In the last few years, popular writing in Hindi has received an unprecedented acceptance and reach. Such “light reads” have increasingly found their way to prominent publishers and become the toast of litfests and bestsellers’ lists – all of which was once unthinkable. But the votaries of “serious literature” are not ceding ground easily. Several initiatives by writers continue to gain traction, indicating the inner resilience of the language.
The Raza Foundation launched Pustakmala last year, perhaps the first such series of books in Hindi that focuses on works across genres. It has published nearly 65 books in a year, including reprints of important works, translations from Sanskrit, Persian, English, Marathi, Gujarati, Urdu, Odia, Bengali, etc., conversations with noted intellectuals, biographies of major writers, off-beat works of young writers, besides books on Gandhi, classical music, dance and visual arts.
A similar notable intervention is by a Web journal, Samalochan, that’s now almost in its ninth year. A decade ago, many young Hindi writers took to the internet, democratising literature and reducing the dominance of mainstream journals by affording an easy space to both readers and writers.
However, an online medium is a demanding forum and works with meagre financial or logistical resources. Worse, it is prone to the folly of self-indulgence.
Consequently, several such platforms in Hindi have been reduced to individualised blogs, while some promising ones couldn’t sustain for long. Samalochan, run by poet Arun Dev, who teaches Hindi in a college of Najibabad in Bijnor district, has held its own. With around 400 writers, 1,200 editions and over 20,000 letters to the editor so far, it has become an apt mirror to contemporary Hindi writing. Dev says, “When I began in 2010, there were a few personal blogs in Hindi and some bilingual journals. I dreamt of a journal that would use the internet platform, but would set a high bar of quality and presentation. Earlier, mostly published works were reproduced on blogs, but I focused only on unpublished works.”
Over the past year, audiobooks have also become a driving force in the literary scene. Launched in 2005 in Sweden, Storytel, a streaming app, entered India in November 2017 and already has books in five languages (English, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Urdu). Of some 76,000 books available to Indian readers, over 650 are in Hindi. The collection includes translations of classics such as Gora and Crime and Punishment, novels like Maila Aanchal, Raag Darbari and Ek Chithda Sukh, besides biographies of Sartre, Fidel Castro and Rousseau. “The Hindi audience is very conscious of stories. It’s young and at the same time is interested in classics,” says Giriraj Kiradoo, publisher, Storytel Originals. While Storytel has acquired many of its Hindi books from major publishing houses like Rajkamal, Vani Prakashan and Hind Yugm, they are also doing original, commissioned work. “We have released more than 70 originals so far,” Kiradoo says.
The Raza Pustakmala is hoping to publish several hundred titles over the next few years. Set up by the late painter Syed Haider Raza in 2001, the foundation is also at the forefront of organising cultural events across the country, which include poetry festivals and dialogues on art and literature. “Raza was very fond of poetry and Hindi and wanted the foundation to promote them as well as the younger generation,” says Ashok Vajpeyi, its managing trustee.
Dev says he is not unaware of the challenges a Web editor faces. “If the publication of an online journal is easy, its editing is equally strenuous. You have a full-fledged team to bring out a print journal — proof reader, copy editor, page designer, typist, etc. For Web journals, it’s the editor who mostly does all these tasks. There’s no income either. A lone man sitting in a small town is running a journal, without any aid or advertisement or support,” he says.
While such lone enterprises are impossible without passion and commitment for literature, they also serve to reinforce the seat of the editor, a disappearing institution that had once taken Hindi to soaring heights. Hindi journals, like the ones in other languages, were once known by their editors. Beginning with Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi during the freedom struggle to Ajneya, Raghuvir Sahay, Dharamvir Bharti, Gyan Ranjan to the publications of the Bhopal school, led by Ashok Vajpeyi and Madan Soni, great journals carried the indelible imprint of their editors. The last such lighthouse was Rajendra Yadav, who made Hans a journal of note. Piyush Daiya, the series editor of the Raza Pustakmala, is yet to reach those heights, but he is a phenomenon in his league. Just 45, he has been editing various journals and working with a large spectrum of writers and painters for over two decades. Away from social media or any form of self-promotion, this near-invisible man is famous in Hindi literary circle for extracting books out of people. “He has been editing journals and publications ever since he was 22. From folk arts and translation of classics to identifying young writers, the width and volume of his edited works is amazing. And all of this he has done in absolute quietude,” says Mahesh Verma, whose first poetry collection was published last year by Raza Pustakmala. Daiya also persuaded Verma to do another book, the first ever Hindi translation of Naiyer Masud’s short stories.
The editorial vision is reflected in Dev’s work too, when he says that “I used the word ‘editor’ instead of the widely prevailing ‘moderator’, and called Samalochan a Web journal instead of a blog”.
His is also among the few young voices to speak prominently against the latest trends in Hindi, as his website asserts that “only quality works will be considered for publication”. “In the pretext of ‘literature of new Hindi’ and ‘popular literature’, some newspapers and publishers are deliberately trying to rob literature of ideas and thoughts. Such attempts, which have clear political goals, to convert literature into a fast-food parcel, will be short-lived,” Dev says. Vajpeyi terms the surge in popular Hindi writing a “reign of mediocrity”, and adds that “Hindi has never succumbed to the forces of market and politics. It never will.”
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘Popular Hindi literature: The stuff of thought’