20 June 2019
A chillling aspect into the apocalyptic future that awaits us: The Fate of Butterflies
Veteran author Nayantara Sahgal’s new book, The Fate of Butterflies, is about a series of political events which determine the course of its protagonist Prabhakar’s life. A commentary on many events which have occurred in the country over the past few years, the 91-year-old author, who is also the niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, delivers a hard-hitting book on the times we live in.
As an enthusiast of both speculative fiction and Indian writing, I’ve noted with some dismay that the contribution of Indian English writers to this unique genre has been quite minimal, or their “Indian-ness” underplayed in favor of a generic, nameless, western identity. Which is a shame really, because how can you not realize how perfect a setting urban India is for dystopian fiction?
That’s precisely why books like these are a breath of fresh air.
A short read, the description of the world’s new, segregated society sucks you in, as you read on with some trepidation, dreading how plausible this world will end up sounding.
Sahgal’s new book, The Fate of Butterflies, is about a series of political events which determine the course of its protagonist Prabhakar’s life. A commentary on many events which have occurred in the country over the past few years, the author delivers a hard-hitting book on the times we live in.
In 2015, Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi award as a protest against the ideology of the government. In order to continue exercising her right to freedom of speech, she has now written the nightmarish TheFate of Butterflies, which unambiguously likens the fictional situation to Hitler’s Germany. Here Muslims are herded into camps, their corpses strewn across the road, completely naked but for the the skull cap, a massive gang-rape policy targets Muslim women, and all meat is banned until it is proven not to be beef.
The novel derives its name from the cruel method of collecting butterflies that is apparently taught to little children in some schools. The butterflies are trapped in nets, then squeezed and crippled and pinned through their middles to frames.
The series of events in this novel are started off by a dead body Prabhakar sees on the road one day. The man “had suffered the fate of butterflies”, but he was not pinned, he was “bloodily axed” through his middle. The only item of clothing that remained on that man’s body was his skullcap.
The novel reminded me of a meme that is very popular on social media nowadays. The meme shows stacks of books, apparently in a library or a book store: the text superimposed on the image reads: “The Post-Apocalyptical fiction section has been moved to Current Affairs.”
At 144 pages, The Fate of Butterflies makes its point quickly and strongly and is an appropriate book for the near-dystopic times we are living in.
We are living in an India where the unimaginable is happening. We are told that we are a Hindu country, we are told that all other religions are outsiders, that Islam is our enemy.
These things have not happened before, so it’s a dramatic departure from our modern democratic past. Secularism and democracy are under attack because freedom of speech is being suppressed, writers have been shot dead and nobody has been punished. Poor men are falsely charged for transporting beef when they are not doing anything of that kind. These are absolutely new in India. We have had violence at all times in our history. In India, violence is not new but it has never been state-sponsored.
For 70 years, we have succeeded, we have failed, but we have never faltered in the aspirations of building a secular society and above all lies the fact that all Indians are not Hindus, but Indians. We have been a civilisation that has been enriched by all the influences that have come our way and should be proud of those, that is what has made us unique. Some people are very busy, trying to wipe it all away and say that we must be an exclusively Hindu country when we had rejected a religious identity right at Independence.
One of the aspects that would come to attention while reading this book is its language. it’s a double sided sword that can cut sharp into the readers. I found two aspects with the language. At one side each line is coiled and lengthy carrying heavy details and meaning. On the other hand, it is a beauty in words. some of the lines have actually swooned worthy with its poetic quality. The language is art for this book. It is a bit difficult but beautiful at the same time. For me personally, I absolutely loved the language. It made all the difference for me in the book
The other important aspect was the treatment of the plot. It definitely wasn’t a child’s play and I absolutely adore the boldness and the creative risk, the author had taken especially considering how sensitive and vulnerable religious aesthetics in India. I am pretty sure that there would be at least a small group of readers who would have their eyes bulging at the way the narration movies. That is why I felt the book was amazing because the narration and the way the author decided to narrate the popular mythology is super impressive nevertheless a really bold step.
A courageous, and dystopian, political novel, The Fate of Butterflies describes the all-too-easy slip from the familiar and apparently harmless into the terrifying. This is a true novel of our time: India, 2019.