We have often disguised our desires into brief pieces of literature. The scattered shreds of bravery have been collated time and again to put across a shy representation of justice; made to be interpreted by the intelligent without stirring up sentiments blatantly. When I began to find convergence of concepts such as ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ to envisage a kind of a universal index of morality, I found an intriguing narrative enclosed in a book called ‘neither night nor day’.
‘The Tongue’ by Nikhat Hasan is a metaphorical ride of ideas advocating emancipation that have been imbued in a story that involves the conventional trinity of a king, kingdom and the subjects. Boasting of quite an unusual plot, the cringe-worthy moments in the book are perfect cliff-hangers for a thinking riot that waits at the finish line. A story that talks about the ‘tongue-severing’ ritual of a village is a clever choice to seize the attention and infuse a string of wild guesses in the reader’s conscience about the plausible conclusion.
My reading of the aforesaid text involves an interpretation that runs deeper, if not parallel, to the literal interpretation. The author, a lady from Pakistan, may disagree with this take or might solitarily applaud it as the ‘message well received’. However, I must say that the eventful unravelling of the truth and the focused selection of the metaphors unavoidably takes my attention to a social commentary that is disguised as a kinship fantasy. In the sinister plotting of the narrative and the purposely oriented characters that goes on to prove my assertions and my inferences.
In a feudal set up, the author has created a binary of personas – The Ruler and the Citizens. What also runs parallel is the social depravity of the people that is centred upon loss of communication due to severing of tongues. The social depravity is contextualised as a grim yet unrealisable punishment that is aggravated by highlighting the economic prosperity of the kingdom. It may sound weird, but while reading the text one may easily be able to identify the stark contrast that has been created between hedonistic prosperity and actual happiness of a being. Also evident in the narrative (prominently at the later stage) is a minority of rebels or non conformists.
If understood in its entirety, the text undoubtedly yearns to tell the malaise of contemporary systems through a fictional fancy. Coming from a country that has seen multiple dethroning of democratically elected governments, and from a region that has discriminatory standards for gendered duality, this piece surely looks like a social commentary. A befooled successor of the king may very well represent the unintelligent electorate that adorn South Asian democracies. The irrational continuance of an age old practice may very well reflect the blinded outlook of the state towards societal dynamism and a stated belief in conventional fundamentalism. An act of dwelling in the status quo to avoid baiting of personal political stakes.
The most significant message lies in the primary object of the text – severed tongues. A tongue may very well qualify as a symbol for one’s voice in the system and the freedom of speech that one shall be ensured of. The severing of tongue points towards the curtailing of basic tenants of democracy such as freedom of speech and freedom to dissent. In fact, the very idea of holding it as an age old ritual endeavours to highlight the psychological permanency that is established regarding draconian regulations by associating the divine or customary validation. So much so, that a sense of lethargy starts to prevail in the society and people tend to become silent despite carrying ability to speak. As we go further, the story uncovers the unrealised importance of a tongue. The King’s insecurity and authoritarian attitude is reflected in his perspective about tongues. He believes that it is an instrument of human folly and exaggerates his contempt to an extent of blaming it for all the tragedies that had taken place in the kingdom. This is very similar to how our current leaders tend to sway the public opinion by maligning the righteous and exaggerating his weaknesses to a point of character assassination. All this, and much more, very intelligently paints a realistic picture of statecraft in the South Asian region with a palette of unreal colours.
The story concludes with a momentary realisation of the fact that one’s tongue cannot be severed forever. It will start to grow again at some point in future. And this time, people will cleverly hide it in order to wait for a time when it is mighty enough for a massive outcry.
The concepts of ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ are inalienable and inherent to a human being. The belief in democracy shoots from the soils of utmost oppression. The characters, the metaphors and the tragedy of the plot may or may not believe in my interpretation. However, one must appreciate the nuanced display of worded bravery shown by Nikhat Hasan. Wrapping in the layers of mysteries from faraway land, the lady from Pakistan has planted the traces of undistinguishable realties that requires a considerate heart and an open mind for it to be deciphered. ‘The Tongue’ would make you travel within your own belief system and would make you question things that you have taken for granted.
A silent bearer of truth, I hail The Tongue as a blurring line between fiction and reality; a victory that seeks no vindication.