Kabir Deb explores the profound exploration of silence, change, and fear in Manav Kaul‘s novel “Patjhad.” Dive into a world where characters navigate the complexities of relationships, societal norms, and the quiet politics beneath the surface. Through Kaul’s unique perspective, experience a literary journey that challenges comfort and mediocrity, inviting readers to confront the illusions they hold dear.
It is not easy to document silence. The deafening noise of silence drives us towards seeking an escape. It may also lead us to a state of mind where our affinity increases towards creating a bond with the observer in us. The observer likes to have many identities to stay attached to all the versions of a material being. Patjhad by Manav Kaul is a novel about a person who does not thrive in singularity. He wants to feel the presence of a person or situation, and likes to change with the subsequent effect they bring. Although a dissociation from the circumstances around him is evident too. The nature of experience is to never let a person feel that it is brewing. Only after the feeling starts to break into granules, we get to understand how our experience went through a vigorous process of sedimentation. These fallen pieces leave footprints for a rusty tomorrow.
We all are here to get a closure that is permanent and satisfactory. Unless it is achieved, we keep on digging the good and bad surfaces of humankind. While paddling towards the result, we become more prone to a damage that’s internal. Manav addresses the same when the protagonist meets Katherine, and succumbs to her disliking towards certain changes. He believes that places and people change the way someone usually operates. It is true and does not bother the mind, if acknowledged properly. But like every other human being, he too is afraid of losing the people we love due to the necessary distortions. The equation remains unsolved, but the journey sticks to itself since we are not driven by our planned choices. Rather what drives us is a constant accumulation of fear. Through fear, we resume the entropy that can take us towards contentment.
The Indian Education System is quite weird in most parts of our country. It leaves us with very few choices to ponder upon. Through the story of Rhythm, one can determine how stories, which exist beyond a particular curriculum, push us to land outside the box and can be found mostly, in the streets. Some write about them. Others find bliss with aching toes, teary eyes, and a warm cup of tea. We live in a time where technological advancement has given us an interface where entities act superficially and our capability to dissect them is considered as a boon. It becomes a bane when we start dissecting them by keeping validations in mind. The novel is an open release (not a window), and if we want to have it in our life, then implementing the thought of bending a straight line should have the upper hand. Life is full of sugar and salt. To have a sip of it every day, we need to stir it good. The bitter taste can be an experience, but everyone deserves to go beyond it.
We are prone to curating relationships, but even two broken people must be in homeostasis. So, when E.E. Cummings writes:
“here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart(I carry it in my heart).”
…the poet reminds us how the fragments of a relationship sculpted by love keep the outer world in sync with the one that lives inside. In Manav’s works, we find a well-written correlation between nature and its influence upon his characters. The visit to the small towns in this novel is not a sudden concept. From Robert M. Pirsig’s classic novel ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ to Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’, we get to observe the birth of a literary circadian clock wherein characters undergo polar changes with varying socio-political climate of different places. Hindrance is a constant phenomenon. The flower blooms on the other side of the wall. To have a glimpse of its beauty one has to cross the wall. A true monk leaves desire behind. The false ones leave to escape. Lovers, on the other hand, simply stay in the middle of birth and death. Manav Kaul portrays his characters from the perspective of a monk who is still foolish, but wild.
We cannot experience Manav’s world without absolute submission. He works on most of the situations with care and focus. For that, he injects many other stories which belong to writers who have an urgency to tell what they have in mind. To make stories bleed before the eyes of the reader can only be the work of another reader. His characters belong from small towns. They read books which have a small-town kinship. This particular way of writing can enrich the literature. But there’s a high possibility that the pattern may limit the story around those who love being the next-door neighbours of a fictional character. In the Indian society, even in the presence of Kindle and Audible, only a small segment of society is interested in knowing the intricacies of the stories they live every day. The rest are simply swiping to date someone or channelizing rage to troll an innocent by maintaining the idea of anonymity. Manav’s books are still hanging over a sharp sword.
‘Pathjhad’ quietly addresses a politics which may get submerged beneath metaphors and symbolic addressal. It is not the right time to crack the hard nut of hatred, but it isn’t new too. We have been constructing this since the birth of segmentation of communities. The corrosion of the mind requires time, and we have given it more than it needed. So, the switch that triggers a particular person from one community to be relatively alien to another resides where every human being cooks conditional understanding. When Rhythm boasts about being a ‘Bhartiya’ and at the same time becomes reluctant towards the inclusion of Salim in the festival of Rakhi, we get to observe a disorder in the society. It is based on obsession, attention and toxic accumulation. They trigger us in the worst way possible. Yet we believe in culturing the disorder to forget our inferiority. Not as a community, society or crowd, but as a being which is devoid of conscience.
In the book ‘Steppenwolf’, Herman Hesse writes about not being one with mediocrity, which in a softer language can be referred as regularity. He says, “For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity”. It is not something strange that Steppenwolf or Harry Haller is against contentment. The state of unrest is the eternal truth in thermodynamics, politics and the human mind. Manav’s writing does provide comfort, but this is the objective intention of his stories. The intention of every writer is to bring discomfort quite comfortably. From the broken hearts to the patriarchal subjects, Kaul is always busy in taking us to the core of his reality where people are still trying to achieve the lining of the sky which actually is an illusion. Thus, whenever the writer refers to something we think is giving us relaxation, he is actually trying to disturb us out of a sleep where mediocrity is a paradise.
Manav Kaul’s twelfth book is a blunt statement on the face of people who have accepted noise. Silence is just a privilege only for those who own it. His characters walk and talk like us. They do not try to take us away from our every day life. Pathjhad is an attempt towards magnifying the greenery around us amidst a world full of collapsed lives.
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Kabir Deb, a recipient of the Social Journalism Award (2017), the Reuel International Award for Best Upcoming Poet (2019), and the Nissim International Award for Excellence in Literature (2021) for his book Irrfan: His Life, Philosophy and Shades, is based in Karimganj, Assam. He also runs a mental health library named ‘The Pandora’s Box to a Society called Happiness’ in Barak Valley.