Lucknow Gup - Once Home to Literary Gatherings
Progressive Writers' Association's first Session was at Lucknow
Once the home of hectic literary activities, today Uttar Pradesh (UP) has little time for Booker Prize winner Geetanjali Shree. In 1936, Lucknow was the venue for the founding session of the Progressive Writers Association that was hosted by Sajjad Zaheer and Mulk Raj Anand. In his inaugural address, literary giant Premchand had defined literature as a criticism of life.
Geetanjali Shree is the author of Ret Samadhi, the first Hindi novel to win the Booker Prize. The English translation of Ret Samadhi by Daisy Rockwell, is titled Tomb of Sand. For Rockwell Ret Samadhi is a love letter to the Hindi language.
A red carpet is rolled out for this year's Booker Prize winner around the world, but not in UP. Instead an FIR is registered against Shree by a fellow resident who has complained that the writer has hurt his religious sentiments. The registration of the FIR has led to the cancellation of an event organised last week to honour Shree in Agra.
Geetanjali Shree was born 64 years ago in Mainpuri, a city northeast of Agra and part of the legendary land of Braj where Lord Krishna had spent his childhood. She now lives in Delhi, and her critics dismiss her as part of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) 'gang'. She is a post graduate from JNU and a protégé of the inclusive, progressive Hindi-Urdu literary tradition spearheaded by Premchand.
She is a champion of pluralism and against man-made borders. She continues to be critical of politics that divide human beings. In her writings Geetanjali Shree regrets the riots in Gujarat and the weakening of the secular way of life.
One of her early novels called Hamara Shahr Uus Baras unfolds in the shadow of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and communal violence. This story is about two university professors and their companions who try to make sense of life in the midst of rising communalism.
Journalist and author Mrinal Pande who grew up in Lucknow is a self-confessed admirer of Shree's writings. Pande thinks that Shree is brilliant, and deserves praise. Senior Hindi writer Om Thanvi who has known Shree for over three decades has read Ret Samadhi. He says that the novel is about society, the elderly and about family relations. It is about identity, belonging and love. It is not about religion.
Ret Samadhi is Shree's fifth novel. She has also published several collections of short stories and received many awards. All her writings reveal an obvious love for the Hindi language and she has been translated into English, Urdu, French, German, Polish, Serbian and Japanese.
Excerpt from the Tomb of Sand: One can speak of love at any time because love is lovely. It is natural. Also tempestuous. When love is boundless it breaks out into the cosmos. Its essence reaches a pinnacle and the drive to overpower one another flames out. The difference between thrum and flame is erased and it neither stops for anyone, nor hesitates at any boundary. Its gleam spreads in every direction, casting the world in magic. So magical that the air shimmers. A palace of mirrors. A mirage. Now who is real, and who is the reflection?
The Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate for the by-election to the state Legislative Council on August 11 was Kirti Kol, a 28-year-old from the tribal community. However, the nomination of the youth leader has been rejected by the Election Commission as she is under age, paving the way for a clean sweep to the ruling party candidate in the coming elections.
To qualify for the Legislative Council, a member has to be at least 30 years old and above. Do SP legislatures not know that simple rule? Or was it planned to first showcase a female candidate from the tribal community and then to ease her out of the contest for an easy win for the ruling party?
Kol's nomination papers were also signed by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, but obviously without checking and verifying details about the candidate. Questions are being raised if the organisation that his father Mulayam Singh Yadav built with the sweat of his brow is not falling by the wayside under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav?
Samajwadi Party is the main opposition party in Uttar Pradesh today. A decade ago, Akhilesh Yadav had inherited the SP on a silver platter from his father. He went on to serve as the 20th Chief Minister of the state, for one term, till 2017.
Akhilesh Yadav (49) continues to represent hope in UP, one of the country's poorest states. However, of late the SP seems to be directionless, forcing the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav to fall under strict scrutiny. SP supporters question the ability of Akhilesh Yadav to rise up to the challenges faced by society today. The greatest fear is that the ruling party may "buy members" and swallow up the SP vote-bank to wipe out an organisation that is the most important opposition party in the state.
The Congress Party was in power for decades in UP. Now the ruling party wants to make the country "Congress-free". In UP the Congress has been decimated at the polls. Its presence at the grassroots is scattered. At the moment the SP seems more organised than the Congress. However it is feared that in the long run Akhilesh Yadav may allow himself to be hijacked by the ruling party like Dalit leader Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The indifferent way that the BSP has contested elections in recent times, has made voters believe that Mayawati comes into the fray only to help the ruling party to win. Mayawati seems to have lost all lust for power for her party. Will Akhilesh Yadav go the way of Mayawati and give up the kind of politics expected of a concerned and fearlessly combative opposition?
This question has been playing on the collective mind of the state, especially after the recent meeting of the SP general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav with the Chief Minister of UP.