Rajendra Yadav believed in saying anything,as long as it was said with civility.
The last of the Nayi Kahanikars is gone. Mohan Rakesh died in the 1970s,Kamleshwar in 2007,and with the passing of Rajendra Yadav on Monday night,the new wave Nayi Kahani movement in Hindi literature is decisively over. The radical movement had revitalised fiction in the 1950s and helped to spark off the parallel cinema. Yadavs first novel,Pret Bolte Hain,renamed Sara Akash in a later edition,was adapted for the cinema by Basu Chatterjee in 1969. His debut film,it was followed the same year by Mrinal Sens landmark Bhuvan Shome.
So what,you may ask. The death of a pioneering writer often marks the end of an era,a turning point in literary and cultural history. But Rajendra Yadav was also an institution. Even in his eighties,he lived on his own terms,enjoyed his favourite vices with a vast circle of friends and enemies (the line between them was perpetually wavering) and disparaged all forms of propriety except propriety in speech. A hardline liberal,he insisted on the right to say anything at all,so long as it was couched in civil terms. An instinctive egalitarian,he freely extended this right to his critics,and took it on the chin as cheerfully as he dished it out.
A few years ago,he had invited friends home to see a new documentary on his wife,Mannu Bhandari,a writer who is easily his peer and is best known for her political novel Mahabhoj. After the film was dutifully watched,Yadav asked,What do you think of it? Immediately his guests almost all close friends and fellow travellers rose to the occasion and,instead of criticising the film,turned on their host for a quote that he had given in the movie. Soon,the conversation escalated into a general assault on Yadavs lack of judgement in saying whatever he had said,his questionable views on life,the universe and everything,and his possible motives for showing the film. One would have expected him to be hurt,with so many friends bad-mouthing him while ravaging his board and depleting his bar. On the contrary,he was absolutely delighted at having got a rise out of them.
The world of Hindi literature can be stiflingly hierarchical. It is configured on ideas of seniority and respect which produce the neatly ordered and shamefully unquestioning societies that India is infamous for. While the Nayi Kahani movement sought to pull away from the Hindi literary tradition to find new ways of telling based on individual experience,at least one of its pioneers also wanted to reject the familiar moorings of the ordered society and make room for individualism. Rare is the new entrant in Hindi letters who hasnt got a colourful but kindly earful from Rajendra Yadav. Some have given it back to him,and have been surprised to find it received just as kindly.
Yadav is perceived to owe a lot of his influence to Hans,Munshi Premchands literary journal,which he revived in 1986,33 years after it closed down. It is one of those outrageous literary publications which stay in print in the face of impossible financial odds. They are influential because they publish material that commercial presses would baulk at new bylines,experimental styles and modes of criticism that would be met with arched eyebrows in the mainstream. They are at the cutting edge of cultural evolution and attract the attention of the culturally influential.
Rajendra Yadav and his journal have touched the minds of thousands of people who are making the culture of the future today. Those who arrived at his home and at the crematorium yesterday to pay their respects (Yadav would have laughed at this quaint use of respect,of course) illustrated the variety of the people he reached out to. There were his peers,and then there were young people in jeans. There were writers,publishers,critics,translators,bureaucrats,noted television anchors,wastrelly sub-editors and old stalwarts of the left who still hum the songs of the Indian Peoples Theatre Association.
Amazingly,some of these people had been his critics,trashing him in public forums,deriding him in print. Some had found a home in Hans,which has steadily brewed new talent. Some were not very familiar with Yadav the author but had been drawn to Yadav the communicator. Perhaps what they will miss most is the addas that Yadav used to host,chat sessions which sometimes became talk shops of the craft or war zones in which politics,society and the arts were fought over. Such addas used to be the crucibles in which Indian culture was incubated. With the passing of Rajendra Yadav,perhaps the last Hindi adda has closed for ever.