Dear friends, sharing my pleasure on the review of the novel Roll of Honour by Alok Bhalla, Professor at Ambedkar University and English Chair Central Sahitya Academy.
You have written a book which must have been painful to write. It takes more than a certain amount of real courage to write a life-story which is so evidently a confessional and to persuade a reader to carry on reading. It also takes more than a normal amount of novelist skill to stare into into the abyss of the self, and succeed at the end to turn away from the brink with not only your sanity intact but also with the knowledge that now at last you have achieved a kind of peace — signaled by the rather Keatsian line with which the novel ends.
Roll of Honour is also a bold novel, not only about the self, but also about institutions for which people in India have a sentimental regard and rarely ever subjected to a cold critical analyisis.Roll of Honour is, as far as I can judge, a novel which tries to understand all the multiple ways in which social institutions, families and traditions in India create structures in which people can only live either as bullies or as victims (often as both in different circumstances). Indian institutions are dysfunctional.
What saves the novel from being maudlin and sell-indulgent is the structural decision you make to inter-cut recollections with present meditations on how they may have been the cause of present anxieties and discontents and also by your ability to see that your own self’s journey may not after all have been different from that of countless other growing up in a time and a society in which people are rarely ever trained to think about the sufferings and the sorrows of others.
I like the way in which you recognize this at the end by talking quietly about the meeting with an old friend. Or if they ever think about school, family or the army they cast over them a haze of nostalgia. The only vocabulary they have is the one adopted without any thought or personal investment from the scriptures, resulting, of course, in ersatz morals and sentiments which are almost always available to the cynical and the corrupt.
So, let me congratulate you for a fine work which will, I am sure be discussed in the immediate future.