Vikram Paralkar’s “The Afflictions”

Hematologist and witer Vikram Paralkar’s The Afflictions is a slim book with a list of diseases to be found in the Encyclopaedia Medicinae. The Encyclopaedia comprises three hundred and twenty-seven volumes, each with its own teak shelf and reading bench. The Afflictions is a description of the diseases that Senhor José, the monkish Head Librarian at the Central Library, introduces to an apothecary named Máximo.

It is a fascinating list of diseases written in fake Latin to sound scientifically authentic! Take for instance Tristitia contagiosa, Lingua fracta, Amnesia inversa, Immortalitas diabolica, Confusio linguaram, Persona fracta, Torpor morum, Exilium volatile etc. The Kirkus Review describes some as “a reverse amnesia that causes everyone you know to forget who you are; a skin ulceration that expands with sinful behavior and shrinks with good deeds; a toxin that causes people to perceive the unbearable truth about the world; an infection that causes peasants and aristocrats to talk like each other; a hallucinatory fever that compels sufferers to create mediocre art; a collective ailment that causes groups of five people to share a single consciousness; and a syndrome that makes corpses return to life—a phenomenon that threatens ‘to topple the magnificent edifice of philosophy, art and literature’ by undermining faith in the finality of death.” This list is only tip of the iceberg.

The Afflictions is an incredible jaw-droppingly magnificent book written with surgical precision. It is an extraordinarily scathing literary cocktail that Paralkar creates combining his scientific knowledge of medicine with ascerbic wit to comment upon society. He takes a bit of the Hippocratic humours, huge dollops of the literary canon including fairy tales, plenty of sarcasm and a generous pinch of suspension of disbelief that is required to truly appreciate the literary worth of this slim beauty and shakes it all up vigorously to spew forth a glorious commentary on modern society. A narrative that is far superior to any of the pompous pontification found on cable news, newspapers or social media. A socio-political commentary that will be commended for its longevity as it shares truths that are not necessarily fixed in time period or a geography but surprisingly transcend time for they are truths that ail social structures worldwide. The ailments presented while making the reader chuckle strike home sharply too for the perceptive observations by the author!

The Afflictions is not easily read if not in the right frame of mind for it is clever artistry at work. This book requires mental nimbleness on the part of the reader to truly appreciate its literary merit. But once in it, it is an absorbing read and impossible to put down. It is easily read and bears a second and third reading in quick succession as well without getting to be dull.

The Afflictions is a great reference manual for afflictions of modern society.

14 February 2019

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