On Books & Reviews

The desert stories

IMG_20190620_152555_Bokeh__01__01__01Reviewing Anukrti Upadhyay’s twin novellas – Bhaunri & Daura

In June at my favourite bookstore, Nirav Mehta of Broke Bibliophile comes up to me and asks if I have read ‘her’ books? These are translations of Rajasthani folktales he said. My interest piqued, I took the books from his hand and started reading the back cover. After a few minutes, I went searching for him to tell him that these were definitely not translations but interesting nonetheless. Seeing the books in my hand, the bookstore staff also mentioned that she is a new author and a must-read. That kind of sealed the deal for me.

Touted as twin novellas – Bhaunri and Daura couldn’t be more different than each other in style and treatment. Reimagined tales of the desert is the only commonality between the two.

Bhaunri is a raw love story. Something you would expect coming from the Thar. A gypsy woman is married to an unfaithful husband. Despite trying to get him to care for, accept her and be monogamous he refuses to surrender. He falls for her charms and does accept her as his wife in all aspects but refuses to be monogamous. Will Bhaunri accept his behaviour? If not, till what lengths is she ready to go to make him comply. Find your answers in this short novella which will keep you gripped right till the last word.

Having read KR Meera’s Poison of Love just a few weeks before this, I can’t help but compare how the two women, when faced with similar situations, dealt with it so differently. One by afflicting pain on themselves the other by ensuring she got her way even if she had to destroy the one she loved. The last few lines of Bhaunri is extremely haunting, “Now he will stay at home always, now he belongs to me…”

Daura, on the other hand, is magical, mystical and carries secrets of the desert. Secrets which unravel themselves bit by bit as you read each narrator’s version and connect the dots. Daura is the journey of a District Collector who comes to survey his area and apparently has a bout of madness and then suddenly disappears. As the search continues and the stories are heard, you get transported from the real world into one where anything could be true if you had faith. There is no explanation for unwavering belief and Daura captures the sentiment gracefully.

If your roots are somewhere in the desert and you want to feel connected to it or want the Indian taste of magic realism, these two should be under your consideration list – more Daura than Bhaunri. I would certainly keep Anukrti Upadhyay on my watch list too and love to see what’s the next story she weaves. Interestingly, these two are not her first published work. She is a bilingual writer and her first book, Japani Sarai, is in Hindi. Do check that out as well.