In the early years of the twentieth century, Calcutta is grappling with deadly diseases such as the plague, cholera, typhoid, malaria, and kala-azar caused by viruses, bacteria, and other infectious organisms.
The populace is restive under British rule, and World War I looms large on the horizon. Set against this tumultuous backdrop, is an indelible tale of loss, hope, love, and mortality.
Dr Dwarikanath Ghoshal is one of the city’s most celebrated physicians. Propelled by a fierce desire to vanquish the diseases that ravage the population, he does not hesitate to dismiss quackery, superstition, and old-fashioned beliefs that have contributed to high mortality rates and the spread of epidemics. Dwarikanath is equally dismissive of irrational customs in his personal life. His impatience with tradition begins early. He decides to study medicine against the wishes of his father (who disowns him), buys and dissects corpses, converts to Christianity, and instils that rebellious spirit in his descendants. Four generations of Ghoshals continue to infuse their scientific temper and liberal values into the lives of people around them. There is Dwarikanath’s headstrong son, Kritindranath Ghoshal, who as soon as he acquires his medical degree joins the Bengal Ambulance Corps and sets off for the battlefield in Mesopotamia during World War I. There is also his soulmate, his fiery cousin Madhumadhabi, who trains to be an Ayurvedic doctor, and is heartbroken when Kritindranath is married off. Equally compelling are Dwarikanath’s wife, Amodini, his grandson, Punyendranath, his great-grandson, Dwijottam, and a myriad other brilliantly imagined characters who play out their lives in the course of the novel, fighting diseases, social mores, and trying to cope with the enormous, convulsive changes the city and country are experiencing.
Distinctive and beautifully wrought, A Ballad of Remittent Fever is a stunning exploration of the world of medicine and the ordinary miracles performed by physicians in the course of their daily lives. Originally published in the Bengali as Abiram Jwarer Roopkatha, this is one of the most original novels to have come out of India in the twenty-first century.