That strangeness in our minds

19 May

Orhan Pamuk is  a Turkish writer. He has published thirteen books so far.

He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. He lives in Turkey.

orhan pamuk

This is the story of Mevlut, a street vendor and boza seller from Istanbul. He is agile and ardent, like the city he resides in.

This is also the story of Istanbul, a city that is subject to rapid changes due to capitalization. It is baffled yet unaffected, just like Mevlut and the thousand other migrants like him.

Orhan Pamuk’s new book ‘A strangeness in my mind’ is a tale of changing city and its changing people. It expresses the restlessness inside a fast-growing city and the unusual loneliness it’s people carry in their hearts. Pamuk tells the story of the people hopelessly falling in love with one another and with the world around them. While doing this, he doesn’t ignore to throw some light to search true love (if at all it exists.)

Our protagonist Mevlut is naive and gentle, hardworking and lovable. He falls in love with a beautiful girl Samiha whom he meets at his cousin’s wedding. Unaware of her real name, he writes long letters describing her ensorcelled eyes for three years, only to elope with her less attractive elder sister Rayiha.

Like his father, he grows old in the city with a dream of becoming rich. Apart from the various not-so-successful day jobs, he sells boza, a mildly alcoholic drink at night for the rest of his life. The gradually shrinking roster of regular customers doesn’t seem to bother him. He seriously believes his life is all about selling boza on the streets of Istanbul – I can only meditate when I’m walking.

As ‘elopement is a  tricky business,’ he gracefully embraces the serendipity, makes peace with Rayiha, later joined by his daughters Fatma and Fevziya. Much later, when his platonic love for Samiha comes true, he recalls that strangeness in his mind and his true love for Rayiha. Surprisingly, that strangeness becomes ours too.

Pamuk attractively portrays the different voices his characters carry inside them. Every character, however small it may be, narrates it’s own story and perspective without overlapping or interrupting the storyline. By doing so, Pamuk strikingly makes us realize that his characters are more trust-worthy than it’s narrator. Thanks to his unique way of story-telling, behind these different voices of peculiar characters, lies the success of the book. As Mevlut’s father Mustafa rightly puts it in his own context It’s the boza seller’s voice that sells his boza.

The bundle of letters Mevlut wrote in his military days do play an exceptional role in the story. If you give a good look, these letters tend to have their own perspective too. After all the years of happy and contented marriage with Rayiha, Mevlut starts to believe that he truly wrote those letters to her. Many twists and turns later, he only agrees to disagree with the same opinion after Samiha’s mysterious come-back into his life.

A significant shift is created in the story when Samiha deals with insensitivity with those thirty-year old letters. Along with Mevlut, the cruelty of ‘game of letters’ is heart-breaking to the readers as well. Samiha says– “You might love me less now, but back then, I was the one who loved you less.”

strangeness in my mind

The strong female characters the writer creates in this novel are remarkable. The women here are amiable, funny, unapologetic and real. Take Vediha for instance who mends all the fences between the family members or the sensitive Rayiha whose needlework depicts those ruthless eyes Mevlut described in his letters. It is disheartening to see Rayiha suffer in jealousy.

The quick-witted Samiha who demands to be wooed at all times cannot be forgotten. “I would have preferred to marry Mevlut because everyone was against it, not because everyone wanted it.” You look at Samiha, and you know how freedom looks like. (This is how she describes herself.)

Pamuk has written on the search for true love in his earlier novels. In this novel, he sees true love as a mirage. At the end, Mevlut admits his true love for Rayiha. If Mevlut had stayed a little longer with the readers, I’m sure he would not be fully sure of his earlier comment. He genuinely feels that love for Rayiha only because she is not with him anymore.

Along with Mevlut’s story, ‘A strangeness in my mind” is also a tale of a slowly transforming Istanbul. Just like any other economically developing city, the inequalities prevail in Istanbul where the poor remains poor unless something magical happens. It is flooded with rich and poor people who always find ways to tap into power lines without paying. The city is full of people who think differently in private and say different things in public.

By the end of the book, the old generation’s gecekondu (which means, placed overnight) homes are replaced by the new tall buildings. The city’s cultural shift is shown by enthralling sales of TVs, movies, cigars, raki, a bottled boza and packaged yogurt. A loosely tied head-scarf is also one among them.

Mevlut’s own fantasies about life and his attachment to the ever-changing streets of Istanbul are enthralling. It is a serious book, elegantly written by the master story-teller, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of our times.

(Originally published in Kannada in Connect Kannada Website


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