The Generalist

The purpose is general, the views personal, reading it optional

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

'Thank you, Mr. Glad!'

I read a Gujarati translation by Vasudha Inamdar of a Marathi novella by Anil Barve. Apparently, Barve became a celebrated Marathi author by this opening work of his. Unfortunately, he passed away in his 32nd year.

The story is such that a translation gives you enough fuel for thought and emotion. It is set in the original Naxalite movement era. A doctor-turned-Naxalite, Virbhushan Patnaik, is handed the capital punishment for killing several policemen. He is to be lodged in Rajahmundry Central Jail for a year before he is hanged.
The jail Superintendent is a Britisher, Mr. Glad, who has lived in India since the end of WW II. He lost his Jewish wife Miriam to the Nazi gas chambers. He had fallen to the feet of the Nazi soldiers who were dragging his wife away, only to be reprimanded by his strong wife to be a man. Their little daughter, Jennifer, had survived the Holocaust and since had grown into a young woman, happily married in England.
Mr. Glad is as cruel and emotionless towards his prisoners as can be, using his stick, belt and shoes as often as he can on them. He drinks a lot of whiskey every night and returns to belt some prisoner or the other the next day. It is in this setting that Virbhushan Patnaik arrives, and instantly disarms Mr. Glad by his polite but firm retorts, clearly showing that he is not just another prisoner.
Through the year, the process of transformation of Mr. Glad on his interaction with the Naxalite continues. So changed a man does he become, he spends entire days without thinking of hitting anyone, insists on the Naxalite signing a mercy petition to the President of India (which he doesn't), gives all help to the visiting wife of the Naxalite, tries to read Marx, Lenin and Mao (but is frustrated by his lack of understanding), and finally, brings his visiting pregnant daughter Jenny to meet Patnaik. The daughter is equally favourably influenced by Patnaik's courage, strength of character and his appreciation of poetry. She requests her father not to hang Patnaik, but to give him a death more fitting of a revolutionary.
The end is deeply moving as the lack of all medical help on a stormy, rainy night, forces Mr. Glad to ask Dr. Patnaik to perform a Caesarean section on his daughter. Breaking all jail rules, Mr. Glad does this, and Patnaik performs the delivery successfully. Just as he is about to enter the jeep which would take him to his death by hanging in a few hours, Mr. Glad calls him 'Comrade' and shoots him in the chest, tearfully clarifying that he had not shot him in the back. Thus, the Naxalite dies a hero's death and Mr. Glad becomes a prisoner in his own jail.
The author does not push any ideology here. The novella is not about any 'ism', but about the play of circumstances and their influence on human behaviour. Its style is appropriate, with short sentences and short and pithy dialogue. It leaves a lasting impression on the reader's mind.