Author: Phanishwarnath Renu
Translator(s)/Editor: Satti Khanna
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN/UPC (if available): 978-0-19-568599-2
Not since Premchand has any writer in Hindi penetrated the experience of the rural poor with as much empathy as has Phanishwar Nath Renu. In his writing, he juxtaposes the roles of different members of a small-town community to create the effect of a many-layered life, moving from one story to another, creating a vibrant and complex narrative.
Freed from Disgrace, his third novel, is set not in the countryside but in the capital city of Patna. The world of the novel is one of harsh contrary energies in the lives of women. Bela, a former freedom fighter, administers a hostel for working women in the district of Bankipur. Betrayals and disappointment in love have deepened her selflessness, and she refuses to yield to a corrupt secretary of the board of trustees who wants to use the young boarders for her personal advancement in influencing government officials. In the countryside of Renu’s novels, the dynamism of young pioneers wins out.
In the city, the outcome is uncertain. Government officials in the new India have inherited privileges without undergoing education of spirit. Their motto is not the proclaimed motto of the new country: Truth Alone Prevails, but instead, its perversion. In such darkness, the superintendent of the working women’s hostel struggles for light. Freed from Disgrace is Renu’s passionate account of that struggle.
Renu skillfully condenses each character in a few lines of dialogue while the reader is left to himself or herself to discover the complexity of the novel. The bustle of life, dialect, folk song and high diction has few equals in Hindi literature.
When did you get back, I mean, when did they let you out? I asked. You are the one who should be telling me when you got back. I was sentenced to five years but you’ve been away for ten.
And your Miss Bela?
My Miss Bela! That is to say, the heroine of your unsuccessful novel. When did you begin to understand things about novels?
Instead of being made to grind corn in jail I was assigned to the literacy department. For five years Miss Bela poured as much ocean as she could into this clay pot. Ramrati indicated by a solemn-looking glance that it was her own body she referred to.
I set aside my skepticism.
Anything can happen in a ten-year interval. Why should it be so strange that Ramrati had learned to read and write and talk about literature? In the shadows of the dark lane, Ramrati’s smile flashed periodically like lightning.
Remembering Father by Dakshineshwar Prasad Roy
Introduction by Anand Prakash
Freed From Disgrace