I have thought quite a lot about this question but I am none the wiser after all these years. I have often asked myself as to why writers do not occupy the same pride of place in the Hindi-speaking region as they do in other parts of the country? Why have they not been able to create a space for themselves in the hearts and minds of those who constitute the sprawling Hindi society? If there exists a Hindi nationality as renowned literary critic Ramvilas Sharma was fond of asserting, why does it not have pride in its creative writers? Can we imagine a Bengali home without books of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya or Kazi Nazrul Islam? Conversely, how many homes in the Hindi-speaking region can boast of a good collection of books? After Tulsidas, Premchand was perhaps the only writer who was unhesitatingly and whole-heartedly accepted by the Hindi world. It’s also worth mentioning that he was equally popular among Urdu readers as he wrote in both the languages. But, what happened after him?
These and so many other nagging questions flooded my mind as I started reading Nikhil Govind’s monograph “Between Love and Freedom: The Revolutionary in the Hindi Novel” published by Routledge last year. These questions had nothing to do with the subject matter of the book as it attempted to make a study of political romance in Hindi novel and, in the process, discussed the works of Jainendra, Agyeya and Yashpal.
So short is our literary memory that with the exception of Agyeya who is remembered once in a while by admirers as well as detractors, there is virtually no discussion of the other two stalwarts. Jainendra was a trendsetter in his own way while Yashpal, himself part of the revolutionary movement, was a top-notch fiction writer. His two-volume magnum opus “Jhootha Sach” is probably the only novel of its kind that dissects the political and social processes that led to the Partition and chronicles the horrors that it created.
Nikhil Govind discusses the revolutionary figure of the Bengali novel and how the Hindi novel was influenced by it. However, by the 1930s, the Hindi novel had freed itself from this influence. In subsequent years, it acquired a personality of its own. Bankim’s “Anandamath” first raised the question of revolutionary violence and attempted to fashion an ideology around it.
Sarat’s novel “Pather Dabi” took it further and offered the prototype of a revolutionary who, hardened in struggles and always on the run from the authorities, directly confronted the oppressive colonial rule. The yearning for freedom also leads to loosening of sexual taboos and camaraderie between the male revolutionary and his female associates.
Of the three, Jainendra Kumar was the least political. He was a Gandhian whose novels focused on the complexity of human relations and their radicalization in the unfolding of the political-personal process. Sunita has a revolutionary character Hariprasanna who gets attracted to his friend Shrikant’s wife and the attraction seems to be mutual. However, Sunita instead of succumbing to her desires shames Hariprasanna into impotence by taking off her clothes and appearing naked in front of him. The novel ends without resolving the love triangle or the frustrating relationship of Sunita and her husband Shrikant. Yashpal’s Dada Comrade and Agyeya’s Shekhar too use sexuality as a trope as well as a tool to explore what freedom meant beyond the explicitly political.
Both Agyeya and Yashpal were involved in the revolutionary movement. Yahspal was a close associate of Bhagat Singh and also a member of the Communist Party of India. These days, when nationalism is being constantly redefined without showing any regard to the history of anti-colonial national movement, reading these novels would be a rewarding experience.
Nikhil Govind has tried to make sense of these three writers by situating them in their historical as well as literary context. In this process, he has made us aware of our literary heritage and also of the fact that we are falling prey to amnesia. Writers are the keepers of our collective conscience and no society is more unfortunate than the one that buries its literary memory under the debris of the mundane repetitiveness of daily existence.
The writer is a literary critic