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Animal’s People

Empathy vs Honesty

I once wrote an essay on Animal’s People by Indra Sinha. Like all my academic work, it’s dense and philosophical and almost entirely useless. However, that book changed the way I see and hear and think about the world. It deserves so much more than academic criticism. So, it’s time to revisit what I consider to be one of the most important novels ever written.

There is no way to read Animal’s People as an undamaged observer: you are implicated and enmeshed at every turn in the toxicity of Bhopal - the world’s largest industrial disaster. Empathy, which still implies separation from suffering that is not mine, is not an ethical response. Sinha’s novel requires a radical reimagining of what it means to listen to the stories of the oppressed, the disabled, and the poor - left disfigured in the wake of a liberal political system which has failed us all (though not equally).

If empathy is insufficient, what is left? Well, honesty about your position and place in the world, and real accountability in the face of how the world reads your personhood in this particular time and place. It is only when we own up to how we present ourselves to the world, and how the world represents us in the eyes of others, that we can meet those others as a full and fully alive human. That is, the sort of being capable of making meaning precisely because they do not deny the impossibility of truly understanding one another.

The infinite distances between us, the feeling that you will never be totally understood by anyone else, is perhaps the only universally-shared experience. It is the sameness beneath all our differentiation. Acknowledging that I cannot ever really understand what it is like to be disabled, to be extremely poor, or to be black is not to give up hope. It is to create the honest ground required for genuinely meaningful discussion about how we can go on living together.

Liberalism Lacks Embodiment

If we can’t read empathetically, knowing that it too easily inculcates a sense of separation from suffering, what method can we use to understand stories radically different from our own? In Fictions of Dignity, Elizabeth Anker argues for “an embodied politics of reading” (9), which goes to the heart of the honesty and accountability I have outlined above. She points out that disability and embodiment might hold the key to “certain modes of aesthetic expression [which] can play a meaningful role in salvaging, as well as recalibrating, our existing social and political imaginaries” (2). This is how I read the project at the core of Animal’s People: a recalibration of our social and political imaginaries. It is an immense and urgent undertaking.

The narrator, Animal, was disabled by the disaster, his back bent and twisted by toxic exposure so that he now moves around on all fours, viewing the world from waist-height. The story he tells is one centred around the unresolved contradiction of “what was an animal and what it meant to be human” (24). The novel is structured as a series of tapes, recorded by a foreign journalist and then transcribed directly, without any editing, into the text you read. Even before describing the story, it’s very structure reveals the impossibility of really hearing the narrator or grasping his meanings without the mediation of a foreigner like yourself.

Animal’s interaction with the journalist begins thus: “You nodded and smiled at me. Khaamush, silent then I’m” (4). The contraction to “I’m” is a recurring feature of Animal’s speech. Importantly, he always moves “I’m” from subject position to object position in his sentences, creating a hierarchy in which ‘you’ - the reader - naturally, grammatically, place yourself first; constantly playing the poisonous role of interpreter/editor of his odd phrasing and bawdy narration.

Animal is a survivor, not a hero and he - more than most - realises the extraordinary power of embodied words. He criticises Farouq, pointing out that “first he does not realize that everything’s just fucking words, second this edge he misses, that when I say I’m an animal it’s not just what I look like but what I feel like” (87). This is a critical point: words may sound the same in my mouth as they do in yours, but they do not necessarily mean the same thing because of our experience in different bodies.

Determined to occupy his own symbolic order, Animal asserts the abject nature of his narrative over and over in the first tapes, claiming that “[s]ame way is this, a story sung by an ulcer” (12). You cannot empathise with this story; you can only surrender, both to its truth, and to the fact that you cannot fully know the truth of that toxic night and its consequences in the lives of people twisted by environmental and economic circumstances out of their control. You can, however, recognise that these are the same circumstances which have placed this text in your hands now, rather than your body in Bhopal then.

Disability Voiced

Another effect of his poisoning is that Animal hears voices. Such hallucinations break down the boundaries between dream and reality; a process which mirrors - at an aesthetic level - the formal convention of using oral tapes, which collapses the borders between subject and object, reader and listener, sight and sound. “What are these voices, no good asking me” Animal says, “once I was looking at Nisha, this voice says, the hair pours off her hair like history. What the fuck does that mean? I don’t know” (8).

These disabling voices do not present knowledge in a way you can understand, but they do enable Animal to gain unique insight: “Like rejoicing, the world’s unspoken languages are rushing into my head. Unusual meanings are making themselves known to me. Secrets are shouting themselves into my ear, seems there’s nothing I cannot know. Ssspsss, haaarrr, khekhekhe, mmms, this is how the voices are” (11). Animal’s subjugated body becomes, in this strange way, the site of all ‘the world’s unspoken languages’. Again, you the reader need not understand this, indeed you cannot understand it. You just need to listen closely enough to hear the rejoicing which is inseparable from his unique suffering. The fact that you cannot contextualise or categorise the unspoken does not mean that it doesn’t exist, and holding the space for such possibility without forcing it into your own interpretive framework is exactly the sort of social and political reimagination the novel is trying to inculcate.

An unsolvable oscillation between pain and possibility define Animal’s narration, moving between the “wild, stupid, unforgivable hope” (141) that he might be comprehended and his ever-present awareness that

“You were like all the others, come to suck our stories from us, so strangers in far off countries can marvel there’s so much pain in the world. Like vultures you are jarnaliss [...] You have turned us Khaufpuris into storytellers, but always of the same story. Ous raat, cette nuit, that night, that fucking night” (5).

The “Kakadu Jarnalis” talks of “rights, law, justice”, but Animal is quick to point out that those “words sound the same in my mouth as in yours but they don’t mean the same [...] On that night it was poison, now it’s words that are choking us” (3). You are part of the system which consumes as entertainment pain caused by its own economic and environmental operations. Any reader who interprets the text using their own words (which all readers must do), necessarily poisons and stunts Animal’s story in the same way that Union Carbide poisoned thousands of people and then essentially left them to die. “Our construction of the normal world is based on a radical repression of disability” explains Davis, pointing out that “the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the ‘problem’ of the disabled person” (Disabilities, 22-4). “What is that hush?” Animal asks, sensing hesitancy, “On your side it’s shame because you know you are paying shit for something priceless.” (Animal’s People, 10).

Vulture Capitalism and Toxicity

I told you upfront that there is no escape from our own entanglement in each and every human suffering. It is only by acknowledging this simple truth that we can begin to reimagine both our own responsibilities, and our collective sociopolitical system. We cannot imagine our way out of the evils of extractive capitalism using tools built by capitalists. A world imagined not in terms of rights, but rather responsibilities; in terms of embodied honesty and accountability rather than abstracted empathy, is the great gift real stories truly told can give us. But facing this truth will be toxic to your current image of yourself and your place in the world.

It is a toxicity which leaks into the very seams of Sinha’s narrative: an old and disfigured woman asks the Kampani lawyer outside court, in Hindi, “You were making poisons to kill insects, but you killed us instead [...] Was there ever much difference, to you? (306). The lawyer asks for a translation, which gets given as “she is asking for money”, and he proceeds to give her five-hundred rupees. The irony that we ourselves are reading a translation we also paid a pittance for should be obvious, as should the dangerous ease with which translations can be misinterpreted.

This takes us back to the root of the whole work: “what was an animal and what it meant to be human” (24). Animal rejects personhood as defined in our current sociopolitical imaginary because, as he points out; “if I agree to be a human being, I’ll also have to agree that I’m wrong-shaped and abnormal. But let me be a quatre pattes animal, four-footed and free, then I am whole, my own proper shape” (208). This ‘proper shape’ is the same as the ‘unspoken languages’ he has access to by virtue of existing outside what you define as ‘human’. The challenge to you as a reader is to let him keep that shape without jumping to your own easy interpretations and thereby distorting his own proper shape.

Embodied reading is about facing the un-translatable as it is. It’s about honestly seeing the toxic spectacle of our broken economic environment and how it disfigures any notion of “human being”. Importantly, embodied reading does not use accountability to reinterpret “human being” and make us all comfortable again; it is about questioning how the category itself gets formed. Who ‘wins’ the argument about Animal’s status as a human being is irrelevant: “if one makes the conceptual leap to label oneself disabled [...] then the leap is the issue, rather than the qualifications for the leap” (Disabilities, 2). This is why Animal’s response is consistently obstructionist and objectionable (and must remain so in any ethical, embodied reading). Sinha’s objective, like Davis, is to “confound the question and, by extension, the category the question begs” (xvi). It is abundantly clear that empathy is not a robust enough moral foundation from which to understand being-in-a-body. Animal does not want your pity; “I refuse to be a fucking bhondsi-ka victim” (27).

Naming Words

How can one read a story dictated in a different language by someone who refuses to submit to your modes of understanding, and who will not be pitied? Well, we can begin with what they choose to call themselves. Jaanvar literally means Animal, though Nisha (whom Animal loves) tells him that “Jaan means ‘life’. Jaanvar means ‘one who lives’” (35). The name is undeniably toxic, but Animal’s reclamation of the life-affirming qualities of his identity, through love and on his own terms, points to a productive tension in toxicity. His name and stature give him the ability to operate free from the constrictions of ‘human’ perception; an ability to survive outside the norms and liberal values of human rights discourse. Davis argues that “when we start conceiving of disability as a descriptive term and not as an absolute category, then we can begin to think in theoretical and political ways” (Disability, 8) which, “in thinking of disability [...] consider the disability of thinking”. Names are words which carry overt meaning and yet, even here, embodied reading requires that we recognise how disabling our own thoughts can be when we refuse to go beyond the surface of quick and easy translations. When we are not available to listen to the full story, without judgement, we deform our own understanding.

Animal considers all the people who will read the journalist’s work, which he terms an “awful idea. Your eyes full of eyes. [...] Their curiosity feels like acid on my skin” (7). Eyes can only ever reduce his embodied experience to visual, and therefore disabling, analogues which make “no sense. How can foreigners at the world’s other end, who’ve never set foot in Khaufpur, decide what’s to be said about this place?” (9). His embodied, toxic story exposes reading as inherently motivated by the unequal, global power relations at play in any text. He takes Elli on a tour, but decides to try and charge a fee:

‘Friends don’t charge each other for favours.’
‘We are friends,’ says I, ‘but not equal friends.’
‘Crap. Of course we’re equal.’
‘No, we’re not. You are rich and I am poor.’
‘What has that to do with friendship?’ [...]

‘You said our friendship was not equal, well I am giving you something, you can give me something, each of us gives freely, not because we have to, but because we want to. This makes us equal.’
‘Elli, this equality leaves me broke.’ (175-6)

Of course to Elli, the philanthropic American doctor, everyone should be seen as equal before the law and no-one should be discriminated against. Animal does not deny this, but rather his deformed body asserts its own framework in which equality has less to do with so-called human dignity and more to do with economic power and the abstracted, extractive, normalised systems on which it is based.

Seeing Sound

Our sense of “normal” is constructed first and foremost through sight. Davis points out that “disability exists in the realm of the senses [...] Yet, paradoxically, it is through the senses that disability is perceived” (Disabilities, 12). When a person enters our field of vision and we see them as ‘disabled’, we are ourselves disabled by that perception.

Similarly, the structure of Animal’s People forces honest readers to acknowledge their inability to hear Animal’s truth: we are literally looking at text transcribed and translated from oral tape recordings. There is a deeper poisoning at work, for “words are grounded in oral speech, writing tyrannically locks them into a visual field” (Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, 12). Ong argues that sight is adapted to diffuse reflections of light off a surface and so is therefore only able to perceive the exteriority of objects - even within a room, we can only see the walls. We have to open a box to see inside, whereas we can tap lightly on it to determine its contents: “only hearing can register interiority without violating it” (71). Sound is unifying and immersive, in that it arises from an interior structure - the voice - which resonates within the organism itself; in other words, it is a phenomenon produced and understood only through embodiment. “Sight isolates, sound incorporates” (72) which means the visual ideals are distinctness and clarity, while the auditory ideal is harmony. He argues that our “complacency to think of the word as a sign is due to the tendency [...] to reduce all sensation and indeed all human experience to visual analogues” (76).

Sinha’s use of tapes can be seen as an attempt to highlight this danger; and an attempt to insert historical and environmental context - and Animal’s body - into the centre of his work without necessarily violating the narrator’s interiority. If there were any way Animal’s narrative could be understood in the incorporated world it acts against at every turn, or even vaguely comprehended - as one would only be able to guess at a box’s contents by knocking - it is through the immersive and unifying nature of sound. Animal addresses the Eyes directly - a paradox indicative of the toxic, yet productive, tension inherent in all his narration: “My job is to talk,” he asserts, “yours is to listen. So now listen” (13-4). He claims some agency, demarcating a specifically auditory (immersive) space in which, though inevitably determined by inequality and his abject status, he can exercise control over how sincere his words sound. In a sense, Animal’s unique style, his bending and twisting of ‘Inglis’ and French can be seen as his attempt to express his own deviation on sa, the eternal note.

The question of sincerity highlights the difference between listening and looking, a difference Animal picks up on at the start of Tape Three: “I keep forgetting you do not hear me [...] For you, they’re just words written on a page. Never can you hear my voice, nor can I know what pictures you see” (21). If we read the whole text - particularly the present tense narration of Tape Twenty-Two - as an extended oral performance, of which all that really exists “is the potential in certain human beings to tell it” (Orality and Literacy, 11); then the differences, and intersections, between looking and listening become clear:

Oral cultures produce powerful and beautiful verbal performances of high artistic and human worth, which are no longer even possible once writing has taken over the psyche. Nevertheless, without writing, human consciousness cannot achieve its fuller potentials, cannot produce other beautiful and powerful creations [...] We have to die to continue living. (15)

The sense of performance encourages an embodied reading which allows for “silence [to] speak” (47) in the gaps created by translation and transcription, in the same way that pause and the odd laugh modulate tension in oral narratives. In fact, it is silence which “makes sound into song” (47). Pandit Somraj - the source of wisdom about music, notes and measures - tells Animal that “if you know how to listen, you can hear music in everything” (49).

Just listen, and be silent. Do not imagine this will let you escape from the toxic environment we have all inherited, for listening is active, and silence is just a specific kind of embodied presence.

Do you see yet that listen and silent are anagrams?

Dreaming Reality

In the ‘Editor’s Note’ which explains the tapes, there are also “several minutes of sustained and inexplicable laughter”. Despite all the toxicity, humour still plays a central role within the text: Zafar, dying from the hunger strike, says, “See? Such an ironist. You have understood something worthwhile, my friend, in the end the only way to deal with tragedy is to laugh at it” (301). If you actually sit and reflect upon a time you were desperately hungry, and then extrapolate the state of mind and heart it would take to say these words as you’re literally starving, you may sense what embodied reading is actually about, as well as end up laughing at the very obvious, non-rational truth of these words.

Mikhail Bakhtin once wrote: “He made the top and bottom change places, intentionally mixed the hierarchical levels in order to discover the core of the object’s concrete reality, to free it from its shell and to show its material bodily aspect - the real being outside all hierarchical norms and values” (Rabelais and His World, 403). It is in the inversion of top and bottom, sight and sound, narrator and reader, dream and reality, which reveals truth. But you have to be prepared, for in an age premised on lies, the truth cannot but be poisonous.These kind of non-rational inversions are most obviously described in Animal’s dreams, where the toxic and transcendent converge.

“Up high and early, my eye dreams the start of this Khaufpuri day. I see the world and me in it. So high I’m, the earth curves away from me, the upper air’s full of brilliance. I see the world spread like a map, roads from all sides coming to the city” (133).

There is a strong sense of possibility here. Like each dream in the text, it is narrated in the present tense and, in moving out of himself into the eye-who-dreams, Animal perhaps comes one step closer to the Eyes of his imagined readers. However, as always, the text discourages easy readings - the view is from the top of the chimney that expelled deadly gases over the city; everywhere the spectre of the Kampani looms. Like Zafar’s starving words, there is both tragedy and humour from this height.

On a night out in the Laxmi Talkies with Farouq, Animal drinks enough bhang to exclaim “I spit in the mother’s milk of time, which, I suppose, passes. How can you tell?” (236). He then slips into another dream, again narrated in the present tense. The different, disfigured foetuses which make up the Kampani Board reveal themselves to him as “beings of such terrifying beauty that I want to fall on my face for surely they must be angels” (237). The dream world reveals an inverted and deep truth: the board of the company and the unborn babies disfigured by their negligence are collapsed into one image, revealing the unspoken damage wrought by oppressors on themselves. Symbols of justice appear around each foetus and Animal says: “life is stranger than stories and these little creatures in their round long-necked flasks, even they have found some purpose in the web of things” (237).

This goes to the heart of being disabled by embodied reading - it has to do with a fundamental inversion of power. If done honestly, you can begin to grasp how the text is reading you as much as you’re reading it. What is really toxic: the world as it is, or our attempt to contain it within our limited interpretive frameworks? Later, Animal remarks: “Endless the way home is [..] making familiar ways strange” (272). Potential new meanings form in these inverted linguistic structures and Animal’s home - the abject territory we cannot know by virtue of our own repressions - is presented as ‘endless’; infinite; a landscape of moonlit dream and hallucination which exists on its own terms, with its own symbolic orders, in its own tense.

We can allow for this “less damning view of the dynamism and adaptability of English as a cosmopolitan medium” argues Ankhi Mukherjee, because “we could see in its linguistic and conceptual borrowing and syncretism not a greedy epistemology, but a longing for unbelonging, or belonging to what Said called a ‘non-coercive human community’ (World, 247)” (Classic, 146). Although the possibility of a ‘non-coercive human community’ is rejected by Animal’s final words - “Tomorrow there will be more of us” (366) - his ‘longing for unbelonging’ is perhaps another indication of how we can begin to recalibrate our sociopolitical systems.

Love the Musical Nothing

The breakdown of language - so central to both embodiment and humour - finds its analogue not visually, but in the multiplicity of musical sounds. Animal’s unique point-of-view and ability to listen (49) means that he is the only character who, from early on, understands that on “both sides of the road it’s the same complaint” (168). Only later does Somraj acknowledge that “there was a certain beauty in the clashing of our musics” (198), going on to explain that “I try to hear it all together, all at once. When songs clash, as you called it, sometimes out of that comes a new music, something completely fresh” (216). Written on the Pir Gate at the entrance to Khaufpur are the words “Procul hinc abeste profani”, which Abdul Saliq translates as:

“you are entering the city of the elect, whereof the mystery is shouted from the rooftop, but none may decipher it, yea, except within their own souls” (118).

It is not precise, which - again - shows up the slippery nature of translation, but Saliq’s message applies well to all the imagined Eyes. It is only in confrontation with the power relations at work within the self, which inevitably bend and twist the way we read - rather than listen to - Animal’s narrative, that we can begin to grasp the first strains of a new sort of music floating over the rooftops of a poisoned city.

This is not to aestheticize the local realities of Khaufpur, for the ideal of this music is not ‘harmony’, but “promises made by auto-rickshaws and blacksmiths, bees, rain and railway engines [...] maybe there’s even some kind of music to be had from potatoes and vultures” (250). It is a music driven by love and powered by nothing. As Zafar explains, “you can fight without hope if the heart finds strength in something stronger” (75). Repeated throughout the book by various characters, the power of nothing becomes most obviously embodied by the Khã-in-the-jar. Just as Animal exists on the border of a real tragedy and a textual reimagining, so the Khã exists on the border between Animal’s textual reality and his dreams: “Now I’m confused. This little bugger is real, I can tap the glass jar and he’ll curse me, but is he also real in my dreams? If so, what are we to make of this world that seems so solid? Is it too nil but lights and dancing shadows?” (138). The Khã responds:

I am the egg of nature, which ignorant and arrogant men have spoiled. I can be a friend to humans, especially the poor, for money doesn’t interest me. Your Khaufpuri politician [...] people like him should fear me, I’m a fire that will burn up his five senses. As for you, poor fuckwit, you think you’re an animal, I am your mother and father, I was you in your childhood, I’ll be you when you’re old. Dead am I who never lived, wasn’t buried, waits to burn. (139)

The egg is the ultimate symbol of nothing, as well as of nothing’s power to transform into new life. It is the fire of the five senses, thereby defying even disability. It is multiplicity-in-singularity; a single object, shaped like a zero, whose primary function is to become. It is the zone at the very beginning of creation, the site of first inception and here, in the grotesque spectre of a two-headed foetus, it serves as the embalmed, eternal symbol of embodiment.

After his dream-confrontation with the whole Kampani Board, Animal wakes up in bed with Anjali and proceeds to study her vagina:

This is it, the most powerful thing in the world because all men go crazy for it [...] What is this thing? It feels wrong to call it a thing, from nowhere the word grace jumps into my head [...] I try to imagine the womb and realise that it’s an empty space, which means there’s nothingness at the very source of creation [...] for it contains the whole world plus heaven and hell beside, in its depths is the whole of the past plus all that will be. (243-4)

Again, nothingness is presented as the very source of creation, whether womb or egg. Moreover, this passage, though explicit, is directly at odds with the rest of Animal’s bawdy narration. His description contains no swear words, he calls himself “I” and places the pronoun in the subject position. His words call up the originary ground of all our becoming, and the timeless nature of being. Here, for a moment we have not a thing, but empty space: a force which “makes nuclear bombs look like firecrackers” (244). Little wonder that the first word which jumps into his head during this honest witnessing of an embodied reality he cannot understand due to its innate difference from his own is ‘grace’.

Die Before You Die

Narrating his own death, Animal says “under my four feet as I walk the earth comes into being” (348). He goes on:

what am I but a complete miniature universe stumbling around inside this larger one, little does this tree realise that the small thing bumbling at its roots, scraping at its bark, clawing a way into the branches, is a fully fledged cosmos.

I, the universe that was once called Animal, sit in the tree and survey the moonlit jungles of my kingdom. (350)

He is the dead survivor who breaks your boundaries, whose name calls up toxic life and whose narrative is motivated by Zafar’s words: “While we have life, we have the world” (284). Towards the end of Tape Twenty-One, he explains that the “thing I am fleeing is more deadly than any of these and fouler than that poor creature rotting in his chemical womb. I am running from myself” (337) and the last words on the tape are “O lord how sweet it is, how tempting, is life” (340).

Animal really dies in Tape Twenty-Two (narrated in the present tense like his earlier dreams), setting light to the factory and the Khã and taking a handful of datura pills, by which his anthem is repeated:

Thou art an animal fierce and free
in all the world is none like thee
in fire’s forge thy back did bend
my bitter fire be thy end (342)

Fire is continually associated with ‘that night’ and its toxic afterlife; but here, it also springs from Animal’s own decision to take the pills, underlined by the possessive pronoun at the start of the fourth line. It is significant that the address to ‘thou’ makes it feel Animal has joined you watching his own deformed shape twist and bend in fire’s forge. The present tense narration collapses perspective and so is the closest you get to an unmediated experience of his narrative. He explains

A tear drips from the moon’s eye and lands on a branch. Lines of light spread in all directions, racing from tree to tree, till all the trees of the forest have silver edges, their voices are nothing I’ve ever heard, like deep flutes filled with water. ‘Show the animal, show him what he really is’” (342)

The moonlit tear reflected through the forest is - to me - the silver, auditory edge defining the absolute breakdown of language beyond which Animal passes as the trees pick up his anthem:

You are an animal fierce and free
you shall see what you shall see
que ta chair devienne sèche
we shall feast about your flesh (345)

Then, instead of the many voices we have heard before, “The voice” (347) takes over. Most importantly, it is the voice inside that says “whichever way you turn, this is the way [...] Beyond is that other voice, which sounds deep inside, yet seems to come from outside and everywhere” (347); which is to say the voice of truth:

‘WHAT IS A MAN?’ The voice roars right in my ear like a thunderclap, it flattens me. Torn in pieces I’m, parts of me break off and float away. My misty thoughts go spinning and become the moon. The glare in my eye’s my eye turning into the sun, my breath’s a hot wind, riding it is a tiny god drunk with his own power whose body is covered with sores, from my middle parts come gusts of air, out of my head slides the universe. (347)

Just like Animal watches little bits break off the Khã, little bits break off him and we find described here his final coming to terms with the egg of nature that is himself and extends beyond himself to all life. As the universe slides out his head, man-in-Animal or Animal-in-man is presented - in answer to the voice’s question - as inherently embodied and irreducibly multiple.


Tape Twenty-Three details Animal’s rebirth, starting with “That night I died [...] Of death I remember nothing” (351). He still exists in a place he believes to be his everlasting home, “the deep time when there was no difference between anything separation did not exist when all things were together, one and whole before humans set themselves apart and became clever and made cities and kampanis and factories” (352). However, this is narrated in the past tense; the separation which did not exist is once again forced to by virtue of the written word. Animal is found and Zafar gives him an embroidered blue wedding cap. “By this gift,” Animal laments, “I lost my immortality” (357). He soon returns Zafar’s cap (358) and, while this does not win him immortality back, it does perhaps signify that the sense of deep time might stay with him and his imagined readers as they leave the text. A sense of life that is embodied, contextual and excessive. “Animal, my brother, you are a human being, '' Zafar asserts, “a full and true human being” (364).

Again, the novel discourages easy readings and so Zafar’s claim should be read in terms of his insistence throughout that Animal is a human being. However, it’s placement at the end warrants serious consideration as Animal’s People concludes with one last repetition of its protagonist’s anthem:

I am an animal fierce and free
in all the world is none like me

Nothing more than this, no further modifiers or justifications required. The missing two lines become indicative of the power of nothing; which can never be overcome, nor can it change the fact that tomorrow, “there will be more of us” (366). But what of love? Animal imagines Zafar forgiving and carrying him because, in the end, “I did it out of love” (349). It is presented as stronger than hope, but mediated always by loss. Though at least 5 000 people will still be dead once you close the book and hundreds of thousands more will still be suffering; love, grown from nothing, somehow remains a possibility in Animal’s People. And what more can literature offer? Love is “worth nothing until tested by its own defeat” (My Traitor’s Heart, 409) explains another forgotten body, Creina Alcock. “I realized that love, even if it ends in defeat, gives you a kind of honour; but without love, you have no honour at all”.

Works Cited

  • Anker, Elizabeth. Fictions of Dignity : Embodying human rights in world literature. Ithaca: Cornell university press, 2012.

  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World (1965). Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

  • Davis, Lennard. Enforcing Normalcy : Disability, Deafness and the Body. London: Verso, 1995.

  • Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay On Abjection. 1980. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

  • Malan, Rian. My Traitor’s Heart. London: Vintage, 1990.

  • Mukherjee, Ankhi. What is a classic? : postcolonial rewriting and invention of the canon. Stanford: Stanford University press, 2014.

  • Ong, Walter. Orality and Literature: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Routledge, 1982.

  • Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People. London: Simon and Schuster, 2007.