People will be thinking about Amitabha Bagchi’s new novel, Half The Night Is Gone, for years, and not just because his publishers are launching it with a murgh changezi and lauki ki lauj dinner party. It’s truly ambitious and provocative: a grave, multi-layered narrative that deals in thorny questions about family, class, religion and duty.
But its greatest theme is literature itself, and few will put it down without an intense longing to read or re-read, the many classics of Hindustani literature to which it refers. We’ve got you: see below a list of every author or work referred to in the novel for which there’s an English version.
The Memoirs Of A Martyr: The Autobiography Of Ramprasad Bismil: Bismil Azimabadi’s war-cry, ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hain,’ was immortalised by nationalist fighter Ramprasad Bismil. His ‘Atmakatha’ or autobiography is widely read in Hindi, but only available in translation thanks to this boutique effort by Saket Suryesh.
The Jail Notebook, Bhagat Singh: Minor spoiler - the Marxist in Half The Night Is Gone is inspired by another Bhagat Singh text, Why I Am An Atheist - but we’re partial to this amazing annotated LeftWord edition of his prison writing, which comes with a Periyar editorial and a brilliant introduction.
Raag Darbari, Shrilal Shukla: The big daddy of modern Hindi novels is perhaps one of the funniest and bleakest books you’ll read about why India, from city to village, can be such a hot mess. Translated by Gillian Wright.
Taking Issue & Allah’s Answer, Iqbal: The poet laureate of Pakistan was a beacon for fiery young Indians of every religious persuasion at the turn of the twentieth century. His Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa acquire a new life in Mustansir Dalvi’s clever, compelling transcreation.
The Poetry Of Ghalib: Could it be an old Delhi novel if it wasn’t perfumed by Ghalib? We appealed to our Urdu expert friends to recommend their favourite translator, and this project by Frances Pritchett won out; there’s also a lovely book.
A Life Misspent, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’: If you know nothing about Hindi literature and want to plunge into the deep end, don’t think twice: this brief and brilliant translation of Nirala’s memoir by Satti Khanna will knock your socks off.
River of Fire, Qurratulain Hyder: Here’s a puzzle. Hordes of Urdu readers are convinced that Aag Ka Darya is one of the world’s greatest modern novels. Yet it was only ever translated, somewhat meanderingly, by Hyder (“Aini-apa” to friends and fans) herself. The book is rarely spotted in Indian bookstores; perhaps it’s time for a re-discovery.
The Gita-Govinda of Jayadev: Bagchi himself refers to the Clay Sanskrit Library translation by Lee Siegel; the poetry in this makes an elderly Hindi writer in the novel want to throw his arms out and dance.
The Padmaavat of Jayasi, Purushottam Sahgal: No thanks, Sanjay Leela Bhansali; the poem shows up to much more beautiful effect in Half The Night Is Gone, where characters rhapsodise about its Avadhi musicality. Seems like a good time to recommend this hot new commentary, which Ram Guha loves.
In The Bazaar Of Love, Amir Khusrau: The great Central Asian poet without whom Urdu as we know it wouldn’t exist, without which Hindustani wouldn’t exist.
Links In The Chain, Mahadevi Varma: Mahadevi Varma was a pioneer of the the Chhayavaad or neo-romantic tradition in modern Hindi literature; yet there’s no collection of her poetry in translation. Read, while you wait, Neera Kuckreja Sohni’s translations of Varma’s feminist essays.
Get Amitabha Bagchi’s Half The Night Is Gone here.
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