[This is an excerpt from Gyanranjan ke Bahane, where the writer gives us a unique sense of the Hindi literary world from the 1960s till date, by way of tracing it through the story of his friendship with Gyanranjan, writer and editor of the watershed literary magazine Pahal. Translation HUG.]
As I have said, between Gyan and me, things were getting into a rhythm of sorts. But in this new chapter, our relationship would be more of a roller coaster ride, with its fair share of ups and downs.
Once Gyanranjan got into the business of editing Aadhar, the pace and style of his own writings began to suffer. No one would really consider him to be a prolific writer, but at least there used to be regularity in his pen earlier. After 1970, there developed a kind of sluggishness in that evenness of output. The half-formed, halting tale which Gyan would narrate to us at leisure actually saw the light of the day as ‘Anubhav’, which got published in 1972. After that bit of writing Gyan had not written any short story. Perhaps a variation of that idea one might be able to detect in ‘Bahirgaman,’ which Ashok Vajpeyi had included in his Pehchan series. Since no edition of Pehchan had taken the responsibility of providing us with the publishing details, nor was there any bit of information about the date and year of the individual editions themselves, it is impossible to tell at this point which version of the story came out first. But yes, his story ‘Ghanta’ appeared in ‘Katha’ in 1968 and after that Gyan had written two other short stories. Of course, post-‘Anubhav’, Gyan had published a couple of sections from his proposed novel, but that too remained incomplete. Later, once his journey with Pahal began, and the way he got involved in that project, it was impossible to come back and write creative stuff systematically. Most certainly, an opportunity lost.
We, I mean Dudhnath Singh and I, have often tried to ponder over this: why had Gyan stopped writing? I mean, what could be the reasons? Over a period of time I have come to my own personal conclusions about this matter. Gyan’s writings and concerns, having begun during the Nehrvian era and having felt the full impact of the illusory aspect of that era, had arrived at a new juncture. One of the first signs of a generation’s disillusionment with the Nehruvian era was possibly Amarkant’s—a man of the previous era—story ‘Hatyara’, published in Nayi Kahaniya. The disenchantment with Nehru’s time and ways had provided Hindi literature with some pregnant possibilities. The likes of Shrikant Verma, who gave us poems like ‘Bhatka Megh’, were rattling their twin-bladed sabres of distrust and rage. The fervour of Janwadi movements and much of the earlier streams of the left had already ebbed from the cultural scene. In these circumstances, the restless, self-centred ethos of Nayi Kavita was being demolished by the seething fumes of the directionless and anarchic poetry-movements like Akavita, which gobbled up even some old-timers and seasoned left activists.
During these times, if we behold the stories of Dudhnath Singh, Gyanranjan, Kashinath Singh and Ravindra Kalia collectively, one would clearly notice signs of nihilism and negativity—a spiralling nakarvaad was in the air. Ravindra Kalia and Kashinath Singh were fully draped in the ominous chaddar of negativity—quite distinctly apparent if one reads Ravi’s ‘5055’ or Kashinath’s ‘Apne Log.’ But Dudhnath and Gyan, if you allow me a popular adage, were hopeful about hopelessness—astha ke saath anasthavadi.
Dudhnath nurtured his own brand of negativity, which was nature’s gift—one that we can make out right from ‘Vistaar’ (published in Sarika), meandering past ‘Sukhant’ and ‘Dharmashetra Kurushetra’ and leading up to ‘Namo Andhakaram’ and ‘Nishkasan’. The difference was only this that while in his first phase of writing, the impulse of negativity was channelled through and coloured in the motifs of self-destructiveness and melancholy, gradually the same bent changed and got engaged into viciously tearing down others, along with paying repeated obeisance to self-centredness and self-glorification.
In Gyan’s kind of negativity, on the other hand, since it had emerged from real social unrest and turmoil, the public-social nature was always at hand, in attendance. Even the beatnik wave could not deter him from his chosen path, though it did influence him a lot. ‘Amrud ka Pedh’, ‘Shesh Hote Huye’ and “Fence ke Idhar aur Udhar’—all bear testimony to how he had tirelessly exposed and torn apart middle class vacuity and other loose sensibilities. It is strange that recently, as I again sat reading his 1972 ‘Anubhav’, I felt that an unsuccessful story of his time was so prescient with truth of a different order. It was ahead of its time actually.
I also felt rather wistful and wondered whether things would have been different if Gyan had tolerated a wee bit more the very structurelessness of his stories and wandered a tad more in the by-lanes of his thought world. Had he given such stories some more time to mature in his mind and had he nurtured them further with his developing experience, his work may have exhibited altogether different contours. But Gyan was of a different mettle—living life and literature on a knife’s edge. Maybe the terrain of his writings was middle class existence; but the way he would undo and lay bare each of its layers by his unique style and turns of phrase: that was his and his alone. And when one continues to exhaust all of one’s linguistic munitions with such energy in each and every bit of writing, at one point one may find the arsenal exhausted, empty. That is what transpired I suspect. Perhaps Gyan had lacked the patience and endurance to dismantle and recast his own mould afresh, the way Nirala, Sarveshwar and Raghuvir Sahay had done. Gyan’s art had gradually developed into a fortress and then into a prison-house of its own.
There was yet another reason. In the first period of nihilism, Gyan had trained his sarcasm on every middle class institution. The idea of the household seemed like a stolid ashram to him, marriage an irksome zone of fun and frolic, pater familias—a benevolent wall with whom one clashes from time to time in order to come of age, children and the affection directed towards them was sentimental excess: all these seemed cosy, private and utterly wearisome. But once Gyan had himself married and began running a family, it was impossible to make fun of these very institutions and attitudes.
Those who know Gyan, also know quite well how utterly disarming he can be and how selflessly he is able to reciprocate love. Even during the days when he was penning his deadly stories, he was utterly in love with the children of his elder brother Sriranjan. Quite often one would hear him christen kids with new names; holler at Sriranjan’s elder son— pappu gunda alu chop. The biting sarcasm in his stories was an inward-looking middle class double-edged tool. But it must also be noted that Gyan must have carefully noticed the kind of nihilistic impulse that had led Doodhnath to write such a moist and lachrymose story like ‘Sukhant.’ Gyan had decided to keep away from giving in to such inclinations. And so he stopped writing. The result of such a realization was rather unfortunate—words would never freely flow the way it used to at one point of his life. An unbridgeable chasm developed between the paper and the pen.
Besides all these, the greatest change was of course effected by the Naxalite peasant andolan of 1967-68. It challenged the revisionist-reformist tendencies in left circles and at the same time brought left ideas and ideologies front and centre. One noticed how the creative negativity of the votaries of Akavita and Nayi Kavita gradually lost steam. Those who were pushed to the margins of the literary world (but who always kept on writing) by those who ‘explored soul and spirit’—Nagarjun, Kedarnath Agarwal, Muktibodh, Trilochan, Shamsher—every one of them got a new lease of life. In spite of all the charges of anarchism that are usually levelled against the 1970 Yuva Lekhak Sammelan, its greatest contribution was to bring back Hindi Literature from the throes of inward-looking, internal debates straight to the public world. Lay readers could connect life with art again.
It is apparent that during such changed times Gyan must have been in a dilemma too. And that is because unlike the other names that I have cited, Gyan was much more hooked up to the depths of social changes that were happening around us. He knew he was part of a living history. The new changed times were not like a new kurta which one dons by discarding the old one. That is the reason why Dudhnath had disappeared into an extended hibernation after the 1970s stories. After a long silence he reappeared again as an active member of the CPI(M) and the Progressive Writers Association. In this period Dudhnath had tried his best to reshape and mount his earlier poems into a progressive kind of apparatus. This in itself is not a bad thing had it been a real compulsion to be vocal for progressive causes. But after all the turns and twists within various Marxist fronts, one feels that the real Dudhnath is still the author of ‘Reech’ and ‘Sukhant.’ The changed tone in the revised poems was a desperate attempt to prove oneself otherwise. Ravindra Kalia, meanwhile, was getting close to the Congress party and went back to produce superficial stuff of the pre ‘Kala-Register’ days. Though Kashinath Singh still had the capacity to give us stories like ‘Sudhir Ghosal’, and this was after ‘Apne Log’, the Naxalite ideals and ways were beyond his tolerance level. So the options were to again look for progressive or Lohia-ite alternatives. Naturally, his stories now began to reek of a feel-good social wisdom.
This is not the site to develop any in-depth analysis of those short-story writers who used to call themselves saadhe chaar yaar. And yet, I had to do this mini prefacing. It is only within such a context that one can perceive. Gyan’s writerly attitude, his creative motivations and the changing nature of our mutual relationship. And the story of Gyanranjan and Pahal? Let us keep that for another day.