Most Indians today associate Hindi literature with Premchand and with more of the urban youth reading the crass commodified young urban romance novellas, it is perhaps only Premchand who holds the beacon of Hindi literature high.
But if you dig deeper, find out more,get your curiosity running, you will find out so much many more Hindi authors of tremendous fame.
I am not a fan of Hindi literature per se. And whatever little I have read in Hindi is limited to children’s comics or stray stories here and there. Or I have read translations.
Recently, happened to read one. And eventually found out the popularity of the author and that work.
No work in Indian English can perhaps compare with that novel in terms of the sheer accuracy of depicting the post-Independence Indian scenario with a brutal honesty.
Still can’t guess the novel right?
Its titled, Raag Darbari and the novel got me hooked from the first page itself.
The first lines go:
And there, on the edge of the town, stood a truck. As soon as you saw it you could tell that the sole purpose of its creation has been to rape the roads of India.
Such direct, forceful, unique and compelling descriptions pepper the whole novel.
Raag Darbari written by Srilal Shukla is a wonderful satiric account that essentially shows what went wrong with the post-Independent India. Set in the fictional town of Shivpalganj somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, politics and government with all its negative sides are intrinsically described in the book.
The town of Shivpalganj is just any village/town in North India run by not a system of bureaucrats but one single person Vaidyaji who controls everything in the town from education to politics to the police. Helping him out in his politics of power and supremacy is his son Ruppan babu who holds his own in the school from where he never passes. Stuck between the morass is Vaidyaji’s nephew, Rangnath, a research student come to stay in Shivpalganj for improving his health. The novel is narrated from his point of view.
The forte of Srilal Shukla has always been satire and Raag Darbari has humour on every page: whether satire, biting sarcasm or caricature, slapstick or dark humour.He spares no one in his sweeping satire from the most powerful to the most commonest of men (Langad). Srilal Shukla has satirised every character, every point of view to bring to light the utter breakdown of bureaucracy and the rampant corruption that festers within. No point of view is privileged even the narrator’s-Rangnath for all his education and research is satirised for his condescension of the village politics while also tacitly being a part of it. The novel as a whole is episodic and though it has a skim plot running through, it is a bunch of humourous tales satirising the corrupt politics.
Raag Darbari is a gem to be read for its satire and the detailed descriptions of several commonplace, taken for granted things that are a part and parcel of an Indian village and it is this attention to detail that makes Shivpalganj come alive. What makes the novel enduring is its relevance even in today’s India. Certain episodes of red tape, of indifference of the bureaucracy, of the traps that a common man is endlessly placed in to get benefits from the government will all find resonance with any Indian reader today as well. It is this very relevance today that is a grim reminder of sorry state of Indian politics and bureaucracy today.