Author Harisuman Bisht tells why his novels have female protagonists that are strong in the face of adversity

“Women occupy a central space in my writing. Whenever I visualise a female character, the faces of my mother, sister and sister-in-law appear before my mind's eye. I have witnessed their struggle to survive in economic deprivation and gender oppression in a patriarchal society,” says Harisuman Bisht, well-known Hindi novelist. “Though their lives were a saga of perpetual struggle, it was not pathetic. They struggled with dignity and courage. You will find similar traits in the portrayal of women in my novels.” Bisht was recently honoured with the Shailesh Matiyani Smriti Chitra award. This award, instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Rashtra Bhasha Prachar Samiti, was conferred on him for his novel “Aachhari Maachhari”.

Born in a remote village in Kumaon, Uttarakhand, Bisht has authored a number of fictional works and most of them exude the flavour of hill life and the vitality of its hardy people. His widely read novels include “Aasman Jhuk Raha Hai”, “Hona Pahar”, “Basera” and “Aachhari Maachhari”. His latest novel, “Basera”, is written against the background of the macabre killing of children in Nithari. Because of its contemporary subject, the work was discussed in several seminars. Some of his novels have been translated into other Indian as well as a few foreign languages. His collected short stories — “Safed Daag”, “Aag Aur Anya Kahaniyan”, “Machhranga”, “Bijuka” and “Mele Ki Maya” — are popular with Hindi readers, and various literary bodies have honoured him for his contribution to Hindi fiction.

His much admired novel, “Aachhari Maachhari”, is set in two main regions — the Bhot region of high mountains and the fertile valleys of Kumaon. Both are dominated by men who have imposed a rigid moral code on the women. Aachhari is the daughter of a rich and proud shepherd from the Bhot region. When the mountain peaks are covered with snow, he comes down to the warm valleys for trade. Endowed with beauty and youth, Aachhari is seduced by a local landlord. Her father is shocked and furious when he becomes aware of her pregnancy. He feels devastated. To protect his honour, he abandons Aachhari in a dense forest, leaving behind a dozen sheep and a hunting dog.

Maachhari is another female protagonist who belongs to the professional nautch community. Shunned by upper castes, she is a mere source of entertainment to men. The novel pictures the upper-caste women belonging to prosperous landlord families who are subjected to exploitation by their men folk. This daughter of the high mountains, Maachhari, becomes the rallying point of these oppressed women and challenges the male-dominated feudal order.

“Aachhari Maachhari” has attracted the attention of amateur theatre groups formed by compatriots from Uttarakhand in Delhi. Parvatiya Lok Kala Manch presented it to a capacity hall at Pearey Lal auditorium last year. Well-known director Prem Matiyani has plans to write the stage version of this novel, which is likely to be staged by Parvatiya Kala Kendra.

“‘Aachhari Maachhari' has already been translated into English with the title “Beyond Wrath and Tears” and it will be published soon.” says Bisht.

A resident of Noida, he says that the main gate of D-5, the house infamous for the massacre of the children of Nithari, is 100 yards away from his residence. “It was the most terrible experience of my life, hearing the wailing women desperately searching for their lost children. Then there were violent protests against the owner of D-5 and the criminal neglect of the police for ignoring complaints of missing children. In that anguished state of mind I wrote ‘Basera'.” The novel is not a murder mystery. It confronts the reader with a terrible reality. It juxtaposes two worlds — the world of the super rich of Sector 32 and the world of people living across the sewer in the squalor of jhuggis.

With an M.A. in Hindi from Kumaon University and a PhD from Agra University, Bisht has also rewritten folk tales and legends of Kumaon. Recently, he completed the screenplay of “Rajula Malushahi”, the immortal folk ballad of Kumaon, for a film to be produced by Bhuvan Chandra Joshi and Kaushal Pandey. “I don't treat this ballad as a historic account, as some historians want us to believe. It is one of the greatest love tales that has retained its freshness for the last 1,000 years. In this grand narrative, dream and realism, magic and human valour, romance, love and revenge are all woven into the music structure so complex and varied and life-affirming. Out of a dramatic conflict of various forces, what emerges is the woman protagonist with all her feminine charm, who is bold, wise and dignified.”

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