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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Review: Bhaunri and Daura by Anukrti Upadhyay

While deceptively simple, the companion novellas Bhaunri and Daura are rich in imagery and lyrical prose

books Updated: Nov 08, 2019 19:53 IST
Simar Bhasin
Simar Bhasin
Hindustan Times
A woman from the Lohar community shows off a newly crafted silver earing.
A woman from the Lohar community shows off a newly crafted silver earing.(LightRocket via Getty Images)
         
HarperCollins
HarperCollins
; HarperCollins
; HarperCollins

‘Simple’, ‘charming’ and ‘poetic’ are apt descriptors for the two novellas Bhaunri and Daura, which mark author Anukrti Upadhyay’s first foray in English fiction. Set in rural Rajasthan these fable-like narratives are told with an eye for detail and an authenticity which immediately draws in the reader. Daura, which plays on the two meanings of its title (referring to, both, an official round taken as part of a government posting in a district and a bout of madness), is about a newly appointed district collector, who gets strangely attached to a particular dak bungalow in one of his tehsils. Bhaunri follows its namesake protagonist as she is married off at a young age to a handsome but surly young man named Bheema with whom she falls desperately in love. Bhaunri takes it upon herself to go to great lengths to ensure he stays faithful and loyal to her forever.

Aside from the central tale within these short pieces of prose fiction (150 and 140 pages, respectively), there are stories within stories. Early on in Bhaunri, for instance, Bheema’s uncle regales his nephew’s newly-wed bride on how a group of dogs saved the Lohars, loyal to the Rana of Chittor, from being captured by the Mughal army. As the novella progresses, this pattern becomes more apparent with Bhaunri’s formidable father-in-law also narrating his adventures on his numerous sojourns. Even Bheema, a man of few words, educates his child bride on the myths and fables that he grew up with. At one point he calls Bhaunri ignorant for not having heard the story of Vishwakarma, the blacksmith to the gods, whose handmade iron figurines were brought to life by Brahma resulting in the creation of the community of the Lohars, to which her father belonged.

Author Anukrti Upadhyay
Author Anukrti Upadhyay ( Courtesy the publisher )

Similarly, Daura’s narrative structure is replete with the many testimonies of the villagers collected by an appointed medical officer to look into the district collector’s strange behaviour. These are sprinkled with accounts of the mystical Thar and the magical powers yielded by a mysterious sarangi player who roams the desert and forms an essential piece to the central puzzle. Both these narratives flow as in an oral narration and though the reader can guess what is coming, she still wants to see how the story is told.

Read more: Review: The Prince by Samhita Arni

While deceptively simple, these companion reads are rich in imagery and lyrical prose, which makes up for the somewhat predictable route that both the tales take. The blossoms on the mango tree which dropped like “tiny, pale butterflies” or the flood with “so much water that the land” lost “its will to exist,” everything is rendered in poetic terms. Even the stock characters like the corrupt tehsildar in Daura and the abused and battered mother-in-law who has accepted her lot in life in Bhaunri don’t fall prey to lazy characterizations. Much like the terms of endearment (beendani, balma, mai) that seep into the narrative and are left as is with no suitable English counterpart to take their place, the author perhaps attempts to show how some experiences can never fully be rendered in any language and that there will always remain a gap between lived truth and that which can be put in words.

Simar Bhasin is an independent journalist. She lives in New Delhi.