I picked up a book recently after the author received a Booker for another title. Why didn’t I pick up the award winning title? Well I am not that overtly shallow. The logical basis for such an incomprehensible choice- the lack of expectations. Somehow, I can’t handle the pressure of reading and liking an award winning novel. My experience with ‘The Finkler Question’ serves as a ready yardstick on the matter. Not that I deign myself worthy of criticizing Howard Jacobson, the book fell flat. However, reading a book that dealt with the Jewish question and that too not the one posed by Israeli Jews, I didn’t really expect it to resonate with me or my so called finer sensibilities. Nevertheless, Richard Flannagan’s ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’ does not disappoint. It provides for an excellent narrative of the newly colonized island of Australia vis-a-vis a fantastical and nonsensical account by a man sentenced to serve an indefinite amount of time in the gaol under pitiable conditions. The most remarkable aspect is that instead of chapters one is handed a novel written in twelve fish. If you wish to know what that means, you have to got to read the book yourself.
Considering that I was reading set in the backdrop of British colony in Australia and inhumane existence of its prisoners and aboriginals, it was quite a coincidence that I was watching ‘Hells on Wheels’ a flamboyant western TV-series set in the post civil war America that saw an upsurge in the growth of railroad that ultimately ushered in the era of rapid industrial growth in America, at the turn of the century. Quite obviously, the themes for these two, very different forms of entertainment were largely similar. The painstaking endeavor to almost forcibly propagate and foster modernity, even upon those who did not will or need it, makes for a rather poignant narrative. However, neither do we have any human remnants of that age nor do we have a surviving and persistent collective memory of that day and age, when humans were less valuable than horses and guns. As a generation long detached from those that came nearly a hundred years before us, and that too in a distant land, we have no lessons to learn from the pain spread by the American and Australian juggernaut. A juggernaut that claimed the flesh and blood of millions before its thirst for civilization was fully satiated. A civilization that had racial prejudice, forced labor, war, blood and sweat as its raw materials; our very own Promethean sacrifice.
A natural question, at this point would pertain to my interest in the matter and why have I chosen to write about such a remote and rather irrelevant subject matter? Well that’s just it, the subject matter is neither remote nor irrelevant. We, as a nation may have to undergo the same pain that our American and Australian brethren have felt in the last century or two; the same pain we have to bear as the price of progress. India is changing, growing rapidly, leaving no room for the weak or the cowardly. Our women are being raped, our children kidnapped, our men murdered and all so blatant enough to numb our collective conscience. We are thus left with only two choices- revolt or submission, the latter being the logical option.
Our new government promises rapid development at the expense of religious bigotry and massive intolerance towards popular culture and free speech. We have chosen this government. We have chosen to incur such an inordinate and massive debt. Not that our government is tyrannical or a dictatorship, but the intolerance is palapable. However, I, for one do not intend to be cowed down by the forecast of an Orwellian tragedy that our democracy may very well suffer in the near and promising future. What do you intend to do?