Relocating the Modern Ethos

The modernist movement (navya) in Kannada literature was significant in many ways. The navya writers created an idiom which even to this day resonates with the many new twists that came into the “being” of a literary work. The idiom of the navya writers was multi-dimensional and accommodated varied experiences and diverse ideas. However, the divergences that emerged from the writings of the ‘navya’ poets, short story writers, novelists and playwrights did have an underlying element of commonality—of examining the existential state of the modern individual situated as she/he was in a modernizing community/nation with very strong traditional roots. The navya writers were deeply preoccupied with the multiple realities of individuals, communities and societies in transition. Hence, in them, tradition and modernity are juxtaposed as antithetical bases upon which individuals inevitably rest, and, more importantly confront their dualities, contradictions and paradoxes.

Untouchability and Humanity

Emergence of the dalit theatre is consid- ered as one of the prime aspects of the post-independence Marathi theatre. Marathi theatre which was centered around the middle-class sensibility till then, witnessed for the first time, the low-born, the underdogs of the society, giving vent to the unprecedented humiliation and persecution that they were subjected to, down the centuries. The leit-motif of dalit theatre was the attack on the caste system, its cunning. It sought to provoke fellow members to assert their identity. In a frenzy of profound hatred for the high-born, dalit theatre, more often than not, turned impulsive; consequently, arbitrary content, episodic structure and derogatory language came to be known as the main features of dalit theatre. However, considering the immediacy of the problem, such inarticulateness was but natural.

Biography of a City

Prarambh is a successful blend of history and fiction: a hi-story of the beginnings of Mumbai. The environment of the early 1800s is authentically depicted, the characters that are both real and fictional match quite well, and the story runs both as fact and fiction blended. The National Book Trust of India must be thanked and congratulated for bringing it out in English for the benefit of not only the non-Marathi Indian readers but also the international readers who will be able to get important insights into and information about the social-cultural-business renaissance that gave its initial shape to the internationally significant city, Mumbai.

Treatise on Urban Lives

Ever since the translation of indigenous literature, mainly into English, was initiated almost a decade ago, it has triggered off reams of publications, and gradually evolved into a specific genre. Obviously, this process has been a tremendous success as publishing houses of renown have made forays into this sphere, though often glossing over prominent credits to the key player, i.e. the translator. The National Book Trust deserves credit for this well packaged, composite book on Hindi translations which acknowledges the vital cog in this whole process i.e., the compiler and translator on the cover.

Portrait of a Family on Paper

A collage, a photo frame, a diary! No, none of these define the flavour of the book. The memoirs are spun and crafted in a beautiful Tea-Cozy, much to Shaukat Kaifi’s liking, keeping the incidents alive and warm. The title is suggestive of a collection of dates and events, people and places to construct and deconstruct a whole life. The following narrative offers a mirror image of her time, for the generations ahead. Acquiring a more autobiographical element, Shaukat begins from the beginning and tells her own story sequentially.

Negotiating the Rough Edges of Life

In an era dominated by prose and the prosaic, poetry is a saving grace. This is especially so, when—trudging through the turbulence of times—it is able to ‘sponge-in’ the world into words, soak them with the possibilities and probabilities of humane existence without being superficial, hysterical or partisan about it. This cognitive-aesthetic soaking in of life into words through poetry is, however, a hugely demanding and humbling task. Forever caught between the lure of spontaneous overflow and a need for discip-lining of emotions and intellect; reactive egoism and a self-effacing inclusive activism; a profu-sion of clichéd slogans and discourses and an emphathetic and organic chiselling of words, the poetic grace—a sum total of its aesthetics, ethics and thematic—at one level hinges on the quality of this balance.

Negotiating the Rough Edges of Life

In an era dominated by prose and the prosaic, poetry is a saving grace. This is especially so, when—trudging through the turbulence of times—it is able to ‘sponge-in’ the world into words, soak them with the possibilities and probabilities of humane existence without being superficial, hysterical or partisan about it. This cognitive-aesthetic soaking in of life into words through poetry is, however, a hugely demanding and humbling task.

Challenging Everyday Realities

As the Hindi short story spills beyond its patriarchal enclosures, rebellious fervour gives way to a self-reflexive and intellectually calibrated mode of storytelling. There are no easy passionate outbursts or relentless bouts of ideological sloganeering. The young breed of woman Hindi writers, particularly of the 90s, sustain the credo of protest set into motion by an earlier generation of writers, through a critical resurrection of the issues that were once thought to have been sufficiently clinched in favour of the woman. Old denouements inspire new dialogic take-offs.

That Sacred Entity–‘Word’

Krishna Sobti’s Shabdon Ke Aalok Mein is a book of miscellany that evolves as a continuous narrative of her ever-evolving personality—both as a writer and as an individual. Woven around memory and nostalgia, travel fragments and everyday associations, dialogic-monologues and interviews, creative-critical reflections/impressions and academic interactions, this narrative tends to foreground Sobti the woman, her milieu and some of the literary moments she has lived through in the near past. As such, it not only becomes a socio-literary index of her oeuvre—and one tends to approach the book with the same expectation, i.e. to discover a key to Sobti’s literary corpus—but also an introspective chronicle of her life and times.

Locating the Home

Readers of short fiction will be happy to welcome this new anthology. I enjoyed reading the stories as they are well selected and translated. Writers range from the end of the nineteenth (Rajsekhar Basu, 1880) to the middle of the nineteenth century (Suchitra Bhattacharya, 1950) and include some of the best-known artists of the Bangla language. Let me begin by quoting from the two writers I have just mentioned; Chakravarti translates Rajsekhar Basu’s ‘Anandibai’ with utmost ease: Trikramdas Karorhi was a little over fifty with a marital career graph that was strange—to say the least. Like most other men he had had one wife till only two years ago. She had died, suddenly, leaving him inconsolable and encumbered, besides, with the responsibility of half a dozen children.

Alienation and Exile

In the sixties Sunil Gangopadhyay, already a well-known poet, wrote his first two novels: Jubak Jubati and Atma Prakash, spearheading a movement that brought the Bengali novel out of the shadows of romance and cautious social comment to the glare of harsh introspection and relentless probing into the tensions of a post-Independence urban reality. Recording the uncertainties and tribulations of a ‘lonely crowd’ consequent upon the movement of people from one way of life to another, Sunil Gangopadhyay examines states of alienation and exile and analyses the methods that were being employed by the younger generation to overcome them— a generation that he projects as now rebellious, now beaten. The jubak jubati (young men, young women) of Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Kolkata, driven by negative emotions unknown in their hitherto cloistered, conventional lives, flock the streets. Admittedly the Kolkata of the sixties provided ample material for the writing of ruthlessly realistic fiction. Sunil Gango-padhyay seized the opportunity. The novel, in his hands, became ‘a slice of life’.

Muscles of Imagination and Fantasy

Vilas Sarang reminds me of O.V. Vijayan of Malayalam, although, unlike Vijayan, he is a poet, apart from being a fiction writer and critic who writes in Marathi and in English. Vijayan’s stories of the modernist period were mostly allegories, parables, stories with a sort of cast-iron frame into which human situations or predicaments were set, as if following some kind of predestined design. The modernists are well-known for their philosophical predilections, notably confined to certain schools of the West.