Categories
Essay

‘If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable’

By Rakhi Dalal

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je 
Peed paraayi jaane re 
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye 
Man abhimaan na aane re (Vaishnava)

One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter his mind.

Vaishnava-janatho-(With-English-Translation)

It is a 600 years old devotional poem by Gujrati poet-saint Narsinh Mehta and we know it probably because it is known to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan or devotional song. He loved it because it speaks about humanity, truth and empathy among humans; traits which he thought were indispensable for harmonious living and which could create a world living in tranquility and peace. His convictions in these humanist traits make his stance on non-violence more comprehensible and relevant to us today. Especially today, when all across the world we witness the grisly play of vicious might bent on establishing hegemony by creating animosity among people, unleashing violence not only in action but also in thought.

The 2010s saw a rise in fascism across the globe. Characterised by ultra-nationalism, unquestioning adherence to a single party/leader, hostility towards minorities, suppression of dissenting voices and people’s civil liberties, this decade’s worse fears have been made worst by the exploitation of social media to spread fascist propaganda. Over the years, most of the platforms have indulged in giving a free pass to hateful messages simply for the sake of maximum engagement and shareholder return or for the sake of not losing business in respective countries where they operate. Even the mainstream media, including news-channels and newspapers, have resolutely carried out the objectives of such propaganda thereby aiding the spread of hatred in society.

In a recent documentary called The Social Dilemma on Netflix — many individuals, who once worked with big giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, come forth to talk about the threats that our societies now face in the wake of frightening explosion that media has wilfully abetted. Besides addiction to social media, rise in anxiety and depression among people, what these individuals are really troubled about is the onslaught of fake propaganda on social media, which they worry, could lead to civil wars.

According to The Social Dilemma, fake news or propaganda gets viral six times faster than genuine news. This has given a way to effortless creation of polarised factions of people in the virtual world. As a result, sometimes a carefully engineered hatred, which if escalated, can be easily employed to provoke the factions into indulging in actual violence. It does really make for a very powerful tool in the hands of fascist regimes, which is exactly what we are witnessing around us. Social media has helped escalate it. The othering of people on the basis of caste, religion, class and communities has always existed in societies, even in democracies. Now this list also includes people having different opinions than a majority. It seems we have reached a point of no return. We have lost the sight of what social media had initially really intended to do – to bring people closer and connect them.

We have forgotten that violence only begets more violence.

But perhaps, collectively, mankind was never a kind species. Did we ever believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the world is one family? A look back at history is sufficient to prove that, as a species, we have never lived congenially with each other. Neither World Wars nor the consequences of environmental destruction have been enough to make us realise the value of living in accord with each other or with nature. Perhaps that is why saints like Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak Dev or Kabir searched for a spiritual path, one that could steer more people towards love   and compassion. That is why Mahatma Gandhi realised that violence could never be an answer to anything, not even to the fight for independence. BR Nanda, a scholar on Gandhi, has confirmed in an essay on ‘Gandhi and Non-violence‘:

“He (Gandhi) objected to violence not only because an unarmed people had little chance of success in an armed rebellion, but because he considered violence a clumsy weapon which created more problems than it solved, and left a trail of hatred and bitterness in which genuine reconciliation was almost impossible.”

And don’t we all know it first-hand? Recall any of your fights with your friends, even as a child, which turned physical. Can you remember what you felt after the fight was over? After one of you lay down on ground, wounded and defeated. And whether you were able to easily reconcile with that friend afterwards, without a feeling of bitterness inside your heart? We know better, don’t we? We do realise that violence is seated in something much more innate. Engaging in violence is always an easier option because it comes from a place of feeling superior, and not equal, with respect to other. Violent action is usually preceded by violent thoughts. And such thoughts never leave a person at peace. Neither the aftermath of a violent scuffle ever leaves us calm.

Jiddu Krishnamurti says: “It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person. So violence isn’t merely organized butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper.”

On the other hand, choosing non-violence requires courage; it requires a sense of equanimity, kindness, empathy and the necessity to stand true to a notion of higher purpose, which we humans believe is our goal in this world. Gandhiji placed satyagraha and ahimsa at the centre of force of life which can sustain humankind and present an approach to curb the world of brute force of violence. These ideas are eternal because they are inevitable in coming to terms with human condition.

Gandhiji did not only postulate the idea of non-violence, including non-cooperation and civil disobedience, as a form of resistance against colonial occupation, but also against long held prejudices in the social system. He understood it too well that it wasn’t only against colonisers that India was fighting. He conceived violence in its elemental form as anything which is inflicted to hurt, whether physically or mentally. Therefore, he emphasised upon ahimsa as a way of life, upon harmony between people of different religions and upon being kind-hearted. He changed his stance on the practice of caste system in Hindu religion, which he once believed in, later in life.

According to Gandhi, non-violence is the greatest and most active force in the world,” writes Subrata Sharma, a scholar. He quotes Gandhi while defining non-violence and explains the perspective of this great leader:”‘Avoiding injury to any creature in thought, word and deed’. It is a positive force, when positively put it means love in the largest sense that means love for all without discrimination of good doers and evil doers. Non-violence does not mean meek submission to the will of the doer. Rather, it inspires man to stand against the will of the tyrant. It not only enables us to conquer the opponent but also unites with all our fellow men.”

In the chaotic times that we find ourselves in at present, Gandhiji’s ideas assume greater importance because we have already suffered the consequences of indulging in violence, even on social media. We are forced towards fascism, towards submitting to brute force of authoritarianism, resisting which, in the most assertive and non-violent way has become an absolute necessity. We stand at the junction where we may either decide to put at stake the future of our coming generations, this country and the world at large by giving in to the violent forces of fascism and enmity or we may decide to follow Gandhian principles of non-violence, truth and humanity. 

“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”Martin Luther King Jr.

.

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.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

.

 Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Review

‘Women are Born Free, But Everywhere they are in Chains’

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Beyond the Fields

Author: Aysha Baqir

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish International, 2019

Recently, an instagram handle questioned women: “No Men for One day — What if there were no men for 24 hours?” Majority of the women replied that they would go for a walk alone. And this is the year 2020. We are living in a so called modern world where women are now freer than ever to pursue their ambitions and make a life of their own. But what does this fear of going out alone, for such a small task as an evening walk alone, tells us about our social system. If educated, independent women feel uneasy venturing out of their houses alone in advanced societies, then it isn’t difficult to imagine what women in socially and politically repressive systems go through.  

In her debut novel, Aysha Baqir steers the reader’s gaze to a small village in 1980’s Pakistan, chronicling the lives of rural women whose existence was sanctified by the written and unwritten rules of the society. It was the time of Zia-ul-Haq’s reign and much controversial Hudood Ordinances.

Baqir grew up in Pakistan. After graduation, she won a scholarship to Mount Holyoke College where she studied International Relations. In 1998, she founded a pioneering not for profit economic development organization, Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, focused on poverty alleviation through the provision of business development and market-focused trainings for girls and women of rural Pakistan. Perhaps meeting those women and hearing their stories prompted Baqir to recount such stories of courage and defiance, even in the face of repression, which may become beacons of light for generations to come.

The narrative follows the life of a young Zara and her twin Tara. Poles apart in nature, they are bound by a sisterly affection for each other. Tara is the beautiful, fairer and obedient one from the duo who resigns herself readily to her mother’s desires and ideas. She is ready to get married as and when it pleases her parents. Zara, on the other hand is the rebel, who insists on studying though girls are not given education in their village. She is born in a society where more education for women is a matter of shame. If a woman reads or writes, would she be a good obedient housewife, good mother to her children? Would she be any good for the community?

Zara wishes to live her live abundantly, run amok in fields, eat Kairis from the trees, play outside, and study like her brother. It infuriates her, when more restrictions are imposed on her and Tara with the coming of age. That meant no going out alone and no playing and veiling themselves with burka even when stepping out with parents. Zara believes that she and her brother are equal, but for a life changing incident which brings her life to a halt.

It brings forth to her the reality of being a woman in her community — the brutal rape of her sister, the conduct of her parents in hiding it because it would bring shame to the family, their unwillingness to file a case because of Hudood ordinance in practice and then her subsequent marriage to someone in haste to veil the shame. When they lose contact with Tara and fear an unfortunate happening, it becomes too much for Zara, but she decides to find her sister.

This novel is the story of Zara’s grit and determination, her belief in the power of women in an unbalanced society, her conviction that she is not merely the body she inhabits but also the mind she possesses. She follows her sister to city, after convincing her parents, and plunges into the dangerous world of prostitution to bring back her sister.

Through this novel, the author attempts to bring forth the tribulations of women in such an oppressive system where it is not only the men but also women who play the agents of repression, to keep the system intact by inducing fear and shame in those who go wayward or rebel. In such systems, women are made subservient to imposed rules so much so that they accept them as code of honour even if adhering to them means hurting loved ones and acting against them.

Perhaps nothing could be more startling than the shaming of a rape victim or vilifying a woman who dares to fall in love. It is a system where the birth of a woman, in itself is a burden to family and a mother’s most important role is to suitably prepare them for marriage, to collect their dowry and start looking for prospective grooms when they come of age. Their propensity to literally dispose the girls as soon as possible, even takes over the maternal love which they only express by trying to put restrictions on their beloved daughters.

Baqir writes in a discreet manner and her narrative bears testimony to the amount of research and hard work which has gone into writing the book. For a reader from a neighbouring country, this book brings familiar sounds and smells which makes it more relatable. Local flavours are induced with the usage of Punjabi words. Word pairs are used to evoke the sense of belonging to familiar lands – playing on the concept of twins separated at birth. The ideas of women’s honour, shame and their bearing on family are comparable to that in India.  

Though changes are questioning patriarchal mindsets, women’s emancipation continues still to be a tough battle. Beyond the Fields is an effort to highlight the struggle of women and an entreaty to be on the side of humanity, to break the shackles which stifle women who are born equal to men but are made to feel inferior by the rules of society.

.

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.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Review

“I am waiting to be at home; where, I don’t know yet”– Dom Moraes

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Never at Home

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Never at Home is the third memoir in the trilogy of memoirs written by Dom Moraes. The others being Gone Away (1960) and My Son’s Father (1968). This volume was first published by Penguin India in 1992. Here the author writes about his life from 1960 onwards.

The first chapter is a brief account of the phase of his life after winning the prestigious Hawthornden prize at the age of twenty. By the time he turned twenty two, Moraes already had two poetry collections and a memoir to his name. In order to earn a livelihood, he then started writing features and reviews for newspapers. In 1965, he brought out his third poetry collection John Nobody. After James Cameron impelled him to take up journalism, Moraes started travelling and for the next seventeen years he couldn’t write poetry. For someone, who from his childhood knew that he wanted to be a poet and to live in England, he spent a considerable period of his life in transit without writing any substantial poetry. Never at Home chronicles those years he was engaged in navigating the world to collect stories and interviews.

This volume is the third and final in his collective memoirs – A Variety of Absences, which take its name from the poem Absences written by him after a long hiatus from poetic fervour. The book focuses more on Moraes’ professional life as compared to his personal life taken up in his second memoir so that its prose is not as poetic or intense as in My Son’s Father but nevertheless, it is a notable piece of literary writing. It may also be deemed as a historical archive because it records some very important and interesting snippets and observations from the political world he traversed and eminent leaders he met.

The critical success of Gone Away, his first memoir, brought him writing assignments which included scriptwriting for a documentary on India. As a journalist, he covered Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem and wars in Algeria and Israel. In his mind he had always been an English poet in England and had no idea of the tribulations other immigrants faced. A BBC documentary commissioned to him made him look at the living conditions of Asian immigrants, specifically from India and Pakistan. This documentary brought him closer to the reality of being an outsider in a foreign country.

While writing articles for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Daily Telegraph, Nova and many others magazines, he met and interviewed many distinguished personalities and important world leaders but perhaps none left as deep an impression upon him as Indira Gandhi, whose biography he was later to write. The liberation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, had made her a star in the eyes of its natives who were till then hostile to Indians. Moraes writes at length about his meetings with her, about her charismatic personality, political astuteness and her almost invincible demeanor.

His descriptions of the journalistic assignments, which took him across many countries and gave him the opportunity to bring out stories to the world, are finely detailed. His keen eye presents a balanced perspective on the stories he covered, never going too far and never delivering too less. His most important works included a story on political prisoners in Buru and on the tribal people in Dani in Indonesia, the titles of the articles being ‘The Prisoners of Buru,’ and ‘The People Time Forgot’. His Buru piece evoked a violent response in Indonesia. Moraes was banned from entering the country again. But this piece was the first one to come out from the place and the issue was picked up by some human rights organisations leading to a release of seven thousand from the imprisoned ten thousand people. This, if anything, is a proof of the important voice he had become in journalism.

Although, Moraes’ work kept him busy in the world but he could somehow never get rid of the images of his traumatised childhood. As in the case of his second memoir,here also he writes considerably about his fear of confronting his mother. The accounts of his meetings with her are laced with the anguish and anxiety he had experienced in her presence always. Except his mother, all the other women in his life are only addressed in passing. He never dwells much upon his relationship with either his second wife, Judith, mother of their son Francis, or with his third wife, Leela Naidu. In comparison, his association with his friends and work colleagues occupy more space in this memoir. His regret for not becoming the father he thought he was when he wrote My Son’s Father comes perhaps due to his inability to express what he felt before others, including his family.  

Moraes picked up journalism as a vocation to earn a living but it brought him closer to real life. His punctuated visits to India, whether to write on Naxalbari movement, to meet Indira Gandhi, King of Sikkim or to explore Rajasthan, led to an increased understanding of the country of his birth. Nonetheless, he was never at home in India or in the country he had adopted as a youngster.

The disquiet that marked his life is perhaps most poignantly conveyed in this line towards the end:

“I am waiting to be at home; where, I don’t know yet.”

As he settled in the country of his birth, after all the travelling, his muse did eventually return to him. The various absences – of a mother, a father, his friends from the youth or his son — at different times in his life and their memories, continued to haunt him. Yet this memoir ends with a hopeful note. In author’s words, “the best thing to do is to preserve some form of balance on the constantly moving ground tectonic plates of this planet.”

.

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.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Review

Dom Moraes: ‘A piece of childhood thrown away’

Book review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: My Son’s Father

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

Dom Moraes (1938–2004), poet, novelist, and columnist, is seen as a foundational figure in Indian English Literature. In 1958, at the age of twenty, he won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize for his first volume of verse, A Beginning, going on to publish more than thirty books of prose and poetry. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for English in 1994. He has won awards for journalism and poetry in England, America, and India. He also wrote a large number of film scripts for BBC and ITV, covering various countries such as India, Israel, Cuba, and Africa.

“Between his Englishness and Indianness, the scales tipped to English.”

Wrote Stephen Spender in the Sunday issue of The New York Times on August 10, 1969 while reviewing My Son’s Father by Dominic Frances Moraes, an autobiography which was first published in 1968 when the author was only thirty years old. Spender’s observation came in view of the situation faced by writers of Indian origin writing in English in those times. He considered it fortunate that Moraes was brought up speaking English and not Hindi.

It is true that being born in an English-speaking Roman Catholic family of Goan extraction, the language came naturally to him and his affinity for literature sprung from his spending much time on reading books borrowed from his father’s library. Once he knew that he would be a poet, the decision to make England his home came logically to him. At one place in the book he writes:

“England, for me, was where the poets were. The poets were my people. I had no real consciousness of a nationality, for I did not speak the languages of my countrymen, and therefore, had no soil for roots. Such Indian society as I had seen seemed to me narrow and provincial, and I wanted to escape it.”

In this autobiographical account, a prominent role is given to the tussle in his mind, that kept him connected to his roots. This struggle, emanating from the memories of his early childhood years spent with his family and his relationship with his parents, is also the subject of this book. Interestingly, after this book was published in 1968, Moraes returned to India after spending nearly fourteen years of his life in England.

The book covers the period from his early childhood to when he became a father himself. The autobiography is divided into two parts with six chapters each. The first part titled ‘A Piece of Childhood’ covers the first sixteen years of his life with his parents. The second titled ‘After So Many Deaths’, deals with his own life, from leaving the house for London for further studies until he finds his place in the World. The thirteenth chapter is the Epilogue.

The name for first part is taken from these lines by David Gray, quoted on the title page:

Poor meagre life is mine, meagre and poor:

Only a piece of childhood thrown away.

In the first part, the choice of title reflects the content. For, it essentially deals with his troubled childhood years with a mother suffering from mental illness. He writes about witnessing the first signs of illness in his mother, about how his love for her first turned into indifference, then into anger and then cruelty with the passing years which were marked with increased incidents because of her illness which sometimes also posed danger to him and everybody around. Later when his mother was institutionalized, he blamed himself for it. However, it was the time spent with his father, reading, travelling and journaling, that made him turn to writing verses and to opt for living in London.

The narrative is enlivened by the keen and observant eye of a poet which missed nothing, whether it was the unsettling feeling of missing his father when he was a war correspondent in Burma or the joy of witnessing the beauty of nature. At such places, his poetic sensibility charms the reader and turns the reading experience into a joyful ride. His prose is lucid, interspersed with vivid imagery but with such a restrain that not a single word ever seems out of place.

Behind our flat was the Arabian Sea, an ache and blur of blue at noon, purpling to shadow towards nightfall: then the sun spun down through a clash of colours like a thrown orange, and was sucked into it: sank, and the sea was black shot silk, stippled and lisping, and it was time for bed.

The second part deals with his life at Oxford. His associations with poets like Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden and Allen Tate. He vividly portrays the English Literary scene of 50s London, bohemian life at Soho, his meetings with the likes of David Gascoyne, T.S.Eliot, Beat poets and Francis Bacon. He writes about his love affairs, about the kindness of Dean Nevill Coghill who always saved him from troubles at Oxford and about David Archer of the Parton Press who published his first poetry collection, A Beginning, which won him the prestigious Hawthornden Prize at the age of nineteen. But despite all this, he felt divided in his mind. Once while visiting parents of his friend Julian, he felt nostalgic.

It was a long while since I had been in contact with family life: it seemed familiar but distant, but snuffing at it as warily as the dachshunds sniffed at me, I felt a deep nostalgia for it. I thought for the first time in weeks of my mother and father and remembered the exact smell and texture of an Indian day. Driving back with my friend through the green and familiar landscape of my adopted country, I felt suddenly, and to my own surprise, a stranger.

Though he had put down his roots of work and friendship in London, where he knew he wanted to stay but there were moments, according to him, when some invisible roots pulled him to country of his birth. It was only around his twenty first birthday, while visiting his parents, he realised what it was. In a conversation with his mother, both of them wept in close embrace and suddenly he felt his troubles vanishing away.

I left India at peace with myself. Something very important to me had happened: I had explained myself to my mother, there was love between us, the closed window that had darkened my mind for years had been opened, and I was free in a way I had never been before.

The last chapter, ‘The Epilogue’, shows a thirty years old Moraes, a father to a newborn, finalising the manuscript of this book. For some reasons it doesn’t include his life events from the age of twenty one to thirty. As the ‘Epilogue’ closes, we see a father, pleased with his life, binding together the pages so that if his son reads them one day, he understands his father as the person he was.

.

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.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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
Review

Truck de India: An Epiphanic ride

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Truck De India

Author: Rajat Ubhaykar

Publisher: Simon and Schuster, India, 2019

“Gaddi jaandi ae chhalanga mardi

(The truck goes jumping)

  Mainu yaad aaye mere yaar di”

(I remember my beloved)

The one image that I have always associated with the thought of truck/ goods carrier on Indian roads is a boisterous Punjabi driver driving the truck in abandon while singing this song full throttle. Part of the reason lies in my spending my early childhood years in Punjab and part in being enamoured by the bitter sweet song which is as much about love as it is about lamenting the distance between lovers.

But apart from this sweet image, one other image that has been deeply ingrained in my mind about these trucks is that of a formidable giant body on wheels which must never ever be overtaken on a highway.

This was one of the first lessons I was given while learning to drive – “Don’t ever overtake a moving truck or a bus, especially on Haryana Roadways.” So while I have adhered to this rule most of my life, sometimes I have indulged in the guilty pleasure of overtaking the giant on a highway, more specifically whenever I found it trudging painfully slow. It generated a sense of exhilaration when I beat the king of the highway on its own territory.  

But other than this, the sight of a truck never evoked much contemplation. That was not until I came across Truck De India.

Really, I thought? A book on trucks? WOW.

And then I read the subtitle – A hitchhiker’s guide to Hindustan

In the prologue of the book, the author narrates the incident which kind of seeded the idea of discovering the country through road:

Staring outside the window on that trip, the wind tousling my unruly hair, I remember being struck by a sort of epiphany, that India is bigger than the boundaries of my imagination, or anyone’s, for that matter. You didn’t have to go the scale of the cosmos to imagine something vast – India was enough.”

That the author, Rajat Ubhaykar, chose trucks to hitchhike to undertake the journey was at first kind of bewildering to think. But then as I read on, I realised what better way to discover a country if not through the eyes of one of the most vulnerable yet surprisingly one of the most underrated and suspected class in the workforce of the unorganised sector which forms the backbone of logistics across the country.

Another reason might be the mysterious air that hovers around the sight of a truck on a highway. It seems to be destined for discovering vistas unknown to commoners like us and so the experience of its riders may seem much richer than that gained through journeys undertaken by conventional means.  

Ubhaykar started the journey from Mumbai, moving all the way upto Kashmir and then Far East to Nagaland before finally reaching Kanyakumari in the South. A journey across the country hitchhiking thus with truck drivers and their helpers, gave him a first-hand experience of the many tribulations and dangers they face while transferring goods for people like us — the goods we eventually consume unthinkingly.

What I found immensely likeable about his hitchhiking with truck drivers is that he entered their world only when taken kindly in. Throughout, he maintained a respectful distance while asking questions about their lives, their experiences. He found that apart from paying “taxes” on road to braving harsh weathers, the threat of insurgents or evading highway robbers, the drivers also spent long periods away from family only to save a couple of thousands more. But none of the problems that they faced made them hostile as they conversed about these with a total stranger. In fact, as opposed to the commonly held notion, he found most of them very friendly and warm.  

Aap humare mehmaan hain” (you are our guest). How else can one define the gesture of the driver paying for a stranger’s meal where a single penny mattered to him? Or sharing the already cramped space for two to sleep with someone they had barely met? What held them together apart from the commonality of being part of the same journey from one destination to the next? Or was it the inherent human desire for the need to be understood, respected and treated kindly by fellow beings? In the journey of life each of us choose a path, most suitable circumstantially, and so, a comparison materialistically is not only naïve but also degrading.

While on his journey to initially discover the unseen India, Ubhaykar found what really mattered were the transits which characterise life. He has penned his experience to showcase what happens in the lives of the truckers who spend most of their lives behind wheels — away from their loved ones — to ferry goods and materials which not only run our country’s economy but also bring comfort to the lives of millions of strangers. 

It is fascinating to enter Ubhayakar’s world of truckers in India who live with the uncertainties of highways and circumstances to earn their livelihoods. Now, with this book by your side, are you ready to embark on the ride?

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.