Event

Celebrated in Song: Portraits of Women in Fiction and Music @KGAF20

Last Friday evening (February 8, 2019), The David Sassoon Library Grounds witnessed a houseful celebration of literature, captivating the young and old, alike. First on stage was Ashwani Kumar, co-founder of Indian Novels Collective, addressing the gathering. He introduced the Novels to the audience and highlighted the need to experiment with genres to popularise Indian classics.

The audience was allured by the fascinating collaboration of Vidya Shah, Priyanka Setia and Indian Novels Collective. Vidya Shah has been exploring women through her music since many years now. In 2009, she directed a two-day exhibition and music concert — ‘Women on Record’, celebrating music of women in the gramophone era, in which she paid a tribute to iconic female voices (of that era) by performing their music. Looking back, it fit perfectly with the theme that Indian Novels Collective wanted to celebrate this year at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.

Priyanka Setia — theatre artiste and Bollywood actress, has been a part of the Indian Novels Collective family. Talking about this unique association with Vidya Shah, Priyanka Setia commented, “Vidya is so loving, so giving. It never felt like I was collaborating with her for the first time; it was very comfortable to work with her. Performing with Vidya was a beautiful experience!”

The evening commenced with a tribute to Krishna Sobti and her fierce depiction of Mitro followed by Damodar Mauzo’s ‘Karmelin’.

Priyanka Setia enticed the audience with the characters’ unapologetic sexuality. On the one hand, Mitro unabashedly expresses her sexual desires while Mauzo’s Karmelin uses her sensuality in a calculative and controlled manner. The excerpts read from the Novels helped the audience capture the essence of the characters. Vidya Shah corresponded to these characters with some beautiful Ghazals from Janki Bai’s Raseeli Tori Akheeya and Begum Akhtar’s Humari Atariya Pe followed by Humko Mita Sake for Karmelin.

We then moved on to Dharamveer Bharati’s Sudha whose is a more layered and complex story, a personification of a man’s ideal woman, to which Vidya Shah harmonised with Begum Akhtar’s Patli Kamar Lambe Baal, Kamala Jharia’s Na Tum Mere Na Dil Mera and finally closed the show on a high note with Begum Akhtar’s Aye Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe Rona Aaya.

The readings by Priyanka Setia left the audience wanting more as she teased them by withholding the end. Vidya Shah’s mesmerising voice with a varied selection of songs blended with the women characters being read effortlessly, adding charm to the classic Indian writings and experiencing Mitro, Karmelin and Sudha — the three women from Indian literature in an entrancing way. The characters indeed, came alive and left their imprints on the minds.

Indira Chandrasekhar, the curator of the literary gathering at KGAF Literature summed up with, “Thank you, Indian Novels Collective. It’s really such an honour to have you. You always bring the most extraordinary programme to Kala Ghoda Literature. And Vidya, of course I am such a huge fan… and Priyanka, it was such a beautiful reading. To listen to you two together was just immense privilege. Thank you, Shinjini and Ashwani, for making this happen.”

The enchanting fusion of music with literature at the event yet again created a remarkable narrative, a narrative upholding the uniqueness in the portrayal of women, acknowledging the differences and bringing out the complexities in Indian literature.

World Hindi Day

Six translations of Hindi works that are a must read!

To mark the first Hindi Conference held in Nagpur between January 10-12 1975, World Hindi Day is celebrated every year on January 10. Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in India. The rich and diverse culture the country represents is extensively reflected in classics of our regional literature. Hindi novels, with its immortal themes, are often neglected by monolingual Indian because of their inability to read Hindi as fluently as English. Translation of regional Indian languages thus holds a paramount position in the accessibility of Hindi literature too.

On this World Hindi Day, we celebrate our loved language by bringing to you six Hindi Novels which have been made accessible to an English reader in translation.

Godan By Munshi Premchand
Translated as The Gift of a Cow by Jai Ratan and P Lal

Godan, written by Munshi Premchand in 1956, is one of the greatest novels of modern Indian literature. The novel is an important social documentary dealing with the poor economic conditions of the Indian peasants. It revolves around the social deprivation of a poor couple and the importance of a cow in the village context. The characters – Hori and Dhania – have since become immortal icons of social and class struggle. The realism, artistry and tenderness with which he has created the characters here, particularly that of Hori, are unparalleled and unsurpassed in Indian fiction.

Raag Darbari by Shri Lal Shukla
Translated by Gillian Wright

Raag Darbari, published in 1970, is a commentary on the disconnect between what we practice and what we preach. Rangnath, a history student visits his village and stays there to notice the stark differences between the ideals he learnt at university and the practices of his uncle, the village head. One of the most hard-hitting satires of modern India against the myriad instances of manipulation, abuse, and machinations of power struggle, Raag Darbari remains one of the most telling narratives of the chasm between libertarian ideals and social dogmas.

Gunahon ka Devta by Dharamvir Bharati
Translated as Chander and Sudha by Poonam Saxena

This passionate love story revolves around the intertwined and inseparable viciousness of marriage and caste hierarchy. Chander is from a lower caste than Sudha and that is why he doesn’t dare ask for Sudha’s hand in marriage from her father. While Sudha seems to be ‘modern’, she cannot stand up to the social pressure to get married to the man of her father’s choice; Chander also forces her to abide by the wishes of her father. This, then, is the turning point in the novel but it is also through this tragedy that the story becomes appealing to the readers; making it a bestseller till this day.

Tamas by Bhisham Sahni
Translated by the author

Tamas is the ‘reflective response’ to the partition of India and Pakistan. Partially based on true events that Sahni witnessed himself in the communal riots during India’s Partition in 1947, the novel follows the life of people from both communities – Hindu and Muslim, and from various classes and backgrounds, as tensions in cities build up. It presents a snapshot of a violent and fractured period in Indian history and through fictionalization allows the reader to inhabit the minds of those who perpetrated and suffered through its worst crimes.

Mitro Marajani by Krishna Sobti
Translated as To hell with you Mitro by Gita Rajan and Raji Narasimhan

Mitro’s mystique is well summed up by her mother-in-law Dhanvanti: “No one can fathom this girl. When she’s good, she’s better than the best. When she’s bad, she’s worse than the worst.”

The vampish bahus of soap operas are nothing but inferior versions of this hell-raiser, who is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating characters in Indian literature. Its an unapologetic portrayal of a married woman who brooks no limits to her sexuality is as compelling, pertinent provocative today as when it shook the Hindi literary world in 1966.

Adha Gaon by Rahi Masoom Raza
Translated as A Village Divided by Gillian Wright

Rahi Masoom Raza’s honest and controversial novel unfolds during the latter years of the Raj and the first decade of Independence and portrays the rival halves of a zamindar family, their loves, fights and litigations. It attacks the creation of Pakistan and explores the abolition of the zamindari system and its impact at the village level. This is a semi-autobiographical work set in the author’s village of Gangauli, in Ghazipur district on the fringes of Avadh.

Dr Raza becomes the voice of millions of Indian Muslims, who had nothing to do with the making of Pakistan and who refuse to leave the place they call home.

Event

Musical Readings at the Times Lit Fest

Indian Novels Collective’s houseful event, Musical Readings at the Times Lit Fest proved that there will always be takers for a good story regardless of the era it is set in and most importantly, the language it was originally written in.
One usually does not associate the Times Literary Fest with readings of Indian novels, but not only was this Indian Novels Collective’s second time at the Times Literary Fest but it was also a full house with the audience not wanting the readings to end! The event in question being Musical Readings with Priyanka Setia and Yuki Ellias. Viewers had the pleasure of hearing Yuki Ellias read excerpts from Manik Bandyopadhyay’s novel, Padma Nadir Majhi and Priyanka Setia read portions from Usha Priyamvada’s novel, Pachpan Khambhe Laal Deewarein.

Set in pre-independent India in a fictitious village by the banks of Padma river in present-day Bangladesh, Padma Nadir Majhi is about a local fisherman, namely Kuber, who finds himself exploited by a small businessman. This was narrated by theatre professional, Yuki Ellias with notes of the flute played by Easwaran Anantram (Vivek), which transported one to Ketupur where the novel was set.

Meanwhile, actor and performer, Priyanka Setia read pages from Pachpan Khambhe Laal Deewarein accompanied by violinist, Sanchit Chaudhary. Written by Usha Priyamvada, the book captures the anguish of Sushma, a hostel warden who’s the sole breadwinner of her family and how she feels obliged to give up pursuing the love of her life as she considers it her duty to look after her three younger siblings.

Had it not been for these readings, the audience would not have even heard of these books.

Yuki Ellias echoes these sentiments too when while recollecting her childhood and school-life and admits that there is a bias towards Hindi and English. Despite being half-Bengali, Yuki had never heard of Padma Nadir Majhi, who knew more about Bengali poetry, limericks and films,  thanks to her Bengali mother who happens to be an avid reader.

However, that is not the only reason that prevents people from reading Indian novels. Priyanka Setia points out, “We live in India where every state has its own language. Most people try to read in their own language. I am also Punjabi and so have read a lot of Punjabi literature.  So for me also, first is Punjabi literature then comes Hindi literature.”

While reading as a hobby is commonly pursued by those who are more inclined towards the arts. Even those not inclined towards the arts, often find themselves reading English novels, if not voraciously, at the very least, a few books here and there by the author or genre of their choice. Like Setia succinctly states, people read English literature as its easily available and trendy.

If only they knew what they were missing out on. Despite being set in pre-independent India, Padma Nadir Majhi perfectly captures how fisherman and for that matter, most blue collar workers and labourers from the unorganized sectors are treated. Rules pertaining to labour laws are not even half as stringent as they should be with workers, farmers and fishermen being grossly underpaid, overworked and made to work in the most inhuman circumstances. Yuki Ellias draws parallels with the novel which also touches upon how a petty and corrupt businessman, Hossain Miya is migrating fishermen to another island to set up a colony of sorts when she says, “All of us are trapped in a  certain sense of being kidnapped, taken to an island to work like dogs. Of course, we get funded for it but exploitation has not changed, it’s maybe gotten worse.”

While Padma Nadir Majhi captures the plight of how fishermen are exploited, Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein is a story of a hostel warden who is also trapped by her circumstances. Despite finding love, she chooses to resist it and instead fulfil her duty towards her family, who without saying anything expect her to support them since she is working. When she finally does find herself getting attracted to a younger man, Neel, she finds herself subjected to a lot of scrutiny from both her colleagues, students and her family who comment about petty things like how much she goes out and what time she comes, while they assassinate her character, simply because she for once decides to befriend a younger man and thinks about herself.

Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein perfectly captures the loneliness and isolation most single working women experience. On one hand, elder, unmarried, working women are viewed as a burden and by virtue of their being women, expected to be sensitive to their families’ needs and put their family first as it is in a woman’s DNA to be family oriented! Setia talks about the hypocrisy while narrating the conversation, Sushma’s aunt, Krishna Masi had with her mother who commented on her high salary and how that will prevent her from attracting suitors, because of which they are okay with her marrying anyone. To which her aunt points out, had Sushma done the same when she was younger, they would have dissuaded her and told her to focus on her studies, instead! Quite telling right, even of 2018?

Just like how older films are dismissed as they will not be contemporary enough, the same applies for novels, especially regional literature about which, awareness is abysmal, however that also is just a notion; Regardless of the time or place it is set in, an evocative story is timeless, the only barrier being our impressions and language, the latter problem, which forms the very basis for Indian Novels Collective’s existence – to reach all kinds of readers, regardless of their nationality, mother tongue or age.