Protest Prose by Keton Kakkar

A Brief Introduction

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and over the next weeks we will be sharing stories from young people who have faced issues with their own mental well-being. In this prose poem, Keton wrestles with our definitions of minority, the expectations of mental strength across cultures, and the difficulties of finding supporters who can truly understand your struggle. Who decides which minds are worthy, functional, complete? How do our societies influence the way we talk about – or don’t talk about – mental health?

Protest Prose by Keton Kakkar

“You know, I think switching to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy could really help you.”

I would request the condition of anonymity for this piece but what would be the use? I balk at the term minority, but in this case it’s accurate. For me to relay a story about my mental health, you would need to know my intersections, my crossroads, and they, like a point in 6 dimensional space are precise. My mom likes to talk of the road through Jalalabad, and how treacherous it is. There are black mountains all around: tall, jagged, poorly cut. Nothing like our neat, dynamited rock faces displaying the visages of presidents. There’s a road through the pass, yes, and the chances of dying on it are non-zero. The number of my relatives that have died on it is non-zero. Like these mountains, the story of my mind is one of precarity. Punjabi men are supposed to be strong; Afghan men are supposed to be grand, at least my breed of Punjabis, at least my breed of Afghans. The world has no use for a skittish mind, or a mad one; problems short of taking refuge from invasion are called whining. Cultural norms are so pervasive they are suffocating, making it hard to speak about them, making it hard to speak.

I would request the condition of anonymity for this piece but the NSA’s probably seen it anyway. What’s the use of encryption if I’d like to publish it? A neural network would analyze it’s sentiment, and I’ve typed enough words for a pre-trained algorithm to classify me. Thus far this piece includes the name of a place on foreign soil, warranting an unconstitutional search. Thus far this piece includes the name of an Afghan town, making it a matter of national security. State surveillance is so pervasive it is suffocating. Isn’t madness just encryption of the mind?

“Find me a therapist who’s seen a bipolar male Afghan Hindu assault victim, and I’ll start paying for therapy.”

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Keton is a rising senior studying computer science and English literature at Swarthmore College. He is a senior editor of Small Craft Warnings, a college literary magazine that publishes prose, poetry, artwork, and photography. His personal website,, contains more of his work and research interests. 

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