Eventually, they’ll probably hate us, just like they have been taught to hate our parents.”
The story Cargo demonstrates succinctly where and how corruption in government emanates and plays out.
In my most favourite story, To Shy Away In Silence, the theme is mental illness and attempted suicide.
Pikoli writes about mental health with empathy without seeking to glorify it. I could not help drawing parallels between his works and those of Bessie Head in A Question Of Power and Sello Duiker’s Quiet Violence Of Dreams.
Through elegant curation, he managed to successfully transport me into the psyche of one suffering from mental illness. I thrived on his overactive and healthy imagination.
The book reinforced my belief that we are all mentally challenged, what sets us apart are the degrees and levels thereof. Some of us have simply not been diagnosed yet. A brilliant, unique offering, which I highly recommend.
Pikoli, who recently passed away, was a multimedia journalist and artist. The Fatuous State of Severity was his debut book and was followed by Born FreeLoaders.