Agyeya was born on March 7, 1911 in Kushinagar, on the border of Nepal. He travelled the length and breadth of India, from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, with the archaeologist father. In his college years in Lahore, he became an underground revolutionary in the group around Bhagat Singh, agitating for India’s freedom, but a decade later, also an anti-fascist officer in the British army on its Eastern front in Assam. In the mid-1940s and early 1950s, already on the way to becoming a major literary figure, he threw himself into the midst of the heated literary controversies of the day, as the Indian subcontinent went through the last phase of World War II, independence, partition, the first troubled years of nationhood, and the Cold War. This was also a period, as we may recall, when the Hindi world, divided as it was, still nurtured the ambition that Hindi would become the national language of the nation.
“Formationa” was then the key word of the Berkeley symposium, not only with reference to the nation, but also to the literary vanguard and movements in which Ageyeya played a leading part, along with those movements that se vehemently opposed him. Today it is impossible to think of prayogvadis or experimentalists with whom he was linked in the late 1940s and 1950s, without thinking of the pragativadis or progressives. But are the rubrics which lebel the Hindi literary movements of the day, and the divisions which are also kept alive to this day, the only way to access Ageyeya or indeed the other leading modernists of this period? A half century later, the Berkeley symposium set itself the task of reappraisal and possible new access to Ageyeya and his works in and of themselves but also vis-à-vis his contemporaries. The proceeding carry the revised versions of the papers presented at the symposium.
Vasudha Dalmia is Professor of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
There was a particular reason for remembering S. H. Vatsyayan 'Agyeya' at the February 11 to 13, 2011 symposium held in Berkeley - to mark his birth centenary year. And there is a particular reason why we have rushed to publish the proceedings of the symposium in the same year. It is time for Agyeya, vanguard Hindi modernist, to be better known outside the Hindi literary world in India and the West. It is also time to remember a dimension of Agyeya's cosmopolitan personality and work not often addressed in the eulogies that have been bestowed on him this year. The importance of making him better known in the non-Hindi literary world as a major Indian modernist will, we hope, become evident in the essays that constitute this volume. The cosmopolitan dimension we refer to has to do with the role Agyeya played in establishing Hindi literature in at least two major western universities, Berkeley and Heidelberg, and with that in the western academy at large. This convergence happened in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when to speak of Indian literature did not automatically refer primarily to Indian-English literature, when Hindi was still, at least in the early 1960s, all set to become part of 'World Literature' as the national language of India.
Berkeley in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s was exceptionally hospitable to modem Hindi. Agyeya was initially invited as Visiting Professor by John J. Gumperz, linguist of world reputation, who had a particular interest in Hindi-Urdu and India. Gumperz had introduced Hindi instruction in Berkeley in the late 1950s; he was to publish a series of studies on linguistic communication in South Asia, code-switching between languages (Panjabi and Hindi in Delhi), and much used Readers of Hindi and Urdu, through the 1960s. He was also Director of the Center of South and Southeast Asia Studies from 1968 to 1971. If Hindi language instruction and linguistics flourished, it was Agyeya's arrival on campus that put literary Hindi on the academic map in Berkeley. During the first series of extended visits, which lasted from September 1961 to July 1964, Agyeya taught intermediate Hindi and courses in Hindi literature. To do so, he needed a teaching instructor. A hurried search threw up a couple of candidates, duly interviewed by Gumperz and Agyeya. They selected a shy young girl, twenty-one year old, newly married and newly come to the U.S. from Bareilly in Western U.P. This was none other than Usha Jain, who would go on to become one of the most respected and most beloved Hindi teachers in the U.S. and who would write grammars and Hindi course books used the world over. After an M. A. in anthropology, she went on to teach Hindi for over thirty years and influenced the field of Hindi instruction as no other in the country.
There are at least two other people whose life and work was much influenced by Agyeya's presence in Berkeley. Charles Gordon Roadarmel, later first tenure-track professor of Hindi in Berkeley and at this time a graduate student (1960-1962, to culminate in an M.A. in Asian Studies), took several courses with Agyeya and eventually decided to embark on a Hindi literature Ph.D., working on a genre exciting much contemporary debate: the nayi kahdni, or new short story in Hindi. Roadarmel received his Ph.D. in Hindi literature in 1969 in the Department of Near Eastern Languages, where Indian studies were then housed, and was afterwards regularized as assistant professor. The second person to benefit from Agyeya's presence, a graduate student in Comparative Literature, was Linda Hess, who would later also be a tenure-track professor of Hindi at Berkeley (1986-1994). She had looked up Agyeya on a visit to Delhi in 1965, talked to him at length about her work on Kabir in a restaurant in Connaught Place, as she recalls, and at his invitation stayed in his house near Almora, translating the Bijak of Kabir, published in 1983 and considered a classic of its kind. It fed directly into her present major book project on the oral traditions of Kabir and their performative world, not to speak of her contribution to the series of widely appreciated Kabir documentary films made by Shabnam Virmani.
In this first series of visits, Agyeya invited Sanskritist Vidya Niwas Mishra, later to be Vice-Chancellor of Sanskrit University in Banaras, to Berkeley in order to work on various translation projects. Together with Leonard Nathan, Professor of Rhetoric and poet and translator of national stature, Agyeya and Mishra translated poems from Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit and Apabhramsha (1983). Nathan and Agyeya entered into a long-term collaboration to translate modem Hindi poetry. This resulted in several publications, primarily translations of Agyeya's works (1969, 1971), as well as an anthology of modem Hindi poetry (1965). Nathan would later visit India and produce his own book of India poems, The Likeness: Poems out of India, 1975.
After an interval of some years, there was a second series of visits, from January to June 1969 and then from September 1969 to June 1970, this time as Regent's Professor sponsored by Leonard Nathan. Agyeya taught courses on the novel in modem Hindi and on poetry. This was also a period of intensive interaction with Roadarmel, now tenure-track Professor of Hindi. With much input from Agyeya, Roadarmel translated Premchand's Godan, or Gift of a Cow, on commission from UNESCO (reprinted some years ago by Permanent Black, Ranikhet and Delhi). Roadarmel, in his turn, co-operated with Agyeya on the translation of Agyeya's third and last novel, Apne apne ajnabi, or To Each His Own Stranger. Roadarmel's untimely death in 1972 put an end to this collaboration, but a collection of his translations, A Death in Delhi: Modem Hindi Stories, was posthumously published by the University of California Press, a work still widely cited and still in print.
In the years between his two sets of visits to Berkeley, Agyeya had also played an important role in bringing Hindi to a major German university. Lothar Lutze, first Professor of Hindi at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, invited Agyeya to Heidelberg on several occasions. And this was where, in Lothar Lutze's words, Hindi literature happened in Germany. Agyeya not only delivered a series of lectures on Hindi and Indian literature, he travelled the length and breadth of West Germany, visiting major literary and cultural sites, from Kleist's grave on the southern outskirts of Berlin to Hoelderlin' s melancholy tower with its weeping willow on the River Neckar in the University town of Tuebingen. Agyeya often wrote poems to mark the occasion in the years 1975 and 1976; they can be found in the two volumes of his collected poems Sadanira. Sometimes he just absorbed and photographed his surroundings. But he was also moved to translate Hoelderlin and other German poets into Hindi with Lothar Lutze. It was a two-way process always. He gave and he took.
It was my great privilege to be present on some of these occasions and to attend his poetry readings and lectures in Tuebingen and Heidelberg. What I did not know, as many years later I myself became a professor of Hindi and came to Berkeley, was that I was, quite unwittingly, still following in Agyeya's literary footsteps. For it was Agyeya who had been my first guide when I was asked to teach Hindi language and literature in Tuebingen in the early 1970s.
When I came to Berkeley in January 1998 as Professor of Hindi, I could build upon the lively campus tradition of teaching and researching modern Hindi literature. Over time, the Hindi program was able to build up a strong body of graduate students of Hindi; two are represented in this collection of essays. They had much to look back to: Karine Schomer had been a strong presence during her professorship in Berkeley (1974-1984), her book Mahadevi Varma and the Chhayavad Age of Modem Hindi Poetry (1983) has remained in print ever since its publication. Her edited volumes on Rajasthan and on the Sants have remained landmark publications. Linda Hess had published her translation of Kabir and her essays on the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Aditya Behl was doing his groundbreaking work on the epic poems of medieval Sufi poets. But Hindi literature, as I see it, had not happened in Berkeley, in Lothar Lutze's sense, in quite the same way as it had back in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Forty-one years later, reckoning from Agyeya's last visit to Berkeley, it happened again, as once again, major Hindi poets and scholars of Hindi were invited to Berkeley to discuss and debate Agyeya's legacy with scholars of Hindi in the western academy, from the U.S., England, Germany and Poland. And perhaps not co- incidentally, once again, this happening, this time at the invitation of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies and the Center of South Asia Studies, was connected to Agyeya.
The 2011 Berkeley symposium to remember and critically reevaluate Agyeya in his centenary year turned out to be a scintillating occasion. The focus was on the first period of his literary life and some of his contemporaries, the outburst of creativity from the mid 1930s to the early 1960s. These writers also spanned the period of high modernism in Hindi and in India. Politically, these thirty odd years covered a period of great change-from the post-Bhagat Singh era, post Gandhi-Ambedkar Poona Pact, World War II, the Quit India movement of 1942, to independence, the persecution of Communists, the era of Nehru and the first Five-Year Plans. In these years Hindi seemed to be on the forward march as projected national language. A wealth of literature representing a range of ideological positions, from radical left to more mainstream, encapsulated heated debates that would culminate in the formation of two hostile camps, that of the pragativadis or progressivists, and of prayogvadis or experimentalists. Agyeya came to be regarded as the major figure in the latter camp. Gajananan Madhav Muktibodh, his contemporary, who passed away in 1964, was posthumously regarded as the major figure in the former camp. In rethinking Agyeya, it was our aim to place him in his times as emerging out of his network of poets, aestheticians, novelists and short- story writers, to set aside the later polarities of progressive and experimentalist and consider him alongside his contemporaries: Jainendra, Muktibodh and others.
It was our great fortune that we were able to attract to our symposium two major Hindi poets, Ashok Vajpeyi and Uday Prakash, who is also a highly regarded short story writer and novelist. Ashok Vajpeyi knew Agyeya well; he had invited him to speak in Sagar University while still a student and later to Bharat Bhavan, the renowned cultural institution he set up in Bhopal. It was he who set the frame for all of us in speaking of multiple modernisms, even within modem Hindi. He spoke of a threesome of poets, Agyeya being one of them, and their different stance on the major issues of the times. How could modernism be reduced to a single process? Alok Rai, himself of Allahabad, the major site of Hindi literature from the 1940s to 1960s, had familial as well as intellectual connections with Agyeya. He could address the modernist moment in Allahabad of the late 1940s, before the scene began to shift to Delhi. Uday Prakash, a declared socialist, of a much younger generation of writers born after independence, offered incisive insight into the creative process which undergirded the writing of Agyeya's first novel, Shekar, ek jivani. And Sanjeev Kumar, armed with personal experience of the process he spoke of, could weigh in with his analysis of the pedagogy of presenting Agyeya and his contemporary Jainendra in an academic culture frozen into fixed modes of regarding the past. Other participants addressed the aesthetics of Agyeya and his contemporary poets - an extensive paper compared the major trends in Hindi with modernist poetry and accompanying debates in interwar Poland Two papers addressed the positions and posturings of the poets of Tar saptak (1943), the first anthology of Hindi modernist poetry which Agyeya edited and which spawned bitter debates in the years to follow. Agyeya's two famously controversial novel were the focus of three papers in all, and his early short stories which re-opened the classic genre and paved the way for the nay kahani writers of the 1950s, were analyzed with a view to similar modernist concerns in the novels. And with that, the debates of those times, as they are still rehearsed in our times, could corm alive, to be questioned and re-opened to debate today.
The participation from India meant that we could be freely bilingual. Three of the four presentations were in Hindi and in thediscussions we switched from English to Hindi. Such beautifulHindi, eloquent, invigorating, had probably not been spoken it Berkeley since Agyeya's time. In order not to lose that brilliance and that lively spoken quality, we have retained the bilingualism in our publication, with loss and gain for our readers, we realize But we did not want the original tone to be flattened, to get lost it translation.
The literary-ideological battles of yesteryear may not be over there are still voices in the progressive camp which insist on thekind of social realism that has come to be identified with the work of Premchand. But the lines of division have blurred somewhat inthis birth centenary year of one of the prime protagonists of the experimentalist camp, seen even now by its opponents as entirely determined by aesthetic concerns. In this volume, we think thatthe camps have either been dissolved, or that at least they arespeaking to each other. Perhaps we cannot hope for more at this stage.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend