It may be ironic that Manohar Shyam Joshi’s fiction should get its place in the pantheon of modern Indian writing thanks to some translations, but it is a fitting tribute to the literary genius of a man who strode so many genres with consummate facility—fiction, journalism and television. What is remarkable also is that Joshi’s world—forbiddingly rooted in small-town India and regional patois—should be so effortlessly translated into English that it reads like his own voice. This translation, by an American, is about as good as any translation of Joshi’s tricky language can be.
Like many of Joshi’s novellas, Hariya is layered with several subplots and eccentricities of character and situation. At the heart of it all is the eponymous simpleton who is chained by duty and goodness to a cantankerous, incontinent father and his faithful Hercules bicycle. Hariya is catapulted from this miserable existence into a series of bizarre adventures when he goes in search of a lost Holy Grail—Goomanling. In the course of his crusade, he meets charlatans and wise lamas, traverses unknown territories and guards a treasure chest from greedy grabbers. Hariya’s transformation from the village idiot to a yogi of immeasurable wisdom is the trajectory that Joshi creates in a series of adventures seldom attempted since the epics.
Since it is practically impossible to compress the rich inventiveness of Joshi’s spectacular imagination into a few lines, all a reviewer can do is urge the reader to go and immediately buy the book. It is a little gem.