A peek into the world of Hindi short stories

File photo of Munshi Premchand (L), Phanishwar Nath (M) and Madhav Rao Sapre (R)

‘Ek, Do, Teen…’ features 11 short stories by 11 prominent Hindi writers that shows how the art of story telling has evolved over the last hundred years 

The journey of Hindi literature, specially stories, has been quite eventful. Starting with the classic tradition of story telling, Hindi short story writers have experimented with various interesting literary tools of realism, surrealism and more. Not many know that magic realism was extensively used in Hindi much before it was used by Latin American writers, way before the term was coined.

Tracing this journey of story writing in Hindi, a beautiful collection has been published by Rajpal and Sons titled ‘Ek, Do, Teen…’. It contains eleven stories whose titles have numbers in them from one to eleven. For example, the first story is ‘Ek Tokri Bhar Mitti’ by Madhav Rao Sapre, a freedom fighter and writer who was writing in the late 19th century. It talks about a powerful landlord who forcibly occupies a small hut and is unable to lift one basket full of sand for the old widow who begs him for the same to make a stove out of it to feed her granddaughter who has stopped eating after being forced to leave the hut. ‘She begged him crying, “Sire, now this hut is yours. I have not come to take it back. But pardon me, I have a request.” When the landlord nodded, she said, “ Since we have left this hut, my granddaughter refues to eat or drink anything...now I have thought of a plan. I will take a basket full of the soil from this place and make a stove of this earth and make chapatis on this stove. I am convinced that she would eat the chapatis made on this stove. Sire, please allow me to take a basket full of sand from this place.”

The land lord allowed her. The widow went inside the hut and filled her basket with the sand, picked it up and brought it outside. She once again requested the landlord with her hands folded, “Sire, please help me lift the basket so that I can carry it on my head.” The landlord was first quite annoyed but when she repeatedly begged him, he felt a little pity towards this widow. He bent down to lift the basket but realised that it was well beyond his strength to lift it up. Then he tried to lift it up with all his might, but the basket remained where it was. He was embarrassed and said, “No, I won’t be able to lift this basket.” On hearing this, the widow said, “Sir, please don’t be angry. You are not able to lift one basket of sand but there must be thousands of baskets full of sand in this hut, how will you be able to carry the weight of this much sand? Please think about it.” The landlord had been blinded by his arrogance of wealth, but when he heard these words, truth suddenly dawned upon him. Feeling deeply remorseful, he apologised to the widow and returned the hut to her.’ The second story is a famous one by Munshi Premchand, ‘Do Bailon ki Katha’ (The story of Two Oxen). The story highlights the importance of freedom and love for one’s native country. It has been widely translated and is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the iconic writer.

Munshi Premchand’s style of narrating a story involved a bitter sense of humour, irony and stark realism all of which is effectively reflected in the beginning of the story; ‘Perhaps being straight and simple is not right for the world. Just see, how Indians are suffering in Africa? Why are they not allowed to enter America? Poor people do not even drink, save money for rainy days, work very hard, quietly bear with the yelling and all, but still do not have a good reputation. It is said that they lower the ideals and values of life. Had they also learnt to pay back in the same coin, then perhaps they would also have been called civilised. The living example of Japan is before us. Just one victory made it one of the most civil societies of the world. But donkeys have a younger brother also, who is a lesser donkey. And that is an ox.

The way we use the term ‘donkey’ we use ‘bachhiya ka tau’ (elder uncle of a calf) also to mean almost that. Some people may consider oxen the most foolish, but I don’t agree with them. An ox at times hits back too, and at time we come across stubborn oxen too. An ox expresses its dissatisfaction in many other ways also. So it occupies a lower place in foolishness than a donkey. Jhuri had two oxen – Hira and Moti. Handsome, alert and agile at work and healthy too. They had developed a kind of a brotherly feeling after living together for such a long time. Sitting in front of each other or besides each other, they used to share their thoughts in a silent language. How could they understand the inner thoughts of each other, we can’t say. But they definitely had some secret power...’ The third story is another iconic Hindi story by Phanishwar Nath Renu. Yes, you guessed it right. It is ‘The Third Vow’ (Teesri Kasam). The character of Hiraman still remains a potent reflection of the rural Indian innocence and simplicity. Renu comes out to be a master craftsman in the art of narration. This story also reflects the maturity and mellowness that the Hindi story writing imbibed throughout 20th century.

The fourth story is by modern Hindi writer, Swayam Prakash- The Fourth Mishap. It revolves around the narrator’s decision of keeping a beard. Once he has the beard, people start taking him to be a Muslim. Through a minor example, the writer deftly reveals the prejudices of Indian society. It feels as if the story was written now and becomes all the more important in the present scenario when polarisation in the name of religion has become rampant. When the narrator shares his experience with his friends, the Muslim friend’s response is heart wrenching; ‘I narrated all these three incidents to my friends while having tea at Minarva Hotel in Jodhpur. After having shaven my beard…Four friends- Nandu, Paras, Rambaksh and Habeeb. All of them laughed a lot. Habeeb became silent abruptly while laughing. He lit his cigarette, sat in the chair with his legs spread, started making smoke rings and staring at the roof of the hotel. Seeing this serious posture of a person who was always laughing and cutting jokes, Paaras asked him, “What happened to you man? Swayamprakashurrehman?” All of us broke into laughter. Getting up he said, “Beta Nandu, announce that nothing has happened to me. Announce that I was only thinking about the film. Declare that India doesn’t belong to your father only. India belongs to our fathers too! Baam, baam baam!’ If ‘Panchavan Parantha’ (The Fifth Parantha) by Giri Raj Kishore is a touching story of a poor school girl who goes to school empty stomach and dreams of taking bread to eat during interval, the sixth story by Bhagwati Charan Verma is a humorous pick on miserly guests who come uninvited and stay on despite the host’s subtle efforts to get rid of them. Mridula Garg’s story ‘Saat Kothri’ is a perfect fusion of story and mythology. Mridula Garg has been a distinct feminist voice in Hindi writing. In this story too she very deftly mingles mythology and reality of the Saat Kothri in Mandu. Visiting old historical palaces and places make us realise that the mysteries of this world and this life can’t be understood no matter how hard we try to unravel the innumerable layers of history and beliefs woven around it. Asghar Wajahat and Ravindra Kaalia, prominent writers in Hindi after the sixties also find place in this collection with ‘Nau Saal Chhoti Patni’ (Ravindra Kaalia) and Aathvan Ashcharya (by Asghar Wajahat). These stories show the modern flavour of Hindi stories. But the most remarkable of them is Harishankar Parsai’s ‘Das Din Ka Anshan’ (Ten Days’ fast). The noted humourist and satirist narrates a hilarious account of how a trivial crush of a boy on a married girl turns into a political affair and becomes an issue of national interest when the boy is lured into observing a fast for winning a girl of his liking, when the girl refuses his advances.

‘20 January ‘Deadlock’ Only one bus could be burnt Bannu’s health is worsening We are saying on his behalf that “he will die but not compromise.” The government also seems to be anxious The saints community also conveyed its support to Bannu’s demand today The Brahmin community has given an ultimatum today. 10 Brahmins would perform self immolation. Savitri tried to commit suicide but she was somehow saved. People are queueing up to have a darshan of Bannu A telegram has been sent to the Chief of Rashtra Sangh today. Prayer meetings were organised at different places.’

The story is not only a satire on our democratic system and how the tools to fight for Independence and democracy have been twisted to suit our own interests, it also takes a serious note of the sexist society we live in where a woman’s wishes are not paid attention to at all and the boy even goes on to sit on a dharna for possessing her, as if she were a toy that a stubborn child wants. The story written years ago highlights the conditions of our present society. We have not really changed or grown, sadly. It is not that these stories have not been read before. On the contrary, these are some of the most-read Hindi stories. But putting them together so as to not only trace the history of story writing in Hindi but also briefly and succinctly highlight distinct features of short stories in Hindi is a remarkable effort by the editor, Pallav. It must have been quite difficult to select and put them together. Short story writing has come a long way in Hindi and is now going through a new experimental phase. It is interesting to see how the art of short story writing has changed over the last hundred years.

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