Categories
Review

‘What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves’: The Plague by Albert Camus

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: The Plague (1947)

Author: Albert Camus

Camus’ La Peste has never been out of print. In the wake of pandemic that now sweeps the entire world, its sale has seen a surge quite unlike at any other time since its publication in 1947. What else can be a greater proof of the relevance of a work that seems to be an ageless parable of human condition.

The novel, most of which he wrote in confinement, away from his family due to his acute illness, is the story of a town suffering from bubonic plague. But this novel can also be seen as an allegory of human crisis brought about by moral contagion.

Camus belonged to a generation which was born either before or during the First World War, reached adolescence during the worldwide economic depression and turned twenty the year of Hitler’s rise to power. Next they saw the civil war in Spain, the Munich Agreements, the start of another World War in 1939, the fall of France in 1940 and four years of enemy occupation and underground struggle.

All of this, in his opinion, resulted in a human crisis where most people, disillusioned by religion or nationalism and wary of the traditional morality imposed upon them, lived in contradiction. They accepted war and violence which was given to them, which they had never wanted but from the consequences of which they could not escape. It was as if the entire generation was plagued by an indifference which led people to accept human suffering as a banal reality.

In one of his lyrical essays, The Almond Trees (1940), Camus wrote:

I do not have enough faith in reason to subscribe to a belief in progress or to any philosophy of history. But I do atleast believe that men have never ceased to grow in the knowledge of their destiny. We have not overcome our condition and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as men is to find those few first principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must stitch up what has been torn apart, render justice imaginable in a World which is so obviously unjust, make happiness meaningful for nations poisoned by the misery of this century.”

He believed in human kindness and solidarity. He believed that if in the face of a crisis people could rise and act, not out of some heroic courage expected of them, but with reason and optimism, then it would be possible to reduce human suffering.

Written in the given context, the novel quite pertinently, became a tale of a persisting contradiction and subsequent human actions in overcoming the condition.

What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.”

In the novel, after initially rejecting the plague, the people of Oran are forced to go into isolation and quarantine. In fact the whole city is closed down and its borders are sealed. There are people suffering from the disease, people in exile – away from their loved ones, people serving those ridden with disease and also people trying to make more money by smuggling goods. Here the depiction of illness, loneliness and separation is quite vivid – much that we can relate to as well at present?

Dr. Rieux, the one who detects the illness, assumes his responsibility and does what he must. He is an ordinary man doing extraordinary things, not out of a notion of valour but out of simple decency and a sense of moral obligation. His character personifies individual moral responsibility essential to make effective public choices in a society. At one point, he says:

When you see the suffering it brings, you have to be mad, blind or a coward to resign yourself to the Plague.”

Rambert, a young journalist who is exiled in Oran, tries to escape the city initially but later he realises that he shares a common fate with rest of the people and joins in serving those afflicted.

Then one fine day, the plague disappears as mysteriously as it had appeared but not without playing havoc with the lives of people. Later when the people celebrate in the streets of Oran, Dr. Rieux observes:

The plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely, it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or clothing, it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers, and perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city.”

Camus knew that even if a contagion, whether biological or moral, ends – one couldn’t be too sure of its absolute extinction. So in the absence of a clear moral lesson from this book, what is it that makes the book still relevant?

In the face of the present pandemic which lurks in the corners of our cities and stares at us from outside the windows of our isolated homes, this book not only brings to our notice the horrors such plagues can inflict but also the human will, solidarity and collective resistance that remain instrumental in overcoming such disasters. It puts our focus back where it should be – on assuming moral responsibility as individuals — on each act of kindness, on goodness which when collective not only helps combat a pandemic but also rouses our alertness lest our laxity make us miss the signs of an impending darkness. 

Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.

Categories
Essay

Pandemic and Poetry: How Writers in Pakistan react to COVID-19

By Dr Aftab Husain

There is a proverb in Persian and Urdu that could be roughly translated thus — ‘A collective death has an air of festivity’. The great Urdu poet, Ghalib, however, would have not subscribed to this notion as was made evident from an episode in his personal life. Once afflicted by his financial and existential miseries, he had foretold his own death the following year. There broke out in the given year an epidemic that claimed many lives in the city, but luckily our poet survived. When asked later about his prognostication, Ghalib replied with a tinge of humour that his forecast had been accurate, but it would have degraded him to die a common death, therefore, he held himself back.

This could be seen as a hyper-individualistic thought process of a genius poet which was ultimately reflected in his poetry. But common human beings think differently. The line of wisdom that the proverb at the starting of this essay conveys does not in any way celebrate death, but our collective, gregarious nature. It is a strange fact of human existence that a catastrophe unites people more than a festivity.

World literature, as many of us know, is replete with the examples of writing inspired by or dealing with different catastrophes; draught, floods, different types of epidemic: plague, cholera, influenza etc. The Plague by Albert Camus (French), Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (Spanish) and Blindness by José Saramago (Portuguese) – incidentally all three written by Nobel laureates – immediately come to mind.  

Rabindranath Tagore’s long, descriptive poem: ‘Puratan Bhritya’ (Old servant) – ‘Keshta, old manservant of mine’, stemmed from smallpox.  In a few short stories by Premchand, the founding father of Urdu and Hindi fiction there appears pestilence – albeit as subtext. In ‘Idgah’ (mosque), the child protagonist lost his father to cholera. Similarly, in ‘Doodh Ka Daam’ (price of milk), one character dies of plague. Famous Urdu and English fiction writer Ahmad Ali who is known to the Urdu world as one of the contributors to Angaaree (The Burning Coals) an anthology of mainly short stories that had stirred the somewhat stagnant waters of the then Urdu literature, ventured into this area with his maiden novel in English. Ahmad Ali’s novel, Twilight in Delhi, offers a bleak and pathetic picture of the city in the wake of an epidemic. ‘How deadly this fever is. Everyone is dying of it. The hospitals are gay and bright. But sorry is men’s plight’.

Rebati, a well-known short story by Fakir Mohan Senapati, one of the pioneers of modern Odia literature depicts a village hit by a cholera epidemic. The list is endless, but so far Urdu literature is concerned, ‘Quarantine’, a poignant short story by Rajinder Singh Bedi presents a detailed and exclusive description of the life affected by plague and also of quarantine as the title of the story also indicates.

Human beings in the long span of their history have been going through many different epidemics, but the present one is unique in that it has not only affected different strata of society, it has also had a global outreach. With bated breath, we watch the movement of this pandemic that has paralysed social life. Nevertheless, health-care workers, scientists, politicians, policy makers, psychiatrists, media persons and many other groups are actively working to finding a solution to the problem or at least curb its growth.

People from art and literature too are responding to the disease in different ways. Pakistani writers, especially poets, have profusely responded to the situation.

One interesting fact that one notices is in the word ‘corona’, that is, we know, a noun but when spelt out in Urdu-Hindi it makes a full-fledged meaningful phrase: ‘Don’t do.’ Resultantly, one observes a lot of versifications exploiting this pun – albeit major and established poets have shunned this facile jugglery. Barring this word play, poets who have chosen to write in a lighter vein seemingly have set their comic spirit to work as a defence mechanism to make the grave situation a little less intimidating. For example, a poem entitled as ‘Thanks’ by a senior poet Tahir Sherazi argues that this compulsory restriction that confines us to our home places might provide us an opportunity to repair our broken relationships with our family members. The poems ends on a jubilant note on acquiring the newly-gained leisure in this way: ‘My wife will make a cup of tea for me and I will write poems on roses, lamps, on the earth and the heaven’. Well, the male poet is scheming of enjoying this free time at his will while his spouse will be doomed to carry on with her routine domestic chores. This aspect does make this otherwise light poem somewhat pathetic.

Poets with a religious sensibility see this development as sort divine wrath and put forward their sentiments either in direct prayers or by employing religious terminology. ‘A Dialogue with God in the Days of Epidemic’ by Najma Mansoor, and ‘In the Days of Epidemic’ by Safia Hayat, are both of this vein. But, in major and significant poets you find no direct recourse to divine powers or holy personages, but only a thin, veiled religious consciousness.

‘God Smiles in Their Eyes’, a poem by Ali Muhammad Farshi, a senior poet, pays tribute to the life-saving endeavours of a nurse who had wrenched back a bride from the clutches of death. Quite pertinently, the poet invokes figures of Mary and Christ, the messiah, and despite having no apparent reference to corona the poem provides a penetrating presentation of the present state of affairs. ‘God, Epidemic and Human Beings’ by Jameelur Rahman is also a poem sprinkled with religious diction, but its overall philosophical tone saves the poem from becoming mere-lamentation of a pious soul caught in an unbearable suffering.

However, Maqsood Wafa altogether rejects the role of religion in such a dreadful disease as he puts it in the closing lines of his poem, ‘The Captive Days’: “I will listen to the Prime Minister’s speech/And I won’t be able to make the people of this holy land understand/that when a virus attacks a human being/It doesn’t ask the name of his god”.  Almost similar is the tone in Saqib Nadeem’s poem: “We Don’t Accept (The Poem of A Petty Sentimentality)” where the poet lashes at the shallow and hypocritical religious community. “After every prayer we embrace and congratulate each other on being alive and we trade in kisses, (but) we don’t hear screams of virus in our kisses”.  

Then, there is a group that believes that one can with the power of love conquer this monster. ‘An Innocent Poem’ by Parveen Tahir speaks about the wishes of its female protagonist – a lover – who kisses her lover and dines with him in the naive expectation that the disease will at least spare those who are in love. Seemab Zafar’s ‘One Erects Love with the Bricks of Affliction’ does not offer such optimism but presents a desolate scenario – within and without. ‘On Death Bed’ by Fatima Mehru juxtaposes among the triad of love, disease and death. It is soulful poem that vacillates between life affirming spirit of love and that of despair.  Some poems in this category remind you Márquez’s Love in the Times of Cholera – at least title of the novel which is quite a popular book. Khumar Meerzada’s two short and impressive poems ‘Love in the Days of Epidemic’ and ‘Love and Epidemic’ show how love act in front of such a fatal malady.  Iftekhar Bukhari’s ‘We Descends from One Father’ does not lose touch to the ground reality, yet it rises up to the lofty human bonds. “We will not shake hands/This is time that we united our heart….Without urgent needs we will not leave our house/In order that roads, fields and gardens are again full of life…./If needed, we will go and die in a silent corner/So that the earth might echo with songs, even after our departure.” A powerful poem, indeed!   

Arshad Latif took a different, cynial and somewhat callous stance towards the given grave situation. “We couldn’t control our inhuman impulses/And our negative thoughts took us far away from the life itself…We, you and some others proved a total failure…./Embrace death willingly so that souls of us, yours and some others could bequeath peace”. (‘The World Wants A Cure’).

Whereas Salmat Sarwat’s ‘Quarantine No 1’ portrays the ennui spawned by an ever-spreading leisure and the resultant disinclination to write further, Gulnaz Kausar’s ‘Precaution’ is composed in the poet’s typically soft and feminine style. Her diction and her treatment leave, despite the morbid subject of the poem, a soothing effect on the reader. 

At least two other poems: ‘Quarantine’ by Irfan Sadiq and ‘Seventh Day in the Quarantine’ by Omer Aziz, take not only the term of quarantine in their titles, but they revolve around this trope.  Aziz, a doctor by profession, has quite effectively captured the physical affliction and mental agony of a patient put in quarantine.

Alongside such poems, there is a wide circulation of individual ghazal couplets: the two liners that quite succinctly sum up the general mood about the epidemic. Most of these small pieces, for their overflowing sentimentality or sheer propaganda do not have much appeal. Yet, a few of them not only hit the bull’s eye, but they do not veer away from the aesthetic requirement of a piece of literature.

Afsaos, Ye Wabaa Ke DinoN  Ki MohabbateN

Ik Doosre Se Haath Milaane Se Bhi Gaye

(Sajjad Baloch)

Alas, these love affairs in the days of epidemic!

Even shaking hands with each other is rendered hard

*

Har Taraf Aisii Khamoshii Hay Ki Sar Ghoomta Hay

Log Pahre MeN HaiN Aur GalioN Men Dar Ghoomta Hay

(Seemab Zafar)

A terrible hush rules all over and makes you feel giddy

Human being caught in the custody

While a certain fearfulness prowls in the streets

*

Ajeeb Dard Hay Jis Kii Dawaa Hay Tanhaaii

Baqaa e Shahr Hay Ab Shahr Ke Ujadne MeN

(Mahmood Shaam)

What a weird malady is it whose cure lies in solitude!

Now the survival of the city is in its depopulation.

Thus, we see that an overwhelming response to the pandemic came from our poets. As for prose, though in general there are a plethora of pieces written on the subject, that is,  journalistic writing, but quite rarely one comes across relevant fiction, fictional narrative or imaginative prose. Justifying this comparative absence fiction writer M Hameed Shahid says: “Poetry might be composed in reaction to a happening, for fiction that is not enough. Fiction needs something more to build up its aesthetics,” he adds. Well, our writers writing on the communal riots in the wake of the Partition of India in 1947 did produce literature in reaction to these events, though such literature was, to be sure, not created while the riots were still taking place.  M. Hameed Shahid is therefore in favour of waiting and seeing and letting his experience take a mature form, so he stayed away from offering something half-backed in fiction. Nevertheless, he has come forward with a non-fictional narrative: ‘Epidemic Days, Closed Door & Deserted Street’ – a sort of chronicle-narrative and despite its excessive self‐referentiality, the write up is interesting in the sense that it, at least, introduces us to the disquiet and anxieties of a writer finding himself in the midst of a prison-like claustrophobic confinement.  

Meanwhile, another fiction writer who has given a clarion call to his colleagues and urged them use their pens in dispelling the gloomy atmosphere created by the disease is Amjad Tuhfail. He was, however, snubbed by a senior short story writer declaring that any such move was to yield nothing but slogan-mongering that jump on the bandwagon could bring out only ‘faction’ and in no way any genuine fiction. A Lahore based short story writer, Tufail, did not take this warning seriously and immediately posted a three-page short story in a social-media outlet. Jabir Ali Syed had once called Shamsur Rahman Faruqi known as the  “the impetuous critic”. The gentleman story writer might be no match for Faruqi, but he shares, at least, this quality with his senior contemporary.

As a saving grace to this discouraging deficiency in prose, comes an English write-up, “Something’s not right with the world”, from Farah Zia. The small item that the writer prefers to call “a mood piece” appears like a free stroke by some accomplished painter: laconic, telling and powerful. “It is like waking up every day into a dream: in a place where life imitates fiction” thus begins the write up. Written with profound concern, yet at the same time, with a cold objectivity, it makes a serene and soulful reading. No wonder, the piece was quickly rendered into Urdu and published, but one wonders if such a deeply-felt prose could be translated without losing much of its essential charm and pathos.

Closing the deliberations one can say that each piece that is being written in the name of literature cannot be, quite naturally, up to the literary mark – let alone to be remembered by posterity. Most of these writings fall into the category of pièce d’occasion. But such pieces, occasioned by certain events sometimes transcend the given situation and live on, beyond the time of their creation. Some of the given stuff has remarkable literary value and therefore it might survive longer; the other ones might not be fortune enough, but the fact remains that they too bear a witness to a momentous phenomenon in human history and have transcribed these times on the climate of our minds.

Aftab Husain (Pakistan/Austria) is an eminent name in modern Ghazal poetry from South Asia. In addition to Urdu, he writes in English both poems and literary essays and translates from German to Urdu and vice versa. He earned his doctorate in comparative literature from Vienna University where he teaches South Asian Literature and Culture. He has four collections of poetry and three of books of translations – from German into Urdu – to his credit. He was a fellow of Heinrich-Böll-Haus, Germany as well as the ‘Writer of Exile’ of Vienna City. His poems have been translated into many languages. He is a member of the Austrian PEN and co-edits a bilingual magazine – Words & Worlds –  for migrant literature.

Categories
Essay

Cavorting with Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus

By Rakhi Dalal

Camus, as a writer, receives mixed response from the readers. It is understandable when some readers avoid reading him, because he seems a difficult writer whose works are taken to be disturbing. Some readers appreciate his writings though they do not agree with him. While for some, Camus’ ideas are irrelevant when compared with those proposed by existential philosophers. Although Camus is often categorised as an existential philosopher but he himself never approved of that. In one of his interviews he said:

“No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked. We have even thought of publishing a short statement in which the undersigned declare that they have nothing in common with each other and refuse to be held responsible for the debts they might respectively incur. It’s a joke actually. Sartre and I published our books without exception before we had ever met. When we did get to know each other, it was to realise how much we differed. Sartre is an existentialist, and the only book of ideas that I have published, The Myth of Sisyphus, was directed against the so-called existentialist philosophers.”*

Albert Camus

When compared with different periods of his life, his writings offer an insight into the state of mind Camus was often fraught with. The penning of The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, which he did almost simultaneously, came at a point when he himself faced despair about the kind of life he was living, which included his anxiety about his future as a writer and finding his place in the World. At this time he was in Algiers, his native land, far from the hubbub of Paris. His more mature works , like The Rebel and The Plague, came later on where Rebel dealt with the problem of “murder” as against the problem of “suicide” which he dealt in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’.  We can notice the change in the focus of the writer, which turned from inner to outer, from individual to social as he moved from one work to the other. As he matured as a writer, Camus himself felt annoyed at his proposed idea of absurd. He said:

“This word “Absurd” has had an unhappy history and I confess that now it rather annoys me. When I analyzed the feeling of the Absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus, I was looking for a method and not a doctrine. I was practicing methodical doubt. I was trying to make a “tabula rasa,” on the basis of which it would then be possible to construct something. If we assume that nothing has any meaning, then we must conclude that the world is absurd. But does nothing have any meaning? I have never believed we could remain at this point.”**

Now this is what keeps me in awe of the writer. He is one writer, who has never been afraid of opening his heart, his thoughts, anything which plagues his mind, before his readers, before this world. In that sense, he may be termed as a radical and approached with scepticism, but it cannot be ignored that the ideas he proposed came to influence the generation of writers engaged in the works of absurd, for example, Samuel Beckett who contributed significantly to the Theatre of Absurd.

The idea of repetition which he proposed with Sisyphus, which in turn was inspired by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s Repetition, is witnessed significantly in the works of Beckett too. What is more, his ideas also, even now influence the readers like me in whose face the “why” of existence suddenly strikes one fine day. It wouldn’t be an overstatement or some form of fervent adherence to the writer if I admit that he inspired the mind to seek more and not be satisfied till the response unites the thought and the experience.

He is not an easy writer to read, agreed, but his writings are not disturbing, specially if one gets to understand that his writing, whether The Stranger or ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, is a declaration of writer’s notion that the life must be lived fully in awareness of the absurdity of this world.

In the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, he terms the world as absurd because it doesn’t offer any answer to the question of existence, it being a silent spectator to the suffering of whole humanity. In a universe, divested of meaning or illusions, a man feels a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. But does this situation dictate death? Camus ponders upon the problem of suicide and contemplates then whether suicide is the only answer to this absurd world which doesn’t answer anything.  He opines:

In the face of such contradictions and obscurities must we conclude that there is no relationship between the opinion one has about life and the act one commits to leave it. Let us not exaggerate in this direction. In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgement is as good as the mind’s and the body shrinks from annihilation. We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us towards death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.

And to kill one self means to allow both life and death to have dominion over one. Hence, the absurd doesn’t dictate death but calls for the awareness and rejection of death. It calls for living it with consciousness —- with revolt, freedom and passion.

Neither religion, nor science for that matter, provides answer to a questioning mind satisfactorily. While the former tends to imbue it with an idea of eternity; an extension of life in heaven, the latter merely tries to explain it by hypothesis. But Camus cannot believe either of them.

Then turning to existential philosophers, he says that they “without exception suggest escape”.

“Through an odd reasoning, starting out from the absurd over the ruins of reason, in a closed universe limited to the human, they deify what crushes them and find reason to hope in what impoverishes them. That forced hope is religious in all of them.”

To further explain this, he presents to us the ideas proposed by different philosophers. For example he says:

Of Jasper:

Karl Jasper

Karl Jasper, psychiatrist and philosopher, writes: “Does not the failure reveal, beyond any possible explanation and interpretation, not the absence but the existence of transcendence?”

So that Jasper proposes the existence which cannot be defined as “unthinkable unity of the general” and the “inability to understand” as the existence which illuminates everything.

Of Shestov:

Lev Shestov

Lev Shestov, the Russian existentialist philosopher, names the fundamental absurdity by saying: “This is God: we must rely on him even if he does not correspond to any of our rational categories.”

For Shestov, reason is useless but there is something beyond reason, even if that something is indifferent to us.

Of Kierkegaard:

Soren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard calls for the third sacrifice required by Ignatius Loyola, the one in which God most rejoices: The sacrifice of the intellect. He says, ‘In his failure, the believer finds his triumph.’

Kierkegaard substitutes his cry of revolt for frantic adherence.

Camus doesn’t agree with these philosophers, who did, all of them, tried to understand the absurd but finally gave into that which they found impossible to define. He calls their giving up as philosophical suicide. He cannot believe in Jasper’s idea of Transcendence. In response to Shestov, he says “To an absurd mind reason is useless and there is nothing beyond reason.” He chooses ‘despair’ instead of Kierkegaard’s frantic adherence. He says “I want everything to be explained to me or nothing.”

 So now when faced with absurd and being in consciousness, how best to live the life? Camus advocates the life of a seducer (Don Juanism) actor, conqueror or creator following the three consequences of absurd i.e. revolt, passion and freedom.

 By revolt, Camus means to keep the absurd alive by challenging the world anew every second.  

By freedom, he means losing oneself in that bottomless certainty, feeling henceforth sufficiently removed from one’s own life to increase it and take a broad view of it.

By passion, he means being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom, and to the maximum.

Though he praises the absurd man in a seducer, actor or conqueror, it was his stance on creator which I drew me towards his ideas. He says:

“Creating is living doubly. The groping, anxious quest of a Proust, his meticulous collecting of flowers, of wallpapers, and of anxieties, signifies nothing else.”

Sisyphus

Towards the end of this essay, he compares absurd with Sisyphus, who, according to the myth, was condemned to rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, only to see it rolling down back every time he reached the top. He says that though Sisyphus is well aware of his fate, of the continuous struggle he has to engage in, but he is still passionate about his life and doesn’t give up. It is during his descent, that Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained.

Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

The other essays in the collection, ‘Summer in Algiers’, ‘The stop in Oran’, ‘Helen’s Exile’ and ‘Return to Tipasa’ are worth reading too. In ‘Return to Tipasa’, we observe Camus prevailed over by nostalgia for home, for his land. It is here that he says:

In the direction of the ruins, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but pock-marked stones and wormwood, trees and perfect columns in the transparence of the crystalline air. It seemed as if the morning were stabilized, the sun stopped for an incalculable moment. In this light and this silence, years of wrath and night melted slowly away. I listened to an almost forgotten sound within myself as if my heart, long stopped, were calmly beginning to beat again. And awake now, I recognized one by one the imperceptible sounds of which the silence was made up: the figured bass of the birds, the sea’s faint, brief sighs at the foot of the rocks, the vibration of the trees, the blind singing of the columns, the rustling of the wormwood plants, the furtive lizards. I heard that; I also listened to the happy torrents rising within me. It seemed to me that I had at last come to harbor, for a moment at least, and that henceforth that moment would be endless.

What I realized reading these essays over again was that despite of being labelled as the proponent of absurd, it is actually living that he so fervently speaks about; Not just living but living passionately and fully. Living in awareness and questioning. Though he seems to be recommending a negative faith (as James Wood says in introduction) against the religious or existentialist ideologies, he nevertheless demonstrates a distinctive way to the seekers to come to terms with the existence; the way to be chosen henceforth, of course, depending upon the individual, starting every day with an ever new light.

“In the middle of winter, I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.”

*From an interview with Jeanine Delpech, in Les Nouvelles Littéraires, (1945). Cited in Albert Camus: Lyrical and Critical Essays, Vintage (1970)

** From an interview with Gabriel d’Aubarède, in Les Nouvelles Littéraires, (1951). Cited in Albert Camus: Lyrical and Critical Essays, Vintage (1970)

Source : http://www.camus-society.com/albert-camus-existentialism.html

Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.

Categories
Poetry

Two Covid-19 viruses meet Albert Camus

(A Dystopian spoof on Corona and Camus)

By Ra Sh

The world was calm now. And silent.

Only the birds chirped tweeted sang cawed.

Only the animals barked mewed mooed growled.

Only the river gurgled.

Only the sky thundered.

Only the fires crackled.

Two covid-19 teenage viruses walked around the city

assessing the damage. On Route vers l’ouest, they found

mansions with cars parked in front and little gardens.

Four dogs ran out of the house dragging a well dressed

woman and a naked man. It was the posh area of the city

and in house after house dogs feasted.

On Route Vers le nord, that led to the fields, unharvested paddy

lay in the fields. That was the operational area of the rodents,

snakes and the jackals. On Route vers l’est, that led to the offices,

the road lay thick with the police, applicants, clerks, officers and

mounts of paper. The vultures landed on them and tore away

the flesh.  It was a mass of rotting flesh, blood, hair and

official communiqué.

On Route vers le sud, that led to the river, peacocks danced on

the road. From the two theatres that showed no films, super stars

grinned from posters. Weeds were slowly climbing up the

courtyards of the college and the schools. The grounds were

covered with bodies , furniture, lab instruments and aprons.

The teenage viruses reached the river and sat holding hands.

Being young, they were in love and being idealistic a tad bit

sad about the end of humans.

They then spied a human in a trench coat and trousers angling for

fish  on the bank. He smoked a pipe and chuckled while he spoke

to the fishes. The adolescent viruses approached him and asked,

“Who are you sir, how come you are in one piece when

all humans are dead all over the world?”

The man chuckled again and retorted, “I am Camus

and I wrote a novel ‘The Plague’ long back. I wrote that the city

was happy, life went on, but the plague bacillus never dies or

disappears for good. It can lie dormant for years and years

in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves and perhaps the day

would come when it roused up its rats again and sent them

into a happy city.  You are those rats now and you are the plague.”*

The Gen X viruses who could barely understand him, watched

as Camus gathered his things and made his way up stream with

fishing rods, bait and the day’s catch, whistling to himself.

Albert Camus

*From the last lines of the Albert Camus novel, The Plague.

Ra Sh is a poet based out of Kerala

First published in Countercurrents.org