Source : The Tribune – Satyapal Sehgal
Once authors from Punjab dominated Hindi literature in the region. Now Himachal is the new breeding ground
Hindi literary scene is going through a phase of change. The onset of new media, including social media, has infused energy into the otherwise melancholic Hindi literary public sphere, though not without a tinge of its overdone shallowness and illusionary enthusiasm.
However, this conclusion is not a final one, and some further research is needed to understand the exploding phenomenon. And that is where Hindi academics comes in; but that is not the strongest point of Hindi literary milieu. Their research projects on these topics, if any, are superficial and research culture poor. Then, there are large-scale political and ideological discomforts in the new political dispensation at the national level; and certainly new-found comforts to some other set of writers, though not a significant one in numbers. In a nutshell, contemporary Hindi literary society imagines approaching hitherto unseen challenges and the war cry is on. And, we find a whole range of young women and men, like Kamaljeet Choudhary from Samba in Jammu, Monika Kumar from Chandigarh, Ajay Kumar from Lahaul-Spiti, besides, of course, dozen other from the Hindi mainland, showing their literary skills on the worldwide net, and in the process, ushering in a new era for Hindi literature, the scale and magnitude of which is yet to be measured.
Meanwhile, two characteristics of this internet age of Hindi literature are quite visible: one of them is that it is providing a platform for lively, serious literary-political-social debates with the typical wit of Hindi belt; and second it is creating room for a lot of character assassination and mud-slinging in public domain, something people hesitated from earlier.
The free and easily accessible virtual world has facilitated another side too: promotion of literary works and literatures. This includes promotion of literary festivals on the lines of English literature festivals, finally dashing down to most indecent kind of self-promotion, at times, quite successfully. The self-evasive, shy, inexpressive and incommunicado writer is becoming a thing of the past. Himachal Pradesh seems to be taking the lead in this regard. As a result, literary meetings have fewer attendees but more of Facebook posts and even likes. But there still are writers, like the talented Vikram Musafir from Srivan in Shimla, who do not owe a Facebook account. But most are charmed by the space and social media is now a valid and useful extension of what is happening in the Hindi literary circles on a day to day level; be it writing, literary meetings or online marketing. At least, two literary streams in Hindi at the moment owe its fast emergence to internet i.e. Pravasi Sahitya and Third Gender studies.
A lot of Hindi writing is coming in from Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal. It is Punjab that is not contributing as much as it used to in the past. Hindi activities in Punjab have gone down. Once Punjab, and to an extent Haryana, held sway over Hindi literature at the national level. But with the carving out of Himachal and some good policy initiatives by the previous state governments and the grit and character of individual writers, a new and refreshing zone of literary creativity started to surface. It is here that literary academies of other states in the region have failed, despite some good achievements in the bygone years. Though they spend a lot of public money on literary prizes and pompous functions, it has not earned the desired reputation for them, neither at the local nor the national level.
However, literary criticism is something about which Himachal does not have much to offer. Meanwhile, Punjab and Haryana have produced some good scholars and critics like Vinod Shahi from Jalandhar, Prof Rohini Agarwal from Rohtak and Prof Subhash Chander from Kurukshetra. In Punjab, oldies like Tarsem Gujaral from Jalandhar are still active, but new crop of talented writers is missing. In Haryana, writers like Bhagwan Das Morwal, Shubha and Manmohan and a few others had made a mark on the national level, but on the whole, in the recent times, there seems a bit of eerie quietness. Places like Sirsa, Hisar, Ambala, Karnal, once known for their robust literary hullabaloo, are poor shadow of their glorious past. Desh Nirmohi, Hindi publisher of Aaadhar Prakashan from Panchkula, admits: “I sell more Hindi books in Punjab than in Haryana.” Hindi writers may be few and far between in Punjab, but readership is better. In fact, student and writers of Punjabi literature too subscribe to Hindi literature for its range, quality, subjects and national feel. That is why annual efforts like Haryana Srijan Utsav in Kurukshetra and publication of Des Haryana by the same organisation are being made to address such issues. Prof Subhash Chander, the spirit behind these endeavours, has an intriguing answer to readership worries among Hindi stakeholders: “The regular middle class readership of Hindi literature is being replaced by upcoming readership from hitherto deprived sections of society. It is bizarre that we are not realising and accepting it.” In this regard, Himachal is again better placed and literary journals and books from the Hindi heartland have a sizeable, committed readership, even in remote areas of the state.
— The writer is a poet and former head, Department of Hindi, Panjab University, Chandigarh