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Amidst the hullabaloo of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government snooping on its own citizens and those of foreign countries, George Orwell’s 1984 has been mentioned countless times and how he was right in predicting the government’s role of the Big Brother. Another author depicted a dystopian future wherein the government had a different sort of control over you-controlling your violent instincts. While the government spying on one’s phone calls, emails, social networking data is not a comforting feeling, the government actually controlling how you behave is even more disconcerting.
Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, explores precisely this aspect of control. Alex, the anti-hero of the novel, is a the narrator and refers to himself as “Your Humble Narrator.” He narrates his and his pals’ violent escapades in a nameless town where such violence by teens is rampant. They engage in brutal violence-assaulting, stealing, beating and sexual violence during the night. On one such escapade, Alex and his gang decide to rob a single woman living with dozens of cats. However, the plan goes awry as Alex’s usual ruse of acting like a wounded boy and fooling the woman to open the door fails. He then goes through the window and threatens her but the old woman isn’t frightened so easily. She seems to get time to call the police and eventually in a fight, Alex gives a fatal blow. The police picks him up and he is shunted to the prison for a good 14 years. It is here Alex learns of a miraculous technique that will reform him quickly and let him get out of jail in no time. The prison chaplain, the only decent person around, warns of this so-called-miraculous Ludovico Technique and of its ethical ambiguity. Due to a turn of events, Alex is eventually subjected to this technique which is torturous in its own way and has terrible consequences for our Humble Narrator.
Written in the “Nadsat” language, which is the lingo used by the teens of that world, Clockwork Orange is a gruesome look at the politics of control and surveillance and raises questions about the need for an individual to have a choice in the way s/he behaves. Ludovico Technique essentially conditions Alex to have sickening feelings for anything related to violence. It ‘cures’ him of his bad behaviour by leaving him with no choice but to be good because being bad or even thinking of violence entails a rising of aversion in him. Burgess cleverly shows how the government’s method of reducing crime by relying on such ethically questionable techniques is not a foolproof method but only raises more problems rather than resolving them. For example, if Alex is faced with a situation where he has to defend himself he is absolutely helpless since he cannot resort to violence as he has been conditioned to be averse to it.
To complicate the plot further, Alex after being ‘cured’ is used by certain individuals for their own personal gains-namely to show that the present government is using such brutal techniques in the reduction of crime. Alex becomes a trophy prize over which politically motivated parties and individuals tussle, leaving behind the core of the problem-if the Ludovico Technique is not morally correct and the usual punishment of imprisonment also fails, then how exactly to reduce the rate of crime and violence in a world where youngsters are increasingly setting up sub cultures of crime and violence.
Clockwork Orange doesn’t answer those questions outright. Instead the story explores the ideas of the nature of evil and if it is really possible for the government to control the individual’s violent inclinations and urges through conditioning techniques. The book shows how the government treats people like machines, like ‘clockworks’ that can be tweaked to make a better, crime-free society. We have already seen in the 20th and 21st centuries how the media has been effectively used to tweak people’s way of thinking and getting their support on certain politically important matters (For eg, it is thanks to the relentless media proclamations of US’ war on terror that the entire globe sees the Middle East as merely a part of the world crawling with terrorists out to attack America while completely disregarding their own unique culture. Closer home, the media is often used in India to mobilise people’s opinion for the ambiguous notions of ”development” and “growth” while cleverly trying to put down all those who clash against these ideas). It is not just the media alone, mainstream culture-whether it is books, movies or art-all are effectively used by the government to mould people’s opinions for or against something. Therefore, it is perhaps not far away that the governments all over the world will be able to control its citzens’ behaviour. And that would indeed be a scary prospect.
Though small in size, Clockwork Orange may not be a breeze to read thanks to the “nadsat” words that Burgess uses which can be understood only by referring to the glossary every once in a while. It can be frustrating because while you want to get on with the story(which moves at a good pace), you have to pause and find out the meanings first but be patient and it will definitely be worth it. It will take time to accustom yourself to the language but once you are attuned to it, it will be an easy and enlightening read. Try and read this one-it is relevant and will always be because no government has come close to curbing violence among its people. So while you figure out what “droog”, “carmen”, “chasha,” malchick,” ‘mesto” etc mean, don’t forget to also ponder over the subtexts of the story.
Ever wondered how a child reacts to violence? What are the effects of cruelty, brutality on a child’s mind? His/her psyche? How it scars them? What they think of it ? How they interpret it? Ok..now you must be wondering why I am babbling child psychology cum emotional talk in a book review blog. But don’t worry I intend to write a book review only which will partially answer a few of those above seemingly unrelated questions. So what’s the book? Is it a psychology book? Or a EQ book?
Definitely NOT! Its a fictional novel produced by an astonishingly talented writer. The book’s name is ‘Ice-Candy Man‘ or ‘Cracking India’ written by Bapsi Sidhwa.
Partition was a big blot on Indian history. A lot of books were written during that time that were devoted to the sentiments, pain and grief of the common people. While most Partition literature prominently deals with adult perspectives, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ provides a rare child’s perspective of the Partition. Of course, this perspective is more or less colored by Sidhwa’s adult perspectives and ruminations too but nevertheless the book is essentially from a child’s point of view.
In a nutshell, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ is narrated by a Parsi girl, Lenny Sethi, living in Lahore. She has polio and an Ayah-Shanti-looks after her. Shanti is an attractive female constantly surrounded by a medley of male admirers who are mostly employed in Lenny’s house. Lenny learns about the news of the division, the spread of hatred as they unfold through the events she herself witnesses or hears from adults. But mostly Partition is represented or personified with Ayah’s life. How Partition, how one person’s love for her ruins her life to a large extent is a metaphor for how things turned from bad to worse, how religion got entangled with love during the Partition. Sidhwa has cleverly represented Ayah as the complex inter-cultural and inter religious background of Lahore in the pre-Partition days. Lenny’s thoughts not only reflect her childlike, sometimes confused, innocent perceptions but also depict Partition in a different light. Its gruesomeness is heightened when a child describes it. It seems even more mindless, awful and unnecessary.
Sidhwa’s style of writing can be difficult to digest as it seems desultory, jumping from one topic to another, one time frame to another in a flash. It can appear unconnected and difficult to keep track of but perhaps through this style, she is trying to portray a child’s mind and how rapidly it jumps from one interesting aspect to another. The randomness of children and their short attention span is marvelously portrayed in their writing style.
‘Ice Candy Man‘ is worth reading. it may be hard to find as it was first published in 1988. But one can easily get it online and if one searches diligently, one is bound to find one copy in some well managed library.
‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini is his first novel and it is simply extraordinary. It is rare to read a story about Afghanistan and even rarer for the that story to not be about war in Afghanistan. It is infact a story on deep friendship and love. ‘The Kite Runner‘ is a marvellous, honest story. It is a must read.
The two main protagonists- Amir and Hassan- are playful, fun loving kids living in the 1970s’ in Afghanistan. Amir is the son of a rich man while Hassan is the son of Amir’s servant, Ali. Despite that, Amir and Hassan are like brothers. They play together and frolic together and fly kites together . Hassan is an excellent kite runner and in the days when kite flying was a legal past time, it was a great talent to have. Amir, unlike his father, is not brave while Hassan can easily fend off bullies and other rascals bravely. Once in 1975, a shattering event occurs during the kite fighting tournament that alters both their lives. In 1981, Amir and his father move to America to flee from the violence in Afghanistan. Amir’s life is pretty secure then and he tries to forget that 1 event but it haunts him and it eventually makes Amir go back to Afghanistan to undo the wrong he had done back in 1975.
‘The Kite Runner‘ rendered me speechless. It is one of the best stories that I have read. It is immensely moving, emotional and heartbreaking. The splendid and beautiful description of prewar Afghanistan makes me realise how much the country has lost because of power, war and unending politics.
P.S. Do not watch the film, ‘Kite Runner‘ because it has none of the nuances and emotions in the book the touch the reader’s heart. It is quite a horrendous film. The book is thousand times better!