Warning: Too personal to be of any value to anyone.
As I write this, I am on a sleepless bed, my mind ravaged and subjected to the vagaries of corporate rat-racedom, if there was ever such a word that can better signify stress. But this time, I like to believe that I had a choice, to race or not to race, and I took it, though only till December, I promised myself, and I sincerely hope I am not under delusions as always. For my manager is ruthless, inspires in me the need for paternal validation, the most basic of my failings, and he is an insatiable devil, a task-master, who breathes and subsists on success, (Restless otherwise), one success followed by the next, and I, a mere pawn in the path of this typhoon.
But I am hoping to find shelter post-winter, a little tent of my own, hiding from the manager and his lust for success, and here I will subsist on my own lonely thoughts and words, just like the Savage of BNW. I have discovered I have readers, like-minds that appreciate still the written word. A thought that I savour like a fruit, until the very savoring terrified me. Success and validation, those strange exotic fruits that beckons to me like a compass, a destination whose happiness I am beginning to question. The strange emotional storm that wreaked havoc within me yesterday at a team outing in distant Bannerghatta, an event that brought out the worst of complaints in my peers, but only exhausted sleep in mine. Why that desire to be back in the community of other humans, the need to partake in activities as silly as BNW’s Orgy Porgy, a dance ritual that celebrates science and Ford in as much silliness as a religious ritual would? Is the author saying that Science can be as much a Farce as religion? Something that can be as trivialized? If so, is it the same with art? Did I not already fear that? Mindless, listless art that my peers seem hooked on as my precious brothers to drugs and video games?
Again, I am lulled by thoughts of choice, which I seem to tell myself I have taken like a Soma tablet. I have chosen to be here, at this resort, to sleep in this cramped bed, yes, I can separate myself from my inner conditioning for human company, from validation. Only then am I free to write undiluted thoughts, or so I delude myself. Soma, Ah Soma again. Escape….
Soma…I return to BNW, (permit me this acronym), is the happiness drug that BNW’s Authority distributes like food as a solution for bad moods and discomforts, a solution my managers would have loved to douse me with so that I can partake in the Orgy Porgies. Now, my brothers sleep in the next room sharing a single bed, while I enjoy the luxury of an entire room to desecrate at my will. It disturbs me, this right of the breadwinner that my family insists on, but I take it too, with its own Soma, the dream of a 3BHK, a breadwinner’s solution of throwing money at a problem, where I can live without even this discomfort of thought along with the removal of physical discomforts.
But Brave New World talks of a Utopian world where everyone is happy, Happiness a subjective construct taken from popular trends: distractions, drugs, and effortless amusements. Unhappy? Take a Gramme of Soma. Bored? Watch the fillies, a multi-dimensional futuristic movie experience that titillates the senses while avoiding the burden of excessive thought. I am filled with dread of the thought of sitting in a movie hall, watching an on-screen kiss, while feeling it on my lips, a treat for my tactile senses, the one still un-corrupted by mass media and capitalism (or so I hope).
But BNW speaks to one of my other fears. In my desire to explore across-the-sea civilisations, will I be lost in the First world of fewer problems. Is luxury the writers-block that prevents art, and is pain the ultimate muse? Instinctively, I believe this, but then, it could also be a fear of loss of a social circle that humors my bitter temperament as much as the laziness of creating a resume and hunting for a foreign land to immigrate.
Is High Art the cost of pure social Happiness?
Must I accept that my peers, my brothers, my friends, will define happiness differently from my self, and make peace with it, and watch as they suffer pain in a way that I can find intolerable…a spiritual pain. Prasenjit and Ahmed will find solace in drugs, Mother in prayers and God and superstition and ritual, Asha and Amita, in corporate excess and ambition, Isha and Bharath in forced modern spirituality and a strange incoherent psychobabble that sounds comforting and fake at the same time….Soma, I seem to interpret as an escape, and with escape comes inner turmoil, and their underlying suffering burns me, as much as I must learn to accept it. For who am I to claim the truth? Just another blinded fellow, as subjected to social whims and fancies as the next. And my own Soma is the fake dreams I built, a world in the future, where I write in peace, without the interference of corporate extremes.
Which brings me to conditioning, that very-scary proposition that seems to be something that cannot be done away with. Conditioning is troublesome now, starting from my own conditioning to seek paternal validation by excess labor to the conditioning of my Muslim brethren to believe that they are the minority that must fight the Jihadi war for the larger good. But conditioning that is pre-planned as it is in BNW is as terrifying even or especially with its claims of happiness even in the face of terrible labor. The Author brings home the interesting idea of the right to be unhappy, to suffer in the face of misery, and not take a vacation from it so as to return after the dreary effects and after the learning avenues have disappeared. Here, I also wonder if the author argues that the quest of unhappiness has its strange extremes as much as that of the pursuit of happiness.
As a learning writer, the book tells me that a story can work with limited story technique if it is rich on concept and though, which BNW very much is. The info dumps and expositions in the beginning, the strange intertwining scene structure where three parallel occurrences are interspersed up to a line-level, that clearly makes for senseless reading, all works when Musthapha Mond reveals all in the final chapters, in another round of exposition-filled dialogue, that by now one begins to enjoy like the whip of unhappiness. Mustapha, the fascinating character that makes up the rules of society like it were but child’s play, shirks all possibilities of unhappiness for the sake of larger social happiness, conducts and learns from failed human experiments like Alpha-only societies and greater leisure time for Betas, because the Alphas are so individualistic and smart they kill each other, and the Betas can’t handle all the extra leisure time!
Personally, Helmholtz’s characters desire to be in a space that allows him to write, even (or especially) one that is stuffy and hot and miserable, speaks to me as does The Savage John’s desire to be alone with one’s undiluted thought. The fear that High Art is the sacrifice of a happy distracted society terrifies me as much as I personally experience it as the truth, for even today, I begged a friend to read a story and was offered money in return. Money when I ask for time, and effort and sweet consternation. Money and Fame, the only valued currency that seems to be floating around. Oh, it makes me feel as wretched as John, the Savage when faced with endless happiness of this Brave New World.