A Bend in the Ganges is a novel written by Manohar Malgonkar in 1964. In the opening of the novel we can find the elements associated with the civil disobedience movement. There is fine blend of swadeshi movements in this novel. This novel is one of the finest examples of Partition Literature. Manohar Malagonkar is an Indian author and A.Padmanabhan has rightly said about him that he is-

“Branded as an entertainer and storyteller, the deeper qualities of his fiction have been neglected or unperceived by many. There are only two full-length studies on his fiction by academic critics, namely, G.S. Amur and James Y. Dayananda. N.S. Pradhan takes up only one of the novels – A Bend in the Ganges – for a detailed analysis. H.M. Williams too does not make a sustained study of Malgonkar’s fiction (…). The general tendency in the sixties and seventies was to dismiss him in a hasty pell-mell fashion. It is only in the eighties and nineties that he slowly, though partially, emerged from neglect and underrating.”1

Manohar Malgonkar is famous because of his use of language. It is simple to understand and his stories provide us a sense of realism. There is a perfect match between the plot and the setting. In the present novel the author has worked on the theme of Partition. Readers are enlightened to read such a novel because it seems that it is a proper documentation of the events of partition. It is not just a chronology but the author has tried to find out the roots of Partition. In earlier works like Distant Drum and The Princes the author has already worked upon the theme of Partition. Manohar Malgonkar has served in the British Indian Army and he got the opportunity to travel in different parts of India and abroad. It is really very amazing to read this novel with the point of view of a soldier. The Second World War and its consequences on Indian politics can be perceived in this novel. This is one of the reasons that I have talked about realism in his novels. His intentions are clear. He does not want to show us the pangs and horrors associated with war but he wants to make us aware about the situations of India. World politics has influenced the Indian freedom movement. During the movement of Partition of India there was an atmosphere of chaos. Violence, murder and bloodshed were common. People were killing each other on the name of caste and religion.  Hindus were killed by the Muslims and as a result Muslims too were not spared.  Women were raped and children were mutilated. Such were the circumstances during the Indian freedom movement. Manohar Malgokar has raised few important questions in this present novel. He is keen to know the process by which Muslims and Hindus could be united so that peace and harmony could be restored in the country. He is also worried about the Gandhian philosophy of non violence. Indians were tricked by the British Government on the name of Gandhi. It is known to the world that Gandhi ji was a follower of non violence.  He kept on appealing the citizens of India that they should not adopt the ways of violence but he could not stop the division of the nation. The narration of the present novel is simple and it views rationally the circumstances of different communities. This is one of the reasons that a neutral tone has been maintained by the author in this novel. Leaders from different communities have been given space and the author has not made any prejudice while writing this novel. Characters like Gian Talwar and Debi Dayal are very interesting. Revolutionary terrorism and Gandhian philosophy runs parallel to each other in this novel. We also find that there are two contradictory ideologies represented by two different characters like Debi Dayal and Gian Talwar. The author has used the technique of double heroes to solve the problems of the nation. Noted historians like Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal have been anticipated by Malgonkar. In Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy these historians have remarked that-

“There is now overwhelming evidence to suggest that regardless

of whether Muslims were in fact a ‘nation’, let alone one created

by British policies of divide and rule, it was the contradictions

and structural peculiarities of Indian society and politics in late

colonial India which eventually led to the creation of Pakistan.”2

The above lines also provide us a glimpse of the growing fundamentalism in India during the freedom movement. Slavery and bondage was the result of such fundamentalism. In India the growth of fundamentalism and communalism was episodic in nature. There must not be any confusion between these two terms. In the present novel Malgonkar has stressed on such terms. The omniscient narrator makes it clear by saying that-

“Religious differences among the races of India were the root cause of the country’s slavery, and the British had learnt to take the fullest advantage of these differences, playing the Hindus against the Muslims and the Sikhs against both.”3

In the beginning and the middle of the novel such issues have been highlighted by the author. It has been elaborated in the Eighth chapter of the novel. Debi is an important member of the group “Freedom Fighters”. The government has labeled this group as the terrorist group. Characters like Shafi Usman are closely associated with Debi Dayal. Shafi is disappointed to find that in India there is nothing nationalistic and secular. He thinks that everything is personal and everybody has some personal interests in any kind of work. Nobody thinks for the betterment of the country. Malagonkar here has tried to show that how British Government changed the mentality of Muslim leaders. They successfully convinced them that there should be some personal interest of Muslims in Indian freedom movement. They should ask for a separate country because nobody was thinking for the betterment of Muslims. Shafi has some personal reasons to have such thinking but it was the rift which created division in the minds of the people. When Nehru’s report was published in 1928 a fresh rift started between top leaders of Congress and Muslim League. Hafiz informs Shafi from Mumbai that Hindus are not supporting them so Muslims should fight for their rights. Shafi Usman starts believing that things have started falling apart in the country. In Chapter ten of the novel we find both the characters, Shafi Usman and Hafiz presenting their own thoughts. Different logics are being presented by them and it takes form of a debate. Both of them have their followers and it seems that communalism is being rationalized by characters like Shafi and Hafiz. The place is vacated by Hafiz because the matter went unresolved. As a result Shafi Usman warns his friends that there might be a raid at the Hanuman Club. The police man who has given him this tip of information has also warned him not to disclose this information to everyone. Later we find that he has informed only the Muslim members of his group. Shafi realizes this fault of him and keeps on thinking that how can he become so communal? Is it the effect of Hafiz that he has started thinking like him? Manohar Malgonkar has tried to show us the internal conflict of a character. He is questioning himself as if he is guilty. He has informed his men in train about the raid and coincidently all the men turned to be Muslims whom he has informed. Thus, he is rationalizing his own action that he has not done it incidentally. In chapter thirty of this novel we find a meeting between Debi and Bose. This meeting is crucial because here we find references of Second World War. This meeting is taking place after a long period of time in Calcutta. Debi and Bose are old friends. Both of them are associated with revolutionary terrorism. It is interesting to find that they are meeting after six years. Several things have changed within these six years. During these six years Debi was in exile. This is the reason that he is unaware of the prevailing situation of the country.  He is made awre about the political situations of the country by Bose. Debi becomes surprised after knowing the current situation of the country. It is very hard for him to believe that Hindus and Muslims are now no more friends and they have started doubting on each other. Earlier the situation was different when Hindus and Muslims used to live together like brothers. Bose informs him about political parties like Hindu Mahasabha. He feels pride in declaring that he is also a prominent member of this Mahasabha. Debi Dayal is taken a back because this information was beyond his imagination. Finally he is not convinced because he is influenced by Gandhian thoughts. Earlier he thought that India could attain freedom only by the methods of revolutionary terrorism but now he believes in the doctrines of non violence led by Gandhi ji. He feels disturbed by knowing the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims. Thus, Manohar Malagonkar has finally tried to show us that it was only through the doctrines of non violence that peace and harmony could be achieved in the nation. However, he admits that the division of the nation was inevitable. 

Notes and References

  1. Padmanabhan, A., The Fictional World of Manohar Malgonkar, Atlantic Publishers ,New Delhi, 2002,p.2
  2. Bose, Sugata & Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy, Oxford University Press, New Delhi,2004, p. 135
  3. Malgonkar, Manohar, A Bend in the Ganges. Pan Books Ltd, London,1964.