Searching For A Shore: Tat Ki Khoj By HariShankar Parsayi

Tat Ki Khoj-(Searching For A Shore) is a slim novel by Hindi’s renowned writer and satirist Harishankar Parsayi. Written originally in 1998, it has been reprinted many times.  The theme it explores, of a woman’s place in society, is as relevant today as it was in 1998.

Sheela is a brilliant, motherless college student. Her poor, honest government pensioner father is distraught at his lack of wealth which makes it impossible for him to give dowry for his daughter’s wedding- which consequently becomes an unfulfilled dream. Meanwhile a supposedly progressive young lecturer called Mahendranath makes his interest known to Sheela. But a strange quirk of fate exposes his inherent cowardice before a hypocritical society- the one which considers a woman’s virtue to be a  fragile glass plate that can shatter at the mere presence of a man. Shocked by the turn of events, Sheela finds  that her god has clay feet.

The latter half of the story is  about the temporary  emotional shelter the innocent girl obtains from her friend Vimala and her brother Manoharlal. The arrows of prejudice against an orphan girl whose chastity has once been questioned, prove too bitter  a venom for the rest of  Manohar’s family. Finally, Sheela leaves in search of a dignified life- where she wants to be her own person, without being dependent on any other.

The story line by itself is simple: but the  sly sentences that the satirist par excellence weaves in his narrative can excoriate the false ego and hypocrisy of every one of us.

What is the status of a ‘tainted woman?’ Even if she is totally innocent, why do we revictimise a victim? Why is it always her fault? How come the man gets away scot free? Is wealth the only solution  for removing a woman’s agonies- by purchasing  a husband, by buying the comforts of a respectable life, by buying silence from a rabid society?  Why is the girl objectified and paraded before prospective grooms who get to balance her on the scales of their greed? Why do values, which people write about and shout about heroically, become very hard to practise when the time demands it? When a woman decides not to commit suicide  in utter desperation and instead chooses to live with dignity, should we not be applauding her?

Let me translate a few striking observations of Parsayiji.

“Ve sab log haath mein taraju liye the, jiske ek palve par bete ko rakhe the/ Mucche, mere samast vidya,buddhi aur saundarya ke saath doosre palve par rakhkar dekhte,to har baar mera hi palva halka pathe/”

All those people had in their hands a balance: on one of the scales they would  have their son seated  and on the other- me with with all my education, intelligence and beauty. However, every time my scale would be the  one lighter in weight.

“Main jaanti thi Ki yeh photo maal Ke namune Ki tarah kisi vyapari Ke paas beji javegy/parantu doosry or se kabhi chitra nahi aaya, kyonki kharidar hi maal Ki parakh karta hain; maal kharidgar ko nahin dekhta/streepurushon ke sambadom mein yehi darsan sab jagah charitarth hota hai”

I knew that this photograph ( of mine) would be sent to some buyer like the sample of a good on sale.But never did any photograph come from the boy’s side- after all it is always the buyer who gets to see the good, not the other way round. In every place, this view about male and female relationships remains in vogue.

“Kabhi kabhi prem ki apeksha khrina ka sambandh adhik majboot hota hai…lagta hain, khrina aur prem mein koyi visesh andar nahin hai”

Sometimes, compared to relationships based on love, those based on hatred seemed stronger…I feel that there is not much difference between hatred and love…

“Kyonki purush ko yeh sochkar bada garv hota hai ki naari ne uske prem mein atmahatya kar li…”

Because a man feels great pride in the fact that a woman committed suicide because of her love for him….


I can only shake my head in wonder at this iconoclastic writer’s penetrating observations and  their scorching truth.

Maybe I will conclude by translating the author’s foreword for the latest edition.

Foreword: By Harishankar Parsayi

I still find it hard to understand about how I ended up writing ‘Tat Ki Khoj’, all those years before. This is a story which can be called a novella. My poet pal had narrated the original story to me. He was extremely emotional. My age was also that of being drenched in emotions. I was also a romantic. Logic was not my strength then. At that time I had been asked to contribute  something for the Deepawali special of ‘ Amrit Prabhat’. I was in a hurry. The incident that my friend had shared with me was still troubling my mind. My sensitivities were aligned to the girl in that story. I stayed up for two nights consecutively and finished writing this story.

After writing it, I felt regret. When it was published, I regretted more. Now that it is getting republished by Vani Prakashan, I am still regretting it. I can no longer face this creation of mine. One third of my creations are such that I find myself petrified on facing them. Anyway, I am giving the go ahead for the republication of ‘ Tat Ki Khoj.’


Amritasya Narmada: Divine Nectar For The Soul

When this beautiful book was given to me, I was told, “You will enjoy the beauty of Amritlal Vegad’s writing and his lovely sketches. Try if you can translate this one.”

Hindi and I, are like ahem, not so friendly neighbours. We exist side by side, because there is no other alternative for either of us.

For instance, Mother Hindi  shudders with hurt sensitivity when I say that ‘motorbike aaya.’ My  indignant  ten year old tells me, ‘Amma  please do not speak such wrong Hindi- motorbike is a lady! Motorbike aayi.’

I am another bewildered Mother. I see a scooter and happily recalling my lessons, say, ‘Scooter aayi!’ When I look around for approval, my little one frowns formidably, as if I were a lost cause! ‘ Oho, Ma! Scooter is a male! Scooter aaya!Don’t you ever get it?’

Jeez! I will never get it, sorry! There is no human logic behind that sort of stuff! Then I realise that many times, my staff  members are struggling to contain their smiles, because I mess up the genders of common nouns. Why the heck do the non living things have  a gender at all, eh?  And who decides? Well, well…


So, back to Vegadji. Amritlal Vegad, is a much acclaimed writer,a gifted and awarded artist and an environmental activist.He made travel writing, a supreme art form in  Hindi and Gujarati literature.

Narmada, as per Hindu lores, is the only divine river whose parikrama is spiritually deemed precious to Hindus: walking along her shores from origin  at Amarkantak, to the final merger with the Arabian Sea. She is called Narmada- the Giver of Joy, Reva- the One who Leaps, and is the only river in North India that flows west, flowing majestically between the Vindhya and Satpura ranges. She is one of the seven rivers praised in our daily prayers:

Gange Cha Yamune Chaiva

Godavary, Saraswathy

Narmada Sindhu Kavery,

Jalesmin Sannidham Kuru

The journey, as attempted by many  sadhus, walking barefoot through the shores, by seeking bhiksha or alms from the places they reach, is supposed to take 3 years, 3 months and 13 days. The parikammavasi, has to cover 2624 kilometres, covering both shores of this revered river.

Amritlal Vegad covered the southern shore, walking 1800 kilometres in the period of 1977-1988.

He wrote ‘ Saundarya Ki Nadi Narmada’-Narmada: The River of Beauty, based on his travels.  His wit, sharp observations, benign philosophy, the strange personalities he met, the description of the mighty river and her flow- are inimitable and considered supreme literature. His beautiful sketches of the various travellers and villagers, especially the Bhils  and Gonds who habitate the Dandakaranya regions of the river, are legendary.

In the period of 1996-1999, Vegadji travelled by foot again, through the  northern shores of Narmada. On 3rd October 1997, he turned 70. In twenty days he covered 230 kilometres by foot- through jungles, weathering rain and wind, sun and tough soil, meeting many pilgrims, in the never ending adventure of a spiritual sojourn.

In his own words in ‘ Amritasya Narmada'( Narmada, the Divine Nectar), ‘Main abhi jeern-sheern nahin hua/ Adhva, jeern to ho gaya hun, par sheern nahi hua/ Chust bhale hi na raha, par durust to hu!’

I am yet to turn decrepit! Or in other words, I am weather beaten, still not yet weak! I might not be smart, yet I am decently able bodied!


I am an eccentric reader- I start from the comments section sometimes. I first read Vegadji’s wife’s article: My Husband (Mere Pati), and tried to understand the man himself. I read about the thrill of readers as expressed in their letters to the editor, as they explored his travelogues often serialised in Dharmayug, in Sakshatkar, in Vagarth- all literary magazines of great repute!

‘ Aapke lekh kya hai, mano sanskriti ke virat bhitti chitra hai’, writes a reader from Hapud.

‘ What can I say of your writing- they are like the majestic cave paintings of our culture!’

(We have to remember that the Bhimbetka cave paintings, dating to more than 20,000 years ago, were discovered on the shores of Narmada. )

‘Viswa prasiddh Nobel puraskar vijeyta Russi upanyaskar Mikhail Sholokov Ki anthyatam kriti ‘Dhire Baho Don’ ki yaad  dila  di…’ writes some other erudite reader.

‘ Your writing reminded me of the  world famous, Nobel prize winning Russian novelist Mikhail Sholokov’s book: And  Quiet Flows The Don!’


I sit amazed, humbled, and totally awed by the book in my hand. I turn the pages reverentially. This is like the pure water of Narmada herself. I ask my little daughter to give me her pencil; there are so many words that I do not comprehend. I need to research their meanings. Yet, it is a joy to read. His sense of humour, his perfect understanding of the human destiny amidst the majestic flow of the river, his quirky turn of phrase – are simply amazing.

I open a random chapter: ‘ Maunimata ke ashram se Karaundi (From MauniMata’s hermitage to Karaundi), and start reading…

Then, I thank God that Hindi and I are not adversarial neighbours. I am genuinely getting to like her a lot!