In “Scream”—the lead story in Ajay Navaria’s collection—the unnamed protagonist is told at the outset, ‘Crime is very seductive. And revenge a trickster.’ The narrator rejects having his identity constrained by the cruel monikers assigned by the caste Hindus of his village or the supposed refuge of the Christian church. He occupies an ‘unclaimed terrain’, as do many of Navaria’s characters. Journeying from a Dantewada village to the town of Nagpur and from there to Mumbai, the Byronic protagonist is raped, works as a masseur and then as a gigolo even while pursuing his education. The city teaches him the many meanings of labor, and he is freed—if ultimately destroyed—by its infinite possibilities for self-invention.
As complex as they are political, Navaria’s characters—ranging from a brahmin peon to a dalit male prostitute—are neither black nor white, neither clearly good nor evil. They inhabit a grey zone; they linger in the transitional passageway between past object and future subject, casteism and democracy.
Unclaimed Terrain heralds the arrival of a bold new voice in Indian literature.
Ajay Navaria is the author of two collections of short stories, Patkatha aur Anya Kahaniyan (2006) and Yes Sir (2012), and a novel, Udhar ke Log (2008). He has been associated with the premier Hindi literary journal, Hans. Navaria teaches in the Hindi department at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi.
Laura Brueck is Associate Professor of Hindi Literature and South Asian Studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder, US.
‘This one example is enough to demonstrate the rich complexity that Navaria brings into his stories without sacrificing the narrative interest and the way he places his characters in a twilight, transitional zone between good and evil, and past and future, and reveals how changeable is their subjectivity, shaped as it is by the changing biographical and historical circumstances and the ideological milieu’— Frontline
‘This book is not for the fainthearted’—Indian Express
‘Brueck’s porous translation lets in the ambiguity – the city is magical but lethal, money liberates but can also curse’—TimeOut Delhi
‘Each story shakes you, and makes you uncomfortably aware of the convenient little bubble you have been living in’—The Hindu
‘You’d be massively underselling Navaria’s work by describing it in the constricted terms of Dalit literature’—The Sunday Guardian
‘Unclaimed Terrain by Hindi author Ajay Navaria (and translated by Laura Brueck) takes us deep into an India where caste does not get brushed under the carpet by its self-styled modern, progressive and suave people. It is, in fact, a bitter pill they are made to swallow on a daily basis’—DNA
‘One of the best books of 2013’—The Guardian
‘Navaria’s piercing narratives portray the lives of Dalits in urban India, giving us a glimpse of the twisted modernity of the world’s largest democracy. One of the best books of 2013’—LiveMint
‘Characterised by an easy idiom and a sharp political imagination, this collection quickly establishes Navaria as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Dalit literature’—in an interview for The Hindu
‘History pounces without warning, people wield the smallest details against each other, and the reader emerges from the pages of this fierce book wiser’—Teju Cole, author of Open City
‘Ajay Navaria is a master storyteller ... new India’s new Premchand’—Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes
‘Navaria writes with fury laced with dark humor’—Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things