Himanjali Sankar: Rousseau’s Thoughts on Book Banning, Marmaladies and Charles Darwin

Himanjali Sankar is the author of The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog and its sequel Missing: A Magnificent Superdog. She communicates a lot with her supercanine, Rousseau.

Rousseau is deeply worried. He is not a big reader but he has got the gist of Missing: A Magnificent Superdog and he says that if people were to find out that he’s never been to Marmaland or met an Orange Marmalady then life could get ugly for us. I tell him that what I’ve written is fiction but he points out that Rushdie wrote fiction too but wasn’t a fatwa issued against him? Who would give him dinner and take him for a walk if I was killed (the ‘him’ here being Rousseau, not Rushdie), he asked me plaintively. I comforted him the best I could saying that I have not hurt any religious sentiments with my writing which means a fatwa will not be proclaimed against me. For a while he was comforted.

Rousseau is not a selfish canine. He doesn’t only worry about his dinner or his walk. So, he asks after a while, what if there is no fatwa but the book has to be pulped? It is, as he points out, quite a silly book about a useless superdog who has some inane adventures and randomly lands in America. I mean, Rousseau explained, shouldn’t it be banned because it serves no useful purpose?

This made me a little self-conscious as a writer. I think quickly and cleverly and tell him reprovingly that it is a deeply profound and metaphorical book in which a magnificent superdog gets abducted and goes missing. A hunt and some soul searching follow before we know whom to blame. And then comes the point when the Orange Marmaladies must reveal themselves, lose their cloaks of invisibility and force the human race to confront their frailties. By the end of it all we come to an understanding of what happened and why magnificent superdogs must get lost. Because they really must.

Rousseau is startled into submission. I ponder on how ridiculous yet important it all is. The desire to understand and structure everything we come across and make it relevant to our lives in some way. Measuring out our lives with coffee spoons, as Eliot said, emphasising our urge for caffeine highs I believe. I measure mine with superdogs and the invisible marmaladies. I invented them for no reason at all but giving in to Rousseau’s insecurities I had just added a dollop of grandeur and symbolic meaning to their existence. Which is not always a bad thing. I remember there was a review of my earlier superdog book that surprised and delighted me by suggesting a layer of sub-text that I had not consciously placed there yet was glad someone else did. Which is what makes the reading of a book such a delightful, living, dynamic experience – for the reader and the writer.

My literary introspections were interrupted when Rousseau suddenly piped up again and asked if I had the right to speak on behalf of the Marmaladies as I am not a Marmalady myself. I’ve told him not to go on facebook so many times but of course he will and he must’ve read the news item about the Dalit objection to Arundhati Roy speaking on behalf of Ambedkar which Sonika, a mutual facebook friend that Rousseau and I have, posted today. So I tell Rousseau that it shouldn’t pose a problem as the Orange Marmaladies are voiceless and imaginary and unable to take up cudgels against me. Therefore, I add ruthlessly, I can safely exploit their liminal positions and be their spokesperson.

It was getting late and I was tired of his questions so I offered to tell him a bedtime story instead. He wanted to know more about Missing: A Magnificent Superdog. So, I said, the magnificent superdog went missing. And was missed as a result. Which doesn’t mean we always miss missing things. The word missed being a little misleading, let us say he was lost. Really lost – not like, lost in love. What is it with words! No wonder they are getting banned and pulped left, right and centre. More right than left or centre, really. Ok. Whatever.

My nerves are frazzled this evening and I am finding it difficult to focus on a single line of thought so I offered to read from the book instead. Or not. I was tired of the superdog and thought it would be nicer for both of us if we read something else. As usual Rousseau wanted me to read Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, which he finds rather soothing. If you could change from a chimpanzee to a human being, he tells me, there is always a chance that dogs will evolve into some superior dominant species in the centuries to come. I try not to take this personally – Rousseau is not saying that my appearance or intellect is in any way simian. He is talking in a larger, more philosophical manner and I have to agree with him. It’s time we humans bowed out gracefully and allowed the world to go to the dogs. Seriously.

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