Book Review – Manohar Malgonkar’s ‘A Bend in the Ganges’
Manohar Malgonkar is a prominent writer in English from India. Born in 1913 Manohar saw his early years pass by with the Raj in full swing. He joined the Army and rose to be a Lieutenant Colonel before he decided to call it quits.
After retirement Malgonkar settled at his farm near Belgaum and wrote a number of novels of which ‘A Bend in the Ganges’ stands out as an excellent example of Indian English prose. The novel set during the period just prior to partition and the onset of freedom is a cleverly crafted piece of literature.
Malgonkar creates a vivid picture of that time and he brings out the stark reality that along with freedom came murder, mayhem and anarchy. Violence ruled the roost and three hundred thousand people were slaughtered as well as a hundred thousand women were raped and abducted. Some were even mutilated. Twelve million people became homeless. Manohar creates an excellent background of this scenario in his novel.
The theme of the book is as to how this violence affected the lives of ordinary people- men and women at that time. Col Malgonkor creates three central characters which are brilliantly depicted. There is Gian a follower of Gandhi, Devi Dayal who is an ardent terrorist and his sister Sundari. Sundari is depicted as a ruthless woman who holds nothing sacred and is half in love with her brother.
Manohar was a contemporary of writers such as Mulk Raj Anand, Khushwant Singh and Kamala Markandya. But it is a matter of regret that his contribution to the genre we refer to today as Indian Writing in English remains largely unacknowledged. However we must remember that Manohar was a prolific writer whose prose and grip of the English language was as good as any of his contemporaries. There is no doubt that he was one of the last of a generation that has living memories of events that changed our nation’s history and society in the most profound way.
In ‘Bend in the Ganges’ Manohar is in full flow and one cannot but appreciate that not only was he a master story teller, but also had an exceptional command over the English language. No less than a writer of the caliber of RK Narayan referred to Malgonkar as his favorite Indian English novelist. Let us hope that Lt Col Manohar will be given his due in the years to come.