Dominique LaPierre's The City of Joy Essay
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Dominique LaPierre's The City of Joy
“His suffering was transformed into surprise then peace, the peace that comes from being loved” (C.O.J. p. 254). In the book the City of Joy, Hasari, Mother Theresa, Stephan Kolvaski and Max Loeb all experienced the joy and helpfulness that comes from being loved. Their problems and troubles through out the book help them to understand how to make it through tough times. Examples from this book and life show that modern medicine is not always the best way to help the sick or injured. Peoples love and kindness for each other is the most valuable gift you can give someone.
“This city isn’t all that inhuman” (C.O.J. p. 82). Hasari said this when he was able to become a rickshawpuller.…show more content…
“Jesus of Anand Nagar, you know that I am here simply to share- so that together they and I can show you that we love you- you and your father, the father of mercy, the father who sent you, the father who forgives” (C.O.J. p. 161). This is a prayer Stephan
Kolvaski said when he first arrived in Calcutta. Kolvaski used his faith and love with to come to Calcutta to help the needy. Even when the people of India didn’t share the blame beliefs he did, he helped feed the starving and cure the sick. His kindness helped many people in his village.
Kolvaskis fight to help the poor brought him and Bandonna together. Bandonna has a way with the sick the hungry like on one else did. She cared for them in a way that people wished they could understand. “No one had ever taught her, yet she knew it all through intuition, friendship, and love” (C.O.J. p. 168). She continued to care for the poor when she was sick or even in danger. Bandonna’s love and ability to care for people inspired Kolvolski to bring in more help from others.
Max Loeb decided to come to Calcutta to help out in Kolvaski’s plan. Max learned to treat the injured with kindness even when looking at them made him ill. As one of his first jobs Max was to deliver a baby to a leper woman. The gruesome looking people made him wonder how they could be so happy in a place like that. “All the lepers were overwhelmed with joy” (C.O.J. p. 333). The leper’s joy in such a horrid place
The City of Joy
by Dominique Lapierre
Price: Pound 12.95: Pages: 434
Not that such an exposition might eventually halt the city's quite fast and sure passage to oblivion. After all an execution ordered by history cannot be undone by pious wishes alone. But the hurt, almost paranoid, ego of the city may ironically be comforted by the fact of its drawing a different kind of international attention at last: that as a waste land created by receding colonialism in which human values are trying to redefine themselves, just as on the day of Creation.
And, perhaps for the first time, what Lapierre has presented is not a collage from the scrap-books of history but a subtle ground-level view of the human situation, done with great compassion in a form that represents the borderline between reportage and fiction.
Where is the City of Joy? The geographical outlines hinted at by Lapierre can be misleading, just as the sobriquet is. But it could be near the Howrah station where "...more than seventy thousand had congregated on an expanse of ground hardly three times the size of a football field. Nevertheless it boasted a sad record it had the densest concentration of humanity on this planet, two hundred thousand people per square mile. It was a place where there was not even one tree for three thousand inhabitants, without a single flower, a butterfly, or a bird, apart from vultures and crows."
It is at this asphyxiating inferno that Lapierre unfolds his epic on the life and times of the Bengali peasant, Hasari Pal, again a mythical name, who is uprooted from his village and its primitive agriculture and takes his residence in the urban slum to join the large stable of the city's "human horses" the army of men who slide under the shaft of the hand-drawn rickshaw and pull for a pittance the passengers in what may be one of the most degrading rides in the world.
At about five in the morning, Hasari was shaken by a violent attack. Then his lips parted and a jet of foaming blood spurted out. Shortly afterwards his chest caved in with a rattle. It was all over. I closed his eyes and recited the prayer for the dead.
Less than an hour later a series of heavy blows shook the door to the room where the Son of Miracle and Kovalski were watching over the mortal remains of their friend, now enveloped in a white khadi shroud and adorned with a garland of marigolds. The taxi-driver went to open it. In the shadows he could make out two very dark-skinned faces.
'We're the doms.' announced the elder of the two. 'The deceased was under contract. We've come to collect the body.'
The world at the City of Joy is seen through the eyes of Stephan Kovalski. the Polish missionary who settles down in the slum one day in a pair of jeans and a kurta, without the obligatory cassock of the priest but with a commitment to quench in the poor the cry of Jesus on the Cross: "I Thirst." To join him later in the strange crusade is the American doctor, Max Loeb, who is struggling against public apathy to set up a leprosy hospital in the slum.
Kovalski and Loeb are in fact like some terrestrial variants of the astronauts in the Startrek television serial exploring the strange, phantasmagoric world of Hasari Pal, inhabited by the eunuchs, the lepers, the godfather of the slum, the body snatchers, the embryo-stealers, the dishonest trade-unionist, the Bihari owner of rickshaws.
Lapierre strikes the counterpoint with a few brief and sweeping brush-strokes of the life on the other side of the spectrum, as lived in the exquisite Georgian houses along the tree-lined avenues of the old European quarters of the city where gorgeous hostesses throw sumptuous parties, and apparently make love to foreign guests behind translucent mosquito nets till the sonorous drums of the Louis Armstrong songs merge in the bird noises of the morning.
Maybe it is a fantasy trip where the coordinates do not exactly matter, that is, if you are looking for exact dates and places. Probably they happen that way because of Lapierre's reluctance to adopt a linear approach, to arrange his macro figures first and then to proceed toward the micro-level truth.
Thus, by a paradox, J.C. Bose becomes a Nobel Laureate (page 31), Calcutta markets start receiving betel from Patna and meat from Andhra (page 25) and, in an unbelievable situation where a waiter at the Oberoi Grand peddles to a guest in his room first girls, and then cute boys and even clean transvestites. But the significant fact is that Lapierre has not for once gone wrong in his essential observation of, first, the destruction of values in the squalor of Calcutta, and then its regeneration into a vibrant brotherhood of the poor.
Lapierre does it through a procession of cameos, some of which are brilliantly crafted. Like the touching sense of desolation and insecurity that he conjures up in describing the neighbours of Pal on the pavements who await the whole night for the return of their beggar daughter. The scene comes to life with the traffic noise, the evening mist, and the helpless search for the girl in course of which the father, desperate to drown his shock, gets drunk on cheap hooch.
It is only at the crack of dawn that the girl returns to the pavement home, reeking of cheap scent. She had of course sold her emaciated body for the night, but the reprimanding scowls are won over with the rustle of two ten-rupee notes changing hands.
Then there is the moving scene of the rickshaw-pullers' rally at the maidans (Lapierre inexplicably calls it the maidens) where 20,000 rickshaws come tap-tapping only to be told by the Marxist trade-unionist that to fight for their rights was the same as walking into the provocators' trap. And, throughout the narrative, the sensitive Lapierre draws images that underline the dignity and courage of living in the City of Joy despite its trappings of grime, gloom and death.
It could have been a masterpiece of its own kind only if Lapierre had not from time to time tended to get facile, trying to encapsulate history in a hurry like he did with Collins in both Is Paris Burning? and Freedom At Midnight. But The City of Joy is certainly born out of conviction.
Lapierre, who with his wife, periodically visited Calcutta over three years, has now founded Action Aid for Leper's Children of Calcutta, based in Paris, which will collect and spend the entire revenue from the book for some 250 children of leprosy victims in Calcutta.
The lasting value of the book, therefore, lies not in its literary excellence but in the candid delineation of the human situation and the religiosity of its cause in the city made currently famous not by the British merchants of a bygone era but by its all-embracing poverty.