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Between a Village and the Metropolis

Usha Hemmadi

By Anoop Verma
Srishti, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 329, Rs. 195.00


Three people are enmeshed in a story with a varied background. The hero, Anirudh Shukla is just seven years old when he runs away with a Naga Sadhu who calls himself Jungali baba.The boy’s mother has died suddenly, leaving him to the wiles of his cousins, Hari and Jhankana, older than Anirudh, yet not old enough to discount fairy-tale versions of a wicked stepmother in the offing. When his father does marry again, the child forgets the very great love his family has shown him, and lets himself be traumatized. It is somewhat incredible that he accompanies the trident-carrying ash-smeared sadhu on a journey through villages, towns, fearsome jungles and cremation grounds. Wherever they go, they rely on the locals to feed them or scrounge for food in the forests. Six years later, they reach Rishikesh. By now, Anirudh is satiated with a routine both idyllic and boring. Longing for a life as normal “as the one he had run away from”. He realizes that “in the battle in his mind Jungali Baba was squarely beaten by every man on the street that was properly attired, lived in a proper house, ate proper food.” His discomfort is aggravated by the street children of Rishikesh who mock his nakedness. Despite not mentioning this to the sadhu, one day he discovers a set of clothes hanging in the hut. Even this pleasure does not last long. He desperately desires material comforts: “like living in a brick house . . . ,going to the movies, eating in restaurants were what his wildest dreams were made of”. The ascetic naturally senses all this and offers to take him back to his home. But Anirudh’s fear of a ‘stepmother’ has not been exorcised. By now, the sadhu has developed a very real love for the boy, and wishes his happiness. A few days later, a transporter comes seeking the sadhu’s blessings. Jungali Baba tells him to give the boy a job in Bombay. The largest section of the novel is devoted to Anirudh’s life in Bombay where he rises from cleaner to mechanic to taxi-driver. In the slum where he lives, he meets and falls in love with Jyotsna, whom he marries. She persuades him to revisit his village. On the way he tells her about his childhood. This has a cathartic effect, for he no longer fears a ‘wicked stepmother’ and in ...

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