Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Shall not hear the nightingale

Author: Kushwant Singh

'Spring will come to our barren land once more…
Once more the nightingales will sing.’

Thus sings Sher Singh when his mother asks him what does independence means to him.

“I shall not hear the nightingale” is about the story of a high class family in Punjab, set during the independence struggle.  Father Buta Singh is a loyal officer to the British, enjoying his status in the society, and the perks of his officialdom in being a judge. His wife Sabhrai is a typical home maker, pious and religious. They have a son Sher Singh, meaning the Lion, and a daughter Beena.

Sher Singh is trying hard to fit into a life of his own, to please his wife, and to dream beyond his father’s security, but he is cowardly to achieve anything big. For namesake, he is accepted as a leader of a group of local disbanded terrorists, but he is averse to killing and violence as much as he brags about it. He is aware of his growing paunch, his unattractive psyche, and the short time within which he pledges to make a mark of his own in the society.

Contrary to him is Madan Chand, equally friendly and adverse, is the son of the local magistrate, who sees Sher beyond his persona, adding his father’s frustrations of serving Buta Singh. He is a charming man of lesser moral scruples, and doesn’t hesitate to make passes to both Sher Singh’s wife and his sister Beena.

As the independence struggle is moving ahead in a feverous pitch all over the country, Sher notices that Punjab is still sleepy, and somewhat protected from the harsh natures of reality. His urge to do something towards the struggle leads to a police informer go missing, and Sher is suspected of the murder. Sher is offered pardon if he discloses the name of his cohorts, or he is threatened to be hanged by the British.

The whole family is jolted because of the revelation, and their normal life is disrupted. Does he make it alive? To what extent will he be able to come to a decision in the confines of a prison, when his father is leaning towards his loyalty to British?

Khuswant Singh handles the emotional dilemmas of his characters, and how they react differently to the same circumstances. This book, written in his early years of being an author, has a classic style, and yet it has a different premise. The taut narration keeps us guessing till the end of the novel, and Sabhrai’s character is a revelation at the end.

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