The Sharp-Eyed Seer
attention might be making him the new buzz word in English circles, but
Hindi writer Uday Prakash has always lived on the acidic
margins of hard non-conformism, says Amit Sengupta
number of universes is endless. Each universe has 10p11 galaxies. Each
galaxy has 10p11 planets and stars. Each planet has 10p11 Vinayak Dattatreyas.
And each Vinayak Dattatreya has 10p11 woes.
Unbeloved: Uday Prakash
Photo Sharad Saxena
rebellion is a
proof of spoof; it’s the
underbelly of mainline
anti-author versus the
the threshold versus the
Dattatreya’s Woes, Uday Prakash
Dattatreya is not an archetype. He writes Hindi poems. His old typewriter
makes a kirr-kirr sound. So whenever he writes a poem, every poet in
Delhi is offended by the epical noise. They can’t sleep peacefully.
So they throw mud at him, they hit his wife and kids. Finally, they
negotiate. This is like Bush negotiating with Saddam. Vinayak Dattatreya
should stop writing poetry, they say. So Vinayak Datttreya stopped writing
poetry. Now he’s writing stories — but the jarring memories
remain… the damned sound...kirr… kirr… kirr.
Uday Prakash has lived on those acidic kirr kirr margins of hard non-conformism
and they don’t smell of white roses. Dattatreya is his protagonist.
But unlike this fictitious character, Uday’s rebellion is a protracted,
relentless proof of spoof; it’s the underbelly of mainline literature,
the anti-author versus the establishment author, the threshold versus
the accomplishment. There’s an angst (“I never got a job
in the academic structure, they divided all the jobs between the Left
and the Right”), though he was a passionate young member of the
cpi, then grew close to the CPM, till the early 80s.
He’d been to jail several times before he came to jnu and he was
trained in the praxis of struggle in Madhya Pradesh. So he would never
touch the feet of Hindi literature’s ‘Criticism’s
God and Prophet’, Namwar Singh, also in jnu and across the Cosmos,
making and breaking literary careers with a stroke of his pen. Uday
would shake his hand instead. Hello, who are you chief, from which era
of classical feudalism?
That is why Uday Prakash is truly a modern, post-modern, Marxist, anti-Stalinist,
anti-dogma, post spiritual beginner — something the ‘official
Left’ would obviously hate. “I’d rather go to Hazrat
Nizamuddin than to a politician or a big man. I have no faith in them.
I have rejected them long ago,” he says. “And what did they
do to Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky, Andrie Tarkovsky in Stalin’s
Russia? Stalin killed 1.5 crore farmers who were Bukharin’s supporters.
If Bukharin was the eye of the revolution as Lenin said, and Trotsky
was the mind of the revolution, then what happens when you eliminate
the eye and the mind?” There comes a time when history makes a
decisive turn he feels. So the revolution is a moment of great history.
What follows is routine politics and sociology. “Stalin was doing
So let’s not indulge in a long narrative when the story is a long
short story, like his collection published by Katha, Short Shorts, Long
Shots, translated into English by Robert A. Hueckstedt and Amit Tripuraneni.
However, yet another of his literary landmarks’ translated version
has hit the pen awards in the US, where Rushdie is one of those who
decide the fate of a book. Doesn’t matter if you haven’t
read this love story, Pili Chatri Wali Ladki (The Girl with a Golden
Parasol), translated into English by Jason Grunebaum, but it’s
popular in the Hindi heartland, and it’s a landmark because it’s
This is because the acid in Uday Prakash’s writings sometimes
melts like slow fever, like the jaundiced eyes of Albert Camus’
alienated characters who refuse to be co-opted. “It’s not
the centre which decides the fate of literature or history. It’s
the margins,” he says. This is the comfortable space of irreverence
which he occupies as the man hated by the “Brahaminic establishment”
in Hindi literature. He says with concealed pride, that after Qurratulain
Hyder’s legendary epic, Aag Ka Dariya (River of Fire) was first
recognised in 1946, The Golden Parasol has pushed the threshold of new
writing in the West.
‘I fully support
Arundhati Roy rejecting the
Sahitya Akademi award. It is a statist institution
full of brokers, compromisers, people fleecing the
system for personal gain,’ says Prakash
reminds me of a short story situated in the killing fields of Columbia
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He says, “My umbrella has a hole. But
then I can see the sky.” Uday can say the same thing.
This is the short story writer, in his 50s perhaps. With or without
his cap, holding his pictures with his icon’s statue (Bertolt
Brecht) at the Berlin ensemble, posing with Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels
in Berlin’s main square, asking difficult questions. “The
fascists save the fascists. The communists save the communists. But
who will save humanity?”
He’s one of the rare writers whose stories have been turned into
celebrated plays by youngsters across the spectrum, from ipta, nsd,
to college graduates. Warren Hastings and his Bull is one of the most
famous. But this writer on the margins is really not on the margins.
He has become the centre, a rebel non-conformist centre, but his energy
derives from the rejection of the status quo. “I have little faith
in the Left or Right establishment. When they bulldoze the homes of
the poor, the bulldozers can be Left or Right, it seems the same to
me. They’re part of the capitalist structure. I’d prefer
to be with the voiceless, the meaningless. I’d rather be with
Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar or Shankar Guha Niyogi, for me they’re
the new Left.”
Uday’s margins centre around Bertolt Brecht, Fredrico Garcia Lorca,
Ritwick Ghatak, Muktibodh, Nirala. “Satyajit Ray was an excellent
master of his craft. But it was Ritwick who taught us that there was
no difference with breaking all barriers and great art. He was a member
of the ipta but when he questioned the communist party’s dogmatism,
they told their cadres, go stone his film. Despite Ray’s greatness,
till this day, I’d rather follow Ritwick.”
So does he agree with Arundhati Roy’s rejection of the Sahitya
Akademi award? “I fully agree,” he says. “They call
the Akademi autonomous, but it’s like what all statist institutions
are, full of brokers, compromisers, people fleecing the system for personal
gains, awards, recognitions, fellowship holders, those holding plum
posts. She speaks her mind, how many of our writers dare to do that
against the corrupt, power mafia? She has shown the truth of not only
corruption in these institutions, but also how global capital has squeezed
us, is squeezing us dry everyday in this new era where everything has
become so cruel and money-centric. Where is the voice of the marginals?
What happened to the killers of Safdar Hashmi? Where is justice?
So there’s no hope? There is, he says, because people in America
know Bush is a “minority president”, and even Blair is now
“minority prime minister”. “In this civil society,
philosophies and ideologies might have been defused, but the urge for
justice is eternal.”
That is why Muktibodh is the character looking for justice in his story
Mohandass, a mix of Kafka and Brecht, but essentially Uday Prakash,
where, finally not the wonderer ‘sage’, but the stationary,
visionary, sharp-eyed ‘seer’ can only speak the truth. And
who is this man telling the truth? He is the Author. Muktibodh smoking
his bidis, dead of a brain haemorrhage, before the final judgment can
become a daily reality.
No wonder Uday Prakash, once the young, angry story-teller, filmmaker,
TV serial writer, drop-out, freelancer for his daily food and now, the
‘author’, is finally writing his first novel. But who is
the protoganist: Vinayak Dattatreya, 9/11?