Half the Night is Gone by Amitabha Bagchi
Published by: Juggernaut
Rating: 4.50/5 stars
The celebrated Hindi novelist Vishwanath is heartbroken by the recent loss of his son in an accident. The tragedy spurs him to write a novel set in the household of Lala Motichand. It follows the lives of the wealthy lala and his three sons: Self-confident Dinanath, the true heir to Motichand’s mercantile temperament, lonely Diwanchand, uninterested in business and steeped in poetry; and illegitimate Makhan Lal, a Marx-loving schoolteacher kept to the periphery of his father’s life. In an illuminating act of self-reflection, Vishwanath, the son of a cook for a rich sethji, also tells the story of the lala’s personal servant, Mange Ram and his son, Parsadi. Fatherhood, brotherhood and childhood, love, loyalty and poetry all come to the fore as sons and servants await the lala’s death.
By writing about mortality and family, Vishwanath confronts the wreckage of his own life while seeking to make sense of the new India that came into being after independence. Spellbinding and penetrating, Half the Night Is Gone raises questions of religion, literature and society that speak to our fractured times.
About the author:
Amitabha Bagchi is an Assistant Professor at IIT Delhi. Half the Night is Gone which was shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature (2018) is his third novel. It is also in the Shortlist for the DSC Literature Prize 2019.
Half the Night is Gone is a story within a story: acclaimed Hindi writer Vishwanath is in the process of writing his next novel which is a shift from his usual writing genre – satire. The reader is taken through the world of fiction that Vishwanath weaves, a story of a rich feudal man and the members of his family which is set in the years leading to the last vestige of the British rule in India. On another level, Vishwanath’s life unfolds, warts and all and we see him struggling for redemption and forgiveness from the people he has hurt the most: his brother whom he has distanced himself from and his wife who he has burdened with as he pursued his writing career.
Dwelling on the nature of family ties and forgiveness, both narratives have common strands: the manner in which people from lower social classes have to depend on the largesse and whims of those at the top, social distinctions, women as victims of social norms and then again, as those who can scheme to get things going their way. The nature of literature and language is another common theme: in the fictional world that Vishwanath creates, much of the narrative revolves around the Ram Charit Manas and the takeaways of love, brotherhood, familial ties, duty and forgiveness while Vishwanath himself dwells on the writings of various Hindi writing stalwarts.
Reading this made me want to really understand the nuances of Hindi literature. The author has made a convincing case for Hindi literature in this and keeping firmly within the narrative of the two stories, made it clear that Hindi literature is a rich ouvre that needs to be read, understood and realized. I absolutely loved the way the Ram Charit Manas has been given a literary perspective beyond the religious context and how Tulsidas gave Hindi language its form and popularity with his work.
Half the Night is Gone is a book that has left me searching for the right words to describe, all I can say is read this for sure and enjoy the stories that unravel.