CHENNAI: Son’s relationship with father — most writers concerned with realism, and concerned with the way family relates to society, have shown interest in this peculiar human experience.
Yes, Freud made a lot of it, endowing it with a tension and using that tension to explain many psychic phenomena, but one cannot not argue that his theories were structured around a specific understanding of the social structure. As in life, literature provides us with numerous examples, through the length of accounted history, of how this relationship has formed men and provided the motivations for their actions.
Let’s consider the Mahabharata. If one goes into the thick of things, it is not difficult to see that it is Dhritrashtra’s blind love (pun partly intended) for his eldest son, Duryodhana, that is at the root of the conflict. Although he is made anxious by the prospect of war, there is no doubt as to which outcome Dhristrashtra wants the course of events to arrive to.
Duryodhan’s own outspoken sense of entitlement is most likely the result of seeing his father’s misfortune at being blind, something that Duryodhan assumes as his own misfortune and is constantly fighting a battle against. In Homer’s Odyssey, a different story plays out. Odysseus has been lost for years, and back home in Ithaca, his son, Telemachus, is under duress from the army of suitors behind his mother, Penelope. Terrorised by the prospect of having a step-father before any conclusive news of his own father’s fate has reached him, Telemachus intensifies the search for Odysseus. Telemachus’s need for his father is so strong that he is even able to summon the help of gods in securing Odysseus’s return. In more recent times, V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas comes to mind. In it, Naipaul describes one man’s struggles with life in Trinidad, his stifling dependence on his in-laws, and his subsequent desire to own a house of his own. It is well known that Naipaul’s template for the character, Mr Biswas, was his own father. Here we have a novelist dealing with material close to his heart, trying to pay homage to a dead father. But the homage is not paid through mindless valorisation. Naipaul portrays Mr Biswas as a conflicted character, with various foibles and false ambitions, even outright defects. Eg. Mr Biswas often beats his wife in the novel. But the sheer expansiveness of the narration and its willingness to get into detail extracts a sympathetic reading, so much so that the end exerts itself in its full pathos. The novel was perhaps also a way for Naipaul to hint that he was a derivation from his father, able to cast aside a similar destiny only through the force of his genius. And, well — I’m writing this on the road, accompanying my best friend and his father on a short trip, thinking of my father. He passed away on the first day of 2015.
(The writer will publish his first novel Neon Noon in July 2016)