‘Rajan ki Mahi’ a slim novel by BS Chauhan. It is a tale of survival, a maze of triumphs and defeat, light and darkness
For someone who’s spent little over four decades in Indian bureaucracy, B. S. Chauhan is not your typical public servant. As a career bureaucrat, he took up a broad range of roles in his vastly long and illustrious career. It is, however, Chauhan’s engagement with Hindi literature that adds a whole new dimension to his personality. As a beguiling observer of contemporary life, he published his debut short stories collection, Beti ko Talashti Ankhein, (Eyes in Search of the Daughter) way back in 2010, which was described by a fellow writer as a visual treat akin to a “film on paper”. Sure, real life can be stranger than fiction, and it is perhaps this projection of reality and spontaneous storytelling in Chauhan’s work that engulfs his readers with a sense of déjà vu.
Like his short stories, his recent part-autobiographical and part-fiction novel, Rajan Ki Mahi (Mahi’s Rajan), meditatively focuses on issues confronting the girl child and women in India. The author has been particularly sensitive to women's marginalisation. It is to Chauhan’s credit that he could recently translate his novel into English himself.
Rajan ki Mahi is a coming-of-age story of a young girl called Mahi who blossoms into womanhood, and despite temporary setbacks, achieves tremendous success in her professional career. These personal achievements became possible not because of her hard work and sense of duty alone, but because she was, by sheer luck, surrounded by a small circle of well-wishers — particularly Rajan, who provided constant mentorship.
Rajan ki Mahi positively demonstrates that mentoring is as critical a component as new opportunities for the youths to be able to take advantage of demographic India. Mahi’s feat, for example, became possible not because she and her mother have been beneficiaries of state largesse. Rather, the opposite is true. At the tender age of 10, at the behest of Rajan, she was packed off to a private boarding school in Dehradun, where she was introduced to a new world that was far removed from her provincial upbringing.
There are, of course, many dramatic and dark turns of events in the book, interwoven into the main story plot, such as, being sexually abused as a child, her infatuation with her physical education teacher at school, coming to terms with her sexuality, figuring out the different kinds of love and discovering for herself the genuine bonds between adults, as well as, between an adult and a child. This slim and readable novel is an example of real life where things can happen to anyone, a familiar setting we’ve heard of all the time. This realism at once makes Rajan ki Mahi graphic and evocative. Chauhan’s writing style is direct and simple, and he is more interested in getting the points across to the reader with the economy of words than trying out literary stunts.
At the end of the book, Chauhan contends that the full documentation of Mahi’s life is “still incomplete” as if announcing a sequel to this book is in the making. At one point, Mahi contemplates the people who truly held her hand and walked with her on the journey of life. Secularism, Mahi realises, made it possible, and people of all faiths shared her grief and happiness along the way and her life has been a “confluence and convergence of four largest religions of the world.”
Rajan ki Mahi is a tale of survival, a maze of triumphs and defeat, trust and deceit, truth and falsehood, light and darkness. In this respect, the novel is an exploration of the real conditions of real people. That, in our humdrum existence, we can still find action, ingenuity and creativity more than what we’d discover in real life, provided we seek out. And the message is direct: to achieve one’s dream, one has to remain focused.
(The writer is a special correspondent with the Pioneer)