Uday Prakash is proud of the accent walls in his flat; he painted them himself, without help. He is proud too of his rooftop garden. The upholstery on the outdoor furniture may be fraying, faded by the city’s extreme weather and dusty from the nearby construction but all of it — the plants, the furniture, the manybooks in his study downstairs, the computer — is the fruit of his ceaseless labour. He has considerable pride in his independence, his self-reliance. Now 61, he is perhaps less content by the fact of his hard-won recent success than by the way in which it was attained — without favour, without a leg-up in an industry, indeed a country, oozing with nepotists, flatterers, favour-curriers and mutual backscratchers.
He lived the hand to mouth existence of the jobbing Hindi-language writer for decades. It was a precarious way to support a young family and the stress and fear of that life is evident in the autobiographical sections of the three striking stories collected in Prakash’s The Walls of Delhi, part of a strong shortlist for this year’s DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, eventually awarded to Jeet Thayil for his debut novel Narcopolis. Here, for example, is a passage from ‘Mangosil’: “The twentieth century was turning into the twenty-first, and with each new work I wrote, my life was plunged more deeply into the abyss… When I tried explaining my troubles to Delhi’s influential writers and thinkers, I felt as if I were a snail that had surfaced to the world above, telling the divine bipeds patting their fat bellies about his wild, weird, other caste experiences from his home at the bottom of the sea.”