HUG takes an early (and limited) look into Anil Yadav’s book सोनम गुप्ता बेबफ़ा नहीं है—Sonam Gupta is Not Unfaithful (Antika Prakashan, 2017).
Life oozes in small doses in Anil Yadav’s collection of viewpoints—in his just published book सोनम गुप्ता बेबफ़ा नहीं है—Sonam Gupta is Not Unfaithful (Antika Prakashan, 2017). In its full, frontal grandeur and starkness life circulates, drifts and accrues. We travel. And we expand.
Anil is a recorder par excellence of our times; a witness to the rapid changes that have been taking place in the last two decades in the northern parts of India. He is also a cutting raconteur. And in that process of recounting tales, he makes some claims. No claim is abstruse. None taken in vain. Though the whole book is divided into several rubrics, let us just concentrate on two sections—the one on Literature and the other, called Life.
The section on literature is about a certain optimism about the profession of the writer and the craft of writing that can only come if one is fully immersed and true to one’s experiences and trustful of one’s interlocutors as a writer. He commands respect foremost through his recordings of life. Everything else is secondary. And Anil makes it clear that instead of blaming the readers and students and the middle class for their backwardness and ennui, it is the writer’s responsibility to create readers and create situations for discussion and debate. There indeed are certain glass ceilings and internecine struggles (खेमों, गिरोहों, उपगिरोहों के युयुत्सु शिबिरों) but there are ways to overcome such limitations. One has to reach the readers directly and without any armour. The readers, especially the young readers of Hindi, are intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful human beings of flesh and blood. They are not to be hoodwinked by abstractions that come from a life that is not experienced.
The first thing is to admit that the litterateur is given a very low status by the society. This is bound to happen since literature itself has turned into an auxiliary form of enterprise. Once you come to terms with these realities you are able to free yourself from all expectations of greatness and can simply keep on penning whatever you see and feel. In order to fortify his claims, Anil gives us a few snippets. One such is about Srilal Shukla. Why is Shukla so universally feted? He did not care for this or that camp or ideology. His confidence, right from his initial days of writing, came from, in Anil’s luminous phrase: दीप्त ख़ामोशी (radiant silence). The respect and continuous readership that Raag Darbari enjoys is not because of any literary conscience or some such drivel, but because Shukla could show the readers their own lost battles and misadventures. In the early days Shukla was considered to be an upcountry bumpkin by many established authors of Hindi and his greatest work not even considered a novel proper. The respect that accrued to Shukla over the decades owes less to his craft of satire (which is present, no doubt) but more to the hopes of a million readers whose lives go unnoticed and unrecorded. He breaks the traditional romantic idea of our rural existence and shuns all sentimental flab. The readers have not missed this feature. Indeed the burgeoning readership is a certificate to hope itself.
In a similar vein he introduces us to Adam Gondvi who weaves the sharpest of couplets and songs, especially those that are politically searing, like this one: प्लेट में है काजू व्हिस्की गिलास में/ उतरा है रामराज विधयक निवास में. This otherwise tentative and lost soul will time and again return to reality with such clarity that the listener will be simultaneously embarrassed and enlarged immeasurably by the utterances.
The reason why the general reader has gone to pulp fiction (in which readers have sought refuge forever anyway!) and accessible versifiers and pop gurus is because the other breed is unable to mirror to them life’s inner dynamics. At least the lugdi (pulp) world is accessible and even gives you some direction in life. Plus those books do not harbor any illusion of a grand vision. And Anil limns the book with his characteristic deadpan sense of humour, of course: ऊपर से आधा किलो का मोटा उपन्यास भी सिर्फ बीस रूपए में मिल जाता है—besides, you get a fat, half a kilogram worth of novel only for Rs.20/-!
There is a searing column on Rajendra Yadav of Hans in this section—part anecdote, part reflective. In fact it is less about Yadav who had been hounded by a sexual scandal towards the end of his life. Anil begins by a personal anecdote and presents to us Yadav and himself as two people taking about women, over booze, in the former’s Mayur Vihar apartment. In a matter of fact way Anil lays bare two men who are talking about women. Finally Yadav, albeit in a exaggerated fashion, simply declares that he is a ठरकी बुड्ढा—lascivious old man. Anil ends the first section with a parallel of ठरक in Bhojpuri: हिरस—a kind of beastly, ever-burning sexual urge.
With this note he comes to the main argument of the essay: that perversion, sexual domination, rape and molestation is never going to even diminish one bit, let alone be eradicated, unless we come to terms first with what is going on in the minds of men and women in a repressed society like ours. The woman concerned here too played by the false social claims and christened her relationship with Yadav as filial. No law is going to be able to address this attitude. How come the likes of Manto, Chugtai, Ugra, Kashinath Singh, Rajkamal Chowdhury meet life’s stark realties with a certain directness, a rare humour and a purpose that we are unable to do at this point of time? In Anil’s searing words: हमारे लेखक की हालात हिंदी भाषी देहाती महिला से भी गई बीती है जो स्त्री रोग विशेषज्ञ डॉक्टर के सामने समझ ही नहीं पाती की अपनी समस्या कैसे कहे. As long as we are unable to distinguish between वात्सल्य (filial love) and कामुकता (lust), there is no hope ever of any social justice for women. And besides, we shall lose all readers who are ready to argue and be edified until we are able to meet them headlong, at their own level, which is also ours actually! At one go Anil brings down and glorifies Rajendra Yadav as a great and wretched a human being as anyone of us. There is an original sense of equality between human beings. We can be as divine and as beastly as imaginable. Literature ought to be a serious, direct, meaningful engagement with living, which is a difficult and troublesome business all the time.
With such a sense of what literature and the literary ought to be, we are now in a position to see what Anil has to record about life and living. This section takes us to the workers and apprentices who lie hidden from plain view, to the question of the equality of human beings everywhere, about the quiet force of restlessness, the travelling force and limits of language, life in jail for the have-nots, journalism, to the aghori-sadhus and the idea of contemporary godmanship and about the endurance of pulp and romance in our lives.
There are gurukuls and polytechnics strewn everywhere. An anonymous, oral world of training of mechanics, dastkars, restaurant workers, drivers and semi-skilled fenders hovers all around us. We are unable to see and feel such labour because they lie too close to our own existence. Even the ‘NGO-warriors’ are more interested in the dehumanization of child labour in the making of the sarees and carpets—since that has been the dominant Western paradigm.
There is a remarkable revisionist essay on the force of linguistic warfare in north India—not only taking place between the thakurs and the ahirs, but also happening within the inner spheres of the ahirs themselves. With a particular concentration on the language of abuse and cusswords Anil comes to the conclusion that there is hardly any possibility of transcending the limits of language since the whole system of language works within the bounds and structures of caste configuration. Here and elsewhere we get a sense of his uncompromising face off with the forces of the real which refuses to build a quick romanticism of social justice. This strain creates a great and productive tension with his sense of raw optimism to which we have been referring in the previous section. In spite of frequent reality checks Anil refuses to be cowed down. But the real erupts every single time with a matter-of-fact potency. He does not flinch there.
With a deft painter’s brush Anil sketches the inner life of the jail—the class system within the walls of our jails, the unfortunate ones who are jailed for decades for silly crimes and the life after return from incarceration. A vast number of unfortunate ones constantly need to fill our jails so that the more privileged one in those very jails can lead a more comfortable existence. Menial work of cleaning sewers and toilets is their lot for decades There is no respite even after such folks come back to their villages or towns after doing jail time: their brethren now prefer to call themselves banvasi and do not wish to associate with these workers and perplexed souls. Once again we see how class and caste realties work in the most insidious manner within the interstices of our society. Our worlds do exist and overlap with other parallel existences. But we refuse to acknowledge those universes. We make them seem like grey and fantastic realms.
There is another essay on an encounter with the aghori-sadhus. These sects are known for their bare, hedonist-spiritual way of living. As we gradually move through the essay Anil builds up and ambience of expectation, only to pulverize the whole edifice later so that we realize how the very idea and quest for an alternative hedonist existence within our lived world is a receding mirage. It is not just that the sadhus prove themselves to be charlatans but that our very existence seems to be an elaborate and real fantasy. Hollowness and bullshitting is way of life. We are not deluded anymore by authenticity. But the fact is that Anil is not celebrating any post-truth world. His deep sense of elliptic-idealism simply refuses to buy any easy and given ways of approaching truth. Therefore the full force of this refusal comes out in paroxysms of irony and naked realism.
It is only fitting that the section on Life reconnects with literature and ends with this line: साहित्य निरंतर बदलते आदमी के धूसर, अज्ञात, अब तक न कहे गए हिस्से को कहने की कोशिश ही तो है | (Literature is the constant attempt at addressing the grey, unknown, until now unspoken areas of the constantly changing world of the human being.)