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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

A Life Misspent

by
Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala'


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Life Misspent



Title: A Life Misspent
Author: Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala'
Genre: Novel
Written: 1939 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: Hindi
Availability: A Life Misspent - US
A Life Misspent - UK
A Life Misspent - Canada
A Life Misspent - India
  • Hindi title: कुल्ली भाट
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Satti Khanna

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting scenes from lives and times, and their issues

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Indian Express . 28/5/2016 Ashutosh Bhardwaj


  From the Reviews:
  • "The book marks a significant intervention in the Hindi prose narrative. At that time, a well-defined linear plot and realism were the dominant trends. As if heís creating cinematic jump cuts, Nirala abruptly flits across sequences and time frames within a single paragraph. He also transcended the periodís rather sentimental prose." - Ashutosh Bhardwaj, The Indian Express

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Life Misspent is a memoir of sorts, the poet Nirala writing about his own life -- and one man who was an important figure in it, Kulli Bhaat.
       The short book begins with Nirala explaining how he came to write what he calls a biography of Kulli Bhaat, though it is far from a traditional sort of biography. Nirala focuses on his own interactions with the man, and on his own life, and Kulli Bhaat figures more as an important secondary figure who isn't even a presence for much of the story.
       Nirala's first encounter with Kulli Bhaat comes when he is sixteen, reaching the age when his family thinks it's time for him to settle down in married life, so they decide to bring the bride he had been married to years earlier home. That goes well, but because the plague is raging in the local village the bride's family is concerned about her health and takes her back after five days. After some back and forth it's decided that Nirala will go to his wife's family's home and reaffirm his claim to her there. It is there that he meets Kulli Bhaat, a local with a questionable reputation; Nirala's mother-in-law, in particular, has her concerns about Nirala getting close to him -- as it seems that Kulli Bhaat has what is considered an unnatural interest in young men.
       Certainly, Nirala's first encounters with Kulli Bhaat suggest the slightly older man is homosexual, from how Kulli Bhaat first gazes at him -- with: "the sort of gaze bestowed upon an exceedingly beautiful woman at the height of her beauty" -- to the awkward scene when he invites Nirala over to his place, rather obviously longing for some intimacy, but with Nirala deflating his hopes (even as he reciprocates "I love you"s). Kulli Bhaat's desires are made about as obvious as they can be without being entirely explicit, but Nirala leaves just the slightest ambiguity as to his own reaction to suggest he sees his relationship with Kulli Bhaat on a different plane.
       Years go by when Nirala does not see or hear of Kulli Bhaat, but their friendship continues when their paths cross again -- with Kulli Bhaat then embracing a different sort of forbidden love, with a Muslim woman, which is no less frowned upon (and reason to ostracize him) than homosexuality would have been. Compounding his outsider-status, he also turns to teaching children from the so-called untouchable caste -- yet another violation of social and cultural norms that is widely disapproved of. Nirala is supportive of, and admires, his friend -- impressed also by Kulli Bhaat's dedication.
       Nirala is also a headstrong and contrarian character, often going against the grain -- but he also shows an admirable openness. This willingness to appreciate, for example, Kulli Bhaat's qualities while overlooking what others perceive of as off-putting or weakness -- even when Kulli Bhaat makes advances that would make others very uncomfortable -- is his greatest quality. So, too, he finds he gets along with his wife (and, especially at night: "turned into an ardent spouse"), but:

She conceded that I might be well informed on other subjects, but as far as Hindi literature was concerned she counted me an idiot. I, having no clue to the range of her understanding, found her superior attitude annoying.
       But he does pay attention, and realizes that she is right, and then immerses himself in the study of Hindi and literature -- a significant turn of events in his life (as Nirala would become famous for his poetry in Hindi, not the Bengali he first wrote verse in; this book was written in Hindi as well).
       The narrative jumps ahead, and ignores much that is significant: Nirala mentions that he becomes well-known and respected, but covers only the barest steps along the way there. He has children, but they barely rate a mention along the way. There's a sense of how hard it hits him when he loses his wife and so much of his family in the 1918 influenza epidemic, but even if the pain lingers in the text, he does not harp on it.
       Along the way, A Life Misspent does offer a great deal about the India of that time, and the political and religious issues, nationally and locally. The politically active Kulli Bhaat is involved much more than Nirala ever chooses to be, but Nirala does, for example, describe some of his own experiences in the service of a local Raja. Meanwhile, Kulli Bhaat writes endless letters to Gandhi, and there are debates over what form of activism is appropriate. There are also instances where the characters must bow to higher authorities and norms, as even Kulli Bhaat recognizes the limits of what he can do.
       Small scenes from along the way are also fascinatingly revealing, such as when Nirala mentions:
My brother-in-law's wife had taken over the running of the household in place of my wife. She was already the mother of three children; it was permissible for me to engage her in conversation. From behind her veil, she responded gladly to talk about literature.
       Indeed, it's a shame that there isn't more of domestic life: when he does offer them, Nirala captures these interactions -- also with his mother-in-law, early on -- very well, and his wife appears to have been an interesting and well-read young woman; it would have been interesting to have been allowed to see more of her.
       Rigid and long-established norms -- regarding caste, religion, and sexual relationships -- are challenged and questioned throughout, beginning with young Nirala being able to share meals with friends on one day and then not on the next -- a particularly interesting aspect of the work.
       A Life Misspent is a very rich text for its hundred-page-length. It is not a very smooth narrative, but when Nirala lingers over scenes or exchanges it is often very well-observed and related. Nirala warns in his Preface that: "The tone of the book is comic", but in fact he hits exactly the right tone; the humor isn't forced or allowed to overwhelm what is in fact also a very poignant life-story.
       One wishes for more of all this, but even in its short form A Life Misspent is a worthwhile glimpse of an era and two interesting, strong-willed figures.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 July 2018

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Links:

A Life Misspent: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Suryakant Tripathi, known as Nirala (सूर्यकान्त त्रिपाठी 'निराला') lived 1896 to 1961.

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© 2018 the complete review

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