Updated: December 17, 2015 12:00:17 am
There IS a frequent lament in ‘Hindi circles’. It translates roughly as follows: new readers, migrants to cities, and youngsters with some money to spend on books/guides are caught up between a coaching centre and desires. That young persons are now just reading “mediocre English writing, poor translations” or “imprints launched cynically to be pushed as English-is-the-future and they struggle to learn the language”. Between that and the always available “jasoosi upanyas, cheap fiction available at railway stations”, a whole generation travelling to cities and metros from villages and smaller towns is not quite getting the literary nourishment it seeks.
Renu Agal, Editor, Juggernaut Books, has been looking at this new Hindi potential. “A lot of young people are away from home, studying or working, whose mother tongue is Hindi. They crave for literature in their language, with which they can identify. So, if you are talking of young India, using an idiom and a voice they understand, addressing their aspirations and concerns, they would definitely buy it. This is an almost unexplored market of young India craving for stories of their own, which reflect their lives, dreams and aspirations,” says Agal.
Introduced last year by Delhi-based Rajkamal Prakashan, as Laghu Prem Katha, short love stories, or ‘LaPreK’ as the acronym in Hindi goes, this series hopes to fill that need for things in Hindi, in the readers’ idiom, which is just about being in a city.
In the film Masaan, set in Varanasi and Allahabad, with some intertwined stories of sexual awakening, defiance, love beyond circumstances and caste, the signature song drew inspiration from Hindi doyen, Dushyant Kumar’s lines:
Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, Main kisi pul sa thartharaata hoon. (You move like a train, and I quiver like a bridge)
The film also, surprisingly, paid homage to one of Urdu’s great poets, Brij Narain Chakbast’s famous existentialist lines speaking of life and death. The choice of classical Hindi and Urdu lines to spark up contemporary issues, suggested a thirst for connecting with deeper issues. A new India, several with more money available for buying books and better finances and migration surges from rural to urban India, creating a desire for new material.
Ravish Kumar, the Hindi TV journalist who is known for his understated but powerful political and social commentary, has written the first set of short LaPreK called, Ishq Mein Shahar Hona, on the idea of finding the independence sought from city life, through ishq, or love, and finding love in the city.
Says the series editor or originator of LaPreK, Satyanand Nirupam, “The idea took seed in a small cafe in Regal Building (at Delhi’s Connaught Place), after seeing Ravish do small Facebook posts involving young persons looking for spaces in the city where they felt safe, yet private, where they could ‘love’. He had titled that series Laghu Prem Katha.”
Nirupam, who was with Penguin and then Delhi Press before joining Rajkamal Prakashan, says he kept a close watch on how much respectable magazines sold but found girls whispering about Mahakta Aanchal — a popular collection of stories, though without any frills on cover. Also, I found the slightly well-off migrants to cities, accustomed to reading in Hindi, covering the books so you could not tell it was Hindi.
So, says Nirupam, he started looking for popular posts and decided on “smart and attractive covers”. The title font too, is in a style strongly resembling the Nastaliq (Urdu calligraphic script), full of nuqtas, as the series editor strongly believes that “ishq must be done in the language of love”. Once he decided to compile these loose Facebook posts, what followed was Ishq Mein Shahar Hona, which is in its fourth edition in less than a year. It has sold 13,000 copies already.
The latest book in the series is Ishq Mein Maati-Sona by Girindra Nath Jha, also a TV journalist, now settled back in Bihar. It is a set of short love stories about the reverse journey from town to village, of a young couple who meet in the city as migrants.
Says Ashok Maheshwari, the head of Rajkamal Prakashan, “After the demand from libraries has almost disappeared, it has been a challenge for Hindi publishers like us to meet a variety of new demands. From Narendra Dabholkar’s writings, to Hindi/Urdu classics and new authors, there is a demand, and we have to meet it.”
Ravish’s LaPreK speaks of young love, loneliness, estrangement, alienation and also politics, khap panchayats, Anna rallies, and the importance of “the book” he holds for lovers. This may not be a Dushyant Kumar, but when his first story speaks of the boy “feeling like Karawal Nagar” and “the girl like South- Ex”, it is the flyover at Barapullah that has shrunk their distances.
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