Shrilal Shukla’s novelette, Raag Viraag, on class/caste struggle, is fast and crisp with a dash of romance. However, the author seems to have a fascination for indulging his characters in self pity—right from his first novel Sooni Ghaati Kaa Sooraj. His Raag Darbaari that brought him the Sahitya Academy Award was also about an underdeveloped village in Uttaranchal in which his X-ray vision and ruthless imagery gained him fame. On its flap, Akhilesh says: Raag Viraag is probably the first Hindi novel to use a love story to present the potholed realities of our country, which is why this is a precedent to fresh possibilities and capabilities of love story purged of its traditions. Here, Shrilal Shukla has abandoned his much acclaimed stylistic techniques and has adopted the drama style, seemingly dispensing with description and details. Wide off the mark! Many Hindi novels have used, and continue to use, the love story as a medium of expression. One fails to understand the ‘fresh possibilities and capabilities’ this book has explored.
Shukla seems to have avoided the tedium of describing situations by paraphrasing them in wearisomely long dialogues to relate the factual outer world and the conceptual in-ner world. Contemplation and in-depth narrative seem to have succumbed to hasty des-criptions that read more like stage-directions. Loss of patience? Probable languor?
Of Viraag (aversion), there is neither hide nor hair. Wobbly sentences add to its patchiness. Consistency too appears to have given out, for instance, at one place Shukla translates a character’s words into Hindi and parenthesises that he speaks in English, while a mere two pages down, he transliterates.
Metaphorical confusions and a propensity to employ unusual phrases show up. Note khushiyon ka vishaal saudh—a huge palace of happiness—the melancholy of which construction does not escape one. The very next sentence has kasare masarrat—sweat an extra pail, dear reader, figuring this one out!
Unfortunately, romance, too, is downgraded to the level of ‘mud-baths’ (one of the ‘fresh possibilities and capabilities’?) Perhaps, this caste/class struggle fits into the slot of ‘down in the muck’. The reader is flabbergasted by the raison d’être of the characterization. Why is Mausi handicapped except, perhaps, to promote the infantile nomenclature Langari Mausi? This seems to be more a collection of draft notes than a complete work. The thoughts of the author and the characters are not distinct. They betray signs of restrained evolution. The moment one of them is on their own, the author shoves in his own judgment with bald declarations or screenplay instructions.
The super-specialist (your male protagonist, Shankarlal, is studying for his DM Cardiology) comes out as an intellectual pygmy wallowing in the mire of pettiness when he gives his beloved the boot because he cannot forgive (if not forget) an ancient grudge against her father. Contrast this with the leviathan character in Premchand’s Mantra, where the aged snake charmer saves the child of the very doctor who had once refused to help save the life of his own child.
The sudden flight of Sukanya without meeting Shankarlal suggests no maturity or credibility. One recollects the level-headed conclusion of the earlier tragic version of Great Expectations: …she (Estella) gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.
When a book, written more than a century and a half later during the postmodern era, is so preposterous, how valid can our claims of evolution be? Books on class/caste struggle need not be crass. One expects something better from a Sahitya Academy award-winner.