Saturday, 2 September 2017

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee


Human urge is to strive for something better than the existing situation .Do we have the freedom to move into a better state? Can we really transform the possibilities we are born into? Through five stories, the novel attempts to answer this question.   
   I kept wondering long after  I had read the book: Can we really transform the possibilities we are born into? What do the  characters and stories suggest as an answer? The  answer seems to hover between Yes and No , and each reader has to decide it for himself or herself.
     When a poor man  Lakshman finds a baby bear , he decides to earn better by training  the baby  bear into a dancing bear. He  names  this bear Raju. In the process of training it to dance  , he subjects the poor animal through  excruciating and painful cruelties. The bear loses his freedom and the man   also  does not  have  a good life.
 A  poor girl Renu  goes to Mumbai  to earn money by working as a cook in many houses. This she does to  send money to educate her nephew in the USA in Physics. She waits for the day when the nephew  would return  to India  after doing his Ph.D.and she will have better days.
Another poor girl Milly   from Jhar Khand  is sent by her parents to work as a domestic cook with a view to earn money and  send a part of money so earned to her parents back home. But  her employer in Mumbai  treats her like a bonded labourer and does  not permit  her to move out of the house . Milly then marries a perfect stranger who  rescues her from her employer’s custody .
 Another story is of Soni (Milly’s friend) and her elder sister and her mother .The mother dies of Cancer. Soni and her sister join  extremist( Naxalite)  group to escape into a state of freedom from poverty.
 The book opens with the  story of an academic  from India , settled  in USA , who takes his son to  Fatehpur Sikri  , after their lunchtime tour of the Taj Mahal.Due to various odd experiences including  facing  a bear on its hind legs  with its muzzle pressed to the glass of the car, the  boy gets unwell and dies.
The book is full of many unforgettable scenes and characters. The characters , despite their poverty and unequal social system , manage to preserve their dignity. The author  narrates the stories with compassion  and grace.He has a complete control over language and pace of the stories.
             The story of Raju bear was the longest and reminded me of Kartick Satyanarayan’s Wildlife SOS India  in Agra ,  India(whom I met while serving  as Secretary , Forests and Wildlife , U.P. , India).No wonder , I found  their name in the list  of acknowledgements given at the end of the book.

           A State of Freedom is an outstanding   and beautiful work of literature .