Young Adult author Nikesh Shukla was terrified to find himself surrounded by a group of drunk men who were deciding whether or not to attack him. Fortunately, the men decided against physically assaulting the writer, but the incident left Shukla dealing with the trauma of the racist encounter. Refusing to be overcome by the attack, Shukla has used it to be the inspiration behind his latest book, The Boxer.
As Metro reports, Shukla worked through his traumatic experience by taking up boxing. “Something switched in me,” Nikesh said of the incident. “I shrank. I tried to make myself as small as possible. All I wanted was the strength to get up from my seat and walk to the next carriage. But I couldn’t. I was stuck to my chair.
“So boxing became my way of owning space, taking it up unapologetically and knowing that I had the strength to walk away when I needed to. The main thing I wanted to write about was how the trauma of racism is carried in our bones, on our skin and in our minds. This is a novel about depression and mental health and how much an incident that makes us feel less than human can make us sink into dark places.”
Shukla admitted that he initially assumed the world of boxing was full of overly masculine people, but said he actually found it to be the perfect setting for his new book. The Boxer is split into 10 parts, each part represents the 10 rounds that occur during a boxing match. The book follows Sunny, a young Asian man struggling with his sexuality who is attacked at a train station. While his sexuality is a hurdle, Shukla said he didn’t want it to be traumatizing like the attack, or to project the idea that not being heterosexual is an inherent problem.
“I don’t read about enough teenage South Asians from an LGBTQIA+ background,” he said. “I wanted to ensure that Sunny being gay isn’t a thing that is also traumatic for him. I wanted it to be accepted and normal and celebrated by those close to him. Because that sort of representation is just as important. My feeling is that I want to write South Asian characters that we know in real life but who are never seen on pages of books and on screen. I know Sunny. I’m friends with Sunny. But Sunny isn’t ever written about. So I wanted my Sunny to feel like someone we have all come across in real life but hasn’t been given a chance to tell their story.”
While Shukla has managed to channel his experiences into a positive outcome, he understands it can be different for everyone. He gave the following advice for anyone who has suffered a racist encounter.
“Remember, it’s not your fault,” he said. “Do whatever you need to do to feel safe at the moment. If you don’t feel like you can challenge the person or if you feel unsafe or if it is traumatic for you, do everything you can to be safe. As soon as you can, record all the details on a voice memo, before it goes out of your head, and do report it. We need to know these things are happening. And if you witness a racist encounter, don’t let it happen. Go to the victim and ask if they are ok. No one is telling you to get involved or fight back or be violent. But a victim knowing you’re supporting them can do so much to help them deal with what is happening.”
The Boxer was released earlier this Summer on 27 June and has been met with acclaim from both critics and readers alike.