The protagonist of Tabish Khair’s seventh novel Night of Happiness is Anil Mehrotra, an Ivy League graduate, and a self-proclaimed liberal Hindu businessman. But Mehrotra feels uncomfortable if he has to engage with Muslims too closely. Haven’t we met people like him too many times, especially in these last few years? Well-meaning men and women who won’t accept any charges of bigotry hurled at them because they have that one Muslim friend who feeds them biryani on Eid every year. He bears striking F numerous city-dwelling liberals whose hypocrisies can be spotted easily from even a mile away.
Mehrotra’s office has an accountant named Ahmed, a sincere and vulnerable man, who has been working with him for several years. One day, Ahmed invites him home during an Islamic festival named Shab-e-Baraat or the Night of Happiness, which commemorates the dead. The cloak of politeness Mehrotra has gotten used to wearing doesn’t allow him to refuse the invitation.
A storm rages outside, while Ahmad brings up his wife who apparently has been cooking for them but refuses to show her face. As the night progresses and Ahmed’s behaviour starts getting unpredictable, Khair’s book begins to unfold like a brisk mystery. Does Ahmed’s wife even exist or is a figment of his imagination? Is Ahmed an extremist or just clinically insane?
The truth that Ahmed has sealed inside his heart, however, is something far more sinister and heartrending. Khair’s slim, sparse novel will make you uneasy by the time you finish reading it, but for the right reasons. In a country where history is constantly being rewritten and state-sponsored pogroms hastily forgotten, Night of Happiness demands that you must remember all political victims of this land – those who are gone and those who are left behind to endure their absence.
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