“If you alone are privy to a terrible truth, then it is impossible to not let it out. It is also a crime to not let it out… and you make a compromise with your conscience,” said eminent playwright, poet and critic Narendra Mohan, narrating the story of the barber who discovered a pair of horns on his king’s head while giving him a haircut.
On the final day of Literati 2014 by the Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh on Sunday, Mohan was one of the four speakers in a panel discussion on ‘Badalte paridrishya mein Hindi sahitya’ (Hindi literature in a changing scenario). Mohan spoke about the increasingly regressive consciousness towards drama in today’s literary scenario, and how censorship and suppression of voice affected theatre.
MANTO AND SHACKLES
“Once a fellow playwright asked me, what would be the one question you ask [Sadaat Hasan] Manto, if you got the chance? I replied saying that I’d ask him, ‘Manto, when will you come? Tell me, how long do I wait for you?’ I wonder that had Manto been alive today, would he have been spared by today’s janta (public)? Would he have been censored now too?”
Mohan said people were not scared of those who compromised “but of those who break rules”. He said anyone who believed in freedom of thought must raise their voice against injustice. He said the stage was like a cultural space occupied by those who do not understand it, and it is to take it back from them.
The thought-provoking session was steeped in contradictory, and diverse, views on the future of Hindi literature and its relevance in today’s India. Moderated by Hindi poet Madhav Kaushik, the session also featured Hindi author couple Mamta and Ravinder Kalia, and academician Jitendra Srivastav.
Srivastav spoke on how the youth was mostly starstruck by foreign authors but did not realise that regional writers had created equally marvellous literature back home. He said, “Premchand may just be the first writer in India to touch upon women’s issues… He wrote about women much before women started writing about their own issues.”
He remarked, “It is all very good to be aware of the dialogue outside your country, but it’s equally important to listen to the kind of dialogue going on in your own neighbourhood.”
FUTURE OF BOOKS
Ravindra Kalia spoke about how literature was inherently unable to keep up with the fast-paced world. Saying that the future of literature was the e-book, he said, “Though the world changes rapidly, literary writing remains much the same. I know authors who boast of not knowing how to communicate through SMS, as if it was something to be proud of. One must learn to adapt, be it regional literature or mainstream,” he said.
In complete contrast to her husband’s views, Mamta said, “I am not that depressed about the fact that literature cannot keep up with the changing times. Literature takes its own time to answer society’s questions.”
On women’s writing in today’s age, Mamta noted, “Woman storytellers in Hindi have grasped the importance of change much faster than male writers. But, she said, it’s not time yet for women to rest, “but the time for women’s writing to take a leap which will enable it to break free of compartmentalisation.