With aspirational trends of the globalised world having entered the domain of writing too, allegations, lobbying and heartburn abound and the literary scene is flush with one controversy after the other.
There was a time when there was hardly any money in literature, especially Hindi literature. Very few writers could take the courageous decision to devote all their time to literary pursuits and not take up a job. With the exception of one or two, most writers who were not employed had opened their own publishing houses and were not surviving on the royalties from their books. Even now, the situation has not changed much. When one thinks about writers who at some stage in their lives made a conscious choice of existing only as writers, the only name that comes to mind is that of Nirmal Verma. The peripatetic Nagarjuna, who was a people’s writer in the true sense of the term, was a real exception but he could not be taken as a model as he had adopted the society at large as his family and the society had also accepted him as a family member. It’s another matter that the family of this great writer had to make do with its modest means.
Those were the days when there were not many awards around. In the post-Independence era, the Sahitya Akademi Award was considered to be the most prestigious although the award money was nothing to write home about. After the Jnanpith Award was instituted in 1961, it initially overshadowed the Sahitya Akademi award because of its prize money but later grew in prestige too, as it is given to only one Indian writer every year and is not confined to Hindi. It was only much later that state governments and their literary institutions started giving out their own awards, private trusts and foundations made an entry into this field and family members of deceased writers too set up awards in their memory. Now, the situation has undergone a complete change and the Hindi literary world is facing a problem of plenty. The fact is that there are too many awards to be grabbed.
Over the years, as the population of Hindi speakers has increased manifold, so has the number of literary writers. In today’s globalised world, where being part of the aspirational ‘middle class’ is the in-thing, writers not only nurse literary ambitions and aspirations, but are also in a tearing hurry to realise them. With too many awards doing the rounds, there is a virtual stampede. This obviously creates heartburn, allegations and counter-allegations fly around, unabashed lobbying is attempted and denials issued, and the literary scene is flush with one controversy after the other.
The Hindi literary world has also been witnessing a peculiar trend over the past several decades. It’s the trend of boycott that is predicated on the simple principle that whatever is not to our liking should be boycotted. Some years ago, the Hindi Academy of the Delhi government announced its annual awards in the normal course. However, just before the award presentation ceremony was to be held, the complexion of the government changed and a BJP government came into existence. Promptly, a Left-leaning section of writers gave out a call to boycott the awards as they could not think of receiving them from a BJP chief minister. Within no time, boycotting or not boycotting became the litmus test of a writer’s political predilections. Recently, a woman writer was pressured into returning an award as a jury member, unable to face up to criticism, himself seemed to agree that the choice was perhaps not the best.
Whenever an award is announced, some feel that the writer chosen is too junior while many senior and deserving writers have been ignored. On the other hand, many others assert that if a writer is not encouraged in his or her prime, it really does not matter if you honour him or her in old age. The funny thing is that there is no uniformity in this regard. This brings an old memory back. In the mid-1980s, when the first Festival of India was being organised abroad, three famous dancers addressed a press conference. While one of them complained about a senior dancer being sent abroad again and again, the other two were sore that seniors like them were being ignored to favour a junior artiste!
Keywords: Sahitya Akademi award