Grave Profits, Sharma Tejinder, Yash Publications, New Delhi, 2013,
HB, pages 160 price Rs 595- $10 Pounds Sterling 8/- ISBN 978-93-81945-95-7
‘British Hindi’ - Immigrant Creation
Tejinder Sharma is a prolific writer who could create a niche for himself in the Parthenon of fiction enthusiasts. A son of Mother India and a famous writer in Hindi, he is an immigrant in the U.K. His thoughts and imagination are primarily Indian and his fiction is about immigrants from Bharat. One important feature of his ambitions is to be known as a British Hindi writer. The blurb emphasizes his ambition and yearning stating the he ‘has started a campaign that an immigrant writer should come out of nostalgia in the initial stages of his writing and look for subjects in the life of his adopted country’. Now that this is not an initial stage of his writing it is for us the readers now to estimate how far he has come out of nostalgia.
The very first story ‘Colour of Passport’ centres on an old man’s home love and home mentality. The motherland and his native blood cannot help his yearning to go back to his roots. Gopal Das ji is fond of getting a dual citizenship, a gimmick taken to its extremity at the end. ‘The new Prime Minister was heard announcing on Star News that now on all migrant Indians will be awarded with dual citizenship’.
‘Homeless’, the longest of the twelve stories is a tactful showcasing of the protagonist, the immigrant Baaji, a trustee of Moon Star Charity and an elected Councillor in Britain. She has her own philosophy of action in administering Homeless Day Care Centre at Finchley Central aided by the Council. Immigrants never become native and the homeless here have their own ways of living and preferences. Baaji, by the way, a Muslim, has learnt the art of political science in Britain. That is the reason why her political ideology is replete with the subtle nuances of policy but never the stink of dirty dealings. A portrayal of human nature and a contact with lesbians, the way things are organized at the Centres as well as the strictness of parking lots send us chuckling without much noise.
Pathos and aardrata make the writing long lasting. Lacrimae rerum, tears in the nature of things, makes tales memorable. ‘The Window’ and ‘Matching Colour’ are cases in point. The window is about the man in the ticket window of the Hatch End railway station who finds some of the clientele whom he understands and sympathizes and thereby finds a reason to live. The point of the story is not missed: life, living, depends on the liver. The story of the barber who works hard trusting that help would come from his customers. He falls as quickly as he rises: the shop he builds between the two walls in a corner with an ailing is demolished and a rival enters the business. Pathos is the forte and the secret of success for writers and Sharma is an adept at using the trump usually. When the wall is straightened Sudarshan Lal goes back to his old place. With tearful eyes he realizes that the colour of the wall matches the colour of the setting sun and his tears. ‘Why,Oh! Why’ is a story which makes one think when a young woman makes Prince Charles’ Diana her ego-ideal and comes to rue her behaviour. Lured by fashion she becomes a prey to her idol syndrome. She ponders at the end of the story: ‘Whatever Diana did, I did the same. … Having done the same. … why do I feel like a prostitute? Why, oh! Why?’ ‘The Telephone Line’ is about a telephone talk between Avatar in UK, a man whose wife eloped with her lover and Sofia who had to find a place for her daughter, or at least marry her off. Sofia asks Avatar to marry her daughter. The end of the story is brilliantly telling: There is a suggestion at the end. We really don’t know whether Avatar could hear whether he listened to the last sentences of his old friend but it is easy to guess. ‘Avatar suddenly felt a lot of disturbance in the line. He could hardly hear Sofia’s voice. He put down the phone.’ Grandchildren are befuddled with inability to understand the dangerous chasm between father and grandpa. ‘The Link’ is a story about this.
Raj in the family of immigrants only remembered during his grandpa’s cremation about the bicycle he was promised. Raj wonders: ‘What had happened to his father! With his head clean shaven clad in a dhoti (loin’s cloth), he was carrying a ‘kamandal’ full of water. His uncles had not got their heads shaven. It was father again, doing the right thing at the right time.’ This is just an Indian story. ‘Come Again!’ is a droll story. This is best marked “Adults only”. The naming of the characters is significant and clever readers do not miss it. A woman’s needs, when left unattended to, lead to conditions beyond good sense, or fair sense. The last sentence (the title of the story) shows how a sex starved wife would react and take ‘appropriate’ action. “Rima stared at the thief’s back for a while, resolved something and said loud and clear, “Listen … Come Again!” ‘Black and White’ is about the helplessness of the fair sex. It is sad reality that it is woman that has to bear the brunt of ‘misdemeanours’ and misconduct while man goes unscathed. Sangeeta is angry and wants to wreak vengeance. She falls for the lure of ‘high’ company, money and ill-conceived glory. She becomes a high priced call-girl. At the fateful moment the ‘heroine’ finds her own brother-in-law as her client.
‘The Ghost of Sin’ is the story of a writer couple: Naren and Surabhi. Naren never gets published while Surabhi becomes famous as a creative writer. They have two growing children. Surabhi has breast cancel and dies. The ghost of sin pesters the hubby. Just before his wife’s death tells his wife: “forgive me Surabhi, I was thinking that if you die, I could publish all your stories and poems in my name.” The readers are told: ‘Surabhi has rolled to one side and became still. She no longer needs any blood or oxygen.’ Plausibility is not a major prerequisite for the success of any story. ‘Hurt me Tender’ is about a Punjabi girl, Mandip, who had a crush for James, her brother’s friend. She would have happily married him but James had her in the park which really hurt her. But James had her roughly in the park which hurt her and the unexpected happened. The bulge of the belly was not found early and the doctor revealed that abortion would be dangerous. Parry was born but his mother wouldn’t care for the babe. Her mother looked after the infant boy and even her father, totally transformed said once:
‘How handsome the boy is!’ When the little one toddled and fell the mother jumped and held him in her embrace. Mandip’s heart melt because she a mother, an Indian mother at that. ‘Grave Profits’ is a very unique story which is about two friends Khalil and Nazam, one only a smoker and another a drinker only. The two got together very well. Carpenter Park graveyard came up with an attractive scheme for the friends. For a ten pound monthly premium (or, the lump sum payment of three hundred and fifty pounds sterling) a company took responsibility of a good burial, bathing the dead body, putting on new clothes, managing of the coffin, Rolls Royce for the last ride and marble plaque at the grave all covered by insurance. Women would be given such a make-up the she would look beautiful like a bride. Either in a foreign country or motherland the wife’s rule is the always usual patter. When she came to the knowledge of the thing Khalil’s wife asked her hubby to cancel the deal and offered to compensate the losses. She called up the company and did it too. Here is the dexterity of the writer. This is what she tells the friends: “And here is good news, they say you submitted a sum pf three hundred and fifty pound for each. Grave, that is Pounds Sterling 700/- for two graves. Because of high inflation, the value of the two graves has gone up to eleven hundred pounds. You have made a profit of four hundred pounds.”
‘Wide eyed Khali exclaimed ‘four hundred pound profit in just one year!’
This is the story ‘Grave Profits’ which serves as the title of the book and readers who understand Hindi does miss the wonderful jokes.
This is excellent immigrant writing in Hindi translated into English. Squabbles between spouses and the victory (!) of the fair sex, the frightful results of ladies wreaking vengeance are usual concerns of writers.
The stories are translated by Gurucharan Singh (7), Eerma D.Bajaj (4) and Jutta Austin (1). Singh’s translations would be remembered long for the practitioner’s skill which adds to the power of the original. All the three practitioners and the original writer deserve acclaim for their pleasing aplomb. To be brief: an excellent read.
The lack of copy-editing is a little painful but it can be set right in the successive editions sure to come out.