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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Samaresh Basu

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To purchase Fever

Title: Fever
Author: Samaresh Basu
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: Bengali
Availability: Fever - US
Fever - UK
Fever - Canada
Fever - India
  • Bengali title: মহাকালের রথের ঘোড়া
  • Originally published in English as: Fever: Mahakaler Rather Ghoda
  • Translated by Arunava Sinha
  • With an Introduction by Shirshendu Chakrabarti

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid small portrait of a worn-down revolution(ary)

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       As Shirshendu Chakrabarti explains in the Introduction, the original Bengali title of this novel, মহাকালের রথের ঘোড়া, translates as 'Horse to the Chariot of Time' -- perhaps a more difficult sell to English-language readers than 'Fever' but, reinforced by a prefatory poem that elaborates on the imagery (and asks, among other things: "What happens to the unsung millions ?") certainly a more evocative one. Fever is one man's tale, Naxalite revolutionary Ruhiton Kurmi, who, after years in jail, is battered, worn-down, and near broken; he has been subdued, by time and changing times, his revolutionary fever broken, leaving only the physical slow burn of bodily decline.
       Ruhiton's home is Chunilal village, "five miles southeast of Naxalbari" -- the birthplace of the Naxalite movement, a long-running insurgency that was triggered by police actions there in May, 1967. Ruhiton was a prominent Naxalite; when the novel opens he has been in jail for seven years, but is well-known and respected among the fellow prisoners he meets, and even the officers guarding him: "It's not for nothing that people called him the terror of the Terai", one reminds the others.
       Fever begins as a journey into the unknown: after seven years in prison, Ruhiton is told to pack his things. Leaving the prison, he is unsure of his fate:

He had no idea whether he was indeed being taken to a jail, or to the slaughtering ground. He was prepared for anything.
       He could easily be disappeared in the transports, which are organized for him alone. Over the years, the state -- in the form of the prison authorities -- has abused and tortured him; the idea that they now might to get rid of him entirely isn't farfetched.
       Much of the novel finds Ruhiton in a sort of limbo, unsure where he is headed as he is being moved around -- but also uncertain of where he has come from. There is disillusionment about some of the heroes of the revolution -- and, after all these years of so many of them in jail, some doubts about what they had (or hadn't) accomplished. Ruhiton can't bear to remember the past:
His heart was filled with misery. Memories of the old days hurt him. He didn't want to recall the past. He didn't want to remember the life that lay behind him. He didn't want to think about it. But the memories kept flooding back.
       In fact, his journey is one to freedom, and back home. It takes more than a year, but after some eight and a half years, Ruhiton is released, and sent back to his home, and his wife and children, whom he hasn't seen or heard from in all this time.
       One reason for the final delay is that Ruhiton is a physical wreck. His appearance, and symptoms such as numbness in his extremities, finally led to a diagnosis after all those years in jail: Ruhiton has leprosy. Even at this advanced stage, it can be cured, and is, over the course of the year, but it leaves behind its marks -- of missing digits and the like. Ruhiton is not a danger -- he is not infectious -- but he remains marked as a leper.
       Finally, Ruhiton is sent home; finally, after more than eight years, he is free. But he is returned to a changed world, one which he had been entirely removed from:
Everything had changed so much over the past eight and a half years that Ruhiton was befuddled. He had not been able to recognize many of the places. Not a single person had recognized him on the way.
       People are helpful, leading him to his final destination -- but there even the old family house no longer stands, completely washed away by floods, with the government having provided a land a new house for his family. Ruhiton is welcomed home, but this is no longer his world; his family is unable to warmly embrace him, and he no longer has a place here. The world has become a very different one from the one he left. More than the revolution has been betrayed here -- everything has changed, and it's beyond Ruhiton's abilities to face it.
       Fever ends abruptly, arguably tragically. Ruhiton doesn't even try to adjust or fit in -- and perhaps he can't: he is, literally and figuratively, a leper. He does not belong in this new world, and he has lost his old; he sees only one alternative, and takes it.
       Fever effectively portrays this ultimately lost soul, as well as his lost revolution. There's little about the specific politics of the Naxalite movement (which Indian readers, so thoroughly aware of it, presumably take for granted), but the few scenes from the past and descriptions of some of the actors along the way do give an adequate sense of Ruhiton's engagement (and the disillusionment he ultimately faces). For a novel first published just as the Indian Emergency (1975-1977) was coming to a close, it feels strikingly contemporary too: rather than lost in the details (and politics) of those times, the sense of being released into a changed world that Ruhiton has can easily be imagined applying to contemporary India as well -- or, indeed, other countries that have or continue to face upheaval and modernization. Ruhiton's fate and tale is, in many ways, a universal rather than localized one.
       If some of the symbolism is heavy-handed -- leprosy ?! -- and the ending very abrupt, Fever is nevertheless an impressive, tight novel of revolution and change, on both personal and societal levels.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 February 2017

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Fever: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Indian Bengali author Samaresh Basu (সমরেশ বসু) lived 1924 to 1988.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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