The Hindi literary world is in the grip of a very strange as well as unfortunate situation. The Leftist and the anti-Leftist camps that dominate it have their own respective lists of important writers and names of many important writers fail to find a place in them. Consequently, they are hardly ever mentioned in literary discussions. Shivprasad Singh happens to be one of them.
I first heard Shivprasad Singh’s name in 1972 from Prem Chand Jain, one of his devoted pupils, who had joined Sahu Jain College in my home town Najibabad to teach Hindi literature to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Shivprasad Singh was one of the two most famous students of the great scholar and novelist Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, the other being celebrity critic Namwar Singh. His novel Alag-Alag Vaitarni (Different Crossings) had come out five years ago in 1967 from Lokbharati Prakashan and had received a very enthusiastic welcome because of its portrayal of the changing rural reality in independent India. As Dr. Jain had fuelled my desire to know more about his guru, I borrowed the novel from our town’s public library Saraswati Pustakalya. It was simply unputdownable and I finished reading it in one sitting.
What Jaggan Misir says in the novel is as true today as it was half-a-century ago. “Achambha ee dekhkar hota hai Sukhram Ji ki jin par us waqt julm hota tha ve hee aaj jaalim ban gaye hain….Aaj julm kaun kartaa hai gaavon mein, vahi chhutbhaiye log to pahle zamindari ke booton tale raunde ja rahe the.” (Sukhram Ji, one is astounded to see that those very people who were victims of atrocities are themselves perpetrating them…Who is indulging in atrocities in villages these days? The same small people who were in the past being crushed under the boots of the zamindari system.)
Well-known Marxist critic Kunwar Pal Singh praised the novel for portraying another important aspect of the rural reality and it related to the economic dimensions of communalism. In the novel, Devi Chaudhari takes recourse to perjury and makes false oath by placing his hand on the head of his grandson to grab the land of Khalil Miyan, a true patriot, who has declined his son’s repeated pleas to migrate and join him in Pakistan.
The entire novel is rooted in village Karaita and shows the gradual yet inexorable decline of its feudal families and changing social and economic relations. Surprisingly, despite its very vast canvas, it never goes out of this one village. Thus, Karaita becomes a symbol of the entire rural India and Alag-Alag Vaitarni eschews being an aanchalik (regional) novel. Eminent writer Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ gave a copy of the novel to Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’ to read and Bachchan in turn wrote a letter in March 1969 to Singh wherein he congratulated him saying that Shrilal Shukla’s Rag Darbari ’s Shivpalganj and Karaita were in fact the same. Little wonder that the novel continues to be widely considered a modern classic.
Before writing this novel, Shivprasad Singh had already made his name as an expert of the old languages of India like Prakrit and Apbhransha and as a short story writer. His M.A. dissertation on Vidyapati’s Keertilata and its language Avhattha, written under the supervision of Hazariprasad Dwivedi, was hailed by no less a scholar than Rahul Sankrityayan who wrote him a letter expressing happiness that the difficult and rugged path of research had got two young and strong feet, and advising him to be guided only by “facts”.
Singh also prepared a critical edition of Keertilata and Vani Prakashan published it along with his expanded dissertation as Keertilata aur Avhattha Bhasha . Clearing many cobwebs, he showed that Avhattha was an advanced form of Apbhransha. His short stories such as ‘Karmnasha ki Haar” had established him as a significant writer although he did not belong to the dominant Nai Kahani movement. Singh launched a separate Navlekhan (New Writing) movement but it failed to make much headway. Vani Prakashan brought out his collected short stories in a set of three volumes – Andhkoop, Ek Yatra Satah Ke Neeche and Amrita.
Lohiaite in spirit
Shivprasad Singh was deeply influenced by socialism of Ram Manohar Lohia and spiritualism of Sri Aurobindo. His book Uttaryogi Shri Arvind , published by Lokbharati Prakashan, on the latter’s life and philosophy won critical acclaim. To celebrate the 60th birthday of his guru Hazariprasad Dwivedi, he edited a volume Shantiniketan Se Shivalik as a tribute to him.
Besides Alag-Alag Vaitarni, Singh wrote two more novels and both turned out to be major successes. Gali Aage Mudti Hai (Radhakrishna Prakashan) and Neela Chand (Vani Prakashan) deal with contemporaneity and historicity of Kashi respectively and the latter won several awards including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, Vyas Samman and Sharda Samman. While “Gali Aage Mudti Hai” focuses on the anger, anguish and rebellion of the youth, Neela Chand paints a magnificent picture of Kashi in the 11th century under the Gahadavala Rajput rulers.
Taking a cue from Singh, Prem Chand Jain too edited a festschrift titled Beehad Path Ke Yatri (Traveller of a Difficult Path) to felicitate his guru on his 60th birthday that fell on August 19, 1988. Unfortunately, Shivprasad Singh lived for only a decade after this and breathed his last on September 28, 1998.
The writer is a seasoned literary critic