Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla – Book Review


Raag Darbari by Shrilal ShuklaRaag Darbari is a Sahitya Academy award-winning work of noted Hindi writer Sh Shrilal Shukla. It is probably one of its kinds book that describes the rural life of post-independence India in its entirety. And with a satire in the tone. I have had this book Raag Darbari for more than 5 years. But it was the death of the author that triggered me to pick up the book and read it as a tribute to him.

The story covers six months in the village of Shivpalganj, probably somewhere in UP. During which time a postgraduate from the city comes to spend time in this village where his maternal uncle is a de-facto head.

At regular intervals, the story keeps introducing characters of the village through their stories. And linkages with the main characters. It showcases how those in power dictate the lives of people. More importantly, how the power center is created. The college is a center for political activities, where trustees, principal, teachers, and students are key players. At times, it seems the whole purpose of college is to hone the political skills. Rather than teach or be taught.

Vaidya Ji, an Ayurvedic practitioner who is the managing director of the college is the power center of the village. He has two sons. Elder son a wrestler and younger a student leader. People meet at his place every evening and enjoy Bhang along with moving the wheels of the village politics. Then there is a common man who throughout the story tries to get a small job done without paying a bribe. There are people from the trading community who are not interested in doing anything but their business. Caste, although not very important, but is the first identity of the person.

This work is a documentation of the life as it existed in a village in India in mid 20th century. Just after the country became independent. It may have sounded very simple then. But today it is a mirror of those times. There are things like wrestling that must have been common in villages then but are now almost extinct. Surprisingly, there are almost no women characters in the whole novel, except a small incident involving a girl. Women do exist in the fantasy of men. But have absolutely no role in what happens in the day-to-day activities of the village. Even when the home scenes are described, women are not mentioned. It almost feels like that the village is devoid of women. Of course, the society was and probably still is absolutely male dominated. Looks like women always played their roles through men in their family.

There are interesting incidents like that of tying a knot in the village by the visitor and saying that it is the name of Hanuman Ji. By next day the story becomes a legend and the field is full of knots. You laugh when you read the cleverly written incident. But then you think is it not how many of the rituals around us may have been formed. Though a lot has changed in 40+ years since the book was first written, you can relate to almost everything even today. The core of our society has not changed, we might have changed completely on the surface. The power politics goes on in any place, which has more than a few members. More energy is spent on getting the power in hands and using it once you have got it than doing the actual work.

There is an excellent description of how the power changes the man through the character of Sanichar, common man becomes a pawn for the power brokers. There is a critical look at how Government schemes are targeted by the villagers. And how their professions change based on what Government funding scheme is being launched. This is so true even today. When you travel to villages you see how the villagers have milked all sources of funding including loans, irrespective of if they can repay it or not. In fact, in most cases, there is no intent to repay.

There is an intellectual analysis that the visiting nephew of Vaidya Ji tries to do. But in the end, he realizes that there is nothing that can be done. He observes himself getting rough and roguelike villagers and getting involved in their matters. He questions but gets no answers. Probably a satire at self-styled intellectuals who think they have all the answers sitting in their ivory towers but are far removed from reality. Confronted with reality, they are completely at loss, and at best can get absorbed in it.

Buy this book Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla at Amazon, or the English version at Amazon.

Read this by Gillian Wright, who translated this book Raag Darbari in English, for a more detailed analysis of the book.

Thank you, Ahsan Bhai for gifting me this book.

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  1. To,
    The Book Review Editor,
    Blog Anuradha Goyal

    Dear Anu Ma’am,

    Greetings to you and the other editorial members of the Blog. I’ve never written to you before yet I’ve been a keen reader of esteemed this blogspot. While this letter is an appreciative fan mail, it’s also a request. My first co-authored book in this area, Critical Perspectives on Public Systems Management in India: Through the Lens of District Administration, URL: https://www.routledge.com/Critical-Perspectives-on-Public-Systems-Management-in-India-Through-the/Nayak-Kakani/p/book/9780367540234, is going to be released on Monday, the March 8th by Routledge Publishers. I’m so excited! Here are the four key aspects of the book that I could summarize from today’s reflections on the book:
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    Thanks so much for your consideration. It would be a honour if you recommended this book as part of your book review.

    With Warm Regards,
    Ram Kumar Kakani || Professor and Head (Center for Governance) || IIM Kozhikode, India || Ph: +91-495-2809-421
    || “Action expresses priorities” – Mahatma Gandhi ||


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