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Daring to Dream


Navtej Sarna

IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS
By Raj Kamal Jha
Picador, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 294, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2004

‘You must learn to stop being yourself. That's where it begins, and everything else follows from that.’ Raj Kamal Jha uses this most apposite quotation from Paul Auster's Mr Vertigo to preface his second novel. I call it apposite because the entire book follows from that. Let me say that this is not a book for those who prefer to stay within their own skins or constantly want to feel the solidity of the walls that surround them. After The Blue Bedspread, Jha has proven once again with If You Are Afraid of Heights that those who read him must be willing to let go, take a chance, be whisked away on a roller coaster whose apogee is invisible, lost somewhere in the clouds of the unknown. They must be willing to give up the comforting shores of sequence and plot and walk instead in the woods of fragmented memories, midnight fears and twilight shadows. That is the only way to enjoy the writing of Raj Kamal Jha, any other will only invite frustration. In fact Jha is very much like the man in his novel who invites a street crowd to take rides on his crow and see the city. In the words of that man, he too could well be telling his readers, ‘If you are afraid of heights, brothers and sisters, I have nothing to show you...’ Anybody who has read Jha's two novels would not be blamed for wondering: Is Jha the working journalist of the daytime or the enigmatic poet of the night? And therein lies the tormenting question that Jha plays with again and again in If You are Afraid of Heights. Who really are we? Are we really the three dimensional beings of flesh and blood, solid as we stand, or are we someone else, somewhere else someone we would like to be, someone we fear to be, someone we have admired or perhaps hidden away from ourselves. Would one give up an entire lifetime of ‘real’ existence for a few moments of fantasy, the kind of fantasy that can be triggered off by a chance newspaper headline, a film poster, and advertisement in a bus? In the process of exploring this teaser, Jha takes us to the land he knows best: the land of dreams and nightmares, those episodes of the real-unreal that we wish upon ourselves in our momentary freedoms and ...


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