In my previous post I told you about the novel Unish-Bish by Samaresh Majumdar. Through this post I want to share with you another novel by Samaresh Majumdar which goes by the title Pherari. This is a bit different story both in its background and narration. The most noteworthy feature of this novel is the idea which the writer presents through his narration.
The protagonist worked in a corporate office at a managerial post and had to handle the conflicts between the administration and workers. He had developed liking for a very attractive young woman employee in his organisation. One day a ‘strange celestial event’ (a meteorite impact or something of the sort) sent out intense radiation to the city Kolkata. All water evaporated, plants and trees turned to ashes and — well — the human body also disappeared. I mean, the skin, flesh, organs, everything disappeared, leaving behind only the skeleton and ‘heart centre’. The heart kept a person alive and ensured functioning of thought, speech, sight and so on. For nearly the full length of the novel, the writer enumerates the implications of this forced transformation in society. For example, when the body i.e., blood, flesh and skin was not there, then whatever remained could not decay, implying that the person could not die. As the sex organs had disappeared, there was no distinction between man and woman, thus facilitating complete gender equality, something which the government, activists and several organisations were striving for but failed in achieving. It also meant that there was no physical attraction between man and woman, no intercourse, no child-birth. Also, the institution of marriage no longer made sense, though man and woman could live together and can obtain a certificate to this purpose, which was not mandatory. In the absence of private parts, there was no question of honour and privacy, and people remained without clothes. It was first a matter of choice brought in by redundancy and then forced upon by society — after all, clothes denote distinction in social status. Without clothes, there was no way of identifying the gender of an individual to a casual eye. All the physical characteristics of a person, which made any person attractive due to form and skin colour also disappeared, bringing about a state of perfect equality. Among the trivial issues, there was no need of reserved seats in buses anymore. Among more serious issues, as there was no body to be maintained and nourished, there was no need to earn and accumulate wealth. All business simply stopped, and all that people had to do was enjoy life and spend time indulging in activities of their interest, such as reading books. At first glance it appeared to make things simple and life easy; however, people almost immediately got fed up from it and wanted it to end. People were yearning for death, some even attempting suicide, but failing due to their immortality brought upon by the changed circumstances. There were anarchy, loot and assaults, which even the police failed to control as there was no fear left in people. I have mentioned only a few points from my memory. In fact, the author has woven a fabric of complicated turn of events and their consequences. He goes at great length in his depiction, narration and contemplation of any such possibility, even if imaginary and hypothetical. This way, he looks at life, relationship and our whole existence from an entirely new perspective. It is this perspective which is the most important, or I would rather say, the only takeaway of this book. Beyond this idea, there is no noteworthy story worth mentioning or narrating.
Interesting. It would have been more interesting if the story could return to a normal life in flesh and blood, via another ingenious and imaginative sequence of events. But it should return now with a twist. A twist of lessons and perspectives learnt from the fleshless existence but with new added twists and complications. It would have made one cracker of a story with some insightful takeaways for life and meaning of life. Thanks for this beautiful review, Amit. Returned to pradyot after a long time. Good work. Keep it coming.
Let me further dwell upon my comment. Basically, I expect an existential novel to shed some light on life and suffering. On the origins and absoluteness of suffering. By returning the theme to the life of flesh and blood, and in the process, introducing new set of challenges, informed of the lessons in the previous avatar, he can demonstrate an important insight about the nature of suffering — that it has everything to do with what we are from within, that it has, essentially nothing to do with flesh and gender. That gender differences are only incidental to the essential devil inside all of us and that devil is drunk on power. At the root of all suffering is inequity and hierarchy of power.