‘If literature were not memorializing for us, we would need so many museums for the number of things we forget,’ writes Rita Kothari in her review of Krishna Sobti’s work. After guest-editing the special TBR issue on Urdu writings (October 2017), I fancied a chance to do one on Hindi and I thank The Book Review team for making this possible.
This has reaffirmed my conviction that both Hindi and Urdu carry a dual narrative, one churned in the political arena throwing a veil of amnesia on the rich linguistic and cultural heritage of the language and the other constituting the lived reality embodied in literature. Often, the latter is judged by the tone set by the former and therein lie most of our woes.
The synonymization of Hindi with a particular kind of nationalism is problematized by Alok Rai in his essay where he feels that such a purist perception of language does not allow it to hold its ‘tadbhav’ words and plural ethos, severing the umbilical cord that connects it with so many local languages. He writes, ‘Because this history is unacknowledged, masked in lies and bad faith, “Hindi” and its correspondent nationalism is condemned to remaking—trying to remake—the nation in the image of the invented and jealous language—tatsama-laden,…’
Harish Trivedi quotes the iconic Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt ‘Hum kaun the /Kya ho gaye hain / aur kya honge abhi’ to underline the ever-present need for literature to renew its connection with its past in his academically well-argued review. Trivedi writes, ‘A literature which does not continually interrogate, revise and re-inscribe its past palimpsestically may not have much of a future to look forward to, for in literature the past never really passes away. It continues to inform, infiltrate and shape the present in all kinds of explicit and implicit ways, and is ever a site of vital contestation.’
Snehal Shingavi, Gregory Goulding and Nikhil Govind underscore the significance of translations for pedagogical purposes, comparative projects, historiography of South Asian Literature and for pushing the boundary of the canon. Translations also build bridges across the diverse, at times even antagonistic, languages and cultures and thus ‘reconstruct a pathway back towards humanism from its wreckages’, as Snehal Shingavi argues.
Francesca Orsini focuses on the Hindi novel’s engagement with the dynamic nature of the village where folklore is intertwined with the political, whereas Simona Sawhney’s review reflects on the modernist Hindi fiction’s imagination of the urban. Shailendra Singh draws attention to ‘modernising of themes and language in contemporary Hindi writers’; Bharti Arora speaks of the exposition of ‘gendered asymmetry’ in the Hindi novel. David Landau, Kalyanee Rajan and Alka Lakhera’s reviews of works by Ehtesham Manzoor, Asghar Wajahat and Shazi Zaman underscore the cosmopolitan and secular nature of Hindi literary tradition; Pradeep Gopalan speaks of Dalit literary movement breaking the authority of the hegemonic Hindi literary world. Nishat Haider focuses on the ‘poetics and politics of transgender alterity’. Hindi fiction’s treatment of social decadence, human relationships and profane sexual desires is highlighted in the reviews by Purushottam Agrawal, Rajesh Sharma, Anirudh Chari, Akriti Madhwani, and Ranu Uniyal. Gillian Wright, Daisy Rockwell, Ulka Ajaria and Roomy Naqvy discuss the presence of incisive political and social satire in Hindi fiction. Mangalesh Dabral speaks of Kunwar Narain’s translations into Hindi from the other world languages which have expanded the horizon of Hindi literary thought.
Laura Brueck’s review of a novel by the ‘Hindi Crime King’ Surendra Mohan Pathak and Pathak’s own article throw light on the popular fiction in Hindi which is no longer a poor imitation of fictions churned out in the West. Genre fiction in Hindi has now come age and enjoys a huge readership.
Reviewing a book that focuses on ‘inter-relationships between language and dialect within the Hindi heartland and the counter efforts (like Maithili language movement) aimed at challenging the hegemonic expansion of Hindi,’ Asha Sarangi’s review takes the language debate away from the hegemonic Hindi-Urdu and Hindi-English discourses and raises new questions concerning language-dialect divisions. Since Maithili itself is seen as a language of ‘command, control and domination by other languages spoken by non-Maithili speakers in Bihar or Mithila.’ Sarangi rightly asks, ‘How can one go beyond the politics of appropriation?’
Anamika and Alka Tyagi echo each other in their emphatic assertion of the smooth transition of Hindi literature to the new world of digital media. Contemporary Hindi poets and fiction writers have taken to the new technology and their writings, at the level of language, form and content have smoothly adjusted itself to it. Their themes are not parochial, their language more accommodative, their forms more experimental. Writing blogs, poems in e-magazines, and using platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, these writers have ushered Hindi bravely into the digital age.
Like Hindi writers, the Hindi publishing industry is also vying for a place in the global publishing market. Hindi publishers have opened up to eBook editions on Kindle, on-line bookstores, and the POD (print-on-demand) programme. Taking stock of the Hindi publishing scenario, Aditi Maheshwari Goel writes, ‘It is quite interesting that the dominant millennial audience has inspired most Hindi publishing houses to think, market and package their books and more importantly themselves younger.’
One common thread that runs through most of these reviews and articles is that the Hindi used by the majority of Hindi writers and poets is a rich mix of Urdu, Avadhi, local dialects, apabhransha, and even English or Hinglish, a far cry from the ‘tatsama longing’ of nationalistically conceived language. It is this flexibility and accommodative spirit that has prepared Hindi to march seamlessly into the future without severing its ties with the past. Evidenced in these reviews is the plural character of Hindi. Notwithstanding the politically charged discourses arguing the contrary, this plurality and heterogeneity have and will continue to give Hindi language and literature the strength to live on and prosper.
We dedicate this issue to the memory of Namvar Singh (28 July 1926–19 February 2019), and Krishna Sobti (18 February 1925–25 January 2019).
Nishat Zaidi is Professor and Head, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.