Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction
One of the most ignored problems in today’s culture, I believe, is loneliness. Another is the relentless pursuit of meaning — often strictly one-dimensional in nature — capable of hollowing out people and making them drown in their own insecurities. The first is ridiculously clichéd. The second — meaning — is lost as quickly as it is found.
Haruki Murakami and J D Salinger have published seminal work to this end. While Murakami has drawn deliciously on culture, tropes and the relationship between an individual and community, Salinger has made sadness funny. The theme has occupied page after page through an allegorical engine, some bizarre flight of fancy, and plenty of background music that has made sadness lyrical, relatable, and in plenty of cases, enjoyable. Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction (a highly attractive title) makes sadness feel… just sad. In fact, it uses despair, and only despair in its excruciatingly organic form, as fibre to keep spinning the 200-odd pages yarn.
The book is not a soul-crushing read. And in all probability, author Roshan Ali did not intend to make it into one. The characters, including the protagonist Ib, are unremarkable, which is quite understandable because characters like them are not meant to be remarkable. This might also mean that Ali has written without the singular aim to please or inspire, without any boundary or fear of judgment.
He writes on isolation and emptiness as a kid splattering colours on a sheet of paper — with only a few, scattered elements of attraction. There are moments when this feels like the bravest thing about the book; then there are moments when the trick paints the novel dull.
Ib is a fish by nature, living in silence. Quietness has occupied a large part of his childhood. He is the kid you and I have seen inside the classroom, office, public transport. He is the guy who sits in a corner, his face not betraying any emotion he might be experiencing. He is thought to have no ambition in life except to go by the regular business of surviving. He goes about being consistently not noticed, but he has thoughts. And when they are spelled out, there is muted passion, resentment and a longing for answers in them.
Ib’s father, Apoos, is schizophrenic, and harmlessly so. His mother is a long-suffering, unassertive woman who avoids all conflict and does not believe in talking about things. Then there is Ajju, Ib’s maternal grandfather, the patriarchal figure and compass of moral regression, it’s not a joke every middle-class household has one like him. Each of these characters is dysfunctional in their own way, but nowhere for beyond a nanosecond does one feel as much a shade of sympathy for them. Again, Ali may not have had the inspiration to turn them into sympathetic characters. For that matter, Ib’s life is not swallowed by any mammoth tragedy. His longing for meaning, and the subsequent grief stemming from it, is anchored in his head, from which there is no way out. Ib, after all, is his own problem.
For somebody in search of meaning, Ib’s life veers off onto some odd tangents. At one point, he finds himself spending most of his time with a sadhu and accompanies him to the Himalayas, where he eventually discovers — the sadhu confesses to him — that he is a fraud in orange. The sadhu lulls people into his ways, and when he is sure they are trapped, gives them “the truth” — snap all strings of personal attachment with their lives. He does this because he feels people need help, but they know no logic or reason.
I quite liked the sadhu’s character, but would refrain from drawing comparisons. For Ali writes; “The credulous see meaning in everything; an event which appears special may just be an ordinary coincidence”.
For those looking for purpose in Ib’s journey, there is none. Towards the end, the reader would want to believe that Ib would get his story straight in his poetic encounter with a girl who wants to be a published author. But no. It is the weight of Ib’s thoughts and epiphanies that lift the pages out of mundanity, for Ib’s quite shapeless being is relevant only in them.
Ib is rarely the character you long for in a novel of this genre — that of a lost soul who gets (at least) some things in life straight. There is no message, no great purpose behind this novel. It is how it is, indeed, an endless search for satisfaction. That is not necessarily a bad thing either.