& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Berlin Wall & John le Carre

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was a comparatively muted event, as was the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square.

It almost seemed that the western establishment, and especially the western media, couldn’t quite decide whether it would be appropriate to sing hosannas to western capitalism at this precarious stage.

In 2009 the unbridled march of the free market system had led to a complete and comprehensive collapse of the world economy.

The economic downturn would have happened even if communism and controlled economies existed.

It seemed that the establishment was chastised enough not to go overboard celebrating capitalism’s victory over communism.

It shouldn't have been so constricted.

As an economic paradigm, the on-going economic crises may create doubts about the efficacy of the free market model purely from a stability (and not growth) perspective.

However, no similar doubt need be harboured about liberal democracy. It is the best form of governance for human beings. Period.

It represents the ultimate triumph of the western ideals, and is infinitely better than any other form of governance that curtails freedom.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa posed for a photograph with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

US President Barrack Obama should have made the trip and shared the moment with Gorbachev-Merkel-Walesa.

An aside: India was in the throes of electioneering when the Berlin Wall was torn down. I was reporting for Sunday Observer and accompanying Sambhaji Kakade of the Janata Dal as he toured his constituency outside Pune.

A French anthropologist was with us in the car. He was conducting field research. He could barely contain joy and a peculiar sense of victory at the fall of a restrictive system.

The Berlin Wall evokes many memories. I’ve never been to Germany so the little I know is from books, movies and documentaries about the Cold War (with President Kennedy famously declaring, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”).

The two novels where the Berlin Wall forms a backdrop are John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and Smiley’s People (1979).

I read Smiley’s People first (again, because that was the age when I discovered books). I found it fascinating, especially Karla, the Soviet spy.

It depicted the corrupt, corpulent, socially and politically depraved world of spies, and there was nothing to distinguish between the west or the communists.

There was no difference between George Smiley and Karla. They used the same vicious methods and ends were always important than the means.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is rated the best spy novel ever by Time magazine. Its climax is at the Berlin Wall; so is that of Smiley's People.

I won’t be a spoiler by revealing how the novels end.

I’ll just say that Karla in the latter novel succeeds where Alec Learnas in the earlier novel fails.

Le Carre made his spies human, shorn of false bravado and heroism normally associated with spies and their profession. There was no action in the novels. The only thrill was the intricate maze that the author wove around his characters and their circumstances.

Spying was not the cloak and dagger stuff; it was an operation of a giant, ungainly bureaucracy that usually made sure that the right hand wouldn’t know what the left hand did.

Nothing like Da Vinci Code. And yet, infinitely more interesting.

The world of spy novels definitely suffered a serious setback after the Soviet empire collapsed. Post-Soviet era spy novels just don’t have that edginess to them that the ones written during the Cold War did.

Image: http://asfolhasardem.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/03lecarre___large.jpg

No comments:

Post a Comment