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A rebel in life and work

Agyeya holding a camera Photo O. P. Sharma.   | Photo Credit: 19dmcAgyeya

Till his death on April 4, 1987, Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ remained a dominating presence in the world of Hindi literature. In many ways, he was a trendsetter and the quiet force of his personality made him a natural leader.

Although I had seen him many times, only once I had a chance to listen to him reciting his poems. It was a literary gathering at Max Mueller Bhavan where he recited his poems and Hindi scholar Lothar Lutze read out their German translations. Apparently he was a man of few words as I realised in the course of my meeting with him. At that time, he was editing Jayaprakash Narayan’s “Everyman’s Weekly” and had an office at the Gandhi Peace Foundation. I was an aspiring Hindi poet and studied history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was an exhilarating experience for me to meet a top writer. Agyeya was neither cold nor warm, spoke to me without sounding patronising, and conducted himself with great poise and dignity. He naturally made a great impression on me.

Agyeya was born on March 7, 1911 in a tent at Kushinagar where his archaeologist father Hiranand Shastri was conducting an excavation. As is well known, Kushinagar is the place where the Buddha breathed his last. On Agyeya’s 105 birth anniversary, a seminar was held at Kushinagar where a number of memorials have come up to keep his memory alive. It was all the more remarkable because the Hindi region is notorious for forgetting its heroes. Hindi-speaking people do not take as much pride in their great writers as the Bengalis or Maharashtrians or Malayalis do. There was a time when works of Munshi Premchand and publications of Gita Press, Gorakhpur, were read in almost every educated family in the Hindi belt but the situation has undergone a sea change. Great writers like Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, Jainendra, Yashpal and Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ are nowadays read primarily by students as part of their syllabus. Therefore, it was heartening news that Agyeya’s birth anniversary was celebrated at his birthplace.

Even more heartening is the magnificent project undertaken by Bharatiya Jnanpith to bring out the 18 volumes of collected writings of Agyeya. Of these, 13 volumes have already been published under the editorship of Krishnadatta Paliwal, who passed away more than a year ago. One hopes that this would not come in the way of the publication of the next five volumes. The first two volumes have been devoted to Agyeya’s poetry while the third one contains his short stories. Fourth, fifth and sixth deal with his novels while the seventh volume offers all the prefaces and introductions that Agyeya wrote to his various books. The eighth volume introduces us to Agyeya the traveller while the next volume opens his diaries to us. The next four volumes contain his essays.

The yet-to-be-published five volumes will be a collection of his memoirs, plays, interviews, letters and translations. “Agyeya Rachanavali” will provide readers all the writings of the great litterateur at one place and will be a great help for future researchers.

While he was doing his M. A. in Lahore, Agyeya joined the underground revolutionary movement and became an active and close associate of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Sukhdev and Yashpal. He was arrested in November 1930 and spent the next many years in jail and under house arrest. It was in his prison cell that Agyeya, barely in his early 20s, wrote the path-breaking novel trilogy “Shekhar: Ek Jeevani” (Shekhar: A Biography) whose third part remains unpublished to this day. The publication of its first part in 1940 was a major literary event.

There is an interesting story about how he came to acquire his non de plume ‘Agyeya’. Sachchidanand used to send his short stories to Jainendra, one of the top fiction writers in Hindi. As he was in prison and his name could not be used, Jainendra passed them on to Munshi Premchand saying that the writer’s name was Agyeya (Unknowable).

Agyeya brought together six other talented poets in a volume that he edited and published in 1943. While it did not create much impact at that time, it acquired an iconic status later and is generally considered as the harbinger of a new literary movement of Prayogwad (Experimentalism) in Hindi poetry. During the Second World War, he joined the British Army as he could sense the danger that the alliance of Japanese militarism, German Nazism and Italian Fascism posed to the world. Over the decades, his literary stature continued to grow as he left his indelible mark on almost every literary genre. Even in journalism, he shone as the founder-editor of the news weekly “Dinman”.

Although he was a member of the All India Progressive Writers’ Association for some time, he gradually moved away from the Left and, towards the end of his life, turned almost hostile to it. However, both in his life and work, he always remained a rebel par excellence and successfully questioned the prevailing social, moral, sexual, political and literary norms.


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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 11:26:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-rebel-in-life-and-work/article8370696.ece

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