A tribute to Shivpujan Sahay
THE PIONEER : Tuesday, 14 August 2018 | Sachida Nand Jha
As we celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of the literary icon, it would be pertinent to emulate his contributions to Hindi literature. Besides writing and editing books, he also wrote many novels and short stories
Shivpujan Sahay, whose 125th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year, should be seen, understood and interpreted as one of the harbingers of what is often called “Hindi Renaissance”, which began in the immediate aftermath of the first war of Indian independence in 1857 but remained in a nascent stage till it attained distinctive visibility as a literary movement through the commendable and concerted efforts made by prominent pioneers such as Bharatendu Harishchandra and Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi.
The movement relentlessly continued with a roller-coaster ride for which countless anonymous others willingly chose to contribute to the making of Hindi literary cultures along nationalist lines in whatever big or small ways they could. Adequately equipped with a nationalist mindset, Sahay in particular made “tremendous contribution to the growth story of Hindi public sphere”, to borrow a phrase from a contemporary Hindi critic, Francesca Orsini, who has written extensively on this idea. However, Sahay did not get the kind of critical reception and literary recognition he deserved for his immensely impressive contribution despite the seemingly sound accolade like “Hindi Bhushan” thrown early on his way by the Hindi literati even before he could be awarded Padmabhusan by the Government of India.
Apart from being a well-known practising journalist, Sahay was a veteran editor who led many magazines, such as Marwari Sudhar, Matwala Aadarsh, Upanyasa Tarang, Samanvay, Madhuri, Ganga, Jagran, Himalaya andSahitya for which he wrote cutting edge, topical editorials. In doing so, he tried to not only inculcate among the masses a taste for literature but to also educate them about the importance of modern education, health, sanitation and so on. He also edited significant books like Dwivedi Abhinandan Granth, Rajendra Smarak Grantha, autobiography of Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, and a novel of Munshi Premchand. Publishers, namely Dulare lal Bhargava and Chintamani Ghosh, who had unqualified admiration for the editorial skills of Sahay, trusted only him for editing the novel Rangbhoomi by Premchand. Sahay not only did a wonderful job but also wrote in an interesting manner about the ways in which he did so.
Distinguished dramatist Jagdish Chandra Mathur, too, has written movingly about the outstanding editorial abilities of Sahay who was gifted enough to write beautiful idiomatic Hindi. Contemporary critics as well as those from yesteryears tend to completely agree with what Mathur rightly underlined. Eminent literary critic Namvar Singh often reiterates this. He never forgets to mention the fact that Sahay used to edit with consummate elegance and write the kind of flawless prose which is extremely rare to find these days. In addition to successfully editing numerous magazines and individual works of authors, he consistently wrote in elegant prose diaries, memoirs, letters, short stories and novels revolving around myriad issues, including those relating to social obscurantism, women empowerment, nationalist ideas and principles as well as a democratic mindset.
People usually tend to forget that much before Phanishwar Nath Renu could write about village life with all its complexities in Maila Aanchal and even Premchand could give his voice to the voiceless in Godaan, Sahay had already written about the rural world with all its simplicities, eccentricities, obscure and brutally unjust practices in his novel Dehati Duniya.
Narratorial perspective in this classic novel unfolds both the merits and demerits of community life and also brings us intimately closer to the layered social oddities and superstitious habits entrenched in the village life of north India during the early decades of the 20th century. Poverty and dark underbelly of the countryside are brought to the fore and so is the gradual disintegration of terrifying feudal tendencies which had made the people from the periphery suffer immeasurably. The pathos and suffering of lower castes and women have been vividly captured and so is the plight of the rich and the powerful since the former is caught up in the mess created by unending poverty and the latter in the utter darkness of deep ignorance.
Moreover, the colonial intervention which put the so-called modern police force in place, for instance, that did wreak unimaginable havoc on the fearful villagers and in turn caused certain foundational distortions at the psychic level among the rural folk, is ironically articulated in a subtle but effective manner. With adequate and abundant uses of local phrases, popular proverbs and metaphors, Sahay helped us know about people’s ever increasing rupture with the essence of indigenous collective wisdom.
Essential human traits and attributes like simplicity, humility and personal integrity, which should be the guiding principles of humanity, have been made subservient to the notion of immediate gain and material fulfillment. Various social etiquettes, which were central to human existence in the rural areas of India, have been rendered almost entirely unintelligible and so obviously insignificant. Both in terms of its weeknesses and strengths, Dehati Duniya offers us a very comprehensive and deeply intimate picture of a representative north Indian village for the first time in the literary genre called novel. So it paved the path for a realistic tradition of prose-writing in the domain of Hindi literature. As a matter of fact, it not only laid the foundations but was also a worthy precursor to what was later known as provincial novel-writing of Renu variety and realist novel-writing of Premchand variety respectively.
Revisiting Dehati Duniya makes us understand the importance of keeping our ideological persuasions aside. While reading a literary text, which gives us many opportunities to come to terms with the complexities of human experiences, readers and interpreters should look carefully at the representations of socio-political circumstances that are too complex to fit into the framework of a particular political predilection. Rethinking the content of the novel makes it abundantly clear that the nation, with its intricacies and subtleties, has been narrated for the sake of re-awakening our national consciousness. Also so that newer possibilities can be explored to eradicate abominable practices in order to enable the residents of those places to develop a democratic and nationalist disposition.
Not only in his novels but also in short stories, notably Kahani ka plot, Mundmaal andBulbul aurGulab, Sahay does not lose sight of the indisputable fact that ideas and experiences matter much more than ideologies and political posturing for creative purposes.
Ideologically-oriented literary practitioners, who dominate the contemporary literary scene in Hindi, will be benefitted a great deal if they take a cue from what Sahay says about literature and its nuanced relationships with ideas and ideologies. The pertinent reason to mention this is that ideologically motivated literature, which exhibits its primary, unconditional preoccupations with political stance of one kind or the other, tends to lose its soul.
The proverbial blood, sweat and tears Shivpujan Sahay shed to help Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad take shape as a pre-eminent institution in its own right and the kind of quality publications he ensured from this organisation further reinforce his unflinching commitments to and unflagging preferences for the primacy of ideas over ideologies, constructive, complex human experiences over apparently simplistic political bickering.
(The writer is Assistant professor of English at Rajdhani College, Delhi University)