Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. salinger
The first time I came across this title was when I saw this book in the hands of Nikhil, my classmate many years ago. I didn’t feel any special interest for the not-so-thick book, at least nothing more than what I generally feel for any book as a booklover, as I didn’t think it was a famous book. Later, in a few years, mostly thanks to the internet, I noted that the book is mentioned in zillion different book-places. And I started wondering how come I never heard of the book back then, in spite of my not-so-bad general knowledge about books and authors. I guess it’s because it was an American book. And what I was aware of, being an Indian, like others around me, were mostly famous British titles and authors and classics. That’s why I never heard of To Kill a Mocking Bird either even though it is one of the greatest books in the greatest books list if you search the net. Even though The Catcher in the Rye was a thin book, I saw it in Nikhil’s hands for days on end. It was sort of his companion for life. I must say he was a hardcore individualist. And he was mad for America too (perhaps because he knew America is a place where individualism is respected more than a country like India). Perhaps these were the two reasons how he came to be acquainted with the title. In spite of being an Engineering student, he dreamt of studying, living and working in America as a medical doctor. And when he got through the entrance for medicine, he left the Engineering college after just a semester.
The beginning of the book was not really interesting, perhaps because I expected something extraordinary from this icon of a book, but what I got was a narrative style similar to the one in Of Mice and Men (which, of course, was not very interesting to me either). However, after around the first ten pages, I started finding it comparatively a bit more appealing, thanks to its lucid style of storytelling. In contrast, I had enjoyed reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time from the very first page despite the similar way of storytelling by a little boy.
At around ten pages further, I had the feeling that I wasn’t going to like the book just for the style of it, if the style so far was just to extend until the end of the book with nothing special happening. When that something special happens, that’s when we say ‘All’s well that ends well’. It mostly happens when reading books and watching feature films. Somewhere down the line you become sure that you’re not going to like it, considering it overall, for the style. Then there are books and movies which give you the opposite feeling. That is, you really enjoy the style and you are sure that you find it good overall just because the style is so engaging that even if nothing special happens you don’t consider reading the book/ watching the movie a waste of time. Jose Saramago’s All the Names, Haruki Murakami’s After Dark and Salman Rushdie’s fiction are such creations, I believe. So are most Satyajit Rai movies.
I hoped there would be some change after the first half of the book. But there was nothing. The style was the same. Nothing new was happening. And the narration was monotonous. I was finding it hard to keep myself concentrating on what I was reading. The book is about individualistic and anti-hypocritic outlook of a non-conformist, maverick, teenage guy, which was supposed to be something that interests me, but surprisingly the account couldn’t excite me much.
However it’s true that the book portrays adolescence anguish very well and this part indeed aroused my sympathy for the guy:
“I could hardly get my breath, and I was still sweating like a bastard. I sat there, I guess, for about an hour. Finally, what I decided I'd do, I decided I'd go away. I decided I'd never go home again and I'd never go away to another school again. I decided I'd just see old Phoebe and sort of say good-by to her and all, and give her back her Christmas dough, and then I'd start hitchhiking my way out West. What I'd do, I figured, I'd go down to the Holland Tunnel and bum a ride, and then I'd bum another one, and another one, and another one, and in a few days I'd be somewhere out West where it was very pretty and sunny and where nobody'd know me and I'd get a job. I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people's cars. I didn't care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn't know me and I didn't know anybody.”
“I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life. Everybody'd think I was just a poor deaf-mute bastard and they'd leave me alone.”
Which reminded me of Osho’s comments about the Sufi mystic Jabbar. He wanted to be alone and contemplate on the self. And people who admire and revere him and come to him all the time for his spiritual counsel were a disturbance for him. So when the people asks him something, he utters some gibberish totally unconnected to the topic. And gradually people get tired of it and lose interest in his meaningless chatter and leave him alone. According to Osho, the word ‘gibberish’ has its roots in the name of the sufi ‘Jabbar’.
The guy’s reverie goes on.. “They'd let me put gas and oil in their stupid cars, and they'd pay me a salary and all for it, and I'd build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life. I'd build it right near the woods, but not right in them, because I'd want it to be sunny as hell all the time. I'd cook all my own food, and later on, if I wanted to get married or something, I'd meet this beautiful girl that was also a deaf-mute and we'd get married. She'd come and live in my cabin with me, and if she wanted to say anything to me, she'd have to write it on a goddam piece of paper, like everybody else.”
It’s really a poignant picture of frustration, helplessness, alienation. Wonder how many kids around the world would be going through a similar ordeal? Losing interest in everything around them at such a colourful age and feeling there is nothing for them in this big wide world, and ultimately heading to suicide or some such thing…