If ‘Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho was a story about a Shepherd boy following his dream, Benyamin’s ‘goat days’ is a real life story of a young man who pursued his dream and ended up as a shepherd in a sterile wasteland.
When a friend mentioned that there was a visa for sale to go to a gulf country, Najeeb didn’t think twice. He had only simple wishes: Settle a few family debts, add a room to the small house, and to get out of the work of a sand diver that gave him chronic cough and cold. Leaving her pregnant wife and mother, he travelled to gulf after obtaining a visa from an agent paying a huge sum he mustered by taking loans from every source possible. He landed and stranded at the airport itself unclaimed by his job sponsor. He was grabbed by a dirty, smelly ‘arbab’ who pushed him into the open back of his very old vehicle.
Najeeb’s experience in the desert reminds us of the value of our existence in a free world. We take our freedom to live, work, interact, recreate, and procreate for granted. We forget to consider that the people and the relationships are precious. When Najeeb and his friends dragged their feet with an overwhelming numbness and pain in the body and in the mind, they understood that even despair, disillusionment, and the pain had no meaning in their life. All desires cherished by them left one by one and they had only one urge – just to have a drop of water.
Read the following lines excerpted from the book:
‘Every experience in life has a climax, whether it be happiness, sorrow, sickness or hunger. When we reach the end, there are only two paths left for us: either we learn to live with our lives or protest and struggle in a final attempt to escape. If we choose the second path, we are safe if we win; if not, we end up in a mental asylum or kill ourselves.
So far I had not tried to escape. The first few times were amateurish attempts. I had not reached the end of my tether then. Actually, I had learnt to live with my circumstances. My experience taught me that no matter how severe our pain or how harsh the difficulties we face, we come to terms with our miseries in the course of time…..In the past I used to wonder how beggars, the very poor, the permanently sick, the blind and the handicapped went on with their lives, how happy smiles broke out on their faces.’ (Chapter 28, the shortest, but for me the most penetrating chapter in the book pp 175-176)
Could he escape from his bondage and misfortune? Could he ever see his family? You must read this book not to know the climax, but to understand how it would be if we were made to live a goat’s life.
The book was originally written in Malayalam by Benyamin and won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award. Joseph Koyippally has tried to showcase the book to the English readers without losing its essence. As we read the initial pages we would doubt whether Joseph is a little apprehensive about his venture, but later he has picked up his creative best and really made a great contribution in the translation of ‘Aadujeevitham’ (the title of the book in Malayalam). Justifiably, the translated work has been shortlisted for the coveted DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Man Asia Prize.
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© Sibichen K Mathew. Comments welcome
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