Apr 21, 2007

Uday Prakash

Uday Prakash
A new collection of short stories of Uday Prakash in German has come out last week:
Der Goldene Gurtel
Translated by Prof.Lothar Lutze, one of the greatest living Indologist and a renowned scholar of contemporary world literature. He has enviable command over Hindi, Bengali and Urdu beside Samskrit and several European languages.
Beside translating five of short stories by Uday Prakash in German, he has also written an epilogue. Its translation in to English by Siddharth Prakash is given below:

Epilogue of the translator

Three villages on the tip of a thorn:
Two abandoned, the third was never inhabited.
Jnaneshwar (1275-96)

Dilli dur hai – Delhi is distant: for a start, this means that in a country such as India that covers by far the largest part of the South Asian subcontinent, the arm of the central government is not always adequately long to reach the remote provinces of the country and implement the laws and orders enacted in Delhi. Mostly, it goes unnoticed that some important events occur even in such kind of areas – events that defy every kind of control; events that can not be tackled with urban rationality and enlightenment. Nevertheless, they constitute a fundamental part of the rural reality of life. Through this particular life, which takes place between a village and a small town, Uday Prakash leads us in this collection of autobiographical sketches and narrations.
Dilli dur hai – this applies as well to the biography of this author. From the village Sitapur in District Shahdol (Madhya Pradesh) where he was born in 1952, to his recent residence in Delhi and to the national and international reputation that he enjoys today, it was truly a long and arduous journey. Uday Prakash has covered this distance intransigently, has never been misappropriated politically and literarily, and is still considered inconvenient and wilful. It is only consequent that he now lives as a freelance author, journalist and filmmaker. His literary work is versatile: he has also excelled as a poet and novelist; his most important contribution to contemporary Hindi literature, however, lies in the genre (kendriya vidha) of the short story.
The movement of the new short story (nayi kahani) in 1950s and 1960s was basically about the de-ideologicalisation of its literary production. The prevalent Isms were substituted with the postulation of “Here and Now” – an author was supposed to confine his subject matter only to a proximate, familiar and manifested content. This objective was accomplished: the modern Hindi literature owes some of its greatest narrative achievements to this ideological redemption.
However, this attitude eventually led to a cul-de-sac – especially while attempting to transform it literarily in an unimaginative precision. How to continue? – was the question, as people, in the beginning through tentative experimentation, tried to look for a resort out of this problem. And within this context, the narrative work of Uday Prakash - a loner - is path-breaking, particularly since the publishing of his collection of nine, partially autobiographical, narrations in “Tirrich” (The Poisonous Lizard, 1989). Out of these, five narrations are presented here in German translation.
The selection of these narrations is not arbitrary. Collectively, the five narrations produce a kind of a chronicle of a family: in “nail cutter”, the mother takes the centre stage, in “dibiya” the child narrator himself, in “apradh” the brother, in “the golden waist chain” the grandmother, in “tirrich” the father. One thing common in these narrations is the childlike perspective: with the eyes of a child, we witness whimsical occurrences around the golden waist chain, which raises expectations of a fortune for a family, and only the grandmother seems to stand between the fortune and the family. As a child, we experience the death of the grandmother and in “nail cutter” and “tirrich” of the mother and father respectively.
In both the longer narrations, the author allows himself some fictional freedoms. In doing so, he uses the technique of the hearsay. In “the golden waist chain”, it is primarily grandfather’s deeds that are entwined around by speculations and rumours. “Tirrich” - undoubtedly the highpoint of this collection – contains a reconstruction of father’s suffering in the city, which ends with his death. The first-person narrator is not an eye-witness of these events and is therefore reliant on the information given by the people who happened to meet the father in his last hours. Stylistically, the situation produces a delightful antagonism between the subjunctive indeterminacy in the speculations and conclusions of the first-person narrator and the splendid accuracy in the statements of witnesses. On this basis, the narrator tries to reconstruct the sequence of events in the minutest details.
The author succeeds in producing an atmospherical density, which – and it is by no means an exaggeration – reminds us of Edgar Allan Poe. This applies particularly for “the golden waist chain”, with the description of the crumbling house and the dark small room where the grandmother is being kept imprisoned. The illustration of the rural life which emerges here is absolutely realistic in its portrayal of the members of an extended family who, in their desperate attempt to save the decaying and indebted house with the help of the legendary golden chain, transform into brutal tormentors of the grandmother. It is realism, which is not really contradictory to the belief in the transcendental and the family myths that dictates the life of these people.
In “tirrich”, while meandering through the city – one is tempted here to talk of a crossroad - one thing, which father does not relinquish, despite all the perplexity, is his will to turn his back to the city and find his way to the village. Only in his village, in his house with familiar people, he would have been able to survive. He could not find the way to the village. Therefore, in the end, he perishes, not because of being bitten by tirrich, but because of the deadness and cruelty of the city.


All the Hindi-Originals of the translations used here are derived from the “Tirrich”, New Delhi: Vani Prakashan, 1989

The above quoted two-liner from Jnaneshwar was translated by the author from Marathi and was used as a prefix in his narrations.