The breakdown of value systems in times of strife is witnessed at many layers in the rapid changes taking place after the Arab spring. Are we witnessing the Berlin wall moment of the Arab world? On seeing the oligarchs of that post-Soviet world, or the Maliki of Iraq, some are prompted to ask is it worth it. Continuing our journey with an imaginary Bloom-who according to some analysts –is the presiding figure of literature of the 20th century-a man known more intimately than most characters, we went down a few steps in Tripoli. Tolerating humiliation at his work to provide for his family, he returned home to face further humiliation.
Yesterday was the birthday of one such “Leopold Bloom” of Tripoli, with whom I have had many interesting walks and discussions. He was also a co-witness of the events during the failed and successful uprisings of February and August 2011, having chosen to stay behind rather than desert the community where he has practiced medicine. While many ‘wise-cracks’ joke and like to talk about their millions, the lack of their connection-roots in the community made me re-think the writer Amitav Ghosh’s question-
“Why has the great oil-novel not been written?”
Ghosh goes on to think of some of the reasons by telling of the multilingual multicultural world of oil, where many expatriates live in the relative security of their camps. The novel is a literary form of a single language, single place. The changing world of oil, with many continents touching , the boats to Lampadusa from Africa, to the net-calls to Philippines or Canada or Bangladesh make it a challenge for any writer to put into a single work.
For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight out of their heads.
Ford Madox Ford-The Good Soldier
In previous entry we revised some notes of works of fiction which trace the Indian nation and focus on things beyond official histories.
THE GOOD SOLDIER
Ford Maddox Ford wrote about the breakdown of value systems before and after World War I. The conventional belief systems were being challenged. In this period came narratives which were full of dichotomy. One such story of the friendship between two couples-the Good Soldier-the narrator discovers after nine years that Mr.Ashburnham has been having an affair with his wife Florence. Leonora (Mrs.Ashburnham) knew this. He was the only on in the dark!
” And I have given a wrong impression of Edward Ashburnham if I have made you think that literally never in the course of our nine years of intimacy did he discuss what he would have called ‘the graver things’. ”
THE SACK OF A CITY
It all started long time ago, when my uncle first taught me how to focus on any written work with the aim of making notes, catching the key lessons and meanings in a work. His habit of making notes and then gifting these books to friends and relatives developed into many interesting things.
Witnessing the “Sack of a city” made our relation with Africa even more intimate.
During the first uprising of February 2011, we went for walks around Tripoli and came to know some more intimate things.
“This building is the office of the Green Book in Tripoli,” one of my Night Watchman group friends told me as we walked through Shara Baladiya.
“The policemen are burning files, as they fear what happened in Egypt is going to happen here,” he said as we went past the UN offices down to Grand Hotel.
“The garbage cans are being used to block the roads so that heavy armor vehicles cannot enter the neighborhood.”
The first uprising was brutally suppressed, but one friend, a medical doctor, vowed-
“It started at Fashloom and was suppressed here. It will rise again in Fashloom and end here too.” A specialist in ENT, he spent some months preparing for the ‘second round’.
That made some doctors study some other professions.
“I am in Zuwara, clearing up the mountains,” one of the technicians in my department told me on the second day of the August uprising.
“Do not come near the bridges near Aboslim,” another friend warned.
While friends who see only news clippings from the comfort of their drawing rooms, made some ‘well-wisher’ calls from across continents, some “Night-Watchmen” came alive in many creative ways. One radiologist friend came with his son from Misrata.
“Did your father not tell you to be away from the fighting,” I asked an IT engineer whose father is a military man in his fifties.
“He was fighting next to me and guiding us on the formations used by these forces whom he knew well,” the IT engineer answered.
The middle class logic of people from more secure places reflected in the question- Did your father not tell you to be away from the fighting- made me a bit ashamed.
WHAT ABOUT THE MAIN PLAYERS
A historian once commented that these writings of what common people went through during the uprisings do not tell of the main players on the ground. But then there are many more informed and able writers who can write about these ‘main players’. I would like to write the narratives of common people
As I make notes, a habit first inculcated in me by my uncle, I remember the words of Ford Maddox Ford
You may well ask why I write.
And yet my reasons are quite many.
MY TEDDY BEAR
“Mummy! Is it so dangerous in Libya that people have to start praying for them?” Samira asked her mother on returning from school. The teacher had told the students to close their eyes and pray for Robert’s uncle who was trapped in conflict ridden Libya. The students closed their eyes and prayed. Samira did not tell anyone in the class that her father too was in Libya. Each time she had talked to her father or asked her mother, they had downplayed the issues relating to the war. “I am safe. The fighting is more than a thousand kilometers away from where I live” her father had reassured her. He did not mention the thousands who had disappeared in Tripoli region. Nor did her mother mention that there had been no salary transfers since this conflict started.
“What is the thing that you miss most ?” Samira’s mother asked her one day. Their life had been going on smoothly till this conflict started. “ I miss my teddy bear” she told her mother. In their hurry to leave, they had forgotten to pack her teddy bear.
“Papa, do get my teddy when you come” she rang him up the next day.
Only the day before, her father had cleared the house of things which were too disturbing,reminding him of his family and life before the conflict. One of the things he had discarded was Samira’s teddy bear.
If we ever form a museum with artifacts of things which remind us of the conflict, other than guns, flags and posters we will keep a teddy bear in it. In that teddy bear are hidden stories of a childhood in Tripoli.
Part of writer Jeff Goins 500 words a day challenge
For those interested in reading further see the following blogs