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Jamaniya ka Daba

Ania Loomba

By Nagarjuna Translated from Hindi by Ram Dayal Nanda, Paul W. Staneslow, Mark E. Johnson 
Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2014, Rs. 50.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 3 November/December 1978

As the introduction to the Writers' Workshop translation of Nagarjun's novel Jamaniya ka Daba puts it, the author is one of the stalwarts of the Progressive movement in Indian literature, a move­ment committed to Marxism and to the depiction of social realism, Nagarjun usually handles social situations familiar in India, and in this novel it is the 'god-men's exploitation of the average Indian's blind belief which is exposed. It is admitted by the translators that the subtlety of language which is the hall­mark of Nagarjun's writing does not lend itself to easy translation. It goes to the credit of the translators, however, that they have managed to show that in Nagar­jun's writing prose is not just poetry's plain sister but a rich, precise form of human expression, presupposing delicate self-consciousness and control. The core of The Holy-man from Jama­naya is not a developing emotional situ­ation involving the intense experience of certain number of characters, though the novel unfolds through the points of view of the various central characters. Perhaps the opening chapter of the book which presents the theme through the 'Holy' Baba himself is the most powerful. The Baba, who has after twelve years of careful fraud, established a flourishing racket in drugs, sex and politics, at the local temple, with the right connections in the political, feudal and business world, is arrested. Along with him is Mastaram, his assistant who flogged a sadhu merci­lessly in an attempt to force the latter to do obeisance to the Baba. The jail poses no problems at all to the holy duo for it is run by those ‘in whose heart there is devotion to the saints and sadhus’. The Baba is cleverly able to bring them to his feet and enjoy, as usual, hashish, kheer, silks and blind faith. To expose the Baba through his own expression proves an extremely effective technique. The expres­sion shifts in turn to his assistant Masta­ram, a woman ascetic Imrati, and the manager of the temple finances, Bhaga­vati. Through this shifting of perspectives a range of local, political and social corru­ption in studied from the Rani of Shiv­nagar and local businessmen who establish the temple in order to keep their lands, to the blind poor who love being beaten by Mastaram. Nagarjun distances the reader from the character—we see things from his point of ...

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