It was the 18th century philosopher Joseph Priestley who once said, “Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves.” Well, anyone observing the teenagers of mofussil Bihar in the Seventies would know exactly what sort of society they were a part of: hidebound, repressed, anarchic and casually violent. This, then, is the subject of Avijit Ghosh’s debut novel, Bandicoots in the Moonlight.
The book tells of the exploits of young teenager Anirban Das, who appears to be a thinly-disguised stand-in for the author himself. Anirban’s father, a police officer in charge of containing the Naxalites in the area, is transferred from Wilsonganj to Ganeshnagar and it is in this latter town that Anirban attends the ironically-named
The structure of the novel is episodic, with each chapter describing a separate incident. And though the town of
The prose style is breezy, unassuming and cheerfully amoral, with the unfortunate inclusion of solecisms such as “booby” in place of “busty” and “lusty” instead of “lustful”. One would think that much of the material would lend itself to a satirical or even a trenchant tone; instead, Ghosh indulges in nostalgic asides as well as banal generalisations such as: “What you don’t know, you don’t crave,” and “Sometimes, we enjoy overestimating dread”. The author’s attempt, then, is simply to impose a structure on and relive Anirban’s wonder years.
The ending seems to be not of a piece with the rest, unexpectedly detailing Anirban’s present circumstances and introducing a character or two at the very last minute for inexplicable reasons. As such, the novel on many occasions resembles nothing more than a collection of diary entries, making the whole unpretentious and pleasant, but also unremarkable.