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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


A Naive Crave for Love

9 Apr


Meet Shankara, a school boy from a socially neglected community who blasts a fertilizer bomb with a simple detonator in the classroom as a protest against a bragging teacher. At last, even if he admits the villainy, Shankara is ignored.

Here is the story of Kittur, a fictitious town in Karnataka. It should not be confused with the town by same name in Belgaum district. The author brings out the nuances of this delusive town while portraying the stories which took place between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi. If you read R K Narayan’s novels and short stories, this book will doubtlessly hold your attention.

Kittur, a small but diversified town pictured in this book is Adiga’s Malgudi. It is located on the banks of Arabian sea and surrounded by Kaliamma river and Bajpe forest. It is named after the Kittamma Devi temple which is located in this town. You can find all sorts of people in this town. A neglected man of the town Ziauddin obeys an incendiary party just because he finds some respect and care from him.

Characters in this book personifies trustworthiness with certainity in the beginning and gradually tend to become corrupt. Murali, a communist who later counterblows Sulochana’s family as she doesn’t accept his marriage proposal, is one of them. George, who slowly manipulates his employer Mrs. Gomes for his own good who later suffers, is the other.

In Adiga’s short stories, the poor are more vulnerable to acid test than the rich. Jayamma, a house maid who takes care of a plump rich child of Valencia faces hardship in picking up a punctured cricket ball for her little Brijju in the village. Even when she asks for it, the rich child disagrees and neglects her plea.

The author never dramatizes the rich- poor relationship. After reading the story of Chenayya, a coolie who craves for a few extra tips for his hard work and gets insulted again and again is a mock to the economic differences in Indian society. You do not find a single character who is forced to be a God. Everyone have their own benefits in their behaviors. A fair- skinned stranger who skillfully influences Ziauddin is a good example.


Two people with same nature are quite common in these stories. The teacher in Alfonso’s School D’Mello and Journalist Gururaj Kamath are two such exemplars. D’Mello’s only objective is to save his dear student Girish from bad company and Gururaj’s passion is to print the truth. He goes so deep in the chase of truth and falsehood, at the end the line between the two vanishes before him. His search finally leaves him in the disheartened reality.

Soumya, a little girl who begs to serve drugs for her father and longs just one hug and kiss in return from him leaves a complex image of today’s poor.

All the stories in this book can be described as the naive thirst for love and respect that every human soul demands.

Adiga sketches many pictures of social and economic discrepancies in the society. For him, the enormous nation is within this small town, Kittur. Most of the times, he reckons with the poor despite the rich, as talking to the poor and understanding them is more effortless to him.

The above mentioned reason is sufficient to continue reading this author of Man Booker fame. 

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