Hindi literary journals are once again acquainting their readers with current issues as well as a cultural and political past.

Is the Hindi-speaking community, often described as Hindi Jati by literary critics and historians like Ramvilas Sharma, an imagined construct, or does is really signify the collective consciousness of a linguistic group? This is a question that is not easy to answer, more so because most of its members today are not aware of even its recent past, buried in the files of literary magazines and journals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When Prashant Kumar, a journalist-turned-publisher in Lucknow, started a journal aptly christened “Samkaleen Dastavez” (Contemporary Documents) in 1991, the literary world sat up and took notice as its inaugural issue had reproduced “Angarey”, a collection of nine short stories and a one-act play originally published in Urdu from Lucknow in 1932 by Sajjad Zaheer. This book had long been unavailable. Transliterated in Devnagari script, “Angarey” re-introduced Hindi readers to the tradition of bold, progressive writing and it was enthusiastically lapped up by even the Urdu readers as the trailblazing book had become unavailable soon after its publication. Soon after its appearance, “Angarey” had created a virtual storm in the Muslim community. The unfamiliar boldness and unsparing criticism of religious bigotry, social evils and women’s exploitation in the name of religion infuriated its leaders and fatwas were issued against Rashid Jahan who was dubbed as “Angareywali.” Consequently, in March 1933, the British government imposed a ban on the book. “Angarey” is regarded as having laid the foundation of the progressive writers’ movement and it could see the light of day only six decades later. Prashant Kumar persisted with his mission but, owing to financial difficulties, threw his towel after the fifth issue of the journal that published the Hindi translation of a semi-autobiographical Tamil novel written by a Devadasi in 1936.

One was reminded of this pioneering effort when the latest issue of Hindi literary journal “Akaar”, edited and published by Priyamwad from Kanpur, arrived. It carries four documents of immense historical interest.

The first is a report titled “Mahilaon ka Jail Jeevan” (Prison Life of Women) on the condition of women prisoners by Hansa Mehta, originally published in the September 1931 issue of the highly regarded Hindi literary magazine “Chaand”. A Congress leader, Hansa Mehta later became Chief Minister of Gujarat and India’s High Commissioner in London.

The second is an article on Miss Sulochana (real name Ruby Meyers) who was a top Hindi film actress. Written by Vikramaditya Singh Nigam, it was published in the December 1932 issue of “Chaand”.

The third document has also been reproduced from the same magazine’s December 1933 issue. It’s a long review of a film “Madhuri” produced by Imperial Film Company and one is pleasantly surprised to see that even as early as 1933, film criticism in Hindi had become a serious affair. Although we may not be familiar with Chandraraj Bhandari ‘Visharad’ who wrote the review, it seems he understood the new medium of film quite well and can teach a thing or two to present-day film critics.

The fourth is a short story of Radhika Raman Prasad Singh. Ttitled “Kanon Mein Kangna”, it was published in the July 1913 issue of Hindi magazine “Indu” from Banaras. To add to its intellectual strength, “Akaar” has also published a long interview with eminent historian Irfan Habib on Muslim renaissance.

It’s gratifying to see that many more Hindi literary journals are paying attention to acquaint their readers with serious intellectual debates currently going on as well as with our cultural and political past.

Well-known fiction writer Ramesh Upadhyaya has been publishing thought-provoking articles in his literary journal “Kathan” as well as through a series of books that deal with issues of contemporaray intellectual discourse such as globalisation and ecology. Janwadi Lekhak Sangh’s magazine “Naya Path” brought out special numbers on the first war of Indian independence i.e., 1857 Revolt as well as on the hundred years of Hindi cinema. “Samayantar”, a magazine founded and edited by well-known short story writer Pankaj Bisht, has also been publishing similar stuff and recently caught people’s attention because of its intervention in the currently raging debate on the contribution of the late D D Kosambi to the study of Indian history and archaeology. And, mind you, this list is not exhaustive. There are many more Hindi magazines who have come out of the narrow confines of literature and are devoting their pages to discuss social, political, environmental, economic and cultural issues.


Tainted notesJanuary 9, 2014