“Mystery,'' I heard in my thoughts, or perhaps, “mercy,'' but I wasn't certain of either.
When Enishte Effendi finally meets God (or rather thinks that he meets God) in his afterlife in Orhan Pamuks's celebrated novel ‘My Name is Red,' the painter cannot hear properly what God says in reply to his question on the meaning of the world.
Writer Chandrahas Choudhury says that besides the evident irony and humour in the situation, there is a reason why the author cleverly evades a clear answer to that question.
“Neither the answer mystery nor mercy would have been satisfying enough. By refusing to give a definite answer Pamuk suggests that the answer depends on the reader. That is what novels do. They teach us to accept that there are multiple answers to a problem,'' he said.
Mr. Choudhury was making his case on the novel reading experience at the session ‘Ten ways in which a novel can change your life' on the second day of the Hay Festival here on Friday.
Picking up passages from classic works of renowned authors, Mr. Choudhury demonstrated how novels go beyond entertaining human minds and touch our lives.
“By describing in detail the little nuances of life around us, novels expand our sensory awareness and multiply our awareness of the world. They also sometimes take us back to our own memories,'' said Mr. Choudhury quoting a passage from ‘Suite Francaise,' the 1942 novel of Jewish author Irene Nemirovsky who died in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Novels express the contingent nature of human experience. In Ashvaghosha's ‘Handsome Nanda' written in 200 CE, Buddha's half brother Nanda is caught between his impulse to stay with his beautiful wife or join Buddha's procession. In the split second that his wife goes out of his sight Nanda decides to go and meet his half brother. But that actually turns out to be the last time his sees his wife before becoming a monk. Many life- changing situations in real life are like that, they happen for many reasons and in a matter of minutes,'' he said.
Quoting a passage from Anton Chekov's ‘The Kiss' in which soldier Ryabovitch is kissed by a woman for the first time in his life, albeit mistakenly, Mr. Choudhury describes how novels open up the pleasures and dangers of imagination. “Novels remind us that so much of our life is lived in our imagination, in our private theatre. Here Ryabovitch's imagination goes on a spree. He imagines that he has married, separated and even had children with the unknown woman who kisses him mistakenly,'' he said. One of the greatest pleasures of reading a novel is in losing yourself in someone else. Novels expand the experience of understanding someone else's thoughts. They bare open human motivations through layered narratives and put faith in the reader to unpack and make sense of the narrative, Mr. Choudhury said.
Willa Chather's ‘My Antonia,' Vasily Grossman's ‘Everything Flows,' Manu Joseph's ‘Serious Men' and Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's ‘Dalu Gets Into Trouble' were among the works from which Mr. Choudhury read out passages at the session.
Keywords: Hay Festival