|The wound and the blade
Farida Shaikh goes into deep psychological experience
Poroshi Jodi Amaye Chhuto
THIS is Anisul Haque's novelistic treatise on personal identity. Theoretically it is the philosophical confrontation with the most ultimate question of man's existence. Who am I? The time changes between life and death, gives rise to a set of criteria that denote personal identity. Death is also a prominent theme in the novel.
During the 17th century Locke propounded his theory of personal identity for human beings, and introduced the concept of man, soul and person. The determinants that make the person the same are there, though there are physical and mental changes in him over time. In the quantum domain Leibniz's Law noted the identity of indiscernible factors which individuate qualitatively identical objects, though recent interpretation point to its short fall.
Nasir Ali, the protagonist, is diabetic. He is out on his morning walk when suddenly he spots a youth's dead body below the bridge on road 8 Dhanmondi. At once he begins to be tormented by a volley of ontological questions. Is a dead body meaningless?… Is it the name of the person that is important? A dead body bears no name. A name is borne by the living body. Does the name exist in the being or in the body or in the heart? And if Nasir Ali is the name then what does the body denote and who is the person?
The book is dedicated to Professor Anisuzzaman. The opening page has Charles Baudelaire's L'Heautantimouromenos (The Self Tormentor; translation in English by Wallace Fowlie), '… I am the wound and the blade!' The Bangla translation of the same is by Buddhadev Basu, '… Ami e chaka, deho amar doli!' This relates to the hounded protagonist.
The title of the book is a line from the mystic poet Lalon Shah's very popular lyrics translated by Carol Salomon. 'What can I say about my neighbor? / She has no hands, no feet? No shoulders, no head? Sometimes she floats high up in the sky / sometimes in the water/ If my neighbor only touches me/ she would send the pain of death away/ She and Lalon are in the same place / Yet five hundred thousand miles apart.
Bauls hold women in high esteem. This song refers to Shadika or shahaj manus, natural person.
The protagonist, Nasir Ali, in this psychological novella, is addressed as a learned person and is asked to explain the following lines by the rikshawala from Kushtia: 'I have not seen her even once/my neighbor/who lives in the city of mirrors/near my house . . .' And the next line if modified and translated would be: 'if my neighbor would be mine/ all the pains and fears would be wiped away.' In response, Nasir Ali asks to be excused saying that he was not born in Kushtia, Lalon's birthplace, and so he does not know the meaning.
As the rikshawala sings, Nasir Ali says his Bangla accent is not typical of his place. To this the rikshawala says that commonality of plying rikshaws in Dhaka city wipes away every distinction in Bangla accent. The writer propounds the thought that human understanding and variation in semantics are not uniformly found, and the qualification of being learned does not necessarily lead to the most obvious rational conclusion. It is a subjective matter. Moreover, to be able to verbalize the analytical process is yet another diamension to human understanding.
The rikshawala sings the Lalon songs well. Nasir Ali asks him if he has taken lessons at Shilpokola Academy. This sounds ridiculous to the rikshawala, and only establishes the truth that innate talent for music is common among the ordinary people of this country. According to Lalon, man's wisdom evolves from within, for Lalon in his judgment and erudition did not depend upon man-made institutions.
Without disclosing it to his wife, Nasir Ali makes an appointment with the psychiatrist. He is diagnosed as suffering from acute stress disorder with possible connections to childhood trauma, as mentioned in the narrative. A second visit labels his mental health condition as a special case of dual personality, a stretch of multiple personality disorder syndrome.
The up to date terminology speak of Dissociative Identity Disorder, a severe form of disassociation, which produces a lack of connection in a person's thought, memory, feeling, action and loss of sense of identity. It is characterized by two or more distinct or split identities as Nasir Ali was Hamid Ali on quite a few occasions. One personality has power over the other person's behavior. Nasir Ali holds a BCS cadre post at the Bangladesh Secretariat, is an employee of a buying house, then he is Hamid Ali, a computer engineer. Nasir Ali is mistaken for Hamid Ali by visitors and office persons. He receives parcels addressed to Hamid Ali. He matches his ID card and his face in the car mirror to confirm that he is none other than Nasir Ali.
The book cover created by artist Dhrubo S. depicts a winged right hand of a man, holding an ordinary pen against white clouds, sailing in the golden glow of a full moon in the vastness of the night sky. Human knowledge is as open and vast as the sky. That man's wisdom flows from the natural elements. The pen and the human hand take into its fold only a small part of the enormous knowledge. Similar is Lalon's expositions through his various lyrics.
This novella, Aarshinagar 2007, was published in the anniversary edition of Kali O Kolom. A year later the book also went through a fourth printing. The over all impression about the book was that most readers were confused with the narration. The subject matter appeared conflicting. However, in the opinion of erudite readers the book covered some thought-provoking topics, and a second reading of the book was recommended.
Anisul Haque's narrative in black humor encompasses big and small corruption, like a person selling off his land allotment document; and frequent name change by borrowers of blue films at video shops. Nasir Ali is pounced upon by hijackers, who in colloquial lingo ask him the usefulness of an identity card upon the death of the person. Upon seeing his own reflection in the mirror, Nasir Ali smiles and asks the reflection, whom is his wife calling? Nasir Ali is killed by the hijackers. His ID card is saved!
His computer savvy colleague downloads a cartoon, a man without his balls! The regular men are engaged in detailed discussions on the male organ during the first two working hours at the office. As the cartoon man has no organ to talk about, his working hour will start two hours later!
Companionship is close to being a misnomer in modern marriage. Within the fast track urban life extramarital relationships are becoming, more and more, an accepted and expected lifestyle. With a play on the vernacular words the act of copulation is transferred to an interpretation of power and politics.
Then there is the rhetorical dialogue with the psychiatrist, posing the problem of emotional mentality as a prerequisite of sexuality versus a monetized market commodity. The plausible explanation is the variation in the male mentality towards sex. There is but a hairline distinction between medical solution and religious ritual to establish parenthood. The solution to the social enigma of marriage, the biological act of birth and death are Allah's domain, for man at best can uphold his niyat.
The narrative style is in dramatic monologue by the writer with himself, and controlled dialogue between two characters at a time; the protagonist and his colleague, his wife, the rickshawala on three occasions, telephone girl friend, hijackers, tokai, video shop owner, and some strangers. The prose is in poetry.
Procreation is a binding urge in all natural beings. In humans it is most conspicuous. Within the social sphere, the means of livelihood for the man in the city becomes a compelling need to work, do a job. The writer refers to Kafka's Metamorphosis in this connection. A similar urge on the woman's side is met by a total immersion into household chores.p.40
Reading Poroshi Jodi Amaye Chhuto, for me, has been an engrossing experience. Personal identity is very much a matter of individual intellect. Moral complexity surrounds modern lifestyle. I would highly recommend a film adaptation of the book like SYBIL 1973 that deals with the same subject, dissociative identity disorder.
Farida Shaikh is a critic and a leading voice in The Reading Circle (TRC).