He is a writer. He is also a painter. His name is Bharat.
He had come out of his house after many days and to him the city seems to have changed. What is happening around?
Now it is against the laws to laugh within the city precincts.
There are boyish looking girls who tell him, “whoever is helped to rise, gets into the habit of falling down again and again and every time he falls, he looks for help and starts depending on help”. There is a boy made up to look like a girl because he thinks that is what will give him job. Actually there is not much difference in women and men now. The shops are glazing. The roads have now priority to vehicles and not human beings. You don’t have to know music for being known as musician; if you can hold elephant tusk and act like you are singing – you are a musician. Thousands of such changed rules around in which the city which he knew seems to have been destroyed. Once upon a time, there was churning of the ocean and it had thrown up poison. What will the churning of city bring out?
What is happening to Bharat’s city? What changes are taking place? How these changes are affecting the people within the city? Why can’t he speak or cry about it? Why is he compelled to keep quiet?
In the first couple of pages the novel absorbs you. It reminds me of “1984” and also a bit of “Animal Farm” – both by George Orwell. I keep on thinking about the similarity; but only for moments.
The novel is bit unconventional as it does not have long line of characters and there are no traditional descriptions. There are events after events and the author questioning the happenings around. It represents a kind of “us” and “our environment”. It reminds us about that important feeling that we hide deep within after every experience of riot, bomb-blast and so on. It reminds us of every moment of vulnerability. There is something within us which we are not comfortable to live with – that is brought on the surface.
The city is like our city – disparity between poor and rich! Masks are here for sell and those masks are destroying the variety in human beings. Everybody seems unknown and similar. The masks not only cover faces, they control the thought processes of humans - and that is the main purpose of producers of masks. Once you cover yourself by a mask, the Reality and the Illusion merge together, you feel like owner, you feel responsible for maintaining status quo.
Bharat has some questions. His neighbor (a man without name), who is constantly keeping company, who makes Bharat realize the reality of the changed city and who is taking care of Bharat, takes the responsibility of the survey.
These questions are: How near are you to yourself? How far away are you from yourself? How close are you to your family? How far away are you from your family? How near are you to the road- and how far away? How near are you to the tree, to the road, to the walls, to the bricks … and how far away are you from the tree, the road, the wall and the bricks?
The neighbor has different experiences during the survey. One woman tells him, “I am too far away from myself. I am never able to join myself to myself. You can take it that I consist of two parts. One part is sick and tired of this world… the other is chockfull with desires and passion….. I am close to no one; no one is close to me. …. How can a person who is already split into two parts own anybody or belong to anybody?”
At other times I would have remembered Sartre or Camus while reading this (I remember them now while writing this), but while reading it I felt a sharp knife stabbed in my heart. The agonizing pain was momentary but Real. The beauty of the novel is: it creates such moments of pain of self-reflection; it makes you think about your life. The novel is not unrealistic – it creates an awareness that you are not aware of what is happening around you, you have look for and learn to accept the Reality. The novel churns you as well.
It does not matter that the novel has only 63 pages.
The novel was originally written in Dogri. The language is spoken in Jammu area (and nearby areas in Pakistan). You don’t feel like asking the logical questions like whether these areas are urbanized so much.
It does not surprise you that the novel is 1979 Sahitya Akademi award winner novel.
“Nagn Rukh” – Mr. O P Sharma “Sarathi”
English translation by Mr. Shivanath – “Churning of the City”
Publisher: Sahitya Akademi, Delhi
Price? The 1991 edition I have is priced Rs. 10/- only!