Rides the fierce Lord Yama( God of death) to his somber destination, robustly plopped on the back of a water buffalo, waiting to pick the departed soul from the face of the earth. In the quest between Heaven and Hell, the soul lingers in the probability of its verdict. The shimmering blue skin contrasting the black hide of the animal becomes a petrifying vision. “Pray, pray from the heart, so the soul finds a place in heaven.”. The words of my grandfather keep ringing in my ears as I see Ximen Nao pleading in front of Lord Yama. A silent prayer subconsciously leaves my mouth at the sight of every passing funeral, even today, always. But, will my heartfelt words truly expunge the “sins” of the departed stranger on the final journey? Reincarnation, does the concept even find a genuine standing beyond its mythical realms? Heaven and Hell; does it even exist? If there is such a thing as “God of Death”, then why do tyrannical humans play the coveted role with such panache? Hell is right here on this very earth that at times makes death seem heavenly. Heaven is right here, residing within the tapered corners of a hellish life. Was my grandfather unaware of this perception when he used to tell me tales of reincarnation and the mortal sins that human souls are compelled to compensate? Or was his aware of it? The cawing of the crow becomes louder barging in my stream of thoughts. I angrily shoo it away, only to realize that later this year there will come a day on which I will be gazing deep into the crow’s eyes to question the proof of my grandparent’s soul residing within the bird, while it pecks into the 5-course meal that I shall offer on my window sill.
“This is not a personal hatred. This is class hatred.”
Man. Woman. Society prevails. Rich. Poor. Caste. Class. Societal segregation. Is it worth, the divisive techniques of human cataloging? To be born in higher or lower class is not a felony; the pre-meditated crime committed on the powerless is punishable. The hurricane of simmering wrath that brings along the arrogance of the newly anointed masters sweeping away grievances, does it then halt to classify between the good and the bad? The fine line trembling between in the roaring domains of justice and injustice is ruthlessly crushed in the race to gain “class martyrdom”. Ironically, humans corrupt freedom in the course of gaining autonomy. The dreams of a narcissistic egalitarianism are nurtured on the tombs of genuine ones. In the game of the oppressor becoming the oppressed and vice-versa, where does true martyrdom lies and in whose mausoleum? Fates are altered; dreams are disseminated from the communicative daises to create a fair and just society. To kill in order to gain, is this a fair and just society? And who eventually decides its staunch verdict? To be born with a silver spoon in a landlord class was Ximen Nao’s sin. Having two concubines and several impoverished peasants working under him his grave offense. Ximen Nao was neither a saint nor a sinner. Ximen Nao was a human being wrongly prosecuted. His only blunder was that he did not recognize the beginning and end of the love and hate cycle. Ximen Nao was a stranger to a world beyond riches. The Agrarian Land Reform (1950) prosecuted more thousands of landlords and as the burgeoning class war reached to its highest magnitude, it awarded the peasants back their land and animals while annihilating the class of landlord. The ideology of class hatred brought along with it viciousness and stringent prejudices that were carried through decade-long angst , eventually seeped into the lives of Lan Lian, Ximen Bai, Yingchun , Wu Qiuxiang and the Ximen progenies ; agonizing their already troubled lives. The revolution bequeathed the power to slaughter the discarded. With the onset of Communism as Hong Taiyue became a revolutionary martyr, the melodious sounds of an ox bone became louder and Lan Lian’s blue birthmark a shade darker.
“I’ve said it before. The only way I’ll join the commune is if Mao Zedong orders me too.”
Lan Lian, the inimitable “white crow” was not only China’s sole independent farmer but also the country’s lone hero. Submerged in the Communist mantra of “mine is yours and yours in mine”, the commune overpowered the very freedom of ownership that it once bestowed its beloved ‘peasant classes’. In the war of collectivism v/s independent, Lan Lian stood tall battling against every argumentative vulgarity and irrationality that was thrown at him by his comrades and family members. The hypocritical luminosity of the national and county bureaucracy glowed brighter than the gloomy moonlight that saw an obstinate yet, heroic man toil on his meager 1.6 acres land with his beloved “Blackie”, blissful in the fruits of his true ownership. The screams of joining the Commune deafened amid the dense sorghum stalks. To truthfully own a piece of land during the reign of People’s Commune was more precious than the virility quintessence within the horns of an ox.
“We are youth born in the era of Mao Zedong and though we have no choice in who we are born as, we do have a choice in which path to take.”
Ximen Jinlong in his survival through China’s most turbulent historical times becomes the momentous caricature of every child born and every adolescent that grew amongst the political upheaval that span for several decades. Jinlong’s predicament of adhering to the Lan v/s Ximen class battle was a reservoir for his futuristic incalculably ambitious goals. Over the course of the five-decade long socio-political pandemonium, China’s youth that births in various discordant circumstances become victims to their very own creations. Then be it Jiefang’s poignant persuasive ideologies in the battle between collectivism and independence, Kaifang, Ximen Huan and Fenghuang’s muddled lives or the irremediable anguish of Huzhu that bled more profusely than the throbbing capillaries in Hezuo’s fleshy long hair. The children of Mao’s era were forever lost in the hostilities of love and hate, disintegrating not only under their individual internal conflicts, but also those that were passed along through their parental and societal lineage. The proposal of a surrogate love was as susceptible as the prosthetic leg, for in the end both would be ravaged by famished stomachs amid a humanity drought.
“When I was reborn as a donkey, I was reminded of Ximen Nao’s grievances and when I was reborn as an ox I was reminded of the injustice he suffered.”
Holding on to his inbred aggression and suffering without which his long lost earth would be worthless, Ximen Nao , once the revered landlord finds himself on a journey through several birthing canals of a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog and a monkey as he travels through each of his chosen ranks of the animal kingdom moving closer with each step to the human territory . The enlightening expedition that witnesses Ximen Nao going through series of animal reincarnation, spans over 50 years commencing from the primitive bucolic landscape to the industrial new age rising on the periphery of a celebratory millennium. Through the humble eyes of the donkey, Ximen Nao excruciatingly views the aftermath of the crimes stemming from his lineage. He discovers the true meaning of love, but not without paying a bitter price for it. Through the trauma and the miseries of his loved ones, Ximen Nao concludes that the injustice he suffered as a human refuse to give in even to his woes of an animal. Life is inequitable and if humans are blinded by supremacy and hold on to fraudulent paths in torturing their own species, who would give a damn to those lowly animals. Through the strength of an ox, Ximen Nao stood by his most devoted “adoptive” son (Lan Lian) and the moralistic dignity that he seemed to have overlooked as human, implements through the heartbreaking yet laudable existence of an ox. Along with Lan Lian, Ximen Donkey and Ximen Ox become glowing symbols of integrity and loyalty in a place where betrayal and egocentricity was universal.
“Every pig born is a cannon shell fired into the stronghold of the imperialists, revisionists, and reactionaries. . . .”
“Mate for the revolutions”; “Bring benefits to people” slogans painted while alcoholic pigs paraded on the stage for the glorious dream of the Ximen Village Production Brigade Apricot Garden Pig Farm –a flourishing enterprise of New China. Pigs were essential in combat for if war ever came they would rescue the hungry soldiers with their meat. Ximen Pig, Diao Xiaosan and the numerous residences of the ‘Apricot Garden Pig Farm’ were a profitable business model to appease the whims and fancies of the most honoured revolutionaries of Gaomi County. No matter how much a pig rebels, ultimately in the battle against human v/s. scourge of pigs, the latter becomes a decaying carcass thrown by a filled stomach because even with the grandiose preferential treatment, a pig is still a pig and Ximen Pig a filthy and shameful part of the society. Why do animals strike people? Why do they rebel in their own obstinate ways? Have you ever wondered? Did Xu Bao envision the excruciating pain of the animal when he delightfully enjoyed his meal of freshly cut gonads? How would humans feel if they were castrated? How would humans feel if their faces were painted, bodies dowsed with tinted slogans and paraded on the stage as a combat enterprise for the betterment of the revolution? Oh, wait! Humans were no less than animals too. They were humiliated when their dignity and spirit of survival was castrated by the prejudicial soldiers of Commune. Their faces were indeed dowsed with red paint when they rebelled against the present authorities. Akin to the piglets that were used for gastronomic purposes, the minds of naive children were butchered by tyrannical “revolutionaries”. In the process of creating structure to humankind, man had turned animalistic. And they thought that the mongrel did not know any better, when Ximen Dog was dancing and singing at the Tianhua Square.
“The enemy is in the light, we’re in the dark. We see what we want to see, we can see them, but they can’t see us.”
Class warfare has been a constant sight in the existence of any boisterous civilization. The venom of class conflict and prejudices has trickled into the animal kingdom. The donkey having an aversion to the ostracized bastard mules , the pinkish Ximen Pig’s dismissal of the scrawny black boar and the acceptance by Ximen Dog for being a mere mongrel are striking examples that exhibits societal discrimination and the suffrage for being on the weaker end of the meted differential treatment. Albeit the societal class-strata, one is compelled to ask, how come when humans boasts of their species being of the highest order in evolution and degrade the lifestyles of mere animals, they themselves resort to their primal aggressiveness and animalistic traits making the rhesus monkey appear much more civilized than the very humans who tarnish their own civilization?
Life and Death Wears me Out
“Everything that comes from the earth shall return to it….”
Mo Yan is back with his self-depreciating mockery. But, unlike in The Republic of Wine, Mo Yan here is supposedly an ugly reincarnation of Lord Yama’s secretary whose obnoxious and prying demeanor makes him one of the worst Ximen Village citizens. Nevertheless don’t be fooled by this buffoonery as this is one of Mo Yan’s powerful works. Akin to his character’s proficiency of being a supreme wordsmith, Mo Yan artistically weaves a five decade political and historical panoramic view of the Chinese society through its trials and tribulations in the course of the Mao and post-Mao era. Every living being, be it human or animal or even the reddish-orange leaves of the Apricot tree, comes alive in this postmodernist folk-lore that spins a alluring web of magical realism encompassing metaphysical elements with satire, absurdity , simplicity , fantasy , yet keeping the essence of an hellish actuality that a country witnessed with valour. The citizen of Ximen Village thrive in their own insecurities overshadowing their survival; some come out of the sickly sweet abyss only to fall back again and then there are some like Hong Taiyue and Xu Bao who drown in their insanities. Once again, Mo Yan staying true to his literary spectacle carves heroes, cowards, loyalists and revolutionaries from the soil of Gaomi County; sycophancy and integrity oscillating between the pastoral and industrial juggernaut and the people of a metamorphosing China fail to remember where love ends and hatred begins and vice-versa. The cherished “little red flowers” that prided in the heroic chests they were pinned on, returned to the earth from where they had come.
“People in the 1950s were innocent, in the 1960s they were fanatics, in the 1970s they were afraid of their own shadows, in the 1980s they carefully weighed people’s words and actions and in the 1990s they were simply evil.”
In a place, at a time when the vast distance between the extremities of life and death were lessened by human fragility and scornful society; the journey between dawn and dusk was marred by hyper-realistic hotchpotch of heaven and hell. As my eyes were transfixed on to each inked word, my mind wandered through the streets of Ximen Village. Through the rustling of leaves over the Apricot Pig Farm, it searched for Ximen Pig and Diao Xiaosan; the ecstasy of love between Huahua and Naonao; Jinlong’s ambitious words, Hong’s musical ox bone; the moonlight’s ardent follower- Lan Lian,the coquettish triumphs of Qiuxiang , the scrumptious sound of Huzhu frying fitters which would send shivers down Ximen Nao; Huang Hezuo’s miraculous hair; Xu Bao’s bloody hands clutching fresh gonads; the valiant ox and while Jiefang cried for Yingchun, my nomadic mind finally reached in my courtyard. Reincarnation, is it really more than a spiritual myth? I may not believe in its institution, but if I was allowed to be reincarnated who would I come back as? The annoying crow is back and this time I share my piece of succulent watermelon with it and smirk at that cawing bird. While I ponder on my thought, somewhere in Ximen Village , Lan Qiansui gazed into Jiefang’s misty eyes and said:-
“My story begins on January 1, 1950…..”