Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blindness (a dystopian satire with black humour)

‘Blindness’, by Jose Saramago, a Portuguese author and a 1998 Nobel Laureate in Literature, was an intense read. Originally written in Portuguese the translated version was interesting in the sense it lacked the interruptions of punctuations and the dialogues were free of inverted commas yet the flow was so marvellous that not for once I was confused over what was being said and by whom. The Observer called it ‘extraordinary’ and a critic called it  a ‘dystopian satire’. I bought the book in December 2010 at Mumbai Airport and finally finished it yesterday.

It’s a fable about a white blindness that suddenly strikes a man and spreads over the city to whoever comes in the vicinity of a person struck by the ‘white blindness’ (the person sees everything white rather than black ). The first reaction of the government  to this mysterious blindness is to quarantine the blind . The quarantine turns into a trap where crime spreads . The rationed food is confiscated by blind hoodlums who first extort precious possessions and money and then are taken over by lust leading the women inmates to turn into offerings and subjected to orgy. Then comes the point where one of the oppressants is murdered and the blind gather courage to revolt and a fire set to kill the hoodlums shatters the gates of the quarantine releasing the inmates into the city which has turned into a greater  hell of endless blindness.

Amidst the spreading unexplainable blindness an Opthalmologist’s wife never loses her sight and witnesses the moral degradation ,destruction ,misery and hopelessness while she tries to keep her group alive  . The novel puts forward how easy it is for humans to turn into animals , how fragile our social systems are. The most basic needs like drinking water and having a place to defecate could turn into such luxury and blessing. As the author says “ A glass of water is such a marvellous thing “.

 A stench of rotting food , faeces and the dead spreads around the city .Groping in the white blindness people still try to hold on to wealth , an old lonely woman feeds on raw flesh,a solitary woman chooses to die on the streets rather than lonely in her apartment ,a young beautiful girl learns to love an old man and a dog learns to wipe tears when humanity is dying in the luminous blindness.The blindness actually is not about the sight its rather about the ability to “see”. “ Blind people who can see but do not see”. The author so beautifully pointed at the blindness that we carry through our lives unable to see a fellow human and respond in a human way. It is such a disturbing  but wise tale .”Blindness” shows up every now and then all over the world when societies are stable and when they are not. Amid all this it is hard to predict human behaviour as the author wisely says...

“You never know beforehand what people are capable of , you have to wait give it time, it’s the time that rules, time is our gambling partner on the other side of the tableand it holds all the cards of the deck in it’s hands , we have to guess the winning cards of our lives”

‘Blindness’ is an eye opening book.

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