Review: Bhalchandra Nemade Pitches Reality Against Fiction Once Again in ‘Hool’

In the second instalment of the Marathi writer’s 'Changdeo Quartet', available in English, the 'native' madman of literature comes a full circle.

At his best, Changdeo Patil can be a delightful mixture of contradictions sprouting from his almost always baffled – not to mention defeated – mind. At his best, Changdeo Patil is a character that can manage to look stupid but at the same time throw up profound ideas which not only make sense, but make sense because of a particular reason and that reason is rooted, more often than not, in Changdeo’s constant pitching of life against literature, reality against fiction.

At this best, Changdeo can be terrible to his readers: his mind thinks thoughts that go on for long paragraphs, and he is, sometimes, averse to obvious realities; it makes the reader laugh at and pity Changdeo at the same time.

At his worst, however, Changdeo is confused without having any reason to be so. Changdeo is unbearable and miserable and, more importantly, he is hollow. And being hollow for a person like Changdeo Patil is a sin without mercy because Changdeo Patil is a ticking bomb of ideas; he is actually almost nothing when the ideas are drowned out of him. Changdeo was at his best in Bidhar; he is at his very worst in Hool, the second installment of Changdeo Quartet recently – and finally – published by the Sahitya Akademi.

For much of Hool, nothing really happens. Changdeo seems to be the Changdeo we knew from Bidhar: a mild-mannered man who had decided to be serious about his life, has become serious about his life by adapting the life of a professor in a small town and is, characteristically, hating it. He has stopped smoking, and his social circle has completely changed – from wannabe poets and novelists and businessmen pretending to be writers, Changdeo has landed in the midst of professors who are occasional (mediocre) poets and full-time perverts, accommodating their teaching careers somewhere in between and along these lines. This tow of professors live in a town everyone keeps calling liberal, because the population here is predominantly converted Christians – struggling, as Nemade shows them to be, with their adopted identities – and Christian girls are “available” easily. Open, inviting, the professors seem to be saying, especially for a bachelor professor who has plenty to chose from within his own classroom: “You just need to hold them and they will yield.”

Bhalchandra Nemade
Translated from Marathi by Santosh Bhoomkar
Sahitya Akademi, 2017

Sexual frustration and perverted gazes apart, this is also a miserable town in terms of aesthetics. That we knew when Nemade made Changdeo enter it in the last few pages of Bidhar, but in Bidhar, Changdeo had resigned to his fate. In Hool, his resignation turns into irritation and his irritation into misery and not, as one might have expected, into fury. The town is nondescript, and while I hate calling towns that, it cannot be called anything else, in part because Nemade doesn’t provide a name to it and in part because the description suits the adjective.

Changdeo stays in a room that can hardly accommodate one with another person, an agricultural officer named Gaikwad. The roof leaks during the monsoons, but the town does not see much rain excluding a couple of days in a year. The lodge, therefore, is abysmal but not more than Changdeo’s job – which is worse, and then we are yet to speak about his hopes, which are thrashed.

“All the romantic notions of being a lecturer were already in tatters… they had turned into rags” – Changdeo’s situation is actually worse than that, but Nemade – or perhaps the translator, or language – cut him some slack. Changdeo had arrived in this town because Mumbai, her people and her lifestyle had “transformed him utterly.” That, among everything else, is true. Changdeo on the outside is the same, Changdeo on the inside is a man without direction: within the pages of Hool, Changdeo is sure of one thing: that he is sure of nothing. What is he doing here? Where would he go if he leaves this place? When would he leave this place? The desires and fantasies of escape, Changdeo finds, are distanced from the realities of it. Which is surprising for a reader who knows Changdeo from Bidhar. Why did Changdeo need to realise the difference between fantasies and realities when he had already experienced it in his past?

In Bidhar, Changdeo is unsure of himself and his abilities but he is unsure because he is able to recognise the reality of the society that he is living in and is struggling to understand the ways of adapting to that society. He is not weathered by the unexpected turns that his life took ever since he set foot in Bombay’s budding cultural hubbub and its wars, but is instead bowled over by the possibilities that the city presents and then slowly – or sometimes even rapidly – thrashes those possibilities away. Bidhar was a representation of that struggle, and Nemade attempted – I assume – to pull Changdeo’s character up from his naivety to his gradual but sure maturity. It was on this note that Bidhar had ended – this and the bitter aftertaste of an adventure gone wrong.

Also read: ‘Bidhar’ and the Madmen of Literature

In Hool, we see a Changdeo who is struggling with different predicaments: his struggle to handle the students, who create a ruckus on his very first day at the job; his struggle to identify himself within the societal setup of town-life, which, he finds, is different than the city life, and the difference is more palpable than he had imagined it to be, which is why he starts comparing – though not really craving – his life in Mumbai.

The centrepiece of Hool, then, is recognising the point where Changdeo has tried to come to a full circle: the realities of his village, the realities of the city and then the realities of the town, none of which Changdeo fully comprehends and is thus suspended in a limbo. The primary task for the reader while reading Hool, I think, is to place it tactically between what she has read – Bidhar – and what she would be reading next – Jareela and Zool. That is primarily because Nemade intends to display the graph of Changdeo’s life, and it is a task to place the life that he leads in Hool anywhere on that graph firmly. Bidhar was more fierce in its display of Changdeo’s intellectual life, and it was urgent in its narrative. In Hool, Nemade manages to construct a narrative which has slowed its pace, perhaps because the boundaries within which the character develops himself and the geography in which he explores – and in process puts to test that development – have both been minimised.

Bhalchandra Nemade. Credit: Twitter

It is hardly surprising that the gatherings of eager individuals enthusiastic about their half-formed ideas about literature and society are nowhere to be seen. There is, in fact, hardly any trace of literature, let alone a discussion about it in Hool. Which is ironic, because Changdeo is mingling here with professors who are involved, or are supposed to be involved in a serious study of literature and its presentation among their students. In one sense, Changdeo has graduated from being an “amateur” in the world of ideas to being a “professional” but the professional side of it seems less attractive – bland, rather – and less friendly to ideas than the amateur was. The exhaustive enthusiasm and the passionate desires that engulfed Changdeo’s life in Mumbai have all disappeared under the dust of casteism, sexism, patriarchy and politics that engulfs Changdeo’s life in his new abode.

Changdeo has graduated in another sense, however. Nemade outlines for the first time Changdeo’s approach to love, and while it is progressive it is also, like most, hopeless. This love, passionate but confused as it is, manages to pull Changdeo into a different space for the time being, thus catapulting him towards thinking of leading a domesticated life in a big city. “A big city,” Changdeo’s lover, Paru tells him, “means humanity in a nutshell.”

This, to Changdeo, must have sounded hilarious, because big cities, as our professor knows all too well, devour humanity and its various ideals in their entirety – big cities make men hollow, and this sentence is Nemade almost mocking his alter-ego, who, covered as he is in the glow of his affair immediately starts of dreaming a life in a city. Changdeo, Nemade seems to be suggesting, never learns, and perhaps he never would.

Hool is not grand, it is not grand in its pace and it is not grand in its ideas. Nor is it grand in its ambition. The point, however, is that it doesn’t aim to be. It wants to be an “unknown episode in the history” of Changdeo’s life, it wants Changdeo to realise that freedom is a “cradle hung up with silken ropes”. It wants Changdeo to experience the “grotesque existence beyond the idea of freedom” that his life probably is. And that it manages to portray, ultimately pushing Changdeo into another unknown, unnamed and unmarked part of both his native state and his tormented life.

Atharva Pandit is a student, currently pursuing a BA in politics at Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai.

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