At The Book Club Pune session on Sunday 11th April 2021, Shradha Kochchar led the discussion on the books by Upendranath Sharma “Ashk” – ‘Falling Walls’ & ‘In the City a Mirror Wandering’. Shradha, who is a research scholar studying literature set in colonial Punjab, did a wonderful job in introducing the listeners to colonial Punjab and what the cities of Jalandahar, Lahore and Shimla were in the 1930s. She also introduced us to the author Ashk and his style of writing. The plot was less in focus and it was more about experiences. She gave a peek into his views on society and the influence of his contemporaries, Munshi Premchand and Manto. In fact, it was Premchand who encouraged him to write in Hindi.
Shradha began exploring undivided Punjab – its heritage, ideology, colonial modernity, and the rising sense of nationalism in the 1930s. She took us through colonial cities like Lahore and Shimla. With the British descending on Shimla during the summer months, it became the hotbed of intrigue and scandal.
The ‘Falling Walls’ was set in the 1930s and is a collection of experiences and memories of the protagonist, Chetan. The book covers the 3 cities of Jalandhar, Lahore and Shimla. Shradha read excerpts from the book – one on how Chetan views Lahore, then Diwali at the Anarkali Bazaar and then memories of Shimla. Moving on to ‘in the City a Mirror Wandering’, which picks up where Falling Walls ends, it covers Chetan’s relationship between his thoughts and experiences. This is filled with intercommunal stories. Shradha took us through how the writing takes an individual through his experiences and spaces – through movement, memory and time across socio economic vectors and geographic boundaries.
The discussion that followed the review was varied and interesting. The listeners were keen on knowing if Ashk and Manto were friends, why were there no references of partition and the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. Shradha’s research on colonial Punjab and Ashk’s books made it a remarkably interesting evening!