Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Too Have a Complaint

Having recently finished the slim volume शिकायत मुझे भी है (हरिशंकर परसाई) (tr. I too have a complaint, (Harishankar Parsai)), NF is even more convinced that Parsai remains almost unconscionably under-read and under-translated. His satire, as is evident in this collection, remains as direct, searing and morbidly funny as when it was penned (1970). Indeed, a lot of commentators have ignored the long historical tradition of satire—especially of the political variety—in Hindi literature of which tradition Parsai was among the finest, most renowned exponents. 

(Close on the heels of Parsai was another great, somewhat recently deceased satirist: Srilal Shukla, whose massively influential satire राग दरबारी (1968) (tr. Raga Royale) (inspired from his stint as a provincial civil service (PCS) officer in Lucknow) transcended its satirical origins to become a deft, darkly funny commentary of rural provincialism. Its opening sentences are among the most savagely funny NF's ever read: here's his sorry attempt at translation:
शहर का किनारा. उसे छोड़ते ही भारतीय देहात का महासागर शुरू हो जाता था. 
वहीं एक ट्रक खड़ा था. उसे देखते ही यकीन हो जाता था, इसका जन्म केवल सड़कों के साथ बलात्कार करने के लिए हुआ है... 
Corner of the city. The ocean of Indian villages began just beyond.
Right there stood a truck. To see it was to be certain that it was birthed only to commit rape with roads...
Needless to say, the book is highly recommended.)

Most essays in Parsai's collection are shortish—3-5 pages long. His language remains direct, accessible and bereft of literary adornments. Just as is with the great Manto, perhaps this lack of affectation and direct plain-spokenness adds to Parsai's mordant bite. To top it all, the last essay in the collection is Parsai's memoirs of the by-then deceased Muktibodh. Much in Parsai's classic tradition, it's an intense, short portrait of the man—critical, devoid of sentimentality but acutely aware of Muktibodh's towering genius and his massive contribution to the experimental movement of post-independence Hindi poetry (dubbed प्रयोगवाद (tr. Experimentalism)).

It's good to see Parsai finally becoming more well known in translation circles, as is evident in's recent feature on Parsai's essay on Premchand: A literary mystery: Why did Premchand pose for a photograph in a torn shoe?

Insofar as much more of this is needed, I too have a complaint. 

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