Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu by Jenny Bhatt

The very name Dhumketu transports me back to my school. Amidst long summer days when the sun was boiling over our heads, I used to sit near the window (gazing at the world outside) trying to create a visual imagery of the lines being read by my teacher. These lines from the mind of Dhumketu stuck with me then and have come back to me now- only in a different language. Ratno Dholi– a translation of some of the finest works of Dhumketu by Jenny Bhatt opens the door to this wonderful regional literature, which meanders its way to the hearts of thousands of people worldwide.

Ratno Dholi is an anthology of twenty-six stories which give the readers a glimpse of the society in which Dhumketu resided and wrote for. Each of the stories binds the readers’ interest through emotion, wit, dreams, and desires. Interestingly these urban and rural sentiments and actions are no different from what it is today. Dhumketu’s far-sightedness while writing the stories re-establish the fact that even though over the years, the mode of expression or reaction to situations may have changed, the primitive desires and feelings of mankind remain the same.

While all the stories resonated with me, discussing five of my absolute favourites from the book.

  • The Post Office: The very first story from the book happens to be the one straight out of my Hindi book from school. But with years elapsed between then and now the ideation behind the story becomes clearer. It is said ‘when a man puts aside his own perceptions and looks through another’s viewpoint, then half the world will be at rest.’ When an old man visits the post office everyday awaiting a letter from his daughter, he becomes the butt of all jokes. But when those joking about him experience a similar situation, would things change for the better? The Post Office makes us realise the meaning of parental love. It also throws light on how children treat their parents when they get busy in their own lives. It compels the readers to contemplate about parent-children relationship and it’s ageing with time.
  • On the Banks of the Sarayu: Do you remember listening to stories told by your parents and grandparents? But what happens when a story is started off by the parents and never goes beyond its first line- On the Banks of the Sarayu? Days, weeks and months pass by but the story is stuck at its first line! Dhumketu yet again explores the idea of parenting in modern society. Do parents really have the time to fulfil their children’s wishes? Are parents neglecting their children and giving precedence to their work over relationships? And what about the children, do they feel alienated from their family members?  It is thought provoking that an incomplete story gives rise to various complete perception of the situation.
  • Kailas: The story of a struggle which started off years ago and continues in full force today – the cause of the farmers;  Kailas is all about trying to attain peace of mind amidst chaos. Through Kailas’ back story one gets a vision of how farmers are treated and disrespected and how this mental and physical agony escalates in unthinkable ways. While we talk of living in a society which is diverse, it is questionable how much of this ‘diversity’ are we accepting at heart.
  • My Homes: A very interesting take on the stories of the various homes that the narrator has lived in. We tend to live in a few homes through our lifetimes which might include hostels or rentals and how the stay affects us in return is exciting to note. The story progresses through memories of the inanimate object and its residents and is a clear form of compelling narrative.
  • Prisoner of Andaman: When a man returns home after serving twenty years at the Kala Pani how does his relatives and well-wishers acknowledge him? Is he accepted in his village or does he make the Andamans his forever home? Prisoner of Andaman makes the readers think about the way one treats those who have served sentences. Does society not give them a chance to become a part of it once they commit a crime and serve their due for it? Does negligence shatter the individual o much that they tend to move onto the wrong path yet again? The psyche of a prisoner is very well described in the story along with those around him.

What is interesting to note is the patriarchal society in which Dhumketu lived in. Out of the twenty six stories, majority revolve around men and their lives. Those that do talk about women either portray them as mere instruments of building political relations or as burdens in the society. His take on the caste system and untouchables are also thought-provoking viewpoints of his time. Jenny Bhatt has done a phenomenal translation of his writings keeping the nascent emotions alive and yet rewriting the stories in a language that reaches the global readers. Reading Ratno Dholi also makes us realise the treasure trove of literature that resides in regional language and how their translation is the need of the hour. Definitely a must read!

No. of Pages: 315

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available on: Amazon

Rating: 4/5

*Disclaimer: I would like to Thank Harper Collins for the review copy

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