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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Walls of Delhi

Uday Prakash

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To purchase The Walls of Delhi

Title: The Walls of Delhi
Author: Uday Prakash
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2012)
Length: 227 pages
Original in: Hindi
Availability: The Walls of Delhi - US
The Walls of Delhi - UK
The Walls of Delhi - Canada
  • Three Stories
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jason Grunebaum

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Our Assessment:

B+ : powerful and well-written

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 9/6/2012 Ashley Hay
The Hindu . 1/6/2013 Amandeep Sandhu

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yet however heavy these landscapes and their stories, Prakash is breathtakingly supple as he vaults beyond the density of each, unfurling the lightness of metaphor, even allegory." - Ashley Hay, The Australian

  • "That stories well translated from our regional languages into English could provide a much-needed lease of life to the deadening sameness of the English language publishing that we now face in our markets. The book is reason to cheer the essence of story-telling that it helps us cross boundaries of reality and language, through translation." - Amandeep Sandhu, The Hindu

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:

       The Walls of Delhi collects three pieces: the title-story and the novella-length 'Mohandas' and 'Mangosil'. In each the narrator is a secondary or incidental character, but one that figures in the story, and in the lives of the central characters; in the last he closely resembles the author. In each of the pieces the narrator does introduce himself and at least aspects of his situation -- different from those of the central figures, yet facing difficulties of his own. In 'The Walls of Delhi' he even has a (different) name:

I am Vinayak Dattareya ! Am I any safer than them ? I've fallen to a new low, with no work, squeezed on all sides, and now I spend all day long sitting at Sanjay's paan stall: stressed out, useless, numb.
       These occasionally intrusive narrators, veering off suddenly to relate bits from their own lives and situations, are a curious authorial tick, but they arguably do help ground the stories, a reminder of lives and worlds beyond those of the central characters.
       Each of the pieces involves at least one piece of good fortune for the protagonists, an escape -- or the appearance of the possibility of an escape -- from dire conditions: money (for nothing); a job (prospect); the birth of a child. More prevalent, however, is misery. It's a tough world out there; worse, it is an unjust one.
       In the title-piece Ramnivas stumbles upon a hoard of cash while working as a sweeper: a fortune, hidden in a wall. He takes some, and then he takes more, returning to the well. He can court the girl he's been chasing -- and keep his wife back home satisfied. He can enjoy some of the pleasures of life -- though even here a trip and a stay at what is for him a fancy hotel finds him more or less at the mercy of the kind of authority that usually hounds the like of him. And, of course, while the supply of money seems near-endless to him, somebody did hide it there, and nothing really comes that easily or for free .....
       In 'Mohandas' the title-character is a smart boy -- not: "merely the first member of his community from the village to get a college degree, but the first from the entire region". Despite his academic success, he has trouble landing a job -- unable to pay the bribes that grease the wheels, and still coming up against caste-discrimination. Finally, an opportunity comes, as he is clearly among the best qualified for a position at the Oriental Coal Mines -- "Consider yourself started", the clerk tells him after looking over his impressive credentials. But things again don't work out, as -- as Mohandas only later learns -- Mohandas finds himself in a situation of the sort commonly described as Kafkaesque, a frustrating injustice that he is near-powerless against and goes to the very root of concepts of personhood and identity. (The injustice is so outrageous that I, for one, actually found it hard to read about, even as the situation is more plausible than the one in 'The Walls of Delhi'.)
       'Mangosil' begins with a terrible situation, the brutal abuse of the young wife Shobha. There's a preface to the story, beginning with the notice that: "This is the story of Chandrakant Thorat. It's also my story." Chandrakant's first great step is saving Shobha: the desperate girl will do anything to escape her life, a situation Chandrakant doesn't take advantage of: he simply does what he can, fleeing with her for Delhi. While they must fear being hunted down, they're able to settle in the city and make something of a life for themselves. For years, however, they are unable to start a family, as Shobha's seven pregnancies end in miscarriage, or with babies who soon die. Finally, a boy is born and seems healthy -- except that he's not, suffering from an ailment that medical experts say condemn him to an early death. Surprisingly, however, he continues to survive and grow (albeit with an oversized head) -- and at an advanced age Shobha even has a second (truly) healthy child. But, with tragedy lurking always overhead, it's no surprise that it eventually strikes.
       Uday Prakash writes about the marginalized. He warns of what has been lost -- or is pushed aside and overlooked -- in India's transformation in a globalized world:
The economic policies of one government after the next transformed India's big cities into little Americas, while putting people who lived in the same country into the poorhouse, but in tiny villages and underdeveloped places, and creating countless Ethiopias, Ghanas, and Rwandas.
       Urban transformation and displacement mean great loss -- a whole part of society that's been, or is in the process of being 'disappeared':
     One day, I'll be the one to disappear from this little corner of the neighborhood: it's a fact. The poor, the sick, the street corner prophets, the lowly, the unexceptional -- all gone ! They've vanished from this new Delhi of wealth and wizardry, never to return, not here, not anywhere else. Not even memories of them will remain.
       Uday Prakash's stories mean to preserve these memories, and to show what crushing forces the common man is up against, in a world where only money can buy access to proper medical care (and much else) and where those in positions of authority abuse it without any concern for the damage they cause. It's a dark, ugly world he presents, in which those who are decent don't seem to stand much of a chance against the maddening injustice of it all.
       These are compelling stories, and with his often indirect approach -- the narrator squeezing his perspective and person into the story, even if it seems to have little to do directly with it -- Uday Prakash adds yet another interesting layer to the writing. The injustices described can be frustrating for the powerless reader, but the pieces certainly do impress.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 July 2014

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The Walls of Delhi: Reviews: Other works by Uday Prakash under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Indian author Uday Prakash (उदय प्रकाश) was born in 1951.

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