Book Review – Anukrti Upadhyay’s Daura

An enigmatic sarangiya player sweeps a district collector/officer off his feet with his magical tunes in a distant desert region of Rajasthan state in India. 

 

Sarangiyathe person who plays the sarangi (a rectangular string instrument).

 

No, Daura by Anukrti Upadhyay isn’t a romantic tale set in the twilight of the dusky dunes but the novel is steeped in different ideas of romance – romancing nature, the romance present in the state’s folktales and folksongs, romance of the music, and the most prevalent of all: the romance of the mysterious and the magical. 

 

Daura is Anukrti Upadhyay’s one of the first books in English. She also writes in Hindi. A District Collector or DC (a government officer who governs a division of the state called a district). He is unnamed and very enthusiastic about exploring the culture and tradition of the desert folks which is why he is often touring the district he governs (much to the dismay of his orderly, who is happy to be ensconced in his town life and engaging in urban activities rather than rural pastimes). The collector, on the other hand, shows kindness to their way of life, is happy to partake in it, and happier even to be regaled by their music and dance at the dak bangla (a bungalow) in the remote desert of the district. 

 

He is just and not a slave to his power. He does away with all forms of red tape to give back to the tribes people the land that is rightfully theirs. He is mesmerized by a sarangiya’s skill at playing his sarangi. But the sarangiya is a nomad, not one to be at the beck and call of superior government officials. Though, when he can, he does fascinate the DC with folk tales particularly one about a princess who turned into a tree to be freed from her ungracious suitors. The tree that has trapped the princess bears an eerie similarity to the one and only lush tree close to the bungalow. This tree’s origins itself are unknown, and no one can explain this green anomaly in the middle of barrenness. Except the sarangiya who not only is skilled at playing his sarangi but is also knowledgeable in the folklore of the desert. The sarangiya reveals how he had a vision of the princess through his music. The DC also got a glimpse, not once, but twice and the sarangiya attributed these visions to the DC’s strong faith. The DC then descends into a state suffused with these visions. He cuts himself off from the real world, from his work and inhabits the mythic to eventually become a myth himself. 

 

While the central character is the DC, his voice and thoughts come much later in the novel. Daura is told through the perspectives of several other characters on the margins. Their narratives are in the form of an interview. The interviews are part of the larger investigation being carried out by the state government to find out what happened to the DC. Thus, the voices of his orderly, of the tehsildar (the district is divided further into many talukas, which are further divided into tehsils and the officer responsible for a tehsil is the tehsildar), of the Nat girls (who belong to the local tribes who used to perform folk songs and dances close to the DC’s bungalow), the security guard, the camel herder come before the DC’s point of view. Their stories have a conversational tone because they are part of an investigation where the individuals are answering questions. 

 

The DC’s voice is seen through his journal entries.  After the journal entries, the novel depicts various persons conducting this investigation and presenting a plethora of reports. These include the medical officer, the Chief Secretary and the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). It is the SSP’s report that finally concludes the novel and sheds a bureaucratic light on a very mythic occurrence in the dak bangla: the merging of the DC into the tree and his transformation into a folk God of sorts. The people thereafter call him, Dev, meaning a male God. 

 

Anukrti Upadhyay has thus merged two disparate worlds of the rural people and their world of myths and beliefs with the rational, cold and calculating world of the government. This merger is possible by the unique form of this novel: a government report, but one which still retains its fable like tone (at least in the first half) because of its interview format that is able to bring out the features and views of each character. For example, the orderly is condescending toward the tribes and their way of life. He does not appreciate their friendly attitude with his sahib. He also detests the distant desert and its vast empty space he does not know how to fill. He supports the idea of status and believes that propriety befitting a person’s position must be followed strictly. The tehsildar is obsequious, yet hard working. However, like the orderly, he also believes that things should go according to a certain process and not in haphazard or arbitrary manner that the DC employed by bypassing the bureaucracy in doing his official work.  The security guard has a completely opposite outlook. He seems averse to facts and to rigid ideas of wrong and right. His unwillingness to admit anything as true or false perturbs the logical mindset of the investigator. He speaks in riddles and in a roundabout manner. His understanding of the world is subjective and not based on hard facts. 

 

The camel herder’s interview holds more concrete information about the sarangiya and talks of his own relation with the musician. Interestingly, the novel does not have a section dedicated to the sarangiya himself. He speaks in no interviews and writes no journals from which his own views can be gleaned. He is constructed out of the others’ voices and opinions and not his own thoughts. This element is also what heightens his aura of mystery which makes him illusory and imaginary akin to the many folktales he spins and weaves with his music. 

 

The narratives of the latter part of the novel are very matter of fact in tone as they stick to the point and do not reveal anything about the person other than the facts of their position or findings. The exception is the SSP’s report that includes verbatim (as possibly close to the original as it can be) conversations that he had with different characters in the book about events that led to the DC’s disappearance. The narratives also depict how the two worlds are as separate as can be. One is old worldly, superstitious yet vivacious and passionate and the other, though run by a modern democratic government, is more impersonal and factual. Yet they meet together and clash in this tale of two worlds.   

 

The ending of the novel is also an ending of the SSP’s report. He categorically states that all protocols have been followed in dealing with this strange matter and have been accordingly dealt with in keeping with prior permission and approvals granted by the officers involved. And with that one dull thud, the magical journey comes to an end. We see the crux of the story unfolding through myriad colourful characters which is then taken over by the soulless state machinery. The form of the novel also satirises the red tape and its lack of imagination and empathy in dealing with the public and the marginalised. It brings to focus the idea that the government may be replete with status, positions, and protocols but is bereft of any humanity. 

ये रिश्ता क्या कहलाता है – Relationships in Contemporary Hindi Writing

The session ‘ये रिश्ता क्या कहलाता है – Relationships in Contemporary Hindi Writing’, explored the relationship between Hindi and other languages in India as well some undefined uncertain relations the characters form in the stories. The panel had Purushottam Agrawal, renowned Kabir and Bhakti scholar, Mridula Garg, veteran writer in both Hindi and English, and Anukrti Upadhyay, a lawyer turned writer. The panel was moderated by Sourav Roy, journalist, poet, and translator.

 

Sourav began with citing an anecdote from one of Purushottam’s Stories where he quotes a scene from the movie Guide. The villagers question Raju guide in Sanskrit while he answers in English. Both mock each other for not knowing the language each speaks. So Saurav asked, “…in the contemporary world, similar is the situation with Hindi versus English debate and why Hindi, when we have so many other languages too?”. Purushottam had an elaborate answer. Though a Hindi writer, he stressed upon the importance of learning English. “In the present world, one has to be bilingual, per say multilingual to be efficient and sustainable.” He frankly put that a lot of Hindi lovers would criticize him for supporting English but to uplift Hindi one should not disdain English. Usage of Hindi should not be the criterion of being patriotic. At the same time, he was very appreciative of some non Hindi speakers (not having Hindi as their first language) of past to promote Hindi like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ramanand Chatterjee, Subramanya Bharathi, Mahatma Gandhi. He also asserted that imposing a language will not promote it. It will be promoted when people readily use it like Bollywood and advertising industries, though of course for commercial purposes, it’s their voluntary decision. 

 

Mridula said that we should try to build a connection with all the languages we come across rather than belittling any. To the question that how does she choose the language to write in, she said that it’s the language the thought came in.

 

Sourav put in yet another concern that a lot of people in southern India know Hindi but it’s very difficult to find people of north knowing even one of the southern languages. Mridula agreed that it was utter ignorance and laziness that we are not learning them – “we go to French Alliance to learn French but never to Andhra Bhavan to learn Telugu.”

 

Anukrti from her experience of traveling in different countries said that people all around the globe know more than two languages. “A German is proud to say he knows Spanish, English, or any other language. We on the other hand do not even make an effort to learn various languages present in our own country.” Purushottam was quick to add that learning various other languages of our country could be a true sign of national integration.

 

Coming to the second segment of the session, the panel explored the undefined ephemeral relationship that their characters shared in the story. They talked of the relationships beyond the blood relations. For instance, Mridula talked of her story Hari Bindi where two strangers meet in a film theatre and later go for a coffee. Both of them love that experience without fostering any relationship. This is what she calls the beauty of the unknown. She did not forget to satirically put that now a days people have relationship with their phone and forget the people around them. Similarly, Anukrti remembered a story in her book Japani Sarai, where two people of different origins meet at a bar and affect each other so deeply with just a conversation.

 

The session could go on as the relationships around us are innumerous and can be explored endlessly but the clock was ticking and the panel and the audience both had to be content with whatever little they had of this wonderful session.

 

 

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, she has always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Tales from Rajasthan

How many times do we see characters from the tribal community of the far flung areas of India, particularly in English mainstream publishing? Well, breaking the notion, HarperCollins have published two novella called Bhaunri and Daura written by Anukrti Upadhyay.

 

In her conversation with Udayan Mitra, a literary publisher at HarperCollins Publishers India,  Anukrti who is a lawyer turned writer, talked about her process of writing the two novellas set in rural Rajasthan. Reading Daura reminded Udayan of the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which is a story of village through the journal of a district collector who starts getting deeply involved in the lives of rural people.

 

Both stories revolve around the theme of love. Bhaunri, a girl from the blacksmith tribe of rural rajasthan is married at a very young age and when she goes to stay with her husband as a young adult, she experiences an inclination towards another man. As Anukrti read an excerpt from the book Bhaunri, one could easily immerse in the narrative and  detailing of the characters so profound. Udayan exclaims that her stories are redolent of sight, smell, and feel of Rajasthan.

 

Anukrti said that being born and brought up in Jaipur, nomads were a frequent sight and though she didn’t live in the desert, it always fascinated her, which were the inspiration behind the books. 

 

When asked why she writes both in English and Hindi she admits that even though she is fluent in both, it is to compensate the inadequacy she falls in when writing in one of the languages. She further explained that there are certain expressions and words that are best expressed in a particular language and translation cannot do justice though she tries her best to keep the soul and rhythm intact if at all a translation is required.

 

The book that Anukrti has written in Hindi is a collection of short stories called Japani Sarai. For her love of the culture and aesthetics of Japan, Anukrti also talked about her upcoming book Kinsuki which has a cultural mix of both Rajasthan and Japan. For her, places are as important as characters in the story.

 

The session ended with a question about her past life where she was a lawyer working in global investment companies – what lead her to shift towards writing? She answered that she had been writing ever since a child and is addicted to it, though she shifted from poetry writing to prose when it came to formal publishing. It was just a gradual shift from writing a journal for herself to writing for everyone but writing had always been her love.

 

 

 

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, I have always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Forbidden Love

Which is forbidden love? Is it Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed attraction or Khilji’s obsession for Rani Padmavati or the love of those women who explore love outside their own culture? What does forbidden love actually mean? Is it the love that Oscar Wilde experienced?  Can love be forbidden at all? 

 

Paramita Satpathy, who authored seven short-story collections and won the Sahitya Akademi Award 2016 for her work titled ‘Prapti’ in Odia briefed about her book ‘A Boundless Moment’. Sticking to the context, the speaker stated that love is more than what is really said. She also said love may be in any form but if it works one should go ahead.

 

The next speaker Ekarat whose novel focuses on depression and love had many enchanting stories of love to tell. He expressed his views on the belief of love.

 

Author Nandita Bose got the audience intrigued with her answer to the question of forbidden love. She divided the question into three entities – society, literature, and moral, and questioned who on earth was the flag-bearer of morality. She quoted the examples of Lord Krishna and Radha.

 

Princess Meera being an allrounder, loved Lord Krishna out of Bhakti and loved him beyond all force. Anukrti Upadhyay ended the discussion well by reading out her work ‘Bhaunri’ which was shortlisted for Atta Galatta Best Fiction. The session ended on the note that love is not about the body, possession or attraction. All love needs is honesty and we should let it live eternally and for real.

 

About the Author: Bhuvanashree Manjunath is an Engineering student, also an avid reader, poet, and a blogger. She also works as a book reviewer. She currently writes for TheSeer.