Krishna Baldev Vaid, who has died in the US, was a giant with a very light step. He was armed with the sharpest weapons that a radical writer could wish for — an eye for the absurd and the humour in which to array the bizarre in our midst. He was armed and dangerous. Had he been a contemporary writer, he could have been found disreputable, problematic and seditious. And he would have proudly accepted such denunciations as battle honours.
Vaid’s work articulated the voice of the Sixties, a period of social, political and creative radicalism the world over. In the US, it meant drugs, sex and rock and roll. In north India, it ignited the quest for a new idiom to articulate the stories of a country which was impatiently seeking a new identity, as urbanisation, industrialisation and new political ideas altered human relations. Vaid sought the new idiom by experimenting in a variety of genres, including short fiction, novels, diaries and plays. His language lab was extensive, holding curiosities as diverse as Bimal urf Jayen to Jayen Kahan, a stream of consciousness novel reminiscent of French fiction of the period, and Bhookh Aag Hai, agitprop for the stage which exposed economic progress and urbanisation as harbingers of inequality, which would split India into two nations. He also translated Samuel Beckett, naturally.
In Hindi literature, that period was marked by the Nayi Kahani movement, a new wave led by writers like Rajendra Yadav, Nirmal Verma and Kamleshwar. Its membership is eternally debated, but Vaid’s experimental approach puts him somewhere on the wavefront. With the exception of a few like Mannu Bhandari of Mahabhoj fame, the pioneers who had forged a new idiom are gone.
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