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!Download Book ☫ Leila: A Novel ☩ In A Digitized City, Sometime In The Near Future, As An Obsession With Purity Escalates, Walls Come Up Dividing And Confining Communities Behind The Walls High Civic Order Prevails In The Forgotten Spaces Between, Where Garbage Gathers And Disease Festers, Shalini Must Search For Leila, The Daughter She Lost One Tragic Summer Sixteen Years Ago Skirting Surveillance Systems And Thuggish Repeaters, Shalini Once Wealthy, With Perhaps A Wayward Past Now A Misfit, Pushed To The Margins Is Propelled Only By Her Search What Follows Is A Story Of Longing, Faith And Most Of All Loss With Its Unflinching Gaze On Class, Privilege And The Choices That Today Confront Us And Its Startling, Almost Prophetic Vision Of The World Leila Announces Prayaag Akbar As A Remarkable New Voice In Indian Fiction
Take a pinch of 1984, some of Brave New World, a sprinkling of Haider the film and may be a bunch of other works of dystopian literature, squeeze in a generous dash of various dimensions of inequality in India, and what you get is Leila A mother looking for a daughter that cannot be found, cities divided by walls, surveillance, control , Purity for all , fraternal friction and treachery, pollution, sewage, caste etc etc.While the combination could have been a promising work, it looks exceptionally forced trying too hard to create something that is haunting and stunning and failing at it I struggled getting through this but finished it nevertheless and I must confess it broke my heart because there was too much optimism in my head about it Probably because of the noise it was making everywhere, or was it the blurb by Jerry Pinto on the cover I guess, that s just the gift you get when you are a privileged writer. There s been a notably high number of dystopian novels being published in recent years and it feels like this reflects a widespread anxiety Novels such as Station Eleven , The Country of Ice Cream Star , The Power and Hazards of Time Travel have all taken very different approaches to creating scarily convincing counter realities to our present landscape, especially in regards to misogynistic attitudes towards women It s always interesting to see how new dystopian fiction tries to create an urgent, radical dialogue with society today The presumption being if we don t pay attention to what s happening around us this nightmarish landscape might come sooner than we think In the case of The Handmaid s Tale , Atwood has famously said the novel contains nothing which hasn t already happened in the world Prayaag Akbar s debut novel Leila deals directly with issues of the caste system in India which has such a far reaching, complex history and continues to incite horrific instances of violence The novel takes the divisions between castes to the extreme where physical walls are erected to separate communities from each other, shore in resources for members of elite castes and strive towards a purity of race and social status This is filtered through the perspective of Shalini who mourns the disappearance of her daughter Leila when she was suddenly lost after Shalini was seized and taken to a government sanctioned reform camp For years she s secretly schemed how to find her daughter again amidst an aggressively conservative and strict system Finally her plans might be carried out We follow her journey as she puts her plot into action and recalls the horrific events which led to this dire situation Read my full review of Leila by Prayaag Akbar on LonesomeReader It is actually a 3.5 star book, but I have to give it 4 stars because of how it made me feel shudder in the knowledge that the dystopian world of this book could actually be a reality.I also appreciated the details in the plot which make it an Indian story I thought the plot had a great premise, but weakened a bit midway, making for a weak ending The literature and narration were good, a refreshing feeling after the recent bad crop of Indian authors in English.The effort to close the story this complex, with very few open endings, all in the spread of one book is commendable too.Read this book if you ve felt a growing uncertainty if the world in Atwood s Handmaiden s Tale would be a reality Leila s world is close and could be in our neighborhood. There are few novels I ve read that have left me so disturbed And it s not just the parental grief or the loss of privilege that Prayaag captures so heart wrenchingly, it s the imminent possibility of India turning out like he describes.If there was an Indian novel for our times, this is it Do read it. Some arresting descriptions of deprivation and terrible living conditions, and although I really wanted to keep reading to see what happened, the whole story didn t hang together well enough for me I never fully understood who was controlling people apart from The Council or why Shalini and her family was picked on was it Riz or not Why didn t Shalini write to her mother if she was able to write to her friend and her nanny There was too many unanswered plot points, although perhaps because of the life Shalini was forced to live, she didn t have the answers, so we didn t either Maybe I wanted to know about those 16 years when her daughter was gone about the daily grind I know I m not being very clear, but I was generally dissatisfied without really being able to say why. Holy shit this book gives Atwood a run for her money Utterly terrifying. Akbar s aim to show savarna privilege inverted is somewhat blurred by the fact that he executes it all in what is, for all practical purposes, savarna utopia But this isn t really a complaint I ve a lot to say about this, but right now let it suffice to say that Akbar has set the bar incredibly high for Indian writers of his generation. Originally posted on my blog.In Purity Town Prayaag Akbar s Leila Leila A Novel by Prayaag Akbar is set in the near future in an Indian town one may call it Purity Town where the obsession with purity, caste, class, and community has reached its high point In this town, a mother Shalini searches for her daughter Leila who was taken away from her, many years ago, because she and her husband refused to succumb to the new divisive and controlling social order.The narrative of the novel begins in medias res It oscillates between the present, where Shalini searches desperately for Leila, and the past, as Shalini recounts how she met her husband Riz , Leila s childhood, and her days at Purity Camp Woven seamlessly into this story are descriptions of various aspects of Purity Town These descriptions are puzzle pieces When one puts them together, they reveal a dystopian world that is perhaps not so different from our own.A familiar hierarchyThe insignia of the Council that governs the walled town where each sector is enclosed within walls in the novel is a pyramid an onyx monstrosity with a white tip This pyramid structure is reflective of the town s eternal social order that found the fissures and crannies, pried the city apart like volcanic rock At the top of the social hierarchy are the small population of rich merchants, factory owners, builders for the British hints at a form of neocolonialism , and all those who helped raise the new city These are the privileged flag bearers of purity, who promote, in the name of ancient culture, the division of the world on the basis of surnames, communities, castes, and creeds.At the bottom of this structure are the masses the large population of people residing below the network of flyroads a network of roads built several feet above the ground , in dilapidated apartment complexes, or in slums at the edges of Purity Town Among these people are the Slummers who can be found wading through garbage, looking for things to sell Caste exists alongside class The upper sections have flyroads so they do not have to see the impossible filth below Despite the filth that covers the streets, the people of the town, ironically, pursue the idea of purity relentlessly The notion of purity is invoked not just in terms of physical filth but also in association with caste, religion, and gender.This is a hierarchical arrangement that one is not unfamiliar with, though one may happen to ignore its dystopian dimensions especially in the present day It is a hierarchy that determines and is determined by infrastructure, political institutions, and religious and cultural practices in the world of the novel and in our own world Religion, in the novel, is a significant element in the lives of people Purity Town is a town of hypocritical man gods, an idea that is taken from the contemporary Indian political and religious scene.Women of course, of course womenIn all divisive and controlling societies, there is an attempt to control women s sexuality, since to maintain purity, it is imperative that there be no mixing of sectors Shalini and Riz belong to two different sectors After their marriage, they move away from their respective home sectors to settle in a location that is inhabited by those who do not succumb to the social order by choice and by those who are forced to live there because they have been outcasted from their own sectors Shalini is later sent to Purity Camp, which, in the words of Dr Iyer, is a camp for those women who have sacrificed their purity.However, the women that Shalini and the readers meet in Purity Camp are not weak and gullible women who may easily give in to forms of control In fact, as Dr Iyer himself remarks, they are women who are aware of what they stand against and are ready to bear the consequences of their actions Shalini says, These were strange and beautiful women with the courage to slash at every expectation Once outside the camp, these women are made to live in crumbling residential complexes located on the outskirts of Purity Town, so they may not pollute the rest, and perform peon duties at various ministries of the Council Shalini recognizes that there are certain benefits of living at the margins At the margins, there are no walls and sectors and the social structure can be challenged as there is an intermingling of people from different sectors, people who carry their anger within them.Forms of controlThe Council practices various forms of control to not allow the anger of the masses to manifest itself as any form of revolution Forms of control are used to keep rebellious even anti national tendencies in check First and foremost, the Council uses certain agents of control In the novel, they are referred to as the Repeaters The Repeaters, as Shalini tells us, are a loose band of armed men in their twenties and thirties, who guard the communities and patrol the walls They are seen forcefully entering the homes of people and beating them to pulp Interestingly, nobody knows how closely associated the Repeaters are to the Council but it is an acknowledged fact that they are important to the Council than they let on.Besides control through agents, there are direct, internalized, and effective forms of control that the Council and governments around the world practice, some of which Akbar explores with minute observation and impeccable skill Firstly, there are the ideas routine and work ethic Shalini says that the Council is determined to instill discipline Once disciplined to follow a routine, people tend not to waver, tend not to think about anything else besides the timed tasks at hand Samuel Becket has famously said that habit is a great deadener Moreover, a work ethic centered on the idea of exhausting people till all they need is their beds and sleep further negates the possibilities of resistance Coupled with this is the illusion of security the government promotes the idea that all citizens are protected by law.Instilling a sense of guilt is yet another way through which governments control their citizens The idea of guilt and the ways in which governments exploit it has been explored in the works of writers like Franz Kafka The Trial and thinkers like Sigmund Freud Civilization and its Discontents Freud, for instance, writes, Civilization obtains mastery over the individual s dangerous desire for aggression by setting up an agency within him the super ego that generates a sense of guilt to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city In Leila, Shalini feels guilty in marrying Riz and having to undergo rigourous paperwork to do so She says, It wasn t against the law, but they made you feel like you d done something terrible Finally, the Council decrees that people must be isolated and live in perpetual fear It exploits loneliness, not allowing people to connect, building physical and metaphorical walls between them.Modes of resistancePerhaps the most important way to resist such control is through thought There is a reason why the crime of thought and the Thought Police in George Orwell s 1984 are particularly terrifying In Leila, a inmate of Purity Camp called Sana makes a telling remark regarding the liberal attitude towards women s higher education She says, It makes them feel they ve been very benevolent to us, to the young women Look how it used to be Look what we allow now They want us in college, but they don t want us to think That is what s dangerous To think is to question, to question is to take the first step towards resistance An important aspect of thought is memory In Leila, Shalini refers to remembrance as an alarm, a siren that plies round her head While at Purity Camp, she says, That s what all of us were like at Camp Doing desperate little things so we could remember what was normal Remembrance is significantly linked to story telling At Purity Camp, women from different walks of life share their stories of love and injustice Shalini finds herself, night after night, weighed down by these stories that came from every side, demanding submission This act of connecting beyond the sectors, beyond the assigned identity markers, through the power of words is important and subversive Thought, in the novel, also translates into action People choose to live outside walled sectors, in wall less communities they admit their kids into the few existing mixed schools people find their ways around the Repeaters, creating fake identity cards to move across sectors there is political graffiti on the walls that serves as visible signs of protest there is the news of the Slummers setting fire to trash mountains in landfills and there is Shalini s incessant search for Leila.Have we heard this story before The story of Leila seems to be one that we have heard before This, I believe, is because of two reasons One, a number of tropes and themes in Leila have been inspired by certain iconic dystopian works including Orwell s 1984 and Margaret Atwood s The Handmaid s Tale Two and perhaps importantly , what we witness in the novel is not very far from what we experience in our immediate environment The novel is so close to our reality, our society.The novel hits the nail right on the head It is a warning, a wake up call, a red flag, a slap in the face The contemporary relevance of the novel cannot be undermined It warns against a divided society where the sense of difference of class, caste, creed, and so on among people is used by governments to exercise control and even perpetuate hate towards certain groups.Here, I am thinking of the recent debates surrounding the NotInMyName campaign in India The marches and the campaign, initiated by the documentary film maker Saba Dewan, to protest against the recent instances of communal and caste based violence in India, received criticism for being Brahminical in its inception A number of responses to this criticism popped up on the inter webs In an article titled Is NotInMyName All Equal to Brahminism , published on Raiot, Trevor Jeyaraj makes an excellent case for the campaign as an effort to come together even as the contradictions among people remain unsettled Jeyaraj writes, If we do not stop whatever is possible, that dreadful day is not far when a Dalit who is a Hindu will start lynching a fellow Dalit Muslim because the former was Hindu than he was a Dalit and the latter was Muslim First and thus a lesser Dalit in the former s eyes This is perhaps exactly what Prayaag Akbar s Leila, like its popular and critically acclaimed contemporary work Arundhati Roy sThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness , is trying to tell us Leila A Novel by Prayaag Akbar, published by Simon Schuster India, 2017. I read the book because I saw the brilliant trailer for it s Netflix adaptation The author does a great job at building up the premise of a totalitarian regime that wouldn t take a lot of change to get to, from the world s current hard right political swing It s all downhill from there.What promises to be a warning against totalitarianism and savarna economic and social dominance in the 21st century instead ends up being a collection of fears highlighted by the left leaning media with a wannabe mother daughter story arc that never fully satisfies or scares For instance, the worst thing that happens in a purity camp The lead character gets addicted to some sort of muscle relaxants and is helped by a supposedly good doctor In comparison the prison chapters in Shantaram are so vivid that you end up feeling imprisoned.Everything feels half baked and forced Almost like the author got stoned and thought this is what the BJP government can become But like every stoner he has gone on a tangent before jumping to another tangent without focussing on creating a well rounded universe In summary, this book is a lazy imitation of a combination of classics, contextualised pretty horribly, to the Indian social situation It s the Rahul Gandhi of dystopian novels.