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Friday, September 5, 2014

Lost in Snow: Betrayal shatters what Bullet cannot

Well, I am no book critic, not an 'objective' or professional one by a long shot; I write praising the books I like and forget about the books I don't like. It's been long since I wrote about a book and that is probably because it's been equally long since I came across an inspiring book.

The moment I started reading the first page of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, leaving the other two books (River of smoke by Amitav Ghosh and The catcher in the rye by J D Salinger) halfway through, I was convinced I'd read this book to completion and write about it.

The term dissection in English has a much more precise meaning in medical sciences than in ordinary use. To dissect a part of body means to open up the covering, neatly separate tissue planes displaying the individual organs in their natural relationship in details without damaging them.

Alas! While this is possible with the bodily half of our existence, it is not quite the same with the mental half.

Since time immemorial, the philosophers, thinkers and litterateurs have tried to do that but have been largely unable to dissect the mind as finely as scientists have been with the body.

Still, Anton Chekhov in Ward No. 6 and Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov have reached close to a very neat dissection of human soul. By the time the story ends, one knows the mental details of the protagonist in each of these works inside out.

May be, there are many more dissectors of human soul who have not come to my attention but that does not belittle the significance of these great writers.

'Were you happy as a child?'

'People don't know when they are happy, at least not while it's going on. It was only years later that I decided I'd been happy as a child; but the truth is, I wasn't. On the other hand, I was not unhappy in the way I was during the years that followed. I wasn't just interested in happiness when I was a child.'

'So when did you start to become interested?'

Ka longed to say 'never' but he didn't, partly because it wasn't true, and partly because it seemed too aggressive. …

'A moment arrived when I was so unhappy I could barely move and that's when I began to think about happiness,' Ka told her.

For me, this conversation is the essence, the formula of entire human life, akin to a mathematical formula of a physical process. Telling or revealing truth does not require, after all, lengthy sentences and paragraphs, apparently.

'And know this: people who seek only happiness never find it.'

Well, there are no words to elaborate this. We are so fixated at our search and potential attainment of happiness that we end up confusing it for something else. To make the matters worse, as Pamuk's character learns the hard way, we don't even know we are happy when we are so. But when we are at the opposite extreme of the emotions, we are painfully aware of it. That is probably one of the defining reasons behind the lack of happiness in the world. 

Like a very fine anatomist, Pamuk dissects the mental half of human existence layer by layer, plane by plane. He knows how much to expose and how much to refrain from exposing so as to avoid damaging the delicate underlying layer of human soul.

Ka wanted to say, 'Leave me alone', but instead he whispered, 'Hold me tighter'.

One who has ever been in similar mental quandary can easily guess the pretext of such a divergence between one's desire and action.

This conversation takes place in a peculiar context: a remote border city of Turkey covered by snow for days and cut off from the outside world by obstructed road has been taken hostage by an erratic bunch of 'Kemalists' through a so called 'theatrical coup'. The love between the protagonist and his beloved, which had survived the bullets flowing from every corner of the city, has just been shattered by a sense of betrayal throwing him into near-despair.

The protagonist can neither recoil into the world of happiness from past that he was knitting himself before this moment, nor reconcile with the future world potentially devoid of happiness. In the confusion that reaches to the core of his being, he blurts 'Hold me tighter', partly out of indecision and partly due to the nagging sense of insecurity.

This is, though far before the story reaches its climax and there are more twists which I should leave alone for the readers who are yet to grab and read the book.

This piece will get simply too long if I write about every gripping dialogue or depiction in the book. So, let me describe some exceptionally interesting bits from here and there and close this piece.

In the aforementioned Turkish city of Kars, there is a newspaper called Border City Gazette that is sold in dozens. The publisher and editor of the paper, typical to the city, does something unbelievable: he writes the news before they actually happen, types them and prints the day before. That makes the circulation early in the morning possible, some people even get tomorrow's paper today evening itself. He proclaims with pride that many incidents in Kars have taken place just because he has written about them beforehand. In a sense, he has god-like power.

When this journalist writes and prints a news story condemning our protagonist Ka as the godless man, the latter is badly shaken as his life is suddenly in jeopardy now from the Islamists who can shoot him anytime. Since it is noticed before wide circulation, Ka demands an explanation and gets this: that even Serdar Bey, the writer and publisher, does not believe a single word of it himself. Then, he goes on to detail his dilemma and characterize the newspaper business in the wider world:

…All over the world—even in America—newspapers tailor the news to their readers' taste. And if your readers want nothing but lies from you, who in the world is going to sell papers that tell the truth? If the truth could raise my paper's circulation, why wouldn't I write the truth? Anyway, the police don't let me print the truth, either.
…In Istanbul and Ankara, we have a hundred and fifty readers with Kars connections. To please them, we are always bragging about how rich and successful they have become there; we exaggerate everything, because, if we don't, they won't renew our subscriptions. And you know what, they even come to believe the lies we print about them. But that is another matter.

Pamuk seems to be shrewdly mocking the media across the world with this insinuation. Indeed, do we have any established media outlet in world today that does not tailor its news as 'appropriate'?

In a strict sense, though, all these instances are the mere digressions in the book that primarily focuses on the political history of the Turkish society. With the help of a limited number of characters from a small city, Pamuk brilliantly depicts the intensifying conflict between the 'western' secular values and the 'eastern' political Islamic values.

 When this book was being written, Turkey was in a sensitive transition phase: by the time of publication of the book, the political Islamists had got an unambiguous victory in the nationwide polls, but it was not yet certain how readily the powerful 'secular' army with Kemalist legacy would accommodate itself in the new set up.

Over the past decade, a shrewd politician from the Islamist party has transformed the Turkish society and the state with the army kept firmly under the civilian government.

Nevertheless the debate lingers even today in Turkey's urban centers as to which of the two—the secularism and political Islam—is better suited for Turkey.

Pamuk's work shows that in a deeply religious and conservative society like the Turkish one, forcing secularism with brute force is like grafting a branch of one tree to the trunk of another tree from a different specimen. With excess of supportive force, it can be held in place for some time but eventually the natural branches of the parent tree would outgrow the graft making it redundant.

Similarly, Pamuk doubts—through the expressions of some of his characters—the suitability of the brazenly materialistic outlook of the western secularism in societies much poorer than those in the West. Is it not true that even those in the West turn towards religiosity in increasing number at the times of economic and social hardship? Why should we expect then the people with unimaginable economic hardship fall for the secularist/materialist ideals at their first sight?

Tragically, the events of the past few years have altered the entire social and political landscape of the Turkey's neighborhood and Turkey has not been left alone. The mastery the erstwhile Turkish leader was showing in managing the internal affairs of the country was nowhere to be seen with respect to foreign policy and today Turkey stands as one of the culprits who helped breed a number of monstrous terror organizations in the region. 

The vicious sectarian strife in the neighboring Syria and elsewhere has meanwhile polarized societies so much that, today the debate between the secularists and political Islamists has been pushed to the fringes.

The comprehensive understanding of this latest tragedy is also impossible without the brave work of an exceptionally knowledgeable person like Pamuk who has both concern and empathy for the people ravaged by poverty and war. Interestingly, the media coverage of this latest strife is practically as good as that of the Border City Gazette even though the news are obviously written after the events happen.

I am looking forward to gripping narrative of the current tragedy unfolding in Middle East from Pamuk. By the time he completes it, I wish to have already completed all his works that are available in the market.

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जीवन, खुशी अहंकार

जीवनमा अफ्ठ्यारा घुम्तीहरुमा हिंडिरहँदा मैले कुनै क्षणमा पलायनलाई एउटा विकल्पको रुपमा कल्पना गरेको थिएँ, त्यसलाई यथार्थमा बदल्ने आँट गरिनँ, त्यो बेग्लै कुरा हो त्यसबेला लाग्थ्योः मेरा समग्र दुखहरुको कारण मेरो वरपरको वातावरण हो, यसबाट साहसपूर्वक बाहिरिएँ भने नयाँ दुख आउलान् तर तत्क्षणका दुरुह दुखहरु गायब भएर जानेछन् कति गलत थिएँ !

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Why I write...

I do not know why I often tend to view people rather grimly: they usually are not as benevolent, well-intentioned and capable or strong as they appear to be. This assumption is founded on my own self-assessment, though I don’t have a clue as to whether it is justifiable to generalize an observation made in one individual. This being the fact, my views of writers as ‘capable’ people are not that encouraging: I tend to see them as people who intend to create really great and world-changing writings but most of the times end up producing parochial pieces. Also, given the fact that the society where we grow and learn is full of dishonesty, treachery, deceit and above else, mundanity, it is rather unrealistic to expect an entirely reinvigorating work of writing from every other person who scribbles words in paper.

On life's challenges

Somebody has said: “I was born intelligent but education ruined me”. I was born a mere child, as everyone is, and grew up as an ordinary teenager eventually landing up in youth and then adulthood. The extent to which formal education helped me to learn about the world may be debatable but it definitely did not ruin me. There were, however, things that nearly ruined me. There came moments when I contemplated some difficult choices. And there came and passed periods when I underwent through an apparently everlasting spell of agony. There came bends in life from which it was very tempting to move straight ahead instead of following the zigzag course.

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