To paraphrase Thomas Hardy, love is to rejoice over the wars and every other manmade calamity; love is the triumph even when nations split into fragments. And when this eternal human emotion blends with nostalgia in the form of brotherhood, it’s sure to take the shape of a book like Rajiv Dogra’s Second Night. His book exemplifies that love by any means eventually smiles through the vagaries and vicissitudes of time and tide and stands steadfast in the face of mercurial destiny.
The book is an engrossing accumulation of episodes that strengthen our belief in the philosophy of permanence of love. Dwelling upon this sacred emotion Shakespeare rightly notes, ‘Love is not love. Which alters when it alteration finds’. Dogra succeeds in rekindling the faith in all human attributes by delineating love’s perpetual nature despite the rabid prevalence of fissiparous and divisive forces in our modern day society. After acquiring manifold experiences in life, Sat, the chief protagonist, is forced to come back to his long-lost love Sati, with a bit of fortuitous assistance from his brotherly friends Shiv and Shyam.
But love has never been a one-ended venture. Even Sati has to overcome her own hurdles to unite with the man of her unexpressed desire. She resigns to asceticism and yet remains unperturbed, at least apparently as Sat has gone way too far without hope for his return. Perhaps, that’s why their love wins in the end—one’s dedication and another’s sacrifice complementing each other in the finest possible form.
The plot revolves around the quadruple bond—Sat, the brooding narrator, Shiv, the philanderer, Shyam, the introvert enthusiast, Sati, the lady embodying wit, helped by the tenor-like mother figure Mrs. Keeling. The book opens with the journey of Sat, Shiv and Shyam back to Mussoorie where they are to sell off the ancestral bungalow. But before disposing the bungalow of to the new owner the trio spends a couple of nights in it. There they have one last reunion over drinks of their choice. During their conversation, varied memories are drawn out from the chamber of the past. From Shiv’s occasional affairs, to Shyam’s learning the bitter lessons about life and girls, everything comes under the scanner. But most striking is how Sat gathers his buried feelings for Sati which gradually grow stronger as the party moves on. At this point he conjures up the spirit of Mrs Keeling to tell her his ultimate realisation: ‘It was not necessary to be married to have memories of another person. You could still long for her. And you could remember her with reason or without.’
However, perhaps even the characters won’t have appeared to be so multi-faceted in expression had there been no such ambiance as vibrant and eerie as that of Mussoorie; which is recreated with its nights of chill and spooky winds which reference the spectre of Chura Singh of Bhangarh, the Raiwind riots etcetera. But one must say, at times, the author appears to be meandering and resorting to ‘creative loitering’ (to borrow Pound’s phrase).
Dogra deserves praise for creating a plot with shades of intrigue and enigma. An element of suspense sustains the plot and keeps rekindling the X-factor. Surprise is another element that is very subtle in the plot. Yet it draws one’s attention especially just before the culmination of the novel, Shiva intentionally disturbs the meditative mood of the narrator with his insinuating references and abuses.
The language deserves a mention. Dogra hasn’t tried to flaunt his linguistic skills in the book and that makes a difference because pared down to minimal gymnastics of word-play, this book hits the readers with a friendly thud.