It must have been years since I bought Freedom at Midnight and City of Joy from one trip to Neelkhet's bountiful used-books mart. I finally picked up City of Joy, having lost my copy Freedom at Midnight recently while I was still halfway through it. City of Joy is fat book, the kind I am prone to avoid, but out of a sudden act of courage, I picked it up. If I don't survive the first few pages of a book, its a sign that there is no future there, and here I read over 20 pages in one go! Bravo!

The more I read the book, as the characters unfold, their fates unfold, I realize how after such a long time, after such drastic changes in my country (similar to India, once India, once Bengal), its almost like nothing has changed after all!

Check this:
But when the December wind blew down from the Himalayas and swept through the avenues, it was as cold as death on the pavements. From every direction there rose the same haunting noises. The sound of coughing fits, of throats being cleared, the whistle of spitting. The worst for Aloka was to have to 'sleep on the bare ground. You woke up in the morning with limbs as painful as if they'd been beaten. By some cruel stroke of irony, an advertisement on a hoarding seemed to flout them from the opposite pavement. It showed a maharajah sleeping snugly on a thick mattress. From his dreamland he inquired solicitously, 'Have you ever thought of a Simmons mattress as a present?'

I am a long way from finishing the book, but I feel like this book should be a part of school curriculum. We are growing up now with education, as if a brand of orange juice, has quality levels that depend on the parents' bank accounts. There are even English medium schools whereby you can graduate to own a very good grasp of English while having a very low level knowledge of your own mother tongue. Overall, education can have an effect that creates a distance between a person and the realities that plague the rest of the country. The age of globalization also showers us with images of lifestyle habits that may further exacerbate this.

The fate of a person who leaves his village out of necessity to find work as a rickshaw puller in urban Kolkata (then Calcutta) is easily transferable to our beloved Dhaka. Just see how many people are in that profession right now. To not be able to fathom what they, or those who sleep under the sky at Shahbagh, Karwan Bazaar and other places go through, cannot create a society where the marginalized would ever get anyone to empathize with them. Literature like this, would go a long way to nurturing that empathy.

Dominique Lapierre
Kathryn Spink (Who translated City of Joy)
City of Joy Aid
Simmons Mattress