Blood for bread

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: May 6 2012, 07:30am hrs
What seems a dystopic fantasy today could prove a reality tomorrow

One of the first things that strikes you as you read Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games trilogy is the remarkable similarity the world she provides has to the world we live in today, and the world we are in danger of living in tomorrow. Of course, there are differences; the nation of Panem, where the entire story plays out, is located in the region we know as North America today, but in a future that has seen extraordinary technological advancesfrom hovercrafts, incredible biotechnology and genetic engineering to devices that instantaneously deliver the food items one chooses. But these are differences meant to flesh out a compelling story, to keep it all interesting.

In this, Collins succeeds. The Hunger Games trilogy is a vivid narration of a suppressed nation finally finding a symbol to rally a revolution around. Written in the first person, from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, a young girl from District 12 (Panem is divided into 13 districts and one central city that rules them all, called the Capitol), depicting an extreme scenario, it shows us the world we could potentially be living in if we carry on with present practices, both at national and individual levels.

The Hunger Games are an annual event the Capitol organises to remind the districts of the consequences of rebelling against it. They did revolt once, and after completely destroying District 13 then, the Capitol ordered that every year, each of the remaining districts would send a boy and a girl to the Capitol to take part in an elaborate TV show where contestants fight to the death. The last one standing wins. As a punishment, this works exceedingly well, with each of the districts residents living in fear that they, or their loved ones, will be called upon to take part in the Games. They keep their heads down and go about their lives, which are, by and large, miserable, poor and malnourished.

The poor there are not very different from the poor here, and the reasons for their poverty resonate with the dialogues on poverty issues coursing through India and other countries today. Lets take District 12 as an example, since it is home to the hero of the story. In this coal mining district, the residents have no career options since the Capitol will buy only coal from them. Any contact with other districts is forbidden. Thus, the residents are consigned to poverty because prices of coal are imposed on them by the Capitol. Being a democracy, and with peoples rights an important issue, the situation in India is obviously not as bad as it is in Panem, but the book raises relevant questions about how people can get stuck in one profession just because they lack the means to migrate to another one. More importantly, it highlights how a monopoly set-up (in this case, a single buyer) can do very real damage to people on the weaker side.

The Capitols society, the equivalent of the urban rich in our cities worldwide (relegating issues like global poverty and hunger to the sidelines while focussing on whose dress looks good and where to party, for example), takes great joy in watching the Games every year, much like we watch shows like Roadies or Splitsvilla. Sure, our shows dont require participants to fight to death. But we require some sort of drama, some emotional trauma to pique our interest. If everybodys happy, whats the fun Its obvious the whole edifice would crumble if the audience lost interest in watching people do damage to each other.

As the series progresses from The Hunger Games to its sequel Catching Fire and the final Mockingjay, the winner Katniss finds herself the symbol of a revolution breaking out across the nation. But, to her chagrin, she finds that those who seek to replace the existing regime are not very different from it at all. The books stress the difference between just a change in leadership and a wholesale systemic change, similar to whats being sought through the Arab Spring.

But all of this said, it must be remembered that these books were meant for young adults who may not read between the lines to find the social and political subtexts. Either ways, the trilogy is a compelling read; youll go through all three books as if they were only one. The grim future painted for us only makes the reader even more invested in how the story will turn out. If things can turn out well for Katniss and Panem as a whole, maybe we can reach redemption too.