To read Uday Prakash is to witness profound displacement. It’s not the displacement of a bride and groom migrating from India to the west and negotiating unfamiliar food, or of middle-class youth railing against their elders’ bewildering and intransigent attitudes toward love and marriage. It’s a displacement unleashed by forces both imported and indigenous in the India of today—global, hungry, late-stage capitalism steeped in centuries-old caste oppression—and inscribed on the likes of sweepers, weavers, semi-retired judges, typesetters, servants returned from the dead, sick slum kids, and others unable, or unwilling, to fall in line. Prakash narrates his urgent tales of endangered, recalcitrant beings with attention to both inner lives and external forces in a manner that at once loves and seethes. His gifts as a writer also include permitting himself to meander within the narrative, and to reveal his authorial hand, baldly and unapologetically. This creates additional layers of displacement, and ones that enhance a singular storytelling voice comprised of disjointed, circuitous lives. His gift to the reader amid these dark portraits is an unexpected, wry humor that provides needed perspective and levity. An English reader of Prakash’s stories may wonder where he or she is in the first place. A Hindi reader may remember times of dizzying change, triggering feelings of displacement that once were and continue to be. But both readers will be eager to follow the voice of Uday Prakash wherever he wishes to take them.
I first read Uday Prakash in the stacks of Butler Library at Columbia some ten years ago when I pulled down a copy of his short-story collection Tirich from the shelves and began reading the story “Paul Gomra and his Motor Scooter.” From the very first paragraph describing an aging, bulging, lowly newspaperman who changes his name and decides to become a Hindi poet, I knew I had found who I was looking for: a contemporary Hindi writer whose work was of today, whose voice spoke to me, and who I deeply wanted to translate. A mutual friend provided me with his email address, and I wrote to him with a sample of my version of the story. He was receptive and encouraging of my efforts, and we met in person nearly two years later—my trip enabled by a PEN/Heim translation grant to work on my translation of his novel The Girl with the Golden Parasol (Yale University Press). His other words available in English include The Walls of Delhi (Seven Stories Press), which I also translated, and Rage, Revelry, and Romance (Srishti) and Short Shorts Long Shots (Katha Press), translated by Robert Hueckstedt. On that first trip we both stayed in his home near Delhi and traveled to his village in Sitapur, Madhya Pradesh, and since then we have visited each other many times in India, New York, Chicago, and California.
We conducted the following interview in English and over several months: I emailed Uday a list of questions, and he picked a few to answer.
— Jason Grunebaum
Jason: In your story “The Walls of Delhi” and in “Judge Sa’b,” characters who are known to the narrator from the neighbourhood (Ramnivas, Judge Sa’b) suddenly disappear under mysterious circumstances. What then happens to them is not necessarily the most important part of the superficial story, but they are both characters who seem to be marked for extinction in the fast-changing city of Delhi. Could you talk a little bit about how the question plays out in your fiction of people who go missing (literarily or figuratively—Mohas Das also goes missing as well in a way) and people who are marked for extinction because they can’t cope with the changing times (such as Paul Gomra)?
Uday: This is possibly the first time ever I’ve been confronted with this methodical “verifiable” question, and by my wonderful friend and translator. I had not realised before that the “extinction” or “disappearance” happened so often to so many crucial characters and protagonists in my short stories. It’s an unsettling question. I do recollect a Hindi critic, a high caste Brahmin—they are always the professors and dominate Hindi literature and academics (I call these critics “achaarya” or the “lit-priests”)—telling his post-graduate students to stop reading my fiction because all the central characters there die, go mad, commit suicide, or go missing. It can have some very negative influence on your minds. Well, the irony is that they are the students and the younger generations who form my main reading audience and they work in several Indian languages, besides Hindi.
It’s truly a grave situation or disorder for most of the characters, the one you mentioned here. For example, in “The Walls of Delhi,” the protagonist Ramnivas is shot dead by police in a “fake encounter” as he has unknowingly discovered a huge amount of black money stacked inside the wall of a gym. Such “encounters” by the police and army have now become a widespread syndrome in India. Suri, the nine–year-old weirdly sick child whose head is growing unevenly because he suffers from a mysterious disease, in another story—“Mangosil”—commits suicide at the end. Or “Mohan Das,” another one, finally disowns his own original identity as a living individual and goes into anonymous hiding. And let’s not forget Paul Gomra, who you’ve already mentioned; he goes insane and starts intoning and humming pre-colonial nationalist jingles, anti-colonial slogans, wandering at midnights on highways.
Perhaps it has to do with the realities and actualities all around where I use to live and write. Jason, you’ve visited a couple of places here in Delhi and its suburbs beside my village in the past ten or eleven years. These are the places where I interact directly with people and learn about them or form relationships with them for some time. There are some relationships that persist and reveal many crucial, troubling, unseen aspects of ordinary life. There are many uncertainties within those large populations from villages and small countryside towns up to big megacities like Delhi. These lives you see everywhere—in fact you get inundated by the flood of human bodies from all sides unless you’re inside fenced fortresses or guarded citadels. It’s a thick surface of flesh over the city, like honeybees massed over their hive. You might have experienced travelling on public buses and local trains. You can’t breathe your own air: you’re actually inhaling someone else’s breath. It’s like becoming a part of a biomass; you live and move with them. I took quite a long time to carve out a space from where now I can look upon them. Looking from a little distance, but not so high that I’m uprooted. Are these all human beings, citizens and individuals with their lives and numerous narratives? Or is all this a biomass?
To tell the truth, this thickening mass of humanity is a treasurable mine of untold tales about lives. A real, worthy, trove of tales and narratives. As you come closer to these lives you are doomed to fall in love with them, forced to develop concerns and worries about the possibilities of their survival. And you have to worry about your own continuance, and so you identify with them. You become a piece of their worries and scuffles. It’s true that many such people, who were almost friends, met with an unpredicted end. Recently, one of my village classmates, Ramkumar, died of consuming some poisonous syrup, which was thrown away from a hospital. Ramkumar thought the liquid inside the bottle had the power to cure the ailments he had suffered for a long time. He didn’t have money for proper medical expenses. Ramkumar, a low caste, poor, intelligent student, was one of us three who always scored highest marks till 8th class in middle school in our town, Anuppur. He could not continue his studies for long and was forced to take a job with the home guards as a low-paid village cop. I remember he used to write me letters frequently until I went to JNU, one of the prime Universities of India, in New Delhi. Whenever I visited my home in the village, he would come to meet me. He was worried about his sons’ studies. Later on, his wife and a son died in impoverishment. As you know, medical services in rural India are out of reach for most people. I was told after some time that Ramkumar had gone insane months before his death. I imagine he had been cursing himself for being unable to help his own family members treat their diseases. He might have come to believe that the “liquid” inside those expensive medicinal bottles had some mysterious nectar of life, which we call “amrita.” So, one day, he drank this “nectar of life,” and died. I’ve not written a story about Ramkumar, but I’m still upset.
A few years ago I was invited to participate for a couple of days in a two-month long exhibition in Berlin focusing on problems and issues in urbanizing India. As you know, India has been projected as the fastest growing economic and technological power in Asia, competing with China and the US, with immense natural wealth and the fourth largest consumer market in the world. They may well rescue the sinking economies of Europe and the US. “Make in India” is currently a heavily publicised catchphrase of the ruling right wing Hindu political party, the BJP, to lure foreign industrialists, corporations, and wealthy emigrants (the NRI, or Non-Resident Indians) to invest more money and start their financial ventures here and so on so forth. So, the exhibition on urbanizing India held in Berlin had several big company representatives, architects, and spokespersons who discussed various aspects of rebuilding infrastructure, public transport, energy-power generations, and city planning. At one point they were discussing “public” and “private” places in big urban areas. The architects had fascinating concepts of making “parks” with fountains, water canals, grass, trees, open air furniture, kiosks, etc. I noticed that they had forgotten to consider the problems arising out from the density of the huge impoverished human population inhabiting—unlike in Western cities—Indian metro cities. Remember the paragraph from “Walls of Delhi” you translated and frequently chose to recite in our joint readings? I’ll quote a few lines to describe how the presence of dense and thick lives would mock this alien design and planning of the West that’s being transplanted. These observations underscore the contrasts and the perennial pre- to post-colonial dream or mirage of creating paradisiacal spaces out of a dark, hellish reality:
They say that during the time of the British, when George V or Charles came here (I don’t know which one), all the Indian kings and queens of all the princely states set up camp right there, gathering as one in order to warmly welcome their Imperial King. They say that it was a little like the reception that Bill Clinton got when he visited. The kings and rulers of the rulers of the princely states performed a crowning ceremony, or the coronation of their English King. The speech that King of England gave has been stored in the national archives, and the copy of the speech is considered a very important document in the history of India. On the top of that, the King of England had a statue of himself installed slap bang in the centre of India Gate, under a lovely canopy. After the British returned to England in 1947, that statue, along with others dating from British rule, were uprooted, collected, and relegated to the Coronation Park at Kingsway Camp.
In the years after independence, the park became a magnet for loonies, beggars, the disabled lepers, the maimed, druggies, and other wandering, unsettled individuals. They mutilated the statues, turning them to stoves, grindstones, sledgehammers, and using them in all sorts of other creative ways. A king’s head was severed, a hand was taken, a leg removed. The torsos of other statues lie scattered on the ground in a frightening limbless state, surrounded by tall grass and shrubs. As soon as the sun sets, the special habitants of this park converge from each and every corner of Delhi, and pass the night among the felled ruined figures . . .
They’re like a group of survivors of a devastating bombing campaign from a twentieth –century war, who pick up themselves out of the rubble in the city that was the scene of the carnage, and carry their wounded bodies to a place of refuge, in search of a final protector.
You can guess what forms of life surround me here. Lives like soap bubbles. Fragile, profane, mortal, temporal—yes, don’t forget the specific character of this huge mass of inhabitants in Indian mega cities. They are not clearly separable or distinguishable; they cannot be broken down to the demographics you have in Europe or the US of colours and races. The Indian population is like multigrain flour. Each indivisible grain suspects the others and at any moment some catastrophe can happen. It’s happening. Every day, in every corner of the country. When I first started reading Gate of Sun by Elias Khoury, I was perturbed by the all-encompassing violence there but then I realised it’s here, too, only without any of the apparent civil war or visible armed violence that can be seen in the Middle East.
I think the other reason my characters evaporate in the middle or at the end would also be connected to my own childhood memories. I saw my mother die of cancer slowly when I was eleven. I loved her a lot and would always worry about a life without her. My short story, “Nail Cutter,” is about her death. Bob (Robert A. Hueckstedt) translated it long ago and within the book Short Shorts Long Shots. Soon after my mother’s death, I saw my father become an alcoholic and die within four years, strangely of the same disease: cancer. He was too attached to my mother and I think he had opted for a measured suicide. But before he died, I had no other option but to leave my home and move to a city, Shahdol, to carry on my studies. My father, in his desire for death and perhaps to put an end to his burdensome memories of my ailing mother, abandoned his responsibilities to his young children. My youngest sister was just five years old.
I think that death and the uncertainties of life have deeply influenced my instincts or impulses and they unknowingly, inadvertently, pull me close to it. I can’t move away from its shadow. You do know that I’m originally a poet. It was just by chance that I shifted to fiction. I could never be a optimistic, prosaic, realist writer. I did try several times in the past, but whenever I finished something, I realised it was more fantasy than reality.
Jason: I’ve heard you talk many times about leaving India and moving to Berlin. Part of the reason is to be closer to your son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. Another reason you’ve mentioned, though, is the impossibility you feel at times about surviving as a writer in India and being left in peace—you constantly feel under attack. Can you elaborate a bit on this? Do you feel like the situation has worsened dramatically in India? Do you feel like you are more of a target because of your success, or do you feel like your success has immunized you to an extent?
Uday : Yes, it’s true, although several of my friends, who know about my status, laugh and make fun of this odd craving. I’ve indeed been trying for four or five years to get such a chance on my own to stay for longer while in Berlin, a city I really love. I tell you, the moment I come out of any airport in another country, I feel as if an ailing organ has been surgically removed from my body. I feel immense relief. I remember 2003, the year I saw any European country, any other country than mine, for the first time ever. I can’t describe the astonishment I felt there.
I remember when a group of tribals, living in a forest around my village in Madhya Pradesh, were arrested for felling some tree and stealing fruits and roots from the forest, because before, it was their natural food, but now had become the state’s property by law and they were taken to the district judicial court. That was the first ever time when they saw a city and they shrieked, “Arré! Yeh to duniya hai!” (“Oh! So this is Earth!”), as if they had arrived from some other planet. My feelings and senses were quite similar. It was mesmerising and overwhelming. I still have great regards for the girl, Annette von der Hoe, who had gifted me with this incredible fortune. She was doing her M.Phil. research at JNU and translating my poems into Dutch without telling me. I’d never met her before. One day, she called me on my phone and then visited my house in Rohini, a north Delhi settlement area. She was tall. I came up to her shoulder. She talked several times about a poem, “The Postman,” because she herself was working as a postwoman in Netherland. She was almost six feet, wearing a “bindi” on her forehead and she looked like an Indian royal queen. She was so generous and sensitive.
At that time, it was sheer fantasy to think about going abroad. I got my passport for the first time and a Schengen visa with her help. I was invited to take part in famous International Poetry Festival at Rotterdam as a poet and poet-filmmaker. It was an experience beyond belief to be in a gigantic prosperous developed Western country. I was put up in a multi-star luxurious hotel, just in front of the high trade tower. My room was close to the clouds. I read my poems in a huge theatre auditorium, in front of a large screen which displayed my poems in Dutch. I had a couple of such readings and then I read my translations of C.P. Cavafy in Hindi. I’ve been an admirer of Cavafy’s poetry for a long time. I met several poets from other countries there and took part in a couple of poetry workshops. But most remarkably, I was paid a little too well. The remuneration I received in Euros was much beyond my any expectations. I was simply overwhelmed. Before this coincidence, I had never been selected to be a member of any government delegation of poets or writers visiting abroad to enhance and propagate Hindi literature. Jason, you know the truth or the reasons for this. Believe me, I felt like a street urchin being honoured and dining with such gracious people—writers, poets from several Western countries, and the who’s-who of the Netherlands. Anyway, I had money and had an immense desire to visit Germany, where Bertolt Brecht, one of my most favourite writers, had once lived.
And, I did that, with the help of Dirk Floatre, my friend living in Berlin who worked for the health services there. He has visited India along with my son Siddharth and stayed in my house in Delhi to do a health project in my village, where health services are scarcely available. So, I visited Brecht’s house there, in Berlin three times. And I met my German translator, a great Indologist and former professor at the University of Heidelberg, Prof. Lothar Lutze. He was very old then and now he’s unwell. I’m worried about him. He translated several of my short stories into German and a collection of five short stories, Der Goldene Gürtel, was published around ten years ago. I’m deeply grateful. I made a short film about him, “One Afternoon in Autumn” in 2009. That was my third or fourth visit to Germany.
2003 was not that far ago. Just twelve years. I was fifty then. I had had enough of India and its “systems” by then. Everyone knows we have one of the most corrupt socio-political covertly religious systems in the world, on top of the world’s second largest population and widespread poverty, disease, illiteracy, and myriad religious and ethnic conflicts. The country is still struggling to escape its medieval and oblivious mindsets. The Hindi heartland—the largest chunk of India—is perhaps the most regressive and backward part. Unfortunately, I’m fated to write and live in the language and in this land, bound to it. It is Hindi, which you are teaching at the University of Chicago. Writing in Hindi is like becoming a serf or a bonded labourer in a landlord’s farmhouse. Learning Hindi and opting for this language to express feelings, dreams, sufferings, bliss, or anything is like working as a butler for a priest of a Hindu temple. Hindi is a tool to convert a mind to become brahmanic forever.
I often curse my decision to dispense with my post-graduate studies in Anthropology at the University of Sagar and join Hindi Department. I was simply captivated by a girl I used to write poems for. She was a rich Brahmin girl. I was 19 years old then and was supporting my study and hostel fee by working as a tutor to several families. That was the first ever time, as a student in Hindi department, when I actually understood the relationship between a language and religion, politics and discriminatory caste systems. Since I had been educated as a scientist and a left-wing activist, I’d never before considered that a Hindi department might be a den of all sorts of fanatic conformists. The language I’m using now is loaded heavily with covert connotations and signs; my creative writing is an extension of my own apprehension and doubts. Everyone big in the language system or literature establishment belongs to a single caste—academic institutions, literary setups, universities, schools, and a sinisterly designed entire mass media. Even the political ideology, which I had dreamed would make an egalitarian, just, modern, reasoned society possible, was usurped by similar caste structures. Losing my parents in an early age and moving away from those community structures my family belonged to, changed my mind and perception about the caste and religion prevalent in the Hindi linguistic community and its social formations. This insight not only came to me through several books I read; it was also experienced within my own young life. I have a thick file containing more than couple of dozens of so called reviews in newspapers and magazines, calling me as a mad dog, with all sorts of filthy “compliments.” It was an assault from all sides. Fortunately, in India nothing has happened like Charlie Hebdo or Salman Rushdie’s fatwa and Taslima Nasreen’s exile. But now, with the rising right-wing Hindu political party and its ascendance to the central power with a huge popular support, situations are grave and unnerving for many writers here. It’s not that easy to become another Manto in India now or in any country in South Asia. Writing something close to reality, even in metaphor or humour, can invite all sorts of difficulties. An aggressive, greedy market and arrogant religious fanaticism both can ruin a good writer. Books are now being burnt and pulped for being blasphemous. Recently, an incredible book of essays by A.K. Ramanujan, the brilliant poet and scholar, was thrown out of the syllabus of Delhi University with the consent of a huge majority of the academic council members. The reason? The book described the plurality and variance of Ramayana. Any alteration to a monolithic, flat, homogeneity of a “Hindu Nation” and Hindu religion is offensive. It’s considered “antinational.” You already know about the story of how Wendy Doniger’s bestselling book The Hindus: An Alternative History was disgracefully pulped by Penguin India. However, I frankly feel that the Doniger vs. Penguin anecdote received attention of international academics and writers because it was a book written in English. When the same publisher, Penguin India, decided to pulp The Girl with Golden Parasol while it was selling well: there was no noise anywhere. A silence, a threatening quiet when a marginalised freelance writer’s work was made to sink. It was your own effort, dearest Jason, that the book reemerged with the help of the Yale University Press. You can imagine my euphoria, the joy, the kind of strength and confidence your efforts provided to me as a frail writer in a language owned by others. I’m grateful forever. Yale has such a reputation in India that one of the central cabinet ministers in India once lied that she had got her degree of excellence to handle higher educational institutes from Yale University. As I write these sentences, I’m quite uncertain about the fate of my other books published by Penguin. For example, Mangosil, a collection of three long short stories, remains unavailable on Amazon or Flipkart. I have written letters but yet to know about the status. You have translated it with your amazing skill and it has been acclaimed by critics everywhere. Here, in Hindi, in India, my words and narrative in Mangosil are maimed and gagged. And, too, with Rage, Revelry, and Romance—the publisher has gone invisible yet he is selling the book, translated by dear Bob (Robert A. Hueckstedt). Whenever I make a call, the publisher himself, answers with his own voice and tells me, “He is not here at the moment. Call later.” I have all those papers with me, of legal agreement, between the publisher and the author for the last 13 years. But such legal papers in India are merely tissue paper used in washrooms of powerful. Vani Prakashan, the Hindi publisher, having largest number of my books in original, has swiftly changed his attitudes towards me, as the current religious political party, BJP, has come into power. They are two brothers, actually: one deals with the left and “progressive” Hindi literature and the other handles the right literature. So left and right in Hindi publishing business are actually siblings.
Let’s not forget “Mohan Das,” the novella you translated. The protagonist had all the documents to prove his educational qualifications, degrees, identity, and everything else, but what happened to him? He was trapped in a situation where he was compelled to prove who he was. His identity was confiscated by the upper caste people. Politics and justice is not Mohan Das’s cup of tea. We are doomed to live in a system which has lost all its meaning. I’m afraid of quoting a few bits and pieces from your own magnificent translation of “Mohan Das” here, just to let those readers of this conversation to understand the situation, the sort of identity that can be conned:
In the court of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, Judge (First Class) all the witnesses and evidence—and even the two investigative reports of the two district magistrates’ inquiries—corroborated that Bisnath (the impersonator) was indeed Mohan Das. So, then: this pauper who’s in a bad way and who swears and swears he’s Mohan Das—who is he? This court didn’t have any direct judicial authority over this question.
Then, who has any authority to answer this question? The key to the puzzle? Mohan Das, a physical living body of blood, flesh, and bones, has been transformed into a pathetic infallible sleepwalker, asking everyone, in a frail voice, “Tell me: who am I?” Something has disappeared within him. He is now a ghost of his own self. Dearest Jason, you know what deprivation and impoverishment means in India. Poor and low caste dalits and tribes, forming a large population here are nothing like the poor you see in Western countries or in the US. Poverty and deprivation in India is the result of an unjust, corrupt, and pre-modern social-political system. Being impoverished and destitute here means being a victim of a centuries-old system that refuses to wither. It’s true that marginalised people have shown some upward mobility. But the disparity between the haves and have-nots is also growing. According to an official survey, conducted just five or six years ago, around 72% of people in India live under 20 rupees a day, which is just one-third, one-third of a dollar. Recently, in January, when Obama visited India, being the first US president to be a guest of Honour on “Republic Day,” those Delhi labourers, who were wiping the paan spit marks from the roads and places near monuments Obama was scheduled to visit, have been paid four dollars for twelve hours of work.
This “system” of inequality has not only worsened but become violent and threatening as fanatic communal forces have gained political power in majority. Every day you see some sarcastic public speeches with hatred and contempt towards anyone who’s not their favoured one.
And me? As a writer and an individual, I certainly have been “marked.” Earlier this year, Perumal Murugan, a Tamil novelist, had to declare himself dead as a writer in order to save his job of a teacher.
I feel, with all my heart, soul, body, and mind, with my entire being that I’d prefer to be a dog-walker, a butler, bartender, or sweeper in any other country—not because I don’t love my country and its people but I know that like Murugan, if I write what I want to write, I will also have to declare one day: I’m dead as a writer. In order to save my life.
Jason: In The Girl with the Golden Parasol, you blast the continued use of Ramchandra Shukla’s 1928–29 book A History of Hindi Literature in Hindi departments in India as outmoded, out of touch, and heavily favouring a narrative of Hindi literature that almost exclusively focuses on Brahmin writers.
Uday: I have reasons to say so. It’s not only heavily biased in terms of caste and religion, but it also covertly discards and castes off data and facts necessary for an accurate history.
To prove that Hindi “Khari Boli”—the “standard” form of Hindi—was in use early on, in the fourteenth century AD, it excerpts some selected sentences and paragraphs, mostly from Hindu religious sadhus/ascetics, but this evidence is neither substantial nor convincing. This historiography of Hindi is based on selective omission and inclusion. He argues that the Mughals allowed Persian and Arabic words to infiltrate an already existing Hindi language and thereby adulterate it to create another form of Hindi, which was used by the elites during their rule over India. Thus “Urdu,” he says, is a lingua-franca of popular Hindi in use then by the masses. That is incorrect. To provide validity to his logic, he continues quoting references of Hindu sadhus from the seventeenth and eighteenth century AD, preaching religion with words, phrases, and idioms from Sanskrit scriptures. Shukla also attempts to deny the British any lasting significant role in making of modern Hindi prose. Still, he had no way to underplay or do away with the British’s role by opening the first modern college, Fort William College in Calcutta and employing Lallu Lal, Pandit Sadal Mishra, and Sadasukh Lal, etc., under the guidance of John Gilchrist to make and cultivate Hindi for the use of the expanding market and colonial administration. Here, too, he underplays the introduction of the train, railway tracks, printing press, telephones, roadways and other infrastructural developments and mostly emphasises them in how they used Hindi for the popularising Christianity in missionary way. Ramchandra Shukla was a Brahmin, who B.R. Ambedkar has said, a priest of Hindu religion, founder and supporter of varnashram vyavastha (the Hindu caste system), can never betray his responsibility. This history of Hindi has been made a basic indispensable text book for all Hindi departments for a long time. He ignored or underrated Kabir and such other low-caste medieval poets and promoted and eulogised Tulsi Das and others, who were in favour of the caste system. As a point of comparison, would you accept a history of English literature written and updated all the time, for the last 100 years, just by popes and fathers? Do you think that it’s just mere coincidence that all or most of the historiographers of Hindi language and literature, also the critics and scholars, hail from Banaras, a single city that is a Vatican or Mecca for the Hindus? The Ganges flowing next to it is a holy river, and it’s also the constituency of Mr. Narendra Modi, the right-wing religious/political leader of BJP, who has been elected to become the Prime Minister of India.
You know that I was given an award for a poem, “Tibet,” in 1980. That award is considered to be one of the most prestigious recognitions for the young poets, given to a single poem published in a year. Since 1979 up until now—a span of thirty-one years—eighty to ninety percent of the awardee poets have belonged to one single caste. It was after thirty-one years that I had a chance to join the jury to select a poem for the award. I assure you that choosing a poem I do not disregard poem’s crucial essential demands. It’s certainly not an act of vengeance to uphold a poem and demerit others. However, it was for the first time that a young tribal poet received this award. He’s also a Christian, Anuj William Lugun. His uncle was assassinated and father had suffered greatly for being a suspect. One can imagine, it was the first turnaround in the clichéd canon for judging a poem. So, as in the past, I confirmed my being “marked” for subversion, while I feel proud about my decision. The young poet was interviewed by the BBC and was brilliant in expressing the agonies and angst of the suppressed tribal communities in India. He also now has a job as a lecturer in a college Hindi department. My life has been made wretched in my language and my country,and I have remained a freelance writer for over two-and-a-half decades, inviting reprimands and slanders.
Ultimately, to be brief and precise and direct, Hindi is a brahmanic language and it’s not the language I feel at home in.
I won’t carry a visa to settle into this “holy colony” of priests and preachers.
Uday Prakash is an award-winning author who has published more than twenty books in Hindi, including The Girl with the Golden Parasol and The Walls of Delhi. He is one of the few Hindi authors to be translated into other languages, and his works have been translated into Urdu, English, German, and Japanese.
Jason Grunebaum is Uday Prakash’s frequent translator. He is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago, where he teaches Hindi. For his translation work he has received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, an NEA Literature fellowship, and a fellowship from the American Literary Translators Association.
All images are courtesy of Uday Prakash