February 22, 2020
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Hazy Line

When the real and virtual blur

Hazy Line
The Red Tin Roof
By Nirmal Verma
Ravi Dayal Rs. 160, pages 162
IN the Shimla of The Red Tin Roof; the Shimla-Kalka shuttle chug-chugs through the snaking tracks in the hill station. Kaya, a philosophical child, spends much of her time sitting next to the railway line. The shuttle saunters in and out of the station she lives in, a symbol of her self-indulgent journey with dreams.

The work is a translation of Lal Teen ki Chaat, Verma's second novel published originally in Hindi in 1974. The book was written at a time when he was being looked upon as one of the pioneers of the "nai kahani" (the new story) genre. A creative artist's response to the literature of Premchand and Yashpal, "nai kahani" talked of the urban human being, middle-class values, aspirations and ideals. If the theme for thought was different, so was the language which acquired a richness of texture and subtle nuances unlike ever before.

Translated by Kuldip Singh, who has done an extraordinary job, a perusal of this book is a trek in trance. With captivating delicacy, the work recreates a complex set of emotions at work within Kaya's mind. Nebulous strands of memory come alive in her dreams, and passages of rare descriptive beauty accompany her mental state: "All the things put aside as I went along filed past me...and I allowed myself to be led back to a flickering light of the past where time and happiness and pain were still undefined, where there was no memory.... But I cannot linger here; I'm in a desperate hurry to get back."

Kaya's brush with realities and dreams alike serve as signposts in her voyage of self-discovery. However, as the lines separating the real and the virtual blur, one may be inclined to assume that she takes life a little too seriously. Yet, such is Verma's handling of his protagonist that one is forced to accept her otherness as a fact of individuality. Even when she breaks into a delirious dance, she makes a statement of attitude that continues to flicker in the memory of the reader

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