Book: Night of Happiness
Author: Tabish Khair
Publisher: Picador India
Price: Rs 450
It’s difficult to fit Tabish Khair’s seventh novel, Night of Happiness, into the genre of thrillers, literary or otherwise: the crime remains ambiguous, the investigation a discursive monologue broken only by snatches of wry humour, and the resolution an invitation to draw one’s own inference. Shorn of edge-of-the-seat suspense and marked by the absence of a customary body, why then should one read this slim volume?
One possible answer is that it is a ruminative tease of a novel whose scope expands beyond the individual to look at the communal life of Hindus and Muslims in the aftermath of the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. The other more immediate reason would be that it delves into the nature of casual bigotry and what it means to be a minority in India today.
The novel opens in a hotel room where a manuscript nestles next to a copy of the Bhagvad Gita and a Bible in a drawer. Its writer, Anil Mehrotra, entrepreneur and owner of a thriving, unnamed business exhorts the reader to interpret his dilemma that began one stormy night when he went to drop his trusted lieutenant at work, Ahmed, home. The experience of that evening — the night of Shab-e-Baraat — becomes the crux of the novel and the turning point in the two men’s relationship.
At once an exploration of Mehrotra’s majoritarian privileges and self-effacing Ahmed’s contrasting past in small-town Bihar and in Gujarat, Khair neatly sidesteps the dangers of such binaries that, in less accomplished hands, could easily be reduced to reductive apologia. This is less of a thriller and more of an ambitious exploration of faith and the shrinking space for dialogues in modern India.
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