“You will be the Katherine Mansfield of Hindi”

A writer recalls her journey out of and into language

31 December 2018
Sara Rai’s father, Sripat Rai, was a Hindi editor and critic, sometimes writing stories under the pseudonym Akalank Mehta.
all images courtesy sara rai
Sara Rai’s father, Sripat Rai, was a Hindi editor and critic, sometimes writing stories under the pseudonym Akalank Mehta.
all images courtesy sara rai

“KATHERINE MANSFIELD. You will be the Katherine Mansfield of Hindi.”

My father spoke slowly, placing an emphasis on each word. He seemed to be listening to a voice in his head. “Go on, write it down,” he insisted, as though afraid he would forget the ten words if they were not written immediately. His eyes were on my pen as it hesitated above the notebook. Did he really expect me to write that? It was an ordinary day and I still remember it. A crow-pheasant strutted about on the lawn, its tail feathers gleaming black. A dog barked and then there was quiet. I could hear the pressure cooker whistling, even though the kitchen was at the far back of the house.

He said this in March 1994, a few months before he died. He had lately moved back to our Allahabad home, after having lived in Delhi for more than twenty-five years. When he arrived at the Allahabad railway station one winter morning, all he had with him were a few clothes in an old suitcase, an Onida television tied in a checked tablecloth, and a sheaf of papers that he held close against his grey zipped-up cardigan, the only one that he now possessed. I had recently returned from Melbourne, where I had been living for the past five years. It was while I was there that I began to write fiction in Hindi.

Sara Rai has published three collections of stories and one novel in Hindi. Her work has also been published in German, Italian, English and Urdu. Her most recent translation is Munshi Premchand’s Kazaki and Other Marvellous Tales. She lives in Allahabad.

Keywords: Writing Hindi Premchand
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