Author: Rahi Masoom Reza
Translator(s): Mennakshi Shivram
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0195670892
Set in Aligarh in the early 1960s, after the dust of Partition has ostensibly settled, Topi Shukla is an intriguing story of two friends-one Hindu and the other Muslim.
Through the characters of people like Topi and Iffan, the novel looks at the lives of ordinary people trying to survive in a society that insists on a brutal conformity of behaviour. It is about individuals whose spirits are paralysed because they cannot conform, and about history's inability to teach mankind any worthwhile lessons.
Language plays an important part in this narrative, operating almost as a character in its own right. Topi, as a Hindi bull in the Urdu china shop, invokes the historical stand-off between the two languages. The novel also explores the culture and psyche of Uttar Pradesh with its very Muslim Aligarh, its very Hindu Benares, and their exotic confluence in Lucknow.
Although it is set in the India of the 1960s, the communal tensions and issues portrayed in the novel make it just as relevant to the troubled times we face today. This fascinating novel will be of tremendous interest to the general reader, as well as to students of literature in translation, partition fiction, and social history. The novel's engagement with intertextuality and meta-fiction will add to its interest for readers keen on literary theory.
Topi Shukla is a story of an extraordinary friendship between two men-one Hindu and the other Muslim. Set in Aligarh, in the context of post-Partition India, Balbhadra Narayan Shukla’s friendship with Iffan earns him the curious nickname of Topi, a sarcastic reference to the skull-cap worn by devout Muslims. The social temperature rises when Topi becomes an equally good friend of Iffan’s wife Sakeena. University politics, ready slander, and gossip attend every move that Topi makes. While the two friends are united against the common enemy of social prejudice, relentless battling gradually wears them down, paving he way for the final tragedy.
MEENAKSHI SHIVRAM is a freelance translator and journalist with both the Web and the print media.
HARISH TRIVEDI is Professor of English, University of Delhi. He has published widely in the fields of Translation studies and regional literatures of India.