Monday, January 30, 2006

Kafka and I

It was on account of a friend that I bought Kafka. I had come to respect his (my friend's) literary views and following a hint that Kafka was a must read, I rushed to pick up my own copy. What followed was a tortuous and disasturous relationship.

Franz Kafka - the complete stories promised to give the uninitiated an insight into the enigma that was Kafka and his literary contribution. The foreword by John Updike reflected that the book " symbolised the terrors and anxieties of the twentieth century". I remained enthusiastic..

The apprehension of what was to come started seeping in, however as I struggled through the first of the introductory parables - Before the Law. The all prevailing sense of helpless seemed to seep into my psyche as well. Maybe the next parable would be more positive, I thought.. A summary reading of the following parable was not encouraging.

A change of strategy was called for and I launched into The Metamorphosis, with my initial enthusiasm. The story was a gripping account of a man's change from bread winner and pillar of the family to an object of burden and revulsion for the family.

Inside a washing machine - that was how I felt.. Inside a cavernous machine that threw and spun me around.. With the promise of being all the more dirty for the effort at the end of it all. Kafka was assigned the remotest corner of my book shelf with a promise never to go back to it again.

That changed when I came down with a fever and was forced to take bed rest for a week. There were no other books to keep me entertained as I lay convalescing and I returned, albeit a little reluctantly, to Kafka. However I was more prepared this time around. An objective and distant attitude was adopted as opposed to the usual emersion into the book. And true enough, the book was a kind of revelation.

Through the Penal Colony and the Giant Mole and short stories, the detachment helped in absorbing elemental Kafka. It seemed to represent all that is good and evil in man, in one boiling pot. One was unsure where one was treading. The suspense ensured a measured approach and at the patient end awaited not a sense of desolation but a sense of fulfilment, fulfilment at having had a unique snapshot of man's undying effort to transcend his limiting and coarse nature.

The book has returned to the shelf, not as a object of derision. But a guide for a different view of the world we live in.