Category: Book reviews


Animal’s People, by Indra Sinha

Another book review for you – don’t worry, we’ll get back to writing about what we’ve been up to in the next blog…

“This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead is entirely coincidental.” This is one of those standard disclaimers that stops people from suing the author. As is often the case, it isn’t really true when it comes to Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People.

Animal’s People is written as though transcribed from real tapes recorded by its narrator. Its ‘Editor’s Note’ explains that “information about the city of Khaufpur”, where the novel is set, “can be found at http://www.khaufpur.com.” It’s a real website: it looks like any other Indian city’s slightly cheesy site, and it comes complete with photos and contact numbers for governors. Thing is, what khaufpur.com is describing is the city of Bhopal, because that is what Sinha’s novel is really about. Kampani (company), factory, absent lawyers, birth defects, respiratory problems, grief, multiple losses, memories of chillies to the eyes and running desperately and all, this is the fictionalised story of Bhopal.

Eighteen years after That Night, Animal is a young man (“I’m not a fucking human being, I’ve no wish to be one”) bent in half:

feet on tiptoe
head down below
arse en haut
thus do I go

Shortly after the disaster, his spine twisted until he could not stand straight, so now he walks on all fours. We saw that man when we were in New Market recently. His situation is representative of so many people crippled and otherwise affected by the gas leak, and of almost hopeless hopes – he tries to hide the hope that maybe some day he will walk upright. Animal, symbol of the victims of the disaster, is no hapless victim, however. Foul-mouthed, mischievous and frequently distracted by thoughts of sex, Sinha has created an amazing mouthpiece for his tale. Animal’s often scathing view of the humans around him is allowed to also carry a great love and passion for the people of Khaufpur. His ability to hear voices no-one else can hear gives him compassion for people like Ma Franci who is insistent that the “Apokalis” will soon be upon them and can only speak French. Not only that, but it draws you ever deeper into his way of viewing the world, which, while scatological, and while it needs a glossary to explain some of the slang (although some words, like Jamisponding, are left up to the reader to work out – hint, think 007), it has a beautiful poetry to it.

Furthermore, its a celebration of the strength and weaknesses of the people who live in the slum areas here. By addressing himself to the “Eyes” reading his story, and through Sinha’s introduction of an American character, Animal sheds light on many elements of life in Bhopal (sorry, Khaufpur…). It would be silly to say that I now have a greater understanding of life in the bastis, but it has been interesting to apply his logic to what I’ve seen around me for the past three weeks.

Sanjay had taken us to the second, larger waste dump from the Union Carbide factory. By the afternoon, it is a playground for children and pasture for the cows and goats, but in the early morning it is the place that people come to take a dump. This is one of the things into which Animal offers some useful insights –

” ‘You foreigners talk as if the sight of a bum is the worst thing in the world, doesn’t everyone crap?’
‘Not in public, they don’t.’
‘There’s a lot to be said for communal shitting. For a start the camaraderie. Jokes and insults. A chance to discuss things. It’s about the only opportunity you get to unload a piece of your mind. You can bitch and moan about the unfairness of the world. You can spout philosophies. Then there’s the medical benefit. Your stools can be examined by all. You can have many opinions about the state of your bowels, believe me, our people are experts at disease. The rich are condemned to shit alone…’ ”

His views on religion, being in the midst of such a mixture of Muslim, Hindu and smaller traditions, are also interesting –

“If religions were true there wouldn’t be so many of them, there’d be just one for everyone. Of course all say theirs is the only one, fools can’t see this makes even less sense. Suppose people talked of beauty in the same way, how foolish would they sound? Times like this I feel sorry for god’s being torn to pieces like meat fought over by dogs. I, me, mine, that’s what religions are, where’s room for god?”

His cut-the-crap attitude is what guides you through the suspicions, paranoia, trust, love, despair and hope of campaigning for justice in Bhopal.

Read this book. It might break your heart a little bit, but read it.

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It is safe to say that there is very little to do in Bhopal. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that Bhopal is a truly horrible place, which is only made palatable by the Sambhavna Clinic, and a surprisingly good book shop (though the organisation inside is rather lacking).

Flicking my eyes across the books, from Harry Potter in Hindi to Lonely Planet Hong Kong, I suddenly saw ‘Noam Chomsky & Ilan Pappe’. There was no title, but when these are the two authors, the title becomes of secondary importance. When I excitedly pulled the book out, I found it was titled Gaza in Crisis – Reflections On Israel’s War Against the Palestinians.

After reading Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and knowing that India is a favoured relaxation spot for post-compulsory military service Israelis, this book was a must-read.

Having now finished the book, I feel all the wiser. Even though much the material pre-dates the Israeli attack on the peace flotilla, the content is still highly up-to-date, with the cut and wit expected of Chomsky, and the historical grounding Pappe always provides.

While the overall message of the book is rather simple and obvious – Israel is a brutal colonialist nation and is only able to hold the position it does due to its unprecedented support by the Western nations, the US in particular – it still provides highly useful information and evidence to add feathers to anyone’s bow in the fight against Zionist myths and propaganda.

Of particular interest to me were the discussions over the desirability of a one-state vs two-state solution, as well as the merits and flaws of boycotts (the latter discussion is further assessed in an interesting article in a recent International Socialist Journal – http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=680&issue=128). While neither author favours a two-state solution as the desirable end goal, Chomsky clearly believes that it is only through this process that what he terms ‘a binational state’ can be created.

While the overall impression of the book is of a rather ramshackle collection of related articles and interviews, Gaza in Crisis still gives an excellent analysis (several, in fact) of the situation in Palestine today, and dispels the cynical hypocrisy of Israel and its supporters.

Firstly, Happy New Year. We have now completed our outward journey to the Sambhavna Clinic (thank-you for all the donations) in Bhopal, which is where we spent NYE – we arrived to an invitation to a party. What a way to be introduced to the staffing body!

We have about a week to catch up on and then we’ll move onto blogging about Bhopal for the rest of the month.

On a totally different issue, if you have an interest in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict you should really read Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. Lucie has already recommeded it, but we would now like to quickly state why we found the book so useful. Pappe seeks to document the methods of establishment of Israel, through a highly detailed account of the end of 1947, and more particularly 1948, the year of the Nakba.  His account in fact counters (although he never explicitly states this) the term ‘Nakba’, which means ‘catastrophe’. The depersonalisation of a faceless ‘catastrophe’ is exactly what did not happen. Using material from the Zionist founding-fathers, especially Ben Gurion, he demonstrates how to counter the Zionist myths that Israel was founded in a barren land, where those that did live there voluntarily left. Instead, he presents the clear facts that it was always the intention of the Zionist movement to de-populate Palestine as extensively as possible reaching their ends through extreme violence, intimidation and lies.

He documents dozens and dozens of villages that were foricbly expelled, and the brutal techniques for doing so. Often, the population would be gathered together, the men (those aged 10+) would be seperate from the women and children, those involved in any anti-Israeli activities (including the 1936 uprising against the British) would be identified and shot. After hounding the remaining people from the village, the houses would be looted and then destroyed. Finally, mines would be planted amongst the debris to prevent people from returning.

The title of this book comes from the fact that Pappe argues that similar to later ethnic cleanings, such as in Serbia, the creation of the Israeli state is another example.

It is understandable that Pappe wishes to document as many villages as possible, but at times it is overly detail heavy. Nonetheless, a fascinating book that anyone should read who wants to get historical understanding of the current conflict.

For a better review read: http://www.isreview.org/issues/57/rev-pappe.shtml