Monday, 15 December 2008

Jose Saramago

Jose Saramago - SEEING

I read SEEING, Saramago’s new novel in June this year and I have not yet come out of its impact on me. In fact I feel that I might go into the withdrawal mode if I do not look it up every other day on my book shelf.

Jose Saramago has recreated the politician’s ultimate nightmare in his novel, SEEING. The disillusionment that renders the entire democratic system defunct at one go. SEEING explores how this could be done in the most simplistic manner and what it could achieve and how devastating the results could be.

Despite a heavy and incessant rain, the presiding officer at Polling Station 14 finds that only a handful of voters have turned to vote, by mid day. Soon after 4 pm an avalanche of voters arrive at the polling station, not just at Polling Station 14, but at all the other voting stations. It is as though consensus of time and action is reached at unilaterally by the citizens, without ever airing even once their secret opinion on the same. Puzzlement swiftly escalates to shock, when the final counting of votes reveals that seventy percent of votes are blank votes – not spoiled, but left simply and stunningly blank. National law decrees a reelection. The results are more shocking and stunning than the first – eighty three percent of votes are blank. The government, seized with panic, decamps from the capital city and declares a state of emergency. What follows is not unimaginable chaos, as we might reflect, but the true reign of the people, by the people, for the people.

Because SEEING is more thrilling than any crime thriller I have ever read, I certainly would not take the narrative forward. I have written this earlier, and I write it again, seeing is not believing, reading SEEING is. Sounds awfully tame, but I assure you that you will not forget the book for a long, long time. Why forget, we must remember. That is what I feel.

I am awed. Living in the largest democracy in the world, I have long been disillusioned by the system, which never seems to work according to the citizen’s will and wish. We are controlled by habit, but there are times when we can and do stand together.

When the Emergency was clamped on our Sovereign Republic in 1975, it was the illiterate farmers, rickshaw pullers, barbers and the silent middle class that came up with a mandate that stunned not just the politicians, but us. We managed to rescue democracy, snatch it from the hands of the so called invincible Indira Gandhi. So who are today’s a politician in front of a seething, live democracy?

Recently we proved it yet again after the Mumbai Terror attacks. Politicians of all colors have been made to look comical, rightly so, and people seemed to realize that they actually had power over those politicians whom we had voted to power. And we gave full vent to our angst.

Returning to SEEING, here are some of the reviews that the book received.

‘A brilliant, cruelly ironic, surreal expose of what we think of as civil society.’ John Burnside, Scotland on Sunday.

‘Nothing I can remember reading tells me more, and with such arresting humor and simplicity, about the impostor of the times we live in.’ Independent

‘In this dense, dark and occasionally brutal book Saramago never forgets the satirist’s duty to be funny. A profound fable.’ New Statesman

‘A novel that says more about the days we are living in than any book I have read.’ Guardian


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

I first read Roy’s Booker Prize Winner, ‘The God of Small things’ in 1999 while undergoing the worst trauma of my life. Roy had a halo at the time, especially for us Keralites. No, this is not to say that we should look at things, especially fiction, through parochial eyes.

I read ‘The God of Small Things’ in what was later to be termed in a patchy manner due to the circumstances prevailing in my personal life at the time. It talked of a village in Kerala and used Malayalam words rampantly. There were the rivers, the ponds, the lotuses in full bloom, the pickles, childhood and everything else you would have encountered here in Kerala as a child, growing up in the sixties and seventies.

I was mesmerized with the book for sure, though I had read it in between huge gaps while going in and out of hospitals, which is surely not the way to read any book, leave alone a Booker Winner. But that is how it was.

I reread ‘The God of Small Things’ again last week. It took three days, but the worst part was that I grew impatient and wanted to know what actually happened and so I skipped paragraphs and moved on in this manner till the very end. I sighed. I am confused and unhappy. I do not want to ‘rejoin’ the Roy - bashing bandwagon, yet I will state that it is not as wonderful as I had thought it to be. As l said, l am confused and a little unhappy.

This happens with many books, it is not something that does not happen to others, especially with people like me who is reading and rereading books all the time, when not writing. There is no doubt on Roy’s magnificent plot and the way in which she has narrated it, stretching language till it doesn’t break.

Just before rereading Roy, I had been reading Jose Saramago’s ‘Seeing’. For days on end after that l felt as though l was living inside a bubble and it would burst, while showing me the real world for the first time. The grip that SEEING had on me is in a way all about what good books aught to do to a serious reader. The opening lines of Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The New World’ – l read a book one day and my whole life was changed – holds true for this transcendental work by Saramago.

It taught me that SEEING is not BELIEVING. Reading is.

I reread SEEING again and it still left me gaping, mesmerized, and roused beyond the usual levels of succor. I am madly hunting for his other works like ‘Blindness’, which l am told is a precursor to ‘Seeing’.

Just before reading ‘Seeing’, l went through Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s magnum opus, ‘Crime and Punishment’ for the nth time and believe me it moved me yet again, with its maxims on human behavior and its world vision.


Friday, 5 December 2008

Aravinda Adiga

Just now I finished reading Aravind Adiga's Booker prize Winner, 'The White Tiger' and found it one of the most amazing read among the books I have been reading lately.

This one is a must for everyone who has even a spark of literature in their souls. The book is a complete antithesis of what other Indian Writing in English is all about. Each line sends a knife up your belly. It does not let you relax.

Amazingly brutal and completely unhypocritical.