Friday, March 19, 2010

A few stray thoughts on Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence

By John Cheeran
Everyone has a right to be happy. Pursuit of happiness, often, is a direct result of pursuit of love. Bitterness, despair and rancour may follow, but just because others have failed to keep the flame of love alive, we should not be scared to look love in the eye.
Orhan Pamuk takes a close look at love and its varied fragrances in his new novel The Museum of Innocence, set in Istanbul at a time when empress Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in India.
When Indians were sighing over love that never could find utterance in word and deed, in Turkey, with its proximity to Europe, it was a time of awakening for lovers. For Sibel, Fusun and Narcihan, making love to the man they loved before getting the seal of marriage was far from a moral dilemma.
More than love, I’m tempted to say, it is happiness that holds together the events spanning more than 30 years in The Museum of Innocence.
Or is it the other way round? Don’t you find true happiness when you are in love that is deep and pure?
Pamuk’s hero, Kemal Bey, starts his story by telling about his happiest moment in life. And, at the end of his obsessive passion, he reminds Pamuk, the writer, of his responsibility to tell the world that he has lived a happy life even though Sibel, the girl to whom Kemal was engaged when his life upended after catching sight of the most beautiful girl in Turkey, Fusun, finds him utterly crushed and spent after the tragic accident in his life.
Emperors have built monuments for their departed loves but I haven’t come across another instance of a lover setting up a museum for his lost love.
It, however, is a moot point that does Kemal’s The Museum of Innocence, deserve that name. There was hardly anything innocent about the love between Kemal and Fusun. Kemal, engaged to Sibel, a pretty and classy girl , and informed about the ways of the world in his 30s, knew pretty well what he was up to when he fell for his radiantly beautiful but poor relative, the 18-something Fusun. Fusun, though not been to Sorbonne, gives herself completely to the passion of Kemal for 41 days. She did not strike any bargain with Kemal while baring her body and soul to her lover. The only thing that she wanted to know from Kemal was that whether he has been sleeping with Sibel. It was a lie that Kemal lived to regret for the rest of his life, when Fusun found out the truth while dancing at the engagement party of Kemal and Sibel at Hilton.
Kemal realises how much Fusun means to him only when she walks away from his life. Kemal’s undoing was his plans of being happy by having a lover while staying married to Sibel. Fusun would have none of that.
Again, most of us cannot even understand when we experience true love or when we lose it. Kemal, to his everlasting credit, realises his mistake and woos an already married Fusun over the next nine years, like a faithful dog, visiting every street where Fusun walked, looking for her scent and anything that reminds him of her.
What takes away from the classic quality of this love story is the fact that Pamuk let Kemal and Fusun unite in body and soul as soon as they found each other; it’s a lie from Kemal that unhinged Fusun and forced her to turn bitter against her cousin and lover.
Despite all the deep machinations, despite the impossible and vexatious demands, remember, Fusun again gives herself to Kemal on a doomed trip of knowing, and settling all old debts. And, in turn, does it make the fatal car crash all the more unbearable for Kemal?
I won’t know.
For, I would have been fortunate to sit next to my Fusun for the rest of my life and listen to and talk to her till the end of time. As Kemal confesses while he is looking for crumbs of emotional comfort at the Keskins’ table during supper for nine years, happiness is being close to someone you love.
How close, one might as well ask, after gazing wistfully at a museum that only has floating memories and sound bites in it.

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