Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Land Of Sad Oranges

Continuing with the short stories of Ghassan Kanafani, I think there is one story which, though only a few pages long, actually succeeds where a novel might usually fail. It is from the book called Men in the sun and other short stories, a novel that some consider Kanafani's best. This story shows that Kanafani's prose is not always politically preoccupied but there are other personal and humane concerns at work too.

The land of sad oranges is a technically perfect story. First, it is really short, just a few pages. Secondly, it allows the reader to see and feel exactly what the writer perhaps wanted. The language is a mix of the bare and the essential, a key to success for a short story. Emotionality and rhetoric are kept at bay. No blame is apportioned towards any quarter, only facts are narrated.( The narration of plain facts nowadays is considered rhetorical and a sign of political incorrectness). The key images of total helplessness, personal sufferings, misery and loss of a family are narrated, for the reader must see and perhaps depart too, saddened as that land.

The story is that of a family that leaves Palestine, following its destruction and occupation to Lebanon, for a refugee camp ostensibly. The narrator's family gets bundled into a lorry, leaving their land behind, forever. In their new one room house, where there is no space to stretch, the loss is borne home, even though the narrator was a child then. Any hope that still lingers is crushed with the defeat of the Arab armies and permanent exile stares the family in their faces. the narrator's father, perplexed and angry decides to take matters in his hands by attempting to kill his children and himself though this doesn't eventually happen. The story ends there, in defeat and failure.

This story or rather a sketch essentially conveys the grief of those Palestinians who lost not just their country but home, which includes land, the sun, sea, trees, clouds and so on. As the narrator points out.........

You and I and the others of our age were too young to understand what the story meant from beginning to end ( the night of expulsion) but that night the threads began to grow clearer. Lamenting at the loss of his home..........
The groves of orange trees followed each other in succession along the road. We were all eaten up with fear. I also doubted whether God could see and hear everything. I was sure that the God we had known in Palestine had left it too, and was a refugee in some place that I did not know, unable to find a solution to his own problems.

Fear is what this child experiences, fear of sleeping and living on a pavement. However as the inevitability of this exile settles in, the narrator says.........I realized that our life had ceased to be pleasant, and it was no longer easy for us to live in peace. The imagery of the oranges is evoked, but we are now told that the oranges are dried and shrivelled up.

Exile and permanent loss of identity is a theme that most Palestinian writers have tried to express within the confines of their fiction. Similar concerns are poetically expressed in khoury's Gate of the sun, where stories of dispossession and loss are expressed with grace. Inevitably, there will be desperation in such fiction but surely why not? Similar stories of exile and loss are a part of what happened in the Indian subcontinent after the division along religious lines. Talking and making sense of such deathly migrations is not a sign of mawkishness but an attempt by present generations to try, if not understand the pain of previous generations, who were human too.

This short story adds to the rich pantheon of such literature and adds a page to the universality of such tragedies.

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