There’s Gunpowder in the Air: Manoranjan Byapari translated by Arunava Sinha

‘Dripping from Rajat’s bullet-riddled chest the blood took on the shape of India’s map as it flowed down the wall’

Set against the backdrop of  Bengal’s Naxalite movement in the ’70s, There’s Gunpowder in the Air is a daunting description of the activities within the four walls of a correctional home.  What laymen understand to be a place for robbers, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and those who have gone against the law; the jails, are a world on their own. The daily happenings within the precincts are elaborately described in the novel.

It all begins with the imprisonment of five Naxal revolutionaries. Young educated men, who stay away from regular jail gossips but definitely have a philosophy and determination of their own to fight against the injustices brought upon them by feudalism. When a petty thief Bhagoban is sent in as a spy by the jailor to be amongst them, and to take note of their vicious plans, does the story pick up pace. However, what happens when Bhagoban starts having a change of heart upon meeting the young comrades?

The novel is complete with all the small nuances of prison life. The story of a bandaged ghost called Bandiswala keeps everyone on their feet, especially on full moon nights. In fact, the poor ghost was found easier to blame for anything that went awry rather than suspecting living men. His story has often been reiterated and discussed along with the lack of ritualistic initiatives to cordon off the evil spirit. If a wicked ghost wasn’t enough, stories of pilferages with the common rations and smuggling substances of abuse were not far behind. Gossips always pointed a finger towards ‘abc’ or ‘xyz’ including both jail guards and prisoners.  But hardly could anyone ever be caught in the act; and even if one was, there were ways to move out of trouble.

Amidst all the comic and witty turns, what Byapari explores the best throughout the novel is human emotions.  Hunger and poverty were always common reasons leading to one becoming a petty thief or a rogue. Outside the disciplined walls, each had their own families. Though they were allowed to meet them, many were disowned and many were shameful of their children being called ‘children of the criminal’. These pent up emotions along with severe ideological affiliations often led them to act on chance. Sometimes leading to their success and at other times, brutally crippling their will, for the rest of their lives or worse, curbing their lives itself.

There’s Gunpowder in the Air is just not the name of the novel, but holds much significance as a symbol of revolt, freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice and duty. Gunpowder is usually used for rifles, guns and the likes which are used for various illegal purposes upfront; but to me, it signifies rebellion – an act put together by many. Every individual taking part in the rebellion or its trial suffers from extreme emotional upheaval but their decision to take part in it or not; and to live up to the expectations of other comrades is their decision alone. Freedom, loyalty, guilt, betrayal, sacrifice; and duty are the results of the actions that one performs during a rebellion. Each individual holds great significance and their contributions can never be compared to one another.

Byapari weaves a lucid tale of Naxal prisoners in erstwhile Bengal fighting for their Rights and Motherland by radical means. But Rebellions owe as much to Fate as to the individuals who take part in it; and their success or failures are divided between both. Only time will tell the story of the Naxal prisoners and their Fate during their imprisonment.

Definitely a must-read whether in Bangla- Batashe Baruder Gandha-or in English to understand the psyche of the perceived rebels. The book is bound to raise questions about the pre-conceived notions about the Naxalities and make you revisit the era and re-interpret the ideologies in a new light.

No. of pages: 162

Publisher: Eka, Westland

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart

Translated from: (Bengali) Batashe Baruder Gandha

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