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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 11, New Delhi February 29, 2020

Silent Departure of Girmitiya

Gandhi’s Author

Sunday 1 March 2020


by Prem Singh

An important Hindi writer, Giriraj Kishore, who lived quietly in the world of literature, left the world silently on February 9 (2020) at the age of 83. His condolence meeting, which was held on February 14 in Delhi, also passed silently. Barring a couple of Hindi critics, no major Hindi writer attended the solemn occasion to pay tribute to him. However, many senior Gandhi-family colleagues were present in the condolence meeting.

Giriraj Kishore was a person of civilised demeanour and an owner of a gentle personality. He did not give up the courtesy of life and always maintained humility in his behaviour. I had befriended him for the last twentyfive years. During this period, I never saw him angry or harbouring any grudge. He was born and brought up in a large zamindar family of Muzaffarnagar. But his feudal background did not reflected in his personality. He was a quintessential modern Indian who believed in democratic values. He was the Registrar of IIT, Kanpur, where he faced harassment for being a ‘man of Hindi’. There he was also suspended; and his position was restored after he fought the suspension in the court. He succeeded in setting up a Centre for Creative Studies at IIT, Kanpur. The Kanpuriya author throughout led a life of simplicity. This simplicity also adorned his compositions.

Giriraj Kishore wrote prolifically in literary genres like short-story, novel, drama, essay, travelogue and criticism. He also edited the ‘Akar’ magazine for a long time. It is an important journal of literature, criticism and thoughts. The editorials of ‘Akar’ have been known to reveal his political stance and outlook on various political developments taking place in the country. However, Giriraj Kishore’s literary identity and reputation has been of a fictionist/narrator only.

The novels and stories of Giriraj Kishore depict the complex nature of the relationship between society and the individual. In the modern era, the nature of the relationship between society and the individual is not stable and is constantly in a state of flux. In a segment of time, the society and the person is built on the basis of forms emerging due to this constant dialectical relationship between society and the person. It is a continuous process in the modern age. There is no room for pause or repetition in this ongoing process for a creative writer. In the story-writing-process of Giriraj Kishore, various forms of relationships between the society and the individual, and the possibilities inherent in them, are depicted. His narrative-making-process gives him a distinct identity among his contemporaries. This is the reason why none of Giriraj Kishore’s novels or stories have any stagnation or repetition of creative experience. The novel ‘Dhai Ghar’, which won him the Sahitya Akademy Award in 1992, is a fine example of his art of novel. Giriraj Kishore himself has said: ‘I have always been fascinated by the changing relationship between society and humans, man and man and person and establishment. Be it a story or a drama or a novel or an article, I have been constantly trying to bring these changing relationships to the fore. My desire has always been to be the singer of those changing relationships.’

It is often the case that the writers either suffer from repetition in the later part of their creative life or they start to represent a philosophical-spiritual ism/theory. In the same way, the art-content created by the interaction between the society and the person is not found in their works. It seems that Giriraj Kishore composed ‘Pehla Girmitiya’ (1999) in the later period of his creative life to protect himself from this situation. The phrase Girmitiya stands for a labourer who went to South Africa on an agreement (girmit) under the indentured system during the colonial period. ‘Pehla Girmitiya’ is a monumental biographical novel on Gandhi’s lifetime of twenty years in South Africa. It depicts the process of Mohandas becoming Gandhi. From the point of view of art of the novel, ‘Pehla Girmitiya’ lends a new dimension to the genre of biographical novel. As soon as this novel was published, readers and critics sat up and took notice. Giriraj Kishore once again occupied the centre-stage in the literary world. There was a lot of discussion of Girmitiya Gandhi outside the world of literature as well. The author received the Vyas Samman for this work. Giriraj Kishore told me once that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, helped him financially when he went on a trip to South Africa for doing research in order to write this novel.

In a conversation Giriraj Kishore told me that after Gandhi he would write a novel based on the life of Dr Rammanohar Lohia. In this direction, he also started some research work. It seems that even after writing ‘Pehla Girmitiya’, he could not pull himself out of Gandhi’s charm. On completion of hundred years of the creation of ‘Hind Swaraj’ (1909), he composed the play ‘Gandhi Ko Phansi Do’ (2009). He then turned to Kasturba Gandhi and wrote the novel ‘Baa’ (2016) based on her life which was full of complexities and hectic activities. In this novel, personal attributes of Kasturba Gandhi’s personality emerged; in the light of that personality of Kasturba Gandhi, a different image of Gandhi is also seen.

Right from the era of the freedom movement, Gandhi’s life, thoughts and actions have been

depicted in literature in all Indian languages including English. It will be interesting to comparatively analyse the depiction of Gandhi in the literary works of the colonial period, post-colonial period and the works of today’s neo-colonial period interrogating ‘Pehla Girmitiya’,‘Gandhi Ko Phansi Do’ and ‘Baa’. New critics and researchers should undertake this comparative study. It can also be a way of paying a sincere tribute to Giriraj Kishore who left us in silence.

The author teachers Hindi at Delhi University.

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