Amitabha Bagchi (above); the cover of his book Half The Night Is Gone
Amitabha Bagchi’s novel Half The Night Is Gone (Juggernaut Books) has won the $25,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, presented at the IME Nepal Literature Festival on the Pokhara lakeshore. The shortlist included Jamil Jan Kochai’s 99 Nights in Logar, Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field, Manoranjan Byapari’s There’s Gunpowder in the Air (translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha), Sadia Abbas’ The Empty Room and The City and the Sea by The Indian Express chief editor Raj Kamal Jha. It was a close contest, and jury chief Harish Trivedi declared that all six books merited the prize.
Bagchi, who has earlier published Above Average, The Householder and This Place, has successfully attempted a novel with a vast time-span and ample scope, which follows the fortunes of a business family in Delhi from the pre-Partition era to the present. His work is illuminated by 20 years of reading North Indian literature in Urdu, Awadhi and Hindi, which began when he was in the US. The Ramcharitmanas is a living presence — even the title of the book quotes it — and the telling is influenced by authors and poets ranging from Shrilal Shukla of Raag Darbari fame to shayars like Basheer Badr, who are no longer as widely read as Ghalib and Mir. The book is about father-son relations, as much as it is about culture, political and social change, and the collapse of class structures in modern India.
Bagchi teaches computer science at IIT Delhi, but he promises that the philosophical issues latent in his research will never infect his writing: “Science fiction is not my thing.” His focus will remain society and culture, informed by poetry. In his acceptance speech for the DSC Prize, he said: “Hatred is being created by sucking the poetry out of our lives. We write to bring it back in.”