A Night Of Storms, a critique by Dr Mallikarjun

Dr. Mallikarjun Patil
Reader, Dept of English
Karnatak University, Dharwad-580 003

P.C.K. Prem’s third novel A Night of Storms is a psychological novel. It is about a hill man
who suffers in life, which also enchants him. Prem’s novel demands an elaborate scrutiny here.

A Night of Storms begins with a surrealistic scene. Monto, the hero is in a kind of existential crisis. The author writes, “The journey was not complete as yet, he corrected himself. Monto had contemplated his unmapped journey without a fixed goal or objective years ago when he had painfully realized the confusion and the predicament. Today, he was standing in the middle of a sandy ocean: hot, thorny and without horizon” (p. 9). Monto’s stay in a desert, amidst animals and his animalistic vision reminds us Crusoe’s life. These opening scenes remind us magic realism of Julian Barnes. He is in amnesia. His Hamlettian soliloquy is as follows:

Monto was blank and confused.
The animals had vanished. He was again in the midst of a vast desert. It was biting burning and difficult to endure a voice, hoarse and derisive, struck his ears.

“Can you change a desert into green lush fields?
Flowers….. trees…. and…..”
“Flowers?” Monto grumbled. “I have Sati, a source of nectar among human beings.”
“Yes. There should be thorns.”
“Wild cactus?”
“No harm.”
“Who are you? Why don’t you show up?”
“But you’ll not be able to see. Only Sati can recognize us.”
“How do you say that? And why do you refer to Sati?
“Since you don’t posses those eyes.”
“Eyes! I have two.”
“Do you recognize things?”
“I fail to understand.”
“Shit, You are a man. A total failure.”
“I am strong and not rootless.”
“I admire this bunking and flaunting.”
“What do you mean to suggest?”
“You are a big cheat, I tell you- and you must die.”
He cried loudly, “In spite of your sharp intellect, you do not understand. I pity your miseries.”
“I request … you to appear…”
“I am….. you. Just listen to the sibilant voice. I am always present within you”1 (p. 12-13).

Such new names as Sati, Virabhadra, Mahakali, Vishnu and Daksha are introduced. Chapter II describes a tornado. Monto is a tornado more of philosophical nature. He is a Thespia and his Sati is nymph Echo. His vision appears like this:

“Man is very poor and all relations stand on a sand dune, always dry and emotionless but refusing to accept. It is a show of shallow feelings. Still all claim that men exist in various relations and interact to bring meaning. But meaning for what? This, no one, can explain” (p. 21).

Monto in the third chapter is shown as if in a house- imprisoned conditions. He is a “prisoner of mental deformities” (p. 24). He is like Susna, the demon. He is in a state of paranoia. Interestingly Monto quarrels with himself. For example,

“There is no one here.”
“Many are expected.”
“A blatant lie. These stone walls carry no attractions.”
“Will you sit down?”
“Monto, you’ll not insult me!”
“But you harassed me. Made me wildly mad. I passed through a difficult period.”
“Never.”
“When you entered, you initiated an unknown ghost to buckle down.”
“There are wild allegations” (p. 28).

What one understands at first reading is the character of Monto is much confusing. Is he Manu, or Allah’s messenger? Or who is he then? Reality and magic are at a continuous war here.

Chapter four clears a little of our doubt. Sati appears to be Monto’s companion. The two interact. Monto desires “an aura of love between desire and desirelessness.” She thinks Monto is a mystic, a metaphysician. She thinks his too much knowledge has created conflict.

The chapter ends as though in a mood of creation. Both Monto and Sati speak to each other thus:

“It was a terrific encounter. A crassly bloodless fight, a confusion, where I was trying to survive.” He collected himself, as if re-arranging his words, “You know, Sati, in spite of all relations. I felt a gruesome loneliness, living in a voiceless cylinder, suffocating to death, a dark tunnel of four stone walls, opening floodgates of terror. Animals and men in animals. I traveled with them. It was not a moment of pride. It was a wounded psychology of a man making a brave effort to reassert an existential truth.”

“No, speak on. You are really loving, Manu….. Monto. You are the first man I have fallen for. Now get up. Give me a spirited support. You are not alone. This world… this entire world is behind you. And she burst into a prolonged laughter” (p. 39).

Chapter V is afresh with new details. Dr. Mehto is there, busy with his patients and busy in earning more and more. Mr. Shingla is his lawyer friend. If not Dr. Mehto, Mr. Shingla has realized man’s limits, his fallacy too. They meet and make a party. The author connects this new storyline with the old.

Chapter VI opens with a sudden and unexpected meeting. Prof. Rai and Mr. Latif, the old acquaintances meet Mr. Monto. Now Monto is back from the ages from that old delirium. They speak of mundane affairs.

Chapter VII is quite lively for two reasons; one it is peopled with such lively women characters as Mrs. Tanya Shingla, Vimy Mehto (the Doctor), Mona and Amita Sinha. Secondly, these people are feminists in the making. One can notice it in Tanya’s words below;

“We speak of good and bad.” Tanya began to say in a low, strong and slow voice. “What do you understand by good? I am smoking. I drink. I enjoy myself. This gives me inner happiness, intensely deep and rich. I cannot describe the thrill and joy in words. In these passionate movements, I am alone, even if my husband participates. I just ignore his presence because his being my man does not infuse life. It hinders and limits me, which I do not want. I want to spend myself and you know, Shingla is a free bird. He moves very fast. Tanya, I…. his wife, am only a name for him. I do not carry any meaning for him. I do believe, I have no revealing passport of worth and essence. These relations are possessive. All so crude” (p. 50)

Mr. Prem creates more unity in plot as he moves farther with the chapters. An increase in chapter increases unity of action. In chapter VIII we find this. The Monto couple is shown in their proper position now. The two are just like any modern couple with their ideas and emotions. Monto’s psychology is shown finely.

The next chapter is a “socialite evening,” when Mehto and Monto and lawyer Shingla meet. Social issues crop up there. The people chat and pass time over a drink.

The ‘socialite time’ continues. Dr Rai and Mr. Shingla and their women join the group. Just socialite gossip continues as in Nargis Dalal’s novel Minari. One story as quoted in full below appears to be a comic relief: The story still stands that before the start of the rainy season on a particular day, there is a fierce fight between the witches and the angels. Before the fight, there is a wordy warfare, duels and heated exchange of arguments. Then the ferocious battle. There is havoc, noisy and stormy weather all around. It still happens. People wait for that invisible fight every year. The ensuing battle always results in a fabled win or defeat. If angels win the weather promises prosperity” (p. 82). The societal evening prolongs in the next chapter.

In chapter XII Jaky and Neena’s (Gitu Rao) romance is described. They are Monto’s parents. Of course, Jaky is no more. All the while, the dialogue runs in rough weather where the title is justifiable. For example; “The greatest wars are fought within. It is only the physical manifestation that we witness outside.”

“This evening is slowly growing into a night of storms. A disturbing lengthening of experience. I understand when you think sincerely, examine surroundings in detail, study relations dispassionately and place yourself in the right position, only then, can you assess the potential. This self. You put quaint questions to all. These questions come from outside, and seep down to the sub-terrains of conscience. You answer these questions confidently and assert. You dictate and then submit. It is a life between two failures and a non-existent success” (p. 120).

One day Monto and Mehto go to a village and meet an old Baba, who reminds us Wordsworth’s leech gatherer. They discuss about Rai Singh’s ruin and man’s ruin thus: now the Gangotri and Yamunotri are polluted, so how do you expect the sacred rivers to be pure and clean? We have reduced them to amazingly vast sewerage lines. Now how can you expect a miracle? No. Just utter a few good words. All of us are reaching a dead-end. Today I am my own enemy” (p. 130). The same story continues in chapter XVI. Here the companion is a boy to Monto and Mehto.

Monto or Manu is a social worker. He is not happy with the present. So often he voices his anguish as follows:

“This weekend proved dreadful. It reminds me of my joyless past and uncertain present. It is a virtual chaotic mental condition. Nothing can be spoken of in absolute terms. Not in totality. In earlier stages, I could boast of firmness and authentic opinion. But now, this coming of the modern age has made everything fragile and bitterly brittle” (p. 154). I think everyone of us is passing through this massive perplexity. Intellectual braggarts are in terrible shape. They don’t possess anything and suffer alone, but don’t’ open up. It is not the sin of one individual-who operates at the height of glory. Today’s sins are bubbling within all.

Then many people including Sati console him. But Monto who is becoming Manu, our primal creator, is utterly unhappy with the present. He thinks man is living out of time and space. He says, “Past that accepts not and present which refuses to identify. Future, not prepared to allow.” Finally he kills himself. In Mehto’s words, this Monto or Manu is: “We don’t go to anyone for assistance. Only that great Manu understands us and helps us sincerely. He is a great man. A real social worker. He is our Teresa and Mahatma. Our God” (p. 191).

The following can be safely stated about A Night of Storms: “A chilling story of a night that provides an ideal environ for this uncommon novel. It is about the unending struggle of a man to find location in a disjointed world that ridicules and enchants man at the same time.”

The novel is a psychological novel, probably a very rare attempt in Indian fiction. This reminds us Virginia Woolf and James Joyce’s fiction. The novel, to remember critics like Jacques Lacan, depicts the stormy life of Monto from the primitive state to the ultra modern. It reminds us Mrs. Woolf’s Orlando. In a way, A Night of Storms is a tour de force, both in its story and presentation.

A close reading of Prem’s novel reminds me my study of Julian Barnes’s The History of The World in 10 and 1\2 Chapters. There life is a struggle for existence. An 18 years old character in Barnes’ ‘The Three Simple Stories’ tells that ‘the fittest in the survival are most cunning. In the same chapter, part II, we find a certain man Bartley’s marginal escape from a whale’s belly as striking. The Jew’s tale of suffering is pathetic condemning silently the Nazis’s atrocities. The chapter ‘Upstream’ is a series of letters exchanged between lovers. Julian Barnes’ History is really puny, biblical and realistic.”2

References:
1. All the textual references are to P. C. K. Prem’s
A Night of Storms, A Writer’s Workshop Publication, Calcutta.
2. Mallikarjun Patil’s “Julian Barnes’ A History of the World
in 10 ½ Chapters,” Studies in Literature in English,
ed by Mohit K. Ray, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 2003,
p 106

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