Monday, February 28, 2011

Milorad Pavic - Weaver Of Dreams And Thoughts

Where does one start with trying to explain what the 'Dictionary of Khazars' is about and how does one try to explain it as coherently as possible even if he makes a start at some point. The novel itself is structured in such a way that it does not lend to the conventional ways of telling about it. So, instead I will try to just write down my thoughts on this, however abstract they may appear. I look at this novel from 3 view points, which I think as a whole enhances the impact of it.
Borges wrote in his 'Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote' that a person who translates/writes a copy of Don Quixote becomes in effect a new writer writing a completely different novel from the one he is translating. I will quote in slightly out of context here when I say that every reader who reads this novel is going to read slightly different novel in perspective. How does this happen? The novel itself is structured like an dictionary where user can pick and choose the entries he wants to read in some random order. For e.g. what would be the experience of a person who read about princesses Ateh at the beginning and about the 3 doctors (Suk, Muawia and Schultz) at the end and another reader who reads the same in vice versa (i.e) read about the doctors in the beginning and about Ateh in the end? What if someone reads the appendix of Nikolsky at the beginning (do not ever try this one). That brings us to the question of why has Pavic structured the novel like this and is he not actually alienating the last 100 readers themselves from reading a book that is structured like this? I think the answer lies in the fact that all of us aspire to be writers (that's why blogs are so famous) and so when we get a chance to restructure a book, well we are sucked into it. So what happens if a non-adventurous readers reads the book in a linear fashion from the beginning to end. Is he going to be more clear about it? Not at all, Pavic has some tricks up his sleeve for this too. With 3 books and multiple perspectives of the same character available, he still wont be 100% sure. For e.g. who is Ateh, is she the princess of the Kaghan, his wife, his sister, leader of a secret cult, does she work for or against the Kaghan. Who knows for sure, she could be one and many of all those. So is the novel fully random as it seems, not really. Within all this apparent randomness, Pavic maintains a symmetry with the number 3. The 3 religions, the 3 books, the 3 persons who initially participated in the polemic, the 3 people in the middle ages who created a dictionary in their respective languages and finally the 3 professors in the current age. Underlying the apparent chaos is some unfathomable order as is the case with real life.
Well, the novel's structure is out of the way. What else is special about this book. Well for one it's exquisite prose (am assuming here that the translation has in no way enhanced the original and has remained as faithful to it as realistically possible). Forget the khazars and their conversion for some time, that is just a backdrop according to me. This is a novel of ideas and thoughts. Ideas and thoughts on dreams, death, time, that open up our mind and imagination to the unlimited possibilities that fiction offers in altering and even creating a new world view for you. What else can you say about a novel where a person chooses a day to live and interchanges a Monday with Tuesday and where an egg gives you an option to remove one day which you do not want. Time as a linear entity is molded into different shapes as Pavic wishes. More than I personally was dumbstruck, but two persons dreaming each others reality (Cohen and Avram), wow, where did that come from? As a novel of thoughts, the other novel that came to my mind that works in a similar way is Calvino's Invisible cities, but that's a post for another day. I don't know if I can say that the prose is the icing on the cake which is the novel's inventive structure or vice versa. In fact I feel both complement each other and take the novel to great heights than what would have been possible if one of them had not be so good in the novel.
I have so far not mentioned much about the characters. That does not mean that they are not up to standard. The character portraits are done in such a way that even if their actions seem metaphysical or plain fantastical, the reader can relate to them. For instance the story of Petkukin is almost like a Greek tragedy in its scope. What about Dr.Schultz who keeps writing a letter to  a younger version of herself who exists in her mind only. These are characters who manage to rise about the weight of the structure and prose of their novel and make their presence felt. The characters seem to be in search of something, not just the almost mythical dictionary, but something beyond that.
Finally, during reading of the novel and even after completing it, this is the image or thought that sticks in my mind. The whole novel seems to be like a dream conjured up by Pavic for us readers. We readers get inside the dream, trying to make sense of the novel as a complete whole, which in turn would lead us to Adam Cadmon/Ruhani, the first father, who in the case of the novel is Pavic himself. Pavic meanwhile is waiting for us, but as is the case with the real world, I don't think we can achieve it but just get one perspective. Maybe each reader could be a dream hunter, searching for other readers of the novel (innumerable Avrams, Masudis, Cohens) and if all readers of the novel come together we may have a 'Readers Dictionary of The Dictionary of the Khazars'. Sounds weird? Well, call it the Pavic effect, but I am not out of it yet :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reading Thomas Pynchon

Reading Thomas Pynchon is a pretty unique experience and can be quite unnerving too. Particularly, the beginning can be intimidating and can put of quite a few. However, once you get past those initial hiccups, you are in for a heck of a ride. From the limited experience I have based on reading only 3 of his novels, I will try to distill my reading experience, which I believe would be common for most others and as such act as a pointer to new readers wanting to get into him. This is not a post on any of his works, only about the experience of reading him.
His novels are pretty large running into 300 pages at the least and running up to and more than 700 pages. For the first 50-100 pages or even more it would feel like you have been transported to the tower of Babel, just at the moment when the people there started speaking different languages. Such a polyphony of voices assault you in the first 50-100 pages. Characters keep getting introduced in passing and seemingly left hanging. Some (seemingly) random events occur. It's like throwing down most of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in a completely random manner. But just persist through this and read the initial parts quite carefully since it has a bearing on what comes further.
Once you get over the initial pages, things start to become slightly more clear. You can start piecing together the pieces of the puzzle as it were. But it does not mean that everything gets clear. Pynchon still has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and throws even more pieces of the puzzle and introduces new characters too, but by and large, at this point you should have some idea of the novel.
The last phase is when the story ends or is about to end. You would have formed a image based on the puzzles, but you never are sure if this image is what the author intended or whether you have pieced together an altogether completely different image of your understanding of the novel. But don't lose heart on this. Lets leave the in-depth study and analysis of Pynchon to academics and professional critics whose livelihood it is. As a reader, just enjoy the ride Pynchon provides you through the 3 phases I have mentioned above. You can anyway, comeback to the novel again and read it and piece together again your understanding. As they say in the cliche, it's the journey that matters,not the destination, so it is with Pynchon. So, fasten your seat belts and get ready for a psychedelic trip.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Aunt Julia And The Script Writer - In Praise Of The Master 'Mario Vargas Losa'

'Aunt Julia And The Script Writer' is one of the most hilarious and crazy novels I have read. What makes this novel even more special, is that it is written by Mario Vargas Losa, who once again shows his ability to straddle various genres in writing and hardly missing a beat. The man has written hard hitting political works (The Feast Of the Goat), experimental works with the form of the novel (The Green House), erotic works where imagination is more erotic than the real (The notebooks of Don Rigoberto), about myths (The Story Teller) and even a coming of age tale (The time of the Hero). With this novel, he proves to be a master in of the satire/spoof in an extremely funny way. We would rarely get a writer, whose output is so diverse.
Party autobiographical, (Losa married his aunt which ended in a divorce later), the novel concerns the narrator (losa aged 18 at that time) and his aunt Julia, whom he meets and falls in love with. More than his studies, losa is interested in writing and works part time at a radio station. The radio station has it's own share of odd ball characters like the person who prepares the news in losa's absence and for whom no news is complete without having any disaster in it. (If there is no such news for the day, he inserts his own disasters with his unique brand of morbid humor) The radio station gets a new Bolivian writer (Pedro Camacho) to write soap operas for it. As Mario meets his aunt and falls in love with her, Pedro Camacho's operas become a huge hit. The actual incidents in Losa's life are alternated with episodes from the various soaps that are written by Pedro.
The episodes from the various soaps are extremely funny and true to form with respect to soaps. Each one of the episodes end with a question being asked to the reader/listener. What is going to happen now/Will Mr.YYY come to know the truth/How will this end etc. We are clearly in soap opera territory here. I don't know how close these episodes are to the reality of Peruvian soap operas, but they sure seem to be a hell a lot more funny than the crap that is being dished out in India. Losa does not miss anything and captures the nuances (!) of the soap operas exactly. Most of the stories are seriously funny, like the one where patricide is committed, the one about the lodge owner. 
As Losa's romance with his Aunt progress, Pedro's personal life gets hit by unknown forces (this is never told clearly as to why, though there are some hints thrown in). As Losa's family come to know about their romance and try to end it, at the other end Pedro's mind implodes, resulting in even crazier episodes of soaps where characters who were dead come alive, characters in one serial somehow cross over to the other. Even though this is insanely funny, one has to feel for Pedro losing his mind. As for Losa, he plans to marry his Aunt against his family's wishes. The part where they run of to get married and face much problems (no priest etc) is another absolute riot of humor. 
The epilogue has Losa returning back after having divorced his aunt and marrying one of his cousins. He meets Pedro, now a lowly worker and his wife (and we get an idea of pedro's troubles). The story ends on a bitter sweet note at Pedro's current condition.
For me personally, this novel and 'The Feast Of The Goat' are the best of Losa's works. Just try reading these two one after the other (like I did, coincidentally) and you will surely wonder at the greatness of this man who can write 2 such novels which are at the two ends of a spectrum.  Word for word, sentence for sentence, Losa creates such a tapestry of visual images that are so exotic, sensuous, life like and funny at the same time, that you cannot but be fully sucked into it. More than anything else, Losa proves that great writing can be entertaining also.

Note: Losa's aunt whom he married in real life has written a memoir of her with her version of the actual events

Friday, February 11, 2011

கரையும் உருவங்கள் - இயலாமையின் குற்றஉணர்வு

இளமையில் வறுமை கொடியது தான். அதே அளவுக்கு, இளமையில் வேலையில்லாமல் இருப்பதையும் சொல்லலாம். (வேலை இல்லாமல் இருப்பது எப்போதும் கொடுமை தான், இருந்தாலும் இது இன்னும் கொடிது). அதுவும், வீட்டில் முதியவர்கள் வேலை செய்து கொண்டு இருக்க, தம்பி, அக்காக்கள் இருக்கும் போது வேலையில்லாமல் இருப்பது என்பது மிகவும் கொடியது தான். அப்படிப்பட்ட ஒருவனின் கதை தான், வண்ணநிலவனின் 'கரையும் உருவங்கள்'.
கதை சங்கரன் என்னும் இளைஞனின் பார்வையில், அவன் வீடு வந்து திரும்பும் ஒரு இரவில் நடப்பது. இரவில் நேரம் கழித்து வீட்டிற்கு வரும் அவன், கதவை தட்டாமலே வெளியேவே நிற்கின்றான். அவன் அக்கா அவனை பார்த்து உள்ளே அழைக்கின்றாள். அவனின்  இந்த ஒரு செயலே, அவனின் குற்றுனர்வை கோடிட்டு காட்டுகின்றது. அவன் அக்காவிற்கு இது எல்லாம் புரிகின்றது, அவனை அவள் பரிவோடு நடத்துகின்றாள்.வீட்டிற்குள் வரும் அவனுக்கு, சாப்பாடு வைக்கின்றாள், அன்பாக பேசுகின்றாள். வேலையில்லாமல் இருக்கும் சூழலில், வீட்டிலிருப்பவர்கள் கடிந்து பேசினால் கூட பரவாயில்லை தானே? நாம் அதற்கு எதிர்வினையாக கோபத்தை காட்டி நம்முடைய இயலாமைக்கு கவசமாக உபயோகிக்கலாம். ஆனால் இந்த மாதிரி அன்புடன் இருக்கும் போது, அது இன்னும் குற்ற உணர்வை பெருக்கி, நம் இயலாமை மீதே இன்னும் வெறுப்பு கொள்ளதான் செய்யும். இந்த அன்பிற்கு முன்பு நிராயுதபாணியாக தான் உணர்வோம். சங்கரனுக்கு இந்த நிலை தான், சாப்பிட கூச்சம், வீட்டில் படுக்கவே கூச்சமாக உள்ளது. இந்த உணர்வு நம்மில் பலருக்கு இருந்திருக்கும். அவன் துணியை சரி வர தோய்ப்பது கூட இல்லை, நேர்முகத்தேர்வுக்கு கூட நடந்தே செல்ல நினைக்கின்றான். அவன் அக்கா அவனை தேற்றுகிறாள். இந்த உரையாடல்கள் அனைத்தும் மிக இயல்பாக உள்ளன.ஒரு வகையில் சங்காரம், நம்மில் பலரும் தான். 
சரி, இது வரை இது நல்ல கதை தான், ஆனால், வேலையில்லா பிரச்சனை, அந்த உணர்வுகள் பற்றி பல கதைகள் வந்து தான் உள்ளன. இறுதியில் வரும் அக்கா பேசும் வார்த்தைகள் தான், இந்த கதையை அதையும் மீறி ஒரு சிறந்த கதையாக மாற்றுகின்றது. சங்கரனின் செயல்களை பார்த்து அவள் கூறுகிறாள், '... அக்கா ஒக்காந்து பத்து வருஷம் ஆச்சு. ஏதாவது ஒன்னு கொறசிருக்கேனா. ஆனாலும் நீ ரோஷக்காரண்டா', இப்படி அவள் விசும்பலுடன் கூறி கதை முடியும் போது, சங்கரனின் POVஇல்  நகரும் கதை, சட்டென்று ஒரு நொடியில் மாறி இன்னும் பல தளங்களை நமக்கு திறக்கின்றது. இது ஒன்றும், ஒ.ஹென்றி பாணியிலான, வலிந்து வரவழைக்கப்பட்ட திருப்பமோ, உச்ச நிகழ்வோ அல்ல, மிக இயல்பாக நிகழும் ஒன்றும். இறுதியில் நம்மக்கு ஏற்படும் மன உணர்வுகளை விவரிக்க முடியாது. ஒவ்வொருவரும் இப்படித்தான் நம்முடைய தனிப்பட்ட சிலுவையை சுமந்து, இயலாமையின் குற்ற உணர்வுடன் வாழ்கின்றோம். 
படித்து பல காலம் ஆகியும், மறக்க முடியாத கதை இது. சிறுகதை எழுத வேண்டும் என்றால் இந்த கதையை, வண்ணநிலவனை படிக்கலாம், தவறொன்றும் இல்லை. உள்ளொளி பயணம், தத்துவம், தரிசனம் என்றெல்லாம் படம் போடாமல் எளிமையான சிறந்த கதைகள் இவருடையது. 
வண்ணநிலவன் கதை தொகுப்பு - சந்தியா பதிப்பகம். 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

மாதொருபாகன் - ஒரு சிறு குறிப்பு - பெருமாள் முருகன்

குழந்தைப்பேறு/குழந்தைஇன்மை பற்றி சமூகம் சார்ந்த பொது நோக்கு குறித்து, ஆணின் பார்வையிலும் பேசும் புதினம் இது. பொதுவாக  குழந்தைபேரு என்பது பெண் சார்ந்த விஷயமாக/பிரச்சனையாக பதிவு செய்யப்பட்டிருக்கும் நிலையில், ஆணின் மனவோட்டத்தை பேசும் இந்த புதினம் ஒரு வகையில் 'கங்கணத்தின்' நீட்சி என்றும் தோன்றுகின்றது. இந்த களம் தமிழ்க்கு புதிது, விரிவாக பேசப்படவில்லை என்று தான் நினைக்கின்றேன் (ஹிந்தி நாடகம் 'Surya ki Antim Kiran Se Surya Ki Pehli Kiran Tak இது பற்றியது ,தமிழில் சில சிறுகதைகள் படித்த ஞாபகம் (ரமேஷ்-பிரேம்), நியோகா முறை என்பது முன்பு வழக்கில் இருந்துள்ளது, மகாபாரதம் கூட ஆரம்பிப்பது இப்படிதானே ?)

திருமணமாகி ஒரு பத்து வருடம் கழித்து, குழந்தை இல்லாத ஒரு தம்பதியரின் கதை இது (காளி/பொன்னாயி). நாவல் காளியின் பார்வையில் மிகுதியாக சொல்லப்படுகின்றது. ஒரு இரண்டு நாட்களில் நடக்கும் நிகழ்வுகளுடன்  அதனுள் முன்னால் நடந்தவை இணைக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. கதை சொல்லும் முறையில் முன் பின்னாக செல்வது எனக்கு பிடித்திருந்தது. பொன்னாயியின் தாய் ஏன் அவளையும் காளியையும் வெகு நேரம் பேச விட மாட்டேன் என்கிறாள், முத்து ஏன் அன்று முழுவதும் ஏதோ வேலையாக வெளியே சென்று இருக்கின்றான், காளி ஏன் இரண்டு வருடங்களாக தன் மாமனார் வீட்டிற்கு வரவில்லை போன்ற கேள்விகள் போகிற போக்கில நன்றாக, இயல்பாக வாசகனுக்கு புரியம்படி, சொல்லாமல் சொல்லப்பட்டிருக்கின்றது. அதிலும் கடைசி அத்தியாயங்கள் பொன்னாயி/காளி இருவரின் மனவோட்டத்தின் படி அவர்களின் (POV ) படி சொல்லி இருப்பதால், நமக்கும் என்ன நடக்கும் என்ற பதட்டம் தொற்றுகின்றது.  பொன்னியின் POV வரும் பகுதிகள் ஒரு பெண்ணின் மனவோட்டத்தை, பாலியல் விழைவுகளை நன்றாக கூறியுள்ளன. அவளின் பதின் பருவ எண்ணங்கள் போகிற போக்கில் சொல்லப்பட்டு, வாசகனை கதை சொல்லாததையும் சிந்திக்க வைக்கின்றன. குறிப்பாக பொன்னாயி, அவள் பண்ணை வீட்டில் வேலை செய்பவன் முகத்தை, அந்த இடத்தில் காளியை வைக்க சில காலம ஆனது என்ற இடம், பல பெண்களுக்கும் இது இருக்குமல்லவா. குழந்தை என்று வரும் போது இரு வீட்டிலும் இருக்கும் தாயார்கள் ஒன்று சேர்ந்து அந்த சாமி பிள்ளை என்பதை முன்னிறுத்தும் போது, குழந்தையின் முக்கியத்துவம் சமூகத்தில் எவ்வளவு உள்ளது என்பது தெரிகின்றது. இருந்தும் காளியின் தாயார் இதற்கு ஒப்புக்கொள்வது ஒரு ஆசிரியம் தான். தன் மகன் மேல் குறை இல்லை என்று தான் பல தாய்கள் சொல்வார்கள் அல்லவா?

காளி எடுக்கப்போகும் முடிவு சூசகமாக இருந்தாலும் நமக்கு மனசைப் பிசைகின்றது. ஆனால் இது பற்றி சிறிது யோசித்த போது ஒன்று தோன்றியது. காளி மறுமணம் பற்றி நினைக்கும் போது, அவன் அதை ஒரேயடியாக ஒதுக்கவில்லை, சிந்தித்து இரண்டு பேருடன் குடும்பம் என்பது கஷ்டம் என்பதும் அவன் அதை நிராகரிக்க ஒரு காரணம், ஆனால் தன் மனைவி இப்படி நடந்தவுடன், நடப்பாள் என்று தோன்றியவுடனே அவனுக்கு அதை நினைக்ககூட முடியவில்லை. கணவன்/மனைவி, ஆண்/பெண் இருவருக்கும் உள்ள பாலியல் விழைவுகள் பற்றிய எண்ணங்கள் இன்னும் ஆண் சார்ந்தவையாக தான் உள்ளன என்று புரிந்து கொள்கிறேன். பொன்னாயி மிகுந்த ஆபத்தை குடுக்கும் கல்லை சுற்றல் போன்றவற்றை செய்வது காளி முற்றிலும் தடுப்பதில்லை, அதை ஒரு வகையில் அவன் ஏற்கின்றான்.

என்னை மிகவும் ஈர்த்தது கதையில் வரும் தொன்மங்கள் (பாவாத்தா )  பற்றிய குறிப்புக்கள் தான். அந்த காடுகள், மலைமேல் உள்ள படிக்கட்டுக்கள் பற்றி உள்ள பகுதிகள் நன்றாக உள்ளன. ஆனால் அவை பற்றி இன்னும் சொல்லி இருக்கலாம். கதை பற்றிய blurbஇல் கூறியுள்ளபடி தொன்மங்கள், வரலாறுகள் விரிவாக சொல்லப்படவில்லை. பெருமாள் முருகன் முன்னுரையில் குறிப்பிட்டுள்ளது போல இது பற்றி வரலாறாக அவர் எழுத வேண்டும், எழுதுவார் என்று எதிர் பார்கின்றேன்.

இது மிக சிறந்த கதையா, இது நாவலா இல்லையா, இந்த ஆண்டின் மிக சிறந்த படைப்பா என்றெல்லாம் பேசப்படுவதற்கு எனக்கு பதில் இல்லை. புத்தகம் வந்து ஒரு மாதத்திற்குள் இந்த மாதிரியான hyperbole தேவையா என்று தோன்றுகின்றது.  காலப்போக்கில் வாசகர்கள் தான் இதை தீர்மானிக்க வேண்டும். இருந்தாலும், மிகுந்த ஆரவாரத்துடன் வரும் படைப்புக்கள், brand ஆக மாறிவரும் எழுத்தாளர்கள்  இடையே இந்த மாதிரியான படைப்புக்கள் பேசப்படவேண்டும், பெருமாள் முருகன் போன்றோர் இன்னும் வாசிக்கப்படவேண்டும் என்பது என் எண்ணம். 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Form or Content? - Some Thoughts - David Foster Wallace

Reading an essay by Pavic (thanks Sid) and chatting with Sid on form and content got me thinking more about it. This is a very old argument and I am not going to take sides here. So why this post? The past 2 days, I have been thinking of some stories which mix both of them, with more emphasis on form. So I thought I would put my thoughts on some of them, starting with this story 'The Soul Is Not A Smithy' by David Foster Wallace. (From the collection 'Oblivion')

The main story line here is this, a substitute school teacher has a mental breakdown while taking a class and holds the entire class room as hostage. Mixed with is the story imagined by a student, who is completely in a world of his own, unaware of what is going on around him and the serious situation in which he has been trapped. He is creating a story in his mind and is in that world. This student could be any one of us, after all, most of us would have, at some of time, tuned out of the class and started living in a world that we create for ourselves. But that is beside the point here. Now, this is not a case of story within story or a single story fragmenting into multiple ones, rather this is a much rare case in fiction where 2 stories are happening simultaneously, in the same time line, with 2 people in the same place and who are bound to each other (teacher-student).It's like seeing two different scenes in a split screen, but as a reader, we read them only one after the other and for us there is a time lag, however small it may be. As the teacher's mental breakdown descends into a madness, the student's imagined story too lurches towards an end.

At some point, I found myself caring more for the story imagined by the student than the actual real time happenings and stopped for a minute. But I thought again, hang on, what is reality and imagination here? Both the stories are fiction here by the same author and so where did the boundary of real story and imagined story come here for me. I think, this is where the author came into play, messing with my mind and blurring the boundary of fiction and reality. Even as the story ended with the student's imagined story left hanging, I was left thinking about it equally as the main story. The main story does not end on a happy note anyway.

The narrative technique, strings along the user. For instance, while reading the student's imagination, you want to know what is happening in the simultaneous timeline and vice versa and as such is a good narrative technique for holding the interest of the user. It may be seem as a gimmick, but it sure requires a certain talent to write without ending up looking like a clumsy idiotic work. For instance, the teacher never says anything directly to the students, he  justs starts writing the words 'Kill Them' again and again in the board. This is more chilling than if we had actually told them directly to the students. Just think about the impact it would have on a classroom when they see their teacher writing this.

I also feel that the narrative technique is not just a simple gimmick. The story could very well be told as a linear one, but I doubt if the impact it had would have been the same. The student's imagined story is also a very dark one and one can infer that he is already a troubled kid. Maybe the story that the kid imagines, is his way of detaching from the problems he has in his life, with this imaginary world being his refuge. The teacher unfortunately does not seem to have this ability. What happens in the class room serves to push him over the edge that he was tottering on. (This is borne out by the epilogue which tells what happened after the incident). The end of childhood for a kid, who is in his own world of creation is bought out implicitly and more poignantly than if it had been a linear story. One also feels for the teacher. Why did he have the breakdown and did what he did. The reason is never told. That he is a substitute teacher, makes us think several things, maybe his job was about to be terminated, he did not have any other job in the offing, or some another completely different problem.
I wouldn't say this is a great story, but one that tries (again as usual with DFW), to push the boundaries of the manner of writing a little bit more.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blindness - Jose Saramago- The Frailty of societies

All countries/societies, whether they be democratic, autocratic have one thing in common. A shared belief in having an ordered/civil society, where by and large things proceed normally and in a civilized manner. But just scratch the surface and we get to see the frailty inherent everywhere and the incompetence of most governments that run these societies. All our false sense of security and stability, requires just a tiny push to come tumbling down. Jose Saramago's Blindness is one such novel that exposes this. However it also shows the other side where some people respond with grace under extreme duress.

Saramago places his entire novel on the hypothetical question of what would happen if many people in a society suddenly become blind. How would the people and the powers to be react. As the novel opens, many people in an unnamed country are struck by a sudden epidemic of blindness. This blindness does not make everything dark, as is generally said, but a milky whiteness as experienced by the people who are affected by it. No character in the novel are named, which is just as  well, since the same could happen to anyone of us and as such the names of such characters do not serve much purpose. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and comes upon a solution (?) to sort this out. All the affected people are moved to a center and the government sort of washes it's hands of it.

The main characters here are a Doctor and his wife, who by some random chance is not affected by the epidemic. However she goes with her husband to the place all the affected people are re-located to. It is more of a jail, with access to the outside world completely cut off and food being brought everyday by soldiers. The people grouped together by this try to form a familial unit to survive. But the environment inside is horrific. The living conditions and general hygiene degrade to a great extent and people have to live in complete filth. The group of soldiers assigned to control them and keep watch over them too are scared of the epidemic and do not show much interest. In fact, in a case of paranoia, one of the soldiers shoots down an inmate of the center, in a fit of rage. In such a scenario, just imagine a group of people who cannot see suddenly and have been just shunted into a place. They just would not know how to cope with this without any outside help. In a way the hell inside could be a mirror to the same degradation that would be happening outside, since the epidemic would still be spreading.  (As a reader, however we would not know this at this point of the novel, only later, so this is just my afterthought). The doctor's wife tries to help as much as possible, but it is a losing cause only. 

This is just the beginning of their problems. A small group among those affected forms a gang and takes control of access to the food being delivered to them. They form a sort of mafia and start bullying the others. For the women in the center, their nightmare has not yet begun yet. The gang wants some women delivered to them for satisfy their lust in exchange for the food being delivered equally among all. This is again a mirror for what happens in any society, where women have to bear more suffering than men in case of any calamity/wars etc. Haven't we read about women being raped, kidnapped during wars between even small gangs. However much we improve technologically,  our based and primitive instincts are never fully gone and are just lurking beneath the surface. Things come to such a pass, that with the help of the doctors wife, the inmates rebel against the gang and break out of the center. During this the center burns down too. The doctor's wife leads the others out of the center and into the outside world. 

What is seen outside is much worse or at-least as bad as inside the center. There has been complete breakdown of society everywhere. Places are abandoned, looted. No one knows what has happened to the government or if such a thing still exists and is functioning. The outside world is like a post-apocalyptic one and the people are like zombies. People live in abandoned buildings, sleeping wherever they and eating whatever they can find.  With the help of the doctor's wife, the escapees from the center try to form a cohesive unit, when suddenly people start getting their eyesight back. The epidemic leaves as inexplicably as it came. The novel ends here. 

The ending may seem abrupt to some and to of no purpose than to end the novel. I did not feel this way. To me, the epidemic was just a trope used by Saramago to illustrate how unstable we are and how closer to the primitive are we in our mindset than we actually care to know. The trope serves that purpose and as such the epidemic suddenly going off did not strike me as odd.
Saramago's style is different and special in the sense that he eschews most separators like quotation, commas, periods etc. To add to this, he uses long sentences. All these serve to give an impression of a person sitting around a fire and telling a story orally. For all his political leanings, Saramago is a humanist and story teller first and this novel is a perfect blend of both. He does not just give a bleak vision of our societies, but with the character of the doctor's wife, he also shows us that there are still people who can withstand the vagaries of life without losing the basic moral compass that guides us. One is never explicitly told why goes with her husband and suffers all the degradation. Is it love, that's just a fancy word for it. For some to suffer so much when she could basically have taken a chance and got out,  it must be something inherently great with the person. I distilled the novel as the following 'One can believe in the goodness of man, but he should not be surprised by the evil in the same man'
This is a very good read and highly recommended.