In 1991, after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, politics in India changed forever. For the first time, a politician without a popular base, P. V. NarasimIn 1991, after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, politics in India changed forever. For the first time, a politician without a popular base, P. V. Narasimha Rao, became Prime Minister: and he installed a an academician, Dr. Manmohan Singh, as his Finance Minister. The popular rhetoric of socialism quickly gave way to the pragmatic doctrine of capitalism. Very soon, America became acceptable as a political ally, profit ceased to be a dirty word, and the Indian economy was thrown open to private capital.
The major towns immediately started to show the effects – the middle class grew richer, there were more goodies to go around, and the purchasing power of people increased tremendously. But soon, the negative effects also began to be felt, in the villages especially. Farmers accumulated debt and started committing suicide; marginalised groups were marginalised still further; and because of government withdrawal from the public sphere, welfare went for a toss. The GDP increased, and so did the gap between the rich and the poor.
The impact of India’s liberalisation was not confined to the material field. The cultural sphere underwent a tremendous makeover. The left-leaning post-colonial ethos was replaced by the culture of instant gratification. The general public, especially the youth, became largely apolitical. Everything was weighed on the scales of material benefits: the question was not whether it was good or bad, but whether it would sell or not.
Kerala is a bit different from other Indian states in the sense that we don’t have large cities, in the real “metro” sense – nor do we have the quintessential Indian village, removed from all the amenities of civilisation. It is rather difficult distinguish between a town and a village in Kerala, so that a stranger travelling by train could be excused for thinking that he is traversing one long city. So liberalisation and globalisation revolutionised Kerala in toto: suddenly, the state with a strong communist sentiment was singing paens to consumerism.
It is in this context that one has to view “D”, Susmesh Chandroth’s novel about a fictitious city of the same name. It could be any city in Kerala: the details are left purposefully vague. The story also lacks a central focus, with a plethora of characters moving around in unnumbered chapters, carrying out various activities ranging from prostitution to terrorism. It is evident that the author has aimed at a kaleidoscopic effect, rather like Paul Haggis’ movie Crash.
The novel starts with an unnamed rescue worker recovering an unfinished manuscript from the ruins of D – a manuscript which purports to create a mythical city built on the same lines as D. The narrative then gives us an account of the genesis of D, from myth to legend to history, to its chaotic present.
What we encounter here is a city without a soul, given totally over to consumerism. However, it is peopled by real men and women, many of whom are full of soul. A myriad of topics is touched upon then, ranging from child abuse to sexual exploitation, and from environmentalism to terrorism. This cacophony of narratives is held together somewhat as a coherent story only by Damu, the penurious reporter working in a newspaper which still has not sold its soul to Mammon. Ultimately, everything culminates in the disaster foreshadowed in the first chapter.
This novel is a brave attempt to tackle the modern world of capitalism run riot – and it succeeds in creating the jarring feel of a city given to the mad rush to earn money during the day and the equally insane pursuit of pleasure in the night. But the positives end there. None of the characters are interesting enough for us to feel anything for them – the storylines are too short and jumbled to make any sense of – and the book too short to explore in detail any of the issues it broaches. I forgot the book the moment I closed its covers – which is not a good thing to recommend it! ...more
I simply have to read this book. It, including its author, has been cussed by Ann Coulter on her latest blog post. That is recommendation enough for mI simply have to read this book. It, including its author, has been cussed by Ann Coulter on her latest blog post. That is recommendation enough for me!...more
I remember reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies in my teens. It was in translation, but the story absolutely blew me away. A few years later, I made it a point to search out the original and read it, and was fascinated all over again.
Golding wrote his novel as a counterpoint to The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne which told the tale of three British boys marooned on an island and who uphold the values of comradeship, truth and valour. He wanted to prove that in an isolated society, mankind will slowly "devolve" to bestial levels, rather than remaining upright human beings. And Golding made his point rather forcefully.
The reason for my mentioning the novel here is, T. D. Ramakrishnan also sets out to prove something similar in Alpha. A group of 12 young people, led by the middle-aged professor of anthropology Prof. Utpalendu Chatterjee, leave behind civilisation to return totally to nature - on the island "Alpha" in the Indian Ocean, situated 759 kilometres south of Sri Lanka and with an area of only 17.75 square kilometres. Here, the experimenters who are themselves the subjects leave behind everything (including their clothes), literally burn their boat, and start a new life on the island. After twenty-five years, they are to be contacted by a person whom only the professor knows.
The professor believed that free from the constraints of society, they would establish a colony of new and superior human beings - but what Avinash, the person who comes to meet them after twenty-five years finds is a society of semi-intelligent beings totally sunk into a bestial lifestyle. Only three of the original inhabitants are alive and are rescued: and through them, interspersed with the biographical notes on each participant prepared by Professor Chatterjee at the beginning of the experiment, the story unfolds...
...Only, there is not much to unfold.
It is a repetitive tale of violence, rape and incest: how each of the participants lost their veneer of refinement and culture and became savages. The author seems to place very low stock on the innate goodness of human beings. While in Golding's tale, the descent into savagery is very convincingly done, here it is abrupt. It is as though they were waiting for a chance to rape and kill each other.
The women are repeatedly raped by the men, and the children are left to fend for themselves after they are weaned of breast milk: this is not true even of primitive man, as the famous anthropologist Desmond Morris has made clear. Pair bonding between male and female is biological, because the human child takes a long time to mature and family life is essential. So as human beings evolved, the family came into being naturally. It is difficult to believe that this group will lose it so fast, even though common sex is one of the "rules" of the experiment.
Another drawback of the book is that none of the characters are well-drawn: we don't care enough about them to feel anything when something happens to them. Ramakrishnan is a novelist of ideas, but when your characters become so one-dimensional, any novelist has to stop and think.
Two stars for a brave new idea in Malayalam literature....more
ഒരു കുടുംബതതിനറെ കഥയിലൂടെ ഒരു കാലഘടടതതിനറെ കഥ പറയുക എനന ശരമകരമായ ദൌതയമാണ സുഭാഷ ചനദരൻ "മനുഷയന ഒരു ആമുഖം" എനന കൃതിയിലൂടെ ഏററെടുതതിരികകുനനത. അതിൽ അദദേഹംഒരു കുടുംബത്തിന്റെ കഥയിലൂടെ ഒരു കാലഘട്ടത്തിന്റെ കഥ പറയുക എന്ന ശ്രമകരമായ ദൌത്യമാണ് സുഭാഷ് ചന്ദ്രൻ "മനുഷ്യന് ഒരു ആമുഖം" എന്ന കൃതിയിലൂടെ ഏറ്റെടുത്തിരിക്കുന്നത്. അതിൽ അദ്ദേഹം ഏറെക്കുറെ വിജയിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. സ്തൂലത്തെ സൂക്ഷ്മത്തിലേക്ക് ആവാഹിക്കാൻ അത്ര എളുപ്പമല്ല: എങ്കിലും കേരളത്തിന്റെ ഒരു കാലഘട്ടം തച്ചനക്കരയായും അവിടുത്തെ അന്തെവാസികളായും പുനർജനിചിരിക്കുന്നു. ഇതാണ് ഞങ്ങൾ മലയാളികളുടെ "മകോണ്ടോ"!...more