Wonderful Poisons

When one of the visiting ‘jarnalises’ who come to do their annual ‘Khaufpur story’ leaves Animal with a voice recorder and asks him to record his story, the first thing Animal does is to sell the recorder. Nonetheless, Animal has to find another ‘recorder’ when later on he finds out that he does indeed have something to say about his life, the people he knows, and the aftermath of the Bhopal catastrophe.

It would be fair to say that the population of Khaufpur have so little and have had so much taken away, that they are instinctively skeptical of anything offered for free. Even a clinic, opened up by someone who “left a big job in Amrika out of pity for the people of Khafpour” – so when Elli Barber comes to Khaufpur and opens a free clinic in the poorest part of the town, suspicions are raised whether she is actually working in some sort of a secret enterprise with the bosses of the ‘Kampani‘ who are on trial.

While the author’s severely anti-industrialistic, anti-American and to some extent, anti-neoimperialist tone is heard as a continuous echo throughout the whole book, his using of fiercely humorously coarse and risqué stylistical language, putting it rather mildly, is perchance very much aimed at the reader, making him/her understand not the politically flamboyant long-term manifestations of Sinha, but rather immediate sufferings as well as down-to-earth basic needs of affected Bhopalis to this very day. As a matter of fact, Sinha is painstakingly straightforward with his sublimated-into-a-book cause; one, for instance, may easily spot the political message within the difference between the initial American (on the left) and European (correspondingly on the right) book cover versions:

What led the narrator to Zafar and the political issues around “Kampani,” however, was not his cause for justice, but his lust and sexual desires. While the center of the plot is fixed around what happened “that day,” a big part of the text is filled with the narrator’s fantasizing about sex and Nisha, showing us not only his natural desire for sex, but also his desire to be human. Sinha touches the issue through the eyes of a 19-year-old boy named Animal who walks on arms and legs, which could at once be sad because he is the victim of the incident, and revealing, for the issue is seen at a totally different perspective. It is an interesting parallel between the progress of Kampani case in the court, and the narrator’s realization of his own identity as human. While he still endorses his name Animal, there are things he strongly desire as human.

Communication is also an interesting theme Sinha touches on. Because of his posture and his inability to read or write, the narrator initially has a serious problem communicating with people, nor did he want to interact with others. The narrator’s only companion was his dog, until Nisha approaches him and for the first time in his life, actually treats him as an equal and teaches him the ways of communicating. A lot of the characters throughout the novel, in addition to Animal, have their own problems in communication. The narrator’s careperson, Ma Franci, does not have anyone to talk to, since she lost her language skills “that day,” and the only language she speaks is French. The exchange between the American doctor, Ma Franci, and the narrator makes the readers wonder if language is the only issue in communication in this novel. The lack of language skills as well as disinterest in others lead to serious misunderstanding in communication.

What makes this story so fascinating is that Khaufpur doesn’t even exist in reality. So intricately explained and mapped out with such familiarity, this realisation elucidates the reason that no name is given to the Kampani. This extrication thus means that this is NOT a story about Bhopalis, but about Khaufpuris, and in particular, one Khaufpuri who goes by the name Animal. In this way, it is similar to Dream of Ding Village and different from Welcome to Our Hillbrow, but more than that, he uses the disaster that happened ‘that night’ to contextualise his story of human ambition, love, animosity, trust and lack thereof in a society of abysmal poverty – one that could exist anywhere yet nowhere else. While knowledge and understanding about the Bhopali Disaster can help provide some context that could provide some of the visual imagery Animal is saddened he can’t provide, Sinha’s creation of an alternate yet extremely realistic reality allows it such that this is a story that can be fully appreciated for its full worth even without such knowledge. As such, the focus is placed upon the life of Animal and his fascinating adventures, lusts, struggles, and fascinatingly creative and brutally honest narrative voice. Hence the author’s intent isn’t to tackle the ‘big picture’ questions of imperialism and industrialisation, but rather to let a story be heard; a story of calamity and sadness and a society wrenched at the core, one of powerplay, bureaucracy, and corruption, but also one of unity, love, respect, justice, and altruism. And horny lust in copious quantities.

It is also a story about good intentions coming at cross purposes with each other, and how chronic physical contamination can plague ones mind, perception, and belief in others. The widespread chemical catastrophe ‘erased thousands’ of lives and continues to make living impossible for so many, but its effect is more than polluting the water, but also their trust, their belief in humanity, and eradicates all semblance of hope.

 – Suel, Kefa, Kee


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  1. There’s a lot to go on here. I really appreciated your use of internal links to annotate your post. And I’m excited to take up the issue of “communication” again — a major thread through our texts but something we haven’t discussed directly for a while.

    I’m also interested in following up on your discussion of his “fiercely humorously coarse and risqué stylistical language.”

    What’s the connection between contaminated “communication” and the narrator’s idiosyncratic vocabulary? I suspect that you’re on to something about the role of humor in addressing this issue.

  2. Augmenters beware! Conveners are all set to take over your jobs. I used to be augmenter once. So I’m told. I don’t remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I posted links for every other occasion just like an augmenter being.

  3. When you talk about communication and Animal’s troubles in the beginning, I keep thinking of the experience the reader has.
    The beginning of the book was, I believe, hard to read for all of us, which may be mirroring Animal’s initial troubles communicating with others. The fact, that we seem to get used to his way of speaking may actually be because his language improves.
    The reader is forced to put more effort into understanding Animal, which makes them re-live what he had to go through.
    Like Animal underlines his ability to communicate with others without words, the reader does not understand many of the words Animal uses and is therefore urged to sense the meaning of the sentence. The fact that those words are not necessarily important, but that the reader still understands the general idea of what Animal says, reflects Animal’s initial communication with Ma.

  4. Animal’s language also mirrors his state of mind. After he takes the thirteen datura pills he describes his visions with few breaks between clauses, and long, run-on sentences. There are also many times when the trees or other voices talk to him, but quotation marks are omitted and the sentences are never attributed to a source, so it becomes unclear exactly where all the words are coming from.

    The question of what the actual contagion brought on by the disaster is, is open to many answers. The water and food and air all around Khaufpur is contaminated, leading to the physical ailments suffered by many of its inhabitants. However, as the conveners mention, there is also distrust spread throughout the community due to the company’s abuses and neglect after the catastrophe. Ma Franci believes that the “Apokalis” is spreading like a contagion, and Animal later compares his conscience to an infectious disease.

  5. As I probably have mentioned earlier, I believe the narrator’s use of such a colloquial and american way of writing drives the readers to empathize with the events that take place in Animal’s people. If the story had been merely a formal account of what goes on in Khaufpur, then we, the readers, would not be able to understand the feelings that the citizens are going through, especially since it takes place in a setting that is far away from the West and thus makes the westerners think that their cultures are not intertwined whatsoever. As a result, the readers would be reading the novel as if it could never happen to them. On the other hand, by using a style of writing that is so westernized, especially while including foul language, and by using the elements mentioned in the convener’s post, such as lust, respect, justice, corruption, jealousy, etc., we are better able to understand and empathize with the people of Khaufpur since the elements mentioned above are prevalent in almost all cities.

    I would also like to comment on the way Animal conveys his feelings towards being human like the Conveners and Caroline did. At the start of the novel, Animal has strong feelings against being human to an extent that there is no way of convincing him that he actually is one. As a result, he talks about his animal friends such as Jara and shows them great significance. As the novel progresses and Animal becomes friends with the humans, he starts doubting his animal identity and wishes to become human to fulfill his sexual desires. Towards the end, after he feels that he has lost all of his beloved ones, he flees to a place that seems like a forest and decides to live among animals once again.

    Also, we constantly talk about Animal and whether he is human or not. But what characterizes the line that separates the animals from humans? What if it is not that Animal is human, but the humans in the novel are animals,

    “My father’s precious justice is of no use, our government of no use, courts are of no use, appeals to humanity are of no use, because these people are not human, they’re animals.” (Sinha, pp.332)

  6. Referring to the dual animalo-humane identity of Animal and his choice not to get completely ‘humanized’ at least visually runs along the lines of essential question of what does it take to be a human. Leaving beyond Marxian definition of a man who is simply not an animal since he/she is able to work, we might actually notice that Animal in fact, has all the human characteristics, and it is the visual ‘inhumanness’ that stupefies us, as the readers, at first. Animal is a sociable being and that is the only needed sign to identify him as a human – as a a matter of a fact, Animal avoids isolation by all means necessary in order to survive as a human at all times. The fact of him declining the chance to get the surgery somewhat proves the presumption again – Animal is simply not ready to ‘play with fire’ of his possible social suicide once he ‘climbs up’ (or down, depending on the reader’s digression) through that visually-perverted ‘social ladder.’ Putting it in the words of Erich Fromm from his infamous ‘Escape from Freedom:’

    “The spiritual relatedness to the world can assume many forms; the monk in his cell who believes in God and the political prisoner kept in isolation who feels one with his fellow-fighters are not alone morally. Neither is the English gentleman who wears his dinner jacket in the most exotic surroundings nor the petty bourgeois who, though being deeply isolated from his fellow-men, feels one with his nation or its symbols. The kind of relatedness to the world may be noble or trivial, but even being related to the basest kind of pattern is immensely preferable to being alone. Religion and nationalism, as well as any custom and any belief however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.”

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