As a child I used to be fascinated by the street magicians (madåri) in my hometown of Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh. At the sound of their dugdugi drum I was pulled like all the neighbourhood children to watch the show. The magician would sit down, put his hand into his bag of tricks and say, ‘I have something amazing to show you…’ Being a true showman, however, he would not take out his wonders right away. He would go through his spiel, jumping from trick to trick, continuously rummaging around in the sack, working the audience into a fever pitch of curiosity. Sometimes, to tantalize us further, he would abruptly pull an empty hand out of the sack. But when he finally brought something out it was sure to be eye-opening! Kasganj, Marehra, Soron, Jalesar: these are the small towns in Western U.P. where I spent my childhood, as it seems did Syed Muhammad Ashraf, the author of Aakhri Sawariyaan. This is the hinterland of the ancient kingdom of Braj, not far from Krishna’s capital Mathura and the Mughal capital Agra, a stone’s throw from Aligarh Muslim University.
October 2017, volume 41, No XLI