Socio-political Realities of India in select Novels of Manohar Malgonkar, Khushwant Singh and Rohinton Mistry

A study

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2012

157 Pages, Grade: A












The main objective of this dissertation is to study the socio-political realities of India through Khushwant Singh’s novels Delhi and Train to Pakistan , Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges and The Garland Keepers and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Family Matters .

The first chapter Introduction – A Brief Survey of Socio-political Realities is introductory in nature. It traces the development of Indian English novels which focus on the social and political problems in India. In the pre-independent Indian writings the struggle for freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi is dealt with briefly. In the post-independent Indian writings especially the issues that figured both in the Pre-independent India and Post-independent India that affected the general mass, mainly the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 remains at the centre of the works. The chapter focuses on the post-independent political situations that are vividly reflected in the works of the authors of post-independent period. Besides discussing in brief Manohar Malgonkar, Khushwant Singh and Rohinton Mistry the present study also discusses other Parsi writers who dealt with similar themes.

The second chapter entitled Pre-Independent India – From the Moghuls to Mahatma deals with the socio-political situation of pre-independent India. Khushwant Singh’s Delhi ( 1990) and Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges (1964) that depict the pre-independent socio-political realities are discussed in detail. In the novel Delhi the Muslim conquest of India, the plundering of Delhi particularly from the time of Ghazni, Gori and Timur; Nadir Shah’s carnage; the benign face of Islam in Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya; the Sepoy Mutiny in the year 1857 and other aspects are discussed in detail. Apart from this the effect of the political situation on general mass such as the impact of Gandhiji’s ideology of non-violence, and the terrorist movement to oust the British from India are discussed in A Bend in the Ganges . The horrors and chaos that await the exit of the British authority from the Indian subcontinent, the final parting ways of Hindus and Muslims are analysed in detail.

Partitioned India – A Socio-Political Trauma is the third chapter. It brings to light the holocaust that took place at the time of the Partition of Indian sub-continent in 1947. The Partition novels A Bend in the Ganges of Manohar Malgonkar’s and Train to Pakistan (1956) of Khushwant Singh’s are taken for study. The Muslims thinking of Pakistan as a safe land, the Sikhs reminding of the atrocities inflicted upon them by the Muslims in Pakistan, the evacuation operation, the plight of the people in overcrowded trains and other aspects are discussed at length. A Bend in the Ganges shows the religious Civil War that was waged at Duriabad at the time of the Partition. The novel depicts the political events that led to the social disturbances such as the communal hatred which resulted in the massive exchange of population, the mad killings, rapes and abductions, the emotional separation, the scenes of train-disasters that preceded and followed the Partition.

The fourth chapter Emergency India – Politics of Power focuses on the State of Internal Emergency declared in 1975 by the then Prime Minister Mrs.Indira Gandhi. Manohar Malgonkar’s The Garland Keepers (1986) and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance ( 1996 ) are considered for the study. In The Garland Keepers the horrors of the Emergency rule under the leadership of the Great Leader are discussed. It portrays the political aspects like the entire power which is used to serve the political ends of the top leaders, the police, and the crippled press. Dorabji Bank Fraud case and the major role played by Swami Rajguru in the political affairs are projected. Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance replicates the dark side of the Emergency such as the most brutal aspect of Emergency i.e., anyone, young or old, married or unmarried being compelled to undergo family planning operation. The social realities like the callous indifference of the authorities, the police custodial deaths, the evils of Indian campus, total failure of administration, sufferings of the poor, and the atrocities committed on the untouchables are mirrored.

In the fifth chapter Post-Babri India – Search for Secularism Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters (2002) which reflects the Post-Babri India has been dealt with. It analyses the predicament of the Indian families in the Post-Babri India and the political aggression. The social and political corruption has been depicted. The domestic world of Indian society, the renaming of Bombay as Mumbai, the change of street names in Bombay, the cataclysmic bombs that had rent the socio-economic fabric of Bombay in 1993 are discussed. Mistry, being a Parsi, a special emphasis is laid on the dilemma that has been faced by the contemporary Parsis.

The concluding chapter Conclusion – Survival of Humanism sums up the observations made in the preceding chapters. An attempt is made to evaluate the socio-political realities of India as depicted in the novels right from the time of Pre-Independent India to Post-Babri India and its relevance to the present scenario.

I’m profoundly grateful to my Research Supervisor Prof. Y. S. Sharada, Department of English Language & Literature, Sri Padmavathi Mahila Visvavidyalayam, Tirupati who showed me the way, set the tone for my work, and provided valuable guidance and also remained a great support in every aspect.

My earnest thanks to Prof. P.Hari Padma Rani, Head of the Department of English Language & Literature and I also thank Prof.G.Sheela Swaroopa Rani and Dr.M.Neeraja of the department for their encouragement.

My sincere thanks to Prof. T. Bharathi, Chairperson, BOS for her constant encouragement and support.

I owe my thanks to Prof.M.Vijaya Lakshmi, Dean, School of Social Sciences, Languages and Fine Arts for her support.

I thank members of the non-teaching staff of the university for their help. I’m indebted to the Librarians of CIEFL-Hyderabad, American Library-Madurai, Sri Venkateswara University and Sri Padmavathi Mahila Visvavidyalayam, Tirupati for all the help extended to me during the collection of research material.

I record my gratitude to my father and mother, my son Sundar and my daughter Tishya, my sister and her husband, and my twin brothers for their moral support.

I thank my friends and colleagues, each and every one for the help I received during the completion of the present work.



Literature is considered to represent one of the highest forms of development of human sensibility. It is a deliberate act of social communication which is written by someone, for someone to read and is meant to convey something. A serious work of literature is a living document of contemporary happenings and also of the historical process underlying them. The great epics and tragedies of ancient Greece are rich in variety, lofty in thought and universal in comprehension. Hence we learn from them about the Greek society of the times as they reflect the ancient Greek civilization. The great renaissance that swept through Europe in fourteenth and fifteenth centuries produced Dante and Shakespeare. Blake, Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley owe much to the French Revolution. Balzac won the highest praise from Engels who said that one could learn more about the French society from him “than all the professional historians, economists and statisticians of the period together”. (Engels 91)

“The relationship between art and society cannot be ignored, for art itself is a social phenomenon. First, because the artist however unique his primary experience might be, is a social being; second, because his work, however deeply marked by his primary experience and however unique and unrepeatable its objectification or form might be, is always a bridge, a connecting link between the artist and other members of the society; third, because a work of art affects people – it contributes to the reaffirmation or devaluation of their ideas, goals or values – and is a social force which has its emotional or ideological weight, shakes or moves people. Nobody remains the same after having been deeply moved by a true work of art.” (Vazquez 112-13)

Similarly literature and politics may appear to be two irreconcilable aspects of human experience. Politics is generally considered to be something mundane and gross. Thomas Mann in his Kultur und Politik recognizes the fact that ‘being apolitical is nothing less than being simply antidemocratic’ (56). He admits: “…that what is political and social is an indivisible part of what is human and enters into the one problem of humanism, into which our intellect must include it, and that in this problem a dangerous hiatus destructive of culture may manifest itself if we ignore the political, social elements inherent to it.” (Barabash Qtd. 16)

A writer has to make a choice between the responsibility of siding with truth, justice and humaneness or standing in open favour of exploitation and injustice. Ngugi wa Thiong’o observes: “literature cannot escape from the class power structures that shape our everyday life. Here a writer has no choice whether or not he is aware of it, his works reflect one or more aspects of the ideological struggles in a society. What he can choose is one or the other side of the battlefield: the side of the people, or the side of those social forces that try to keep the people down. What he or she cannot do is to remain neutral. Every writer is a writer in politics. The only question is what and whose politics.” (6)

Hence literature is propagandist in nature as it propagates the need for increasing universal happiness through seeking an end to human misery caused by either natural or man-made calamities.

A piece of literature is the depiction of the social and political facts – the realities of the times. Reality refers to, firstly the knowledge of life’s development in general and secondly to its concrete phenomena at a given time. In order to reflect this reality in his works, a writer captures the strength as well as weaknesses of the epoch’s great events. The portrayal of reality involves highlighting the important problems of the people and new aspects of life. It is an act which serves as a bridge, linking the writer with the society not only at a given time but across time and social divisions. Bhabani Bhattacharya believes art is that “…it must teach, but unobtrusively, by its vivid interpretation of life. Art must preach, but only by virtue of its being a vehicle of truth” (394). Michael Wood asserts that “…fiction is the only shape we can give to facts” (Kakutani Qtd. 3). George Lukacs defined realism as a “…genre that is concerned with showing the tension in a society between man as an individual entity and man as social phenomenon and ultimately to resolve that tension by allowing its characters to achieve a balance between the two modes of existence, thus ensuring a harmonious survival of society.” (54-55)

The realism becomes a mode for dealing with the present. It deals with the current problems of man and society. The complexities of modern society can truly be analysed in a realistic mode of writing because “the literature of realism, aiming at the truthful reflection of reality, must demonstrate both the concrete and abstract potentialities of human beings in extreme situations.” (Lukacs 23)

Therefore, the writers, focusing on a particular period in history, often experiment with the reality of the times to create a timeless reality of their own. With the help of a world of their own, by peopling it with various characters of individual traits, they light up the universal in man, thereby coming to grip with the existing reality. Besides this, a writer not only reflects the socio-political reality of a society but also, attempts to persuade the readers to take a certain attitude to that reality.

The novel as a literary phenomenon took roots in India one and a half centuries ago. The development of formal prose began with the western impact on Indian culture. As a result, western classics were translated at the outset and a little later followed works which were either imitations or inspired by western models. The novel proper begins with Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Rajmohan’s Wife in 1864. It was a noteworthy start for Indian English novel. His novels The Poison Tree and Krishnakanta’s Will deal with social problems, a recurring theme in Indian fiction. His chief pre-occupation is with patriotism, thus making the novel a means of political education. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is considered the father of the novel in India. “It was Bankim Chandra who established the novel as a major literary form in India….there have been better novelists in India since then, but they all stand on Bankim’s shoulders” (Kripalani 45). Other writers too took the lead and started producing novels in English. Notable among them were Rajalakshmi Devi’s The Hindu Wife (1876), Toru Dutt’s Bianca, Kali Krishna Lahiri’s Roshinara (1881), H.Dutt’s Bijoychand (1888) and Kshetrapal Chakravorti’s Sarata and Hingana (1895).

Indian writers in the twentieth century had a strong fascination to deal with the changing scenes related to the different levels such as the social, political, historical and economic. Exhibiting social and political realism emerged in the Indian-English novel in the 1930s and 1940s. It is true that: “…contemporary novels are the mirror of the age, but a very special kind of mirror, a mirror that reflects not merely the external features of the age but also its inner face, its nervous system, coursing of its blood and the unconscious promptings and conflicts which sway it.” (Prasad 1)

Pramod K.Nayar in his work Postcoloniaal Literature: An Introduction states:

“Postcolonialism is the theoretical wing of postcoloniality. It refers to a mode of reading, political analysis, and cultural resistance/intervention that deals with the history of colonialism and present neocolonial structures. It is a mix of rigorous epistemological and theoretical analysis of texts and a political praxis of resistance to neocolonial conditions. It is, in short, a critique. It invokes ideas such as social justice, emancipation and democracy in order to oppose oppressive structures of racism, discrimination, and exploitation. It asserts the formerly colonized subject’s ‘agency’ – defined as the ability to affect her/his present conditions – in the face of continuing oppression.” (17)

The Indian English Writers have mirrored the various incidents and happenings of life and activities of Mahatma Gandhi in particular and the contemporary social and political, economic and religious upheavals in general. The social, political and economic milieu was in the process of a tremendous change as a result of a series of catastrophes – the Second World War, the August Revolution of 1942, Japanese air-raid, the holocaust of communal riots, and the Emergency.

Mahatma Gandhi’s relentless struggle for freedom has significant milestones like Non-violent Non-cooperation Movement of 1920-22, Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930-31 and the Quit India Movement of 1942. As R.C.Majumdar observes, the non-violent non-cooperation movement proved itself to be “a baptism of fire which initiated the people into a new faith and new hope to fight for freedom” (368). The entire period of the Gandhian age was one of the most far-reaching changes, not only in the political scene but in practically all areas of Indian life.

According to Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi is “…like a powerful current of fresh air…like a beam of light that pierced the darkness and removed the scales from our eyes; like a whirlwind that upset many things, but most of all the working of people’s minds” (358). Thus, the freedom movement of Mahatma Gandhi inspired several writers. K.S.Venkataramani’s Murugan the Tiller (1927) and Kandan the Patriot (1932) bear a great witness to Mahatma’s impact. In Kandan the Patriot, both the personal and the domestic things are mingled with the larger political issues.

Many conferences were organized to discuss the role of the novelists in freedom struggle and the new society. Mulk Raj Anand found himself in great distress in view of the decadent socio-political scene, created by the British rule. He had a significant position in the history of the 1930s as he was one of the main novelists who took part in the writers’ movement and was anxious to see the end of imperialism in India. His novel Untouchable (1935) deals indirectly with an aspect of Gandhian struggle for freedom in the thirties. It deals with the Hindu social problem of untouchability against the political background of the time. His another novel, Coolie (1936) deals with the theme of social and economic exploitation of the poor class by the rich class under political background. It depicts the injustice and oppression of the poor by the rich; by the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, which are nothing but the outcome of a politically embroiled society.

At the time of Quit India Movement Raja Rao was “associated with the underground activities of the young socialist leaders” (Naik 75). His literary career began with Kanthapura in 1938 wherein he is quite clearly fascinated by the revolution started by Gandhi in the nation’s consciousness to liberate India from the imperialist rule of the British. The novel portrays various aspects of the freedom struggle of the time which no novel till 1939 has depicted. It shows all the remarkable political events like Gandhi’s Dandi March, formation of Village Congress Committee loaded with constructive programmes etc., and social programmmes of the Congress like the abolition of untouchability, propagandistic demonstrations against drinking, attention on spinning, Satyagraha and fast by Gandhi’s followers and police atrocities on the Congress Gandhian volunteers are realistically portrayed as things combined together to win political and moral freedom.

Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi set in the first two decades of twentieth century reflects a strong political feeling of the whole of Muslim community at a particular period of Indian history. The novel projects the various political events like seditious revolutionary activities, the Home Rule and the Non Cooperation Movement and the terrorist activities following the wake of national resurgence. K.A.Abbas’s Tomorrow is Ours (1943) deals with the story of the national struggle for Independence in Bengal in the Pre-Second World War period. The novel shows the emancipation of women and the superiority of Indian culture and the Indian way of life. D.F.Karaka’s We Never Die (1944) is a novel set against an Indian village and town, depicting a stray picture of the Indian freedom movement through an innocent villager. The simple story of silent revolution of the Indian people in the slothful village life tries to solve the communalism inherent in the then society.

Bhabani Bhattacharya’s So Many Hungers touches the theme of exploitation – political, economic and social. It really accounts for “a largely man-made hunger that took a toll of two million innocent men, women and children in Calcutta and Bengal” (Iyengar 412-13). This social theme is presented with the political effect of the Quit India Movement.

Even after independence, the freedom movement of Mahatma Gandhi continues to inspire quite a few writers such as R.K.Narayan, K.A.Abbas, Manohar Malgonkar, Nayantara Sahgal, Chaman Nahal et al. R.K.Narayan’s Waiting for the Mahatma (1955) deals with the Gandhian struggle in the forties, through an average Indian’s perception. K.A.Abbas’s Inquilab (1955) reflects the freedom struggle commencing from the Rowlatt Bill and the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre to the Salt-Satyagraha and the Gandhi-Irwin Pact of 1931. “No doubt, Inquilab is a disturbing document of the soul stirring incidents of the period it describes” (Radhakrishnan 38)

Nayantara Sahgal entered the literary scene in the later part of the 1950s. She says:

“I grew up during the national movement. My parents went to jail repeatedly during our fight for freedom….My uncle became our first Prime Minister. I was born and brought up within the atmosphere and hopes and ideals of the Congress party…. Our home was the meeting place and many decisions momentous to India were taken in it. I became a novelist and a political journalist, and all my writing, fiction and non-fiction, has been about contemporary India.” (55)

Hence, her concern with political themes and her perceptive analysis of the national scene is projected in her novels. A.V.Krishna Rao states that her “achievement as a novelist is in her ability to project the Indian socio-political scene in an intensely moral frame.” (96)

Nayantara Sahgal’s A Time to be Happy (1958) deals with two North Indian families during the last stages of the freedom struggle and the arrival of independence. It depicts the lives of the period covering the non-cooperation movement, August disturbances in 1942, the Bengal famine and the great year 1947, the year of freedom.

Khushwant Singh’s I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale (1959) is set against the freedom movement and the war years from April 1942 to April 1943, the disturbed pre-Partition period at Jallianwalla Bagh in the Punjab. It deals with the period of the “Quit India” conflagration. The novel vividly presents an ironic picture of a Sikh joint-family illustrative of different Indian reactions to the freedom movements of the 1940s. K.Nagarajan’s Chronicles of Kedaram (1961) is set against the hectic period of freedom struggle in pre-Independence India. The novel depicts the pattern of life, both personal and political of a few persons of various callings in India of the period from 1925 to 1939.

Manohar Malgonkar’s Combat of Shadows (1962) depicts the social prejudice and hatred between the Britishers and the Indians and also Indian politicians selling out the national cause for their profit and self-interest without any moral scruples.

Chaman Nahal’s The Crown and the Loincloth (1981) deals with the theme of confrontation between the mighty British empire and a resurgent India under the dynamic leadership of Mahatma Gandhi during 1915-1922. The aspirations and ideas, dreams and enchantments, and frustrations and affirmations of middle class intelligentsia during those historically convulsive years are fictionalized in the novel. It depicts the quest for meaning and the endless possibilities inherent in human life by an individual.

The Partition of the sub-continent into two nations – India and Pakistan accompanied Independence in 1947. This brought one of the bloodiest upheavals in history. Twelve million people had to flee from either side and nearly half a million were killed. Many caravans and convoys of refugees were ambushed and attacked on the road side, resulting in mass murder. Refugee trains were derailed and the people were sent as ‘a present’ to either country. R.P.Chaddah points out:

“A great national experience generally serves as a great reservoir of literary material as can be seen from the literature of other countries. The French Revolution, the American Civil War, the Russian Revolution, and the two World Wars provided the basis of great fiction - A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms, From Here to Eternity, Doctor Zhivago and The Naked and the Dead. Likewise, the Partition provided a number of Indo-English novelists the basis for their fictional exercises.” (53)

Many writers felt a shock as they thought that the declaration of Emergency dealt a heavy blow to the secular democratic institution of free India. Khushwant Sigh’s Train to Pakistan (1956), Balachandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer (1958), Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges (1964), Raj Gill’s The Rape (1974), Chaman Nahal’s Azadi (1975), Shauna Baldwin Singh’s What the Body Remembers, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man (1988) and Gurcharan Das’s A Fine Family (1990) deal with the Partition of India in 1947. In each of these novels the human emotions portrayed have been subjected to and conditioned by the pressures of the time. Each of the novelists has produced a narrative of the past from his/her present point of view. All the authors mentioned here, except Salman Rushdie, have undergone the agony of the Partition and their novels are the result of their aesthetic response to their compulsion to write about this harrowing experience.

Balachandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer is a novel reflecting the last phase of the freedom struggle and Partition holocaust. The novelist resorts to the Partition in order to give a convincing end to his narrative of the ‘eternal triangle’, with the heroine dying in the after Partition riots and his views about Partition are detached.

Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column is the only novel on the Partition written in English by a Muslim living in India. It focuses on the impact of the great event on the lives of the Muslims in India. There is a valuable social and political documentation in the novel.

Raj Gill’s The Rape reflects the horrid aspects of human life, following the Partition holocaust. Chaman Nahal’s Azadi won the Sahitya Akademi award for the year 1977. It is a monumental novel which realistically deals with the theme of Partition. It dramatises the impact of the momentous events of political history on a few individuals, spanning the period from the announcement of the Cabinet Mission Plan on June 3, 1947 to the aftermath of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948. It realizes the trauma of the Partition in terms of the displacement, communal discord and indignities that had to be endured by the people driven to find a new home and a new identity.

Shauna Baldwin Singh’s What the Body Remembers is unique as never before has a novel on Partition been told from the point-of-view of the Sikh community, never through Sikh women’s eyes.

The theme of Partition continues to appear in the works of the contemporary writers. They seem to find still unchartered or unexplored possibilities in it. Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man has a significantly fresh approach to the violence unleashed by the Partition. Gurcharan Das’s A Fine Family traces three generations of a Punjabi family from 1942 till the second tenure of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister.

Even in the Post-Independence Indian Literature the tradition of socio-political aspects is prevalent. Various events of national importance like the Liberation of Goa, the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, the Indo-Chinese War of 1962, the Indo-Bangladesh War of 1971, the State of Internal Emergency etc., are depicted authentically in the literary works.

Lambert Mascarenha’s Sorrowing lies My Land is a novel depicting the freedom struggle in Goa in the years preceding Goa’s liberation in 1961. The novel portrays the sufferings of the common man under the Portuguese administration. And also presents how the Portuguese inflicted torture on the people and raped Goan girls.

Nayantara Sahgal’s This Time of Morning (1965) reflects the complex social relations and ideological issues after 1947. Storm in Chandigarh (1969) is based on the division of Punjab into Punjab and Haryana with Chandigarh as the common capital for both the states after twenty years of Partition. The Day in Shadow (1971) deals with the theme of new leadership ousting the old. The novel reflects the then Delhi, the pace of change, the passing of Gandhism, the defiant amoralism of the jet-set, the new style of politics, the chronic sense of uncertainty etc. A Situation in New Delhi (1977) depicts the picture of Delhi in Post-Independence era. It also deals with the aftermath of Nehru’s death, the Naxalite Movement and student unrest. The problems of alienation and frustration of the younger generation on Indians in the context of opportunistic politics pursued in New Delhi are also depicted in the novel. Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1985) is set against the backdrop of Emergency and the evils arising out of it. It shows press censorship, police patrolled Delhi roads, demolition of slums and forced vasectomies. The novel traces the impact of Emergency on a large number of characters, simultaneously highlighting the response of these individuals to the social tensions created by the Emergency.

The novels of Anita Desai and Arun Joshi are the result of the complex socio-political situation in the Post-Independence days. Joshi’s The City and The River (1990) is ‘a commentary on the times’ (Mazumdar 26) and ‘a political parable’ (Hariharan 10). It is a severe commentary on the times, containing echoes of the Indian Emergency in the 1970s.

Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines was almost a direct result of the immense impact of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots on him. It also explores issues of religion and nationality. In The Glass Palace Ghosh weaves into the life of its central character, the bewildering and often poignant accounts of a family scattered through post imperialist dislocation in various parts of the Asian continent. He charts the complex social and political repercussions of such disbanding through the experience of loss, exile and the search for a homeland.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) deals with the political history of India from the time of Jallianwalla Bagh to the end of the Emergency in 1977. His aim in writing this novel was to relate private lives to public events and to explore the limits of individuality in culturally country, India. William Walsh aptly holds that the novel is “the personification and realization of Indian life” (257). Rushdie’s main concern in The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995) is with socio-political realities of present-day India. The novel depicts the Sikh massacre in 1984 and the Babri Masjid violence in 1987. It shows Bombay in its present state of criminalization and communal disrepair. He metaphorically suggests depressing developments in Post-Emergency India – black money, organized crime and big business are in conflict with chauvinistic fanatic religion – for political power.

Arundati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) is marked for its socio-political concerns. She vividly portrays the acute suffering and deep frustration of the weaker sections of the society – like the Paravans, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Dalits and the have-nots. The novel highlights the social evil – that of child-abuse and child-negligence – prevalent in India. She ponders over certain political developments in India such as the dawn of Independence, the formation of the Congress Government at the Centre and the spread of Communism in Kerala and West Bengal. Roy’s preoccupation with the socio-political concerns of modern India, render her a powerful writer rooted in ground reality.

The socio-political concerns can also be found in the Parsi writings. Parsees are an ethno-religious minority in India. Although they form a miniscule community representing less than 0.016 percent of India’s vast population, their contribution to the country’s society, economics, commerce, politics and literature has been remarkable. Parsee novel in English came into its existence in the 1980s. It voices the ambivalence, the nostalgia and the dilemma of the endangered Parsee community. The triumph of the Parsee novelists in the use of English language is largely due to westernization and exposure to English culture. Promising writers like Rohinton Mistry, Firdaus Kanga, Boman Desai, Farrukh Dhondy, Ardashir Vakil and others have given a new direction to Parsee novel in English.

Nergis Dalal’s first novel Minari does not deal exclusively with Parsee life, although there are vivid sketches of an elderly Parsee couple and their bouncy young son Ferdie. It offers an account of the high class life at a hill station in Rajasthan with stock situations. Dalal’s second novel, The Sisters effectively depicts the dilemma and ambivalence of the Parsee community. The novel reveals a characteristic paradox in the contemporary Parsee life.

It was believed that the emotional trauma of the religious minorities such as the Christians, Parsees and Jews during the Partition has not been fully depicted in any novel. Bapsi Sidhwa is the second woman writer to write a novel dealing with the Partition and its aftermath. In Ice-Candy Man (1989) Partition becomes the moulding principle. According to Sidhwa, she wrote the novel from an “objective point of view” (Kanaganayakam 46). She rises above petty nationalism and presents the Partition horrors. It is the story of what happened to the poor when the politicians so heartlessly played around with their lives. The novel also presents how the religious disparities were deliberately exploited on the eve of Partition. In the novel, Sidhwa highlights the quandary of the Parsee community at that time.

Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel The Crow Eaters (1990) celebrates the institution of family life, social organization and marriage rituals. She depicts the Parsees’ predilection for assimilation into the Indian life, since their roots lie in India. The novel serves as a sound introduction to Parsee life in that it abounds in the description of many rituals and ceremonies. The narrative provides multiple variations of the history and the politics of the times to subvert the ‘official’ version. She posits a Parsee, an ‘outsider’ to give a neutral account of the most turbulent period of Indian and Pakistani history. In An American Brat, Sidhwa brings in a variety of relevant issues such as mixed marriage and oppression of women. It depicts poverty, sickness and fundamentalism in Pakistan.

Firdaus Kanga’s Trying to Grow (1990) is a narrative that singularly focuses on the trauma of creativity and the inhibitions and fears in Brit, the physically handicapped protagonist. It celebrates the social life of westernized Parsees.

The first novel of Dina Mehta And Some Take a Lover (1992) presents the conflicting loyalties of a Parsee family enmeshed in the political and personal turmoil. The novel earnestly depicts the plight and problems of the Parsees in the context of the Quit India Movement, the Naval Ratings Mutiny of 1946 and the post-Partition holocaust necessitating Gandhi’s Noakhali tour. The novelist tries to record faithfully the Parsees’ life style, their preferences and priorities.

Boman Desai’s The Memory of Elephants (1992) is a culturally rooted fantasy with a strong desire to record the history of the Parsee-exodus and to restore it from the cultural memory. There appears especially among the Parsee novelists the deep sensitivity to affirm and to bring back to life the glorious past of bravery, valour and courage of the wars, warriors and the kings. The Parsees wish to put on record that they too are a warrior race and a community that accepts injustice or indifference easily. Boman Desai portrays this lure of the past and connects it up to the present day life they lead, their deeply felt anxiety and their community consciousness. The novel also reveals the inner recesses of the Parsee young minds of today. His another novel Asylum,USA (2000) is a novel of different quality and denomination. In this novel memory plays a role but it has not got much to do with the collective unconsciouness of the Parsees. It is the story of Noshir Daruvala, 23-year-old, engineering student struggling to make both ends meet in Chicago.

It is clear that the works of the twentieth century Indian novelists are rooted in socio-political ethos. The exposure of social evils like poverty, social inequalities, injustices, capitalist or imperialist exploitation, the revolutionary – nationalist struggle for independence, the catastrophe of Hindu-Muslim discord and the tragedy of Partition and the emergence of new India, the political atmosphere in the post-independence era are reflected in the major novels during the twentieth century. Thus, many of the novelists in the century have a socio-political canvas and they deal with these experiences either directly as central theme or indirectly as back drop. Among them Mulkraj Anand, Raja Rao, R.K.Narayan, Khushwant Singh and Manohar Malgonakar are of considerable merit.

Manohar Malgonkar was born on July 12, 1913 in Bombay. He came from a rich landowning Maharashtrian Brahmin family of Belgaum. He got his B.A. (Hons.) degree in English Literture and Sanskrit. After completing his university education, Malgonkar took hunting as his profession during 1935-37. In 1937, he joined the Central Government Service as a fairly high official. When the Second World War started, he joined the British Indian Army as a second Lieutenant. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Thereafter, he joined as a representative for an American business firm in Delhi. He also worked on a tea-plantation for a very brief period in Southern India. Finally, he joined active politics. It was at the age of forty-six that he turned to writing after trying several careers.

The main sources of Malgonkar’s creative writing have been his varied experiences and extensive study of Indian and western authors. While personal experiences directly helped him in getting the raw material for his novels, the influences from Indian and western authors helped him indirectly in presenting the novel in proper shape and form.

Malgonkar’s genius presents a composite picture of the East and the West with their respective merits and demerits. G.S.Amur observes, “Taylor seems to have been an important influence on Malgonkar” (20). The impact of the English historical writers John Morris and Meadows Taylor is of great significance because it brought to his notice the fact that the Indian themes might be transcribed through the alien medium without any appearance of artificiality. He was also influenced by Kipling and E.M.Forster. The works of Malgonkar clearly reveal the impact of culture. The customs and traditions of Indian society get full recognition in his novels. Hence, multiple factors, pertaining to cultural, environmental and literary influences, and his experiences have shaped Malgonkar into a delightful and readable novelist. Malgonkar is a distinguished novelist who demonstrates a remarkable historical and political consciousness in his fictional writings. “We can fully understand the present only in the light of the past” (Carr 55). Hence, Malgonkar gets thoroughly immersed in India’s long and arduous struggle for freedom. Rajagopalachari says, “He was a participant-observer like E.M.Forster of a momentous phase in Indian history” (44).

Malgonkar has written some ten novels and has won a good measure of recognition and reputation from all over the world. His first novel, Distant Drum (1960), vividly depicts his army life experiences. It covers a period from 1938-1950. It narrates the Burma war during the Second World War and the bloodshed and violence of 1947, besides the regimental history of the 4th Satpura Regiment. The novel has been hailed as a novel of “unusual distinction”. It deals with the unsavoury impact of the Partition of the British Indian Army. The horrible scenes of Partition days left indelible marks on the sensitive mind of Malgonkar, who fictionalized them and showed a better way of living together in friendship with the dominant communities of the sub-continent.

Malgonkar’s second novel, Combat of Shadows (1962) portrays life on a tea-plantation and the big game hunting as the two main subjects of the novel. It covers a period from 1938-1940 and it has a reference to the Second World War. It is a realistic and highly exciting novel telling the fascinating story of Henry Winton and his colleagues, officers in the Assam tea estates who are driven into the ruthless twilight world of high-society romance, adventure and lust.

His third novel, The Princes (1963), too depicts his army life through one of the episodes. His experiences with the Maratha princely states get full reflection in this novel. Through the eyes of Abhay, the heir-apparent to the Indian Princely State of Begwad, are seen the subtle interactions of the political, social and the primordial forces that shaped the destiny of princely rulers in the Gandhian era, i.e., between 1920 and 1947. The book is replete with the princely passions and personal tragedy and political history transmuted into realistic fiction.

A Bend in the Ganges (1964), the magnum opus of Manohar Malgonkar, once again takes us to the pre-independence days and to the subsequent partition of the country fraught with riots, bloodshed and butcher. The novel depicts the Second World War scenario and it goes as far back as 1938. On its appearance the novel hit the bookstalls and libraries the world over and became an instantaneous success. The great English critic and writer, E.M.Forster selected A Bend in the Ganges as “one of the three best novels” of the year. (Amur Qtd. 9)

Malgonkar’s fifth novel, The Devil’s Wind (1972) is truly the first historical novel which depicts the Indian uprising of 1857. It depicts the life of a real historical personality – Dhandu Pant Nana Saheb of Bithoor. It is written in autobiographical form. Through the narrator-hero, Malgonkar dramatically unfolds the bewildering feudal customs and traditions and the socio-political conditions prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century India, the weak and divided kings and Peshwas, the high-handedness of the British, confrontation with them and subsequent disintegration of the Indian armed forces.

Regarding the early novels of Malgonkar, Dayananda opines: “…the five works, taken as a whole, constitute a consistent and thoughtful statement about life; they present a particular ‘vision of life’ – always the mark of a fine artist” (36). In these novels the author’s social and political awareness have generated powerful dramatic tension.

The above are the full-fledged and mature novels of Malgonkar. His other fictional works are the espionage thrillers – Spy in Amber (1971), The Garland Keepers (1980) and Bandicoot Run (1982) and the filmscripts – Shalimar (1968) and Open Season (1978). The Garland Keepers depicts the excesses of the Emergency period.

Malgonkar’s novels are vigorous and the materials he used and the realism he employed were his own. He showed his profound power of sympathetic observation, applied to the compassionate delineation of persons living within the boundaries of polite society. He is fully aware of the fact that to gain authenticity it is quite necessary to write within the Indian ethos and milieu. He writes: “I keep writing in India because I feel no author should write outside his own living circumstance. If he does it is phoney. To write of your own society and to be accepted by the English and American reading public we must be better than average writers.” (Amur Qtd.12)

Unlike Mulkraj Anand or R.K.Narayan, says Shankar Bhattacharya:

“Malgonkar is an upholder of aristocracy. He presents entertaining and still valid portraits of sophisticated men and women and they suggest some basic and still valid criticism of Indian life. In all his social or socio-political novels, he has shown a tendency to uphold conservative values in spite of the fact that he takes meticulous care to paint the unpalatable aspects of both the aristocrats and the middles classes in equal proportions, without an attempt to gloss over the dark aspects of the upper class.” (5)

The other writer taken for the present study is Khushwant Singh who is one of India’s distinguished men of letters with an international reputation. He was born at Hadali in West Punjab (now in Pakistan) on February 2, 1915. After his early education in Lahore and Delhi, he went to England and studied at King’s College in London and took his bar-at-law from Inner Temple. On returning to India, he practiced at the High Court of Lahore and taught Hindu Law and Jurisprudence at the Punjab University. The Partition of the country cut his career short as a lawyer which even otherwise was for him an inadequate and precarious source of income. The pressing demands of public life in the critical early years of independence veered him to a diplomatic assignment as the Press Attaché to the High Commissioner for India in London and Canada. After four years, he left his job in the Indian Foreign Service. Then, he crossed the Rubicon “to launch his bark on unchartered seas of literature.” (Singh 185)

Khushwant Singh began his career as a journalist with AIR in 1951. Meanwhile, he contributed short stories to English, Canadian and American Magazines with which he had established his career as a writer during his stay in London and Ottowa.

He is a novelist, short story writer, historian, essayist, journalist and editor. This is sufficient to establish him as a versatile genius. His novels – Train to Pakistan (1956), I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale (1959), Many Moods and Many Faces, and Delhi (1989) and A Company of Women (1999) have made him a famous writer of fiction. He has written a considerable number of short stories and also translated two works.

As a novelist Khushwant Singh is famous for Train to Pakistan which made him internationally known. This novel won for him the Grove Press India Fiction Prize for the year 1956. Its original title was Mano Majra, named after Mano Majra, a Punjabi village which is the centre of hectic activities that happen in the story of the novel. It is a starkly realistic novel, depicting riots, bloodshed, atrocities and horrors of the Partition.

His second novel I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale is a tragic-comedy. It is a comic picture of two families of Buta Singh and Wazir Chand, both magistrates under Mr.Taylor, the Deputy Commissioner. The novel captures the “zeitgeist of the tumultuous Pre-independence days, concentrates on the ‘inner tensions’ and ‘external movements’ of an upper middle-class Sikh family in the Punjab” (Asnani 100). The novel is a brilliant piece of art. In this regard Madhusudan Prasad rightly remarks: “Khushwant his second novel I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale… presents a fine fusion of satire and realism.” (214)

Delhi is his vast, erotic, irreverent magnum opus on the city of Delhi. Travelling through time, space and history Singh discovers a myriad of people, poets and princes, saints and sultans, emperors and eunuchs – who shaped Delhi in course of years and events.

Khushwant Singh’s novel A Company of Women too lists the shopping places, the clubs, the restaurants, the food-items of Delhi very realistically. His sole purpose seems to be writing about the middle-aged protagonist Mohan Kumar’s craving for women and his urge for establishing his manhood.

Though Khushwant Singh has written only a few novels his stature as a novelist is firmly established. His novels – Train to Pakistan, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale and Delhi display his original skill in realistic reproduction of life and his vision of life. As a novelist he is realist because his training as a lawyer strengthened his innate realism.

Khushwant Singh has been gifted with a few rare qualities like “the comic spirit, exploration of the world around and presenting it in all its nakedness and truth and the capacity to capture reality in all its magnificence and horror, the felicity of expression, the capacity for clear and realistic portrayal, the ingenuity, compression, stark originality…” (Asnani 95). His language, style, comic spirit, mingling of the past and present and realistic approach to words, life and literary art are really appreciable. He is a realist because his training as a lawyer strengthened his innate realism. Khushwant Singh is a writer of brilliance, clarity and excellence that the twentieth century India has produced.

And the contemporary writer Rohinton Mistry was born and brought up in Bombay. It makes him an eminently suitable writer for documenting the criminalization of the city of his birth in the last three decades of the twentieth century.

Mistry was born on 3rd July 1952 in Bombay. He had his schooling in Bombay. He did not live in a Parsi Baag – housing estate – in Bombay, but “had friends who inhabited these places and had the opportunity to observe a little bit of it” (Lakhani 33). He enrolled in Mathematics and completed his degree in Science from St. Xaviers College in Bombay.

Mistry was involved in the music scene in Bombay, gave performances and was seriously contemplating a career as a folk singer. Later in 1975 he immigrated to Canada and married Freny Elavia in the same year. Afterwards, Mistry took up a position as a clerk and accountant in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He worked his way up from being a clerk to being the supervisor of the customer - service department.

Mistry and his wife lived in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto, where they had in relation to Bombay, a materialistically comfortable existence. He was a private and reticent man and led a quiet existence in Canada. This way of life has continued even after his novels had gained international recognition. Rarely does he visit Bombay. Mistry took up evening course at the University of Toronto and studied English Literature and Philosophy.

Mistry’s first novel Such a Long Journey was published in 1991. His first novel won him a string of awards. It was short-listed for the Booker Prize and for the Trillium Award. It also won the Governor General’s Award, the Smith Book/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Common Wealth Writer’s Prize for the Best Book.

His second novel A Fine Balance appeared in 1995 and it garnered some more awards for him. It was also short-listed for the Booker Prize and also won the Governor General’s Award and the Giller Prize. It received the Royal Society of Literature’s Winifred Holtby Prize and the 1996 Los Angeles Times Award for Fiction. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Arts at Ottawa University in the year 1996.

Mistry was a slow and careful writer. Between Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance, there were over four years and the third novel Family Matters came out only in 2002. It was also short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the seventh annual Kiriyama Prize for literature of the Pacific Rim and the South Asian subcontinent.

Mistry feels he is “blessed as I’m able to follow this line of work. I didn’t grow up with the burning ambition to be a writer – I never thought of it as a possibility. It seemed such a huge thing, it never occurred to me that I could aspire to it.” He has said that when he is writing “the only judgment he relies on is his own.” (Lambert 7)

So far, except for a couple of stories in the Tales from Firozsha Baag collection, Mistry has set his books in India – mainly in Bombay. Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey revolves around the Bangladesh war of 1971 and the Nagarwala episode of cheating a bank by imitating the voice of the former Prime Minister. In the novel the story of Gustad Noble is interwoven with the political reality impinging upon ordinary people’s lives. It also focuses on the Parsi identity and the challenges it faces from the rise of regional chauvinism in the form of the political party, the Shiv Sena.

A Fine Balance is a saga that spans the momentous events of India’s history from the turbulent times of the Emergency in 1975, through the horrors of the Emergency in 1975, to the macabre aftermath of its Prime Minister’s assassination in 1984. He highlights crucial events in the country’s chronicle by depicting the background of each protagonist.

Family Matters is set in the Post-Babri Masjid Bombay in the mid 1990s where the religious chauvinism of Shiv Sena is augmented by the pan-militant Hindutva of the BJP. It is about ageing parents, their loneliness, their physical disabilities and family support structures which move across resistance, aversion and unwillingness to a caring adjustment.

The novel as Timothy Brennan demonstrates, “has historically played a crucial role in this (nation) construction because the novel objectified the multiple and unified nature of national life” (28). It is appropriate to note that the contours of the nation – geographical, economic, social, political and cultural have been continuing theme in postcolonial writing.



India is a vast country with more than 5000 years of history the last few decades being extra-ordinarily eventful in Indian life, and Delhi has been the seat of rulers, right from the Mahabaratha period, from the Kuru dynasty onwards. A long succession of rulers, who tried to establish their kingdom and perpetuate their rule from a geo-strategically vantage point, particularly in the medieval India, treated it as a stepping stone to their acquisition of power and riches. But for all their richness and effort, they could bequeath nothing significantly to the posterity except the decaying moments of splendor and systems of subjugation. They remain continuously embroiled in the wars of attrition or the deeds of self-gratification. Even the changeover of the 20th century democratic system, inherited from the British, has not done anything really remarkable to elevate from the stereotyped mind set of the ruling elite. Delhi has been in cultural hibernation since long. Duly disenchanted with its lot as an arena of power-play, Khushwant Singh braces up to the task of stocktaking through the mute monuments and mocking memories.

Delhi published in 1990, is Khushwant Singh’s magnum opus creation. It is the crowning achievement so far, of his long, prolific creative life. Thousands of copies of the novel have been sold on account of his ability to make his fiction true to life - the readers can identify themselves with the fiction. The novel is an ambitious chronicle, covering more than 800 years in the life of the city which has been the heart of India in more than one sense. “In this novel I have to tell the story of Delhi from its earliest beginnings to the present times. I constructed it from records chronicled by eyewitnesses. Hence most of it is in the first person. History provided me with the skeleton. I covered it with flesh and injected a lot of seminal fluid into it.” (Singh Author’s Note)

Hence the events and situations described in the book are real; so are the characters we encounter in it. The author reconstructs history of India (mostly Delhi) from actual chronicles. “A return to the past, a retrieval of the usable past, and an analysis of the community’s heritage and history emerge as important structural devices in all postcolonial writing.” (Vijayasree 226).

The novel begins with the narrator returning to Delhi after touring foreign countries especially England. He is filled with angry thoughts such as delays at the airport, the manners of customs inspectors in the air port, cheating by cab drivers, the inefficiency of the electricity company, Delhi telephones, water supply etc. The narrator is a guide with the Tourist Department of the government of India. So he takes Lady Jane Hoity-Toity, a famous archeologist and the cousin of the Queen around the city. Then he takes Kamala Gupta – the bored wife of a brigadier, who is interested in doing a book on Delhi and its monuments – around on a tour of Delhi.

Bhagmati is the mistress of the narrator. She is a feminine hijda hermaphrodite. She lives with her husband and co-wives in Lal Kaun. The narrator happened to take her to his apartment when she suffered Mirge epileptic fit on the road. The narrator takes Bhagmati to Jahaz Mahal, where an inscribed stone catches his eye, and thus starts the real history of Delhi.

The reader is taken way back to 1265 A.D. when Delhi was ruled by Sultan Ghiasuddin Balban. The narrator here is a clerk called Musaddi Lal who takes us on his life journey right from his child-marriage to his old years, and in the process he in a very masterly fashion sews in the influence of Hazrat Nizamuddin, the wrath of Ameer Khusraoo and the passing over of the kingdom from Balban to Khiljis. This chapter marks the building of Mughal Empire in Delhi.

Then there is the advent of Taimur in Delhi who looted, crushed and massacred. A short span of Taimur’s stay was like a devastating storm that left a big scar on the face of Delhi. The following one stretches from the death of Jahangir to the reign of Shah Jahan to Aurangzeb’s rule from the eyes of a Rangreta untouchable. With the death of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb Alamgir ascends the throne. But Allah did not favor him as his last years were as cruel to his expectations as were of his father. Most of his progeny were either infidel or incapable of holding the responsibility of ruling such a great empire.

Brushing aside the Lodhis, Khushwant Singh focuses on the most gruesome chapter in the history of Delhi during the reign of Nadir Shah, ‘The angel of death’ (186). Nadir Shah showered his anger over Delhi like rain of fire presuming Delhi people to be ‘both ungrateful and cowardly’ (186). Then there is a detailed, erotic life-history of an Agra-based poet Meer Taqi Meer in whose life-time Delhi gets into the hands of Abdali, then the Marathas, then the Jats and the Sikhs, and finally to the hands of Ghulam Qadir. The city, irrespective of the ruler, only comes one step closer to being a desert – such is the havoc created by each of them.

The chapter entitled “1857”, marks the beginning of British government’s impact on Delhi and the deterioration of the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar to that of a prisoner, with whom, the Mughal Empire sees its last painful days. Khushwant Singh then talks about the 1900s stating how Delhi was being rebuilt under the British Raj. The narrator of this chapter is a builder, who played chief importance in standing buildings up and who later on turns out to be a dignitary.

The last chapter describes India’s period of Independence, Partition and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The narrator of this chapter is Ram Rakha, a refugee from Pakistan who joins a fundamentalist group in Delhi, and observes every action by the Father of The Nation and other dignitaries closely. The novel ends with the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs.Indira Gandhi. The terrorized Sikh narrator helplessly watches his burnt alive mercilessly by people angered due to the killing of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards.

It is clear that the novel focuses on six centuries ranging from the Muslim invasion – the year 1265, the reign of Sultan Ghiasuddin Balban to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, followed by the massacre of the Sikhs. “The past is often said to cast its shadow on the present, but in this novel it is the present that rebuilds certain attitudes and social and political values which are of great relevance today” (Mathur 188). “Realism still has control over the way in which literature is read, taught and evaluated” (Lee xiii). Hence while narrating the saga of Delhi, and its people and rulers, Khushwant Singh, in his typical realistic novel unveils all the gory incidents that have made up the story of Delhi. Perhaps there was so much horror and agony in the life of Delhi, and for that matter, the situation may be the same in the case of any city. In this novel Delhi, the novelist speaks of reality in all its details uninhibitedly. R.A.Singh points out: “The supreme excellence of the novel lies in the artistic mingling of the fact and the fiction, with a sustained sense of balance, so that the fiction does not distort the facts nor do the facts spoil the fiction.” (92)

The novel depicts the plundering of Delhi from time to time, particularly from the time when Ghazni, Gori and Timur ransacked it to the 1984 riots following the assassination of Mrs.Indira Gandhi, which took a heavy toll of Sikh lives. Like Khushwant Singh, Ahmed Ali is also an ardent lover of Delhi. His Twilight in Delhi unravels the saga of Delhi from the watershed year of 1857 to 1911, the Year of Coronation Durbar held by King George V to the Home Rule Movement. The well-known historian Percival Spear aptly summarised Delhi in 1951:

“The story of Delhi during these years is not one of weakling or mountebanks, creeping amidst deceit and subterfuge, but of strong men lusting for power. It is a story of men throwing away successively in the heat of that passion everything that could make that power worth having, and mutually squandering the resources for which they were all contending. The nemesis of these men was the nemesis not of weakness but of strength unallied to principle, not of idealism but of power politics.” (12)

The novel illuminates some of the significant periods and episodes such as the reign of Balban, the reigns of certain other rulers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the invasion of Timur, the reigns of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, the invasion of Nadir Shah and his Twelve month rule over Delhi, the passing of the city into the hands of Abdali, then the Marathas, the Jats and the Sikhs, the British government’s impact on Delhi, the decline of the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar and the ensuing painful end of the Mughal empire.

The Muslim conquest of India had a profound impact on the social, cultural, religious, economic and political life of India. Beginning with the Balban in the thirteenth century, the novel traces the lives of people who have participated in the major historical forces that have shaped Delhi. Among these is Musaddi Lal who was born at the beginning of the reign of this Sultan. The life at court, “The great Sultan on his couch flanked by his Abyssinian bodyguards: black djinns with drawn swords! Hundreds of bearded Turkish generals!” (55), the hatred of Hindus “who lived on the stale diet of past glory” and Muslims who were “specially contemptuous towards Hindus who had embraced Islam” (54) for each other, the popularity of “Nizamuddin, the Sufi dervish of Ghiaspur” (56), Ameer Khusrau, who is considered a “khusra” or a castrated male by Musaddi Lal, and his riddles – all of them come alive in the pages of this novel.

As a natural corollary, history and politics are inseparable with a large nebulous zone which is common to both. The recurring historical patterns like the mythical ones, as also the similarity between the ‘message’ of the past and the ‘lessons’ of the present point to the fact that one cannot really meditate on history and politics separately; they constantly tend to merge. This seems to be proved by Khushwant Singh in this novel. Essentially history is a system of representation. “It makes use of narrative and rhethoric strategies to generate certain kinds of knowledge and images. ‘Facticity’ and ‘authenticity’ are effects of narratives about events and facts rather than immanent features of the facts themselves” (Nayar 64). That is, we can have access to a fact or historical event only through narratives about them. Hence, the form of representation of those facts and events are crucial in postcolonial literature.

The author tells about Timur, the Uncompared Lord of Seven Climes and Lord of Fortunate Conjunction was called by the common people behind his backs Taimurlang (Taimur the lame). His object in undertaking the invasion of Hindustan was “to bring infidels to the path of true religion and to purify the country from the filth of polytheism and idolatry” (96). He committed the ghastly crime of slaying thousands of people and narrates it as if he was compelled to do so. Many men of Hindustan stole out of Siri, Mehrauli and Jahanpanah with their possessions. He ordered his troops to enter the towns and to slay every able-bodied man and take his women and children as slaves. Precious stones, gold and silver were taken by his soldiers. Taimur concludes as if he has been the most just, religious and generous ruler:

“We received sad tidings from Delhi. We were informed after our departure there was no one to bury the dead….But we had fulfilled our life’s mission. We had realized early in our youth that just as there is one God in heaven, so the earth can support only one king…. In order to preserve our sovereignty, we took justice in one hand and equity in the other and by the light of these two lamps kept our royal palace illuminated.

May Allah forgive us for any sins we may have committed.” (101-02)

The hegemony has always sanctified and justified its surreptitious and devious design. It is one of the ‘sensational design’ for which the class in power politics has to indulge in order to exercise control over its subjects.

To use the words of Anita Singh:

“Delhi casts a garish and glaring light on the historic/histrionic performances of the Badshahs like Jehangir and Shahjahan….The emperors are divested of their traditional aura and dignity. The expose of harem life trivializes them, erodes their nobility; they appear licentious, debauch, dedicated to the surfeit of their libido.” (132)

The author presents Aurangzeb here as a lonely voice crying for recognition – his claim to fame lies in his firm faith that he was only obeying the voice of his master, Allah. He realizes that he has taken birth in a dynasty of rulers, he must take on the responsibility of serving the people of Hindustan. He remained a devout Muslim even in the face of all kinds of accusations and temptations.

“Misguided historians have written many falsehoods about the way we came to acquire sovereignty over Hindustan while our father Emperor Shahjahan was still alive. They have maligned our name as a scheming self-seeker and a plotter. They forgot that the holy book says; ‘God is the best of plotters.’ We were but the instrument of His design.” (151)

Aurangazeb justifies his murder of his brothers, deposing and imprisonment of his father and harassment of Hindus:“We levelled temples of idolatry to dust and raised mosques on the ruins. We imposed the jazia tax on non-believers to induce them to tread the righteous path. In everything we did, our only guide was the holy law of the shariat.” (159)

Because of the first person narration one can find in the novel “not only of the pastness of the past but of its presence.” (Eliot 72)

The author in a detailed way depicts about Nadir Shah’s carnage in the city of Delhi, his proving of his potency with the young slave girl Noor Bai, his treatment of Saadath Khan who had insulted him in the mehfil, his cunningness in appropriating the Kohinoor from Mohammad Shah. The loot and plunder of Nadir Shah is succinctly stated in his own words:

“Those who remonstrated were brought before us. We had them flogged in front of their kinsmen. The floors of their homes were dug up and their women stripped naked. Many, unable to face themselves after the chastisement they had received, ended their miserable existence with their own hands. Gold and silver and precious stones flowed into our treasury as the waters of the Oxus flow into the sea.” (187)

The same atrocities come alive once again during the 1947 Partition. Nadir Shah tries to conceal his avarice by calling Delhiites cunning, double-faced, timid and flatterers and blames them for brutal act of murders and plunders that he committed. However cruel Nadir Shah might have proved to be for the people of Delhi, he had love for honesty and straight forwardness: “An Emperor may command anything within his empire except an honest man and a woman’s heart” (192). To quote R.K. Bajpai:

“The arrogance of the Islamic leaders, their dreams of uprooting Hindustan and their belief that they are the only race capable of salvaging the Hindus comes through a number of characters like Taimur, Aurangzeb and Nadir Shah. They all feel that the Islamic force of life is the very spirit of civilization.” (45)

The religious fanaticism of the Muslim emperors described in the novel calls for finding a parallel in the author’s another novel Train to Pakistan.

“All through the Muslim period of Indian history, sons had imprisoned or killed their own fathers and brothers had blinded brothers to get the throne. And what had they done to the Sikhs? Executed two of their Gurus, assassinated another and butchered his infant children; hundreds of thousands had been put to the sword for no other offence than refusing to accept Islam” (Singh 178).

Timur acknowledges his lust for power, Aurangzeb his ambition to wade through slaughter to the throne and his fanatic orthodoxy and desire to spread Islam by the sword, and Nadir Shah with his secret lust for wealth hidden under the garb of religion.

“This ‘unholy’ trinity primarily stands for the love of power, religious fanaticism and lust for wealth – the banes of the politics of modern India. Their paradoxical contemporary relevance is heightened by the fact that they speak to the readers and through their anachronistic words and phrases the past of India comes alive.” (Mathur 186)

While an individual’s history doesnot make sense unless seen against its national background, neither does history make sense unless seen in the form of individual lives and histories. Hence, in the novel the transitional times of Delhi are poignantly viewed at through Musaddi Lal, a new Hindu Kayastha convert to Islam. Musaddi Lal Kayasth, a native of Delhi and a clerk at Mehrauli Kotwali, shows a common man caught in the vortex of religious passion and ruthless power from the reign of sultan Ghiasuddin Balban onwards. Coming as he does from the family of scribes, he is witness to the spree of islamization after the fall of Prithvi Raj Chauhan, the grandson of Anangpal Tomar and the last verifiable link in the Hastinapur lineage.

Musaddi Lal begins his account of the thirteenth century court and society with the names of “Ishwar who is also Allah, and Rama who is also Rahim” (50). He celebrates all festivals, Hindu and Muslim, alike. He says: “If anyone asked me whether we were Hindus or Mussalmans, we would reply we were both” (62). Having lost his parents at an early age, he is left to the mercy of rulers. He calls his condition a precarious one as he is accepted by neither of people – Hindus or Muslims: “I was disowned by the Hindus and shunned by my own wife. I was exploited by the Muslims who disdained my company. Indeed I was like a hijda who was neither one thing nor another but could be misused by everyone.”(55)

Musaddi Lal and his wife have their son named Kamal, which when pronounced differently could connote both a Hindu and a Muslim name. This syncreticism is assailed several times, as Musaddi Lal goes on to recount, and yet it is never abandoned. For when Sultan Allauddin Khilji steps up his mission of destruction paying no heed to Nizamuddin’s secular message, Musaddi Lal is tormented by a fellow clerk in the following words: “… what can one say about a gentleman like you! At one place you are Musaddi Lal Kayastha, at another Shaik Abdullah, some you greet with a Ram Ram, others with a salaam: one foot in a monastery, the other on your woman’s charpoy. You get the best of both worlds.” (70)

Ameer Khusrau – the poet had a Muslim and Hindu parentage. He professed a similar faith as Musaddi Lal. But he had been spared the insults because he was shrewd and a Muslim. However this kind of favouritism does not deter Musaddi Lal or his family from treading the secular path.

Through Musaddi Lal, the novelist also presents the benign face of Islam in Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya (Prophet). While the rulers go on with the repressive measures against the so-called infidels for keeping their hold on power, the secular, dispassionate Sufi dervish remains above it. Even the stature of sultan could not cow him down into submission. We Sufis love god and no one else/His passion of the spirit, and power of faith heal the grieving people, including Musaddi Lal, irrespective of religion. He is, says Mussadi Lal, “our umbrella against the burning sun of Muslim bigotry and the downpour of Hindu contempt”(62). As the fearless savior of mankind, he is so much revered that even his temporary absence makes Delhi moan ‘like a woman whose husband has gone abroad’.

Musaddi Lal, the shrewd Kayastha, is the witness to a period of comparative clash between the two religions under the healing touch of Sufism. His vision of events is therefore tempered by a secular approach even in the face of religious bigotry. The attitude shifts when the threads of history are taken up by conquerors like Taimur and Nadir Shah. Everything is then seen through the blinkers of religious fanaticism and the cravings for the wealth of Hindustan.

“Musaddi Lal’s autobiographical sketch highlights a man generally torn between his senses of responsibility the inner being and the way he gets circumscribed by the outer influences” (Soni 87). The life of the new convert to Islam, along with his wife, stands as testimony to the then fast changing society of Delhi. Thus, the kayastha’s best efforts to get assimilated into the just emerging new society, speaks volumes of trying times. The message of Khwaja Nizamuddin reflects that:

“There is only one God though we call Him by different names. There are innumerable ways of approaching Him. Let everyone follow the way he thinks best for him. His path may lead to the mosque or the tabernacle, to a temple full of idols or to a solitary cave in the wilderness. What path you take is not important; what is important is the manner in which you tread it. If you have no love in your heart then the best path will lead you into the maze of deception.” (67)

There is also reference to how “the Turks had demolished twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples” to build mosque and “buried the idols of Vishnu and Lakshmi beneath the entrance gate so that Muslims going in to pray could trample on them” (53). The reference once again directs to the issue of religious differences that existed in the past too. Michael Zeraffe quotes, “With the novel, society enters into history and history enters into society.” The novelist has provided to history a contemporaneity, a gloss, both veiling and illuminating, which seems to assume more importance than the historical material itself.

The city of Delhi has a variety of castes and communities living there. In his attempt to present a realistic picture of this variety, the author describes the precarious state of untouchables during the reign of the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan viewed by an untouchable, Jaita Rangreta was forced to take up employment in the executioner’s yard.: “We untouchables are the poorest of the poor – no one did anything to us except runaway if we came near them. That, said my Bapu, was also a kind of zulum. It was in our karma. We had done bad things in our previous births. That is why we were born black and had to do all the dirty work.” (123)

Khushwant Singh visualizes the lot of the untouchables who are looked down upon and exploited because of the nature of work, and are without any religious affiliation. When Jaita Rangreta along with most of the untouchables of Rikabganj associates himself with Guru Nanak and feels honoured, he has to please the self-proclaimed agent of the Guru: “I had to borrow money from Lakhi Rai to pay him. I said to myself, ‘Atleast I am something – a Sikh of Guru Nanak. I do not know what it means but it is better than being nothing but a Rangreta untouchable’ ” (127). Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable also highlights the age-old segregation of an ethnic group of society based on their profession, a problem against which Gandhi fought all his life. Bakha was born to the parents of a scavenger family. There is class discrimination because of birth and profession. Bakha is treated as an animal but not as a human being having his own dignity, value and individual identity. “Vay Bakha, take this. Here’s your bread coming down. And she flung it at him…and fell like a kite on to the brick pavement of the gully.” (83)

During the reign of Timur, Jaita Rangreta had the blessed privilege of carrying the severed head of the Guru. Ironically, it is through the sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who falls prey to the religious intolerance of the Mughals that Jaita’s religious baptism comes out: “At last the Guru had performed the great miracle. He had given a carrier of shit and stinking carcasses the privilege of carrying his sacred head in his arms. Hereafter anyone who called me unclean would have his mouth stuffed with dung. I was now Jaita Rangreta the true son of the Guru.” (136)

This shows how in those days itself the Hindu untouchables suffered a lot and were ready to be converted to other religion.

In the episode of Banda Bairagi, one can discern the spread of the new Sikh religion among the lower classes of the society of Delhi, and in the manner in which this Bairagi had helped the lower classes develop their self-esteem. Banda Bairagi and his 700 Sikh followers were executed on a Sunday, the 19th of June, 1716. He was ordered to kill his own child, before he was himself hacked to pieces “limb by limb”.

The novel shows that the fate of the Hindus and the Muslims was no better than that which befell the city in the worst of times. In their agony they were equals. And sorrows levelled their differences. Some even felt as diffident towards religion as a Meer Taqi Meer did when he said:

I have gone beyond the temple and the mosque,

I have made my heart my sanctuary;

On this thorn-strewn path end

All my wandering and my journey.” (224)

The retrospective of the poet-celebrity Meer Taqi Meer is a painful narrative of how the existing moral structure of the society affects as pristine an art form as poetry, and as spontaneously an emotion of love, Meer says: “Love brought me anguish; poetry a feeling of ecstasy. What neither love nor poetry brought me was money…it was more the whims of my patrons than the excellence of my craftsmanship that determined what I had to eat.” (195)

His creativity is held hostage, emotion blackmailed, and penury exploited through the guile of the sexually pervert Begum of the ageing but rich Nawab of Agra, Rais Mian. It is apt to quote here the words of Varghese who says thus:

“The rulers of Delhi were no less bigoted. One tyrant replaced another tyrant. The rule of the Afghans, the Gujjars, the Iranians, the Marathas, the Jats, the Moghuls and the Khiljis was one of bloodshed, with extra doses of such events as fratricides, incest and even homosexuality. They prided themselves on the prowess of their loins rather than their ability to administer. Singh does not spare even the humane rulers like Shah Jahan and Bahadur Shah Zafar.” (122)

The novel presents not only about the Mughal rulers but also the rule of the British who landed in India as traders and stayed as rulers. Referring to the rule of the British, Padma Rao puts it: “If life in Delhi under the Mughals was a din of songs and scimitars, Delhi under the British was an encounter of the Uppity whites and the simple natives.” Alice Aldwell who narrates her story in the novel writes:

“It was memsahibs ’ afternoon. There was old Mrs Flemming, wife of Sergeant Flemming and her daughter, Mrs Scully, and few others. Captain Douglas passed us on to Basant Ali Khan, a fat eunuch who was the head of the harem guard. He escorted us through the Meena Bazaar and endless corridors with rooms on either side occupied by the salateen members of the royal household. A scruffier, smellier lot would be hard to find anywhere in the world.” (242)

However arrogantly the British behaved, the author gives them credit as ‘Builders’ of monuments. They left behind vice regal palaces, secretariats, Legislative Assembly, a large number of sprawling bungalows, dingy clerks’ quarters, cinema houses and restaurants. Contrary to the extensive euphoria of patriotism that pervaded among the youngsters of 1920s and 30s inspiring to fight for freedom and reject all that is English, the narrator is all for British rule. Unlike the revolutionaries who bomb the buildings, he rejoices their construction. He even says: “There was no justice in India till the British came. There will be no justice in India after their impact has worn off.” The author’s preference seems to hinge on the English sense of justice.

The author describes the situation in the year 1857, the year of First War of Delhi’s Indian Independence, in the episodes of Alice Aldwell, Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nihal Singh. During this period of turmoil, all sections of the people, including the Europeans have suffered a lot. Perhaps in certain cases victims have turned into perpetrators of oppression and vice versa.

The story of Alice Aldwell, a half-caste, is a harrowing tale of the dungeons, the filth, the insults and cruel deaths that the Whites were subjected to; the abomination of their bodies and the sacrilege of their souls. She has to transform herself into Ayesha Bano Begum to save her life and the lives of her three children. Her husband is killed by the rebels and she is raped by Indians. Her revelation could be seen as the suppressed, tabooed issues in history. She says: “Confusion and shame together describe what I passed through that afternoon. I narrate what happened to me so that the world knows how rotten, villainous, treacherous, degraded and lecherous these Indians are!” (256)

The novel also discusses the life of Bahadur Shah who was the last emperor of Moghul India. He faced his trials, subsequent imprisonment in his own fort and finally, even exiled from his beloved city and land with equanimity and “...the bow of fate loosened a hundred poisoned shafts into our body. As a limb numbed by poverty of blood feels not the prick of the thorn so was our mind numbed against sorrow”. (300)

Nihal Singh was a Sikh soldier who fought for the British in 1857 Mutiny. Through his version in the novel the author subverts the popularly revered notions of freedom struggle: “They talked of Satyagraha (truthfulness) and ahimsa (non-violence) but, gloated over bombings and political murders” (342). He derogatorily refers: “Freedom fighters my foot! Hired yellers of slogans who spent more comfortable time in jails than in their own hovels. And now want to be compensated with life pensions” (345). It resembles once again the present state of politics.

The story of Nihal Singh is a memorable one, because of the secular message it holds. He narrates being a Sikh, he hates Muslims, for Aurangzeb had killed one of the Sikh Gurus. After taking a Muslim prostitute jehadin, Anwar Bai who has allied with the rebels, prisoner, he and his fellow soldiers proceed to abuse her verbally and then prepare to rape her in turns. The woman begs them to allow her to offer namaz. He permits it only to be transformed while she is offering her evening prayer. While praying, she “turns her face first to the right and then to the left,” he remembers, “Mussalmans do this to bless people on either side” (286-87). He and his friends are on the right side. This thought hits not just him but everyone. Overcome with guilt and remorse at the act that they are planning to do, they help her to escape. Nihal Singh even goes down on his feet and asks for her forgiveness. He is somewhat rattled with the British for they misbehave with the Indians. And yet, despite all inducements and bitterness, he remains very loyal to his British masters. All the same, when a British kills a dancing peacock, he weeps and hurls abuses at the peacock-killing Britishers he has been fighting for.

The nation-wide Indian struggle for independence was essentially an epic struggle, covering almost a century. The winds of change started blowing steadily across the Indian subcontinent, after ‘Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, had left tell-tale marks on the political and social geography of the country. The Indian nation had to shake off the lethargy of the centuries, sink its religions, caste and provincial differences and march ahead on the road of progress. This was made possible only when the Gandhian whirlwind began to sweep over India, upsetting all the established political and social strategies and ushering in refreshingly new ideas and methods. Nehru says: “Gandhi…was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take deep breaths.” (361)

Hence, whenever a nation is oppressed by some alien power for a sufficiently long period, the former tolerates the latter until her rebellious spirit breaks out either from compulsion or is stimulated by some outside source. The colonized will be happy only when he overthrows the colonizer, no matter how much sacrifice it involves in the process.

While Khushwant Singh depicts India during the reign of the Muslim rulers, Manohar Malgonkar’s novel A Bend in the Ganges deals with contemporary Indian history especially the decade between 1938 and 1948. It concentrates on the anti-colonial struggle between the British and the Indians popularly known as Quit India Movement propelled by Gandhian dynamism.


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Socio-political Realities of India in select Novels of Manohar Malgonkar, Khushwant Singh and Rohinton Mistry
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Pre-independent India, Partition, State of Internal Emergency, Post-Babri India
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Shanmuga Priya Selva (Author), 2012, Socio-political Realities of India in select Novels of Manohar Malgonkar, Khushwant Singh and Rohinton Mistry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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