Words, Love and Life – VIII
The novel also records the history of Istanbul, its knotted politics and the lives of its myriad people : the violence, the kindness and the sadness and the exuberance .
In the novel as Kemal continues to visit Fusun every night from 1976 to 84 and watch television late into the night with the Keskins, news on the television was often an excuse. Tariq Bey, the history teacher, steers clear of politics, like many middle-class people they are merely concerned about their material needs being met. And references are made in passing to Anwer Sadaat’s assassination, the Cold War, all from the Keskin’s or Kemal’s perspective. The effect of world changing events on people like Kemal or Nesibe or Tariq seems naught.
“ While something important was on television while there was still something cooking on the stove, Aunt Nesibe would send Fusun in to check it in her place…As her mother and father lost themselves in some film, or quiz show or weather report, or the tirade by some angry general of ours who had just staged a coup, or the Balkan Wrestling championship, or the Manisa Mastic Festival, or the ceremony marking the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Aksehir, I would watch my beauty pass back and forth in front of me, as though she was not, as her parents might have seen it blocking the view, but rather was the view itself”
It is sometimes amusing to observe how silly, an otherwise sober and sensible person, might act in love.
“Like everyone else at the table, I sat watching television year in and year out, but casting my eyes slightly to the left, I could see Fusun quite well without needing to turn toward her or move in the least. This meant that while I was watching television I was able to look at Fusun for extended periods without anyone noticing, simply by moving my eyes. The temptation was, of course, irresistible, and the more I performed this feat, the more expert I became at it. “
The Keskins encouraged their relative to visit them well knowing that he was there to see Fusun. Their son in law pursuing his ridiculous dreams in the tinsel world did not matter as long as their daughter was respectably married. When Feridun, the film maker son in law, was planning a film with Fusun in the lead, their hopes of their wealthy relative funding it, did not seem amiss. .
“In September 1980, four years after I began my visits to the Keskin household, there was another military coup; martial law was imposed and with it ten o’clock curfews. These obliged me to leave the house at a quarter to ten, long before my heart had satisfied its hunger”. Often Kemal’s life is threatened as he braves through the curfew clamped city late in the night returning after meeting his beloved.
The clash between Islamists and secularists, which escalated since Ataturk’s Westernisation schemes, often turns violent. Besides, the diversity of fundamentally opposite algorithms of culture, with invaders and traders from every part of the globe being crocheted into the social fabric, makes this part of the world so chaotic and fascinating. Military coups had become a regular affair in the Turkey of the mid twentieth century .
By the 80s, the country was in the throes of a civil war and the film industry took a huge hit. Kemal’s visits turn more and more perilous. His reputation is in shreds when a magazine casts aspersion on his relationship with a married woman. This focus on moral turpitude in the Turkish society is not so different from our own. He is distraught and keeps away from the Keskin household for a while. Feridun was always with film crowd and was rarely home. The novel acquaints the reader with the people of Istanbul whose paths have crossed Kemal’s and Fusun’s: some like Kemal’s rich corporate friends, not very sensitive or concerned for the Other; people like Cetin, Kemal’s driver, selfless, unquestioningly devoted to the Keskin family and resigned to his lot; the artists, a motley crowd, materialistic, mercenary; corrupt officials, bribe prone: revealing a sensitive writer’s truth -telling resolve.
“the desperate old people who had to queue outside the entrances in the early hours of the morning, cut throat black market butchers…”
“The city was teaching us to see the ordinariness of our lives, teaching us, too, a humility that banished guilt. There was a consoling power I felt mixing with the city crowds in shared taxis and buses, and admiring Fusun as she conversed with a headscarfed auntie sitting in the next seat, her grandchild asleep in her lap.”
When aunt Nesbit gives Kemal bits and pieces of news about the cracks in her daughter’s marriage Kemal is overjoyed. They spent more and more time together as Kemal teaches her to drive. When the driving lessons were over, they would drive around Istanbul. Me, many years later followed them around.
“We drove along the Bosphorous road, parking beside the sea, and sat in the car,sipping tea, and I would be speechless with happiness. It was all we could do following our exhaustion from the emotional undercurrents of our lesson. Fusun would either stay silent or talk about driving”
I shadowed them in trams or on foot.