Alright..it’s taken me quite long to write about this wonderful book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
I laid my hands on this book, quite by chance on the day that we had this talk on Gandhiji by Ramchandra Guha
. A colleague had it on his table and I asked if I could borrow it.
When I started reading it, I had no inkling of where it was going. I’d heard that it was about racial discrimination in the US of 1930s but it started with the reminiscences of an eight year old girl living in Maycomb, Alabama, who went by the name of Scout (actual name Jean Louise), whose best friend was her twelve year old elder brother Jem (Jeremy). The kids’ mother was no more and their father Atticus Finch , a very affectionate and kind man, was a lawyer. As the narrative continues, we get to know her neighborhood, their day to day lives, her father’s clients, the various means of entertainment for the two kids, her school and so on. In doing this, Harper Lee is actually building up a strong foundation for what comes next.
One summer, their father is appointed a defence lawyer for a black man named Tom who is accused of raping a white girl. So the city gets divided into two factions – one who want Tom to be punished by death and another who want a fair trial for him. Scout and Jem are heckled at school by some of their classmates as children of “nigger lover” which was meant to be derogatory. Atticus’s strong resolve and the values that he’s instilled in his children are the things that take them through the whole ordeal. Even after Atticus proves in the court with his arguments that Tom was innocent and was being framed, the jury turns a blind eye and decide upon a death sentence for Tom. (It’s pointed out in the novel that even though the jury (all whites – of course) didn’t act fairly, they deliberated for quite some time before awarding the sentence – which means that at least one member of the jury did feel that it was not justice – which was a big step in those times.)
My recommendation – read the novel to get the full picture and what happens besides what I’ve writte. It’s too good a book to be missed.
Now let me tell you what made me find it significant to get this book after having attended the lecture on Gandhiji’s work. What Gandhiji started as a social reform – bringing the downtroddens of Indian society into the mainstream – whom he named “Harijan” (People of God) – was faced with similar antagonism as what was faced by people in the US supporting the cause of giving equal rights to blacks. Even so many years after the civil war and abolition of slavery in the US, people were prejudiced against blacks. At one point Scout innocently asks her brother that why one of her teachers Miss Gates, condemns the extremities inflicted upon Jews by Hitler, but supports “teaching a lesson to the blacks” or else “next thing they think they can do is marry us!”.
In India one can see the parallel. The social reform was brought so many years back but still people have a kind of pride on belonging to the so called “upper caste”. (Probably I’d see one difference here that politicians have played this caste card many times to win the elections – they’ve never let the common people forget the differences. I won’t say that people should understand it themselves because I know that “thinking” is a very difficult thing to do. It makes you uncomfortable and question so many things around you that it’ll become almost impossible to live in a society! That’s not everyone’s cup of tea. In general, people want a simple life – it’s easy to follow the established “ways of living” in the name of “culture”, than to create your own ways which some people might even call “a deterioration of values”!
Nonetheless, I still have hope that there would always be common people who stand up for the right causes. Real heroes come out of the ordinary, rather than being catapulted from space!