Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Down and Out in Paris and London

It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs - and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.

Poverty was defined by an unknown intelligible source as, “having too much month left at the end of the money”, and is from what I can gather from some personal experience, quite true. Being a student in UK is no easy task what with milk selling here at the price of gold. I have lasted entire semesters depending on vending machines and TESCO value (8p is value enough!) noodles. Then there was the time that I sold my soul to as many freelancing devils I could conjure up, in London this summer, when I slept for a fortnight on the pavements of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square and the rough benches of Heathrow and Hyde Park…all because I spent the last of my money on seeing Pink Floyd live. This summer was the most beautiful summer of my life yet, for, it was during this period when I had the tiniest idea of what it is to be down and out. To wake up every morning without a roof above your head, without a pillow under it, to wake up and contemplate daily defeats, to hear your stomach speak to you in languages of its own…these are not pretty experiences but are experiences nevertheless and I am quite glad to have had them. Yet poverty, man’s worst enemy, is an issue that needs to be addressed and is addressed rather well in Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell (Animal farm, Nineteen eighty-four).

The book is a semi-autobiographical account of Orwell’s encounter with penury during his stay in Paris and London. One would immediately hyperlink Orwell with a successful literary career, which is true given his significant contribution to literature, but having read this book, my respect for the man has only doubled in affection as a different Orwell emerges from this first published work of the writer: an Orwell far away from Big Brother, a struggling Orwell who with broken and accurate sincerity pens the hopelessness of the homeless. Although published in 1933 and reflective of post-WWI consequences, Orwell describes in this work not just the assault of poverty on nations at large but the painful echoes of hunger in those who have lost it all and who wander in the concrete jungles of twentieth century Progress.

Orwell begins in Paris and gives us an introduction of his living conditions at the ‘Hotel X’ and the colourful characters that inhabit and frequent the quarters. Here, we come across the ideal dreams of the idle and the sour complaints of the working class. We meet Boris, a handicapped Russian waiter who claims to have seen better days as a maĆ®tre d' in famous Paris restaurants and cafes and who is finding it increasingly hard to get employed. Orwell’s own descent into poverty is a slow one as the English classes he used to give to get money get stopped. As a result, he begins to pawn his belongings for insanely low prices just so he can get something to eat. He has horrid experiences of going without food for days and then getting duped by Russian communists who extract money from him on the pretext of finding him employment. Unable to go on any longer in his humane desperation, Orwell gets a job as a plongeur or kitchen staff to feed himself.

(to be continued...)

No comments: