022 - An Unceasing Song of Life

Or an account of reading Goat Days by Benyamin

I write this to you on Thursday, 24th September. This way we can play analog with Email. You will read this much later from I write, like letters of old. 

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Reading

I finished Goat Days by Benyamin last weekend. It is paradoxically breezy, yet heavy. I never picked it up all these years thinking it is another sob story of the struggles of the Gulf Malayali. 

I was wrong though. The book is not about the struggles but its protagonist’s unceasing drive to live. Benyamin adds careful and intricate details to the canvas of Najeeb's true story. It takes us in to his world to his goats and his desert and his Arbab. There we are moved and then unmoved and then thrilled like him, while the words flow simple and fast.

Surviving

Once, when he was a five or six, Benyamin's mother nearly drowned in a river. Instead of jumping in to help her, he kept shouting for help. She was saved by two men who heard him. 

The memory etched in him, Benny felt as if that day nature had decided that he should not die but live. [^1]



Revealing and Concealing

One of the 10 paradoxes of art is that it reveals and conceals at the same time. [^2]

In the interview where Benyamin shared that memory he adds that a writer need never write his biography. His life is hidden in the stories he writes. I wondered if the honesty in his telling of Najeeb's story came from his own survival. 

That is to ask if Benyamin in a way revealed his own story concealed in that of Najeeb?

Imagining

A paradox unique to writing is the Paradox of Fiction. It is simple question - why do we experience strong emotions for things that don't exist?

The Paradox of Fiction was a paper of Philosophy written in in the 70's. All the solutions offered then also dealt with it within the cognitive realm. [^3]

But the answer might have appeared elsewhere

Decades later, in a paper in 2018 concluded that our brain neurologically responds to imagination the same way it responds to reality.

When I read that, I thought of the question of our reaction to fiction. Maybe it answers why. 

Living

James Lovelock is an independent scientist and futurist. His most notable contribution to science is the Gaia Hypothesis. He should know a little about life. This year he turned 101.

In The Ages of Gaia (1988), one of his many books on it, he wrote, “ life has evolved with the Earth as a highly coupled system so as to favour survival. It is like a skilled accountant, never evading the payment of the required tax but also never missing a loophole.”

When you see and feel something deeply, you begin to see it everywhere. You won’t get a better example of Lovelock’s theory than the life of Najeeb. Life finds a way.


References

  1. It’s from this first part of a Malayalam interview. The series is roughly translated as My History Through Me. In it I came to know that he doesn’t know his date of birth. His parents had lost three children before Benyamin was born. So when he was born they didn’t bother recording the date, not knowing if he would survive.

  2. While it is a research paper with pertinent citations, I didn’t find much support or criticism for it. So does it hold water?

  3. There is a case that asks if we should care about the Paradox of Fiction. Nevertheless, here’s the original paper by Colin Radford and Michael Weston - How Can we be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina

  4. This letter’s subject has been lifted with impunity from the Gaia theory :)