The White Castle: A Novel by Orhan Pamukh is about a scholar who was captured along with his shipmates by the Istanbul army. He managed to escape death by sharing his knowledge of medicine and stars. The book divided into 11 chapters takes you on a journey of the years this man spent in Istanbul first as a captive, then slave with the hope of returning to his homeland. When he becomes an instructor for his master, do the master-slave relations change? How binding is the master-slave relation and how difficult it must have been to nurture this very delicate thread of the unequal relationship? Aren’t all unequal relationships more difficult to nurture because of the manipulation it requires? To manipulate, one needs to make an effort. This again takes up one’s time and energy. I see my senior trying to throw his weight around but few listen to him and fewer still respect him. I see the agony he is in daily.
Go a little further and you enter the mind of a slave. How he thinks? What are his fears? How he acts? How he takes decisions? And in the process, he learns to suppress himself. He begins to live with whatever each day offers to him. His aspirations, his dreams, his plans are no more his. He only longs to return home and in this longing, he keeps living each day as it comes. Will he be able to return home? or Will he be able to make this land his home? This novel is a compelling read. The characters are portrayed interestingly. You can see their journey. Some parts of the novel are really vivid. It feels as if you are actually there.
If we say this book is relatable, we are opening up a whole plethora of questions. More so, because the book is situated in 17th century Istanbul. We feel we have come far away from this time and space. Have we really? Would it be too wrong to say that master-slave relation has remained and even strengthened in our time and space in a disguised form?
Let us just reconsider ourselves for a moment. What are your dreams? What do you aspire to be? Who are you? What do you want from your life? What is the purpose of your life? How do you spend your day? What are your likes and dislikes? Did you marry the person you loved? Our answers would tell us how close and far we are from being a slave of someone or may be ourselves?
Mahatma Gandhi had in 1909 in his book Hind Swaraj explained that true swaraj would be achieved when we live fearlessly. Fearless living means that we become the rulers of our life. We rule our mind, body and soul. We initiate action. We take decisions about our life. We are well aware of our strengths and also of our weaknesses. He envisioned an individual who could take charge of his/her life. Are we there yet?