After many years, the book remains a reference material for understanding our polity and society
Idealism of youth often meets with an anti-climax. And when that happens one surely gains perspective. In 2003, when I first read Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla, which was part of self-education curriculum, I cringed at the ‘cynicism’ spread on those yellowing pages.
At the ingress of youth, the most fascinating term was change and most dislikeable was, by all means, cynicism.
However, with time I gained perspective and the book became one of my favourites.
Twelve years on, now, while reading the book again, I can only marvel at all what Shrilal Shukla wrote and many among them; in spite of exuding deep cynicism speak ironies in volume.
In the very first chapter when Ranganath’s high ideals— emanating straight from college life— get a slap of dusty reality, we start getting some timeless gems.
“The present education system is like a pariah bitch lying in the road, whom anyone can kick,” writes Shukla, when the owner of the truck, which is defined by its purpose of creation that was to “rape the roads of India”, gives Ranganath lessons on education.
Raag Darbari with unrelenting harshness dismantles each and every stereotype that has defined Indian villages and small towns. While the running theme of the book is continuous juxtaposing of infallible ideals and faltering realities, it also does a great job in portraying the human frailties.
Can an illiterate and poor truck driver afford the high ideals of an educated man who is on his ‘change-the-world-vacation?
Can a system defined by nepotism, corruption and unreasonable disparity allow a common man to live on sheer ideals.
Gillian Wright who translated the book in English in his introduction wrote, “Politics and government are the two main themes of the novel. Uttar Pradesh is India’s most politically dominant state and it’s often said that politics is the state’s main industry. Shukla describes politics at the grass roots, but much of the factionalism, nepotism and behind-the-scenes manipulation he portrays is familiar to anyone who follows events through the national press. UP’s highly developed bureaucracy, the author’s other main target, is satirised for its irrelevance to the common man, inefficiency and close connections with politicians”.
The narrative woven by Shukla is microcosm of what is played at national level or for that matter in politics anywhere. The book relies on satire to convey the message. Local traditions, customs, life style helps in presenting meanings that strike the chord of narration at right place.
The book completes 50 years of its publication and we are under great social and political transformations. In spite of this it remains a reference material for understanding our polity and society.