I wanted to read Dopehri after seeing all the hype around it on social media. And its gorgeous royal purple cover was so enticing that I couldn’t resist buying it for my collection. Renowned actor Pankaj Kapur turns an author with Dopehri which was originally written in Hindi and now translated into English by Rahul Soni. Pankaj Kapur had performed Dopehri on stage in India and abroad for more than 50 times before it was published as a book.
This short novella tells the story of Amma Bi, a 65 year 0ld widow who is living alone in her huge Lal Haveli in Lucknow. Her son is settled abroad and visits her once a year. The only ones who check up on her are her house servant, Jumman and her late husband’s friend, Saxena Saab. Some disturbing occurrences at Lal Haveli on a daily basis leave Amma Bi uncomfortable and scared. The acute pain of loneliness coupled with fear is tearing her apart. Saxena Saab suggests taking in a lodger and though Amma Bi is opposed to the idea but eventually agrees. And so comes Sabhiha in the Haveli like a breeze of fresh air! Amma Bi not only gets a companion but her lost identity too.
The story of Amma Bi reminds us of the countless elderly people who are abandoned by their children. Some move to other cities or abroad for better opportunities while sadly some consider their parents a burden. At an age when old people need the love and warmth of their family the most, they are left alone struggling to cope with heartbreak and loneliness.
This book is a very short and sweet read with some real heartbreaking moments here and there. The author deftly describes Amma Bi’s loneliness and anguish. With metaphors like an aged Austin car parked in the Haveli with weeds growing all over it, the author makes us realize how lonely and deserted Amma Bi really is. The high point of the book for me is the way Amma Bi reclaims her life. You can’t help but cheer for her resilience!
In about a hundred pages, the author has written a powerful story which not only talks about the plight of old people who are neglected by their own children but also the prejudiced society for whom a woman has no separate identity than her husband. The story of Amma Bi teaches us that it’s never too late to believe in oneself and carve your own identity.
Now coming to the characters…Amma Bi is a character that I adored. She is rigid and lonely but has her quirks and humor. Her resilience and intelligence shines forth when she rises like a phoenix to reclaim her life. Sabiha represents a strong, independent modern woman. Another character which stands out is Jumman, the house servant- A simpleton who wins us over with his rustic charm, eagerness to study and loyalty to Amma Bi.
Dopehri is full of old world charm. The story is well paced but I felt that the author rushes towards a satisfying resolution towards the end. The unhurried pace of the initial part is to be savoured. Like a slow, melancholic song, this beautiful, heart touching touches the heart and stays long after you have finished reading it.
The writing is simple and yet powerful enough to invoke different emotions. Jumman and Amma Bi’s interactions will bring a smile to your face while Amma Bi’s longing and loneliness will bring tears to your eyes. This short novella is power packed with laughter, wit, smile, grief, anguish and a lot to reflect upon.
It was a lovely read and I believe that the original story in Hindi would be even better. I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars…4 because I just wish this book was longer.
Author: Pankaj Kapur
Originally published: 10 November 2019
Publisher: Harper Perennial India
Page Count: 110
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