‘In Search of Lost Time’
Asma Rasheed
RAW UMBER: A MEMOIR by Sara Rai Context, 2023, 220 pp., ₹548.00
May 2023, volume 47, No 5

Sara Rai, a renowned contemporary author in Hindi who is at home with its literary and sociocultural landscape, notes that she has chosen to write about writing, as well as the journeys of her family and their times, in English. Perhaps it is to reach a wider reading public. Or perhaps, it is a language which allows emotional and intellectual distance. For Raw Umber is a literary memoir fashioned with circumspection in some ways, and with an evocative lyricism in others. Whichever be the truth of the matter, Rai’s decision to present this particular set of writings in English is surely a gain for the English-reading public.

Rai reminisces about the public lives of the people she knew—members of her immediate family or of the Hindi literary sphere—across several chapters. ‘The Ancestor in the Cupboard’ narrates of the life and legacy of her paternal grandfather—Dhanpat Rai Srivastav aka Munshi Premchand—that continue to inhabit the personal and professional lives of the family. For instance, on a personal note, her father always bought his children shoes only after they could prove that the ones they had had become battered beyond repair.

Continue reading this review