A sub-continental art beat

A sub-continental art beat

Born in the period prior to independence and has been the witness to partition, to the modern times, Krishna Sobti dealt with the themes of all these...

Born in the period prior to independence and has been the witness to partition, to the modern times, Krishna Sobti dealt with the themes of all these changes in her literature. She was famous as a writer of fiction and essayist. “What else can I do except for writing,” she laughs away when asked why she was inspired to writing. She tells that she has written a few lines poem as her first writing and then she never penned poesy again for she realised that she was much prosaic.

Sobti was born in Gujrat, (Pakistan), in an undivided India, and was educated in Delhi and Shimla. Her family worked for the colonial British Government. She began her higher education in Fatehchand college, Lahore, but returned to India, after the partition. She worked as a governess to Tej Singh, who was the then Maharaja of Sirohi in Rajasthan, India. Presently she lives in Delhi with her husband, Dogri writer Shivnath, whom she married at the age of seventy.

Her novel ‘Zindaginama’ won her the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1980. She began as a short story writer and her most famous story on partition ‘Sikka Badal Gaya’, which was published without any changes, by her fellow writer Satchidanand Vatsayan, the editor of the journal Prateek. Sobti had chosen writing as her profession from that time and has many famous works to her credit.

She gained a lot of reputation for her book ‘Mitro Marajani’, a novel depicting the sexuality of a married woman. This novel was a daring attempt by Sobti to unravel the innermost feelings of a woman. She refused to be labelled as a women writer but always said that a writer is to write both the viewpoints of men and women. Her novel ‘Zindaginama: Zindagi Rukh’ was not only a depiction of the rural life of Punjab but it also dealt with the political and social issues of that times. She fought a court case against Amrita Pritam for having plagiarised her title, as Amrita Pritam titled her book ‘Hardatt Ke Zindaginama’. The case went in favour of Amrita Pritam, six years after her demise.

Sobti says she is very particular about protecting her intellectual property rights. She is known as the ‘Grand Dame’ of Hindi literature. Her other famous works were ‘Dar Se Bichudi’ (separated from the flock) published in 1958. This novel is set in the pre-partitioned India and about a child born from a marriage that crossed the religious and social boundaries. Her next novel ‘Mitro Marajani’ was considered a break out from the stereotyped women characters and this novel made her famous for her portrayal of the woman Mitro in her novel. Other novels ‘Suraj Mukhe Andhere’, ‘Ai Ladki’, ‘Yaaron Ke Yaar’, ‘Dil Aur Danish’ won her much applause in the Hindi literary milieu. Sobti also wrote a fictionalised autobiography titled ‘Gujrat Pakistan Se Gujrat Hindustan’.

She also published a series of short profiles and columns under the masculine pseudonym “Hashmat”. She says that she and “Hashmat” differ in identities. He reveals and I conceal she says. She claims him to be modern and herself ancient. However, she has written certain things without inhibitions as “Hashmat”.

In 2010, she was offered Padma Bhushan by the Union Government, which she refused to take. “As a writer, I have to keep a distance from the establishment. I think I did the right thing,” was her reason for declining the honour.

She was bestowed with the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, which is said to be the highest honour in India. She had also won prestigious awards like, “Katha Chudamani”, “Shiromani”, “Vyas Samman” among others.

Her characters spoke the dialect and lingo of their native place. Her ease of using particular language and dialect for the particular characters was taken as an added flavour in her writing. But the translators felt difficulty in translating her works, because of this. Her description of the dress, food and the customs of her characters give the reader an insight into the varied culture and tradition of India. She had advised the Sahitya Akademi to have a channel of its own as the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. There are many languages and writers and many publishers would come up with advertisements she says. “They never allow intellectuals to be powerful,” Sobti declares.

She says that it is interesting to watch all the changes from the colonial India to the present times. Then the “Inquilabis” (freedom fighters) were their heroes, she acknowledges, as she was of the first generation of the independent India. She recollects the killings and the migrations that took place while partitioning. Having been a live witness to all this powerful and social changes Sobti is a bridge between colonial and independent India. Her transition all through these decades reflects in her attitude while penning down a story.

The pathos and chaos behind the minds and hearts of both the people in the times of partition are reflected in her characters. The Balochistan soldier Yunaz Khan in the story ‘Meree Ma Kahaa?’, is a man who saves a girl, who is just the age of his sister, who died in the riots. But the girl rescued being a Hindu she fears that he might kill her, which puts him in distress. This story shows how the human relations have been spoilt by fear and hatred, and the effect of partition on common people.

Being questioned whether she is optimistic about the future of India, Sobti says, “They are playing with the concept of one country. If they continue like this, they will have another Pakistan. Pucca!” Jnanpith Award adds one more feather on the cap of this esteemed soulful writer and she stands as a pride of the nation and women. Sobti is India’s proud daughter of letters and the literary world heartily congratulates the valorous writer and literary icon on this grand occasion.

By: Jagaddhatri
The author is a writer, translator and literary critic.

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