Looking for a short novel, I chose The Girl with the Golden Parasol from Vyom’s list. It is an English translation by Jason Grunebaum of the Hindi novel Peeli Chatri Wali Ladki (पीली छतरी वाली लड़की) by Uday Prakash. The protagonist Rahul is a student at an Indian university, far away from any of the big cities. He becomes besotted by Anjali, a new female student on campus, who always walks around with a yellow umbrella. They fall in love and Rahul even changes to the Hindi department to be close to her. Things get complicated for the couple due to the intense caste equations at play in the university and in their small town.
The romantic plot plays very much like one of those SRK classics, heck even the characters are named Rahul and Anjali. The main difference here is the heavy influence of race and caste, that continue to persist in modern India. Being set in a town and in North India, these are much more pronounced and out in the open. There is a clear nexus between all people in power: police, goondas, politicians and university professors. Rich students and those from North-East are regularly harassed and shaken down for money. The Hindi department is a den of Brahmins where lower-caste students are ignored. In this setup, the inter-caste love between Rahul and Anjali makes those in power go bonkers.
I don’t know much about Uday Prakash and I don’t know why this particular novel of his was picked for translation by the Yale University Press. Jason seems to have employed the type and tone of Indian English that is used by Indian bestsellers. Or maybe the source material itself is written in this tone? I have no idea, but that really killed the novel for me. The story though rings very true. These harrowing tales and experiences continue in Indian hinterlands. I only wish the novel didn’t come off like the love child of Chetan Bhagat and Bollywood.