On the very onset I must admit I am not a great reviewer of books, or any other thing for that matter. As I do believe since no five fingers are same, things are different from other. However, I also believe that nothing is always or never, hence this article.
I should say I have being forced to write this article by two compulsions, first is the compulsion of writing and of not posting for a considerable part of time and second one is the compulsion book itself. Many of you might be aware about the movie with the same name “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” starring Jack Nicholson, which won him his first Oscar. The movie was based upon this book by the same name written by Ken Kesey.
A little googling and you will easily find the story and other detailed research about this book and the movie also. But as I said, I am not a reviewer, I can only try to make you see but made me pick up this book and ultimately read it.
Picking up this book was not easy, with few bucks to spare, I was thinking about the return which I should expect. It was book fair, and as I had already explained in previous article I was not in a great mood to roam around. I decided to stick it out within few stalls, and for this one it was Penguin. This book, along with few others was under an offer, and as far as I can remember it was under Rs.200, a tempting offer for something which is marked £9.65. And secondly, the words “anti-establishment” commented in the back of the book. I gave it a second minute thought and decided to go ahead and make the last purchase for the day.
Something which attracted me towards this book was not the cover but the halo surrounding the story which was actually established by the movie itself. Though I haven’t seen the movie, but the reviews I read, and the other such supporting proofs made my mind tick that there must be something about it. And when I saw the book and corroborated the facts I knew, it seemed to be prudent enough to give it a try.
Who is insane? Who is mad? Who decides the conduct in the society and conduct of the society? Is it you, me or the society? What type of conduct is actually thought to be desirable in fitting into the society? There are no straightforward answers to these questions. This book does not provide those answers; this book only reinforces those questions. It puts those questions in a manner that either you will put the book down in disgust or you will be compelled to ask your own conscience these questions. And the answers are not easy.
This book in a manner ask those questions, not through the tongues of the persons whom we called ‘sane’ or ‘good’ but through the mouths of ‘insane’ and ‘criminal’. It asks question about the value of laughter in the gloomiest of the situation. It asks question of being free from any type of bondage. It asks question about being different. It asks question of being free and being non-submissive. It asks question of masquerading autocracy in the veil of participation. And finally it asks the question of the price one has to pay for being different.
This book is narrated by a person who has being displaced by the state, from his traditional and ancestral living, for some hydroelectric project, this person has gone through the trauma of seeing his tribe and family disintegrating and the tragedies of second world war as a conscript in Europe, and finally ending up in asylum. The repeated use of shock treatment and other such method makes his speech and views confined to him.
But this book is not about the narrator. It is about a criminal, who wishes to seek change for others. Because what he sees and feels is wrong. This book is about a nurse, which rules her ward with a toffee enameled iron-fist. It is about humiliation in public which she dishes out by just mere use of words in order to correct the patients. It is about her who feels an asylum is institution for insane.
Finally, this book is not about the asylum itself. Only through the context of place, it raises questions about what I called is ‘hound mentality’
I am a no great reviewer. But I must recommend giving this book atleast one shot. This book is written by Ken Kesey.
© Tarun Mitra