Superstar Amitabh Bachchan grew up in the shadow of an even more famous father –Harivansh Rai Bachchan, one of India’s great Hindi poets who wrote the epic ‘ Madhushala’ . (That explains Amitabh’s impeccable Hindi).
The book ‘In the afternoon of time’ is a translation and a very good translation by Dr Rupert Snell of Harivansh Rai’s four part Hindi autobiography ‘Kya bhuloon kya yaad karoon’, ‘Niv se Nirman tak’, ‘Basere se dur’ and ‘Dashdwar se Sopan tak’ written in four parts over twenty two years .
The English version is distilled into one book and was published while he was still alive.
It is a meticulously detailed story of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s journey from pre independence Uttar Pradesh to time spent at Cambridge,UK and his later life in Delhi and Mumbai, his tragic first marriage to his great love and muse Shyma, the scandal and ostracism he encountered with his second marriage to Teji , his inspiration and struggle as he wrote his great epic Madhushala, his stint as a member of the Rajya Sabha and it ends with his ruminations on being Amitabh’s father.
All this is against the backdrop of new wave poetry and poetry circles and mushairas, the lives of people especially Allahabad entwined with that of the freedom struggle and the slow decline of poetry and passion from the sixties to the eighties .
I found myself totally immersed when I read this book. It is honest, sometimes brutally so, and it paints a very clear picture of life at the turn of the century and the wave of rich poetry that swept the country in the thirties and forties.
Equally interesting for trivia buffs are facts of the Bachchan’s closeness to the Gandhis and how Sonia stayed at their place in Delhi on Indira Gandhi’s request to maintain protocol when she came to India to marry Rajiv.
My one grouse with the book is that a lot of poetry that is referred to is missing but as Dr Snell says it would have been too much to translate all the poetry from the Hindi.
Towards the end there is too much focus on Amitabh Bachchan and his career and less honesty than when the poet began his journey. A father’s devoted eye has replaced the more clinical gaze of the poet. But is fascinating to see how close the family was and how devoted sons Amitabh and Ajitabh were to their parents. Reading between the lines one gets an idea of what shaped the actor Amitabh and what he must have felt to grow up in the shadow of a famous father.
Get a rendition of Madhushala by Amitabh Bacchan to play along when you read the book