Roundabout | Grand writer of many seasons | punjab$chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Roundabout | Grand writer of many seasons

The Jnanpith Award comes late to Krishna Sobti as she was being rushed to the hospital three months short of 93 but one is glad it did and she lives to receive it.

punjab Updated: Nov 11, 2017 20:26 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Krishna Sobti
Krishna Sobti

Reading his poems in the city on a Saturday afternoon, the poet of our times paused after one to say, “Krishnaji liked this poem a lot. I mean Krishna Sobti, who received the Jnanpith Award this year, which has come rather late when she is ill and in the hospital.” Good tidings that come from Delhi say that she is improving and will be home in a few days. Giving me an update, writer Sukrita Paul, who had posted a picture of Sobti on the hospital bed, said, “When we told her about the Jnanpith Award, she smiled and then waved her hand as though saying, ‘What does it matter now!’”

All the admirers of this grande dame of Hindi letter feel a little indignant that it took this award, instituted in 1961 for outstanding contribution to literature in Indian languages, a very long time to reach this writer whose fiction stands witness to turbulent times of the 20th century, which saw not only Independence but also the Partition and communal strife till date, which saw strides in technology and change in values, and also a decided shift from tolerance to intolerance. Here was this woman with a sense of history, and the sensitivity to note every transformation and give it words. Actually, not just words, but stories that she put in the memory of the readers.

One striking fact about this determined soul is that she chose the hard way in her tryst with life. No short-cuts, no crutches, no godfathers, or godmothers for that matter. Once sharing a glass of beer with me in a favourable season, when she was not exasperated that I was so close to Punjabi poetess Amrita Pritam, with whom she locked horns in the long court case over the ‘Zindaginama’ discord. “You know I had such energy as a young girl that I could have scaled the Everest!” Well she did scale the Everest of literature in the vast, prejudiced and politicised world of Hindi language. But my favourite anecdote from her is a young girl confession dating to the 1950s in Shimla, which was still Queen. She got the first acceptance letter for a short story that she had sent to a magazine. Essentially a loner, she decided to celebrate the occasion with a drink at Devicos. “I went there to hear the crooner, on whom I had a crush, sing Ray Price’s country song ‘My shoes keep walking back to you’, then she giggled, “well, my shoes would go walking back to him!”

Protest against intolerance

Krishna remained a girl at heart always but that is not to undermine her head and two years ago when I was with her she was in the midst of protest against intolerance and returning the Sahitya Akademi Award (1980) for ‘Zindaginama’, after a quarter century or remarkable writing with unforgettable novels like ‘Mitro Marjani’, ‘Yaaron Ke Yaar’, ‘Daar se Bichurhi’ and ‘Surajmukhi Andhere Ke’.

The last of these novels which is less talked about dwelt on the theme of child rape when no one considered it as a subject that could be written about. Not the one to rest on her laurels, she was to give more in novels like ‘Ai Ladki’, ‘Dil-O-Danish’ and even ‘Samay Sargam’. The last dealt with love of a couple in their waning years. And she wrote what she lived and lived what she wrote. Love did come to her at 70 when she married an admirer of her writings, Dogri writer Shiv Nath.

When Shiv Nath passed away, she enjoyed the memories and the last time I met her she put his video on the TV and wished him a happy ‘Hello’. Her recent novel is ‘Gujrat Pakistan se Gujrat Hindustan’, the most autobiographical of her fiction. She is working on three novels and even in the hospital she makes it a point to pen some words every day. Bravo! Krishnaji so one looks forward to meeting more when one can sit by your side and have a little laugh at the snail’s pace of the Jnanpith Award.

(The author can be contacted at nirupama.dutt@hindustantimes.com)