Monday, August 10, 2009

Song of Arzee the Dwarf

I am myself in my thoughts too much,
I seek recourse to myself too soon,
My days don't stand up without a crutch,
I sing my own song out of tune.
I stand before the mirror too long,
Stare big at the eyes that return my gaze,
My shadow seems to me more strong
Than my shrunken heart, that lonely place.
My worries hang about me like clouds,
And my creditors they come calling,
My being is riven by spooks and doubts,
The walls of my house are falling.
In mine own alleys I traipse and turn,
Dreamlike I float through nights and days,
I watch the hours slowly burn,
And do not leave on time my trace.
I myself speak and myself hear,
And myself act and myself see,
My own self extends far and near,
And so I cannot myself be.

"I wasn't really going to say anything, Deepakbhai," said Arzee, deeply hurt. "Thank you, Deepakbhai."
No, Arzee wasn't really going to say anything, because he knew he wasn't supposed to say anything. He wasn't supposed to say anything to Abjani, even though the Noor was going to its grave. He wasn't supposed to say anything to Phiroz, as Phiroz was busy preparing for his daughter's wedding, which was only going to come once in life. He wasn't supposed to say anything to Deepak, as Deepak was tired of hearing his complaints. He couldn't say anything to his mother, as that would only mean all his troubles being doubled. And he couldn't say anything to his friends: he avoided them now just as he used to avoid Deepak. He took back all the things he was going to say, with his deepest, most heartfelt apologies for the trouble he had caused, the time he had wasted. Where was he left? To whom could he speak? Why, to himself! He was his own concert and his own audience.

Chapter 9, Arzee the Dwarf, "Being A Bottle"


Anjana Talapatra said...

Have been going over the web trying to put together 'Arzee The Dwarf' since my copy will take some time coming. So far, everything is consistent. There is a subliminal joy in scrutinising something, trying to find a flaw and failing.

Bland Spice said...


Half-way through your book.
Not flawless - as Anjana found it - but a credible debut nevertheless.

Uncertain said...

The sing song metre of the verse really appealed to me. However, "And my creditors they come calling" and "The walls of my house are falling" broke the tempo for me .. I had to stop reading and go back and read those lines again .. and they still seemed out of place. The whole poem seems to address Arzee's subjective psyche where those two lines intrude as creditors and falling walls.

Anyway, elegant Advait Vedantic touch at the end though the final sentiment seems Buddhist. Arzee Brahmasi

Uncertain said...

Forgive me my loquaciousness .. but I keep thinking about the poem .. so I want to reframe the last part of my previous comment a little.

It struck me that Arzee straddles three religious traditions in the span of the poem. The first few lines read to me as if exploring Arzee's subjective being or 'I' which is akin to the 'private sphere' of (Protestant) Christianity. Towards the end, however, Arzee's 'I' broadens, enlarges to encompass 'far and near', perhaps even the creditors and the falling walls .. no longer objects outside the private sphere but perhaps parts of Arzee's self connoting (to me) Sankaracharya's Advait Vedantism or more contemporarily Tagore's practiced Hinduism. The last line is the coup de grace which extinguishes or perhaps liberates the being into nothingness in the sublime tradition of Buddhism.

Fine composition!

Chandrahas said...

Anjana - I hope this feeling persists when you actually encounter the text and not its limbs and appendages, as you have so far.

Uncertain - Although your understanding of religion is to be complimented and your ingenuity is to be appreciated, permit me to say that this is one of the most ludicrous readings of any work of literature I have ever come across. Perhaps the words, taken in bits and pieces, permit your reading, but the context clearly does not. In fact, as you yourself say, the thought moves smoothly enough to form one continuous stream, and it is the rhythm of a couple of the lines that is odd, and not the unity of the sentiment. Your reading gives a whole new spin to the idea of religious tourism.

I am soon going to have a couple of posts up on explicitly religious subjects, so you will enjoy chewing on those and I will not come in your way there either.

Uncertain said...

Oh I am sorry I should have been clearer and more careful with my words. I did not imply that the rhythm of the poem was odd .. the unity of the sentiment is precisely why I found the poem beautiful.

What I was trying to say, and guess failed at saying, was that the smooth movement from the very private to a transcendence of the private .. from the subjective self to a transcendence of the self .. struck me as very elegant and moving. I hope this attempt at clarifying my feelings is slightly better. :D

certain said...

Chandrahas: I'm certain Uncertain's pulling a fast one on you. I can see her hold her beer belly as she laughs hysterically on finding you trapped in her grand, absurdist joke.

RK said...

Ok, here's my question, one which I haven't been able to find an answer to in the reviews of your book I've read in the past few months:

Isn't this really a sentimental book masquerading as an empathetic one?

When, for example, the author presents Arzee as being "deeply hurt", are we supposed to share in his hurt or feel somewhat alienated by his self-consciousness? When Deepak, who appears as the ideal 'antagonist' in these lines (as well as the excerpt in Mint), reprimands Arzee for having "hidden" from him, are we supposed to side with Arzee? When the author, on Arzee's behalf, indulges in a paragraph lamenting Arzee's inability to express himself, are we supposed to say, "poor Arzee, he seems like he needs someone to speak for him"? Would we expect Arzee to notice the "squelchy slop" and "broken toilet seats" of the excerpt, or the "acrid whiffs" of the sewer, smells and sights which should now, after years spent in such surroundings, should be so familiar to him as to be part of his unconscious?

In short: Isn't this really viewing the character from a "sympathetic" urban perspective rather than his own, rural one?

These are not rhetorical questions, and I pose them only because I feel that you could answer them yourself, as critic rather than novelist.

Chandrahas said...

RK - Yes, these are clearly not rhetorical questions, so you don't need to insist they are not. That said, I'm surprised you should have pondered over them so much and not cared to answer them by reading the book. As any answer I give you could again be disputed by you as being indicative of only my aesthetic intentions and not necessarily the final result, surely reading the work itself is the only way to engage properly with the issues you raise?

Were you to do that, you would certainly not claim that Arzee's perspective is "rural" and the narrator's "urban". Rather they are two kinds of urban perspectives, which sometimes meet and sometimes part ways.

The book is told in the third person and not the first, so the narrator is clearly "above" Arzee. The narration often comes down to Arzee's level and sees the world as Arzee might see it, but elsewhere it keeps its position. Much third-person narration engages in this kind of mediation of perspective.

The narration is, in my view, on occasion sympathetic to Arzee's torments; elsewhere it seems to laugh at him just like the world sometimes does. But we can only go further when we are discussing the whole, and not reviews or even excerpts.

RK said...

Yes, unfortunately your book is not (yet?) available in the US, so I don't have access to it. The only reason I ask these questions is because I'm an Indian interested in third-person narrative myself. I've always liked your criticism, and the first phrase that passed through my mind when I heard about your novel was "free-indirect style!" By the same token the excerpt on Mint disappointed me: it seemed to contain a great deal of interior monologue but little "true" free-indirectness. (I use the word "true" in the sense of James Wood: "Ted blinked through stupid tears", etc.)

In any case, I suppose you didn't mean to use FI or indeed inhabit Arzee's consciousness to the extent that such a style might permit. My reading of your book will also have to wait until my next India visit, I suppose (unless you plan to release your book on Amazon).

Good luck with everything, and I hope your book kicks ass in the market.

Chandrahas said...

RK - Thanks for your clarifications. I think it a category mistake you are making that is causing the disappointment. The narration of Arzee the Dwarf is not invested in free indirect style as you present it; one look at the first chapter will tell you that. There may be instances of the technique in the book, but on the whole it is not a major part of the narration.

In any case, a technique is a zone of possibility, not something that repeats itself in familiar ways like the sunrise. Even the instance of genuine free-indirect style you quote through that example supplied by Wood would quickly begin to seem mannered if it was followed in some programmatic way. One could say that all writers are pretty much aware of the range of techniques they could use, but what they actually do is something unique to them, and what is what makes a book a book.

It's good to have a discussion on this level. I agree with you: free indirect is a very sophisticated and (to the reader) fulfilling technique when well done, but many other options exist in narration, and I've chosen an approach that seemed to be work best for my own material. Tell me what you think when you read it.

Zeba said...

I am half way through your book now. It upset me greatly when news of Noor closing down reached Arzee.

Arzee is a peculiar character the likes of which I have not yet come across in any of the books I have read. I hate Arzee but still feel bad when things go wrong for him. He is shrewd but so very self conscious. Enjoying it.