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Of Cruelty, Deceipt and Deception


Murari Prasad

SHRAPGRAST
By Akhilesh
Radhakrishna Prakashan, New Delhi, 2009, pp.175, Rs. 200.00

ANDHERA
By Akhilesh
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 179, Rs. 200.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 2 Febuary 2011

The two anthologies of short stories under review stand out prominently in contemporary Hindi fiction for their powerful portrayal of the cruelty, deceit and depravity of Indian society. The desperate, overwhelming greed for power and possession at the cost of losing human dignity and breaking social and familial bonds is evident in these narratives. The essential stuff of fiction here is the despicable, grotesque distortions in the moral values eating into public life in Indian cities, towns and villages. Akhilesh has aesthetically formalized his fictional material with skill and seriousness. The wellcrafted narrative rendition is leavened with humour, compassion and irony. Further, the linguistic ingenuity is deftly manipulated to create dramatic effects. Sometimes, drama is created by melding episodes and ancillary plot components; sometimes the author turns these components around for additional emphasis and accretion of meaning; but, more importantly, he quite often impregnates the narrative effect with his compressed and implicit observations. Shrapgrast (The Cursed) is a collection of seven stories. The protagonist, Pramod Verma, a junior engineer in the Public Works Department builds a small fortune with bribes and backhanders but creature comforts kill his soul. He plans to resign his job and devote his remaining years to literary pursuits in order to regain mental peace and solace. When his wife disapproves of his scheme he resorts to outrageous conduct at his workplace and shows reckless disregard for rules to get suspended. His strategies fail as he is supposed to enjoy patronage and protection of highups. This impression gains ground and he eventually believes that a corrupt government employee is more likely to be rewarded than punished for his misdeeds. Recoiling from this paradox in the situation around him, he spills the beans about venal deals in a road construction project and gets suspended for an honest and brave act. He suffers from fistular bleeding, and at the same time he is romantically drawn to a girl. Erotic sentiments leave him cold, though. In desperate search for happiness he meets an aged and decrepit woman who counsels him to experience sorrow instead of joy. But the protagonist is devoid of any bliss or anguish. He is cursed to remain without any self or essence despite his physical existence. The protagonists destiny encompasses the fate of all human beings caught in the shackles of an insensitive system. Like Shrapgrast, other stories in the collection, including Chitthi (A Letter), Biodata, ...


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