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Slum voices

BOOK>> TRICKSTER CITY, WRITINGS FROM THE UNDERBELLY OF A METROPOLIS • translated by Shveta Sarda • Penguin • Rs 499

 
By Merajudin Ahmed
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageAmiddle-aged woman whose only trips out of home have been to the neighbourhood grocer’s store describes what it means to suddenly become the sole bread earner. A man whose first act after buying a fridge is to cut off his neighbour’s electricity connection.

A slaughterhouse hand talks of slitting necks of hens and dumping the birds into drums. A mother does not throw her grown-up daughter’s report card away because it has their address and can show how long they have lived at that address.

The thumbnail sketches and short stories in Trickster City evoke a Delhi that rarely makes it to the glitz-hungry media. Yes rarely. On these occasions it is fodder for sensation, a loathsome hub of crime or sometimes an underbelly to be pitied—or improved. This collection is a gentle antidote to such iron-fisted representations of the working class. The pieces were written over a period of two years by a group of 20 young people who live in the not-so fashionable parts of Delhi. One of them works at a phone booth, another is an agent in an employment agency and in his spare time blogs about Delhi. Quite a few are school dropouts.

imageThe group met in 2005, when the city began gentrifying itself for its date with the Commonwealth Games. Evictions loomed large. The young writers met at the cybermohallas set up by the Ankur Society for Alternatives in Education and the Sarai Programme of the Centre for Developing Societies. Here unfinished stories found narration. In 2007, the group published their collection of writings in Hindi, Bahurupiya Shahar. Trickster City is the English translation of the anthology—a rare translation that builds bridges.

Despite the intimacy, the voice stays clear of becoming the ethnography of a place or the writer. The prose, instead, is a product of engagements with experience: the authors’, translator’s and their subjects. Despite their numbers, Delhi’s poor hardly make a dent in the city’s politics. The absence of a collective voice is in part the outcome of state strategies of regulating the poor. This anthology might not provide that voice—it’s too much to ask. But it shows in a lovable way why the underbelly cannot be wished away.

Merajudin Ahmed is playwright and theatre actor

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