“Among middle-class Indians, for example, there must be many who have done their schooling in English, who routinely speak English in their workplace and at home (throwing in the odd local locution for coloring), who command other languages only imperfectly, yet who, as they listen to themselves speak or as they read what they have written have the uneasy feeling that there is something false going on” JM Coetzee in “Diary of a bad year”
This is part of an essay of less than 500 words titled “On the mother tongue” and I wonder how does he know how I feel? The essay is written by an ageing, famous author who is the protagonist. He has been invited to write a series of essays on contemporary subjects along with other famous authors. He employs an attractive young woman, who lives in the same apartment complex and whom he meets in the laundry room, to do the typing. The essays, his responses to the young woman and her responses to him run as parallel tales on each page of the book.
The author is a man of few words, not given to opening up too much and his attitude towards the young woman is evident more from what he does not say, rather than from what he does. From her accounts of the same events we can gather he is lonely with no family or friends and fatalistic attitude to his own life. She is garrulous, outgoing and is living with a much older man who has a devious mind. The events that unfold over the next few weeks, tell much about the characters and reveal unexpected depths where the least is expected.
But it is the essays themselves that are engaging and cover a wide range of subjects under two headings – Strong opinions (and by jove they are strong) and Second diary. The strong opinions are on ‘The origins of the state’, democracy, anarchy, Machavelli, Al-Qaida, Gauntanamo Bay, pedophilia, slaughter of animals etc… A
By now most of you must have gathered that I am a fan. I am going through all his books and none have disappointed so far. ” written in wonderful prose and as is his trademark, puts forward a simple, uncomplicated story line. In fact, there is not much of a story at all – a scenario is created by which Coetzee gets to talk on his philosophy and thoughts on a variety of issues.