Pankaj Mishra is a self-made man. He has been now a prolific writer and contributes his articles, mostly socialist political essays to some of the best newspapers and magazines of the world. His latest novel, written in a period of twenty years after the Romantics, Run and Hide presents a story we come across in every walk of life in our world wherein new values, consumerist cultures, material successes are replacing or displacing all old ones. It is a story in which people strive to suppress their pasts, and as Mishra said, to be modern is to ‘trample on the past.’ The novel orbits mostly around the three major characters: Arun, Aseem and Virendra who hail from a lower socioeconomic stratum. And the only path to modernity or progress for them is to bury or crush their pasts to emerge colossally in a world wherein they can move shoulder to shoulder with the elites of society. They have realized that a shortcut they could have to a higher social class is technological skills and talents. As such all of them work hard to get admission to IIT Delhi. They thru their efforts and family supports get entries to a college of technology that guarantees them a stamp of success. Even the CEO of Google was an alumni of that prestigious college. They dreamed of a future that is totally different wherein they could shed their past of lowly socioeconomic status. The central character or the narrator of the story, Arun is archetypical of the rest of Indians craving for instant success to move along with the elites of the society they want to belong. They wanted to belong there at any cost for success in a competitive world of globalization, capitalism and as such choose to leave behind a world of poverty, paucity and backwardness to emerge colossally in a world that renders them so many opportunities, fame, name and what not which was undreamed of in a world they and their people belong.
One of the truths Mishra tries to examine is how capitalism is sweeping through all walks of life across all societies and the end result is ruination or downfall. All the three IIT alumni covet a corporate world and work hard towards scaling the highest rung of the corporate ladder.
The story proceeds with Arun telling the story to his fiancé Alia who is geared up to expose the ‘Hollow Men’ who have risen in a new India, a mobile India who despises the edge. These three characters out of their over ambition put forth dogged endeavors to rise to a coveted height of success, finally to comeback to a wasteland only.
One of the points the writer puts in focus is the appalling caste system of which the characters have been victims. They are striving to emerge and surge forward to reach an acme the rest of those from a higher social echelon remain privileged.
Aseem believes, “To be modern is to trample on the past; it is to take charge, to decide being something rather than nothing, active rather than passive, a decision maker rather than a drifter.”
Are they happy once they scaled ‘the heights’ after completion of their professional degrees? That is a million dollar question. Their journey has been a discomforting one, and Virendra peaks in his career to be an entrepreneur in the Wall Street Hedge Market. Aseem and Virendra fantasize power, money and sex reorienting themselves to a world of corporatism and the highly ambitious, go getting person Virendra becomes a billionaire in New York only to collapse when he became an inside trader. Aseem yearns for the life of a successful writer and his ideal Naipaul, ‘the prototype of the early twenty-first-century globalized man’ but fails in his career as a writer awash in money. He is a media man, and yarns for publicity and glamor. Arun, on the contrary is somewhat different in a world where materialism haunts and hounds the youth. He is tormented by “a kind of guilt at wanting too much from the world.’ As such retreating to a Himalayan village he engages as a translator of Hindi novels. He comes across Alia who seduces him and he too becomes enticed by what he sees in the West, a world of capitalism, globalization, and materialism during his stay in London with her. The novel goes forward as a letter to alia and the return of Arun to a world of seclusion in a Himalayan village with his widowed mother from the ostentatious romantic life abroad.
Finally Arun, somewhat mirroring what Mishra thinks about the rising India who surges with new values which are dearly negotiated or bargained with the west. And through a memoir or a letter he wrote to a lady he parted with he recounts the impressions he has of the world of success and realizes that all that glitters in the name of modernity or achievement leads one to a moral crisis. Man becomes hollowed out in this materialistic gold rush.
Pankaj Mishra is a successful writer and his sterling essays, mainly political, socialist and economic commentaries published in some of the world repute newspapers and magazines have given him a name and fame any writers from India or South Asia can crave for. His astute and honed writing skills, as he has depicted in one of his most famous nonfiction works, Age of anger could be observed in this novel. In fact after going through his novel, Run and Hide which pivots around the impacts of capitalism and globalization some doubts rush through the reader’s mind about the usefulness of capitalism and globalization wherein the youth in the emerging economies like India, Nepal or Pakistan are going astray in their ceaseless hunt for success. And the main theme the reader arrives at if she deeply contemplates is escaping from what is to a fantasied realm wherein one is bound to meet with his fall in the end.
[Haribol Acharya is a writer and has contributed his articles and poems both in Nepali and English to the Kathmandu Post, the Rising Nepal and some other daily papers and magazines. He is a retired banker.]