Reading someone’s blog recently I was chided for having an internal debate about whether to read Hari Kunzru’s latest novel, My Revolutions. Frankly, the debate is still on; can’t tell if it’s the subject matter – revolutionaries in the 60s and 70 – or an unwillingness to wander down the Brit desi road again right now (too much attitude). It thus happened by chance (nothing happens by chance anymore, does it?) that a Kunzru short story recently appeared in the New Yorker.
It’s a story I wish I’d written. The piece’s narrator meets Raj at a party, actually finds the guy charming, and appreciates the free vodka Raj has brought for everyone to sample. It turns weeks later when he suddenly finds that Raj has used pictures from the soirée (including one of him and his current girlfriend) online in an add for the vodka that Raj had coaxed everyone to try. Kunzru’s narrator descends into a one-man protest against Raj and what he represents: global consumerism, branding, shallow thinking. “But there must come a time when you’re allowed to stop being a consumer. There has to be a respite from all that choosing, a time, well, just to be.” he says. Of course, he doesn’t get much traction and finds himself alone in his ideology, viewed as ungrateful (it was free vodka after all), old-fashioned, and eventually slightly crazy, and he’s pushed out of his social circle as he searches for someone, anyone, who will expose Raj and the world for what it is.
Ian Robinson captured my sentiments exactly when he wrote about pop culture that, “if this is the world, I live somewhere else.” So true, and Kunzru’s narrator knows it. He gets rid of everything he owns (“what I thought had been an expression of my innermost humanity was nothing but a cloud of life-style signals, available to all at the click of a mouse”) and watches as people take his possessions from where he leaves them outside his flat. I think often of getting rid of all my stuff, particularly every time I move. And I know that playing the game vs. hating the game is maddening. The bitch of it all is realizing, too, that nothing meaningful happens.
My only gripe with “Raj, Bohemian” is that Kunzru bails at the end. He settles for an easy answer, or maybe he just gives up the fight against the universe, though I’ll admit that if I had the answer I’d be a rich, powerful man. Or happier at least.
Are we all so bored? Sigh…well yeah… at least until Version 2.0 appears.