Free Press Journal

Another Life: Thirteen Stories and a Play by Mohan Rakesh- Review

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Title: Another Life

Author: Mohan Rakesh

Edited by: Carlo Cappola


Publisher: Harper Perennial

Pages: 300

Price: 395

Like many of his contemporaries from the ‘Nayi Kahani’ movement and beyond, Mohan Rakesh had strong Marxist leanings. But these young generation writers of the 1950s and 60s were not rigid Marxists of the sloganeering breed. They were confessedly flexible and open to interpretations of Marxism to suit the practical needs of the particular geographical and societal context. Mohan Rakesh strongly believed that class distinction would always handicap the individual’s growth, which is why his angst was against the lack of some sort of order in society. The individual mind was his prime concern and also his forte which he delved into with a dexterity unparalleled in Hindi literature.

Mohan Rakesh died early and we have very sparse material to suggest a character sketch of the intricate artist that he was and the background on which his art could be assessed. Even boilerplate facts are hard to come by except in snatches. Not much has been written about him either (which is why this book is important, especially for those not well versed in Hindi). What we have of him is only through his writings and unfortunately, they are not voluminous by any stretch. He was a slow writer who took his own time but he wrote in white heat and ended up drained and exhausted because of which he needed time to collect himself back.

This collection of these 13 short stories of his in the book ‘Another Life’ edited by Carlo Cappola, brings the best of Mohan Rakesh’s stream of consciousness model. His short stories, novels and plays have a peculiar style – they are inconclusive, unrevealing and just short of being climactic. They are never built up to a logical ending. There is a vague cogitative air around almost all his creations; his characters think more than they act, but such exploration of the deep recesses of the mind doesn’t lead the stories to anywhere or anything. They are open to myriad interpretations and extrapolations and in all probability, that was a deliberate writing style and genre Mohan Rakesh adopted as a vehicle to deliver what he wanted – snapshots of the modern urban culture, its incongruities and foibles and the predicaments of the human mind beyond the surface niceties people wear as a mask. They are pithy snapshots, without any moral or didactic purpose or pontification. There are poignant moments and specs of pathos here and there, but there is no constructive whole, no focal point but a slimy premise. Much of the narrative is slow but laced with immaculate observations, much like a Satyajit Ray movie. The detailing is that grips and contains layers of interpretations in it, which renders the plot inconsequential. We must not seek conclusiveness.

This is a marked departure from the preceding Premchand school of writing which held certain ideals dear and spun stories around those ideas, willy-nilly approving or disapproving them. This also brings us to another feature of the Mohan Rakesh genre, i.e. objectivity. The writer is a detached observer like a wise sage and through his keen observation and experience, he knows all that is going on in one’s mind and jots them down in the light of his own predicaments and uncertainties. But in that detachment too, there is empathy, wherein we find the writer in search of something, like his characters; perhaps in search of a new world order where there is honesty and originality, where there is happiness in little things, in a domain bereft of strife and disgrace.

Another marked common refrain that characterises his stories and gives us a peep into his own character is that of a general ennui and disconcertion. There is an underlying desperation and nonchalance about life as if a person is only a role player on the grand stage. Deep inside, people are lonely individuals in society; they have to fight their battles alone. And it is destinies that hold the ultimate power, with little individual scope to change things, which is why there is a sense of surrender and hopelessness in most of his protagonists. Again, this comes only when we seek a definitive end to the stories. But the stories are best enjoyed only when the moments are appreciated. The stories are nothing but a collection of moments and moods in the passing. A woman remembering her days after marriage when there was so much love and warmth she got from the husband, or a poor woman who stands all through the day in sweltering heat to hand over the food to her angry bus driver husband who has missed lunch because she got delayed in carrying the food to the bus stop, are some typical Mohan Rakesh series of moments, which make not only the moments memorable but also these characters immortal. They evoke a wide swath of emotions from extremities of sympathy to disdain and get chiseled in the mind, maybe because they form the reality around us and somewhere defines our own middle-class sentiments.

Mohan Rakesh and his contemporaries of the ilk introduced a decidedly post-modern approach into Hindi literature. But perhaps the Indian mind is more oriented towards the ‘story’ and the genre of Mohan Rakesh could not reach a level of popularity and acceptance they could have done in another social setting, perhaps a more evolved one. But this trait also makes these stories more universal despite their provincial setting and embraces a larger context that in turn unifies humanity because human problems, irrespective of their geopolitical setup, are the same, especially in the urban industrialised superficial discourse in which we participate.

This book, apart from the 13 stories, contains an expansive no holds barred interview of Mohan Rakesh that is a big bonus for all literature lovers, especially when it comes from such an elusive writer. The other addition worth appreciating is Rakesh’s one most important work, the play ‘Aadhe Adhure’. It is an intense play but a bit simplistic that corners a woman for her character flaw bordering on profligacy, and not very convincingly at that. But the modern exasperation, restlessness and lack of the amalgamation that binds a family together is quite evident. ‘Another Life’ has been painstakingly prepared in 10 years, after searching and sifting through the huge bunch of disorganised material Mohan Rakesh had left behind unassorted before his sudden demise at the age of 47, and translating those, keeping intact as much as possible the flavour of the original, must have been an onerous task for the scholars. But at this time, it is very important to revisit Mohan Rakesh and make him available to a wider readership.

Mohan Rakesh was a serious student of realism and was as serious an artist because writing for him was not so much a profession as it was his passion. He had taken upon himself the role to elevate people’s consciousness and open their eyes to the stark realities around them, bare and cruel. Even way back in the 50s and 60s, he dealt with issues which are topical even today. This is what makes a writer great. He is bold and breaks the barriers of a traditional stereotype because he can see beyond his time.