Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Melbourne

Another trip to the land down under. Three more months of 'Out of the box' living :) I am quite proud of my first day achievements: having found the closest library and becoming a member, AND issuing a few books which have been on my to-read list for a while.
It is an interesting city - I landed yesterday to a bright evening at 9 pm, with temperatures soaring to 32 degree even that late. And today, I was shivering through most of dinner! I am told it has four seasons in a day - that just might be true. Will leave the exploration to the weekend.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Reading Hindi

It was with Hindi books that I began reading. Every evening, my dad would bring from his library a copy of Champak, which slowly grew to Nandan, Balhans, and gradually shifted to short story books. And yet, as soon as I got access to the series of Blytons, I almost completely ignored all Hindi writing. Of course I have all sorts of reasons - Hindi books are not easily available in most parts of India. No one from my peer group reads them and they are scarcely publicized, so I hardly get to know enough even to hunt for a title.
However, it was because of two reasons that I suddenly found myself interested in Hindi literature. One, I was directed to a website which not only has a reasonably good collection of Hindi stories, but also gave a good background on some of the famous authors and their signature works. Two, my parents are now living in Bhopal, a city which has a surprisingly good reading culture, especially in Hindi. So while they are still there and I continue to make those home trips, I intend to make good use of the easy availability of Hindi books there.
Recently I picked up quite a few books from the Book festival there. I have almost exclusively been reading Hindi in the last fortnight, and it has been interesting. Most of this reading has been short stories or novellas - it seems like Hindi writers are much more comfortable with shorter prose.
To begin, there are some very good stories on the website I pointed at earlier. Manu Bhandari's Yehi Sach Hai, on which Basu Chatterjee's movie Rajnigandha was based, is a beautiful story expressing the dilemma of a woman caught in the romantic notion of first love. Her confusion and dreaminess is remarkably handled by the writer.
In another story from Shivani - Lal Haveli, the National tragedy of Indo-Pak partition is explored with a personal perspective. The sense of loss and discontent is well expressed without any melodrama.
A very good short story writer that I have been reading is Nirmal Verma. His stories are mostly about loss and nostalgia, and continue to haunt long after you have read them. I have bought a collection of his stories called Gyarah Lambi Kahaniyaan (11 long stories), which is published by the Bharatiya Jnanapeeth (the most prominent publishers for Hindi literature). Out of these, I simply loved the stories Parinde and Andhere Mein, both of them set in small Himalyan towns, bringing the pretty isolation of winters to mind even in Bombay. I also enjoyed reading Dhaage, which is available on another Hindi website.
In the longer prose, Dharamveer Bharati's Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda is brilliant. It uses experimental narration technique, a little like My Name is Red and keeps the stories interesting. I had loved Shyam Benegal's movie adaptation of this book, and will try and watch it again now that I have read the book.

Another good book was Krishna Sobti's Mitro Marjani. Though there is not much to the story, the characterization of Mitro is remarkable. In the India of 1966, to conceptualize a woman who is outspoken and explicit about her physical desires even in a stiffling joint family, must have been challenging. Even Indian cinema waited as long as 2000's to have such an expressive female character (Bipasha's character in Jism)

Rahi Masoom Raza's Neem Ka Ped is very familiar to most of us who have spent enough time in front of Doordarshan. However, I remember very little of the serial. Besides, to read it as a story is altogether a different experience. It is a story of post-colonial India, about the shattering of the dream of Indian independence. The language is simple - I hate to read authors who introduce difficult words to appear more erudite. That seems to be a somewhat common trend in some Hindi books, particularly the translations from other languages like Bengali.

I wish Hindi literature, or all vernacular literature does not remain a rarity and could find more readers/publishers and sellers.