Books

A Market Of One Seller

The India of the 1970s wasn’t an insipid and tepid place. But even if it was, at the time, we certainly didn’t see it that way.

With the benefit of hindsight, at least, at the cognitive level, it does appear to have had a palpable dearth of variety in consumer goods such as soap bars, supermarkets, car models, toys, chocolates, jellies.

In short, of everything that could trigger a surge of joy in a child.

But absolutely nothing comes close to the gray, iron-clad homogeneity of the marketplace, as described in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

A dystopia, it recounts life in a totalitarian nation that engages in a cradle-to-grave policing of the individual; where political power in concentrated in the hands of one political party; whose leader is an embodiment of the state.

Its purely monopolistic economy, governed by the ironically named Ministry of Plenty, has room for just one state-run enterprise—“Victory”—that produces with unbroken monotony, everything from cigarettes to sugar to gin to milk.

Living in the bastion of the free-market system, accustomed as we are to a cornucopia of brands and products, it’s hard to even envision a retailer that stocks merchandise from only a single company.

Note that the novel’s hero, Winston Smith, doesn’t eat even one square meal a day—not by choice but rather for a lack of choice. He tames his growling stomach with nothing solid; merely nicotine smoke and stale, noxious liquor.

He took a cigarette from a crumpled packed marked VICTORY CIGARETTES and incautiously held it upright, whereupon the tobacco fell out on the floor … He took down from the shelf a bottle of colorless liquid with a plain white label marked VICTORY GIN.

The office canteen in the Ministry of Truth where Winston works, serves food that’s woefully tasteless, shoddy, and bland.

Winston and Syme pushed their trays beneath the grille. On to each was dumped swiftly the regulation lunch—a metal pannikin of pinkish-grey stew, a hunk of bread, a cube of cheese, a mug of milkless Victory coffee, and one saccharine tablet.

Food is also in short supply and is hence, rationed.

The chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grams to twenty.

Yet, the omnipotent and omniscient, if illusive, leaders keep their tenacious grip on power by relentless propaganda.

Before the revolution [the people] had been hideously oppressed by the capitalists.

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