Search Results for: "animal's people"

The Martyrdom of Animal’s People

Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (re)presents an interplay of a variety of religions in the fictional city of Khaufpur. Tape Fourteen (pages 205-222) coincides with the ritualistic mourning of Musharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and on the tenth day, the Day of Ashurra, the night of the fire walk happens.

Historically, it refers to “Zibh-e-Azeem,” the Great Sacrifice. The tragedy of the oft-mentioned Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was a brutal massacre on the plain of Karbala (about 60 miles soth/southwest of modern day Baghdad) in the year 680 C.E., year 61 of the Muslim calendar. It was a direct result of a struggle between the Sunni and Shia Muslims for the claim to power. After the Prophet’s death, two factions emerged from the schism that occurred regarding a dispute over succession to Muhammad as the leader of the Islamic community – the Sunnites advocated the customary tribal tradition of election while the Shiites believed the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali had a divine right of succession as the first Imam. After a series of assassinations, Hussein became the head of the Shiites and had to flee Medina for Mecca because he refused to swear allegiance to Yazid, the Sunnite caliph in Damascus. His army caught up with Hussein’s company in Kufa in southern Iraq, where they were given an ultimatum to pledge loyalty to Yazid or face water deprivation amid the scorching desert. Nine days later, on Ashura, a brutal massacre took place: the men were all killed (except for Hussein’s ill son) and their heads taken as trophies to Damascus, while the women were taken hostage.

Shiites consider the battle as the ultimate example of sacrifice and dramatically reenact it every year during Musharram in a ritual performance called ta’ziyeh (the word ta’ziyeh literally means “to mourn” or “to console”). Ta’ziyeh belongs to a genre of passion play, most often associated with Christian theatrical tradition, and is the only serious drama in the Islamic world. It is performed in theatres-in-the-round where spectators are surrounded by and even participants in the plot; main drama is staged on the central platform and subplots and battles take place in a surrounding sand-covered ring. The stage and props are stark, echoing the barenness of the desert plain at Karbala. An interesting and important distinction between protagonists and antagonists is that the former sing their parts in a classical manner while the latter recite or shriek theirs. There is also a strong musical presence (the accompaniment of drums and trumpets in intervals sets a mood or advances the action) and the most complete ta’ziyeh performances even involve horseback riding. You can see a few short excerpts below.

Although originally performed by Shiite Muslims in Iran, it has spread to other Arab countries and even places in France and Italy. There, the specific religious themes resonate more with the Christian sensibility and ideas of rebellion against tyranny. A cathartic experience is one of the common denominators everywhere. How does Hussein’s martyrdom function within the contexts of Animal’s People? What effects are produced when the narrative becomes interwoven with marsiyas, elegiac poems? What do religious motifs contribute to the discussion of the novel and its characters?

Source: Peter Chelkowski’s Time Out of Memory: Ta’ziyeh, the Total Drama. You can also read one of the versions of the play, The Ta’ziyeh of the Martyrdom of Hussein.

Politics of Contagion

Hey guys!

I’m rather ashamed I’m putting up a post after the conveners have already done their job for the next book, but I promise I have been filling my weekend with constructive, sort-of-course-related activities! By this I mean I went to see “Every Last Child” this morning, the documentary that Professor Waterman told us was being screened for free this weekend. The documentary is about polio in Pakistan, and the struggle to immunize children and protect them amidst so much political distrust and violence. As we were exiting the theater, Abhi (who was with me) made an interesting remark: while people perceive India and Pakistan to be quite similar, the obstacles standing in the way of healthcare were very different.

For example, in Animal’s People the Khaufpuris of India struggle against a foreign “Kampani” that had poisoned them with its chemical factory. The blame doesn’t lie solely with the Kampani, but also with the corrupt government of Khaufpur, which is perfectly willing to make deals with the Kampani at the expense of its people. With the government continuously letting them down, and the Kampani refusing to clean up its factory that still poisons the town, it is of little surprise that the Khaufpuris mistrust the West. For this reason they turn down desperately needed offers of healthcare and medicine from Elli because she is associated with “Amrika.”

The Khaufpuris have someone to blame for the chemical contamination of their water and people, but in “Every Last Child” polio is a disease native to the land (or, rather, the water). The struggle is with the issue of vaccination, since the Taliban had imposed a ban on vaccination. As a result, polio workers were frequently attacked while on the job. Politician Imran Khan makes an appearance, when his party PTI decides to back a health campaign euphemistically called “Justice for Health,” since the mention of polio alienates many.

The entanglement of politics and healthcare is central to both Animal’s People and “Every Last Child,” yet they occur in different ways. The authorities in “Every Last Child” are eager to find a solution and immunize the children of Pakistan, but they are hindered by the Taliban. In addition, there are certain members of the population who fear anything related to the West, and find it odd that the same country sponsoring the immunization program to save their children is also the one dropping the drones that kill them. While there is a similar distrust of the West in Animal’s People, the political framework is very different and worth considering. Maybe I’m saying that as a result of observing how the recent tensions in Student Government have elicited various heated opinions. Yet politics dictates many of the characters’ ideals and behaviours and an analysis of the larger political climate might lead to some interesting discoveries about our characters.

Happy Reading (of Nemesis, sorry again about the lateness)!


The written word is the deepest dagger you can drive into a man’s soul

‘Animal’s People’ may well be that dagger. The chemical disaster in 1984 that devastated Bhopal, India, was till date the worst industrial disaster. Ever. Anywhere.

The advertisement on the left was designed by a team that included Indra Sinha that served to illustrate the negligence on the part of the Indian government and people in other parts of the nation after a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal ravaged the entire state of Orissa.

Indra Sinha has been public with his criticism of the events that led to the disaster and the post-disaster help provided to the citizens. His strong opinions about the ‘Kampani’ and its owner, who are never mentioned by name in the novel, make for a frustrating reading.

The references to 9/11 are striking. Animal views these events as though they occurred in a movie and is unable to comprehend the attention and media coverage it receives. The reason why this reference struck me was because Animal’s reality can be equated to these events yet there is never any empathy for a deformed, ugly victim. His distance from humanity stems partly from this apathy.

Zafar claims that they were “armed with nothing” and he is right. The only medical assistance of any note came a decade after the disaster. Elli’s efforts to provide a free clinic (a possible reference to the Sambhavna Trust that provided free healthcare to victims)are futile. The people of Khaufpur have become hardened to external help and Elli cannot help feeling like an outsider. The reason why she cannot understand Animal’s People is because her empathy is not really genuine; she is not a victim.

Thus to emphasize the true magnitude of the disaster Indra Sinha does not tell the story. The voice on the tape is Animal’s. Animal criticizes, Animal emotes, Animal cusses (frequently) and Animal observes. Many authors have tried to emulate the voice of a poor person or a victim or just a common man in post-disaster accounts, but Indra Sinha does what many authors who write about disasters fail to do: he gives Animal a voice that sounds not like Indra Sinha, but like Animal.

Keep observing and criticizing.

Take a break and enjoy these different book covers :)

Personally, I am a big fan of book covers. When I was young and went to the bookstore, I would only pick up those books whose covers interested me (so this is why I end up reading more magazines than books… ). After I finish Animal’s People with a strong feeling of depression, I really don’t want to augment any serious information on the cruel background. Let’s take a break and analyze the different covers of this book published in various languages! The comparison of these book covers also raise the question: what is the identity of Animal? Is he an animal? A human? A half-half? Or, does this question really matter?

English                         This is the cover of our edition and also my favorite cover because it greatly depicts the crippled figure of Animal though I  don’t understand why he only has one arm. Also, he seems to be running. Running for his hope? Life? Love? The rays of light that diverge from him is also interesting and remind me of the painting of saints. 

Polish                           This is the only cover with a background of a few Indian people and the physical setting of a street.

Chinese                        The boy in this cover looks innocent and young. He even has his finger in his mouth. Is Animal really a childish figure who will look at his readers (listeners) to raise their sympathy? 

Thai                            This cover is also quite different from the other covers. The fierce eyes remind me of a wolf instead of a boy. Clearly, these eyes reveal Animal’s tough characteristics. A sense of hatred is also provoked. The imprints of claws further animalize Animal.

An outsider’s responsibility

Central to this novel is the influence of outsiders, particularly westerners, and their responsibilities. Elli, the doctor, establishes a public clinic for the residents of Khaufpur. Elli is aware of the suffering and does her best to help, but she did not experience the suffering for herself. That is what binds the people of Khaufpur, Animal’s people, most strongly — shared suffering. The entire community remembers ‘that night’ and still feels its effects. Elli simply lacks that shared experience, so she can’t fully connect with the Khaufpuris.

Another example of outside influence is obviously the Kampani. The entire disaster and its grievous affects are the direct result of ‘Amrikan’ actions. So many of the characters are focused to some extent on bringing the kampani to justice, and phrases of the kampani even pervade local speech. Despite this, those responsible continue to evade their culpability, and in Khaufpur “when the kampani comes to court” is equivalent to “when pigs fly”. The kampani’s actions thereby become even more like the morass of disease — even when the cause is tracked down, not much can be done to lessen the effects.

If this is all too frustratingly unjust, consider this small form of retribution: in 1999, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide (the real ‘kampani’ responsible for the Bhopal disaster). Jacques Servin, one half of The Yes Men, an activist duo you can read more about here, successfully impersonated a Dow Chemical representative on BBC news. Watch the rest —

Dow Chemical’s stocks took a hit and it was forced to once again publicly deny responsibility for the disaster, bringing attention back to the decades-long suffering in Bhopal that now rarely makes international news. It also sparked a conversation about the credibility and accuracy of large corporate news media outlets. These days, the news media also plays a crucial role in disseminating information about and sometimes manipulating the public view of epidemics and plagues.

As an addendum, Radiolab recently produced an hour-long podcast called Patient Zero, which investigates the origins of epidemics. Of particular relevance to our class discussions are this section about HIV/AIDS and the section about Ebola (which starts around 43:52 in the full podcast)

In parallel–Bhopal and Khaufpur

As we all know, Sinha’s Animal’s People recounts a story of a manmade disaster and its victims in the city of Khaufpur, a fictional setting that is based on an actual incident–the Bhopal gas tragedy. Last session we discussed the purposes and effects of this book as a fiction based on a true story, and I thought it might be worth comparing the two stories side by side, noting the similarities and differences that the author might have made on purpose while creating this fictional account of the devastating disaster.

Among the subplots of this story, the legal battle between Khaufpuris and the Kampani is crucial to the plot development. There were ongoing legal issues during the Bhopal tragedy as well, and the actual incident and the fiction have many things in common. The lawsuit was a long battle, which ended up benefiting only the company. The government turned its back on people whom it was supposed to protect. As also mentioned in the novel, the company refused to reveal any toxicological information on the chemicals as it was a part of “trade secrets”. The details can be found here: “Insight to Bhopal Gas Tragedy: A case lost before trial”

The World Without Us

Animal’s People sets up thinking about post-apocalyptic scenarios.  Surfing the internet, I came across Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us in which he comments how cities and infrastructure would collapse days after humans disappear from the face of the Earth.

A few more clicks led my to these pieces by Nick Pedersen, in which he proposes an alternative view of how a post-apocalyptic world would look like.  How do these representations fit our ideas of an post-apocalyptic landscape?


“A Minority of One”

Animal’s People offers insight into the lives of people who experienced the trauma and the aftermath of the gas leak that plagued the Indian city of Bhopal.

Victims from the Bhopal Disaster

The story is narrated by a nineteen-year-old boy who survived “that night,” and is written as a series of transcripts of oral recordings. The novel is about the fight between the American owners of the Kampani and the innocent people who are still facing the after-effects of the disaster. The main characters of the novel are involved in the struggle to get the Kampani to take responsibility for the disaster at the factory in terms of paying for ongoing medical problems, cleaning up and detoxifying the land and water into which poisonous chemicals continue to exist.

The factory where the Bhopal Disaster occured

The catastrophe left the narrator half-crippled, his back twisted out of shape so that he has to walk on all fours. Hence, it is not surprising that he was named by peers as Animal and was mistreated by the society for his appearance. “People see the outside, but it’s inside where the real things happen, no one looks in there, maybe they don’t dare. I really think this is why people have faces, to hide their souls” (11), says Animal to justify their offensive behavior towards him.

The theme of societal pressure and its effect on the characters permeates throughout both Ibsen’s play Ghosts and the novel Animal’s People. In Ghosts the societal pressure or the need to maintain a good reputation haunted the Alving household, with Mrs. Alving financing an orphanage to maintain the falsified but well respected reputation of Captain Alving. This pressure manifests itself as the “ghost” in the novel and causes characters to feel trapped. However, in order to free themselves, the characters must break away and not conform to the norms, becoming outcasts.

Mrs. Alving suffers complete desolation at the end of the play, and the same thing is happening in the novel. Characters such as Animal are trapped by societal pressure, along with a personal desire to be what he used to be, as evident by his desire to walk on two legs and be like normal human. However, due to his appearance, which cannot be hidden, Animal was not the norm of society, making him an outcast. Though he is not the only person who was affected by the poison, he sure does get the spotlight for being the strangest of casualties. The other kids called him an animal, and it takes him a while to finally accept this title. He starts off attacking people much like an animal, biting others, and he ends up introducing himself as Animal. A contrasting case in the novel is Ma Franci. Ma Franci suffered very much from the poison herself. Once fluent in Hindi, she came out of the incident only being able to speak and understand French. When talking with Animal, she asks, “ Animal, if you can learn to speak properly, why do these fools talk rubbish all the time? “  She finally asks, “Why won’t they treat me like a human being?” (40). Language and communication have essentially rendered Ma Franci an animal too.  Out of concern, Nisha questions how Ma Franci could possibly have lived in India for so long and not know any Hindi. Against her will, Ma Franci becomes even more displaced in a foreign land because she cannot understand its people. Even as a nun, a socially accepted position, Ma Franci manages to be an outcast. To her, there is absolutely no way she can accept that, because she honestly believes that she is completely fine. The problem lies with the blabbering society she has chosen to stay with and help. Animal has the upper hand when it comes to dealing with the people around him, because he knows exactly how they view him in such a way and why.

But what’s amazing about a person becoming an animal is the fact that the very cause of their societal exile is in fact a common one, shared widely. Tons of people suffered from that poison, but people like Ma Franci and Animal are either driven crazy by this or forced to accept being casting out. So, how much of a leveler was this poison, this widespread catastrophe?


Bhopal – the real-life Khaufpur

December 3rd 1984: Hundreds die in Bhopal chemical accident

Hundreds of people have died from the effects of toxic gases which leaked from a chemical factory near the central Indian city of Bhopal.

The accident happened in the early hours of this morning at the American-owned Union Carbide Pesticide Plant three miles (4.8 km) from Bhopal. Mr Y P Gokhale, managing director of Union Carbide in India, said that methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) had escaped when a valve in the plant’s underground storage tank broke under pressure.This caused a deadly cloud of lethal gas to float from the factory over Bhopal, which is home to more than 900,000 people – many of whom live in slums.

Chaos and panic broke out in the city and surrounding areas as tens of thousands of people attempted to escape. More than 20,000 people have required hospital treatment for symptoms including swollen eyes, frothing at the mouth and breathing difficulties. Thousands of dead cats, dogs, cows and birds litter the streets and the city’s mortuaries are filling up fast.

Bhopal resident, Ahmed Khan, said: “We were choking and our eyes were burning. We could barely see the road through the fog, and sirens were blaring. We didn’t know which way to run. Everybody was very confused. Mothers didn’t know their children had died, children didn’t know their mothers had died and men didn’t know their whole families had died.”

The Union Carbide factory was closed immediately after the accident and three senior members of staff arrested. Medical and scientific experts have been dispatched to the scene and the Indian government has ordered a judicial inquiry. It is understood the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, will be flying to the area within the next few days.

This is a BBC article written about the Bhopal disaster, which is the real-life version of the situation described in Animal’s People (see conveners’ post). Interestingly, the descriptions highlight the loss of life, both human and wild animals, as well as the confusion and panic the disaster caused. Thoughts on the effects of illness mentally and physically, both to individuals and the community is important to consider, whilst also discussing the notion of blame. Another thing to look at is this minute-long news clip showing footage from 1984 (warning: some people may find the scenes disturbing).

The chemical factory in Bhopal has now been left unchanged amongst overgrown surroundings.