Apr 23, 2007

Rage, Revelry and Romance

Sunday, September 26, 2004
Stories with a difference
Aditya Sharma
Rage, Revelry and Romanceby Uday Prakash. Translated by Robert A. Hueckstedt. Srishti. Pages 216. Rs 145.
PENNED by noted Hindi writer Uday Prakash and translated into English by Robert. A. Hueckstedt, who teaches Hindi and Sanskrit at University of Virginia, USA, the book is a collection of short stories. The common thread that runs through these narratives is the element of realism with which they have been recounted. These tales portray a common man’s life and hence the readers will find it easy to identify with the characters. Almost all the stories in the anthology have yet another thing in common. They expose the rot in the country. The pathos of the stories get heightened by the tragic-comic tone which the writer adopts to recount them.
Heeralal’s Ghost describes the life of a simpleton farmer, Hiralal. The author brings out the misery and wretchedness of his life in a way that stirs one to the marrow of one’s bones. Mercifully, unlike modern fiction, it evokes no depressing sentiments but an empathy that is almost elevating. The thakur and patwari of a village divest a poor farmer, Hiralal, of his lands. They, then, forcibly make a common mistress out of his wife. Unable to withstand the physical and mental torture, the couple perishe in abject circumstances. Now comes the dramatic denouement. Events in quick succession bring about complete ruin of the thakur’s family by Heeralal’s Ghost. In fact, the apparition chases the thakur several times with a bottle of mustard oil in his hand, inquiring if he still needs a massage! The once resplendent haveli of the thakur falls to ruins and is rumoured to be a haunted place. The village patwari too runs away from the village. Along with these gripping sequences, Uday Prakash ingeniously portrays the details of parochial rural life with its miseries, customs and superstitions.
The narrative of The Third Degree can be termed as the gem of all stories. Written with humour, irony, fantasy and satire, the story describes the rot in the police and civic system. It also describes how these corrode the life of a common man. It so happens that Suresh, the protagonist, lodges an FIR against Fakira suspecting him to be behind the burglary in his house. The SHO, in a drunken state, applies such third degree measures on the suspect that he almost dies. Realising his folly, the SHO calls on Suresh and asks him to bail out Fakira or else his own job would be in jeopardy! Suresh fails to get back his stolen jewellery and other goods, though he locates his wife’s petticoat in the suspect’s home. In the process, however, he succeeds in seducing the neglected wife of Amrik Singh, the man shielding the real culprits. His wife wisely consuls Suresh to forget the case or else he would soon be a dead meat.
Another story The Tirich comes out as a powerful narrative that is rich in both content and form. The author once again creates a gripping picture highlighting the travails of a father who meets his death while going to the town to depose before the court of law. The story is one of the writer’s earliest.
Uday Prakash’s three-page narrative, The Professor, is a scathing attack on the double standards and affectations of the academicians. Written in a humorous vein it drives home its point rather forcefully.
Several surprises lie in store for the readers in the volume. Those keen on the shorter version of fiction shall find it exhilarating reading.