The Girl with the Golden Parasolby Uday Prakash
“Just then, Rahul saw a spot of yellow far away. . . .The yellow glowed beautifully in the morning light. There was something different about this particular yellow. This one entered through his eyes, dissolved in his blood, and went straight to his heart.” Uday Prakash’s novel of contemporary India is a tender love story—university student Rahul is swept away by a “sweet fever” of love for Anjali, the enchanting girl with the golden parasol. But Prakash’s tale is set in a world where the 3,000-year-old Hindu caste system still holds sway and social realities doom the chances of a non-Brahmin boy who loves a Brahmin girl. The Girl with the Golden Parasol is the first English translation of Prakash’s work to be published in the United States. His audacious novel captures the profound contradictions of India today, where the forces aligned against change outweigh even the power of love.
Longlisted for the American Literary Translation Association's 2014 National Translation Award.The Shortlist will be announced in October 2014.
Received an honorable mention for the tenth annual Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for an Outstanding Translation of a Literary Work.
“Yes, The Girl with the Golden Parasol is about caste and its lingering hold in India, and it is about corruption in an age of globalization, and India's notions of national identity, and colonialism. But it's not simply 'about' these things -- or simply a young-love story, either -- as Prakash succeeds in weaving all these together in a surprisingly compelling and compact novel. “ —The Complete Review
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The Girl with the Golden Parasol
By UDAY PRAKASH, JASON GRUNEBAUM
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2013 Uday Prakash
All rights reserved.
Here's the bare backside of Madhuri Dixit, the same one Salman Khan had aimed at and hit with the pebble from his slingshot. Her back stiffened at the sting, she bent at the waist, and then turned around. Her gaze held no pain but rather a flirtatious excitement, inviting him toward her. The eyes didn't belong to Madhuri Dixit, but to a startled doe—an intoxicated, mad, silly doe who lovingly served herself up to her hunter.
Rahul had taped the photo, the center spread in that month's Stardust, on the window in his room. The blazing sun meant that afternoons on the second floor in Room 252 were hard to take. Madhuri Dixit's wounded bare backside repelled the intense rays of afternoon sun from his hostel room. She turned her head and stared nonstop at Rahul with those silly, drunken eyes, as if it'd been Rahul himself who'd made her beautiful wounded derriere a target.
Apart from Rahul, no one knew that during a private moment of utter secrecy, he'd had Salman Khan quietly removed from Room 252 and had himself taken the movie star's place. Rahul shivered with excitement as he realized that the man who had wounded Madhuri Dixit's gorgeous voluptuous backside was none other than he himself. It was his own slingshot that launched the pebble with a crack that whizzed into Madhuri Dixit, who then let loose an "Oooooooh!"—just as the image in Stardust had been snapped.
Girls enjoy being roughed up. They aren't chipmunks or kitty cats or small furry animals that purr and roll around when you pet them sweetly. A girl is a different kind of creature: the rougher it gets, the sharper the slap, the more she likes it.
The truth? Girls love brute strength.
That's why Rahul began working out at the school gym, in order to beef up his biceps like Salman Khan's. A core like a cheetah and upper body like a leopard. Rahul wanted to mold himself into a sleek, savage, fleet-footed wild animal. And then? Dark Ray-Bans, a pair of Wranglers or Levis, a T-shirt, and Nike socks to go with a winning pair of Woodland shoes.
He wondered why he didn't feel the same way gazing at Lara Datta, Manpreet Brar, or Gul Panag as he did looking at Madhuri. After all, Madhuri was quite a bit older than Rahul. He'd just seen a film with Miss World, Aishwarya Rai. Sure, she shook her bare backside and pranced around just like Madhuri, tilting her head from side to side, all the while staring at Rahul with her light brown eyes. But fuck, it was useless. Aishwarya didn't even come close. The gulf between Madhuri's back and all the others was the difference between the sun and moon. There was something about that back of Madhuri, its texture, build, and hue, that Aishwarya and the others just couldn't touch.
Rahul conducted a comparative study. The bodies of Gul Panag, Sushmita, Lara, and the rest of the newcomer starlets struck him as awfully artificial. Dieting, exercise, and everything else needed to maintain a model's figure had combined to produce bodies like plastic. On top of that, the hair waxing, expensive facials, spa treatments, and god knows what else. These creatures struck Rahul as nonhuman, synthetic dolls. From head to toe their hair didn't look quite real: even the light patch of underarm stubble seemed to him like artificial coloring. But it wouldn't take much—two weeks max. Feed them as humans, allow them to live as normal girls, and presto, their bellies would flab right out. You wouldn't even recognize them! But Madhuri? She was a species unto her self. Drop her into a slum, make her live in this hostel, feed her the fare of dal, rice, and oily vegetables we get in our mess hall, and even then, she wouldn't change a whit. She'd maintain the same miraculous radiance and the same dazzling beauty.
Madhuri's back was natural and authentic and, inexplicably, a swadeshi one. Made in India. The others were unnatural foreign imports and, Rahul deduced, that was the reason they held no charm. But far more momentous was his other conclusion, that girls took pleasure from pain, violence, and others' raw strength. And: girls preferred their sensual pleasure with a dash of humiliation, subjugation, and abuse. How times had changed. No one paid attention anymore to the '50s and '60s romantic film idol types like Shammi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Vishwajeet, and Jitendra. Today's girls were crazy for the macho, sadistic sort like Salman Khan, Sunny Deol, and Ajay Devgan. How violent and menacing Shahrukh Khan had been in Darr, calling Juhi Chawla on the phone at all hours, stalking her, trying to rape her, finally stunning her into blood-soaked submission. She was so strangled with fear she could no longer speak. Yet it was this half-schizophrenic madman, Shahrukh Khan, who all the college girls went gaga over.
A Shahrukh: that's what the girls craved, not some kowtowing Krishnaesque pansy-brand husband. Rahul had unlocked the mystery, and since then Madhuri Dixit has been living in the window of Room 252. It's been four months.
Rahul had followed a peculiar career path. First he'd completed an MSc in organic chemistry. Afterward he suddenly became possessed with the idea of doing an MA in anthropology. The exact reasons for this are a bit fuzzy, but it might have had something to do with encouragement given to Rahul by a certain cousin of his, an internationally known anthropologist who nowadays was the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India. He used to visit Rahul's village, sometimes staying at his family house for a few weeks at a time. Rahul's father was his favorite uncle, and the two of them got along extremely well. The responsibility of looking after this cousin, Kinnu Da, fell to Rahul.
Rahul had heard that his book, published by Penguin, was about adivasis, tribals, and had caused a worldwide stir. Before the book came out, people assumed that it was only the usual cast of Brahmins, feudal landlords, business traders, Hindus, and Muslims that had been active in the fight against the British. Even contemporary historians selected their national heroes only among figures who came from these kinds of backgrounds. You could hardly find an adivasi or a Dalit untouchable in these historians' accounts, dominated by the likes of Laxmibai, Tatya Tope, another raja here, Nana Sahib, another landowner there, Kunwar Singh, Fadnavis, Azimullah, Mangal Pandey, or some nawab. Same backgrounds, different names, when it came to twentieth-century leaders: Nehru, Gandhi, Tilak, Jinnah, Suhrawardy, Patel. Most of them were of high caste and came from rich families. Once in a blue moon Dr. Ambedkar's name might pop up. Although he came from a Dalit caste, the man who would be called an untouchable had been handed the task of framing the constitution of independent India as recognition of his singular genius. But now he's been made the target of a smear campaign: sometimes accused of being an agent of the English, other times portrayed as someone who wanted to wipe out Hinduism in India in favor of establishing Buddhism. In other words, more the story's villain than its hero.
Kinnu Da's book made such waves because, for the first time, the story was told of the role of tribal adivasi leaders in the struggle. Kinnu Da's book contained well-documented accounts from regions like Singhbhum and Jharkhand, including Chota Nagpur, of leadership beset by great tragedy—accounts that had, until then, existed only as living folklore in the underdeveloped regions of Bihar, Bengal, and Orissa.
The more Kinnu Da spoke to Rahul, the more Rahul began to suspect organic chemistry was a waste. What would he do with this degree? He'd become a chemist in a brewery or in a food-processing plant owned by some multinational company. Or he'd get a teaching position at a college or university. When he thought about his future, Rahul saw the image of a certain type of man take shape: fat, whiny, gobbling pizza slices like a pig, gnawing on morsels of scrumptious fish marinated in yogurt and vinegar, drinking and partying with a teenage girl he was paying by the hour, enticing her with a little dance of his by shaking his pot belly and gyrating his pumpkin-sized saggy ass.
This type of man—a bottomless pit of lust and greed, a decadent cheat, gluttonous, licentious, corrupt—that's who this country and system were set up to serve. All the shiny stores and legions of police and battalions of soldiers all exist to feed pleasure and stimulation to that man. If I work as an organic chemist, Rahul thought, I'll spend my whole life churning out yummy, lip-smacking, good-for-you consumables for him. This life, which the compassionate creator of the universe, acting with great kindness, has given, once and only once, to most negligible me.
Holy shit! The bastard is huffing and puffing, one foot dangling in the grave, he can't even walk right anymore he's so fat. But he keeps on chowing down. He needs a steady stream of edible items. His taste buds long for one new flavor after the next. Scientists the world over have conscripted lab after lab in order to research how to best please the man's palate. Each of the five senses that provide for his disgustingly doughy body require cutting-edge pleasures and never-ending kicks. His hippo-like snout eagerly sniffs for new fragrances and scents. The entire perfume industry exists in order to neutralize all malodors before they can reach his nose. If I work as an organic chemist, Rahul thought, the sum total of my creativity, talent, and knowledge will be pressed into service of satisfying the ever-growing appetite of this man's senses, and fulfilling the sensual desires of that libertine tub.
And this is the kind of man women everywhere are ripping their clothes off for. All the beauty parlors in the city lay the women down and wax their hair off, just as shepherds used to shear their sheep for wool. Rahul watched how herds of girls like little lambs came out from their middle- or lower-middle-class homes, in city after city, town after town, lunging into beauty parlors that were sprouting up like mushrooms. They'd reemerge: oiled, lubed, dolled up. Spreading their legs, they'd climb up and straddle that man's ample belly. These were the girls who on TV were called "the Bold and the Beautiful"; he was the flaccid, potbellied geezer known as "the Rich and the Famous."
The man was mighty indeed. The world's most fearsome evil masterminds had long labored to craft him from their toolkit of high-powered capital and patented processes. The introduction of new technologies was essential to his creation. We can only begin to guess at the super powers this man has at his disposal as we watch the true story of him take centuries' worth of theories, opinions, principles, philosophies, and ideas, all carefully crafted throughout history, sweep them into a pile and, in one fell swoop, throw it onto the trash heap that lies just beyond the walls of his stately manor. Those were the principles used both as a kick when man needed a nudge to move forward, but also as the reins that kept his greed and lust from spiraling out of control.
Don't eat more than you need, don't make more money than necessary, do as little harm as possible, don't sleep too much, sex has a limit, don't dance forever. All of these principles, found in religious texts and in sociological, scientific, and political books, have been tossed wholesale into the rubbish. In the final decades of the twentieth century, this man has seized all the forces of wealth and power and technology into his hand and has declared: freedom! Freedom! he cries. Let all your desires be awakened! Let all your senses graze freely upon this earth. Whatever is in this world is yours for your enjoyment. There is neither nation nor country. The entire planet is yours. Nothing is moral, nothing is immoral. There is no sin, no act of virtue. Eat, drink, and have fun. Dance! Boogie-woogie. Sing! Boogie-woogie. Eat! Boogie-woogie. Pig out! Boogie-woogie. Make that six-figure salary! Boogie-woogie. All the earth's commodities are yours for your consumption! Boogie-woogie. And remember to count women among those commodities. Boogie-woogie.
This mighty, swinish, lustful man proposed a new doctrine that the finance minister of India readily agreed to—and then the minister himself eagerly dove into the man's pocket. Here was the principle: don't stop the man from eating. As he eats and eats and begins to get full, he starts to flick off the spoiled morsels from his plate. Millions of hungry people could be fed with his rich, nutritious leftovers. And: don't stop the man from fucking. Popping Viagra like candy, the man beds one girl after the next, readying them for the legions of unwitting Indian bachelors who, duped into believing they have landed a virgin, can then love her as their own, and start a family.
So this was the principle the man spread to the four corners of the earth using all media of communication, and in no time at all human civilization had changed. Every TV channel and computer buzzed with the broadcast of this philosophy.
Here, at the twilight of the twentieth century and the dawn of the twenty-first, even names like Gandhi, Tolstoy, Premchand, and Tagore have begun to disappear from people's memories. The best-selling book in stores today? The Road Ahead, by Bill Gates.
The rich, potbellied man was getting a massage in an expensive island resort, surrounded by several Miss Universes from the destitute third world. Remembering something, he suddenly reached for his cell phone and dialed a number.
Miss Universe slipped him a Viagra—which he quickly swallowed—and then he gave her breast a little squeeze.
"Hallo! This is Nikhlani speaking on behalf of the IMF. Get me to the prime minister!"
"Yes, yes! Nikhlani-ji! How are you, sir? This is the prime minister speaking."
"Stroke it gently ... rub it a bit more! Oh, that's more like it," that man said, sweetly teasing Miss Universe, and then returned to his cell phone. "Why have you taken so long, man? Hurry up! The power sector, IT, Food, Health, Education! Hurry up and privatize! Divest the public sector!"
"Okay, Okay, be patient. Your humble servant is doing his duty. But you know my problem. In this hodge-podge government, you can't expect all of the dal to soften at once, Nikhlani-ji."
"Take it in your mouth ... Lo ... my Lolita." The Rich and the Famous geezer stroked Miss Universe's hair, and this was followed by the sounds of slurping.
"I'm disappointed, Pandit-ji! How much money did I pump into your party funds? The donations, the direct deposits! You people move as fast as a dirty earthworm. How we gonna fix the economy at this rate? You haven't even cut subsidies!"
"It is going forward, Nikhlani-ji! I've already begun the food-oil importation that wiped out the sunflower, soybean, and oilseed farmers. If we took away their subsidies now, all hell would break loose. Your instructions are being carried out, don't worry. We're just taking one step at a time."
"Hurry up, Pandit-ji! I've got high blood pressure. This much anxiety isn't good for my health. Let those sisterfucking farmers starve. Okay?"
The man switched off his cell phone and took a long pull of scotch. Then, again restless, he said, "Where's that runner-up from Venezuela? Send her in."
Kinnu Da addressed Rahul. "The most significant thing about the adivasis is that they have so few needs. They leave a minimal mark on the environment. I've documented adivasi communities in Singhbhum, Jharkhand, Mayurbhanj, Bastar, and the Northeast that still practice slash-and-burn agriculture and confine themselves to raw, roasted, or boiled foods. They won't even fry their food. This is a kind of natural way of living. But keep in mind, they fought like hell against the British for their autonomy, their right to self-rule. But historians never included that chapter in their versions of history. The truth is that history is a highly political record of power. The class, caste, or ethnic group on top will fashion history to suit their needs. I've always said that the history of this indigenous state and its people remains to be written."
Rahul was afraid. Just a few days back he'd seen a film called Stigmata. God's messenger shall be silenced. Truth and information are two different things. Truth is like a bomb to the information industry. Therefore, the truth must be neutralized.
Whoosh; plunk. A leaf falls.
Plunk. Full of its own nectar, a pure fruit falls silently to the ground, prematurely, in a desolate place.
Plunk. Another murder will be committed, or suicide; a paragraph's mention, buried in the back of tomorrow's paper.
Plunk-plunk-plunk-plunk! Time passes. The earth spins on its axis.
Kinnu Da was transferred time and again from one adivasi region to the next. He's crazy, a real nutcase—that's how his colleagues in the civil service talked about him behind his back. All that time in government service, and, except for his pension, he's broke. He can barely afford a flat in Delhi.
Rahul began to sour on organic chemistry, which started to smell of the stench of vinegar and fermentation. The very name was like an airtight chamber filled with the farts and belches of the fat man.
So I'll do an MA in anthropology instead, Rahul thought, and then a PhD. And I will endeavor to reach the root of this problem known as mankind. O supreme one! Give me the strength and faith to discover how Satan managed to sabotage history for his own benefit!
But what about Madhuri Dixit? And her backside? And her startled doe-like eyes?
Rahul crumpled a piece of paper into a ball, loaded it into the slingshot, and drew it back as far as he could. Pfffff! The paper ball whizzed through the air and hit Madhuri Dixit right on the bottom.
"Oooooooh!" came her sweet voice, soaked in music and infused with quivering pain. The doe turned her head and looked lovingly at her hunter. "Thank you, Rahul! Thank you for the booboo! I love you!"
Excerpted from The Girl with the Golden Parasol by UDAY PRAKASH. Copyright © 2013 by Uday Prakash. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Uday Prakash is the author of poems, short stories, non-fiction, films, and documentaries. In 2010 he received the prestigious Sahitya Akademi literary award in India. He is professor-in-charge, Department of Mass Communication, Media, and Journalism, Indira Gandhi Tribal University, Amarkantak. He lives in Ghaziabad, India. Jason Grunebaum is a fiction writer and translator. He has been awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship and a PEN Translation Fund grant. He is senior lecturer in Hindi, University of Chicago.
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