‘Custodian of Rubble’ by Mohan Rakesh, translated from Hindi by Nirupama Dutt

Mohan Rakesh was one of the pioneers of the Nayi Kahani (modern story) literary movement of Hindi literature in the 1950s. It didn’t start out as a movement but their efforts to break away from literary traditions, especially with the short story form, to convey the restlessness and reality of the newly-independent India broke new ground. Like the first story, this one is also about a custodian of sorts, though a self-appointed one. In post-Partition Amritsar, Punjab (India), some men have just returned from Lahore, Pakistan. Rakesh takes us, wide-angle, through the changes in the streets and its people before zooming in with a particular old returnee. Ganni has come to see the house he’d left behind with a family that’s no longer there. He’s not the eponymous custodian to whom the story’s point-of-view eventually shifts in a stark, chilling manner. The ending leaves us restless and unfulfilled, which is exactly the effect the writer wanted here.

Available to read online here. Also available in a different translation in The Greatest Hindi Stories Ever Told, Aleph, 2020

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