Raag Darbari by Srilal Shukla
This is a Sahitya Academy award winning work of noted Hindi writer Sh Srilal Shukla and probably one of its kinds that describes the rural life of post independence India in its entirety and with a satire in the tone. I have had this book for more than 5 years, but it was the death of the author that triggered me to pick up the book and read it as a tribute to him.
Story covers six months in the village of Shivpalganj, probably somewhere in UP, during which time a post graduate from the city comes to spend time in this village where his maternal uncle is a de-facto head. At regular intervals story keeps introducing characters of the village through their stories and linkages with the main characters. It showcases how those in power dictate the lives of people, and more importantly how the power center is created. The college is a center for political activities, where trustees, principal, teachers and students are key players,and it seems the whole purpose of college is to hone the political skills rather than teach or be taught. Vaidya Ji, an ayurvedic practitioner who is the managing director of the college and is the power center of the village has two sons, elder a wrestler and younger a student leader. People meet at his place every evening and enjoy Bhang along with moving the wheels of the village politics. Then there is a common man who throughout the story tries to get asmall job done without paying a bribe. There are people from trading community who are not interested in doing anything but their business. The caste though not very important, but is the first identity of the person.
This work is a documentation of the life as existed in a village in India in mid 20th century, just after the country became independent. It may have sounded very simple then, but today it is a mirror of those times. There are things like wrestling that must have been common in villages then, but are now almost extinct. Surprisingly, there are almost no women characters in the whole novel, except a small incident involving a girl. Women do exist in the fantasy of men, but have absolutely no role in what happens in the day-to-day activities of the village. Even when the home scenes are described, women are not mentioned. It almost feels like that the village is devoid of women. Of course, the society was and probably still is absolutely male dominated, but women always played their roles through men in their family.
There are interesting incidents like that of tying a knot in the village by the visitor and saying that it is the name of Hanuman Ji and by next day the story becomes a legend and the field is full of knots. You laugh when you read the cleverly written incident, but then you think is it not how many of the rituals around us may have been formed. Though a lot has changed in 40+ years since the book was first written, but you can relate to almost everything even today. The core of our society has not changed, we might have changed completely on the surface. The power politics goes in any place,which has more than a few members, and more energy is spent on getting the power in hands and using it once you have got it than doing the actual work. There is an excellent description of how the power changes the man through the character of Sanichar, common man becomes a pawn for the power brokers. There is a critical look at how Govt schemes are targeted by the villagers and how their professions change based on what Govt funding scheme is being launched.This is so true even today, when you travel to villages you see how the villagers have milked all sources of funding including loans, irrespective of if they can repay it or not. In fact in most cases there is no intent to repay.
There is an intellectual analysis that the visiting nephew of Vaidya Ji tries to do, but in the end he realizes that there is nothing that can be done. He observes himself getting rough and rouge like villagers and getting involved in their matters. He questions but gets no answers. Probably a satire at self-styled intellectuals who think they have all the answers sitting in their ivory towers but are far removed from reality. Confronted with reality, they are completely at loss, and at best can get absorbed in it.
Read this by Gillian Wright, who translated this book in English, for a more detailed analysis of the book.
Thank you Ahsan Bhai for gifting me this book.
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Goyal[email protected]AdministratorAnuradha Goyal is the author of 'The Mouse Charmers - Digital Pioneers of India' , a travel blogger and an Innovation consultant. AnuReviews - her book reviews blog finds a place in Limca Book of Records for being India's biggest book reviews blog. Know More ...Anu Reviews