The book “Dangerous Pursuits” by Suniti Namjoshi is divided into three parts, and it makes for an irreverent and ruminative exploration of the beginning of the end of the world.
Humankind’s unrelenting mistreatment of our planet has finally led to a seemingly futile awareness of our acute shortage of time. What separates us from an oblivion preceded by excruciating pain and strife? The characters of this unique book, inspired by legends from lore and literature alike, pursue paths they believe are best for them and for their world. They are unaware of the flaws that distort their dreams.
In “Bad People”, Ravana, Shupi and Kumbh deflect the world from its destructive course, but perfection remains a distant dream. Ravana, of course, belongs to epic; but how does he fit into the twenty-first century? In “Heart’s Desire”, an old woman seeks to make a bargain with the devil, but the devil isn’t interested, and she finds herself stuck with two angels instead. And in “The Dream Book”, Caliban, Miranda, Prospero and the rest find that their dreams clash and are as pretty and pitiless as glass shards. Yet, each time their dreams crack, they dream again, reckless in this dangerous pursuit.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt has been taken from the Introduction of the book.
When we first started using fossil fuels in huge quantities, surely no one thought it was reckless to try to find a way to power our machines? It’s unsettling to think that now we’re on the verge of destroying ourselves and the planet because of our own efforts to make the world a more comfortable place. Surely dreaming about a better life shouldn’t be such a dangerous thing? We spend our lives chasing dreams. Some work out, some don’t, and then we philosophise.
Some of our dreaming is exceptionally good hearted. We have utopian dreams. We work towards realising them. We think of times in history when things have gone well, at least somewhere, for some people. But then it all changes – there are massacres, world wars, genocides, floods, famines, plagues … Is dreaming a part of our nature? Is it linked to how we think, tell stories, make poems? And why do we have to dream over and over again? Is dreaming bad for us? Should we give up dreaming? I don’t mean that, of course. And I don’t think we could, even if we wanted to.
In “Bad People”, Ravana, who has been asleep for thousands of years, wakes up in the twenty-first century and gradually changes from being a self-obsessed egoist to someone concerned with the welfare of the world. Magnifying his own image is no longer his chief concern. He has remarkable powers, a magic balm, and a brother and sister who look up to him. Thanks to their efforts and those of their friends, the world changes, things improve; but even they discover that we live in time, that change has to occur, and that the utopian dream keeps receding.
The protagonist of “Heart’s Desire” is an old woman. She decides to make a bargain with the devil in order to get what she truly wants. But she doesn’t believe in the devil and at first she doesn’t know what she wants. Later, she’s deceived by what she thinks she wants, and her quest has a predetermined end. She is mortal, and this too is something she and the rest of us have to accept.
In “The Dream Book” I’ve followed the threads of the dream imagery in The Tempest. Each of the characters has his or her own dream – Prospero wants his dukedom, Miranda her brave new world, Gonzalo his Utopia, Ferdinand his Miranda, Caliban his island, Trinculo his drink, Alonso what’s not his, Ariel his freedom … These are warring dreams. They shatter against each other, causing pain. The three young people and Gonzalo realise that even the most gorgeous and good-hearted dreams fail, and yet it is their task to keep trying, again and again.
We’re not an evil species, just not as clever as we thought we were. We’ll have to change – our ideas, our attitudes, our very make-up. And it’s hard, especially when there is no guarantee that we’ll get it right. The pursuit of “happiness” – of our varying notions of it – may be a dangerous occupation, but I can’t see we have much choice.
Is telling stories useful? I’d like to think so. Stories and poems feed our dreams, and the dreams feed our stories. To dream well – sometimes I think that is what we were born to do.
Caliban Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest, Act III, scene ii