Monday 19 October, 2009

Dr Arjumand Ara on Haaril

First let me congratulate you for writing a good story which successfully portrays a contemporary modern man confronting the predicaments of urban life and the complexities of relationships. What makes this narration important is that you have focussed on the inner conflict one undergoes while living in such a world. You have been successful in portraying the mind and character of a well-educated man who, despite being in a profession where competition to achieve fame and material gains is very high, your hero is able to remain in self control, and is cool and calm. Such people are rare but certainly not extinct.
The narrator of the story and the protagonist Prashant, is one such rare person. While reading the story many a times I felt that he is not a type found in the field of freelancing/ working in an office of a magazine/newspaper. He does not belong to the world where he is situated in the story. He is innocent like a man from a small town and prudent like a mystic. In the world of professional writers one cannot remain so simple and naive as he is (or, is simplicity is his tool to make a difference, to register his presence, to remain in focus and achieve success in an otherwise cunning world? After all he is not so unconcerned with material gains as he gives an impression throughout the story. For example, when Aggarwal offers him to finance a journal in Hindi, he wants to immediately accept the offer but thinks it unwise to agree at once because this would belittle him before Aggarwal. He then tells Aggarwal about his ongoing projects that he would have to abandon for the magazine and would bear personal loss for this big project, etc. ). He is well read, thinks like a philosopher, has clear thoughts, his mind is analytical, knows to express himself, has a fan-following, is considered a genius in his circle, yet--and this is worth noting--he is easily influenced even by simple statements of common wisdom made by people like Kalia and Aggarwal. Similarly when telling about Nirmala of Ranikhet Prashant tells about what chai-wala says about her. He becomes curious to know about her but become hesitant to boldly to ask. And when Lev befriends with her, he does not like it and wants to warn him of what chai-wala had told. The reader at times is surprised at this quality of getting impressed so easily. However, this makes him a real character, not a typical hero.
The other interesting thing about him is that he has acquired the quality of seeing things from above, like God. He comes down, mingles with people, sees their situations, is tempted to mix up with them, but in fact does not become one of them and decides to walk out of their lives. I don't want to be harsh to him but let me put his character in one word--He is very judgmental. He might have acquired this trait of his personality from his background where he had been brought up with strong social moorings, moral pressures etc. He is very conscious of his own image of self importance. He does not want to see it tarnished even slightly, at any cost. Even his love for Jamini does not change him. Though after meeting Jamini his life-style and concerns change but his mind, his way of thinking, does not change. He succumbs to social pressures easily. That is why he severs his relationship with Jamini without any reason. When Utpala reminds him of his responsibility while going with Jamini out of the station and advises/urges him not to do so, he gets either scared or confused or simply sees something fishy in the matter and walks out of her life. He does not want to know reality, does not trust his beloved and like a true escapist leaves the city for some time. This self-centredness is not amazing, as it is very much a phenomenon of urban life style. In that sense he is a truly urban fellow.
Through the story of Binayak, Utpala and Aggarwal, a fast growing problem of city life is highlighted where everybody lives for his/her own convenience, pursues careers in high society with upper middle class aspirations at the cost of relationships and family. This story of exploitation of Utpala unveils at the end of the novel but it is early from the beginning that an impression is given by the narrator that there is something wrong with the women characters of the family through the Utpala asking him to move into her household. All members of that family behave strangely, Prashant is able to see the odd behaviour yet falls in love with Utpala's sister. It is only towards the end of the story that the characters of both sisters are juxtaposed with the accute problem of exploitation and self destruction for aspirations. Before this dramatic unveiling the events both the sisters were not given fair chance to display their complex characters and severity of their circumstances. Till then we were seeing them through the eyes of Prashant as somewhat suspiscious characters.
If the purpose of Prashant of telling his story is to share with readers his encounter with a strange family from whom he later on distanced himself away, then one part of the story become longer than required.
This is about his adventurous escape to Ranikhet and encounter with Kalia and Lev. Though is escape helps in developing the character of Prashant but episode has taken fairly good portion of the novel. It should have been a smaller part.
When I started reading, I began to look for some familiar characters. I felt that Prashant's character is quite autobiographical. He may or may not have any similarity with real life but their are places where I felt that you are describing your own mind. Giving supreme importance to the habit of reading, experiment with metaphysical thoughts/religion/semi religion whatever you call it, a kind of detachment from people you are interacting with, exhibiting your knowlege modestly even though you are conscious of your knowledge, being considerate to the feelings of others, listening people patiently are qualities of Prashant. But aren't they yours? Then you share with Prashant your love for mother-tongue, dream to publish a literary magazine, love for literature etc. But they say that a writer's first novel is generally an experience in autobiographical narration. I feel it is also true about your story to some extent. But this confession must come from your side. I should not comment over it.