‘VIBHUTI’Short stories of Shivapoojan Sahay
A Centenary Commemoration
[Acharya Shivapoojan Sahay began his literary career with writing short stories and one single novel ‘Dehati Duniya’ in the early 1920s. His first collection of short stories ‘Mahila Mahattwa’ was published in 1922, though all ten stories in the collection had been published in the Hindi literary journals of the time by 1919. Of these 10, his short story ‘Mundamal’, based on Rajsthani folklore , was published in 1918, just over a century ago. As all other 9 stories in ‘Mahila Mahattwa’ were written and published in literary journals by 1919, it is time to revisit those stories when they have just completed their centenary year. As the title of that collection refers to a contemporary theme of a feminist discourse – the poor plight and oppressed position of women in society, a theme close to the spirit of modern times, a webinar is proposed to be held by the Acharya Shivapoojan Sahay Smarak Nyas on 9 August, 2021. This excerpt on those stories is published to mark that historic occasion. - MM]
Shivapoojan Sahay in his autobiography has said that he started studying Hindi formally when he reached the matriculation class in 1910. Before that his Hindi studies were limited to his daily reading of the Ramcharit Manas, though in school he used to study only Urdu and Persian. In those days the number of students studying Hindi would be as few as the number students studying Urdu-Persian and Sanskrit in later days. But outside school, he would spend most of his time reading Hindi books and magazines. This became more convenient for him because of the recently established Ara Nagari Pracharini Sabha in the town that was fast coming up as a leading institution propagating Hindi in the province. Many eminent litterateurs of Hindi would assemble there daily and Shivji would get the inspiration from them for studying Hindi literature. Although a stronger motivation, perhaps, was his father’s sincere wish – who had died only 4 years before – that his son should study Hindi literature. That pious wish of his father which he had not been able to fulfil while he was still alive, now when the time had come to do so, his motivation naturally became all the more insistent. Another hidden inducement must have been that if he had to choose the path of literature, Hindi would be the natural choice. And in this way, he felt obliged to turn to pursue a career in Hindi prose writing.3 3. Shivapoojan Sahay when he was a student of class 10, had started writing verses on the model of Ramcharit Manas, some of its samples are to be seen in Samagara, Vol. 5, p. 635 ff.
His Hindi prose-writing in the beginning, heavy as it was with Sankrit-laden vocabulary, must have been a conscious reaction against his earlier Urdu-Persian orientation which may have been a childhood companionship, but ultimately Hindi was destined to become his first love – a love which soon became very deep.
If we take 1910 as the beginning of Shivji’s literary journey, then the next decade was the period of his language training and proficiency. All the essays and stories based on idealistic thoughts and emotions that he wrote in this period can be seen as early examples of his training in linguistic resources. Most of these were published in standard literary journals like Shiksha (Patna), Lakshmi (Gaya), Manoranjan and Sahitya Patrika (Ara), which were all journals of the provincial level. Also, the editors of these journals (with the sole exception only of Lala Bhagawan Deen, who belonged to U.P.) were all from Ara. Pt. Ishwari Prasad Sharma, editor of Manoranjan, was a fellow student and a teacher-colleague of Shivji, and later, virtually his literary mentor.
The first article of Shivapoojan Sahay, ‘Holi me sabhayata ka nash’, was published in 1912 in Shiksha edited by Pt. Sakal Narayan Sharma, and his first short-story ‘Tooti-Sugi-Maini’ was published in Sahitya Patrika (Oct.–Nov., 1914) edited by Vrajnandan Sahay ‘Vrajballabh’. As Shivji has noted in his diary: “This was the first story I wrote”. Later the same story was revised as ‘Tooti-Maina’ and included in his first short-story collection Mahila Mahattwa which was published in its first edition in 1922 in Calcutta when Shivji was living in the Balkrishna Press of Mahadev Prasad Seth and editing Marwari Sudhar. The first edition was printed there and was published and marketed under Sethji’s ‘Sulabh Granth Pracharak Mandal’. The book contained Shivji’s ten short stories (which were called ‘akhyayikas’ or stories) published till then in various journals. In its preface Shivji wrote: “All the ten stories collected in this book were published years ago in different magazines. But they are no longer in the form in which they first appeared. I have edited them to the best of my ability before publishing them here. I have also tried to improve their content as well as with their language…. All the ten stories are based on real-life incidents.”
Later this edition of Mahila Mahattwa was re-issued several times by Pustak Bhandar, Laheria Sarai, and its new edition was finally published from there in 1935 as Vibhuti with six more stories, published in different magazines during this period, added in this new edition making the total 16, though the order of the previous 10 was not changed. The fourth edition of Vibhuti was again published in 1950 from Granthmala Karyalaya, Patna. Finally the story collection was included in Shivapoojan Rachanavali (Vol. 1).
If we consider the three available texts of this first story ‘Tooti Maina’ from the point of view of improvement in its language and its creative structure, it would shed important light on these aspects of the short story. These three texts are: (1) the original text as published in the Sahitya Patrika (1914), (2) the text as available in the first printing of Mahila Mahattwa (1922), and (3) as it finally appears in Shivapoojan Rachanavali (Vol. 1, 1956). We must remember that text (3) was published under the editorial care of the writer himself. In text (1) the title of the story was ‘Tooti-Sugi-Maini’ which was changed to ‘Tooti Maina’ in text (2). Though in texts (2) and (3) there is practically no change in the style except for some spelling changes, but in (1) and (2) there is a marked stylistic change from the viewpoint of stylistic development.
The author calls ‘Tooti Maina’ a ‘galp’ (story). In Bangla literature the word ‘galp’ is generally used for a story. ‘Tooti Maina’ is an imaginative fantasy created in a poetic style. A prince meets a lissom, dainty princess in the spring season in the ‘Ashram’ (hermitage) of a ‘Rishi’ (sage) where she was brought up. With the sages’s consent she is married to the prince and goes to his palace with him, and finds herself as if in a prison. The whole story is narrated in a highly poetic style. But as the author has written in his preface (1922), the stylistic improvisations in the published story have subsequently been stabilized. Even from the viewpoint of development in the creative form there is a marked improvement in this and also the other stories in the collection when compared with their original form as published in the magazines. There was an English quotation in (1) which has been deleted from (2). Even the division of the sections has been rationalized in (2). The old style of narration – occasional direct address to the readers, etc – has been removed from (2). There is greater narrative control and the structure also has been tightened.
In the fourth edition of Vibhuti the author says that the year of composition of each story has been retained in the list of contents which gives an idea of their chronology. This list is retained even in the Rachanavali and must be taken now as fully authentic.
According to this list ‘Hath-Bhagatji’ is the first story written by Shivji, though it was published later. In his diary of 1917, however, Shivji had given a list of his earliest published writings, and if we take it as most authentic, his first published story is ‘Rav se Rank’ which was published about a year and half before even ‘Tooti-Sugi-Maini’ in Manoranjan. It has the form of a children’s folk-tale which may be why Shivji did not include it in his first collection of stories.(It was later collected in Rachanavali-3). But it seems more likely that ‘Tooti-Maina’ is the first among the collected short stories of Shivji.
The three available texts of ‘Tooti-Maina’ are of special importance from the point of view of comparison of style and technique. As the author has written in the preface of Mahila Mahattwa: “I have worked very hard in the editing of this book”, a fact borne out by such textual comparison. The extent to which both the style and the technique of the story has evolved after such authorial labour is amply clear after such comparison. If it is his first story of the writer that we evaluate as a full-fledged literary creation, then the textual analysis based on its three texts can help us greatly in seeing the trajectory of the growth of the writer’s art.
Among the first ten stories collected in Mahila Mahattwa, the maximum popularity and recognition was earned by Shivji’s ‘Mundamal’. Linked to its story-line is another of these stories ‘Sateettwa ki Ujjwal Prabha’, and a third is ‘Vishpan’. The material for all three of these stories based on historical accounts has been taken from Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan by James Tod which is famous for its rich treasure of stories of Rajput valour in battles against the Mughals. The story materials of the first two of them are closely linked. In ‘Sateettwa’, there is the stunningly beautiful princess Prabhavati of the Roopnagar kingdom lying in the valley at the foot of the Aravalli mountains. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who has his lustful eyes on her, has threatened an attack on the kingdom. Prabhavati sends a message to Maharana Raj Singh of Udaipur to save her honour by marrying her. The Maharana deliberates over the matter with his Sardar Chudawatji in his court and decides to proceed to Roopnagar for the union while Chudawatji should start with his forces to battle with Aurangzeb’s forces advancing upon Roopnagar. As Chudawatji is proceeding for the battle and he seeks an inspirational memento from his newly-wed wife Hadi Rani, she beheads herself swiftly with a single stroke of the sword to offer her head itself as a souvenir to be sent to Chudawatji. Filled with a rush of pride at this act of valour, Chudawatji wears the head round his neck in a garland as he rides to the battleground. This bizarre act of love and gallantry is the theme of the story ‘Mundamal’. In the battle, though Aurangzeb’s army is defeated, Chudawatji is killed and when the victorious army reaches Udaipur, the Maharana with his new queen Prabhawati is ready to welcome the victors.
In these three stories related to the historical past of Rajasthan, ‘Mundamal’, first published in Arya Mahila (June, 1918), is by far the best considering both its style and technique. Fortunately, like ‘Tooti Maina’, the three texts of ‘Mundamal’ also are available. But whereas the extent of stylistic improvement in ‘Tooti Maina’ is quite considerable, in ‘Mundamal’ it appears much less; the emphasis in the latter is more on gain in technique. For instance, in ‘Mundamal’, at least in three places we find changes in the sentences, and nearly two dozen sentences have been stylistically retouched.
If ‘Tooti Maina’ is the first of the ten stories in Mahila Mahattwa, then ‘Mundamal’ is the last in the series, and the time distance between the writing of the two stories is about 4 to 5 years. A comparative evaluation of the three available texts of the two stories gives a sure indication that in matters of style and technique both, Shivapoojan Sahay had obtained a higher creative maturity by the time his earliest stories were re-published in his collection Mahila Mahattwa and his linguistic attainments had provided him with the power and capability of language which got further augmented by his future career in journalism.
The six stories added in Vibhuti were all published in different magazines during the period 1923 to 1931 and when Shivji finally came to Pustak Bhandar, Laheria Sarai, from Banaras for editing Balak then all these 16 stories were published in Vibhuti. Among these 6 new stories, there was another story ‘Sharanagat Raksha’ connected with Rajput valour and the last story ‘Bulbul aur Gulab’ was a creative transcreation of Oscar Wilde’s poetic short story ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’. All the other stories were related to social problems. But it can well be asserted that if ‘Mundamal’ was the best story in the earlier collection Mahila Mahattwa, it was ‘Kahani ka Plot’ that was the top story among all in the later collection Vibhuti. As the author explained in his preface to Vibhuti: “The 15 stories in this new collection are all original compositions and the last one is a translation of Oscar Wilde’s short story. The original ones are all based on real incidents. None is an imaginative creation. All of them have their roots in social or historical reality.”
‘Kahani ka Plot’ is the last published story of Shivji which was published in Saroj in 1928. It was also written in the same year. The text of the story as published in Saroj differs from the text as published in Vibhuti only in respect of inflectional changes and breaking up of long paragraphs into shorter ones; otherwise the texts are absolutely the same. It also becomes quite apparent that whereas the textual differences in terms of changes in style or technique seem to be maximum in the first story ‘Tooti Maina’, they are found to be at the minimum in ‘Kahani ka Plot’, the last of the 16 stories. Also, that whereas ‘Tooti Maina’ in its content and form is essentially rendered in a highly poetic prose verging on a prose-poem, ‘Kahani ka Plot’ is a superb example of stark social realism rendered in a prose style appropriately reflecting that social reality.
In the prefaces of both Mahila Mahattwa and Vibhuti the author has emphasized that all the stories except ‘Bulbul aur Gulab’ are based on real incidents. Barring the four that are based on historical events, all the other 11 stories are based on real incidents, either ‘heard or seen’. This predisposition in his creative process for social and historical reality is truly indicative of the writer’s distinctive artistic proclivities. Fictional material of the historical kind also signifies time-relative social realities. The writer’s repeated assertions in this regard that no story has any imaginative content only prompts the sensitive reader or critic to approach the stories from the right point of view. It certainly isn’t coincidental that the last story of Vibhuti – the only translated story – depicts this contrariety of reality and imagination by the symbols of the immortal melody issuing out of the thorn-pierced heart of the nightingale and the blood-red rose born out of it.
For a writer having so deep a commitment to historical and social reality, the deliberate choice to end his singular collection of stories with a translated idealistic story of profound symbolism must not be taken as fortuitous. If we look at all the stories in Vibhuti as a unified entity – even if some of these stories may appear, from the point of view of style or technique, artistically flawed or written in the older mould – the writer’s unambiguous assertion about their realism allows the critic to adopt the right attitude towards their evaluation. Or we can even say that the realism of the bleeding heart of the nightingale sounds that melody which blossoms as the red rose of fanciful imagination.
Of the ten stories in Mahila Mahattwa, besides the three historical ones that are interconnected, all seven stories are focused on women-related issues which try to highlight the character and ideals of Indian womanhood and which the title of the collection Mahila Mahattwa also clearly reflects. (This title, however, was suggested by a friend of the writer: the writer’s chosen title was ‘Veena’, the title of the fifth story in this collection).
In ‘Veena’ the narrator loves Veena, but finds her when she is living a widow’s life in Kashi. When he tries to possess her forcibly, she kills herself by jumping into the river Ganga. In deep repentance, the narrator also ends his life by drowning after her. The sixth story ‘Vichar Chitra’ also ends in remorse and penitence. A friend of the narrator seeing a beautiful stranger girl at a railway station expresses lustful feelings about her and is rebuked by the narrator, but he soon expresses his regret to him. The seventh story ‘Hatbhagini Chandratara’ is longer than the earlier two. Like in ‘Veena’, in this story, too, the two lovers who have met for the first time in a village fair have a sudden end in death. From the point of view of technique, ‘Hatbhagini Chandratara’ seems to be more successful than the other two stories. Whereas in the earlier ones the narrator is also a character in them, in ‘Hatbhagini Chandratara’ the narrator is an omniscient, objective narrator. It must be said that the control and use of technique was equally deft in the first three historical stories, too.
‘Prayaschitt’ is the eighth story in the collection which is shorter in length and is in first person narration like ‘Veena’ and ‘Vichar Chitra’. In this story an Englishman rapes a woman in the ladies compartment of a train and when the husband comes to fetch her, the woman snatches the pistol of the rapist and shoots herself. That to her is her ‘pryashchitt’ (atonement) which forms the climax of the story. The last two stories of this collection are ‘Hath Bhagatji’ and ‘Anoothi Angoothi’, and about these two and ‘Tooti Maina’ the author had written in his preface that these three stories “were written on the basis of heard incidents”. Although he had also claimed about the other stories that he had got their content from real-life incidents whether social or historical in nature.
‘Hath Bhagatji’ also is comparable to ‘Hatbhagini Chandratara’ from the point of view of both narration and technique. The protagonist of the story, Lala Sajeevan Das is a hard-headed person who ‘would not budge even an inch’ from his decision. During his building of a temple in his ancestral garden, his two sons and their spouses, his own wife and grandson – all pass away one by one, and his well-wishers advise him to stop the construction of the temple. But totally undeterred, Sajeevan Das continues his endeavour, sets up the idols in place, and once again gradually he is able to build up a full-fledged family with sons and grandsons. It was his unshakeable faith in God that had helped him in his rock-like resolve.
The last story in Mahila Mahattwa is ‘Anoothi Angoothi’. In its story-line it has some similarity with ‘Hatbhagini Chandratara’ in that in both the stories the lovers meet in a village fair, although in the former story, unlike the tragic end in the latter, the end comes with the lovers meeting happily. On the other hand, whereas in the former the lovers are a married couple, in the latter the relationship is kept deliberately ambivalent. And in this story (‘Anoothi Angoothi’) the lover himself is the narrator, and in all places the author has knowingly left the love scenes softly blurred and undefined to add to the romantic effect.
Thus if ‘Mundamal’ is the best story in Mahila Mahattwa, among all other stories based on social reality, ‘Anoothi Angoothi’, ‘Tooti Maina’ and ‘Hatbhagini Chandratara’ can be seen as relatively more successful. The period of composition of all these stories is 1911 to 1917, a period generally regarded as the infancy of the Hindi short-story. Premchand had published only some of his early stories. The two stories ‘Tooti Maina’ and ‘Kano me Kangana’ (by Raja Radhika Raman) were written almost at the same time and both have a surprising similarity of story-line, also being remarkably alike in their poetic rendering. But whereas the poetic unity remains condensed in ‘Tooti Maina’ giving it the effect of a narrative poem, the effect in ‘Kano me Kangana’, in spite of its comparable poetic unity, lies more in its expansiveness. And that only shows that both stories, in spite of their apparent likeness, and comparable story development, obtain separate goals for themselves.
All the stories of Mahila Mahattwa, though inspired by historical or social reality, are deeply poetical in their form. And, perhaps, in keeping with the milieu of his age, the high poeticality of his style was consonant with the ideals and values the writer wanted to explore and sustain. But wherever this central element of a poetic voice has mingled with the realism underpinning their prose narration or with their plot-structure, the effect of the stories has been diluted or has suffered. That is how ‘Mundamal’ is the best among these ten stories, with its unique plot-structure, its story-line, its theme (valour), its characterization and style, as all these constituent elements coalesce perfectly to heighten its unity.
Of the six stories added in Vibhuti to the earlier ten, except for ‘Bulbul aur Gulab’ which was a translated one and published last, all the other five were original stories. Among these six ‘Sharanagat Raksha’ was again based on a historical folk tale, and ‘Khopadi ke Akshar’ and ‘Kunji’ had been published in 1923–24 which means these latter two stories had not even been written, or at least were still not complete, when Mahila Mahattwa was published in 1922. It is also apparent that all the stories in Mahila Mahattwa were written before Shivji had started editing Marwari Sudhar, and the five new original stories were written when Shivji had moved from Ara to Calcutta. The last translated story ‘Bulbul aur Gulab’ was written in 1932 in Kashi and first published in the same year in Jagaran edited by Shivji. That also explains the enhanced artistic vision in the use of the technique and an appropriately evolved style in these five stories. The Hindi short story had already passed an important phase of its development in the preceding decade and there had been a remarkable advancement in both style and technique and these five short stories of Shivji also evince signs of this twofold advancement.
‘Khopadi ke Akshar’ is a long story – the longest of all the 16 – and, in fact, its narrative span demands the form of a short novelette. A landlord lovingly brings up the son of his trusted manager as he himself has only a daughter and his desire for a male heir has remained unfulfilled. Both Kedar, the manager’s son, and Vasundhara, the landlord’s daughter, have grown up together since childhood. In due course, however, the landlord begets a son with the help of some magical potion given him by some famed sadhu, and as superstition would have it, he buys his own son in five cowries, the son thus getting the name ‘Panchkaudi’. Kedar thus becomes the guardian teacher of the child. The landlord then performs Kedar’s marriage, after he gets his B.A degree, with great pomp and show. The new bride ‘Rampyari’ gets all the love and affection in the landlord’s family, and becomes especially close to Vasundhara. But slowly she is able to sense the hidden love in Vasundhara’s heart for Kedar that leads to her disenchantment from the former. Vasundhara expresses her sentiments in a letter to Kedar, and Kedar replies to it trying to make her understand things. Meanwhile, he gets Vasundhara’s marriage fixed with one of his friends. But hurt by his wife’s frigid behaviour with Vasundhara, Kedar gradually gets indifferent towards his wife. Even after Vasundhara’s departure, he is not able to forget her.
‘Khopadi ke Akshar’ was published in the literary monthly Upanyas Tarang which Shivji was editing after leaving Matawala. The magazine used to publish short novelettes which seemed to have determined the length of the long story. As a result, the story manifests all the essential traits of a novel in the same proportion – plot, dialogues, psychological delineation of the characters were all influenced by the appropriate techniques of a novel. And yet, the story cannot be considered as an unsuccessful novelette. The unity of form in the story, as a short story, remains intact throughout which makes it a successful story.
‘Kunji’, contrarily, is the shortest among all these stories and has been among the least discussed of Shivji’s stories. Although from the point of view of technical concentration it must be reckoned among his three or four most successful short stories. The story begins at a dramatic point: “Had the taxi not been available at the last moment, I would have missed the train”. Decidedly, the artistry in Shivji’s stories has touched its highest point in this story from the point of view of technical excellence. As the story begins, a youth (the narrator) meets a sannyasi at the Howrah railway station. He tells the sannyasi that he is the accountant of a businessman who is at the point of death in Kashi where he is going after receiving a telegram. He is in the hope that he might get some small portion of the property of his master if he dies. This prompts the sannyasi to narrate his own story to the young man. He tells him how his father had died suddenly and he had had to perform the fire ritual himself, and when the pyre was almost burnt out, his elder uncle remembered that the key to the iron chest had remained tied to the waistband of the corpse. Hurriedly then he scattered the still fiery pyre to recover the red-hot key and at once covered it with dust for it to cool off. That key, indeed, had opened the sannyasi’s eye of selfrealization. Shivji’s ‘The Key’ thus certainly comes out perfect on the touchstone of a modern short story and should be considered an excellent modern short story.
‘Manmochan’ is a story in the dialogue-format of a discussion in which a husband and wife compare and argue about the superiority of ‘Khari Boli’ poetry with ‘Brajbhasha’ poetry, with elaborate citations from both, and the story ends in a reconciliation between the two effected in a passionate embrace. In those days when such friendly engagements used to be the affable pastime of men of letters over the right poetic language, this story of Shivji had won many accolades. When it was published in Samalochak (Feb., 1925), Pt. Krishna Bihari Mishra, its editor, wrote to Shivji in his letter (27.2.25): “People have liked your article ‘Manmochan’ very much, especially Pt. Roop Narayanji… In fact, Babu Shyamsudar Dasji liked it most of all articles published in Samalochak.” It may be noted that Mishraji had called it an ‘article’, and not a ‘short story’, and it was he who had changed its title from ‘Man-bhanjan’ to ‘Manmochan’ with Shivji’s consent.
‘Sharanagat Raksha’ is the fourth and only other story based on a historical episode. Compared with the other three historical stories, this fourth story is technically more evolved. The plotting and depiction of events, lively dialogues full of dramatic appeal, mature characterization and scene-creation, and powerful, effective denoument – all add to the excellence of this story. The pathan emperor Allauddin is on a hunting spree in the Vindhya jungles, accompanied by his harem of begums and his courtiers. The begums had gone for bathing in a nearby pond when a storm arose and they had to rush back in great dishevelment to their camp, but the begum-in-chief goes missing. In a while she is found by one of the sardars of the cavalry sent out looking for her – near the pond, halfnude and shivering. In a fit of passion she finds herself in the sardar’s embrace. When the contingent returns to Delhi, the emperor is able to ferret out the secret from the begum herself while on a boat joyride in Yamuna. Both the begum and the sardar are soon thrown into prison, but are able to escape with the aide of the kotwal, a relative of the sardar, and are taken into protection by the Maharana Hammir. Emperor Allauddin soon attacks Maharana’s kingdom of Chittorgarh and in the battle both the Maharana and the sardar are killed. The story, thus, reflects the valour and the glory of the Indian ethos of giving protection to the hounded. This highest ideal of the Indian culture is marvelously delineated in this story.
‘Kahani ka Plot’ was written in 1928, and was published in Saroj in its shravan (July) number. The editor was Munshi Navjadik Lal who had earlier been in Matawala. It is Shivji’s last story which is reckoned among the finest Hindi stories. To be sure, Shivji’s art of story writing reaches its perfection in this short story. It has been his most read and discussed short story – but, as it happens with literary pieces prescribed in academic courses, their true evaluation remains ever lacking because of their being relegated to class lectures and examination papers. Shivji gave only fifteen short stories to Hindi literature, but even if only three of them are of permanent literary value, they must be deemed to be among a very high percentage of success. And yet it must be said that great as these three stories may be from the point of view of literary merit, they have not received the critical attention they deserve.
The story ‘Kahani ka Plot’ arises out of the same region where Shivji grew up to be a writer. It is the same region where his novel Dehati Duniya is located. Dehati Duniya also was written around the same period, 1921–26. Its five forms were first printed in 1922 in Calcutta, but the full novel was finally published only in 1926 from Pustak Bhandar. By that time, Shivji had left Calcutta for Kashi and ‘Kahani ka Plot’ was written only two years after the publication of Dehati Duniya. The former was written in Kashi where as the latter had been written much earlier in Calcutta. And yet both have an obvious similarity of locale and social milieu. Both belong to the social environment of his native village. The character of the police inspector in both is very similar. The ‘Munshiji’ and ‘Bhagajogni’, too, seem to belong to the same social milieu. Bhagajogni has an initial likeness to the character of Budhia in Dehati Duniya. Bhagajogni’s story seems to have arisen from the same village world which is depicted in Dehati Duniya.
‘Kahani ka Plot’ begins with a suggestive statement of the narrator that he is no story writer, but he has got a plot for a story in his own village which can be developed into a very sensitive story by a good writer. And then the narrated story itself is given as its plot. Indeed, ‘Kahani ka Plot’ is a masterpiece from the technical point of view in which the technique of the short story, in particular the technique of ‘flashback’, has been used to astonishing effect. The narrator himself is the central character in the story and all the events happening in the past are seen through his eyes. There had been a Munshiji in his village whose brother was a police inspector during British times and Munshiji had very good time during those days, always ‘burning his lamps in ghee’. But when his brother died he had his bad days. His wife, too, died after giving birth to a girl child. The narrator gives that girl an imaginary name – Bhagajogni. She was an extraordinarily beautiful girl but in his bad days, she had often to keep starving. It was an ironic contrast: her incomparable beauty and Munshiji’s extreme poverty. When Bhagajogni became marriageable, Munshiji begged and pleaded with many people, but could not settle her marriage for want of a dowry. In the end, in deep desperation, he gave her in marriage to a middle-aged, 40–41 years old bridegroom who took her away in a palanquin in marriage. Soon thereafter, almost within a year, Munshiji, too, who had been in precarious health already, passed away. To cut the story short, Bhagajogni was now in full bloom of her youth and her second husband was – her own stepson!
There are only three characters in the story – the narrator, Munshiji and Bhagajogni. The other characters are only mentioned nominally, and are, in a way, parts of the essential three. And if the narrator represents the point of view and the story content, the characters of Munshiji and Bhagajogani are also parts of the central character of the narrator. Also, the style and the ultimate aim of the story are integral to the narrator’s character. The dramatic contrariness of the beginning and the end of the story are also inseparable from its style and objective. The stratagem of the narrator’s professed inability to turn the plot into a story stated at the beginning is, indeed, the most potent device to create the stunning effect at the end of the story. It is possible to find similar use of dramatic irony as a technique in Shivji’s other contemporary short story writers, but the smashing effect achieved with the last word – ‘stepson’ in the story, lends it a uniqueness hard to rival. Irony and satire are the quintessential elements of this short story which help in achieving the goal in the short story completely which means that the objective and the style in the short story are also its concentric elements. A story exemplifying technical excellence of this level is enough to ensure a permanent place for Shivji in the annals of Hindi short story writing. In truth, we must judge the ultimate achievement of a creative artist securely on the basis of his best creation.
‘Kahani ka Plot’ was written much after the composition of Dehati Duniya. In fact, the novel was first written and partially printed in 1921–22, soon after which Shivji had left Matawala to go to Lucknow to join in the editorial department of Madhuri. It was there in Lucknow that he started working again on his half-finished novel, but when in September, 1924, Shivji had to flee hurriedly from his hotel in a riot-torn Lucknow, the manuscript of the novel and many other valuable materials were left in the hotel which ultimately he could never recover. When he returned to Calcutta he remained so busy that he could not resume writing the novel from the point where it had lain in the half-printed five forms. He was able to complete the novel only when he finally went to Kashi in the beginning of 1926. And it was there in Kashi that the completed novel, published by Pustak Bhandar, was printed. By now, Shivji was working full time for Pustak Bhandar, editing and getting all its books printed at the Gyanmandal press in Kashi. In his preface to Dehati Duniya he has explained all this. It may well be emphasized that after carrying his art of the short story to its acme, Shivji had finally abandoned story writing, and had, perhaps, shifted to the parallel form of the novel with all his experience thus gained. After Dehati Duniya he wrote only one original short story ‘Plot for a Story’ because ‘Bulbul aur Gulab was a translated short story which he had published in Jagaran (1932) that he had then been editing. And that is why the background of the story ‘Plot for a Story’ would appear to be very similar to the creative milieu of Dehati Duniya. It is not just coincidental that ‘Plot for a Story’ is the only short story which is professedly located in his own village or somewhere around it. If the story’s narrator is a self-dramatized character of none but the writer, then it can be safely assumed that the narrator in both the story and the novel acquires his experiences from the same rural environment.
In this context, an entry in Shivji’s diary is quite relevant: “Pt. Saryu Panda Gaud came. After dinner, he narrated a real story. There was a poor brahman Gosainji in his (Gaud’s) maternal grandfather’s village. He had a very beautiful daughter who was married to an old man. There was a difference of 50 years in their age; the girl was 18 and the husband was 68. Soon after the marriage the old husband died widowing the young girl. She was later made pregnant by two country rogues. The villainous beasts and her utter penury both conspired to the destruction of that beautiful girl and drove her to her untimely death. I told Pandaji that I had written my story ‘Kahani ka Plot’ on a similar theme. Your story is very similar to that story of mine. Hundreds of such tragic stories are happening in our country every day, but the Hindu society would not care.” (16.3.59)
In the development of the Hindi short story two trends are generally traced to Premchand and Prasad. Shivji’s two stories ‘Kahani ka Plot’ and ‘Mundamal’ will always be remembered as the two perfect examples, respectively, of these two trends in Hindi short story.
Excerpted from Shivapoojan Sahay (Monograph © Sahitya Akademi, 2018)
Also read Shivji’s translated stories- ‘The Key’ (3 Feb 2008), ‘Plot for a Story’ (10 Sep 2010 : ‘Yadnama’ 4&11 Feb 2015), ‘The Fugitive’ (5 Sep 2013) & ‘Kahani ka Plot’ by Anand Murty (9 Aug 2020) on this blog.
‘Mundamal’ is also available in a video presentation on UTube and audio recitation of ‘Kahani ka Plot’ shall soon be available on net in both Hindi and Bangla recitations.
Photos © Dr BSM Murty