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Life beyond the ordinary

Op-Ed 2023-06-09, 10:46pm


Sudhirendar Sharma

Sudhirendar Sharma

As those who have lived in a typical university hostel know, it's an experience that's simultaneously enjoyable and shabby. 

Originally written in Hindi, Banaras Talkies is a fast-paced novel about three law undergraduates who live in Bhagwandass Hostel at Banaras Hindu University. Satya Vyas, now the author of five bestselling books, captures the mood, hopes, aspirations, and challenges of his protagonists even as he hilariously presents their hare-brained schemes to steal exam papers and critiques of bad mess food.

Banaras Talkies

As those who have lived in a typical university hostel know, it's an experience that's simultaneously enjoyable and shabby. Still, it remains a life beyond the ordinary; one that evolves its own idiom of expressing the obvious. Like hostelites everywhere, the law students at the center of this novel, have their hilarious in-jokes: for its technical complexities, a particular black laptop is adjudged "the most harmful object of the twenty-first century"; elsewhere "Amicus Curiae", Latin for "friend of the court", is referred to as "the sister of Madame Curie". Readers are taken on a roller coaster ride through the BHU campus with its youthful love affairs, fierce competition that forges lifelong bonds, and camaraderie reflected in both words and actions. While the narrator, Suraj, pursues his love interest, Anurag is intent on winning a game of cricket, and Jaivardhan, the deltiologist, approaches semester assignments like he would a new bride.

Banaras Talkies captures several vignettes of hostel life as it wanders down laughter-filled college corridors -- the banter between friends, the amusing but creative exchanges with teachers, the heartbreaks on the way to lucky successes in love, and the ever-looming pressure of having to one day leave the campus and "get serious about life".

In its recreation of a brief but unforgettable period of youth, Banaras Talkies calls to mind works like RK Narayan's The Graduate and Philip Roth's Goodbye Columbus that also deal with student life and its excesses, exhilarations and disappointments. College life has been effectively captured on screen too in 3 Idiots and the quirky Chichhore. The success of the genre across media can be attributed to the great impact that the time spent on campus has on the individual. It often remains permanently etched on the canvas of the human mind as a golden interval before the persistent tensions and sordid disappointments of adulthood.

A bestseller in Hindi, this version tries to graft the verve and linguistic authenticity of the original into English, a language that's often too stiff for Hindustani hi jinks. Translator Himadri Agarwal has a point when she states that readers must learn to make peace with translated text which, like most art, is eternally incomplete. Indeed, it will always be difficult to capture the colloquial nuances and wit of the original. For instance, the phrase ‘cut the crap’ can never convey the punch of ‘Bakaiti band kar’.  

Still, as with all good campus novels, this one succeeds in transporting readers back to their own student lives and younger, more eccentric and carefree selves.

Banares Talkies

by Satya Vyas, Translation Himadri Agarwal

Ebury Press, New Delhi

Extent:216 Pages, Price: Rs. 199.

(Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer and researcher specializing in development issues. He is based in New Delhi India.)

First published in the Hindustan Times on May 26, 2023.