Has Hindi been defeated by English?
Translated by Mangal Murty
[ Only months before his death, Shivapujan Sahay, wrote an article ‘Kya Angrezi se Hindi har gayee?’ which was published by the famous Hindi poet and writer, Dharmveer Bharati, in the epochal Hindi weekly Dharmyug (July 1, 1962). Bharati was running a serial of articles on this burning language issue of the time, and had requested Sahayji for his views on the matter. The relevance of the question is all the more substantial now when things seem to have gone beyond control, with Hindi being pushed behind and discarded increasingly at every step. The full Hindi article, which appeared in a heavily edited form in the journal, excluding the first two introductory paragraphs, is being presented here in English translation for the first time. The original Hindi article is available in volume 3 of the Shivapujan Sahay Sahitya Samagra ( 10 volumes) recently published. – Translator]
Our national leaders love their power, and not Hindi. We, the Hindi people, could have easily taught these autocratic leaders a good lesson through the ballot boxes if we really had a united force. Unfortunately we don’t have that. Even the capable and popular Hindi newspapers which could have actively sustained a movement in this regard are owned by capitalists. No competent leadership for the movement either was allowed to develop. Rajarshi Tandan was ousted primarily for his championship of Hindi’s cause. Left alone, Seth Govind Dasji also has become powerless.
Hindi has been deliberately hamstrung and crippled by having English as a burden on its shoulders. The whole Hindi world is deeply discontented by the government’s Hindi policy. The idea of promoting a foreign language in an independent nation for nurturing national awareness is a clear sign of the government’s lack of foresight. The thought of national integration sans an Indian national language is merely a fool’s paradise. Even emotional integration can never be achieved by devaluing the native Indian languages. The enthronement of English through the disregard of the chief Indian languages is a grievous blow to our nationalism.
As our national language, Hindi can fully serve as the language of governance, with the mutual cooperation of all its sister Indian languages. But instead of strengthening and augmenting this natural capability of Hindi, the idea of according supremacy to English is a totally anti-national endeavour – a clear mockery of democratic norms in a great republic like ours. But, unfortunately, we have absolutely forgotten what Gandhi had so consistently taught us – the method of compelling even the mightiest government to conceding our demands. We also seem to have lost the capability to use the unassailable weapon which he had given in our hands to bring a government back to the right path; otherwise our own government wouldn’t have been able to indulge in such wilful acts. If we had genuine concern for our language, such injustice couldn’t have been forced on us. Regrettably, even the supporters of regional languages would not arise and proclaim that all our Constitutionally approved languages can join hands amicably in managing all the linguistic needs of governance. There is no need to offer the crown to English. But sadly, the regional language supporters also are happy to cut off their noses to spite Hindi’s face. It is as if the whole well of the nation itself is polluted with cannabis [‘bhang’].
Hindi has always helped in the spread of all the regional and local languages on a nationwide scale. It has rid them as far as possible of their ‘frog-in-pond’ism. Even so, all those who are intolerant of Hindi’s progress are happy to find their antipathies succeeding. Indeed, it is a matter of outright misfortune for a great nation like India. And when we look at the language policies of our neighbouring countries it appears to be all the more disgraceful. It shouldn’t be so mortifying to say that though the English are gone, their progenies still remain with us. Countries that gained their independence after India are managing their affairs in their own languages quite well. But a gigantic nation like India which is historically, culturally and civilizationally much older to them can unabashedly profess to the world that it cannot work with its own native language.
It’s a matter of the greatest astonishment that even our best educationists, politicians, and leaders crying hoarse with their nationalist slogans, would not care to look towards Asian nations like China and Japan, but rather gaze fixedly towards England. How exhilarated our erstwhile ‘white masters’ must be feeling to notice this ‘slave mentality’ in the Indian people’s consciousness! The headache of a Pakistan that they successfully gifted us would, perhaps, cause only a faint smile on their lips, but the spell that they have cast on us through their language, English, would surely make them burst in laughter! The soul of that far-sighted Macaulay must be laughing its heart out on our myopic vision. Our heart bleeds as we say this, but it is like banging our heads against a stone wall if we try to emphasise the integral relationship between our culture and language in a country, the heart of not one of whose leaders is charged with a national spirit.
Numerous ambitious plans are being put forward by our government for the expansion and advancement of Hindi. Various efforts to promote Hindi like publication of books and magazines, translation programmes, book distribution, institutional grants, regional seminars, note-writing in Hindi, etc are being made, but the perpetuation of English has thrown cold water on all that. The Hindi people are not mere children to be diverted by toys and dolls. Whatever ambitious projects are being implemented by the government for the propagation of Hindi, the blind devotion towards English has put paid to them all. Our heads bow down in shame to find our populist government pleading for the inexorability of English. But those who now rule us, who hold the reins of government in their hands, it’s their logic that must be seen as impeccable. It’s an eternal principle that the power of governance can be held only in an iron fist. Even so, there can be no authoritarianism in a democratic set up. But had this been a reality, the vox populi of the Hindi-speakers would not have gone absolutely unheard. One has a distinct feeling of contrition in calling oneself the citizen of a country which holds its language and script to be incapable of national use and shows its helplessness by accepting the efficacy of a foreign language for its domestic purposes. In fact, according to a rustic adage: whom to swear by, when both the husband and the son are equally dear; the government is as much our own as is Hindi – that’s the biggest problem. The tyranny on our own by our own is truly insufferable.
It would be quite relevant here to quote rather extensively from an article published in the famous Bangla weekly Desh. In its 17 February, 1962 issue, the Head of the English Department of the Yadavpur University and an eminent Bangla litterateur, Shri Buddhadeva Bose has written a heart-touching account of his travel to Japan. The lines are quite eloquent in themselves.
“The part of Japanese life that has left its deepest impress on my mind is the position of English there. The Japanese are not proficient speakers of English. Even among the intellectual elites, the learned and the scholarly, it is rather rare to find a person who can freely talk in English for long. What is more interesting is that they don’t even try, or don’t even consider it worthwhile, to try overmuch. Among the ordinary people, most would use the same kind of workaday English; that is, they would mostly remain within a limited perimeter of workaday use of English. Beyond that, they would have no use for another language. I found many ladies always carrying a pocket English dictionary in their vanity bags; if they don’t understand an expression they would sooner browse into their dictionary. Even university Deans who taught English or French literature would generally respond only with a mystifying smile, without any apparent sign of having understood or not, the questions I put to them.
“ I think this last observation of mine would turn the brows askew of many of our countrymen – ‘How is that possible, teaching English, but not conversing in it?’ But the straight answer to this is that from the primary to the highest levels of education the medium of instruction there is solely Japanese....Literature, science, engineering – everything in Japan is taught through the mother tongue. Textbooks and examinations are done in mother tongue only. Criticism, scholarly writing and knowledge discourse – all done in the mother tongue. Commerce, administration, government affairs, disquisition, jurisprudence are all carried only in the mother tongue. That is to say, Japan has consistently been following the most natural, vigorous, and world-acknowledged system of language use. But it doesn’t mean that they have turned their back on the world; scholars would frequently publish their researches in French, German or English. And yet they would always encourage foreigners to learn their language, Japanese. Many reputed journals would publish their papers in Japanese with an abstract in English just to attract attention of foreign scholars....For their interest in foreign literature and knowledge, they are always ready to learn a foreign language with seriousness, and would also teach it to their students, but it hardly occurs to these teachers and their students that they would also be expected, or are proficient enough, to talk freely in that language. Presently, it seems, the older generation is drawn towards English due to American influence; but even so, it is inconceivable for the Japanese that culture or education are in any way dependent on English....
“In our country India, English is all too important. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that among all the countries where English is not a native language, the highest proficiency in the use of English is to be found in India....It’s true that a handful of our countrymen have the same degree of proficiency in using the English language as is possible for a non-native user ( though there still would be a limitation). But it is also not true that we have any special advantage in the world as a consequence of this unnatural situation. Of course, English is of much use to us as our only window on the world. It has some special value for us because, generally, the world’s winds blow on us through this window alone.... But the main issue is whether it is desirable for English to have the kind of stranglehold that it has come to have on us. How can I call it proper when I find that in the whole world we are the only unfortunate people worshipping the stone idol of a foreign tongue – not benefiting from its true spirit, but only wildly exulting with its outer form.
“Whenever a foreigner comes to India they are paid due respect. Some of them would even mix in our society, or spend years and even their whole life here. But they wouldn’t bother to learn much of our language except a dozen or so of our words which they would only have to use with the servants. But in Japan nothing is possible without using Japanese – neither business, education or studies, nor marriage or settlement there. This is the main reason behind Japanese literature being translated into many languages even now. There are full-fledged departments of Japanese language in many American universities. That is only because it is imperative to know Japanese before establishing any kind of relationship with them. By our sheer subservience to English, we are not allowing our own language to raise its head in pride, and this is why our inner thinking - our heart’s voice has not been able to reach out to the world.
“Has Japan retrogressed in any field because of keeping away from English? Is it that we are more conversant with the wealth of world knowledge? I feel sad to say, it’s just the opposite. Not only in science, but in literature ,too, it is they who are the ‘world citizens’, and we are the ‘provincials’. It is, indeed, paradoxical, that the English which we consider as our window on the world, has only obscured our own world from us!
“The view of the Japanese about translated [world] literature is that just as it can be done into English, so also into Japanese. If it’s not possible to read it in the original, it is much better in their own language japanese. If translation [of world literature] is possible into English, it is equally possible in Japanese.
“Japan is an ideal answer to the question : whether the mother tongue can be the medium for higher education in India? Ideal because Japan also is an Asian nation, and its rise in Asia has been phenomenal. One reason for this, certainly, is that even the most updated knowledge in the West is disseminated in Japan through its mother tongue. In spite of its substantial assimilation of the best in the West, it has never committed the suicidal error of the slavery of a foreign language. It is often stated that though literature and such other subjects can be taught in the mother tongue, but for science and engineering education English is inescapable. Yet who are more advanced in the fields of science and engineering [or technology] – we the English-knowing Indians, or they, the mother tongue-educated Japanese? What Mahatma Gandhi had called a ‘slave mentality’ – we have still not been able to shed it off. And the proof of this lies in our helpless, miserable enchantment with English.”
No comments seem necessary on the above-expressed views of a well-known scholar of English, but regarding his last sentence, it must be added that Mahatma Gandhi’s language policy and national reconstruction policy were conveniently put on the back-burner; only his name continued to be utilized as a talisman on the ballot box. It’s a great misfortune that Mahatmaji’s blessing hand is gone forever from over Hindi’s head, otherwise our nation wouldn’t have had to face this humiliation.
As for the question of Hindi’s battle for victory or defeat with English, it’s only a matter of the victory or defeat of the mindset. If the mindset is defeatist, there is defeat, of course; but if it’s victory-spirited, it is victory ultimately. The mindset of the Hindi speakers is surely never defeatist, nor can Hindi be ever defeated. But as is the wont of our destiny-makers, Hindi can never win in this battle against English. It is only to their [dis?]credit that even after a self-rule of fifteen years they have not been able to build up sufficiently the strength of their centuries-old national language. If they had harboured true Indian nationalism in their hearts, English wouldn’t have secured the enviable position of a darling second spouse. But it is these same people who have forced Hindi’s defeat at the hands of English. This thorn in the Hindi speakers’ flesh would keep agonizing so long as English continues to grind its corn on the chest of Hindi. After bruising the hearts of millions of Hindi speakers with utmost cruelty, the big drum of India’s ancient heritage is being beaten all around the world. It’s a matter of unbearable pity!
What is more amazing is that those occupying the seats of power also consider themselves to be great linguists. They who are totally ignorant of its riches are, in fact, trying to weigh the worth of Hindi. One among them would even brag that there is nothing at all in Hindi literature, and another would profess that all 14 languages are national languages. They speak from the peaks of the Himalayas and their assertions resound throughout the land. But who can hold their tongue? It is these same people who are complicating the issue and spoiling the atmosphere. If the whole truth were to be revealed, lots of unpalatable facts would also come out in the open. But now it would hardly help or harm the cause of Hindi either to reveal or hide the truth. The pennant of English is firmly fixed on the fort of Hindi. And the soul of Hindi is fled from that fort.
From now on, I think, we should put all our energies into preparing Hindi for the future campaign. At the same time, we must earn the goodwill of the well-wishers of our other Indian languages. But before whom can we play our lute, singing of Hindi’s power and the wealth of its literature? Better would it be for us all to join hands in enriching and strengthening our Hindi language and literature. Acharya Ramchandra Shukla in his book Goswmai Tulsidas, while considering Tulsi’s devotional tradition, has aptly observed – “ The richness of Hindi poetry in Sur[das] and Tulsi is not because of their high recognition in the royal [Mugal] court; instead the high recognition in the court is the result of that literary richness. That rich literary heritage is the product of Sur and Tulsi, and they themselves are the products of the development of that devotional ethos, the foundation of which is firmly laid down by Rama and Krishna.”
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
All on a sudden, a goat-kid came frolicking, and started nibbling and chewing the soft, supple leaves of the chameli plant. I hadn’t by then developed the aesthetic sense to be totally entranced by the merry prancing of that little beauty, joggling her long ears in each which way as it nipped and munched the lush leaves, looking hither-thither with her large black eyes as it champed on, and also occasionally bleating meyn-meyn, as if calling its mother-goat. Rather, that day I felt such pity for the delicate chameli sapling which I had brought with great care from the neighbouring hamlet. Which I had planted with my own hands, watered it, and felt delighted to see its tiny leaves budding forth each day. But this little rogue had now undone all! Furious with anger I tried to hit it hard. But like a swift doe it leapt away, as I ran chasing it.
‘Don’t hit it, Babu.’ – This was Budhia. A small girl of hardly seven or eight years. A red rag with several patches wrapped round her waist, barely covering her knees. A totally bare body sullied with lots of dust. A dark face with black tousled mop of hair, also filled with dust and surely with lice. Yellow snot trickling out from nose which she tried to suck in every time. Hearing her words and looking at her grimy face I felt like slapping her cheeks instead. Till I looked down around her feet, and my child’s heart got riveted there.
‘Oh, what’s all that you have made?’ I peered closely at the clay figures spread around her small muddied feet. Clay toys she had freshly made of soft, wet clay from the nearby pond. Artfully decorated with little flowers of mustard, gram and peas growing all around in the fields. Toys not with properly carved faces, but of course with limbs like humans, and bedecked with flowers of varied colours, imbued with their own charm.
‘What’s all this?’ I asked. She felt shy.
‘You won’t beat me? Then I’ll say’.
‘Surely I’d have beaten you. But you’re pardoned’.
She stood smiling. ‘Please sit down here.’
But how could I sit in that mess. I only bent down for a closer look. And she started.
‘This is the bridegroom with the wedding cap’, she said pointing to the mustard flower stuck on its head. ‘And she is the bride, with her colourful skirt of the gram- and pea-flowers. They are getting married. With all the marriage music, of course’. And she tapped on her belly, and whistled with rounded lips – ‘With the drum and the pipe. And this is the kohbar, where they will spend the wedding-night.’ She pointed to a walled square, also made of clay. ‘And this, their marriage-bed’. A few green mango leaves sprinkled with tiny pink flowers. ‘Here they will sleep. And I’ll sing the marriage songs for them.’ And her crooning bagan at once. Singing and swaying. I was under a spell. For a while. Then I suddenly remembered my chameli sapling, and ran there, counting each torn leaf and lamenting. Swearing all the time of devouring the cursed goat-kid alive, and showering abuses on Budhia.
* * *
‘Babuji, would you kindly help me lift this load of grass?’ I heard a voice as I was on my evening stroll north of the village, lost in my own thoughts. My bent head rose up.
Daylight was waning into evening. Down in a field beside the road stood what looked like a young girl. A big tied bundle of grass lay beside her feet. I got irritated by her temerity. I was now a city man in clean clothes, keeping myself away from the filth of the village people. And after all I wasn’t a grazier or a grass-cutter to lift bundles of grass on others’ heads. Who in the village could dare ask me for such a thing. But look at this young girl...
‘Kindly, Babuji!’ She entreated.
I gazed at that face, sizing up the face and the voice. Arre, Budhia! A full grown young lass? Grown up so fast? I looked around. No one there. Evening’s darkening. Who could help this poor, lone girl here. Out of sympathy, I helped raise the bundle on her head. Soon swaying rhythmically she walked away with it.
Just then a loud laugh burst forth, and the next moment I found Jagdish by my side.
‘So now she has got a new fish in her net!’ Jagdish had an impish twinkle in his eyes, and raillery in his voice. Then he started his long recital of Budhia’s story.
‘Budhia is no longer that girl of patched skirt. She now has a flowing chooner that is ever colourful. And her choli is now stitched by the Sewaipatti tailor. True, you find her carrying loads of grass on her head every day, but her palms you’ll not find calloused, nor dirty. Her skin is still dark, but not with the sullenness of the stagnant pool. It now bears the rippling music of the Kalindi, with many a Gopal playing their flutes on its banks, and many other Nandlals dreaming of a romantic union with her. Wherever in the open fields she walks, life surges and sways. Her black locks are now set with fragrant jasmine oil, her forehead adorned with a resplendent tikli. In place of one Gopal in the Vrindavan with a thousand gopis around, you now have one gopi surrounded by a thousand gopals. Even Gopal wouldn’t have felt the gaiety in slinging the thousand-headed Kalia serpent and dancing on its hoods which this Budhia now feels in stringing together so many gopals and making them dance to her tunes. As if, Radha of the dwapar era is avenging herself through Budhia on today’s menfolk in this kaliyug. That Radha ever pined for Krishna’s love, and this Budhia makes all the gopals always crave for her company.
Damned wretch! – My virtuous soul cried. And in the growing darkness I slowly wended my way, with bent head, back to home. Jagdish, too, went his way. And hardly had I walked some distance towards the village when I suddenly felt an electrifying touch of someone rushing past myself. Instinctively, I looked back.
‘Kindly forgive me for this second fault’. She said and stood still. It was Budhia. I fumed in anger – ‘Wicked girl’, I shouted. ( I’d almost said – Slut!) But instead of blushing or looking bashful, she burst into a loud laughter. Coming closer, she giggled – ‘D’you remember, Babu, my goat-kid had eaten your chameli plant?’And her pearly teeth shone in the dark.
‘Get lost, naughty girl!’ My face must have burnished like red coal.
‘And that bridegroom and his bride, that wedding-night chamber, that flower-bedecked bed, and that song! Should I sing it again for you, Babu?’
The wedded bride goes to her hubby’s home, And yet she trembles in fear as she goes...
Singing it tunefully she ran away, swinging and laughing. Oh, how shameless, how brash indeed! – I kept muttering between my teeth. But her giggles and laughter kept echoing as she fled.
* * *
The wheat harvest was on. My brother said, ‘Bhaiya, there’ll be a large number of labourers today. They might try to steal. Come to the fields with me. You’ll have only to be there. The work will go on smoothly.’
It must be the farmer’s blood in my veins which made me walk to the fields just to have a new experience. The harvest had already begun in the small hours of the morning, so that the ripe corn would not be jerked off the stalks. With the pale moon still on the horizon casting its fading light in the fields. It was already over – the harvesting. The labourers were tying up their bundles of the harvest. And their womenfolk and children were picking up the stray fallen ears of corn. I had been deputed to watch lest they stole some of the harvested stalks instead of the fallen corn. I just stood there keeping an eye, when I saw, at a little distance, in a corner of the field, behind a labourer, a middle-aged woman, her children hastily picking up corn, and also, perhaps, doing some ‘foul play’.
‘Aye, you there, that woman, what’re you doing there?’
She seemed to be completely oblivious of my loud call. Though her man appeared to be warning her. Once, twice, thrice –all my shouting went unheeded. Seething in anger I proceeded towards them. Seeing me coming all four of her children – well within six years of age – all got close to their mother. The youngest one of a year and a half hid behind her feet. From a distance, I shouted again – ‘Aye, what’re you doing?’
Bending down in the field, without stopping work, she just turned her face towards me and said, ‘Salam, Babuji’.
‘ Arre, Budhia?’ It was Budhia, the same Budhia, the little girl who wore the red rag wrapped round her waist. The Budhia whose chooner never went faint. Uff, but what had happened to that merry childhood, that blooming youth...and now this old woman, in a torn sari, and even the choli gone, hair all dishevelled, face shrunken, cheeks and eyes – all sunken. And, oh, those two well-rounded, proud blossoms of her youth which once maddened the young men of the village, as she was bending at work, hung like the udders of an old goat – lifeless and cold!
Turning her faded face, she gave a faint smile, and went working. Her man, who had by then tied up his pile, called her – ‘Hey, come and give a hand.’ Budhia left her work, straightened up, gave me another wan smile, and proceeded to help with heavy steps. As she stood straight, I noticed a pregnant belly.
‘Wait, Budhia, let me help,’ I blurted.
‘Na, Babuji. I wouldn’t ask you to do it. You may get angry.’ Her two front teeth glowed with emotion. My heart missed a beat. Old memories cascaded in. That dark evening, her bundle of grass, her pleading for help, Jagdish’s sarcastic remarks, my exasperation, her frivolity. Just then her youngest child broke into a cry. She turned to the child, and I went to help her man lift the pile. The strong, hefty young man walked away in a swaying rhythm with his pile on his head. And Budhia, trying to push her shrunken breast into her child’s mouth, kissing, smooching and pacifying him, said to me –‘How many children do you have, Babuji. Look at these kids. The wretches are so wicked. They have sucked me dry, spoilt my body, and still would not let up. They’re a pest.’
The other three children stood by her side. She would stroke the head of one, and pat the other’s back, and with her moist eyes poured her love into each one of them, cuddling the one in her lap close to her breast. And yet, exuding contentment, she kept prattling of this and that. My gaze stayed fixed on her face. Eyes staring and the mind musing.
The rainy season was over. And the floods had receded.
The river again flows with a tranquil, serene visage. The floods are over, as is all the brouhaha of life. Even the mud has dried up, and all weeds and straw washed away. Absolute calm reigns on the river.
And I have angelic motherhood before my eyes – only to be revered and worshipped!
[Ramvriksha Benipuri (1899-1968),born in a middle-class farmer’s family, belonged to a village Benipur, near Muzaffarpur. Dropping out from school, he joined nationalist journalism during the first Non-cooperation movement, editing journals like ‘Tarun Bharat’, ‘Balak’,‘Yuwak’, ‘Yogi’ and ‘Janata’, spending over nine years in jails in several short or long spells, the longest (1942-45) in Hazaribag jail, where he was a co-conspirator in Jayaprakash Narayan’s daring escape from prison. A close friend of J.P., Benipuri was among the founder members of the Socialist Party, taking an active part in the Kisan Andolan in Bihar. But the full flowering of his literary genius came in the late 40s, after his release from Hazaribag jail. His prison writings include most of his masterpieces: ‘Patiton ke Desh Me’, ‘Kaidi ki Patni’, ‘Mati ki Mooraten’, ‘Ambapali’, etc. – a total of more than 70 books of stories, novels, plays, memoirs, and children’s literature. His biography of J.P. became a classic in Hindi. Later he also edited famous literary journals like ‘Himalaya’ (with Shivapujan Sahay) and ‘Nai Dhara’ – all from Patna. He was elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1957. His ‘Granthavali’ has been published in 8 volumes by Rajkamal, Delhi. He died on 7 September, 1968.
‘Budhia’ (a name, not meaning ‘old woman’) is the last story in ‘Mati ki Mooraten’. The meanings of the italicised words are almost self-evident in the context. Kalindi, Kalia, Dwapar, Kaliyug, Nandlal, Gopis, Gopal, etc. refer to the Radha-Krishna story of the Hindu mythology. – Translator]
(c) Dr Mangal Murty
Monday, July 11, 2011
A Planter’s Murder
There is at least one recorded mention of the murder of Mr Bloomfield, manager of an indio planter’s kothi at Telahara, by a crowd of irate farmers in 1906. On April 29, 1917, the Bettiah SDO, in a long confidential report to the Champaran DM about Gandhi’s continuing mission, wrote:
I further quoted [to Mr Gandhi] the example of Mr Bloomfield’s murder as showing the length to which raiyats will go, once excitement and passion take possession of them.; though murder may not have been their original intention, Mr Bloomfield was beaten down and every bone in his body broken. I further quoted the recent case in which Mr Kemp was attacked and assaulted, and expressed the opinion that, had not Mr Kemp retained his seat in the saddle, he would have lost his life.13 RP/CMG/13
In a Hindi novel Neel ke Dhabbe by Vindhyachal Prasad Gupta, a local poet and writer from Bettiah, there is a fictionalized recreation of Bloomfield’s tyranny and his consequent murder which provides a live commentary.
Scene 1 : Bloom field is sitting in his ‘kachahari’ (rent-collection office), smoking a cigar. His ryots stand in attendance around him with folded hands. One young man from the crowd, Dukhna, who failed to attend to his farming duty because his wife was in labour, is being thrashed mercilessly with shoes. Meanwhile Bloomfield’s roving eyes notice two young women in the crowd. He orders them to be brought into his bungalow, bathed, perfumed and ready for his night-long revelry…Sipping his glass of whiskey, Bloomfield notices a young newly married young couple passing by his window. The bride (Gulabi) is forcibly brought to his bed to make a threesome for Bloomfield’s orgies. Outside, the loyal Patwari (rent-collector) goes on handling the crowd of ryots with abuses, punches and shoes.
Scene 2 : The Bada Saheb (W.W.Hudson, Chief of the Bihar Light Horse, Military Contigent)) is about to ride his horse to his office when a guard comes running, with blood streaming down his forehead. In a terror-stricken voice he mumbles : “Huzoor! They have killed Bloomfield sahib”. Hudson in his rage kicks him with his boot, then quickly scribbles a note to his subordinate, James McLeod, to rush with his force to the scene of occurrence. Soon the military force reaches there and surrounds the Telahara village. All the males have already fled the village. Only women and children are left behind to bear the brunt of brutal repression at the hands of the tormentors. Scores of ryots are put into prison. One Purandar Teli, with two others, are sentenced to be hanged, though the sentences are later commuted to only six-years’ rigorous imprisonment.14 Neel 4-16.
Gandhi was now hearing all these tales of atrocities, over and over again, - of forced evictions, ravaging of whole villages, trampling of crops by elephants and horses, looting and burning of homes and rapes of women and virgin brides - from the farmers pouring in at Gorakh Babu’s house. When the influx increased in numbers, Gandhi and his dedicated band of lawyer colleagues moved to more spacious premises. The statements of the aggrieved farmers were recorded by his team members with full details, and under thorough cross-examination, duly signed or thumbed by the complainants.
Rajendra Prasad devotes two long chapters in his Autobiography on the Champaran satyagraha, besides writing Champaran me Mahatma Gandhi, a whole book full of details and relevant documents, including the Champaran Agrarian Enquiry Committee’s Report and the full text of the Champaran Agrarian Bill ( which became an Act in 1918).The last of the Appendices in that book gives a date-wise list of the farmers’ names whose statements were duly recorded, along with the names of the persons who recorded those statements. From that list we learn that Rajendra Prasad personally recorded the statements of over 300 farmers spread out between April 19 and May 12. He also discusses how he first became associated with Gandhi’s work in Champaran, and how the whole movement was successfully brought to its completion with the passing of the Agrarian Act, in the first seven chapters of his book At the Feet of Mahatma Gandhi.
Rajendra Prasad, in his Autobiography, also says that after the Government dropped the case against Gandhi and assured him of all administrative cooperation in holding his independent enquiry –
Now began in right earnest the investigation of the Champaran atrocities. We were divided in batches and recorded the statements of the kisans who came in a regular procession. We would sometimes move to Bettiah. Eventually one batch stayed at Bettiah: another at Motihari. We worked without respite. To anything startling in the statements we would at once draw Gandhiji’s attention, otherwise we just passed on the recorded statements to him for his perusal. The work continued for many days, and about 22,000 to 25,000 statements were recorded…. Sometimes Gandhiji would visit a village or send one of us to inquire into a complaint. We had strict instructions not to address the people. There were, therefore, no meetings and no lectures either by us, or by Gandhiji in Champaran in those days.15 A/89
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Friday, July 8, 2011
‘The Butcher of Amritsar’
Jallianwallah Bagh in Amritsar is now a National Memorial where a notice board proclaims that the ground was ‘hallowed with the mingled blood of about 2,000 innocent Hindus, Sikhs and Mussalmans who were shot by British bullets’. Patrick French, the British writer in his book Liberty or Death (pub. 1997), describes the place he visited while researching for his book:
I reached the site of the massacre by walking down a narrow lane, about six feet wide, which was and is the only entrance or exit to the garden. It was very calm and quiet, full of birds and flowers, with a few people walking slowly around the wall. The bulletholes were still there, ringed with metal plates, as was the large open well into which terrified people had jumped to escape the firing. Sikh boys, their hair scraped into cloth-wrapped balls, were playing on the lawn.PF/33-34
It was here, on this ‘hallowed’ ground – an open rectangular field, a kind of uncared public park, enclosed on all sides with the back side of houses, having only one main exit lane, that the most inhuman act in British Indian history – the Jallianwala Bagh massacre – had taken place. The government-appointed Hunter Committee in its report (pub. May, 1920) described the site in these words:
It is a rectangular piece of unused ground, covered to some extent by building material and debris. It is almost entirely surrounded by walls of buildings. The entrances and exits to it are few and imperfect. It seems to be frequently used to accommodate large gatherings of people. At the end at which General Dyer entered there is a raised ground on each side of the entrance. A large crowd had gathered at the opposite end of the Bagh and was being addressed by a man on a raised platform about 150 yards from where General Dyer stationed his troops.LF/231
The whole tragic scene was recreated with stunning realism in Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi. Alex Von Tunzelmann, a young modern Oxford historian, in her recently published book Indian Summer (2007), depicts the scene in sharper focus:
Just before 5.15 p.m., Dyer arrived with 100 Gurkha, Sikh, Pathan and Baluchi riflemen, and 40 more Gurkhas armed with knives. He stopped outside one of the two open exits, and sent a man in to estimate the size of the crowd – 5,000, the report came back. Later estimates suggested it must have been between three and ten times that figure. The troops marched in and set up their rifles. Dyer’s instructions were specific: aim straight and low, fire at the fullest part of the crowd, and pick off any stragglers who try to escape. No warning was given before the troops opened fire.
The gathering, though technically illegal, had been peaceful until Dyer showed up. At his order, 1650 bullets were fired into the throng of men, women and children. Soldiers deliberately blocked the exits, trapping people in the killing ground. In desperation, they clawed their way up the walls, scrambled over their injured friends, and leapt down the open well, which filled with 120 bodies drowning and suffocating in water thick with blood. The slaughter went on until the ammunition was spent. 47-48
This single horrendous act, writes Tunzelmann, was ‘the most significant incident, which would change the whole course of British imperial history’. Indeed, nothing could be more dastardly and outrageous than a war-returned veteran military General leading armoured cars and war-hardened soldiers to surround and mow down by continuous gunfire a thick crowd of totally unarmed, innocent men, women and children, who had primarily assembled there in a festive mood. It was Sunday, and the day of the Baisakhi festival. The crowd consisted largely of passive and peaceful listeners, presumably unaware of General Dyer’s proclamation against public meetings, which had been read out only in a few selected places in the town.
It was indeed a ‘black day in the annals of British India’, LF/229 a day which smeared the blackest spot on the face of British imperialism. The genesis of this monstrous sequence of events in the first fortnight of April, 1919, in Punjab, lay in the recklessly repressive attitude of the local administration, headed by an equally power-mad Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer. Fischer quotes a statement of a military General in Delhi which reflects this whole power-obsessed approach: ‘Force is the only thing that an Asiatic has any respect for’.LF/233 Ironically enough, the veracity of this statement was amply proved later by the murder of O’Dwyer by a Sikh youth, Udham Singh, in London.
For those who are familiar with E.M.Forster’s famous novel A Passage to India, it would be of interest to know that much of the fictional structure of that novel closely adumbrates the events that took place in that tumultuous fortnight at Amritsar Note/GKD/. In fact, the whole plot of the novel closely analyses the antagonistic relationship between the contemporary British bureaucracy and the Hindu-Muslim social fabric in India. Forster, a staunch anti-imperialist like George Orwell, was consistently sympathetic to the Indian freedom struggle. His basic stand was that ‘the Indian Empire could have been made a “democratic” and enduring institution had it been founded on the basis of social equality between the British and the Indians, but having been raised upon a “pedestal of race” it was bound to collapse’GKD/21&FN3/124
Nigel Collet calls General Dyer ‘The Butcher of Amritsar’ in his book devoted to this pathological megalomaniac, who cast a permanent blot on British military ethics. By his singularly heinous act, Dyer practically wrote in Indian blood the last chapter of British imperial rule in India. His brutal mentality was highlighted in his arrogant replies to the Enquiry Committee and his later casual remark about the massacre : ‘I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good’.LF/232-34 Undoubtedly it was Dyer who rammed the last nail in the coffin of the British Empire in India.
When these acts of barbarism were being perpetrated in Amritsar, the rest of the country was practically unaware of these tragic developments due to total censorship and cutting off of telegraph and phone lines. Martial law had been declared and General Dyer’s brutalities had continued in the form of public floggings and the infamous ‘crawling order’ LF/234.
The news about the distressing developments in Punjab had slowly trickled down throughout the country (because of the stringent censorship) and there was widespread resentment against the barbaric acts of repression. The province, however, was completely sealed off from the rest of the country under martial law and no one could enter or come out of it. Meanwhile, deeply depressed by the rising trend of violence and the counter-violence, Gandhi had gone on a 72 hour fast at Sabarmati, and subsequently announced a temporary suspension of the satyagraha on April 18.
In spite of the mounting discontent, however, things began cooling down as the martial law was withdrawn and the government appointed a commission of enquiry under Lord Hunter, a British judge. Congress, however, decided to boycott the Hunter Commission and set up its own independent enquiry committee with Motilal Nehru, C.R.Das, Abbas Tyabji, M.R.Jayaker and Gandhi. Nehru, in his Autobiography, recounts his own experiences as he assisted C.R. Das who had ‘especially [taken] the Amritsar area under his charge’. At this point, Nehru recalls an interesting, though bizarre, coincidence of travelling in the same compartment with Dyer, the ‘Butcher of Amritsar’!
Towards the end of that year (1919) I travelled from Amritsar to Delhi by the night train. The compartment I entered was almost full, and all the berths, except one upper one, were occupied by sleeping passengers. I took the vacant upper berth. In the morning I discovered that all my fellow-passengers were military officers. They conversed with each other in loud voices which I could not help overhearing. One of them was holding forth in an aggressive and triumphant tone and soon I discovered that he was Dyer, the hero of Jaliianwala Bagh, and he was describing his Amritsar experiences. He pointed out how he had the whole town at his mercy and he had felt like reducing the rebellious city to a heap of ashes, but he took pity on it and refrained. He was evidently coming back from Lahore after giving his evidence before the Hunter Committee of Inquiry. I was greatly shocked to hear his conversation and to observe his callous manner. He descended at Delhi station in pyjamas with bright pink stripes, and a dressing gown. A/48
That must have been, indeed, the strangest of coincidences that ever happened in Nehru’s life!
[Extract from ‘Rajendra Prasad: A Political Biography’ an illustrated biography in English by Dr Mangal Murty, shortly to be published by Rajendra Bhawan Trust, Delhi, India.]
© Dr Mangal Murty
Saturday, May 28, 2011
The Indigo Story
Gandhi believed in instant and concerted action in the resolution of conflicts. He had an astonishing clarity of vision and firmness of resolve when he came to grips with a real issue. Raj Kumar Shukla appeared to him to symbolize the long standing oppression of a people in one part of his own country. Indeed, through Shukla’s persistence and doggedness, Champaran seemed to be making a clarion call to Gandhi. He could not but promise to come.
I must confess that I did not then know even the name, much less the geographical position, of Champaran, and I had hardly any notion of indigo plantations. I had seen packets of indigo, but little dreamed that it was grown and manufactured in Champaran at great hardship to thousands of agriculturists.
Rajkumar Shukla was one of the agriculturists who had been under this harrow, and he was filled with a passion to wash away the stain of indigo for the thousands who were suffering as he had suffered. 7 GA/365-6
Gandhi’s first impression about Shukla was of an ‘ignorant, unsophisticated but resolute agriculturist’. In that first meeting ‘Brajkishore Babu [also] failed then to make an impression on me’, although soon after the campaign started, he found the former ‘my esteemed co-worker in Champaran’ and ‘the soul of public work in Bihar’. But the smouldering fire in Shukla’s agonized soul against the ruthless foreign exploitation of the poor peasantry in Champaran, and the exemplary commitment and pertinacity in his character were not fully realized by his mentors in the beginning. And there were others like the dedicated social worker, Pir Muhammad Moonis, also of Champaran, who had long been carrying on the beacon of revolt against the savage exploitation of the peasantry in Champaran.
After their return from Lucknow, it was Shukla, aided by Moonis, who wrote a letter to Gandhi imploring him to visit Champaran sooner than later, and the letter began with an Urdu couplet:
‘Kissa sunte ho roz auron ke,
Aj meri bhi dastan suno.’
[Others’ tales you hear every day, but listen to our woes today.]
Some of the lines in that letter were soaked in emotion.
Our woeful tale is far more agonizing than your South Africa story of terrible persecution perpetrated on you and your satyagrahi brothers and sisters….We do not want to grieve your tender soul with the torment borne by the hearts of our 19 lakh suffering peasants. We only beseech you to come and see things with your own eyes…how in this corner of our land, we, the British subjects - who ought to pride themselves of living under the cool shade of their rulers – are living worse than animals.8 RP/ CMG/80
There is abundant literature available on the Champaran indigo movement and Gandhi’s role in it. Gandhi himself has devoted about 20 pages in his Autobiography on this seminal episode in the history of the Indian freedom struggle. And Rajendra Prasad also has devoted an equal no of pages to the movement in his own Autobiography, besides writing three other books dealing with the subject, one of which, Champaran me Mahatma Gandhi, being a fully documented historical account of the great movement. What has not been easily available in the public domain is the diary of Rajkumar Shukla which is a meticulously maintained day-by day journal of events of the activities taking place in and around Motihari and Bettiah, with Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad, Brajkishore Prasad and their lawyer co-workers for full one year, from day one till December 31, 1917.
Rajkumar Shukla was a farmer of modest means himself. He belonged to Satwaria village (near Chanpatia) in the Bettiah sub-division. He had a house at Bettiah, too; and, perhaps, also at Motihari, as his diary entries attest. He had long been involved in the revolt against the tyrranous indigo planters and had also suffered a three-week imprisonment on that account. Even during 1914-15, he had tried to draw attention to this burning issue at the Bihar Provincial Conferences at Patna and Chhapra. Unfazed by failure at these forums, he made Moonis write a dispatch ‘Tyrrany in Champaran’ which was published (January 4, 1915) in the famous political weekly ‘Pratap’ edited by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi.
After a flurry of letters, journeys and telegrams, Rajkumar was finally able to ‘capture’ Gandhi at the Calcutta meeting of AICC in early April, 1917. Rajendra Prasad was also present in the AICC meeting but was not aware of the recent meetings or correspondence between Gandhi and Shukla.
I was unaware of all this when I attended the AICC meeting at Calcutta. In fact, I was sitting next to Gandhiji, but never made any effort to speak to him. I am by nature shy and bashful….When the session concluded, Gandhiji met Raj Kumar Shukla who waited outside and both of them left for Patna the same night. I was delayed at the meeting and so could not meet Raj Kumar. I was therefore in complete ignorance of his plans and knew nothing of Gandhiji’s tour of Bihar until much later. Gandhiji also did not know then that I belonged to Bihar and that Raj Kumar Shukla was taking him to my house in Patna.The session had met during the Easter holidays and the vacation not being over, I went to Jagannath Puri.7 A/79-80
A section from Part 2, Chap.1 of my illustrated biography in English of Dr Rajendra Prasad which is likely to be published by the year end. The photo at top is of the house in which Mr Amon, Manager of an absentee indigo planter, and among the most notorious tyrants lived. It is known as Belwa Kothi, about 60 kms north of Bettiah.
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- Ms Meira Kumar
Hon’ble Speaker, Loksabha
The rainbow on your eyelids,
Its colours swim in my eyes.
And me -
O, how are the dreams shared!
I think - and
Have been thinking for long,
And know not
Where to find that city
Of my dreams?
My soul restless,
All packed up, ready to go,
And settle there.
Moment to moment,
Tormented, thrown out,
O you, who live on the margin!
How long will you hold out,
How much poison swallow?
In the fields and barns,
Factories, open quarries,
In plains or among rocks,
In magnificent palaces,
Or in petty tenements,
In distant villages,
Or nearby townships,
On desert sands,
Or out among sea waves,
From one corner of the earth
To the other – wherever my sight goes,
It’s the magic of your mighty hands
That casts its spell.
O, daily plodders on live coal,
O, tight-rope walkers,
Change your destinies with your hands.
Let there be a roar,
Let the tornados rise.
Worship the work,
Not the birth-mark,
Cast off all else,
O my co-city dwellers!
Let’s dash against the barriers.
You and I alone have that trust.
Ours is the strongest bond,
That commonality of our dreams.
[ A Hindi poem translated into English By Dr Mangal Murty]
Thursday, May 26, 2011
My Reminiscences of Premchand
Translated by Mangal Murty
[Shivapujan Sahay is regarded as among the finest writers of literary reminiscences in Hindi. The following reminiscence of Premchand is considered as a literay masterpiece. He wrote over two hundred literary reminiscences, some on his predecessor literary figures, but mostly on his contemporaries. These were collected and edited into two books – Mera Jivan, which was in an autobiographical format, and Smritishesh, another collection of his memoirs. Recently, all his writings have been published as Shivapujan Sahay Sahitya Samagra (in 10-volumes) edited by Dr Mangal Murty, in which all these reminiscences are collected in Vol-2. About 25 letters of Premchand to Shivapujan Sahay are to be read in Vol.-8 of Samagra, and also in Premchand Patron Me, also edited by Dr Mangal Murty. One of these very valuable letters about Rangabhumi which Shivapujan Sahay edited (as mentioned in this reminiscence) is also being given at the end of this article to put the reference in order.]
The Civil Disobedience movement began with the dawn of the second duo-decade of the twentieth century. Blown off my feet in the storm of the movement, I had landed up in Calcutta. It was there that I first met Premchandji in the Hindi Pustak Agency which was then situated at the junction of Harrison Road and Chittaranjan Avenue. My literary mentor, Pandit Ishwari Prasad Sharma introduced me as the editor of Marwari Sudhar. Premchandji presented me a copy of his first collection of short stories Sapta Saroj with his blessings.
This first meeting was a chance encounter. The second time, I became close to him in Lucknow when I was working in the editorial department of Madhuri. Soon afterwards, he came there as the editor of Madhuri. It was just then that his major novel Rangbhumi had arrived there for publication. It was the first time that he had written in his own hand, in Devanagari script, the manuscript copy of the book. Shri Dularelal Bhargava, owner of Ganga Pustakmala, gave it to me to redact the press copy in accordance with the house style of the publishing firm. The huge tome written in his own hand in Nagri script was of historical importance. I wish that press-copy were preserved and available today!
The editorial department of Madhuri had just been shifted from Aminabad Park to Latouche Road. Pandit Krishnabihari Mishra was also working in the editorial department. He was a gentle person of profound literary propensities. He had a rollicking sense of humour, and the loud ceiling-shattering laughter of Premchandji was paralleled by the sweet humorous smiles of Mishraji : both incomparable in themselves!
That first novel of Premchandji, written in Nagri script was in itself worth seeing – with hardly any cuts anywhere. One could veritably learn the language from him for years. The flow of the pen was such that one could hardly find cuts or emendations anywhere in the text. Any editorial concentration on the text would every so often be distracted by the enticing interest of the narrative. Once caught in the sweep of the story all principles of redaction of the press-copy were easily forgotten. Reading the text with concentration made me learn many beautiful turns of phrases and language use.
Many Urdu writers from Lucknow and outside would often come in the office to see him and seek his advice. He had earned great fame and prestige in the Urdu literary circle. He would often send his stories to the Urdu weekly Pratap of Lahore. I had seen many of these stories in their Persian script. The handwriting was very neat with fine letters. He was not habituated to write in the shiqast (flowing) style. Language was to him like his hand-maiden..
At that time, Pandit Shantipriya Dwivedy also worked in that office, and we lived together. Shantipriyaji was very fond of fun and laughter. The witticisms of Pandit Krishnabihariji and the jokes of Premchandji had their own distinctive flavours. Mishraji would often recite amazing Hindi dohas (couplets), matched only by the brilliant anecdotes of Premchandji. Their loud bursts of laughter would startle those in the office inviting their bewildered gaze. Both the great literary giants loved Shantipriyaji as much as he, in turn, served as an object of their amusement. On holidays, Premchand would always offer shirni (sweet dish) to his visitors. In the office, too, the pan (betel leaves) served always came from him. At home, it would be the hubble-bubble for him. The chillum (clay fire-holder) would hardly ever go cold. He would himself buy his perfumed tobacco. His favourite sakhun-takiya (merry swear-word) would always trigger Mishraji’s fountain of loud laughter, just like with Prasadji in Kashi. In the words of Rai Krishnadasji – “The two unique laughter-bursters of the Hindi world were – Prasad and Premchand!”
When Prasad and Premchand were together in Kashi – a veritable laughter challenge would ensue. Both would laugh their hearts out. Prasadji’s nearly century-and-quarter-old shop selling zarda, surti-sunghani (varieties of perfumed tobacco) is situated in the coconut bazaar behind the Banaras Kotwali ( Central Police Station). Prasadji’s literary group would sit on a projected stone slab in front of the shop. There was no literary figure of that time in Hindi who had not sat on that stone slab for a while. ( Once Premchand had written in his literary monthly Hans that Prasad only ‘disinterred buried corpses’ in his historical plays, and so on. But soon thereafter when they met, they talked and laughed heartily just as before, with no trace of malice in their hearts.) Every so often there would be loud peals and bursts of laughter which would elicit merry giggles from the houries standing on the balconies nearby.
When Premchandji opened his Saraswati Press in Kashi for the first time, I, too, lived in Kashi. His press was located in a small house on the north-western corner of the Maidagin Park near the Nagari Pracharini Sabha. His office was in a small open verandah. After Lucknow, we had frequent meetings there. I would regularly go there to render some service. Every evening he would calculate the day’s earnings in the press, and disburse some wages to the workers. When there wouldn’t be enough, he would put the whole amount before them and laughingly ask them to share it amongst themselves, leaving something for his pan and tobacco and his ekka-fare to Lamhi. This would make his workers laugh, too, and then those wanting a rupee would be happy with an athanni(half-rupee), and others with a chawanni (quarter-rupee) for an athanni. Premchandji would be the happiest on days when his workers went home fully satisfied, because he had deep sympathy for them in his heart. The feelings he expressed for the working class in his writings, were clearly reflected in his talk and his behavior. He would easily forget his own needs before those of others.
After paying wages to his workers, he would walk down with what remained from Maidagin to the Chowk. Often I would accompany him up to there. At Lakhichowtara – as was his daily routine - he would buy a bundle of betel leaves from his own tamoli (betel leaves seller) who gave him his choicest leaves. He would then roll the betel leaves neatly into his handkerchief and hang it at the back end of his furled umbrella, with the packet of mushki (perfumed) tobacco dangling at the front end. If at times he wouldn’t have money left, he would walk some distance on foot looking for an ekka (hackney carriage), or go only up to Pisnahariya on the ekka, and walk down the rest of the distance to his village. Often he would narrate such ordeals with enjoyment while sitting in the press. Sometimes, he would say, he got the ekka of his village after walking down to Orderly bazaar or the Varuna bridge. Once he bought a canvas shoe but turned it into a sandal by folding back its heel because, he said, it made walking easy. The economic hassles of the press often kept him worried, but his normal laughter bursts remained as lively as ever.
Later when the press shifted into more spacious premises behind a large gate near the Mritynjaya Mahadeva, the economic condition improved a little. Shri Pravasilal Varma, a printing expert, was then its manager. It was then that the monthly Hans and weekly Jagaran were being published from there under Premchandji’s editorship. My articles were often published in both, and he would laugh his heart out on the satirical notes I wrote for the column ‘Kshana Bhara’ (or ‘Jest a Moment’).
I used to live near Kal Bhairava and often went to the press, and I always found him kind-hearted towards his dependents. And his workers, too, treated him with great respect. Even for an act of indiscretion, he would just laugh it away. I had the good fortune of living for long in his company, and seeing his generosity and warm-heartedness, without ever losing his cool. Even in his ordinary colloquy he would come out with rare witticisms. Once he said – “ Anger if swallowed becomes nectar”. Such witticisms are to be found often not only in his essays, but even in his letters.
When a story-collection Nari Hridaya by his wife Smt Shivarani Deviji was published from the Saraswati Press, he asked me to write its preface. His ingenuous geniality was very heartening. Once when he was preparing a collection of others’ stories, he included one of mine, too. He would often suggest topics for articles. Sometimes he would edit articles, write editorial notes and letters while sitting in the press; but mostly he would bring such matter having done it at home. While writing in the press his pen would run very speedily but there would be no cuts or changes. It seemed to run quite in step with his thought process. He would write the editorials for the weekly in one go, and express his views on all national and social issues strongly and fearlessly. No such domain remained untouched by his pen; what of politics and literature, even religious issues were not spared.
Premchandji’s pen gave a popular style to Hindi, and probed every nook and corner of people’s lives. He could always feel the heart beats of the nation, and lent his voice to the concerns of his age. His articles attested the affinities between Hindi and Urdu, though, during his life time, he received much greater respect in Urdu literature than in Hindi. The eminent Muslim leader Maulana Muhammad Ali brought out an Urdu weekly Hamdard from Delhi in which Premchandji’s stories would often be published, and he would get a guinea for his stories every time. The guinea would come by parcel in a velvet-lined case. I had seen those guineas many a time, though I don’t remember what their value was in those days. On receiving the remuneration from Hindi journals, he would just quietly smile.
Out of his exasperation with the Hindi publishers, he once went even to the cinema world, but after his return from Bombay he would regale us with its funny stories. His experiences there were often entertaining, but also quite disgusting. He made Prasadji burst with laughter with those mystifying stories of the film world. He would never miss an occasion for mirth. Once he had gone in a Hanuman puja (worship) to Professor Ramdas Gaud’s house, where he said to Gaudji – “ Your house is a veritable museum, where Hanumanji happily lives in the company of ghosts and spirits.”
In his last days he enjoyed Prasadji’s company almost every day. He used to live near Benia Bagh in Kashi in those days, and both the literary giants would take a stroll together in the Benia park, discussing literary issues as they walked. He would frankly express his views on Prasadji’s language on his face, and the latter would hear everything smiling gently. There never was any conflict of ideas between the two great writers. Wherever they sat, their talks never satiated us.
When I joined the editorial department of Madhuri after leaving Matawala, Shri Dularelalji Bhargava gave me some book manuscripts also for editing, besides the regular journal work. Initially I was given Asia me Prabhat and Bhawabhuti, and when luckily Bhargavaji was satisfied by my editing, I was given the manuscript of Premchandji’s famous novel Rangabhumi which had reached Bhargavaji earlier. I felt rather shaky: Saptsaroj, Sevasadan and Premashram I had read while in Calcutta; within my heart, I was quite in awe about his wide literary fame; and though I was familiar with his creative works and reputation, but was bereft of his regular company. I had also heard that he would first write his stories or novels in Urdu, and then get it transliterated into Hindi script by some knowledgeable person. But when I got the manuscript of Rangabhumi I felt overjoyed: the entire copy was written in his own hand – a great tome in two thick volumes; fine small and close writng, without any cuts anywhere, as if the entire thing had been written in a single breath!
I had become quite familiar with the editorial house-style of Bhargavaji’s Ganga-Pustak-Mala, because, under the editorship of Bhargavaji, the same style had to be followed in Madhuri . But when I started reading the copy of Rangabhumi, I forgot those rules, and immersed myself in the delightfully exquisite language of the text. Then, after reading over fifty pages in the text, I would suddenly regain my sense of editorial obligations and return for the redaction of the text as per our house-style. There would be a few misspellings or instances of incorrect usage, but the syntax and the style were as limpid and fluent as river Ganga’s flow. As per rules, a few letters here and there would have to be changed, some spellings set right, some expressions modified suitably, and the press copy would be ready. Bhargavaji would pass it and the printing would start.
It was just then that Premchandji had arrived. His great-heartedness was imprinted on my mind in that first meeting itself. A new house was rented in Latouche road especially for his convenience. It was in that same house that Maithilisharanji Gupta had stayed for nearly a month and a half in connection with the medical treatment of one of his aged relatives. Later, the Madhuri editorial department in Aminabad was also shifted there, quite close by. The houses of Bhargavaji and Pandit Badarinath Bhatt lay on the same route. Those days, Pandit Krishnabihari Mishra also worked in the Madhuri editorial department. When Premchandji, Mishraji and Bhattji met together, fountains of laughter would shoot up to the skies. While Maishraji’s laughter would dance only on his table, Premchandji’s laughter-burst would rise up to the ceiling before it would dive out of the window on to the road below, uncaptured by Mishraji’s laughter. All three would always laugh heartily. That laughter would be ringing in many a heart for ever. That smilingly eloquent face and that loud ringing laughter of Premchandji which would be a treat for the eyes and the ears, are now never ever to be forgotten.
Countless evenings were spent on the green grass of Aminabad park – in the corner of the park, where there was that shop of the kachalu-rasile-walla (a mouth-watering potpourri of boiled potatoes, etc.), where the expensive limousines of the aristocratic families would be found parked. There we had innumerable treats of dahi bade and mutter (curd-cakes with peas), recalling, with loud bursts of laughter, the true story of the real person who had played the role of Surdas (blind man) in Rangabhumi. Oh, how glorious were those few days spent in Lucknow!
Whenever Pandit Roopnarayanji and Professor Dayashankar Dubey of Lucknow university would come, there would be a stiff laughter contest amongst them. And once the great poet Guptaji brought Munshi Ajmeriji, who, by demonstrating various types of laughter, brought Premchandji’s stock of laughter almost to an end. Then Pandit Krishnabihariji couldn’t stop himself from asking – “ Which of the two wresters of laughter ultimately lost?” Exhibiting his typical laughter, Premchandji quipped – “I didn’t fall on my back, but on my very face”, which led to a roar of continuing laughter.
After the riots in Lucknow (September, 1924), I had gone back to Calcutta in Matawala . We wrote to each other occasionally – particularly when I started editing the monthly Upanyas Tarang published by Hindi Pustak Agency and Vanik Press. There was a regular stream of correspondence between us when he was editing Madhuri, and I had to write many letters in connection with Shri Pravasilal Varma’s taking over the management of his Saraswati Press at Benares. I ,too, lived in Kashi in those days as literary editor of the publications of Pustak Bhandar (Laheria Sarai), and many of those books were printed in his Saraswati Press. Shri Gururam Sharma ‘Visharada’, his co-villager, was his press manager at that time.
Before going to Lucknow, Premchandji always came to the press from his village on an ekka. I would also go to the press almost every day to supervise my publications of ‘Bhandar’. On the eastern side of Company Bagh (Maidagin park) is Nagari Pracharini Sabha and on the western flank of the road was Saraswati Press. An old, dark and dingy place – the press was in real bad shape. He was always worried for the press. I gave his press as much work of Pustak Bhandar as was in my hand, and which the press could easily handle, and also fetched work from friends. But the press had an elephantine belly – it just couldn’t have enough. It was in this precarious condition that he went to Lucknow. Then arose the issue of Pravasilalji under my mediation, and after some correspondence, things were amicably settled.
Varmaji shifted the press from Madhyameshwar to Mahamrityunjaya-Mahadeva road. The new house belonged to the famous art connoisseur Shri Rai Krishnadasji, and it proved quite lucky and profitable for the press. Finally, Premchandji was relieved of his worries on that score. Varmaji’s capabilities also kept him satisfied. And for being instrumental in all this, Premchandji’s affection towards me also grew. Whenever he would come from Lucknow even for a day, he would send for me to the press. Once when Varmaji was to be appointed he came straight to my house which was near the Kalbhairava crossing, and Varmaji was my close neighbor. Premchandji expressed no hesitation or qualms, and received Varmaji with open arms. While leaving, with a chowghada (foursome of folded betel leaves), he said – “I will have sound sleep today; the press had become a great burden, which is now off my shoulders”.
When he was still in Lucknow, the planning for the publication of Hans had started. Shri Jayashankar Prasadji, the great literary giant of his time, gave it its name, and with Premchandji’s consent, Varmaji started its publication. Premchandji would send his stories and editorial notes from Lucknow. But only two of the column titles from Prasadji’s original plan – ‘Mukta Manjoosha’ and ‘Neer-Ksheer-Vivek’ were retained; in Prasadji’s scheme stories did not have that priority, but under Premchandji’s editorship stories had to have that preference; as a result, Hans remained a short-story magazine for a long time.
For nearly a year and a half I stayed away from Kashi, though making regular visits there. During the period I was editing the monthly magazine Ganga ; and when I wrote to Premchandji for a short-story, he wrote back frankly –“Just because you write for free for my Hans, I would not do so for the Raja’s magazine*. Get me a good price.” I had to keep mum, because when I was in the editorial department of Madhuri, Premchandji was paid four rupees per page. Ganga would not like to pay so much for his stories, although it had paid Professor Ramdas Gaud five rupees a page for his review of Bharat Bharati.
I returned to Kashi after resigning from the editorial work in Ganga. Meanwhile, Premchandji had also left Madhuri and returned to Kashi. This time he asked me to write for the column ‘Mukta-Manjoosha’, and promised some remuneration, too, as I was now jobless. That remuneration proved of great help in those days of joblessness. He would then remark jokingly – “You are jobless, and I am formless!”
For hours we would have our sittings in the Saraswati Press, with never ending rounds of pan-gilauris (pyramid-shaped betel leaves). He would laughingly remember the peculiar Lucknow pans – swearing at them with his famous sakhun-takiya. He would often say that the particular swear expression was the gift of the Urdu literary soirees. “Fortunately, it doesn’t sneak in inyto my writing, like in my conversation. If, perchance, it were to occur in my letters, that would be a big bother for both”, he would frankly admit.
For long, he had been planning to bring out a weekly for advertising his own books. When the fortnightly Jagaran, published by Pustak Mandir, Kashi, under my editorship, ceased publication after six months, he took it over and started publishing it as a weekly under his editorship. That led to a special affinity between us. He would be in the press for long periods, and I, too, would sit there reading proofs or newpapers. I had no job there, but would love to do some literary work or the other as was my wont. And most important was his company itself. Even from his casual conversation, there was always something new to be learnt – some new expression, some new turn of phrase, a new word, or some witticism. He would never falter or pause in his conversation. He was a master of Urdu prose, and had lived since childhood in the citadel of Hindi. He was so well-read, and with such vast experience of life, that the moment he would take his pen, a translucent stream of polished language would start flowing.
Even his letters would read like stories. Often in a few lines of a post card he would say things of great depth and profundity; laced, equally often, with delightful touches of humour. His style was exquisite. While reading, one would have a feeling that the writer’s pen is flowing forward natuarally, without even pausing for a breath,always carrying his reader along. Main articles and editorial notes for the weekly Jagaran and the monthly Hans, often a short story, too; besides one or two short stories every month for other magazines, along with his novel under writing - indeed, he had so much to write, and yet he would write nothing which would fall below his own high standard. Whatever his pen touched became luminous, as it were. His mind would be as sharp, as his fingers would be diligent. And yet he always lived in penury. Both Hans and Jagaran ran in loss. His books wouldn’t have a good sale; and the Hindi publishers would pay him a pittance. In fact, the Urdu publishers paid him much better in comparison to his Hindi publishers, because, as he himself admitted, his Urdu books sold very well in Punjab. * * * * *
[*Ganga was published from Sultanganj near Bhagalpur, and was owned by the Raja of Banaili Estate, Kumar Krishnanandan Singh.]
Premchand’s letter to Shivapujan Sahay: From Lucknow to Calcutta/ 22.2.25
Dear Shivapujan Sahayji : Vande (salutation),
You seem to have forgotten me absolutely. Here goes the book [Rangabhoomi] in your service, expressing the deepest gratitude, - the book on which you had spent months, battering your mind, - and entreats you to give it a couple of your hours of solitude, and then, whatever be your opinion about it, express it in your charming language.
My Reminiscences of PremchandI am still here, captured, as it were, for the publication of ‘Bal Vinodmala’. Oh, how wonderful it would have been with you here! .Yet, it would be an obligation if you could send for this ‘Mala’ some little, amusing ‘cat-and-mouse’ or ‘crow and eagle’ story. I shall be eagerly awaiting your review of Rangabhoomi. Yours: Dhanapat Rai
[Extracted from my ongoing project of translated writings of Acharya Shivapujan Sahay in one Volume.Contact email:firstname.lastname@example.org