Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts

In Which I Congratulate Adiga and Try to Avoid a Blog-Spat

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post, giving my reaction to Aravind Adiga's novel, The White Tiger. Since then, as many readers probably know, Aravind Adiga won the prestigious Booker Prize for the novel, making him one of only a handful of first novelists to have done so, and also (at 33 years old) one of the youngest writers ever to do so.

While I stand by my assessment of Adiga's novel, I'm not going to bitch and moan about the Booker's selection process or the composition of the committee. Rather, my first response is to congratulate Adiga for the honor, and wish him luck on his next book. (Cheers!)

I was ready to leave it at that, but Manish at Ultrabrown challenged negative reviews of the novel like mine with a post yesterday. For Manish, the complaints against the novel boil down to a question of different ways of failing to achieve authenticity:

I’m going to tease apart two separate kinds of complaints about authenticity. One kind is whether the author successfully executes what he’s attempting, whether you’re pulled jarringly out of the narrative. The other is whether the very endeavor of a highly-educated proxy tackling the voice of the underclass is plausible. (link)

I'm quite sure my complaint falls under #1 -- Adiga fails to do what he is apparently trying to do -- though I'd phrase it a slightly differently: in my view, Adiga never seriously attempts to convince us that his protagonist is a realistic figure, and therefore he never really tries to be "authentic" at all.

On Manish's category #2, the question of whether writers can ever plausibly write in the voices of people not like themselves, I think it's pretty clear that South Asian writers do this all the time -- one thinks, first and foremost for me, of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. The point of view of working class Bombayites (from the Chamaar caste) in Mistry's novel becomes convincing, even though Mistry is not himself from that background. The audience/readership dynamic is also not really very different: English-speaking readers, in India and especially abroad, are inevitably going to be much better off than the people whose lives they're reading about. The one difference might be that many Indian readers I've heard from have felt that the The White Tiger seemed to be intended for non-Indian readers, while I've never heard the same complaint about A Fine Balance (it's not clear to me where this reaction comes from, so I won't say more about it).

All Indian writers who write socially-engaged fiction in English and publish in western markets are potentially susceptible to the same attack on their authenticity, so in my view it's pointless to even discuss it; it's a structural problem. Rather, it's much more interesting to talk about the way their stories work internally. Mistry succeeds because he puts in the time and effort to imagine what his characters' lives would be like in rich detail, and what their voices might realistically sound like given the limitations of their experience. It takes space to do it -- in my view, this kind of realism can't be done with a few catchy aphorisms or a reductive concept of the divide between rich and poor (Adiga's "light" and "dark"). Which isn't to say that a socially-engaged novel has to be 3000 pages long to be ultimately compelling; rather, good novelists pick out the most telling details and leave out everything that isn't strictly necessary.

Let me give an example of a book that I think does some of this better than The White Tiger does, based on an idea given to me by my wife. Samian, who was raised in Bombay, also didn't like the style of Adiga's novel very much, though she did feel that the plot picked up and became quite exciting towards the end. In a conversation with our local book club last month, she contrasted Adiga's novel to Amitava Kumar's under-read Home Products, a novel that actually covers some of the same ground as Adiga (the journey from Bihar to the big city; the gap between rich and poor; the gap between local poverty and violence and Bollywood glamor), though it does so in a very different way.

Here is a passage from near the beginning of Home Products, which we could contrast to the passage I quoted last time from Adiga's novel:

Her name was Mala Srivastava and she was from a small town near Patna. She had been in the local papers even earlier because she used to recite poems at public meetings. Her poems mocked the manhood of Indian leaders; she called upon Indian youth to cross the border and slaughter people in Pakistan; she wanted the national anthem inscribed on the body of Benazir Bhutto. Mala was only twenty-one when she died. People said that she was pretty. Those who'd seen her performing said she was arrogant and wanted everything from life. A couple of the press reports after her death mentioned that during a visit to Bombay, she had been arrested briefly for having stolen gold jewellery from her host's apartment.

When Mala had still been in high school her father was killed in a road accident and the family had fallen on bad times. But at the time of her death she had been living for a year and a half in a large house in Buddha Colony. The story went that Mala did not need to pay rent on that house in Patna. Her neighbours said that white cars with red lights would deliver sweets and gifts at her door whenever the festivals rolled around. Politicians and officials were regular visitors to her house at different times of the day and night. (Amitava Kumar, Home Products)

You only get a few telling bits and pieces about Mala Srivastava from these paragraphs (there is more to come that I'm not quoting), not a total encapsulation. What you do get, however, is in my view quite provocative and intriguing. Now compare back to the same paragraph from Adiga:

Me, and thousands of others in this country like me, are half-baked, because we were never allowed to complete our schooling. Open our skulls, look in with a penlight, and you’ll find an odd museum of ideas: sentences of history or mathematics remembered from school textbooks (no boy remembers his schooling like the one who was taken out of school, let me assure you), sentences about politics read in a newspaper while waiting for someone to come to an office, triangles and pyramids seen on the torn pages of the old geometry textbooks which every tea shop in this country uses to wrap its snacks in, bits of All India Radio news bulletins, things that drop into your mind, like lizards from the ceiling, in the half hour before falling asleep—all these ideas, half formed and half digested and half correct, mix up with other half-cooked ideas in your head, and I guess these half-formed ideas bugger one another, and make more half-formed ideas, and this is what you act on and live with. (Adiga, The White Tiger)

This is in fact a perfect encapsulation, so perfect that it doesn't really need personalized details. We have Balram Halwai in a nutshell, which frees Adiga to jump right into his very propulsive plot (and I concede that the novel is highly readable and entertaining; it is also worth noting that this is by no means an easy thing to do).

These two characters from the two novels have certain things in common (I'll spare you the details), but are drawn very differently. Where with Amitava Kumar's prose you get the definite sense that the narrator cares about Mala Srivastava in her individuality, to me Adiga's style suggests he's more interested in the generalizations about India his Balram Halwai allows him to make, than in Balram himself.

I don't want to push on this too hard, and I definitely don't want to get into a tedious "blog-spat" with my friends at Ultrabrown. Though I study and teach literature for a living, one thing I've realized over the years is that taste really is subjective, and one reader's minor glitch is another reader's fatal flaw. It's not a science, and that's something to embrace, not hide from with smarty-pants jargon: I love the fact that I can go out to dinner with a group of Indian software engineers, doctors, and so on, and have great conversations about the books they're reading. (I also love the to-and-fro with readers in blog-land, needless to say.)

A final note. Ironically, though I've now devoted two posts to debunking Adiga (but also congratulating him on his success. Congratulations again!), I could easily see myself teaching The White Tiger in introductory courses on Indian literature to undergraduates. It is likely to appeal to my students, while also giving me good reasons to talk about the social issues and cultural phenomena Adiga invokes in his book. (I've had good success teaching other books I haven't loved, including Mohsin Hamid's two novels; both Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist actually worked better than personal favorites of mine, such as The Satanic Verses and A Fina Balance).

New Novel About Ramanujan -- "The Indian Clerk"

There's a new novel about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan by David Leavitt; it's called The Indian Clerk. Leavitt appears to be working with the approach taken by Pat Barker and others, in producing a fiction that is strongly based on actual facts, and which is the product of his own extensive research on the relationship between Ramanujan and the British mathematician G.H. Hardy.

The blog The Elegant Variation recently had an extensive series of posts dedicated to the book, including a long excerpt here and an interview here. I haven't read it yet, though I'll definitely be looking for it the next time I am in a bookstore. Here are a couple of paragraphs, from immediately after G.H. Hardy receives his first letter from Ramanujan in Madras, with several pages of groundbreaking mathematical proofs attached:

Hardy shifts Hermione, much to her annoyance, off his lap, then gets up and moves to his windows. Beneath him, two gowned undergraduates stroll arm in arm toward the archway. Watching them, he thinks of asymptotes, values converging as they near a sum they will never reach: a half foot closer, then a quarter foot, then an eighth… One moment he can almost reach out and touch them, the next—whoosh—they're gone, sucked up by infinity. Now there's a divergent series for you. The envelope from India has left a curious smell on his fingers, of soot and what he thinks might be curry. The paper is cheap. In two places the ink has run.

This is not the first time that Hardy had received letters from strangers. For all its remoteness from the ordinary world, pure mathematics holds a mysterious attraction for cranks of all stripes. Some of the men who have written to Hardy are genuine lunatics, claiming to have in their hands formulae pointing to the location of the lost continent of Atlantis, or to have discovered cryptograms in the plays of Shakespeare indicating a Jewish conspiracy to defraud England. Most, though, are merely amateurs whom mathematics has fooled into believing that they have found solutions to the most famous unsolved problems. I have completed the long-sought proof to Goldbach's Conjecture—Goldbach's Conjecture, stating simply that any even number greater than two could be expressed as the sum of two primes. Needless to say I am loath to send my actual proof, lest it fall into the hands of one who might publish it as his own…Experience suggests that this Ramanujan falls into the latter category. Being poor—as if mathematics has ever made anyone rich! I have not given the actual investigations nor the expressions that I get—as if all the dons of Cambridge are waiting with baited breath to receive them!

Nine dense pages of mathematics accompany the letter. Sitting down again, Hardy looks them over. At first glance, the complex array of numbers, letters, and symbols suggests a passing familiarity with, if not a fluency in, the language of his discipline. Yet how strangely the Indian uses that language! What he is reading, Hardy thinks, is the equivalent of English spoken by a foreigner who has taught the tongue to himself. (link)

Personally I find this type of approach -- using the novel to work as an outlet for research on real historical problems -- very rewarding. Teaching Barker's Regeneration last spring, I found found that students got a lot out of the cross-referencing of actual historical documents (i.e., relating to Siegfried Sassoon and the development of modern psychology) with the literary text at hand.

"Nawabdin Electrician," in The New Yorker

There's a very interesting short story in this week's New Yorker, by a new Pakistani writer named Daniyal Mueenuddin. It's about an electrician working on a large farm in rural Pakistan, more or less taking care of his business until something dramatic happens. I won't say much about the dramatic thing that happens to Nawabdin (read the story), but here's a teaser to give you a sense of the writing style:

The motorcycle increased his status, gave him weight, so that people began calling him Uncle and asking his opinion on world affairs, about which he knew absolutely nothing. He could now range farther, doing much wider business. Best of all, now he could spend every night with his wife, who early in the marriage had begged to live not in Nawab’s quarters in the village but with her family in Firoza, near the only girls’ school in the area. A long straight road ran from the canal headworks near Firoza all the way to the Indus, through the heart of the K. K. Harouni lands. The road ran on the bed of an old highway built when these lands lay within a princely state. Some hundred and fifty years ago, one of the princes had ridden that way, going to a wedding or a funeral in this remote district, felt hot, and ordered that rosewood trees be planted to shade the passersby. Within a few hours, he forgot that he had given the order, and in a few dozen years he in turn was forgotten, but these trees still stood, enormous now, some of them dead and looming without bark, white and leafless. (link)

In the story as a whole, I think Mueenuddin finds some very congenial ways to convey a poor electrician's point of view. He's got a good sense of comic details, but doesn't depend on them too much. I also liked the ambiguities at the end regarding Nawabdin's character. Any thoughts on this story?

Incidentally, Mueenuddin also has another story online, at the literary magazine Zoetrope. It's quite different from "Nawabdin Electrician"; I think it will be interesting to anyone who has been in a serious cross-cultural or interracial relationship. (I'm happy to discuss that story too.)

"The Good Soldier" -- A Bad Novel

Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier (1915) is considered a classic of sorts from the early modernist era. W.H. Auden thought Ford was a great novelist (he had particularly strong praise for Parade's End, which deals with World War I), and so did Graham Greene. From what I can tell, The Good Soldier, which is not a war novel, but a novel about adultery in the British aristocracy, is still widely taught in college classes on British modernism (see here, here, and here); it's also widely cited in the scholarly literature. But it shouldn't be -- this thing is a mess. (Or more politely, "perhaps it's time for a reassessment"?)

One of the oft-repeated chestnuts about The Good Soldier stems from Ford's early relationship as an editor and collaborator of Joseph Conrad. Ford, it is said, aims to use a version of Joseph Conrad's nested narrators with their various, idiosyncratic approaches to the "truth." But if Ford is aiming for a Conradian effect, it's poorly done, to the point of unrecognizability. The Good Soldier has only one narrator, and the multiple points of view that emerge in the text are never fully explained (in Conrad, by contrast, the different narrators are usually in dialogue with one, primary narrator). The narrator in Ford's novel at once knows implausibly much about what his friends and family were thinking at various moments, and far too little -- it seems unthinkable that he could be such a poor judge of character (more on that below). Moreover, instead of creating a sense of suspense for the reader, the unraveling of the story merely creates confusion, as the story slides back and forth chronologically without leading to new insights on why the characters do what they do in the end.

I won't do a detailed plot summary (see Sparknotes for a refresher), but suffice it to say the novel is about two couples, the Dowells and the Ashburnhams, and the narrator is one of the husbands, John Dowell. Florence Dowell has an affair with Edward Ashburnham that goes on for several years, which John Dowell fails to notice for most of that time. (He also fails to notice that his and his wife's flatmate in Paris is his wife's former lover. For two years.) Leonora Ashburnham, on the other hand, notices it right away -- in fact, Edward is a serial philanderer, who is constantly getting himself into trouble over his various entanglements with women of both high and low classes. Leonora hopes (more implausibility) that her husband will reform and come back to her, and Ford keeps insisting that she loves him despite everything. Florence commits suicide, not when she's discovered by her husband, but once she realizes that Edward has fallen in love with some new floozy. And Edward himself also eventually commits suicide, for reasons that never really make sense.

There are numerous things in the plot and characterization of The Good Soldier that defy logic, and there are some major flaws I haven't even mentioned, but what really bothers me about this book is the way it stacks the decks to make its own narrator unreflectively passive -- to the point where he might as well vanish altogether. What Ford really wants to do is celebrate Edward Ashburnham, whose treatment of women by both Edwardian and our own standards ought to make him a clear villain. It might be understandable if Ford had some kind of point to make about sexual addiction, or some kind of Freudian explanation for Ashburnham's behavior. But in fact, he doesn't -- there's strikingly little psychological reflection in this novel, especially if you consider that both Conrad and Woolf were contemporaries, and many of the writers and artists in Ford's circle were by 1915 smelling Freud. In effect, while the The Good Soldier is often read as an exposé of Victorian Aristocratic mores (with their inherent misogyny), it actually celebrates them by making Ashburnham's suicide the "true" tragedy in the story.

What The Good Soldier does have is moments of "brilliant" writing, paragraphs that clearly suggest Ford was, at least temporarily, in control of things after all. Take the following, which comes near the end of the story:

"I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way, so that it may be difficult for any one to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gust of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes. And, when one discusses an affair--a long, sad affair--one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten, and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places, and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story, and that, after all, real stories are best told in the way that a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real."

(Incidentally, Google reveals that Theodore Dreiser quoted the same paragraph near the end of his hostile review of the novel, back in the day.)

When I read the above paragraph, I thought, "yes, rambling -- that's exactly what this damn novel is." At the start the above paragraph seems like a kind of apology; if it seems like I'm doing a bad job, well that's just part of the reality of talking about one's romantic history (or in this case, one's wife's lover's romantic history, since John Dowell has the libido of a bump on a log). While there may be some truth in the idea that memory is rarely truly linear, if this is how the novelist is explaining his method, it falls flat. The reader doesn't want the raw, uncooked reality, but art. It need not be a matter of a conventional beginning, middle, and end -- this is modernism, after all -- but would it be too much to ask for a sense of direction, or perhaps a point? It's entirely possible for a story to be carefully constructed (or crafted) and still "seem most real." Ford Madox Ford doesn't seem to have understood that.

* * *

One final bit of wrongness. This blogger has a quote from one of Ford's many critical essays:

To him, you will address your picture, your poem, your prose story, or your argument. You will seek to capture his interest; you will seek to hold his interest. You will do this by methods of surprise, of fatigue, by passages of sweetness in your language, by passages suggesting the sudden and brutal shock of suicide. You will give him passages of dullness, so that your bright effects may seem more bright; you will alternate, you will dwell for a long time upon an intimate point; you will seek to exasperate so that you may the better enchant. You will, in short, employ all the devices of the prostitute. If you are too proud for this you may be the better gentleman or the better lady, but you will be the worse artist....[T]he artist is, quite rightly, regarded with suspicion by people who desire to live in tranquil and ordered society.

While Ford perhaps starts out with some valid points about the necessity for contour, he goes wrong -- I think, fatally -- when he compares writing a novel to a sort of prostitution. That's just a really sad bit of very bad advice to give an aspiring writer. (Sorry, Peking Duck!)

Two Passages Briefly Compared: "Ulysses" and "To the Lighthouse"

This spring I'm teaching a course on Modernism, and I have many things I've been hoping to post about.

One topic we discussed might be described as "comparative stream of consciousness," though I generally don't emphasize the term "stream-of-consciousness" very much, since it is virtually impossible to define satisfactorily. In-class, I gave students two passages relating to the sea, one from Joyce's Ulysses, and the other from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

Here's a passage from the end of Section I of Joyce's Ulysses ("Telemachus"):

Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucking the harpstrings, merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.

A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly, shadowing the bay in deeper green. It lay beneath him, a bowl of bitter waters. Fergus’ song: I sang it alone in the house, holding down the long dark chords. Her door was open: she wanted to hear my music. Silent with awe and pity I went to her bedside. She was crying in her wretched bed. For those words, Stephen: love’s bitter mystery.

Where now?

Joyce caresses the music of the "wh" sound; this is virtually poetry. (Incidentally, at the end there, Stephen is beginning to remember the death of his mother.)

And here’s Woolf’s To the Lighthouse:

So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea. A steamer far out at sea had drawn in the air a great scroll of smoke which stayed there curving and circling decoratively, as if the air were a fine gauze which held things and kept them softly in its mesh, only gently swaying them this way and that. And as happens sometimes when the weather is very fine, the cliffs looked as if they were conscious of the cliffs, as if they signaled to each other some message of their own. For sometimes quite close to the shore, the Lighthouse looked this morning in the haze an enormous distance away.

‘Where are they now?’ Lily thought, looking out to sea. Where was he, that very old man who had gone past her silently, holding a brown paper parcel under his arm? The boat was in the middle of the bay.

This comes from near the end of To the Lighthouse, after Mrs. Ramsay's death. Lily has been working on her painting near the Ramsay's summer house, while Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James have gone on a day-trip to a lighthouse that is distant, but visible from where Lily sits. Augustus Carmichael has remained on shore with her, and figures here as the "very old man who had gone past her silently."

Both Woolf and Joyce aim to find meanings and moods in the landscape that are psychic rather than objectively descriptive. Both short passages also contain some kind of emotional or subjective turn, leading to a question ("Where now?"/"Where are they now?") But the two passages also show important differences in Woolf's and Joyce's respective styles, along the lines of sentence structure, theme, and sound of the prose.

Both Woolf and Joyce trade in moods, animating nature with reflections of human emotion. But Woolf's aim is to create a singular image (a "fabric") of grandeur, while Joyce seems more interested in doublings, pairings, and rhythm. Woolf meditates on the disappearance of the other through distance, while Joyce weaves the music of spoken language with the sound of water: "wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide."

Other interpretations? Are there parallels (or telling dissimilarities) I've missed?

Magic Realism on TV: "Heroes" vs. "Midnight's Children"

Am I the first person to think of shows like Lost and Heroes as the television equivalent of "magic realism" in the novel? These shows have elements of science fiction and fantasy, but remain grounded in realistic narration and human relationships. As a result, they can achieve mainstream respectability and broad popularity, while true Sci-Fi remains somewhat of a smaller, niche market.

This is going to sound blasphemous, but Heroes in particular actually reminds me a little of Midnight's Children in some ways. Remember this passage from Rushdie's novel:

From Kerala, a boy who had the ability of stepping into mirrors and re-emerging through any surface in the land--through lakes, and (with greater difficulty), the polished bodies of automobiles . . . and a Goanese girl with the gift of multiplying fish . . . and children with powers of transformation: a werewolf from the Nilgiri hills, and from the great watershed of the Vindhvas, a boy who could increase or reduce his size at will, and had already (mischievously) been the cause of wild panic and rumors of the return of Giants . . . from Kashmir, there was a blue-eyed child of whose sex I was never certain, since by immersing herself in water he (or she) could alter it as she (or he) pleased. Some of us called this child Narada, others Markandaya, depending on which old fairy story of sexual change we had heard . . . near Jalna in the heart of the parched Deccan I found a water-divining youth, and at Budge-Budge outside of Calcutta a sharp-tongued girl whose words already had the power of inflicting physical wounds, so that after a few adults had found themselves bleeding freely as a result from some barb flung casually from her lips, they decided to lock her up in a bamboo cage and float her off down the Ganges to the Sunderbans jungles (which are the rightful home of monsters and phantasms); but nobody dared approach her, and she moved through the town surrounded by a vacuum of fear; nobody had the courage to deny her food. There was a boy who could eat metal and a girl whose fingers were so green that she could grow prize aubergines in the Thar desert; and more and more...

Ah, Rushdie: the old passages don't disappoint. Of course, the different magical powers don't map precisely to the characters in Heroes, but there are certain overlaps:

Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), Mr. Bennet's adopted daughter, who lives in Odessa, Texas, and has a healing factor.

Simone Deveaux (Tawny Cypress), an art dealer and gallery owner whose skepticism and complicated romantic life are tested. She was killed by Isaac, who was trying to kill Peter and hit the wrong target.

D.L. Hawkins (Leonard Roberts), Once an escaped criminal, he has the power to alter his physical tangibility and phase through solid objects, both inanimate and organic.

Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), An artist living in New York who can paint future events during precognitive trances. He also writes and draws a comic book called 9th Wonders! which has also been shown to depict the future.

Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), A programmer[7] from Tokyo with the ability to manipulate the space-time continuum.

Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), A Los Angeles police officer with the ability to hear other people's thoughts.

Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar), a New York Congressional candidate with the ability of self-propelled flight. He is Claire Bennet's biological father.

Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), A former hospice nurse and Nathan's younger brother. He is an empath with the ability to absorb the powers of others he has been near and can recall any ability he has used in the past by focusing on his feelings for those from whom the abilities originate. He has shown that he is capable of manifesting multiple abilities simultaneously.

Micah Sanders (Noah Gray-Cabey), D.L. and Niki's son and a child prodigy, Micah is a technopath, allowing him control of electrical signals, which gives him control of machines and electronic devices.

Niki Sanders (Ali Larter), The wife of D.L. and mother of Micah. A former internet stripper from Las Vegas who exhibits superhuman strength when her alternate personality, Jessica, surfaces.

Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), A genetics professor from India who travels to New York to investigate the death of his father, Chandra. Through his investigations, he comes into contact with people his father listed as possessing superhuman abilities. link

Mohinder Suresh, oddly enough, resembles Saleem Sinai, in that he is the person who ties it all together. And Cihlar, as the villain, resembles Rushdie's Siva. Perhaps Clair Bennett as Parvati-the-Witch? Niki Sanders as a less villainous "Widow"?

I'm not saying the quality of the show could be compared, even remotely, to Rushdie's novel. It's more the idea of a large group of people who have supernatural gifts whose broader function isn't entirely clear. In Rushdie's novel, it becomes clear that the disintegration of the M.C.C. is a metaphor for the challenges to Indian nationalism -- and Saleem Sinai's special humiliation might be the humiliation of the first generation of India's ruling elite. But what social or political message is Heroes trying to convey? It hasn't become clear yet.