With Sukrita Paul Kumar and Chandana Dutta as the series editors, nearly a dozen books will be published by Routledge UK and South Asia, under the auspices of ‘Writer in Context’ Series.
When individual texts by writers such as Krishna Sobti, Amrita Pritam, Bama, O.V. Vijayan or any other Indian writer in translation are brought to the classroom or on a research table, it is then that the glaring dearth of critical material is realized by the interested reader. What then inevitably gets under the critical lens is usually the isolated translated text without an adequate supply of the supporting critical tools that would help grasp its import fully. For literary and cultural studies, it is crucial to engage with different ways of accessing the multilayered meanings that get woven into the text by the very context of its creation. For a comprehensive understanding of an Indian writer translated into English, how would one access the cultural context or the literary tradition from which the original text may have evolved? With Sukrita Paul Kumar and Chandana Dutta as the series editors, nearly a dozen books will be published over the next couple of years by Routledge UK and South Asia, under the auspices of ‘Writer in Context” Series to help fill this gap in critical literary studies.
The first in the Series, the UK edition of the volume Krishna Sobti: A Counter Archive edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar and Rekha Sethi will be released by the month end. What actually led to the conceptualization of this book was an endless number of conversations with Krishna Sobti herself which anecdotally revealed many aspects of her creativity, her life story and the political and sociological contexts which influenced her writing. A writer who ardently protected her autonomy in life projected the same concern for her characters. Krishna Sobti pronounced: ‘The romance of life is not in a straight line. Things would go stale if that were to happen.’ Over the long span of nearly a century of her life, she would never allow life to be a straight line, especially if the track were to be laid out by others. This was the primary context of the vision or the perspective to life that she built upon, both in the living of her life as well as in the fiction that she created.Writing on the character, Mitro of Mitro Marjani, Sobti declares ‘Mitro is not simply a test of the writer’s boldness, she is a discovery and a challenge too.’ In order to comprehend the character and the story fully it is important to understand the context within which the novel was created. This is true of all of Sobti’s works. Her epic novel Zindaginama opens up with a whole new dimension of understanding with the sheer knowledge that the novel was created primarily out of the pain of Partition, and the author’s anguish of having witnessed the violent collapse of the composite culture of the subcontinent. With the perspective of presenting the author through the position of being a ‘counter archive’, samples of her own writings, critical essays translated from Hindi and also fresh essays written in English have been put together in this volume for the reader to be able to access the cultural, historical as well as sociological context of the writer and her writings.
From Agyeya to Nirmal Verma and Mannu Bhandari, to Chitra Mudgal and Mridula Garg, Krishna Sobti was a contemporary to three generations of writers. There have been several different and changing literary fashions that Krishna Sobti witnessed over her career as a writer but never did Sobti get swept into the folds of any one style or fashion. Sobti created her own context for writing for which the prevalent literary traditions were actually disrupted. It is indeed pertinent to examine the dialectics between her own self and the society, as also perceive how the dynamics of tradition negotiated with her own talent.
Her linguistic creativity demonstrated itself in the innovative ways with which she created different kinds of Hindi for each of her novels. Krishna Sobti’s comments on her commitment to words came to her from her inner recesses. As she put it: “every word has a body, a soul and an attire.” As a master wordsmith, she wove the narratives in her novels, in the living language of the people, for the stories to be authentic. The essays in the forthcoming book on Sobti discuss individual novels and their reception. Eminent critics and writers from India and abroad have been brought together through their essays, commentaries and reminiscences.
While critics of the times usually tried to place writers in either the modernist camp or that of the progressives, Krishna Sobti defied any such confinement and projected either the coming together of the two “isms’ or rejected both. The same could also be said of her refusal to be addressed as a “woman writer”. In fact she published four volumes of Ham Hushmat, asserting a male voice. Krishna Sobti: A Counter Archive attempts to provide critical perspectives and information to build a comprehensive understanding of the extraordinary writer that came to be known as the Grande Dame of Hindi literature.
The “Writer in Context” Series gets launched with the publication of this volume on Krishna Sobti.
Sukrita Paul Kumar, formerly Aruna Asaf Ali Chair (DU), is a poet, critic and translator