A street sweeper discovers a cache of black market money and escapes to see the Taj Mahal with his underage mistress; an Untouchable races to reclaim his life that’s been stolen by an upper-caste identity thief; a slum baby’s head gets bigger and bigger as he gets smarter and smarter, while his family tries to find a cure. One of India’s most original and audacious writers, Uday Prakash, weaves three tales of living and surviving in today’s globalized India. In his stories, Prakash portrays realities about caste and class with an authenticity absent in most English-language fiction about South Asia. Sharply political but free of heavy handedness.
I ordered two cups of deluxe chai from Ratan Lal, and got my first inkling of how desperate Ramnivas was when I saw him down the piping hot tea in one gulp, burning his mouth and everything else.
It was early afternoon, and Ramnivas, eyes full of pleading, looked at me and said, “Vinayakji, I’ve gotten into a big mess. Way in over my head. Help me find a way out—please! I won’t forget it for the rest of my life.”
I asked him to tell me all about it, and he did; and now I’ve told you everything he told me. When he finished, just as I was about to see if I could find some way to help—Sushma showed up.
“Meet me here tomorrow morning. I’ve got to go,” Ramnivas said, and the two of them jumped in a rickshaw. I watched them ride away until I couldn’t see them any longer. That was the last time I saw Ramnivas.
He won’t come back to this little corner of the street. He’ll never come back. If you ask anyone about him, no one will say a word: not Sanjay, not Ratan Lal, not Devi Deen, not Santosh, and not Madan.
Excerpted from The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash; translated from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum. Copyright © 2014 by Uday Prakash. Excerpted by permission of Seven Stories Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
THE WALLS OF DELHI 1
TRANSLATOR’S AFTERWORD 217
Table of Contents
"This collection of three stories features characters steeped in poverty. Every day is a struggle to make ends meet, to pay for food, rent and medicine, and yet, the tales do not leave the reader entirely wallowing in misery. Hope appears, again and again, in surprising and unusual ways....Three heartbreaking and unforgettable tales by a master storyteller...this book is definitely worth a read."—Melki, Goodreads
"The writing is simple but deep. I was left engrossed in my thoughts regarding the stories for hours. This series of short stories holds many naked truths. While it was painful to read, I am glad that this novel has allowed me to become more aware of the issues that plague many of India's citizens."—Dana, Goodreads
"There are many moments of beauty and love to redeem the individuals who struggle here. I recommend it as a street-level view of life in a world pervaded by corruption, a more gutsy, flinty, imaginative, first-person perspective than Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forever."—Caroline, Goodreads
"A really engaging little set of stories. The protagonists are generally poor and have faced their fair share of hardships, and it is these setbacks--whether medical or financial or legal--that create the meat of the stories. Prakash does an excellent job of broaching heavy subjects like injustice and corruption with a light hand, and of creating characters that aren't stereotypes of what those who live in poverty "should" think, do, or act like."—Claire, Goodreads
"These three stories are all suffused with both tragedy and humor, which prevents this book from being an overly depressing one, though it isn't a light or frivolous read. The narrator or characters make frequent and poignant comments about Indian society and its caste prejudice and rampant corruption that flow smoothly within each story. I could not put this book down once I started it, and I finished it in one sitting. The Walls of Delhi is a masterful book about modern India, which is a far better book than The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize winning novel, and it deserves to be widely read and appreciated."—Darryl, Goodreads
"Prakash, it appears, writes a lot from personal experience. That is to his own great credit, and his nation's shame. It's fantastic that this book has been recognised by the DSC Prize jury. For anyone with even a passing interest in India today, 'The Walls Of Delhi' ought to prove a thoroughly worthwhile read."—Mark Staniforth, Goodreads
"Most poignantly and disturbingly represented, the shady grip of criminality where the powerful create and sustain alliances in their common project to keep the poor and marginalized, the Dalits and women of contemporary "shining" India, subordinated. The everyday terrorism of poverty is perhaps most powerfully demonstrated in Mangosil, a story that will leave you with a lump in your throat. I eagerly await more works in translation by Uday Prakash, truly a revolutionary writer, and a wonderful story-teller."—Raja, Goodreads
"Like Arundhati Roy, Prakash has caught some flak for his social commentary on India's and the world's social problems. It's a testament that he's doing something right."—Matt Peters, Goodreads
"The three stories in this book were wonderful. Very emotional and worldly. I especially liked the second one. The first sentence read, "What is the color of fear?", and it had me hooked from there on. After reading this book, a person can certainly look at his or her own life and realize that many of us are so fortunate to live the lives we have. If I had to choose to change one thing, it would be to make all three longer."—Paulette, Goodreads
About Uday Prakash
One of contemporary Hindi literature’s most important voices, UDAY PRAKASH was born in 1952, in the remote village of Sitapur in Madhya Pradesh. A Communist Party member in his youth, he fled the region for Delhi during the India’s 1975-77 State of Emergency—though not before attaining with distinction his Master’s in Hindi Literature at Saugar University. Prakash has worked for a range of newspapers and television sources in Delhi, all the while publishing poetry and fiction to international acclaim. He is the recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in India, and his 2013 novel The Walls of Delhi was a finalist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Also a filmmaker and a playwright, Prakash divides his time between New Delhi and Sitapur in Madhya Pradesh.
About Jason Grunebaum
Translator JASON GRUNEBAUM's short stories and translations have appeared in many journals. His English translation from of Uday Prakash's Hindi novel The Girl With The Golden Parasol was awarded a PEN Translation Fund grant and published by Penguin India. He is senior lecturer in Hindi at the University of Chicago, where he also teaches creative writing.
"The narrative is hypnotic, not only in its ability to reveal socio-political situations and extreme poverty, but in the way it interweaves the stories with legends and then offers candid statements referencing world events that make the truth of the message of poverty and corruption very real."—Maya Fleischman, Foreword Reviews
"You finish each piece and it’s like a slap in the face of realization at what’s just occurred, and you can’t even feel the full sting until the next day or the next week when your mind has had some time to fully digest everything that’s happened. These stories have sticking power."—Corduroy Books
“The stories in this collection should be read not only because they are coming from an extremely important voice in Hindi literature, but also because they are not just stories but a profound mapping of our times’ civilisational crisIs resulting from the blend of an awfully oppressive social order and brutal imperialism.”—The New Indian Express
"Three...stingingly comic tales [with an] appealing mix of social realism and pungent sarcasm. Uday Prakash uses a kind of wry documentary style, combining incisive humour with gentle pathos, interspersed with occasional poetic passages, creating a new kind of narrative style that has been well caught by the translator." —Frontline (India)
"Uday Prakash writes of contemporary India with bleak and unblinking scrutiny irradiated by empathy and humanity. His mastery of metaphor and allegory and the power of his style invoke a timeless culture on the cusp of change." —Namita Gokhale, founder-director of The Jaipur Literature Festival and author of The Book of Shiva
"I am not particularly fond of literature that thrives only on cons of any society. Yet, although the individual stories build up on the painful and neglected aspects of Indian society, the collection as a whole stands out uniquely having a distinct and original voice. The characters are complete and very much human so that their tales keep lingering in the reader's mind even after finishing the book. In all three stories, the author has succeeded in exploring the grave subjects in an intriguing style of narration and with complete command of a language that disturbs the reader."—The Book Outline
"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."—The Complete Review
"The referential landscape of Prakash’s stories is expansive, ranging from canonical Hindi literary figures such as Premchand and Mukhtibodh as far afield as Osip Mandelstam and Allen Ginsberg. Yet for all their scope, their intended audience is evidently local. The experience of reading them in English serves only to accentuate that the readership to whom they are addressed is neither Anglophone nor faraway, but rather one for whom Delhi is, at least emotionally, “not far at all.” This distance is bridged to an extent by Jason Grunebaum’s thoughtful translation, which provides clarity and context without resorting to commentary. Yet the displacement of translation cannot be erased—nor should it be. It augments the strangeness and power of Prakash’s narratives, which offer a window into an internal dialogue whose raw intensity is rarely encountered in English-language literature from the subcontinent."—The Quarterly Conversation