Novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright, editor, journalist, Dharamvir Bharati (1926-1997) was a colossus of the Hindi literary world. Born in Allahabad, he studied Hindi at Allahabad University and went on to teach there as well.
Deeply influenced by western intellectual thought, from the works of Karl Marx to the writings of Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, he also studied the great Indian texts such as the Mahabharata, works of philosophy and the poetry of luminaries like Kabir and Surdas.
The 1950s were his most creative years when he wrote some of his most outstanding works.
Five works that you must read:
1. Gunahon Ka Devta (1949)
This is Dharamvir Bharati's most popular novel and Hindi fiction's landmark bestseller. He wrote it when he was just 23 years old. Set in Allahabad, it tells the deep but doomed love story of the idealistic university student Chander and the childish, impish Sudha, his professor's daughter. But Chander is unable to express his love for Sudha and she ends up marrying another man. This painful separation changes their lives forever. Chander, unable to handle the fact that 'his' Sudha now belongs to another man, plunges into an affair with a lonely young woman Pammi, while Sudha, on her part, pines away for him. Though the novel was written over 60 years ago, the themes that it tackles - the nature of sex and love, family duty and societal constraints -- are relevant even today.
The book was recently translated by Poonam Saxena into English (Chander & Sudha, Penguin, 2015).
Also, for the first time, the novel is now being turned into a TV show, Ek Tha Chander Ek Thi Sudha, on Life OK channel. The show will go on air end of September. (Interestingly, many years ago, a film based on the book, starring Amitabh Bachchan as Chander and Jaya Bhaduri as Sudha, was sought to be made but unfortunately, could not be completed).
2. Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda (1952)
One of Dharamvir Bharati's most acclaimed works, it has been lauded by critics for its innovative literary form -- an inter-connected web of stories. The protagonist Manik Mulla narrates stories about a host of characters, from the tragic Tanna, fated to a life of suffering, to the fiery, courageous Satti. Very different in tone and content from Gunahon Ka Devta, this novel details the desperation, struggles and conflicts of lower middle class life.
In 1992, it was made into a critically acclaimed film by Shyam Benegal, starring Rajit Kapoor, Amrish Puri, Neena Gupta and many others.
3. Andha Yug (1953)
This magnificent verse play is set on the last, the 18th day of the Mahabharata war and features the 'less important' characters from the epic, such as Ashwatthama, Gandhari and Yuyutsu. Though the war is over, it has left a trail of devastation and destruction - almost everyone is dead and there are but a few survivors. Who is responsible for all this death? Who is to blame? A profound and thought-provoking play, it is acknowledged as a modern Indian classic, and has been performed by every major theatre group in the country. Many great theatre directors have interpreted it as a strong anti-war play. Andha Yug was translated into English by Alok Bhalla.
This epic poem, divided into five parts, is in the voice of Radha who seeks to understand her relationship with Krishna. Lyrical and exquisitely beautiful, it is about her yearning, pain, her doubts, and the joy and anguish of loving her Kanu. Sample these immortal lines: "Tum mere kaun ho Kanu/Main toh aaj tak nahi jaan payi."
5. Short stories
Dharamvir Bharati wrote several powerful short stories such as Band Gali Ka Aakhri Makan and Gulki Banno. But some of the most heart-wrenching among them are a collection of stories he wrote on the 1943 Bengal famine, the terrible tragedy in which people died of hunger on the streets of Calcutta and entire villages were lined with corpses.