Obituary | Authors

Krishna Sobti, a tough writer

She was unique in many ways. Before her, no woman writer in Hindi had written with such boldness and disregard for inhibitions about expressing a woman’s sexuality and looking at human relationships with a female gaze. Although Mahadevi Verma had raised many a women’s issue in her prose writings, what Krishna Sobti (February 18, 1925 – January 25, 2019) did was fundamentally different in approach. She was not a “neer bhari dukh ki badali” (a water-carrying cloud of sorrow) like Verma but a tough writer whose novel and short stories had tough women characters who were not embarrassed of their sexuality and physical needs.

She displayed the same fearlessness when forces of intolerance, aided and abetted by the brute power of the state, began to forcibly stifle dissent and create a pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and fear. At a public meeting held at Mavalankar Auditorium in October, 2015 to protest against growing intolerance in the country and the targeted assassinations of journalists, writers and public intellectuals, she delivered such a gutsy speech sitting on a wheel chair that the overflowing audience was spell bound and gave her a standing ovation. In a powerful gesture of protest, she returned not only her Sahitya Akademi award but also relinquished its Fellowship. According to the Akademi website, “the highest honour conferred by the Akademi on a writer is by electing him as its Fellow. This honour is reserved for ‘the immortals of literature’ and limited to twenty-one only at any given time.”

For some years, Krishna Sobti had not been keeping well. She could not personally receive the prestigious Jnanpith award on February 10, 2018 as she was in the hospital. But, she had such great jest for life that only eight days later, she celebrated her 93rd birthday in the company of her relatives, friends and admirers at her East Delhi home. Besides being a great writer, she was also a great host.

Sobti’s two short novels Daar Se Bichhudi (1958) and Mitro Marjani (1966) – later translated as Memory’s Daughter and To hell with you Mitro – presented the quest for a woman’s identity at a time when feminism was not an integral part of social and intellectual discourse as it has become over the last several decades. In a way, she was a pioneer among Hindi fiction writers and hers was the first attempt to search, define and establish the independent identity of a woman. Like Nirmal Verma and Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’, she too was able to evolve her own idiom and language whose tone and tenor could express her creativity. And this new language was laced with the earthiness, at times even risqué flavour, of her mother tongue Punjabi and offered a dramatically novel combination of the Punajbi slangs’ roughness, poetic lyricism and regional rhythm.

Veritable bombshell

Her next novel Surajmukhi Andhere Mein (Sunflowers of the dark) was published in 1972. It came as a veritable bombshell as it dealt with the no-no world of an abused woman’s warped psychology and offered a kind of case history of a woman who was raped in her childhood and became frigid, cruel and intolerant. When she enters into a relationship with a kind and humane man, she returns to normalcy and gets rid of her complexes. This trend found its culmination in the novel Ek Ladki.

Her tour de force was Zindaginama (1979) that offered a realistic portrayal of the culture, customs, mutual jealousies, envy and animosity of Punjab’s countryside as well as the Sikh community’s history of valour. In the words of Vijay Mohan Singh, a well-regarded critic, the experience of reading the novel was akin to watching an audio-visual show that offered a collage of seemingly unconnected parts that somehow acquire a structural unity and a chorus-like musical pattern.

Dil-o-Danish (The heart has its reasons), the three-volume Ham Hashmat, Jaini Meharban Singh, Tin Pahad, Badalon Keg Here, Muktibodh: Ek vyaktitva sahi ki talash mein, Yaaron Ke Yaar, Shabdon ke alok mein, Samay sargam, Sobti Ek Sohbat, Gujarat Pakistan se Gujarat Hindustan, Lekhak ka Jantantra and Marfat Dilli are some of her other important works.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 3:52:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/krishna-sobti-a-tough-writer/article26097145.ece

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