[ Hazari Prasad Dwivedi replies to Balraj Sahni. HUG translates from Pahal 93.]
Dear Bhai Balraj-ji,
Bhisham-ji has sent me your long set of questions and has requested that I write back with my responses. Before I get to my responses it is imperative to say a little by way of a preamble since right in your opening statements you have said something quite intimidating. Soon we shall know each other for 30 years. We must have evolved quite a bit during these years but after going through your questions it appears to me that while you have intellectually come a long way, I have not made much progress. That you have grown intellectually is abundantly clear from the way you have put forth the initial condition: that both of us speak candidly to each other in this exchange, so that we cannot disown our words later. I have noticed this kind of condition being laid by the netas and leaders in various newspapers these days—a distinct sign of their maturity. Before this, we have exchanged ideas quite a few times but never have you laid such a prior condition of honesty or frankness before a conversation. ‘बहु धनु ही तोरयों लरिकाई, कबहुं न अस रिस कीन गुसाई’
But dear Balraj-ji, I still consider that the idea of oath-taking in order to underline honesty is not a good thing in itself. I have my doubts about the intention of that man who needs to make a public pledge once in a while in order to prove his integrity. In fact, I have now come to believe that since the idea of an absolute truth is anyway a chimera, the corresponding idea of absolute candidness, as the oath-taker might like to believe, is also imaginary. Long ago, Vedic rishis had felt that vidhata—the creator—had firmly sealed truth’s aperture with a golden lid. This, when Manu had suggested that truth needs to be valued—which is sanatana dharma. So, even as I reply, you would excuse me if I do not fully disregard sanatana dharma. Right? So, with this prelude, let me get to the matter at hand.
When you had arrived at Santiniketan in 1937 with a reference from Agyeyaji, I do not recall what I was doing. But I remember that after a short conversation with you I was very happy and felt that here was a transparent and talented young man standing in front of me. I also felt that you had good literary qualities and wondered how I could help you in some way so that you could blossom as a writer. By then, a few of your stories had been published, which you had given me to go through. I can even recall the title of one such story vividly: Jijaji Ka Snan. I liked it a lot. Later I was even more happy to know that the hero of that story was none other than my dear friend Chandragupt Vidayalankar. I had already imagined an arriving force in literature after reading those stories. So, when you had left all this for the world of films, I was very disappointed, especially since during those days I nurtured the thought that talented people with literary inclinations end up being wasted in the silvery world. So I did not write to you at that point. But you will recall that after watching you act in Do Bigha Zameen I had written you a note saying that though I had been disappointed by your departure from the literary-academic world, Do Bigha Zameen had changed my opinion. Thankfully I had not been honest with you and had not tried to stop you from venturing into films! That would have been a big error. I remember that a senior writer had also dissuaded you from films and that was one reason that you had left Calcutta for Santiniketan.
Anyway, these are irrelevancies. True, I was observing you during the initial days in Santiniketan but owing to my own limitations I could not imagine the nature of your future trajectory. During those days, I inevitably ended up visualizing persons with some potential as future a Premchand or Gorky or Tolstoy. I did not have the slightest idea that someone can make a difference just by acting. But I also feel that I had not been mistaken in making the kind of evaluation that I did about you. Actually, I did not have the right kind of work for you. My domain was small; power even more limited. I was dithering about putting you in a BA class, full of juveniles. But seeing you take that work so seriously actually made me feel much more confident. Gurudev would usually agree with my judgment and he was actually very happy to see you. You will be surprised to know with what words I’d recommended you to Gurudev. “This boy,” I told him with some enthusiasm, “is MA in English literature from Punjab University but does help us in every minor and essential work of the department. He is totally oblivious of the traditions of Hindi literature and therefore would be much focussed. If he manages to stay in the ashram for a while, he will most certainly bloom into a fine writer.” Gurudev was ecstatic. “Mature bamboo is of no use to me,” he said, “the unformed one is better; the one which can be dried up and given a shape according to our ways in the ashram.”
I used to believe right from the beginning that Hindi needs talented people who have traversed different philosophical and classical traditions. Those who have come from the tradition of Hindi literature are no doubt important assets but they are not the only ones who would be useful for the subject. May I confide in you here that I have begun telling my friends and colleagues to holler and spread a slogan: “Save Hindi from Medievalism.” About this I was not so focussed during the times that you are referring to but I did nurture a seed of such thought even at that time. About choosing you as my colleague, a similar mindset must have worked.
I truly feel that a student of Hindi must understand and communicate with scholars of other disciplines and those scholars must also give their opinions and judgements about the Hindi literary situation without any hesitation or reservation. It is for this reason that I always try to impart to students at least the larger worlds and interdependent traditions of Bangla, Urdu, Sanskrit and English. I had hoped that my students would gain by getting a larger picture from you and this hope did find fruition. I also wanted to make you aware of the traditions of Hindi literature and would immensely enjoy it when you periodically came up to me with long lists of difficult and arcane words. I remember that before the sabha at Bolpur, you were very excited and restless to know more about Tulsidas. I did naughtily enjoy your restlessness. But I never wanted you to leave Santiniketan. In fact, your quitting Santiniketan had left an indelibly poignant mark on my mind. But I had also felt that a modern man of your distinction must have a taste of what is difficult and distinguished in our tradition too. I feel that flavour, in howsoever small a dose injected, has left an imprint.
Dear Balraj-ji, a reply to your fifth question would essentially mean trying to understand my own self. It is not just about you but it so happens that often people who have differed from my views and judgements have come quite close to me. I try to avoid such squabbles but often some friends who have ignored Hindi and have opposed my ways of thinking have also left me, which means I am unable to convey my love and good wishes to them. On the other hand, there have been people who would oppose me tooth and nail at an argumentative level and still are good friends and yet others who would agree with my opinions from afar and yet I do not consider them close enough. The reasons why things might develop or not develop between people ought to come from elsewhere rather than from outward ideals or principles. I have often wondered about discrepancies in judgement and have now come to believe that it is not a matter of credit or blemish. This is fact. My nature is evolving, and is yet something particular to me. Before going through your letter, I had not thought about this matter with any amount of seriousness. But now I am compelled to confront it. I feel what attracts me most is sincerity –imaandari— of purpose. An attribute that I do not possess attracts me, when I see it in others. Let me also tell you that the kind of sincerity I am referring to is something that I see from my own viewpoint, sometimes intuitively; there is no reason for getting into an argument or debate about this. I think I have said enough and there is no point in further elaborating on your question.
You have suggested that your final question is a particularly difficult one and have given me assurance that you will give me a passing grade if I am able to reap 25 percent marks here. Actually, this question is not so difficult. I have got rather habituated with a tendency to not speak or come out with an opinion about ideas or things that I do not understand. But my silence does not mean I am against a movement or an ideal. During those days the progressive movement was on the upswing, the motivations and arguments of which I was trying to understand. I did not fully get it.
What I was trying to understand was this: how come people who are trying to forge a foreign philosophy, culled from the cultural history of an alien land through a foreign language, be classified as progressives? The progressive should be historical, not merely universal-conceptual. That impulse cannot come from rote knowledge but must pass through our blood vessels, our bone marrow. Our nation is not exactly an apprentice one, you know. Our argumentative and philosophical traditions have indeed struck deep roots. I did not feel what was being brought under the ambit of progressive thought was natural and at ease with our historical conditions. It seemed made up, crafted, thrust upon. I have already said that I am not among the honest, straight-speaking lot. So, if I am not sure about a philosophy or method, I do not usually make a huge hue and cry about it in order to make a point. I kept on trying to make sense of this new political-ethical movement and as far as I remember, did not write anything about it until 1944-45. It is during those days that people were branding Kafan as Premchand’s crowning glory—I simply did not buy this viewpoint. But other than to some close friends like you, I did not make my views public. Today I feel I can appreciate where Premchand was coming from and how his thoughts may have evolved. That makes the evolution of my own thought-process clearer to me too.
As I have said before, progressive thought is our times’ claim, it’s just insistence. Three phases of our modernity have already lapsed—the pug marks of our freedom from the medieval mindset: the first is that the humans do not anymore think of rebirth or the otherworld as a necessary form of final refuge. He feels that economic, political and social freedom can be achieved within his lifetime, in this very world.
The second is that humans now firmly possess a historical consciousness—every single bit of our experience now passes through the process of development—a telos , including dharm and God. This historical sense has bequeathed us new critical tools and means to understand old literature and earlier forms of art. We can now place Tulsidas at a particular historical juncture and are able to evaluate him, appreciate his craft but at the same time believe that in spite of our encomiums and appreciations, it will be unwise and irrelevant to write like him for contemporary times. Our historicity has severed us from the medieval cosmos. We have rid ourselves of our orthodoxies and have become independent.
The third feature is that we have developed an idea of collective liberty and equality along with the idea of a free independent consciousness. We have come to realize that it is not sufficient to free an isolated individual from fear, grief, greed or attachment. We must endeavour to emancipate the whole of the human race from the exploitative clutches of fear and greed. Such a viewpoint is spreading all around the world rapidly—sometimes tacitly and often in more overt ways. It is for this reason that every nation feels that it is actually a proud welfare state though it may otherwise be the most dictatorial regime in every which way. The point is whether it is actually a welfare state—kalyankari rajya. What kind of kalyan are we talking about?
I am thinking of this in the context of the intellectual revolution that I am referring to here. Progressive literature will usually bear the signs of all the aforementioned three features. The ones who equate progress with personal misgivings or try to maximise individual shortcomings are merely giving vent to personal caprices and are actually individualistic in their dealings. We do not witness any trace or attempt to come out of the medieval mindset in their writings. I do not consider them to be progressives and truth be told I do not even consider them litterateurs or artists. Please do not think from whatever I have been saying so far that my long and hard earned humanist values have become blunt. Not the least. It is only that their context and pattern of investment have altered. This new element has only been added to whatever human beings have already garnered with their dedicated pursuits through time. When a newborn arrives in a family the nature and individual relationships in the same family also alter and take new, unforeseen courses. And here we have been blessed with three babies with deeply powerful personalities! Relationships are bound to change and they do keep on changing. Perhaps, this time we are experiencing a more powerful change. That is all.
Those who only know the final steps of such a long movement are not really progressives and those who understand merely the beginning or the middle also have not got the full picture. Progressive thought is a gift from the whole of history. Our debt to history. Therefore history demands its share from every creative writer.
Coterie formations set bad precedents. Even worse if this happens in the literary arena but it is not unusual. From time immemorial people have flocked around some influential personalities— the beginning of cults and coteries in literature, religion and politics. These coteries have been there earlier, are present now and will be there in the future. But the people of earlier times were not so affected and alarmed like the way we are about such cabals and coteries today. Those who harbour a medieval mindset are comparatively less affected by these things even today. Those who have inculcated the three features that I have stated above will be more affected. Parties and groups formed out of respect or superstition are neither historical minded nor have any sense of the collective. The kind of groups I see these days in literary circuits are not quite suffused with literary and aesthetic sensibilities. They have other preoccupations. The more we shall witness the power and demand of collective-man triumphing over the little and material wishes of the individual man, we shall see the ugly and scary features of these cabals putrefy and healthier markers arise out of collectives. Removing such selfish ways means freeing humans from poverty and obscurantism.
Dear Balraj-ji, I firmly believe that one day humans will rise above crass pettiness. I remember those words of Gurudev which go somewhat like this: we are sitting in the ironmonger’s workshop; agonizing over the sounds of thaye thaye, khatar khatar, thud thud bang bang and so on. But if we come to know that in fact that the ironsmith is about to give us strings of the veena, which in turn will produce mellifluous sound, we shall be less troubled. Isn’t that true? Come, let us believe that strings of the veena are being created somewhere. Our children, if not us, will someday listen to the sweet sound emanating from those strings.
I am wondering whether after hearing my words you will begin to laugh out loud or think that the remnants of the nineteenth century are still walking about this earth. But I want you to believe that I am not a dreamer of that kind. The nineteenth century idealists were enthused by the realization of the physical sciences. Physical sciences would concern themselves with the spatial dimension, but the life-world is about artistic feelings— essentially a concern of the temporal mode of thinking. History belongs to this second kind of imagination. Both poetry and music also belong to this dimension. I am not overwhelmed by the scientific managerial successes and my dreams do not stem from those victories. My beliefs are sieved through history.
I believe I have been able to give you answers worth 25 percent from the questionnaire that you had set.
Hazari Prasad Dwivedi