Sunday, December 30, 2012

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Reread this old classic to check for the change in perspective, if any. What George Orwell's classic showed me when I read it this time was that things are frighteningly the same - in 1945 (when he first wrote it) as in 1985 (when I first read it) and in 2012 today.

Sample this. Manor Farm is a farm run by Jones the farm owner. All the farm animals are made to work hard in return for very little. One of them, Old Major, a boar, tells the animals in the beginning of a dream he had where he saw humans being overthrown and the farm belonging to those who actually worked - the animals. A rebellion, he says, and the farm animals listen. In a few days Old Major dies. His rebellion happens soon after his death, when farmer Jones forgets to feed the animals in his drunken stupor, and is attacked by the hungry animals. Led by two young pigs Snowball and Napolean, who have the sharper brains of the lot, the animals drive Farmer Jones away and take over the farm, rename it the Animal Farm, and declare war on all that walks on two legs. Snowball is an articulate, hardworking, progressive pig while Napolean is an inarticulate, mischievous and power hungry pig. Over a period of time the two pigs fight for leadership over the farm until Napolean unleashes his army of dogs (that he raises in secret) and drives Snowball away. Now as the supreme commander, he used false propaganda, ill treats the animals, puts down any form of rebellion and makes for himself a luxurious life in Farmer Jones farmhouse, eating the best food and drinking whisky even. In time he actually starts meeting other humans (which is against their first principles) and starts making deals with them. The saddest day is when he sells off the loyal and hardworking horse Boxer to a slaughter house.

But pay attention here. The way he and other pigs in the Management do not appear when the loyal and hardworking Boxer falls due to exhaustion, whisk the old horse away without any intimation to other animals allegedly for better treatment, spread false stories about how the brave horse was given the best treatment and make unconvincing speeches of sympathy when Boxer dies ring all too familiar with the behavior f the Government in the recent incident that shook the nation - the horrific Delhi gang rape case. It's bone chilling really to know that nothing has changed since 1945, that Orwell could actually write down this formula for society and that we are all living it exactly as he'd written it down even now. The last scene where the fattened and power-hungry pigs start walking on two legs imitating humans, making deals with humans over dinner where they all get drunk and fight - a scene witnessed by all the animals of the farm from the window - ends with another chilling line - that at that table the pigs and the men look alike with their many chins and the greed in their eyes.

Written as a brilliant satire deriding Communism in Russia, which Orwell, a confirmed socialist, believed was in cahoots with Western Capitalists, 'Animal Farm' is frighteningly alive even in this age. We see pigs like Napolean ruling us even now, their sycophants like Squealer spreading lies and falsehood, their goons like Napolean's dogs attacking the weak and unarmed, the stupid and uneducated public which believes in any propaganda that the state feeds them. We also see how the system, or those in power, use their people, how they sell off their own loyal employees, how they do not hesitate to make a profit even when one of their own is dying or dead (or raped). Nothing has really changed. Not in Manor Farm. Not in our world.

George Orwell's brief at the back of the book is interesting. He was born in 1903 in Bengal, where his father worked for the Opium Department of the Government of India. Orwell wrote six novels, mostly with political hues and with sharp criticism of prevailing systems. He died when he was 47.

'Animal Farm' is one of the books that you wish you could write - so simple, so powerful. Characters like the pigs - Napolean, Squealer and Snowball, Boxer the valiant and hardworking horse who represents the working class (believing that their only job is to work harder and that the Master is always right), the stupid sheep who come in numbers and disrupt any meaningful dialogue by their loud, meaningless bleating, are all unforgettable. Even if you'd read it before, read it again - it's only 118 pages long. 'Animal Farm' remains an even bigger inspiration for me to aspire to write something as simple and as timeless and as powerful.

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