When I finished reading the novel ‘Sikandar’ the past week, little did I know that it was something prophetic. Originally written in Bengali by Binayak Banerjee and translated into English by Soma Ghosh, it chronicles a reality show called 'sikandar' modeled on the same lines of Bigg boss (yes, with that stupid extra G). Being an ardent hater of all kinds of 'reality' shows, I was reluctant to read this. But then, lines of praise like 'remarkable insight into the depths of human existence where passing personalities engage in a life and death existential struggle to attain one's true human destiny' on the blurb, made me read this. And by the end, I was disappointed!
Coming back to the prophecy, I was quite surprised yesterday when Sami Agnivesh announced that he is going to enter bigg boss. My first reaction was- ‘this must be the hangover from that book’. Because, one of the ten contestants in the ‘sikandar’ reality show is ‘Swami Samyuktanand’, an ascetic like Agnivesh. I guess Agnivesh must have got this book through the ‘book reviews’ program and took it to heart. Like the character, Agnivesh seems to have plans to preach at the wrong place. This comment from him yesterday is a primer for what to expect from him- "The girls inside the house don't seem to have any social responsibility. I want to make them realize just how many girl children are killed in the womb and how many women are burnt alive in the name of sati”.
Enough of Agnivesh’s ramblings. The first problem with the book is that it confuses you right from the introduction. The introduction throws at you a set of ten highly confusing Bengali names and their brief background. By the time you are done with it, you will be highly disoriented and you will have to keep on going back to these introductions to make sense of who is what and which, unless you are related to these people. Talking about relations, another funny thing is that all of the ten contestants are related or rather know each other in one way or the other. Some had shared fights. Some had shared beds. Some had shared stages. And it is an eclectic mix of characters- actor, industrialist, former revolutionary, prostitute etc.
I read this one right after I finished Jose Saramago’s classic ‘Blindness’, which also handles a similar, but REAL situation. There also, a group of people are quarantined in a building after a mysterious contagious blindness grips a place. It chronicles the change in their behavioural patterns, captures their quirks and builds it up into a larger picture of how humans react in peculiar situations, with the use of sublime prose peppered with philosophical overtones. In ‘Sikandar’ also, the author seems to have similar intentions, but the ‘pearls of philosophy’ from every other character looks out of place at several passages. Having said that, I did like certain sections and certain characters, most notably Rangajoba Sanyal, the ex-revolutionary who is in the show to get enough money to cure her daughter’s cancer. But, most of the characters are half developed, especially the ones who are eliminated from the show in the earlier stages itself.
By the time I finished the book, I had only this to say- “So?” I kept on reading the book expecting for something to ‘happen’. There were too many loose ends and many things which were not explained. Having recently done a project on translations and the problems associated with it, I have a feeling that some things were actually ‘lost in translation’. How I wish I has some Bengali knowledge! But then, I don’t want to read another novel on ‘reality shows’, which are anything but REAL!
On a serious note, Swami Agnivesh’s big boss news comes as a disappointment. After his recent pivotal role as the Govt’s mediator with the Maoists and that epic NDTV show in which he silenced Barkha Dutt, this was something that he could’ve avoided.
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