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Learning lessons from mythology

Narendra Kohli

Giving a new perspective to mythology is one of Dr. Kohli's trademarks. The well-known academic and novelist was in Thiruvananthapuram recently. In a talk with J. Ajith Kumar

NARENDRA KOHLI, regarded as one of the most sought after novelists in Hindi, says, "My books are sold, not because I am a great writer, but because the people feel I am writing for them, sharing their concerns and kindling their hopes and aspirations. And in my works, I try to relate mythology to the contemporary context and present the mythical characters in the background of life in the present day society."

Dr. Kohli is in town, taking part in literary seminars and delivering lectures in colleges. Talking to The Hindu about his works and the recent trends in Indian literature, he reiterates that life as well as literature should be viewed in their totality and not in parts.


He describes as absurd, terms such as feminine literature and Dalit writing. Such gender discrimination and compartmentalisation will not serve the interests of literature, he believes. "It is not necessary that only women writers can highlight women's issues. Any man can do it in the same or even better fashion. Similarly, even a writer who is not a Dalit can as well voice the concerns of the deprived classes," he observes. Born on January 6, 1940, in Sialkot of Unified Punjab, which is now part of Pakistan, Narendra's family moved to Jamshedpur of Bihar after partition in 1947.

His father, Paramananda Kohli, who was also a writer left the manuscripts of a few of his Urdu novels, for his writer son in his will.

His mother tongue was Punjabi, the medium of instruction in school was Urdu and English education was limited simply to reading and writing. But Hindi had always been a fascination for Narendra. For his bachelors degree, he selected Compulsory English, Philosophy and Hindi Literature. After obtaining his BA (Honours) degree from Ranchi University, he moved to Delhi for his Masters degree in Hindi.

As lecturer

Dr. Kohli served in the Department of Hindi of the Motilal Nehru College in for 30 years before he took voluntary retirement in 1995. His wife, Madhurima Kohli, also has a PhD degree. She has been teaching Hindi Literature at Kamla Nehru College under the University of Delhi. The couple has two sons.

First work

Dr. Kohli was always fond of writing and getting published. It was in 1960, at the age of 20, that he started getting published regularly and he considers `Do Haath' as his first published work.

He is a novelist, short story writer, playwright, and satirist. Despite being all this, he is very different from his contemporary authors. His contributions towards enrichment of literature and society's progress have been widely acclaimed.

In his works, he has underlined the dilemmas of society through the medium of simple family events and characters. By the time he started writing satires around 1965, his language had become sharper and the ironies of the nation and politics were coming to the fore. He demonstrated the inhumane cruelty and complete lack of rationality in the social and political events around him.

He wrote a few novels based on the life of families and societies as well. But just portraying the society, or ridiculing its flaws and dilemmas was not going to satisfy him. He realized, that literature cannot reach its ultimate goal just by a narrow, partial and limited display of society, nor can the society benefit from such literature. The demonstration of poor human qualities will only encourage the evil and the foul. Therefore, it must be the goal of literature to demonstrate the great, honourable and moral aspect of life, he believes.

Dr. Narendra Kohli is also regarded as a trend-setter in the sense that he pioneered the creation of literary works based on the "Puranas". He took the entire material of Ram Katha and wrote a huge novel of 1,800 pages, `Abhyudaya' in four parts. This was perhaps the first novel in any language that dealt with the entire Ram Katha. It is a novel, and therefore is contemporary, progressive, modern, and logic- based. Its basic story line comes from the cultural tradition of India and therefore it portrays the higher values of life. It shows the greatness of human kind. This book turned out to be big success.

Dr. Kohli's `Abhigyaan' was a novel based on Krishna Katha. The plot is political. As a prosperous and influential Krishna publicly declares poor Sudama a dear friend, Sudama's stock instantly rises in social, professional and political arenas. But its spine is Bhagvat Gita's Karma philosophy. But in this book, there is no heaven, no hell, no reincarnation. It is an interesting, gripping novel.

In Dr. Narendra Kohli's own words, ``Swami Vivekanand's personality has an attraction - no not attraction, magic. Magic that completely overwhelms you."

He is in synchronization with such a Swami Vivekanand, and this novel brings the reader to the same level with this legend.

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