My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mark Tully, the quintessential Indian, has written a set of exquisite vignettes about rural Eastern UP. There are insightful accounts of life in DU and contrasts between Lutyen’s sylvan Delhi and the disease-infested slums of Faridabad.
The settings and narratives are echoes of Premchand’s pre-independence India – this says a lot about the contribution of the then ruling Congress Party to India’s development. The pot-holed roads, absence of medical facilities and electricity, greedy and obese policemen, venal politicians, rapacious moneylenders still exist in Indian villages today as they did in the time of Munshi Premchand’s classic “Godaan”. Grinding poverty, religion and the equally divisive caste equations are still a poison of our society – exploited gleefully by quacks, oxymoronic ‘godmen’ and politicians.
There is a facile murder mystery; a poignant story of bullocks, a tale of unrequited love, where idealism wins over love; a thrilling race between the most unlikely contestants; a green-horn Gucci-wearing politico inheriting his family Parliamentary seat spouting ‘women’s empowerment” (sound familiar?) accompanied with a jholawaali from JNU. One story seems to be partially autobiographical – Mark changes to John, Prithviraj Road turns into Defence Colony and the ‘Beeb’ becomes Unilever!
The writing style is simple, no fancy words, no gymnastics with convoluted plots. This is an immensely readable book.