“The Watch” by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya is not a book that will suit everyone. It is tragic. That is the nature of the book. It puts forth its point in the most amazing manner. The point being: There are no winners when struck by tragedy.
“The Watch” is mesmerizing and will draw you in from the first page. It is a modern retelling of Antigone by Sophocles. Then again, the comparison ends only in the threadbare plot. The rest of the book is nothing like it.
Now to the plot: The Watch is a story which takes place in harsh terrains, almost in no-man’s land, where everyone is looked upon suspiciously and there is at times, no redemption whatsoever. The landscape in question is Afghanistan. The protagonist is a legless Afghan woman who has crossed over an unforgiving landscape to claim and bury the body of her brother, which is in possession of American troops defending an outpost in wartime.
The Captain of the troops looks upon her with suspicion – she could after all be anyone – from a suicide bomber to a Trojan horse wanting information. The troops on the other hand are fascinated by her and want to know more. The brother on the other hand is thought to be a high-ranking Taliban, whose body is being held for identification. For two and a half days the girl refuses to budge, sitting through the blazing sun during the day and the freezing nights.
It is through this time that the story is told, from different first person perspectives. The perspectives are those of the girl (Antigone), the interpreter, the Doc, the lieutenant, and the Captain. The book had me in from the word go and I could not rest till the time I finished reading it.
On one hand you have the grieving sister wanting to just give her brother a proper burial and on the other you have the system of war which does not allow that. The first-person narratives as written are brilliant. The writing is so strong that you cannot help but be swayed into the book and remain there till you are done.
The reason I said it wasn’t for everyone is that there is no happiness in the book. So I do not know how many readers would love or like to read such a book. Joydeep’s prowess in telling a story surpasses any other book that I have read this month. This is a surefire hit. Also do read his other book, “The Storyteller of Marrakesh”. Equally evocative.