Cassandra Mark15 mins 169 15 mins 169
Chingiz Torekulevich Aitmatov, author of Cassandra’s Mark was special in so many ways. Ever since he started writing, he always tried to give something new in each of his works. The beginning was made in the late 50’s with short stories (Stories of Mountains and Steppes); in 60’s appeared his first novella – Good Bye, Gulsari!; in 70’s he presented three novellas – The White Ship, Early Cranes, My Poplar in Red Kerchief. Chingiz Aitmatov’s first novel The Day is longer than a Century (Burannyi Half station) was published in 1981; second novel The Execution Block appeared in 1987; the third –Madonna in the Snow in early 90’s, while Cassandra’s Mark appeared in 1995. With each work the author appears to have become more mature – subject wise, style wise and language wise.The early works were written in purely ‘socialist realist’ style, but from The White Ship one feels the attempt of the author to give way to his feelings. Since this was not possible due to strict censorship during the Soviet regime, the writers found some other ways to achieve their aim. They started using legends, myths, metaphors, coded or ambiguous phrases to depict the reality and it was very difficult to get the message hidden beneath such constructions. In Burannyi Half Station Chingiz Aitmatov uses the legend of Anna Beit to define the state of mind of an educated Soviet citizen. Anna Beit’s son was captured by the enemy, who converted him into a ‘Mankurt’ by putting a cap of the fresh skin of camel on his head. The cap, when put on the head of prisoner would fit him, but with the Sun shining brightly, the skin would contract, thereby squeezing the bones of the head. This was so torturous that most of the victims would die of it, and the surviving ones would lose their memory and turn into human robots, which would fulfil every order of their masters. Such slaves were called ‘Mankurts’. The enemy, having converted Anna Beit’s son into a ‘Mankurt’, order him to kill his own mother, which he does.Comparing the mental state of ‘Mankurt’ with that of the engineer son of his deceased friend, who is scared of even telling the authorities, that the ancient graveyard should not be destroyed, the hero, Edigei, exclaims, “Oh, you…. Mankurt!”The concern of the author about the welfare of human being finds a way through the space drama, where in, during a joint flight, the Soviet and the American cosmonauts are taken over to the new planet ‘Lesnaya Grud’. This scientific fantasy enabled the author to express such prohibited harsh realities like: ‘Any government is nothing but an instrument committing atrocities against the People’ and ‘People over there don’t have armies or weapons, because they don’t know what a war is’.Burannyi Half Station was a novel with various plots and styles. Aitmatov continues the same in his next novel The Execution Block, where three, seemingly independent plots are joined together by means of the story of wolves. Aitmatov also includes the Biblical Myth in this novel to propagate his idea about a New God, who, according to the author, is present in the hearts of human beings. But the hero of the novel, Avdii Kallistratov, is also hanged like Christ when he tries to reform the criminals.This idea of reforming one’s own self, achieving self perfection, which was so peculiar to Tolstoy, is at the nucleus of Aitmatov’s novel Cassandra’s Mark. Unlike his previous novels, here there is only one plot, i.e. the fate of Robert Bork and Philofei, but the presentation, variety of styles, language, the theme of the novel is simply startling. Using the contemporary society, without hiding the personality of characters, the author expressed grave concern about the moral state of present-day society and warns us about the fast approaching dooms day, thereby stressing the point that the seeds of destruction lie somewhere within us. We ourselves are responsible for the present state of the world.Let us have a glimpse of the plot of this novel:‘The Tribune’ receives a letter from the space monk addressed to the Pope, with a request to publish it in their newspaper. Publication of this letter creates chaos every where. The letter was about the right of a foetus to decide whether it wants to take birth or not. According to Philofei, during the first few weeks of conception, in the mother’s womb, the foetus has a power to foresee the future, have a glimpse of the life that it is destined to live. If this life is going to be unpleasant, harsh, miserable the foetus develops a fear syndrome and starts sending signals to the outer world about the same through a brown mark which appears on the forehead of its future mother. The mark, which Philofei named as Cassandra’s Mark, stays there for 2-3 weeks and then disappears on its own. Probably, with its disappearance the foetus also loses this power of predicting its future. And as the time goes on, every one forgets about it.Philofei, in his letter, pleads that the SOS signal transmitted by the foetus should not be ignored and if the foetus refuses to live the life which is going to be imposed upon it, then it should not be forced to take birth. In other words, Philofei is suggesting termination of such pregnancies which are accompanied by Cassandra’s Mark. To make the Cassandra’s Mark more prominent, Philofei sends Zondazh rays to the earth through the instruments fixed in his spaceship, so that the mark is easily visible and it is not mistaken for a mole or a pimple.Philofei does not stop at that, he goes further to make an appeal to the people to find out the causes which have made life so horrible, that even at the budding stage the foetus is scared of taking birth. According to Philofei, the cause lies somewhere within us. He feels that the evil, committed by a human being does not die with him, but lies dormant in his genetic code and is passed on from one generation to another This sounds so familiar! A reminder of the Karma Theory! Citing examples of the atrocities committed by men on their fellow brothers, Philofei appeals to eradicate the very cause which is responsible for generating Cassandra’s Mark.Obviously, the Americans - (the place chosen by author is America, with Moscow at the backdrop and the Space and other countries of the World providing side effects) - consider this move of the space monk as outrageous, one which curtails their freedom. And they, specially the women, want to know: Who permitted Philofei to conduct such experiments and what measures the future President of the US is going to take in this regard.The Presidential candidate is one Mr. Ordok, who is the shrewdest possible person on the earth. His assistant, Anthony Younger, advises him to discuss this problem (of Cassandra’a Mark) with his futurist (futurologist) friend Robert Bork. Robert Bork is a scientist - well known in the world, respected in his field, kind hearted philosopher. He was often compared with a huge, old rock – calm, stable, patient. His word is listened with awe and respect in the field.Robert Bork also shares the views of Philofei that instead of worrying about the Cassandra-Mark, one should think of the reasons responsible for the appearance of this ‘Mark’ and try to eliminate them.In the pre-poll meeting with the voters, which was held the day after the ‘letter’ was published by ‘The Tribune’; Ordok was asked by the audience to tell about his reaction regarding Cassandra’s Mark. Ordok, initially tried to give a little explanation on the lines of his conversation with Bork, but the agitated mob demands a stern action against Philofei, through the UN etc. For Ordok, the situation was like that of a lost battle, but he controls himself and tells the auditorium that his views were similar to their views. In order to win over the public to his side, he even says that he was in favour of liquidating Philofei; but Philofei, he says, had a few trusted friends on earth as well, who should be the first targets of peoples’ anger. He even goes to the extent of declaring Bork as Philofei’s agent, and needless to say that the crowd goes against Philofei as well as against Bork. The mob walks up to Bork’s house and demands that Bork should come out with an explanation. Anthony Younger’s requests to Bork not to come out of the house are ignored and Bork comes out to meet the mad crowd to explain his stand. But someone hits him at the head with an iron bar, and then the whole crowd starts attacking him, till a profusely bleeding, unconscious Bork is rescued by Anthony Younger, but it was too late to revive him.After Bork’s death a telebridge is organised between the earth and the space and Philofei appears on the screen to explain to the world his ideas about Cassandra’s Mark, but the whole World demands that Philofei be sentenced to death. Admitting his failure, the space monk commits suicide by stepping out of his space ship.After Philofei’s suicide his letter, which in fact is a confession, is delivered to Anthony Younger. If the confession is nearer to the present day reality, then it is really startling. Aitmatov, in this novel, as mentioned above, has used real names, real events, real places to describe the moral degradation of the contemporary society and he warns that all this is leading to a fast approaching end of life. If one goes by this analogy to examine Philofei’s confession, then there could seem nothing more shocking in the world than this one!According to Philofei’s letter, he was an orphan left at the gates of an orphanage during the World War II by his mother. He still remembers his mother, holding him close to her bosom, her warm breath, though no one believes that it is possible for a child to remember those minute details.Philofei, who was christened as Andrei Andreevich Kryltsov, grew up always wondering what made his mother abandon him. There, in the orphanage, he comes to know about the German siege of that village, about the German soldiers living with local women and then deserting them. The children born out of such relationship had no place in the society and hence, in many cases the mothers used to abandon their children. Such was Philofei. He grew up envying those who had a normal birth and he tried to defeat them in every field of life. He became a well known scientist in the field of Biological Sciences. His laboratory got all the attention and encouragement from the authorities.Andrei Kryltsov’s wife also leaves him as she has undergone a lot of torture – mental as well as physical. When she comes to know about the nature of his experiments she pleads that he should stop all this and suggested that they go away from Moscow and start a new life somewhere in the Far East!What were these experiments about? Andrei Andreevich, being a well known scientist in the field of life sciences, succeeds in developing Test-Tube babies. The Party which was having a close watch on Andrei Andreevich’s laboratory decides to make use of this experiment in creating X-Generation. The ‘seed’ from an unknown man was to be transplanted into the womb of a woman who was prepared to ‘let out’ the same for this experiment. These women, called ‘incubators’, were to be selected from among the prisoners. If she gives birth to one X-child, her span of imprisonment was to be reduced by 50% and if she gives birth to a second X-child, she was to be freed from the prison. The responsibilities of participants in this whole affair were distributed as follows:1. Andrei Andreevich would implant the ‘seed’ into the womb of an ‘incubator’, who in turn would give a written undertaking that she will not have any right over the child; nor would she ever disclose the names of officials/scientists attending on her during this process.2. The child will be fed by the ‘incubator’ for 2-3 weeks after which he would be shifted to Children’s Home, where he will be brought up among other similar childrenThe aim in creating this X-Generation was to create a force of fearless, adventure loving, dedicated to the goal persons, who would not be deterred from their path by such factors like home, parents, wife, children etc.Obviously the aim was to wipe out the whole institution of family/parents; and consequently the world would have generations of these X-persons, whose hands won’t tremble while pressing the knob of an atomic device.But then, the things take a curious turn when one woman ‘incubator, Runa Lopatina, bluntly asks Andrei Andreevich whether he is going to challenge the creative role of God, want to make this earth full of creations of Satan. Andrei Andreevich is forced to think and his attitude slowly starts changing. He even comes to the extent of leaving this whole scientific business and settle down somewhere far from Moscow with Runa.But his dreams are shattered. Runa guts killed while trying to run away from the van in which she was being taken to Andrei Andreevich’s clinic.During the years of Perestroika it became possible to stop the production of X-Generation. Andrei Andreevich goes to space in the joint Russo-American flight and refuses to come back to earth. His past does not leave him. He is constantly worried about the future of those X-children who were already growing on earth. And, when his experiments show him signals from foetus, he tries to tell the world that when even before taking the birth the child is frightened of the world, of his future, is it not wise to clean the evil from society and make the earth beautiful, pure, worth living place?Though his efforts bore no fruits, Philofei at least succeeded in awakening the conscience of people, forced them to think that ‘Cassandra-Mark’ is a reminder of the evil which is present in our society, within us, which is the sole cause of all the misery on the planet and by doing evil, we are making the earth even more horrible. The evil done by a person does not die with him but is passed on to the posterity and thus gets multiplied.A very commendable effort, towards achieving moral perfection, made by Chingiz Aitmatov shows the author’s concern about the future of our planet. What Tolstoy pleaded about at the end of XIX century, is again repeated by Aitmatov at the end of XX century. The writer’s concern about society is shared by pair of humans and a pair of non-humans; while a pair of inhumans tries to create obstacles in the way of hero(s).The humans mentioned above are Philofei – in cosmos and Robert Bork – on earth. Bork and Philofei are supported by Anthony Younger, who tries to create a telebridge between the earth and the space.The non-humans are normally animals in Aitmatov’s novels, who share the joy as well as sorrow of human beings in whose company they live. It was a horse in ‘Good Bye, Gulsari!’; a camel in ‘Burannyi Half Station’; a pair of wolves in ‘The Execution Block’. Here, the non-humans are also different from the previous ones. They don’t live with human beings, but because of their extra sensitiveness, they feel and share the sorrow of humanity. Among the various non-humans depicted in this novel, we see a group of whales, which is constantly seen swimming in the ocean towards Atlanta despite the arrogant ocean’s efforts to stop them. And the day, Bork was killed; the whales also committed mass suicide. The author says that the whales are like very sensitive radars, who can feel the approaching misery, misfortune; and unable to express their concern through words, they throw themselves out of sea waters.The other non-human is in the sky. Yes, it is an owl, which has been living on a fortress in the Red Square in Moscow for the past three hundred years. This owl, at three in the night, descends from its abode to find out what all has taken place in the world. Probably, the author wants to stress that non-humans, whether they are animals or birds or fishes; whether they live on land or in sky; whether they are in America or Russia, they are very much concerned about the fate of man. Whenever somewhere, something catastrophic takes place, they too suffer emotionally and physically. Probably this emotional suffering causes their physical end. The whales committed suicide and the owl is also found dead on the mausoleum of Lenin.Strangely, the owl, every night, during its flight over the Red Square, sees another pair of non-humans – two ghosts! The details suggest that these are ghosts of Lenin and Stalin! From their conversation it becomes clear that Lenin does not want to be kept in the form of Mummy. But Stalin pleads that the Party needs his constant presence. Towards the end, when a young girl protesting against the arms race in the world is set on fire at the Red Square, the two ghosts chant one of the slogans prominently displayed during the day. The slogan was – ‘Socialism or Death!’ Probably the author has come to the conclusion that the non-socialist world order encourages arms trading and would definitely throw the world into another war!But the authenticity of what Aitmatov feels can be examined if one analyses the behaviour of the two in-humans, belonging to two different social systems, yet causing destruction everywhere. The characters are:1. Oliver Ordok, a candidate for the Us President’s post; and2. Andrei Andreevich Kryltsov, who later on became Philofei and decided to help mankind.Oliver Ordok changes his colours like chameleon, and it did not take him a second’s time to declare that his close friend Robert Bork is an agent of space monk. He goes to the extent of provoking people to eliminate Bork.Andrei Andreevich, by not refusing the services of his laboratory for producing X-Generation; agreed to create a cold-blooded generation, whose hands won’t tremble while pressing the button of a nuclear device. He went ahead to eliminate the Institution of family, mother and father. The scenario looks more horrible than that of a battlefield. And the irony is that he was very much convinced of the need of producing X-Generation, until his conscience is awakened by Runa Lopatina.The novel gives the impression of a synthesis of a philosophical, documentary and a detective novel. At times the narration becomes too serious, sentences too clumsy, language too complex; and at other times it moves so fats, it is so capturing that one does not feel like leaving the novel in the middle.Aitmatov has made his language also a mixture of all registers and styles. One can find words old, forgotten, archaic, modern, jargoned, rude and even words picked up directly from English in one single sentence, which could be as long as one whole, big paragraph. This sudden change of registers sometimes seems to hinder the flow of language; makes it complex. But on the whole it gives a pleasant feeling that in today’s mechanical, heartless, fast, scientific world, there is at least someone who is worried about the questions of soul, birth, religion; concept of one God, future of the mankind etc and tries to awaken us to the harsh reality that is encountering us and leading us to an endless tunnel.