Pachpan Khambhe Laal Deewaarein (fifty-five pillars and red walls) is a classic piece of Hindi literature authored by renowned Hindi authoress – Usha Priyamvada in 1972. This novel has been a much talked-about one in the Indian literary circles and its relevance has not got mitigated even after more than four decades of its first publication.
US based lady novelist, Usha Priyamvada had understood the pains and suffocation of the Indian girls very well despite living abroad. This novel tells the heart-piercing story of an Indian girl who is unfortunately lonely and but more unfortunately not alone. She is all alone within her heart with nobody around to understand her unfulfilled desires, withered out gusts and womanly needs. But the blood relatives are sticking to her like parasites, not allowing her to at least live alone with her memories and sentiments. Everybody associated with her in her practical life, is willing to take and take only from her, neither willing to give her anything, nor allowing her to get anything on her own.
The main protagonist, Sushma is the eldest daughter of a middle class family who, with her talent and education, is able to earn and support her family, only to find that her sacrifice has been taken by her family members (including parents) as their right and now all and sundry are willing to make her sacrifice her whole life for their sake. They are apparently family members but, in fact, blood-sucking parasites whose sole aim is to exploit her through emotional blackmailing. Her younger sisters get married through the money-earned by her but nobody (including the mother) really bothers about her marriage, her tender feelings and her womanly need to have her own house, life-partner and children. A boy, younger to her in age, Neel, enters her life and she falls in love with him like anything but her so-called ‘hers’ (APNE) stand like walls in the path of her getting the love of her life. Finally she bows before their emotional blackmail and the good SAMSKAARAs embedded in her since childhood, only to sacrifice her own joys for the sake of others and believes that she is destined to live with all her loneliness throughout her life.
This touching story does not look like an imaginary one. In fact, several girls (and boys too) are exploited by their family members in the same way in India. I can relate to it as I have also undergone such things in my life. These family members envelop their selfishness in the sweet cover of relations, affection and sentiments and exploit the golden-hearted person. Sometimes you don’t suffer because the others are too bad but because you are too good. Excessive nobility leads the noble person to troubles, losses, exploitations and sufferings, that’s a harsh truth. That’s why it’s bad to be excessively good. You keep on caring for others, only to find in the end that there’s not a single one around to care for you.
I can see the truth and reality in the words of Usha Ji, the authoress because just certain people are around you or living with you does not mean that you are not lonely. In fact, due to the selfish attitude of such people around us, sometimes the internal loneliness deepens in our heart. That’s how a person starts feeling lonely in crowd. A feeling of suffocation props up, not allowing him / her to live peacefully, sometimes even leading him / her to psychic troubles. The forced company of such non-understanding, selfish and exploitative people (even when they are parents or brothers or sisters) appears to be like shackles which one is willing to break at the earliest but finds himself / herself unable to.
This outstanding novel is a treat to read for the lovers of Hindi literature with its beautiful language, dialogues, freely flowing narrative and realistic portrayal of the suppressed feelings of the main protagonist, Sushma. The tender feelings of Sushma for Neel; her remembering him, his gestures, his talks as well as his sincere love for her and hers not being able to endure his separation when alone in her room, simply moved me. In fact, when I was reading this novel for the first time in February 2002, my eyes got brimmed with tears.
The complete novel alongwith the incidents, the milieu and the characters is utterly realistic. Even after more than four decades, there hasn’t been any substantial change in the life of the majority of educated Indian girls of middle class families who are either considered as burden by their parents and family members or if they are earning, as milkable cows. The family members are not willing them to get married not because of affection but because of the fear of losing their earnings, just like the parents and other family members of Sushma in this novel.
Sushma, being the warden of a girls-hostel, is totally lonely with the fifty-five pillars and red walls of the hostel-building. These neutral things are her true companions. That’s why the title of the novel is quite apt.
Through my own life-experience, I can see two major categories of people in this world – those who use and those who are used. If you are too good, nice and noble-hearted, you are bound to fall into the second category and will be destined to live the life of a loser, for the gainers will be those belonging to the first category. I never understood how could people use and exploit a clean-hearted, noble person’s emotions for self-interest. But reality cannot be denied. On the basis of my own experience, I send a message to all such benevolent and kind-hearted people that sometimes it’s better to be a little bit selfish to preserve our joys and becoming a martyr for the sake of others is not at all appropriate.
While empathizing with Sushma of this novel, I recommend this classic novel to all those who can read Hindi and like profound Hindi literature. I don’t know whether it has got translated to English or not but this small novel is definitely leagues ahead of many overhyped (and fat) English bestsellers.