Ira Saxena
UPAR KE GAON KA RAHASYA by By Neha Bahuguna. Illustrations by Susrata Paul Jugnoo/Ektara Trust, 2023, 77 pp., INR 200.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Here is an interesting title capturing all the necessary elements that evoke interest to pick a book to
Read: mystery, wonder and mention of a strange unique place, the Uparwale Gaon. The author has not only succeeded in arousing interest through the title, but she also manages to sustain it throughout.
It is a realistic story, presenting the scenery and the characters in their true perspective. The setting of the story in the hills chooses to focus on the event of Ramlila, a prominent occasion in the hilly region. In small villages around the hills, Ramlila is a much-celebrated event where the local population participates with great interest. In the rural countryside in the hills where everyone knows everyone, Ramlila is a great social happening. During the festivity people look forward to the drama every evening, particularly, meeting the locals, people from neighbouring hamlets, and later discussing the function over months. The author has selected the location appropriately where the characters seem to blend into the background performing their role naturally, true to expectations.
Little Gopika assumes significance through raising the question of skipping the arduous journey to enjoy the drama of Ramayana in the further village on the higher plateau by holding Ramlila in their own village. Thus begins the inquiry into the existing practice of the distant location and searching into the mystery of the current fixed spot for Ramlila festivities. Both Minnie and Gopika, called Gopu for short, run up and down the connected hamlets in the hills, investigating. Interesting characters like the police daroga, schoolteacher, old Dadi of the village, local priest, a roving wanderer, typically the common hill folks, appear from different corners sparking the mystery. The characters are down to earth and solutions simplistic. A fine story in an unusual background.
The tale moves on interestingly capturing the scenery, which could have been elaborated further to enhance the beauty of the scene—hilly tracks, and habitat. Some more polish to the text would have benefitted the natural charm of the plot and characters which fit naturally in the setting.