A Window Lived in the Wall by Vinod Kumar Shukla, Satti Khanna (Translator)
Published by: Eka/Westland Publications
Rating: 4.50/5 stars
Raghuvar Prasad teaches mathematics at a mofussil town college. He travels to work by jitney, cramming into the little spaces left by other passengers, their milk cans, vegetable baskets and the like. Sometimes, these jitneys have not the slightest gap he can squeeze into, and Raghuvar Prasad must find other ways to commute. And that’s how, on the day his newly-wed bride arrives in town, Raghuvar Prasad happens to come home riding an elephant. She imagines elephants are a part of his regular lifestyle.
A Window Lived in the Wall delicately peels back the many layers of Raghuvar and Sonsi’s beautiful marriage. While there is the grandeur of an elephant outside, there is also the minimalism of their home. Their possessions are meagre, their one-room rental barely accommodates a bed and some kitchen utensils. But beyond the window of their one room is a magical place that sustains Raghuvar Prasad and Sonsi’s spirit.
At a time when critics have announced a crisis of imagination in Hindi literary fiction, Vinod Kumar Shukla continues to dazzle us with his investigations of the hidden magic in ordinary things. A work of deceptive simplicity from one of the finest writers of our times.
About the author:
Vinod Kumar Shukla is a poet and novelist writing in Hindi. He work mixes daily experiences with dreams, the mundane with the surreal. Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi (A Window lived in a Wall) won the Sahitya Akademi Award for the best Hindi work in 1999.
About the Translator:
Satti Khanna is an Associate Professor at Duke University, USA. He has translated novels by Vinod Kumar Shukla and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala besides a travelogue by Mohan Rakesh.
*Thank you Westland Publications for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
I am still trying to find a way to describe the thoughts and feelings that this book evoked in me. It’s nothing like what I have read: there’s Raghuvar Prasad who teaches mathematics to primary school children in a small town college who lives in a small rented room. He takes a jitney to the college and is on the verge of starting a married life with his wife. That is how A Window Lived in the Wall starts and before you know it, you find yourself marveling at the word play, the poetry that emerges from short sentences, the languor that envelops the pace taking the reader to the sheer delight of what our imagination can lead us to discover.
Having heard so much about the writings of the author, I had to read this acclaimed book and it left me thinking that it could have gone into any direction: about domestic life, about life’s purpose, about relentless struggles, about poverty or about battling social ills. It’s none of this: instead, we are taken to in a different realm altogether with the characters in the book through a window in the wall! Outside of the house are an elephant and a sadhu who becomes part of Raghuvar’s daily commute to work bringing delightful asides.
Shukla’s writing touches upon the magic of simplicity, of wonder and joy in small things, the uniqueness that we miss in what we assume are the mundane matters of everyday life. I loved the eloquence of conversations filled with the hope of where the talk could go. Shukla’s writing is not something to be boxed up neatly in a genre: it’s vibrant in terms of the imagery it evokes in the simplest of word play. It is not so much about a story with a beginning and an end but the many journeys that the main protagonist takes us to his world, a world that is not so much about material possessions but one of harmony with nature and thoughts and people.
The writing is dream like: it is fluid prose that reads like poetry or rather it is poetry kept at bay as sentences but carries readers to vivid imagery of moods and settings. I am absolutely smitten and will read more of the author.