Today is character guest post day! We have The Albino from Kiran Bhat's WE OF THE FORSAKEN WORLD. Enjoy!
A post on a blog, one supposes, is not something to be dealt with lightly. One would suppose, considering the conditions that certain people of one certain or another would have to deal with, that one would have naturally come to it sooner in life. But, there are certain limits; Internet in the village is almost non-existent, and it would be hard to write long things on the phone. And, it isn’t like when people are reaching out for the best place to buy duct tape in the village, they are going to his son, long locked away in the last room of his hut, kept away from others due to the extraordinary inconveniences of his condition. A blog post is the last thing that such a person is often invited for, yes. So, forgive him if he isn’t the best at doing these sorts of things. He simply isn’t used to it.
A little bit more about yesterday, which was the day the milkmaid fainted. It was around the time the last shuttle to the city was leaving, but it wasn’t in fact leaving, because the engine was stuttering, and there were some women with large baskets who were demanding to be put on board. The street was equally hard to cross. It was busy with the many pedestrians who took advantage of the paved road as a sidewalk, and it was a tragedy for this driver, who was quick to honk loudly and often so that even from this distance the noise was heard, and as quickly as the noise would clear a cluster of children, the bus would become blocked again by men herding sheep from one side of the road to the other. Some of the passengers were weighed down by a little girl or boy on their laps, such as the mother who was holding her baby, naked, fiddling with the openings of her shirt to tease out her breast, while the passengers without children had others to tend to, like the older man with the beard long enough to reach his chest, holding a cage with a chicken in between his arms. Others, tired of sitting, knowing that they would have to continue to sit for quite a while longer, were standing, with their head banging against the roof of the bus, fiddling with their phones or talking to a friend behind them. The bus driver yelled at them to sit down, though he was yelling at the same time to those who were crossing, and at the men and women who were coming off and on trying to sell their fried potatoes and trinkets, and then a motorbike parked in the way and wasn’t in any mood to move. This were what occurred on the left side of the bus. The right side was obstructed by a simple fact called perspective.
The music was loud, overbearing. It was a folk song that had been remixed to be danced to, but all such loud songs did was to keep the passengers as awake as the driver, as well as the people who lived by the main road. Most of the shop owners lived on one side of the shack and did business on the other. To think of how many others who peeked out of their windows because of the honking and shouting, who were being robbed of the comforting solitude of their book or their television time to hear a mixture of sounds they would never play willingly to themselves, and to have to hear it outside of their control. In truth, there were few so confined to their houses and to themselves. People here loved to talk. Their solution to boredom was to pick up the phone and find someone, anyone, anywhere, to talk to. Perhaps, then, they were not bothered by the music. A survey would have to be taken of all the other shacks that were on the same level as the main road and had to hear the ridiculous music that played from these modes of transport.
Thankfully, by the time a handful of the songs had finished, the engine had started again, and the bus was off, not for too long for these poor passengers as it was to stop over in front of the carpenter’s store and the fork in the road before heading off into the various other villages alongside the plains. How the sun waited, festering each and every day along its route from the south to the north and south again. It was soon in it corner of its place in the sky behind the clouds where no one could bother it except for itself, and soon, it was to be caged by the night. It was a few more hours, then, when the sun would be in its prison, and the bats and owls and people who burnt in its rays were allowed to be free. Those cocooning shadows teased, and all the world was busy, except those to whom the world was lost. Mother was out selling fruits at her stand between the mobile store with very little selection and the convenience store owned by the neurotic man, while Father was at his own convenience store, on the right side of the shack, aided by my more able Brothers. Sister was on her way from meeting with her friends. They measured their worth to themselves by their day’s productivity, as proven by how much they talked about what was sold when they were outside, by the fire, cooking greens and fish, eating lunch, leaving a little food at the cot by the television with the excuse of the sort, “Well, dear, we would hate for you to burn.”
Well, to be left alone in the shade and comfort of a common room burnt as much as the sun. Not that it was a bad common room by any means, though typical. There was the television in the corner, the boxes of goods as random as umbrellas and blankets in case they were ever needed, the cots where everyone slept, a door to the store and a door to the toilet. There was little to do but read, and one of the many good qualities of Sister was that when she wasn’t trying to find new members for her religion, she brought home those books her spiritual leader gave that no one else touched. What an inspiration they were to the imagination, much more than that horrid television those cravens huddled over during the night, talking to no one, staring as idle as idle may be. To think of them was as much a waste of time as staring out the window, and yet accursedly, it was impossible to do anything but both for the entire day.
Speaking of, there was a most curious sight. It was normal to see at this time the women of the stands and the men of the goats walking home, as it was to see them board various buses and small vans taking them to the shacks alongside the main road. There was the milkmaid, recognizable from that dress she had inherited from her father when he died, from the dimples of her cheeks and her face, lunar to the touch. She had quite the interesting backstory, a father who had died mysteriously, an inheritance of enough cows to feed the village for decades, so many bids for marriage. She smiled and laughed so much, but personally, the more one smiles and laughs, the more one tries to hide the tortured wrinkles of the face.
That day was the day when those wrinkles showed. Rather than driving down the main road, as she often did on her motorbike, she carried nothing at all, and she zig-zagged walking up and down the road. Motorbikes honked and the conductors of the shuttle vans stuck their heads out to yell at her. She was yelping to herself, not too loudly, something on the lines of “I’m cured,” “I’m lured,” or “I’m pure.” Perhaps she was shouting obscenities to the shepherds with their trail of goats, random words over and over again to the women with the baskets on their head. Regardless, she ran, bawling frantically, until the sun was too much, and so she stopped, and she exhaled, and inhaled, as if to even stand was copious work, and after one step forward, one step back, she collapsed, first on her knees, and then completely to the ground. From when she was shouting to when she fainted, she had her arms folded across her breasts.
What made the world this busy that no one cared to stop to help a fainted girl? It was like this more often than it should have been. People were hit by those passing shuttles, goats would go out of their way to attack the children that didn’t behave, and yet people continued with the branches and twigs on their back. It was disturbing, watching from what the clock said was a good ten minutes as people stepped over her, kicked her lightly with the foot to confirm whether she was dead or not, complained at her for having fainted because they had to swerve their carts onto another part of the street.
There was another instance of this in the short time each and every one of us had to call life. Grandfather was once a hardworking and able man, inspirational for father because of how much of the land he had tilled but grew to be more of a pathetic nuisance than they ever considered this shadow in the corner as he aged. He was paralyzed by disease, crippled in his mind by dementia and fear, and despite Father’s love for his own father, he was not able to reconcile with the fact that the man he worshiped became what he was, and so he stuck him in this horrid corner of the common room as well, where no one else would be able to see his two sources of shame.
One day, grandfather collapsed, wheezing, making a mess of spit and vomit on the floor. It was later learned that he had died of cardiac arrest. While the cell phone was not readily available, there had been no excuse not to act, yet fear crippled this boy, so easily slapped and yelled at and prayed against for whatever in this family went wrong, and so he did nothing as his own grandfather died in front of his eyes. Oh, his parents were furious, but things changed little. His father didn’t speak to him for what felt like an innumerable amount of scratches of day marks against the wall, and his mother prayed as always that this cursed child would be lifted from them someday, but these were things they did when no one bought their products as well. The mistake, however, was on the conscience of this boy, because no matter how little his parents thought of him, no matter how misshapen the pale skin around his eyes was and the almost whale-like forehead he had, he was indeed a human, and he repented for this mistake every day since he became a man.
It was no longer the time to hide, then, when a fellow human’s life was at risk. The hardest part wasn’t opening the door, or running outside, or hearing what the little children and women little in the mind were going to say. It was expected that women would shriek, the babies in their arms would cry, or the children between those ages would hide behind their mother’s skirt, point, and scream. The hardest part was seeing her face, already empty of life.
“Wake up! Wake up!”
A few slaps to the face were enough to make her stir. She was conscious, indeed, but something had certainly knocked out of the color of her flesh. At least this scene was stirring the attention of others, albeit in the worst of ways.
“What’s it doing?” asked one of the women. Most of the others had gotten enough from gasping and passing.
“Mommy, mommy, look! It’s a whale man.”
“Mommy, mommy, if I act bad, will I look like that?” A man who was hauling cassavas in his cart stopped to stare. Some of the men from the stores were coming close, ready to attack, but when they saw that a girl had fainted, they merely watched.
“Is he going to eat her?” asked another one of the children, tugging at his mother’s skirt. They didn’t enjoy much the view of this man as he took off his shirt, either, or at least alerted the gasps. While it was near dusk, for a body like this one, it was very hot, and the sweat was crawling from every orifice downward. It was also silly to assume a man who never left the house would somehow be built. Indeed, the various pouches from the belly could have given the impression of a whale man, or at least some man half composed of blubber.
After some slapping around and throwing of water, she was coming to her senses, either in the fact she was tired of playing dead, or she was realizing at how much of a cost came the effort of this stranger, and as she awoke, she rested her body upwards on the strength of her hands, but dared not to open her eyes. When she felt that many eyes were upon her, she remembered where her hands ought to be, and she compressed into herself.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it,” she kept repeating. “I know my arms are blotchy, and there must be puss and pimples all over my face, but please, don’t look at my body! It’s not what you think! Believe me, please.”
There were no such deformities on her body. There was the pimple here or there on her chin or forehead, and she was developing an allergic rash over her chest, but her body, while voluptuous for so young a girl, was normal in every other aspect. Somehow, she was convinced that her body was more like the one holding hers, and as the children stared on and the older men chewed their sugar cane, she hid her face into my chest. There were a few things that being out and about in public during a time of weakness were helpful for, but shaping one’s self-confidence wasn’t one of them. It was time to make an exit.
She was heavier than expected. For someone who was short and gave the impression she could be lifted away by a strong wind if her feet weren’t rooted to the ground, every muscle in her body was tense, asking to be put back in her place. She was grunting, and she was kicking. Then, she grew accustomed to being carried because she was too weak to struggle. She was taken to Father’s store, after. They spoke for some time, gave her some water, talked aloud about why she covered so little of herself.
What the men did to her after, this was something that only the roosters who slept under the stairs would have observed.
Inside the bookThe Internet has connected – and continues to connect – billions of people around the world, sometimes in surprising ways. In his sprawling new novel, we of the forsaken world, author Kiran Bhat has turned the fact of that once-unimaginable connectivity into a metaphor for life itself.
In, we of the forsaken world, Bhat follows the fortunes of 16 people who live in four distinct places
Like modern communication networks, the stories in , we of the forsaken world connect along subtle lines, dispersing at the moments where another story is about to take place. Each story is a parable unto itself, but the tales also expand to engulf the lives of everyone who lives on planet Earth, at every second, everywhere.
As Bhat notes, his characters “largely live their own lives, deal with their own problems, and exist independently of the fact that they inhabit the same space. This becomes a parable of globalization, but in a literary text.”
Bhat continues: “I wanted to imagine a globalism, but one that was bottom-to-top, and using globalism to imagine new terrains, for the sake of fiction, for the sake of humanity’s intellectual growth.”
“These are stories that could be directly ripped from our headlines. I think each of these stories is very much its own vignette, and each of these vignettes gives a lot of insight into human nature, as a whole.”
we of the forsaken world takes pride of place next to such notable literary works as David Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS, a finalist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for 2004, and Mohsin Hamid’s EXIT WEST, which was listed by the New York Times as one of its Best Books of 2017.
Bhat’s epic also stands comfortably with the works of contemporary visionaries such as Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick.