Author: Dayin Wijaya

What about the healthy teenagers?

Teenagers in Black Hole are portrayed somewhat similar to one another: they have same haircut, same facial features, same register in their speech, and almost all of them are attracted to sex and drug. They only become distinctly distinguishable later in the book after they have contracted the disease and undergone physical transformation that makes them look, frankly, weird. The disease is perhaps a metaphor for adolescence, and its contagion through sexual intercourse is just Burns’ way to portray sex and puberty as the gate into teenage world. Their bodily transformation, which manifests itself differently to different people, also seems to be a metaphor for formation of identity as the first stage into adulthood. After all, this disease is not lethal in any way. It just allows wild and permanent body growth that these teenagers will have to bear for the rest of their lives.

However, the above inference poses a question on the nature of the contagion: if the disease is indeed adolescence, then why does it affect only certain teenagers? Isn’t everyone supposed to go through adolescence anyway? The second question carries a subtle supposition that everyone goes through the same experience through their teenage years. Yet perhaps this very supposition is what the book wants to challenge: some teenagers can be exempted from the dilemma and the desire to be different that is so unique to adolescence. Sure, they encounter puberty, as they should, but they seem to be impervious to teenage impulsiveness. However, are they really sterile from any contagion that adolescence brings? Not necessarily. The healthy teenagers in the book clearly embody human ignorance, for they always reduce people who have the bug into an object of ridicule. The way these healthy teenagers are portrayed in groups also shows that they seem to share a common habit of always banishing people who do not fit in or meet their social standards. Yes, perhaps these teenagers can avoid the bug, but they are not totally immune to the contagion of ignorance, which seems to be infused into their mind once they step into adolescence (for kids are heavily characterized by their caring and loving innocence)



Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People, set in the city of Khaufpur (meaning “the city of fear”), serves as a reenactment of Union Carbide city gas leak that affected the people of Bhopal in 1984. The story is set almost two decades after the leak, around 2001, when Animal reaches the age of 19. Unlike other novels and plays we’ve been exposed to in this class, the “contagion” being described was neither brought about by divine prophecy nor natural forces. Counter to other popular reads, the sufferings and terrible diseases affecting the people of Khaufpur was as a result of a man-made chemical spill in The Kampani — a pesticide plant. The people who survived suffer from terrible diseases that cannot be treated because of the poverty in the city. When doctor Elli Barber comes to Khaufpur to start a free clinic it is harder than she expects because everyone thinks she is part of the factory that caused destructions.

The audience of the text is quickly ushered into the novel with the lines, “I used to be human once […] people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being.” Hence, before delving deep into the heart of the novel, we (the audience) begin to grapple with the question: What does it mean to be human? Does being human equate to able-bodiedness? Or the quality of being bipedal? Consequently, the book also draws to light the question of what it means to be an animal. Grappling with these questions led us to look up the term “animal” in the Oxford English Dictionary and we came up with the following definitions:

  • “A living organism which feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and a nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli.”

  • “Any such living organism other than a human being.”

  • “A person without human attributes or civilizing influences, especially someone who’s cruel, violent or repulsive.

These definitions may be framed in terms of the literal sense of the word but it will be important to apply some of these definitions when assessing some of the qualities displayed by twenty-year-old orphan boy. The most obvious depiction of the boy is with his name “Animal”. Indra Sinha, thus far, hasn’t divulged the true name of the boy. The author and our main character choose to stick to the name “Animal”. Similarly, the audience is made aware of his seemingly crude behaviours, which include extreme aggression, biting, and eating his feet for pleasure (Sinha 13). Interestingly, these “animal behaviours” do not manifest because he is an animal, but because of society’s reactions to having such a “creature” in their midst. He had to learn to defend himself from the “humans” who treated him so callously because “…if you act powerless, you are powerless…” (Sinha 19). Perhaps, he’s adamant about not identifying as human because, ironically, being human doesn’t just entail bipedalism but the attributes of evil, callousness and the inability to tolerate anyone who’s “especially abled” (Sinha 23).

There are a lot of connotations that go with one’s name: “Zafar Bhai, Zafar brother” because people respect him,”Eyes” because of his abilities to read and perceive and interpret information, “Banjara” or gypsy because “she belongs nowhere and everywhere is her kingdom” (Sinha 18) and then “Animal” because he’s perceived as a four-legged creature. What is the significance of “names” in this text and how do they influence how characters in the text are perceived in their society?

The use of dark humour is also a noteworthy feature of the book. For the most parts, this humour creates a satirical, almost cynical tone of the whole post-leak situation, tickling the audience to laugh but then rendering them to feel guilty afterwards. Recall how Animal makes fun of his condition by telling a joke about “the turd lying in the dust” that still “resemble the kebab you once were” (1). The audience would definitely find this funny, but the realization that this joke is a form of lamentation told by a real person suffering from a real fatal consequence of a real event suppresses them from laughing. This troubling effect, in a way, is fostered by how the narrative perspective is played. The book is directly told by Animal, which is supposed to remove the possible gap between him and the audience that might exist if the delivery of his story was done by the journalist. Yet the use of dark humour in the book somehow reiterates the faint line that separates Animal from the audience. Animal makes it clear that he is the victim and we are just mere spectators. Of course he is entitled to satirize the gas leak and its impacts on the locals, but does that mean we, as outsiders, can appropriately laugh at his jokes? How should the relationship between Animal and the audience be perceived? What is the significance of humour in the development of this relationship?

Like most other texts too that we’ve read this semester, this one introduces a seemingly complicated love plot; Animal is in love or lusts after Nisha, a girl whom is presumably already in a relationship with Zafar. Because he doesn’t identify as a “(hu)man” Animal doesn’t feel like he’s deserving of Nisha’s affection because he’s abnormal. In his words:

“Of course I had no chance with Nisha. She was besotted with Zafar and my back was bent as a scorpion’s tail. Over and over I’d tell myself, if only I could stand up straight, it might be a different matter, that old guy wouldn’t have a chance. This made me feel better but changed nothing. What hope was there that my back will even unbend? I complained to Nisha that everyone else would one day get married, but no girl would ever look at me.”

Sinha 47.

Animal’s feelings towards Nisha, however, serve a deeper purpose in assessing the texts that some readers may be unaware of. Going back to the definition of an animal in the Oxford English Dictionary, an animal lacks “human attributes”. Animals feelings of affections towards Nisha serve as a reminder to the audience that Animal is still very much human. His ability to recognize some form of romantic love for Nisha, sets him apart from most animals, whose definition of love is perhaps confined to that of sexual lust, even though he constantly reiterates that he’s an animal. Following from the first question, To what extent does the character of Animal either influence or alter the literal definitions of “human” and “animal”?

The text, unlike other texts we’ve read, gives a different portrayal of “the foreigner”. In previous texts, the foreigner is depicted as the cause of the contagion. However, this text portrays the foreigner as both the cause of the chemical spillage and as the saviour of the Khaufpuris. The “Kampani” from “Amrika” has been blamed from the onset of the novel as the leading cause of the oil spillage. Zafar is even adamant about taking them to court and bringing them to justice for the sufferings inflicted on the Khaufpuris. On the other hand, it’s the American doctor — Dr. Elli Barber — who abandons her job in America to come start up the Khuafpur free clinic geared towards the poor and destitute. Why are foreigners depicted as literally the cause of and probable solution to the problem of the Khuafpuris? What is the significance of this portrayal to the nature of the contagion in the book?

Throughout the book, we are presented with scenes where Animal displays an incredible talent of hearing voices unheard by other characters. His ability to translate French without having knowledge of the language, his awareness of Aliya’s calling him out to play even though she is nowhere in sight, his talking to Kha-in-the-jar who is literally just an aborted baby — all these scenes make the audience question whose voices Animal is hearing. One would probably be inclined to think that this is just a reinforcement of Animal’s identity as a dog-like creature. Dogs in general have the capability to perceive sounds with frequencies twice to human’s range, and they can even sense the arrival of someone or something from as far as 80 feet away just by hearing their footsteps. Given the frequent mention of Animal’s equation with dogs, is it possible that these voices attempt to signal Animal to pay attention to whatever’s coming his way? Do these voices, coupled with his disability, instead enable him to carry out his spying mission? We definitely need to keep note of this as we read through the rest of the book.

Happy reading! And here’s an Animal sculpture by Eleanor Stride photographed at the Stride Gallery in Vers, Midi-Pyrenées, France.


Odera, Dayin, Noora and Nada.

See The World Through The Eyes of A Child

You might probably wonder why Stimela’s song See The World Through The Eyes of A Child is so frequently mentioned in Welcometo Our Hillbrow. The book gives us a glimpse that, to Refentse, “it was a song about a neglected, homeless child, exposed to much street violence and blood,and subsequently grown to be scared of darkness.” (84) It speaks to Refentse in volume about his “loneliness” and “fear of rejection”. But there is definitely more to it than that.

First of all, the song often becomes a “musical background” for numerous scenes in the novella: Refentse’s contemplation, Lerato’s suicide, Refilwe’s attempt to seduce Refentse back to her. What these scenes have in common is that they all lead the characters to regret. Refentse’s contemplation of love and the purpose of living leads him to his suicide. Lerato’s guilt also leads her to kill herself. The narrator, through his use of language, portrays how Refentse’s and Lerato’s premature deaths take away what could have happened. Bryan mentioned it in class that the book’s tone is almost that of mourning. The actions of the characters seem to be all imagined, “if only..” this and that.

Refilwe’s failed seduction definitely also leads her to regret. Her rejection by Refentse that night in her apartment plants a seed of revenge in her heart. She later channels this into telling a false story about Refentse’s death, which causes the necklacing of Refentse’s innocent mother. The realization that her action is wrong—her regret—comes way too late.

Now I have tried, folks, to listen to the song closely, for the internet has failed to simply tell me the lyrics, to find out why the song plays in the background of these scenes. And one of the things I could pick up was the question posed in the song: “Won’t you please write a letter to yourself?” It seems to me, that the regret shown in the scenes we looked at, is summarized by this question. We somewhat agreed in class that the narrator cannot be one person. And somehow the question in the song leads me to think that, with too many ifs mentioned, the narrator may perhaps be the collective voice of all the dead characters trying to reconfigure their stories. The possessive pronoun “our” (who could possibly say “our heaven” if not the dead or God?), the fact that the characters are all “the child of..” something—all these somehow suggest that the narrator is trying to take us on a journey to See The World Through The Eyes of A Child, the characters. These dead characters might actually be real people, or a representation of them, that live in Mpe’s “memory and consciousness”. And Mpe’s action to write this book is perhaps a request, by what the song calls “the voice on the other side”, to reconfigure the stories of the characters.

Of Time And Death

One of the key elements of the novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider is the mention of time. Throughout the novel, Miranda constantly convinces herself that she has “no time” and that “time seemed to proceed with more than usual eccentricity.” This is understandable since the horrible condition of the war and her disease allows Miranda with no option but to see her death as imminent. Yet when reading the story, I could not help myself consider the reverse: if we know death is imminent, would we also insistently think that we never have no time?

This question seems to invite us to discuss the common fear of death that every human being has certainly felt at some point in their lives. Much of this fear seems to stem from the unpredictability of the death’s arrival. Often we say that if we were to know when we will die, we would make the most of our time. Yet the reality probably says otherwise, we will probably end up being like Miranda. Instead of enjoying the present moment of being with our loved ones, we would instead be consumed by our worries just like how Miranda constantly drifts in and out of her consciousness to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Hence quite paradoxically, the idea of us not knowing our death seems to be a good thing as it makes us appreciate every single second that we have.

Yet here is the punch: Miranda frequently tells herself that “something strange is going to happen” that when terrible things like Adam’s death and her illness really happen, the whole story looks more like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The irony behind the last line “now there would be time for everything,” troubles the audience’s mind. The question of whether Miranda is alive or a living dead  even after she survives the war and her disease can never cease to tickle me personally as a reader. Again, I could not help myself question: if there was anything, could we actually prepare for our death? It seems like with all the foreshadowing preceding the final stage, Miranda still cannot really seem to prepare herself for when she encounters death, much less for when she finally escapes it and is confronted with the truth that she is alive, but Adam is not. If we were told that we will die in the next couple of decades, what would we really do? Would we be the kind, helping individual that we pledge to be, or would we be the greedy person who would want to indulge in as much merriment as possible?

Perhaps think about this way: you know the deadline of your assignment is in two days, would you try to produce the best essay possible by using the two days you have or would you rather procrastinate and complete the assignment in the last minute?