There are some books you want to write about after reading them, ‘Goat Days’ by Benyamin, is one such book for me. Ever since I began reading ‘Goat Days’, I was unable to keep it down; I kept turning the pages to know what next.
‘Goat Days’ is one of those few books which I finished reading in two days; I was in such a hurry to know how the story was going to end. I understand now why the book became a rage and won the Kerala Literary Academy Award in 2009. No wonder, Benyamin the writer became an overnight sensation.
So what’s the book about? It’s a real-life story; a human story about beautiful dreams of future that go horribly wrong. The book is about loneliness, about alienation, about endurance, about faith, about love. There are so many myriad emotions one experiences while reading it.
The story of the book is set in the Gulf, the oil rich paradise, the dream destination for many nationalities worldwide. Indians too flock to the Gulf to give shape to their dreams, a large percentage of them are Malayalees from the state of Kerala.
The rich beautiful images one sees mostly of the Gulf are very seductive; no wonder the rush to become a part of this glitz is what egg on so many people to be there. The book, ‘Goat Days’ breaks the myth; Gulf is not always a pleasure ride, as one gets to know from the protagonist Najeeb Muhammad real-life story. I wondered how many such Najeeb’s are still lost in the desert; how many continue to be slaves still, living in sub-human conditions?
No this book is not a regular sob story about the Gulf. It is so much more. Read ‘Goat Days’, to know how a man who lived in lush green surroundings of Kerala is suddenly made to herd 600 goats for a living in the dry arid desert of Saudi Arabia, who has no human company except the goats, who has not been allowed to take a bath by his Arbab (sponsor) for the 3.5 years that he worked, is given to eat the same meal of dry ‘khubus/khubz’ (dry flat bread) for 3.5 years, who is not allowed to use any water for even daily sanitary needs and who slept under the open sky come hail or storm. In spite of all this Najeeb survives and escapes. Even Najeeb’s escape is surreal and a grand desert odyssey; no wonder they say fact is stranger than fiction.
The author’s note mentions how Benyamin had to draw out a reluctant Najeeb to tell his story. Najeeb was so unwilling to speak about this chapter of his life, since he wanted to block any memory of those days.
Originally written in Malayalam, the book’s title is “Adujivitam”. Had it not been translated in English, I would have missed reading this gem. God bless the translator, Joseph Koyippally for translating this book.
Aren’t we all seduced by shiny ostentatious images of modernity, sensitivity and prosperity? Image traps, we are all guilty of falling into them. Najeeb’s incongruous experiences in Saudi Arabia make a mockery of these thriving images. The worst part? Najeeb’s story is perhaps not one off case, there are perhaps so many still trapped.
Read ‘Goat Days’; trust me you will not regret the time spent reading it. The book gives a new understanding to the term, ‘acting like a goat/being a goat’.
Agree with the words of W.B. Yeats ..
“There is another world, but it is in this one.”