Sinha’s Animal’s People is a novel that is composed of a collection or a series of tapes recorded by a 19 year old boy, the protagonist of the novel identifies himself as an “Animal.” He does not really remember the days before the horrible incident caused by the poisonous smoke and chemical leakage in the Kampani’s factory, resulting in many diseases and death of people living in Khaufpur. One of the victims of “that night” (4) incident is the protagonist, Animal. He got the disease at the age of six. He “could not even stand up straight. Further, further, forward [he] was bent. When the smelting in [his] spine stopped the bones had twisted like a hairpin, the highest part of [him] was [his] arse” (15). Ever since then, Animal was teased and called, “‘Animal, jungle Animal!’” (16) by other kids and recognized that he was different from the normal people in appearance, differentiating himself from others and calling oneself, “Animal,” and therefore, going through an identity struggle.
Identity is one of the major themes in Sinha’s novel. From the very beginning of the novel, Animal addresses the issue of his identity: “I used to be human once. So I’m told. I don’t remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being” (1). In this first statement, he says “used to be,” signifying that he no longer sees himself as a human after his appearance got distorted. The fact that Animal convinces himself to be viewed as an animal is evidently portrayed in the novel, especially in the earlier part of it. He says, “I no longer want to be human” (1). The following conversation between Zafar and Animal illustrate that Animal does not really know his origin and identifies himself as “Animal:”
“What’s your real name?”
“Animal’s a nickname, na? I mean your born name.”
“I don’t know.”
“My name is Animal,” I say. “I’m not a fucking human being, I’ve no wish to be one.” (23)
The conversation above suggests that Animal has convinced himself not to be viewed as a human. While he is a human being, he denies his human nature and calls himself “Animal.” Do you think Animal is trying to run away from reality by seeing himself as Animal? Doesn’t this remind you of Walsingham who created the feast during the plague?
Animal’s identity struggle is further explored later in the novel, during the conversation between him and Zafar and Farouq, Animal says,
Zafar and Farouq have this in common, I should cease thinking of myself as an animal and become human again. Well, maybe if I’m cured, otherwise I’ll never do it and here’s why, if I agree to be a human being, I’ll also have to agree that I’m wrong-shaped and abnormal. But let me be a quatre pattes animal, four-footed and free, then I am whole, my own proper shape, just a different kind of animal from say Jara, or a cow, or a camel.
“I’m the only on there is of this type.”
“You pretend to be an animals so you can escape the responsibility of being human,” Farouq carries on.
“And I’m an animal, why?” I retorted. “By my choice or because others name me Animal and treated me like one?”
“You’re well enough looked after now,” says Farouq. “We are your friends. … To be accepted as a human being, you must behave like one. The more human you act, the more human you’ll be.” (206-208)
Do you agree with Zafar and Farouq that Animal should see himself as a human being? What does it really mean to be a human? What is the difference between a human and an animal? What does the title of the novel, “Animal’s People,” suggest about identity and difference between men and animals? Moreover, what makes and creates one’s identity? Is identity inborn, shaped by one’s experiences, or determined by other people’s point of view? (We asked this question in FYD, remember? ;))
Other than calling himself, Animal, due to his appearance, it is significant to note that he does not know his origin. While he was given a name when he was in the orphanage, he claims that he does not remember his born name. In order to understand one’s identity, it is crucial for one to know where one originates from. This seems to be a recurring theme in many novels. Even before the conversation between Zafar and Animal, Animal talks about his origin:
On that night I was found lying in a doorway, child of a few days, wrapped in a shawl. Whose was I? Nobody knew. Mother, father, neighbours, all must have died for no living soul came to claim me, who was coughing, frothing etc. plus nearly blind, where my eyes had screwed themselves against the burning fog were white slits bleached on the eyeballs. (14)
Not knowing his parents influences Animal to undergo inner struggle. While he shows hatred toward being called a human, the inner side of him illustrates that he yearns to be a human being, creating further inner struggle. This is explicitly seen when he desires and regains hope to stand on two legs when Elli, the American doctor comes and builds a health laboratory or clinic.
Another important aspect of this novel is the languages that it is composed of. The characters of this novel all speak different languages: English, Hindi, French and in some cases we could consider the sounds of nature as a language of its own. All these languages were combined in one novel for the Eyes to read. What is the purpose of this combination? To start with, the editor explains (at the beginning of the novel) that some idioms could not be translated into English, and that is why French is used throughout the text. And, since the story is based in India then it would make sense why Hindi is used. But, what if the combination of languages has an implicit meaning? It might be that, what has happened in Khaufpur was the responsibility of global governments? Language is also strongly linked to identity, the French nun (Ma Franci) forgot all the languages she has learned other than her mother tongue. On another note, Animal is taught different languages. He he could understand the language of nature, and is taught other languages to blend in the community. Why does the author incorporate different languages? How does language affect one’s identity?
Along with all the language spoken throughout the novel, Animal seems to hear voices. These voices that are trapped in his head do not only speak to him, but also influence his actions and tell him the future. Surprisingly, Animal doesn’t see his situation as a problem; he embraces it. This is depicted when the French nun takes him to the doctor, and he asks the doctors about the possibility of walking on two legs rather than mentioning the voices. At that momment, he meets and speaks to Kha-in-the-jar. Are the voices Animal is hearing real or is he suffering from a mental illness? To what extent do these voices influence Animal’s actions?
Another significant theme of the novel is justice. The novel is not only the first book where the victims are not victims of a biological disease but a chemical one, but we are, also, informed of the group that is responsible for the cause of this plague. We know who is to blame for the cause of this story that Animal narrates; it is the Kampani factory and its workers. All the people of Khaufpur want justice. Zafar is the leader of their hope for justice. He is battling an on-going case of eighteen years in the courts against the Kampani group. Zafar is the symbol of hope for the people of Khaufpur. They trust that under his guidance, they will be compensated for the effects that they have lived with from that night. However, Zafar knows that the Kampani group has more power, connections and resources on their side but he still keeps his thoughts positive. He says,
“Friends, the Kampani sitting in Amrika has everything on its side, money powerful friends and the government and military, expensive lawyers, political masseurs, public relations men. We people have nothing, many of us haven’t an untorn shirt to wear, many of us go hungry, we have no money for lawyer and PR, we have no influential friends… The Kampani and its friends seek to wear us down with a long fight, but they don’t understand us, they’ve never come up against people like us before… having nothing means we have nothing to lose. So you see, armed with the power of nothing we are invincible, we are bound to win.” (54)
The people of Khaufpur had tremendous faith in Zafar and they knew that he could bring them justice. He reassured them with his actions and his devotion towards them. Should the people of Khaufpur have so much faith in one person or should they take justice into their own hands? What does justice mean to the people of Khaufpur? Do they really want justice or is a dream that Zafar has convinced everyone to believe in?
Ma Franci on the other hand does not believe that the cause of the night was the Kampani factory. She believes that it was the hand of god. She says, “this is his work, he’s up and running again, this time there’ll be no stopping him.” Animal thinks that Ma Franci is crazy to think that god would have this happen to his people. But Animal also does not like this god figure that Ma Franci refers to because he is always silent. Ma Franci thinks that the end of the world had begun that night but Animal tells us, “Sanjo was wrong. F****** world didn’t end. It’s still suffering” (64). Is it fair for the people of Khaufpur to suffer like this? What can be done to reduce the effects of the aftermath of the poisoning that occurred on that night?
The ideas about identity, languages and voices, and justice are discussed throughout the novel. They all influence the actions of individuals and their beliefs regarding the cause of the chemical incident. We hope that we have provided interesting questions to discuss. Hope you guys enjoy the reading and the post!
p.s. We found an interesting video about the novel!
(Can you embed this again pls professor? Thank you. :))
– Jenny, Shereena, Rhoshenda 🙂
Hey, great post guys 😉 I would like to discuss more the identity of Animal. Although his name started as a mockery of his disability, Animal later embraces his identity and he even states many times “I am not human. I am Animal.”. I believe he is sort of disappointed in humans and disgusted by them, thus would rather identify as animal. In the novel we can read about many of the cruel and wrong doings of humans, whereas about animals we see only good. Hence, it is better to be an animal than human, right? However, Animal desperately wants to walk on two legs and be human, so he can pursue his sexual and romantic desires. As if having sexual intercourse would make him human. What a sad and horrible belief to hold! If sex is the only thing that makes us human, than humanity is not the place we idealize it is.
As to whether identity is inborn or gained, Animal perceives it as very physical, appearance being identity. His inability to walk up straight like humans, but rather walk on all four like animals, determines his identity, according to Animal himself. But are not we supposed to choose our identity? It after all defines who we are, does it not?
Have a happy reading,
Thanks for the comment. 🙂 I agree with you that eventually Animal embraces his identity as Animal. While he struggles internally (who he is) especially due to his appearance, he finally realizes that identity is formed from one’s experiences and surroundings and accepts his unique identity. At the very end of the novel, he says, “If I’m an upright human, I would be one of millions, not even a healthy one at that. Stay four-foot, I’m the one and only Animal. What reply would you give, Elli? I am Animal fierce and free / in all the world is none like me” (366). The novel seems to suggest that identity is not only inborn but also determined by one’s experiences and environment. Just like you said, I think we can choose our identity. While we have some qualities that are born with us due to biological genes, the environment we grow up in affect our thinking and beliefs, making us to form our own unique identities.
Hope you enjoyed the book!
I enjoy the questions Jenny, Shereena, and Roshenda posted.
Not to hitch off Evgenija’s comments but I also am really interested in the theme of identity that is perpetuated in Animal’s People. I remember in class when Evgenija mentioned that by trying to being “politically correct” with some types of people, it breeds inferiority and unjustified pity. For example, when Animal rants at Ellie about what disgusts him, that is, he’s disgusted that “outsiders look at us with that so-soft expression, speak to us with that so-pious tone in your voice” (page 184). Sometimes the ideal about trying to find ways to not offend people actually creates greater offense. I believe it actually weakens the people that political correctors try to correct, it suggests that these people are too sensitive and require extra care. Animal doesn’t need any extra help, he is just who he is.
When Evgenija in class talked about Zafar calling Animal “especially abled”, it implies that because of Animal’s condition, he needs extra words and sympathy in order to bring him to equal terms with “normal” humans. I think Indra Sinha is criticizing this extra care given to people like Animal and to other peoples such as the collective poor when in fact it does not help at all but rather degrades them even further.
Great post guys,
Regarding the theme of identity in the novel, I think that the author is trying to tell the readers that identity is not only inborn but also formed through one’s experiences and surroundings. Eventually, Animal accepts his unique identity. It seems that he is not ashamed of his appearance but rather, proud of his uniqueness. At the end of the novel, he proudly says, “I’m the one and only animal” (366).
I also agree with you that an extra care or sympathy toward people like Animal tend to make them feel degraded or different from normal people (abnormal), hurting their feelings. Ever since I was young, I heard the following phrase a lot: “When we converse or interact with disabled/handicapped people, we should not treat them with an extra special care. We should treat them normally as we do to other people.” While extra care is done to help these disabled people, it seems that it unintentionally hurts them because it makes them feel treated differently from normal people, making them think that they are under normal level. And just a side note, I just realized that in English, we use the term “disabled” to call handicapped people. I think the word itself also tends to already make them feel ostracized and degraded (something to think about?).
Thank you for your comment! Hope you have a wonderful evening! 😀
Following on the topic of identity, I think Animal wants to be called Animal because he believes that as an animal he is a healthy and strong animal. However, as a human he is a crooked, who cannot walk in two legs. As a human being, he is weak and helpless while as an animal he is strong and witty. Animal wants to project himself as a strong and witty animal rather than a weak and helpless human being.
I also want to talk about the blaming in this novel. We are all quick to say that “Kampany” is the one to blame for all those disasters. But, is it only the “Kampany” that is to blame or also the corrupt government who let the “Kampani” manufacture in a residential area? Also, are the people of Khaufpur to blame? They were so ignorant and did not even question the legitimacy of the company when it started manufacturing in their backyard.
You raise a great point about why Animal ultimately sees himself as an animal. Do you think he does this to make himself feel better? He compares himself to “animals” who are arguably weaker than humans. Do you think this influences him to view his structure as a problem that should be fixed?
As for the question of blame. You mentioned last class, that the company actually established itself outside residential areas, and a town was built around it. People then refused to move. If this is the case, “Kampani” nor the government should be blamed for the explosion since the people themselves refused to move. However, both the “Kamapani” and government should provide the needs of individuals. Reading the novel, I think the people are so caught up in finding someone to blame rather tan finding solutions. What happened is fate and now the characters should accept Elli’s efforts of help.