India, it can perplex you, amaze you, and sometimes shock you. Some of the best chroniclers of India however are our Hindi novelists, who tell stories rarely heard in the metros. Here, we bring you 5 Hindi books that will help you make sense of India today. Unfortunately, only two of them has been translated to English (translators, we hope you are listening!)
Aakhiri Kalaam by Dudhnath Singh
Dudhnath Singh’s brilliant take on fascism, Aakhiri Kalaam (‘Last Word’), tells the story of Professor Tatsat Pandey. The novel tries to go to the heart of communalism that has infected Indian society against the background of the run-up to the Babri Masjid demolition, of which Professor Pandey is a living witness. It’s a chronicle of the decay of secularism and humanism in Indian society, and challenges the notion of a utopic ideal some look for in the past, thus making history out of myths. This is not the story of a mosque’s demolition; this is the story of how a post-independent secular India became a communal society.
Nirwasan by Akhilesh
Popular Hindi writer Akhilesh’s novel Nirwasan (‘Exile’) speaks of displacement on different levels. There is the displacement that is caused by hunger, starvation and unemployment, that leads to a physical migration to urban areas. Then there is the displacement, this time in the mind, of ideals, values and beliefs, a displacement that is accompanied by urbanity’s opportunism, cunning, and lack of empathy. Akhilesh argues the latter is the result of Western, particularly American, values such as consumerism and hyper-capitalism. But at the same time, his characters want traditions and local cultures to co-exist with this modernity. A novel that truly captures the struggles India is going through today.
Murdahiya by Tulsiram
Tulsiram’s Murdahiya (‘Cremation Ground’) is an autobiography that exposes you to the modern horrors of the caste system. If you thought the caste system was gone and dusted, read this book to find out what the reality still is. The oppressed castes of India, the Dalits, still continue to live in a society that treats them as outsiders, and Tulsiram narrates a horrific true story that is his own. Brought up in Azamgarh in UP, Tulsiram remembers his childhood, and narrates how the upper castes in his village would actively discourage Dalit children from pursuing an education. Sometimes, this discouragement would take the form of physical violence. An explosive autobiography about the reality of modern India.
Jhini Jhini Bini Chadariya by Abdul Bismillah
Hindi writer Abdul Bismillah’s novel is situated among the weavers of Banaras, and tells their pitiful stories. The title Jhini Jhini Bini Chadariya (‘Weaving a fine shawl’) is borrowed from a Kabir couplet, and the novel tells the story of exploitation of the weavers of Banaras. In a complex socioeconomic scenario, when the workers attempt to organize themselves into a union to fight for their rights, their attempt is politicized into a sectarian and communal attack. The weavers of Banaras are mostly Muslims, and this novel can be read as a commentary on the state of the minority communities in India today.
Shahar mein Curfew by Vibhuti Narain Rai
Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was a police superintendent in Ghaziabad at the time of the 1987 Hashimpura massacre, rakes up the psychology of a majority community in India in this novel. Shahar mein Curfew (‘A Curfew in a City’) starts off with a communal riot in Allahabad, and the eventual curfew that authorities impose on the city. Rai says that without changing the psychology of the majority community, communal riots will continue to occur in India. He writes about the complex nuances of a riot, of why they occur, and why even the police is sometimes unable to stop them; finally, Rai concedes that riots are an essential part of Indian society and politics, simply because of a prejudiced majoritarian bias. An English translation was published in 2016.