Monday, 15 December 2008
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