In an era of post-print and post-truth, the elemental human longing for creative connection fills the ever-expanding digital world with emotional volatility masquerading as the literary pursuit. The valorization of emotions and the much-espoused cerebral flourishing on social media platforms contribute to the proliferation of popular literature, but the enormous output betrays a strong sense of creative sterility and insincerity. The digital media put up compendia of many themes and genres driven by self-exaltation and steeped in emotional tenor, undermining intellectual non-conformity, autonomy, non-susceptibility to demagoguery, reflectiveness and diversity of literature. It creates an illusory but captivating narrative space of individual fulfilment, freedom, equality, and reciprocity.
What remains to be found is the antidote to the paradoxical mixture of mushy rhetoric, sentimentalism, insensitivity to human suffering and a tendency not to engage with identity and diversity simultaneously. It is a daunting task taken up by the literary journals that bat for exploring ingrained aspects of the human psyche, cultural aspirations, more authentic forms of linguistic and cultural diversity, and ethical dimensions of all human endeavours.
In India, this invigorating critical and creative exercise was undertaken by the widely admired bi-monthly journal of Sahitya Akademi, Indian Literature, but the pandemic and other official hiccups held off its publication. The temporary discontinuance left the connoisseurs of literature across the country and abroad exasperated, and now their prayers are answered. The suave and well-informed secretary Dr K Sreenivasan Rao, instrumental in getting 450 books published in 24 Indian languages, fetching income of 80 crores and organizing well over 600 literary programmes across the country in a year, has roped in a prominent poet, critic and artist Sukrita Paul Kumar, as the guest editor of the journal. Sukrita, fully alive to the awe-inspiring literary legacy of carrying creative renderings, innovative scholarly articles, insightful translations from Indian languages and incisive reviews, made it a point to supplement what has been missing-ceaseless offering a feast of literature from a transcultural perspective. She astutely edited seven issues from 327 to 333 in quick succession to interrogate the dominant idiom and broaden the parameters of literary response to the lived reality. A close sifting of the issues reveals that new cultural, ideological and critical orthodoxies are sounded out perceptively. It aligns with the radiant cerebral tradition of Indian literature spreading over 65 years.
Indian literature, with its stimulating articles carrying the fruits of academic rigour and intriguing creative content, prompted scores of prominent scholars across the globe, such as Aldous Huxley( 1894-1964), Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), David Daiches (1912-2005), Halldor Laxness (1902-1998), Per Hallstrom (1866-1982), H.D.F.Kitoo (1897-1982), Victoria Ocampo(1890-1979) Stanislas Ostrorog(1897-1960), Nichita Stanescu (1933-1983), and the like to write for it. Similarly, one can find internationally recognized Indian scholars and writers, including Radhakrishnan, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Mulk Raj Anand, R.K Narayan, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Vijay Tendulkar, Nirmal Verma, Agyeya, Asohk Vajpaee, Ananthmurthy, Satyajit Ray, Umashankar Joshi, Nissim Ezekiel, Gopi Chand Narang, Balwant Gargi, MT Vasudevan Nair, and many more on the pages of IL.
The collective scourge of the dreaded disease staved off the publication of the journal, and Sukrita, committed to showcasing the beguiling rich literary tradition of India, candidly spells out her priorities in the first issue (327) that hit the stand after the pandemic. “Fresh beginnings have had to be consciously generated. If there is a looking back, it would have to be lessons to cope with new realities. And is not that what literature seems to teach us all the time? In India, we are fortunate to have an abundance of literary traditions in different languages that continue to flourish through difficult and not-so-difficult times. Bridges between varied literary cultures are built through translation. In this context, I feel delighted to take over the editing of a journal such as Indian Literature,which presents a confluence of different streams that flow together distinctively. While there is a discernible synchronicity amongst these streams, each one retains its identifiable shade. Ironically, the pandemic brought normal life to a standstill and also triggered off a lot of creativity. Even though the regularity in the production of the journal got affected, stories, poems and critical articles continue to be written in practically all languages.
Submission to the journal kept lining us. We would be in the process of racing the time to come back to the normal time track over the next few months.
The editorial commitment runs through all seven issues (327 to #33) that were published expeditiously. The first issue of 2022 (January- February2022, issue no 327), after the pandemic, edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar, diligently showcases the creative prowess of authors writing in different languages. It puts out eight short stories and five poems by Hindi, Kannada, Gujarati, Urdu, Odia, English, and Malayalam writers. Engaging with the celebrated Bodo poet Anjalee Nazaary makes the issue more readable.
Answering how she reconciles scientific pursuits (she is a professor of physics) to her poetic craving, Anjalyee repudiated the notion that scientific temper threatens creativity. On the contrary, rational thinking and logic help a poet maintain balance o in his/her poetic world, she points out.
Six cogently argued and reflective articles brighten the essay section. Protagonists of the revolution and the revolutionary movements frequently surface in literature, especially fiction. In this connection, one tends to refer to Jnanpith awardee Urdu fiction writer Qurratul Ain Haider’s (1927-2007) innovative novel Akhireshabke Humsafar” which zeroes in on naxal movements in Bengal.
How is Shaheed Azam Bhagat Singh depicted in Hindi novels? This pertinent question is articulated with the critical acuity by Prem Singh in his essay, “The Revolutionary Movements in Hindi Novels: the image of Bhagat Singh.” Besides discussing the first full-length novel on Bhagat Singh,” Shaheed-e-Azam (2006) by Bacchan Singh, the author turns attention to three prominent Hindi novelists Jainendra Kumar (1905-1988), Agyeya ( 1911-1987) and Yashpal (1903-1976) and points out that their novels Sunita, Shekar ek Jeevani, and Dada Kamred written within ten years of the execution of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev tossed aside the event that left inedible mark on the collective memory of Indians. It sounds too simplistic to say that the authors circumvented the real to avoid the wrath of colonial rulers.
Prem Singh certainly has a point when he asserts, “the authors more prone to subjecting the revolutionary characters to literary psycho-analysis, namely how they are initiated and influenced, their behavioural pattern, their thought-and so on in the process, the socio-political dimensions are aspirations are downplayed.”
IL regularly carries a section called “In Memorium” to dwell upon the scholars and writers whose demise cast a pall of gloom on the literary arena. The seminal contribution of renowned Sanskrit scholar Satyavrat Shastri (1930-2021, IL, issue no 328), Eminent literary theorist Gopi Chand Narang (1931-2022, IL issue no 330), prominent Naga poet and academician Temsula Ao (1945-2022, IL issue no332 ), and distinguished Kashmiri poet and of critic Rehman Rahi ( 1925-2023, IL issue no 333) was adroitly analyzed.
In the latest issue of Indian Literature, Sukrita, an accomplished artist, also seeks to polish up our visual sensibility by expanding the definition of story. Introducing a photo feature, she wrote, “The photographs in Tales Set in Stone”, tell the tales with their own perspective through ‘visual semantics’, supplemented by brief stories and legends popular around them”. Contrary to the popular notion of laughter that equates it with an act of pleasure, prominent critic EV Ramakrishnan through a close and insightful reading of a prominent Marathi and English poet Arun Kolatkar (1932-2004), upends its semantic import.’ Poems such as “The Shit Sermon” and ‘The Boomtown Leper’s Band.” are transgressive and subversive; they emphasize how humans can only be synonymous with the inclusive and the collective.
Laughter has the power to unmake and remake the world, provide a new perspective on the power relations in society.
Indian literature, issue no 331, carries perceptively enlivening translations of three nuanced and equally crowd-pleasing ghazals of Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), who undoubtedly symbolizes the subcontinent’s cerebral power. The promising translator, Maaz Bin Bilal, rendered the three that caught the attention of the earlier translators, but he has not allowed the cliché ridden idiom and turgidity to find the way.
It is heartening to see Indian literature back on the stand, and the editor, Sukrita Paul Kumar, and Dr Rao, Secretary, deserve accolades.
Shafey Kidwai, a prominent bilingual critic, teaches Mass communication at Aligarh Muslim University. He can be reached at email@example.com