When I started reading Elif Shafak, I had no inkling that I would be introduced to a new country, its people, its amalgamated culture, and discover a city that I will come to love and eventually visit. What struck me most about reading Elif Shafak was how a book made of paper became a window into the lives of the Turkish people. I read about their habits; their food full of cinnamon, strong coffee, simits, and smoking; the impact of the Ottomans and the seriousness of it; the Bosphorous river, and how history pervades everywhere they go, and yet there is some forgetting.
Reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie makes me feel the same way about Nigeria. I had absolutely no idea that they eat their bananas with peanuts, and their road-side snack is fried plantains. Not only their food habits, I have also become aware of how they perceive the outside world. How it’s a Third World country waiting to leave its shackles of the past and stride straight into the future of high-rise buildings leaving behind their old homes where peacocks dance on terraces. To them it doesn’t matter how this transition will occur – just like us Indians.
More than anything else, such stories reinforce in me the need for us to read literature from all across the world. We should read it as a part of a syllabus, maybe; because our world view is constricted and mostly coloured by what the media portrays which is skewed in the favour of sensationalism and stereotype. That people across the world can have similar aspirations just that they articulate it in a different language is no base for phobia. Nor that they’re different looking with Afro hair and thick lips a reason for discrimination.
Given how this world is touted as the new-age global village, it’s amazing how we’re conflicted between who we are and who our neighbours are. I’m never interested in international politics or pseudo-reforms that never amount to anything. I also do not subscribe to the superhero theory of religion or how technology is changing the world. I’m just drawn to stories about regular people living irregular lives and how we’re essentially the same. It amazes me that in spite of being formed by the same fabric of human needs and wants, we’re still so disarrayed in many ways.
How different are you from that average Nigerian or Turkish or even American girl who finds herself conflicted when cornered about they way she looks? So what if her hair is in braids or her eyes grey or her weight in excess? How similar are your and her experiences, about the first time each of you fell in love? Didn’t you still feel tingly when first holding hands or as hurt when betrayed? Why can’t it be that she might want to get a good education and make a living to send money home to parents who are warped in their theological beliefs or even plain familiarity? And when she finds that she might never get that education or that money she hoped, or even have no inkling of how her dreams will come true; isn’t that disappointment the same?
The Nigerian or Turkish stories that I have read may not, yet, be the works of fantasy or dystopia, and that’s why there is a persistent, unapologetic humanity to them. It’s about regular people pulled out from a crowd and how they will themselves to be brave in the face of whatever life throws at them. They might not come out flying and rise like a phoenix from the ashes, but they try to get through this life with as much spirit they can muster. More often than not, they get beaten, scarred, fail, cling onto things, and even get killed; but what keeps the story going for me is the raw, realness of it. The predictability of their unpredictable fictional lives, and the honesty of story-telling.
Like I said to someone last night – Life is all about how many stories you have on your death bed. How brave you have been. How many scars you have. And how much you loved. And he simply said to me, It’s all about memories.