With a translation of her Anitya just released, Hindi author Mridula Garg talks about what it means to have been writing for three decades. -ZIYA US SALAM
She often avoids hope. “I am a pessimist. I am not easily disappointed,” she says, her words precise and trenchant. Yet she was disappointed when one of her stories was turned into “Tum Laut Aao”, a film by Bhimsen. “He changed the climax. Our filmmakers are not used to open-ended films. Only Satyajit Ray was a master at that.”
Yet she quite enjoyed it when Devendra Raj Ankur took her literary work to the stage. “I think he did a fabulous job.” Now, there is going to be a serial on Doordarshan on her first novel, Uske Hisse ki Dhoop that came out in 1975. “The director seems sincere, but let's see…” her voice trails off, as the sun fades away at New Delhi's India International Centre, where Mridula Garg, much-feted Hindi author, has come down to talk about her book, Anitya: Halfway to Nowhere, just brought out by Oxford University Press with an English translation by Seema Segal.
She spent her early years in the much-sought-after Lutyens' Delhi, yet she lived in a house too small to accommodate her six sisters and parents. She sought her space in that little place. She was granted her wish too with her father pointing to a curtain beside the shelf. “That little thing became a symbol of space for me,” she recalls. It is a space she has zealously guarded since.
The first attack came early: she was still in school when she wrote the biography of a beggar. “The beggar was a writer. He begged during the day and wrote at night. I thought writers did not make any money,” she recalls. Her teacher would have none of it. Little Mridula got a dressing down. And over the years, Mridula turned many stereotypes on their head. She, however, retained that initial zest for speaking and writing her mind. It came in handy when she penned Chittacobra, her much-acclaimed novel that has been translated into many foreign languages, including German. Yet when the novel was first written in 1979, there was widespread outrage and Mridula was accused of obscenity.
Mridula though refused to be cowed down. So, within a year of the controversy came her next novel Anitya, set in Partition; a tragedy she watched unfold from close quarters. “Every day, at my home, the talk at the dinner table was always political. No gossip. The nation was personal. High ideas came to nothing with Partition. I wrote Anitya in nine months in 1980 reliving my childhood with it.” The book has just been released in an English translation by OUP and Mridula is happy with the outcome. “The book is more relevant now. The new generation has no idea about Independence, what it means to be in a free country simply because they have never seen anything else. But we are all affected by the goings-on. No man is an island,” she says.
Well, no man is an island but, as a writer, Mridula has always sought to be like one! Point out this anomaly, and she laughs. “I am a loner. I don't want loneliness. You want to be alone but, as a woman, you are never allowed that. Earlier I used to think that one can be free at 60. But as a woman when I reached 60 I realised I was wrong. I have realised that adversity is a fine incentive to write. You have to create that space and time as a woman because society will offer you neither. Conversely, it also is easier for a woman to create that space because right from childhood you are fighting for time and space.”
Remind her that for all her wonderful writing, the English media may not have much space for writers in languages other than English, and she agrees. “There is space for Hindi cinema, Hindi film stars and serials in English media but none for authors. There is constant dumbing down of literature. The publication of a Hindi book is not an event for them. Even the English papers don't have much space for Jnanpith or Sahitya Akademi awards anymore.”
Fighting for Hindi
She bemoans that Hindi authors lost their moment under the sunshine long ago. “They lost it many years ago. Speaking Hindi is considered infra-dig in metropolises. Hindi writers are fighting this discrimination and dumbing down of books. As a matter of policy they don't invite a politician to release the book. As a writer it is frustrating to see the media attitude. But then again, adversity provides ideal climate for a writer to write!”