Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Albert Camus - The Outsider

 ‘Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure’.

This is the sort of opening line which is discussed, torn apart and chewed at in creative writing workshops. And it is just the beginning of this bizarre novel.

The Outsider, also known by the title – The Stranger, is an unusual piece of work. And Meursault, the protagonist, is a very unusual sort of man. You’ll either dismiss him as a jackass or become his huge fan, strictly depending on your age. To me he came across as a callous young man who is completely indifferent to everything in his life be it love, sex, death, murder, or injustice.

I was appalled at his casual attitude towards his mother’s death. How can a man be cold and indifferent at his own mother’s burial? He’s either naive or brutally honest and as the book progressed I realized he was a bit of both. As other characters entered the story in quick succession it became obvious that this lack of interest is directed towards everyone and everything. At certain points, especially with regard to his job, he comes across as a rebel; a man not bound to any relationship, personal or professional. Had I been younger and a boy, I might just have idolized him.

There’s his girlfriend, Marie, who he actually starts dating the very next day of his mother’s funeral. A heartless bastard and that, too, both towards the dead and the living. ‘Marie came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn't mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married. Then she asked me again if I loved her. I replied, much as before, that her question meant nothing or next to nothing - but I supposed I didn’t.’

At work, Meursault turned down a chance to leave Algiers and work in Paris. ‘I told him I was quite prepared to go; but really I didn’t care much one way or the other. He then asked if a ‘change of life’, as he called it didn’t appeal to me, and I answered that one never changed one’s real life; anyhow, one life was as good as another and my present one suited me quite well.’ So much for ambition!

I found hints of another rebel, Darashikoh Shezad (Moth Smoke), in Meursault. Both of them reach the same end but in different ways.

Another character is the pimp Raymond, his neighbour, with whom he strikes an unusual friendship. Meursault might be crazy but he’s not a crook and a liar, while Raymond reeks of crime. When Raymond asks Meursault to help him punish his two timing mistress, he agrees, ‘I wanted to satisfy Raymond, as I’d no reason not to satisfy him.’

Reading this book made me realize how we tend to ignore the consequences of our actions. No matter what we do or say, with whatever intention, it can be used against us anywhere and not necessarily in a court of law. The main theme of the novel is conformity. Meursault refused to conform to the norms of the society; he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, he didn’t want a promotion, he didn’t regret his crime. He was an outlaw. Society feels threatened by a person who doesn’t follow their established rules and standards. And such a person is either banished, or executed.

Death, execution, and religion are the dominating themes as Meursault comes to term with the consequences of his action. He is an outsider at his mother’s funeral, at his trial and remains one till the end. 

‘It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.’ 

This has to be the most absurd book I've ever read. Ever. 

Image: Google

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brand Talk: I am not a Gorilla

Anger is an emotion which we’re all familiar with regardless of age, height, weight, social status, race, creed, sect and gender, especially gender. And even though men are the ones who display their anger in the form of fist fights at the first opportunity they get, it’s the fairer sex who’s the ugly gorilla in the ad of the sickly sweet, excuse for a chocolate, Cadbury’s Perk (ad at bottom).

I am not a gorilla. I am a woman. Yes, I get angry, especially when I’m hungry but THAT does not make me a chest pounding, hairy creature with huge nostrils. A fire spitting dragon maybe but definitely not a gorilla!

Here are the problems I have with this ad. Firstly, there is the setting. The typical rishta aunty, the larki walay (parents of the girl) and the prospective in-laws. The former two are  singing praises of the girl in a manner similar to professional salespersons selling a new product to a difficult/moody customer while the latter are impatient to see the 'product' itself so that they can make their own judgment. When will we rid ourselves of drawing rooms where girls walk in holding neatly arranged cups of tea on a tray?

Stop portraying women in stereotypical roles! If you want to show an angry woman, why not show her in the role of the boss, screaming at her team?  What? It hurts your male ego? Admit it. You don’t have the balls to show women in a power position. And please don’t give me the bull about target market because a). Girls don’t eat Perk because it is sweet and full of calories (and tasteless) and increases their weight and b). Children usually eat it and they’re probably going to be more interested in an ad which they can relate to (they’re not stupid) -  not one with a girl their elder sister’s age. Sibling rivalry, you know.

My second problem is with the gorilla. I know Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has this one great ad in which a gorilla plays drums while listening to Phil Collins but this gorilla thing can’t work for you in all your campaigns, can it? Girls, usually, are sugar and spice and all things nice. Maybe you wanted to show how a simple, nice, obedient girl can turn into a monster when she’s hungry. Okay, but why a gorilla? Why not a tigress? And please don’t give me a Charles Darwin Theory here about selecting an animal which is closest to humans because I’m not going to buy it.

Tigers are sexy.

My third problem is with the premise that girl turns into monster when hungry. So are you implying that, when angry, men grow wings and halos appear over their heads? I’ll like to see such men because most of them, in our country, look like gorillas anyways, anger or no anger.

Besides, why would any girl, and especially one with such a temper, marry a wimp? And trust me, any guy who sits between his parents on the sofa is a wimp with a capital W!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cat of Colette

I’m not very fond of cats and the title of this book, which has a slightly sinister feel to it, filled me with foreboding. This cat, I thought as I settled down to read, is going to create trouble.

The Cat revolves around three characters; Alain, his Chartreux Saha and Camille, his fiancĂ©e. They are stuck in a sort of love triangle as the females, cat and woman, vie for Alain’s unconditional love.

In Saha, Colette has created a very strong character. She is an intelligent creature who has very distinct likes and dislikes. Her features, especially her yellow eyes, are extremely expressive, ‘those deep set eyes were proud and suspicious, completely masters of themselves’. She knows her mind and more importantly, she knows her master’s mind. Being extremely close to Alain, she dislikes Camille who reciprocates the feeling and considers the cat her rival, especially after their marriage.

‘Oh! The alterations! Don’t tell me you’re interested in those alterations! Admit’ – she folded her arms like a tragic actress – ‘admit that you’re going to see my rival!’

‘Saha’s not your rival,’ said Alain simply. ‘How can she be your rival,’ he went on to himself. ‘You can only have rivals in what’s impure’.

Alain, being an only child, is spoiled and pampered by his mother and the elderly servants.   He cherishes his solitude to an extent where the thought of sharing his childhood home with Camille is sacrilegious. His obsession with his garden, his bedroom and his cat borders on madness; he thinks more about the cat’s feelings than his wife.

The relationship between husband and wife is almost non-existent. ‘It was towards the end of June that incompatibility became established between them like a new season of the year’. Except for their love making there is, otherwise, a void between them. He is scared and a little disgusted with his wife’s amorous advances and sexual needs. Even though he admires her boldness and her beauty, he finds his cat a more attractive partner.

By the end of the story, it is not just the cat you hate, but Alain too. Attached to his mama’s strings, he refuses to grow up and accept his responsibilities as a married man. Saha, like the garden and house, is an embodiment of his childhood. And since Camille was not a part of it then, she is not welcome now.

Colette is best known for her novel Gigi (currently on my reading list) but The Cat is an enjoyable read also. The details of the cat; her thoughts, her expressions, her movements, her reactions were almost a revelation to a non-cat person like me.

Colette, too, owned a Chartreux called “La Chatte” (she-cat). 

"The cat is the animal to whom the Creator gave the biggest eye, the softest fur, the most supremely delicate nostrils, a mobile ear, an unrivalled paw and a curved claw borrowed from the rose tree." (Colette)

Photograph: Google Images

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Memory of Ibn-e-Insha

Dear Insha jee,

Today marks your 34th death anniversary. There was almost no mention of you in the morning news on any television channel. It is heartbreaking but you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that PTV is no longer supreme. In fact, it is on the list of endangered species as far as television channels are concerned. We have, now, many private channels spewing news, views and abuse all day long. Since you will not add to either their viewership or ratings, thus you are ignored while a filmi award show and half clad Brazilian models feature in headline news.

Don’t let the above mislead you. Pakistan has not changed much in the last 34 years. It has in some ways, but not for the better. We are still entangled in an identity crisis on provincial, sectarian and religious grounds; a pastime that, at all levels, keeps the entire nation busy. Individual welfare precedes national interest. Besides praying for roti (bread), kapra (cloth) and makan (house), we’ve added electricity, gas, sugar and water to the list also. Religious tolerance is at its worst.  The national flag, though, retains the white colour for minorities but it seems that’s all we have for them now.

Your residence in North Nazimabad is a short walk from a friend’s place. When in London I saw a house, in Notting hill, with a plaque, ‘George Orwell lived here’. Nothing of that sort is done in our country, except in graveyards. The only other plaques installed around the length and breadth of the city are in commemoration of new roads and bridges and have names of dead, ousted or exiled politicians and dictators. A country which does not celebrate its writers, artists, thinkers and philosophers lacks a soul. Did we ever have one, I wonder, in the first place?

But all is not lost Insha jee, Imran Khan is going to become prime minister and fix all our problems. What did you say? How can a sports man become a politician?

Anything is possible now Insha jee. But not all that is possible is good.

P.S: Aap achay waqt main kooch kar gaye...