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'Orange' is still in


At the display window of a high-end brand in Mumbai, the ghostly white mannequins were up to their usual awkward poses. Gender regardless, these otherwise hair-shorn mannequins were wearing lashes under just one eye. The lashes in turn, weren't really where they should've been;an inch or thereabouts removed from the eye socket, they were closer to the cheekbone.

Nothing is as generous as the inadvertent tribute because such recognition is indicative of the vast (subliminal) reach of the subject at hand. A simple false eyelash then was high fashion's inadvertent fiftieth anniversary tribute to Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.

To its legions of fans, however, this peculiar sight would be immediately attributed to nothing but Burgess' A Clockwork Orange or indeed to Stanley Kubrick 1971 film adaptation. The book and the film have been so regularly conflated that often one fails to know where one begins and other ends.

To begin with, the false eyelashes never get mentioned in the book. They are, however, part of Kubrick's film, where the anti-hero Alex and his buddies adopt an elaborate get-up each time they undertake a violent outing. The film, in turn, appears to have picked up the detail from the jacket of the book's first Penguin edition. Designed by David Pelham the jacket depicts an illustration of a man with a clock's gear and cogs for eye and eyelashes. This then can be speculated as being the provenance of the famed accessory.

Seminal, cult classic, dystopian, allegory are some words that get regularly thrown up in relation to the narrative, which follows sociopath Alex from his days of violence, to his arrest and finally his ostensible rehabilitation via a controversial conditioning technique. Novelist Jeet Thayil feels that the film trumps over the book and that Burgess has written better: "I think the reason A Clockwork Orange never made much of an impression on me was because the violence in it, of which much was made, was not very violent at all. If anything it was a kind of aesthetic exercise, violence as art, and as such it had automatic limitations. Kubrick's Clockwork is a different animal. The violence stayed with me. Comparisons are awful, I know, but the movie is superior. "
The film contributed immensely to the overall popularity of the narrative but Burgess' high innovation with language has proved to be a big draw too. The fictional register of Nadsat, with Russian and Cockney inflected English, employed languages by Burgess has also propelled the book to new heights among youth and a variety of subcultures. The term Nadsat comes from Russian and is the equivalent of teen.

In 2009, artist Vishal K Dar made a video titled Cutter. The title is Nadsat's equivalent of money. "Cutter, much like A Clockwork Orange, asks provocative questions to which there can be no straight answers. The complexities within modern society and its political engine have often aggravated the animal encoded in our DNA, " says the Delhi-based Dar.

He adds, "When you view Cutter, there is a suspension of moral judgement. Something similar happens in A Clockwork Orange. It unfolds like a delusion. Alex became a window through which we explore human machinery, and in Cutter the image of Gandhi does something similar. Cutter presents itself as a brutal joke, filled with scepticism. "

This brutal coming-of-age story is a good one for making stomachs flip. Some time ago, the University of Mumbai had included Burgess' masterwork in its MA programme for literature only to eventually drop it from the syllabus.
According to Coomi Vevaina, Literature head of department, University of Mumbai, "I was not the head of department at the time but I recall us being short-staffed and so a visiting faculty was invited especially for this book. The book was listed under the broad Dystopia category of the syllabus. Eventually, the book had to be dropped because some students found it disturbing. "

A bunch of decades have failed to affect A Clockwork Orange's not-without-debate status. Be it the good old' book versus film debate or the debate over the omission of the last chapter - where Alex outgrows violence - in the American edition.

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