While coming back from home this time, my flight got delayed by several hours. I had to sit in the new airport in Calcutta, which still doesn’t have a bookstore, a shopping area or a recliner. So my six hours in the airport were equally divided between checking out other passengers (who were mostly sleeping) and reading the only book I had in my handbag.
The book I was carrying was not even something I had planned to read. It was in that particular bag because my grandmother had put it there after reading it herself. The book was George Orwell’s Animal Farm – a classic, a book in almost every must-read-before-you-go-blind/die list, and something political scientists and sociologists keep gifting their friends every year.
The book talks about a farm which is run by a group of animals. Leading them are two pigs – Snowball and Napoleon. They adopt commandments which signify the basic tenets, “all animals are equal” and “anything on two legs are our enemy”. However, things go awry after a while and political rivalry and hunger for power lead to fights between the two leaders. When Snowball is wrongly ousted from the farm, Napoleon takes over, and slowly turns into a tyrannical leader. He cuts rations, drinks alcohol, sleeps in the plush bed, and tortures or kills anyone who dares to disobey him. The book finds interesting – but relatable characters such as the hardworking horse- Boxer, the rebellious group of hens, four young pigs who are still idealistic (they are executed later on, of course), a cat who manages to vanish exactly when she is needed and a wise old donkey called Benjamin. The novel ends with the pigs becoming friends with the humans and playing a poker game with them. And as the animals look on from outside, they see the faces of the pigs changing and merging into the faces of their human oppressors.
The story is humorous and is written very cleverly. What is astounding is that even though it was written with the Russian Revolution in mind and ended with the rule of Stalin, it can be applied to the present age as well. Take for example, West Bengal. You have one government ruling for 30 long years. They make their share of mistakes. People revolt. From the people rises the opposition party. People vote them to power, hoping for change and revolution. They do get change. But not progress. The state is worse than it ever was. Industries are not growing, crimes have increased, my folks don’t venture out after 10 pm, criticism is not tolerated, and punishments are illogical and unasked for.
Maybe the Hegelian triad of Thesis, Anti-thesis and Synthesis would be a better hope for us now. If something better comes out of all this, wouldn’t that be an optimist’s version of the whole story?