Friday, September 04, 2009
A Struggle for Identity Amidst Suffering
A Girl called Asha Albuquerque
Frog Books, Mumbai
Price Rs 195
“Our sweetest songs are those that tell us of our saddest thoughts”
Vikshiptha’s novel A Girl called Asha Albuquerque reincarnates this idea as the protagonist, in his bitter struggle of life, strives to get an identity for himself. Though the little could be confused for the story of a girl, a reading through the novel turns it a recording of the epiphany of Vikshiptha. Vikshiptha struggles to get a meaning for himself, ‘who is neither dead nor living’, As a teacher, as a worker in “a(n) (M)and agency”, as a son, as a brother, as a husband and as a father, Vikshiptha undergoes a continuous metamorphosis. If Kafka’s hero becomes an insect overnight, Vikshiptha lives like an insect for 40 years. His inability to get the post of a permanent lecturer (owing to the ‘forward’ status of his caste and his commitment to morality by not giving a bribe to get a permanent job) becomes his albatross, though he is not a sinner. The weight of the social dogmas, the corruption in the education departments, the bitter reality of life and the non-availability of an alternative mean to recognize his temperament make Vikshiptha’s metamorphosis a never ending process. The novel is an embodiment of this struggle.
If I resort to give a summary of the novel, then there would be no meaning at all in analyzing the novel as a text. Before I dissect the text in my own crude and amateur way, I beg the pardon of Vikshiptha (Niranjan Sharma), for I am fully aware that my analysis would not be able to access its potentiality to the highest degree.
The structure of the novel is, perhaps, first of its kind. It is far away from the Mills and Boons romances, the “classics” or the recent award winning ‘popular’ fictions. The novel is a document; it is a culmination of experience and scholarship. The reading of the novel prerequisites a base in literary criticism, philosophy, psychology and literature. The author tries to negotiate between two identities: writing for living or living for writing? This struggle between two identities is shown in the description of the girl: A Girl called Asha Albuquerque: with Hypnotic eyes and Ravishing lips….., she is a “child-woman”. The author/Vikshiptha’s struggle goes in parallel with the struggle of the girl. She becomes a sign through which author’s metamorphosis is expressed. While Vikshiptha describes himself, he is also being described by the girl. In between these two narrative strategies, philosophical and psychological extracts are woven inextricably. In structure, theme and style A Girl Called Asha Albuquerque is a different experiment.
The novel cannot be read in the ordinary sense of the term ‘reading’. It requires a preliminary understanding of various thinkers, literary laureates and an acute awareness of the pain that has stimulated the author to write the text. T.S.Eliot, the modernist thinker and writer has said: “……..creation of a work is a continuous extinction of personality. The more the writer suffers, the more creative in him will be the mind that creates”. Vikshiptha’s sufferings, therefore, contribute a lot to the understanding of the metamorphosis and transformation of hisself’. The numerous quotations that the author makes use of in the novel don’t become ‘hanging’ quotations. They suit to the purpose and situation as they enhance the narrator’s metamorphosis to the reader. Therefore the reaching of this novel requires a basic knowledge of Beckett, Freud, Golding, Jung, Tolstoy, Kant, Stendhal, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, William Faulkner, Rousseau, Arun Joshi, Nirad Chaudhury, Baudelaire, to name a few. Hence, the novel cannot be read in the ordinary sense of the term ‘reading’.
The field of education becomes a target (it deserves an attack) in the novel. Its flaws, the rampant corruption, the illogical handling of the department, the hipocracy of the state – all come under Vikshiptha’s scrutiny as he has seen them from a distance during his career as a lecturer. The tasks of a lecturer are parodied in the novel – who has to ‘finish’ the syllabus or ‘portion’. In this process, according to Vikshiptha, the very essence of teaching goes into astray. The students learn English in the manner they are taught – in patches, not in the way it has to be taught and learnt. When it comes to the question of teaching English literature, the knowledge of the professors does not to go beyond Shakespeare. They continue to believe that quoting from ‘classics’ is the ultimate sigh of having a mastery over those particular texts in general and over literature as well. These gunny bags of quotations have turned the seriousness of literary pursuit into a mere academic reproduction of an existing knowledge, far away from a creative and productive venture. Vikshiptha is deprived of a permanent lecturer’s post for two reasons: first, he belongs to a caste that is considered to be a ‘forward’ caste by the constitution. Second, he refuses to pay bribe. Therefore he remains a ‘permanently temporary lecturer’ in English. This prompts him to write: “……….at 40, being a ghastly failure, left with nothing but words, all I could do was to write” (P-16).
Vikshiptha’s genius is at its best while describing the places with pun. The city where he stays is ‘Monkeytown’ (Mangaluru/ Mangalore?) is in the state of KARKOTAKA (Karnataka?). He began his career in a place called IPUDU (UDUPI?) and the village nearby has turned into the Las Vegas of banking and education with a name MONEY’s PAL (MANIPAL?). His early years were spent ALAREK (KERALA?). While naming the characters, Vikshiptha makes use of irony as well. So there are persons like Dr.Icecold Frozen, Dr.Asyoulikeit, Dr.Muchadoaboutnothing, Dr.Sillymind Freud and Dr.Colourblind. The magazines that he reads are “India Tomorrow”, “Inlook” and “Weak”. Of course, we are not asked to play the guessing game. But our temptation is strong. But what should catch our attention is the irony, wit and humour that could be derived in reading the text.
There are still a lot more in the novel A Girl Called Asha Albuquerque. I am not going to deal with them. I leave them for the readers to enjoy and analyze.
M. A. (English) First Rank (2007)
S/O Venkatramana Bhat