Tag Archives: Loneliness

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

Title: A State of Freedom
Author: Neel Mukherjee
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670090150
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 275
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Neel Mukherjee’s “A State of Freedom” begins with a father who has come to India with his six-year old son from the States (where he now works). He wants his son to see the Taj Mahal and the nearby monuments at Fatehpur Sikri. The son is intimidated by the landscape – he doesn’t belong to this country and the father feels that even he is a “tourist in his own country”. This sense of alienation and weirdness furthers on into the first chapter, only to leave the reader gasping for more and turning the pages.

The start is powerful, albeit not very clear, but powerful nonetheless. It will leave the reader with two choices (as most starts do) – to either abandon the book or to carry on with it. I recommend that you edge on and you will be in for a surprise. Mukherjee’s characters are closely interlinked with the plot – though the plot is finely segregated into five segments (that is only too deceptive by the way), you see how characters appear time and again from one plot to another – it is as though they have decided to colour outside the lines and they very well will do so.

A construction worker falls to his death in the first section of the immigrant young father and his son and how his story is tackled later. At the same time, let’s not forget the core of the story (to me at least) of a passing poverty-struck man with his dancing bear (the cover is thus inspired) – each trying to find a way out – one of poverty and one of captivity – a “state of freedom” is being tried to achieve. The themes of alienation, identity and longing are further explored in the section of a young man who lives in London and visits Bombay time and again to meet his parents. In the course of the visits, he is taken in by the life of their cook Renu and another servant, Milly – so much so that he is encouraged by Renu to visit her village and stay with her brothers and their families – only to reach an understanding that he never can and never will be able to imagine the lives of others and how they live – his capacity for that is too diminished.

For me, while reading this book, there was the sound of loneliness that rang in almost every page – thus leading to the sound of grief, of belonging and to find salvation in one’s circumstances. I did read The Lives of Others last year, but this book has had an altogether different impact. I think what worked for me while reading this book is the association of daily life that Mukherjee doesn’t throw in your face but doesn’t hesitate to make you see what you normally would’ve shirked away from – the class, the racism, the feeling of not crossing lines because it gets uncomfortable after a point is so stark and raw that it will leave you with a lump in your throat.

For instance, the angle of Lakshman and the bear. There is so much going on in this part of the book that you would have to stop, take a breath and then continue – from the way Lakshman trains the bear (or so he thinks he has) to the drudgery of day to day living – to finding food for himself and the beast, Mukherjee’s prose shines on every single page. The peripheral layers to every section may seem ordinary, till they surface in another section and realism merges with the philosophical.

As a reader what also took me away was the different forms or narratives in which each section is written – the first section is in third person, the second in the first person, and how with each section the story only becomes even more complex and yet so simple. The fourth section is that of Milly and her friend Soni and how these two girls born and brought up in poverty, set out to want better lives and what the outcome of that is. The meaning of dislocation is the strongest in this portion of the book, thereby tying all loose ends.

The last section of the book is the one that is an unpunctuated chapter – told in first-person. It definitely gives the book the much required closure but it is also the chapter that I cannot talk about. “A State of Freedom” is one of those rare books that take you in slowly, capture you by the throat, overwhelm you time and again, make you see broken, fractured lives and at some point also make the attempt to make you whole again from that experience. It is one of those books that you would have to read, no matter what. I cannot stop talking about it.

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Mooncop by Tom Gauld

mooncop-by-tom-gauld Title: Mooncop
Author: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1770462540
Genre: Graphic novel
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

If you have to read one graphic novel this year (or of whatever year is left), I highly recommend you read “Mooncop” by Tom Gauld. It is a heartbreaking and extremely real graphic novel on loneliness and how we deal with it, even if it is on the moon.

mooncop-1

The year is unknown and pretty far-off into the future. Space has been colonized for mankind – a reach for the stars project, which is now a reality. There are people living on the moon and everything is the same – though it can get very boring and this happens to one of the lunar officers of the law. This colony on the moon is half-forgotten and no one cares about it, so much so that most people are on their way out. The cop is lonely and doesn’t have much to do. The book unfolds beautifully, of which I shall not speak more. It would then mean giving away the plot which I don’t want to.

mooncop-2

We are all lonely and we all try and make do with what we have, which is exactly what the nameless protagonist of this graphic novel does. The life lead is in a bubble, of oxygen-rich air and a metaphorical bubble of bureaucracy. Yet, there is this beauty in which Gauld communicates everything through his drawing and characters. There is humour and there is a lot of hope in it.

mooncop-3

In such a short graphic novel, Gauld says what he has to and that’s the beauty of the graphic form. You don’t need all that space or words to say what you have to. “Mooncop” is one of those rare graphic novels that you have to pick up right after you have finished reading it. It is heartwarming, nostalgic and a beautiful meditation on life and loneliness.

salt. by Nayyirah Waheed

salt by Nayyirah Waheed Title: salt.
Author: Nayyirah Waheed
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1492238287
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 258
Source: Borrowed from Kindle Unlimited
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while you read something that shakes your core. It jolts you out of the mundane existence and makes you question everything and everyone around you. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever felt so compelled by art? Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry did that to me. It made me want to drop everything, leave everything behind and go and find myself. It had that kind of an impact. I am this close to perhaps even doing that.

I don’t know why it felt the way it did, but I honestly believe that if any work of art can drive you to this point or to tears (which also happened by the way) then it is an indication that you wake up, smell the coffee and do something about what is going on – in your life and also to perhaps make a better change in someone else’s life as well.

“salt” is a collection of poems by Waheed on the condition of being black, feeling alienated, how the heart is empty and bereft, how does one heal after all, and of various other matters of the heart and soul. Each poem comes with a word at the bottom – the poem defines the word – gives it meaning and that is the format of this collection.

I don’t know what more to say about this magnificent collection of poems. I have no words, honestly. I don’t even know if I would be doing the book any justice at all by talking about it. “salt” is the kind of collection of poems that will rip your heart out, toss it a little, turn it a bit, throw it far away, make you realize what you have lost, make you fetch it, repair it and let it heal. A stunning collection of poems.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Title: The Lion and the Bird
Author: Marianne Dubuc
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
ISBN: 978-1592701513
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are very few books that come along and change your life. You do not know in what way, but after reading them you are not the same and you can feel it so strongly that it takes your breath away. This happened to me when I read the most astonishing and enchanting picture book I have in a very long time. French Canadian graphic designer and illustrator Marianne Dubuc gives us this little piece of joy and ecstasy called, “The Lion and the Bird”. I had a problem procuring my copy since it is not easily available in India, but when I did receive it, I knew that I would love and cherish it forever.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc - Image 1

As the title suggests, the book is about a lion and a bird. That is what it is. A lion finds a wounded bird one autumn day and his life changes in so many ways. He takes the bird in, heals it, and throughout autumn and winter the bird stays with the lion. They build a beautiful friendship and bond, which must come to an end because the bird will soon heal and fly and the lion will be left alone, as he was before the bird came into his life.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc - Image 2

“The Lion and the Bird” is an ode to childhood and in so many ways an ode to adulthood as well. We all need to learn so many lessons as we go along – that of empathy, of being selfless sometimes, of understanding another’s sorrow and pain, and what life is truly about.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc - Image 3

Marianne’s illustrations and use of space are breathtaking. The loneliness of the lion is depicted tenderly as he shrinks after the bird’s departure. The use of space is marvelously done and with great minimalistic effort.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc - Image 5

This book is so appropriate for both adults and children. The eloquent pictures and story (almost wordless) go hand in hand and the words just become unnecessary. This is this beautiful rhythm to the book and though it is short, it just stays with you forever.

Earthling by Aisha Franz

Earthling by Aisha Franz Title: Earthling
Author: Aisha Franz
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1770461666
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Off late, say in the last decade or so, there has been a spurt of graphic novelists and artists from all over the world. “Earthling” by Aisha Franz is not just another graphic novel. There is something about it, which speaks to you and which hits the nail right on the head of the problem of our society today: Alienation and Loneliness.

The graphic novel is also a coming-of-age story of two sisters. It is about their estranged mother. A father that is supposed to take them on a trip which none of the girls wants to go to. The mother dreams of what could have been had she not got pregnant early in her life. The older daughter wants to be accepted. The younger one is confused about life. All the three of them want is some semblance to a regular life and happiness. The setting is the suburbs – unknown places, a big industrial wasteland and vast fields with nothing to talk about. In all of this, each of these three characters has built a fantastical element to their stories. They find their solace and comfort there.

Franz’s setting itself is another character. The black and white illustrations also add that bleak element to the story. I think “Earthling” to me is more than just a story about coping with life. It is also to a very large extent about finding yourself midst all the noise and silences.

The book, in its graphic elements relays a lot – on the human condition, how we are and yet there is a glimmer of hope somewhere for these people to perhaps want something more and get it after all. I loved “Earthling” because it was for sure a different graphic novel and to some extent also reminded me of Daniel Clowe’s characters, all wandering and trying to find their way in the world.

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