Dopehri: Book Review
Book Title: dopehri
Publishers: HarperPerennial India (Hardcover)
Author's Name: Pankaj Kapur ( Translated from Hindustani by Rahul Soni)
About the Author: Pankaj Kapur is a versatile, and acclaimed actor of Hindi Theatre, Film & Television with a string of awards including the National Film Award to his credit. In November 2019, he made his literature debut with this book which he had written in 1992.
My Rating: 3/5 ⭐
'dopehri' felt like a 90+ pages Long Short Story, not a novella. Read it in 60 minutes flat without skipping a single word.
The author, Pankaj Kapur is an illustrious actor and I've adored his performances ever since I was hooked onto watching 'Karamchand' as a kid. Probably, this was what triggered the great expectations from this little book. We know he has an impeccable command over the Hindi language. I really wish I'd read 'dopehri' in its original avatar first, instead of this translated English version. While reading the story, I could imagine the magic of the storytelling in Hindi, but the transliteration killed the joy for me. Literal translations sound so funny, like on pg. 50 '...his banian stretched to accommodate a fifty-two-inch chest.' In Hindi, that idiom would beautifully capture the jest of the moment, but in English it makes no sense!
'Dopehri' is a Hindi word which means 'afternoon'- when the sun is bearing down with all its heat. The idea of 'Winter afternoons' however evoke emotions, and that is what I expected from the book as I began to read.
Amma Bi is an elderly widow who lives alone in her deserted Lucknow haveli. Every afternoon, at precisely 3 o'clock, footsteps are heard outside but she's unable to see who it is! It terrifies her so much that she considers moving to an old-age home, but finally takes in a lodger instead, a young woman named Sabiha. Amma Bi's motherly instincts are harvested by Sabiha from Jaunpur (Amma Bi's mother's village), and Jumman- the household help is also infatuated by her. When Sabiha finds herself in trouble, Amma Bi comes to her rescue.
I would have loved the story more if the author had let it steep and flow into more details of the old- world Lucknowi lifestyle and charms. Felt like the storytelling just whizzed through, gliding over the Lucknowi Haveli only for the sake of giving Amma Bi a premise. It felt as if the mystery and spook quotient that was building up at the start was deserted mid-way and the story stepped into a terribly simplistic by-lane which was developed into the main-street by the end of the story. Is it because it's a woman's tale told by a man that it lacks the wide pallet of emotions one could have brought to the pages?
I'm sorry to say that I feel a tad bit disappointed, after having fallen in love with the title and cover design of the book, but then again this is just my opinion!