Title: A for Prayagraj: A Short Biography of Allahabad
Author: Udbhav Agarwal
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Genre: Non-Fiction, Commentary
Udbhav Agarwal’s writing is precise, and he knows how to cut to the chase. Udbhav’s Allahabad is of the past (of course), but it belongs to the present in so many ways, and not just as a means of nostalgia but so much more. And then there is the modern-day Prayagraj that one sees and yet doesn’t (thankfully). Who is to say that Allahabad doesn’t exist? Who is to say that people there do not address it yet as Allahabad and not Prayagraj? That’s hardly the point though.
A for Prayagraj brings forth the city through memory, through what is, what was, and its people who leave and return. The book opens with the prologue aptly titled, “Yogi ki Prayagshala” (a pun on Prayogshala) – where Agarwal returns to the city that is now a stranger in so many ways and yet familiar. The name change hasn’t changed the soul of the city. “That, in one of the oldest living cities in the world, things have come, and things have gone. Things have fallen apart. And yet, the city endures.” he writes with emotion that rings throughout the read.
Whether Agarwal is speaking of Holy Waters touring company owned and run by a practical Neelesh Narayan or when he is documenting his search for Upendranath Ashk’s autobiography “Chehre Anek”, or even as he speaks of the parkour boys, who just want a way out, Agarwal brings to fore the Allahabad – the one that is scrambling to accommodate all spaces – the past, the present, and perhaps even an uncertain future.
My most favourite section of the book has to be “F for Fyaar, F se Firaq” – a love story (lust story?) of sorts – somewhere between Grindr and poetry, there is love, with Firaq paving the way, and yet as it happens with most such encounters, it is in vain.
A for Prayagraj is a memoir of growing up in spaces that no longer exist, or some remnants do. It is a travelogue even, one that made me Google all the places Agarwal mentions in the book. It is about the good old days and how they have disappeared or so it seems. Udbhav’s writing makes you think, and feel, and leaves you wondering – it tells you that the personal and the political are the same, it shows you how a city can become a world.