I read Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last as soon as it came out last year. This is how Goodreads describes it:
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.
For someone who lives on dystopian fiction and cannot do without Atwood’s writings, this was good book. When I read it, I was confused: Why would an accomplished writer like her write about soo much sex? Don’t get me wrong, I am not being judgmental – characters in coitus is not really my thing, but I don’t mind it if the plot calls for it.
I obviously did not get the point of the novel when I read it. During the LitFest, Atwood spoke about the layers in the story – dystopia, the idea of prisons as safe-shelters in a post-apocalyptical world, the concept of depravation and love and betrayal… I’ve been meaning to re-read this book – perhaps this time in paperback (whenever it comes out); I am too dependent on my Kindle nowadays (Is that a bad thing, folks?)!
Anyhow, this past LOONG weekend, my boyfriend and I got our own taste of being Charmaine and Stan. For the past three days, we have had no water, fluctuating electricity, and barely anything to eat; also, we’ve been in the car a lot – traveling to friends’ houses for showers, for the AC and the like. You might think that Bangalore is a tech-city but clearly that’s only the view on the surface. The city administration is corrupt and has eluded financial accountability for the past five years. Bangalore proper remains untouched by corrupt harakiri. These areas are near my workplace – it’s (almost) sparsely populated, more green, very residential. You know, areas that will more likely survive if there’s an apocalypse! The area where we live is the hub of start-ups. Overpopulated and dense with Indian eateries and the over-enthusiastic student crowd. During summer (the state of Karnataka has seen drought during the last two years…) there are are a lot of power cuts, consuming full days, there’s no water and people turn on each other. This area will be one of the first to implode in a catastrophic end-of-the-world event.
Throughout the weekend, I imagined A and I in one of these catastrophic events. Bangalore at the brink of destruction. The city, fastened tight in a gridlock (this is not uncommon in Bangalore, dear Reader) and we are escaping this rundown rented apartment, stocking up on food supplies, sleeping in the car. We are united at first, mellow but happy to be alive and with each other despite all odds and then, one fine day… we begin to turn on each other… A is Stan – he keeps a watch at night, at the helm of the car, always on guard; and I, losing it day by day, always in need of protection, always pretending to be someone I am not…
… until one day, we walk into a dilapidated restaurant and find an advertisement for a prison that provides shelter every alternate month…