The Creature Comforts of An Upendranath Ashk Tale
There is something about winter on the subcontinent that feels a pittance to those of us living far beyond in the relative “tundra” of North America and Europe come December. In Upendranath Ashk’s Lucknow of the 1960s, it’s an urgent chill, a need evoked by multiple layers, face masks, gloves, and mufflers galore, a cold that could – if provoked – become the death of you. Scholar, artist, and writer Daisy Rockwell conjures all of these feelings in her translation of celebrated Hindi writer Ashk’s short story “Topiyan Aur Doctor” (Hats and Doctors”). Here is Mr. Goyal, a local representative for a newspaper in Lucknow, deep in his sartorial underpinnings and perhaps a middle-aged malaise:
And now that he had passed his fortieth year, he was beginning to wrap a scarf around his neck as well, just below his hat. If he felt a cold breeze on his ears when he was driving his motorcycle, his nose started dripping. He had to stop the motorcycle, wrap the scarf that was around his neck over his head and ears, tie it under his chin, put his hat back on and continue on his way.
Mr. Goyal attempts to lead a hatless life with less-than-satisfactory results, a circumstance that leads him to various homeopaths and their shabby waiting rooms. Using a tone that hovers between sarcastic and bemused, Ashk immerses the reader into a world steeped in hierarchy, customs, and costumes. Hats and Doctors, a translated collection of Upendranath Ashk short stories, appeared in March 2013. This eponymous story was first published in the January 2013 edition of Caravan, which you can continue reading here.