Decades of Ideological Cold War and Hindi Literature: Surendra Chaudhary

On The Occasion of  Surendra Chaudhary’s Birthday Eve

By Pranay Krishna 

The reproduction of an article here titled ‘Decades of Ideological Cold War and Hindi Literature’ by Surendra Chowdhary, one of the most brilliant progressive critics of Hindi literature of the cold-war period,  shall serve its purpose not only  as a tribute to him but also inspire us to think afresh on the whole issue with the advantage of hindsight. Surendra Chowdhary’s article presents a sketch or a broad outline of how the ideological cold war was played out on the turf of Hindi literature. He correctly underscores the legacy of Indian ‘renaissance’ of 1870s and the impact of October revolution which was inherited by the progressive movement, much before the cold- war set in. It would not have been out of place had he also underlined how the progressive movement reclaimed the legacy of anti- feudal, anti-imperialist thrust of India’ first war of Independence (1857), so eloquently brought about in the critical writings of Rambilas Sharma, whom he holds in very high esteem.
Chowdhary is probably the only critic of his time whose writings in practical criticism are uniformly informed by a ‘third world’ perspective. The dynamics of decolonization are never lost to his critical mind. This location of a critic itself ensures that his perception and treatment of the impact of ideological cold war in Hindi literature is more nuanced. In his own words, “The national root of this cold war was extremely divergent.” He never reduces the creative literary endeavors to world-historical political polarizations. He is also vigilant against single theoretical determinant in literary practices. However, when he mistakes the ‘inner struggle of new poetry’ for a confusion borne out of progressive poets cooperation with the ‘modernists’ for reasons of their being afflicted with personal crises, he somehow tries to reconcile his position with that of R.B Sharma who wanted a very neat division between the modernists and the progressives ignoring the conditions (political, ideological, social, aesthetic and moral) which had initially brought them together in 1940s. ‘Loneliness of a universal order’, ‘estrangement of man’, ‘suffering becoming a personal and permanent condition of man’ etc. as literary slogans was not so marked in the initial rendezvous of progressives and the modernists. As the ideological cold-war intensified, the arena of ‘new poetry’ became a battleground and got increasingly polarised with G.M. Muktibodh and Ageya representing almost opposite poles of literary theory and aesthetics. Given the later progress of Hindi poetry, it is hard to agree with the proposition that out of so called ‘confusion’ alluded to above, the ‘New Poets’ gained an ideological supremacy. In fact, ‘New Poetry’ was never a monolith, a settled terrain. It always remained a battleground and now one can say with reasonable assertion (and caution as well) that the pole represented by G.M. Muktibodh in the battle ultimately paved the way for the later generations of poets.
Chowdhary has nonetheless correctly remarked that the short stories of 1960s reflected a strange combination, a sort of symbiosis of opposing forces, whereby realism combined with personal vision of the world, sometimes bordering on nihilism. He is absolutely correct in identifying late 60s and early 70s as decades when ‘the hitherto suspended class struggle assumes a new proportion unknown in the contemporary India’ which resurrected the ‘progressive movement’. The Naxalbari uprising and the ‘anti-emergency’ movements were the hallmark of this era. Despite his political affiliation with the ‘official left’ of his time, he has the courage to recognise that ‘generally retracting a life of suffering and struggle these left-wing writers and poets showed a genuine concern for the Indian masses.’
Post cold war literary scene in Hindi has been interesting. Sudden realisation of a world without two poles, rise of communal fascist forces in India, unfolding of atrocious neoliberal LPG regime, abstraction of social classes in identitarian terms and a wave of postmodernist discourses, all had their impact on the literary scene of Hindi, yet none could decisively dislodge the general progressive trend which is getting increasingly amalgamated into a broad ‘culture of resistance’. Frustrated ‘aesthetes’ of older generations are showing a tendency of reverting back to the leftovers of the reactionary cultural rhetoric of the cold war era. One of them has gone so far as to express gratitude towards the CIA for bringing ‘other’ (non-left) literature to light.
Chowdhary has concluded this article with these words, “From the New-left to the revisionist-left there is a wide range of critical approaches. This has to be settled soon in order to prevent further confusion and dissension. This is all the more important in the wake of a right-reactionary offensive on all fronts. In the present context it is an ardent task of a Marxist critic to consolidate its rank to combat all sorts of deviations on the left or on the right and to bring together all the democratic, secular and socialist forces in their fight against fascism.” These words are even more relevant today than they were in late 1970s when this article was penned.  
Surendra Choudhary

Surendra Choudhary

Decades of Ideological cold war and hindi literature

BY Surendra chaudhary

The impact of the October Revolution was felt first during the ‘20s when India’s political freedom movement entered a new mass-phase, titled a little towards left and found favour with the new generation of freedom fighters.

A composite struggle was on throughout the third world nations, specially in the colonial and semi colonial nations of Afro-Asia. Not only theoretical problems of historical dimensions touched our horizon, but also the forces of social-political changes swept our consciousness. Lenin very correctly defined the perspective when he said: “the Imperialist war that is being waged for world domination; the division of the spoils for the plunder of small and the weak nations; this horrible, criminal was has ruined all countries, exhausted all peoples and confronted mankind with the alternative- either sacrifice all civilization and perish or throw off the capitalist yoke in the revolutionary way, do away with the rule of the bourgeoisie and win socialism and durable peace.”

The event of October 1917 had triggered a two-fold reaction- one deep inside the capitalist west and the other in the oppressed East. Indeed the development of the later day events created a dialectical situation of many antagonistic sources. Yet, at the same time, this development simplified the socio-political contradiction in a basis manner. It brought before every growing nation the idea of incompatibility of capitalism with freedom. The imperialist and bourgeois ideologues since have taken resource to cold-war ideologies. Ever since then they are trying desperately to combat the growing influence of socialism and Marxism in the Third World.

Literature in general reflected this development of the world events. In Hindi literature a new turn in temper appeared which historically linked itself with the fighting tradition of the bourgeois-national renaissance of 1870s, but at the same time defined a new task ahead, the task of a basic transformation of Indian society.

Premchand opened his novel Karmbhumi(The battle ground) with a composite Indian reality- a  radical oriented mass-movement, sweeping the country against Imperialism on the one hand and the indigenous feudal forces on the other. A historical analysis of the ‘30s will show a fundamentally new perspective in which the reality appeared to give new meaning to human action. Of course a critical study of social meanings cannot entirely replace an understanding of socio-political process in its dialectical complexity.

In 1936 a progressive writer’s Association was formed under the leadership of Shri Premchand, one of the biggest contemporary personalities in the literary world. A movement of national dimension thus started and soon submerged opposing ideas for the time being. Even those who were not Marxists adhered to the idea of a basic social transformation and political independence.

A new content is discerned in literature which not only bears out a radically revolutionary character but also a basically new rationale for such a change. Even in pre-PWA period Premchand had set a tone which was anti-imperialist and anti feudal. His articles and novels on Mahajani Sabhyata had come to be a manifesto of the new movement. The tone set in by Premchand further developed in the newly created situation and assured a widely growing form of revolutionary idea.

Even Jurgen Ruhle, an anti marxist critic wrote, “Premchand’s last and most mature work, the novel Godan(1936) is a stiring, tragic tale of the expropriation of the Indian peasantry through the machinations of capitalist.”(Literature and Revolution). Ruhle calls it ‘a moralizing manner of Indian Realism’. Notwithstanding the moral overtones  in Premchand’s earlier works, we can very definitely say that  he attacked all forms of complex religious and socio-political institutions which frustrated India’s emancipation. The national base of socialist forces both ideological and political-was growing very fast when Premchand dies in 1936. The younger generation of Hindi writers felt very clearly that overall situation was not corresponding to dialectic of historical necessity. There was discontent in the air.

The peasantry and the middle class had entered the political arena as a cohesive force which enlarged both the content and form of our struggle. It was during the mid ‘30s that the level of political participation changed. There was a clear move towards the left. It was here that a bigger involvement was necessitated, political freedom was submerged in social and economic issues. The impact was felt on all ideological as well as emotional disciplines. It was in these years that Hindi literature displayed growing social consciousness in all fields of creative writing.

The years following the second world war were catastrophic in more than one way. The war years further aggravated the situation by creating conditions antagonistic to the wishes of the Indian people. A war economy had falsely developed, bringing a section of the urban middle class to affluence at the cost of the masses laboring day in and day out for their living. Even the lower middle class suffered a major setback during the years of imperialist war. There grew a general aversion towards imperialism India. It was here that the middle classes assumed a new reality. It displayed the contradictions within the Indian society and within the individual in the context of a dialectical unity. Yashpal, Ashk, Nagarjun, B.P.Gupta, Amrit Lal Nagar, Amrit Roy and a host of old and new writers tried to portray this new reality of our society. A host  of a new characters and situations were brought on the literary scene from different walks of life. But the middle class dominated the scene. This stageback of the middle class marked a new social typology in Hindi literature in the 40’s and 50’s. These writers tried to portray individual characters against a fast changing social reality – the socio-political ethos. Subjective individualism was also preferred by a new modernists who sought solace in individual consciousness. They claimed the individual consciousness was the ground of all congnition and utilization of the forces of spirit. They ignored the hurricane of freedom which was continuing to shake the colonial system and its national allies. They were the championship of free world. This free world outlook was an ideological mask for a cold war against socialism.

It was no wonder that S.H. vatsyayana, a former revolutionary and then humanist radical, echoed some of the international slogans on the home front. He attacked the God who had failed but not on explicit political ground. He proclaimed individual liberty as the goal of history. From Shekhar ek jivani(1941) onwards he had shown a predilection for individuation and internality. In 1951 he opted for cultural freedom which according   to him was not only freedom of thought and word, the freedom of belief or inquiry, the freedom of expression, silence and affirmation or denial, but also a freedom for ‘plurality of political system’. In his second novel Nadi ke dwipa(Icelands in the sea) he attempted an allegory which resembled Walter Benjamin’s concept in a remarkable way. If Benjamin analyzed philosophically the paradox of history in order to annihilate it, Vatsyayana did the same. By apotheosizing individual historicity he killed history socially.

The new realist continued to write( with a middle class bias) in the epic strain assimilating the developing features of our life. Yashpal’s Deshdrohi( The Renegade), Ashk’s Girti Diwaren and Garm Rakh  continued the tradition of the old masters with shifts towards urban themes. Here the new realists tried to salvage fiction from dissolution with nothingness and gave it a historical content.

The ‘New Poets’ emerging out of the cataclysm of war and Deeping national crisis, turned to modernism. They made  an anathema of history, relegating it to a pointless position to ultimately annihilate it. This is a paradox of modernism very remarkably pointed out by one of the most outstanding critics of our time, Dr R.B. Sharma. He analyzed modernism the meaning underlying its expressive concerns. He threw a good deal of light on issues involving an overall aesthetic relation of art to reality. His critique of bourgeois cultural and its deepening crisis exposed this ideological cold war.

Bharati’s Andha Yug makes a mythopoetic allegory the facies hipocratia of our blind age. It was here that a deep personal crisis overtook Hindi writers. Did it grow out of the Indian conditions or was it a mere ideological catch? Reason and dream- a growing contradiction within experience – overtook them. Even Marxists suffered this personal crisis. Ageya’s Tarsaptak (’41) was heralded as a major source of all poetic creations in Hindi. G.M. Muktibodh, a rising poet of this generation and an ardent Marxist was caught up in this personal crisis. And it was certainly not less so for Shri Kant Verma. At first this new crisis seemed to threaten only individual writers and poets but gradually it assumed a much wider ideological dimension. It is here that we meet a challenge originating through the machinations of a cold war ideological force.

  The national root of this cold war was extremely divergent. Sometimes it took the form of a personal fight against decisive formal problems and its inherent dialectic. It created a condition for a false polarization of forces. Most of the poets of this generation could not gloss over the irrational moment of this inner turmoil. Surprisingly enough, Muktibodh re-emerged from the depths. But it was too late. Instead of opposing this basic position the progressive poets had cooperated with the New Poets which had given rise to a confusion. Out of this confusion the New Poets’ gained an ideological supremacy.

 The progressive forces continued to fight their way out. They fought hard against a formal and ideological reduction of reality to a nightmare. Dr R.B. Sharma had already exposed this global cold war in an article published in Alochana, a critical quarterly taken over by the ‘New Poets’ for a short period. He had shown very clearly that this ideological conflict had, indeed, deprived literature of a sense of perspective. It had rather confused the basic position of a writer’s creative ability to master reality. It was a hard fight to win. The ‘New Poets’ and their ideologues brought certain inside controversies of the previous periods and tried to extend it to new aesthetic domains. Issues were combined in order to impress upon the general readers and intellectuals the futility of communist order and its anti-humanist character. This national tirade against Marxism brought certain literary issues and overtones involving aesthetics. The Indian partisans of this tirade proclaimed a system of pure categories as opposed to Marxian dialectic.

 Loneliness of a universal order and the estrangement of man from his world came to be literary slogans with the new poets. Suffering became a personal and permanent condition of man. They went so far as to proclaim a total loss of balance. In the name of balancing necessity with contingency they totally discarded pre-arranged libretto and replaced it with a free choice. Their model of a weak human abstraction not only negated the actual course of events, i.e. the historical reality, but also its essential contradictions. They lost everything except a deepening personal crisis.

 A cross-section of ideological configuration of all shades appeared on the literary scene. Existential slogans appeared combined with a left tinge. The suffusion proved to be abortive in the long run but it took the writer’s imagination as a revolutionary weapon. The new and contemporary short stories which appeared during ’60s reflected this strange combination, a sort of symbiosis of opposing forces. In the name of realism combined with personal vision of the world, these new writers of the ’60s created many confusing situations and a new source of schism.

The aesthetic acrobatics of this self-troubled generation of the ’60s took a rather more serious turn during the closing years. It took a personal crisis as the source of all creative functions and thus centered round a depressing reality. Defenseless and naïve they became outsiders. Caught in this helpless and miserable existence, they consumed themselves in their search for a personal way out instead of creatively changing the situation. They lamented the situation tragically.

 But the ’60s proved much more tragic than they could have thought. It brought wars of aggression, famine and deepening economic crisis from the outset. It was anticipated perhaps a few years earlier by Renu’s Maila Anchal. In this novel he has shown a cardinal concern for the rural masses undergoing a massive and painful transformation. He had introduced a manner of realism in literature which was new for his generation of writers by introducing the social conflicts central to his time. He enjoyed considerable moral and intellectual standing among the writers of ’50s but gradually his influence waned.

But for a few individual instances, the younger generation of the late ’60s and early ’70s was in an ideological mess. It had lost all hopes of a resurrection. A nihilist’s concern was perhaps the order of the day. But here a new political phenomenon appears in Indian society which changes the basic temper of time. The hitherto suspended class struggle assumes a new proportion unknown in the contemporary India. This growing class struggle and political turmoil suddenly brought new ideological forces into play. The pessimism injected into personal consciousness thus dispelled itself and sought a new way out.

 A left- wing literature of mutually opposing shades appeared. Some of the left wing poets and writers lurked behind a Dostoevskian shade of nihilism; some behind an activist shade of the New-Left and only a few had stayed before a genuine position of the Indian left. Generally retracting a life of suffering and struggle these left-wing writers and poets showed a genuine concern for the Indian masses. The political existence of the common man assumed a new proportion. Of course in certain cases this concern is overplayed and in certain others the tone is manipulated and tempered with a definitive dramatic purpose. But the overall situation remains in the interest of the really progressive forces which stand for a basic transformation of Indian society.

The great victim of this ideological cold war has been out literary criticism. Instead of democraticizing the feudal and bourgeois traditions of the past, it has taken up position with the bourgeois aesthetics and subjective philosophy of culture. We must, with necessity, go deeper into these underlying ideological problems of meaningful creation. Here the contemporary Marxists differ quite considerably and display a remarkable fancy for heterogeneous strategic and tactical positions often relegating the basic principles of Marxism- Leninism.  From the New-left to the revisionist-left there is a wide range of critical approaches. This has to be settled soon in order to prevent further confusion and dissension. This is all the more important in the wake of a right-reactionary offensive on all fronts. In the present context it is an ardent task of a Marxist critic to consolidate its rank to combat all sorts of deviations on the left or on the right and to bring together all the democratic, secular and socialist forces in their fight against fascism.

Published Books Of Surendra Chaudhary:

  •  Hindi Kahani : Prakriya Aur Path (Hindi), Radhakrishna Prakashan
  •  Phanishwar Nath Renu, Sahitya Academy
  • Itihas : Sanyaog Aur Sarthakata, Antika Prakashan
  • Hindi Kahani : Rachana Aur Paristhiti, Antika Prakashan
  • Sadharan Ki Pratigya : Andhere Se Sakshatkar, Antika Prakashan

Courtesy For Article–  October Revolution: Impact on Indian Literature, edited by Qamar Raʼīs


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