Waiting for the monkey’s return: Review of Amitabha Bagchi’s ‘Half the Night is Gone’
(From The Hindu. By Shreevatsa Nevatia. Link to the complete review given below)
One would think the Ramcharitmanas is impossible to include in modern literature. Tulsidas’ epic poem drips with a piety and excess that are seemingly hard to make relevant. In Half the Night is Gone, Amitabha Bagchi not just climbs that mountain, he lifts it. Of all the references he makes to that sacred text, there is one that is repeated more often: “Ardh raati gayi kapi nahi aayau/ Ram uthai anuj ur layau” (Past midnight and the monkey has not returned/ Ram lifted his brother’s prone body and held him to his heart). The couplet describes a scene Hinduism has, of course, made iconic over the years.
Lakshman has been fatally wounded in battle. Only a certain magic herb can save him. Hanuman flies to fetch it. He gets confused and brings back the entire mountain. We know Lakshman will be saved, but in the moment when half the night is gone, the prince is something of a Schrodinger’s cat: dead and alive. Like Lakshman, the characters of Half the Night are simultaneously one thing and its opposite: loyal and selfish, banal, yet oddly poetic, brawny and weak, familial, yet very individualistic.
The architecture of Bagchi’s novel is intricate. He details the turbulence that besets two families and their three generations.
Lala Motichand is a typical Delhi merchant who does not let patriotism preclude profit. All revenue, he realises, is hard-won in a pre-independent India.