I have just finished reading ‘When we were orphans’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and have started ‘The Argumentative Indian’ by Amartya Sen. They differ in genre, content, and writing styles but both distinctly give this impression about their authors – they are gentlemen. Truly and impeccably.
First, there’s Kazuo Ishiguro. I have noticed that when I recommend this author to anyone, I recommend him, not his books. I don’t usually tell people to read ‘Pale View of the Hills’ or ‘Artist of a Floating World’ or ‘Remains of the Day’…but I do tell them to read ‘Kazuo Ishiguro’.
His books, while not necessarily slow, do take their time coming around. The contrast of the individual story to the social setting is what I find most interesting. For example, he would write about a man’s silent love in a historically fractured environment, such as the World War. Or the feeling of constantly searching for shadows in crowds when one is left orphaned suddenly. Notable is the ability to write about such contrasting themes and not have them jar.
There is something very gentle and comforting in his writing. It’s like this literary lullaby that soothes the crash of dramas. His themes have a lot of remembering in them; a good thing because Kazuo plays with nostalgia very well.
In ‘When we were orphans’, the narrator remembers his childhood and sort of uses those memories as a compass to find his present bearings. He later sets out in search of his parents who he had lost when he was eight. What he finds out is, in many ways, cruel twists of fate; but it is accepted with a very quiet forbearance.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s niche, I think, is the ability to write about the essence of heartaches. That it’s not weak to miss or moribund to long. That there is dignity in accepting that you have lost your last chance at happiness and move on - smiling. That there is strength in wishing your past well, though it may have ceased to exist. That the grace with which one bids farewell is truly the measure of a man.
The thing with Kazuo Ishiguro’s stories is that they don’t have you at hello. But they don’t leave you at goodbye either. They stay on, ever so politely.
Secondly, there is Amartya Sen whose writings I had dipped into in college but honestly speaking, didn’t quite appreciate much. I think I must have read ‘Development as Freedom’ while doing last minute reference for an assignment. (This last minute research worked like this – Your sleeve brushes against a book and the name of the book goes in the bibliography.) And well, from what I understood, he said that more the development, more the freedom. So? Wasn’t that a no-brainer?
As I read ‘The Argumentative Indian’ now, I understand that I was a behemoth dumbass. Sen has the breadth of intellect that very few people can even fathom, much less possess. Equally brilliant is the humility with which he pursues an argument.
I think that most scholastic works tend to suffer from a zealous desire to inundate with information. Sure, the matter is judiciously researched, but the impression one is often left with is of the author telling you, ‘See how much I know?’
I haven’t completed the Argumentative Indian but am looking forward to finishing it and thinking about it. The copious annotations do not detract from the fact that this information will be received by people far removed from academia. That they too are entitled to serious knowledge without having things dumbed down. There is respect for the reader.
The works of both these men reach the readers. They don’t get adrift with details or styles or plots and surmises. There is all that, of course. But then the authors stop midway and ask, ‘Are you okay?’
This separates the gentlemen from the boys.