A pastoral tale
Aditi Garg

Bandicoots in the Moonlight
by Avijit Ghosh.
Penguin Books. Pages 237. Rs 250. 

THE growing up years of any person have such a deep impact on them that they can scarcely ever outgrow its effects. The environment markedly affects the basic perceptions about various aspects of life and their priorities. To understand why people behave the way they do, a look into their formative years can disclose a lot more than just childhood memories. Over time, memories with negative connotations remain more vivid than ones that are pleasant. As Byron has said, "Joy’s recollection is no longer joy, while sorrow is sorrow still." Even then most of us recount different moments fondly and try to relive what has been left behind.

Journalist Avijit Ghosh’s debut novel Bandicoots in the Moonlight is a delight to read. Ghosh lives in New Delhi with his family and works for a national English daily. Born in Agartala and brought up in small towns of Bihar and Jharkhand, Ghosh’s unmatched account of country life leaves you in splits.

The narrator, Anirban Roy, grows up in the fictional towns of Ganesh Nagar and Wilsongunj in the’70s. These Bihar towns teach him a way of life that is alien to a lot of us. But for the people here, it is the right way to go about life and it defiantly has nothing to do with being legally correct. For in one form or the other breaking the norm is the norm here. In spite of all the differences, Anirban manages to let us relate to it by delving into basic human needs that are just dealt with a bit differently here. Around the world, hormones play havoc with teenagers’ lives, and so it is in these small towns. Only these boys turn voyeurs and also turn to goats and donkeys to feed their hormones.

There is pride in being able to make a train ride without a ticket and ensuring good results by greasing palms or whatever other means. Huge importance is attached to being able to take a stand for your friends and protect and avenge the honour of the female folk of their families and also that of their friends’. As if that was not pressurising enough, there was the Naxal problem that created a fear psychosis.

The author takes us to a time when cricket was not just about the male stars but females were as much of stars. Anirban reminisces how a seemingly unimportant cricket match played well by women of the stature of Kapil Dev elevated his respect for women forever. His experience with looters, rioters and rapists brings us face to face with the evil within. Caste was like an omnipresent hand, looming above everyone and guiding everything. It was a place and time of paradoxes, where the honour of women was worth laying their lives for and where a father enjoyed the bliss of matrimony with his daughter-in-law who in turn was pushed into silence for the sake of family honour.

Ghosh notes that moments of education are swift and sudden and have little to do with books and teachers. We all understand the importance of this education gathered over the years and there to last a lifetime. Bandicoots in the Moonlight feels every bit a book written from the heart. As the author ascribes it to being just a father’s way of telling his kids about a kind of life that they may never experience first hand.