Maithili literature in the last decade: The decade of gaining new readers
Maithili Literature went through some interesting turning points in its long and glorious history in the last decade. Last decade was the first one when Maithili language got space in the 8th schedule of the constitution and also got institutional benefit of that through becoming part of publishing programmes of National Book Trust, Central Institute of Indian Languages and others.
Though the recognition, a hard won victory for language also came at a time when anyway most of the Indian languages are going through a crisis of readership. In Maithili's case challenges are bigger. Apart from the institutional publishing programmes whose output would be around 15-20%, the other books are mostly published by authors. More than the publishing, the main challenge related with books is lack of proper distribution of books. This makes any task of review difficult.
In this review, I would like to point out few trends which bode well for the Maithili literature and also mention some books, which in my idiosyncratic view were outstanding.
One happy trend was the many isolated initiatives to increase readership in Maithili. A short lived newspaper, Maithili Awaaz, some part Maithili TV Channels like Soubhgya Mithila, and many FM radio stations in Nepal all contributed their bit.
Some of the magazines, like Antika and Ghar Bahar continued. A notable new magazine was Mithila Darshan, which in its revived form after almost four decades reached 5000 copies of sales, a record in recent times. It is a family magazine which publishes good amount of creative literature regularly, nicely curated by its editor, poet Sh. Ramlochan Thakur.
A near phenomenon was an e-magazine called Videha. Videha, with the singular energy of its editor Sh. Gajendra Thakur created a huge readership among the internet literate population. Videha, a fortnightly, has published 168 issues so far. For many of these readers, this was their first exposure to Maithili literature. The magazine and its associated efforts also tried to popularize lesser practiced genres like Ghazals, Haiku and Children's literature. This group also created or brought to light many new authors- from rural and non-Brahmin castes. They have started annual awards parallel to Sahitya Akademi. A remarkable achievement of influence based on impressive work, the group needs to use its power responsibly in future to strengthen Maithili literature.
A new award, Prabodh Sahitya Samman with its transparent process, also created great deal of credibility.
Talking of literary trends in the last decades, to me a cross genre trend was of going back towards the popular. Two main streams of Maithili literature during last five decades or so were the progressive pro poor literature which was also by and large the modernist stream. The other was more status quo-ist and traditionalist literature. The progressive strand had more literary ambitions and heralded blank verse in poetry. This took it away from the rhyme based poetry which was popular. As there is virtually no popular literature distinct from the literary, pulp literature virtually remained absent in Maithili.
During late 1960s, the first pocket books series in Maithili, though short lived, presaged the genre of literary pulp, which became quite popular in European and Latin American Literature in the late twentieth century. During the last decade, novels by Kedarnath Choudhary, like Mahur, Chamelirani and Karar etc., bordered on creating the new genre of pulp literature in Maithili.
Even in poetry, forms like rhyming poems and Ghazals etc. made a comeback. It is also a reflection of the fact that poetry is getting more established as an oral performative genre given the large number of cultural festivals being organized. As an oral performative genre, rhyming poems have become very popular. However, even otherwise, poetry continued as the most popular genre.
Novels were becoming scarce in recent times. However, a number of novels were published in this decade. Apart from the novels by Kedarnath Chaudhary mentioned earlier, Vidyanath Jha Vidit also wrote many short novels. Jagdish Prasad Mandal, a prolific writer in most of the genres, also published many novels. Pradeep Bihari published two novels called Shesh and Jadi in this period. Hopefully, now that the numbers are coming, even in terms of quality better and bigger novels would show up. Gaurinath's debut novel, on intercaste marriage of a Brahmin girl and Dalit boy broke new grounds at many level. It is a critique of breaking Brahminical order as well as an attempt at a feminist critique of current marital relations. Authentic in its interrogation of patriarchy, it also brings out the decline of Mithila and its conversion into a money order economy and the changing social structure within.
Short story is another genre which is supported through a cultural institution called 'Sagar Rati Deep Jaray' where writers read their stories and also critiqued others. During the last decade, Subhash Chandra Yadav, the best living short story writer in Maithili to my mind, published a new collection, many years after his path breaking collection Ghardekhia. The present collection, Banait Bigarait, is full of stories of absences and is a great critique of the underdevelopment of Mithila region. Many other short story collections by Jagadish Prasad Mandal, Shyam Darihare, Rishi Vashishth, Parameshwar Kaapadi and others also came out during this period. Senior poet Arvind Thakur's collection Anharak Virodh Me and Shivshankar Srinivas's GunaKatha and Gaamak Lok also came out in this period. Shivashankar continues with his authentic stories about life in the rural area where he lives and works with characters from his surroundings.
In poetry, senior poet, Udaya Chandra Jha Vinod published two books Prashna Vachak and Apaksh. Another senior poet Hare Krishna Jha published his first book of poems Ena Ta Nahi Je. Standing alone in the whole of Maithili literature and even contemporary Indian literature, the poems of this collection develop a native critique of the contemporary times while expressing their quiet solidarity with the disadvantaged. His use of words, language and metaphors qualifies to be called completely Maithil. New poets, Praveen Kashyap, Dilip Kumar Jha, Chandan Kumar Jha and Arunabh Saurabh came with their first anthologies. Arvind Thakur came with his collection of Ghazals. A very touching book of poetry, almost reminding me of the Elegies by Douglas Donne and Saroj Smriti by Nirala, was by Vibhuti Anand- Ahan Nai, O Divas Chali Gel. This is a book of poems in the memory of his wife, the poet, Jyotsna Chandram, after her untimely demise. Another notable book was by Kumar Manish Arvind.
Sahitya Akademi's award for children's literature and its own publishing programme on translations from other Indian languages have encouraged a good enough body of books, most of the time uneven in quality.
It was also a fertile decade for plays. A notable play was No Entry: Ma Pravish by Udaya Narayan Singh Nachiketa.
Apart from these books of reminisces, travelogues and autobiographies also got published. Notable authors in these genres were Ashok, Yogendra Viyogi and Kedarnath Chaudhary.
Overall, the Maithili literature remained situated in villages. Either contemporary villages (very less) or remembered villages. The virtual absence of Maithili in cities, within Mithila region and outside, has given rise to a literature devoid of urban themes. Literature as a whole moved away from being for the people to being popular. On the positive side, this was the decade where both new authors and new readers came in large numbers. Many authors came from regions and communities which did not have any voice in the Maithili literature before.
The coming decade should be one of newer and exciting voices and stories.