- Tripurari Sharan dazzles in crafting celluloid timescapes moving back and forth through folds of family history and individual eccentricities.
“Madhopur Ka Ghar” by Tripurari Sharan is an intriguingly personal novel, part historical, part mimetic, and deeply poignant tale of the vicissitudes of a family in Bihar. Further, this is a novel about the idea of a man struggling to come to terms with the idiosyncrasies of his life and family. And ultimately, this is a novel that will reward those who are able to revel in the quirks of fate and ironies of Indian village life.
Unsurprisingly, “Madhopur Ka Ghar” is epic in its scope and vision as the saga straddles three generations of a family alongside the tumultuous events of history like ravages of permanent settlement, the earthquake of 1934, famine in 1967, the National Emergency of 1975, stirrings of the socialist movement to the disintegration of traditional order and the struggle over the spoils of social change in Bihar. In other words, Madhopur Ka Ghar is a daringly introspective novel, a work of startling originality and beauty, and reliable and relatable like Rahi Masoom Raza’s classic novel “Aadha Gaon.”
Written with an elegiac intensity of lyrical language and artisanal integrity, Tripurari Sharan, known as Trips in his elite IAS circuit and literary world, dazzles in crafting celluloid timescapes moving back and forth through folds of family history and individual eccentricities. Using the techniques of autofiction, and flash-bulb memoir like French novelist Annie Ernaux, “Madhopur Ka Ghar” is an architecturally layered novel shuffling between the inner recesses of the history of the region and fluctuating fortunes of an impoverished feudal and self-absorbed peasant family. Predictably, the novel revolves around Sharmaji alias Baba, the patriarch of the family, and his wife, sons – Hemang, Umang, Veenu and Teepu.
We don’t know whether man created dog or dog created man, but we learn from Franz Kafka that the dog is the most philosophical beast in the world. Lora, the eponymous Labrador like Homer’s loyal hound Argos, and the narrator of the novel is the most sensitive and clairvoyant creature that I have encountered in Indian novels. Blurring the worlds of humans and animals through the literary device of his mother’s diary and Lora’s poignant memories, Tripurari Sharan maintains the truthfulness of fiction as an art and also an experience.
In fact, both Granny and Lora share a split-writing project in the sense of unshackling feminist ambitions and aspirations. In his debut novel, Tripurari Sharan is not deconstructing the memory of his father or the social history of his peasant folks. Instead, he is living memory of Baba — Sharmaji — his father, his village, and his people in the face of the whirlwind of historical and generational forces of change in the country. Just when we are told by historians and sociologists of repute including Dipankar Gupta that the Indian village has failed to excite the grandchildren of “Midnight’s Children” as a sociological reality, “Madhopur Ka Ghar” in Bihar become tropes of an uncanny tale of village India that we adore and dread simultaneously.
Consider the experience of Baba’s fancy Apollo Boring House in Madhopur — the developmental and cultural symbol of the tragic unfolding of the Green Revolution in India. Ironically, the Boring pump in Madhopur was inaugurated the day Apollo 11 reached the moon! That’s why emotionally wounded, and erotically eviscerated city dwellers relate to their missing cousins in Madhopur, the paranormal, surreal village in the post-anthropocene world.
Make no mistake, when it comes to revealing closely guarded family secrets or making fun of distortions of the feudal order and social evils, “Madhopur Ka Ghar” is delightfully irreverential. Colloquial and provincial like Rag Darbari of Srilal Shukal, the novel reflects true local characteristics in its characters and descriptions, giving light to regional dialects, community rituals, and injustices of patriarchal life in a village of Bihar.
There is no one protagonist to root for, but a multitude of characters in the novel. Some characters like Doctor Saheb or Zahur Mian — the migrant Muslim caretaker are neither eminent nor ordinary yet they stay with us as the most memorable people.
There is no dramatic climax, only a slow epiphany with premonitions of the bright future of a family, a village, perhaps a nation that casts a spell you can’t resist. Bihar has changed beyond recognition. Baba has passed away, and Dora also died in the village house, lonely. These days granny spends her time with her youngest son Teepu. And Teepu has resigned from the IAS to become the director of a prestigious art institution. Not sure if he ends up writing a novel or making a film.
After I finished the novel, I was struck with unfettered awe and wide-eyed wonder because the fictional “Madhopur Ka Ghar” is a celebration of life in its entirety. No wonder it shows why migrants walked back home to village India during the pandemic; there is nothing more safer and comfortable place than ghar (home) — potentially trapped, potentially free. Thus, “Madhopur Ka Ghar” travels everywhere.
I am sure when you are done with the novel, you will be tempted to do a duet with Zahur Mian singing Mohamad Rafi’s iconic song from “Mela” film “Ye zindagi ke mele, ye zindagi ke mele /Duniya mein kaam na honge/ Afasos, hum naa honge” (Carnival of this life/ Carnival of this life/ The world will never fall short of this /Alas, we will not be there). Thus, life in “Madhopur Ka Ghar” goes on forever, even if you are not there.
Ashwani Kumar is a poet, writer, and professor @ Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Recently he published “Rivers Going Home,” a major anthology of Indian poetry.