Sep 25, 2023
Sep 25, 2023
by P C K Prem
If one gives credence to the art of a moment, then short story is an expression of a moment as one takes into consideration its shape and length. Story telling is an ancient art and it is thought to be an accessible and interesting literary genre. Here, it is not the intention to go to the origin of the art of story writing but it is sufficient to observe that a collective approach to the concretization of a thought leads to storytelling. It is not relevant to speak of different movements affecting literature. With the passage of time, there is a subtle change in approach to life while taking into considerations emotions, feelings, thoughts and social realities.
Contemporary Short Story – Background, Initial Handicaps and Growth
Each moment provides an opportunity to look at life afresh. Values and time keep changing without giving an indication even when one is alert and conscious. When one tries to feel insecure at some moment, one should know that there is some subtle change in time and values. With the change in circumstances, the shape and size of creative urge also change. Artistic pursuits need concentration and isolation, even if for a few moments. Whatever may the reasons, the journey of short story and novel is a continuous movement towards a destination that is undefined. New thoughts emerge, new names are given to movements, and fresh approaches become inevitable to identify with life in an age where synthesis is impossible to achieve.
Contemporary life witnesses integration and disintegration at the same moment. Relations break up giving twists to ethics and system. Living in the present context has become fragmented. A man wishes to live life collectively but it is not possible, for each person has his area of existence and freedom. In this age of terrific invasive propensities to possess everything, a man turns unsteady and insincere. If designed and well thought names are given to creative activity of different times and undercurrent of movements, the basic instincts determining a creative art stay firm and this should be clearly understood. Any creative art has the impact of social, economic, political and religious movements and this is quite apparent when one goes back. Socialism and Marxism, democracy and autocracy or theocracy are just segments of thoughts trying to interpret man in different contexts in the history of humanity where a particular thought dominates.
It appears man is still experimenting with various aspects of life so that he is happy and prosperous and lives in peace and harmony. Noble words of course these are, but are just not the final destinations of men. Efforts continue and the utopian world of living is still lying hidden somewhere in the deep blue sky or in the horizon. Man tries because he anticipates. This is the essence of life. All these ingredients constitute literature –literature is nothing but life of man and society or humanity. One cannot live in isolation and thus, any piece of art if it survives it is because of its affinity with life and society.
Trends apart, any intellectual exercise ultimately comes back to man. Thus, any piece of art whether music, painting, sculpture, poetry or fiction has to be examined with regard to its relevance to man. Any meaning outside this area would appear pleasing for a while but then, it will sound hollow and mere waste of words and feelings. Here, it raises questions as to the meaning and relevance of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ to be more precise.
Understanding literature and society requires patience. One cannot get rid of different classes among men –men constituting society, and therefore, these are inevitable headaches like political movements and theories as mentioned above. Each movement or thought is an instrument to reach an ideal that does not exist and there still lives a faint hope, and on this premise, most of the political, intellectual and social movements thrive.
One thing must be understood that a thought whether in literature or politics, religion or social set up if restricted to a certain area, hampers growth. Nothing grows in regimented conditions and this is exactly happening. Man is now, confined to areas of politics –with many political outfits, economy – liberal, mixed or focused, social organism – castes, classes, religions or regions, with another two classes of the rich and the poor existing everywhere and thus, he lives in confusion.
Patronage of any kind proves disastrous needs no elucidation but still, it tempts many and thus, it writes the death warrants of a real creative artist. Writing provocatively, with intent to please a particular segment of society of different contours and nature, does not really contribute to a healthy tradition in literature. Under sponsorship, nothing grows as only dwarfs flourish and prosper. Inclination towards a specific patron or benefactor causes intellectual distortion and stunted growth. It splits solid basis of analysis and critical observations. Creativity cannot be restricted or asked to stay within certain areas. It goes beyond borders of un-treaded horizons and skies and thus, it assumes sovereign and cosmic dimensions.
Origin, Evaluation, Themes and Status
In the light of above observations, an attempt has been made to examine the status of Hindi short story from Himachal. Short fiction in the state is rich and thoughtful and cannot be considered different from the national consciousness. In this background, one finds that the writers here have been consistently trying to stick to the basic thought regarding existence though change in time and location might have made the difference.
The contribution of Chanderdhar Sharma Guleri and Yashpal is immense in this genre where one finds glimpses of life of people of the hill state. From Prem Chand to the above two or three notable authors from Himachal, to the present day scenario of literature in Hindi, a cursory look reveals that the creative writers are genuinely engaged in meaningful writing giving expression to contemporary thought and living, which is now complex, confused and struggling to find a stable base to assert. It is a continuous journey towards perfection, and this aspect assures.
In this context, one has to keep in mind the disturbing events of the years between 1930 and 1947 when the struggle for Independence gained momentum and national consciousness infused vigor and energy in the minds and hearts of people. The focus was on the national interests and freedom whereas social, economic and other considerations had been relegated to the background to some extent. For wider national gains, people had joined the mainstream. Even after Independence, the situation took some time to stabilize. Experience of struggle had been exciting, agonizing and soul filling. Many patriots had made sacrifices and suffered immensely and only then, we could achieve this present status of freedom. It had affected the psyche of the people in a big way. Life in totality wanted steadiness after turbulent days of pre-independence days.
It was during the sixties and seventies that one witnesses encouraging trends in social, economic and political areas of life while at the intellectual and psychological level, there is visible growth where liberal and open dialogue begins to inspire and disturb as life marches ahead towards areas of material growth and fulfillment. If during the period before freedom, people got inspiration from history and culture to aspire for unity and integration, freedom and liberation, after the freedom there was provoking and assertive transformation in thoughts and living. Various influences had begun to function at this stage. Thus, the first three decades proved crucial with regard to journey of Indian consciousness.
The authors have been consistently giving something to the society and trying to reflect on the affairs. A few collections of short stories appeared and this assured that the future of short fiction is bright with meaning and purpose like its father, novel. Early stories undoubtedly, exhibit understanding of situations and conditions of life in changing social surroundings with realistic reaction of an ordinary man. Life at the worldly level gains priority and the outside world appears authentic. Now, an ordinary man of the village and the city struggles to earn living under exhausting circumstances where cutthroat competition to find a comfortable life becomes vital. At this stage, a man is worried about livelihood and material comforts, and in the process fissures appear in family relations as individuals begin to find identities free from encumbrances.
In the early period of contemporary short story writing in Himachal, Satyendra Sharma, Khem Raj Gupta, Krishan Kumar Nutan, Kishori Lal Vaidya and a few others fulfilled their responsibilities towards society and contributed meaningful stories to Hindi literature. They were chaste, soft and gentle in approach and in few words conveyed a positive message to man and society. Here, one finds delineation of natural and social surroundings while highlighting personal, social and political anguish keeping in view topography and ecology. In these stories, there is idealism, and nationalistic thoughts pervade. The authors vividly describe village environment. Narrow paths, stony access to hillocks, temples, ponds, cowsheds, dust, men and women working in the fields while singing sad songs and then, bursting into joyous mood, tiny streams, trees, plants, grazing grounds, springs, little loving pranks, rituals and customs …everything with pure regional touch, find expression.
Interestingly, changes in life and living with increased love for literary pursuits, took a few authors to Chanderdhar Sharma Guleri and Yashpal for inspiration. The writers began to evince interest in literary movements. While authors from Himachal authentically described hilly areas, lifestyles, traditions, rituals, customs and aspirations of people as said earlier, even authors like Mohan Rakesh and Nirmal Verma wrote with backdrop of hilly areas. At the same time, Sunder Lohia, Jiya Sidique, Kailash Bhardwaj, Sudarshan Vashistha, Sushil Kumar Phull, Yogeshwar Sharma, Ramkrishan Kaushal Vijay Sehgal, Satyapal Sharma, Naresh Pundit, P C K Prem, Shankar Lal Sharma, Kashimiri Lal, continued to write. Many of these authors no longer write anything and this is not a very fortunate situation.
After early eighties, the scenario changed rapidly. New authors registered their presence. They were aware of the age and its agony and thus, modern anguish and sufferings are depicted with sensitivity that had not been seen so graphically earlier. The authors are rich in thoughts, experience and emotional strength of respective areas of life and living. However, the locales of the stories are at times, limited, but the range of understanding amazes as authors begin to show anxieties of man in totality, and thereby, they think of secular and universal life, as was the case with novelists but limitations also restrict expansion and spread of thought.
The Critical Anxieties, Socio-Political and Economic Worries
Many authors showed presence on the literary scene but it is not possible to give names of everyone for obvious reasons and limitations. To find out certain salient features is the objective here. The contribution of unknown and left out writers cannot be underestimated. A few short story writers like Shankar Lal Sharma, Jagdish Sharma, Vijay Sehgal, Arun Bharati, Kuldip Singh Chandel, Sudarshan Vashishta, S R Harnot, Gyan Sharma, Col. Vishnu Sharma, Dinesh, Deep Tyagi, Mahesh Chander Sexana, Tara Pal, Shyam Singh Ghuna, Ramesh Chander Sharma, Sansar Chander Prabhakar, Onkar Singh Bedag, Kulbhushan Kaistha, Murari Lal Sharma, Naresh Pandit, Tulsi Raman, Sri Niwas Joshi, CRB Lalit, Rekha, Prabhat Kumar, BR Padam, Lakshman Kashyap, Rajendra Rajan, Rammurti Vasudeva, Rajni Kant, Snehlata Bhardwaj, Sadhu Ram Darshak, BS Bhatia, Raj Kumar Rakesh, Piyush Guleri, Satyapal Sharma, P C K Prem, Gautam Vyathith, Mast Ram Kapoor, Santosh Sailaja, Shanta Kumar, Sushil Kumar Phull, Keshav, Maharaj Krishan Kaw and Sudarshan Bhatia have made definite and notable contribution to short story writing.
This is not an exhaustive list of storywriters. Many are working to enrich literature silently and that is a positive signal. While writing these lines, it is not the intention of this paper to trace the origin of Hindi Literature in Himachal but certainly, efforts have been made to throw a cursory look at trends, growth and evolvement of literary traditions with its glow and flaws. Often, it has been a genuine desire of a few critics and writers to trace the origin. In this direction, SK Phull came out with a short history of literature that tries to connect various strands and presents a reasonably coherent development of literature in Himachal. Sunder Lohia and Tulsi Raman also wrote on the growth of short story. On the other hand, Dr Hem Raj Kaushik has examined Himachal Hindi Literature from these aspects and made a beginning from another aspect.
A few critical articles by this critic/author on Hindi literature in Himachal also constitute sincere efforts in this direction where he tries to look into literary development from historical, political and social aspects. Still, I hope some discerning critic will examine Himachal Hindi literature in totality in years to come.
The last two decades of the last millennium have witnessed tremendous growth of fiction, poetry and other genres of literature. It is also worthwhile to observe that literature during the earlier decades of the last century was struggling to register its presence and a few authors worked in this direction but later on, many authors appeared, courted controversies by aligning themselves with certain literary camps, gained recognition and then, were forgotten as patronage did not work for long. After writing for a few years, these authors observed silence and sadly enough, they have not come out of the silence. However, new names appeared and they began to assert with force and speed.
Life and its Dimensions in Totality
Fiction writers have been sincerely trying to depict life in totality and thus, they have revealed various aspects of thoughts and feelings with regard to worldly environment at the earthly level and beyond where inner urges and emotions determine the outer contours of man and his functions. In view of this, it would be sensible to talk of those authors who highlight social and political issues with a predominantly greater sense of responsibility. In the next category, one observes authors worried about human relations and therefore, try to examine sensitive relations in the context of changed social setup where free will and individualism take roots.
Then, there are authors, who are realistic in depiction of life in changing social environment. They reveal the inner and the outer layers of man’s thoughts with all the nakedness, cruelty and callousness that disturb a man within and still he wants to live while acquiring material comforts amidst many painful experiences. Despite this, the authors convey a message that man has to move ahead. Again, another class of authors tries to establish man’s relationship with nature and then, illuminates idealism, ethical values, beauty and sensibility of life. Here, the authors express faith in love, and through love, a search for eternal values of life begins and then, they make efforts to find moments of peace and harmony in the background of history. At this stage, psychological probing and analysis take roots. If literature in Himachal is examined broadly in four categories, possibly one reach reasonable appraisal and that is precisely the objective here.
Stories with social and political background usually look at life from various angles. Not only different social issues surface but there are obvious clashes of ethical, realistic and materialistic thoughts and emotions. Here, an author tries to find solutions according to his perspective of social life and there ends a creative effort, and one can expect certain inherent flaws defying logical solution to socio-political and economic issues. In creative art, it is essential to discard prejudices and if it does not happen, creativity suffocates. An author must come out of the personal preferences and prejudices so that he forms a wider and secular view of life.
Some prominent authors, despite other engagements continue to evince interest in literary activities. When I spoke to a few important writers, it was revealing to know their reaction. Yes, they write because there is an urge within. They write in a spirit of sharing, and that they care for man and society. Some of such authors are Shanta Kumar, Sailaja, Sushil Kumar Phull, Sudarshan Vashistha, Om Sarswat, Harnot, Rajendra Rajan, RK Rakesh, Naresh and a few others.
With five collections of short stories, Phull is worried about distortion in social life where selfishness, greed, bitterness and rivalries are taking deep roots. He is worried about the regional thought entering literature. Human relationships find analytical description while politics disfigures social life he believes. He is concerned about academic life where conspiracies, fake researches, plagiarism and hollowness prevail. Memana, Bahar Ka Aadmi and Kharkannu are his notable stories underlining social depravity and political injuries. Kakun is a tragic tale of a woman forced to sell her body. At times, Phull bluntly tells that body determines man’s life, for he becomes weak when passions attack. He speaks truth that may irritate. Kohara does not allow a man to live meaningfully. He is worried about regional thinking and communal bitterness destroying the foundations of society. Phull is notable for his sharp and straight observations.
Sudarshan Vashisht is equally incisive while he takes up political ambitions of a man that destroy relations. Money, fraud, falsehood and exploitation are integral parts of political life harming man and relations. Khatarnak Log creates fissures among three friends when politics overpowers. Bure Din sensitively takes up communal clashes and its painful consequences whereas Ghar Bola is nostalgic. Rin ke Dhandhe is a classic case of fraud in loans and debts while Chota Telephone Bada Telephone and Khhachar of Keshav, reveal social truth. Telephone and Vishvriksh of Badri Singh Bhatia satirize social system. Bada Aadmi of Harnot highlights corruption at a lower ladder where from a village pradhan to a collector are involved in eating up money of loans. Birju is about the insensitivity of babus and officers. Chorahe Par talks of exploitation of working women. Here, one can think of stories like Lal Hota Drakhat, Giddhon ke Biradari etc. Simplicity in language with localized vocabulary at times, charms. He takes up themes of castes and social discrimination.
Bhatia, Harnot and Rakesh are straight, simple and authentic in the description of locales but at times, repetitions irritate. While describing rural scenario Rakesh fascinates. Pataliao aur Muhan ke Beech and Dubati Ankhon ka Dard are moving stories, which reveal exploitation as if inbuilt in the system. Politics hurts and kills man’s zest for life. Samjhauta of Sansar Chand Prabhakar again speaks of obvious mechanism of politics. Bhukh and Bhoot talk about the caste system and exploitation again. Jagdish Sharma in Jama Hua Jal speaks of exploitation of women. Shyam Singh Ghuna in Sauda, Ujala, Bauna and Tabadala, underlines social problems again.
Sadhu Ram Darshak is a significant name in literature. Saleeb par Latka Maseeha, Daakan, Bidambana, Yaad Rakhana and Narmedh are some of his best stories where he talks of religious bigotry, cruelty towards widows, pains of unemployment, and miseries of helpless women and agony of Harijans and finds solution in his own way. His characters tease, educate and then stay in the minds of the readers. Prabhat Kumar in Gulabi Nivedan talks of hunger for sex but somewhere he loses grip on the subject. In Bike hue Log, Shankar Lal Sharma peels off the layers of social and political life, and also stirs and warns readers. He talks of poverty and exploitation of labourers. Exploitation of women is the theme of Bhaidiye by Arun Bharati where a poor woman is exploited and has to submit to men. In Kabar, he speaks of communal acrimony. Bharati has a grip over life of villages and nature. An ordinary man in a village suffers, works hard, surrenders to the wishes of the powerful and still smiles. Everyone exploits him, a woman in helpless conditions turns an object of pleasure, and unfortunately, they cannot live life forcefully.
In Hijru, Sainik and Ujale mei Andhara of Tarapal, social system tortures. Kiraye ka Yuvak speaks of exploitation. Thus, one observes that many authors describe the life of villages touchingly. Characters are alive and full of life but the social system does not allow them to grow despite assurances of the system. Tarapal understands the criminal excesses committed by the socially strong individuals on helpless men forced to work like slaves, and are exploited, and where a woman is constrained to sell her body. She takes up her characters from the lower strata of society like most of other storytellers. Chori and Seena Jori by Himesh makes interesting social comments.
One of the most prolific authors Sudarshan Bhatia is a sensitive writer who observes life minutely. He is mild and unassuming as an author and one is astonished at the terrific speed with which he writes. He has written more than hundred books and has very good command over the language. His novels and short stories are documents on modern life like other authors but he, is more focused and straight. He talks of corruption, favoritism, immorality in life and depravity on the one hand, and at another level, he is worried about exploitation and insecurity. He feels everyone is suffering and choking and so a man lives a disgusting life. Unfortunately, he has not been evaluated in right perspective.
Santosh Sailaja speaks authentically about the problems confronted by women and raises questions of emancipation. Women’s freedom, progress and growth from the economic and physical domination are burning issues pestering eternally, form the basis of Sailaja’s writing and this aspect is also highlighted by several male authors with not very clear solutions. Unfortunately, thinkers and politicians, one observes, have not really done concrete. New Sita is noteworthy story by Sailaja. Gautam Vyathith’s Agli Meeting is a voice against system. Official life appears pungent and does not allow a man to grow, Dr. Prityush Guleri says in Apni Apni Unkahi. Nain Sukh of Prityush Guleri and Kali Dhank ka Masata of Yogeshwar Sharma speak of exploitation of the poor. Nanga Aadmi, Ward Number Saat Ka Pratyasi and Sach Batlai ga are other notable stories of Yogeshwar Sharma. Similarly, Rajendra Rajan’s Tapu and Hatya ek Scoop ki, Koltar and Utpatang of Sunder Lohia talk of social issues where insensitivity of society is evident.
Snowman and Nilami of Maharaj Krishan Kaw are notable for social and political thoughts. P C K Prem has seven collections of short stories and he touches various issues facing man from the social to the philosophical aspect where family relations surface. Din Beet Gaye, Shankar Das Fit Ho Gaya, Riste, Chopal Khamesh Hai, Ration Card and Khuda Hua Aadmi speak of relations, social issues and political opportunism. Ek Pal Sukh and Khuda Hua Aadmi strike a very sensitive facet of life, and appear poignant.
Many authors look into the man sitting inside everyman deeply, and at times, they penetrate genuinely into the heart and mind of man and unpeel feelings and thoughts ruthlessly where hypocrisy, falsehood and jealousy are exposed. No one is sincere or legitimate in what he says or does. Rajan’s Apradh Bodh, Bure Din of Sudarshan Vashishtha, Phull’s Bahar ka Aadmi, Vijay Sehgal’s Bian Palak ki Machalian, Keshav’s Gutter, P C K Prem’s Teen Kadam Aur and Babua Safar, Lohia’s Satkhami, Sailaja’s Kaali Ghataen and MK Kaw’s Namjadgi are some of the stories, which peel off various layers of man’s thoughts disturbing many.
In the beginning, a reference has been made with regard to the limitations a critic faces. In Himachal, more than fifty collections of short stories have appeared and attracted the attention of perceptive readers. Stories reveal life of hills vividly. Most of the stories concentrate on village life and the little sufferings a common person tackles. A villager is not ambitious but desires of a happy and comfortable life disturb him. He suffers, laughs, struggles, fails, recuperates and begins to live again amidst challenges, exploitation, poverty, hard work, scarcity and stress. His smiles are in struggles and strenuous efforts and these features make these tales interesting and inspiring. The will to write with determination establishes the genuineness. Many storytellers are silent but new names are coming up and that assures of a bright future.
(A reference exists regarding many authors and creative works. However, the list of authors and creative works is not given for obvious reasons. If any reader wishes to enjoy creative writings of Himachal, he should communicate with the Himachal Academy of Art, Culture and Language, Simla, HP it is suggested).
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More by : P C K Prem
|The short story, or novel as a long story, is a literary device to reveal life in a given society. To access it one needs to be literate, and to have sufficient leisure time to read it. What Mr Prem at no point mentions is the, for these very reasons, vastly more popular modern medium of the cinema, now TV, to enable a semi-literate public, as in India’s teeming millions, or even a literate one, to in far more graphic terms get absorbed in a complete story at a sitting without interruption. Whereas ‘War and Peace’ by Tolstoy would |
never be completed as a book by your typical reader in a single sitting, or even within a week of staggered reading, the film, depicting characters and their emotions as portrayed by great actors can be so achieved – and by an audience of semi-literate people, whose knowledge of plain language and susceptibility to background sound effects suffices. The argument for some that reading is a better experience than film because one uses one's imagination is to say the least dated even for those who still promote the literary genre of books.
But taken at its own worth, within its own circle of literate persons, a story or novel is thematically something that is known, which the writer as it were celebrates with the reader, and to which it owes its popularity. A story is rarely a didactic experience as it must always be a sympathetic one: the reader rejoicing that he understands full well what the writer is writing about. A classic example is the love story. What the public wants from a story is an evocation of what it already knows of time and place and character or that it is simultaneously acculturated to as in a period drama. There can be no enjoyment in mystery, except it be part of the plot in a familiar or acculturated setting.
I will now say something that may shock all story tellers and readers of fiction, not to mention watchers of movies, of which today’s viewing figures suggest a preponderance over readers of books. It is that, briefly, all stories are yarns; or perhaps not so shocking, after all, for the description of them as fiction! Fiction can only be a human representation of what is perceived as reality. In fact, that is the only providence in it, as a vehicle of principle. In itself, fiction is infinitely removed from reality which in every moment is providential. Fiction depicts a scenario that works out entirely at the whim of the writer; in reality providence is working in hidden ways that the fiction totally misses. A scene of suffering in fiction focuses on the suffering to the exclusion of the experience of providential relief known only to the individual in the real circumstances. This is why real people who have undergone great trauma emerge as though unaffected – the protection of providence; that in fiction would be the subject only of intense suffering. Indeed, we fictionalise suffering itself when we deny providence.
Fiction then is the product of despair in providence. If one fully trusted in providence there would be no need for fiction. However, Christ used parables with fictitious characters but to promote morals; only in this sense does fiction serve a providential purpose, even by default if it be judged highly immoral. One must never forget that fiction is a yarn, and for that reason its conclusions are flawed. If a story brings out an evil in society, the reader is aware of, it fails by making an object of the evil: and tackling it in terms created by the writer, discounting the power of providence which pervades the reality; if fiction rouses emotions based on perceived reality, it misses out on the divine providence that attends every moment of reality and gives the lie to the fiction made of the reality.