‘I’m so happy Chinese author Mo Yan has won the Nobel prize for literature, I want to read his book Big Breasts and Wide Hips, purely for its literary merit, of course,’ I told the literary critic. “Is it better than Fifty Shades of Grey?” I added and was met with a strange silence.
“Anyway,” I continued hurriedly, “it’s interesting that he’s been awarded the prize for what the Nobel committee calls ‘hallucinatory realism’. I mean, what was he smoking?” The critic said he doubted very much whether Mo Yan took hallucinogens. He also disregarded my question whether his readers could participate in the experience by licking the pages.
“But what exactly is hallucinatory realism?” I asked. “It’s a literary genre, like magical realism,” explained the critic. “To understand the style, you have to look at the hermeneutics,” he added, “as well as the… can’t get the word… ends with ics... not semiotics...”. “Chopsticks?” I interjected, but he ignored me completely and walked away.
“In China, which calls itself communist in spite of having full-blown capitalism red in tooth and claw, hallucinatory realism is probably the norm?” I asked a political analyst. “What about Mamata?” he countered, “Consider this couplet from one of her poems, ‘Everybody loves their Motherland as they love their mother/But selfish people have some selfish fathers.’ Doesn’t it give a surreal effect? Or take Kapil Sibal’s, ‘The duality of women a few can understand/males perceived as symbols of/a uni-dimensional brand’ — surely that’s hallucinatory enough for a Nobel?”. He claimed the manifestos of political parties were masterpieces of hallucinatory literature. “Even the IAC manifesto and their determination to purge the system,” he added. “IAC?”, I asked eagerly, “India Against Constipation?” “No, India Against Corruption,” he said curtly.
Disillusioned, I asked an architect, “Could Antilla, Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey residence, be an example of hallucinatory realism in architecture?” “Ummm… let’s see… it’s not Baroque…not Rococo…. I would classify it as an eyesore,” he said. “Early or late?” I asked, but he had already left.
Dissatisfied, I turned to an editor. He said Mo Yan might have been inspired by Rahul Gandhi’s efforts to project himself as a messiah for the masses, an example of, as he put it, “hallucinatory politics”. I asked whether burning electricity bills or protesting the fuel hike was part of hallucinatory economics, but he said those were in the ‘hysterical materialism’ category.
Totally frustrated, I turned to my guru, who sympathetically advised me to try peyote or Ecstasy or Magic Mushrooms, but if I didn’t do drugs I could sample the Dying Bastard, which is one shot brandy, one shot gin, one shot rum, half shot lime juice, one dash bitters, one shot ginger ale.
“Or,” he said, “read this short piece written in the Indian hallucinatory realist style”. Here’s what it said: “Coming back from an intense workout in the gym that night, I was walking along the moon-drenched road proud to be a muscle-bound man and a son-in-law and part of Indian history, when I felt a pink elephant brush me with the cold and clammy tip of its trunk. The sight that met my eyes when I looked back was horrific. An army of pink elephants was pursuing me, stumbling, tripping and trumpeting in a frantic effort to grab me. And folded ever so delicately in each trunk was a copy of DLF’s balance sheet.”
I firmly believe that, given the wealth of talent in India, we’ll be winning something big for hallucinatory realism soon.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
Views expressed by the author are personal