Book List

Five gems of Hindi Literature

I always struggle with choosing anything—a dish, a sari, a moment to photograph in the falling and fading dusk… But the most difficult is choosing favourite books, out of so many that I find myself re-reading and thinking about. So, this is not a list of my favourite books, because it is impossible for me to compile one, this is just a list of five Hindi classics I read at a young and impressionable age:
 

I read Punarnava by Aacharya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi as a child, and was entranced by the sheer beauty of its Sanskritised prose. Aacharya Dwivedi was amongst the most learned literary luminaries. He was a Sanskrit scholar and brought the beauty of the Sanskrit language and literary references and forms into Hindi. His most celebrated work is Banbhatt ki Atmakatha, a seminal novel truly unparalleled in Hindi literature. But I like Punarnava for its strong women characters and the beautiful, star-crossed, unselfish romances. Read it for the two heroines, Mrinal Manjari and Chanda, who are stronger, more courageous and expressive than the male protagonists.
 

Parati Parikatha by Phaneeshwarnath Renu was another book that I read early on. Though perhaps his first novel, Maila Aanchal, is better known, to me Parati Parikatha is a one-of-its-kind novel portraying village-life in a part of Bihar in lyrical, regional-language laden prose. It brings to life the village and its people in all their absurdity, wisdom, wiliness and idealism and depicts the deep fault-lines of caste, ignorance and social injustices. A must read for, amongst other factors, its iconic characters who remain with the reader for long while.
 

Krishna Sobti’s Daar se Bichudi is the story of a woman abducted from her family and sexually exploited by multiple men against the backdrop of 19th century India. The heroine, Pasho, tugs at the heart with her beauty, innocence and helplessness and I remember being filled with anger at the way she is disempowered by the society and her own family. Perhaps that is what Krishna Sobti intended. But the real appeal of Daar se Bichudi lies in its Punjabi-laced prose that borders on poetry and delicious descriptions of home-life in prosperous 19th century households. I prefer this book over Mitro Marjaani, the more celebrated, more iconoclastic of her works for the loving portrayal of Pasho.
 

Mannu Bhandari is amongst my favourite writers. Her understanding of human frailties and her nuanced, subtle handling of them cannot be matched in Hindi literature. Her novel Aapka Bunty is a heart-breaking story about a small boy’s suffering through his parents’ separation. It deals with a broken family and the inarticulate pain of a child. While reading it, I cried at each new hurt Bunty received as he was tossed between the new families his parents had built for themselves. This book needs to be read for Mannu Bhandari’s sensitive writing and her masterly understanding of a child’s perspective.
 

Shekhar ek Jeevani by Agyeya, a seminal and controversial work about the protagonist by the same name, an acutely self-aware man, sifting through and analysing his life-experiences while awaiting execution for taking part in revolutionary activities. It is an intense novel in two parts and delves in the psyche of Shekhar who had several similarities with the writer himself. The work is remarkable for its non-linear narrative and unafraid exploration of socially and psychologically challenging themes and for Agyeya’s polished, precise, flowing prose.

Reading these books revealed the beauty and power of language to me and taught me that story-telling is a constant exploration, which requires breaching the boundaries of form and subject.
   

About the writer
Anukrti Upadhyay writers fiction and poetry in both English and Hindi. Her collection of Hindi short stories, titled Japani Sarai, and two English novellas, Daura and Bhaunri, were published in 2019. Her has also appeared in numerous literary journals. Kintsugi which was released late July 2020 is her fourth book. In her other life, she is a law and finance professional and conservation enthusiast.

Women Writers in Indian Languages

10 Indian language women writers who should feature on your reading list

India has a rich literary heritage. The diversity in cultural and lingual spheres has given rise to varied narratives with unique viewpoints. Many women writers throughout our history have strived to write fearlessly and question stereotypes. This Women’s Day we share a list of ten women writers who have broken stereotypes and challenged the way women are written about.

Qurratulain Hyder
Urdu
One of the most outstanding literary names in Urdu literature, she is best known for her magnum opus, Aag Ka Darya. It tells a story that moves from the Fourth Century BC to the post-Independence period in India and Pakistan. The female characters in most of her works are portrayed as independent individuals rather than being known through the male lens.

Kamala Das
Malayalam
Kamala Das is best known for her fearless and unapologetic treatment of female sexuality and questioning patriarchal norms. In her autobiographical novel, My Story originally published in Malayalam, titled Ente Katha, Das recounts the trials of her marriage and her painful self-awakening as a woman and writer.

Mahasweta Devi
Bangla
Mahasweta Devi has been known as one of the boldest female writers in India. Her Bengali novel, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa delved into the life of an ordinary Indian mother fighting against all odds to retain the memory of her dead son. Rudali, based on the life of Sanichari, a poor low-caste village woman and a professional mourner, is an ironic tale of exploitation and struggle and above all survival. A powerful text, Rudali is considered an important feminist text for contemporary India.

Indira Goswami
Assamese
Indira Goswami continually addressed social injustices in her work. Her writing was spurred on by widowhood and social injustice. From her first novel, Neel Kanthi Braja (Shadow of Dark God, 1986), she examined the social and psychological deprivations of widowhood to Tej Aru Dhulire Dhushorito Prishtha (Pages Stained With Blood, 2001), where she writes about a young female teacher in the neighbourhoods of Delhi that have been affected by anti-Sikh riots in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards, her characters stand out and are imprinted in your mind forever.

M K Indira
Kannada
Malooru Krishnarao Indira is a well-known Kannada novelist. Her most popular novel, Phaniyamma is based on the life of a child widow. It is a real-life story of a widow whom Indira knew during her childhood. While Gejje Pooje revolves around the life of prostitutes and the social stigma associated with it. Indira’s works have been a strong critique of various unjust practices related to women in the society.

Lalithambika Antharjanam
Malayalam
Lalitambika Antharjanam, is popularly known for her short stories and powerful woman narratives in Malayalam literature. Her novel, Agnisakshi tells the story of a Nambudiri woman, struggling for social and political emancipation. The novelist highlights the women’s role in society and critiques the social institutions that limit women and curtail their freedom.

Bama
Tamil
Bama, the Tamil, Dalit, feminist novelist who rose to fame with her autobiographical novel Karukku, which chronicles the joys and sorrows experienced by Dalit Christian women in Tamil Nadu. They portray caste-discrimination practised in Christianity and Hinduism. Bama’s works are seen as embodying Dalit feminism and are famed for celebrating the inner strength of the subaltern woman.

Kundanika Kapadia
Gujarati
Kundanika Kapadia is a Gujarati novelist, story writer and essayist who won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Gujarati in 1985 for Sat Pagala Akashma – a revolutionary feminist work in Gujarati. The novel raises questions about the status of a married woman accorded to her by a male-dominated society and struggles to find an equal voice and liberty for women.

Krishna Sobti
Hindi
Krishna Sobti is popularly known for her bold and daring characters in her novel. Her most acclaimed novel Mitro Marajani is about a young married woman’s exploration and assertion of her sexuality, which set the Hindi literary world aflame and is seen as a major feminist work.

Forthright as ever, Sobti said, “I don’t like being called a ‘woman writer’. I would rather be called a writer who is also a woman…”

Irawati Karve
Marathi
Though not a novelist, Irawati Karve’s refreshing approach to Mahabharata in her collection of essays, Yuganta: The End of an Epoch, have left a lasting mark in literature. Scientific in spirit, yet appreciative of the literary tradition of the Mahabharata, she challenges the familiar and formulates refreshingly new interpretations, all the while refusing to judge the characters harshly or venerate blindly.

Do you have a list of your own? Do share it with us in the comments below.

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.