Alka Saraogi was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, in 1960. Eight years after her marriage, and after having two children, she went to university to do a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Hindi literature – an unusual step in her conservative community. She published newspaper articles about health and women’s issues before beginning writing prose. Her first volume of short stories, ‘Kahaniki Talash Mein’, appeared in 1996; two years later she published her debut novel, ‘Kali-Katha Via Bypass’ (1998; Engl: Kalikatha, Via Bypass, 2002), for which she received the acclaimed Sahitya Akademi Award in 2001. The book was proposed to be translated into India’s official twenty-two official languages. Alka Saraogi pens her texts in her Hindi mother tongue, and through this consciously distances herself from many Indian authors who write in English. According to the author, English remains, more than fifty years after the end of the British colonisation, a symbol of inequality as well as evidence of the continuity of colonial presence in postcolonial Indian society. The setting for her multi-faceted novel ‘Kalikatha, Via Bypass’ is Calcutta. After a bypass operation, the seventy-two year old Marwari patriarch Kishore Babu becomes a vagrant as he wanders the city streets, along the tracks of his long suppressed memories of the idealistic days of the freedom struggle. Calcutta, once the second capital of the British Empire, was the seat of the East India Company and thus attractive to immigrants. The Marwaris, traditionally business people from Rajasthan, the far west desert land of India, also came, and their way of life amongst the progressive local Bengalis provoked disapproval. Alka Saraogi not only narrates the story of an old man up against a lack of understanding from his fellow men and family for following his own logic as he recalls the long-forgotten idealism of his youth. She also recounts the history of the Marwari Diaspora – of their ancestry, their traditions, and their family structures. Above all, she writes about India’s colonial and postcolonial history. Calcutta was the stage for nationalist independence struggles (inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose) as well as for the bloody conflict between Hindus and Muslims which led to the division of land between India and Pakistan. In apparently spontaneous flashbacks, the author interweaves historical facts with the protagonist’s own memories, who, becoming the wise fool after a heart bypass, poses uncomfortable questions about postcolonial Indian identity. Another volume of stories by Alka Saraogi, ‘Doosri Kahani’ (2000), has recently been published, as well as two novels: ‘Shesh Kadambari’ (2002; Engl: Over to You Kadambari, 2004) and ‘Koi Baat Bahin’ (2004; t: Never mind, it’s okay). The author lives in Calcutta.
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