Joydeep Roy-BhattacharyaÂ recasts a Greek tragedy with the conflicted actors in the Afghan war for a powerful parable, saysÂ Timeri N Murari
THE NOVELÂ is dedicated to the people of Afghanistan, a country with an 80 percent illiteracy rate and I do hope the other 20 percent will appreciate the book. Having published one set in that poor, benighted, oft-invaded, civil war-torn country, I was interested in whatÂ The WatchÂ would add to my knowledge of that land.
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has taken the Greek tragedy AntigoneÂ as the basis for the novel and, as in the play, he has given each of his eight characters their long moments on stage for soliloquies. An Afghan woman on a pushcart, her legs damaged by the war, grieving for the loss of her family and now searching for her brotherâs body, is Antigone. As the lone survivor of an attack on an American outpost (a fort), she wants to give him an Afghan burial but the Americans have his body and refuse to give it to her. In her role, she is a powerful, stubborn protagonist, defying gunfire from the fort that her brother and his friends attacked the previous night. The descriptions of Afghanistan here are powerful, evoking the brutal and majestic landscape of that hard country. The American platoon holed up in the fort are suspicious and wary (a suicide bomber?) yet intrigued by this lone woman. Quite rightly, the captain informs her, that as a woman she cannot be part of the burial ritual of an Afghan male but she insists they must return the body. For a somewhat unclear reason, the Americans want to send the body to Kandahar for proper identification as a Taliban commander.
After her soliloquy, it is the turn of the others to step on stage. Though the characters are named at the beginning of chapters, as they would be in a Greek play, they are not named when they appear in the book. As they all speak in the first person, I needed to flip back and forth to discover who this âIâ was â the lieutenant, the medic, and so on.