A few thoughts on Uday Prakash’s The Girl with the Golden Parasol
Nope, this is not a romance set in dreamland. This is a book that hits you with force, reminiscent of militantly activist stories like Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal or the Marathi hit Sairat. This is because it comes from the modern Hindi literature milieu, which has been (over- (in my opinion)) focused on issues of caste over the past decades. It’s written by the progressive writer Uday Prakash, and translated by the extremely talented Jason Grunebaum. Personally, however, I can’t imagine reading only this one style of literature, which is what’s been keeping me away from “serious” Hindi lit lately.
But at its core, this is a very engaging story. Rahul and Anjali (I’m pretty sure these names weren’t chosen at random, refer to DDLJ) are students in a university in Madhya Pradesh. Anjali the daughter of a brahmin and socially powerful father, Rahul from a lower caste, middle-class family. Yes, they fall in love, and yes, everyone is against them. The story is set in the backdrop of student life in the late 90s in the Hindi heartland, with political goondas, unqualified teachers, and the essential-to-hindi-lit question of caste troubling the hero. Every once in awhile, the internal monologues veer towards the oppression of caste and the oppression of capitalism.
For all the heavy-handedness, you genuinely feel for the characters, and you enjoy the rootedness of the story (the references to Madhuri Dixit, the samosas, the hostel life). The rootedness has been conspicuously missing from Indian lit in English, but it’s there in Hindi lit in spades. This is a worthy book to have translated and brought to the larger reading audience.
Apropos of nothing: I remember reading a recent Hindi book named Banaras Talkies that captured the hostel life in Varanasi. It wasn’t as serious as this book, but it was recommended to me by a friend of a friend who’d actually studied there and vouched for the authenticity of the tone and the locale. The Girl with the Golden Parasol captures that same kind of feeling even though I haven’t been there. That’s some kind of achievement.