In Roshan Ali’s debut novel, Ib lives with his schizophrenic father and his ‘nice’ mother, negotiating life, not knowing what to do, steered by uncaring winds and pushy people. From his slimy, unmiraculous birth to the tragic death of a loved one, Ib wanders the city, from one thing to another, confused, lost and alone, all the while reflecting on his predicament, of seeking meaning where there is none, and ultimately contemplating the futility of the seeking itself.
In this journey of sadness and self-reflection, Ib transforms into an ordinary man from an ordinary boy and along the way, tries to figure out life and understand himself.
In this audacious debut that is insightful, original and deeply disturbing, the various characters that Ib interacts with, and his own consciously assumed position as an observer, create reflections about the ‘self’. The answers to these, like Ib’s quest for satisfaction are endless.
Why is there so much pressure on the self to be purposeful, to be successful, to be able to ‘fit into’ the abstract idea of society?
Maybe it’s the density, the fullness, stuffed with people of such lofty stuffing that the natural technique of nature to empty the filled and to fill the empty is reversed by this overdose of man and his mischief; and thus a thin man like me gets the stuffing sucked out of him, till he is hollow and restless. So it is necessary for any objects that move about a city to have these lofty notions of man and society, to contribute, to fit in and thus avoid the mad dissatisfaction of being hollow.
Are experiences only significant to the self in retrospect, as the minds seek comfort in imagined connections and created meanings?
It was one of those days, the kind of day that feels strange in retrospect, because our minds are made in such a way as to see connections where none exist and to see coincidence in randomness, meaning in meaninglessness. Such as it was, I had no feeling of strangeness on that day, but now after all these years, coloured by the sepia lenses of nostalgia, that melancholy of oldness, a yearning for lost things, all combined in fateful ways to produce the kind of feeling that makes you think the past matters more than it actually does.
Is adulthood not a maturing of the self, but simply the self-learning the struggle of performing in a callous world?
Once school ended there were supposed to be some things happening in and around your life—freedom and college, drinking and coming home late. But if you stayed at home, like I did, nobody came into your home and took you by the hand and led you out into the world. You had to do this yourself and this somehow I wasn’t taught, and was taught instead that the world was a wonderful place full of happiness and helpful people, but in truth it was a cruel and rude place and nobody looked twice if you fell from your cycle and nobody helped you.
Why does the self seek validation in sacrifice, even if it is the pettiest kind of sacrifice?
When he wanted things, he would put it as if he didn’t really want them for his personal satisfaction, rather he wanted them for the general good of humanity as a whole, as though everyone would benefit if he was given a fried egg for lunch. Everyone knows the truest sacrifice is the one that is not talked about. But when he was inconvenienced in any way, he would make it out to be great sacrifice, never once saying either that he had sacrificed something great, or that he was upset by the sacrifice, but saying too many times exactly the opposite, saying, ‘It’s OK. The food was less tasty, but it’s OK, I don’t care about taste anyway, I eat for nutrition. A man must be simple and not have desires.’
Is it possible for the self to constantly and persistently monitor and balance the choices that shapes it?
It’s not easy to tell which moment shaped your life, or steered it in any one way. Life forces are like a potter and life is clay and there is a gradual moulding that takes place, and the faster the wheel spins, the smoother you become. But suddenly, one force becomes too much and the clay is torn from the wheel and rips apart, flying everywhere, or is grotesquely deformed. So one must balance the influences that come from everywhere, all trying to mould you, all trying to spin the wheel faster and faster.
Does the death of a person close to us come as liberation not only to them but to our own selves freeing us of their expectations, of the weight of their personalities?
It felt strange after that; that a creature so powerful could dissolve into ash and have no influence any more on the world, even on its closest people. And maybe death was just the beginning, not for the dead, but for the people the dying weigh down. And once dead, the body sinks to the earth and the ones around are cut off and set free like helium balloons.
Is the whole process of ascribing significance to things or events simply an exercise for the self to convince itself that it is special?
And so there was a lesson to be learnt, not in everything, but in some things and one must be careful in choosing what lessons one learns. Everything sometimes has the appearance of specialness but look carefully and you see it’s just a stupid coincidence; a chance happening that has no significance for you or the universe. The credulous see meaning in everything…
In moments of grief why does it come as a shock to know that one is alone in the experience, that the world does alter itself significantly for one’s essentially egocentric self?
At first there is a numbness, always, when such things occur. Then the thunk! between the chest and the stomach. Then we look around, perhaps outside the window, if there is one, to see if anything else has changed, but the trees continue their merry dance with the wind, and traffic flows according to old rules and new haste, and the sky looks on with that wide idiotic smile. And inside, everyone goes on with their dinner and drinks, laughing and talking.