Hindi Literary Scene Today: Glimpses of the Deluge!
The scene is actually exasperatingly difficult to capture. With literally thousands of Hindi journals and magazines (big and small) emerging from different parts of the country, one might easily conclude that Hindi literature is flourishing in both productivity as well as diversity of voices. To name a few is not easy. However there is no denying the fact that magazines such as Hans, Kathadesh, Tadbhav, Vak, Alochana, Pehel, Pakhi, Dastavez, Naya Gyanodaya and many others have gradually harvested a strong tradition of good quality literature in Hindi. In fact some of these are edited by writers of great sensitivity e.g. Gyanranjan (Pehel), Leeladhar Mandloi (Naya Gyanodaya), Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari (Dastavez) or Akhilesh (Tadbhav). Needless to say, since Hindi is an official language of India and also one of the most popular languages here, as Teji Grover stated there is no crisis of readership. Says she "I have chanced upon discussions comparing Premchand to Gorky in remote villages!"
Hundreds of books in Hindi are published by prominent as well as lesser known publishers from both urban and rural areas. The readership of Hindi is large and spread over North India in particular, with a fairly good presence in the South too. What is remarkable is that in Hindi literature today the insistence on "pure" Hindi language in literature has diminished and thus "many Hindi(s)" have emerged. Whether in the works of such significant writers as Maitreyi Pushpa, Bhagwan Das Morwal or others, Hindi language today has inevitably acquired a local colour, rooted as it were in its specific cultural and geographical context that negotiates with and assimilates easily the other languages of the region. The pluri-linguistic aura in Hindi fiction gets reflected through the easy transfer of vocabulary, idiom, tone and even form from different languages of the region into Hindi. In addition to enriching the host language of expression, this also democratizes creative expression tremendously, both in form and content.
Hindi literature today transmits a kind of restlessness, more so in poetry than in prose. Senior and eminent poets such as Kunwar Narain, Kedarnath Singh, Rajesh Joshi, Manglesh Dabral, Leeladhar Mandloi along with younger poets like Kumar Ambuj, Vyomesh Shukla, Yatindra Mishra and Nilesh Raghuvanshi have written poetry that is both rooted and at the same time reflective of the world outside India. Ashok Vajpeyi, a poet himself but also positioned as someone who is a cultural activist directs and bridges the Hindi litterateur between the outside world and interior regions of the country.
Krishna Sobti the most eminent living fiction writer in Hindi today belongs to the generation of writers that swung Hindi literature through modernity and progressive ideals in post-Independence India. Nirmal Verma, Bhisham Sahni, Mohan Rakesh and their league of writers had each located an independent voice, as did Sobti, and together they all steered quality Hindi literature through the 20th century. What is remarkable about Krishna Sobti's work is that each of her novels/creations is a distinctly different world, a new theme presented in a story told in a different Hindi because the context of the story demanded it so. Her magnum opus Zindaginama is an epic novel that offers a sensitively told cultural history of the composite culture of the pre-partition times cracking gradually with the threatening political call for partition, the narrative created with the post-partition perspective. In the three volumes entitled Hum Hashmat she has penned insightful profiles in a male voice; this is something unique in literature and endows -shall we say- an androgynous perspective to the art of narration. The third volume of Hum Hashmat has been published recently.
Apart from being in tune with the contemporary temper, short fiction has specially flourished due to the prolific presence of magazines in Hindi. In the backdrop of the powerful movement "Nai Kahani" in the seventies, led by Rajendra Yadav, Mohan Rakesh and Kamleshwar, many new writers have been publishing short stories, some of whom are Kunal Singh, Geetashri, Alpana Mishra, Umashankar Choudhary, Shivendra, Manisha Kulshreshth, Ajay Navaria.
Autobiographies and novels such as Omprakash Valmiki's Joothan, Tulasi Ram's Murdahiya and Manikarnika, Sheo Raj Singh Bechain's Mera Bachpan Mere Kandho Par and some others have brought into Hindi fiction, Dalit issues and a new idiom that used literary expression as an instrument to highlight caste discrimination in the society. Voices from the margins have now acquired a large space in Hindi literature. More and more long and short fiction is being published to bring into focus the erstwhile invisible social issues. Gender equality, feminism or a diversity of sexualities are not just fashionable themes today. Tabooed areas are now unraveled with greater confidence.
Realistic and poignant portrayals of the agency of women question the existent patterns of patriarchy in the fiction of Mrinal Pande, Mannu Bhandhari, Mridula Garg, Chitra Mudgal, Geetanjali Shree and some others. Poets such as Savita Singh, Gagan Gill and Anamika knit into their poems strong feminist strands, thus setting a platform for progressive and at times radical articulation of female oppression. In criticism, stalwarts like Namwar Singh, Ramesh Chander Shah and others have been contributing consistently over the last many decades into the pool of literary criticism in Hindi and in that, new literatures have been reviewed and critiqued by them so that eventually they got accepted by the general readership. In recent times, Purushottam Agrawal has made a significant contribution as a literary and cultural commentator through his writings.
The fictional and non fictional writings of Dudhnath Singh, Arun Kamal, Manager Pandey, Uday Prakash, Kashinath Singh, Akhilesh and Shivmurti have helped establish a self-reflexive critical and creative stance which has set inspirational examples and paved the way for younger writers such as Alka Saroagi, Manisha Kulshrestha, Prabhat Ranjan, Neelakshi Singh, Anil Yadav, Shivendu. While Gyan Chaturvedi has skillfully taken forward the tradition of satire that was nourished by such eminent writers as Shrilal Shukla and Parsai, he has also added to it significantly through his experiments with form, content and language. His novels Baramasi and Narak Yatra are just two examples of such experiments.
As for Hindi theatre, some the notable recent names that could be mentioned here for the writing of plays in Hindi are Surentra Verma, Manav Kaul, Punj Prakash and some few others. Whether generally in Indian languages or specifically in Hindi, unfortunately though many adaptions of plays from other world languages are staged, there are not many writers who are writing plays in India.
Some of the major influences from outside India on the Hindi writer have been writers such as Orhan Pamuk, Garcia Marquez or other writers from East European countries and Latin America. Affinities with magic realism brought many a Hindi writer into its fold, prominent amongst them is Vinod Kumar Shukla whose poetry and his novels Naukar ki Kameez and Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi are well known. Urdu literature which has always had a close dialogue with Hindi literature through the ages reflects its influence through the writings of some poets who also write ghazals in Hindi and then there are writers such as Asghar Wajahat, Abdul Bismillah and Manzoor Ahtesham and many others who write in Hindi but use a lot of vocabulary that is perceived as Urdu.
The give and take between languages that happens through translations leads to the enrichment largely of the host language, in this case, that of Hindi. Of late a number of translations into Hindi are being encouraged and published by publishers in India. While large Hindi publication houses such as Vani Prakashan and Rajkamal Prakashan are commissioning translations from many European languages into Hindi, even HarperCollins, Penguin and Yatra are publishing Hindi translations from world literatures. Many of these translations are actually happening directly from the foreign language into Hindi without any mediation through English. An example of this can be seen in Manisha Taneja's translations of Turkish into Hindi.
Undoubtedly the contemporary scene in Hindi is vibrant with a large body of diverse literary production. What is called for is a strong critical response and the building up of suitable theoretical apparatus and tools to sift the genuine from the pretentious and the extraordinary from the ordinary. The defining of new classics needs to happen with a self-conscious critical examination of the mass of literature in front of the reader or else some of the excellent literary pieces may just be blown away or drowned into oblivion! Time will tell …