For a taste of mystical Rajasthan you should perhaps delve into Anukrti Upadhyay’s novels Bhaunri and Daura, both in their own ways surreal yet down to earth. No tourism brochure can bring a state so alive, with dust and magic, with songs and sayings, with turbans and camels. These are tales within tales.
Both fables stand firmly on foundations slippery with all things human—love, raw jealousy, anger, a kalavant’s music. Young Bhaunri weds a man she has never met but is instantly infatuated with her bridegroom.
Despite her mother-in-law’s overprotective tactics, Bhaunri wins her husband over, but such victories are at best fleeting and not to be trusted. She swings from hope to despair and back to hope until she seizes the day. Fate, that fickle fellow, is tamed by her in unusual trickery. In the end, the tide turns in her favour. Bhaunri gets her husband, all of him, she bags his fidelity forever.
In Daura, a young district collector enjoys his rural stints, hobnobbing as he does with everyone without any superiority complex. A chance meeting with the ‘Sarangiya’, a local musician, leads to his downfall as far as his job is concerned—because he has disappeared. No one ever sees him again. Only the tree that is thought to have housed the spirit he called his paramour is still there.
Both stories are told differently though the terrain remains very much Rajasthan, a deep interior nook where a hut or haveli serves as the stage where much of the happenings unfold. Bhaunri opens on a happy-family note, Bhaunri with her mother and father and her premarital carefree life, after which everything is complicated by heaving bosoms and the passion of first love. There is a feminist sensibility to this one, with her mother and herself reposing much faith in their inner compass. Her mother elopes with her lohar lover while married to another man, an old impotent man. To her, fidelity is to be with the man one loves. Bhaunri too is guided by love and only love.
In Daura, the story unfolds as mini-interviews in the wake of the collector saheb’s mysterious vanishing. ‘Where is he’ is the question that guides the plot and the answer takes us to spiritual realms and a misty truth. This story too gives its all to love, to the purity and honesty of that emotion.
The novels are lifted by their language and characters; the former blends authentic terms with the telling and the latter never serves as caricatures. Very much a part of their scenery, alive and real, Bhaunri, her husband Bheema, the collector saheb, his orderly, the ‘Sarangiya’—are all a cast that breathes. In both, there is an understanding of patriarchy and the rising above of it in satisfactory telling.
‘Assets can never be in the name of womenfolk. Everyone knows women are the most nomadic of nomads, they have no home to call their own. They are born in one family and belong to another, they have no permanence, no roots,’ says a character in Daura. Wisdom of the heart abounds; ‘It is better for the body to endure than for the heart to be snared. It only brings more suffering,’ advises Bhaunri’s mother-in-law.
Among the heat and dust, millet and anklets, clay griddle and flute, here are militant brides and princesses no human eye can see.