Rajendra Yadav, who revived the “Hans” magazine started by Premchand, continues to be that rare Hindi public intellectual

It will not be an exaggeration to say that nearly 500 million people in India speak Hindi. It is an irony of history that while in the pre-Independence era, Hindi acted as a bonding factor among peoples of different regions of the country who were drawn into the anti-colonial freedom struggle — a large number of people in the southern provinces learnt Hindi and Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha was a popular organisation — it came to arouse strong and passionate opposition after India attained independence. This happened because Hindi enthusiasts tried to fashion Hindi in the image of English. They dreamt of Hindi as the language of political power that would enjoy the same relationship of dominance and subjugation with other Indian languages as English had done during the British rule.

It is another irony that despite having a sprawling academia, media and creative literature, Hindi is sorely bereft of public intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, Noam Chomsky or Mahashweta Devi who would initiate public debates on various contentious social, political and cultural issues and make effective critical interventions to counter the suffocating and ossified ways of traditional thinking. As the saying goes, one sparrow does not a summer make. But one must not ignore if there is even one sparrow singing.

It’s yet another irony that at present the only person who comes anywhere near being a Hindi public intellectual is one who has the least intellectual pretensions. Rajendra Yadav was already a top short-story writer and novelist when in 1985 he decided to revive Hans, a magazine founded by the legendary Premchand. He did not have much financial resources. However, soon he began to completely identify himself with Hans and did everything –– even neglected his own creative writing — to turn it into a sustainable venture. Today, it is perhaps the only literary monthly in Hindi that has been coming out regularly for more than 27 years.

What Rajendra Yadav did was simply unprecedented. While Hindi had a surfeit of literary magazines, most of them were aligned to different ideological and political camps, so much so that two left-wing magazines would not see eye to eye with each other because of sectarian reasons. They discussed political as well as literary issues within their ideological parameters, published literature of high quality and played a laudable role.

However, Yadav caused a paradigm shift and turned Hans into a truly democratic forum where all kinds of views could be expressed, all kinds of ideological and political tendencies could contend with one another and where nothing was censored. He used the magazine’s editorial column to express his generally unconventional opinions on various contemporary issues, to initiate debates and discussions and to carry on polemics with those who were not in agreement.

He took special pains to publish under the “Letters to the Editor” column those letters that criticised him and the magazine harshly, sometimes even crossing the Lakshaman Rekha of decency. This lent an unusual credibility to Hans and attracted readers and writers of every persuasion to it. Soon, it had a committed army of contributors as well as readers and came to be regarded as the most widely read— though, sadly, not the best-edited — literary journal in Hindi.

Yadav, himself a strong votary of the Mandalised OBC politics, made a conscious attempt to impart the Dalit as well as gender discourses a veritable centrality. He fearlessly adopted an uncompromising stance against communal and casteist politics and often got into trouble on account of making such controversial statements as “Hanuman was the first terrorist in history”. He also took on Muslim communalists and fundamentalists who could not adjust to the idea of women making their own choices. As editor of Hans, he promoted rebellious, no-holds-barred, free thinking and became the darling of young writers. He had to face stiff opposition from many quarters too, but the 84-year-old public intellectual continues to plough a lone furrow.