Thursday, December 12, 2013
Here is my translation of a short satiric piece by Hindi satirist and humorist Hari Shankar Parsai (1922-95). Not great writing but nevertheless interesting. Read this till I post translation of another story by Prem Chand.
(Prem Chand ke Phate Joote)
by Hari Shankar Parsai
One of Prem Chand’s photos is in front of me. He is seated beside his wife. He is wearing a cap made of some thick cloth, a kurta and dhoti. The sideburns seem pasted, the cheekbones are prominent, but a thick moustache fills up his face.
He is wearing canvass shoes, with the laces tied haphazardly. If you tie the laces carelessly the aglets come off and it becomes difficult to string the laces through the eyelets. Then tying laces becomes a hit-and-miss affair.
The shoe on the right foot is in good shape, but there is a big hole in the left shoe through which one of the toes is peeping out.
My eyes have latched on to this shoe. I begin to wonder: If this is his dress for posing for a photograph, what does he wear on ordinary occasions. No, this man would not have clothes for special occasions. He doesn’t have the knack to change dresses. He poses for a photograph just as he is.
I look at his face. O my literary ancestor, do you know that there is a hole in your shoe and one of the toes is peeping out? Are you aware of this? Doesn’t this embarrass you? Don’t you realize that by lowering a part of your dhoti a bit you could cover up this peeping toe? In spite of all this, you look so nonchalant and self-assured! On the photographer’s ‘ready please’ command, you must have tried to feign a smile, drawing it gradually out of the deep well of pain; and the photographer would have ‘clicked’ and said ‘thank you’. This half-hearted smile is laced with sarcasm.
What kind of a man is this? Wearing a holed shoe himself, he has the cheek to mock at some one!
If you were going to get yourself photographed, you could have worn a decent pair of shoes. And, where was the need to get yourself photographed? You could have avoided it. May be it was your wife who urged upon you, and you said ‘all right’ and sat down for it. It is really tragic that a man should have no proper shoes for a photograph. By looking at this photograph I sense your miserable lot and almost break down, but the painful and sardonic smile on your face stops me.
You just can’t appreciate the importance of getting yourself photographed. Had it been so, you would have borrowed shoes from someone. People show off their sons for match-making in borrowed jackets. And ride in borrowed cars for marriages. People even borrow wives to get themselves photographed, and you couldn’t borrow even shoes! You really don’t know. People go to the extent of perfuming themselves so that the photograph itself becomes fragrant. The photograph of even the uncleanest man smells sweet.
One could buy a cap for just five annas, but shoes not for less than five rupees. Shoes have always been more expensive than caps. Now-a-days shoes have become still more expensive and dozens of caps can be bought for the price of one pair of shoes. You were also a victim of this gap between the price of a cap and that of a pair of shoes. This anomaly didn’t hurt me so much before as today after I have seen the hole in your shoe. You were called a great story writer, an emperor among novelists, a pioneer and what not; but your shoe has a hole in it.
My shoe is also not in good shape but it looks good from outside. The toe doesn’t peep out, but the sole under the toe is worn out and the toe often rubs against the ground and becomes bloody when it rubs against a rough surface. The sole would crack and the sole of my foot get hurt, yet the toe won’t show. Your toe shows but your foot is very safe. My toe is invisible but my foot is getting worn out. You do not know the importance of hiding behind a curtain, and we love to conceal so much.
You are wearing your holed shoe with great elan. I can’t do this. And I would never get myself photographed in this manner, even if I have to remain unphotographed for life.
Your mocking smile unsettles me altogether. What does it convey? What kind of a smile is this?
Did Hori succeed in donating a cow?
Did the pigs eat up Halku’s crop on that bitterly cold night?
Did Sujan Bhagat’s son die, because the doctor sitting in the club refused to attend on him?
No. It seems Madho drank away the charity money given for his dead wife’s coffin. You seem to be smiling at this.
I look at your shoe once again. How did this hole come about, my people’s writer?
Did you keep wandering?
Did you walk many a mile to avoid the demands from your bania creditor?
The shoe wears out if you keep walking, but it does not get a hole. Kumbh Das’s shoe was also worn out because of his many trips to Fatehpur Sikri. He was filled with remorse:
My shoe wore out through coming and going, and I forgot to remember God.
And for such generous givers he said: One is forced to salute those whose very look causes pain.
The shoe only wears out from walking, it does not get a hole. How did your shoe get a hole?
It seems you have been hitting against something very hard. Something that has accumulated centuries of crust, and you have torn your shoe hitting against it. You tried your shoe against a mound that had blocked your way.
You could have ignored it and bypassed it. One can strike a compromise with obstacles. All the rivers don’t break through the mountains. They change their course and go round.
You could not make such compromises. Did you also have the same kind of weakness that ruined Hori – a call of Dharma. Hori was chained to this call. But the way you are smiling it looks Dharma was not a chain for you but liberation.
This toe peeping out of your foot seems to point out at something. You seem to be pointing out with your toe, not your finger, towards something that you hate.
Are you pointing out towards that something against which you have been kicking with your foot and have torn your shoe?
I understand. I know the direction in which your toe is pointing and also the sarcastic smile on your face.
You are laughing at me and all those who are concealing their toe and walking with their worn out shoes, those who are skirting round that mound. You are saying: ‘I have torn my shoe hitting against that mound, that my toe is out but my foot is safe and I have kept on walking. But you in your anxiety to conceal your toe have been ruining your feet. How shall you continue walking?’
I know. I understand the story of your torn shoe. I understand what your toe is pointing at. I Know what that sarcastic smile is about.
Translated by me from: Hari Shankar Parsai (1922-1995): Prem Chand ke Phate Joote (Satiric Essays) edited by Gyanranjan, Bhartiya Gyanpeeth 2012 (eighth edition)
Posted by tcghai at 10:32 PM